Posts Tagged ‘nature’

Afforestation will hardly dent warming problem: study

Sunday, June 19th, 2011

Schemes to convert croplands or marginal lands to forests will make almost no inroads against global warming this century, a scientific study published on Sunday said.

Afforestation is being encouraged under the UN’s Kyoto Protocol climate-change treaty under the theory that forests are “sinks” that soak up carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air through photosynthesis.

But environmental researchers, in a new probe, said that even massive conversion of land to forestry would have only a slender benefit against the greenhouse-gas problem.

This is partly because forests take decades to mature and CO2 is a long-lasting molecule, able to lurk for centuries in the atmosphere.

But another reason is that forests, even as they absorb greenhouse gas, are darker than croplands and thus absorb more solar heat — and in high latitudes, this may even result in net warming.

Vivek Arora of the University of Victoria in British Columbia and Alvaro Montenegro of St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia modelled five scenarios in which afforestation was carried out over 50 years, from 2011 to 2060.

They used a Canadian programme called CanESM1 that simulated the impacts on land, sea and air if Earth’s surface temperature rose by some 3.0 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100 compared to 1850.

Even if all the cropland in the world were afforested, this would reduce the warming by only 0.45 C (0.81 F) by a timescale of 2081-2100, according to the study, which appears in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Fifty-percent afforestation would brake it by an even tinier 0.25 C (0.45 F).

Both scenarios are, of course, wildly unrealistic because of the need to grow food.

Fifty-percent afforestation would require at least a doubling in crop yield to feed the human population because half of the crop area would be taken out of use.

The other three scenarios found that afforestation in the tropics was three times more efficient at “avoided warming” than in northerly latitudes and temperate regions.

The study said that afforestation does have other benefits, for the economy and the ecoystem.

“There’s nothing wrong with afforestation, it is positive, but our findings say that it’s not a response to temperature control if we are going to be emitting (greenhouse gases) this way,” Montenegro told AFP.

The study said bluntly, “Afforestation is not a substitute for reduced greenhouse-gas emissions.”

In forest programmes, policymakers would be advised to focus afforestation efforts in the tropics but also push hard against deforestation, which accounts for 10 to 20 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions globally.

Avoiding deforestation is under discussion for post-2012 climate action under the UN flag.

Source: Afforestation will hardly dent warming problem: study – Physorg

Date: 19 June 2011

People destroy forests at peril – ILO chief

Monday, June 6th, 2011

“This year’s theme “Forests – nature at your service” reminds us that we destroy forests at our peril,” Director General of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Juan Sumavia said here Sunday.

“Their fate dramatically illustrates how social development, economic growth and environmental sustainability are inextricably intertwined,” noted Sumavia. “The un-sustainability of the prevailing model of growth has been increasingly laid bare – economically, environmentally, socially and politically.”

Environmental degradation is one manifestation of the imbalances produced by this inefficient model of growth. Another is its failure to yield sufficient opportunities for the decent work that people need.

“The economic crisis which it did produce has forced millions of people out of work and pushed many more back into poverty. Globally, there were 27.6 million more unemployed people in 2010 than before the crisis. The number of workers in extreme poverty in 2009 is estimated to have been over 40 million more than it would have been without the crisis. And the pre-crisis situation was already unacceptable”, he explained.

Environmental degradation and misuse of the forest resource and the deep-seated crisis of jobs and decent work are interconnected.

In an inefficient growth model with a marked deficit of decent jobs, the quest for survival along with the unbridled exploitation of resources fuels unsustainable use of forests with loss of jobs and livelihoods. It also and fosters intolerable labour practices such as forced labour.

Yet forests are at the service of job creation. We must also take steps to ensure that they are at the service of decent job creation.

