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Antarctica is about to lose a chunk of ice the size of Delaware

the biggest loser

Antarctica is about to lose a chunk of ice the size of Delaware

By on Aug 24, 2016Share

This story was originally published by Huffington Post and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

A massive crack in one of Antarctica’s largest ice shelves has grown exponentially in recent months, and scientists worry a break-off could destabilize the entire structure.

For two years, United Kingdom-based Project MIDAS has been monitoring a large rift in the Larsen C ice shelf, located on the northern end of the Antarctic peninsula. And if the project’s latest findings are any indication, Larsen C could be headed for a similar fate as nearby Larsen A and Larsen B, which collapsed and disintegrated in 1995 and 2002, respectively.

Since March, the last time satellites were able to observe Larsen C, Project MIDAS said the crack has extended nearly 14 miles ― about three miles per month.

“As this rift continues to extend, it will eventually cause a large section of the ice shelf to break away as an iceberg,” according to the report.

Now, measuring some 80 miles in length, the crack could ultimately dislodge a chunk of ice the size of Delaware, The Washington Post reports.

At 21,000 square miles, Larsen C is the largest ice shelf in the region, according to a 2015 report. In recent years, however, what was once a small fracture has rapidly moved through the frozen structure, widening to more than 1,000 feet. The crack, scientists wrote in last year’s report, “is likely in the near future to generate the largest calving event since the 1980s and result in a new minimum area for the ice shelf.”

Project MIDAS previously estimated the breakaway would remove between 9 and 12 percent of the ice shelf.

“The trajectory of the rift now implies that the higher of these two estimates is more likely,” the MIDAS team wrote in its post last week. “Computer modeling suggests that the remaining ice could become unstable, and that Larsen C may follow the example of its neighbor Larsen B, which disintegrated in 2002 following a similar rift-induced calving event.”

In 2014, more than a decade after its collapse, scientists determined the event was triggered by warming air temperatures.

Since ice shelves float on the ocean’s surface, the calving event wouldn’t immediately raise sea levels. An event of this scale, however, could destabilize the entire shelf, resulting in its disintegration and the release of the glacier ice it holds back ― ultimately raising sea levels.

As for when the iceberg will make its break, that’s hard to say, Martin O’Leary, a glaciologist at Swansea University in the United Kingdom, told The Washington Post.

It’s a lot like predicting an earthquake ― exact timings are hard to come by,” he told the Post. “Probably not tomorrow, probably not more than a few years.”

When it does, it could spark a vanishing act that resembles what happened at Larsen B, which NASA highlights in the video below:

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Antarctica is about to lose a chunk of ice the size of Delaware

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TransCanada tries desperate move to save Keystone XL pipeline

TransCanada tries desperate move to save Keystone XL pipeline

By on 3 Nov 2015 6:40 amcommentsShare

President Obama has reportedly been gearing up to reject the Keystone XL pipeline project, so pipeline company TransCanada is trying a last-ditch effort to get the decision punted to Obama’s successor.

The latest twists and turns in the long-running Keystone saga kicked off on Monday afternoon, when White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest responded to a question from a reporter by saying that President Obama will make a decision on the pipeline before he leaves office. It’s been rumored for months that his decision will be “no.” As The Washington Post reports, “The administration is preparing to reject a cross-border permit for the project aimed at transporting hundreds of thousands of barrels of heavy crude oil from Canada’s oil sands region to Gulf Coast refineries, according to several individuals who have been briefed but spoke on the condition of anonymity because the White House’s decision has not been announced.”

A few hours after Earnest’s comments, TransCanada sent a formal letter to Secretary of State John Kerry asking the State Department to “pause” its review of the Keystone proposal. His department has been tasked with determining whether the project would be in the “national interest” and then reporting its determination to the White House. TransCanada is arguing that because the pipeline’s planned route through Nebraska is in contention, the federal review should be put on hold until the route is finalized.

That’s pretty cheeky: After years of complaining that the administration has been delaying its Keystone decision, TransCanada is now asking the administration to further delay it.

Climate campaigners and anti-Keystone activists see TransCanada’s move as a desperate ploy that has exactly nothing to do with the pipeline route. “The route in Nebraska has been uncertain for years,” activist Jane Kleeb of the group Bold Nebraska told the Omaha World-Herald. “The only difference is they know they are losing now.”

