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Plants and animals race for survival as climate change creeps across the globe

Global warming creeps across the world at a speed of a quarter of a mile each year, according to a new study that highlights the problems that rising temperatures pose to plants and animals. Species that can tolerate only a narrow range of temperatures will need to move as quickly if they are to survive. Wildlife in lowland tropics, mangroves and desert areas are at greater risk than species in mountainous areas, the study suggests.

Image: Mangroves are some of the areas most vulnerable to climate change, as a new study by the Carnegie Instuttion in California reveals the rapid movement of global warming across the world. Photograph: Corbis

Colorado cats test positive for Swine Flu (H1N1)

The number of feline 2009 H1N1 infections in the US continues to grow.  Since early November, cats from Iowa, Oregon, and Utah have tested positive for H1N1.  Oregon bears the burden of having animal deaths secondary to H1N1 infection, as the cat and a ferret did not survive.  Colorado is the latest state to join that list with two confirmed cases of H1N1 in cats.  The cats are from different households and were tested for H1N1 after displaying clinical signs of respiratory tract illness for several weeks.  
The H1N1 diagnosis was confirmed at the Colorado State University’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in Fort Collins, CO.  Both cats have not yet recovered from their illness.  At this time, there are some factors about the two Colorado cats that are still unknown, including the cat’s age, previous history of illness, indoor versus outdoor environment, and single versus multiple cat household status.  These factors could play a role in the cat’s susceptibility to infectious agents.
As with the previous feline and ferret cases in the US (see H1N1 kills Oregon cat), and the two dogs infected in China (see Swine flu (H1N1) infects dogs in China), humans are the suspected source of H1N1 infection for the Colorado cats.
Pet owners play a crucial role in reducing the zoonotic spread of H1N1 and other organisms between people and pets.  Your vigilance in exercising appropriate hygienic habits may prevent your cat or dog from being infected with viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites.
Practice good sanitary habits by washing your hands frequently and covering your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough.  If you are sick, avoid close contact with others, including your animal companions.  Closely monitor your pet for signs of illness, especially upper respiratory tract signs.  Sneezing, coughing, nasal discharge, increased respiratory effort, lethargy, and decreased appetite can indicate upper respiratory tract infection.  Should your pet show clinical signs of illness, please schedule an examination with your veterinarian.

Blue whales singing in deeper voices every year

All around the world, blue whales aren’t singing like they used to, and scientists have no idea why.

The largest animals on Earth are singing in ever-deeper voices every year. Among the suggested explanations are ocean noise pollution, changing population dynamics and new mating strategies. But none of them is entirely convincing.

“We don’t have the answer. We just have a lot of recordings,” said Mark McDonald, president of Whale Acoustics, a company that specializes in the sonic monitoring of cetaceans.

McDonald and his collaborators first noticed the change eight years ago, when they kept needing to recalibrate the automated song detectors used to track blue whales off the California coast. The detectors are triggered by songs that match a particular waveform, and every year, McDonald had to set them lower.

Since then, he and Scripps Institution of Oceanography researchers Sarah Melnick and John Hildebrand have gathered thousands of blue whale recordings made since the 1960s, spanning populations from the North Atlantic to the South Pacific to the East Indian Ocean. Their analysis, published in October in Endangered Species Research, shows that the songs’ tonal frequency is falling every year by a few fractions of a hertz.

“It’s a fascinating finding,” said John Calombokidis, a blue whale expert at the Cascadia Research Collective. “It’s even more remarkable, given that the songs themselves differ in different oceans. There seem to be these distinct populations, yet they’re all showing this common shift.”

According to McDonald, the first explanation to come to mind involved noise pollution caused by increased shipping traffic. Ambient ocean noise has increased by more than 12 decibels since the mid-20th century. But if whales were trying to be heard above the din, they’d sing at higher rather than lower pitches, said McDonald.

It’s also possible the whales are responding to changing dynamics in how sound travels through water that’s become warmer as Earth heats up, absorbing more carbon dioxide and growing more acidic than before. “But those factors are so small, and this is such a huge shift in frequency,” said McDonald.

Another explanation involves the recovery of blue whale populations, which were nearly hunted to extinction during the first half of the last century. It’s only since hunting ceased that they’ve been recorded. Maybe songs were higher-pitched when recording started, because the whales had to sing extra-loud in order to reach their scattered brethren. Now that there are more, they can lower their voices and their pitch.

Global warming a growing threat to Arctic reindeer

JARFJORD, Norway (AFP) – On Norway's border with Russia, the consequences of climate change are affecting the reindeer population as rising temperatures hit food stocks and industry growth eats into vital grazing land.

The reason: the lichen his animals graze on has become tougher to find as winter temperatures rise. The snow thaws, and along with rain, then freezes anew -- covering the ground in layers impervious to all but the most tenacious reindeer.

Grazing land is also disappearing under the weight of industry as buildings, pipelines, roads and other infrastructure increasingly dot old pastures.

50,000 dead starfish found on Irish beach

Extreme weather conditions have killed tens of thousands of starfish and left them strewn across a sheltered beach. A carpet of pink and mauve echinoderms, a family of marine animals, appeared Thursday morning, November 5, on Lissadell Beach in north Co Sligo. The adult starfish, measuring between 7cm and 20cm in diameter and estimated to be up to 50,000 in number, stretched along 150 metres of the strand. A marine biologist speculated that they had been lifted up by a storm while feeding on mussel beds off shore. "The most likely explanation is that they were feeding on mussels but it is a little STRANGE that none of them were attached to mussels when they were washed in." If they had died as a result of a so-called 'red tide' or algal bloom, other sealife would have been washed ashore with them. "These were almost all adult size and the typical starfish variety that is found in the North Atlantic but there was nothing else mixed in with them."

