Category Archives: Science

EnviroWatch: Disease, GMOs, fracking, & nukes


And more. . .

We begin with a tragedy within a continuing tragedy via the Los Angeles Times:

Four health workers slain in attack on Pakistan vaccination team

Gunmen shot and killed four health workers carrying out a polio vaccination drive Wednesday in the capital of Pakistan’s restive Baluchistan province, police officials said.

The deadly shooting was the latest to target polio workers — whom Islamist militants accuse of conducting espionage in the guise of vaccination campaigns — in Pakistan, one of three countries where the disease has not been eradicated.

Police said that two armed men on a motorcycle opened fire on the workers as they waited for a security escort in the southwestern city of Quetta. Three women and one man were killed while three others were wounded, authorities said.

More from Deutsche Welle:

Pakistani polio workers demand safeguards

Polio workers in Pakistan have demanded greater security before returning to work after gunmen murdered four vaccination team members. Pakistan is one of three countries where polio remains endemic.

The president of the Pakistani state’s polio workers union, Haleem Shah, said thousands of his colleagues were refusing to finish the campaign to vaccinate 300,000 children in eight districts, including Quetta.

“We are in contact with the government and we have demanded that we won’t participate in the campaign until we are provided with security,” Shah told the news agency AFP.

“The government provides security for one day and if nothing bad happens then they take the security back,” he added.

Since December 2012, more than 30 polio vaccinators have been killed in Pakistan, along with nearly 30 police and security personnel guarding them.

And a small miracle within a larger catastrophe, via the Washington Post:

Guinea, hit by Ebola, reports only 1 cholera case

The health workers rode on canoes and rickety boats to deliver cholera vaccines to remote islands in Guinea. Months later, the country has recorded only one confirmed cholera case this year, down from thousands.

The rare success, overshadowed by the Ebola outbreak that has ravaged Guinea and two other West African countries, is being cautiously attributed to the vaccinations and to hand-washing in the campaign against Ebola.

Helen Matzger of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said Guinea’s experience is encouraging other countries to accept the cholera vaccine and has led the GAVI Alliance — which works to deliver vaccines to the world’s poor — to invest in a global stockpile and the U.N. World Health Organization to increase that stockpile to about 2 million doses.

Another African outbreak from the Associated Press:

Benin says Lassa fever kills 9, no Ebola found

Nine people have died in Benin from Lassa fever, a viral disease common in West Africa with symptoms similar to Ebola, the country’s health minister said.

An outbreak of Ebola is pummeling the three West African countries of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, and some cases have turned up elsewhere. But so far no Ebola cases have been confirmed in Benin, Health Minister Dorothee Kinde Gazard told reporters late Tuesday.

Authorities will double-check those results with more tests, said Youssouf Gamatie, the representative for the World Health Organization in the country.

AllAfrica covers another continuing African public health woe:

Nigeria: WHO Expresses Concern Over Rising TB Cases in Nigeria

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has expressed concern over the rising cases of Tuberculosis (TB) in Nigeria, which has risen to three times what was initially estimated.

Out of the estimated 3,700 TB cases per year in Nigeria, only about 500 have been placed on treatment

The WHO Country Representative to Nigeria, Rui Gama Vaz, disclosed this at the formal launch of the National Strategic Plan for TB Control (2015-2020) and Dissemination of the First National TB Prevalence Survey Report in Abuja.

An outbreak in the Mideast from the Mainichi:

Saudi Arabia: Deaths from MERS virus reach 348

Saudi Arabia’s Health Ministry says that a total of 348 people have died in the kingdom after contracting Middle East Respiratory Syndrome or MERS.

The ministry’s latest figures, released late Tuesday, include two recent deaths recorded in the capital Riyadh. It brings to 810 the number of confirmed cases in Saudi Arabia since the virus was first identified in 2012.

The virus has since spread to other parts of the world, though it has mostly remained centered in Saudi Arabia. MERS belongs to a family of viruses known as coronaviruses that include both the common cold and SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome.

CBC News covers another epidemic:

Half-million cancers worldwide linked to obesity

  • Majority of cases occur in North America and Europe, according to study

Excess body weight caused about 481,000 new cancer cases in 2012, according to a new study by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, an arm of the World Health Organization.

That works out to about 3.6 per cent of all cancers worldwide, the majority of which occur in North America and Europe, according to the study published in the medical journal Lancet Oncology on Wednesday.

The study estimates that a quarter of all obesity-related cancers in 2012 are directly linked to rising average body mass index (BMI), especially in developed parts of the world where BMI has been increasing since the 1980s.

While Science looks for the predictive:

Better wildlife monitoring could prevent human disease outbreaks

In the new study, a team lead by Isabelle-Anne Bisson, a conservation biologist with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Washington D.C., set out to assess whether information on wildlife health could be used to predict the emergence of disease in humans. The team looked at historical records of nearly 150 pathogens known to jump from wildlife to humans. They searched through 60 years of scientific and newspaper reports to determine two things: first, whether the pathogens cause visible disease symptoms or death in wildlife, and second, whether human outbreaks were preceded or accompanied by evidence of the disease in animals.

“These pathogens are invisible to the human eye,” Bisson says. “You can’t see them moving through a landscape, but you can certainly detect them through sick and dead animals.”

The team found that out of the nearly 150 pathogens studied, 75 caused visible symptoms in animals, such as seizures, lethargy, unprovoked aggression, or death, meaning signs of the disease could be easily detected. In reality, however, only 13 of the disease outbreaks in humans were preceded by reports in wildlife. This suggests that early warning signs for 64 of the zoonotic pathogens—45% of the total—may have been missed, the team reports online this month in EcoHealth.

The Associated Press covers prosecution on behalf of a corporation:

Chinese woman denied own trial in seed-theft case

A woman accused of conspiring to steal trade secrets from U.S. seed companies and send them to China, where she’s married to the CEO of a large biotechnology firm, will be tried with another suspect despite her claims that she left the firm long before most of the alleged crimes, a federal judge ruled.

