Saturday, December 17, 2011
Friday, December 16, 2011
A new study found that when it comes to surviving in the non-Pixar sea, being adorable isn’t enough.
The underwater world in the Disney film is teeming with cheery creatures.
But a study says that of the real-life species associated with those in the film, many face the threat of extinction.
The underwater world on display in Disney’s “Finding Nemo” is teeming with a dizzying array of cheery creatures, from sea turtles to seahorses and mackerel to sharks.
So a team of Canadian and U.S. scientists decided to assess the mythical ecosystem inhabited by the small clownfish and his friends to see how their real-world counterparts were faring.
It turns out that when it comes to surviving in a non-Pixar sea, being adorable isn’t enough.
Sixteen percent of the species associated with characters in “Finding Nemo” that have been evaluated face the threat of extinction, according to the study, which was conducted by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Canada’s Simon Fraser University.
The analysis of 1,568 species is not just a whimsical look at American popular culture and its cartoon characters.
It reveals how humans treat some of the ocean’s most charismatic inhabitants.
“These are species that should be doing better because they are the ones we care about,” said Loren McClenachan, a post-doctoral fellow at Simon Fraser University.
She said that highly migratory species such as turtles, sharks and rays are particularly vulnerable to fisheries and other human pressures.
“They’ve got life histories that cause them to interact with people wherever they go,” McClenachan said.
The Oscar-winning 2003 Disney/Pixar movie, which details how the clownfish Marlin defies all odds to save his son from the aquarium trade, has a conservation message.
But the film actually inspired a booming aquarium trade in the bright orange fish with white stripes, significantly reducing native clownfish populations on coral reefs in Australia and elsewhere.
While the IUCN classifies clownfish as a “species of least concern,” meaning it does not face an imminent extinction risk, 18 percent of the evaluated species that are related to Nemo — those of the scientific family Pomacentridae — are at risk of extinction.
There have been few formal scientific assessments of coral reef fish populations that are sought by the aquarium trade, McClenachan said, so “it’s very hard to know the true extent of the aquarium, live reef and curio trade.”Disney officials could not be reached for comment.
Boris Worm, a marine biologist at Canada’s Dalhousie University who has reviewed the study, which is being published Tuesday in the journal Conservation Letters, said the clownfish boomlet underscores the complex relationship humans have with marine species.
“When people see a beautiful film about tigers, they don’t go out and shoot a tiger. They don’t go out and purchase a tiger,” Worm said in an interview.
“In the case of things in the ocean, they think, ‘I care about them, so I’d like to have them,’ or, ‘I care about them, that’s why I’d like to fish them.’
Direct exploitation is the key driver of many of the species’ decline.
Many sharks are being targeted to make the Asian delicacy shark fin soup; seahorses are coveted as curios.
Other species, such as sea turtles, are vulnerable because they can easily get entangled in commercial fishing gear and because their nesting areas have been trampled or hampered by development.
Neil Hammerschlag, a research assistant professor at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science who studies sharks, said many people are unaware that sharks are under such pressure.
“They are truly the celebrities of the ocean,” Hammerschlag wrote in an e-mail.
“Despite their legendary status, most people are unaware that sharks are literally being fished to extinction.”
A survey of the animals with speaking parts in “Finding Nemo” gives a decent sense of how these species are doing.
More than half of all hammerhead sharks (personified by “Anchor” in the movie) face a threat of extinction, according to the IUCN, along with all species of marine turtles (“Squirt” and “Crush”).
Those species, McClenachan said, “are more threatened than the most threatened vertebrates on land.”Nicholas K. Dulvy, who co-authored the study and serves as the Canadian Research Chair in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation, said the group of species he and his colleagues analyzed is not representative of the ocean as a whole.
It is “a biased sample, but it’s biased in interesting ways,” he said.
Because the movie focuses on coral reefs and areas in the Indo-Pacific, he said, it captures key regions of “the world’s biodiversity.”
In some cases, these populations are beginning to rebound.
Nesting populations of marine turtles in Costa Rica increased by more than fivefold between 1971 and 2003, for example, after authorities began protecting nesting females there.
And the Convention on Migratory Species’ 116 member parties will ban fishing for giant manta rays and impose measures to safeguard their habitat after the group voted to protect the species.
Dulvy, who also chairs the IUCN Shark Specialist Group, said the paper aims to highlight the “conservation bottleneck” many species face even after researchers have documented their steep population declines.
Fewer than 10 percent of the threatened shark and ray species surveyed by the study are protected under the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
CITES Director-General John E. Scanlon said in a recent interview that his group is working to build political support to protect additional marine species, as well as to raise funds from member nations to support legal enforcement of wildlife trade bans.
