AmeriScan: February 19, 2002


BOSTON, Massachusetts, February 19, 2002 (ENS) - With close to 800 million people suffering from hunger, the developing world is embracing innovative sustainable agricultural techniques.

The new techniques promise to increase food production while reducing environmental damage, a group of agricultural experts said Monday at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

"If we make the best use of three locally available, renewable assets - natural, social and human capital - we can generate productive and environmentally sustainable farming systems," said researcher Jules Pretty, professor of environment and society at the University of Essex in the United Kingdom.

Pretty led experts at an AAAS session called "Sustainable Agriculture in the Developing World: Innovative Examples."

One challenge to producing sufficient food supplies is the environmental degradation that results from traditional agricultural practices. Robert Peiretti, an agricultural engineer in Argentina, cited Argentina as a nation that encouraged its grain farmers to stop tilling their soil to reduce problems with soil erosion, deteriorating fertility, water depletion and contamination, and low productivity.

Called the no till system, the method adopted by Argentina was designed and first tested about 50 years ago in the United States. Utilization of the no till system has expanded from 3,000 hectares in the late 1970s to around 13 million hectares in Argentina, now accounting for about 50 percent of the lands in agricultural production, said Peiretti.

Phrek Gypmnanistiri, director of the Multiple Cropping Center at Chiang Mai University in Thailand, discussed land use changes among the highland ethnic communities of northern Thailand to help meet household food demand and income. With the introduction of diversified commercial farming systems, opium farming has been reduced, improving villager's livelihoods and income.

Koma Yang Siang, executive director of the Centre d'Etude et de Developpement Agricole, discussed recent innovations in Cambodian farming like the implementation of the ecological system of rice intensification (SRI), and its impact on rice farmers.

The SRI trains farmers in the management of plant, soil, nutrient, water and pests, teaching them to transplant young seedlings, implement shallow transplanting, and maintain minimal water levels in their fields. According to Koma, 500 farmers have adopted these techniques, and 50 are converting their fields into multipurpose farms.

Using SRI, Koma explained, farmers that once used rain fed rice farming can now increase their rice yield from one or two tons to as many as three to six tons per hectare, without depending on herbicides and pesticides.

"Cambodia is heavily dependent on agriculture," Koma said. "We need to find a good solution for small farmers which make up around 85 percent of the total population. The Rice Intensification Program can be a good solution for the highly populated areas in Cambodia and Asia, in which the livelihood of a lot of people depends on rice."

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BOSTON, Massachusetts, February 19, 2002 (ENS) - Information technology is spurring a revolution in biodiversity research that can help conserve species, said six biologists on Friday at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

"Biodiversity research today uses the latest IT as much as the traditional butterfly nets and flower presses," said Diana Wall, organizer of the symposium and soil ecologist at Colorado State University, in an interview in advance of the symposium. "It has given us the ability to draw on multiple pieces of information from across the world."

Each of the speakers at the symposium leads an international research project as part of the International Biodiversity Observation Year (IBOY) 2001-2002. IBOY is an initiative of DIVERSITAS, the international program on biodiversity science. It seeks to network scientists to improve knowledge about biodiversity and its importance for healthy ecosystems and human societies.

The speakers presented findings across a variety of issues, but their unifying message was that information technology has become a vital tool to help understand global biodiversity issues that are crucial for sustainability.

Examples of the technologies being used include: 3-D electronic images of species that are accelerating identification of poorly known groups of animals; distributed or interconnected databases that enable scientists to query data stored in multiple databases across the world at the touch of a button; and Geographic Information Systems, a computer based tool used to map and analyze multiple characteristics of landscapes.

Diana Wall presented the preliminary findings of the Global Litter Invertebrate Decomposition Experiment (GLIDE), the first worldwide network examining the animals that dwell in soils and regulate decomposition.

"The enormous diversity of litter fauna once made global studies impossible," said Wall, "but we use new 3-D imaging techniques and send images to colleagues around the world to accelerate identification and make the survey tractable."

Oliver Ryder, a zoologist from the Zoological Society of San Diego, discussed the latest applications of genetic technology and genomics for conserving biodiversity in native habitats. David Wake, a biologist from the University of California at Berkeley, described AmphibiaWeb, a web based system that collates data on amphibians from around the world.

Richard Mack, an ecologist at Washington State University, reported on an international study of invasive species aimed at understanding the factors that influence the rate at which these species can occupy new ranges, the extent of their ranges and their long term environmental impact.