Mo Yun, 42, and her brother are among seven people facing charges for allegedly plotting to steal patented seeds from corn fields in Iowa and Illinois, and send them to China to be reproduced. Prosecutors say more than $500 million worth of intellectual property was stolen from Pioneer Hi-Bred, Monsanto, and LG Seeds.

Mo and her brother were arrested this year in the U.S and are scheduled to be tried together in Iowa. The other five suspects are believed to be in China, which has no extradition agreements with the U.S.

Her attorneys recently argued that most of the evidence alleges crimes committed after she left the company in 2008, including allegations of digging in cornfields to find seeds and shipping them out of the country in 2011 and 2012. Trying them together would allow jurors to hear evidence unrelated to Mo and could sway jurors, defense attorney Terry Bird argued.

From Grist, another GMO story:

In Oregon, GMO labeling lost by 800 votes. Now it’s getting a recount

On Nov. 6, Oregon’s initiative to label genetically engineered foods ended up only a few thousand votes away from success. Now it is down by just 812 votes — which means there will be an automatic recount.

What happened? Labeling advocates have scrambled to fix some of the 13,000 contested ballots — the ones voters forgot to sign, for instance. Oregon gives voters the chance to correct these mistakes.

We’ll let you know when we find out what happens! In the meantime: Just 800 votes out of 1.5 million — that’s a butterfly fart away from winning. What if Jurassic World — which features genetically modified dinosaurs this time around — had come out this year?

Climatic bad bee news from the Guardian:

Bee parasite will flourish under global warming, study warns

  • Gut parasite will increase in prevalence across northern Europe as temperatures rises, leading to honey bee losses

An exotic parasite which targets the insects is set to flourish in northern Europe if the Earth continues to warm, scientists at Queen’s University, Belfast found.

The study assessed the future threat posed by the gut parasite Nosema ceranae, which originates in Asia but can now be found worldwide.

New evidence of the parasite’s superior competitive ability and the link between its population size and climate change has been published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Co-author of the study and adjunct reader at Queen’s School of Biological Sciences, Professor Robert Paxton said: “This emerging parasite is more susceptible to cold than its original close relative, possibly reflecting its presumed origin in east Asia.

“In the face of rising global temperatures, our findings suggest that it will increase in prevalence and potentially lead to increased honey bee colony losses in Britain.”

EcoWatch covers the incipient frack:

Maryland Governor O’Malley Is Ready to Allow Fracking in His State

Outgoing Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley has frequently been mentioned as a top-of-the-list contender for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, should Hillary Clinton’s bid fail to materialize. But he just made himself more controversial within the party—and raised the ire of environmentalists—with his announcement that he is ready to allow fracking in the state, where it has so far been banned.

Natural gas companies have been casting a longing eye at Maryland since the fracking boom started. The state’s western panhandle sits on the natural gas-rich Marcellus shale formation, which has proved such a money-maker in Pennsylvania just to its north.

O’Malley said that energy companies that want to frack in the state will have to abide by restrictive environmental and public health regulations, including limits on drilling locations and oversight of risks to air pollution and water contamination. He said he will unveil the final regulations in mid-December before leaving office to be succeeded by Republican Larry Hogan in January. Hogan has made it clear he’s chomping at the bit to open the state to fracking, calling it an “economic gold mine,” and saying during the campaign “States throughout the country have been developing their natural gas resources safely and efficiently for decades. I am concerned that there has been a knee-jerk reaction against any new energy production.”

While MercoPress gets down to the nitty gritty:

Follow the sand to the real fracking boom

  • When it takes up to four million pounds of sand to frack a single well, it’s no wonder that demand is outpacing supply and frack sand producers are becoming the biggest behind-the-scenes beneficiaries of the American oil and gas boom.

Demand is exploding for “frac-sand”–a durable, high-purity quartz sand used to help produce petroleum fluids and prop up man-made fractures in shale rock formations through which oil and gas flows—turning this segment into the top driver of value in the shale revolution.

“One of the major players in Eagle Ford is saying they’re short 6 million tons of 100 mesh alone in 2014 and they don’t know where to get it. And that’s just one player,” Rasool Mohammad, President and CEO of Select Sands Corporation told Oilprice.com.

Frack sand exponentially increases the return on investment for a well, and oil and gas companies are expected to use some 95 billion pounds of frack sand this year, up nearly 30% from 2013 and up 50% from forecasts made just last year.

Pushing demand up is the trend for wider, shorter fracs, which require twice as much sand. The practice of down-spacing —or decreasing the space between wells—means a dramatic increase in the amount of frac sand used. The industry has gone from drilling four wells per square mile to up to 16 using shorter, wider fracs. In the process, they have found that the more tightly spaced wells do not reduce production from surrounding wells.

After the jump, crude oil train safety anxieties, Japan vows to continue its war on whales and call critics bigots, hue and cry kills an Idaho wolf hunt, Kenya women victimized by water mafias, profusely polluting rickshaws in Uttar Pradesh, an Amazonian deforestation rate decline, a Chinese dam stirs Indian angst, on to Fukushimapocalypse Now! and a new nuclear waste incinerator, corporations socialize decommissioning debt, geriatric reactor inspections, and another reactor restart mooted, plus Swiss who eat their cats for Christmas. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Health, coal, cowboys, oil, nukes


Plus endangered spies and lots more.

We begin with neglect via the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

70 percent of Americans with HIV don’t have virus under control, study finds

Amid ongoing fears of an Ebola outbreak in the United States, Americans got a grim reminder on Tuesday about the ongoing public health threat posed by another deadly virus: HIV.

Seventy percent of Americans who have HIV do not have the disease in check, and many of them are no longer receiving treatment, according to a study published Tuesday.

