Saturday, August 19, 2006
Last year produced a record 15 Atlantic hurricanes, including four of the most severe Category 5 variety. One of those, of course, was Katrina, the most economically damaging storm in U.S. history. So it's no surprise that climate scientists are scrambling to learn whether these events merely constituted a freak coincidence or evidenced a frightening trend. Some studies have suggested that rising temperatures worldwide are to blame for the increased frequency of hurricanes (ScienceNOW, 27 June). The jury remains out on that issue, but new research suggests the first direct link between global warming and greater hurricane intensity.
James Elsner of Florida State University in Tallahassee studied data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration stretching back over the past half century. In the 23 August Geophysical Research Letters, he reports that whenever average global air temperatures increased during the June-November hurricane season, water temperatures in the tropical Atlantic rose in lockstep. This nearly always produced a season with more powerful tropical storms.
Elsner's findings suggest that air temperatures tend to drive sea temperatures, but not the other way around--which implies a link between greenhouse gases and storm intensity. "The large increases in powerful hurricanes over the past several decades, together with the results presented here, certainly suggest cause for concern," Elsner says. "These results have serious implications for life and property throughout the Caribbean, Mexico, and portions of the United States."
Perhaps, says Gavin Schmidt, a climate specialist with NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City. Elsner's paper does add to evidence that recent increases in sea surface temperature result from the influence of greenhouse gases and other factors and don't simply reflect an upswing in a natural cycle, as some scientists have proposed, Schmidt says. He adds, however, that the findings do not necessarily pinpoint what increases in hurricane activity can be expected in the future, nor do they predict what level of hurricane damage increase we can expect.
Friday, August 18, 2006
DOT's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration will propose new rules to regulate some low-stress lines in rural areas, including BP's Prudhoe Bay lines.
Current US pipeline regulations exempt from oversight the 22-mile line operated by BP that leaked oil onto the Arctic tundra, spurring a shutdown of half the capacity of the 400,000 barrel-per-day field, the nation's biggest.
That's because low-stress lines like BP's Prudhoe Bay network -- ones that run at less than 20 percent of their rated capacity and are sited away from population centers -- are deemed to be less risky than high-pressure lines.
But the Transportation Department, which oversees the 200,000-mile network of pipelines that criss-cross the nation, is rethinking that equation after a BP pipeline in Prudhoe Bay ruptured in March, spilling at least 200,000 gallons of crude in the North Slope's worst onshore spill.
pipeline inspection proposal will cover 1,600 miles of roughly 5,000
miles of US low-pressure
pipelines. The rules will require cleaning and inspections of
lines every 5 years in "unusually sensitive" areas, such as
endangered species habitats or community drinking supplies.
Reportedly, BP's lines had not been cleaned for over 10 years.
Environmentalists want all pipelines inspected. Oil lobbyists argue
that inspecting lower risk pipelines would unduly stretch inspection
The pipeline inspection proposal will cover 1,600 miles of roughly 5,000 miles of US low-pressure pipelines. The rules will require cleaning and inspections of low-stress lines every 5 years in "unusually sensitive" areas, such as endangered species habitats or community drinking supplies. Reportedly, BP's lines had not been cleaned for over 10 years. Environmentalists want all pipelines inspected. Oil lobbyists argue that inspecting lower risk pipelines would unduly stretch inspection resources.The head of the federal pipeline agency was quoted as saying:
Prudhoe Bay could have been prevented if BP had paid more attention to its maintenance,...The standard of care up there was well below what we've seen from other companies ... and well below what I would expect from a company like BP.
When it comes to powering laptops and hybrid cars, batteries get most of the attention. But these gadgets and myriad others also contain devices known as capacitors that provide quick bursts of energy. Capacitors can't store as much power as batteries, but the latest "supercapacitors" have started to close the gap. Now, their storage capabilities may be about to take another big jump.
In a report published online this week by Science (www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/1132195), researchers from the United States and France report that by carefully controlling the nanoscale structure of a carbon-based supercapacitor, they've managed to increase the amount of electrical charges it can hold by about 50%. "It looks like they've got something significant there," says John Miller, a physicist who runs JME Inc., a supercapacitor materials evaluation company in Shaker Heights, Ohio. If this performance translates to commercial devices, it could help manufacturers create smaller and cheaper power packs for everything from cameras to cars, Miller says. First, however, researchers need to learn more about how it works.
Those of us who track the effects of global warming had assumed that the first large flow of climate refugees would likely be in the South Pacific with the abandonment of Tuvalu or other low-lying islands. We were wrong. The first massive movement of climate refugees has been that of people away from the Gulf Coast of the United States.
Hurricane Katrina, which made landfall in late August 2005, forced a million people from New Orleans and the small towns on the Mississippi and Louisiana coasts to move inland either within state or to neighboring states, such as Texas and Arkansas. Although nearly all planned to return, many have not.
Unlike in previous cases, when residents typically left areas threatened by hurricanes and returned when authorities declared it was safe to do so, many of these evacuees are finding new homes. In this respect, the U.S. hurricane season of 2005 was different. Record-high temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico surface waters helped make Hurricane Katrina the most financially destructive hurricane ever to make landfall anywhere.
In some Mississippi Gulf Coast towns, Katrina’s powerful 28-foot-high storm surge (8.5 meters) did not leave a single structure standing. There was nothing for evacuees to return to. The destruction of housing and infrastructure in St. Bernard Parish, a low-lying 40-mile-long peninsula (64 kilometers) extending southeast from New Orleans, rendered most of it uninhabitable. The Katrina storm surge that raised the water level in Lake Pontchartrain so high that it breached the levees and flooded New Orleans left much of the city unfit to live in. Even today, a year later, large parts of the city are without basic infrastructure services such as water, power, sewage disposal, garbage collection, and telecommunications. Interestingly, the country to suffer the most damage from a hurricane is also primarily responsible for global warming.
Many evacuees were able to return in a matter of days, but many more were not. New Orleans’ population before Katrina struck was 463,000. Claritas, a private demographic data-gathering and analysis firm, reported that after the hurricane New Orleans’ population shrank to 93,000. By January 2006, it had recovered to 174,000. By July 2006, the city still had only 214,000 residents, less than half of its pre-Katrina population.
Three Louisiana coastal parishes (counties) also registered substantial population declines. The population of St. Bernard Parish plummeted from 66,000 residents to 15,000 in July 2006. South of New Orleans, the population of Plaquemines Parish declined from 29,000 to 20,000. Densely populated Jefferson Parish, also bordering New Orleans on the south, dropped from 453,000 to 411,000, a loss of 42,000.
Mississippi’s three coastal counties each lost population. The July tabulation showed Hancock County had lost 8,000 residents. Harrison County, which includes the town of Gulfport, lost 12,000, and Jackson County 4,000. (See data.)
As of July 2006, New Orleans, the three parishes, and the three counties in Mississippi had lost a total of 375,000 residents because of destruction from Katrina. Some evacuees are still returning, but the flow has slowed to a near trickle. We estimate that at least 250,000 of them have established homes elsewhere and will not return. They no longer want to face the personal trauma and financial risks associated with rising seas and more destructive storms. These evacuees are now climate refugees.
In the Journal of Developing Societies, Nagarajan discusses simulation studies of the ecological suicide of Easter Island -- reminding us of the lessons of Easter Island about the consequences of unsustainable resource use. Easter Island
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
Monday, August 14, 2006
The Eighth International Conference on Mercury as a Global Pollutant Mercury issued an Official Conference Declaration last Friday, endorsed by 37 top international experts on mercury pollution and ratified by a large majority of conference participants. According to the declaration, mercury threatens the health of people, fish and wildlife everywhere, from industrial sites to remote corners of the planet, but reducing mercury use and emissions would lessen those threats. A significant portion of the mercury deposited near industrial sources comes from those sources, rather than from natural sources. Evidence of mercury's health risks is strong enough that people, especially children and women of childbearing age, should be careful about how much and which fish they eat.
August 14, 2006 in Air Quality, Energy, Governance/Management, International, Mining, Physical Science, Social Science, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, US, Water Quality | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)