conservation news and environmental science news.
Study reveals another contributor to polar warming
(05/10/2006) Arctic climate already is known to be particularly prone to global warming caused by industrial and automotive emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Now, a University of Utah study finds a surprising new way society's pollutants warm the far north: the Arctic's well-known haze -- made of particulate pollution from mid-latitude cities -- mixes with thin clouds, making them better able to trap heat.
Dragonfly migration similar to that of birds
(05/10/2006) Scientists have discovered that migrating dragonflies and songbirds exhibit many of the same behvaiors, suggesting the rules that govern such long-distance travel may be simpler and more ancient than was once thought.
Roads tied to bushmeat hunting in Africa
(05/09/2006) A new study ties the presence of roads to bushmeat hunting in the Congo rainforest and also raises important questions on global conservation approaches. The study, published in the current edition of conservation Biology, found roads and associated hunting pressure reduced the abundance of a number of mammal species including duikers, forest elephants, buffalo, red river hogs, lowland gorillas and carnivores. The research suggests that even moderate hunting pressure can significantly affect the structure of mammal communities in central Africa. The researchers, lead by William F. Laurance of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, raise an interesting point with considerably wider implications for global conservation efforts, arguing that "as a multinational conglomerate, Shell-Gabon?s interests in environmental management at Rabi... largely reflect their sensitivity to international opinion and pressures from consumers." Drawing on their personal experiences in Africa and Latin America, the team writes "smaller corporations based in developing nations are sometimes less interested and often less capable of financially investing in environmental protection." This observation leads the researchers to ask, "As conservationists, do we pressure large, multinational corporations based in industrial nations to forego major projects in developing countries in an effort to limit environmental degradation, or do we favor such firms over smaller, national companies in the hope that they will be more sensitive to international pressures?" While their question us especially pertinent to Central Africa, it really applies to conservation on a worldwide scale. Multinational corporations can be particularly sensitive to criticism on their environmental policy and, as a result, can actually serve as competent stewards of the environment is some cases. Thus pressure exerted by green groups on large corporations may be an effective means for achieving conservation goals.
High oil prices fuel bioenergy push
(05/09/2006) High oil prices and growing concerns over climate change are driving investment and innovation in the biofuels sector as countries and industry increasingly look towards renewable bioenergy to replace fossil fuels. Bill Gates, the world's richest man, has recently invested $84 million in an American ethanol company while global energy gluttons ranging from the United States to China are setting long-term targets for the switch to such fuels which potentially offer a secure domestic source of renewable energy and fewer environmental headaches. Biofuels are fuels that are derived from biomass, including recently living organisms like plants or their metabolic byproducts like cow manure. Unlike fossil fuels -- like coal, petroleum, and natural gas, which are finite resources -- biofuels are a renewable source of energy that can be replenished on an ongoing basis. In general, biofuels are biodegradable and, when burned, have fewer emissions than traditional hydrocarbon-based fuels. Typically, biofuels are blended with traditional petroleum-based fuels, though it is possible to run existing diesel, engines purely on biodiesel, something which holds a great deal of promise as an alternative energy source to replace fossil fuels. Further, because biofuels are generally derived from plants which absorb carbon from the atmosphere as they grow, biofuel production offers the potential to help offset carbon dioxide emissions and mitigate climate change.
Copying nature could save us energy, study shows
(05/09/2006) New technologies that mimic the way insects, plants and animals overcome engineering problems could help reduce our dependence on energy, according to new research published in the Royal Society journal Interface. When faced with engineering difficulties, such as lifting a load or coping with extremes of heat, up to 70 per cent of man-made technologies manipulate energy, often increasing the amount used, in order to resolve the problem. However, new research which has compared how nature and man-made technologies overcome similar problems has shown that only 5 per cent of natural machines rely on energy in the same way.