The study found that of 1.2 million people who were living with HIV in the United States in 2011, fewer than three in 10 had the virus under control. Twenty percent had never even been diagnosed. And about 66 percent of those who had been diagnosed were no longer in care.

From TheLocal.no, an unwanted discovery:

Deadly Enterovirus D68 found in Norway

Cases of the potentially deadly enterovirus D68 has been found in Norway, it was revealed on Tuesday.

The virus, which can cause paralysis and is without cure, and there is no cure, has been found in a few cases affecting Norwegians, informed the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (Nasjonalt Folkehelseinstitutt – FHI).

Senior physician of the Division of Infectious Disease Control at FHI, Trude Arnesen, said to NTB: “Enteroviruses are spread from excrement via hands to food, and also by coughing. Good hand and coughing hygiene will reduce the chance of infection.”

From the London Daily Mail, oops:

Bombshell report reveals a TYPO may have led 5,565 nuclear waste drums to be packed with wrong kitty litter that caused Los Alamos plutonium leak debacle

  • The New Mexico facility switched from a clay-based to a plant-based litter, which caused a drum to leak in February
  • A report from the Santa Fe New Mexican out last week details the bumbling–including an order for the wrong litter–predating the leak
  • The barrels containing the organic litter are also mislabled and say they contain inorganic litter
  • Sixteen of the barrels are believed to contain the other chemical elements that led Waste Drum 68660 to basically become a bomb

A tiny typographical error may have been what led to a plutonium waste barrel packed at Los Alamos National Laboratory to explode, leak through the ground and contaminate 22 workers early this year, says a new report.

An order to use the wrong type of kitty litter in the barrels is the likely culprit and thousands of other barrels were packed with it.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reported last week the unbelievable bumbling that made a minor mixup into a massive problem at America’s only permanent nuclear waste dump.

From Xinhua, dam-nation:

China to accelerate water projects

China will step up work on major water conservation projects, especially in rural areas and central and western regions.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said on Monday that governments should accelerate 172 water conservation programs that have strong economic and social importance, during a visit to the Ministry of Water Resources (MWR).

Li prioritized central and western regions to address regional water issues, which included diversion projects, reservoirs and irrigation.

It will not only conserve water but attract investment, boost employment, improve incomes of rural dwellers, bolster industry and even stabilize the economic growth, Li said.

All projects, both under construction or still at the discussion stage, should be quickened in a bid to provide a sustainable driving force for growth.

An urban air airing from Global Times:

China’s haze directly linked to gaseous pollutants from traffic, industrial emissions: study

Severe air pollution in Beijing and other Chinese cities might be directly related to gaseous pollutants rather than particles emitted from urban transportation and regional industry, researchers from China and the United States said Monday.

Photochemical oxidation of gaseous pollutants, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulfur dioxide (SO2), is primarily responsible for the formation of a large amount of fine particulate matter (PM), called secondary particles, during China’s severe haze pollution events, the researchers said.

The contribution from primary emissions and regional transport of PM, known as primary particles, is small, they reported in the US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Another cost of coal from Shanghai Daily:

24 killed in coal mine fire in NE China

A coal mine fire killed 24 workers and injured 52 others in northeast China’s Liaoning Province early Wednesday, the state-owned Liaoning Fuxin Coal Corporation told Xinhua.

The fire occurred in a coal mine under Hengda Coal, a subsidiary of Fuxin Coal, a major coal producer in the province.

Fuxin Coal said the rescue has been over and all the injured workers have been hospitalized.

From Homeland Security News Wire, an environmental impact assessment:

California’s transportation infrastructure ability to withstand a major earthquake questioned

A significant number of bridges and elevated roadways lie above or close to active fault lines, and Californians often wonder how the state’s towering interchanges and freeway network would perform during a major earthquake.The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) has spent over $13 billion in the last forty years to reinforce vulnerable bridges and interchanges. Caltrans officials note that during a major earthquake, freeways are likely to sustain significant damage, but engineers feel confident that freeways will not collapse.

Californians often wonder how the state’s towering interchanges and freeway network would perform during a major earthquake. A significant number of bridges and elevated roadways lie above or close to active fault lines. “You see it looming, and as you get closer, it just gets taller and taller,” said Noel Vasquez of Whittier, as he eyes the Harbor Freeway before connecting with the 105 freeway. “You drive by and you think, ‘Man, I’d hate for that thing to break.’”

During the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, a double-decked portion of interstate 880 crumbled in Oakland, killing forty-two people. The 1971 magnitude 6.7 San Fernando temblor destroyed ramps linking the 5 and 14 freeways in the Newhall Pass interchange. After reopening two years later, the interchange collapse during the 1994 Northridge quake.

From Deutsche Welle, a much-needed preservation effort:

South Africa: Saving the Cape Parrots

Program notes:

There are only a thousand or so Cape parrots left. The species is in danger of extinction. The Cape Parrot Project wants to ensure its future.

Action at a distance, via Reuters:

In wake of China rejections, GMO seed makers limit U.S. launches

China’s barriers to imports of some U.S. genetically modified crops are disrupting seed companies’ plans for new product launches and keeping at least one variety out of the U.S. market altogether.

Two of the world’s biggest seed makers, Syngenta AG and Dow AgroSciences, are responding with tightly controlled U.S. launches of new GMO seeds, telling farmers where they can plant new corn and soybean varieties and how can the use them. Bayer CropScience told Reuters it has decided to keep a new soybean variety on hold until it receives Chinese import approval.

Beijing is taking longer than in the past to approve new GMO crops, and Chinese ports in November 2013 began rejecting U.S. imports saying they were tainted with a GMO Syngenta corn variety, called Agrisure Viptera, approved in the United States, but not in China.

The developments constrain launches of new GMO seeds by raising concerns that harvests of unapproved varieties could be accidentally shipped to the world’s fastest-growing corn market and denied entry there. It also casts doubt over the future of companies’ heavy investments in research of crop technology.