Activists are loudly calling on Obama to reject TransCanada’s request for a delay and then reject the pipeline altogether. Said founder (and Grist board member) Bill McKibben, “No matter what route TransCanada comes back with, the ultimate problem all along with Keystone XL has been that it’s a climate disaster.”

If TransCanada’s request for a delay is granted, the final Keystone decision would likely fall to the next president. TransCanada is obviously hoping that president will be a Republican, as all of the Republican candidates support Keystone, while the top three Democratic candidates oppose it. Hillary Clinton had refused to take a position on the pipeline for years, but in September she finally came out against it. “This is nothing more than another desperate and cynical attempt by TransCanada to build their dirty pipeline someday if they get a climate denier in the White House in 2017,” said Tiernan Sittenfeld of the League of Conservation Voters.

If Obama sticks to his plan and denies TransCanada the permit it needs, the move could help build his legacy as a leader in the climate fight. Says McKibben, “If President Obama rejects this pipeline once and for all, he’ll go to Paris with boosted credibility — the world leader who was willing to shut down a big project on climate grounds.” A major round of U.N. climate negotiations will start in Paris on Nov. 30, and Obama has been working to get other big countries to make significant pledges of climate action ahead of that meeting.

A pipeline rejection from Obama might mean that TransCanada is screwed even if a Republican moves into the White House in 2017. “The company would either have to restart the difficult and costly application entirely from scratch — or, more likely, abandon the pipeline altogether,” writes Brad Plumer of Vox.

So where does all this leave us now? Exactly where we were two days ago: waiting to see what Obama will do.


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TransCanada tries desperate move to save Keystone XL pipeline

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How Hackers and Software Companies are Beefing Up NSA Surveillance

Mother Jones

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This story first appeared on the TomDispatch website.

Imagine that you could wander unseen through a city, sneaking into houses and offices of your choosing at any time, day or night. Imagine that, once inside, you could observe everything happening, unnoticed by others—from the combinations used to secure bank safes to the clandestine rendezvous of lovers. Imagine also that you have the ability to silently record everybody’s actions, whether they are at work or play without leaving a trace. Such omniscience could, of course, make you rich, but perhaps more important, it could make you very powerful.

That scenario out of some futuristic sci-fi novel is, in fact, almost reality right now. After all, globalization and the Internet have connected all our lives in a single, seamless virtual city where everything is accessible at the tap of a finger. We store our money in online vaults; we conduct most of our conversations and often get from place to place with the help of our mobile devices. Almost everything that we do in the digital realm is recorded and lives on forever in a computer memory that, with the right software and the correct passwords, can be accessed by others, whether you want them to or not.

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How Hackers and Software Companies are Beefing Up NSA Surveillance

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Obama nominates BLM leader Neil Kornze to lead the BLM

Obama nominates BLM leader Neil Kornze to lead the BLM


President Obama has nominated Nevadan Neil Kornze to lead the Bureau of Land Management. Kornze has championed the administration’s plans to lease public lands for solar-energy projects. He’s also worked to boost oil and gas drilling on federal land. So it seems he’s down with Obama’s “all of the above” energy policy.

The nomination shouldn’t come as a huge surprise: Kornze has been filling the BLM’s top job on an interim basis since March. (The last permanent director retired in March 2012.) Kornze joined the agency in late 2011. Previously he worked for eight years as an aide to Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev).

The BLM oversees more than 245 million acres of public land. It leases out land for energy production and farming, manages wildlife, oversees campgrounds and other recreational facilities, and works to control fires. That first responsibility — leasing land for energy projects — will keep the agency in the hot seat in years to come as controversy bubbles up about leasing land for fracking and coal mining as well as for solar and wind projects.

Kornze’s boss, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, had this to say about him: “Neil has helped implement forward-looking reforms at the BLM to promote energy development in areas of minimal conflict, drive landscape-level planning efforts, and dramatically expand the agency’s use of technology to speed up the process for energy permitting.”

