Artico: summit Casa Bianca, Italia protagonista con radar

8a28fe74dd201f17bdfa6f6e4a25223bWASHINGTON – Un sistema di osservazione pan-artico per aumentare il monitoraggio spaziale e temporale dell’Artico e condividere meglio i dati sul suo preoccupante scioglimento per mitigarne gli effetti e consentire l’adattamento e la resistenza delle popolazioni locali: e’ l’obiettivo della riunione dei ministri della ricerca scientifica ospitata oggi alla Casa Bianca, un summit di 25 Paesi dove l’Italia, rappresentata da Stefania Giannini, relatrice di una delle quattro sessioni, figura tra i protagonisti, in particolare per i suoi radar satellitari.

“Ci si aspetta un forte contributo scientifico dall’Italia”, ha spiegato il ministro della Ricerca in un briefing con la stampa italiana all’ambasciata di Washington, presente il capo delegazione, Armando Varricchio. “L’Artico e’ tra le priorita’ anche del nostro piano della ricerca, con uno stanziamento di alcune decine di milioni di euro nel triennio 2016-2018”, ha sottolineato il ministro, ricordando inoltre che presso il ministero degli esteri e’ stato riattivato il Tavolo Artico, un gruppo informale di consultazione composto da membri provenienti dal mondo accademico, della ricerca e delle imprese. Tra queste Eni, impegnata, oltre che in programmi di estrazione in Norvegia e in Russia, anche in progetti per il miglioramento delle condizioni di sicurezza dei trasporti marittimi (oilspill), la riduzione dell’impatto ambientale e la tutela delle comunità indigene. “L’obiettivo della ministeriale Giannini – ha riferito – e’ quello di rafforzare e internazionalizzare la cooperazione scientifica. L’Italia, dal 2013 membro osservatore del Consiglio Artico, collabora già con Usa, Canada e Paesi scandinavi e ha rapporti importanti con la Russia, in una sorta di ‘science diplomacy'”.

Oggi i Paesi coinvolti presenteranno i loro progetti. L’Italia ne proporrà 3-4: tra questi spicca quello del Cnr, un radar satellitare che a distanza di centinaia di km e’ in grado rilevare deformazioni di pochi cm del terreno, come nel caso del terremoto ad Amatrice ma anche di fusione del permafrost nella regione artica, con effetti su abitati e infrastrutture. “Il 15 settembre scorso abbiamo registrato un nuovo record nello scioglimento dei ghiacci marini a causa del riscaldamento globale, pari a oltre il 40% rispetto a 15-20 anni fa”, ha spiegato il prof. Enrico Brugnoli, direttore del dipartimento terra e ambiente del Cnr. “Con questi ritmi, nei prossimi 10 anni e’ possibile prevedere nell’Artico estati prive di ghiaccio o con poco ghiaccio”, ha proseguito, ricordando che a questo bisogna sommare l’ancora più allarmante fusione del ghiaccio continentale, “che procede più velocemente di quanto previsto 15 anni fa”. Un fenomeno che “solletica anche appetiti energetici e marittimo-commerciali, per la possibilità di sfruttare le riserve di gas e petrolio e di utilizzare nuove rotte a nordovest che ridurrebbero i porti italiani a scali regionali per quasi meta’ anno”. (Ansa)

U.S. pushes for limits on fishing in Arctic Ocean

SEATTLE – U.S. officials are heading to Greenland for a three-day meeting to persuade other Arctic nations to place a moratorium on high-seas fishing in the Arctic Ocean, where climate change is melting the permanent ice cap and allowing trawlers in for the first time in human history.

The United States is proposing an agreement “that would close the international waters of the Arctic Ocean to commercial fishing until there is a good scientific foundation on which to base management of any potential fishing,” said David Benton, a member of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission, who will be part of the negotiations in Nuuk, Greenland.

The first step toward protecting the Arctic Ocean and its fish population, which has never been studied, is for the five nations bordering the body of water to reach an agreement on a moratorium. To date, the United States, Canada and Greenland are on board, but Russia and Norway have not joined in.

All coastal countries control the fisheries within 200 miles of their own coastlines. The high seas beyond that zone do not belong to any nation, are not covered by any regulations and can only be protected by international agreement.

Once the five Arctic nations are in accord on a fishing moratorium, Benton said, they would then reach out to other countries with major commercial fishing fleets, such as China, Japan and Korea, to negotiate full protection for the central Arctic Ocean.