While many focus on the prospect of how climate change may drive some species out of existence, he said, “All the time we’re planning, we’re losing biodiversity through illegal trade and unsustainable trade of species. Why don’t we deal with the here and now?”
For the four authors of the Nemo paper, focusing on the here and now meant watching the movie four or five times.
But Dulvy said he came away with a better impression of the film than when he first saw it eight years ago, especially after watching Bruce the Shark struggle with his pledge to stop eating fish.
“They tried to portray sharks in a way more positive way than is usually done. But they showed them to be fallible, which makes them closer to reality,” he said.
“I really enjoyed it.”
- ScientificAmerica : Finding Nemo isn’t easy: film’s stars threatened with extinction
Thursday, December 15, 2011
A 20.4-metre wave is recorded by a buoy 60 miles off Ireland's coast as a force ten storm rages
The biggest wave ever to hit Irish shores – 20.4 metres (67ft) high – has been recorded, meteorologists have revealed.
The wave was measured at a special buoy off the Donegal coast on Tuesday as a force ten storm raged.
Meteorologists at Met Eireann said the data, sent from about 60 miles from the Irish coast, provided evidence of the most severe weather conditions it has encountered that distance offshore. "
At 14.00 (Tuesday 13th December 2011) the M4 weather buoy off the Donegal coast recorded a maximum wave height of 20.4 metres which is the highest maximum wave recorded in Irish waters," Met Eireann reported.
located at 54°42'N, 9°6'W
(Realtime Wave Buoy Data from CEFAS WaveNet mapping)
Elsewhere, the Irish coastguard has urged people to stay off exposed coasts, cliffs, piers, harbour walls, beaches and promenades during this week's forecast stormy weather.
Winds and stormy conditions will ease on Tuesday night before freezing conditions hit Ireland on Thursday and there is a risk of a second storm hitting the south and midlands.
Forecasters, however, said there was a chance the storm might miss Ireland to the south.
The Weather Buoy project is a collaborative initiative between the Department of Transport, Marine Institute, Met Eireann and the UK Met Office.
The manager of the Irish coastguard, Declan Geoghegan, said:
"The combination of tides, forecasted gale warnings for the next day or so, high sea conditions and swollen rivers may result in very dangerous conditions."
This will be combined with driving rain and, on higher ground, reasonably heavy snowfalls, mainly in the Borders and in Dumfries and Galloway.
Conditions should ease during Wednesday and early Thursday, but only before another stormy weather system arrives, currently massing over the Atlantic.
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Photo used in the book: Scott's Last Expedition...,
1913, Dodd, Mead, and Company, New York. Volume I, page 48.
One hundred years ago, on Dec. 14, 1911, the Norwegian Roald Amundsen and four companions trudged through fog, bitter cold and lacerating wind to stand at the absolute bottom of the world, the South Pole.
Nowhere was there a trace of their British rival, Robert Falcon Scott.
No Union Jack mocked them, no ice cairn bespoke precedence.
The Norwegians had won the race.
Time Life Pictures/Getty Images
Amundsen and Scott were commanding forces driving early exploration of Antarctica, the ice-covered continent almost half again the size of the United States and unlike any other place on Earth.
Both were driven by ambition to win fame by grabbing one of the few remaining unclaimed geographic prizes.
Each was different, though, in temperament and approach to exploration, which may have been decisive in the success of one and the undoing of the other.
Earnest and methodical, Amundsen had previously wintered over with an expedition in Antarctica and succeeded in the first navigation of the Northwest Passage, north of Canada, as he learned well how to prepare for work on the planet’s coldest, most unforgiving continent.
He knew from experience how indispensable well-trained dogs were for pulling sledges.
His next destination was to have been the North Pole.
But when he heard that two other groups claimed that triumph, Amundsen wrote that “there was nothing left for me but to try and solve the last great problem — the South Pole.”
Scott was a Navy officer and a gentleman who had led an expedition that fell well short of the South Pole because of poor planning and execution.
He had a romantic view of exploration as a self-affirming adventure, a kind of trial by ice.
Using dogs to pull all the sledges he thought unsporting: better, he wrote, “to go forth to face the hardships, dangers and difficulties with their unaided efforts.”
This the Scott party had to do.
Its motorized sledges and the ponies soon broke down, leaving them to pull the sledges all the way up a glacier to the high polar plateau.
When Amundsen’s men already were only a week away from their base camp at the Bay of Whales, to complete their 2,000-mile round trip, the exhausted British team arrived at the pole on Jan. 17, 1912, five weeks too late.
How deflating to see the Norwegian flag, alert to the wind.