Surveying the UNUSUAL scene, he placed some in a bucket of seawater to test whether they were alive, but while this prompted a slight response from one or two of the creatures, the vast majority were dead. The phenomenon was most likely caused by recent bad weather. "They turned up almost certainly as a result of an exceptional storm event. A storm hit the seabed where these sub-tidal animals were and lifted them up and washed them ashore." Investigations were continuing into how they came to be washed ashore but initial indications pointed to the stormy weather, which has been a feature in the north-west in recent days. In a similar episode earlier this year, thousands of dead starfish washed ashore on Youghal Beach in Co Cork. Scientists speculated that they, too, had been thrown on to the beach by an underflow, which was probably caused by a storm at sea

Species' extinction threat grows

More than a third of species assessed in a major international biodiversity study are threatened with extinction, scientists have warned.
Out of the 47,677 species in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, 17,291 were deemed to be at serious risk.
These included 21% of all known mammals, 30% of amphibians, 70% of plants and 35% of invertebrates.
Conservationists warned that not enough was being done to tackle the main threats, such as habitat loss.
"The scientific evidence of a serious extinction crisis is mounting," warned Jane Smart, director of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) Biodiversity Conservation Group.
 "It's time for governments to start getting serious about saving species and make sure it's high on their agendas for next year, as we are rapidly running out of time."
The Red List, regarded as the most authoritative assessment of the state of the planet's species, draws on the work of thousands of scientists around the globe.

The latest update lists amphibians as the most seriously affected group of organisms on the planet, with 1,895 of the 6,285 known species listed as threatened.
Of these, it lists 39 species as either "extinct" or
 "extinct in the wild". A further 484 are deemed "critically endangered", 754 "endangered" and 657 "vulnerable".

Foam from ocean algae bloom killing thousands of birds

A slimy foam churning up from the ocean has killed thousands seabirds and washed many others ashore, stripped of their waterproofing and struggling for life.

The birds have been clobbered by an unusual algae bloom stretching from the northern Oregon coast to the tip of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state.

"This is huge," said Julia Parrish, a marine biologist and professor at the University of Washington who leads a seabird monitoring group. "It's the largest mortality event of its kind on the West Coast that we know of."

The culprit is a single-cell algae or phytoplankton called Akashiwo sanguinea.  Though the algae has multiplied off the coast of California before, killing hundreds of seabirds, the phenomenon has not been seen in Oregon and Washington, and has never occurred on the West Coast to this extent, Parrish said.

Hailstones kill 90 percent of wild game in parts of Austria

Hundreds of deer were discovered either dead or so badly injured they had to be put down by wildlife experts.
In the country's rural Salzburg province, 90 per cent of pheasants and 80 per cent of hares were killed in the hail storms.

Sepp Eder, the hunting chief, said : "Animals sought shelter in farms, in fields of grain but the hail was so heavy it smashed right into them. It may take five years for animal numbers to recover, if they ever do so."
Farmers are believed to have suffered more than £60 million in damages to crops and buildings.

New Armageddon-Worthy Cloud

In hill country from Iowa to the Scottish Highlands, sky-gazers have reported some strange, ominous-looking clouds of late. Dubbed undulatus asperatus (turbulent undulation), the atmospheric anomaly could be headed where only 80-odd clouds have gone before: into the International Cloud Atlas. If it makes the cut, asperatus will be the first new addition in more than 50 years.

Where did it come from? Gavin Pretor-Pinney, president of the UK-based Cloud Appreciation Society, has a theory: "It's warmer, moister air above and colder, drier air below, with an abrupt boundary in between." Add wind passing over rolling terrain and "you get the same wavy effect as on the surface of water."

The formation has probably been around for a long time, but it's only now getting attention: "Before the Internet and digicams, people might have mentioned it to a few friends and that would be it," Pretor-Pinney says. "Once the news got out, I was inundated with emails saying, 'I saw it three years ago; here's the picture!'" He's charting those images against atmospheric conditions to document the cloud's unique characteristics. The next step: Storm Geneva to seek formal recognition from the World Meteorological Organization.

Killer whales leave porpoises for dead

Scientists are grasping for answers to explain why southern resident killer whales — a group of fish eaters that prefer chinook salmon — have also been observed toying with harbour porpoises before leaving them dead, including two cases in the past month in Washington state and B.C.’s Strait of Georgia.
Joe Gaydos, staff scientist with the SeaDoc Society, speculated in an interview Tuesday that killer whales might see the porpoises as an opportunity for a playful “cat and mouse” game — albeit with deadly consequences.
“The thing we forget about wildlife is that they don’t really have a consciousness like we have, that this is okay and this is not okay,” he said from his office in Washington’s San Juan Islands.
A 2005 paper co-authored by Gaydos reported the discovery of 13 dead harbour seal pups in the San Juan Islands. It found evidence of a “novel pattern of killing without intent to eat” by “one or more transient killer whales” — a separate group that targets marine mammals and not fish — although resident killer whales could not be completely exonerated in connection with the seal deaths.

Fanged frog, 162 other new species found in Mekong

A gecko with leopard-like spots on its body and a fanged frog that eats birds are among 163 new species discovered last year in the Mekong River region of Southeast Asia, an environmental group said Friday.

