Posts Tagged ‘pollution’

Invasive Species Carried Steadily in the Antarctic

May 9, 2011

Softpedia news, April 29th, 2011 – original article here

Antarctica was until recently the most pristine continent in the world, but that situation is currently changing. Research scientists, tourists, and just about anyone who sets foot around the South Pole, are carrying bacteria and other organisms that are not indigenous to this area.

For all intents and purposes, we are promoting an invasion that could see the establishing of new species in this clean habitat. While the harsh conditions in Antarctica will take care of most intruders, there are those that will undoubtedly survive.

Some microorganisms are known for being able to survive in space for prolonged periods of time, so they can surely endure in a bit of ice, scientists say. The same holds true for plant seeds that are being involuntarily and steadily carried on the Southern Continent.

 The main risk with invasive species is that they tend to overtake a new habitat by killing off indigenous species. The latter spent millions of years adapting to their environment, and achieving an ecosystemic balance, only to have it all taken away by opportunistic organisms.

“We are still at the stage when Antarctica has fewer than 10 non-native species, none of which have become invasive. Unless we take steps now to minimize the risk of introduction, who knows what will happen,” says expert Kevin Hughes.

The investigator, who holds an appointment as an environmental scientist at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), analyzed some 11,250 pieces of fresh produce in a new study. Together with colleagues, he was trying to determine how many new organisms make their way in the Antarctic via this route.

Experts found 56 invertebrates, which included aphids, butterflies, spiders and snails. Large amounts of soil were discovered on many produce, and more than a quarter of all were rotten due to microbes.

“Are these numbers surprising, or does it mean this is likely to be a problem? It’s pretty hard to say,” comments Daniel Simberloff, an expert who was not a part of the new research.

“The upshot is that there’s just enough people going to some parts of Antarctica nowadays that lots of organisms are carried there,” adds the scientist, who is a professor at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

“I have to think this isn’t good, and some subset of them are going to pose environmental problems,” he goes on to say, quoted by LiveScience.

“To be quite honest, the only way we are going to stop the introduction of nonnative species is to stop going to Antarctica, to cut off all the pathways. What we can do is try and minimize the risk of introduction and we can do that by relatively simple steps,” Hughes adds further.

Arctic Drilling Poses Untold Risks, Study Concludes

November 13, 2010

The idiocy continues.
Hornfar

Original article here in The New York Times “Green” blog

By LESLIE KAUFMAN

An image of a an oil-spill response vessel from a Shell commercial promoting Arctic drilling.

Green: Science

Now that the moratorium on deep-sea oil and gas drilling has been lifted by the Obama administration, the battle for the Arctic is heating up again.

The suspension of deep-sea drilling was of course a reaction to the disastrous blowout in the Gulf of Mexico that gushed from April to July, producing the biggest offshore oil spill in the nation’s history. The moratorium was lifted last month, about six weeks before a Nov. 30 expiration date.

As soon as it was lifted, my colleague Cliff Krauss reported last week, Royal Dutch Shell began lobbying eagerly to get final approval for its long-delayed plans for exploratory drilling in Alaska’s Beaufort Sea. The petro-giant is paying for national advertising as part of a campaign to convince the public and the government that it is taking safety precautions that would prevent the kind of catastrophe that unfolded in the gulf from happening in the Arctic.

Yet the Arctic is well known to be more fragile ecologically than the gulf. And on Thursday, the Pew Environment Group released a detailed report brimming with charts and maps that explores the question of how well the government and industry would be equipped to deal with a blowout and spill there. The report concludes, not so well. And here are some word-for-word highlights on why:

  • The Arctic Ocean is a unique operating environment, and the characteristics of the Arctic OCS [outer continental shelf] — its remote location, extreme climate and dynamic sea ice—exacerbate the risks and consequences of oil spills while complicating cleanup.
  • Oil spill contingency plans often underestimate the probability and consequence of catastrophic blowouts, particularly for frontier offshore drilling in the U.S. Arctic Ocean.
  • The impact of an oil well blowout in the U.S. Arctic Ocean could devastate an already stressed ecosystem, and there is very little baseline science upon which to anticipate the impact or estimate damage.
  • Oil spill cleanup technologies and systems are unproved in the Arctic Ocean, and recent laboratory and field trials (including the Joint Industry Project) have evaluated only discrete technologies under controlled conditions.
  • Certain environmental and weather conditions would preclude an oil spill response in the Arctic Ocean, yet an Arctic spill response gap is not incorporated into existing oil spill contingency plans or risk evaluations.

