By Deborah Zabarenko, Environment Correspondent
WASHINGTON | Wed Aug 17, 2011 4:52pm EDT
(Reuters) – Original article here
Fast-melting Arctic sea ice appears to be pushing walruses to haul themselves out onto land, and many are moving around the area where oil leases have been sold, the U.S. Geological Survey reports.
Walruses are accomplished divers and frequently plunge hundreds of feet (meters) to the bottom of the continental shelf to feed. But they use sea ice as platforms to give birth, nurse their young and elude predators, and when sea ice is scarce or non-existent, as it has been this summer, they come up on land.
Last September, the loss of sea ice caused an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 walruses to venture onto land, and as sea ice melts reached a record last month, U.S. government scientists are working with Alaskan villagers to put radio transmitters on some of the hauled-out walruses to track their movements around the Chukchi Sea.
“The ice is very widely dispersed and there is little of it left over the continental shelf,” researcher Chad Jay of the U.S. Geological Survey said in a statement on Wednesday. “Based on our tracking data, the walruses appear to be spreading out and spending quite a bit of time looking for sea ice.”
The loss of sea ice puts Pacific walruses at risk, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but other, higher-priority species will get attention first. In February, the wildlife service listed Pacific walruses as candidates for protection, though not protection itself.
Walruses are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which means these animals cannot be harvested, imported, exported or be part of interstate commerce.
Polar bears, which also use sea ice in the Chukchi Sea as platforms for hunting, have been designated as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act because of declining sea ice in the Arctic.
Compared to last year’s massive haul-out, there are few walruses on land, and there is no solid count, Jay said.
“There is a lot less ice than there used to be on the continental shelf this time of year,” he said. “So we might be headed into a new normal.”
Transmissions from the radio-tagged walruses offer a good picture of where these creatures are in the Chukchi Sea in a U.S. Geological Survey graphic updated approximately weekly.
SHRINKING ARCTIC SEA ICE
Available online here , the graphic shows where the walruses were when they were first tagged (shown as red Xs) and how they moved around the water (shown as yellow dots).
The graphic also shows changes in sea ice cover in the far north, indicating nearly ice-free conditions in areas where the walruses are moving. Many are within the boundaries of an oil lease sale area that stretches along the northwestern Alaska coast and far into the Chukchi Sea.
Royal Dutch Shell, ConocoPhillips and Statoil hold leases in the Chukchi Sea, though no drilling has started.
Last month saw Arctic sea ice drop to its lowest extent — meaning that it covered the smallest area — for any July since satellite records began in 1979, according to the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center. Typically, Arctic sea ice hits its lowest extent for the year in September.
This record-low ice extent for July is lower than July ice extent in 2007, when ice extent shrank in September to its smallest area in the satellite record.
Several persons were injured when a polar bear attacked people near the Von Post Glacier approximately 40 kilometers from Longyearbyen.
It has been a busy situation for ambulance personell at Longyearbyen, and assistance from the mainland was immediately sent northwards.
This article on nrk.no first broke the news of the incident which was reported to the Sysselmann at Spitsbergen around 07:30 AM today, August 5th. The polar bear is now dead and health personell have arrived on site, the Sysselmann reports.
“We have received four patients. All of them have moderate to serious injuries, mainly head injuries”, says Jon Mathisen, director of the department for acute medicine at the University Hospital in Tromsø to VG Nett.
Liv Ødegaard, information consultant with the Sysselmann office, tells NRK that they don’t have a complete overview of the situation so far, including how seriously hurt the persons involved are.
“We can now confirm that they were camping there, but if they were tourists or scientists is too early to say. At this stage we have made a priority of getting the injured persons medical help”, Ødegaard said earlier this morning.
None of the involved people are identified so far, and the British department of foreign affairs does not have an overview of the situation yet.
Starvation and lack of food is the most common motivation for a polar bear to attack people say Jon Aas, scientist at the Norwegian Polar Institute.
“All polar bears are potentially dangerous, but there are higher numbers of young and starving bears involved in attacks”, Aas says.
Kjersti Norås, tourism coordinator on Spitsbergen says that the Von Post Glacier is a common site for tourists to visit. “You can go there on snowmobiles in the winter to get to Pyramiden”, she informs VG Nett.
