AmeriScan: July 11, 2002

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El Niño is Back in Town

CAMP SPRINGS, Maryland, July 11, 2002 (ENS) - El Niño is officially back, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

While this year's El Niño is not the powerful, climatic juggernaut of 1997-98, a milder, weaker version may begin affecting weather in the United States by this fall, says NOAA's National Weather Service.

The agency's climate experts said today that mature El Niño conditions are expected to develop in a few months. In the latest El Niño/Southern Oscillation Diagnostic Discussion, NOAA scientists said weather conditions in the tropical Pacific Ocean, including consecutive months of warmer than normal sea surface temperatures and higher than normal rainfall in areas of South America, met NOAA's threshold to be classified as an El Niño.

"This time around, El Niño will not be as powerful as the 1997-98 event, but we'll track it closely for any change in its projected strength," said Vernon Kousky, a meteorologist and climate specialist at NOAA's Climate Prediction Center in Camp Springs, Maryland. Once it matures, Kousky said the El Niño should maintain a weak to moderate strength.

Data from NOAA's network of monitoring buoys in the Pacific, and from its environmental satellites in space, have detected above average sea surface temperatures for several months in the waters of the equatorial Pacific. This often triggers a chain reaction of atmospheric and weather changes around the globe, including warmer, rainy weather in the southern United States during winter, and drier weather in much of Indonesia throughout El Niño's life cycle.

Kousky said El Niño does not often affect summers in the United States, but tends to suppress Atlantic hurricane activity. He added that El Niño may not be strong enough to be a factor in this year's hurricane season.

In May, NOAA released its Atlantic Hurricane season outlook, which called for the potential of nine to 13 tropical storms, with six to eight hurricanes - two to three classified as major, measuring Category 3 or higher on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale.

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EPA Must Reexamine Birmingham Air Quality

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama, July 11, 2002 (ENS) - Residents of Birmingham could soon be breathing easier, thanks to a federal court decision issued Wednesday.

In a suit brought by Earthjustice, the court ruled that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must decide within four months whether to reclassify Birmingham to a more stringent air pollution category under the Clean Air Act.

The Birmingham area violates federal health standards for ozone or smog, and reclassification would trigger requirements for stronger pollution controls at factories, power plants, and other industrial facilities. The court ruled that EPA was years behind schedule in deciding whether to require more protective anti-pollution requirements.

"This sort of delay threatens people's health and flouts the Clean Air Act," said attorney David Baron of Earthjustice, a nonprofit law firm for the environment. "Children, asthmatics, and others with lung ailments should not have wait years for EPA to make these decisions."

The ruling affects Jefferson and Shelby counties, Alabama, which encompass the Birmingham metropolitan area.

Under the 1990 Clean Air Act, this area was first classified as a marginal ozone nonattainment area and was given a 1993 deadline for meeting the ozone standard. The law required the EPA to decide by mid-1994 whether marginal areas had attained the standard, and to reclassify them to a more stringent category - moderate - if they did not.

Failure of a moderate area to meet the ozone standard by 1996 would trigger reclassification of the area to serious, and failure of a serious area to meet the standard by 1999 would trigger reclassification of the area to severe. Each reclassification would bring with it more stringent pollution control requirements.

Earthjustice argued that the EPA nullified this graduated approach to pollution control by failing more than eight years ago to make the legally required findings.

"The people of Birmingham deserve the same level of health protection that EPA already requires in many other areas throughout the nation," Baron said.

The ruling, which came in a suit filed by Earthjustice on behalf of the Sierra Club, adopts a recommendation issued by a federal magistrate last March.

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By Ship, By Plane, Researchers Study Air Pollution

WASHINGTON, DC, July 11, 2002 (ENS) - The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is leading a multi-organization effort to study movement of airborne pollutants in the Northeastern United States.

In many areas of the county, summer means high temperatures, ozone alerts and worsening air quality. NOAA hopes to learn what meteorological conditions contribute to poor air quality in the Northeast.

The agency's largest research vessel, Ronald H. Brown, will be based in New England waters this summer to monitor the region.


The NOAA research vessel Ronald H. Brown. (Photo courtesy NOAA)
"With the combined capabilities of several NOAA research laboratories and our university colleagues, we have assembled the most complete package of atmospheric gas and particle sampling instrumentation ever deployed aboard Ronald H. Brown," said Tim Bates from NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory. "These measurements should give us a much better understanding of the transport and transformation of pollutants in this region."

The July to August New England Air Quality Study, initiated by the NOAA funded Atmospheric Investigation, Regional Modeling, Analysis and Prediction (AIRMAP) project, involves about 100 NOAA personnel and more than 20 partner institutions, the research ship and a research aircraft.