So the researchers concluded that far more study is needed of the Arctic marine ecosystem. Modeling should be devised to project the trajectory of oil flow in sea ice conditions should a spill occur, they added.

And deployment exercises should be conducted to determine how effective a spill response would be in such a remote, sparsely populated region “before introduction of new offshore oil spill risks,” the report said. (The study includes a detailed critique of Shell’s planning scenarios in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas.)

In other words, the study’s message is that the Arctic is not ready for such deep-sea drilling operations.

Asked about the Pew report’s conclusions, a Shell spokeswoman, Kelly op de Weegh, said in an e-mail that the company had “taken extraordinary steps to compensate for the harsh conditions we expect to encounter in the Arctic, and that is evident in all aspects of our program, including ice management, a commitment to oil spill response and new baseline science.”

“Our Arctic exploration plan has been scrutinized by regulators, stakeholders and the courts, and we look forward to demonstrating once again that we can operate safely and responsibly in the Arctic,” she added.

The study’s conclusion was also disputed by lawmakers who support the drilling. “I disagree with Pew’s insistence on an unspecified moratorium on Arctic development, because the perfect set of conditions simply never occurs,” Senator Mark Begich, Democrat of Alaska, said in a statement. “I’ll continue to push the Obama administration for responsible Arctic development now to help meet America’s energy, national and economic security.”

Meeting the challenges of arctic offshore pipelines and subsea systems

November 13, 2010

Arctic drilling – obviously not a good idea. As we burn more oil and melt more of the polar icecaps, ironically, more and more oil and gas becomes available. It seems like we won’t be able to stop this madness before we have dug our own graves and fallen in. Prepare for gigantic arctic oil spills that are too dangerous to clean up.

Beware of slanted new-speak like “unique challenges”, “acceptable levels of risk” and “high technology readiness level”. This is obviously madness – what is an acceptable risk level in our precious arctic?

Hornfar.

—–

Original article here, at offshore-mag.com.

Duane DeGeer

Published: Nov 1, 2010

INTECSEA

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series about the unique challenges encountered when attempting to design, engineer, install, and operate offshore oil and gas facilities in the Arctic. The next installment will be on engineering arctic topsides facilities.

Production pipelines and flowlines in the North American Arctic have begun to move offshore in the past decade, as engineering companies draw upon a trove of environmental, geotechnical, and operational data accumulated during the past 30-plus years. During this time, engineers have been able to develop new design processes, introduce pioneering construction methods, and develop first-in-class subsea solutions to deal with the extreme loading conditions posed by the region’s ice and sub-freezing temperatures.

Arctic pipeline design proficiency has progressed steadily since the spike in oil prices brought on by the 1973 Arab Oil Embargo and, coupled with discovery of giant Prudhoe Bay field on Alaska’s North Slope, provided the economic and strategic impetus to design and construct the first large-scale arctic pipeline project, the Trans Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS), commissioned in 1977. TAPS engineers developed many practical solutions to a range of technical, logistical, and environmental challenges stemming mainly from permafrost thaw potential and low environmental temperatures in the difficult, isolated terrain.

Still in operation, TAPS has provided experience in operating long-distance (800 mi/1,287 km), large-diameter (48 in./122 cm) transmission lines in the unique arctic environment, and has allowed other proposed gas transmission lines, such as the Mackenzie Gas Pipeline and trans-Alaska gas pipeline, to proceed with a higher level of design, construction, and operational confidence. Tempering these technical and strategic successes, however, is the realization that the huge financial investment required – to conduct initial feasibility studies and front-end engineering to determine the viability of a proposed arctic development; to design and install facilities that can recover resources from remote arctic locations; and to transport production to distant markets – means that only the very largest, high-volume discoveries are destined to be developed.

The Arctic remains among the high-cost production areas in the world because the unique environment magnifies the complex problems that must be analyzed and solved when planning a grass roots field development in the region. Not only is inordinate advanced planning required; the designs of facilities, installation strategies and methods, and maintenance and operating programs must be developed on essentially a project-by-project basis. Yet, the growing body of knowledge about arctic conditions coupled with improvements in material behavior, advances in analytical techniques, wider acceptance of a strain-based design philosophy, and, finally, implementation of a reliability-based approach to the operation of arctic pipeline systems, enable some of these offshore prospects to be developed.