Tens of millions depend directly on forests for their living. For 60 million indigenous and tribal peoples, forests are not only the economic basis of their survival but also the very foundation of their cultural and spiritual identity. Some 14 million are employed in the formal forestry sector. And the survival of a much larger number depends on informal and often subsistence use of forests.
ILO research has shown that there are significant sustainable employment and income opportunities in Amazon forests. Another study in collaboration with China suggests that reforestation can create several hundred thousand temporary and permanent rural job opportunities.

Under the Green Jobs Initiative involving the United Nations Environment Programme, the International Trade Union Confederation, the International Organisation of Employers and the ILO, “our recent global study “Skills for Green Jobs” highlights the role of training in controlling deforestation (Brazil), job creation for low income and unemployed youth (Republic of Korea), and contributing to poverty reduction (Uganda),” he pointed out.

Brazil is building decent work standards into forest management in the Amazon region. Similarly, programmes for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (REDD+) increasingly recognize that the co-benefits of employment, income and local governance are critical for the success of these schemes.

“We must use the opportunity of the Rio UN Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012 to make progress towards an inclusive growth model with policies that are efficient for people, for productive investment and for nature,” concluded Samuvia.

Source: People destroy forests at peril – ILO chief – Kuwait News Agency (KUNA)

Date: 05 June 2011

Water map shows billions at risk of ‘water insecurity’ – BBC News

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

About 80% of the world’s population lives in areas where the fresh water supply is not secure, according to a new global analysis.

Researchers compiled a composite index of “water threats” that includes issues such as scarcity and pollution.

The most severe threat category encompasses 3.4 billion people.

Writing in the journal Nature, they say that in western countries, conserving water for people through reservoirs and dams works for people, but not nature.

They urge developing countries not to follow the same path.

Instead, they say governments should to invest in water management strategies that combine infrastructure with “natural” options such as safeguarding watersheds, wetlands and flood plains.

(more…)

Bison E. coli Recall Grows; Retailers Named

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

That bad buffalo meat, originally recalled July 2, is being distributed nationwide through a blue chip retail network. And, the recall was reissued July 7 to include 776 additional pounds of bison products that were sent off to a Nevada processor for additional cuts.

The 66,776 pounds of ground and tenderized bison steak products were recalled because they may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

Yesterday, FSIS disclosed that ten major retail chains were believed to be selling the E. coli-contaminated buffalo meat at the time the recall. Among the retailers were: Albertson’s, Giant Foods, Hannaford’s, King Sooper’s, Kroger’s, Market Basket, Price Chopper’s, Stop & Shop Supermarkets, Super Valu, and Whole Foods.

Source of the recalled bison meat is Rocky Mountain National Meats, based in Henderson, CO.

A five person cluster of E. coli O157:H7 illnesses, with onset dates between June 4 and 9, 2010, in Colorado and one case in New York State led FSIS to suspect the bison was making people sick.

FSIS said the New York case had “an indistinguishable” PFGE pattern.

“FSIS determined there is an association between ground bison products and the cluster of illnesses in the state of Colorado,” the agency said in a press release.

Here the specific list of recalled bison products from Rocky Mountain Natural Meats:

16-ounce packages of “GREAT RANGE BRAND ALL NATURAL GROUND BISON.” These products have a “sell or freeze by” date of June 21, June 22 or June 24, 2010.

16-ounce packages of “NATURE’S RANCHER GROUND BUFFALO.” These products have a “sell or freeze by” date of June 22, 2010.

16-ounce packages of “THE BUFFALO GUYS ALL NATURAL GROUND BUFFALO 90% LEAN.” These products have a lot number of 0147.

12-ounce packages of “GREAT RANGE BRAND ALL NATURAL BISON STEAK MEDALLIONS.” These products have a “sell or freeze by” date of June 23 and June 24, 2010.

12-ounce packages of “GREAT RANGE BRAND ALL NATURAL BISON SIRLOIN STEAKS.” These products have a “sell or freeze by” date of June 20, June 23 and June 24, 2010.