More from an Interior Department press release:

Kornze played a key role in developing the Western Solar Plan, which established 17 low-conflict zones for commercial solar energy development and also identified lands appropriate for conservation, and the agency’s approval of 47 solar, wind and geothermal utility-scale projects on public lands, as a leader of the Department’s Renewable Energy Strike Team. When built, these projects [will] add up to more than 13,300 megawatts — enough electricity to power 4.6 million homes and support 19,000 construction and operations jobs. He also has been a leader in reforming BLM’s oil and gas program, including the upcoming launch of a nation-wide online permitting system that could significantly reduce drilling permit processing times, and in the bureau’s efforts to enhance and increase visitors to the diverse system of national conservation lands.

Alex Taurel of the League of Conservation Voters had nice things to say about Kornze: “As a westerner, he knows first-hand the importance of careful stewardship of our public lands. He’s the right choice for the job, and the Senate should act quickly on his nomination.”

Secretary Jewell Applauds President’s Intent to Nominate Neil Kornze as Director of the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Department of Interior

John Upton is a science fan and green news boffin who tweets, posts articles to Facebook, and blogs about ecology. He welcomes reader questions, tips, and incoherent rants:

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Typhoon and earthquake strike Fukushima

Typhoon and earthquake strike Fukushima


The trail to Fukushima.

Two and a half years ago, the Fukushima Daiichi power facility was knocked out by a tsunami and earthquake. Myriad troubles ensued. Then this week it was hit by a typhoon, flooding, and another earthquake. Can’t a nuclear plant catch a break?

On Monday, Typhoon Man-yi smacked into Japan, causing flooding in some parts of the country, and new troubles at Fukushima.  From Agence France-Presse:

The operator of the leaking Fukushima nuclear plant said Tuesday that it dumped more than 1,000 tons of polluted water into the sea after a typhoon raked the facility. …

The rain … lashed near the broken plant run by Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO), swamping enclosure walls around clusters of water tanks containing toxic water that was used to cool broken reactors.

Then, early Friday morning, the Fukushima Prefecture was rocked by a 5.3 magnitude earthquake. Fortunately, it doesn’t seem to have done any additional damage to the already crippled plant. From the AP:

The U.S. Geological Survey says the quake struck early Friday at a depth of about 13 miles under Fukushima Prefecture and about 110 miles northeast of Tokyo. …

The Japanese news agency Kyodo News reported that the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., observed no abnormality in radiation or equipment after the quake.

Even before this latest earthquake, Japan’s government was clearly fed up with the perpetually beleaguered nuclear facility. “Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday ordered TEPCO to scrap all six reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant and concentrate on tackling pressing issues like leaks of radioactive water,” the AP reports.

John Upton is a science fan and green news boffin who tweets, posts articles to Facebook, and blogs about ecology. He welcomes reader questions, tips, and incoherent rants: this article interesting? Donate now to support our work.Read more: Climate & Energy

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7 More National Parks Threatened by Fire

Mother Jones

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California’s massive Rim Fire has now charred more than 192,000 acres, including 45,000 acres in Yosemite National Park. But Yosemite isn’t the only national park facing the threat of wildfires. Across the western US, rising temperatures, past fire suppression policies, and invasive species are increasing the fire risk—meaning some of country’s greatest natural treasures could one day go up in smoke.

Here are seven beautiful parks where the danger is very real.

Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks

Yellowstone National Park. And_Ant/Shutterstock

America’s first national park is also one of the most threatened by fire. Anthony Westerling, a wildfire expert at the University of California, Merced’s school of engineering, says that large blazes were once relatively infrequent in the northern Rocky Mountains but that climate change could dramatically increase fire activity in the Yellowstone area.

In 2011, Westerling and his colleagues found that continued warming “could completely transform” fire activity in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem, which includes the Yellowstone and Grand Teton parks. In fact, by the middle of this century, both the frequency of fires and the area burned could be greater than at any time in the past 10,000 years. The researchers concluded that these changes would result in a “real likelihood of Yellowstone’s forests being converted to nonforest vegetation during the mid-21st century” because new trees wouldn’t have a chance to grow between the increasingly frequent fires.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

Giant sequoias in Sequoia National Park. Galyna Andrushko/Shutterstock

These Sierra Nevada parks, roughly 100 miles south of Yosemite, are facing severe drought and “extreme” fire danger. Right now, “we’re in the ‘holy cow, things are dry’ stage,” says park official Deb Schweizer, explaining that Sequoia and Kings are currently operating under their highest level of campfire restrictions.