The first subsea arctic oil production pipeline in the North American Arctic was installed in 2000 by BP in about 37 ft (11 m) of water to connect Northstar production facilities on Seal Island, about 6 mi (9.7 km) offshore Alaska in the Beaufort Sea. Twin specially designed, 10-in. (25 ½-cm) diameter steel pipelines comprise the heart of the Northstar system, which was buried 7-to-10 ft below the sea floor to avoid ice scour and is equipped with three leak-detection systems. Northstar crude is transported overland to TAPS through an elevated pipeline.

The second subsea arctic production pipeline to be installed is at the Oooguruk field, about 6 mi offshore Alaska in the Beaufort Sea near the Colville River delta. Installed in the winter of early 2007, the Oooguruk flowline system consists of a three-phase, 12-in. x 16-in. (30 ½- x 41-cm) pipe-in-pipe (PIP) production flowline bundled with an 8-in. (20-cm) water-injection line, 6-in. (15-cm) gas lift/injection line, 2-in. (5-cm) diesel fuel line, and power and communications cables. The location of the Oooguruk flowline system, in less than seven feet of water at the mouth of the eastern distributary of the largest river drainage system on the Alaskan North Slope, presented unique loading conditions and thermal interactions, imposing additional design requirements to integrate with solutions for more conventional arctic conditions. The Oooguruk production flowline represents the first application of PIP flowline technology offshore Alaska.

More recently, the Nikaitchuq flowline bundle was installed and is scheduled to begin operation in early 2011.

Offshore arctic challenges

Aside from standard operating pressure containment, the primary loading conditions to be considered in the design and construction of offshore arctic pipeline and subsea systems include ice gouging or scour, upheaval buckling, permafrost thaw settlement and/or frost heave, and strudel scour.

Ice gouging or scour is the most significant and most unpredictable environmental loading condition influencing arctic offshore pipeline design. The accepted solution to protect a subsea pipeline from this threat is to bury the line deeper than the maximum gouge depth expected over the design life of the pipeline. For pipeline systems, research into safe burial depth finds that soil below the scouring keel of the ice will deform, imposing high shear and bending loads on the buried line. More recently, research to reduce overall uncertainty associated with ice keel interactions with the seabed has been directed towards understanding ice keel gouging and integrating these data with historical seabed mapping data. Upheaval buckling potential, caused by differences between installation and operating temperatures, also can be influenced by careful selection of burial depth. Subsea systems must also be protected from the extremely high ice loads. Off the east coast of Canada, glory holes are excavated on the sea floor so drill centers and subsea equipment can sit below the seabed elevation, thereby offering protection from ice impact.

Permafrost thaw settlement and frost heave can impose long-term displacement-controlled bending on a subsea pipeline, and can contribute to a pipeline being strained outside the elastic limit into the plastic region of the material deformation; thus the need for strain-based design. These unique arctic loads can be present along a buried subsea pipeline route, especially near shore where shallow permafrost is likely to exist; and also onshore, where a buried line may traverse continuous or discontinuous permafrost.

Strudel scour can occur in early spring if seasonal river outflows precede the thawing of winter sea ice, with the result that water flows on top of the sea ice. If river water atop sea ice flows into depressions or cracks in the ice, it can penetrate the ice cover and initiate a powerful downward jet of water that can erode the sea floor. Erosion by this strudel scouring may expose long sections of a buried subsea pipeline.

Burial depths sufficient to guard against ice gouging might be adequate protection from strudel scour, and some designers consider the probability of strudel scour at the location of a subsea pipeline to be quite low. However, if heat escapes during operation of a subsea flowline in shallow water and warms the sea water above the line, that fugitive heat dissipation might prevent the ice above the line from becoming as thick during winter. In the spring, such artificially thin ice could be susceptible to early cracking and, in turn, strudel scour.

Pipelines, flowlines, and subsea systems must operate within an acceptable thermal regime, and provide the necessary containment and monitoring to ensure acceptable levels of risk. For example, visual monitoring is not always a reliable way to detect strudel scours or pipeline exposure locations, and the pipeline itself must not exceed certain allowable strains. Using PIP flowlines on both the Oooguruk and Nikaitchuq bundles allows for double containment and an annulus in which insulation (vacuum or other) can be used. In addition, a thermal monitoring system can detect operational thermal changes as well as thermal changes from pipe exposed to cooler seawater, possibly signaling an issue with upheaval buckling or strudel scour. In these cases, analysis and design of the flowline system must consider these design/operation aspects in an integrated manner.