15-pound boxes of “ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATURAL MEATS, INC. BISON 10 OZ SIRLOIN STEAK.” These products went to restaurants and bear a Julian Code of 0141.

Various weight boxes of “BISON B TRIM.” These products bear a production date of May 21, 2010 and a Julian Code of 14110. The boxes also state “KEEP REFRIGERATED.”

E. coli O157:H7 is a potentially deadly bacterium that can cause bloody diarrhea, dehydration, and in the most severe cases, kidney failure. The very young, seniors and persons with weak immune systems are the most susceptible to foodborne illness. Individuals concerned about an illness should contact a physician.

Source: Bison E. coli Recall Grows; Retailers Named – foodsafetynews

Date: 08 July 2010

Over 25% of flowers face extinction – many before they are even discovered

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

The giant carnivorous plant, Nepenthes attenboroughii, is under threat of extinction - along with 25% of all others on earth

The giant carnivorous plant, Nepenthes attenboroughii, is under threat of extinction - along with 25% of all others on earth

Scientists say human activity could spell end for a quarter of all flowering plants, with huge impact on food chain

More than one-in-four of all flowering plants are under threat of extinction according to the latest report to confirm the ongoing destruction of much of the natural world by human activity.

As a result, many of nature’s most colourful specimens could be lost to the world before scientists even discover them.

One-in-five of all mammals, nearly one-in-three amphibians and one-in-eight birds are vulnerable to being wiped out completely.

The researchers started by carrying out an independent review of how many flowering plants – which make up most of the plant kingdom – exist. The team calculated that there is another 10-20%, which has still to be officially discovered.

The second stage was to assess the level of threats from habitat loss due to clearing land for planting crops or trees, development, or indirect causes such as falling groundwater levels and pollution.

A study published in the journal Endangered Species Research in 2008, which estimated that one-in-five known species were vulnerable to extinction.

The warning comes as there is growing international recognition of the value of the natural world to humans in providing ecosystem services, from flood protection and medicines to spiritual spaces and enjoyment.

“Plants are the basis for much of life on earth with virtually all other species depending on them; if you get rid of those you get rid of a lot of the things above them,” David Roberts, at the University of Kent added.

Source: Over 25% of flowers face extinction – many before they are even discovered - guardian.co.uk

Date: 07 July 2010

Environmentalists to set up trust fund to save dolphins

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

Eight wildlife conservation and environmental protection organizations from central Changhua County announced yesterday the establishment of an environmental trust fund to purchase a vast wetland to save the Taiwan Sousa, also known as the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin (Sousa chinesis), living along Taiwan’s west coast.

This is the first ever campaign in Taiwan launched by environmentalists to purchase state land to be reserved for the endangered animals in the form of an environmental trust, with signatures from more than 30,000 people supporting the cause.

The organizers also held a rally in front of the Presidential Office in Taipei to urge the government to respect the people’s wish to safeguard the rare dolphins, commonly known as “white dolphins” or “Mother Sea-Goddess (Matsu) Fish” for local people.

The environmentalists are concerned that the government’s possible approval for constructing a giant petrochemical complex in southwestern Taiwan will cause extensive pollution to farmland and agricultural crops while hampering animal conservation in the area.

Officials at the Environmental Protection Administration said there is no need to purchase the wetland since a panel conducting the environmental impact evaluation project has included a proposal to leave a safe swimming corridor with a width of 800 meters for the dolphins.

Source: Environmentalists to set up trust fund to save dolphins – chinapost.com.tw

Date: 07 July 2010

Starvation, thirst kill many antelope in Jodhpur

Sunday, July 4th, 2010

The antelope, including chinkaras and black bucks, continue to die at regular intervals in the arid region of Jodhpur and Barmer. This has been primarily attributed to starvation and thirst, say sources On Saturday, the members of the Bishnoi Tiger Vanya Evam Paryavaran Sanstha, brought the carcasses of 25 chinkaras from Dhawa village at the office of deputy forest conservator (wildlife).