WWF International said that scientists in 2008 discovered 100 plants, 28 fish, 18 reptiles, 14 amphibians, two mammals and one bird species in the region. That works out to be about three species a week and is in addition to the 1,000 new species catalogued there from 1997 to 2007, the group said.

"After millennia in hiding these species are now finally in the spotlight, and there are clearly more waiting to be discovered," said Stuart Chapman, director of the WWF Greater Mekong Program.

Researchers working for WWF warned that the effects of climate change, including an upsurge in droughts and floods, threaten the diverse habitat that supports these species. That is on top of traditional threats such as poaching, pollution and habitat destruction.

In the photo shown above taken Jan. 1, 2008, released by The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) a Cat Ba leopard gecko, known by its scientific name Goniurosaurus catbaensis, is seen in Cat Ba Island National Park in northern Vietnam. This species was among 163 new species discovered last year in Greater Mekong region, a biologically rich region that stretches over five countries and borders the mighty Mekong River, an environmental group said Friday, Sept. 25, 2009. (AP Photo/Thomas Ziegler, WWF Greater Mekong)

Rare giant squid netted in Gulf of Mexico

NEW ORLEANS, Sept. 22 (UPI) -- A giant squid has been netted in the Gulf of Mexico, the first of its kind to be landed in 55 years, scientists say.
U.S. government scientists caught the 20-foot-long, 103-pound giant squid while trawling 1,500 feet down, the Houston Chronicle reported.
"This was beyond everyone's expectations," said Deborah Epperson, a U.S. Minerals Management Service biologist.
The recent catch, off the Louisiana coast, marks the first giant squid found in the gulf since a dead one turned up on the surface in 1954. The latest catch had been alive but died as it was being brought to the surface because the squid cannot survive such quick changes in water depth.

Bee deaths set apiculture congress abuzz

MONTPELLIER, France — Pesticides, viruses, industrialised farming, fungus... what on Earth is killing our bees?
That's the big question being asked at Apimondia, the 41st world apiculture congress, where 10,000 beekeepers, entomologists and other actors in the honey business are gathered in this southern French city until Sunday.
Across parts of North America and swathes of Europe, but also now in patches of Asia, bee hives have been struck by a mysterious ailment dubbed Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).
At normal times, bee communities naturally lose around five percent of their numbers. But in CCD, a third, a half -- sometimes even 90 percent -- of the insects can be wiped out. Eerily, no bodies are typically found near the hive.
The phenomenon is alarming for beekeepers, many of them small-scale operators or hobbyists, who lack the clout and subsidy support that other agricultural sectors enjoy.
But food experts and environmental scientists are also worried.
The Western honey bee is a vital link in the food chain, fertilising nearly 100 kinds of crops.
Around a third of the food on our plates gets there thanks to Apis mellifera.

Sierra Nevada birds move in response to warmer, wetter climate

The findings, to be published the week of Sept. 14 in an online early edition of the journal , reveal that 48 out of 53 bird species studied in California's Sierra Nevada mountains have adjusted to climate change over the last century by moving to sites with the temperature and precipitation conditions they favored.
The few species, including the Anna's Hummingbird and Western Scrub-Jay, that did not pack up and leave when the climate changed were generally better able to exploit human-altered habitats, such as urban or suburban areas, the researchers said.
"In order to conserve biodiversity in the face of future climate change, we need to know how a species actually responds to a warming climate," said study lead author Morgan Tingley, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy & Management and at the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at UC Berkeley. "Comparing past and present ranges of species that experienced climate change is one of the best ways to gain this knowledge. Understanding how species will respond to climate change allows us to take steps now to restore key habitats and create movement corridors that will help them respond to the changes we have coming."

'Death Stench' Is A Universal Ancient Warning Signal

The smell of recent death or injury that repels living relatives of insects has been identified as a truly ancient signal that functions to avoid disease or predators, biologists have discovered.
 David Rollo, professor of biology at McMaster University, found that corpses of animals, from insects to crustaceans, all emit the same death stench produced by a blend of specific fatty acids.
The findings have been published in the journal Evolutionary Biology.
Rollo and his team made the discovery while they were studying the social behavior of cockroaches. When a cockroach finds a good place to live it marks the site with pheromone odours that attract others. In trying to identify the precise chemicals involved, Rollo extracted body juices from dead cockroaches.
"It was amazing to find that the cockroaches avoided places treated with these extracts like the plague," says Rollo. "Naturally, we wanted to identify what chemical was making them all go away."
The team eventually identified the specific chemicals that signaled death. Furthermore, they found that the same fatty acids not only signaled death in ants, caterpillars, and cockroaches, they were equally effective in terrestrial woodlice and pill bugs that are actually not insects but crustaceans related to crayfish and lobsters.

Guatemala declares hunger crisis

Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom has declared a "state of public calamity" to try to mobilise funding to tackle severe food shortages in the country.

Officials say 54,000 families living in an area prone to extreme weather are in a critical situation.

So far this year, some 25 children are believed to have died of hunger.

The UN's World Food Programme (WFP) announced it would start distributing 20 tonnes of nutritional biscuits to the worst affected areas.

President Colom made his announcement on Tuesday, saying the declaration of a state of public calamity would help the government to access the funding and resources needed to tackle the food crisis.

"There is food, what is lacking is the money for the affected people to buy food," Mr Colom said. "We are not going to wait until we've reached starvation levels to act."