Looking ahead

As our understanding of the unique loading conditions of the arctic develops, as subsea equipment reliability and performance advances, and as our computational expertise in flow assurance and system operability improves, other arctic development concepts are becoming possible. Subsea tiebacks now exceed 100 km (62 mi) in length, offering possible arctic subsea completions without a permanent host structure. All-electric subsea technology, full subsea separation and water re-injection, seafloor chemical storage and injection, and gas re-injection technical advancements have made possible the concept of full subsea completions in the Arctic. Depending on reservoir conditions, some development options are at a high technology readiness level, some even field-proven in non-arctic regions.

Advancements in trenching and dredging methods and equipment make it possible to consider fast, efficient pipeline trenching operations and glory hole excavations in as much as 150 m (492 ft) water depth. Development of cost-effective mechanical protection of subsea equipment also progresses, providing an economical compromise between glory hole dredging and structural resistance to iceberg scour.

Arctic offshore pipeline design, subsea equipment technology, subsea system operating practices, and understanding of arctic environmental conditions continues to advance and, as a result, the options available for Arctic and cold regions field development grow. Ice and metocean conditions, seabed bathymetry, soil conditions, presence of permafrost, reservoir conditions and layout, and development location all play important roles in selecting an arctic production facility. These factors must be considered integrally, and the design philosophy must provide the framework necessary to consider all aspects of Arctic development in one overall life-cycle design system. This, in turn, will optimize levels of risk and ensure consistent personnel and environmental safety over the lifetime of an Arctic field development.

References

1. Paulin, Michael J., Nixon, Derrick, Lanan, Glenn A., and McShane, Brian, “Environmental Loadings & Geotechnical Considerations for the Northstar Offshore Pipelines,” August 2001, Proceedings of the 16th International Conference on Port and Ocean Engineering under Arctic Conditions.

2. Lanan, Glenn A., Cowin, Todd G., Hazen, Beez, Maguire, David H., Hall, J.D., and Perry, Conrad, “Oooguruk Offshore Arctic Flowline Design and Construction,” (OTC 19353), May 2008, Offshore Technology Conference.

3. INTECSEA Quarterly Journal, 2nd Q., 2010

About the author

Duane DeGeer serves currently as manager of Arctic Projects at INTECSEA and is based at the company’s head office in Houston. DeGeer has more than 24 years of experience in a variety of engineering activities and program initiatives relating to marine and onshore pipelines, downhole tubulars, arctic pipeline and structural research, riser integrity, and numerous large scale experimental programs. He has been responsible for a number of technical developmental initiatives over the years, and has managed specialized engineering departments focused on pipeline engineering and structural integrity.

Shell Presses for Drilling in Arctic

November 7, 2010
By CLIFFORD KRAUSS
Published: November 5, 2010
New York Times – Original article here

The Nanuq is part of Shell’s Arctic oil spill response fleet, which would be ready 24 hours a day.

HOUSTON — Eager to win approval for its stalled plan to drill for oilin the Alaskan Arctic, Royal Dutch Shell is beginning a public lobbying campaign, including national advertising, on Monday. As part of the effort, the giant oil company is promising to make unprecedented preparations to prevent the kind of disaster that polluted the Gulf of Mexico earlier this year.

Shell’s plan to drill in Alaska’s Beaufort and Chukchi seas has been snarled in regulatory delays and lawsuits for four years. The company has already invested $3.5 billion in the projects, and it was close to overcoming the final regulatory hurdles to begin drilling when BP’s Macondo well blew out April 20, killing 11 rig workers and spilling millions of barrels of oil into the gulf.

In response to the gulf accident, the Obama administration suspended most new offshore drilling, including in the environmentally sensitive waters of the Arctic.

But now that the moratorium on gulf drilling has been lifted, Shell is pressing the Interior Department to grant final approval for its Arctic projects by the end of this year so that the company has enough time to move the necessary equipment to drill next summer, when the waters offshore are free of ice.

“Every day we’re delayed, we’re delaying jobs and energy development,” Peter Slaiby, Shell’s vice president for Alaska, said in an interview.

“It’s a crushing irony that the Gulf of Mexico moratorium is lifted and we are not allowed to move forward.”

The gulf disaster raised public and government awareness of the risks of catastrophic spills from offshore wells. The waters off Alaska are considered particularly tricky because of the long periods of daytime darkness, periods of months when ice would block the movement of relief ships and the fragility of ocean habitats for whales, polar bears and other species.