From the New York Times, Republican reaction anticipated:

Obama to Introduce Sweeping New Controls on Ozone Emissions

The Obama administration is expected to release on Wednesday a contentious and long-delayed environmental regulation to curb emissions of ozone, a smog-causing pollutant linked to asthma, heart disease and premature death.

The sweeping regulation, which would aim at smog from power plants and factories across the country, particularly in the Midwest, would be the latest in a series of Environmental Protection Agency controls on air pollution that wafts from smokestacks and tailpipes. Such regulations, released under the authority of the Clean Air Act, have become a hallmark of President Obama’s administration.

Environmentalists and public health advocates have praised the E.P.A. rules as a powerful environmental legacy. Republicans, manufacturers and the fossil fuel industry have sharply criticized them as an example of costly government overreach.

After the jump, tar sands oil boom leads to Canadian cowboy shortage, a Canadian pipeline protest, the bill for British air pollution, banking on a coal funding cutoff Down Under, Big Coal and Big Power await the ruling of a mercurial court, then on to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with the latest measure to stop of escape of radioactive water, then on to British nuclear power woes, plus a massive Vietnamese haul of dead endangered turtles. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Outbreaks, volcanoes, fuel, more


We begin with preparations from the Associated Press:

US looking past Ebola to prepare for next outbreak

The next Ebola or the next SARS. Maybe even the next HIV. Even before the Ebola epidemic in West Africa is brought under control, public health officials are girding for the next health disaster.

“It’s really urgent that we address the weak links and blind spots around the world,” Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told The Associated Press. “Ebola is a powerful reminder that a health threat anywhere can affect us.”

Ebola sprang from one of those blind spots, in an area that lacks the health systems needed to detect an outbreak before it becomes a crisis. Now the Obama administration has requested $600 million for the CDC to implement what it calls the Global Health Security Agenda, working with an international coalition to shore up disease detection in high-risk countries and guard against the next contagion.

And on to a European outbreak with TheLocal.dk:

Denmark closely eyeing German bird flu case

After a worrying new strain of bird flu was found in northern Germany not far from Denmark, Danish officials say they are watching the situation closely but have not raised national threat levels.

The German agriculture ministry said on Saturday that a goose with the highly pathogenic H5N8 strain was identified in the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. The ministry told AFP that it marked the first case of the virus outside of a farm setting in Europe.

German officials say they have asked regional authorities to keep an “active watch” on wild birds, which means killing animals suspected of having the virus and conducting screening tests.

And a Swiss alert from TheLocal.ch:

Switzerland bans Dutch poultry imports

Switzerland is banning chicken imports from Britain and the Netherlands after Dutch officials said they detected bird flu on three more farms.

The Swiss move, announced on Friday, came into effect on Saturday and applies to live chickens and chicks as well as eggs from the affected zones in the two countries, the Federal Office for Food Security and Veterinary Affairs said.

Belgium meanwhile ordered poultry owners to confine their birds as a precautionary measure following the outbreak in neighbouring Holland.

The Dutch economic affairs ministry confirmed that a second bird flu outbreak detected on Thursday on a farm at Ter Aar, close to the first case east of The Hague, was the highly pathogenic H5N8 strain, previously detected only in Asia.

From the Los Angeles Times, a seismically alarming development:

Earthquake early alert system ready to expand in California

Officials are planning the first major rollout of California’s earthquake early warning system next year, providing access to some schools, fire stations and more private companies.

The ambitious plan highlights the progress scientists have made in building out the system, which can give as much as a minute of warning before a major earthquake is felt in metropolitan areas.

Until now, only academics, select government agencies and a few private firms have received the alerts. But officials said they are building a new, robust central processing system and now have enough ground sensors in the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas to widen access. They stressed the system is far from perfected but said expanded access will help determine how it works and identify problems.

From the Times, an example of how the system might work in esnl’s own back yard:

BLOG Quaker

From Science, chilling out, not eruptile dysfunction:

Thanks, volcanoes! Earth cooler than expected due to recent eruptions

Minor volcanic eruptions substantially slowed Earth’s warming between 2000 and 2013, a new study suggests. The small particles, or aerosols, were spewed high into the atmosphere and scattered sunlight back into space, preventing the global average temperature from rising from 0.05°C to 0.12°C. That cooling effect represents between 25% and 50% of the expected temperature rise during that period because of rising atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, the scientists say, so the finding helps explain the so-called hiatus in global warming over the last 15 years.

“This is an important paper,” says Brian Toon, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Colorado, Boulder. The team’s results “help us understand why Earth didn’t warm as much as expected by climate models in the past decade or so.”

Scientists have long known of the cooling effect of major volcanic eruptions, which spew large amounts of light-scattering aerosols into the stratosphere. The Philippines’ Mount Pinatubo, for example, cooled Earth by a few tenths of a degree Celsius for months after it blew its top in June 1991. But the chilling effect of minor eruptions has been hotly debated, says David Ridley, an atmospheric scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. That’s because scientists have presumed that most of the aerosols from minor eruptions do not rise beyond the troposphere, the layer of Earth’s atmosphere where weather occurs and where natural processes quickly clear particles from the atmosphere.

Making this, on balance, a positive development? From Reuters:

Cape Verde orders evacuation after Fogo volcano erupts

A volcano in the Cape Verde archipelago off the coast of West Africa erupted on Sunday morning, the prime minister said, calling for residents to evacuate.

A photograph posted on the local RTC TV station website showed a huge plume of smoke rising into the sky, visible from the capital Praia on a neighbouring island.

“Things could deteriorate in the coming moments, in the coming hours,” Jose Maria Neves in a statement on the government website.

“We’ve called on people to heed the authorities’ instructions. People should abandon Cha das Caldeiras,” he said referring to a hillside community.