According to the general secretary of the organization, Ram NiwasBudhnagar, some 60-70 antelope, the major portion of which are theblack bucks, have died in the past 5-6 days due to acute shortage of water and fodder. He claimed they kept drinking the brackish water due to which their stomach got swollen as they could not digest their food and died a slow and painful death.

He blamed the forest department for this situation for it had “brazenly relied upon the monsoon rains.”

Budhnagar said, “We have demanded the present DFO be removed from office for failing to bring relief to the antelope.”

All these antelope were found dead in such villages like Bhawanda, Dhawa, Satlana, Dhundhara and Bhacharan etc. A medical team had visited a village and conducted post-mortem of six black bucks which confirmed their death from starvation and thirst.

According to experts, these animals are very shy in nature and due to the presence of stray dogs in the vicinity of water holes they fear to go there and prefer to remain thirsty, which lead to death.

Source: Starvation, thirst kill many antelope in Jodhpur - timesofindia.indiatimes

Date: 04 July 2010

Arctic Climate May Be More Sensitive to Warming Than Thought, Says New Study

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010
From left to right, Ashley Ballantyne of the University of Colorado at Boulder, Dara Finney of Environment Canada and Natalia Rybczynski of the Canadian Museum of Nature search for fossils in a peat deposit at Strathcona Fiord on Ellesmere Island in Canadas High Arctic. (Photo courtesy Dara Finney, Environment Canada)

From left to right, Ashley Ballantyne of the University of Colorado at Boulder, Dara Finney of Environment Canada and Natalia Rybczynski of the Canadian Museum of Nature search for fossils in a peat deposit at Strathcona Fiord on Ellesmere Island in Canada's High Arctic. (Photo courtesy Dara Finney, Environment Canada)

A new study shows the Arctic climate system may be more sensitive to greenhouse warming than previously thought, and that current levels of Earth’s atmospheric carbon dioxide may be high enough to bring about significant, irreversible shifts in Arctic ecosystems.

Led by the University of Colorado at Boulder, the international study indicated that while the mean annual temperature on Ellesmere Island in the High Arctic during the Pliocene Epoch 2.6 to 5.3 million years ago was about 34 degrees Fahrenheit, or 19 degrees Celsius, warmer than today, CO2 levels were only slightly higher than present. The vast majority of climate scientists agree Earth is warming due to increased concentrations of heat-trapping atmospheric gases generated primarily by human activities like fossil fuel burning and deforestation.

The team used three independent methods of measuring the Pliocene temperatures on Ellesmere Island in Canada’s High Arctic. They included measurements of oxygen isotopes found in the cellulose of fossil trees and mosses that reveal temperatures and precipitation levels tied to ancient water, an analysis of the distribution of lipids in soil bacteria which correlate with temperature, and an inventory of ancient Pliocene plant groups that overlap in range with contemporary vegetation.

“Our findings indicate that CO2 levels of approximately 400 parts per million are sufficient to produce mean annual temperatures in the High Arctic of approximately 0 degrees Celsius (32 degrees F),” Ballantyne said.

“As temperatures approach 0 degrees Celsius, it becomes exceedingly difficult to maintain permanent sea and glacial ice in the Arctic. Thus current levels of CO2 in the atmosphere of approximately 390 parts per million may be approaching a tipping point for irreversible ice-free conditions in the Arctic.”

A paper on the subject is being published in the July issue of the journal Geology. Co-authors included David Greenwood of Brandon University in Manitoba, Canada, Jaap Sinninghe Damste of the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, Adam Csank of the University of Arizona, Natalia Rybczynski of the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa and Jaelyn Eberle, curator of fossil vertebrates at the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History and an associate professor in the geological sciences department.