“We are opposed to drilling until we get sufficient science that demonstrates that you can do it truly safely,” said Chuck Clusen, director of the National Parks and Alaska projects at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Shell said its emergency response plan was far more robust than the one BP had in the gulf.

“We’re not a tone-deaf company,” Mr. Slaiby said. “We’ve really got to be compelling in what we are doing.”

 

Shell is beginning a public lobbying campaign, including national advertising, next week. The company’s plan to drill in Alaska’s Beaufort and Chukchi seas has been snarled in regulatory delays and lawsuits for four years.

Shell’s new marketing campaign promotes an “unprecedented spill response approach” including a sub-sea containment system, an upgrade of the drilling rig’s blowout preventer and an enhanced response plan that include teams and equipment at the ready 24 hours a day. 

The containment system would include a dome that could be placed over any leak, and a funnel to take any escaping oil to surface ships. A rig would be at the ready to drill a relief well if needed.

“We’ve opted out of the fire department type of approach,” Mr. Slaiby said. “Our assets can be on site and deployed within one hour.”

Shell has also scaled back its initial drilling plans to just one or two wells in the Beaufort Sea. It is postponing drilling in the more remote Chukchi Sea pending separate legal challenges.

The company has the support of Alaska’s state government, which is suing the federal government to overturn the drilling suspension.

Gov. Sean Parnell said the suspension was illegal because the Interior Department did not consult with state officials or consider the local economic consequences.

A federal district court judge in Alaska gave the Interior Department a deadline of Friday to respond to the Alaska suit, with a hearing planned for the end of the month.

The Justice Department responded Friday night with a filing that argued that the state did not have standing to sue in the matter, and that the Interior Department was in the process of considering the application.

“We are taking a cautious approach,” said Kendra Barkoff, an Interior Department spokeswoman.

“Alaska represents unique environmental challenges. We need additional information about spill risks and spill response capabilities.”

Shell’s campaign appears aimed at increasing pressure on the Obama administration to approve the plan. The company is placing ads for the rest of the month in national newspapers, liberal and conservative political magazines and media focused on Congress.

For Shell and others in the oil and gas industry, nothing less than the revival of Alaska’s oil history is at stake.

Alaska is the second-biggest oil-producing state after Texas, but it has suffered a steady production decline since 1988, when output peaked at 2.1 million barrels a day.

With its North Slope fields long past their prime, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge off-limits to drilling and offshore wells largely untapped, the state today produces about 680,000 barrels a day and the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System is running at one-third of capacity.

To make matters worse, the United States Geological Survey last month cut previous estimates of oil reserves in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve, an area preserved by the federal government in case of national emergency, by about 90 percent, to 896 million barrels, approximately what the country consumes in six weeks.

Industry officials say there are as many as 25 billion barrels of oil reserves in the Alaskan Arctic. At the moment, there has been no offshore drilling in Alaskan federal waters since 2003, although there is some production from older wells.

Companies wanting to drill face heavy drilling costs, local opposition and legal challenges from environmental groups that say a potential blowout could endanger critical feeding and spawning grounds for a variety of Arctic species and warn that rough Arctic seas would complicate any containment and cleanup operations.

Mr. Clusen of the resources council noted that a blowout at Shell’s project would cause a slick on barrier islands that are critical birthing areas for polar bears in the winter.

He urged that Shell be obliged to rewrite its exploration documents to include the new response plans and allow the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement to formally review “whether that response is adequate or not.”

Shell hopes that Chukchi Sea leases it acquired for $2.1 billion in 2008 could eventually produce as much as 400,000 barrels of oil a day. The holdings in the Beaufort Sea are probably less bountiful, but could eventually produce as much as 100,000 barrels a day.

Shell executives insist that drilling in Arctic waters is safe. They say they will be drilling in 100 to 150 feet of water in the Beaufort Sea, compared with depths of 5,000 feet and more in the gulf, which means that the equipment will be subject to far less pressure.

A version of this article appeared in print on November 6, 2010, on page B1 of the New York edition.


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

Pesticides in Svalbard snow

April 10, 2010

Scientists at the Norwegian Polar Institute and the University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS) have investigated the amount of pesticides in the snow in Svalbard. Read about their findings here.