It is recommended to carry guns when out in the field on Spitsbergen, and the company who met the bear have killed the animal themselves.
Since 1971, four people have been hurt and four people killed by polar bears on Spitsbergen, Margrete Nilsdatter Skaktavl Keyser states in her master thesis on the subject.
When situations with polar bears arise, the only solution is to kill the animal if possible, or else get killed.
We should now ask ourselves: Is tourism on Spitsbergen OK? Perhaps travelling in these areas should be restricted to personell with real business in the area? Useful activities like science, hunting and industry? Perhaps we should keep tourists and adventurers off these pristine nature reserves?
Stone Pages Archaeo News 19 May 2011
Original article here
Analysis of subtle chemical variations in reindeer teeth suggest the Neanderthal employed sophisticated hunting strategies similar to the tactics used much later by modern humans. Kate Britton, an archaeologist now at the University of Aberdeen, and her colleagues wanted to find out more about adult reindeer remains from a 70,000 year old layer at the Jonzac Neanderthal hunting camp site in France – a rock shelter believed to have been used over a long period of time – by looking at the teeth and their chemical composition.
Teeth are made of calcium, phosphorus, oxygen, strontium and other elements, but not all the atoms of each element are the same. Some atoms, or isotopes, are heavier than others and may have slightly different chemical properties. Says Britton, “Strontium in your bones and teeth is related to the food and water you consume… to the underlying soil and rocks of a particular area.” It’s possible to look at the strontium isotopes and find out if the animals ate and drank always in the same area, or if they moved around.
The reindeer have similar strontium isotope patterns, suggesting they moved from one area to another and back again while their teeth were developing. “The reindeer were probably travelling through the area during their annual migrations,” Britton says. The Neanderthal were probably aware of the reindeer migration patterns and planned their stays to make the most out of the moving herd. “This sophisticated hunting behaviour is something we see much later in the Upper Palaeolithic amongst modern human groups, and it’s really fascinating to see that Neanderthals were employing similar strategies,” concludes Britton.
By MALCOLM RITTER, Associated Press 05/19/2011 Original article here
NEW YORK — Scientists have identified what may be one of the last northern refuges of Neanderthals, a spot near the Arctic Circle in Russia with artifacts dated to 31,000 to 34,000 years ago.
Stone tools and flakes found there look like the work of Neanderthals, the stocky, muscular hunters who lived in Europe and western Asia until they were replaced by modern humans, researchers reported today in the journal Science.
The site lies along the Pechora River west of the Ural Mountains, about 92 miles south of the Arctic Circle. Researchers dated it from animal bones and sand grains. Nobody has found any human bones or DNA that could provide stronger evidence that Neanderthals lived there, report the scientists, from Russia, France and Norway. The artifacts had been collected during various expeditions.
Richard Klein, a Stanford University professor of anthropology, said the artifacts do look like the work of Neanderthals, but that it’s also possible they were made by modern people instead.
Neanderthals were not previously known to be in that area, nor convincingly shown to be present anywhere at such a recent time, he said. Finding another site or human bones would help settle the question, he said.
Eric Delson, a paleoanthropologist at Lehman College of the City of New York, cited a 2006 study that suggests Neanderthals occupied a cave near the southern tip of Spain at about the same time as the new work puts them in Russia. Maybe the two locations show how Neanderthals retreated in opposite directions from the encroachment of the modern humans, he said.
NUUK, Greenland – Here, just south of the Arctic Circle, where the sea ice is vanishing like dew on a July morning, the temperature isn’t the only thing that’s heating up.
Across the region, a warming Arctic is opening up new competition for resources that until recently were out of reach, protected under a thick layer of ice. As glaciers defrost and ice floes diminish, the North is being viewed as a source of not only great wealth but also conflict, diplomats and policy experts say.
In recent months, oil companies have begun lining up for exploration rights to Baffin Bay, a hydrocarbon-rich region on Greenland’s western coast that until recently was too ice-choked for drilling. U.S. and Canadian diplomats have reopened a spat over navigation rights to a sea route through the Canadian Arctic that could cut shipping time and costs for long-haul tankers.
Even ownership of the North Pole has come into dispute, as Russia and Denmark pursue rival claims to the underlying seabed in hopes of locking up access to everything from fisheries to natural-gas deposits.