The move allows the government to make emergency purchases of food.


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Mobile phone towers threaten honey bees

The electromagnetic waves emitted by mobile phone towers and cellphones can pose a threat to honey bees, a study published in India has concluded.
An experiment conducted in the southern state of Kerala found that a sudden fall in the bee population was caused by towers installed across the state by cellphone companies to increase their network.
The electromagnetic waves emitted by the towers crippled the "navigational skills" of the worker bees that go out to collect nectar from flowers to sustain bee colonies, said Dr. Sainuddin Pattazhy, who conducted the study, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.

Giant statues give up hat mystery

At 2,500 miles off the coast of Chile, the island is one of the world's most remote places inhabited by people.

Up to 1,000 years ago, the islanders started putting giant red hats on the statues.

The research team, from the University of Manchester and University College London, think the hats were rolled down from an ancient volcano.

Dr Colin Richards and Dr Sue Hamilton are the first British archaeologists to work on the island since 1914.

They pieced together a series of clues to discover how the statues got their red hats. An axe, a road, and an ancient volcano led to their findings.

Dr Richards said: "We know the hats were rolled along the road made from a cement of compressed red scoria dust."

Each hat, weighing several tonnes, was carved from volcanic rock. They were placed on the heads of the famous statues all around the coast of the island.

Precisely how and why the hats were attached is unknown.

Like an altar

An axe was found in pristine condition next to the hats. The scientists think it might be an ancient offering.

Dr Richards told BBC News: "These hats run all the way down the side of the volcano into the valley.

"We can see they were carefully placed. The closer you get to the volcano, the greater the number.

"It's like a church; you can't just walk straight to the altar.

"The Polynesians saw the landscape as a living thing, and after they carved the rock the spirits entered the statues."

Dr Richards and Dr Hamilton are joint directors of the Rapa Nui (Easter Island) Landscapes of Construction Project. They will be working on the island over the next five years.

Dr Richards added: "We will look to date the earliest statues. Potentially this could rewrite Polynesian history

Global starvation imminent as US faces crop failure

The world faces “mass starvation” following North America’s next major crop failure. And it could even happen before year’s end. So says Chicago-based Don Coxe, who is one of the world’s leading experts on agricultural commodities, so much so that Canada’s renowned BMO Financial Group named the fund after him.   

Climate change will cause shorter crop growing seasons and the world’s under-developed farming sector is ill-prepared to make up for the shortfall, Coxe says. He has been following the farming industry for many years and benefits from more than 35 years of institutional investment experience in Canada and the United States. This includes managing the best-performing mutual fund in the United States, Harris Investment Management, as recently as 2005.

In particular, an imminent crop failure in North America will have particularly dire consequences for major overseas markets that are highly reliant on U.S. crop imports, Coxe cautions. Sadly, this scenario could have been avoided had successive North America’s governments not weakened the farming industry with too much political interference, he suggests.

“We’ve got a situation where there has been no incentive to allocate significant new capital to agriculture or to develop new technologies to dramatically expand crop output. We’ve got complacency,” he told BNW News Wire. “So for those reasons I believe the next food crisis – when it comes – will be a bigger shock than $150 oil.” 

Scientists Find "Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch"

Scientists have just completed an unprecedented journey into the vast and little-explored "Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch."

On the Scripps Environmental Accumulation of Plastic Expedition (SEAPLEX), researchers got the first detailed view of plastic debris floating in a remote ocean region.

It wasn't a pretty sight.

The Scripps research vessel (R/V) New Horizon left its San Diego homeport on August 2, 2009, for the North Pacific Ocean Gyre, located some 1,000 miles off California's coast, and returned on August 21, 2009.

Scientists surveyed plastic distribution and abundance, taking samples for analysis in the lab and assessing the impacts of debris on marine life.

The scientists found that at numerous areas in the gyre, flecks of plastic were abundant and easily spotted against the deep blue seawater.

Among the assortment of items retrieved were plastic bottles with a variety of biological inhabitants. The scientists also collected jellyfish called by-the-wind sailors (Velella velella).

On August 11th, the researchers encountered a large net entwined with plastic and various marine organisms; they also recovered several plastic bottles covered with ocean animals, including large barnacles.

"Finding so much plastic there was shocking," said Goldstein. "How could there be this much plastic floating in a random patch of ocean--a thousand miles from land?"

Ancient Bird's Feathers Had Iridescent Glow

Nanostructures preserved in feather fossils more than 40 million years old show evidence that those feathers were once vivid and iridescent in color, paleontologists say. Iridescence is the quality of changing color depending on the angle of observation — it's what makes you see a rainbow in an oil slick.
Many insects, such as butterflies, display iridescent colors on their wings, as do many modern birds on their feathers.
The simplest iridescent feather colors are produced by light scattering off the feather's surface and a smooth surface of melanin pigment granules within the feather protein.
Scientists found smooth layers of these melanin structures, called melanosomes, when they examined feather fossils from the Messel Shale in Germany with an electron microscope.
"These feathers produced a black background with a metallic greenish, bluish or coppery color at certain angles—much like the colors we see in starlings and grackles today," said Richard Prum of Yale University, who was part of the team that studied the fossils.

What is the 2030 Perfect Storm idea?