Walter Reid, director of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, described the progress after year one of this four year program to assess the consequences of changes to the world's ecosystems for human well being and to provide policy options. Thomas Lovejoy, senior advisor to the president of the United Nations Foundation and chief biodiversity advisor at the World Bank, described Amazonia GIS, another new collaborative research program that seeks to help conservation efforts by improving access to data across international borders and disciplines.

More information on the International Biodiversity Observation Year (IBOY) is available at:

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BERKELEY, California, February 19, 2002 (ENS) - Robots are being used to track an algae bloom in Antarctic waters to test a global warming theory.

Deep diving SOLO floats, equipped by scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to report on biological activity in the sea, have tracked the plankton bloom for more than 200 kilometers through the stormy Southern Ocean.

Three times each day, two of the SOLO floats dive up and down several hundred meters to measure particulate carbon, most of it in the form of phytoplankton, or single celled algae. One of the floats dips into an algae bloom fertilized with iron, and the other, acting as a control, is deployed outside the algae patch.

The floats return to the surface each day and, weather permitting, report their Global Positioning System (GPS) positions and data to satellites overhead.

"This is the cloudiest place on the planet, and the winds have been awful," said oceanographer Jim Bishop, whose group in Berkeley Lab's Earth Sciences Division designed and equipped the SOLO floats. "But the float in the center of the fertilized patch just keeps sending."

The floats were launched in mid-January as part of the SOFeX experiment led by Moss Landing Marine Laboratory (MLML) and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI). The purpose of SOFeX, the Southern Ocean iron (Fe) experiment, is to test the late John Martin's iron hypothesis.

While director of MLML, Martin proposed that phytoplankton blooms can lower global temperature by removing carbon from the atmosphere. Since phytoplankton needs iron from sources like windblown dust to grow, Martin argued, "Give me half a tanker of iron, and I will give you an Ice Age."

The prospect of controlling atmospheric carbon through ocean fertilization and perhaps offsetting global warming are matters of intense interest to the Department of Energy and the other agencies and institutions participating in SOFeX. Under the direction of MBARI's Ken Johnson, a ship pumped an iron solution overboard in two regions of the Southern Ocean along 170 degrees west longitude.

The waters of the more northerly region, at about 55 degrees south latitude are poor in the silicate that some phytoplankton need to form a shell. Plankton in that patch were expected to bloom sluggishly even after iron fertilization, while a more vigorous bloom was expected after fertilization of the silicate rich waters of the southern patch, at about 66 degrees south.

Despite expectations that growth in the northern patch would be poor, "We can confidently say that particulate organic carbon in the patch has grown to be four or five times that outside the patch," Bishop said.

More information about the SOFeX project is available at:

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PORT GRAVINA, Alaska, February 19, 2002 (ENS) - A booming shark population and declining seal and sea lion populations in Alaskan waters could be a sign of global warming, argued researchers at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

A spotter in an Alaska Fish and Game plane on a recent survey of sea otters estimated there were hundreds of shark fins in the small bay near Port Gravina, Prince William Sound. More sharks mass unseen below the surface, feasting on a run of salmon returning to spawn in nearby rivers and creeks.

"That aerial count would be a high number of sharks in one spot for any place in the world," said Vince Gallucci, University of Washington professor of fisheries and aquatic sciences. Gallucci, who has studied shark population dynamics for more than a decade, the last two years in Alaska, organized the Saturday AAAS session "Not Enough Sea Lions, Too Many Sharks: Global Warming Signal?"

In the last two years of work in Prince William Sound, with cooperation from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the National Marine Fisheries Service, Gallucci said six salmon sharks an hour could be caught during certain times of day. Sometimes, lines were in the water less than two minutes before a salmon shark bit.

The number of Pacific sleeper sharks encountered by halibut fishing vessels has increased every year since 1997, more than doubling according to a database made available to Gallucci by the Pacific Halibut Commission.

"Fishermen wouldn't forget 200 pound animals bending hooks and wrecking their nets," Gallucci said, displaying a No. 3 steel halibut circle hook almost straightened by a salmon shark.

No one knows how many sharks there are because the necessary surveys have not been done. Fieldwork by Gallucci and colleagues, and wildlife surveys by others, lead Gallucci to say top predators in Alaska's sub-arctic waters have shifted to a new balance, with sharks outnumbering pinnpeds - animals with finned feet such as sea lions and seals.

"Increases in salmon sharks and Pacific sleeper sharks, both sub-arctic northeast Pacific shark species, don't represent ecological invasions and they aren't range extensions since both sharks are endemic," Gallucci said.

He believes population changes are tied to decades long swings in climate and continuing global warming, which have helped change the populations of fish these animals eat.

