AmeriScan: February 21, 2002

EAST COAST DROUGHT INTENSIFIES

WASHINGTON, DC, February 21, 2002 (ENS) - Much of the East Coast is now experiencing moderate to extreme levels of drought, according to the latest National Weather Service U.S. Drought Monitor.

Drought emergencies were announced last week for several counties in southern and eastern Pennsylvania, while drought warnings were issued for counties in southeastern New York and western New Jersey.

"Since last October, high pressure systems have deflected storm patterns to the south and north of affected areas along the East Coast, missing localities in need of precipitation," said Douglas LeComte, drought specialist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center, which issues the Drought Monitor. "During the first week of the month, the southeast experienced a strong precipitation pattern, but it by no means signaled drought relief for that region."

Scientists at NOAA's National Climatic Data Center said that although precipitation was near normal for the nation as a whole from November to January, below normal precipitation stretched from Florida to Maine, leading to drought conditions along the East Coast.

NOAA's Climate Prediction Center scientists classify drought three ways:

Hydrological, or water resources drought - the long term lake and well level deficits - which takes longer to start and end; this type of drought causes municipal officials to order water usage restrictions;

Agricultural drought, which results from short term dryness and often causes greater economic impacts;

Forested areas drought, which increases the potential for wildfires.

"At the present time, many areas along the East Coast are in a hydrological or water resources drought," said LeComte. "These conditions are unusual, but not unprecedented. Current conditions on the East Coast were caused by an usually persistent circulation pattern that prevented atmospheric moisture from the Gulf of Mexico reaching the East Coast."

Long term weather forecasts offer a mixed prognosis for the East Coast. Occasional storms should provide slow overall improvement, but water shortages will continue in a few areas as depicted in the latest Climate Prediction Center's U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook.

"With recent near-record low stream flows and reservoir levels for this time of year being reported over portions of the mid-Atlantic and New England states, for example, it will take some time for these regions to work their way out of drought conditions," LeComte added.

More information is available at: http://www.drought.noaa.gov/

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LIEBERMAN REPROACHES BUSH ON ENVIRONMENT

SAN FRANCISCO, California, February 21, 2002 (ENS) - In a sign that not all of President George W. Bush's critics have gone silent since the September 11 terrorist attacks, Senator Joseph Lieberman gave a scathing speech Wednesday calling for strengthened environmental protections and action to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat, delivered a major environmental public policy address in San Francisco to the California League of Conservation Voters (CLCV), calling Bush's environmental positions "deeply disappointing" and "feeble."

Lieberman

Senator Joseph Lieberman (Photo courtesy Office of the Senator)
The remarks by the former Democratic vice presidential candidate came less than a week after President Bush's announcement of a voluntary system to regulate greenhouse gases, a plan that has been criticized as ineffective in its ability to reduce emissions.

Saying that the Bush administration has "stood up for the narrow priorities of industries and interests that don't want to change because they profit from business as usual," Lieberman announced that he would use his post as chair of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee to begin oversight hearings on the Bush administration's environmental record.

Bush's policy on environmental issues "cries out for a response before more damage is done to both our natural resources and our public health," Lieberman added. "It's time for the President to start reflecting the values and interests of the vast majority of Americans when it comes to the environment."

Lieberman stressed his support for a much more aggressive approach to curbing the release of greenhouse gases.

"It's time for President Bush to wake up and smell the carbon," he said. "It's time for him to show some leadership."

Lieberman supports an approach referred to as cap and trade, in which a cap is agreed upon for the entire market and permits reflecting that goal are issued to polluters. Companies that produce emissions below their targets can sell their excess permits to firms that exceed their targets.

"We can use the tested tool of emissions trading to prevent that growth and modernize our two biggest sources of global warming emissions: electric power plants and motor vehicles," Lieberman noted.

Lieberman is a cosponsor of legislation now before the Senate that would reduce power plant emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants, and he said he would use his position as chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee to move the bill through committee. Lieberman is also working with Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona to draft a proposal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions nationwide, across all industries.

"Senator Lieberman's ideas represent a breath of fresh air and innovative thinking when contrasted with the vacuum of leadership at the White House," said Jon Rainwater, CLCV executive director. "He's become one of the nation's leading voices in developing a renewable energy future and formatting serious approaches to the problem of climate change."

In its 2001 Environmental Scorecard report, released Wednesday, the national League of Conservation Voters (LCV) gave Lieberman earned a perfect score of 100 for his votes last year on environmental legislation.