A "perfect storm" of food, water and energy shortages in 2030 - "a whole series of events come together":
•The world's population will rise from 6 billion to 8 billion (33%)
•Demand for food will increase by 50%
•Demand for water will increase by 30%
•Demand for energy will increase by 50%
- each problem combining to create a "perfect storm" in which the whole is bigger, and more serious, than the sum of its parts. Some scientists are predicting that the Arctic will be ice-free by 2030, which could accelerate global warming by reducing the amount of the sun's energy that is reflected back out of the atmosphere. "Whereas changes in Europe could be incremental, in Asia it's potentially more abrupt. Whole regions are dependent on cycles of glacial melts and monsoons and if these start to shift there will be trouble."

Mexico water body warns of risk of 'critical' shortage

MEXICO CITY — Mexico's water commission warned Monday of the risk of a "critical" water shortage at the start of 2010 and called on state governments to act now to save water.
"El Nino (seasonal warming), climate change and low rainfall could increase drought in the country, and cause a critical situation in the first quarter of 2010," a Conagua statement said.
Farming and some water supplies across the country have already been hard hit by this year's drought.
Supplies for both public and private use could be affected next year, the statement said, pointing to record low levels at the Cutzamala reservoir which supplies the capital's urban sprawl.
The main problem in and around the city of some 20 million people, which once sat on lakes, was the over-exploitation of aquifers, the statement said.

Seaweed on French beaches emitting lethal fumes

PARIS — Mounds of rotting seaweed clogging beaches across northwestern France are emitting a toxic and potentially lethal gas, test results released by the government showed on Thursday.
Tests were ordered on the foul-smelling algae, which green groups blame on nitrates fertilisers used by local farmers, after a horse apparently died from inhaling fumes on a beach in Saint Michel de Greve in Brittany.
Results showed the seaweed in Saint Michel was giving off dangerous levels of hydrogen sulphide (H2S), sometimes referred to as "sewer gas" because it is produced by the breakdown of putrified waste material.
"Measurements carried out on site ... showed in several places that the gas released by sediment containing the decomposing algae could be dangerous," said France's national institute for environmental threats, INERIS.
The build-up of rotting weed on shores in more than 80 towns around Brittany has worried residents and threatened the region's lucrative tourist industry, with part of the coastline already declared off-limits.
Green groups blame nitrate pollution caused by intensive agriculture -- especially among pig farmers -- and have accused the government of turning a blind eye to an "environmental cancer."
The government was spurred to act after a horse and rider fell onto a patch of the algae on July 28.
The horse died immediately, while 28-year-old horseman Vincent Petit lost consciousness and was pulled to safety by nearby workers.

Increased Ocean Acidification In Alaska Waters

The same things that make Alaska's marine waters among the most productive in the world may also make them the most vulnerable to ocean acidification. According to new findings by a University of Alaska Fairbanks scientist, Alaska's oceans are becoming increasingly acidic, which could damage Alaska's king crab and salmon fisheries.

This spring, chemical oceanographer Jeremy Mathis returned from a cruise armed with seawater samples collected from the depths of the Gulf of Alaska. When he tested the samples' acidity in his lab, the results were higher than expected. They show that ocean acidification is likely more severe and is happening more rapidly in Alaska than in tropical waters. The results also matched his recent findings in the Chukchi and Bering Seas.

Water crisis to hit Asian food

Scientists have warned Asian countries that they face chronic food shortages and likely social unrest if they do not improve water management. They say countries in south and east Asia must spend billions of dollars to improve antiquated crop irrigation to cope with rapid population increases. That estimate does not yet take into account the possible impact of global warming on water supplies. Asia's population is forecast to increase by 1.5 billion people over the next 40 years. Asian countries will need to import more than a quarter of their rice and other staples to feed their populations. Asia's food and feed demand is expected to double by 2050. "The best bet for Asia lies in revitalising its vast irrigation systems, which account for 70% of the world's total irrigated land...Without water productivity gains, south Asia would need 57% more water for irrigated agriculture and east Asia 70% more. Given the scarcity of land and water, and growing water needs for cities, such a scenario is untenable." The scenarios forecast do not factor in the impact of global warming, which will likely make rainfall more erratic and less plentiful in some agricultural regions over the coming decades.

Drought causing historic cotton losses

For the first time in over a century, a severe South Texas DROUGHT HAS CLAIMED THE ENTIRE COTTON PRODUCTION of Kleberg County. “Since the founding of Kingsville in 1904, not a single pound of cotton was produced this year in Kleberg County, which includes the King Ranch, one of the area’s largest producers." Other Coastal Bend counties have not fared much better, experts say. “Nueces County planted 124,000 acres of cotton and about 95 percent of that failed. San Patricio County planted about 130,000 acres with a fail rate of more than 90 percent. Grain sorghum did only a little better.” They estimate the economic hit to Kleburg County alone at about $50 million. “That’s not just lost crop revenue in cotton and grain sorghum, that includes money lost to motels that house the harvesting crews, labor costs at gins and grain elevators and other related losses.” Like many areas of South Texas, Kleberg County has not seen significant, widespread rainfall in almost a year. “From January to now, we’ve had about two inches of total rainfall. But in the crop year, from Sept. 1, 2008, to now, we’ve had under 5 inches. Normally in a 12-month period we’ll have 27 to 28 inches of rainfall.” Local historians claim THIS IS THE WORST DROUGHT THEY'VE EVER SEEN. In late July, economists reported that agricultural drought losses throughout the state had reached $3.6 billion and by the end of the year could exceed $4.1 billion.

Millions of salmon go missing

MILLIONS of sockeye salmon expected to reach the Fraser River on Canada's Pacific Coast this month have vanished, devastating the local fishery, officials say.

According to the nation's Department of Fisheries and Oceans, between six to 10 million sockeye were projected to return to the river this month.

But the official count is now just 600,000 for the "summer run" - by far the largest of four salmon groupings that return to area lakes and rivers each year from June to late August. Where the other fish went remains a mystery.

The Globe and Mail newspaper cited fishermen who today said the situation was "shocking", a "catastrophe" and a "crisis", while public broadcaster CBC said this could end up being the worst year ever for the Pacific salmon fishery.

Giant herd 'flees Kenya drought'

A giant herd of cattle has fled from northern Kenya into the Borena zone in Ethiopia to escape a drought. The herd numbers more than 200,000. It is ONE OF THE LARGEST MOVEMENTS OF CATTLE IN 10 YEARS. The drought has seen farmers abandoning their villages in search of water in recent months. The drought has also hit the country's capacity to generate hydro-electricity and last week electricity rationing was introduced. In January, 10 million Kenyans were facing starvation. 

'Trees of life' are vital food source

The "famine food" of trees can keep drought-hit communities alive when all other food crops fail, says Miranda Spitteler. In this week's Green Room, she argues that policy makers need to recognise the important role trees play in providing emergency food aid.

Japan to Increase Wheat Imports as Rain Ravages Crop

Cool and rainy weather this summer, an influence from the El Nino weather pattern, is reducing farm output in Japan, the world’s largest grain importer. The nation’s RICE production may decline 6.9 percent this year to the LOWEST LEVEL IN SIX YEARS on lower yields. Japan may increase WHEAT purchases to a MORE THAN 3-YEAR HIGH as rain cuts domestic output and lower prices help revive demand. Wheat demand is recovering after the nation’s worst postwar recession and a rise in the grain’s price last year spurred a shift to rice. An expected cut in Japan’s wheat selling prices in October may be the largest in four decades, after the reduction in April was the biggest since 1970.

People try to flee Chinese town hit by plague

BEIJING — Residents of a remote farming town in western China say people have been seeking to flee in defiance of a lockdown by authorities to prevent the spread of highly infectious pneumonic plague which has claimed three lives in the area.
Police have set up checkpoints around Ziketan in Qinghai province, a town of 10,000 people, which has been put under quarantine after at least a dozen people caught the lung infection that can kill within 24 hours if untreated.
Some people tried to leave the quarantined area Monday evening, mostly by foot, after the third death was reported, two residents reached by The Associated Press said.
"A lot of people ran off last night when they heard that another person died of this plague. They are mostly from other provinces," a local food seller, surnamed Han, said Tuesday. "They headed back home with food, water and their donkeys."

Giant Ocean-Trash Vortex Attracts Explorers

It may lack the allure of the North Pole or Mount Everest, but a Pacific Ocean trash dump twice the size of Texas is this summer's hot destination for explorers. The Eastern Pacific Garbage Patch, situated in remote waters between California and Hawaii, is created by ocean currents that pick up millions of tons of the world's discarded plastic.
 As much as 10 percent of the 260 million tons of plastic produced annually ends up in the oceans, much of it in trash vortices like the Pacific garbage patch.
This summer, two separate expeditions will set sail for the patch to document the scope of the problem and call global attention to disastrous ocean pollution.

Fish are shrinking in response to global warming

CHICAGO — Fish have lost half their average body mass and smaller species are making up a larger proportion of European fish stocks as a result of global warming, a study published Monday has found.
"It's huge," said study author Martin Daufresne of the Cemagref Public Agricultural and Environmental Research Institute in Lyon, France.
"Size is a fundamental characteristic that is linked to a number of biological functions, such as fecundity - the capacity to reproduce."
Smaller fish tend to produce fewer eggs. They also provide less sustenance for predators - including humans - which could have significant implications for the food chain and ecosystem.

Help call for vanishing honeybees

Britain's honeybees are disappearing at an "alarming" rate, yet the government is taking "little interest" in the problem. Bee numbers have fallen by up to 15% in the last two years, in part because agricultural changes have reduced the availability of the wildflowers they depend on for food. Disease, climate change and pesticide use have also been blamed for the decline.

Jumbo Squid Wash Ashore After Earthquake

Jumbo squid wash ashore after earthquake. Dozens of large creatures called Jumbo Humboldt Squid washed up on La Jolla Shores beach in Southern California Saturday, 7/11, after a 4.0 earthquake centered offshore shook homes in the area. Residents tried to toss them back into the water before seagulls pecked away. There has been no connection made between the quake and the beaching of squid, which were up to 4 feet long, so for now the whole thing's a mystery.

New York crops hit by Irish Famine disease

Tomato crops wiped out as Famine blight hits Northeast. The destructive fungal blight is wiping out tomato and potato plants across the state and much of the Northeast. The technical terms is "late blight," but it's the same disease that caused the Irish Potato Famine in the 1840s. This is the FIRST TIME THAT LATE BLIGHT HAS BEEN SEEN SO EARLY in the growing season. And food and plant experts say it's THE MOST DESTRUCTIVE INFECTION THEY'VE SEEN. "All of our tomatoes have been lost: totally, completely gone. They die in a week - it's just horrible. Once the leaves turn yellow, they're goners." The blight, which is being blamed on the unseasonal cool damp weather, spreads like wildfire and there are fears that it could spread to ten thousands of farm crops on Long Island. The big box stores Wal-Mart, Home Depot KMart and Lowes have issued a $1 million recall of possibly infected tomato plants and experts believe the current outbtreak could have originated there. 

