Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Climate change

Warming Temperatures Threaten Fragile Balance in Canadian Arctic

22 September, 2014

Ellesmere Island, Nunavut — It’s August, and there’s snow on the ground. The six-week summer has already passed; our 24-hour daylight will drop to 16 in just a month’s time. Small, brittle leaves crunch underfoot as I walk across tundra that’s already beginning to freeze for the long winter ahead.

The top of the world is a cold place. I’ve been at a field camp here in the Canadian high Arctic gathering climate change data from one of the most remote and isolated regions of the planet. It is barren, wild and beautiful. Yet this place is not beyond the reach of our carbon emissions.

The land up here is warming faster than most of the planet. The 2013 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report projected that the Arctic would warm much more rapidly than the global average, with warming over the land far greater than over the ocean. And it is a particularly sensitive land, where a diverse array of birds, mammals, and plants eke out an existence through eight months of winter while relying on a delicate balance of summer temperatures.

As a doctoral candidate at McGill University in Montreal, I have spent three years researching how the planet’s changing climate is affecting the polar desert ecology of the high Arctic. It’s precisely this balance of climate and permafrost, ice and ecosystems that I’ve come here to study.

In this wide-open space, with all its dangers and difficulties, lies a land that is deservedly called the Garden Spot of the Arctic. More than 600 miles north of Alaska, it harbors more than 150 species of brightly flowering plants. This is where the North American continent has ended and broken into a disjointed network of islands, some of the largest and least explored on earth.

It’s a difficult place to call home. The polar desert differs from the lower Arctic by its extreme dryness, relative lack of plant life, and brutally cold winters. It would remind me of Middle Eastern deserts — dusty soil, dry riverbeds, spattered flecks of vegetation, beautiful rock formations — if it were not surrounded by towering mountains and ice caps.

Vast stretches of flat, dry desert are cracked by the harsh winters into miles of patterned ground. The winter shatters the land into an array of shapes – polygonal patterns that repeat endlessly over vast distances. They are underlain by massive bodies of buried ice that sit in a fine equilibrium with the surrounding permafrost.

Permafrost occurs in polar and alpine areas where the ground temperature remains below 32 degrees Fahrenheit for many years. But as the planet warms, permafrost can thaw. Together with the melting of ground ice (known as thermokarst), it creates the potential for enormous changes in the Arctic landscape.

The dynamics of thermokarst are of particular interest to Arctic scientists. Wayne Pollard of McGill is a 25-year veteran of high Arctic permafrost research. He has been coming here to study the various thaw processes that give rise to the area’s unique landforms.

Most importantly under today’s climate,” he says, “are the potential impacts of global warming on permafrost temperature and distribution, which would affect surface erosion and vegetation through runoff and thaw.”

White Glacier, near the McGill High Arctic Research Station on Axel Heiberg Island, Nunavut. The glacier has been shrinking for the past two decades. Credit Michael Becker

Dr. Pollard has been studying a particular kind of thermokarst landform known as a thaw slump – a vertical exposure of massive buried ice that begins to melt more and more of the ground when exposed to summer air temperatures. These visually impressive features resemble large mudslides eating their way across the surface of the polar desert.

While they are a natural part of the landscape’s evolution, it is the current change in their frequency and distribution that may signify the effects of a warming climate.

The summer of 2012 was one of the hottest on record for the Canadian high Arctic, with an average high in July of 54 degrees Fahrenheit and some days approaching 70. The relatively sweltering heat under the 24-hour sun caused hordes of mosquitoes to erupt, driving the resident wildlife and us nearly insane with their attacks. During that trip north, Dr. Pollard noted not just that there was a 30 percent increase in the number of thaw slumps, but that they were also causing the highest amount of erosion ever observed for this area.

The broader scientific community supports the idea that extreme summers like 2012 are a sign of increased global warming in polar regions,” he said. “One year on its own can be a simple anomaly; however, several summers within a fixed time period, about 10 years, is more likely part of a longer-term trend.” And whether this trend is part of a natural cycle of warming or linked to human factors, he continued, “is still difficult to resolve.”

