Category: Environment


Some years ago I mentioned Pleistocene Park, a project in Siberia attempting to recreate what scientists call the Mammoth Steppe, to reduce combat global climate change. Please join me in making a donation, even two dollars can help. More information about Pleistocene Park and how to donate is available here.

yakut horses at pleistocene park in siberia

Yakutian Horses at Pleistocene Park

An out-of-the-ordinary, simple, blue and white fractal suggesting a melt water lake and a river, or stream, in a valley between glacier-covered mountains. This image is rather odd looking, but strangely appealing, a fortuitous randomly-generated fractal. I doctored it a bit to enhance the appearance of ice and snow.

You can find this image on many items at one of my Zazzle stores. Search for “glacial lake.”

glacial_lake_crackle_small

I thought a digital rendering of a pine cone that I picked up in Ma’alot in northern Israel, would look nice with a quotation from naturalist John Muir. Muir was an early advocate of wilderness preservation in the United States, particularly in the west.

Click on image for full-size view.

john muir quote and pine cone

Preaching of Pines

Where the slopes are covered with pine forests, the Galilee reminds me very much of the western parts of North American. Jews began planting pines in the 1930s to reforest lands damaged by neglect and overgrazing by goats when under Turkish rule. Pines were chosen, in part, due to the fact that most of the “olim,” Jewish immigrants, were from Europe and pines looked normal to them. Eventually, the pine forests came under criticism, referred to as pine tree deserts, monotonous and sterile. Many people wanted to see native species reintroduced. However, in recent years much of the criticism has died away. It seems the pines have promoted the rebuilding of the soil. Native undergrowth and tree species, as well as wildlife, are making a comeback. And I can attest that sometimes the smell of pine resin is just wonderful.

The cone pictured is from from one of those pines, an Aleppo Pine (Pinus halpensis), also known as the Jerusalem Pine, is the only species of wild pine that grows in Israel. It is commonly accepted that the tree now called “pine” is the Biblical “oil tree”, as mentioned in Isaiah XLI, 19:

“I will plant in the wilderness the cedar, the acacia tree, and the myrtle, and the oil tree…”

It is also mentioned in I Kings VI, 23:

“And inside the sanctuary he made two cherubs of oil wood, each ten cubits high.”

The oil tree is also mentioned verses 31 and 33 of the same chapter, as well as in Nechemia VIII, 15.

The oil tree features close to other impressive trees in the description of the vision of the redemption, in the blossoming of the desert and the arid land. In the Mishnah and other rabbinic literature, the oil tree is mentioned as a tree that was used for kindling the beacons that were lighted to announce a new month.

The pine, in its present name, is mentioned in the Bible just once, in the Book of Isaiah XLIV, 14:

“… and takes the cypress and the oak, which he strengthens for himself among the trees of the forest; he plants a pine, and the rain nourishes it.”

There is a mention of pine trees in the Mishnah in the context of the various trees which were used for burning the “red heifer”. There are also those who hold that pines were among the trees used for kindling the beacons to announce a new month.

Here is another view of the cone, superimposed on fallen needles.

Click on image for full-size view.

pine cone and needles

Pine Cone and Fallen Needles

The Aleppo pine blossoms and flowers in the spring. The male cones are shed after the flowering while the female cones develop into fruit. The cone stays closed on the tree until a heavy sharav [hamsin], when it opens and its seeds are scattered.

Several versions of these images are available on a wide variety of items at one of my Zazzle. stores. Search for “pine cone” or “muir.”

This is a follow-on to the most recent post.

Alaska already has one Copper River; it does not need another. Here’s a Pebble Mine Penny made from copper to be taken from the mine. As copper leaching from mine tailings will seriously impact salmon spawning grounds the coin features a fish skeleton. It also features text reading “IN PERPETUITY” (forever), which even the mine developers admit is how long the tailings pile will remain dangerous. And when the Salmon are gone that will be in perpetuity as well.

Click on image for full-size view.

stop pebble mine - a pebble mine penny

Pebble Mine Penny

A penny for your thoughts. Write the EPA and ask them to disapprove the Pebble Mine.

As with the earlier Pebble Mine graphic I will donate a hefty percentage of any proceeds from the sale of items bearing this image to organizations fighting Pebble Mine. The more items sold the greater percentage I will donate. Search “Stop Pebble Mine” at my Zazzle store.

In any event, please help stop Pebble Mine. For starters find more information here and here

After the Salmon are gone what will we eat? A depiction of a Sockeye Salmon in its red spawning phase.

stop pebble mine

Stop Pebble Mine

Miners want access to a very large deposit of gold, copper and molybdemum, located in the headwaters of the Kvichak and Nushagak Rivers, two of the eight major rivers that feed Alaska’s Bristol Bay. Bristol Bay is home to one of the world’s few and most productive wild salmon strongholds that supports a $500 million commercial and sport fishery. Plans for the mine include the world’s largest earthen dam to be built, some 700 feet high and several miles in length. Independent scientists have questioned whether the dam could withstand the force of a massive earthquake, such as the 9.2 quake that devastated Anchorage in 1964. The dam and 10-square-mile-wide containment pond are intended to hold between 2.5 billion and 10 billion tons of mine waste that Pebble would produce over its lifetime – nearly enough to bury Seattle, Washington.

Mine tailings would include sulfides, which become sulfuric acid, as well as copper. The area around the mine is a spawning ground for salmon. Salmon are highly sensitive to pollution, especially copper. If salmon are exposed to even miniscule amounts of copper (parts per billion), their sense of smell is interfered and impairs their ability to locate spawning grounds and identify predators. By the consortium’s own admission the earthen dam will need to be maintained in perpetuity (i.e. forever) in order to ensure acid-generating tailings do not damage the environment. Activity at the mine will last for approximately thirty years until the ores are exhausted. And, we are supposed to believe that the consortium will still be around ten thousand years from now protecting the environment; or maybe just one thousand years from now, or even fifty years from now. Forever is a long time. After the mine is played out the consortium will be gone leaving an inevitable catastrophe in its wake.

