Archives for April 2013

Sandy dumped huge sewage outflow into waters, roads: report

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Sewage enough to fill 17,000 Olympic-sized pools flowed into public waterways and roadways in the months after Superstorm Sandy laid waste to the East Coast, researchers said on Tuesday.

Reuters: Environment

Robots Learn To Reach, Touch Gently

Robots are learning to stick their arms into crowded spaces without knocking things over. Continue reading →
Discovery News

The Gaia Foundation Exposes The True Cost of Hi-Tech

Teresa Anderson of the Gaia Foundation peels back the gloss of modern gadgets to reveal the devastating environmental and social costs of their manufacture.
Environment news & analysis, climate change reports –
The Ecologist

Climate change compounds threats to koala

Australia’s iconic marsupial is at risk from shrinking habitats, road traffic and dog attacks – and increasingly, global warming

Australia’s iconic marsupial is under threat. Formerly hunted almost to extinction for their woolly coats, koalas are now struggling to survive as habitat destruction caused by droughts and bushfires, land clearing for agriculture and logging, and mining and urban development conspire against this cuddly creature.

In the past 20 years, the koala population has significantly declined, dropping by 40 percent in the state of Queensland and by a third in New South Wales (NSW). The Australian Koala Foundation (AKF) estimates that there are between 45,000 and 90,000 koalas left in the wild.

Shrinking habitat and climate change is compounding the risk of disease, while attacks from feral and domestic dogs and road accidents add to a long list of risks that this arboreal mammal faces as it moves across the landscape in search of food.

It is estimated that around 4,000 koalas are killed each year by dogs and cars alone.

Climate scientists warn that forecasts of longer dry periods, rises in temperature, more intense bushfires and severe droughts pose a significant risk to the koala, which is endemic only to Australia.

“In the past decade, we have experienced the hottest temperatures on record followed by floods and cyclones. The koalas are highly susceptible to heat stress and dehydration,” University of Queensland koala expert Dr. Clive McAlpine told IPS.

“Our climate envelope modelling found that koalas occur at a maximum temperature of 37.7 degrees centigrade. Across western Queensland and New South Wales, temperatures remained in the mid to high 40-degree centigrade (range) for consecutive days, pushing them beyond their climatic threshold.”

The name koala is derived from the aboriginal word meaning “no drink”, as the creatures feed on and derive much of their moisture needs from the nutrient-poor eucalyptus leaves. An individual Koala may have to consume 500 grammes of leaves or more each day in order to grow and survive.

“Climate-induced changes will not only reduce their food resource, but also the nutritional quality and moisture content of leaves. Most recently an 80 percent decline was documented in Queensland’s Mulga Lands following the 10-year drought,” McAlpine told IPS.

According to the AKF, protecting the existing koala eucalypt forests is also an imperative step towards reducing greenhouse emissions in Australia. Since 1788, nearly 65 percent (116 million hectares) of the koala forests have been cleared and the remaining 35 percent (41 million hectares) remains under threat from land clearing for agriculture, urban development and unsustainable forestry.

As koalas and humans vie for space amidst growing urban and infrastructure development on Australia’s eastern seaboard, koalas have been venturing out of their confined eucalyptus forest habitat, often crossing major roads in search of trees or mates.

“Koalas’ continuous move into urban areas makes them highly vulnerable to road (accidents) and attacks by dogs. In the rapidly developing region of southeast Queensland, the species has suffered a 60 percent decline in the past decade due to the combination of disease, dog attacks, but mostly collisions with cars,” Darryl Jones, deputy director of the Environmental Futures Centre at the Queensland-based Griffith University, told IPS.

Jones, who is the lead author of a recent study aimed at assisting the safe movement of koalas, said, “When forced out of their natural habitat, koalas use all resources available to them including backyard trees, tree-lined road verges and median strips. Retention of these marginal habitats in urban areas is important for koala movement and dispersal.”

Australia’s Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service (WIRES) recently rescued a confused sub-adult male koala from the middle of a felled pine forest in NSW. He was sitting on top of a woodchip pile, with trucks and machinery operating close by.

WIRES General Manager Leanne Taylor said, “If koalas are moved out of their homes in preparation for planned logging activities, it is common for them to roam back to their home range afterwards and become confused to find nothing there.”

Koala advocacy groups say the government is putting mining interests above the environment. According to a spokesperson for the Wilderness Society, “Koala habitat is facing additional threat from expanding coal mining and coal seam gas operations, tree kills from coal seam gas spills, and increased infrastructural and vehicular traffic that comes with mining development. It is putting extra strain on the already declining koala populations in New South Wales and Queensland.”

The Australian Government last year listed the koala as “vulnerable” under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act of 1999 on the recommendation of the Threatened Species Scientific Committee.