And from Science, reporting from Norway on ominous portents:

Arctic faces an ice-pocalypse

Thick sheets of ice coating roads, homes, and pastures. Dead reindeer, no radio transmissions, and flights canceled for days. When ice came to this Arctic mining outpost on the Svalbard archipelago two winters ago, it crippled the community for weeks and devastated wildlife for months. Now, scientists are saying such weather extremes in the Arctic—known as rain-on-snow events—may become more frequent in the future.

“It’s hard to study extreme weather events, which by definition are rare,” says ecologist Brage Hansen of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim. “So we took the opportunity in 2012.”

Brage and his co-authors focused on the rainy warm spell that brought record-high temperatures and prolonged rain to Svalbard over 2 weeks in January and February 2012. Temperatures during that period were routinely 20°C higher than normal, and on one day, the study notes, a Svalbard weather station recorded a daily average temperature of 4°C, which was “higher than at any weather station in mainland Norway on that day.” Another Svalbard station recorded 272 mm of rain during the 2 weeks; that station’s average for the whole year is 385 mm.

And from the Los Angeles Times, adapting to drought in Wine Country:

Drought revives ‘forgotten art’ at wineries: Farming without irrigation

Everyone used to dry farm wine grapes until the late 1970s, when irrigation was introduced. Dry farmed wines put California on the global map by winning a seminal blind tasting test in 1976 called the “Judgment of Paris.”

Today, only a handful of producers continue the tradition — and only where there’s just enough rain. Adherents are discovering revived interest in the practice now that California’s $23-billion wine industry is facing an emerging water crisis of historic proportions.

“It’s like a forgotten art,” said Frank Leeds, head of vineyard operations for Frog’s Leap Winery in Rutherford, a leading dry farm and organic wine producer in Napa Valley. “There’s very few guys that dry farm and less guys that actively dry farm. It’s easier, I’m sure, to turn on the tap.”

Leeds estimates that up to 85% of Napa Valley has enough rain to practice dry farming. But it’s hardly an option in Temecula, or in the largely bone-dry San Joaquin Valley, which produces more than 70% of the state’s wine.

Another drought impact from the Contra Costa Times:

EBMUD looking at rate hike if there’s no rain

Saying it is “at risk of running out of water” without a rainy season, the East Bay’s largest water provider is looking to hike rates by 14 percent next month to pay for an emergency supply — and may consider boosting the surcharge to 20 or 25 percent in the spring.

Unless it rains and snows a lot soon, East Bay Municipal Utility District managers say the surcharge will be necessary to buy, pump and treat the emergency water from Freeport a few miles south of Sacramento.

The higher charges would go into effect on or around Jan. 2 for the district’s 1.3 million customers in Contra Costa and Alameda counties. The surcharge will be considered on Dec. 9 at EBMUD headquarters in Oakland.

From Want China Times, the high cost of development:

Coal killed 670,000 in China in 2012: report

Coal was the major contributor to the death of 670,000 people and 535.2 billion yuan (US$87 million) in economic losses in China in 2012, according to a report cited in Shanghai-based outlet the Paper.

The results were gleaned from a government research project on coal consumption control and policy that was carried out by Pan Xiaochuan, a professor at Peking University’s School of Public Health in Beijing, and 22 Chinese national and environmental government agencies since October 2013.

Electricity and heat-producing industries, boilers, non-metal mineral processing and ferrous smelting emitted 21 million tons of sulfur dioxide, 23 million tons of nitrogen oxide and 12 tons of smog, powder and dust in China in 2012, which formed the bulk of the country’s pollutants. The PM2.5 particles produced by coal processing amounted to 61% of the pollutants.

The PM2.5 particles are the real killers, according to previous studies of Pan. The professor found that 670,000 people died of diseases related to the fine particles, of which 350,000 died of coronary atherosclerotic heart disease, 170,000 were killed by stroke, 84,000 by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and 65,000 by lung cancer. The majority of deaths occurred in provinces and regions where the coal industry is most heavily concentrated.

Occupational diseases within the coal industry numbered 116,000 between 2008 and 2012. More than 94,000, or 82%, suffered from coalminer’s pneumoconiosis.

Economic losses from mining amounted to 2.2 billion yuan (US$359 million) directly and 3.3 billion yuan (US$538 million) indirectly.

Coal consideration in Germany from TheLocal.de:

Germany debates scrapping coal power

After deciding to scrap nuclear power, Germany is pondering saying goodbye to coal, its biggest energy source but also its top polluter and main threat to ambitious climate goals.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government is split on the issue, which pits a vocal environmental movement against energy giants and coal mining regions, with only weeks until her cabinet is set to present its next climate action plan.

Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks has said that if Europe’s biggest economy doesn’t reduce coal use, it has no chance of meeting its 2020 target of cutting Earth-warming carbon emissions by 40 percent from three decades earlier.

After the jump, more environmental woes in China, another British fracking controversy, Shell’s Nigerian oil spill lies exposed, on to Fukushimapocalpyse Now! with a nuclear life extension deliberation and a consolidation of political power, the latest on containment in Chernobyl, and a possible end to a Darwinian legacy. . . Continue reading

Map of the day: Your mother, in very high def


Yep, Mother Earth as you’ve never seen her before, and in 2160p resolution if you click that little gear and set it that high.

Created by James Tyrwhitt-Drake from images captured by the Russian Elektro-L weather satellite, the animation is truly spectacular and a reminder that we all share the same small planet.

From James Tyrwhitt-Drake:

Planet Earth in 4K

Program notes:

A timelapse of Earth in 4K resolution, as imaged by the geostationary Elektro-L weather satellite, from May 15th to May 19th, 2011. Elektro-L is located ~40,000 km above the Indian ocean, and it orbits at a speed that causes it to remain over the same spot as the Earth rotates. The satellite creates a 121 megapixel image (11136×11136 pixels) every 30 minutes with visible and infrared light wavelengths. The images were edited to adjust levels and change the infrared channel from orange to green to show vegetation more naturally. The images were resized by 50%, misalignments between frames were manually corrected, and image artifacts that occurred when the camera was facing towards the sun were partially corrected. The images were interpolated by a factor of 20 to create a smooth animation. The animation was rendered in the Youtube 4K UHD resolution of 3840×2160. An original animation file with a resolution of (5568×5568) is available on request.

