Huge Snowstorm Closes Nation's CapitalWASHINGTON, DC,
February 17, 2003 (ENS) - A massive snowstorm dumped some two feet of snow on Washington, DC over the weekend, bringing the city to a standstill.
The federal government, closed Monday for the President's Day holiday, will remain shut Tuesday as the nation's capital tries to dig its way out of a historic snowfall.
Warm, moist air coming out of the Mississippi Valley collided with a huge expanse of cold Canadian air to create conditions for what some meteorologists have referred to as a "perfect storm." A second front of warm Southern air ensured a huge snowfall for the nation's capital and by Monday morning 16 to 25 inches had fallen.
The final accumulation tally could top the 17.1 inches recorded in January 1996, the area's fourth largest total. The region's biggest snowstorm on record came in January 1922, when 28 inches covered the streets of Washington, DC.
The storm produced heavy rains and mudslides in the South and Appalachia. It rolled up the coast Sunday and Monday, leaving Philadelphia with more than 17 inches of snow and covering New York City with a similar snowfall.
Veneman Hands Water Improvement Funds to MinnesotaWASHINGTON, DC,
February 17, 2003 (ENS) - Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman today announced $3.2 million in water and wastewater facility grants and loans for Minnesota. The projects are intended to spur economic growth and job creation and eliminate potential environmental and health concerns through building and upgrading water and waste disposal facilities in two counties.
Veneman was scheduled to visit Minnesota today to attend town hall forums with farmers in Mankato and Redwood Falls but the visit was cancelled because of the snow storm on the east coast.
Rural America needs infrastructure funding to help stimulate local economic activity and address state and local environmental concerns," said Veneman. "These grants will help rural families in Minnesota develop and build water and wastewater projects to help meet the needs of the communities."
A $682,500 Rural Development loan and grant will help Redwood County build a new wastewater collection and treatment system for the community of Revere. In Renville County, more than $2.5 million will expand services to homes in Franklin not currently on the wastewater system.
The city of Franklin will receive a $2,596,000 water loan and grant package. The deal includes a $1,296,000 loan and a grant of $1,300,000 which is intended to expand services to 23 homes not currently on the system. This will reduce flows to a level at which the treatment ponds will be able to handle and eliminate the need to bypass the ponds during high moisture periods.
The city of Revere will receive a $682,500 water loan and grant package - a $90,000 loan and a $592,500 grant. The funds will help build a new wastewater collection and treatment system, eliminating the individual septic system, and new stabilization ponds to treat the water.
Rising Sea Levels Could Swamp BostonDENVER, Colorado,
February 17, 2003 (ENS) - The low lying city of Boston could be flooded by rising sea levels due to global warming. New research from Tufts University presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) today shows that costs could run as high as $94 billion, if climate conditions are more severe than expected.
Even if climate conditions are not especially severe, over the next century, damage to residential, commercial and industrial buildings and their contents in metropolitan Boston could exceed $20 billion, depending on how the city responds to rising sea levels.
A team of civil engineers and geographers led by Tufts University civil and environmental engineering research professor Paul Kirshen explained that global climate change - with its melting glaciers, melting polar ice caps and thermal expansion of the oceans, coupled with the natural sinking of land - has raised sea levels, which are threatening Boston, New York City, Los Angeles, New Orleans and other coastal cities around the country.
The research was funded by a $900,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to study climate change in metropolitan Boston. Kirshen and his team examined current local coastal flood data, the impact of rising sea levels and the continuing commercial and residential development along metro Boston's coastline. The findings directly affect the scientific team, as Tufts University is located on three Massachusetts campuses in Boston, Medford/Somerville, and Grafton.
As part of efforts to protect life and property from flooding, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has mapped out a 100 year floodplain throughout the country, that is the coastal area that would be flooded by a violent storm on the average once every 100 years.
FEMA's 500 year floodplain covers a larger area and would be damaged by a storm so violent that it would just occur an average of every 500 years. Floodplains are measured in the land area that would be flooded in the storm, as well as in the height of the storm surge that would flood the area.
"Because of rising sea levels, the same sized wave that normally would swamp the 100 year floodplain in Boston will soon become high enough to overtake the 500 year floodplain," explained Kirshen. "Sea level rise will have a drastic impact on metropolitan Boston and other similar coastal cities if steps aren't taken to address the issue."
The team, which includes experts from the University of Maryland and Boston University, presented three scenarios of how Boston could respond to the change of sea level, and calculated both the cost of the response and the cost of repairing subsequent damage.
Under the Ride It Out scenario, Boston would continue development in flood plains as it does now, and would repair storm damage as it occurs to return buildings to their original condition. This response would cost $20 billion in repairs. Due to sea level rise, the size of the area flooded will more than triple over the next 100 years in this scenario.
Under the Build Your Way Out scenario, current development would continue without flood proofing buildings, but after a second storm at the level of a 100 year storm, the city would construct seawalls and bulkheads to protect coastal development. The damages from this scenario would be $5.9 billion over the next 100 years.