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SLOWING OCEAN CURRENTS COULD FREEZE EUROPE

CORVALLIS, Oregon, February 21, 2002 (ENS) - Changes in ocean currents due to global warming could plunge much of Europe into a deep freeze, say researchers from Oregon State University (OSU).

Robbed of the ocean current patterns that help keep it warm, Europe could end up with a climate similar to Alaska's, the researchers conclude in an analysis published today in the journal "Nature."

While it is not certain that such climate changes will occur, the possibility that they might should be cause for serious concern, they said.

"To answer difficult questions such as this we depend a lot on our computer models, and in this area different models reach different conclusions," said Peter Clark, an OSU professor of geosciences and one of the world's leading experts on glaciers and prehistoric climate changes.

"What is fairly clear is that if the ocean circulation patterns that now warm much of the North Atlantic were to slow or stop, the consequences could be quite severe," Clark said. "This might also happen much quicker than many people appreciate. At some point the question becomes how much risk do we want to take?"

The big variable in the equation, Clark said, is whether changes in global temperature and precipitation patterns might affect a gigantic conveyor belt of warm, less salty surface water that moves from the tropical Atlantic Ocean until it becomes so cold and salty in the far north Atlantic that it sinks, moves south and continues the circulation pattern.

This process, called thermohaline circulation, happens in just two regions of the Earth's polar areas. It is responsible for much of the oceans' circulation, including the currents that help keep parts of North America and Europe far warmer than they would otherwise be, considering their position - most of Great Britain is at the same latitude as central Canada.

Research suggests that this circulation process may have fluctuated or even stopped many times in Earth's distant past, and that it is sensitive to moderate increases in temperature or influxes of fresh water. The cold, salty water that sinks in the far North Atlantic Ocean will not sink if it becomes a little bit warmer or a little bit less salty - and the change could happen in a matter of decades.

"This system does not respond in what we call a linear manner," Clark said. "Once you start putting on the brakes, this circulation pattern could slow down faster and faster and eventually stop altogether."

The paradox, the scientists say, is that the same greenhouse effect that might make the Earth warmer, overall, could have the opposite effect on much of Europe by slowing or shutting down the warm ocean circulation patterns on which it depends.

"Most, but not all, coupled general circulation model projections of the 21st century climate show a reduction in the strength of the Atlantic overturning circulation with increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases," the researchers write in their report in "Nature." "If the warming is strong enough and sustained long enough, a complete collapse cannot be excluded."

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DEEP WATER WAVES POWER OCEAN ENGINES

HONOLULU, Hawaii, February 21, 2002 (ENS) - Deep ocean tides caused by the pull of the moon help drive global ocean circulation and force nutrients up from the deep, report researchers from the University of Washington (UW).

Along the 1,600 mile long Hawaiian Ridge, the moon's pull is creating waves that break in the hidden depths of the ocean just as the surf does on a beach. The energy from these deep waves may be helping stir ocean waters, even those quite distant from the ridge.

The first ever direct measurements of the energy flux of the so called internal tide along the Hawaiian Ridge were reported last week by UW researchers at the American Geophysical Union and American Society of Limnology's Ocean Sciences meeting.

profiler

University of Washington researchers deploy an absolute velocity profiler to measure the energy flux of internal tides at the Hawaiian Ridge (Photo courtesy University of Washington)
With waves - some 300 to 1,000 feet tall - traveling beneath the surface, internal tides at the Hawaiian Ridge and other such spots around the world may help scientists discover what causes 90 percent of the mixing in the world's ocean, say oceanographers Tom Sanford and Eric Kunze with the UW's Applied Physics Laboratory. The two are among the lead researchers for the National Science Foundation's $16 million Hawaii Ocean Mixing Experiment, or HOME.

The mixing of warm surface waters and cold deep waters in what is called the thermocline is an important component in helping drive global ocean circulation and force nutrients up from the deep, where they can be used by tiny plants at the sea surface that are at the base of the ocean's food web.

Scientists have found that mixing in the thermocline far from land is weak and can account for only about 10 percent of the mixing that must be occurring, Sanford says.

Sanford, Kunze and other scientists hypothesized that the energy causing this mixing may be generated in places where surface tides draw deeper waters around and across rough seafloor features. The Hawaiian Ridge has an abundance of such features including numerous islands and an underwater range of seamounts, shoals, banks and channels.