Much of the region is still developing, in geologic terms: Areas of lower elevation are relatively young, having risen from the sea as little as 1,000 years ago. Teasing out the effects of climate change, as opposed to natural landscape processes, requires careful analysis.

One way to do this is to examine parallel lines of climate research to see if the trend is detected elsewhere.

On neighboring Axel Heiberg Island, glaciologists Miles Ecclestone of Trent University and Luke Copland of the University of Ottawa are measuring how much mass the glaciers are losing. One hunk of ice in particular, the White Glacier, has one of the longest monitoring program of any glacier in the Canadian Arctic.

The mass balance and ice core records tell us that recent climate patterns are unusually warm, particularly since the mid-1990s,” Dr. Copeland says. “For the White Glacier, these past two decades of annual mass balance measurement have been overwhelmingly negative; indeed, most glacier mass balances are becoming increasingly negative” — the greatest losses, he added, since records began in the 1950s.

This means that hot summers are becoming more frequent — an ominous sign for polar desert ecosystems that rely on stable ground ice. In addition to the catastrophic collapses of thaw slumps, melting ice causes depressions in the ground that collect snow and water runoff that give rise to meadow and wetland communities in place of desert.

Already there are signs of greening in the high Arctic. And simulated warming sites across the region predict a broad array of changes in plant communities.

The effects of warming don’t stop at the green stuff. Changes in a plant community cascade up the food web to the grazing musk oxen, hares and other herbivores that live in the desert. And while a greener Arctic with more vegetation sounds like a boon to the animals that eat the plants, the end results are not so simple.

Paradoxically, any beneficial effects of a warmer climate on herbivores’ food sources could be offset by rising humidity. That, in turn, means more snowfall, which blankets the plants that the musk ox, the largest Arctic herbivore, needs to survive.

Niels Martin Schmidt is the scientific leader of Zackenberg Research Station in northeastern Greenland, a latitude similar to the Canadian high Arctic. He has been studying the plant-herbivore interactions of musk oxen in Greenland and finding that changing winter conditions regulate their populations.

In particular, after snow-rich winters, the musk oxen have a much harder time getting to their food source and surviving these harsh conditions, and an increase in starved carcasses are found across the area.

If the duration of winter declines, Dr. Schmidt says, the population of musk oxen may gain in the short term. But “in the long run, higher temperatures will lead to fewer musk oxen, because of more unstable winter conditions.”

The high Arctic is changing. The interactions among all the elements of the region are complex, especially given the added influence of human-driven climate change. And that’s the particular threat of climate change: When we disturb one aspect of the system, we affect all the other parts that rely on it, with unforeseen consequences for the Arctic and the entire planet

Extreme weather

UPDATE: Flash Flood Watch After Glacier Breaks Off Mt. Shasta


MT. SHASTA (KRON) — Officials are monitoring a mudflow that has closed roads in Siskiyou County after a glacier broke off Mt. Shasta.
A large mudflow and debris began cascading down the mountain at about 3 p.m. Saturday on the southeastern side of Mt. Shasta, according to the National Weather Service.

The weather service initially issued a flash flood warning Saturday night but downgraded it to a flash flood watch.

Resources have been monitoring since this event began and the flow seems to be receding this morning, according to Andrea Capps, Forest Service spokesperson.

The warning is in effect through 5 p.m. Sunday.

Capps said that while the exact cause hasn’t been determined yet, it is believed that drought conditions “have left Mt Shasta’s glaciers exposed to the sun’s heat.”

Visitors to Mt. Shasta should be aware that similar conditions could occur in other drainages on Mt. Shasta and that additional mudslides are possible,” Capps said.

Facebook user Seth Fortna posted video showing an area of the mud and debris-strewn terrain and said, “I couldn’t get too close, but you can see how spread out it was.”