Legacy and current use pesticides in Svalbard

Mark Hermanson (UNIS)
Elisabeth Isaksson (Norwegian Polar Institute)
November 2009

Ice core drilling tent on Lomonosovfonna, Svalbard

How much dursban have you used to kill termites at your home in Longyearbyen? How much methyl parathion has been used to kill boll weevils on cotton plants in Ny-Ålesund? And how much endosulfan has been used to kill insects in apple orchards in Svea? While all of these questions are silly, the reality is that all of these and other pesticides are found in Svalbard. Some of them are found in high enough concentrations to suggest that there could be 1000 kg of each of them on all of the land ice in Svalbard.

While insects are sometimes brought to Svalbard in cargo and, occasionally on strong winds from the south, the climate here is the most efficient pest killer that we have. So why are pesticides being found here?

Since 2000, researchers from Environment Canada, the University of Pennsylvania (USA), the Norwegian Polar Institute in Tromsø, and now UNIS, have been asking the same question.

Drilling ice cores

Since 2000, researchers from Environment Canada, the University of Pennsylvania (USA), the Norwegian Polar Institute in Tromsø, and now UNIS, have been asking the same question.

These groups have collaborated on investigating pesticides in ice cores and snow pits from sites on Austfonna, Lomonosovfonna, and Holtedahlfonna, three of the major high-elevation ice fields in Svalbard.

The most recent work, on an ice core drilled at Holtedahlfonna in 2005, included analysis of 64 different pesticides, some of them “legacy” pesticides that are no longer used, others “current-use” pesticides that are still being used somewhere in the world. [The legacy pesticides are no longer used because they are persistent in the environment and threaten non-pest organisms. The current-use pesticides are intended to have short lifetimes in the environment, often decomposing in air because of the energy effects of the sun. In darkness, however, that effect is nil.] Of these 64, there were insecticides, herbicides and fungicides. And of those 64, 21 were found in some part of the ice core. We should be happy that 43 pesticides were not found at all. But none of the other 21 were used in Svalbard, so, again, how did they get here? And why are they found in ice at high elevations?

Preparing ice cores

Our research is showing us that the atmosphere can deliver pesticides over long distances as gases or attached to particles suspended in air. Most of the pesticides are being transported to Svalbard by fast-moving winds from agricultural areas in

Europe and Asia or, in other words, from the south and east. They are deposited during snowfall or rain, or may change from gas to liquid in cold air. Fortunately, there is no indication that the amounts of pesticides being found are harmful to people or animals living on Svalbard. However, there is evidence that amounts of some pesticides in Svalbard are growing and need to be watched in the future.

We are also finding that there are differences in amounts and numbers of pesticides reaching different parts of Svalbard.

Austfonna, for example, received about twice as many different pesticides during the 1986 – 1998 period than found at Holtedahlfonna. Austfonna also had higher concentrations of most of the pesticides found at both sites. Analysis of air mass movements showed that air masses from Europe and northern Asia are more often flowing to Austfonna than to Holtedahlfonna, increasing the opportunities for pesticides to reach the northeastern part of Svalbard.

Taking snow samples

Some of these pesticides that appear in Svalbard, if found in food or water in high concentrations, can be extremely harmful to mammals, including seals, polar bears and humans. The chemical agents in these pesticides do not distinguish between “pests” and “non-pests”. The chemical in dursban, known as “chlorpyrifos”, has the same toxic mechanism as chemical warfare agents like Sarin or VX , although at a very high dose. In other words, it is a poison that interferes with control of the nervous system which is how it kills pests. Endosulfan is thought to act like hormones in the human body, causing disruptions of some body functions. Other pesticides are considered to be carcinogens.

The amounts of pesticides found in Svalbard can not possibly do any good. And the concentrations of some are increasing. So how can a Svalbard resident protect himself from the effects of pesticides? The best answer is the same used by people in other parts of the world, which is participation in a political process based on scientific facts. The “legacy” pesticides seen in Svalbard are nearly all declining in concentration because their use has been banned throughout the world by the Stockholm Convention (http://chm.pops.int/). This Convention is an on-going effort to eliminate contaminants, including pesticides, from the environment. The list of banned substances continues to grow, and with efforts from Svalbard citizens and scientists, could include more of the pesticides found in growing amounts in Svalbard.

All photographs: Gerit Rotschky / Norwegian Polar Institute

Original article here.

No radiation danger as scrapped nuclear sub catches fire in north Russia

February 20, 2010

Up to 70 people are involved in the effort to put out the fire© RIA Novosti. Mikhail Mordasov

A nuclear submarine being scrapped caught fire on Friday at the Zvezdochka shipyard in northern Russia’s city of Severodvinsk, but there is no radiation danger, the city administration said.

