AmeriScan: February 1, 2007

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Gore Nominated for Nobel Peace Prize

OSLO, Norway, February 1, 2007 (ENS) - Former Vice-President Al Gore and Canadian Inuit activist Sheila Watt-Cloutier have been nominated for the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to bring the dangers of global warming to world attention, a Norwegian legislator said today.

"A prerequisite for winning the Nobel Peace Prize is making a difference, and Al Gore has made a difference," Conservative Member of Parliament Boerge Brende, a former minister of environment and then of trade, told the Associated Press.

"Al Gore, like no other, has put climate change on the agenda. Gore uses his position to get politicians to understand, while Sheila works from the ground up," Brende said.

As vice president from 1993 to 2001, Gore advocated that the United States undertake measures to curb global warming. He attempted to persuade legislators to ratify the Kyoto Protocol which limits the emission of heat-trappping greenhouse gases.

Last year Gore put out a documentary film on climate change, "An Inconvenient Truth," which has been nominated for an Academy Award.

Watt-Cloutier, originally from Quebec and now living in Iqaluit, Nunavut, is the chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, an organization representing about 155,000 Inuit living in Canada, Alaska, Greenland, and Russia.

The winner of the Nobel Peace Prize is announced in mid-October. The prize is always presented on December 10, the anniversary of the death of its creator, Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel.

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Mighty Computers Allow Better Climate, Weather Forecasts

WASHINGTON, DC, February 1, 2007 (ENS) - The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, has activated its newest weather and climate supercomputers, increasing the computational muscle behind the nation's climate and weather forecasts by 320 percent.

The new IBM machines process 14 trillion calculations per second at maximum performance and ingest more than 240 million global observations daily.

The primary and backup systems, ranked 36th and 37th in the world on the Top 500 list of the world's fastest computers, will enable the NOAA National Weather Service to deliver more products, with greater accuracy, at longer lead times, the agency said.

These supercomputers will consume more data and generate highly advanced models that may enable meteorologists to begin cracking hurricane intensity forecast challenges.

These machines also will process data from Constellation Observing System for Meteorology, Ionosphere and Climate (COSMIC) satellites, a series of six satellites launched in 2006 that will provide NOAA National Weather Service forecasters with better understanding of jet streams and related storm systems.

These data are key to the early prediction of storms like those that affected Denver and the Pacific Northwest in December and January.

"Better physics, better models, better data, and faster and more powerful supercomputing are the foundation for making better weather and climate forecasts," said NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher.

"NOAA's partnership with IBM is a great case study of the public and private sectors working together to save lives," he said.

The supercomputers will harness 160 IBM System p575 servers, with 16 1.9 gigahertz Power5+ processors. The machines also will contain 160 terabytes of IBM system storage DS4800 disk storage systems.

"Charged with the vital mission of weather forecasting, NOAA approaches the task with skill, dedication and creativity," said David Turek, vice president of deep computing for IBM. "The IBM systems will serve as a powerful tool in NOAA's arsenal, helping meteorologists and scientists improve forecasts for the protection of life and property and the enhancement of our national economy."

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New Auto Air Conditioner Technology Benefits Climate

WASHINGTON, DC, February 1, 2007 (ENS) - The automotive industry has developed new technologies that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions from car and truck air conditioning systems, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA.

New electronic leak detectors and new recycling machines will help reduce emissions during automotive air conditioner repairs.

"EPA and its mobile air conditioning partners are driving toward cleaner air, a healthier economy, and a more secure energy future," said Bill Wehrum, acting assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Air and Radiation. "Car owners can make a difference by insisting on professional service of automobile air conditioners using the best available equipment."

Now commercially available, the new leak detector technology will help service professionals to identify and repair very small leaks in vehicle air conditioning systems.

By contrast, today's standard diagnostic technology allows most of the refrigerant to escape into the atmosphere before leaks are detected.

Air conditioners in most motor vehicles manufactured before 1994 use a refrigerant called CFC-12, which is a chlorofluorocarbon, CFC. CFCs damage the ozone layer, and are no longer manufactured in the United States.

In 1992, vehicle manufacturers began using a refrigerant called HFC-134a that does not destroy ozone. But HFC-134a is still a fluorinated gas, and such gases are powerful and long-lived greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.

Reducing their emissions is a requirement under the Kyoto Protocol.

New recycling machines can recover a higher amount of refrigerants from automotive air conditioner systems, which will minimize the amount of refrigerant that leaks into the atmosphere during system repair.

The equipment precisely recharges the air conditioning system after it is repaired. A precise recharge is important because it helps avoids system failure due to overcharge, increases cooling capacity, and improves energy efficiency.

The new technologies will help reduce emissions by one million metric tons of carbon equivalent from current levels, the equivalent of the annual emissions from more than 650,000 cars, the EPA says.