Arctic temperatures have risen by about 1.8 degrees F, or 1 degree C, in the past two decades in response to anthropogenic greenhouse warming, a trend expected to continue in the coming decades and centuries, said Ballantyne. Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have risen from about 280 parts per million during the pre-industrial era on Earth to about 390 parts per million today.

During the Pliocene, Ellesmere Island hosted forests of larch, dwarf birch and northern white cedar trees, as well as mosses and herbs, including cinquefoils. The island also was home to fish, frogs and now extinct mammals that included tiny deer, ancient relatives of the black bear, three-toed horses, small beavers, rabbits, badgers and shrews. Because of the high latitude, the Ellesmere Island site on the Strathcona Fiord was shrouded by darkness six months out of the year, said Rybczynski.

Fossils are often preserved in a process known as permineralization, in which mineral deposits form internal casts of organisms. But at the Ellesmere Island site known as the “Beaver Pond site,” organic materials — including trees, plants and mosses — have been “mummified” in peat deposits, allowing the researchers to conduct detailed, high-quality analyses, said Eberle.

Ballantyne said the high level of preservation of trees and mosses at Ellesmere Island allowed the team to measure the ratio of oxygen isotopes in plant cellulose, providing information on water absorbed from precipitation during the Pliocene and which yielded estimates of past surface temperatures. The team also compared data on the width of tree rings in larch trees at the Beaver Pond site to trees at lower latitudes today to help them estimate past temperatures and precipitation levels.

The researchers also analyzed the distribution of ancient membrane lipids from soil bacteria known as tetraethers, which correlate to temperature. The chemical structure of the fossilized tetraethers makes them highly sensitive to both temperature and acidity, or pH, said Ballantyne.

The last line of evidence put forward by the CU-Boulder-led team was a comparison of Pliocene ancient vegetation at the site with vegetation present today, providing a clear “climate window” showing the overlap of the two time periods.

“The results of the three independent temperature proxies are remarkably consistent,” said Eberle.

“We essentially were able to ‘read’ the vegetation in order to estimate air temperatures in the Pliocene.”

Today, Ellesmere Island is a polar desert that features tundra, permafrost, ice sheets, sparse vegetation and a few small mammals. Temperatures range from roughly minus 37 degrees F, or minus 38 degrees C, in winter to 48 degrees F, or 9 degrees C, in summer. The region is one of the coldest, driest environments on Earth.

“Our findings are somewhat disconcerting regarding the temperatures and greenhouse gas levels during the Pliocene,” said Eberle.

“We already are seeing evidence of both mammals and birds moving northward as the climate warms, and I can’t help but wonder if the Arctic is headed toward conditions similar to those that existed during the Pliocene.”

This is an artists rendering of the Beaver Pond site on Ellesmere Island, in Canadas High Arctic, as it may have looked about 3 to 5 million years ago. (George)

This is an artist's rendering of the Beaver Pond site on Ellesmere Island, in Canada's High Arctic, as it may have looked about 3 to 5 million years ago. (George)

Elevated Arctic temperatures during the Pliocene — which occurred shortly before Earth plunged into an ice age about 2.5 million years ago — are thought to have been driven by the transfer of heat to the polar regions and perhaps by decreased reflectivity of sunlight hitting the Arctic due to a lack of ice, said Ballantyne. One big question is why the Arctic was so sensitive to warming during this period, he said.

Multiple feedback mechanisms have been proposed to explain the amplification of Arctic temperatures, including the reflectivity strength of the sun on Arctic ice and changes in vegetation seasonal cloud cover, said Ballantyne.

“I suspect that it is the interactions between these different feedback mechanisms that ultimately produce the warming temperatures in the Arctic.”

In 2009, CU-Boulder’s National Snow and Ice Data Center showed the September Arctic sea ice extent was 649,000 square miles, or 1,680,902 square kilometers, below the 1979-2000 average, and is declining at a rate of 11.2 percent per decade. Some climate change experts are forecasting that the Arctic summers will become ice-free summers within a decade or two.