"This is a rare opportunity," said Robert Talbot, director of the AIRMAP Cooperative Institute and professor of Earth Science at the University of New Hampshire's Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans and Space. "You don't get a large research vessel situated off the coast like this very often, because we don't tend to study our own pollution very much."

For the past three years, AIRMAP has been taking pollutant measurements from monitoring stations located in three rural sites in New Hampshire. The ship and plane will be used as additional monitoring sites, offering the advantage of mobile platforms.

"We have been sitting in a stationary area measuring what is coming to us. With the ship, aircraft, and additional ground instrumentation, we'll be able to go upwind and tell what is in the air coming our way," Talbot explained.

"The plane has the ability to sample over a broad range of distances and can look vertically in the atmosphere," added Peter Daum, the lead investigator from Brookhaven. "This lets us understand how these pollutants are distributed in space and how they relate to the sources of these pollutants."

Understanding what particulates and gasses are being transported to New England is essential to understanding the entire picture of air pollution in the region. By collecting measurements from aircraft flying directly over pollutant sources, the scientists will learn about what is coming from outside the region, such as from the Midwest or Mid-Atlantic states and from urban areas such as Boston and New York.

"A review of air pollution episodes in New England suggests that blobs of polluted air often lurk in the Gulf of Maine during the summer months, causing high pollution levels in coastal areas," said Jim Meagher of NOAA's Aeronomy Laboratory. "The sophisticated instrumentation on board NOAA's research vessel gives us just the tools we need to better understand the sources and fate of this pollution."

More information about the New England Air Quality Study is available at:

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Hot Temperatures Drive Smelly Algae Blooms

PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island, July 11, 2002 (ENS) - Recent water quality problems in Warwick Cove, Rhode Island appear to be due to a stretch of above average temperatures, says the state Department of Environmental Management (DEM).

The DEM has been receiving a number of calls about the noxious odors and brownish/green discoloration that has appeared in Warwick Cove. DEM scientists say the condition is being caused by the decomposition of marine algae and nuisance seaweeds like green sea lettuce, whose growth was spurred by excess nutrients in the Bay and recent warm temperatures.

The agency is monitoring the situation, which was first observed on July 5. The DEM performed inspections on Friday and Monday and determined that the sewage like odor is being caused by the decomposition of algae and seaweeds and is not coming from the city's sewerage system, as some residents have suspected.

The Warwick Sewer Authority conducted a full evaluation of its sewerage system and did not detect any problems with the system.

Under normal conditions, excess nutrients enter the Bay from a variety of sources, including wastewater treatment facilities. These nutrients stimulate excessive growth or blooms of marine algae.

After a period of days to weeks, the algae die off and sink to the bottom sediments and decompose, using up oxygen in the water. The recent spate of hot, calm weather and low tidal activity has made the problem worse.

In addition, temperatures that are too warm will cause some of the seaweeds like sea lettuce to die off, increasing the amount of decaying material along the shore at low tide.

Each summer, excessive algae growth is observed in a number of locations around Narragansett Bay. Odors, fish kills, and other effects of algae blooms will be most pronounced - and most noticeable to boaters and beachgoers - in developed areas with little water turnover like Warwick Cove, DEM says.

While there is nothing that can be done to relieve the odors until the algae have decomposed, the DEM is working to reduce nutrient pollution in the Bay by supporting upgrades of wastewater treatment plants, and working with cities and towns to address stormwater runoff.

Residents can also take steps to help reduce nutrient pollution in the Bay by connecting to public sewers when available, maintaining their septic systems, and avoiding overfertilizing their lawns.

The DEM has prepared a list of "10 Simple Things You Can Do to Help Clean Rhode Island Waters," available by clicking the Publications icon on DEM's website at:

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New Climate Simulations Offer Sharper Focus

LIVERMORE, California, July 11, 2002 (ENS) - Atmospheric scientists from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) have created the highest resolution global climate simulations produced to date.

The simulations carry spatial resolutions of about 50 kilometers (30 miles), and will be used to assess climate change and its impacts on the environment and society.

Typical global climate simulations use spatial resolutions of about 300 kilometers (186 miles), which limits their ability to simulate climate and climate change on a regional scale. With these lower resolutions, it is difficult to assess climate changes and their impacts, in California's variable climate.

The high resolution global climate simulations were run on a number of large computers at LLNL and on two machines at the Department of Energy's National Energy Research Supercomputer Center (NERSC).

The 50 kilometer (km) global model has 32 times more grid cells and requires about 200 times more computer processing time than comparable models at 300 km resolution.