Tides traveling toward the Hawaiian Ridge from the northeast collide into the chain, scattering off some places and passing over and through others. Where the seafloor is roughest, the mixing rates are 1,000 times more intense than places without such topography, Sanford says.

Internal waves generated at the Hawaiian Ridge have an average magnitude of about five to 10 kilowatts per meter along the entire ridge, Kunze said. But in some areas, the waves tear through at more than 40 kilowatts per meter, and the most dramatic internal waves, measured at 60 kilowatts per meter, were at the French Frigate Shoals 400 miles northwest of the Hawaiian islands.

More information on the Hawaii Ocean Mixing Experiment is available at: http://chowder.ucsd.edu/home/

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RESEARCHERS MAP HERBIVORE BIODIVERSITY

SYRACUSE, New York, February 21, 2002 (ENS) - A team of biologists at Syracuse University and Wageningen University in the Netherlands has created the first global map of the diversity of plant eating mammals, or herbivores.

The team has created a map of biodiversity hotspots - areas that have the most potential to support a diverse array of plant eating mammals. Their findings were published today in the journal "Nature."

"We developed a way to identify prime regions for mammal diversity that could potentially become areas for conservation or restoration," said Mark Ritchie, professor of biology in Syracuse University's College of Arts and Sciences. Ritchie worked on the study with Han Olff and Herbert H.T. Prins of the Wageningen University.

"We were able to predict and explain the number of species in a given area based on the amount of rainfall and the fertility of the soil," Ritchie said.

Their map shows that more than half of the areas that are prime regions for a diverse array of plant eating mammals have already been converted to agriculture and have lost their diversity. Another 25 percent of the prime regions may be converted to agriculture over the next 25 years.

The researchers predict that by 2025, less than 1.2 percent of the earth's surface may remain to support diverse grazing ecosystems.

"We are concerned that these prime regions show very little overlap with areas designated as 'hotspots' for the biodiversity of plants, birds, reptiles and other types of mammals," Ritchie explained. "Thus, the areas we have identified for plant eating mammals would have to be conserved separately."

Areas of high rainfall do not always have the most diverse populations of plant eating mammals, Ritchie said. While these areas tend to produce lots of vegetation, the vegetation does not contain enough nutrients to support smaller species, such as rabbits and hares.

Likewise, dry areas do not produce enough total vegetation to support larger species such as caribou, giraffes, buffalo and elephants.

The most diverse populations of plant eating mammals are found in areas of moderate rainfall, such as the Serengeti plains in Africa, Yellowstone National Park in the U.S. and the Punjab region of India, Ritchie said.

"The areas tend to produce enough vegetation to support large mammals, and vegetation that is of high enough quality to support small mammals," he said. "That is especially true in areas where the soil is most fertile."

The team is the first to develop a model that can predict the places that would support the most diverse array of plant eating mammals. They tested their model by gathering data on mammalian populations in 34 sites in North America and 85 sites in Africa.

For each site, they calculated the amount of plant available moisture and nutrients and compared those results with the number and types of species in the test sites.

"Some regions, such as the northern Great Plains in North America, may be highly suitable for restoration of large herbivore diversity if agriculture was abandoned," the authors write in the paper. "Our approach is powerful because it identifies how plant resources constrain the distribution of different sized herbivores."

"We use this relationship to predict global scale patterns in large herbivore diversity," they write. "Similar approaches could be applied to other groups of organisms to help identify critical areas for current conservation and future restoration of biodiversity."

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CALIFORNIA UTILITY SUBMITS HISTORIC CLEAN ENERGY PLAN

LOS ANGELES, California, February 21, 2002 (ENS) - The California Power Authority (CPA) has released an Energy Resource Investment Plan emphasizing energy efficiency, conservation and renewable power generation.

On Friday, the CPA submitted its Energy Resource Investment Plan "Clean Growth: Clean Energy for California's economic Future" to the state legislature. The plan details a strategy to prevent future energy crises by meeting California's energy supply shortfalls with clean power sources.

In total, the CPA plans to generate $5 billion in revenue bond financing that will leverage over $12 billion in clean energy investment by 2007.

"This is the largest clean energy investment plan in history," said Danny Kennedy, coordinator for Greenpeace's Clean Energy Now! Campaign. "The CPA plans to meet the majority of projected energy demand with conservation and energy efficiency measures that will spawn the equivalent of five big coal fired power plants being supplanted by wind, biomass and solar energy. This is largely non-polluting and is the same as taking one million cars off the road in the next 20 years, greatly reducing our greenhouse gas emissions."