In addition, the mine is to be sited in an active geological zone, but we are told the fault line miraculously goes around the site and poses no threat.

The consortium, the Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP), includes the world’s second largest multinational mining corporation, London-based Anglo American, along with Northern Dynasty, a junior mining company headquartered in Canada. Anglo American’s environmental track record does not bode well for Bristol Bay and Northern Dynasty has little experience safeguarding the environment having never developed a mine to date.

Anglo has a disastrous track record on the environment and worker safety at its worldwide mines, including:

Zimbabwe – Acid runoff contaminated groundwater and polluted the Yellow Jacket River from a mine owned by Anglo American until 2003
Nevada – Anglo American is responsible for the largest source of mercury air pollution in United States history. Recommendations to limit fish consumption have been issued for downwind fisheries.
Ireland – Lead and zinc contaminated river sediments and sections of the river were closed to anglers.
Over 220 mine workers have died at Anglo American mining operations in the last five years.

This image is available on many items at my Zazzle store, search under “After Salmon.” I will donate a hefty percentage of any proceeds from the sale of items to organizations fighting Pebble Mine. The more items sold the greater percentage I will donate – even up to 100 percent. In any event, please help stop Pebble Mine. For starters find more information here and here

Cover art for double platinum album “Anthropocene” by the mythical rock group The Carbon Footprints. It portrays a dystopian future of burning, abandoned cities, rusting automobiles, oil and nuclear waste drums; polluted skies and water, and denuded landscapes resulting from humanity’s disregard for the environment. The album includes the hit songs “Meltdown,” “Extinction Event” and “Drill, Baby, Drill.”

Click on image for full-size view.

anthropocene

Anthropocene

As early as 1873, the Italian geologist Antonio Stoppani acknowledged the increasing power and effect of humanity on the Earth’s systems and referred to an “anthropozoic era.” Anthropocene is a term proposed by Nobel Prize-winning scientist Paul Crutzen, to describe a geological epoch of human dominance of biological, chemical and geological processes on Earth. The term, like other time period designations (Pleistocene) has Greek roots: anthropo meaning “human” and cene meaning “new.”

The designation Anthropocene” would serve to mark the evidence and extent of human activities that have had a significant global impact on the Earth’s ecosystems. Crutzen regards the influence of human behavior on the Earth’s atmosphere in recent centuries as so significant as to constitute a new geological epoch. To date, the term has not been adopted as part of the official nomenclature of the geological field of study.

In 2008 a proposal was presented to the Stratigraphy Commission of the Geological Society of London to make the Anthropocene a formal unit of geological epoch divisions. A large majority of that Stratigraphy Commission decided the proposal had merit and should therefore be examined further. Steps are being taken by independent working groups of scientists from various geological societies to determine whether the Anthropocene will be formally accepted into the Geological Time Scale.

Many species have gone extinct due to human impact. Most experts agree that human beings have accelerated the rate of species extinction, although the exact rate is controversial, perhaps 100 to 1000 times the normal background rate of extinction. In 2010 a study published in Nature found that “marine phytoplankton — the vast range of tiny algae species accounting for roughly half of Earth’s total photosynthetic biomass – have declined substantially in the world’s oceans over the past century. Since 1950 alone, algal biomass decreased by around 40%, probably in response to ocean warming – and the decline has gathered pace in recent years. Some authors have postulated that without human impacts the biodiversity of this planet would continue to grow at an exponential rate. The implications being that climate change is accelerating due to, or exacerbated by, human activities.

One suspected geological symptom resulting from human activity is increasing leves of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere. During glacial-interglacial cycles of the past million years, natural processes have varied CO2 by approximately 100 parts per million (ppm) (from 180 ppm to 280 ppm). At the onset of the Industrial Age atmospheric concentration of CO2 was approximately 280 ppm. Recently CO2 levels monitored at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii reached 400 ppm. This signal in the Earth’s climate system is especially significant because it is occurring much faster, and to an enormously greater extent, than previous, similar changes. Most of this increase is due to the burning of fossil fuels. Smaller fractions are the result of cement production and land-use changes such as deforestation.

The Anthropocene has no precise start date, but based on atmospheric evidence may be considered to start with the Industrial Revolution (late eighteenth century). Other scientists link the new term to earlier events, such as the rise of agriculture and the Neolithic Revolution (around 12,000 years ago). Evidence of relative human impact such as the growing human influence on land use, ecosystems, biodiversity, and species extinction is controversial; some scientists believe the human impact has significantly changed (or halted) the growth of biodiversity. Those arguing for earlier dates posit that the proposed Anthropocene may have begun as early as 14,000 to 15,000 years ago, based on lithospheric evidence; this has led other scientists to suggest that the Anthropocene began many thousand years ago; this would be closely synchronous with the current term, Holocene.

A Sockeye Salmon superimposed on a nuclear symbol and the entry from the Periodic Table of Elements for new element Salmonium-238. 6-7 of every salmon will be fissionable isotope Salmonium-235. Be careful what you eat. Salted Salmonium-238, as LOX, can serve as a substitute fuel in reactors normally burning MOX fuels.

As usual this image is available at my Zazzle store.

