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News articles on earth science
Mongabay.com news articles on earth science in blog format. Updated regularly.
(07/17/2006) The average temperature for the continental United States from January through June 2006 was the warmest first half of any year since records began in 1895, according to scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Climatic Data Center (NCDC). NOAA data showed that the average January-June temperature for the contiguous United States was 51.8 degrees F (11.0 degrees C) -- 3.4 degrees F (1.8 degrees C) above the 20th century (1901-2000) average. The government agency noted that five states (Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and Missouri) experienced record warmth for the period while no state was cooler than average. NOAA also reported that last month was the second warmest June on record and national precipitation was below average. It said that continued below-normal-levels of precipitation combined with warmer-than-average temperatures expanded drought conditions across the country.
War of words over new climate change report, 'hockey stick' model
(07/16/2006) Paleoclimatologist Michael Mann criticized a report challenging the familiar 'hockey stick' temperature record of the past thousand years. The report, commissioned by Texas Representative Joe Barton, chairman of the House Energy Committee, and championed in an op-ed piece appearing in last Friday's issue of The Wall Street Journal said that there is no evidence that the 1990s were the warmest decade in a millennium or that 1998 was the warmest year in the last 1,000.
Formation of clouds linked to air pollution
(07/13/2006) NASA scientists have determined that the formation of clouds is affected by the lightness or darkness of air pollution particles. This also impacts Earth's climate. In a breakthrough study published today in the online edition of Science, scientists explain why aerosols -- tiny particles suspended in air pollution and smoke -- sometimes stop clouds from forming and in other cases increase cloud cover. Clouds not only deliver water around the globe, they also help regulate how much of the sun's warmth the planet holds. The capacity of air pollution to absorb energy from the sun is the key.
Silent earthquakes may foreshadow destructive temblors
(07/07/2006) A team of American geoscientists is urging colleagues around the world to search for evidence of tiny earthquakes in seismically active areas, such as the Pacific Northwest, that are periodically rocked by powerful temblors of magnitude 8 and higher.
Ancient raindrops reveal the origins of California's Sierra Nevada range
(07/07/2006) One of the longest ongoing controversies in Earth science concerns the age of California's Sierra Nevada, the tallest mountain range in the continental United States and site of Yosemite National Park, Lake Tahoe and other scenic wonders. "The debate falls into two camps," said C. Page Chamberlain, professor of geological and environmental sciences at Stanford University. "One is that the mountains rose from sea level in the last 3 to 5 million years, which is very recent on a geologic time scale. The other group suggests a much more ancient origin going back 60 million years or so."
Climate change fuels more forest fires in the United States
(07/06/2006) New research says the frequency of large forest fires has increased in the western United States since the mid-1980s as spring temperatures climbed, mountain snows melted earlier and summers got hotter. The new findings, published in the July 6 issue of Science Express, suggest that climate change, not fire suppression policies and forest accumulation, is the primary driver of recent increases in large forest fires.
Frog extinction crisis requires unprecedented conservation response
(07/06/2006) The world's leading amphibian experts are calling for dramatic steps, including the formation of an Amphibian Survival Alliance (ASA), to prevent the massive extinction of amphibians worldwide. Scientists say amphibians -- cold-blooded animals that include frogs, toads, salamanders, newts and caecilians -- are under grave threat due to climate change, pollution, and the emergence of a deadly and infectious fungal disease, which has been linked to global warming. According to the Global Amphibian Assessment, a comprehensive status assessment of the world's amphibian species, one-third of the world's 5,918 known amphibian species are classified as threatened with extinction. Further, at least 9, and perhaps 122, have gone extinct since 1980.
Some corals can adapt to ocean acidification
(07/06/2006) While scientists warn that increasing ocean acidity will doom marine animals that build skeletons and structural elements out of calcium carbonate, new research has found that corals can change their skeletons, building them out of different minerals depending on the chemical composition of the seawater around them. However, the research provides further evidence that corals are extremely sensitive to rapid environmental change and will be negatively affected by increased carbon dioxide levels in the short-term.