Heavy rains trigger landslides in northeast India


State Disaster Response Force personnel rescue people on a boat in a flooded area during heavy monsoon rains in Gauhati, Assam state, India, Monday, Sept. 22, 2014. Officials say relentless rains in parts of northeastern India have triggered landslides and flash floods, killing at least seven people. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)

Heavy rains in parts of northeastern India triggered landslides and flash floods, killing at least seven people, officials said Monday.

A senior police official in Meghalaya state said the deaths occurred in the northern part of the state.

The rains also caused heavy damage in neighboring Assam state, where floods washed away several bridges and submerged homes in Goalpara district, local official Pritam Saikia said. Authorities asked residents to move to higher ground, and army troops and federal personnel rescued scores of people trapped by the floodwaters, he said.

Two days of rain also caused heavy flooding in Assam's capital, Gauhati. Many neighborhoods in the city of 2 million were submerged in waist-deep water. The Bharalu River, which runs through the city, was threatening to breach its banks, police officials said.

More heavy rains were forecast in the area over the next two days.

The area is prone to flooding during the June-to-September annual monsoon season. In June, at least 11 people were killed in heavy flooding in Gauhati city.

Earlier this month monsoon floods inundated Kashmir, the Himalayan region divided between India and Pakistan, killing more than 270 people in the Indian-controlled portion of the region

10 dead as floods wreak havoc in Assam and Meghalaya

Heavy rains across northeast India wreaked havoc triggering flash floods in several districts of Assam and Meghalaya, killing ten people and leaving scores homeless in the two states.

Seven persons were killed in Meghalaya's South West Garo Hills district after heavy rains lashed the area inundating over 100 villages and affecting over one lakh people, district Deputy Commissioner (DC) Ram Singh said.

"Seven persons have lost their lives in the floods with over 100 villages inundated and more than one lakh people affected," Singh said, adding the rains have led to flooding in the Ganol River badly affecting crops and livestock, besides hampering relief activities in the area. In the West Garo Hills district of the state, several villages have been inundated by the flood waters of Jinjiram River, the DC said.

The MeT department has warned of heavy to very heavy rains at a few places with extremely heavy rains at isolated places in Meghalaya in the next 24 hours. In the meantime, heavy rainfall caused severe floods in the state claiming three lives and leaving several villages in Goalpara, Dhubri, Lakhimpur and Kamrup (Rural) districts, besides Guwahati inundated. The Army, BSF and NDRF were assisting the district administration in rescue operations.

Hatsingimari and Mancachar in Dhubri district were the worst-hit with the BSF, NDRF and SDRF personnel evacuating over 5,000 marooned people to safer places, a Chief Minister's Office (CMO) spokesman said. A landslide claimed the life of a child in Hatsingimari area, district administration officials said.

In severely water-logged Guwahati, which is under Kamrup (Metropolitan) district, a body was recovered from Bharalu river flowing through the city, while a 71-year old man identified as Ashib Bhattacharjee was electrocuted in the waterlogged Netaji Road in Lalganesh area here, they said.

Kamrup Metropolitan district Deputy Commissioner M Angamathu said a relief centre with food and water has been set up for the succour of the people of Guwahati's Anil Nagar.

All education institutions in Guwahati have also been ordered to remain close tomorrow in view of the water-logging and the exams to be rescheduled, Angamathu said.

Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, who is closely monitoring the situation, asked the Chief Secretary and the Deputy Commissioners of Dhubri and Goalpara to take all measures and evacuate the marooned people and move them to safer places with the help of personnel from NDRF, SDRF and other agencies, a CMO release said adding helplines with numbers - 0361-2733052; 0361-2237042 and 8811007000 have been set up for assistance to flood affected people in Guwahati.

Flood waters have also marooned over 30,000 people of 30 villages in the Kharkati and Borsola area in Lakhimpur district, the officials said. Forecasting no let up in the rainfall in the next two days, the MeT office said the south-west monsoon has been active over Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya since Sunday.