To answer frequently asked questions; why are city lights, the Sun, and other stars not visible? City lights are not visible because they are thousands of times less bright than the reflection of sunlight off the Earth. If the camera was sensitive enough to detect city lights, the Earth would be overexposed. The Sun is not visible due to mechanisms used to protect the camera CCD from direct exposure to sunlight. A circular mask on the CCD ensures that only the Earth is visible. This mask can be seen as pixelation on Earth’s horizon. The mask also excludes stars from view, although they would not be bright enough to be visible to this camera.

Image Credit: NTs OMZ (http://eng.ntsomz.ru/electro).
Image processing by James Tyrwhitt-Drake

And now for something completely different. . .


And that would be the Theremin, the instrument you play by keeping your goshdarn hands off it!

Invented in 1928 by Lev Sergeyevich Termen [Westernized to Léon Theremin], a largely self-taught Russian electrical engineer and inventor, the theremin is played by moving your hands closer and farther away from two antennae, one regulating frequency and the other amplitude or volume.

Here, from a Soviet film, is a performance the inventor himself via vlogger slonikyouth:

Leon Theremin playing his own instrument

We first because aware of the instrument though its presence in the sound tracks of the science fiction films and space operas we loved as a kid. In those pre-digital synthesizer days, only the theremin could produce those otherworldly sounds so appropriate to otherworldly films.

Here’s a thermin-scored clip from a 1951 film we loved, The Day the Earth Stood Still:

And here’s the composer of that score in a 1956 appearance on the Johnny Carson Show [not the Tonight Show, but an earlier talk show Carson hosted], via theremin artist Peter Pringle:

Johnny Carson Plays THEREMIN

Program notes:

This is an appearance that thereminist Dr. Samuel Hoffman made on the JOHNNY CARSON SHOW in 1956. The 1929 RCA theremin you see in this clip is currently in my collection.

And here’s Pringle himself, playing a theremin featuring a truly magnificent [speaker that we’d just love so have for ourselves]:

Mozart Theremin Concerto

Program notes:

This is the main theme from the “andante” movement of Mozart’s piano concerto #21 in C major (K. 467). The theme was used in the soundtrack of the 1967 Swedish film, ELVIRA MADIGAN, and since then it has been called “The Elvira Madigan Concerto”.

This is a theremin transcription of the theme played on the Moog Ethervox.

Here’s another latter-day theremin artist, Randy George, in a dimly lit performance of a work by Claude Debussy:

Clair de Lune – Randy George, theremin

Program notes:

Clair de Lune by Claude Debussy. Randy George, theremin.

For a higher quality viewing and listening of this video, I made a download available. I remastered the audio and video in March 2013 and compressed a higher resolution mp4. download it here (106MB): http://bit.ly/cdlRGM

My Facebook Page:
http://www.facebook.com/randygeorgemusic

If you are new to the theremin, please discover it in more depth. It is the most fascinating musical instrument in the world (when played as it was originally intended).

The theremin entered my life seven years ago. It has been a tremendously challenging journey, but it is immensely rewarding. The theremin is absolutely deceptively difficult to play with musical precision and finesse.

Clara Rockmore introduced the theremin to the world as a serious musical instrument. Over the course of recent music history, this expressive voice was forgotten.

I feel it’s definitely time to reconnect with the roots of the instrument. With these classical theremin videos, I hope to light the way back home.

Finally, to take things to an absurd extreme, from Japanese vloogger mandarinelectron, a mass performance by nearly 300 folks who play theremin bulk to look like those nesting Russian matryoshka dolls:

“Symphony No.9, Boogie” by Matryomin ensemble “Da”

Program notes:

Recorded at auditorium of Jiyugakuen Myonichikan in Tokyo on 22 Jan. 2011.

Another Bay Area earthquake strikes


Well, just south of the San Francisco Bay area.

There were two shakers, with the much stronger striking a half hour ago whilst we were compiling items.

Here’s a screencap [click to enlarge] of the U.S. Geological Survey incident web page for the temblor, where all the links do work:

BLOG Quake

EnviroWatch: Politics, fuels, species, & nukes


From the Washington Post, a momentary win:

Democrats block Keystone pipeline, but GOP vows new fight when it takes over

Senate Democrats blocked a move Tuesday to compel construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, dealing a sharp loss to one of their own, Sen. Mary Landrieu (La.), who had pinned her chances for reelection on approval of the measure.

The vote was a victory for environmental activists who have turned defeat of the pipeline into one of the central symbolic causes of their movement. But Republicans, who will take majority control of the Senate in the next Congress, vowed to return to the fight next year.

On a 59 to 41 roll call, Landrieu’s campaign fell one vote shy of passing legislation meant to force President Obama to approve the nearly 1,700-mile, $7.6 billion project, which would deliver 830,000 barrels of oil a day from western Canada to the American heartland. With just 14 Democrats backing it, Landrieu’s bill fell victim to a filibuster by her own party. All 45 Republicans voted for the measure.

The only person who really needed the Keystone victory in November was Landrieu, who is trying to hold off Representative Bill Cassidy in Louisiana’s run-off election on December 6. Democrats allowed Landrieu her vote on the bill, but the cold calculation that most of them made is that with the limited polling out of Louisiana showing her losing by double digits, passage of the bill—which also had Cassidy’s name on it—wouldn’t be enough to save her.