The intense rivalry over Arctic development was highlighted in diplomatic cables released recently by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks. Messages between U.S. diplomats revealed how northern nations, including the United States and Russia, have been maneuvering to ensure access to shipping lanes as well as undersea oil and gas deposits that are estimated to contain up to 25 percent of the world’s untapped reserves.
In the cables, U.S. officials worried that bickering over resources might even lead to an arming of the Arctic.
“While in the Arctic there is peace and stability, however, one cannot exclude that in the future there will be a redistribution of power, up to armed intervention,” a 2009 State Department cable quoted a Russian ambassador as saying.
Concern over competition in the Arctic was partly behind an extraordinary diplomatic gathering recently in Greenland’s tiny capital Nuuk. This year’s meeting of the eight-nation Arctic Council drew seven foreign ministers, including Russia’s Sergey Lavrov and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the highest-ranking U.S. diplomat to attend an Arctic Council session. Accompanying Clinton was a second U.S. Cabinet member, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
Clinton and her aides sought to call attention to climate change during the visit, highlighting new studies that show Arctic ice melting far more rapidly than scientists had believed. But Clinton also promoted a message of international cooperation in the Arctic.
“The challenges in the region are not just environmental,” Clinton said in Nuuk following talks with her Danish counterpart, Lene Espersen. “The melting of sea ice, for example, will result in more shipping, fishing and tourism, and the possibility to develop newly accessible oil and gas reserves. We seek to pursue these opportunities in a smart, sustainable way that preserves the Arctic environment and ecosystem.”
Clinton’s presence at the Nuuk meeting was intended to show U.S. support for the Arctic Council as a critical forum for cooperation and to resolve conflicts. With strong backing from the Obama administration, the council approved the first legally binding treaty in its history, a pact that sets the rules for maritime search and rescue in the region. Although modest in scope, the treaty, authored mainly by Russia and the United States, was hailed as a template for future agreements on issues ranging from oil-spill cleanup to territorial disputes.
Significantly, the eight member nations voted to establish a permanent secretariat to the council, to be located in Tronso, Norway. Clinton asserted that the region’s powers must recognize the council as the “preeminent intergovernmental body, where we can solve shared problems and pursue shared opportunities.”
“The opportunities for economic development in the Arctic must be weighed against the need to protect its environment and ecosystems. And governments will not always see eye to eye on how to achieve this balance,” Clinton said. “That’s why this council is so important.”
In the diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks, there was no dispute about rapid warming under way. The predominant questions revolved around how the region’s newly accessible resources would be carved up.
An area of 200,000 square metres on the White Sea coast near Kandalaksha is polluted.
The oil spill that happened on May 7 has been traced back to Belomorskaya petrol bulk plant report the regional environmental group Bellona Murmansk. The storage tanks of the plant is located just outside the town of Kandalaksha south on the Kola Peninsula.
The oil spill now presents an immediate threat to the Kandalaksha Bay nature reserve located a kilometre and a half away, according to Bellona Murmansk.
The regional department of Rosprirodnadzor, Russia’s Environmental agency has stated investigation into the case and cleanup measures have been deployed.
Images from the coastal area clearly show how the shore is polluted with oil.
MURMANSK – The May 7 oil spill in Kandalaksha Bay of the White Sea in Russia’s far northern Kola Peninsula now presents an immediate threat to a nearby nature reserve. Cleanup measures have been deployed, but the oil slick from a coastal petrol bulk plant is now approaching Kandalaksha National Park, only a kilometre and a half away, which is home to hundreds of protected wild species. Anna Kireeva, 17/05-2011 – Translated by Maria Kaminskaya
State environmental authorities in Russia’s Northwest Federal District say the polluted area totals around 200,000 square metres. An investigation has been started into the accident, the authorities say. Click here for a slide show on the progression of the spill.
The spill has been traced back to Belomorskaya (White Sea) petrol bulk plant, an enterprise based in the town of Kandalaksha, on the shore of the White Sea’s Kandalaksha Bay in Russia’s far northern Murmansk Region.However, Belomorskaya director Sergei Khmelyov says the circumstances at hand do not warrant for calling the incident an oil spill, much less attributing it to his company’s operations.