Under the Green or Planned Adaptation scenario, all new development in the 100 year and 500 year floodplains would be floodproofed, as would existing homes and commercial and industrial buildings before being sold. Floodproofing is assumed to be 80 percent effective. Retrofitting homes would cost between $3,500 and $17,000, depending on location. This scenario would require a $1.8 billion expenditure for floodproofing, but damages would decrease to $4.7 billion.
"It is up to governments in the metropolitan Boston area to decide how to deal with the issue of the rising sea level and its impact on coastal development," said Kirshen. "But it would be in the region's best interest to take this threat very seriously."
Scientists Urge Improved Nitrogen ManagementDENVER, Colorado,
February 17, 2003 (ENS) - New strategies and opportunities for improved nitrogen management must be developed in order to meet future needs and preserve the environment, according to scientists at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) being held in Denver through Tuesday.
"Given the critical need for nitrogen in food production and the sequential nature of the effects of too much nitrogen, it is imperative that strategies be developed to optimize nitrogen management in food and energy production and in environmental protection," James Galloway of the University of Virginia told his colleagues.
Nitrogen is central to food production, but it cycles through the atmosphere, soils, and waters, altering the environment wherever it goes. The human production of food and energy starts a process that breaks the triple bond of the nitrogen molecule. This creates reactive nitrogen, which can make surface and subsurface waters unsuitable for humans, livestock, and wildlife.
Air emissions of nitrous oxide cause acidification of soil and water, or regional smog, and can reduce biodiversity on the affected land.
The majority of human produced reactive nitrogen comes from the production of fertilizer. The future population, which is expected to increase by two billion in the next 20 years, will require an even larger supply of nitrogen.
Improving nitrogen fertilizer management is becoming more and more urgent, scientists say.
"There are significant economic costs associated with the inefficient use of fertilizer, and by the damage caused to aquatic, terrestrial, and marine ecosystems, to the ozone layer and through the climate change by the introduction of reactive nitrogen," said William Moomaw of Tufts University. "Only one quarter to one third of applied fertilizer nitrogen is actually absorbed by crops."
Gene Banks Emerge as Tool For Preserving BiodiversityDENVER, Colorado,
February 17, 2003 (ENS) - Freezing and storing the genetic materials of endangered plants and animals must be a key part of the strategy to preserve the world's biodiversity, according to scientists at this week's annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
The concept, called gene banking, may seem a futuristic dream, but efforts are already underway to prove its merits. Recent developments in cryobiology have made it possible to keep tissues alive and unchanged for hundreds of thousands of years.
The Zoological Society of San Diego, using cryopreservation technologies, has created a "Frozen Zoo," which stores viable cell lines from more than 3,200 individual mammals, birds, and reptiles, representing 355 species and subspecies.
Gene banking is not to be seen as an alternative to the traditional work done by zoos, plant conservatories or endangered species protection programs, warned Oliver Ryder, the head of genetics at the Center for Reproduction of Endangered Species at the Zoological Society of San Diego.
These efforts have been extremely successful, Ryder argues, but there should be a continued effort to preserve species in their habitats as well as within zoos and botanical gardens.
Much of the future will be based on DNA or cell and tissue materials preserved in banks, according to Ryder. Gene banking affords researchers the ability to study animals' DNA and gain useful genetic insights into animal survival.
But these efforts, Ryder warned, should not be misinterpreted to indicate that there is no need to save endangered species that have been preserved in a gene bank.
The same is true for plants, according to Kathyrn Kennedy, president and executive director of the Center for Plant Conservation (CPC) in St. Louis, Missouri.
CPC's mission is to conserve and restore the rare native plants of the United States, and Kennedy said that the first line of defense against losing an endangered plant is to get genetically representative samples from the wild.
Extinction Predicted for Leatherback Sea TurtlesDENVER, Colorado,
February 17, 2003 (ENS) - Immediate international cooperation is necessary to save leatherback sea turtles from extinction, a Duke University scientist told his colleagues at the American Association for the Advancement of Science Meeting (AAAS) meeting in Denver this morning.
Leatherbacks are declining rapidly, especially in the Pacific Ocean, and are the world's most endangered sea turtle. "They survived over 100 million years, through climate change and asteroid impacts, but they could become extinct in the next 10to 20 years unless sufficient international cooperation is mounted to reverse this dramatic decline," says Larry Crowder of Duke University. "There are probably fewer than 1,500 females nesting throughout the Pacific Rim."
Global industrial fishing, especially pelagic longlines used to catch swordfish and tuna, pose the main threats to leatherbacks at sea. The exploitation of eggs and destruction of nesting habitat threaten them on land.
Nine feet long, six feet wide, and weighing almost a ton, leatherbacks can dive as deep as half a mile. They nest in four different countries, range through the territorial seas of many other nations, and swim through international waters where protection is limited.