From Reuters, a video of the decisive moment:

U.S. Senate fails to pass Keystone XL pipeline bill

Program notes:

U.S. Senate votes 59-41 in favor of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline bill, narrowly lacking the 60 votes needed to pass the measure.

From the Express Tribune, an ongoing struggle:

Crippling disease: Seven new cases as N Waziristan polio drive restarts

As seven fresh polio cases surfaced in different parts of the country on Tuesday, an initiative was renewed to drive out the contagious disease from North Waziristan Agency (NWA) – which has been off limits to vaccinators for the last 30 months.

According to officials, a formal polio vaccination drive was started in four different villages of the North Waziristan’s Razmak tehsil on Tuesday and 1,349 children were vaccinated on the first day of the drive.

Meanwhile, seven new polio cases surfaced across the country on Tuesday, taking the national count for 2014 to 255. The National Institute of Health (NIH) confirmed the emergence of seven new cases in a single day.

From the New York Times, Mine Kampf:

Clean Mining a Deception in Kentucky, Groups Say

In a state where coal-country creeks run red with iron, Frasure Creek Mining has been unusually clean of late: Amid tens of thousands of measurements that it submitted to Kentucky regulators in 2013 and early 2014, fewer than 400 exceeded the state’s limits for water pollution from coal-mine runoff.

Now environmental activists say they know why. In a letter released on Monday, four environmental groups said many of the monthly measurement reports that Frasure sent the state contained virtually identical data — line-for-line repeats of clean pollution reports submitted the month before.

The letter to Frasure and state and federal officials vowed to sue the company for what activists called tens of thousands of violations of the Clean Water Act unless Kentucky regulators act first. The act allows citizens to enforce

More New York Times coal coverage:

Coal Rush in India Could Tip Balance on Climate Change

“If India goes deeper and deeper into coal, we’re all doomed,” said Veerabhadran Ramanathan, director of the Center for Atmospheric Sciences at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and one of the world’s top climate scientists. “And no place will suffer more than India.”

India’s coal mining plans may represent the biggest obstacle to a global climate pact to be negotiated at a conference in Paris next year. While the United States and China announced a landmark agreement that includes new targets for carbon emissions, and Europe has pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent, India, the world’s third-largest emitter, has shown no appetite for such a pledge.

“India’s development imperatives cannot be sacrificed at the altar of potential climate changes many years in the future,” India’s power minister, Piyush Goyal, said at a recent conference in New Delhi in response to a question. “The West will have to recognize we have the needs of the poor.”

Mr. Goyal has promised to double India’s use of domestic coal from 565 million tons last year to more than a billion tons by 2019, and he is trying to sell coal-mining licenses as swiftly as possible after years of delay. The government has signaled that it may denationalize commercial coal mining to accelerate extraction.

And from RT, frack off!:

No fracking, we’re German! Berlin reiterates moratorium on drilling

Germany says it is not going to loosen restrictions concerning its moratorium on fracking. A report in Der Spiegel had said the government was considering making it easier to extract shale gas and allow test drilling.

The government said on Monday it has no plans to lift the ban on fracking, Reuters reported.

Currently there are only plans to allow fracking at a depth below 3,000 meters to ensure that the water supply does not become contaminated. The effective ban is popular with Germans as the process of hydraulic fracturing involves pumping water and chemicals through drill holes at a high pressure to try and open rocks that may contain gas.

Getting the tubes tied off, via the Guardian [and, yes, we know they ain’t got tubes any more]:

Brussels targets super-sized TVs in drive for energy efficiency

  • Mega-TV screens will be forced to reduce energy use under new proposals that set the scene for ‘ecodesign’ battles to come over kettles, toasters, and hairdryers

The amount of energy that big screen TVs can use will be capped under an EU energy efficiency drive which the European commission expects will cut consumers’ energy bills by around €8bn a year.

After similar energy-saving rules for vacuum cleaners provoked a storm of criticism from UK newspapers last autumn, the planned TV rules may be a test case for new ‘ecodesign’ formulas for kettles, toasters and hairdryers, due to be announced next year.

The new TV standards, which could come into effect as early as June 2016, would set more challenging energy use requirements for larger TV screens, which currently benefit from a ranking methodology that only measures internal components for energy efficiency.

Coming clean with the Associated Press:

Dry Central California town gets portable showers

Hundreds of people living in a drought-stricken California farm town could soon be taking their first hot shower in months after county officials set up portable facilities in a church parking lot.

Residents of East Porterville in the agricultural Central Valley must bring their own towel and soap, but the hot shower is free. Until now, many have been forced to bathe from buckets and drink bottled water.

Andrew Lockman, manager of the Tulare County Office of Emergency Service, said Tuesday that officials were worried about residents taking sponge baths during the colder weather.

“The poor certainly get poorer,” he said. “We’re trying to provide a safety net, a basic quality of life as people struggle through this disaster.”

Ceaseless cetacean slaughter reduced, via the Guardian:

Japan cuts Antarctic whale quota after UN court ruling

Japan has reduced quota by two-thirds after UN court called the controversial ‘research whaling’ programme a commercial hunt masquerading as science

Japan has unveiled a plan to kill 333 minke whales in the Southern Ocean next year as part of its push to resume whaling following a legal setback instigated by Australia.

The plan, released by the Japanese government on Tuesday, sets out a 12-year program that would result in the slaughter of a total of 3,996 whales. The whales will be hunted in a vast sweep of Antarctic waters, including ocean claimed by Australia.

The 333 annual figure is a sharp reduction in the previous quota Japan awarded itself last year, when it aimed to take 855 minke whales, 50 humpback whales and 10 fin whales. Japan ended up harpooning far fewer than this amount, however, due to the disruptive tactics of anti-whaling activists Sea Shepherd.

Japan state broadcaster NHK WORLD put a different spin on the story:

Japan to resume Antarctic research whaling

Japan aims to resume its research whaling in the Antarctic Ocean late next year by drastically downsizing the program.