The parks are best known for their giant sequoias—the same type of ancient trees that firefighters have been scrambling to protect in Yosemite. Giant sequoias are a “fire-adapted” species that typically benefits from low-intensity ground fires—the trees’ thick bark protects them from flames, and the heat helps release their seeds. But massive blazes like the one in Yosemite could be a different story.

Patrick Gonzalez, a climate change scientist with the National Park Service, has been working with a team of researchers to analyze the vulnerability of the parks’ giant sequoias to a potential increase in fire due to climate change. Gonzalez said in an email that “it is not yet possible to say that climate change has increased fire danger” in Sequoia. Still, he says, park officials are “considering how to adapt their fire management practices” based on the research.

Glacier National Park

Saint Mary Lake in Glacier National Park. e X p o s e/Shutterstock

It’s well known that this park’s iconic glaciers are threatened by climate change. But officials at the park—in Montana’s northern Rockies, along the Canadian border— are also concerned about the potential for increasing fires. According to a park service publication, temperatures in the Glacier area increasing nearly twice as fast as the global average. The heat, combined with decreased snowfall and other factors, could cause an “increase in frequency, size, and intensity of wildfires.” Glacier officials are worried that warmer weather is worsening insect infestations—which in turn might weaken trees and make them more vulnerable to fire. According to a recent Government Accountability Office report:

Park staff said additional funding could be used to address increased western spruce budworm infestations. This insect normally infests trees for 3 years, but due to temperature increases, its infestation period has lengthened to 7 to 15-year cycles, according to park managers. As a result, hundreds of forested acres of Glacier National Park have been weakened, which could increase their susceptibility to fires.

Saguaro National Park

Saguaro cacti in Saguaro National Park. SNEHIT/Shutterstock

This desert park’s namesake, the saguaro cactus, is “severely threatened” by a highly flammable invasive plant called buffelgrass, according to the National Park Service.

Julio Betancourt, a scientist with the US Geological Survey, thinks it’s likely that warmer temperatures are playing a role in spreading buffelgrass. He explains that beginning in the 1980s and ’90s, buffelgrass “exploded across the landscape,” filling the Sonoran Desert with fuel for small, intense fires that can transform the landscape. “These fires burn hot,” says Betancourt, “this is not something Saguaros are going to survive.”

After a fire, the buffelgrass regrows quickly, often thicker than before. But saguaros—as well as other species native to the park—grow very slowly and simply can’t compete with the fire-adapted grass. According to the park service, “Many scientists believe that local extinctions of saguaros will occur and the Sonoran Desert vegetation and wildlife will be changed forever.”

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua trees in Joshua Tree National Park. agap/Shutterstock

Located in the California desert, Joshua Tree faces a similar threat from invasive grasses—in this case, from red brome and cheatgrass. According to the park service, these plants “made a major assault on the park” beginning in the 1990s and are fundamentally altering the ecosystem:

Formerly when lightning struck a Joshua tree or juniper, it would consume that plant then burn out. Now the grasses covering the ground carry the fire from the ignited plant on to others.

Desert plants are not adapted to fire; plant seeds do not require fire to break dormancy, nor do many of the plants resprout after fire. We believe that larger fires do occur in deserts, but historically only every century or so. Due to exotic grasses, we are now seeing large fires, such as the Juniper Complex fire that burned 14,000 acres in 1999, every five to 30 years in the Mojave.

As the threat of grass fires increases, says Betancourt, “Joshua Tree National Park could very well become ‘Red Brome National Park.'”

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How Much Energy Does the US Use?

Mother Jones

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This story first appeared on the Atlantic website and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

We all know the U.S. consumes a massive amount of energy but it’s hard to wrap your head around the numbers. How much do we rely on oil? Do renewable resources make up a significant portion of our energy use? In the two-minute video above, Alexis Madrigal, The Atlantic‘s senior technology editor, walks through the key energy sources we depend on, from coal to wind and beyond. The facts and figures come to life with animation by Lindsey Testolin, a San Francisco-based artist.

This episode kicks off a six-part video series—a component of The User’s Guide to Energy special report. Don’t miss Madrigal’s introduction to the project and see Kyle Thetford’sThe US Energy Picture” for a more in-depth look at how the landscape is changing.