Benton, who advises the U.S. negotiating team, said he was “cautiously optimistic” that the Arctic nations would reach agreement during the three-day meeting, which begins Monday.

“The Arctic is experiencing a fairly rapid rate of change,” said Benton, as the permanent ice melts. “That’s potentially causing large changes in the ecosystem, but we don’t understand what’s going on up there. If we want to do things right, this is the approach we should be taking.”

In 2009, the United States adopted its own Arctic Fishery Management Plan, closing American waters north of Alaska to commercial fishing until scientific research proves that the fishery is sustainable.

“What the United States did in its waters was a precautionary action that takes into account how Arctic warming is changing the ecosystem faster than science can keep up with it,” said Scott Highleyman, director of the international Arctic program for the Pew Charitable Trusts.

“There are no stock surveys or scientific assessments for fish there,” Highleyman said. “You don’t want to fish a place where you don’t know the fish population dynamics. Any time we’ve done that, it led to catastrophic overfishing.”

One example, Highleyman said, is the New England Atlantic cod fishery, which was shut down in the 1980s due to overfishing, costing 50,000 jobs.

There is much at stake in the central Arctic Ocean, of which about 1.1 million square miles are largely unregulated international waters. An open letter to the Arctic governments, signed by 2,000 scientists from around the world, notes the mysterious and fragile nature of the region.

If it is overfished, the scientists say, that will affect seals, whales and polar bears as well as the people who make the harsh region their home and rely on such creatures to feed their families.

“Until recently, the region has been covered with sea ice throughout the year, creating a physical barrier to the fisheries,” the scientists wrote. “In recent summers, however, the loss of permanent sea ice has left open water in as much as 40% of these international waters .… A commercial fishery in the central Arctic Ocean is now possible and feasible.” (Los Angeles Times)

 

Is Alaska the Worst State in the U.S. for Women?

A newly issued Alaska State Legislature report held some grim findings about women living in the Last Frontier: They earn less than men, were imprisoned at a higher rate during the past 10 years, and have a suicide rate that’s twice the national average, among other problems, including homelessness and a lack of health care.

“Some of the numbers are shocking and disturbing. Sadly, some of them are what I expected,” noted Senator Lesil McGuire (R-Anchorage) in a press release about the report, which was completed by Alaska Legislative Research Services in December but only made public Tuesday at the senator’s request. “That’s why it is important for us to figure out what’s behind these numbers and come up with solutions which make Alaska better for our daughters and granddaughters.”

Senator McGuire requested the Status of Women Report after reviewing a 2010 Alaska Victimization Survey, which interviewed nearly 1,000 women and found that 59 percent have experienced domestic abuse, sexual violence, or both.

“We were waiting until the timing was right to release the report,” McGuire’s legislative aide Amy Saltzman told Yahoo! Shine, explaining that the office had spent the start of 2013 mired in issues including the recently passed oil tax bill.

Among the state’s upsetting findings: In 2010, women working in Alaska only earned 67 cents for each dollar a man earned (the national average is a still-low 77 cents to the dollar). As for crime and imprisonment, the number of women going to prison in Alaska is growing: In 2007, women made up 6.5 percent of Alaska’s prison population, but that number had jumped to nearly 11 percent in 2011.

Alaskan women are slightly more likely to have health coverage than Alaskan men, but the coverage for Alaskan women is still below the national average, with 21 percent going without (compared to the national rate of 20).

In the mental-health realm, the suicide rate for women in Alaska is twice as high as the rate nationally—nearly 10 percent of girls in high school attempted suicide in 2011. In addition, nearly two-thirds of Alaskan women were found to be in treatment for alcohol related problems, compared to just one-third nationwide.

As far as homelessness is concerned, only 25 percent of single people in shelters were female in 2012—but, for adults in shelters considered part of a family, 62 percent were women with children. The report cited domestic violence—which has rates in Alaska among the country’s highest—as a major cause of homelessness for women and children.

So why the raw deal for women in this state? It may have something to do with the ratio of men to women there, which was noted in the state report as being higher in Alaska than in any other state, with 108.5 males to every 100 females. Nationally, there are 96.7 men to every 100 women. (Among the women in Alaska, 70 percent are white, over 17 percent Alaska native or Native American, and just 4 percent African American.)