Increasingly acidic oceans damaging to marine life
(07/05/2006) Carbon dioxide emissions are altering ocean chemistry and putting sea life at risk according to a new report released today. The report, "Impacts of Ocean Acidification on Coral Reefs and Other Marine Calcifiers," summarizes known effects of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide on marine organisms that produce calcium carbonate skeletal structures, such as corals. Oceans worldwide absorbed approximately 118 billion metric tons of carbon between 1800 and 1994 according to the report, resulting in increased ocean acidity, which reduces the availability of carbonate ions needed for the production of calcium carbonate structures.
Genetic contact between reef fish across the 5000 km Pacific divide
(07/05/2006) Reef fish share genetic connections across what Darwin termed an 'impassable barrier', 5000km of deep ocean separating the eastern and central Pacific, according to a report by Smithsonian scientists.
Sea creatures may have role in global warming
(07/04/2006) Small sea creatures known as salps may have a role in global warming by locking up carbon in surface seas and sending it to the depths of the ocean. By prevening carbon from re-entering the atmosphere, these animals may have a small role in countering climate change resulting from increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Great flood disrupted ocean currents, cooled climate, finds new research
(06/29/2006) Ocean circulation changes caused at the end of the past glacial period were more extensive than previously thought, according to new research scientists at the University of East Anglia and Cardiff University. The findings, published in the June 30 issue of the journal Science, indicate that the catastrophic freshwater release from glacial lakes in North America slowed ocean circulation and cooled the climate some 8200 years ago.
Ozone hole recovery slower than expected
(06/29/2006) Scientists from NASA and other agencies have concluded that the ozone hole over the Antarctic will recover around 2068, nearly 20 years later than previously believed. Researchers from NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) have developed a new tool, a math-based computer model, to predict the timing of ozone hole recovery. Their findings will be published tomorrow in Geophysical Research Letters.
Some earthquakes may be linked to climate change
(06/28/2006) Scientists say melting glaciers could induce tectonic activity. The reason? As ice melts and waters runs off, tremendous amounts of weight are lifted off of Earth's crust. As the newly freed crust settles back to its original, pre-glacier shape, it can cause seismic plates to slip and stimulate volcanic activity according to research into prehistoric earthquakes and volcanic activity.
Japan, China may be less affected by climate change
(06/28/2006) Temperature change in East Asian countries may be less significant than in countries bordering the North Atlantic, such as America and Great Britain, according to new research led by scientists at Newcastle University. Researchers examined pollen samples take from a Japanese lake sediment core and found moderate changes in temperature and precipitation during the period from 16,000 years ago to 10,000 years ago, a time that experienced climate change similar to what we expect in the near future.
Last 50 years 'unusually warm', tropical glaciers melting rapidly finds research
(06/27/2006) Researchers studying ancient tropical ice cores have found evidence of two abrupt climate shifts -- one 5000 years ago and one currently underway. The findings, published in the current issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, may have important implications for immediate future since more than two-thirds of the world's population resides in the tropics.
Madagascar's reefs escape damage from global warming
(06/22/2006) A survey of coral along Madagascar's northeast coast suggests that they island's reef may have so far escaped the damaging effects of warmer ocean temperatures attributed to global climate change. Researchers from conservation International (CI), a leading conservation group, found that the region's coral reefs have avoided the bleaching that has affected other Indian Ocean reefs. The scientists believe that cool water currents from adjacent deep ocean areas have helped offset the warming effects of climate change.
Earth at Warmest in 400 Years
(06/22/2006) There is sufficient evidence from tree rings, boreholes, retreating glaciers, and other proxies of past surface temperatures to say with a high level of confidence that the last few decades of the 20th century were warmer than any comparable period in the last 400 years, according to a new report from the National Research Council. Less confidence can be placed in proxy-based reconstructions of surface temperatures for A.D. 900 to 1600, said the committee that wrote the report, although the available proxy evidence does indicate that many locations were warmer during the past 25 years than during any other 25-year period since 900. Very little confidence can be placed in statements about average global surface temperatures prior to A.D. 900 because the proxy data for that time frame are sparse, the committee added.
