Tag Archive: 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

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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.

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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.

Bee Nice

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

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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.

Hunting Under The Lights

I’ve had this picture on my computer for some time. After a bit of software tweaking it looks fairly nice.

Click on image for full-size view.

A Polar Bear hunts on the Arctic ice during the long, dark polar winter

On The Prowl

It is amazing that Polar Bears manage to survive. Think about it. Wandering on floating, drifting ice through the long, polar winter; in total darkness for much of the time.. Totally dependent on finding the breathing holes of seals hiding under the ice to stay alive. When winter ends they come ashore and generally eat nothing until the ocean freezes up again.

Due to climate change they are forced to go for ever longer periods without food. Their future looks bleak.

Please think about them, all the pother endangered species, and the furute for humans as well. Do what you can to avoid contributing to climate change.

On Thin Ice

Earth Day is coming, Aprill 22nd. And there is yet more evidence that our fragile planet and it inhabitants are in trouble.

As with the Polar Bears which prey on them, marine mammals such as the Ringed Seal are threatened by the changes caused by climate change to the Arctic ice pack. Named for the ring-shaped marks on their coats, the Ringed Seal (Phoca hispida), aka Pusa hipsida, is the most abundant and wide-ranging ice seal in the northern hemisphere: ranging throughout the Arctic Ocean, into the Bering Sea and Okhotsk Sea as far south as the northern coast of Japan in the Pacific, and throughout the North Atlantic coasts of Greenland and Scandinavia as far south as Newfoundland, and include two freshwater subspecies in northern Europe.

Click on image for full-size view.

 

A mother Ringed Seal, her pup, and a plea to be careful with out fragile planet

Fragile Planet

 
Ringed seals are solitary animals commonly associated with ice floes and pack . When hauled out on ice they separate themselves from each other by hundreds of yards.  The ringed seal maintains a breathing hole in the ice thus allowing it to use ice habitat that other seals cannot.

Ringed seals eat a wide variety of small prey that consists of 72 species of fish and invertebrates. Feeding is usually a solitary behavior and their prey of choice includes mysids, shrimp, arctic cod, and herring. While feeding, ringed seals dive to depths of 35 to 150 ft. In the summer ringed seals feed along edge of the sea-ice for polar cod. In shallow water they feed on smaller cod. Ringed seals may also eat herring, smelt, whitefish, sculpin, perch, and crustaceans.

Ringed seals are one of the primary prey of polar bears and have long been an important component of the diet of Arctic indigenous people throughout their range, and continue to be harvested annually by many communities.[ Early Paleoeskimo sites in Arctic Canada revealed signs of harvested ringed seals dating from ca. 4000–3500 B.P., likely captured in frozen cracks and leads in the ice, with a selection for juveniles and young adults.

Marked decreases in Ringed Seal abundance are likely to have cascading effects in Arctic food webs.

The Ringed Seal serves an indicator of ecological change in the Arctic, due to its dependence upon annual sea ice. Ringed seals are  . They are born from mid-March to mid-April and weaned prior to break-up in June. The distribution of Ringed Seals in the world is shown below :

During the lactation period, young seals spend half their time on top of the ice and half underwater, where they are hunted by polar bears. In order to protect themselves from predators and rear their young, ringed seals make snow lairs on the surface of sea ice. Those in the thin snow layers are more susceptible to attack than those in the thick layers. The abundance and the stability of ice is very important for the success of the young seals. If the ice continues to decline due to climate change, young seals will be forced to swim in open water at an early age, causing them to expand more energy and be vulnerable to attack. In addition, the ice is also needed to rest, after the weaning period, which is essential for their development.

Sea ice reduction due to climate change can move the ranges of the Ringed seals further north and would affect their feeding seasons, fertility, and survival. Drift ice created by increasing temperatures can also move up the ranges of harp seals and increase hooded seals off West Greenland, affecting the equilibrium already established between the native populations in that area.

The estimated population size for the Alaska stock of ringed seals is 249,000 animals. Currently, the population trend for this stock is unknown. Ringed seals are listed as a species of “least concern” by the IUCN, and are considered not “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. Reliable estimates of the minimum population, potential biological removal, and human-caused mortality and serious injury are currently not available. Because the potential biological removal for ringed seals is unknown, the level of annual U.S. commercial fishery-related mortality that can be considered insignificant and approaching zero mortality and serious injury rate is unknown. No information is available on the status of ringed seals.Due to a very low level of interactions between U.S. commercial fisheries and ringed seals, the Alaska stock of ringed seals is not considered a strategic stock.

The decline in the populations of Ringed seals is also affecting the population of their predator – the polar bear. Polar bears prey almost exclusively on ringed seals, and most often kill their pups which depend on sea ice for survival. In addition to polar bears, humans also have been hunting the Ringed seals for centuries. Not only are they a source of food for most coast-dwelling northern people, they are also a source of income. Thousands of Ringed seals are harvested and traded for fur annually by the Inuit and other people of the Arctic Basin.

Other Threats

Warmer ocean temperatures are also more likely to cause an increase in pathogens that affect the Ringed seals. And a migration of Ringed seals to find more stable habitats can increase the spread of these pathogens, which might even lead to an epidemic of a disease. In addition, as temperatures warm, there will be more human presence in the Arctic region, with shipping, fishing, agriculture, and oil extraction. This will further degrade Ringed seal habitats and reduce the availability of their food, such as fish.

In fact, sick and dead ringed seals began to appear in late 2011 on the Beaufort Sea coast near Barrow, the country’s northernmost community. Strandings were reported as far west as Point Lay and Wainwright on the Chukchi Sea.

 
Seal from Alaskan waters showing lesions from an unknown cause

Seal Wth Lesons

The affected animals had lesions on hind flippers and inside their mouths. Some showed patchy hair loss and skin irritation around the nose and eyes. Stricken live seals were lethargic, allowing people to approach. Necropsies on the dead ringed seals found fluid in lungs, white spots on livers and abnormal growth in brains. Symptoms, but no deaths, were also observed in Pacific walrus.

At first it was thought that radiation released from the Fukushima nuuclear reactors in Japan might be the cause. That has been shown not to be the case. Immune system diseases, fungi, man-made and bio-toxins, contaminants and stressors related to sea ice change may be the cause.

Research has combined scientific observations with Canadian Inuit traditional knowledge to how killer whales (Orcinus orca) in the Arctic eat and behave. An increase in hunting territories available to killer whales in the Arctic due to climate change and melting sea ice could “seriously affect the marine ecosystem balance.”

Killer whales have recently started colonizing Hudson Bay They are top predators that affect the behavior of their prey, causing them to run away, dive deep or try to hide among sea ice.  Orcas  eat everything from schools of small fish to large baleen whales, over twice their own size. Smaller mammals seek refuge in shallow waters or on shore, and larger prey run away, dive deep, or attempt to hide among the ice. Even narwhal,  will run to shallow waters and wait until the whales give up.

Sources:

http://www.duke.edu/web/nicholas/bio217/spring2010/kommaraju/casestudy2.htm

http://earthsky.org/biodiversity/fear-of-killer-whales-makes-sea-creatures-run-dive-or-hide

http://www.duke.edu/web/nicholas/bio217/spring2010/kommaraju/casestudy2.htm

http://www.alaskadispatch.com/article/months-later-arctic-ring-seal-deaths-leave-scientists-flummoxed