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Environment - June 26

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Geoscientists Discover Earth's Carbon Sink Switch

Walter Derzko, Smart Economy
Circulation in the waters near the Antarctic coast may be one of the planet's critical means of regulating levels of carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere, according to Princeton researchers-   Irina Marinov and Jorge Sarmiento.

Though climate scientists have long debated the reasons behind the variation in atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide that occur over lengthy periods in Earth's history, the Princeton team may have found a clue to where the answer can be found. 

In a new research paper, the team reveals that the waters in the Southern Ocean below 60 degrees south latitude, the region that hugs the continent of Antarctica, play a far more significant role than was previously thought in regulating atmospheric carbon, and -- in contrast to past theories -- the waters north of this region do comparably little to regulate it.

"Cold water that wells up regularly from the depths of the Southern Ocean spreads out on the ocean's surface along both sides of this dividing line, and we have found that the water performs two very different functions depending on which side of the line it flows toward," said Irina Marinov, the study's lead author. 

"While the water north of the line generally spreads nutrients throughout the world's oceans, the second, southward-flowing stream soaks up carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, from the air.  Such a sharply-defined difference in function has surprised us.  It could mean that a change to one side of the cycle might not affect the other as much as we once suspected."

The Southern Ocean has long been of interest to scientists, who have found that it influences the rest of the planet in many ways. 
(22 June 2006)


Pollution 'bull's-eye'
Cement makers seen as a key global-warming culprit

Edie Lau, Sacramento Bee
REDDING -- At the Lehigh Southwest Cement Co. factory off Interstate 5, all the pollutants are funneled through a single chimney stack stretching 270 feet into the sky. It's a point of pride for plant manager Jim Ellison that nothing visible is coming out. "From the highway, you can't tell if we're running or not," Ellison said.

In making cement, an inherently dusty process that burns tons of coal by the hour, Lehigh produces its share of pollution. But it does a noteworthy job curtailing releases of the standard bad actors -- oxides of nitrogen, sulfur dioxide and particulate matter.

"They have a good program for controlling their emissions," said Ross Bell, air quality district manager for Shasta County.

In a world increasingly anxious over the risks of climate change, however, controlling standard pollutants is not enough.

Like most heavy industries, cement manufacturing is a significant source of carbon dioxide. Technically, carbon dioxide is not classified as a pollutant in the United States, but this invisible gas, once considered benign, is increasingly seen as an environmental threat because it traps heat in the atmosphere.

Most heavy industries produce carbon dioxide by burning fossil fuels. Cement manufacturing is different. While the process does consume plenty of fossil fuels, its chief source of carbon emissions is a chemical reaction that forms the main ingredient in cement -- a substance derived chiefly from limestone called clinker.

"By design, we're producing CO2," Ellison said, underscoring how difficult it would be to separate cement-making from that byproduct.

Because of this characteristic, cement manufacturing, responsible for about 5 percent of the world's industrial climate-changing emissions, is a singular challenge in the global quest to ratchet down greenhouse gases.

It also symbolizes how profoundly modern society relies on processes that create carbon dioxide. As the glue that holds concrete together, cement literally is the foundation of civilization
(26 June 2006)


Lloyds of London: 'Adapt or Bust' on Climate Change

Joel Makower, WorldChanging
Probably no sector is more conservative than the insurance industry, and I'm not referring to its political posturing. Insurance is, at its essence, a numbers game -- about risk management, probability theory, and certainty. And so it is noteworthy that the insurance industry's concern over climate change continues to grow, and that the warnings are becoming louder and clearer.

This isn't new, of course. We've previously covered reports on the growing weather-related economic losses being absorbed by the insurance industry, and on U.S. insurers' efforts to growing acceptance of global warming as a manifestation of the post-Katrina era.

But the noise level on this topic has grown considerably of late. Last week, National Homebuyers, the U.K.'s largest consumer-facing property purchasing company, issued a warning to homeowners and home purchasers to consider environmental changes while making decisions in the property market. It pointed to several profound changes taking place "that will affect the U.K.," including the desertification of southern Spain, the disappearing Alpine glaciers, and worsening Mediterranean droughts. It concluded:

The knock on impact to the UK includes the increased risk of storm damage, especially at coastal areas and flooding in the Thames estuary, and eastern England, from higher levels of rainwater running downstream, swelling rivers, and higher sea levels pushing water upstream. Other impacts could include increased coastal erosion and deposition levels, lower temperatures and freezing winters and changes in drying soil that could damage foundations as early as this summer. All this could affect property, and it's ability to be mortgaged, sold, and insured.

(25 June 2006)


Hints on climate change from Maori traditions
(Audio and transcript)
Living on Earth
Over a relatively short time, understanding the Earth's climate history has become one of the most happening areas of scientific research. In New Zealand, climate researchers are trying to glean climate knowledge from the country's original inhabitants, the Maori. Durrell Dawson reports some of these researchers are Maori themselves, and that gives their work a certain poignance.

CURWOOD: For millennia indigenous peoples have relied on fishing for subsistence, building up a keen knowledge of how, when and where to catch fish. And this ancient knowledge is giving some modern scientists yet another way to measure the impact of global warming.

As part of our special series, "Early Signs: Reports from a Warming Planet," we go to New Zealand where the Maori have been fishing for eels for more than a thousand years. Young Maori researchers are now hearing stories from their elders that suggest the traditional eel fishing seasons are changing.

Our series on climate change is a collaboration of the UC-Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, Salon dot com, and Living on Earth. From New Zealand, Durrell Dawson has our report.
(23 June 2006)

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