“Water emulsion with oil products mixed in has leaked out of the ground, from ground waters onto the surface, as a result of a [recent] flood,” Khmelyov told Bellona.Ru in an interview.
Khmelyov blames the culture of utter disregard for ecological safety that was prevalent during the Soviet times for what is now happening in Kandalaksha: Back in the Soviet Union, all oil spills from loading racks used to simply go into the ground and get absorbed by the soil and ground waters. The recent springtime flood has lifted this decades-old emulsion out of the ground with flood waters, according to Khmelyov.
“Since 1995, when Belomorskaya Oil Bulk Plant was created here, the loading racks have undergone complete renovation, and no leaks can possibly happen here from the equipment or the pipelines,” Khmelyov told Bellona.
Belomorskaya’s director said it is currently hard to determine precisely the area of pollution as there are also small local slicks only a millimetre or less thick.
However, Bellona has learnt from conversations with some of the company’s employees, who wished to remain unnamed, that oil leaks happen regularly at the enterprise – though they have never seen a spill as large as this most recent one.
“It is apparent that oil pollution in the area and part of the coastal line adjacent to the petrol storage depot is that of a chronic nature,” Nina Lesikhina, an expert with Bellona-Murmansk, said. “This may be due to an inefficient effluent water purification system at the plant, leaky storage tanks, or the accumulation of oil products in the soil over the many years, which then start seeping onto the surface, pushed by flood waters.”
Lesikhina said environmental authorities would yet have to establish the precise cause of this latest spill, but the responsibility for the accident would still lie solely and entirely with the owner of the storage depot.
“It is apparent that it was none other than neglect of the rules of environmental safety and lack of appreciation of ecological risks that has led to this pollution of the White Sea,” she added.
The spill is being investigated by the department for marine environmental safety supervision of the Russian Federal Service for the Oversight of Natural Resources (Rosprirodnadzor) in the Northwest Federal District, which includes Murmansk Region.
According to the department’s head, Nina Sukhanova, an inspection of the Kandalaksha Bay coastline revealed that a stretch of the basin between the first and fourth piers was polluted with oil products. The slick was two to five millimetres thick.
“It has been established from a detailed survey of the coastline and the basin of Kandalaksha Bay that 71,000 square metres of the basin of the bay has been polluted in the area around […] Belomorskaya Petrol Bulk Plant. The water in the port is polluted within an area of 128,000 square metres. The total area of water pollution comes to 199,000 square metres, and shoreline pollution totals another 400 square metres,” Sukhanova told the Russian news agency RIA Novosti.
Sukhanova said department specialists have attributed the oil spill to the spring flood, which caused oil products to seep out of the ground and spread from the territory of the storage depot across the adjacent area and into bay waters.
The experts drew up an inspection report, took soil and water samples, and determined the incident merited initiating an administrative violation case.
The ecological threat
Specialists are hard-pressed to assess at the moment the scope of resulting environmental damage, including to the nearby Kandalaksha National Park.
“Installing booms in the affected area is currently impeded by the ice conditions in the bay,” Sukhanova said.
Meanwhile, the spot where the oil products are leaking is just a kilometre and a half away from the territory of the Kandalaksha nature reserve.
“It is at this point difficult to estimate the consequences of the oil spill for the animals and birds of the Kandalaksha reserve,” said Ivetta Tatarenkova, an employee of the reserve’s. “The specialists will have yet to investigate the damage after this spill. There could be a threat to the eiders, which are not yet showing up on the shore.”
Kandalaksha is one of Russia’s oldest and northernmost nature reserves. Sprawling across 70,000 hectares, of which 70 percent accounts for part of the basins of the White and Barents Seas and includes over 370 islands, it is home to around 9,500 animal and bird species and was founded with the specific cause of protecting the invaluable eider population in the area.
According to Tatarenkova, these rare birds are currently staying in the water and, should the oil spill expand significantly across the bay waters, the birds will be at risk of smearing their wings with the oil. A slick has already been discovered by the Kandalaksha reserve’s specialists during an inspection of the area around one of the archipelago’s largest islands, Ryazhkov.
“The ice there is dirty, it’s black; the same can be observed near the island of Oleny. The invertebrates could come under harm, too – mussels, crayfish, and other families of the order,” Tatarenkova said.