“It has taken 17 years of campaigning to get this listing and conservation groups like ours believe that in some regions the species requires a ‘critically endangered’ listing,” David Burgess, natural areas campaigner at the Total Environment Centre in Sydney, told IPS.

Deborah Tabart, CEO of the AKF, told IPS, “The protection does not go far enough and the Federal Government has underestimated the danger koalas face. We urgently need a Koala Protection Act.”

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists the koala as “potentially vulnerable”. In 2000, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the koala as “threatened” under the United States Endangered Species Act.

Two other deadly threats to the koalas’ survival are chlamydia, a sexually transmitted disease, and the koala retrovirus (KoRV), an HIV-like virus. According to some estimates, around half of all Australia’s koalas are infected with a strain of chlamydia, which causes infertility, blindness, respiratory and urinary infections and death.

Chlamydia affects male and female koalas, and even joeys who pick up the infection while suckling from their mother in the pouch. In some parts of Australia, koala infection rates are as high as 90 percent.

With a life span of between 10 and 14 years, koalas are slow breeders and usually produce one joey a year.

A joint team of researchers from the Australian Museum and the Queensland University of Technology have recently sequenced the koala interferon gamma (IFN-g) gene, a discovery that they call the “holy grail” for understanding the koala immune system. They are currently trialling a vaccine to protect koalas from chlamydia.

The government has formulated a National Koala Conservation and Management Strategy 2009 – 2014. But conservation groups say the major threat to the koala is inaction, lack of resources and willpower from both national and state governments.

Burgess warns, “Unless meaningful action is taken to protect the koala habitat, it may get to the point where the species relies on expensive captive breeding programmes for its survival.” © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Environment news, comment and analysis from the Guardian |

Request for Information (RFI) – Uncabled Bioacoustic Sonar Instruments, OOI

OpportunityWoods Hole Oceanographic Institution with funding from the National Science Foundation, is soliciting proposals from qualified organizations interested in providing Uncabled Bioacoustic Sonar Instruments to support the objectives of the Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI).

The OOI will construct a networked infrastructure of oceanic sensor systems to measure physical, chemical, geological, and biological variables in the ocean and seafloor.

The purpose of this Request for Information (RFI) package is to solicit information from firms interested in providing an Uncabled Bioacoustic Sonar Instrument solution for use on the Coastal and Global Scale Nodes (CGSN) and Endurance Array (EA) for the OOI.

Supporting documentation/information:

Consortium for Ocean Leadership

Neonicotinoid pesticides banned in Europe

EU member states vote ushers in continent-wide suspension of neonicotinoid pesticides

Have your say: is the EU right to ban pesticides?

Europe will enforce the world’s first continent-wide ban on widely used insecticides alleged to cause serious harm to bees, after a European commission vote on Monday.

The suspension is a landmark victory for millions of environmental campaigners, backed by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), concerned about a dramatic decline in the bee population. The vote also represents a serious setback for the chemical producers who make billions each year from the products and also UK ministers, who voted against the ban. Both had argued the ban would harm food production.

Although the vote by the 27 EU member states on whether to suspend the insect nerve agents was supported by 15 nations, but did not reach the required majority under voting rules. The hung vote hands the final decision to the European commission, which will implement the ban.

Tonio Borg, health and consumer commissioner, said: “Our proposal is based on a number of risks to bee health identified by the EFSA, [so] the European commission will go ahead with its plan in coming weeks.”

Friends of the Earth’s head of campaigns, Andrew Pendleton, said: “This decision is a significant victory for common sense and our beleaguered bee populations. Restricting the use of these pesticides could be an historic milestone on the road to recovery for these crucial pollinators.”

The UK, which abstained in a previous vote, was heavily criticised for switching to a “no” vote on Monday.

Joan Walley MP, chair of parliament’s green watchdog, the environmental audit committee, whose investigation had backed a ban and accused ministers of “extraordinary complacency”, said the vote was a real step in the right direction, but added: “A full Commons debate where ministers can be held to account is more pressing than ever.”

Greenpeace’s chief scientist, Doug Parr, said: “By not supporting the ban, environment secretary, Owen Paterson, has exposed the UK government as being in the pocket of big chemical companies and the industrial farming lobby.”

On Sunday, the Observer revealed the intense secret lobbying by Paterson and Syngenta.

The environment minister, Lord de Mauley, countered, saying: “Having a healthy bee population is a top priority for us but we did not support the proposal because our scientific evidence doesn’t support it. We will now work with farmers to cope with the consequences as a ban will carry significant costs for them.”

Syngenta, which makes one of the three neonicotinoids that have been suspended, said: “The proposal ignores a wealth of evidence from the field that these pesticides do not damage the health of bees. The EC should [instead] address the real reasons for bee health decline: disease, viruses and loss of habitat.”

Bees and other insects are vital for global food production as they pollinate three-quarters of all crops. The plummeting numbers of pollinators in recent years has been blamed on disease, loss of habitat and, increasingly, the near ubiquitous use of neonicotinoid pesticides.