World's coral reefs threatened by lack of effective protection
(06/22/2006) Of the 18.7% of tropical coral reefs that lie within "Marine Protected Areas," less than 2% are extended protection complete with regulations on extraction, poaching and other major threats, according to an analysis published in Science Magazine on June 23. The research represents the first global assessment of the extent, effectiveness and gaps in coverage of coral reefs by MPAs. The team built a database of MPAs for 102 countries, including satellite imagery of reefs worldwide, and surveyed more than 1,000 MPA managers and scientists to determine the conservation performance of MPAs.
Global Warming Fueled Record 2005 Hurricane Season Conclude Scientists
(06/22/2006) Global warming accounted for around half of the extra hurricane-fueling warmth in the waters of the tropical North Atlantic in 2005, while natural cycles were only a minor factor, according to a new analysis by Kevin Trenberth and Dennis Shea of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). The study will appear in the June 27 issue of Geophysical Research Letters, published by the American Geophysical Union
Warming could cause rain forests to release more carbon dioxide
(06/20/2006) Extra amounts of key nutrients in tropical rain forest soils cause them to release more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, according to research conducted by scientists at the University of Colorado (CU) - Boulder. Results of the research, conducted by Cory Cleveland and CU scientist Alan Townsend, are published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The tropics may be expanding due to climate change
(05/26/2006) A new study published in Science by scientists from the University of Utah and the University of Washington indicates that the tropics have expanded farther from the equator since 1979.Analyzing atmospheric temperature measurements by satellites, the researchers say that widening of the tropics amounts to 2 degrees of latitude or 140 miles but are not sure whether the expansion is the result of natural climate variation or by human-induced global warming due to the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The researchers warm that the trend could expand some of the world's driest regions. "It's a big deal. The tropics may be expanding and getting larger," says study co-author Thomas Reichler, an assistant professor of meteorology at the University of Utah. "If this is true, it also would mean that subtropical deserts are expanding into heavily populated midlatitude regions."
Why does Madagascar have so many unique animals?
(05/24/2006) Scientists have developed the first comprehensive theory to explain Madagascar's rich biodiversity. Madagascar, larger than California and about size the size of Texas or France, is the world's fourth largest island. Isolated in the Indian Ocean off the coast of southern Africa, about 70% of the estimated 250,000 species found on the island exist nowhere else on the globe. The island is home to such evolutionary oddities as lemurs, a group of primates endemic to the island; brilliantly colored lizards including geckos and chameleons; tenrecs, spiny hedgehog-like creatures; and the fossa, a carnivorous animal that looks like a cross between a puma and a dog but is closely related to the mongoose.
Extreme global warming likely by end of century
(05/24/2006) Climate models predicting a 5.6 degrees Celsius increase in Earth's temperature by the end of the century may have underestimated the increase by as much as 2.3C according to researchers at the University of California at Berkeley.
Global warming may be worse than predicted
(05/22/2006) Climate change estimates for the next century may have substantially underestimated the potential magnitude of global warming says a new study from a team of European scientists. The paper, published in the May 26 issue of Geophysical Research Letters, says that warming may be 15-to-78 percent higher than estimates that do not consider the feedback mechanism involving carbon dioxide and Earth's temperature.
2006: Expect another big hurricane year says NOAA
(05/22/2006) The 2006 hurricane season in the north Atlantic region is likely to again be very active, although less so than 2005 when a record-setting 15 hurricanes occured, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. On average, NOAA says the north Atlantic hurricane season produces 11 named storms, of which six become hurricanes, including two major hurricanes. In 2005, the Atlantic hurricane season contained a record 28 storms, including 15 hurricanes. Seven of these hurricanes were considered major, of which a record four hit the United States. The warning from NOAA comes after a slew of studies have indicated that climate change could increase the frequency and intensity of powerful storms. Last year, two earlier studies published in the journals Nature and Science found a strong correlation between rising tropical sea surface temperatures and an increase in the strength of hurricanes.
