Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Update! One person killed, four people injured in polar bear attack on Spitsbergen, NRK and VG reports

August 5, 2011

One person is reported dead, according to this VG article. The party of 13 that were attacked in their tent camp near the Von Post Glacier early this morning was british, and consisted of youths from British Schools Exploring Society.

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.

Polnytt comments:

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?

Jonas Qvale

Retreating Arctic ice opens way to resources

May 24, 2011
By Joby Warrick and Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post
Updated: 05/21/2011 10:01:51 PM CDT
Original article here

Retreating Arctic ice has made Greenland's western coast accessible for oil exploration and drilling, which has created competition among rival nations. (Washington Post: Joby Warrick)

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.

Russia Embraces Offshore Arctic Drilling

February 26, 2011

By ANDREW E. KRAMER and CLIFFORD KRAUSS Published: February 15, 2011 in the New York Times – Original article here

The Prirazlomnaya oil platform was brought to the Arctic seaport of Murmansk, 906 miles north of Moscow, to be adjusted.

MOSCOW — The Arctic Ocean is a forbidding place for oil drillers. But that is not stopping Russia from jumping in — or Western oil companies from eagerly following.

Russia, where onshore oil reserves are slowly dwindling, last month signed an Arctic exploration deal with the British petroleum giant BP, whose offshore drilling prospects in the United States were dimmed by the Gulf of Mexico disaster last year. Other Western oil companies, recognizing Moscow’s openness to new ocean drilling, are now having similar discussions with Russia.

New oil from Russia could prove vital to world supplies in coming decades, now that it has surpassed Saudi Arabia as the world’s biggest oil producer, and as long as global demand for oil continues to rise.

But as the offshore Russian efforts proceed, the oil companies will be venturing where other big countries ringing the Arctic Ocean — most notably the United States and Canada — have been wary of letting oil field development proceed, for both safety and environmental reasons.

After the BP accident in the gulf last year highlighted the consequences of a catastrophic ocean spill, American and Canadian regulators focused on the special challenges in the Arctic.

The ice pack and icebergs pose various threats to drilling rigs and crews. And if oil were spilled in the winter, cleanup would take place in the total darkness that engulfs the region during those months.

Earlier this month, Royal Dutch Shell postponed plans for drilling off Alaska’s Arctic coast, as the company continued to face hurdles from wary Washington regulators.

The Russians, who control far more prospective drilling area in the Arctic Ocean than the United States and Canada combined, take a far different view.

As its Siberian oil fields mature, daily output in Russia, without new development, could be reduced by nearly a million barrels by the year 2035, according to the International Energy Agency. With its economy dependent on oil and gas, which make up about 60 percent of all exports, Russia sees little choice but to go offshore — using foreign partners to provide expertise and share the billions of dollars in development costs.

And if anything, the gulf disaster encouraged Russia to push ahead with BP as its first partner. In the view of Russia’s prime minister, Vladimir V. Putin, BP is the safest company to hire for offshore work today, having learned its lesson in the gulf.

“One beaten man is worth two unbeaten men,” Mr. Putin said, citing a Russian proverb, after BP signed its Arctic deal with Rosneft, the Russian state-owned oil company. The joint venture calls for the companies to explore three sections in the Kara Sea, an icebound coastal backwater north of central Russia.

The BP agreement touched off little public reaction in Russia, in part because the environmental movement is weak but also because opposition politicians have no way to block or hinder the process.

The Arctic holds one-fifth of the world’s undiscovered, recoverable oil and natural gas, the United States Geological Survey estimates. According to a 2009 report by the Energy Department, 43 of the 61 significant Arctic oil and gas fields are in Russia. The Russian side of the Arctic is particularly rich in natural gas, while the North American side is richer in oil.

While the United States and Canada balk, other countries are clearing Arctic space for the industry. Norway, which last year settled a territorial dispute with Russia, is preparing to open new Arctic areas for drilling.

