AmeriScan: October 19, 2001


CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts, October 19, 2001 (ENS) - A policy tool key to arresting global warming could wreak havoc on the oceans if instituted with no restrictions, warn an MIT professor and colleagues in the October 12 issue of the journal "Science."

Carbon trading, a feature of the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change, would limit emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2). A country that exceeds its limit could fulfill its commitment by purchasing so called carbon credits from a country that emits less than its quota.

Carbon credits could also, however, be purchased from commercial industries that have developed ways to remove carbon from the atmosphere. That creates a problem, said Professor Sallie (Penny) Chisholm of MIT's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Department of Biology.

One potential technique for removing atmospheric carbon involves fertilizing the oceans.

"Our objections are to commercialized ocean fertilization - the scaled up consequences of which could be very damaging to the global oceans," write Chisholm and coauthors Paul Falkowski of the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences and Rutgers University, and John Cullen of Dalhousie University in Canada.

Small scientific experiments over the last ten years have shown that fertilizing parts of the ocean increases the number of tiny organisms, or phytoplankton, that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as part of their normal growth. Some of those organisms fall to the bottom of the sea, or are eaten and fall to the bottom as fecal matter, moving carbon out of the air and into the deep.

Entrepreneurs watching these developments have concluded that fertilizing large patches of ocean might therefore be profitable if carbon trading is instituted.

"Proponents claim that ocean fertilization is an easily controlled, verifiable process that mimics Nature; and that it is an environmentally benign, long term solution to atmospheric CO2 accumulation," write Chisholm and colleagues.

"These claims are, quite simply, not true," they continue, refuting each argument in turn within the "Science" article. For example, ocean fertilization can not be well controlled. "A fertilized patch in turbulent ocean currents is not like a plot of land," the authors say.

Chisholm is particularly critical of claims that ocean fertilization is environmentally benign.

"What really surprises me is that they're ignoring the results of years of research on aquatic ecosystems," including the negative effects of nutrient enrichment in lakes and coastal waters, Chisholm said.

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WASHINGTON, DC, October 19, 2001 (ENS) - For most of the United States, winter 2001-02 will feel like a sequel to last year's cold season, with sharp swings in temperature and precipitation, say officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

NOAA said residents can expect heavy lake effect snows in the Northeast and Midwest, cold air outbreaks in the South, and the potential for Nor'easters along the East Coast.

At a news conference in Washington, DC, NOAA officials released the nation's official winter outlook, and said the absence of a strong El Niņo or La Niņa climate pattern leaves the door open for a variable winter, which will impact the winter weather extremes such as cold, snow, rain and ice that the nation may experience.

"We don't expect a repeat of the record breaking cold temperatures of November-December of last year, but this winter should be cooler than the warm winters of the late 1990s," said Scott Gudes, NOAA's acting administrator. "Citizens should prepare for the full range of winter weather."

Climate factors that influenced last winter will play a similar role this season. They include: the Arctic Oscillation, which influences the number of cold air outbreaks in the South and Nor'easters on the East Coast, and the Madden-Julian Oscillation, which can impact the number of heavy rainstorms in the Pacific Northwest.

"This winter, NOAA's improving technologies will help National Weather Service forecasters - for the first time - pinpoint when these factors will kick in and bring extreme weather," said retired General Jack Kelly, director of NOAA's National Weather Service. Kelly noted that the nation is likely to experience large temperature and precipitation swings during the winter.

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WASHINGTON, DC, October 19, 2001 (ENS) - U.S. Environmental Protection Administrator (EPA) Christie Whitman today appointed new regional administrators for Region 2, based in New York, and Region 4, based in Georgia.

Jane Kenny, a senior New Jersey government executive will be the new regional administrator of EPA's Region 2.

"In her capacity, first as my Chief of Policy and Planning in New Jersey, then as Commissioner for New Jersey's Department of Community Affairs, Jane has proven herself to be a leader on many issues," said Whitman. "As Region 2's new administrator, Jane will bring a clear understanding of government, policy and the importance of teamwork in getting things done. Her efforts on brownfields redevelopment, urban revitalization, and sustainability have had a tremendous impact in New Jersey."

"That, along with her experience in both the private sector and senior levels of government, will serve the people in Region 2 well," added Whitman.

Kenny will be responsible for Agency programs in New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

James (Jimmy) Palmer, Jr., will be the new regional administrator in Region 4.

"Throughout his career as a lawyer focusing on environmental issues and during his tenure in state government, Jimmy has demonstrated an exceptional knowledge of environmental law and policy that will make him a valued member of our team," said Whitman.

Palmer will be responsible for Agency programs in Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida. Prior to his appointment, Palmer practiced law as a member of Butler, Snow, O'Mara, Stevens, and Cannada, PLLC, where he practiced environmental, natural resources and energy law.

Prior to that he served for 12 years as the executive director of the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality through the administrations of two governors.

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HONOLULU, Hawaii, October 19, 2001 (ENS) - Protection and recovery of Hawaii's endangered forest birds is the aim of a draft five year plan for the Hawaiian Endangered Bird Conservation Program.