Click on image for full-size view.

radioactive salmon

New Element Salmonium-238

The situation at Japan’s damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor complex becomes worse by he day. Contaminated water is leaking, has been leaking since soon after the initial accident; and in very large quantities. The Japanese government and TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Corp) have endeavored to minimize the gravity of the situation, but have made a series of recent admissions, each worse than before, about just how bad things are, and might become. Even with that some nuclear experts believe the leaks at Fukushima are much worse than the authorities have stated. The chairman of Japan’s nuclear authority, Shunichi Tanaka, stated at a press conference that he fears there will be further leaks, “We should assume that what has happened once could happen again, and prepare for more. We are in a situation where there is no time to waste,” he told reporters. And there are no accurate figures for radiation levels.

The ongoing problems at the Fukushima plant increased in recent days when the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) admitted that around 300 tonnes of highly radioactive water had leaked from a storage tank on the site. This is in addition to the 600 tons (about 150,000 gallons) of contaminated water that leaks on a daily basis. The daily leaks may be larger than admitted as until just a few days ago we were told that only 300 tons leaked daily.

The Japanese nuclear energy watchdog raised the incident level from one to three on the seven-step international scale that measures the severity of atomic accidents. This was an acknowledgement that the power station was in its greatest crisis since the reactors melted down after the tsunami in 2011.

And there is more. Water used to cool the reactor cores is stored in 1000 tanks which have been built on-site. These are believed to be at around 85% of their capacity and every day an extra 400 tonnes of water are being added. According to one consultant, “What is the worse is the water leakage everywhere else – not just from the tanks. It is leaking out from the basements, it is leaking out from the cracks all over the place. Nobody can measure that. ”

Dr Ken Buesseler is a senior scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution who has examined the waters around Fukushima said, “It is not over yet by a long shot, Chernobyl was in many ways a one week fire-explosive event, nothing with the potential of this right on the ocean. “We’ve been saying since 2011 that the reactor site is still leaking whether that’s the buildings and the ground water or these new tank releases. There’s no way to really contain all of this radioactive water on site. Once it gets into the ground water, like a river flowing to the sea, you can’t really stop a ground water flow. You can pump out water, but how many tanks can you keep putting on site?”

Several scientists also raised concerns about the vulnerability of the huge amount of stored water on site to another earthquake.

fukushima water leak

Contaminated Water Leakage

Water from the storage tanks has seeped into the groundwater and then into the sea. Efforts to use a chemical barrier to prevent sea contamination have not worked. TEPCO has considered a plan to freeze soil around the site in order to stop, or at least slow, the leaks.

Storage problems are compounded by the ingress of ground water, running down from the surrounding hills. It mixes with radioactive water leaking out of the basements of the reactors and then some of it leaches into the sea, despite the best efforts of TEPCO to stem the flow. Some of the radioactive elements like caesium that are contained in the water can be filtered by the earth. Others are managing to get through and this worries watching experts.

Currently, the biggest concern is the possibility that other isotopes, such as Strontium 90, which tend to be more mobile, get into the groundwater. The isotopes will eventually end up in the ocean and accumulate in seafood.

There are also worries about the spent nuclear fuel rods that are being cooled and stored in water pools on site. These contain far more radioactive Caesium than was emitted during the explosion at Chernobyl.

Not only the Japanese are at risk. Radiation from Fukushima is coming to the west coast of North America via an ocean current called the North Pacific Gyre.

While many people assume that the ocean will dilute the Fukushima radiation, a previously-secret 1955 U.S. government report concluded that the ocean may not adequately dilute radiation from nuclear accidents, and there could be “pockets” and “streams” of highly-concentrated radiation.

The University of Hawaii’s International Pacific Research Center created a graphic showing the projected dispersion of debris from Japan:

fukushima radiation

Spread of Fukushima Radiation

Last year, scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory and 3 scientists from the GEOMAR Research Center for Marine Geosciences showed that radiation on the West Coast of North America could end up being 10 times as high as in Japan:

After 10 years the concentrations become nearly homogeneous over the whole Pacific, with higher values in the east, extending along the North American coast with a maximum off Baja California.

***

With caution given to the various idealizations (unknown actual oceanic state during release, unknown release area, no biological effects included, see section 3.4), the following conclusions may be drawn. (i) Dilution due to swift horizontal and vertical dispersion in the vicinity of the energetic Kuroshio regime leads to a rapid decrease of radioactivity levels during the first 2 years, with a decline of near-surface peak concentrations to values around 10 Bq m−3 (based on a total input of 10 PBq). The strong lateral dispersion, related to the vigorous eddy fields in the mid-latitude western Pacific, appears significantly under-estimated in the non-eddying (0.5°) model version. (ii) The subsequent pace of dilution is strongly reduced, owing to the eastward advection of the main tracer cloud towards the much less energetic areas of the central and eastern North Pacific. (iii) The magnitude of additional peak radioactivity should drop to values comparable to the pre-Fukushima levels after 6–9 years (i.e. total peak concentrations would then have declined below twice pre-Fukushima levels). (iv) By then the tracer cloud will span almost the entire North Pacific, with peak concentrations off the North American coast an order-of-magnitude higher than in the western Pacific.

***

(“Order-of-magnitude” is a scientific term which means 10 times as much. The “Western Pacific” means Japan’s East Coast.)

And a team of top Chinese scientists has just published a study in the Science China Earth Sciences journal showing that Fukushima nuclear pollution is becoming more concentrates as it approaches the U.S. west coast, that the plume crosses the ocean in a nearly straight line toward North America, and that it appears to stay together with little dispersion:

On March 30, 2011, the Japan Central News Agency reported the monitored radioactive pollutions that were 4000 times higher than the standard level. Whether or not these nuclear pollutants will be transported to the Pacific-neighboring countries through oceanic circulations becomes a world-wide concern.

***

The time scale of the nuclear pollutants reaching the west coast of America is 3.2 years if it is estimated using the surface drifting buoys and 3.9 years if it is estimated using the nuclear pollutant particulate tracers.