Antarctic glaciers show Earth's climate system capable of rapid shifts
(05/08/2006) Researchers at Syracuse University have determined that glaciers once covered a much larger area of Antarctica than originally thought, suggesting that Earth's climate system is capable of rapid shifts. Looking at sediments from marine deposits and rock sources on Seymour Island, Syracuse University Professors Linda C. Ivany and Scott D. Samson along with colleagues at the University of Leuven in Belgium and Hamilton College found evidence that glaciers once covered extensive parts of the West Antarctica ice sheet. Previously, scientists had assumed that glaciers were confined to the eastern part of Antarctica, where the biggest ice sheet is today. The findings are significant because they suggest that the climatic response to the drop in greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere 34 million years ago was greater than initially believed.
California butterflies disappear, climate change have impact
(05/08/2006) 2006 is looking like to could be the worst year in memory for California's butterflies due to cold and wet conditions in late winter, says Art Shapiro, a professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis. His observations raise concerns that future climate change could lead to declines in the state's native buttefly populations.
World cereal production forecast to decrease in 2006
(05/07/2006) Worldwide, 39 countries are in need of external food assistance -- the majority required for drought-affected and chronically food insecure populations in southern and eastern Africa, according to a new FAO report released today.
Concern at vanishing bananas
(05/07/2006) Shrinking numbers of wild bananas in India, the world?s premier producer, are causing concern at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. FAO is committed to preserving agricultural biodiversity.
Can we save the rainforests? Lessons from the Amazon
(05/05/2006) When I think back over the last month, dozens of images come to mind. I am reminded of the many things we have learned during Project Peru 2, and the challenges that our team has overcome with your guidance and help. In a way all of the plants and animals in the rainforest rely on each other to survive in the same way that Warren, Ruben, Anna, Patrick, and I rely on each other.
Man may be responsible for prehistoric extinctions
(05/05/2006) New research suggests that prehistoric horses in Alaska may have been hunted into extinction by man, rather than doomed by climate change as previously thought. Until now the leading theory said that the demise of wild horses occurred during a period of climate cooling long before the extinction of mammoths and the arrival of humans from Asia.
History of the Chilean Sea Bass market
(05/04/2006) Today The Wall Street Journal ran an account of how the Chilean Sea Bass was first brought to market in 1977. Since its introduction, the species -- also known as the Patagonian toothfish -- has gone from being shunned to being welcomed at the worst's finest restaurants. But demand for the fish has taken its toll and the slow-growing species which takes 10-12 years to reach sexual maturity suffers from illegal over fishing in parts of its range. Some groups estimate that the illegal take may be up to five times the legal catch limit, leading some ecologists to predict the immanent collapse of the fishery.
With volcanic eruption looming, group plans animal evacuation
(05/04/2006) The seismic record of Merapi Volcano in Central Java is presently showing increase activities. The Directorate of Volcanology and Geological Hazzard Mitigation has raised the alert level from II to III on 12th April. The authority estimated that the volcano would most likely erupt soon, in the next two weeks.
La Nina will not affect 2006 Atlantic hurricanes
(05/04/2006) NASA oceanographers agree that the recent La Nina in the eastern Pacific Ocean is not expected to have an effect on the Atlantic hurricane season this year. That's good news, because normally a La Nina tends to increase Atlantic hurricane activity and decrease Pacific Ocean hurricanes.
Bats Hunt Using Guided Missile Strategy
(05/04/2006) When it comes to rocket science, it looks like bats had it worked out before the scientists did. A new University of Maryland study finds that echolocating bats use a strategy to track and catch erratically moving insects that is much like the system used by some guided missiles to intercept evasive targets and different from the way humans and some animals track moving objects.
Scientists discover Zooplankton species key to ocean food chain
(05/04/2006) Census of Marine Life scientists trawled rarely explored tropical ocean depths between the southeast US coast and the Mid-Atlantic Ridge to inventory and photograph the variety and abundance of zooplankton -- small sea bugs that form a vital link in the ocean food chain -- and other life forms.