This equipment is now commercially available and is expected to be in widespread use in repair shops within a few years.

Leak-tight replacement parts and improved service procedures are currently under development and will further reduce refrigerant emissions in the future.

The EPA's Mobile Air Conditioning Climate Protection Partnership helped developed these advances. This team of 100 corporate, government, and environmental organizations aims to rapidly improve the energy efficiency of vehicle air conditioning system by at least 30 percent and reduce refrigerant emissions by at least 50 percent.

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Air Pollution Raises Likelihood of Heart Attacks, Strokes

SEATTLE, Washington, February 1, 2007 (ENS) - Research into the link between air pollution and heart disease has found that women who live in cities with higher levels of pollution are at a greater risk of developing and dying from cardiovascular disease, according to an article published in the current issue of the "New England Journal of Medicine."

The study found that women living in cities with the highest levels of fine particles in the air, such as Los Angeles, Atlanta and New York, were 76 percent more likely to die from a heart attack or stroke than women breathing the cleaner air of Honolulu or Tucson, Arizona.

The increased risk comes from tiny particles found in engine exhaust. The damage they cause to arteries in the heart and brain is worse than previously believed, the study found.

"The magnitude of the findings are substantially higher than what's been seen in prior research on long-term effects of air pollution," said the study's co-author Dr. Joel Kaufman at the University of Washington.

The study monitored the health of nearly 66,000 post-menopausal women for up to nine years and tracked the air quality near their homes, checking the level of tiny particles emitted from cars, trucks and power plants.

At the start of the study, none of the women had cardiovascular disease.

Researchers used pollution meters, which are scattered in most U.S. metropolitan areas, to measure the amount of particles in the air. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency compiled the results.

The study's findings were consistent regardless of a woman's weight or smoking history, blood pressure or cholesterol levels.

The fine particles affect the lining of the blood vessels, so cholesterol plaque forms more easily, and it makes the blood stickier so clots are more likely to form.

Air particles are harmful to both women and men, but women may be more vulnerable, in part, because they have smaller coronary arteries.

In a commentary in the New England Journal, Harvard scientists Douglas Dockery and Peter Stone said the findings by Kaufman and his colleagues "strongly support the recommendation for tighter standards for long-term fine-particulate air pollution."

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Court Overturns EPA Approval of Idaho Field Burning

SEATTLE, Washington, February 1, 2007 (ENS) - A federal appeals court Tuesday agreed with public health and environmental groups that a U.S. EPA decision to allow open grass field burning in Idaho was legally flawed.

The ruling came in response a lawsuit challenging a 2005 EPA decision to allow field burning statewidebrought by the Idaho group Safe Air For Everyone, SAFE, and the American Lung Association of Washington.

"This ruling is a victory for clean air," said Earthjustice attorney David Baron, who represented the appellant groups. "The smoke from field burning is so thick it sends people to the hospital and forces people out of their homes."

Even though physicians and doctors in the area have called for an end to open field burning because of its severe health impacts, EPA's 2005 decision allowed the practice to continue.

Washington banned all grass burning in 1998 with no loss to production, but Idaho still allows thousands of acres to be burned every year. Some of the most intensive burning occurs in northern Idaho, particularly in Kootenai and Benewah counties.

The ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit states, "We hold that as it presently stands, EPA's approval is legally unsustainable."

The court said that "federal law banned field burning in Idaho prior to EPA's 2005 approval," and that EPA was therefore wrong in claiming that its approval of the practice did not change anything.

"Open field burning puts an extraordinary burden upon Idahoans forced to breathe this dirty air," said Patti Gora, executive director for SAFE.

"These burns consistently send people to the hospital with respiratory problems, impair visibility on the roads, and invade our homes and communities with smoke and soot," said Gora. "We are pleased with the court's decision and hope EPA will now move immediately to protect Idaho residents from this dangerous threat."

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Cigarette Started Maui Forest Fire

WAILUKU, Maui, Hawaii, February 1, 2007 (ENS) - A fire that burned for nine days in Maui's Kula Forest Reserve was sparked by a carelessly thrown cigarette, state investigators have determined.

The butt was found Tuesday by investigators from the Hawaii Division of Forestry and Wildlife on a trail where the fire started January 23.

The fire scorched 2,300 acres on the slopes of Haleakala, a mountain sacred to the Hawaiian people and a tourist destination that draws visitors from around the world.

It consumed pine and sandalwood trees and rare native plants, said John Cumming, Maui branch manager for the Division of Forestry and Wildlife.

Steep terrain, dense forest and lack of available water made fighting this fire a tough job for state and National Park Service personnel.

Rain this week helped put out the blaze. Hot spots remain although officials say the fire is now contained.

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