"While higher resolutions have been used in weather prediction simulations before, those typically only cover several days," said Philip Duffy, group leader of LLNL's Climate System Modeling Group in the Atmospheric Science Division and key author of a paper on the subject. "Livermore's climate simulations span years."

The 50 km resolution simulations mirror the present climate better than comparable coarse resolution simulations, Duffy said.

Researchers from Livermore's Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison (PCMDI) compared the high resolution present climate simulations to observations and to results of simulations at coarse resolution (300 km). They found significantly more agreement between the model results and observations, suggesting that increasing the resolution improves the model's ability to simulate large scale features of climate.

To show the effects of greenhouse gases on future climate, Livermore researchers ran models at 300 km and 75 km resolutions. Because they represent a possible future climate, the model results cannot be evaluated by comparing them to observations.

The results indicate that average climate changes across the globe are very similar in the 75 km and 300 km models. However, predicted climate changes in specific geographical regions can be very different at the finer resolution.

"Our higher resolution global climate simulations can be used to provide information on many of the most important societal impacts of climate changes," such as the impacts on resource management, agriculture and human health, Duffy said. "We hope to improve the realism of the models and produce better predictions of future climate on both global and regional scales."

A two part paper describing the results of the modeling has been submitted to the journal "Climate Dynamics."

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Hazwaste Cleanups Need Community Advisors

LOS ANGELES, California, July 11, 2002 (ENS) - Communities coping with hazardous waste cleanups need independent advisors to watch out for their interests, says an engineering professor from the University of California at Los Angeles.

Chemical engineering Professor Yoram Cohen came to that conclusion after helping the town of Torrance, California cope with the fear and chaos involved in cleaning up their own backyards.

"People are frightened," Cohen said. "They've just found out that the land they live on is contaminated. Now there are people coming in and digging up their neighborhood. There is a lack of communication and flow of information among the various agencies and those directly engaged in remediation activities."

Cohen argues that legislation should be passed requiring independent scientific reviews of environmental investigations and restorations by federal agencies. The goal is to provide affected communities and other stakeholders with independent assessment and information.

In Torrance, years of production of the pesticide DDT had contaminated a five square block with DDT in "concentrations that were alarming," Cohen said. As the remediation project got under way, "They uncovered at one point essentially what amounted to pure DDT," Cohen said.

As the community became even more alarmed, U.S. Representative Jane Harmon, a California Democrat, turned to the experts at UCLA and Stanford University for advice and help.

The current study, done by Cohen in collaboration with Stanford Professor Perry McCarty, found that although the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) did an adequate job of cleaning up the area, more could be done. Their report proposes ongoing monitoring to ensure that if new construction projects are undertaken, the community will be protected from exposure to DDT.

Cleanup projects like this require that the contaminated soil be dug out, even under the houses, and replaced with clean soil.

"I visited the site and was amazed because they actually had houses suspended - and there was nothing under the house," Cohen said. "An adversarial relationship between the community and the EPA was not helping to ease the community fears."

Up until that time, residents had to rely on the EPA for information. At one point, neighborhood residents tried to take a duplicate sample from a DDT hot spot, but were prevented from doing so by EPA officials because the residents lacked training in hazardous waste sampling.

"The community wanted someone to come in and give them an unbiased opinion," Cohen said. An independent scientific adviser should be present right at the beginning, he added.

One of the problems Cohen has observed in the past with hazardous waste sites is that their location is often forgotten. So, "continued monitoring of the area to make sure that it remains healthy and clean is a must," he said.

Another of their recommendations concerns the hazardous material that was removed from the site. Although safely contained, huge piles of contaminated soil can be seen from the neighborhood.

"With all that has happened there, it is imperative that EPA take this soil and put it in a designated permanent landfill and not leave all this material in the community," Cohen said. "They drive by and see all this contaminated material and it is not very conducive for good feelings or healing. It will promote healing to see it taken away," he said.

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Lake Champlain Anglers Collect Tagged Sea Lamprey

PLATTSBURGH, New York, July 9, 2002 (ENS) - Anglers fishing in Lake Champlain are being asked to collect sea lampreys this year and in 2003.

The Lake Champlain Sea Grant Extension Project and New York Sea Grant have requested help from anglers in bringing in the sea lampreys, non-native parasitic fish that feed on the blood and body fluids of salmon and trout.

The locations where the lampreys are picked up will be studied to help optimize planned control measures for these destructive fish that have had a devastating impact on native fish populations in Lake Champlain and in the Great Lakes.