Meanwhile, New York shoppers and gardeners are being warned to destroy any affected plants because they could impact commercial farms. The fungus, Phytophthora infestans, is extremely dangerous because the spores are dispersed by the wind, potentially destroying nearby commercial crops. Once the spores arrive, there is no way to prevent the spread of the disease. Farmers are now praying for two weeks of dry weather as the disease spreads rapidly in damp cool weather. New York is the latest of several states to report late blight which is in nearly every East Coast state along with Ohio and Virginia. Late blight caused the deaths of more than 1 million people in Ireland in the 19th century because it totally destroyed the potato crop. More than 1.5 million Irish emigrated in the worst case of famine seen in Europe. "Ever since IrishCentral broke the story about the Famine blight appearing in the States, we have seen intense audience interest from survivalist sites and even from religious groups that are watching for signs of the Apocalypse. It's a story that has really touched a 'what if' nerve."

Loss of coastal seagrass habitat accelerating globally

An international team of scientists warns that accelerating losses of seagrasses across the globe threaten the immediate health and long-term sustainability of coastal ecosystems. The team has compiled and analyzed the first comprehensive global assessment of seagrass observations and found that 58 percent of world's seagrass meadows are currently declining.

Heatwave prompts surge in massive basking sharks off British shores

RECORD NUMBERS of basking sharks have been spotted off the coast of Britain and Ireland after the recent hot weather boosted levels of their favourite food: zooplankton. Last year there were only 26 sightings of the 11-metre sharks in two and a half months off the most southerly headland of Cornwall. This year more than 900 sightings have been recorded since the beginning of June. Volunteers have also recorded sharks breaching the surface of the water five or six times. "That is VERY RARE." Off the coast of Ireland, a RECORD NUMBER of sightings was also recorded in June, with 248 basking sharks counted last month. Conservationists believe one of the reasons for the high numbers could be unseasonably warm weather increasing the amount of zooplankton. Around the coast of the Isle of Man, another basking shark hotspot, 400 sightings have been recorded since the beginning of May. They have also been turning up in unexpected places this year.

The moon jellyfish has appeared in larger than usual numbers around the British and Irish coasts in the past few weeks, sometimes in blooms over 500 strong. The bigger barrel jellyfish, which can reach a metre in diameter and weigh up to 40kg, has also been seen in UNUSUALLY high numbers. A "superpod" of about 1,500 dolphins was seen last week off Pembrokeshire.

Climate change is shrinking sheep

Climate change is causing a breed of wild sheep in Scotland to shrink, according to research. Scientists say milder winters help smaller sheep to survive, resulting in this "paradoxical decrease in size". Classic evolutionary theory would predict that wild sheep gradually get bigger, as the stronger, larger animals survive into adulthood and reproduce. Since 1985, the sheep have decreased in size by 5% - their legs getting steadily shorter and their body weight decreasing. 

This strange phenomenon was first reported in 2007, but the reason for it remained under debate. "In the past, only the big, healthy sheep and large lambs that had piled on weight in their first summer could survive the harsh winters on Hirta." Because of climate change, grass for food is now available for more months of the year on the island. "Survival conditions are not so challenging - even the slower growing sheep have a chance of making it, and this means smaller individuals are becoming increasingly prevalent in the population." As for the future of the sheep, the team believes that they are still shrinking. "But it's too early to say if, in 100 years, we will have chihuahuas herding pocket-sized sheep."

Rainforests More Fragile Than Estimated

The Amazon rainforest, one of the planet's most precious and besieged natural resources, is even more fragile than realized. If the planet warms even a moderate amount, a new study predicts that as much as 40 percent of it could be condemned to vanish by the end of the century.
A crippled Amazon could hasten global warming. If a significant portion of its trees die off, their vast stores of carbon would be emitted back into the atmosphere as greenhouse gases, pushing the climate further into dangerous levels of warming.

Third of open ocean sharks face extinction

PARIS (AFP) — A third of the world's open water sharks -- including the great white and hammerhead -- face extinction, according to a major conservation survey released Thursday.
Species hunted on the high seas are particularly at risk, with more than half in danger of dying out, reported the Shark Specialist Group at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Collapsing shark populations have already severely disrupted at least two coastal marine ecosystems, and could trigger even more severe consequences in the high seas, marine biologists warned at the same time.
The main culprit is overfishing. Sharks are prized for their meat, and in Asia especially for their fins, a prestige food thought to convey health benefits.

Dolphin 'super pod' shifts north

Hundreds of dolphins more commonly found in warmer seas have been seen in the Moray Firth in Scotland while making a "massive migration" into the North Sea. The environmental charity Earthwatch Institute said more than 400 short-beaked common dolphins were sighted off the north east coast. It said the "super pod" was a sign of how climate change was pushing some wildlife further north. The dolphins' appearance in the firth was hugely significant. "Firstly, the sheer number of dolphins was astounding - there were common dolphin everywhere around us over a two-mile radius. Furthermore, this was only the second sighting in the past few years of such a 'super-pod' of this species in these waters. The first sighting in 10 years was recorded here in July 2007 when we were joined by more than 300 animals in the outer Moray Firth."

Large 2009 Gulf Of Mexico 'Dead Zone' Predicted

University of Michigan aquatic ecologist Donald Scavia and his colleagues say this year's Gulf of Mexico "dead zone" could be one of the largest on record, continuing a decades-long trend that threatens the health of a half-billion-dollar fishery.