In his diary, Scott wrote: “Great God! This is an awful place and terrible enough for us to have laboured to it without the reward of priority.”
Disappointment then turned to tragedy.
Stalled by a nine-day blizzard, weak from hunger and sledge-pulling fatigue on the return trek, Scott and his four team members perished by the end of March.
Most of the bodies were not found until November, at their last camp, among diaries and field notes and rock specimens they had gone perhaps too far out of the way to collect.
Scott may have lost the race to the pole, but in death, he prevailed in the narrative for much of the last century as the brave and stoic hero of legend.
The time of Amundsen and Scott was the heroic age of Antarctic exploration.
The adventurous were in part attracted to the ice because, as the British mountaineer George Mallory was to say of Everest, it was there: a recognized new challenge.
Even so, the same competitive spirit drove individuals and nations to seek to be first to make scientific discoveries, as Edward J. Larson, a Pepperdine University historian and author of the recent book “An Empire of Ice: Scott, Shackleton, and the Heroic Age of Antarctic Science,” describes in the Dec. 1 issue of the journal Nature.
As early as 1900, Dr. Larson notes, the British, notably teams under Ernest Shackleton and to a lesser extent Scott, as well as German scientists, measured the movement of glaciers and mapped the coast and the interior.
From seabed sediments and outcrops they determined that Antarctica was a true continent — with a landmass underlying thick ice — in contrast to the Arctic, where the ice more thinly covers a wide sea.
From fossils they learned that the continent was once warmer and home to abundant life, all clues to its earlier link to other southern continents.
Advances in aviation, icebreakers and other technologies after World War II opened the Antarctic to wider and more sustained scientific research.
The United States and about a dozen other countries established permanent living quarters, supply depots and research facilities, the infrastructure for year-round living and increasingly ambitious research projects.
Now, from coastal ice shelves to the 10,000-foot polar plateau, from subglacial mountain ranges to pristine lakes sealed under ice, Antarctica is one vast international laboratory for research in sciences as diverse as astrophysics and climatology, geophysics and oceanography.
Looking ahead, the National Academy of Sciences has just published a study, “Future Science Opportunities in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean,” identifying key questions that should drive research there in the next 10 to 20 years.
The report’s principal recommendations focused on researching the continent’s role in global climate change.
Polar scientists were not surprised.
“We’ve become very aware of the importance of polar regions in recent years as the harbinger of changes to come on a global scale,” said Raymond S. Bradley, director of the Climate System Research Center at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, who primarily studies the Arctic and was not directly involved in the academy report.
“These regions are particularly sensitive to rising temperatures melting sea ice and glaciers,” Dr. Bradley continued. “
When sea ice recedes, it makes earth less reflective of sunlight, and this results in more warming and more changes in ocean and atmospheric circulation.”
Robin E. Bell, a senior research professor at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory who participated in the academy study, called attention to the report’s conclusion that a greater knowledge of rising temperatures and melting ice in some parts of the continent “will allow scientists to better predict” climate everywhere else.
“Antarctica is most critical to understanding the global climate system and creating models for predicting changes in the future,” Dr. Bell said.
The National Science Foundation asked the academy to prepare these recommendations as guides in deciding which projects to support with grants.
The government agency is spending $67.4 million this year on Antarctic projects.
Since the advent of satellite imagery in the 1970s, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have gathered much of the data calling attention to the continent’s involvement in climate change.
Scott Borg, director of the N.S.F. division of Antarctic sciences, said the new guidelines highlight research “we think is going to be important in at least the next five years” so that, if governments are to respond to the consequences of global warming, they will have “the best science possible to inform their decisions.”
Changes in the ice sheet, which covers roughly 97.6 percent of the continent, is already the subject of new research along the lines of academy recommendations.
An international team of researchers, financed by the N.S.F. and NASA, will travel by helicopter this month to the remote Pine Island Glacier’s ice shelf.
The glacier, Dr. Borg said, “has begun to flow more rapidly, discharging more ice into the ocean, which could have a significant impact on global sea-level rise over the coming century.”
Scientists will use remote-sensing instruments to investigate the cavity beneath the ice shelf where it extends beyond the land and over the ocean.
They hope to determine how relatively warm ocean water enters this cavity and undercuts the bottom of the glacier, melting and releasing more than 19 cubic miles of ice into the sea each year.
Such research builds on activities started in the International Polar Year, 2007-9, which brought an infusion of fresh ideas and new projects to Antarctic science.
A seven-nation team of scientists, for example, investigated the mystery of the Gamburtsev Subglacial Mountains, two miles beneath the East Antarctic ice sheet.