Last year Greenland, which became semi-autonomous from Denmark in 2009, allowed Cairn Energy to do some preliminary drilling. Cairn, a Scottish company, is planning four more wells this year, while Exxon MobilChevron and Shell are also expected to drill in the area over the next few years.

But of the five countries with Arctic Ocean coastline, Russia has the most at stake in exploring and developing the region.

“Russia is one of the fundamental building blocks in world oil supply,” said Daniel Yergin, the oil historian and chairman of IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates. “It has a critical role in the global energy balance. The Arctic will be one of the critical factors in determining how much oil Russia is producing in 15 years and exporting to the rest of the world.”

Following the template of the BP deal, Rosneft is negotiating joint venture agreements with other major oil companies shut out of North America and intent on exploring the Arctic continental shelf off Russia’s northern coast. That includes Shell, its chief executive said last month. Rosneft’s chief executive, Eduard Y. Khudainatov, said other foreign oil company representatives were lining up outside his office these days.

Artur N. Chilingarov, a polar explorer, has embodied Moscow’s sweeping Arctic ambitions ever since he rode in a minisubmarine and placed a Russian flag on the bottom of the ocean under the North Pole, claiming it for Russia, in a 2007 expedition.

“The future is on the shelf,” Mr. Chilingarov, a member of Russia’s Parliament, the Duma, said in an interview. “We already pumped the land dry.”

Russia has been a dominant Arctic oil power since the Soviet Union began making important discoveries in the land-based Tazovskoye field on the shore of the Ob Bay in Siberia in 1962. The United States was not far behind with the discovery of the shallow-water Prudhoe Bay field in Alaska five years later.

What is new is the move offshore.

The waters of the Arctic are particularly perilous for drilling because of the extreme cold, long periods of darkness, dense fogs and hurricane-strength winds. Pervasive ice cover for eight to nine months out of the year can block relief ships in case of a blowout. And, as environmentalists note, whales, polar bears and other species depend on the region’s fragile habitats.

Such concerns have blocked new drilling in Alaska’s Arctic waters since 2003, despite a steep decline in oil production in the state and intensive lobbying by oil companies.

In Canada, Arctic offshore drilling is delayed as the National Energy Board is reviewing its regulations after the gulf spill.

Mr. Chilingarov placed a Russian flag on the bottom of the ocean under the North Pole, claiming the area for Russia, in a 2007 polar expedition.

But Russia is pressing ahead. The central decision opening the Russian Arctic easily passed Parliament in 2008, as an amendment to a law on subsoil resources. It allowed the ministry of natural resources to transfer offshore blocks to state-controlled oil companies in a no-bid process that does not involve detailed environmental reviews.

Until recently Russia regarded the Kara Sea, where BP and Rosneft intend to drill, as primarily an icy dump. For years, the Soviet navy released nuclear waste into the sea, including several spent submarine reactors that were dropped overboard at undisclosed locations.

Rosneft executives say their exploration drilling will not stir up radiation.

But in any case, Mr. Chilingarov, the advocate for Russian polar claims, said a little radiation was nothing to worry about. He said that his son was born on Novaya Zemlya, an Arctic testing site for nuclear weapons during the cold war, and is now “a bit taller than me.”

“In small doses,” Mr. Chilingarov said, “radiation is good for growth.”

Andrew E. Kramer reported from Moscow and Clifford Krauss from Houston.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: February 19, 2011
A chart on Wednesday with an article about Russia’s eagerness to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean gave an incorrect unit of measurement for estimates of natural gas reserves in the region. The shaded areas in the chart are believed to hold more than 100 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, not cubic tons. The unit of measurement was correct in an online version of the chart, available at nytimes.com/business.

Castration could save reindeer in warming Arctic

January 30, 2011

MSNBC – original article here

TROMSOE, Norway — Indigenous Sami peoples in the Arctic may have found a way to help their reindeer herds cope with climate change: more castration.