Climate conditions in recent decades have favored salmon in Alaskan waters for a number of years and heavy hatchery production has added millions more fish, to the benefit of both pinnipeds and sharks. However, commercial fishing of pollock in competition with sea lions may have benefited sharks, Gallucci added.

"Sharks, being the more efficient eaters, just may be able to take greater advantage of changes in the food that's available," Gallucci said.

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HOUSTON, Texas, February 19, 2002 (ENS) - A new computation, visualization and educational facility unveiled today at the University of Houston (UH) will aid environmental studies, biological and biomedical research, and the development of energy exploration technologies.

More than $22 million in research funding is associated with programs, institutes and centers supported by the new Texas Learning and Computation Center (TLC2). The facility will connect UH researchers with scientists worldwide and provide state of the art research tools such as high tech classrooms, research facilities, high speed computers and computer modeling experts who investigate complex scientific problems.

In addition to supporting research and the education of UH students, the center's resources will also be utilized by industry and government partners, such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and oil companies, to provide workforce development through distance learning.

"This outstanding research center exists because of the extraordinary support we have received from federal and state governments working in partnership with private industry," said Arthur Smith, chancellor of the UH System and UH president. "The results of the center's collaborative research projects will take us farther into the frontiers of new knowledge and will further stimulate the economies of Houston and Texas."

"TLC2 provided the seed funding for an air quality modeling project that will establish the hard science upon which sound public policy decisions can be made," added Smith. "Early results from this effort have already provided indications that differ significantly from previous modeling efforts."

TLC2 was established in September 1999 with funding from the Texas Legislature and almost $4 million from NASA. Other federal, state and private agencies also support individual projects and the center's infrastructure.

"In the new age of research and education, data from sensors, scientific instruments and databases are integrated with computers and visualization for simulation and analysis," said Lennart Johnsson, director of TLC2. "The new facilities are a first step towards establishing such an environment accessible to University of Houston faculty and students, enabling them to take part in national and international collaborations regardless of the location of the resources and the participants."

"These new collaborations with no boundaries, assembled on needs and excellence, will place the center in the best possible position to address the most rewarding and pressing problems in the life sciences in the decade, and it will aid in further preserving and enhancing our environment," Johnsson said.

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LIVERMORE, California, February 19, 2002 (ENS) - Researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have created a three dimensional simulation of how a biological or chemical release could spread in and around Salt Lake City, Utah.

The simulation was not created in response to any known threat. It was made to display how a dangerous airborne substance would flow through downtown buildings in Salt Lake City as well as the outskirts of the site of the 2002 Winter Olympics in case of an accidental release or terrorist attack.

Scientists working in the Livermore Lab's National Atmospheric Release Advisory Center (NARAC) used weather and wind flow data over topographical maps to determine how a release might spread over the area if it came from the surrounding mountainous areas, or if it was released in the Salt Lake basin.

Detailed weather data was fed into a three dimensional model that portrays how the layers of wind are blowing and how the winds will shift. The Salt Lake City simulation makes adjustments for how the buildings will block and channel the flow between them along street canyons, such as those found on downtown streets between high rise buildings.

The simulation program, which will be capable of simulating a chemical, biological or radiological release in an urban environment any place in the world, is at the research stage and cannot operate in real time yet, said Jim Ellis, the center's director.

"This is not operational yet," Ellis said. "But this is what we are capable of doing."

The Salt Lake City simulation was created before the Olympics as a model for potential future atmospheric releases in a populated area.

NARAC is the national emergency response service for real-time assessment of incidents involving nuclear, chemical, biological or natural hazardous material. When a hazardous material is accidentally released into the atmosphere, NARAC scientists can map the probable spread of contamination in time for an emergency manager to decide if taking protective action is necessary.

Since 1979, NARAC has responded to more than 160 alerts, accidents and disasters and supported more than 850 exercises.

Besides accidental radiological releases, such as Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, NARAC has assessed natural disasters such as volcanic ash clouds from Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines, and earthquake induced hazardous spills. The center also forecasted the path of smoke plumes from the Kuwaiti oil fires during the Gulf War and several toxic chemical accidents including the Tracy tire fire in 1999.

"We're like the fire department," Ellis said. "Ready to go whenever we're called on."

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BOSTON, Massachusetts, February 19, 2002 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is accepting grant applications for companies to develop and commercialize new, cost efficient technologies aimed at New England's most pressing environmental problems.

Through EPA's national Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program, the EPA will be awarding $11 million in grant contracts. All small businesses working on environmental technologies are invited to apply for the awards.

Of that, $2.5 million will be focused on environmental problems chosen by EPA's New England Office, including pollution from combined sewer overflows (CSOs), stormwater runoff and contaminated sediments in urban rivers.