Carbon prices tumble 65 percent
(05/04/2006) Carbon prices tumbled 65 percent as a number of European countries announced lower than expected carbon emissions in 2005, suggesting there will be a surplus of pollution-permitting carbon credits. Several important conservation initiatives are based on the concept of a market where industrialized countries buy carbon emissions credits from developing nations in exchange for forest protection
Dominican Delights - Dominica, the real Caribbean
(05/04/2006) Prepare yourself. Here, there are no white sand beaches, no golf courses. Here, you'll find a boiling lake, winding cliff-side roads, bubbling surf and waterfalls that will make your head spin. This is Dominica, and this is the real Caribbean. Our Easter holiday to this (officially) English-speaking leeward island sandwiched between French neighbors Guadeloupe to the north and Martinique to the south gave us six days to explore enchanting coves, impressive mountains and dozens of rivers. In six short days, we were overwhelmed by Dominica's charms -- her incredible natural beauty and local creole style. Travelers looking to explore and discover, to be educated and reinvented, should consider this an ideal place for a serious Caribbean adventure.
Monkeys indicate economic decision-making may be innate
(05/03/2006) New research out of Yale University argues that monkeys and humans exhibit similar economic biases, suggesting that economic decision-making have deeper roots that many economists suspect. The Yale researchers found that monkeys conducting business-like activities - including trading and gambling - behave in ways that closely mirror human behvaioral inclinations.
Amazon rainforest: Empty of animals
(05/03/2006) Yesterday afternoon, we started seeing other people plying the river in canoes, and we knew that our trip was about to change. We were getting close to Yarina, the first of three towns along the Yanayacu River. As we grew closer to town, we stopped hearing Howler Monkeys. The troops of Squirrel Monkeys we had grown accustomed to seeing were nowhere to be found. Within only a few hours we left the truly wild rainforest behind, entering a rainforest inhabited by people.
Wal-Mart protects California forest
(05/03/2006) Last week Wal-Mart announced a $1 million grant to the Pacific Forest Trust to protect 9,200 acres for forest in Northern California near the towns of McCloud and Pondosa. The grant -- supported by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation -- will be used in conjunction with funds from the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund to connect 2.1 million acres of protected forestlands in the Klamath-Cascade region.
Pacific wind pattern driving el Nino slows due to global warming
(05/03/2006) Global warming has caused a key wind circulation pattern over the Pacific Ocean to weakened by 3.5 percent since the mid-1800s and scientists warn that it be further diminished by another 10% by 2100. The study, published in the May 4 issue of Nature, says that the weakening of the Walker circulation could could alter climate -- including el Nino and La Nina events -- and the marine food chain across the entire Pacific region. The Walker circulation, an atmospheric circulation of air at the equatorial Pacific Ocean which spans almost half the circumference of Earth, pushes the Pacific Ocean's trade winds from east to west, generating rainfall in Indonesia while creating ocean upwelling off the coast of South America that nourishes marine life.
In tungara frogs, female choice for complex calls led to evolution of unusual male vocal cord
(05/03/2006) Male tropical tungara frogs have evolved masses on their vocal cords that help them woo females with complex calls, show scientists working at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Panama.
NOAA report reconciles atmospheric temperature discrepancy
(05/03/2006) The U.S. Climate Change Science Program issued the first of 21 Synthesis and Assessment Products today with findings that improve the understanding of climate change and human influences on temperature trends.
Birthplace of hurricanes heating up say NOAA scientists
(05/03/2006) The region of the tropical Atlantic where many hurricanes originate has warmed by several tenths of a degree Celsius over the 20th century, and new climate model simulations suggest that human activity, such as increasing greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, may contribute significantly to this warming. This new finding is one of several conclusions reported in a study by scientists at the NOAA Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton, N.J., published today in the Journal of Climate.
Ozone Layer Recovering Finds Boulder Study
(05/03/2006) While Earth's ozone layer is slowly being replenished following an international 1987 agreement banning CFCs, the recovery is occurring in a changing atmosphere and is unlikely to stabilize at pre-1980 levels, says a new University of Colorado at Boulder study. The recovery is a result of the 1987 Montreal Protocol banning chlorine pollutants from the atmosphere, said Betsy Weatherhead, a researcher with the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, a joint institute of CU-Boulder and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. But by the end of the century, ozone levels could be slightly higher or slightly lower than before 1980 because of high natural variability and human caused changes like warming temperatures, said Weatherhead.