Research by Sami experts shows that sterilized males can grow larger and so are better at digging for food — as Arctic temperatures vary more, thawing snow often refreezes to form thick ice over lichen pastures.

Alissa de Carbonnel / AFP - Getty Images Reindeer herds like this one in Lovozero, Russia, are part of the native Arctic culture.

Neutered males are more able to break through ice with their hooves or antlers, and seem more willing than other males to move aside and share food with calves that can die of starvation in bad freeze-thaw winters like 2000-01.

“To make herds more resilient in the future, we need to re-learn the traditional knowledge of castration,” said professor Svein Mathiesen, coordinator of the University of the Arctic’s Institute of Circumpolar Reindeer Husbandry.

More castration “could be useful to adapt to climate change,” he told Reuters in the Arctic city of Tromsoe. “These animals are very good diggers for the small calves in the most critical period of the winter.”

Castration has traditionally been used by reindeer herders, partly to make wild animals more docile. Herders on the Yamal peninsula in Russia still neuter about half of all males — usually by biting into the testicles with their teeth.

Far fewer animals are castrated outside Russia. About 100,000 Sami own about 2.5 million reindeer in homelands in the Nordic countries and Russia.

The traditional Sami biting technique aims for “half-castration” — under which the animals become sterile but still produce some of the male hormone testosterone that promotes muscle growth.

Sami in Norway, where laws limit castration to surgery with anesthetics, are now experimenting with a vaccine to recreate the effects of half-castration.

No interest in sex also helps neutered males in winter.

“Males castrated in the traditional way would have an increased chance of survival over other males since they maintain body weight and condition during the rutting season,” according to a research document by Eli Risten Nergaard of Sami University College.

The Arctic region is warming at double the global rate in a trend blamed by the U.N.’s panel of climate scientists on greenhouse gases from mankind’s burning of fossil fuels.

Yamal herders castrate many of their reindeer, partly because they need strong, docile animals to pull heavy sleds. In Norway, Sami have come to rely on snow-scooters and get most money for calf meat, meaning most males are slaughtered young.

The Sami castration study indicates the complexities of adapting to the impacts of climate change. Many other scientists are focusing on issues such as how to cope with river floods or rising sea levels, or ways to develop drought-resistant crops.

Castrated reindeer also keep their antlers for much of the winter while normal males shed their antlers each autumn after the mating season. That implies that Rudolph, pulling Father Christmas’s sled, has been castrated.

Ancient Fossils Show Arctic Now Near Climate Tipping Point

July 8, 2010

BOULDER, Colorado, June 29, 2010 (ENS) – Current levels of Earth’s atmospheric carbon dioxide may be high enough to bring about “irreversible” shifts in Arctic ecosystems, according to new research published today by scientists from the United States, Canada and The Netherlands.

The Arctic climate system is more sensitive to greenhouse warming than previously known said the researchers, who gathered evidence on what is now Ellesmere Island in Canada’s High Arctic from a time period 2.6 to 5.3 million years ago. This period, known as the Pliocene Epoch, occurred shortly before Earth was plunged into an ice age.

“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 zero degrees Celsius (32 degrees F),” said lead author Ashley Ballantyne of the University of Colorado at Boulder.

“As temperatures approach zero 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,” Dr. Ballantyne warned.

From left: Ashley Ballantyne of CU-Boulder, Dara Finney of Environment Canada and Natalia Rybczynski of the Canadian Museum of Nature dig for fossils near Strathcona Fiord on Ellesmere Island. (Photo courtesy Environment Canada)

The research team points out that the overwhelming majority of climate scientists agree Earth is warming due to increased atmospheric concentrations of heat-trapping gases generated by human activities like fossil fuel burning and deforestation.

Arctic temperatures have risen by about 1.8 degrees F (1 degree C) in the past two decades in response to human-caused 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.