***

But, not to worry; professor Shunichi Yamashita of Nagasaki University, a survivor of the atomic bomb blast there, told residents of Fukushima City: “To tell you the truth, radiation doesn’t affect people who are smiling.”

But wait, there’s more. Soon, an attempt will be made to extract over 1,300 fuel rods (400 tons worth) from damaged Reactor No. 4. A mistake could result in a series of cascading failures and a release of fallout. The removal must be done manually from the top story of the damaged building in the radiation-contaminated environment.

In the worst-case scenario, a mishandled rod may go critical, resulting in an above-ground meltdown releasing radioactive fallout with no way to stop it.

Fuel rod are removed on a daily basis at the more than 430 nuclear sites around the world, a very delicate procedure even under the best of circumstances. What makes fuel removal at Fukushima so dangerous and complex is that it will be attempted on a fuel pool whose integrity has been severely compromised. However, it must be attempted as Reactor 4 has the most significant problems structurally, and this pool is on the top floor of the building.

There are numerous other reasons that this will be a dangerous undertaking.

– The racks inside the pool that contain this fuel were damaged by the explosion in the early days of the accident.

– Zirconium cladding which encased the rods burned when water levels dropped, but to what extent the rods have been damaged is not known, and probably won’t be until removal is attempted.

– Saltwater cooling has caused corrosion of the pool walls, and probably the fuel rods and racks.

– The building is sinking.

– The cranes that normally lift the fuel were destroyed.

– Computer-guided removal will not be possible; everything will have to be done manually.

– TEPCO cannot attempt this process without humans, which will manage this enormous task while being bombarded with radiation during the extraction and casking.

– The process of removing each rod will have to be repeated over 1,300 times without incident.

– Moving damaged nuclear fuel under such complex conditions could result in a criticality if the rods come into close proximity to one another, which would then set off a chain reaction that cannot be stopped.

What could potentially happen is the contents of the pool could burn and/or explode, and the entire structure sustain further damage or collapse. This chain reaction process could be self-sustaining and go on for a long time. This is the apocalyptic scenario in a nutshell.

The water build-up is an extraordinarily difficult problem in and of itself, and as anyone with a leaky basement knows, water always ‘finds a way.’

There are three 100-ton melted fuel blobs underground at Fukushima, but where exactly they are located, no one knows. Whatever ‘barriers’ TEPCO has put in place so far have failed. Efforts to decontaminate radioactive water have failed. Robots have failed. Camera equipment and temperature gauges…failed. Decontamination of surrounding cities has failed.

Endless releases into the Pacific Ocean that will be ongoing for not only our lifetimes, but our children’s’ lifetimes. We have 40 million people living in the Tokyo area nearby. We have continued releases from the underground corium (lava-like molten mixture of portions of a nuclear reactor core, formed during a meltdown) that reminds us it is there occasionally with steam events and huge increases in radiation levels. Across the Pacific, we have at least two peer-reviewed scientific studies so far that have already provided evidence of increased mortality in North America, and thyroid problems in infants on the west coast states from our initial exposures.

We have increasing contamination of the food chain, through bioaccumulation and biomagnification. And a newly stated concern is the proximity of melted fuel in relation to the Tokyo aquifer that extends under the plant. If and when the corium reaches the Tokyo aquifer, serious and expedient discussions will have to take place about evacuating 40 million people from the greater metropolitan area. As impossible as this sounds, you cannot live in an area which does not have access to safe water.

The operation to begin removing fuel from such a severely damaged pool has never been attempted before. The rods are unwieldy and very heavy, each one weighing two-thirds of a ton. But it has to be done, unless there is some way to encase the entire building in concrete with the pool as it is. I don’t know of anyone discussing that option, but it would seem much ‘safer’ than what they are about to attempt…but not without its own set of risks.

And all this collateral damage will continue for decades, if not centuries, even if things stay exactly the way they are now. But that is unlikely, as bad things happen like natural disasters and deterioration with time…earthquakes, subsidence, and corrosion, to name a few. Every day that goes by, the statistical risk increases for this apocalyptic scenario. No one can say or know how this will play out, except that millions of people will probably die even if things stay exactly as they are, and billions could die if things get any worse.

Just where would you put 40 million refugees? During the initial crisis there was talk that the entire population of Japan, approximately 128 million, might have to be permanently evacuated. Given that the situation might rapidly deteriorate that possibility still exists. So, where do you put 128 million refugees?

But smile, not all is lost. Professor Shunichi Yamashita of Nagasaki University, and a survivor of the atomic bombing there, says there is little need to worry, “To tell you the truth, radiations doesn’t affect people who are smiling.”

More information and photos as here, here, and here.

Bee Nice

Bee nice to the bees. A bumblebee does its work on Fireweed in Alaska.

Click on image for full-size view.

bumblebee on fireweed

A bumble does its work on Fireweed in Alaska

Bees are the primary pollinators in ecosystems containing flowering plants. Bees and other insects pollinate 70 per cent of cultivated plants, accounting for 35 per cent of overall food production. Fewer bees means smaller harvests. Bees are in trouble; that means we are as well.

There are nearly 20,000 known species of bees. They are found on every continent except Antarctica, in every habitat on the planet that contains insect-pollinated flowering plants. Bees feeding on nectar and pollen, the former primarily as an energy source; the latter primarily for protein and other nutrients. Most pollen is used as food for larvae. The best-known bee species is the European honey bee, which, as its name suggests, produces honey, as do a few other types of bee.

Bees either focus on gathering nectar or on gathering pollen depending on demand, especially in social species. Bees gathering nectar may accomplish pollination, but bees that are deliberately gathering pollen are more efficient pollinators. It is estimated that one third of the human food supply depends on insect pollination, most of which is accomplished by bees, especially the domesticated European honey bee.