Another $1 million will go towards technologies for removing arsenic from drinking water and $2.5 million for control and monitoring of mobile source air pollution emissions. The remaining $5 million will go towards all other environmental technologies.

"This grants program holds great promise for finding new, cost efficient technologies that communities can use for tackling many of the region's most serious pollution problems," said Robert Varney, regional administrator of EPA's New England Office. "Many of New England's cities and towns are facing big financial challenges in controlling CSOs, stormwater and other contamination problems. These grants are one way we're working to ease the burden."

SBIR contracts are open to any small business across the country. The EPA began accepting applications on January 31 and will continue to accept them until March 21 for grants designated for mobile sources, arsenic control, or CSO, stormwater and urban sediments. Applications for grants designated for all other technologies will be accepted from March 28 to May 23.

EPA held a training workshop in December to teach small businesses how to apply for the contracts. Copies of materials and presentations from the workshop are available from EPA New England's Center for Environmental Industry and Technology CEIT at 1-800-575-CEIT.

"The special SBIR programs and our partnership with EPA New England provide an opportunity for the agency to help businesses accelerate the development and commercialization of new environmental technologies that are needed to control important sources of pollution in a cost effective manner," said Dr. Jim Gallup, program manager of EPA's national SBIR Program.

More information about the SBIR program is available at:

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SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, February 19, 2002 (ENS) - The Salt Lake Organizing Committee for the Winter Olympics of 2002 (SLOC) honored 15 organizations from around the world today with the third annual Spirit of the Land Award.

The Spirit of the Land award was created to celebrate environment, which joined sport and culture as the third pillar of Olympism in 1994. Award recipients were selected by a panel of 15 worldwide experts in environmental education, who reviewed and scored submissions in each award category.

"Protecting and improving the environment is integral to every aspect of the Salt Lake 2002 Olympic Winter Games," said Mitt Romney, SLOC president and CEO. "Environmental education is the cornerstone to understanding how we have enhanced Utah's environment while staging the Games. The Spirit of the Land award honors the achievements of local and international environmental education leaders."

In a ceremony hosted by Bill Nye the Science Guy and several television and movie personalities, award recipients were honored for their outstanding efforts to educate people about environmental issues in all areas of society - business, education, community, youth and government.

Eastman Kodak Company in Rochester, New York and the World Wildlife Fund in Washington, DC, were recognized for "Windows on the Wild," an environmental education program of World Wildlife Fund, funded with a grant from Eastman Kodak.

"Windows on the Wild" is an interdisciplinary, hands on program that instructional materials and professional development opportunities for educators. The program's four building blocks - creating a sense of wonder, learning from the community, educating for sustainability, and envisioning a better future - are demonstrated in program products and events, including an educational module, a CD-ROM, professional development workshops across the country, and two traveling exhibitions focusing on biodiversity.

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WASHINGTON, DC, February 19, 2002 (ENS) - The Sierra Club began airing radio ads in nine states on Monday featuring Portland firefighter Ed Hall, who used a recent meeting with President George W. Bush to criticize proposals for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Hall and four other firefighters who helped with recovery efforts at the World Trade Center were hand picked to welcome President Bush at the airport when he visited Oregon in January. Hall used his face time with the President to shake Bush's hand and say, "Mr. President, it really is an honor to meet you, but you don't have to drill for oil in the Arctic."

In the radio ads, Hall explains the reasoning behind his message to the President. "If you look at maybe being able to recover six months worth of oil ten years down the road, that's not worth the cost to the ecosystem of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge," Hall says.

The ads target several U.S. Senators who have yet to demand protection of the refuge. The ads ask residents to call their Senator to urge him or her to oppose Arctic drilling and instead support a balanced energy plan that promotes conservation and efficiency, raises the miles per gallon of cars and light trucks, and uses more solar and wind power.

The Senate plans to start debate on Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's energy bill the week of February 25. Although the bill does not contain a provision to open the Arctic Refuge to oil drilling, Senator Frank Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, is expected to try to add this controversial amendment on the Senate floor.

The House of Representatives passed an energy bill last summer that would increase U.S. use of fossil fuels and open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil companies.

"Soon Senators will have the opportunity to vote on an energy bill that, in stark contrast to the bill passed by the House, is based on the premise that the best way to ensure our energy security is through higher fuel economy standards and greater use of renewable energy such as wind and solar power," said Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope. "By keeping drilling out of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the Senate can affirm what the American people already know - that we don't have to sacrifice national treasures like the Arctic Refuge to meet our country's energy needs."

To read a transcript of an interview with Ed Hall, visit: