AmeriScan: October 12, 2006

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2006 Atlantic Hurricane Forecast Downgraded

FORT COLLINS, Colorado, October 12, 2006 (ENS) - In the October update of its 2006 Atlantic hurricane forecast, the Tropical Meteorology Project staff at Colorado State University has further reduced the number of potential named storms to 11, down from its original forecast of 17 named storms.

Colorado State researchers Phil Klotzbach and William Gray now predict below-average activity due to the small number of named storms through September. The September update forecasts only two more named storms before hurricane season ends November 30.

"We now anticipate that the 2006 Atlantic basin tropical cyclone season will be considerably less active than the seasonal activity we anticipated in our earlier forecasts and in our updated 3 August forecast," write Klotzbach and Gray.

To date there have been nine named storms during the 2006 Atlantic hurricane season - five are classed as hurricanes and four are considered less powerful tropical storms.

Klotzbach and Gray say they now expect that the 2006 hurricane season will have slightly less hurricane activity than the long-term average.

"This is due to an unexpected increase in tropical Atlantic mid-level dryness - with large amounts of African dust - and a continued trend towards El Niño-like conditions in the eastern and central Pacific," they write.

This forecast is different from that issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA. For the entire 2006 season, which ends November 30, NOAA is projecting a total of 12 to 15 named storms of which seven to nine will intensify to hurricanes, including three or four becoming major hurricanes - rated at Category 3 or higher.

This forecast is slightly lower than the outlook issued in May, but remains above the seasonal average of 11 named storms, six hurricanes and two major hurricanes.

According to Gerry Bell, Ph.D., NOAA's lead seasonal hurricane forecaster, the major climate factors expected to influence this year's activity are the ongoing multi-decadal signal, which produces wind and atmospheric pressure patterns favorable for hurricane formation, along with ongoing warmer than normal sea surface temperatures. NOAA attributes these same factors to the current active Atlantic hurricane era that began in 1995.

NOAA's seasonal outlook does not specify where and when tropical storms and hurricanes could strike.

"Science has not evolved enough to accurately predict on seasonal timescales when and where these storms will likely make landfall," said Bell. "Exactly when and where landfall occurs is strongly controlled by the weather patterns in place as the storms approach land. These weather patterns generally cannot be predicted more than several days in advance."

"Our message remains the same, be informed and be prepared," said Max Mayfield, director of the NOAA National Hurricane Center. "Preventing the loss of life and minimizing property damage from hurricanes are responsibilities shared by all. Remember, one hurricane hitting your neighborhood is enough to make it a bad season."

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Virginia Storms Cause Gas Leak to Blackwater River

RICHMOND, Virginia, October 12, 2006 (ENS) - Virginia Governor Timothy Kaine declared a statewide emergency Monday due to the effects of severe thunderstorms and flooding that dumped as much as 12 inches of rain fell on central and southeastern Virginia during the weekend. The governor directed state agencies to take all necessary actions to help individuals and localities to recover.

Central Virginia's Blackwater River crested at a near record 23 feet, bringing major flooding to the city of Franklin and prompting hazardous materials personnel and equipment to be deployed to the city to help contain a fuel spill.

The state aid to local governments has included providing hazardous materials personnel and equipment from the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, VDEM, to the city of Franklin to help contain a gasoline spill.

Flood damage has caused leaks from tanks that hold 11,000 gallons of gasoline at a petroleum depot, and the leaked gasoline has mixed with flood waters from the Blackwater River.

Special foam is being sprayed on the gasoline to prevent ignition, and booms are being erected on the surface of the flood water to contain the gasoline until it can be removed.

On Tuesday, Governor Kaine toured flood damaged Franklin. The governor said the state would be ready to offer financial assistance once the water recedes and a full cost estimate is done. Federal assistance would also be explored, he said.

"Words aren't really enough, but your heart goes out to these business owners," said Governor Kaine.

VDEM will work with local governments across the state to assess damage in areas affected by the severe weather. In many cases, damage estimates will not be possible until flood waters have receded.

The Virginia Department of Transportation reported that 119 roads were closed statewide due to flooding. Additional road closures and localized flooding are possible as river and stream levels continue to rise from flood waters moving downstream.

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New Jersey Water Infrastructure Falling Behind

TRENTON, New Jersey, October 12, 2006 (ENS) - New Jersey faces a multi-billion dollar gap in its water quality infrastructure but has "no coherent plan to address its self-identified needs," according to testimony delivered Tuesday by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, PEER, before the annual hearing of the New Jersey Clean Water Council.

Currently, nearly 1,000 lakes, rivers, streams, bays, and estuaries are unsafe for fishing, swimming and drinking and do not comply with federal Clean Water Act standards, said New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, a former analyst with the state Department of Environmental Protection. Wolfe was representing PEER, a national association of government workers in natural resource agencies.

New Jersey’s economic future is placed at risk if the state continues to ignore its large and growing unfunded water infrastructure deficits, Wolfe warned the Council.

Stormwater and non-point source pollution controls are a big part of the picture. Towns have not complied with federal stormwater requirements due to lack of funding, while DEP has been reluctant to take enforcement action, he said.

According to state Department of Environmental Protection records, Wolfe told the Council, New Jersey must invest $12.8 billion in water pollution controls in order to meet the standards of the Clean Water Act. This figure includes $3.2 billion to upgrade sewage treatment plants and pipes, $4.9 billion for combined sewer overflows, and $2.8 billion for non-point source pollution controls.

Only 13 of 193 local jurisdictions, less than seven percent, have up-to-date wastewater management plans and more than one-third have never even adopted such plans.

"State funding for municipal wastewater and stormwater planning has been zeroed out," Wolfe told the Council.

"Our water infrastructure needs are like the 800 pound gorilla in the room that no one dares talk about for fear it will stir," said Wolfe. He pointed out that the state water deficit is one of the largest in the nation and by far the largest for any state of comparable size.

"New Jersey is making no attempt to integrate our capital needs with our water quality planning, assessments, standards enforcement and the Environmental Infrastructure Trust Financing program," Wolfe charged.

He cited the decision of Passaic Basin sewer authorities to delay pollution control upgrades to protect the Wanaque Reservoir - the water supply for two million residents - by claiming it will cost over $300 million.

The chemical and oil industries recently blocked toxic water quality standards due to claims of $5 billion in compliance costs, he said.

Failure to meet these infrastructure investment requirements threatens, among other things, New Jersey’s third largest industry - the $36 billion tourism industry. Just one failure from an aging sewage treatment plant could place large portions of the shore at risk.

"Governor Corzine and his top advisers have been schooled in finance but need to check their work to make sure they are including our clean water deficits in their fiscal calculus,” Wolfe added, pointing to economic studies estimating billion dollar cost savings of water quality planning and investments. "Clean water is not a frill – it’s a right as well as one of our most strategic state assets.”

Each year, New Jersey loses 15,000 acres of land to urban sprawl which, in turn, puts additional stresses on aging infrastructure capacity as well as further polluting the state’s waters.

Wolfe observed that there is virtually no public discussion of these issues. "At the very least," he said, "the Clean Water Council ought to openly address the issue of how to generate necessary funds to pay for restoring safe and clean water in New Jersey.”

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Software Warns Utilities of Water Contamination in Real Time

ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico, October 12, 2006 (ENS) - Contaminant warning systems that monitor municipal drinking water systems in real time are the latest direct result of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, DC. No monitoring system is yet in place, but software that can show when and where a contamination event happens is ready for a real world test.

U.S. water systems are networks of storage tanks, valves, and pipes transporting clean water that by their design provide multiple points for potential contamination, whether accidental or intentional. The amount of damage done by a contaminant can be limited by prompt detection and action.

To determine quickly when and where a contamination occurs, a group of government and university scientists have collaborated to create a suite of software tools that can simulate threats and identify vulnerabilities in drinking water systems.