Greenpeace noted that the CPA's plan allows institutions like the Los Angeles Community Colleges access to low cost financing program in order to go solar.

The plan acknowledges two major strengths that the support of a government agency can provide: the agency can act as a public broker and lead the path for other institutions to go solar, and it can provide bulk procurement when buying for schools, prisons and other public buildings. The plan also projects that by installing photovoltaic cells on buildings all over California, the state can tap up to 2,400 megawatts of solar power on state facilities.

"Now we want the Los Angeles Community College District to negotiate with the CPA low cost financing for solar installations in schools," said Kristin Casper, campaigner for Greenpeace's Clean Energy Now! Campaign. "This is the Los Angeles Community College Districts chance to make their campuses a model of the clean energy future that students, faculty and citizens around the state want to see."

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ACTION MINING FUNDS RUNOFF TREATMENT

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania, February 21, 2002 (ENS) - Action Mining Inc. will pay almost $1 million over the next several years into trust funds to ensure the long term treatment of mine runoff in Pennsylvania.

Action Mining operates three surface coal mines in Somerset County and mined more than 200,000 tons of coal in 2000. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has finalized two trust funds with Action Mining to support two systems for treating mine runoff - one active, one passive.

"Through an agreement signed with Action Mining, the company will pay nearly $1 million over the next seven years into two trust funds, which will provide the money needed to ensure the long term treatment of acid mine drainage discharges in the Casselman River watershed," said DEP secretary David Hess.

The active treatment system collects and pump acid mine drainage seeps to a treatment building where the acidity is neutralized by pebble limestone. The treated water then flows through an aeration channel and a series of ponds before it is discharged to an unnamed tributary to Coal Run in the Casselman River watershed.

Action Mining will make an initial payment of $110,000, six additional annual payments of $110,000 and a final payment of $106,881 into a trust fund administered by Somerset Trust Company. Under the agreement, Action Mining will continue the operation and maintenance of the system and, beginning in 2010, will be reimbursed through proceeds from the fund.

The second trust fund will guarantee continued treatment from a passive system constructed by Action Mining in Coal Run. Action Mining will fund a $100,000 trust for the passive system through five annual payments of $20,000.

"The trust funds put the finishing touches on the largest ever penalty in the history of Pennsylvania's mining program, and are part of a comprehensive effort by DEP and our partners to improve the quality of the watershed," noted Hess.

In June 1999, DEP levied a $625,000 civil penalty against Action Mining for illegally piping polluted water from its surface mining operation in Elk Lick Township. The $625,000 penalty is helping to fund local environmental projects in Somerset County, including $32,000 to the Youghiogheny River Watch for stocking fish in the Casselman River, and $24,000 to the Pennsylvania Wild Resources Conservation Fund to restore river otters to the Youghiogheny River basin.

Thirteen otters have been released since the otter reintroduction program began.

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REMOVING DOMINANT MALES CAN BOOST GENETIC DIVERSITY

SAN DIEGO, California, February 21, 2002 (ENS) - Kidnapping males who hold a sexual monopoly over their peers may be the key to saving some endangered species, argue some U.S. researchers.

In certain species, dominant males fight to restrict access to females, preventing subordinate males from mating. This can help pass on qualities such as strength to the next generation.

But having only a few breeding males has its drawbacks - it limits genetic variety in the population, making it more vulnerable to sudden changes in the environment.

"With just 200 individuals you're really starting to worry about genetic diversity," said Peter Tolson from the Toledo Zoo, reported in the British journal "New Scientist."

Allison Alberts and colleagues at the San Diego Zoo in California have proposed a new method of conservation: temporarily kidnapping the dominant males. Removing them should give other males a shot at reproduction and maximize the genetic diversity of a population.

This would give the population a better chance of surviving a new disease or a sudden change in climate, the researchers say.

"When you consider the benefit I think it is a feasible strategy," said Tolson.

The team tested the idea on a population of Cuban iguanas at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. These iguanas are not endangered, but many related species are.

The researchers removed the five highest ranking males for six weeks during the breeding season. Other males seized their chance and began breeding. When the dominant males were brought back, they fought with the usurpers to regain supremacy.

"This is very much an emergency measure," cautioned Alberts. The scheme would be labor intensive and expensive. But most of the population would remain in the wild, sustaining the impetus to conserve the habitat.

The full story is available at: http://www.newscientist.com