Bees have a long proboscis (a complex “tongue”) that enables them to obtain the nectar from flowers. They have antennae almost universally made up of 13 segments in males and 12 in females. Bees all have two pairs of wings, the hind pair being the smaller of the two; in a very few species, one gender or caste has relatively short wings that make flight difficult or impossible, but none are wingless.

Most bees are fuzzy and carry an electrostatic charge, which aids in the adherence of pollen. Female bees periodically stop foraging and groom themselves to pack the pollen into the scopa, which is on the legs in most bees, and on the ventral abdomen on others, and modified into specialized pollen baskets on the legs of honey bees and their relatives. Many bees are opportunistic foragers, and will gather pollen from a variety of plants, while others concentrate on only one or a few types of plant. A small number of plants produce nutritious floral oils rather than pollen, which are gathered and used by some bees.

Visiting flowers can be a dangerous occupation. Many assassin bugs and crab spiders hide in flowers to capture unwary bees. Other bees are lost to birds in flight. Insecticides used on blooming plants kill many bees, both by direct poisoning and by contamination of their food supply. A honey bee queen may lay 2000 eggs per day during spring buildup, but she also must lay 1000 to 1500 eggs per day during the foraging season, mostly to replace daily casualties, most of which are workers dying of old age.

Bees are in trouble; that means we are as well.

Colony collapse disorder (CCD) is a phenomenon in which worker bees from a beehive or European honey bee colony abruptly disappear. While such disappearances have occurred throughout the history of apiculture, and were known by various names (disappearing disease, spring dwindle, May disease, autumn collapse, and fall dwindle disease), the syndrome was renamed colony collapse disorder in late 2006 in conjunction with a drastic rise in the number of disappearances of Western honeybee colonies in North America. European beekeepers observed similar phenomena in Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Greece, Italy, Portugal, and Spain, and initial reports have also come in from Switzerland and Germany, albeit to a lesser degree while the Northern Ireland Assembly received reports of a decline greater than 50%.

The growth in the use of neonicotinoid pesticides has roughly tracked rising bee deaths since 2005. In 2012, several scientific studies showed that neonicotinoids had previously undetected routes of exposure affecting bees including through dust, pollen, and nectar; that very small amounts were sufficiently toxic to cause failure to return to the hive without immediate lethality, the primary symptom of CCD, and indicated environmental persistence of neonicotinoids in irrigation channels and soil. These studies prompted a formal 2013 peer review by the European Food Safety Authority that said neonicotinoids pose an unacceptably high risk to bees. CCD is probably compounded by a combination of factors. In 2007, some authorities attributed the problem to biotic factors such as Varroa mites, Nosema apis parasites, and Israel acute paralysis virus. Other contributing factors may include environmental change-related stress, malnutrition, and migratory beekeeping. Another study in 2012 also pointed to multiple causes, listing pesticides behind the varroa mite, genetics, habitat loss, and poor nutrition.

In April 2013, the European Union announced plans to restrict the use of certain pesticides to stop bee populations from declining further and by the end of the month passed legislation which banned the use of several neonicotinoids for the following two years. Shortages of bees in the US have increased the cost to farmers of renting them for pollination services by up to 20%

Since about 1972 there has been a dramatic reduction in the number of feral honey bees in the US – they have largely disappeared. And the number of colonies maintained by beekeepers has also declined. This decline includes the cumulative losses from all factors, such as urbanization, pesticide use, tracheal and Varroa mites, and commercial beekeepers’ retiring and going out of business. However, in late 2006 and early 2007 the rate of attrition reached new proportions, and the term colony collapse disorder was coined to describe the sudden disappearances. After several years of research and concern, a team of scientists headed by Jerry Bromenshenk published a paper in October 2010 saying that a new DNA-based virus, invertebrate iridescent virus or IIV6, and the fungus Nosema ceranae were found in every killed colony the group studied. In their study they found that neither agent alone seemed deadly, but a combination of the virus and Nosema ceraneae was always 100% fatal. Bromenshenk said it is not yet clear whether one condition weakens the bees enough to be finished off by the second, or whether they somehow compound the other’s destructive power. “They’re co-factors, that’s all we can say at the moment. They’re both present in all these collapsed colonies.”Investigations into the phenomenon had occurred amidst great concern over the nature and extent of the losses. In 2009 some reports from the US suggested that 1/3 of the honey bee colonies did not survive the winter, though normal winter losses are known to be around 25%. At the end of May 2012, the Swiss government reported that about half of the bee population had not survived the winter. The main cause of the decline was thought to be the parasite varroa.

Apart from colony collapse disorder, many of the losses outside the US have also been attributed to other causes. Pesticides used to treat seeds have been considered prime suspects.

Native pollinators include bumblebees and solitary bees, which often survive in refuges in wild areas away from agricultural spraying, but may still be poisoned in massive spray programs for mosquitoes, gypsy moths, or other insect pests. Although pesticide use remains a concern, the major problem for wild pollinator populations is the loss of the flower-rich habitat on which they depend for food. Throughout the northern hemisphere, the last 70 or so years have seen an intensification of agricultural systems, which has decreased the abundance and diversity of wild flowers.

What you can do to help:

You can help bees by planting bee-friendly flowers and shrubs in your garden or outside space. A garden or patch devoted to plants that are attractive to bees can be a source of great pleasure to any beekeeper, as much for the riot of color as for the activity of the bees.

Two other important factors contribute to a successful bee garden: The flowers should be in full sunlight and should be planted in groups. Flowers grown singularly or in twos and threes may fail to attract bees. A decent-sized clump of a suitable plant, such as lavender, is much more valuable. Likewise, bees often overlook flowers grown in shade even though they may produce nectar and pollen.

Unfortunately, some of the most spectacular-looking garden flowers are of no use whatsoever to the honeybee. Double-headed roses, chrysanthemums and dahlias, for example, provide no nectar and hardly any pollen. In contrast, many flowers that are often discounted as weeds, such as dandelions and forget-me-nots, provide a rich source of food. That is why one of the best and easiest things you can do to make your garden more bee-friendly is to throw away the weedkillers that maintain those immaculate-looking lawns and instead let your lawn and flower beds go wild.

If you are not quite ready to hand over your well-tended garden to the vagaries of nature, the next best thing is to leave just a patch to run wild. One way to get your wild garden started is to sow wildflower seed mixtures. The flowers will be a useful source of nectar and pollen.

Information drawn from multiple sources.

Ragnarok

The Icelandic whaling ship Hvalur 9, sailing a blood-red sea, fires an explosive harpoon at a group of fleeing Fin Whales.

Click on image for full-size view.

ragnarok for the fin whales

Iceland resumes killing Fin Whales

Iceland is set to resume killing Fin Whales this year in contravention of an International Whaling Commission (IWC) moratorium. We learned recently that meat from the endangered Fin Whale was being made into luxury dog treats in Japan. “The most likely reason for shops to sell the whale meat dog treat is to target affluent Japanese who want to show off their wealth with something different,” said Nanami Kurasawa, executive director of the Japan-based Dolphin and Whale Action Network. “The product description identifies the meat as being Fin Whale of Icelandic origin. Its use in pet food suggests that new markets are being explored.”Due to international public reaction the company has just announced that it will cease manufacturing the treats, but Fin Whale met will still be imported and sold for human consumption.

The same firm also makes dog treats from Mongolian horses and kangaroos.

It seems to me that the much-touted Japanese love of nature stops at the waters edge of the home islands.

Ragnarok is the Norse end times legend. Ragnarok will be a great battle resulting the destruction of Valhalla and the deaths of several of the Norse gods: Odin, Thor, Týr, Freyr, Heimdallr, and Loki. A number of natural disasters will occur, and the world will be submerged in water. The catastrophic nature of Ragnarok seems appropriate given the resumption of hunting this endangered species.

The Fin Whale is believed to be the second largest animal ever to have lived on the planet after the blue whale. A full-grown adult can be almost 90 feet in length and weigh 75 tons. Fin Whales are extremely fast, they can outrun most any vessel. They usually ignore ships, but will occasionally race vessels, smashing into waves on a parallel course at a safe distance.

Such speed enabled them to avoid the near extermination suffered by the slower Right Whale until the invention of steam, and later, diesel engines; and the introduction of explosive harpoon heads.

In the 1950s and early 1960s, 30,000 Fin Whales were killed each year. Between 1905 and 1976, 725,000 Fin Whales were reportedly caught in the Southern Ocean, 74,000 in the North Pacific between (1910-1975) and 55,000 in the North Atlantic (1910-1989).

Japan has killed 18 Fin Whales in the last eight Antarctic whaling seasons (ten in the southern summer of 2005-6, three in 2006-7, zero a year later, one in both 2008-9 and 2009-10, two in 2010-11 and one in 2011-12). The score was zero again this year. Since the season of 2007-8, they had allocated themselves a quota of 50 Fin Whales per year, but the ever more effective interventions by Sea Shepherd have prevented these slaughter numbers.

Greenland has an IWC quota of 19 Fin Whales, the North Atlantic subspecies, per year. Greenland wanted to increase their ‘large whale’ quota, but this was refused, because investigations showed that whale meat was freely sold in over a hundred stores in Greenland and was served in tourist restaurants as ‘whale barbeque’ or ‘Greenland sushi.’ Greenland kills whales under an aboriginal permit that demands that all the products from the killed whales must be used for the subsistence of the original human population. The Greenlanders however went commercial with whale meat even making it available in Denmark shops.

Earlier this year, Greenland did what all the whale poachers of the world do when they disagree with the IWC – they ignored this impotent body’s decision and set their own quota – but they kept their fin whale take at 19.

Commercial whaling was discontinued in Iceland in 1986 when the IWC moratorium came into effect, but they used the familiar so-called scientific whaling excuse until 1989. Most of that catch was used as feed on fur farms in Iceland. In 1992, Iceland left the IWC, but could not resume whaling as IWC member Japan was not allowed to import whale meat from a non-member. They rejoined in 2002 with a reservation to the moratorium. In 2009, they set their own quota at 154 Fin Whales per year. That year, they caught 125 of these animals; 148 a year later.

In 2012, Iceland decided for the second consecutive year not to kill Fin Whales. In 2011, there was no demand for whale meat in Japan as a result of the earthquake and tsunami occurring in March of that year. The earthquake reportedly damaged two of the whale meat processing plants with which the Icelanders do business. Business? Yes! Where the appetite for Minke whale meat is small in Iceland, the market for fin whale meat is non-existent. The hunt is only pursued for the export profit from Japan, a glorified subsidizing scheme as Japan’s warehouses are full of unsold whale meat, but that nation fears the day that they are the last slaughterers of whales on the planet.

Sea Shepherd is in the forefront of the effort to protect whales and other marine life. Visit Sea Shepherd’s web site and/or support them by buying t-shirts here.

Compiled from multiple sources.

The taiga during the short summer season. The taiga, covering a large art of the world, but little understood by most people, is threatened due to climate change.

Click on image for full-size view.

Summer in the taiga

An image of the North American taiga (boreal forest) during the short summer period.

The Taiga is a nearly continuous belt of coniferous trees across North America and Eurasia overlying formerly glaciated areas and areas of patchy permafrost. The term “boreal forest” is sometimes used to refer to the more southerly part of the biome, while taiga is used to describe more barren areas of the north approaching the tree line and the tundra biome. The term “boreal” is taken from Boreas, Greek god of the north wind.

The taiga is the world’s largest terrestrial biome accounting for 29% of the world’s forest cover. It stretches over Eurasia and North America. Winters are very cold , summers are warm, rainy, and humid. In North America it covers most of inland Canada and Alaska as well as parts of the extreme northern continental United States (northern Minnesota through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to Upstate New York and northern New England). It also covers most of Sweden, Finland, much of Norway, lowland/coastal areas of Iceland, much of Russia, northern Kazakhstan, northern Mongolia, and northern Japan. However, the predominant tree species varies. For example, the taiga of North America consists of mainly spruces; Scandinavian and Finnish taiga consists of a mix of spruce, pines and birch; Russian taiga has spruces, pines and larches depending on the region, the Eastern Siberian taiga being a vast larch forest.

The growing season, when the vegetation in the taiga comes alive, is usually slightly longer than the climatic definition of summer as the plants of the boreal biome have a lower threshold to trigger growth. For the Taiga Plains in Canada, growing season varies from 80 to 150 days. Data for locations in southwest Yukon gives 80–120 frost-free days. High latitudes mean that the sun does not rise far above the horizon, and less solar energy is received than further south. But the high latitude also ensures very long summer days, as the sun stays above the horizon nearly 20 hours each day, with only around 6 hours of daylight occurring in the dark winters, depending on latitude. The areas of the taiga inside the Arctic circle have midnight sun in mid-summer and polar night in mid-winter.

The taiga experiences relatively low precipitation throughout the year , primarily as rain during the summer months, but also as fog and snow. Snow may remain on the ground for as long as nine months in the northernmost extensions of the taiga. Muskeg (bogs) occur in poorly drained, glacial depressions. Sphagnum moss forms a spongy mat over ponded water. Growing on this mat are species of the tundra such as cottongrass and shrubs of the heath family. Black spruce and larch ring the edge.

Taiga soil tends to be young and poor in nutrients. It lacks the deep, organically enriched profile present in temperate deciduous forests. The thinness of the soil is due largely to the cold, which hinders the development of soil and the ease with which plants can use its nutrients. Fallen leaves and moss can remain on the forest floor for extended periods in the cool, moist climate. Acids from evergreen needles further leach the soil. Acidic soil often limits flora diversity to little more than lichens and some mosses. Herbs and berries can be found in clearings and areas with a prevalence of deciduous trees. The boreal forest is home to many types of berries such as raspberry, cranberry, cloudberry), bilberry and lingonberry. Diversity of soil organisms in the boreal forest is high, comparable to the tropical rainforest.

Since North America and Asia used to be connected by the Bering land bridge, a number of animal and plant species colonized both continents and are distributed throughout the taiga biome. Others differ regionally, typically with each genus having several distinct species, each occupying different regions of the taiga. Taigas also have some small-leaved deciduous trees like birch, alder, willow, and poplar; mostly in areas escaping the most extreme winter cold. Southernmost regions of the taiga may have trees such as oak, maple, elm, and tilia scattered among the conifers.

Evergreen species in the taiga have a number of adaptations specifically for survival in harsh taiga winters, although larch, the most cold-tolerant of all trees,is deciduous:

– Taiga trees tend to have shallow roots to take advantage of the thin soils.

– Many species of tree found there seasonally alter their biochemistry to make them more resistant to freezing, called “hardening”.

– The conical or spire-shaped promotes shedding of snow and prevents loss of branches.

– Needleleaf – narrowness reduces surface area through which water may be lost (transpired), especially during winter when the frozen ground prevents plants from replenishing their water supply and dessication could become problematic. The needles of boreal conifers also have thick waxy coatings–a waterproof cuticle–in which stomata are sunken and protected from drying winds.

– Evergreen habit – retention of foliage allows the trees photosynthesize with their older leaves in late winter and spring when light is good but temperatures are still too low for new growth. Larch are dominant in areas underlain by nearly continuous permafrost and having a climate even too dry and cold for the waxy needles of spruce and fir. Dark needles promotes maximum heat absorption allowing for photosynthesis at temperatures lower than would otherwise be the case.

A wide variety of wildlife are found in the taiga. Insects play a critical role as pollinators, decomposers, and as a part of the food web. Many nesting birds rely on them for food especially in the months of February and March. The cold winters and short summers make the taiga a challenging biome for reptiles and amphibians, which depend on environmental conditions to regulate their body temperatures, and there are only a few species in the boreal forest including red-sided garter snake, common European adder, blue-spotted salamander, northern two-lined salamander, Siberian salamander, wood frog, northern leopard frog, boreal chorus frog, American toad, and Canadian toad. Most hibernate underground in winter. Fish of the taiga must be able to withstand cold water conditions and be able to adapt to life under ice covered water. Species in the taiga include Alaska blackfish, northern pike, walleye, longnose sucker, white sucker, various species of cisco, lake whitefish, round whitefish, pygmy whitefish, arctic lamprey, various grayling species, brook trout (including sea-run brook trout in the Hudson bay area), chum salmon, Siberian taimen, lenok and lake chub.

The taiga is home to a number of large herbivorous mammals, such as moose and reindeer/caribou. Some areas have populations of other deer species such as the elk (wapiti) and roe deer.The largest animal in the taiga is the wood bison, found in northern Canada, Alaska and has been newly introduced into the Russian far-east. There is also a range of rodent species including beaver, squirrel, mountain hare, snowshoe hare, North American porcupine and vole. These species have adapted to survive the harsh winters in their native ranges. Some larger mammals, such as bears, eat heartily during the summer in order to gain weight, and then go into hibernation during the winter. Other animals have adapted layers of fur or feathers to insulate them from the cold. Predatory mammals of the taiga must be adapted to travel long distances in search of scattered prey or be able to supplement their diet with vegetation or other forms of food (such as raccoons). Mammalian predators of the taiga include Canada lynx, Eurasian lynx, stoat, Siberian weasel, least weasel, sable, American marten, North American river otter, European otter, American mink, wolverine, Asian badger, fisher, gray wolf, coyote, red fox, brown bear, American black bear, Asiatic black bear, polar bear and Siberian tiger.

More than 300 species of birds have their nesting grounds in the taiga. Siberian Thrush, White-throated Sparrow, and Black-throated Green Warbler migrate to this habitat to take advantage of the long summer days and abundance of insects found around the numerous bogs and lakes. Of the 300 species of birds that summer in the taiga only 30 stay for the winter. These are either carrion-feeding or large raptors that can take live mammal prey, including Golden Eagle, Rough-legged Buzzard (also known as the Rough-legged Hawk), and Raven, or else seed-eating birds, including several species of grouse and crossbills.

Large areas of Siberia’s taiga have been harvested for lumber since the collapse of the Soviet Union. In some cases, after clearcutting of trees, topsoil was also removed for shipment to Japan. In Canada, eight percent of the taiga is protected from development. The main forestry practice in the boreal forest of Canada is clearcutting, which involves cutting down most of the trees in a given area, then replanting the forest as a monocrop (one species of tree) the following season. Industry officials claim that this process emulates the natural effects of a forest fire, which they claim clearcutting suppresses, protecting infrastructure, communities and roads. However, from an ecological perspective, this is a falsehood, for several reasons, including: a) Removing most of the trees in a given area is usually done using large machines which disrupt the soil greatly, and the dramatic diminution of ground cover permits large-scale erosion and avalanches, which further damage the habitat and sometimes endangers infrastructure, roads, and communities. b) Clearcutting removes most of the biomass from an area, and the various macro and micro-nutrients it contains. This sudden decrease in nutrients in an area contrasts with a forest fire, which returns most of the nutrients to the soil. c) Forest fires leave standing snags, and leave patches of unburned trees. This helps preserve structure and micro-habitats within the area, whereas clearcutting destroys most of these habitats. In the past, clearcuts upwards of 110 km² have been recorded in the Canadian boreal forest. However, today 80% of clearcuts are less than 260 hectares(2.6 square km). Some of the products from logged boreal forests include toilet paper, copy paper, newsprint, and lumber. More than 90% of boreal forest products from Canada are exported for consumption and processing in the United States. However with the recession and fewer US homes being built, that has changed. Some of the larger cities situated in this biome are Murmansk, Arkhangelsk, Yakutsk, Anchorage, Yellowknife, Tromsø, Luleå, and Oulu.

Most companies that harvest in Canadian forests are certified by an independent third party agency such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Sustainable Forests Initiative (SFI), or the Canadian Standards Association (CSA). While the certification process differs between these groups, all of them include forest stewardship, respect for aboriginal peoples, compliance with local, provincial or national environmental laws, forest worker safety, education and training, and other environmental, business, and social requirements. The prompt renewal of all harvest sites by planting or natural renewal is also required.
Climate change

The zone of latitude occupied by the boreal forest has experienced some of the greatest temperature increases on Earth, especially during the last quarter of the twentieth century. Winter temperatures have increased more than summer temperatures. The number of days with extremely cold temperatures (e.g., −20 to −40 °C) has decreased irregularly but systematically in nearly all the boreal region, allowing better survival for tree-damaging insects. In summer, the daily low temperature has increased more than the daily high temperature. In Fairbanks, Alaska, the length of the frost-free season has increased from 60–90 days in the early twentieth century to about 120 days a century later. Summer warming has been shown to increase water stress and reduce tree growth in dry areas of the southern boreal forest in central Alaska, western Canada and portions of far eastern Russia. Precipitation is relatively abundant in Scandinavia, Finland, northwest Russia and eastern Canada, where a longer growth season (i.e. the period when sap flow is not impeded by frozen water) accelerate tree growth. As a consequence of this warming trend, the warmer parts of the boreal forests are susceptible to replacement by grassland, parkland or temperate forest.

In Siberia, the taiga is converting from predominantly needle-shedding larch trees to evergreen conifers in response to a warming climate. This is likely to further accelerate warming, as the evergreen trees will absorb more of the sun’s rays. Given the vast size of the area, such a change has the potential to affect areas well outside of the region. In much of the boreal forest in Alaska, the growth of white spruce trees are stunted by unusually warm summers, while trees on some of the coldest fringes of the forest are experiencing faster growth than previously.

Recent years have seen outbreaks of insect pests in forest-destroying plagues: the spruce-bark beetle (Dendroctonus rufipennis) in Yukon and Alaska; the mountain pine beetle in British Columbia; the aspen-leaf miner; the larch sawfly; the spruce budworm (Choristoneura fumiferana); the spruce coneworm.

Many nations are taking direct steps to protect the ecology of the taiga by prohibiting logging, mining, oil and gas production, and other forms of development. In February 2010 the Canadian government established protection for 13,000 square kilometres of boreal forest by creating a new 10,700 square kilometre park reserve in the Mealy Mountains area of eastern Canada and a 3,000 square kilometre waterway provincial park that follows alongside the Eagle River from headwaters to sea.

Two Canadian provincial governments, Ontario and Quebec, introduced measures in 2008 that would protect at least half of their northern boreal forest. Although both provinces admitted it will take years to plan, work with Aboriginal and local communities and ultimately map out precise boundaries of the areas off-limits to development, the measures are expected to create some of the largest protected areas networks in the world once completed.

The taiga stores enormous quantities of carbon, more than the world’s temperate and tropical forests combined, much of it in wetlands and peatland. In fact, current estimates place boreal forests as storing twice as much carbon per unit area as tropical forests.