The software can aid in the placement of sensors during the design stage of a contaminant warning system.

It can determine when and where a contamination event happens, track changes, and determine when the event is over. Then it can measure potential public health impacts, and evaluate mitigation and response strategies.

Since 2003, researchers from Sandia National Laboratories are working on the project with scientists from Argonne National Laboratory, the University of Cincinnati and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, under the EPA's Threat Ensemble Vulnerability Assessment program, intended to counter threats against water systems.

“Through careful adaptation of classical algorithms, we are able to solve sensor placement problems on networks that are 100 times larger than those previously cited in the water security literature,” said Jon Berry, who works on sensor placement methods for the project.

“Our team recognized and exploited mathematical structure that hadn’t been associated with water security before," said Berry.

Bill Hart, Sandia project leader, says the software “helped the EPA meet several internal milestones over the past year,” including developing a contaminant incident timeline for the EPA’s WaterSentinel program and working with a large city water utility to determine the best locations for sensor placement.

The WaterSentinel Program is a partnership of the federal government with cities and laboratories. It was created in response to a Homeland Security Presidential Directive that requires the EPA to develop surveillance and monitoring systems to provide early detection of water contamination.

The Sandia lab works on both corporate and government levels. The multiprogram laboratory is operated by Sandia Corporation, a Lockheed Martin company, for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration.

EPA and associated scientists plan a large-scale test of the new system for a public water system, as yet unnamed. Hart says the program will enable scientists "to better understand how to respond more intelligently to contaminations as they occur."

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New Reef Manager's Guide to Coral Bleaching

WASHINGTON, DC, October 12, 2006 (ENS) - Strategies for conserving coral reefs are detailed in a new guide released Wednesday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, the Australian Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, and the IUCN-World Conservation Union.

"A Reef Manager’s Guide to Coral Bleaching” will give reef managers the latest scientific information on causes of coral bleaching, and new strategies for responding to the threat to coral reef ecosystems.

"The reef manager's guide lays out key actions managers can take,” said NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher, "before, during and after bleaching events to help reduce impacts of bleaching and promote resilience of the reef ecosystem to help it recover from severe bleaching events.”

Coral bleaching is associated with a variety of stresses, including increased sea surface temperatures. This causes the coral to expel colorful microscopic algae living in their tissues - algae that provide corals with food.

After losing their algae, coral tissues display a bleached appearance. Coral bleaching that lasts more than a week can lead to coral death and the loss of coral reef habitats and protection from the impact of storms, scientists say.

"The Australian government is proud to share its expertise with reef managers worldwide in this highly anticipated publication,” said Andrew Skeat, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority executive director.

The guide, developed with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Nature Conservancy and other organizations, grew out of a 2002 resolution by the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force calling for development of information and tools for coral reef managers to address threats from coral bleaching.

The guide is online and includes contributions from more than 50 experts in coral bleaching and coral reef management. It details management actions that can help restore and maintain resilience of coral reef ecosystems.

The guide includes information on how to prepare bleaching response plans, assess impacts from bleaching, engage the public, manage activities that may affect reefs during bleaching events, identify resilient reef areas and incorporate information regarding reef resilience into marine protected area design.

Coral bleaching events have increased in frequency and intensity since the first recorded event in 1982, resulting in significant coral mortality and other ecological, social and economic effects in many reef ecosystems. The increases have been attributed to ocean warming seen in tropical waters around the world.

The guide is online at: http://www.coris.noaa.gov/activities/reef_managers_guide/welcome.html

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First Biodiversity Census of NW Hawaiian Islands Coral Reefs

HONOLULU, Hawaii, October 12, 2006 (ENS) - As part of the international Census of Marine Life, a team of scientists has embarked on an expedition to explore coral reef biodiversity in the largest fully protected marine area in the world - the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument.

The NOAA ship Oscar Elton Sette carrying the scientific team departed Honolulu's Snug Harbor on Friday.