Light to heavy rains have occurred in several areas in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram and Tripura since yesterday, it said. A report from Aizawl said the Mizoram government has issued a warning in all the eight districts saying there is a possibility of extreme weather conditions in the state and neighbouring states during the next two days. The warning said heavy rainfall could hit northeastern states like Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura during September 23 and 24

Huge California wildfire keeps growing

This Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014 photo shows smoke
This Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014 photo shows smoke from a California wildfire rising behind Lake Tahoe as seen from the Nevada side of the lake near Incline Village, Nev. (Credit: AP / Steve Ellsworth)
POLLOCK PINES, Ca. - As an expanding wildfire in Northern California kept nearly 3,000 people from their homes, teams sought to find out how many structured had already been lost to the huge blaze, authorities said.

While officials confirmed that several structures have been damaged or destroyed in the King Fire, dangerous conditions have so far prevented them from determining an exact number or how many of them were homes, fire spokesman Mike McMillian said.

The fire some 60 miles east of Sacramento grew to more than 128 square miles Saturday, and gathering thunderstorms could either help or harm the firefight with moisture or wind, authorities said.

The blaze began one week ago, and a man accused of starting the blaze is being held on $10 million bail. It is just 10 percent contained.

More than 5,000 firefighters — from as far as Florida and Alaska — are helping California crews battle the blaze that has not only consumed grass and brush, but swaths of extremely dry tall timber.

"That's what makes it difficult for a direct attack," McMillian said. "The main fuel that is burning is the tall timber. We're making some progress, but it is slow going in some areas as we're trying to construct more contingency and control lines."

About 100 evacuees have been allowed to return home, but some 2,700 remain under evacuation orders, Cal Fire said in a statement.

Also of concern are possible wind gusts of up to 30 mph that could push the fire, which has spread from the north to the south, state fire spokeswoman Lynne Tolmachoff said.

"That would open up a whole new area for it to burn in," Tolmachoff said.
The fire has spread to the Tahoe National Forest northwest of Lake Tahoe, McMillian said. Also, the fire is threatening a key University of California, Berkeley research station that his home to scores of experiments on trees, plants and other wildlife.

Wayne Allen Huntsman, 37, pleaded not guilty to an arson charge Friday in El Dorado County Superior Court.

Authorities have not said what evidence they have linking Huntsman to the fire, by far one of the largest of about a dozen fires burning statewide.

Meanwhile, a wildfire in the town of Weed near the Oregon border was fully contained Saturday after burning 479 acres and destroying 143 homes. 

Another wildfire that destroyed 37 homes near Yosemite National Park was 93 percent contained

Saving a tree: Meet someone inspiring

NYPD arrests environmentalist preacher for protecting famous tree

New York City police arrested the outspoken Rev. Billy Tallen for blocking the destruction of a 130-year-old tree in the city’s East Village. 

A Parks and Recreation Department arborist had condemned the tree as structurally unsound, but Rev. Tallen and his group of supporters felt the “Bendy Tree” endangered no one and the order to remove it was another example of the environment being disrespected. 

He was taken into custody after climbing on top of a city-owned truck to stop it from cutting down the tree. 

The environmentalist and activist explains his reasoning and beliefs to RT’s Manila Chan.

War on Syria

The word is Washington INFORMED Damascus of their intention to bomb inside Syria. This is not the same as consultation.

America's only allies in this are countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Unite Arab Emirates - the very countries giving support to ISIS and other 'moderate' and other jihadists.

The other country of course, is Israel

US and ‘partners’ launch airstrikes on ISIS targets in Syria

23 September, 2014

The US military and partner nations from the anti-ISIS coalition have launched the first attacks on Islamic State targets in Syria, the Pentagon has confirmed.

Airstrikes against Islamic State targets are currently underway in Syria, according to a Pentagon official. The strikes reportedly involve a mix of fighter, bomber, and tomahawk land attack missiles.
"I can confirm that US military and partner nation forces are undertaking military action against ISIL (ISIS/IS) terrorists in Syria using a mix of fighter, bomber and Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles,"Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby said in a statement.

US military & partner nation forces have begun striking ISIL targets in Syria using mix of fighters, bombers and Tomahawk missiles.