“A fire started in the hold of the third compartment of the K-480 Ak Bars nuclear submarine. The submarine is being scrapped, nuclear fuel has been removed from the reactor. There is no radiation danger for the population,” it said in a statement.

No one was reported injured.

Up to 70 people are involved in the effort to put out the fire.

RELATED NEWS

Thanks to Circumpolar Musings for reporting this one!
Original article here

Russia to start eastward oil and gas shipments via Arctic in 2010

February 10, 2010

26-12-09 Sovcomflot, Russia’s largest shipping company, will start delivering Russian oil and gas in the eastern direction of its Arctic shipping lane in the summer, the company head said. At a meeting with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Sergei Frank said Sovcomflot was planning to launch pilot shipments of Russian hydrocarbon reserves in the eastern direction of the Northern Sea Route, from the Atlantic to the Pacific via Russia’s Arctic, later in 2010. “We will make such pilot deliveries in the summer,” he said.

Frank said the goal was to expand oil and gas markets for domestic energy producers and enter new ones. The businessman said though shipments via the Arctic had been made before, the scale and cargoes were different.
“We are cooperating closely with the transportation and nuclear power ministries, and with the federal office of Rosatomflot [state-run civil nuclear fleet corporation] now to arrange everything properly for [oil and gas] shipments,” Frank said.
He said the eastward shipment experience would later be used in the development of West Siberia’s Yamal fields and also for liquefied natural gas (LNG) supplies.

Original article here

The illustration (from wikipedia) shows the Northern Sea Route, sometimes also called the North East Passage, in blue and the alternative route through the Suez Canal in red.
Hornorkesteret are worried about increasing traffic and environmental threats along the whole Northern Sea Route,  and we are especially concerned about the increase of traffic along the coast of our beautiful and beloved homeland Norway!

Fem nasjoner med i spillet om Polhavet

January 26, 2010

Norge — Fem kystnasjoner har hastverk med å gjøre krav på det smeltende Polhavet, og gjør sitt beste for å holde resten av verden utenfor. Denne ukens Arktis-konferanse Arctic Frontiers i Tromsø, der forskere, politikere og en masse oljeindustri møtes for å diskutere Arktis framtid er ikke noe unntak. Tirsdag vil Greenpeace presentere sine krav til en helhetlig Arktis-forvaltning.

I dag er det ingen som eier det som befinner seg under den arktiske isen, og verken de arktiske kyststatene eller FN har klart å etablere felles avtaler eller mekanismer for å beskytte det sårbare havmiljøet i og under Polhavet.

Posisjoneringen i gang

En av de mest dramatiske konsekvensene av klimaendringene er at den arktiske sjøisen minsker voldsomt. Nye havområder byr på nye kommersielle eventyr. Flere av landene rundt Arktis har økt sine militære posisjonering i nordområdene. Oljeselskapene står på terskelen og venter. Paradoksalt nok er det med dagens politikk den industrien som gjort at isen smelter, som kan tjene mest på at nye havområder åpner seg. Også fiskerinæring og gruveselskap står i startgropen for arktiske eventyr.

– Kampen om Polhavet må ikke være en forskningsforkledd hanekamp mellom de fem kystnasjonene. Hele verden må være med på å bestemme hvordan vi best kan beskytte dette et av klodens siste urørte havområder. Vi krever timeout og en global dialog om Arktis framtid, sier Frida Bengtsson, havkampanjeleder for Greenpeace i Norge.

Ber om timeout i Tromsø

Denne ukens Arktis-konferanse Arctic Frontiers i Tromsø samler forskere, politikere og en masse oljeindustri møtes for å diskutere Arktis framtid. Tirsdag vil Greenpeace presentere sine krav til en helhetlig Arktis-forvaltning. Greenpeace Exective Director Mads Christiansen vil holde en direktesendt tale fra konferansen 26.01 fra kl 14.50.

Greenpeace krever et umiddelbart forbud mot all industriell utnytting av de delene av Polhavet som før var beskyttet av isen. Et slikt moratorium vil gi en nødvendig timeout, og må gjelde inntil en global løsning for hvordan Polhavet skal beskyttes er på plass. Avtalene som i dag beskytter Antarktis bør være et godt utgangspunkt.

Arctic polar bears imperilled by man-made pollution

January 18, 2010

By Matt Walker Editor, Earth News

Polar bear
Ill on the inside?

The long term survival of polar bears is being threatened by man-made pollution that is reaching the Arctic.