Led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, with funding from NOAA's Coral Reef Conservation Program and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, this 23 day research cruise to the Monument's French Frigate Shoals will be the first in a series of surveys by the Census of Marine Life's Coral Reef Ecosystems project.

Census of Marine Life projects are designed to assess the diversity, distribution and abundance of ocean life and explain how it changes over time. This Coral Reef Ecosystems project will provide needed baseline information and foster understanding of coral reef ecosystems globally.

According to NOAA's Dr. Russell Brainard, chief scientist for the expedition, this effort is unprecedented in the level of taxonomic expertise. While annual reef assessment and monitoring program surveys are conducted throughout the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, those surveys have been forced to focus on the larger and better understood fish, corals, lobsters, large crabs, sea urchins.

This expedition is unique in focusing on the small invertebrates - tiny crabs, mollusks, sea slugs, worms - algae, and microbes over a range of habitats at French Frigate Shoals.

These groups of organisms are the least understood, and many new species records for the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, as well as the discovery of new species are likely during this expedition, the scientists say.

Department of Land and Natural Resources, Aquatic Resources Division Administrator Dr. Dan Polhemus, said, "We cannot properly manage what we don't know we have."

Don Palawski, Refuge Manager for the Pacific Remote Islands National Wildlife Refuge Complex under the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said that the biodiversity surveys on this expedition are "one of the priorities for conserving all the monument's natural resources."

The taxonomists, biologists specializing in the classification of these organisms, are donating their time and expertise.

"We plan to provide for the state of Hawaii a baseline record of the diversity of a relatively pristine area in order to have some basic working knowledge of what lives in the NWHI chain. There will never be any way to measure impact on the environment without first knowing what is there," said Dr. Joel Martin, chief of the Division of Invertebrate Studies and curator of Crustacea, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

Dr. Nancy Knowlton of Scripps Institution of Oceanography at University of California San Diego, the lead principal investigator on the Coral Reef Ecosystems project, said, "We don't even know to the nearest order of magnitude the number of species living in the coral reefs around the globe. Our best guess is somewhere between one and nine million species based on comparisons with the diversity found in rainforests and a partial count of organisms living in a tropical aquarium."

Information from this effort will be posted on the CReefs website at www.creefs.org, and the cruise can also be followed at www.hawaiianatolls.org and http://sanctuaries.noaa.gov/.

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Keys to Spatial Memory Held by Clark's Nutcracker

DURHAM, New Hampshire, October 12, 2006 (ENS) - Every fall, a bird known as the Clark’s nutcracker spends several weeks gathering food stores. What makes this bird unique is that it harvests more than 30,000 pine nuts, buries them in up to 5,000 caches, and then relies solely on its memory of where those caches are located to survive through winter.

Scientists at the University of New Hampshire, UNH, hope to learn more about memory and its evolution by studying the Clark’s nutcracker and how these birds remember where they buried their food supplies for winter over a 15 mile area.

Brett Gibson, a scientist studying animal behavior, began studying Clark’s nutcrackers in graduate school and is continuing his research into memory and the behavior of nutcrackers as an assistant professor in UNH’s psychology department.

"Nutcrackers are almost exclusively dependent upon cache recovery for their survival so if they don’t remember where they’ve made those caches, then they are in trouble,” Gibson says.

"During winter," he says, "their cache locations are covered with snow so many of the small local features in the landscape during fall are no longer available to them. What’s clear is that they are using spatial memory to recover these caches. They are remembering these caches based on landmarks and other features of the terrain.”

The study of how memory develops and evolves provides insights across species about brain function and the hippocampus, a part of the brain important for memory and one of the first regions of the brain to suffer damage in Alzheimer’s patients.

"For us it would probably be very difficult to remember where we put 33,000 items, but these guys do it really well because of the environment they live in,” Gibson says. "It’s a problem evolution has solved by developing this very good memory for spatial information.”

Clark’s nutcrackers are native to the upper elevations of western North America, such as the Colorado Rocky Mountains. They are a member of the corvid family, which also includes blue jays and crows that are native to New England.

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