They used aircraft equipped with ice-penetrating radars, gravity meters and magnetometers to learn how a mountain range bigger than the Alps formed where it did.
In a report last month, the scientists concluded that the mountains are the remains of a collision of several continents a billion years ago.
Its traces extend from Antarctica across the ocean to India.
Dr. Bell of Columbia, one of the project’s leaders, said the next step will be to drill through the ice to obtain the first rock samples from Gamburtsev.
In addition to insights into earth history, scientists still find much to be learned from and about Antarctica itself.
The academy report noted the seals, whales and penguins native to Antarctica have evolved physiologies adapted to the extreme environment, and this “could hold the key to understanding and preventing a host of illnesses and conditions that plague humans, such as heart attacks, strokes and decompression sickness.”
For years, Russians have been drilling through the ice to Lake Vostok, the largest of more than 140 subglacial lakes on the continent.
They may finally break through next year to collect a sample of water presumably supersaturated with oxygen.
If there is life in the water, it evolved in cold darkness and under high pressure over millions of years.
Any sign of life in Vostok may strengthen the prospect of finding life on Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus, which appear to have under-ice seas of liquid water.
The academy also emphasized the value of Antarctica as “an unparalleled platform for observing the solar system and the universe beyond.”
In the thin, dry atmosphere at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, the clarity of light is an astronomer’s dream.
Several types of telescopes there observe some of the earliest events in the cosmos and are searching for clues to the nature of dark matter and dark energy that presumably constitute 95 percent of everything in the universe.
Other telescopes keep track of solar eruptions as an early warning system of stormy space weather endangering communications and navigation satellites.
A new instrument known as IceCube Neutrino Observatory was completed to track the high-energy, nearly mass-less particles that are ubiquitous but so difficult to detect as they pass through Earth.
Neutrinos could provide insights into the longstanding mystery of the origin of ultra high-energy cosmic rays.
Nearby, seismometers are listening posts for earthquake reverberations bearing clues to the structure of Earth’s inner core and lower mantle.
About 700 miles east of the South Pole, China is developing the large Plateau Observatory.
The country’s astronomers, who had lacked high-quality observing sites, said they looked forward to research in the clear polar skies where the nights are four months long.
At the Finish
Amundsen spent an extra three days before leaving the South Pole.
He and his men — Helmer Hanssen, Sverre Hassel, Oscar Wisting and Olav Bjaaland, the one who took the classic picture of the other four at the pole — wanted to make sure they were really there, at the pole exactly.
The Americans Frederick Cook, in 1908, and then Robert E. Peary, a year later, claimed to have reached the North Pole, but the evidence they reported was disputed even then, and especially ever since.
The careful and methodical Amundsen was not about to leave room for a particle of doubt.
Lynne Cox, an author and long-distance swimmer inclined to frigid waters, recently published a kind of biography of Amundsen as well as his mentor Fridtjof Nansen, titled “South with the Sun: Roald Amundsen, His Polar Explorations, and the Quest for Discovery.”
She thinks it was “a really cool thing” (what other pun would you commit in a polar context?) that Amundsen had his men spend those three days skiing for miles out in all directions, taking sextant readings of the sun at different places and times of day to be sure they were close to or at 90 degrees South.
He reasoned that at least one of them would cross and record the exact spot.
Before leaving, the party pitched a black tent as near to the actual pole as they could calculate.
In the tent Amundsen left spare equipment Scott might need and a letter addressed to King Haakon of Norway.
It was his report of triumph.
In a separate note, he asked Scott to deliver the letter to the king, if the Norwegian party failed to survive the return trip.
These two things Amundsen did while at the pole — double checking where they were and recording the story of a deed done — seemed in character.
Of course, Amundsen made it back to his base in 99 days, 10 fewer than expected; of his 52 dogs, 11 had survived.
The other dogs, weakened over time, were sacrificed for meat to sustain the remaining ones and the men.
And Amundsen, as ever preparing for eventualities, made doubly sure the world would know of his success.
If Scott had returned alive, and the Amundsen party had not, it would presumably have been in character for Scott of the century-old legend to have stayed in character, too
He would have done the sporting thing.
The news would have been delivered to the King of Norway that his subjects were the first to reach the South Pole.
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Drilling into and acquiring core samples of marine sediments and oceanic crust has had an enormous impact on our understanding of the Earth.
Marine sediments are the most complete record we have of climatic and oceanographic change from timescales of thousands of years to tens of millions of years.
One of the important aspects of IODP is the archival of the cores for the scientific community use.
That is, even if you don’t directly participate in the cruise you can visit one of the core repositories to view and sample the cores to help answer scientific questions you are interested in.