The scientists' latest forecast, released June 18, calls for a Gulf dead zone of between 7,450 and 8,456 square miles—an area about the size of New Jersey.

"The growth of these dead zones is an ecological time bomb," said Scavia, a professor at the U-M School of Natural Resources and Environment and director of the U-M Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute.
"Without determined local, regional and national efforts to control them, we are putting major fisheries at risk," said Scavia, who also produces annual dead-zone forecasts for the Chesapeake Bay.

Image: Mississippi dead zone in 2004. This year's Gulf of Mexico "dead zone" could be one of the largest on record, continuing a decades-long trend that threatens the health of a half-billion-dollar fishery. (Credit: Photo courtesy of NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio)

Uganda forests rapidly disappearing

KAMPALA (AFP) — Uganda has lost nearly a third of its forest cover since 1990 due to expanding farmlands, a rapidly growing human population and increased urbanisation, a government report said on Friday.

In 1990, the east African nation had more than five million hectares of forest cover but by 2005 only 3.5 million hectares (8.6 million acres) remained, the report, published by Ugandan's National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), said.

If deforestation continues at the present rate Uganda will have lost all its forested land by 2050, it warned.

Image: Patches of burnt grass are seen in a tree forest in the Ugandan north-eastern plains

California's Water Woes Threaten the Entire Country's Food Supply

Nearly a third of the country's food supply comes from California, but drought there may be a catastrophe for farmers -- and the rest of us.

California's agricultural sector grows approximately one-third of the nation's food supply and is nourished by diverted rivers and streams filled yearly by runoff from its prodigious Sierra Nevada snowpack, as well as groundwater pumping and other less-reliable methods. That snowpack -- which once sparked the first, but not the last, water war that helped transform a semi-arid Los Angeles into an unsustainable oasis less populous than only New York City -- is disappearing fast. Hence Chu's worrisome prediction.

To make matters worse, a crushing drought, now well into its third year, has made simply everything problematic. In California's central valley, home to a majority of the state's agricultural output, farmers are leaving hundreds of thousands of acres fallow, and the resultant economic depression is having a domino effect that could cost California $1 billion to start and is causing residents of a one-time food powerhouse to go hungry.

Mekong dolphins 'almost extinct'

Pollution in the Mekong river has pushed freshwater dolphins in Cambodia and Laos to the brink of extinction, the conservation group WWF has said.
Only 64 to 76 Irrawaddy dolphins remain in the Mekong, it says, and calls for a cross-border plan to help the dolphins.
Toxic levels of pesticides, mercury and other pollutants have been found in more than 50 calves that have died since 2003.
The Mekong flows from China through Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam.
"These pollutants are widely distributed in the environment and so the source of this pollution may involve several countries through which the Mekong river flows," said WWF veterinary surgeon Verne Dove in a press statement.

New Strain of H1-N1 Virus Discovered: Deaths Mount in NYC

Skywatch Media News has learned that the H1N1 Swine Flu Virus, which has already been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization, has developed a new strain of the virus in South America. The Adolfo Lutz Institute in Sao Paulo sounded the warning indicating that the virus is mutating much faster than was anticipated by medical experts. This new discovery is important in that the genetic variant of the Swine Flu, now has the potential to become a deadly viral strain similar to the Spanish Flu variant that killed many millions in 1918.
More worrisome for North America and the United States is the number of swine flu deaths and infections that continue to be reported across the country. Deaths have increased, especially in New York City, where yesterday alone 7 more deaths have been confirmed, bringing the total number to 23 in the city alone.
The Death of a nine year old boy has been reported in Florida, A 20 year old woman in San Diego County, California; A sixth death in Utah, Two more deaths bringing total to 8 in Texas. The total number of U.S. deaths since the virus was first reported in unclear, but the number given by the CDC on June 12, stood at 44 with nearly 18,000 infections. That number is likely to change dramatically when the CDC publishes their new report on June 19. The U.S. congress has approved nearly 8 billion to combat the flu virus
It is important to note that the mainstream media and cable news networks in the United States, in order to refrain from being labeled alarmists, have treating the Swine Flu Pandemic with kid gloves. This is troublesome, as the world should be informed, and rightfully so, considering recent developments with this virus, as it continues to spread across the globe.
In the U.K. the number of confirmed infections is the highest number in Europe, having increased dramatically, with a mother and her child being the latest mortality victims in Scotland.
Australia is reporting chaos with the Swine Flu Pandemic as the medical response has not been forthcoming in anticipation of the spread of the virus.
For the latest updates on the Swine Flu Pandemic including U.S. and World Statistics visit H1-N1 Flu Updates

Swine flu pandemic declared by World Health Organization

The World Health Organization this morning acknowledged what many health experts have been saying for weeks: The outbreak of novel H1N1 virus is now a pandemic.

In a letter sent to its member countries, the WHO said it is officially raising its infectious diseases alert to Phase 6, its highest level, in recognition of the fact that the virus is now undergoing communitywide transmission in Australia as well as in North America. Such spread in two distinct regions of the world is the primary criterion for raising the alert level.

The announcement marks the advent of the first global influenza epidemic in 41 years. The last one was the Honk Kong flu epidemic of 1968, which killed an estimated 1 million people worldwide.

So far, the H1N1 or swine flu pandemic this year has accounted for 27,737 laboratory-confirmed cases and 141 deaths, although health officials believe many times that number have been infected but have not been tested because their disease was mild.

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