The number of nesting females has declined by more than 95 percent over the past 22 years to about 900 in Indonesia, 45 in Mexico, 55 in Costa Rica, and two in Malaysia. Leatherback populations in Mexico have declined 20 percent per year for nearly a decade.
Scientists are predicting that the Malaysian and Costa Rica populations will go extinct in the next three to 30 years. Even in the Indonesian rookery, nesting females have declined fivefold over the past 50 years, and adult turtles are still harvested.
International cooperation has worked before to reverse the decline of Kemp's ridley sea turtles, and Crowder hopes it will work to save leatherbacks. An international effort protected them on their nesting beaches in Mexico and by requiring turtle excluder devices (TEDs) in the U.S. and Mexican trawl fisheries.
TEDs are metal grids placed in the backs of trawl nets that allow the turtles to slip out of the net. Since TEDs were mandated in the late 1980s, Kemp's ridleys have been increasing 11 to 13 percent per year, from a low of only 800 nests in 1986 to 6,200 in 2002.
"People worked very hard for over a decade protecting them on nesting beaches and in the water, and now we're seeing recovery. So there is a precedent for success. Saving leatherbacks will be harder because of their range," says Crowder. "It will require even more international cooperation. There is hope, but we need to act now."
The single best predictor is swordfish catch. "The more swordfish caught, the higher the rate of leatherback bycatch," says Crowder. To help remedy this problem, U.S. longline fisheries already have been restricted or closed, but this alone will not protect leatherbacks. More that 90 percent of longline fishing in international waters is conducted by vessels from Japan, Taiwan, Korea, and China. International governments and fishermen must both act if leatherbacks are to be protected.
The choices U.S. consumers make when buying seafood can determine the fate of leatherback sea turtles. New research funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts suggests that sea turtle captures in longline fisheries are 10 times higher in swordfish sets than sets targeting tuna.
"So simply choosing to consume less swordfish could reduce market demand and reduce the impact on critically endangered leatherbacks," says Crowder.
NASA Scientists Explain California's Recent Gloomy SummersPASADENA, California,
February 17, 2003 (ENS) - Scientists have determined that climate variability is behind the consistently cooler and foggier summers California has experienced since 1998.
"History seems to be repeating itself every 50 years," said Dr. William Patzert, an oceanographer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. "The weather switches from warmer temperatures, wetter winters and less fog to cooler temperatures, drier winters and more fog, and back and forth."
Patzert and colleagues Dr. Steve LaDochy and Jeff Brown from California State University, Los Angeles, studied the factors responsible for variable coastal temperatures and fog frequencies along the southern California coast from 1948 to 2001. They presented their findings last week at the 83rd Annual Meeting of the American Meteorological Society in Long Beach, California.
From the mid 1940s to the 1970s, California's temperatures were generally cooler, winters were drier and fog levels were fairly high, the scientists reported. In the 1980s and 1990s, temperatures warmed up, winters were wetter and the number of foggy days each year was halved.
Now, Patzert said, it seems that since the 1997-98 El Nino, the state has returned to the previous prolonged "June Gloom" pattern.
"June Gloom, when unusually heavy coastal fog and cooler temperatures hug the coast, occurs in the early stage of summer," Patzert said. "The dismal weather results from an extreme contrast between warming land and cool ocean temperatures, when the temperature of the land rises quickly, but the temperature of the Pacific Ocean, which covers about one third of the earth's surface, takes longer to heat up."
Magnetic Storms on Sun Create Their Own WeatherBOULDER, Colorado,
February 17, 2003 (ENS) - Large complexes of magnetic sunspots form weather patterns on the Sun, according to new research by a team of University of Colorado at Boulder scientists.
Professor Juri Toomre of the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics (JILA) says the sunspot clusters cause downdrafts in their vicinity that are fed by winds flowing into the sun from the surface and dissipated by strong winds flowing out from deep below the sunspots.
"Large magnetic complexes are the predominant source of solar flares and other eruptive events that can have dramatic impacts on the Earth and our society," said Toomre. "The surrounding wind pattern may play a crucial role in producing flares, and the measurement of these winds may prove to be a superb indicator for solar flare prediction."
Headquartered at University of Colorado-Boulder, JILA is a joint institute of the university and the National Institute for Standards and Technology. The new observations were presented at the ongoing American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Denver.
The wind flows were discovered using sound waves detected by the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, or SOHO, which can measure wind speed and direction over a range of depths below the solar surface. SOHO is a joint satellite mission between NASA and the European Space Agency.
The new results allowed the research team to produce the first large scale weather maps of wind patterns in the vicinity of sunspot clusters, otherwise known as magnetic active regions.
Only the largest sunspot clusters generate a cohesive outflow pattern deep below the sun's surface, Toomre said. These complexes can last for months and are vast in size. They cover a fraction of the solar surface roughly equal to the fraction the United States occupies on Earth.
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