Flooded forest habitat in the Amazon rainforest
(05/02/2006) The following is an update from The Wilderness Classroom's expedition to the Peruvian rainforest. We are near the end of our journey through the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve, and we have experienced so many new sights and sounds that it is hard to recount all of them in our updates. Each week we've focused on a different topic to pass on the information that we are gathering for you. This week we will focus on habitat.
The Amazon: Fisherman's paradise
(05/02/2006) The following is an update from The Wilderness Classroom's expedition to the Peruvian rainforest. This morning, I joined Warren and our new guide, Ramon, for a paddle in search of animals. At Lake El Dorado, you do not have to go far to find animals. It seemed like everywhere we looked we found something new to look at.
Sloths are not lazy, they are just slow
(05/02/2006) I really enjoy our simple diet, but the thought of drinking something ice cold after weeks in the hot, wet rainforest was more than I could resist. After several weeks of eating rice, beans, fish, and bananas, we took a motor boat into the town of Bretana and treated ourselves to candy and ice cold Coca Cola! Bretana only has electricity from 7 PM until 10 PM, but they use their limited electricity to keep large coolers filled with cold drinks.
Emerging from the Wilderness
(05/02/2006) The following is an update from The Wilderness Classroom's expedition to the Peruvian rainforest. Yesterday, was a long, hard day of paddling in the hot sun. Plus, we had no real way of knowing where we were, how long it would take us to reach the mouth of the river, or where the ranger station was where we could find shelter. We spent the whole day following a quiet fisherman through a maze of lakes, flooded forest, and rivers that were often clogged with floating plants. When we tried to ask how much further we had, he would smile and say two hours more.
Is there any relief from the mosquitoes?
(05/02/2006) The following is an update from The Wilderness Classroom's expedition to the Peruvian rainforest. We are trying to answer the question: how do plants, animals, and people survive in the flooded forest? We have learned a lot so far, but I know that it would be very hard for Ruben, Anna, Patrick, and me to survive here without Warren.
Pacaya Samiria National Reserve: Macaws, monkeys, and...illegal loggers?
(05/02/2006) Yesterday started out like a normal day. We swatted bugs, and slowly baked in the hot, equatorial sun. However, as the day progressed, large, dark clouds appeared on the horizon, and the trees top began to sway violently back and forth. Within seconds the sky let loose. It began raining so hard that it was difficult to tell where the river stopped and the air began.
China leading the way in reducing undernutrition
(05/02/2006) A worldwide study released today by UNICEF reveals that some 5.6 million children die every year in part because they are not getting enough of the right nutrients. And 146 million children are at risk from dying early because they are underweight.
16,119 species at risk of extinction
(05/02/2006) The number of known threatened species reaches 16,119. The ranks of those facing extinction are joined by familiar species like the polar bear, hippopotamus and desert gazelles; together with ocean sharks, freshwater fish and Mediterranean flowers. Positive action has helped the white-tailed eagle and offers a glimmer of hope to Indian vultures. The total number of species declared officially Extinct is 784 and a further 65 are only found in captivity or cultivation. Of the 40,177 species assessed using the IUCN Red List criteria, 16,119 are now listed as threatened with extinction. This includes one in three amphibians and a quarter of the world's coniferous trees, on top of the one in eight birds and one in four mammals known to be in jeopardy
How Plants Respond to Elevated Carbon Dioxide
(05/02/2006) An important source of uncertainty in predictions about global warming is how plants will respond to increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide. Now biologists at the University of California, San Diego have made significant advances toward understanding the mechanism plants use to regulate their carbon dioxide intake. The researchers say that their findings provide important insights into the cellular and genetic mechanisms through which increasing carbon dioxide emissions will impact the world's vegetation.