In addition to its exceptional preservation of fossil wood, plants, insects and mollusks, the Beaver Pond site on Ellesmere Island is the only reported Pliocene fossil site in the High Arctic to yield vertebrate remains, said Rybczynski.

Eberle said there is high concern by scientists over a proposal to mine coal on Ellesmere Island near the Beaver Pond site by WestStar Resources Inc. headquartered in Vancouver, British Columbia.

“Paleontological sites like the Beaver Pond site are unique and extremely valuable resources that are of international importance,” said Eberle.

“Our concern is that coal mining activities could damage such sites and they will be lost forever.”

Source: Arctic Climate May Be More Sensitive to Warming Than Thought, Says New Study – x-journals

Date: 29 June 2010

Nature Reserves Maintain Biodiversity, Activate Ecotourism in Tartous

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

20100619-173033_h293961

Nature reserves play an important role in achieving sustainable development and preserving the stability and balance of the environment in the coastal Syrian Province of Tartous.

They also provide a suitable environment for conducting scientific research and protecting the biological diversity in addition to investing the marginal lands in addition to developing tourism industry in Tartous.

Tartous Province is famous for its natural and artificial forests which extend over the western cliff of the coastal mountains as the Province embraces four nature reserves; East al-Shaara, al-Nabi (Prophet) Matta, Qarkafti and al-Kahf (Cave) Forest.

Director of the Biological Diversity and Nature Reserve Department in Tartous Hiba Salhab said the reserves were established because they enjoy a biological diversity as they embrace various rare plants in addition to the fact that they are surrounded by several archeological monuments.

Salhab pointed out to the role of the reserves in activating ecotourism movement in a way that would preserve these natural areas.

She underlined the importance of these reserves in linking forests with each other and enhancing the environmental and preventive role of the forests in cleaning the air of pollutants and industrial gases.

“The reserves promote the public health of the locals and improve the vegetation cover through protecting the soil from water and air erosion and preventing torrents,” she added.

Director of Tartous Forest Department Hassan Salih said that his department works on protecting nature reserves through providing all the required infrastructures and the qualified technical staff for achieving the hoped-for goals behind establishing these reserves.

Salih added “the reserve of ‘East al-Sharaa’ in al-Kadmous is 70 Kms away from the city center. It consists of mountainous hills. It was established for preserving oak and terebinth trees in addition to protecting rare plant species such as maple, Syrian pear, Fir trees and some species of oak trees.”

The reserve also aims at increasing animal diversity in the area and protecting the perennial medical and seasonal plants in addition to qualifying the area for ecotourism and spreading awareness over the importance of forests.

Several plant species grow in al-Shaara Reserve such as terebinth, oak, wild pear, olive, basil, maple and other tree species. A lot of plant species have been introduced to the nature reserve such as wormwood, robinia, cedar, laurel and pine trees.

Medical plants also grow in the reserve such as thyme, wild garlic, hyssop, dandelion, narcissus, Artemisia and lilies.

Al-Nabi Matta Nature Reserve is located in Dreikish area. It expands over an area of 650 hectares, 450 hectares of which are artificial forests and 200 hectares are planted with chestnut.

The reserve was established with the aim of preserving the mountainous ecosystem and the artificial forests in the area and protecting the endangered animals.

It enjoys a moderate temperature as the rate of rainfalls reaches 1800 millimeters annually. It includes several springs of pure water free of calcium. It is also surrounded by some important archeological sites such as ‘Shiekh Deeb Castle’, ‘Bait al-Wadi Cave’ and the archeological ‘ waterwheel’.

Qarkafti Nature Reserve was established in 1998 over an area of 41,0 hectares. The reserve aims at preventing soil erosion and torrents and preserving springs and water resources.

It also enhances sanitation and preserves the natural scene and the agricultural crops in the area.

