Ithaca Environment

Friday, December 30, 2005

Tsunami Love Story

From inkycircus, a woman-run science blog:

It's a year since the tsunami, and there've been lots of stories in the media about regeneration and hope in the areas devastated by the wave. But this one story caught my eye. A 2 year old baby hippo known as Owen was living with his family near the Sabaki River on the East African coast when the wave swept him out and stranded him on a reef. He was rescued by local fishermen and taken to the Haller Park sanctuary, where, all alone and clearly lonely, he formed a strong attachment to another resident and started following him around and trying to sleep next to him. This other resident is Mzee - a male tortoise who is over 130 years old.

Mzee was apparently initially unimpressed and tried to ignore Owen's attentions. But he has since been won over and the two are inseparable friends a year on. Staff at the Haller sanctuary think that Owen may have been attracted by Mzee's round shape and gray color because they are somewhat similar to that of an adult hippopotamus. They plan to introduce Owen to another hippo called Cleo at the sanctuary to give him some companionship of his own kind, but intend to keep the tortoise on hand during the introductions to smooth the process. (More info from MSNBC here, photo - which is just too much - from Associated Press)

Permalink 2:48 PM

Sobering Information About Energy Consumption

Jeff Dukes, professor of biology at the University of Massachusetts, works in the areas of the impact of human activity on the environment. In Burning Buried Sunshine, a research article on the rate at which humans are consuming energy, he concludes:
The fossil fuels burned in >400 times the net primary productivity (NPP) of the planet's current biota.
In other words, the fossil fuel we burn each year took 400 years to produce through biological processes. This fact argues that even if we ended our dependence on fossil fuels and exclusively turned to renewable fuel sources (burning wood, ethanol, biodiesel), the world's plants are nowhere close to being able to meet our demands.

Jeff Dukes

Visit his homepage.
Permalink 7:29 AM

Environmental Case Against Biodiesel

From George Monbiot in the Guardian

Over the past two years I have made an uncomfortable discovery. Like most environmentalists, I have been as blind to the constraints affecting our energy supply as my opponents have been to climate change. I now realise that I have entertained a belief in magic.

In 2003, the biologist Jeffrey Dukes calculated that the fossil fuels we burn in one year were made from organic matter "containing 44 x 1018 grams of carbon, which is more than 400 times the net primary productivity of the planet's current biota". In plain English, this means that every year we use four centuries' worth of plants and animals...

In promoting biodiesel - as the EU, the British and US governments and thousands of environmental campaigners do - you might imagine that you are creating a market for old chip fat, or rapeseed oil, or oil from algae grown in desert ponds. In reality you are creating a market for the most destructive crop on earth.

Last week, the chairman of Malaysia's federal land development authority announced that he was about to build a new biodiesel plant. His was the ninth such decision in four months. Four new refineries are being built in Peninsula Malaysia, one in Sarawak and two in Rotterdam. Two foreign consortiums - one German, one American - are setting up rival plants in Singapore. All of them will be making biodiesel from the same source: oil from palm trees.

"The demand for biodiesel," the Malaysian Star reports, "will come from the European Community ... This fresh demand ... would, at the very least, take up most of Malaysia's crude palm oil inventories." Why? Because it is cheaper than biodiesel made from any other crop.

In September, Friends of the Earth published a report about the impact of palm oil production. "Between 1985 and 2000," it found, "the development of oil-palm plantations was responsible for an estimated 87 per cent of deforestation in Malaysia". In Sumatra and Borneo, some 4 million hectares of forest have been converted to palm farms. Now a further 6 million hectares are scheduled for clearance in Malaysia, and 16.5 million in Indonesia.

Almost all the remaining forest is at risk.
Permalink 7:20 AM

Willie Nelson's Biodiesel

Via Biodiesel Blog
, Wired Magazine profiles Willie Nelson:

"Nelson told The Associated Press in an interview last week that he began learning about the product a few years ago after his wife purchased a biodiesel-burning car in Hawaii, where the star has a home."

"'I got on the computer and punched in biodiesel and found out this could be the future,' said Nelson, who now uses the fuel for his cars and tour buses."

"Peter Bell, a Texas biodiesel supplier, struck up a friendship with Nelson after filling up one of the tour buses, and the business partnership came together just before Christmas..."

"'What Willie brings to this is the ability to communicate directly with a truck driver. That kind of community is hard for people to get to,' Bell said. 'When he starts talking, these folks really listen to him.... It's like having Tiger Woods talk about golf clubs.'"

Permalink 7:09 AM

The Price of Gold

In the New York Times

ELKO, Nev. - Just outside the chasm of North America's biggest open-pit gold mine there is an immense oasis in the middle of the Nevada desert. It is an idyllic and isolated spot where migratory birds often alight for a stopover. But hardly anything is natural about it.

This is water pumped from the ground by Barrick Gold of Toronto to keep its vast Goldstrike mine from flooding, as the gold company, the world's third largest, carves a canyon 1,600 feet below the level of northern Nevada's aquifer...

Barrick says the effects of its pumping will last at most a few decades. But government scientists estimate it could take 200 years or more to replenish the groundwater that it and neighboring mine companies have removed, with little public attention or debate, as they meet soaring consumer demand for jewelry and gold's price tops $500 an ounce.

Ashley Gilbertson for the New York Times

A pond in the Nevada desert holds water contaminated by mining operations. Major mine companies have pumped out billions of gallons from an aquifer.
Permalink 6:36 AM

Thursday, December 29, 2005

The Flying Mobulas of the Sea of Cortez

Here is a spectacular picture of a flying mobula. That's a creature that's a kind of manta rey. Read about them in Michael Albert's website.

Via Saheli's Blog.
Permalink 2:54 PM

Danby Residents Preserve Wetlands

Danby residents are working to preserve wetlands that are the homes to beavers, herons, and many other birds.

DANBY - Searching for help in preserving and restoring a total of 115 acres of wetlands located right in the backyards of four Danby landowners wasn't hard to find.

Upon realizing the desire and need to keep his portion of the wetlands intact, Danby resident Alan Wagner contacted U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services. From there, a partnership among the Upper Susquehanna Coalition (USC), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Partners program and the landowners was formed to restore between 15 and 25 acres of the wetland complex.

Read the article in the Ithaca Journal.

Permalink 7:59 AM

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

First Live Giant Squid Photographed

From National Geographic

Like something straight out of a Jules Verne novel, an enormous tentacled creature looms out of the inky blackness of the deep Pacific waters.

But this isn't science fiction. A set of extraordinary images captured by Japanese scientists marks the first-ever record of a live giant squid (Architeuthis) in the wild.

More pictures
Permalink 8:51 AM

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Polar Bears Endangered by Big Melt

From Nature.

Reports this week claimed that polar bears were being forced by climate change into cannibalism and attempting suicidal swims. Experts say it is too early to be sure, but that these are the kind of impacts expected as melting sea ice leaves the bears with longer distances to travel.

Permalink 10:57 AM

Images of the Wild

See the website of photographer Florian Schulz.

Permalink 10:36 AM