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U.S. and China continue to play nice on climate

U.S. and China continue to play nice on climate


China and the U.S. continued their climate-protecting love affair Wednesday, agreeing to cooperate on five initiatives to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

The initiatives range “from bread-and-butter steps, such as boosting building efficiency, to what officials said would be a leading-edge effort to improve the technology for capturing carbon as it is released from power plants,” reports The Washington Post.

Wednesday’s announcement follows an agreement struck last month during meetings between Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping to work together to reduce climate-changing HFC emissions.

From Reuters:

The U.S.-China climate change working group, which officials from both countries formed in April, will work with companies and non-governmental groups to develop plans by October to carry out the measures aimed at fighting climate change and cutting pollution. …

Secretary of State John Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew hosted a Chinese delegation, led by State Councilor Yang Jiechi and Vice Premier Wang Yang, at the talks that cover both economics and wider geopolitical issues.

The climate agreements will concentrate on improving technologies, and will not be binding and will not seek to cut emissions by specific volumes. Still, the hope is any cooperation could help lend support to wider international talks on greenhouse gas reductions and help finalize a global treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol on climate change by 2015.

The State Department released a list of the five initiatives, which we summarize here:

Develop projects to capture and store carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.
Reduce vehicle emissions, particularly from large trucks, by strengthening efficiency standards and developing more efficient vehicles and cleaner fuels.
Increase energy efficiency, first in buildings but also in transportation and industry.
Improve greenhouse gas data collection and management.
Promote smart grids through collaborative projects.

Together, the U.S. and China produce some 43 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, and they’ve not been leaders on climate change in past years, so their increasing cooperation is notable. “Environmental activists say this holds immense potential because of the combined size and influence of the two nations — at a time when countries are struggling to agree on a global strategy,” reports the Post.

John Upton is a science fan and green news boffin who tweets, posts articles to Facebook, and blogs about ecology. He welcomes reader questions, tips, and incoherent rants:

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Friday Cat Blogging – 5 July 2013

Mother Jones

Today is a day off from news and blogging for me, but through the miracle of prescheduled posts, it’s never a day off for catblogging. In today’s entry, Domino is lounging on Marian’s lap, peering suspiciously at Kevin trying to take a picture of her in dim light. Very, very suspiciously, it looks like. But I don’t know why. The camera has never done anything to hurt her. It’s merely made her an internet star, and in today’s media-driven culture what could possibly be better than that?

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BP wants U.S. government to reduce court-ordered oil-spill payouts

BP wants U.S. government to reduce court-ordered oil-spill payouts

There’s still a big black mark on BP.

BP has gone crying to mummy over the big payouts it’s having to make because of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. It wants the U.K. government to ask the U.S. government to step in and give a hand.

BP says it’s being forced to make overly large payments to companies in the Gulf Coast region that claim to have lost business because of the spill, and it says those payments are jeopardizing BP’s own financial recovery and potentially putting the company at risk of a hostile takeover. The payments are being calculated by a court using a formula to which BP agreed.

But now BP has filed an appeal in court against that agreement, claiming that the compensation amounts are overinflated or, in some cases, entirely unnecessary. The company recently warned shareholders that the $8.2 billion it previously anticipated forking out in compensation was a significant underestimation.

From the BBC:

BP is so worried by the potential magnitude of alleged undeserved payments it is making to companies that it is planning to ask the British prime minister and chancellor for help in persuading the US government to intervene. It is hopeful that David Cameron will raise the issue at the G8 meeting of the governments of the world’s richest countries, which the UK is hosting next month.

The court filing warns that BP will be “irreparably harmed” unless the compensation system is reformed fast. According to BP sources, the rate at which cash is leaking from the company could turn into a serious new financial crisis for the company, putting at risk its dividend and making it vulnerable to a takeover by another oil company. …

BP says that the way its settlement is being implemented by the Courts Administrator, with the support of the Louisiana district court, is “poised to become a black mark on the American justice system”

Meanwhile, BP is defending itself in a huge federal lawsuit in New Orleans against states and other victims of the oil spill. The judge overseeing the case must ultimately decide whether the accident was the result of BP’s negligence – or its “gross negligence.”

Too bad BP opted not to do anything about the “big risk” of explosion it identified back in 2009 …

John Upton is a science fan and green news boffin who


, posts articles to


, and

blogs about ecology

. He welcomes reader questions, tips, and incoherent rants:


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