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Environment Headlines - 7 September, 2005

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New Orleans: The toxic timebomb
Contaminated waters threaten an environmental disaster

Andrew Gumbel and Rupert Cornwell, The Independent (UK)
The devastation of Hurricane Katrina has created a vast toxic soup that stretches across south-eastern Louisiana and Mississippi, and portends the arrival of an environmental disaster to rival the awe-inspiring destruction of property and human life over the past week.

Toxicologists and public health experts warned yesterday that pumping billions of gallons of contaminated water from the streets of New Orleans back into the Gulf of Mexico - the only viable option if the city is ever to return to even a semblance of its former self -would have a crippling effect on marine and animal life, compromise the wetlands that form the first line of resistance to future hurricanes, and carry deleterious consequences for human health throughout the region. ...
(7 Sep 2005)


German conservative links Katrina to U.S. CO2 policy
Germany Offers U.S. Katrina Aid

Staff, Reuters
BERLIN - A German conservative policymaker said on Thursday climate change had played a role in Hurricane Katrina and urged the U.S. to join other nations in cutting the carbon dioxide emissions blamed for global warming.

Gerda Hasselfeldt, a leading candidate to become environment minister if the conservative opposition wins next month's election, was asked in an interview with n-tv television if climate change had contributed to the devastation wrought by the storm on the U.S. Gulf Coast in which thousands may have died.

"That is the case," she replied, adding that there should be better coordination at the global level to achieve a further reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. "The U.S. must be more involved. But we will not achieve that through insults," Hasselfeldt said. ...
(1 Sept 2005)


Vegetation growth may quickly raise Arctic temperatures

American Geophysical Union via
WASHINGTON -- Warming in the Arctic is stimulating the growth of vegetation and could affect the delicate energy balance there, causing an additional climate warming of several degrees over the next few decades. A new study indicates that as the number of dark-colored shrubs in the otherwise stark Arctic tundra rises, the amount of solar energy absorbed could increase winter heating by up to 70 percent. The research will be published 7 September in the first issue of the Journal of Geophysical Research-Biogeosciences, published by the American Geophysical Union.

The study in western Alaska during the winters in 2000-2002 shows how the increasing abundance of high-latitude vegetation, particularly shrubs, interacts with the snow and affects Earth's albedo, or the reflection of the Sun's rays from the surface. The paper, which also analyzes the ramifications of continued plant growth in the tundra regions, written by researchers at the U.S. Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory and at Colorado State University. It presents the first evidence that shrub growth could alter the winter energy balance of the Arctic and subarctic tundra in a substantial way.

The authors measured five adjacent sites in subarctic Alaska. They included areas covered by continuous forest canopy, others dotted with shrubs, and some of barren tundra. They found that mid-winter albedo was greatly reduced where shrubs were exposed and that melting began several weeks earlier in the spring at these locations, as compared to snow-covered terrain. The researchers note, however, that the shrubs' branches produced shade that slowed the rate of melting, so that the snowmelt finished at approximately the same time for all the sites they examined.

Matthew Sturm, lead author of the study, notes that warming in the region seems to have stimulated shrub growth, which further warms the area and creates a feedback effect that can promote higher temperatures and even more growth. This feedback could, in turn, accelerate increases in the shrubs' range and size over the four million square kilometer [1.5 million square mile] tundra and effect significant changes over the region.

"Basically, if tundra is converted to shrubland, more solar energy will be absorbed in the winter than before," Sturm says. And while previous research has shown that warmer temperatures during the Arctic summer enhance shrub growth, "our study is important because it suggests that the winter processes could also contribute to and amplify the rate of the [growth]."
(6 September 2005)


Climate food crisis 'to deepen'

Jonathan Amos, BBC
Africa is expected to take the brunt of the changes
Climate change threatens to put far more people at risk of hunger over the next 50 years than previously thought, according to new research.

Scientists say expected shifts in rain patterns and temperatures over that time could lead to an extra 50 million people struggling to get enough food.

And the situation could be even worse if the important cereal crops do not show the improved yields many expect. US and UK teams reported this grim assessment at a conference in Dublin.

"We expect climate change to aggravate current problems," Professor Martin Parry told the British Association's Festival of Science. "If we accept that broadly 500 million people are at risk today, we expect that to increase by about 10% by the middle part of this century."

The researcher is part of a team at the UK Met Office's Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction that has been modelling the future impact of climate change for the past 10 years. He said sharp reductions in the emissions of the greenhouse gases thought responsible for global warming could counteract the damaging effects expected on agriculture - but this would not be achieved under the current climate treaty, the Kyoto Protocol.

"Climate change as you know has an inertia, so even if we were to chop emissions off at the knees now we've got 40 or 50 years of warming and drying to go," he said.

Most of those extra individuals projected to be put at risk of hunger would be in Africa, according to the research.
(6 September 2005)
Mentioned by Big Gav of Peak Energy / Australia.

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