Environmental advocates are calling on governments negotiating the next climate treaty to limit greenhouse gas emissions to 350 parts per million, the level many scientists say will help to avert the worst consequences of climate change.

The research paper is being published in the July issue of the journal “Geology.” The study was funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation, the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council in Canada, the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research and the European Research Council.

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.

“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.”

At the Ellesmere Island research site, called the Beaver Pond site, organic materials have been “mummified” in peat deposits, allowing the researchers to conduct detailed, high-quality analyses, said Eberle.

They found that in the Pliocene, Ellesmere Island had forests of larch, dwarf birch and northern white cedar trees, as well as mosses and herbs.

The island was inhabited by fish, frogs and mammals now extinct, including tiny deer, ancient relatives of the black bear, three-toed horses, small beavers, rabbits, badgers and shrews.

But the research value of the site is now threatened by a proposed coal mine. 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., a mineral exploration company headquartered in Vancouver, British Columbia.

The Beaver Pond site is close to Strathcona Fiord on Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Territory of Nunavut. In the 1980s, reconnaissance exploration conducted by Petro-Canada and others described coal seams up to 12 meters (39 feet) thick close to the surface along the steep north shore of the fiord.

“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.”

For this study, the team used three independent methods of measuring the Pliocene temperatures on Ellesmere Island.

They measured oxygen isotopes found in the cellulose of fossil trees and mosses that reveal temperatures and precipitation levels tied to ancient water.

They analyzed the distribution of lipids in soil bacteria which correlate with temperature.

And they inventoried ancient Pliocene plant groups that overlap in range with contemporary vegetation.

“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.”

The scientists found that while the mean annual temperature on Ellesmere Island during the Pliocene was about 34 degrees Fahrenheit (19 degrees Celsius) hotter than it is today, levels of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide were only slightly higher than present.

Elevated Arctic temperatures during the Pliocene 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.”

Presently, Arctic sea ice is declining at a rate of 11.2 percent per decade according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Some climate change experts are forecasting that the Arctic summers will become ice-free within a decade or two.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2010. All rights reserved.

Original article here

Living Infra-Glacially in an Imaginary Antarctic Metropolis

June 29, 2010


For a stunningly realized thesis project submitted last month at the University of California, Berkeley, Taylor Medlin focused on what he called “Towards a New Antarchitecture.” Presented through a combination of miniature wax models and sculpted ice, the project aimed to show how new, more sustainable construction techniques could be developed for the continent of Antarctica.

The overall project statement read as follows:

Antarctica, the most recently explored large land mass in the world, is also currently one of the most unsustainable place on the earth when viewed through the lens of construction techniques. There are over sixty research stations from thirty different countries already built on the continent, all of which are completely constructed out of materials foreign to Antarctica, necessitating huge logistical resources to set up and maintain life there. Though some stations have begun to experiment with energy collection techniques, most remain completely dependent on diesel generators consuming fossil fuels brought from the mainland. Is it possible to develop construction techniques that take into consideration the materials already present in Antarctica as building blocks for design? And furthermore, what are the possibilities for energy production and conservation that have not yet been explored?

Through the design of a methodology of construction relating to ongoing research stations in Antarctica, I wish to show the plausibility and environmental advantages of designing research stations through the utilization of ice as a principal construction material.

Read the full article with more pictures here

Giant iceberg breaks off from Antarctic glacier

June 29, 2010

This undated photo released on February 26, 2010 from the Australian Antarctic Division shows the Mertz Glacier, a 160-kilometer spit of floating ice protruding into the Southern Ocean from East Antarctica. Researchers said on February 25, 2010 that the iceberg the size of Luxembourg - or some 2550 square kilometres in size - knocked loose from the Antarctic continent earlier this month and could disrupt the ocean currents driving weather patterns around the globe. Photograph by: Tony Worby, Australian Antarctic Division/AFP/Getty Images/Handout

Reuters February 26, 2010

SINGAPORE – An iceberg the size of Luxembourg has broken off from a glacier in Antarctica after being rammed by another giant iceberg, scientists said on Friday, in an event that could affect ocean circulation patterns.