Monday, December 12, 2011
Talks on a new legal deal covering all countries will begin next year and end by 2015, coming into effect by 2020.
Management of a fund for climate aid to poor countries has also been agreed, though how to raise the money has not.
Talks ran nearly 36 hours beyond their scheduled close, with many delegates saying the host government lacked urgency and strategy.
Nevertheless, there was applause in the main conference hall when South Africa's International Relations Minister, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, brought down the long-awaited final gavel.
"We came here with plan A, and we have concluded this meeting with plan A to save one planet for the future of our children and our grandchildren to come," she said.
"We have made history."
The conclusion was delayed by a dispute between the EU and India over the precise wording of the "roadmap" for a new global deal.
India did not want a specification that it must be legally binding.
Eventually, a Brazilian diplomat came up with the formulation that the deal must have "legal force", which proved acceptable.
The roadmap proposal originated with the EU, the Alliance of Small Island States (Aosis) and the Least Developed Countries bloc (LDCs).
They argued that only a new legal agreement eventually covering emissions from all countries - particularly fast-growing major emitters such as China - could keep the rise in global average temperatures since pre-industrial times below 2C (3.6F), the internationally-agreed threshold.
"If there is no legal instrument by which we can make countries responsible for their actions, then we are relegating countries to the fancies of beautiful words," said Karl Hood, Grenada's Foreign Minister, speaking for Aosis.
"While they develop, we die; and why shoul we accept this?"
Delegates from the Basic group - Brazil, South Africa, India and China - criticised what they saw as a tight timetable and excessive legality.
"I stand firm on my position of equity," said an impassioned Jayanthi Natarajan, India's environment minister.
"This is not about India, it is about the entire world."
India believes in maintaining the current stark division where only countries labelled "developed" have to cut their greenhouse gas emissions.
Western nations, she said, have not cut their own emissions as they had pledged; so why should poorer countries have to do it for them?
Xie Zhenhua, head of the Chinese delegation, agreed.
Apparently trembling with rage, he berated the developed countries: "We are doing things you are not doing... we want to see your real actions".
However, Bangladesh and some other developing countries weighed in on the side of Aosis, saying a new legally-binding deal was needed.
Aosis and the LDCs agree that rich countries need to do more.
But they also accept analyses concluding that fast-developing countries such as China will need to cut their emissions several years in the future if governments are to meet their goal of keeping the rise in global average temperature since pre-industrial times below 2C.
Once the roadmap blockage had been cleared, everything else followed quickly.
There were some surreal moment of confusion, but few objections, except from members of the Latin American Alba group, who said the developed world was not living up to its promises.
A management framework was adopted for the Green Climate Fund, which will eventually gather and disburse finance amounting to $100bn (£64bn) per year to help poor countries develop cleanly and adapt to climate impacts.
There has also been significant progress on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD).
Environment groups were divided in their reaction, with some finding it a significant step forward and others saying it had done nothing to change the course of climate change.
Many studies indicate that current pledges on reducing emissions are taking the Earth towards a temperature rise of double the 2C target.
Michael Jacobs, visiting professor at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment in London, said the agreement could bring real changes.
"The agreement here has not in itself taken us off the 4°C path we are on," he said.
"But by forcing countries for the first time to admit that their current policies are inadequate and must be strengthened by 2015, it has snatched 2C from the jaws of impossibility.
"At the same time it has re-established the principle that climate change should be tackled through international law, not national, voluntarism."
- BBC : Analysis: Winners and losers / Reaction to deal / Brief history of climate change / Animated guide / Climate change glossary
- TheGuardian : Global climate change treaty in sight after Durban breakthrough / Durban deal will not avert catastrophic climate change, say scientists / Durban talks: how Connie Hedegaard got countries to agree on climate deal / Which nations are really responsible for climate change - interactive map
Sunday, December 11, 2011
If you've heard that there's a "garbage patch" twice the size of Texas floating around in the Pacific Ocean, it's because Capt. Charles Moore has been working very hard to make sure that you do.
When one sees the heartbreaking images of a half-decayed Laysan albatross with a gut full of water bottle caps, disposable lighters, and Bic pens, only the most cynical among us could continue to believe that our single-use culture is not culpable in the irreparable harm being done to the natural world.
With the rigors of publishing a peer-reviewed paper in mind, Moore and his team devised a research project that would compare the amount of small plastic bits bobbing around just under the surface of the waters with the amount of zooplankton, the very basis of our entire food chain.
This well-told memoir is part detective story and part adventure tale with dashes of history and science lessons thrown in.
It's a challenging call, but not an impossible one.