Mark Malchoff, an aquatic resources specialist with the Lake Champlain Sea Grant Extension Project in Plattsburgh, is developing an outreach program to enlist the cooperation of the angling community in the return of tagged lamprey.


A pair of sea lampreys suck the life out of a lake trout. (Photo courtesy U.S. Geological Survey)
"Research may help managers identify and prioritize those tributaries most linked to adult lamprey production," said Malchoff. "If so, the research could eventually help reduce the amount of lampricide needed to control the lamprey population in Lake Champlain, since some tributaries could be ignored."

About 2,600 lamprey have been marked by project staff and U.S. Fish & Wildlife technicians and released in four streams feeding Lake Champlain.

Anglers will not be able to see the coded tags on the lamprey and are asked to bring all lamprey into collection points at cooperating tackle shops - Richards Bait and Tackle in Plattsburgh, Peru Bait and Tackle in Peru, and Norm's Bait and Tackle in Crown Point. Lamprey collection stations will also be open during Lake Champlain fishing derbies.

Cash and tackle prizes will be presented for the most lamprey returned, and the lamprey returned from the farthest distance, and through a random drawing.

"By bringing the lamprey in, anglers can make a significant contribution to research that will improve our understanding about sea lamprey ecology and how managers can best exploit any weak spots in the sea lamprey life cycle," Malchoff said.

Sea lamprey attach themselves to fish, boats, and angling equipment. Their jawless, blood sucking way of feeding has destroyed lake trout populations in Lakes Ontario, Erie, Huron and Michigan. In Lake Champlain, Lamprey have hindered the restoration of lake trout populations and landlocked Atlantic salmon.

A control program for sea lamprey has been in place in the Great Lakes for over 40 years to help protect and restore salmon populations. TFM, a larval lampricide, is applied to tributaries in a two to four year cycle at an annual cost of more than $15 million.

Management and research efforts are now being focused on finding ways to reduce lampricide use, either by increasing effectiveness of treatments or turning to non-chemical alternatives, said the study¹s principal investigator Dr. J. Ellen Marsden of the University of Vermont.

Little is known about movements of adult lamprey during the parasitic phase, particularly among basins within lakes, Marsden said.

"Tag return data will be used to examine inter-basin movements of lamprey," she explained. "Length, weight, and sex data will be related to size at tagging to determine if there is differential growth and survival among different streams of origin."

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Trumpeter Swans Rebound in Wisconsin

MADISON, Wisconsin, July 11, 2002 (ENS) - Fifty-one pairs of endangered trumpeter swans nested in Wisconsin this year, more than double the state's initial recovery goal of having 20 pairs nesting in the state by the year 2000.

"The trumpeter swan reintroduction effort is making great strides," said Sumner Matteson, an avian ecologist who coordinates the trumpeter swan recovery program for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Bureau of Endangered Resources. "The nesting population and productivity are increasing, and they're becoming abundant enough that it is difficult for us to track all the nests with our own staff and volunteers."

Last year there were 45 known nests in the state and 44 in 2000, Matteson said. Biologists estimate that the entire statewide population of trumpeter swans - including adult and juvenile birds - is about 300, and nest numbers should increase as more juvenile birds reach breading age, which begins at age two.

While the number of nests is more than double the preliminary recovery goal of 20 pairs, Matteson says that goal was established in 1986, when biologists had much less information about reestablishing the species. Biologists are hoping to have a new population model complete this year that will use actual data gathered from birds in the wild in Wisconsin to determine the number of nesting pairs and young needed to sustain a viable population in the state.


Trumpeter swans can be distinguished from the non-native mute swan by the way they hold their necks: straight up expect when feeding or grooming. (Photo courtesy Wisconsin DNR)
Trumpeter swans - named for their resonant, trumpet like call - are the largest native waterfowl species in North America. Adults have white plumage and can stand up to four feet tall and weigh between 20 and 30 pounds. Trumpeter swans were found in Wisconsin until the 1880s, when market hunting and feather collecting almost drove the species extinct.

Beginning in 1989, Wisconsin biologists flew to Alaska for nine consecutive years to collect surplus trumpeter swan eggs that were then hatched in incubators at the Milwaukee County Zoo. After they hatched, the young swans were either placed in a captive rearing program or decoy rearing program until they were released to the wild.

With so many pairs now nesting in the state, biologists are asking for help from the public in reporting any observations of the large white birds nesting in wetland areas around the state, particularly in central Wisconsin where the number of reported nesting pairs has declined in recent years.

People who think they may have seen a swan nest should contact DNR swan program field coordinator Pat Manthey in La Crosse at: 608-789-5651 or: Sumner Matteson at: 608-266-1571.