The program is a partnership of the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) Division of Forestry and Wildlife, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Zoological Society of San Diego. The DLNR is inviting the public to comment on the draft plan for 2001-2005.

The draft plan can now be viewed on the Division of Forestry and Wildlife web page at:

"Our agencies and others are working on these strategies, but many species are so critically endangered that they may be lost even with all of these efforts," said Division of Forestry and Wildlife endangered species biologist Scott Fretz. "When the only population left is restricted to one small area, it is extremely vulnerable, even to natural events like hurricanes or fires. Using captive propagation technology, along with habitat management, allows us to rapidly reintroduce species into protected habitat to speed recovery and reduce the risk of extinction."

The Hawaiian Endangered Bird Conservation Program is a unique partnership that collaborates with other organizations and landowners to integrate captive propagation and reintroduction technology to recover forest bird populations. Fretz points out that the key to the long term recovery of Hawaii's endangered birds is basic research, habitat restoration, and elimination of threats.

The five year plan, which lays out specific recovery plans for several endangered species, was drafted through a series of discussions among partners and other scientists and collaborating groups. Its purpose is to guide partnership efforts, and to share information with interested parties for discussion and comment.

Following the public comment period through November 15, the partnership will complete the plan. It will then serve as a working document that will be subject to frequent discussion, review and annual revision.

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PORTLAND, Oregon, October 19, 2001 (ENS) - A new study shows that the tree canopy of the Willamette/Lower Columbia Region provides hundreds of millions of dollars in environmental and economic benefits such as reducing stormwater runoff, energy usage, and air pollution

The conservation group American Forests released a report showing that the region's tree cover declined by 22 percent over the past 28 years, costing communities billions of dollars in lost benefits.

In the report, called the "Regional Ecosystem Analysis (REA) for the Willamette/Lower Columbia Region of Northwestern Oregon and Southwestern Washington State," American Forests analysts used satellite imagery to document changes in the study area's tree canopy (a seven million acre area) between 1972 and 2000.

"Our analysts found the total average tree cover for the region is 24 percent - down from 46 percent in 1972," said Gary Moll of American Forests, the nation's oldest nonprofit conservation organization. "Despite good faith efforts to manage development, tree canopy loss is a trend that is occurring in areas across the United States. As populations grow, so do the pressures on natural resources and the number of benefits that are lost."

American Forests analyzed 63 specific sites, representing a cross section of land uses such as residential and commercial/industrial by using aerial photography and computer software developed by American Forests, CITYgreen(r). CITYgreen allows users to calculate the benefits trees provide in dollar values.

Analysts found the region's trees are removing 178 million pounds of pollutants each year, a savings valued at $419 million. Sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone and particulate matter are among the pollutants trees absorb.

This same tree cover is saving communities an estimated $20.2 billion in stormwater management costs (the amount it would cost to build a facility to handle that same quantity of stormwater runoff). Besides reducing the need for stormwater facilities, trees act as filters that help purify water.

Trees help shade and cool residential homes during hot summer months, reducing the amount of electricity needed to run air conditioners. American Forests' report finds trees provide an estimated $1.86 million in annual energy savings for communities in the area.

Reducing energy use also reduces the amount of carbon emissions by utility companies. Direct tree shading prevents about 140,000 tons of carbon from being emitted into the atmosphere each year.

The Portland region is, for the most part, either densely forested (21 percent) or open/agriculture land (75 percent). There are few areas with moderate tree cover (four percent). Areas with heavy tree cover declined by 56 percent, whereas areas with light tree canopy grew by 51 percent during the study period.

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CROSSVILLE, Tennessee, October 19, 2001 (ENS) - Ten fishers, a species that became extinct in Tennessee more than 200 years ago as a result of intensive trapping and logging, were released Wednesday in the 80,000 acre Catoosa Wildlife Management Area.

The 10 fishers join 10 additional animals that were released in the same area last Thursday. This reintroduction was made possible through financial contributions from the environmental group Defenders of Wildlife and Duracell (now owned by the Gillette Co.) to the Tennessee based Extirpated Species Foundation, which partnered with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) to carry out the project.

The fishers - including seven males and three females - were captured last week in the Chequamegon National Forest of northern Wisconsin and surrounding state lands and then transported by airplane yesterday to Tennessee. The Catoosa Wildlife Management area was chosen as the reintroduction site because its large, undisturbed expanses of forest habitat provide the preferred habitat of this small member of the weasel family.


Twenty fishers have returned to Tennessee after an absence of more than 200 years (Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
"With the return of fishers, the mountains of East Tennessee are a little bit wilder, a little bit more natural than they were last week," said Bob Ferris, vice president of species conservation for Defenders of Wildlife. "This project demonstrates that when state agencies, tribes and the private sector work together great things can be accomplished."

Each animal was fitted with a radio collar that will allow the TWRA to track the animals' movements. Next fall, an additional 20 fishers will be captured and relocated to the state in the same general area.

Like other carnivores, fishers play important roles in maintaining healthy ecosystems. For example, fishers are one of the few animals that are adapted to prey upon porcupines, which can inflict heavy damage to trees.