Scientists endorse plan to save rainforests through emissions trading
(05/19/2006) The Association for Tropical Biology and conservation (ATBC), the world's largest scientific organization devoted to the study and wise use of tropical ecosystems, has formally endorsed a radical proposal to help save tropical forests through carbon trading. Under the initiative proposed by an alliance of fifteen developing countries led by Papua New Guinea and Costa Rica, tropical nations that show permanent reductions in deforestation would be eligible to receive international carbon funds from industrial nations who could purchase carbon credits to help them meet their emissions targets international climate agreements like the Kyoto Protocol.
New York at high risk of flooding from climate change
(05/17/2006) For many, sea-level rise is a remote and distant threat faced by people like the residents of the Tuvalu Islands in the South Pacific, where the highest point of land is only 5 meters (15 feet) above sea level and tidal floods occasionally cover their crops in seawater.
Exxon Valdez oil spill more damaging to wildlife finds study
(05/16/2006) New evidence suggests that oil from the Exxon Valdez may still causing damage to Alaska's Prince William Sound, 17 years after the ship ran aground. The study, by chemist Jeffrey Short and colleagues at the National Marine Fisheries Service in Juneau, Alaska, appears today on the Web site of the American Chemical Society's journal.
Global warming may cause permanent damage to coral reefs
(05/15/2006) Global warming has had a more devastating impact on coral reefs than previously believed says a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The research, the first to show the long-term impact of rising sea temperatures on coral and fish communities, suggests that "large sections of coral reefs and much of the marine life they support may be wiped out for good," according to a news release from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, an institution involved in the project.
US has low-cost alternatives to oil; peak oil frenzy and human-induced climate change avoidable says Columbia University
(05/14/2006) Surging oil prices have fueled calls for the United States to develop new sources of affordable and secure domestic energy. While renewable energy -- especially biofuels, wind power, and solar technologies -- is an area of particular interest, researchers from the Earth Institute at Columbia University say that the U.S. already has relatively low-cost alternatives to imported oil, including coal, tar sands, and oil shale. These resources can be extracted and used at a lower cost to the environment than some might expect. In a report published in the most recent issue of Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Klaus S. Lackner and Jeffrey D. Sachs argue that "coal alone could satisfy the country's energy needs of the twenty-first century." They say that "coal liquefaction, or the process of deriving liquid fuels from coal, is already being used in places and with expanded infrastructure could provide gasoline, diesel fuel and jet fuel at levels well below current prices." Further, Sachs and Lackner suggest that "environmental constraints such as increased carbon dioxide emissions arising from greater use of coal and other fossil fuels could be avoided for less than 1 percent of gross world product by 2050," a sum far less than others have estimated.
Droughts in India to worsen with climate change -- study
(05/12/2006) India could face worse droughts according to a new study by scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego. In a study published in the May 15 issue of Journal of Climate, Chul Eddy Chung and V. Ramanathan of Scripps Oceanography say that cooler-than-normal temperatures in the northern part of the Indian ocean have weakened the region's natural climate circulation and monsoon conditions, resulting in reduced rainfall over India and increased rainfall over the Sahel area south of the Sahara in Africa,
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.
Study questions link between hurricanes and global warming
(05/10/2006) New research calls into question the linkage between major Atlantic hurricanes and global warming. That is one of the conclusions from a University of Virginia study to appear in the May 10, 2006 issue of the journal Geophysical Research Letters. In recent years, a large number of severe Atlantic hurricanes have fueled a debate as to whether global warming is responsible. Because high sea-surface temperatures fuel tropical cyclones, this linkage seems logical. In fact, within the past year, several hurricane researchers have correlated basin-wide warming trends with increasing hurricane severity and have implicated a greenhouse-warming cause.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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."
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.
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