Bellona-Murmansk specialists note that extensive oil pollution and generation of oil slicks on the surface of seawater prevents oxygen from entering the water, which impedes photosynthesis. The presence of oil and oil products in the water has thus a toxic effect on the animals and organisms inhabiting the sea.
Even insignificant amounts of pollutants can cause serious damage to the plant and animal life, environmentalists say. And in areas where low temperatures are prevalent throughout the year, the process of recovery from the stress of oil pollution is extremely slow for marine organisms and ecosystems.
Efforts are ongoing in the area to contain and clean up the spill; Belomorskaya petrol depot has deployed its coastal rescue brigade and the necessary equipment to handle the accident. More people and equipment have been engaged from the emergency rescue outfit called Navekoservice, a branch of Ecocentre group of companies, to assist in the efforts to prevent further expansion of the pollution.
According to Ecocentre head Alexander Glazov, what happened is an alarming sign indicating a broader syndrome that affects all petrol bulk plants on the Kola Peninsula: All of these enterprises are quite old and may well have accumulated spilled oil products in the ground and ground waters on their territory.
Specialists say the cleanup may take up to a month. Remediation measures will then have to be enacted to restore the soil and water in the polluted area. In order to rule out the risk of further pollution, a survey will then have to be conducted, followed by drilling a well to pump out the remaining oil. Save these measures, small and large slicks threatening local wildlife are bound to be observed in the bay each year that the spring season floods Kandalaksha with snowmelt waters after another snowy winter.
Bellona-Murmansk’s Lesikhina underscores the very high ecological risks of oil and gas operations in the Arctic territories, including dealing with the consequences, as the environmental danger is not just confined to the specific vulnerability of the Arctic climate to such impacts.
“Not only do the severe weather conditions precipitate the risk of accidents, but they also hamper timely and efficient emergency response to oil spills such as this,” she said.
NewKerala.com – original article here
Washington, Apr 21 : The discovery of a possible Neanderthal burial ground has suggested that they practiced funeral rituals and possessed symbolic thought long before modern humans.
According to a Quaternary International paper, evidence for a likely 50,000-year-old Neanderthal burial ground that includes the remains of at least three individuals has been unearthed in Spain.
The skeletons found in apparent burial poses at the site Sima de las Palomas, in Murcia, Southeast Spain, may be the first known Neanderthal burial ground of Mediterranean Europe. The remains of six to seven other Neanderthals, including an infant and two juveniles, as well as associated tools and food, have also been excavated. The deceased appear to have been intentionally buried, with each Neanderthal””s arms folded such that the hands were close to the head, suggesting that it held meaning.
“We cannot say much (about the skeletons) except that we surmise the site was regarded as somehow relevant in regard to the remains of deceased Neanderthals,” Discovery News quoted lead author Michael Walker as saying.
“Their tools and food remains, not to mention signs of fires having been lit, which we have excavated indicate they visited the site more than once,” he said.
Walker, a professor in the Department of Zoology and Physical Anthropology at the University of Murcia and his colleagues, have been working at the site for some time. So far they have found buried articulated skeletons for a young adult female, a juvenile or child, and an adult — possibly male — Neanderthal.
“We cannot say whether these three individuals were related, though it is likely,” he said, explaining that DNA has been denatured due to high ambient temperatures. “Surely the child was related to one of the others, though,” he explained.
The Neanderthals were found covered together with rocks burying their remains. The researchers believe it””s likely that other Neanderthals intentionally placed the rocks over the bodies from a height. While it cannot be ruled out that an accident killed the three individuals, the scientists believe that wasn””t the case. “I think there is just enough evidence at Sima de las Palomas to think that three articulated skeletons are unlikely to have been the result of a single random accident to three cadavers that somehow escaped the ravages of hyenas and leopards, which were present at the site,” Walker said.
Erik Trinkaus, a professor of physical anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis, is one of the world’s leading experts on Neanderthals. He said that it is certainly possible that the Neanderthals at Sima de las Palomas were buried. He said a few dozen documented Neanderthal burials from Western Europe, Eastern Europe and Southwest Asia have already been documented.
Trinkaus added that the Neanderthal remains from Spain will “provide us with our first glimpse of overall Neanderthal body form in Southern Europe, as well as additional specimens for a number of aspects of Neanderthal biology”.