Fishers also feed on snakes, rats and skunks - each of which prey on ground nesting birds. By keeping these species in check, it is expected that over time the presence of fishers will lead to increased populations of turkey, grouse and quail and maintain healthier levels for porcupine populations.

"When we released the wolves in Yellowstone, we expected and are seeing big, positive changes to the ecosystem," said Caroline Kennedy, director of special projects for Defenders of Wildlife. "Restoring the fisher is more like fine tuning."

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WASHINGTON, DC, October 19, 2001 (ENS) - The National Science Foundation (NSF) and the European Commission (EC) have signed an agreement to collaborate on climate research, marine science and technology, seismic risk and hazards reduction, Arctic research and environmental biology.

The signing ceremony took place Thursday at a meeting of NSF's Advisory Committee for Environmental Research and Education. Margaret Leinen, NSF's assistant director for geosciences, and Christian Patermann, the EC's director of environment and sustainable development, signed the document.

According to NSF director Rita Colwell, the new arrangement will advance NSF's goals and strategies by:

The agreement also links European programs and expertise to NSF priority programs such as global climate change research, biocomplexity, environmental observatories, long term ecological research and the network of earthquake engineering sensors.

Leinen expressed confidence that the implementing arrangement would join and extend the human and financial resources of the two organizations in addressing critical global issues. Patermann addressed the advisory committee on the priorities and activities of the EC in environmental research and education through its support of Europe wide, multinational research consortia.

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GLOUCESTER, Massachusetts, October 19, 2001 (ENS) - The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is seeking public comment on proposed changes to fishing rules to better protect North Atlantic right whales and other large whales from entanglement in lobster trap, pot and gillnet gear along the East Coast of the United States.

"These moves are part of the evolving method for eliminating entanglements," said Gregg LaMontagne, acting large whale coordinator in NMFS' Northeast Region. "The best way to do so is to better understand how, when, and where it happens, then take steps like these to reduce the risk."

Mitigating the effects of fishing gear on large whales is a complex task, owing to the large area involved; the difficulty of documenting when, where and how encounters occur; the variety of operations; and the precarious status of the North Atlantic right whale.

These whales are one of four species included in the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan, under which, measures are devised to reduce the serious injuries and deaths of large whales caused by human activities. Other endangered whales included in the plan are the humpback and finback. Minke whales are also covered, but are not an endangered species.

The proposed rule changes would add to existing measures to reduce large whale entanglements. The first proposed rule would amend the present list of allowable gear configurations for lobster trap, pot and gillnet gear.

The rule would also alter existing restrictions on when and how gillnetters fish in an area of water off the Southeastern U.S. covered by rules to protect whales from entanglements. The second proposed change (known as dynamic area management) is based on recent analyses of right whale sighting data and observations.

The analyses show that the presence of three or more animals in an area likely means they are feeding, that there are more animals nearby, and that this sub-group will stay in the area until the prey is depleted or moves away. Using this information, NMFS and its advisors have been developing a way to define these areas and institute protection measures.

The Dynamic Area Management rule would create protected areas and restrict lobster trap, pot and gillnet fishing within them for 15 day periods.

The gear proposed rule appears in the October 1 issue of the Federal Register, and public comment closes on October 31. More information is available at:

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BOULDER, Colorado, October 19, 2001 (ENS) - Autumn leaves that light up hillsides in bold strokes of gold and other colors also appear to play a role in regional air quality and climate.

This month scientists from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) are measuring levels of chemicals that are emitted as leaves change color and fall to the ground at a research site in northern Michigan. The chemicals, known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), have far ranging effects: they combine with certain types of industrial emissions to create smog, and in some cases they play a role in global warming.

"VOCs are very important for both regional and global air quality issues," said NCAR's Alex Guenther.

VOCs, which are the source of the appealing scents associated with pine needles and cut grass, pose no harm in a natural setting. But they can react with human generated nitrogen oxides in the presence of sunlight to form ground level ozone, the major component of smog.

The emissions also have an impact on climate by slowing the rate at which greenhouse gases are oxidized in the atmosphere.

To measure foliage emissions, scientists from NCAR and other institutions are taking continuous readings above the forest canopy near Pellston, Michigan. Their instruments track both updrafts and downdrafts, monitoring ions that collide and transfer protons to the VOCs.

"It's a very sophisticated observing system," Guenther explained.

The scientists picked Michigan in part because the area's abrupt, heavy frosts could result in high emissions. In contrast, when leaves lose their summer green and wither more gradually, as in the southeast, the result is likely to be lower emissions that linger over a longer period of time.

Preliminary findings show that concentrations of at least two VOCs, methanol and acetaldehyde, more than doubled after a week of colder weather (September 21-28), which signaled the beginning of autumn colors and falling leaves in that region.

Funded by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the study is intended to help guide anti-pollution efforts by quantifying the chemicals that are given off by plants, as well as by human activities.

"We hope to develop scenarios in which we can have forests and people and cars and power plants and factories, all existing together, without creating toxic levels of pollutants," Guenther said.