Fisheries minister Koya Nishikawa announced a revised plan for the program on Tuesday.

Under the plan, a fleet will hunt only minke whales and the catch limit will be cut to 333. That’s about one-third of the number in the past.

Researchers will also conduct visual studies that do not involve killing whales.

Another slaughter, equally tragic, from the Guardian:

Elephants are being wiped out, but not enough people seem to care

  • Progress on wildlife poaching is slow because there is little public pressure. Let’s hope Interpol’s ‘most wanted’ eco criminals list will help

I asked a senior environmental journalist the other week what he thought was the single most under-reported environmental issue. He replied, unhesitatingly, wildlife poaching. “It’s as if the wildlife is just being hoovered out of Africa,” he said. “In the 1960s people campaigned around whales and wildlife. The Daily Mail actually put rhino poaching on their front page. But now there just doesn’t seem to be the same level of interest.” Dr Paula Kahumbu, a wildlife campaigner based in Kenya, echoes his sentiment, but adds that the UK public is still more active than most areas of the world. “Not a single African leader has spoken out on this,” says Kahumbu. “The silence is deafening.”

The scale of the “hoovering” is hard to comprehend. Take elephants, for example. In Africa, where some but not all of the poaching is concentrated, elephants are being slaughtered at a rate of 20,000-25,000 a year, from a population of just 420,000-650,000. The forest elephant population has dropped by 62% since 2002. There is a word for the killing of elephants (elephanticide) and a word for destruction of the natural world (ecocide) but oddly enough – given our magnificent form in this area – there doesn’t seem to be a word for killing off a whole species. We probably need one.

And then there are the other species we “hoover” up, from illegal logging and the dumping of hazardous waste. Taken altogether, a UN report earlier this year estimated that the cost of these crimes is $70-213bn annually. So these are not small operations, not a few farmers sneakily chopping down a few trees to augment their subsistence income, or the odd fisherman going over his quota. These are international cartels systematically and illegally stripping our natural resources and selling them on for profit. Some of them are running parallel drug and human trafficking operations. There is even evidence that some of this income is supporting terrorism.

From CCTV America, another fuel, other consequences:

US wood pellet industry stirs environmental controversy

Program notes:

Europe’s search for biofuels has led them to Americas’ southern forests and wetlands, such as the Nottoway River in Virginia. Many of the trees are logged for the sole purpose of grinding them up to later be converted into wood pellets. A clear cutting site in Waverly, Virginia was logged by the U.S. company Enviva, according to the non-profit organization, Dogwood Alliance. CCTV America’s Nitza Soledad Perez reported this story.

More fuel from Kyodo News:

Tokyo to set up 80 hydrogen stations by 2025

The Tokyo metropolitan government Tuesday announced a plan to increase the number of hydrogen stations for fuel cell vehicles in Tokyo to 35 by the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and to 80 by 2025.

“We would like to make a (hydrogen utilization) model first in Tokyo in the run-up to nationwide diffusion,” Tokyo Gov. Yoichi Masuzoe said at a meeting of the metropolitan government.

The metropolitan and central governments will provide subsidies covering 400 million yen of some 500 million yen required for building each hydrogen station.

On to Fukushimapoocalypse Now!, first with NHK WORLD:

Radioactive water leak found at Ikata plant

Workers at the Ikata nuclear power plant in western Japan have found a radioactive water leak from the facility’s wastewater disposal system.

Officials of the plant’s host Ehime Prefecture said none of the water leaked outside the site, and that no worker was exposed to it. The plant operated by Shikoku Electric Power Company is offline.

They say workers found traces of leaked water on piping insulation in a building adjacent to the plant’s Number 2 reactor on Tuesday.

The piping is part of the disposal system for solidifying concentrated low-level radioactive wastewater by mixing it with asphalt.

German decommission deconstruction from TheLocal.de:

Government doubles nuclear waste count

Germany will have to dispose of twice as much radioactive waste as previously expected as it continues to shut down its nuclear power plants, according to parts of the government’s disposal plan that were leaked on Tuesday.

Some 600,000 cubic metres of waste will have to be placed in permanent underground storage instead of the anticipated 298,000 cubic metres, the Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) reported.

The newspaper was citing figures from a copy it obtained of the draft “National Disposal Plan” the government is currently negotiating with individual federal states.

The new projection is significantly higher because of the inclusion for the first time of 13,000 tons of waste from uranium enrichment, equivalent to around 100,000 cubic metres.

Decommission deconstruction closer to Casa esnl from the New York Times:

Nuclear Agency Rules Are Ill-Suited for Plant Decommissioning, Leader Says

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s rules are not geared for supervising the decommissioning of nuclear reactors, the task that will occupy much of its time in the coming years, the head of the agency, Allison M. Macfarlane, said Monday.

Speaking at the National Press Club in a wide-ranging look at her agency and the industry before she leaves the job at the end of the year, Dr. Macfarlane said the industry had instead set itself up about 15 years ago to oversee more reactor construction, a revival that did not occur. “The industry was really expecting to expand,” she said. “The agency’s not facing the future that five years ago people envisioned.”

Instead, a plunging price of natural gas and slack demand for electricity have made some existing plants uncompetitive, and the pace of retirements has been high. But the commission’s rules on areas like security and emergency planning are geared to operating plants, she said. So shut-down plants are applying for exemptions to the rules that no longer seem to fit the risk that the reactors pose when decommissioned.

And to close, hints of our past? From BBC News:

Comet landing: Organic molecules detected by Philae

The Philae lander has detected organic molecules on the surface of its comet, scientists have confirmed.

Carbon-containing “organics” are the basis of life on Earth and may give clues to chemical ingredients delivered to our planet early in its history. The compounds were picked up by a German-built instrument designed to “sniff” the comet’s thin atmosphere.

Other analyses suggest the comet’s surface is largely water-ice covered with a thin dust layer.