"The decision to conduct theses strikes was made earlier today by the US Central Command commander under authorization granted him by the commander in chief. We will provide more details later as operationally appropriate," he added.
According to NBC News, the US military is planning to attack up to 20 targets in Syria, including“training sites, headquarters of Sunni fighters and troop encampments.”
A US official told ABC News that up to 20 locations have been targeted in the airstrikes in and around Raqqa. Tomahawk missiles have been fired from at least one ship in the Red Sea. The source also said that Arab nations participating in the airstrikes will be dropping bombs.

According to Jonathan Karl, chief White House correspondent for ABC News, five Arab nations are taking part in the first round of airstrikes in Syria: Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. A US official speaking to Reuters confirmed the participation of Arab partners in the attack, but refused to specify who those partners were.

CENTCOM says the decision to conduct airstrikes was made under authorization granted by the US president.

The decision to conduct these strikes was made earlier today by CENTCOM commander under authorization granted him by the president.

The Pentagon will not provide further details on the operation “until later,” according to Reuters.

U.S. military and partner nation forces are undertaking military action against ISIL terrorists in Syria.
Given that these operations are ongoing, we are not in a position to provide additional details at this time.

The attack follows President Obama’s speech earlier this month, during which he said that the US was prepared to “conduct a systematic campaign of airstrikes” against Islamic State terrorists “wherever they are.”

That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL (ISIS/IS) in Syria as well as Iraq,” Obama said on September 10. The US military has already carried out over 200 strikes on Islamic State targets in Iraq.

Last Tuesday, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel confirmed that the US Central Command has a plan to take “targeted actions against ISIS safe havens in Syria,” including striking infrastructure. The US will also train and equip 5,000 members of the Syrian opposition to fight militants from IS. The so-called ‘moderate’ opposition is seen by the US as a legitimate power in Syria since the Assad government has long lost all its legitimacy, according to US officials.

More than 40 nations have said they will participate in the anti-Islamic State crusade, with more than 30 nations offering military support, according to Hagel.

The Syrian government was willing to cooperate in coordinating strikes on Islamic jihadists, which the country has been battling for over three years, but US officials rejected any possibility of such cooperation. Any strikes on Syrian soil without Damascus’ consent will be considered an act of aggression, Syria has warned.

Washington should respect the sovereignty of Syria in its attempts to deal with the Islamic State, Russia has warned repeatedly. Moscow previously expressed concern that US airstrikes may target not only the Islamic State, but also government forces loyal to President Assad.

In a telephone conversation with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin stressed that airstrikes on terrorist targets in Syria should not be carried out without the consent of the Syrian government.

An act of war committed against Syria from the south

Israel shot down Syrian aircraft over Israeli-controlled airspace

A Soviet-made MiG-21 of the Syrian Air Force. (foroaviones.com)

23 September, 2014

An Israeli Patriot missile shot down a Syrian aircraft that flew into Israeli-controlled airspace on Tuesday, Reuters reported, citing the military.

Moments ago a Syrian aircraft infiltrated Israeli airspace. The IDF (Israel Defense Forces) intercepted the aircraft in mid-flight, using the Patriot air defense system,” a military statement said. The type of plane was not disclosed.

Moment ago, a Syrian aircraft infiltrated Israeli airspace. IDF's Patriot air defense system intercepted the aircraft.

Israeli media are claiming that the downed aircraft was a Soviet-built MiG-21fighter jet.

Syrian state TV has confirmed that country's aircraft was downed by the Israeli Air Force.

Images have emerged reportedly showing two pilots ejecting from the shot plane.
View image on Twitter
Two Syrian pilots eject from their plane which was shot down by Israel.

In August, when a drone from Syria intruded into Israeli airspace, the Israeli Air Force shot it down with a Patriot surface-to-air missile.

The IDF will not tolerate a breach of the State of Israel’s sovereignty,” the army said.

The area of Quneitra has become a major battlefield of the Syrian conflict in recent weeks, where fighting between the Syrian Army and the Al-Nusra Front militants linked to al-Qaida is raging.