A series of high-profile scientific studies has linked neonicotinoids – the world’s most widely used insecticides – to huge losses in the number of queen bees produced and big rises in the numbers of “disappeared” bees – those that fail to return from foraging trips.

The commission proposed the suspension after the EFSA concluded in January that three neonicotinoids – thiamethoxam, clothianidin and imidacloprid – posed an unnacceptable risk to bees. The three will be banned from use for two years on flowering crops such as corn, oilseed rape and sunflowers, upon which bees feed.

A spokesman for Bayer Cropscience said: “Bayer remains convinced neonicotinoids are safe for bees, when used responsibly and properly … clear scientific evidence has taken a back-seat in the decision-making process.”

Prof Simon Potts, a bee expert at the University of Reading, said: “The ban is excellent news for pollinators. The weight of evidence from researchers clearly points to the need to have a phased ban of neonicotinoids. There are several alternatives to using neonicotinoids and farmers will benefit from healthy pollinator populations as they provide substantial economic benefits to crop pollination.”

Neonicotinoids have been widely used for more than decade and are less harmful than some of the sprays they replaced, but scientific studies have increasingly linked them to poor bee health.

Many observers, including the National Farmers’ Union, accept that EU regulation is inadequate, as it only tests on honeybees and not the wild pollinators that service 90% of plants. The regulatory testing also only considers short-term effects and does not consider the combined effects of multiple pesticides. The chemical industry has warned that a ban on neonicotinoids would lead to the return of older, more harmful pesticides and crop losses but campaigners point out this has not happened during temporary suspensions in France, Italy and Germany and that the use of natural pest predators and crop rotation can tackle problems.

“It is imperative that any alternative chemicals to be used in their place must first pass the same tests failed by the neonicotinoids,” said Dr Christopher Connolly, a bee expert at the University of Dundee. “The recent findings have highlighted an urgent need for more rigorous safety testing protocols.”

In Brussels, the countries that voted against the ban were: the UK, Czech Republic, Italy, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Austria and Portugal. Ireland, Lithuania, Finland and Greece abstained. Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, Spain, France, Cyprus, Germany, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovenia and Sweden voted in favour. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Environment news, comment and analysis from the Guardian |

There’s a Mighty Maelstrom at Saturn’s North Pole

The incredible vortex of spiraling clouds that churns above Saturn’s north pole is seen in all its blood-red glory in this stunning image from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft.
Discovery News

Opportunity: Assistant Research Scientist

OpportunityDuties include contributing to the research mission of the Geochemical and Environmental Research Group (GERG) and the Department of Oceanography at Texas A&M University through research involving ocean observing systems including the design, fabrication, deployment, data acquisition, data modeling, and data management.

Collaborate with faculty, scientists, technicians, engineers, and students at GERG and others elsewhere in the department and University who are involved with ocean technology. Efforts include, but are not limited to, proposal development, participating in research cruises, cruise planning and preparation, glider operations, and ocean observing system support.

The successful candidate is expected to identify and seek new interdisciplinary research opportunities through collaborative proposals to local, state, and federal agencies and industry. This position is expected to contribute to the teaching and mentoring mission of the University and College of Geosciences by serving on graduate student advisory committees and engaging undergraduate/graduate students in research opportunities. The estimated distribution of effort for this position is:

  • Develops new funding opportunities through proposal writing, technological developments, and establishing collaborations with other academic and commercial entities (30);
  • Enhances technical capabilities through product development and marketing(5);
  • Contributes to increasing the Department of Oceanography and GERG’s ocean observing capacity through interdisciplinary collaborative efforts with academic and commercial entities (5)
  • Participating in research cruises, cruise planning and preparation (20);
  • Interpretation of scientific data for reports and publications (25);
  • Engages in effective communications, presentations and public relations (5);
  • Serves on various college and departmental committees and represents GERG at various state and national associations (5);
  • Other duties as assigned (5)


Received: Ocean Observing Team Lead

Given: Potentially staff associated with research projects


Required: PhD in related field with postdoctoral experience. The position requires a background in observational oceanographic methods and instrumentation.

Preferred: PhD in physical oceanography with three years of postdoctoral experience; cruise experience; and success in obtaining research funding.


Required: None.

Preferred: Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) certification, Passport.


Typical: Working knowledge of oceanographic sampling equipment.


Typical: Excellent oral and written communication skills; Management experience

Click here for full job list and to apply.

Consortium for Ocean Leadership

EU to ban pesticides blamed for harming bees

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union will ban three of the world’s most widely-used pesticides for two years because of fears they are linked to a plunge in the population of bees critical to the production of crops.

Reuters: Environment

Upper Arm Lifts Biggest Trend in Plastic Surgery

The plastic surgery procedure saw the biggest rise between 2000 and 2012, finds a new report.
Discovery News