China's glaciers shrinking by 7 percent per year
(05/02/2006) The glaciers of China's Qinghai-Tibet plateau are shrinking by 7 percent a year due to global warming according to a report from Xinhua, the state news agency of China. In an interview with the agency, Professor Dong Guangrong with the Chinese Academy of Sciences warned that melting glaciers could turn parts of Tibet into desert, worsening droughts and increasing the incidence of sandstorms that regularly blast Chinese cities. He based his conclusions based on analysis of 40 years' worth of data from China's weather stations.
China's Olmypics may destroy New Guinea's rainforests
(05/01/2006) Construction for the 2008 Olympics in China may fuel deforestation in New Guinea according to an article published last week in the Jakarta Post. The article reports that a Chinese company has asked the Indonesian government for permission to establish a timber processing factory in Indonesia's Papua province to produce 800,000 cubic meters of merbau timber in time for the Olympic games to be held in Bejing. Merbau -- a dark hardwood found in the rainforests of New Guinea -- is used for hardwood floors and currently commands prices of up to US$138 per square meter, making the proposal potentially worth more than a billion dollars.
Forest restoration important in Guyana
(05/01/2006) Located on the northern edge of South America, bordered by Suriname, Brazil, Venezuela, and the Atlantic Ocean, lays a small but vibrant country with a wealth of culture, biodiversity and opportunity. During the week of 13-17 March 2006, representatives from Guyanese government departments, civil society and indigenous peoples' organizations met in the capital city, Georgetown, with the World conservation Union (IUCN) and the International Tropical Timber Organization at a national workshop on Forest Landscape Restoration (FLR). The workshop introduced the concept of FLR with the intention of better understanding how it may be applied in the Guyana context.
Greenhouse gases hit record in 2005
(05/01/2006) Atmospheric levels of gases believed to be fueling global warming continued to climb in 2005 according to analysis released by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The agency said its index of greenhouse gases -- the Annual Greenhouse Gas Index or AGGI -- showed an increase in carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitrous oxide but a leveling off of methane, and a decline in two chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), gases that contribute to the hole in the ozone layer above Antarctica. NOAA reports that overall, the AGGI "shows a continuing, steady rise in the amount of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere."
Evolution is twice as fast in the tropics
(05/01/2006) Tropical species evolve twice as fast as temperate species according to research published in Tuesday's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The study. which compared the genetics of 45 common tropical plants with similar species from cooler geographical areas, suggests that evolution takes place at a faster rate in warmer climates due to higher rates of metabolism, which leads to more genetic mutation, and shorter generations, so genetic changes are rapidly passed on to offspring. The researchers found that tropical plant species -- including species from Borneo, New Guinea, northeast Australia and South America -- had more than twice the rate of molecular evolution as closely related species in temperate parts of North America, southern Australia, Eurasia and New Zealand.
Cure for cancer, AIDS may be lost with Borneo's forests says WWF
(04/26/2006) Plants that could help treat or cure diseases such as cancer, AIDS and malaria have been found in the forests of the heart of Borneo, according to a new WWF report. But the global conservation organization says this medical treasure trove is threatened and calls for its long-term protection. The report reveals that scientists are currently testing samples collected in the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak, as well as in Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo. They hope to develop drugs that could contribute to the treatment of major, deadly human diseases.
Pittsburgh has more urban sprawl than Los Angeles, new maps show
(04/26/2006) Recent urban development in Los Angeles is less scattered than recent development in Boston. Miami is America's most compact big city and Pittsburgh its most sprawling. Changing the number or size of municipal governments in a metro area has no impact on whether or not urban development is scattered, but controlling access to groundwater does. These are among the startling findings from a University of Toronto-based team of researchers who used satellite data and aerial photography to create a grid of 8.7 billion data cells tracking the evolution of land use in the continental United States.