On Monday, the US-led coalition launched airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria. The anti-ISIS coalition is using various military aircraft to pound the IS militants: F-16 and F-18 fighter jets, Rockwell B-1 strategic bombers, MQ-1 Predator drones and Tomahawk long-range cruise missiles

US pushes own agenda while fighting terror’

Russian President and UN Secretary General in a telephone call have exchanged views on the joint efforts of the international community to fight ISIS. The Russian side stressed that airstrikes on terrorist bases should not be carried out without the consent of the Syrian government.

Meanwhile Kurds are fleeing across the Syrian border into Turkey while the Turkish authorities use tear gas and water cannon against people demonstrating against ISIS

New clashes erupt at Syrian-Turkish border as 130k refugees flee


22 September, 2014

Clashes have resumed at the Syria-Turkey border, where thousands of Syrian Kurds have been trying to escape from the advance of the Islamic State fighters on their towns.

The turmoil on Monday was filmed by RT’s Ruptly video agency, currently at the scene.

"Tens of thousands of Syrian Kurds have fled through the border which the Turkish government opened on Friday - it's now closed again. There are a few Kurdish families waiting for the last couple of days to get in, in the blazing heat with no food and no water," Ruptly's Lizzie Phelan reported from the site.

"There are also Syrian Kurds and Turkish Kurds [on the Turkish side of the border] who want to go into Syria, because - as they say - they want to form a human shield against an IS advance on Kobani, as there is a lot of fear that if IS do take over Kobani, which is a city of 45,000 people, there will be a renewed exodus," Lizzie Phelan reported.
Turkish authorities briefly closed the border on Sunday, after clashes broke out between security forces and protesters, who had rallied in support of the refugees.
The number of Syrian Kurds who have crossed the border into Turkey over the last several days, escaping from Islamic State fighters, has exceeded 130,000, according to the latest estimate by Turkish authorities.
The figure was given by Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus, who believes the number of refugees is likely to grow.
"If ISIL [Now the Islamic State, formerly ISIS/ISIL] attacks continue in the Kobane region, Turkey may face an intensive influx," Kurtulmus told reporters in Ankara, according to AFP.
"The border is not being closed to refugees per se, it is being managed. This is to ensure the civilian nature of asylum," Ariane Rummery, Senior Communications Officer of the UN Refugee Agency, told RT. She added that the "management" is a three-stage process, including a security screening, a health screening "where people can get vaccinations," and a registration process.
"I think it's very important that the international community share the burden and give any support they can to the hosting communities. We have to remember that comparatively small numbers of refugees do move further afield to Europe and so on, so we need open borders all around in Europe and not just in the neighboring countries," Rummery told RT, adding that it's not just Turkey that needs help, but also Lebanon and Jordan.
The extremist group launched an offensive on Kurd-populated areas of northern Syria on Tuesday, forcing thousands of residents to flee their homes. The Islamic State has captured at least 64 villages around the border city of Ayn al-Arab, or Kobani in Kurdish, which is home to one of the largest Kurdish communities in Syria.

View image on Twitter
on Turkish border with . The birth of a barricade
On Sunday, protesters at the border accused Ankara of helping create the problem of the Islamic State in the first place, by backing Syrian rebels against President Assad.
Political analyst Caleb Maupin also believes Ankara should share responsibility for the current refugee crisis. 

“The fact that Turkey has allowed these extremists, which are seeking to destabilize Syria to set up bases in Turkey and go over the border to carry out their attacks in Syria... it’s going to come back to haunt them. If you support these kinds of elements they will eventually turn on you,” Maupin told RT.
The Turkish border with Syria has been reopened, but only at one point, near the town of Mursitpinar, according to Turkey's emergencies directorate, the AFAD.
View image on Twitter
Tear gas canisters scattered along border with . regular clashes due to fleeing being denied entry
"A single point has been opened for displaced Syrians, so that we can do identity control and give first aid, vaccinating people if necessary," an AFAD official said, according to AFP.
The UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, warned on Saturday that the total number of refugees might eventually be estimated in the hundreds of thousands.