This conclusion comes from a major review of research into how industrial chemicals such as mercury and organochlorines affect the bears. The review suggests that such chemicals have a range of subclinical effects. When added together, these can have a dramatic and potentially fatal impact on the bears’ bones, organs and reproductive and immune systems. The review, an analysis of more than a decade’s research into the effect of pollution on bears, is published in the journal Environment International.

“After being very sceptical, I now feel that the impact on bears may be true”
Dr Christian Sonne, Aarhus University

A range of man-made pollutants reach the polar Arctic region, carried there in the air and water. These include toxic metals such as mercury, organohalogen contaminants (OHCs) including organochlorines, and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and perflourinated compounds (PFCs), which are used industrially in insulating fluids, as coolants, in foams and electronics and as pest control agents. Such chemicals are often fat-soluble and accumulate in the fat of many animals, which are then eaten by top predators such as polar bears. These top predators are then exposed to increasingly concentrated levels of toxins.

But the impact of these toxins on polar bears has been difficult to measure, with the only previous studies done by the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme in 1998 and 2004. That is party because it is logistically difficult to take many and repeated samples of blood or tissue from live polar bears. Also, only free-ranging healthy animals that are not clinically sick tend to be sampled, making the overall population appear to be healthier than it already is.

ILL EFFECTS. Shrinking sexual ability: studies have found correlations between levels of OHCs and smaller and deformed sexual organs in male and female bears. Overactive organs: organochlorines increase the activity of liver enzymes, while mercury boosts stress hormones in the blood. Mercury: damages the bears’ nervous systems. PCB exposure may lead to decreases in bone mass density. So veterinary scientist and polar bear expert Dr Christian Sonne, of the Department of Arctic Environment at Aarhus University in Denmark, conducted the first review of all pertinent research on the health effects of such contaminants on polar bears. Previously, Dr Sonne was part of a team of researchers which found that “stress” linked to pollutants and shrinking sea ice appeared to be shrinking polar bears.

His new analysis includes the results of more than 200 organ and skull tissue samples taken from 80 bears in East Greenland between 1999 and 2009, as well as repeated measurements and observations of bears living in the Svalbard archipelago, Norway. These studies reveal a number of ill-effects associated with industrial pollutants. However, such studies can only show that contaminant levels are correlated with ill-effects, not that they cause them.

Bears and dogs

So Dr Sonne investigated the direct impacts of Arctic pollutants on two other top predators living in the region, Norwegian Arctic foxes and Greenland sledge dogs. In 2003, researchers started a two-year study in which they fed Arctic foxes clean or contaminated whale blubber. One fox of a pair of brothers was fed clean food as a control, while the other brother ate contaminated food. Having eliminated all other influences, such as gender and age, the researchers showed that foxes exposed to environmental levels of pollutants do suffer harmful effects. For example, PCBs trigger decreases in bone density and damage the liver, mercury and organochlorines cause renal lesions, while OHCs alter the amount of vitamins circulating in the blood.

Similar effects were found in comparable studies on Greenland sledgedogs. The maximum sea ice extent is declining by about 2.7% per decade “Polar bear studies are correlative, but that is not conclusive as being ’cause and effect’,” explains Dr Sonne. “So including dogs and foxes as model species is important [because] you use species that are much like polar bears, and the species were exposed to similar food items as polar bears.”

The impact on the bears is likely to be greater even than those effects which show up in studies.

“It is really important to understand that all organ systems are tied together,” says Dr Sonne. So individual pollutants may only have subtle, non-clinical effects on particular parts of a bear’s body. But in concert, the overall impact can be devastating, reducing an individual bear’s ability to hunt, reproduce and resist disease. “After being very sceptical, I now feel that the impact on bears may be true,” says Dr Sonne.

Climatic impact

He also concludes that climate change will exacerbate the impact of pollutants on the bears. As the level of sea ice declines with warming temperatures, polar bears are fasting for longer. That may mean they eat fewer seals and therefore less pollutants overall. But they will have to burn fat to compensate. That will release greater concentrations of toxins from their fat stores into their blood, says Dr Sonne. This will cause further illness, weakening bears that will already be in poorer condition and may be exposed to new and more virulent pathogens capable of surviving in a warmer Arctic. Dr Sonne’s research is published a week after another separate study published in the journal Arctic showed that polar bears in the southern Beaufort Sea in the Arctic Ocean are occurring more frequently on land and open water, and less on the ice.