AmeriScan: August 13, 2001


SAN DIEGO, California, August 13, 2001 (ENS) - New research based upon satellite data and a multinational field experiment shows that black carbon aerosol pollution produced by humans can impact global climate as well as seasonal cycles of rainfall.

Earlier global warming studies suggest aerosols make the planet brighter by reflecting more sunlight back to space, helping to counteract the greenhouse effect.

But because aerosols that contain black carbon both absorb and reflect incoming sunlight, these particles can exert a regional cooling influence on Earth's surface that is about three times greater than the warming effect of greenhouse gases.

Even as these aerosols reduce by as much as 10 percent the amount of sunlight reaching the surface, they increase the solar energy absorbed in the atmosphere by 50 percent - making it possible to both cool the surface and warm the atmosphere.

Scientists are concerned that this heating may affect atmospheric circulation and rainfall patterns.

"When we combined the satellite measurements with surface measurements, we found that the reduction of sunlight reaching the surface was three times larger than the amount of sunlight reflected back to space," said V. Ramanathan, director of the Center for Clouds, Chemistry, and Climate at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California in San Diego.

"Averaged over the entire northern Indian Ocean, the manmade pollutants reflected more solar radiation back to space (than pristine skies)," explained Ramanathan, "but they absorbed up to twice as much radiation in the atmosphere."

Together with K. Rajeev, of India's Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, the authors report their findings in the August 16 issue of the "Journal of Geophysical Research." Data for their investigation were collected during the Indian Ocean Experiment (INDOEX) - an international, multiagency measurement campaign conducted from January through March in the years 1997, 1998 and 1999.

The experiment's objective was to help scientists understand to what extent human produced aerosols may offset global warming.

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SEATTLE, Washingon, August 13, 2001 (ENS) - A federal judge has ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to complete a comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) before any more government funds are spent on hazing Caspian terns or cormorants, or destroying their habitat in the Columbia River estuary.

In her 18 page order, Judge Rothstein also found that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) erred in granting a permit under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) for taking birds without an EIS. Conservationists have been asking federal and state officials for such an EIS for the last three years.

Noting that there was no sound science to link Caspian terns to salmon declines or to impeding salmon recovery, conservationists emphasized the need to concentrate on other factors, including hydropower, habitat, harvest, and fish hatcheries, known together as the four h's.

"This is a significant victory for sound science, birds, and salmon," said John Flicker, president and CEO of the National Audubon Society. "We were disappointed that we ultimately needed to sue the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Army Corps of Engineers, but the end result is what the law required. No action can be taken until we understand how birds and salmon interact and how they will be effected by the Corps's proposed action."

The plan to dislocate the largest Caspian tern colony was initiated by federal and state agencies in response to the terns consumption of salmon and related fish - more than 90 percent of them released by fish hatcheries. The terns had concentrated at Rice Island due to the loss of the sandy, predator free islands and beaches they need to breed in the Pacific northwest.

After being ignored over the years in calling for an EIS, Seattle Audubon, American Bird Conservancy, National Audubon Society, and Defenders of Wildlife sued in 2000 to require the Corps and USFWS to complete a comprehensive EIS before continuing to extirpate terns from breeding islands in the Columbia River.

"This ruling is a victory not only for Caspian terns and cormorants, but also for endangered Pacific salmon," said Helen Ross, conservation program manager of the Seattle Audubon Society.

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MADISON, Wisconsin, August 13, 2001 (ENS) - Genetic traits passed from crops to their weedy relatives can persist for at least six generations, and perhaps much longer, shows an Ohio State University study conducted with radishes.

This means genetic traits that are developed in crops - such as resistance to insect pests - can become a permanent part of the weed population, in turn posing possible risks to crops.

"The constant gene flow between crops and weeds is a subtle process that no one may notice, but evolution can happen very quickly," said Allison Snow, a study coauthor and a professor of ecology at Ohio State University.

wild radish

Raphanus raphanistrum, or wild radish, is considered one of the world's most damaging weeds (Photo courtesy Ohio State University)
The results suggest that biotechnology companies should steer clear of developing transgenic radish varieties with beneficial traits that could be passed on to weeds, Snow explained.

Transgenic crops are crops engineered with specialized traits such as resistance to viral diseases, insect pests and herbicides.

While the new hybrid weeds may not be as fit at first as their wild parents, they seem to rapidly regain reproductive fitness, Snow said.

"It's inevitable that these and other fitness related traits will make their way into weed populations," Snow said. "The result may be very hardy, hard to kill weeds."

In California, the crop itself has become a successful and damaging weed. Scientists suspect that this transition was aided by genes from the wild radish, considered one of the 100 most economically damaging weeds worldwide.

"Gene movement from crops to their wild relatives is an ongoing process that can spur rapid evolutionary adaptation in weeds that will be ultimately harmful to crops," Snow said.