Al-Kahf Forest reserve is a mountainous reserve surrounded by green valleys. At the center of the reserve there is an important archeological monument. The reserve was established for keeping the biological diversity and the wildlife in the area.

Source: Nature Reserves Maintain Biodiversity, Activate Ecotourism in Tartous – sana.sy

Date: 22 June 2010

Ridge clue to Antarctic ice loss

Sunday, June 20th, 2010
_48114631_pine-island-bay_226_300

Pine Island Glacier is one of the largest in Antarctica

The discovery of an underwater ridge in West Antarctica could help explain why there has been an acceleration in the ice flowing from a glacier in the area.

Researchers suggest that the base of Pine Island Glacier once sat on the ridge, but recently became detached from the feature.

The team made the discovery during surveys that used a unmanned submarine to examine waters under the glacier.

The findings have been published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

“We found something very unexpected,” said co-author Pierre Dutrieux, from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), referring to the 400m-high ridge.

“Acoustic instruments on the submarine told us that there was a ridge at the bottom of the ocean, sitting transverse to the flow of ice.”

Dr Dutrieux said that there was also evidence that the base of the glacier was once attached to the ridge.

“Some decades ago, the glacier was sitting on this ridge and the friction of the ridge was restraining the flow of the glacier,” he explained.

“When the glacier became detached from the ridge, the ice flow was able to accelerate significantly.”

The highlighted area shows a dense concentration of crevasses along one edge of the glacier. Large numbers of deep crevasses are a sign that parts of the glacier are moving rapidly

The highlighted area shows a dense concentration of crevasses along one edge of the glacier. Large numbers of deep crevasses are a sign that parts of the glacier are moving rapidly

The highlighted area shows a dense concentration of crevasses along one edge of the glacier. Large numbers of deep crevasses are a sign that parts of the glacier are moving rapidly.

Dr Dutrieux said that the glacier was located in an area where there was intense melting of land ice, which was flowing into the ocean and contributing to sea level rise.

Researchers estimate that the accelerating flow of glaciers in West Antarctica is contributing about 10% of the observed rise in the mean global sea level.

In 2009, a study of satellite measurements of Pine Island Glacier, which is one of the largest in Antarctica, revealed the surface of the ice was falling at a rate of up to 16m a year.

It added that the glacier was thinning four times faster than it was a decade earlier.

Ice dynamics

Dr Dutrieux said that the discovery of the ridge was an important piece in the jig-saw of factors that could be changing the ice dynamics in the region.

“We have not had a clear understanding of what is driving this melting because the atmospheric forcing – the temperature at the surface – is not warm enough to cause such a melting,” he added.

“So the hypothesis was that it was coming from the ocean, which was melting the ice shelf from below.”

To gather the data, the team launched an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) on six survey missions beneath the floating tongue of Pine Island Glacier.

The submersible was designed and built by a team from the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, and funded by the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council (Nerc).

The seven-metre long vessel, with a range of 400km, carried a multibeam sonar system that allowed it to build up a 3D map of the ocean bed below and ice above.

The AUV has the capability to dive to depths of 1,600m below the surface

The AUV has the capability to dive to depths of 1,600m below the surface

It also was fitted with devices that measured salinity, temperature and oxygen concentrations in the sea water.

This allowed the researchers to gain a better understanding of the flow of water within the ice cavity and the rate of melting.

“We now know that there is relatively warm water beneath this floating ice,” observed Dr Dutrieux, “so this warm water could have been able to melt the base of the ice shelf.

“Another process leading to the ice becoming detached from the ridge could have been a change in the water properties that was grinding the shelf from beneath.”

He said the presence of the ridge would change the basis of future work on ice dynamics in the area.

“Topography is the main thing that constrains ice flow so, basically, it is going to fundamentally change the way people think about this glacier and the way we understand how it behaves.”

Source: Ridge clue to Antarctic ice loss – news.bbc.co.uk

Date: 20 June 2010

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