Oil firm abandons road project for Amazon rainforest park in Ecuador
(04/26/2006) The Brazilian national oil company Petrobras abandoned plans to build an access road into Yasuni National Park, in the Ecuadorian Amazon. The decision follows years of intense pressure from environmental groups and recent criticism by the Ecuadorian government. Instead the company will use helicopter transportation inside the park, according to a statement from Petrobras.
Corals may survive global warming by gorging themselves
(04/26/2006) A new study published in Nature says some coral are able to survive bleaching events by gorging themselves. An experiment with Hawaiian corals showed that when bleached, one species sharply increased its intake of food, increasing the likelihood that it would survive elevated water temperatures.
Java volcano may erupt soon
(04/25/2006) Residents living around Mount Merapi on the island of Java are preparing to flee if the volcano erupts, according to a report from Reuters. The volcano, which has been spewing smoke for almost two weeks, has killed nearly 1,400 people in two eruptions since 1930. According to Reuters, government officials have advised residents to leave the foothills of the volcano, but have not made any official orders. Vulcanologists say that the volcano could erupt by the end of April.
Why is palm oil replacing tropical rainforests?
(04/25/2006) In a word, economics, though deeper analysis of a proposal in Indonesia suggests that oil palm development might be a cover for something more lucrative: logging. Recently much has been made about the conversion of Asia's biodiverse rainforests for oil-palm cultivation. Environmental organizations have warned that by eating foods that use palm oil as an ingredient, Western consumers are directly fueling the destruction of orangutan habitat and sensitive ecosystems. So, why is it that oil-palm plantations now cover millions of hectares across Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand? Why has oil palm become the world's number one fruit crop, trouncing its nearest competitor, the humble banana? The answer lies in the crop's unparalleled productivity. Simply put, oil palm is the most productive oil seed in the world. A single hectare of oil palm may yield 5,000 kilograms of crude oil, or nearly 6,000 liters of crude.
Environmentalists awarded prestigious prize for grassroots work
(04/24/2006) Tonight six grassroots environmentalists will be awarded the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize. This year's winners include a Vietnam veteran fighting Pentagon plans to incinerate chemical weapons stockpiles, a man who tipped the United Nations to illegal logging in war-torn Liberia, the person behind the creation of the world's largest area of protected tropical rainforest, a lawyer in Ukraine who helped block the construction of canal that would have cut through the heart of the Danube Delta, a woman who won resitution for indigenous land owners from logging interests in Papua New Guinea, and a researcher who pushed social impact assessments for major dam developments in China.
Hudson Institute calls Amazon savanna biome a wasteland
(04/23/2006) In an April 21st, 2006 editorial published in the Canada Free Press Dennis T. Avery, senior fellow for Hudson Institute in Washington, DC and the Director for Global Food Issues, called Brazil's cerrado ecosystem a "wasteland" and criticized a recent report from the environmental activist group Greenpeace that linked Amazon deforestation to soy-based animal feed used by fast-food chains in Europe.
Is Earth Day a waste of time?
(04/22/2006) So today is Earth Day. You may look at Earth Day as another useless "holiday" that appears on your calendar, yet does not warrant an actual vacation day, where people parade around about trees or not driving, CEOs stand up to talk about their environmental stewardship as a PR strategy and Hallmark, ironically, sells more cards. Another gimmick day full of false promises and empty pledges to make real environmentally-motivated change, while everything remains regretfully the same. Well, perhaps this Earth Day you should pause for a little reflection. Step back, watch the kids dressed up as butterflies and trees dancing in your city park or main street while adults drink their organic wine and eco-friendly microbrewed beers, and think about what you can and will honestly do to reduce the weight of your impact on the world around you. Maybe you will make more of an effort to recycle those bottles and cans that sometimes end up in your trash or actually take the time to cut those six pack plastic rings, because you have seen those pictures of sea creatures, and it hurt you to look at them.
Apple expands recycling program, waste not shipped overseas
(04/21/2006) With Earth Day around the corner, Apple today announced an expanded version of its recycling program, offering computer take-back and recycling with the purchase of a new Macintosh system beginning in June.
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