The researchers studied four populations of hybrid and wild radish for six years in Michigan. At the outset, each field consisted of 100 first generation crop wild radish hybrids and 100 wild radishes. To monitor the continuation of crop radish genes in the populations, the researchers looked for four genetic traits: two enzymes, flower color and pollen fertility.

"The hybrids were capable of ecologically significant levels of reproduction," Snow said. "The second hybrid generation was still at a fitness disadvantage, but to a lesser extent than the first hybrid generation. This indicated that their reproductive fitness was increasing."

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WASHINGTON, DC, August 13, 2001 (ENS) - The United States has reiterated its strong support for the international community's call for Japan to cease a research program that has resulted in the deaths of one sei, 100 minke, 50 Bryde's and eight sperm whales so far this year.

"All whale species are protected under the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act, and sperm and sei whales are listed as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act," said State Department spokesperson Richard Boucher in a press statement last week.

In September 2000, the United States certified Japan under the Pelly Amendment to the Fishermen's Protective Act of 1967 for undermining the conservation program of the International Whaling Commission (IWC). In July 2000, the IWC adopted a resolution urging Japan not to expand its lethal research whaling program.

The government of Japan has now reported that it has taken 100 minke, 50 Bryde's and eight sperm whales in its second year of expanded research whaling in the North Pacific. Japan also reported that it took one sei whale by accident.

All whale species are protected under the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act, and sperm and sei whales are listed as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

According to Boucher's statement, the United States "continues to consider options open to it in response to Japan's expanded lethal whaling program in the North Pacific."

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JACKSON, Mississippi, August 13, 2001 (ENS) - The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has announced a $2.3 million research partnership with Jackson State University, to collaborate on coastal ecosystem research.

The research and risk analyses could help save lives and property along the Gulf Coast. The research will focus on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

"NOAA is looking at this partnership as a first step in a long-term and mutually beneficial relationship with Jackson State University," said Scott Gudes, acting administrator for NOAA. "This relationship will strengthen NOAA's capabilities to serve the Gulf Coast community through enhanced meteorological and environmental research that will help safeguard the coast and protect lives and property from severe weather threats."

Under a three year cooperative agreement signed last month, the university will conduct research to assess the risks to coastal ecosystems and economies from environmental hazards and severe weather. Research will be used with NOAA's satellite observations and meteorological modeling to evaluate the health of the Gulf Coast aquatic ecosystem, predict natural and human effects on living ecosystems, and minimize human and economic losses from severe environmental conditions.

"This is an exciting opportunity to provide the nation with state of the art risk evaluations in terms that can be used by the public and specialists alike," said Paul Croft, meteorology program coordinator and associate professor of meteorology at Jackson State.

Research will focus on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, part of the Gulf of Mexico region that experiences some of the greatest severe weather risks and impacts in the nation. The work will be accomplished through the university's School of Science and Technology working in conjunction with its marine and atmospheric science programs.

"Our coasts will continue to be the focal point for commerce, recreation and tourism, and a prime choice to place homes," said Joe Stinus, director of NOAA's National Coastal Data Development Center. "Knowing and predicting the coastal risks can greatly reduce loss of life and property."

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SEATTLE, Washington, August 13, 2001 (ENS) - The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) plans to study the reasons behind a decline in the number of killer whales that congregate in Washington state's Puget Sound and Strait of Juan de Fuca in summertime.

The agency will begin a formal status review based on a conservation coalition request to provide the whales with Endangered Species Act (ESA) protection. The review is the first in a series of steps that could lead to ESA protection by mid-2003.

"We take very seriously the recent declines in killer whale populations and are determined to find out what's causing it," said Donna Darm, the acting head of NMFS's northwest regional office in Seattle. "Accepting this petition to conduct the review is an important first step in determining an appropriate course of action."

NMFS said it would convene a biological review team of killer whale experts to try to find out if these whales constitute a distinct population segment as defined by the ESA, why the whale's population is declining, and to make a recommendation about whether the agency should propose an ESA listing next May.

The Northwest's familiar black and white killer whales, also called orcas, are known as the "eastern North Pacific southern resident stock of killer whales," to distinguish them from other killer whale groups. They spend their summers in Washington's Puget Sound and Strait of Juan de Fuca and the nearby Strait of Georgia in British Columbia, where they are the frequent object of photographers and whale watching cruises in the area.

The southern resident population has always been small, according to NMFS biologists, but it has fluctuated since record keeping started in the 1970's, going from the low of around 70 to a peak of about 97 in 1996. The population is now estimated to be about 78 animals.

"We know so little about these animals outside their summer foraging areas," said Brent Norberg, NMFS biologist. "We don't even know where they spend the winter or the extent of their range. That makes determining the reason for the decline quite a challenge."