The 2,500 sq km (965 sq mile) iceberg broke off earlier this month from the Mertz Glacier’s 160 km (100 miles) floating tongue of ice that sticks out into the Southern Ocean.

The collision has since halved the size of the tongue that drains ice from the vast East Antarctic ice sheet.

“The calving itself hasn’t been directly linked to climate change but it is related to the natural processes occurring on the ice sheet,” said Rob Massom, a senior scientist at the Australian Antarctic Division and the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Co-operative Research Centre in Hobart, Tasmania.

Both organisations, along with French scientists, have been studying existing giant cracks in the ice tongue and monitored the bumper-car-like collision by the second iceberg, B-9B.

This 97 km long slab of ice is a remnant of an iceberg of more than 5,000 sq km that broke off, or calved, in 1987, making it one of the largest icebergs ever recorded in Antarctica.

The Mertz glacier iceberg is among the largest recorded for several years. In 2002, a iceberg about 200 km long broke off from Antarctica’s Ross Ice Shelf. In 2007, a iceberg roughly the size of Singapore broke off from the Pine Island Glacier in West Antarctica.

Massom said the shearing off of the ice tongue and the presence of the Mertz and B-9B icebergs could affect global ocean circulation.

The area is an important zone for the creation of dense, salty water that is a key driver of global ocean circulation. This is produced in part through the rapid production of sea ice that is continually blown to the west.

“Removal of this tongue of floating ice would reduce the size of that area of open water, which would slow down the rate of salinity input into the ocean and it could slow down this rate of Antarctic bottom water formation,” he said.

He said there was a risk both icebergs would become grounded on banks or shoals in the area, disrupting the creation of the dense, salty water and the amount that sinks to the bottom of the ocean, he said.

Oceans act like a giant flywheel for the planet’s climate by shifting heat around the globe via myriad currents above and below the surface.

© Copyright (c) Reuters
Original article here

Antarctic Garbage Patch Coming?

June 29, 2010


You’ve heard about the Pacific garbage patch and the Atlantic garbage patch, each a sobering sign of how when we throw things away, they don’t go “away” — they often go into the sea, where they remain for a long, long time.

Much of the global ocean remains uncharted in terms of pollution, but unfortunately the more we look, the more we find. And now even the most remote, pristine waters on the planet — the coastal seas of Antarctica — are being invaded by plastic debris.

In a series of surveys conducted during the austral summer of 2007-2008, researchers at the British Antarctic Survey and Greenpeace trawled the region, skimming surface waters and digging into the seabed. Even in the exceedingly remote Davis and Durmont D’Urville seas they found errant fishing buoys and a plastic cup. Plastic packaging was found floating in the Amundsen Sea (see map).

It doesn’t sound like much, but finding trash in the far corners of the planet is a worrying sign. The research team, led by David Barnes of the British Antarctic Survey, believe the debris they found represents the leading edge of a tide of man-made refuse that is just now starting to make its way into the most secluded parts of our oceans.

If there’s good news, it’s this: sledges dragged along the seafloor turned up a healthy, vibrant Antarctic ecosystem, and nothing else. Plastic bits are ubiquitous in beach sands and coastal sediments throughout much of the world, but the reach of humanity’s profound plastic habit and throw-away culture has so far failed to reach the bottom of these southern seas.

The researchers, though, have a gloomy outlook for what they might find in a future trip to the region. In a letter to the journal Marine Environmental Research, they write:

The seabeds immediately surrounding continental Antarctica are probably the last environments on the planet yet to be reached by plastics, but with pieces floating into the surface of the Amundsen Sea this seems likely to change soon. Our knowledge now touches every sea, but so does our legacy of lost and discarded plastic.

Original article here