May 26, 2006
NY Proposes New Mercury Standard
The NY Times reported today that NY governor George Pataki has proposed one of the most stringent mercury standards in the nation for electric power plants:
Under the draft proposal, New York would cut the level of mercury from electricity-generating stations in half by 2010. By 2015, the new state mercury standard would be toughened further, requiring a 90 percent reduction from current levels.
The state rule would be significantly more restrictive than a federal mercury standard set last year by the Bush administration. Under the federal rule, power plants must decrease mercury emissions 70 percent by 2018. Another major difference is that the federal plan allows generators to trade pollution credits, while New York's does not.
If the state's new mercury rule is carried out, it would complete a far-ranging and comprehensive set of controls over the four most damaging air pollutants from power plants. A 2003 state program curtails nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide, which cause acid rain. Late last year, seeing the federal inaction on global warming, New York and six other northeastern states joined together to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, the heat-trapping gases that contribute to climate change.
Laws Need to Protect Newly Discovered Species Before Their Location is Revealed
A letter by several biologists published in Science notes that biologists now face the same dilemma that archaeologists have long struggled with -- publishing their findings increases the likelihood that their discovery will be destroyed.
Scientific Description Can Imperil Species
Scientists are racing to discover and describe new species in the face of a global biodiversity crisis. Ironically, in cases of commercially valuable taxa, publishing new species descriptions may inadvertently facilitate their extinctions. These descriptions advertise "novelties" for hobbyists and drive new markets. Most modern descriptions provide detailed information on the locality and habitat where the new species occurs, turning a scientific article into a treasure map for commercial collectors. Researchers in fields with application to bioterrorism are debating codes of conduct to ensure that their findings do not fall into the wrong hands, the so-called "dual-use dilemma" (1). Taxonomists describing new species that have the potential to become commercially valuable are also faced with a dual-use dilemma.
Three of us have published descriptions of new species of restricted-range reptiles and amphibians that tragically aided their commercial exploitation. Immediately after being described, the turtle Chelodina mccordi from the small Indonesian island of Roti (2) and the gecko Goniurosaurus luii from southeastern China (3) became recognized as rarities in the international pet trade, and prices in importing countries soared to highs of $1500 to $2000 each. They became so heavily hunted that today C. mccordi is nearly extinct in the wild (4) and G. luii is extirpated from its type locality (3). The salamander Paramesotriton laoensis from northern Laos was not known in the international pet trade prior to its recent description as a new species (5). Over the past year, Japanese (6, 7) and German collectors used the published description to find these salamanders, and they are now being sold to hobbyists in those countries for $170 to $250 each. Similar cases are known from elsewhere in the world and from other taxa.
Withholding locality information from new species descriptions (8) might hamper profiteers, but it also hampers science and conservation. However, with the aid of the Internet, scientists can now monitor commercial demand for species just as commercial collectors can monitor scientific journals. This means prior information exists on which taxa will likely become commercial commodities (we should become concerned for any newly described species of Chelodina and Goniurosaurus). In such cases, taxonomists should work closely with relevant governmental agencies to coordinate publication of the description with legislation or management plans that thwart overexploitation of the new species. Of course, this will not always be easy or successful, and may lengthen publication time, but alternative solutions that allow taxonomists to continue their work without contributing to species decline are wanting.
Forecast for the Temperate Zone: Hot and Dry?
Science published a study by Fu that examines 27 years of satellite data indicating that, relative to the global-mean trends of the respective layers, both hemispheres have experienced more tropospheric warming and stratospheric cooling in the 15 to 45� latitude belt. This pattern indicates a widening of the tropical circulation and a poleward shift of the tropospheric jet streams and their associated subtropical dry zones.
Corals Join the Endangered Species List
Two species of Caribbean coral — acropora palmata, or elkhorn, and acropora cervicornis, or staghorn — were listed as threatened species earlier this month. They have declined 97% since the 1970s. According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, elkhorn and staghorn were the dominant species on the Caribbean reef as recently as the early 80's. They face many threats, but the most significant may be climate change.NY Times report
The Exxon Valdez Disaster Continues
According to a follow-up study by Short published in Environmental Science and Technology, oil from the spill remains throughout the tidal zone of Prince William Sound, which may explain why sea otters and ducks in that area have recovered more slowly than other nearby populations. Thousands of sea otters, seals, birds and other marine species died immediately after 11 million gallons of oil were spilled from the Exxon Valdez. Oil continued to be found in the area over the next decade, but most researchers believed it was confined mainly to the high tidal regions, where the shore is only covered with water at high tide -- which should not have affected sea otters and marine ducks that frequent lower tidal regions. Over the past few years, studies by Short and his colleagues determined that a significant percentage of areas (about 10%) have subsurface oil in lower, middle, and higher tidal zones. Short's new study estimates that sea otters dig three pits a day and encounter oil about once every two months. These encounters likely explain why sea otters and sea ducks have not been reproducing successfully in the area.
What is the Value of this Ecosystem Service
Link: Making the Miracle Last
A promising new antibiotic reported in Nature is derived from a bacterium called Streptomyces platensis, recovered from a South African soil sample. It is one of 83,000 natural extracts screened for antibiotic activity. The compound may be effective against a whole range of so-called Gram-positive bacteria, including several of the "superbugs" plaguing hospitals, such as Staphylococcus strains resistant to every known antibiotic except vancomycin.
African Glaciers: Going, Going ...
A study by Taylor in Geophysical Research Letters documents that East African equatorial glaciers are melting at an unprecedented rate and will disappear in a generation due to climate change. Some glaciers are receding by tens of meters annually, and the total area covered by ice shrunk by one-half between 1987 and 2003. With less than one square kilometer of ice remaining, the glaciers will likely vanish within 20 years.
Bird Flu Blues Hit Markets
The Economist reported yesterday that news of human-to-human transmission of bird flu in a rural Indonesian family pushed financial markets down even though the World Health Organization stated that there was no evidence the virus has mutated into more dangerous forms.