More information, including a copy of the petition, is available at:

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GAINESVILLE, Florida, August 13, 2001 (ENS) - The twin menaces of hurricanes and beachfront development appear poised to wipe out Florida's most diminutive coastal native, the beach mouse, shows new research led by a University of Florida (UF) scientist.

Scientists at UF and Auburn University have concluded that the few remaining populations of beach mice on the Florida and Alabama coasts are in "substantial danger" of extinction from hurricanes and continuing loss of habitat to development. In research on four remaining populations - including the last known populations of a Perdido Key subspecies - the researchers predicted the populations have a 37 to 57 percent chance of extinction in 25 years and a 59 to 80 percent chance in 50 years.

Their conclusions already are being born out: Since the research was conducted, one of the Perdido Key populations has gone extinct, although another population of the subspecies has been reintroduced elsewhere on the key.

beach mouse

An endangered Florida beach mouse (Photo by Michael C. Woooten, courtesy University of Florida)
"We asked, 'What would be the chance that beach mice will persist in the future if we consider the effects of catastrophic events such as hurricanes?'" said Madan Oli, a UF assistant professor of wildlife ecology and conservation and lead author of a paper on the research that appeared this year in Biological Conservation. "Unless we increase our efforts to conserve habitat and take other measures, the answer doesn't look too good."

The researchers drew on data gathered by scientists who had spent several years in the 1980s and 1990s using live traps to collect and count mice at the sites. They analyzed the data with computer models using a method known as population viability analysis.

The scientists' estimates of actual numbers of remaining mice are quite low. At just one of the four sites did estimates top 1,000 mice during the six or more years when the populations were sampled, while low numbers for the years reached 50 mice or fewer for all the sites.

"I think if you take a particular population, almost any of them has a high probability of extinction within 100 years - that's probably a normal function of their biology," Wooten said. "It's just that now, with so few populations, that fluctuation poses a threat to the species."

Hurricanes could wipe out mouse populations because coastal development has destroyed most of the scrub dune habitat where the mice take refuge when a storm destroys their burrows or eliminates seeds such as sea oats that constitute their food, the researchers warned.

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MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota, August 13, 2001 (ENS) - Wetlands lost to agricultural development can be reflooded with relative ease, but they will not regain their former flora and fauna without a huge effort, shows research at the University of Minnesota.

In what may be the largest study of wetlands restored in agricultural landscapes, Susan Galatowitsch, an associate professor of horticulture, and John Mulhouse, an assistant scientist in applied ecology, found that restored prairie potholes in southwest Minnesota, southeast South Dakota and northern Iowa were quickly colonized by waterfowl dispersed plants but were slow to acquire a diverse plant community resembling the original wetlands.

"To achieve no net loss of both quality and quantity of wetlands will require a bigger commitment to seeing these things through than was previously assumed," said Galatowitsch. "It's a lot more work than people thought. But I think restorations are worth doing, and interest in high-quality wetland habitats is high."

The Farm Bill of 1985 first linked agricultural policy and ecological policy, noted Galatowitsch. Farmers were encouraged to restore wetlands once used as waterfowl breeding grounds.

Galatowitsch and Mulhouse found that while refilled wetland basins soon acquired aquatic plants, bulrushes and cattails, the once diverse edges of marshes tended to become populated with a few weedy species.

"About half [the species] we saw came in fast," said Galatowitsch. "Unfortunately, much of what's spreading is perennial weeds, such as reed canary grass. Weeds can keep other plants from thriving."

Also, she said, although nitrates transported to wetlands are soon converted to nitrogen gas by soil bacteria, the early nitrate load may tip the balance in favor of weeds. The fragmented landscape prevents all but common weedy species from making the leap to the next wetland.

A wetland planted with native species could cost $20,000 or even as high as $200,000. The researchers are working to make restoration more efficient and predictable.

"Even though restoration is difficult, we have to do it. We understand more as we go along," said Mulhouse.

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WASHINGTON, DC, August 13, 2001 (ENS) - The Department of Energy is funding 12 research and development projects designed to improve the energy efficiency of commercial and residential buildings

Planned improvements include using less electricity and reducing pollution from heating and cooling systems, lighting systems and appliances. The awards will be cost shared, with the industry or university partner providing a share of the total project costs.

The projects will help develop technologies such as electrically tinted windows, light emitting diode solid state lamps, innovative heating and cooling concepts, advanced laundry appliances, and improved computer software for building design and analysis.

"This is another step in our efforts to increase energy conservation and efficiency as called for in the President's National Energy Plan," said Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham. "Residential and commercial buildings account for approximately 65 percent of the electricity and 40 percent of the natural gas used in the United States. By investing in new technologies, we are helping to make buildings more energy efficient, which will save money and keep the environment cleaner."

The research and development agreements, which are worth $5.5 million in federal funds over the initial one-year period (Phase I), will fund research and development projects in three broad areas:

The projects will last from one to three years and have a potential total federal cost of about $10 million. The award amounts are subject to final negotiation.