To begin tackling the mountain of issues facing Alaskan women, Saltzman told Shine, the senator’s office plans to host a women’s summit in the fall, which will hopefully lead to community action efforts and new pieces of legislation.

“We need to take a very serious look at these numbers and figure out what we need to do to improve the status of women in Alaska,” Senator McGuire said.  “These issues are at the core of Alaska’s high rates of domestic violence and sexual assault. If we figure out solutions to these problems, we’ll finally be able to stop those horrible epidemics and rebuild Alaska’s families.” (Yahoo! Shine)

Boeing 777 crashes at San Francisco International Airport

A Boeing 777 operated by Asiana Airlines crashed while landing Saturday at San Francisco International Airport.

Flight 214 left Seoul’s Incheon International Airport earlier Saturday and flew 10 hours and 23 minutes to California, according to FlightAware, a website that offers tracking services for private and commercial air traffic. Two people are confirmed dead and 181 others have been taken to hospital (49 in serious condition). Somehow, 305 others survived.

Video taken soon after the crash and posted on YouTube showed dark gray smoke rising from the plane, which appeared to be upright. That smoke later became white, even as fire crews continued to douse the plane.

The top of the aircraft was charred and, in spots, gone entirely, according to video from CNN affiliate KTVU. The plane was on its belly, with no landing gear evident and the rear tail of the plane gone.

Fire trucks were on site, while first responders could be seen walking outside the aircraft. Evacuation slides could be seen extending from one side of the aircraft, from which there was no apparent smoke.

Corrine Gaines, from the U.S. Coast Guard’s operations in San Francisco, said that a helicopter from the Guard had been launched and that her agency is helping others responding at the scene.

There were a few clouds in the sky around the time of the crash, and temperatures were about 65 degrees, according to the National Weather Service. Winds were about 8 miles per hour.

Asiana Airlines is one of South Korea’s two major airlines, the other being Korean Air. It operates many of its flights out of Incheon International Airport, which is the largest airport in South Korea and considered among the busiest in the world. The Boeing 777-200LR has been in service since March 2006. The plane can carry 301 passengers and travel a maximum distance of 9,395 nautical miles. Asiana Airlines operates 71 aircraft and serves 14.7 million passengers annually. The airline was voted Airline of the Year by Global Traveler in 2011. In 1993, Asiana Airlines Boeing 737 crashed killing 68 people.

San Francisco International Airport, located some 12 miles south of downtown San Francisco, is California’s second busiest, behind LAX in Los Angeles.

According to information on Asiana Airlines’ website, the company has 12 Boeing 777 planes. They have a seating capacity of between 246 and 300 people and had a cruising speed of 555 mph (894 kph). (CNN)

More concerned with fish health than quotas

Pedersen slices open a frozen haddock to reveal the mass of salmon feed pellets in its stomach. This fish was caught in the vicinity of salmon farms in Vestre Jakobselv, Pedersen said.

The president of Norges Kystfiskarlag, the Coastal Fishermen’s Association, is more concerned with the effects of salmon farming on wild fish populations than he is with the new quota recommendations.

Arne Pedersen is not too concerned about the new quota recommendations for cod and haddock.  It isn’t the quantity of fish that worries him: it’s their health. “This is not natural, this is poison,” Pedersen said, sawing open a frozen haddock to expose the contents of its stomach.

The stomach is filled with a brown, fibrous substance that resembles feed pellets, such as those used in the salmon farms near where Pedersen said he caught the fish.  He produces another frozen haddock, saws it open as well, and the contents of the stomach are the same.

As president of Norges Kystfiskarlag, the Norwegian Coastal Fishermen’s Association, Pedersen represents more than 1,000 fishermen along the coast of Norway from his home in Vestre Jakobselv, in eastern Finnmark.  Part and parcel to protecting the livelihoods of coastal fishermen, he said, is to protect the health of the fisheries they rely on.

But Pedersen said that he has had no response from authorities when he has brought his complaints to bear.  He suspects it has to do with the enormous economic influence of the salmon farming industry in Norway: salmon farming comprises 80 percent of the Norwegian aquaculture industry.  More than 95 percent of Norway’s aquaculture production is exported, destined for more than 130 countries.

“There’s big money in salmon farms, and they do not speak about this conflict with the coastal fishermen in the areas where they farm,” Pedersen said.  “They have a big troop of lobbyists, national and international.”

The controversy surrounding the effects of salmon farming on the environment is not a new one.  A vast amount of research has been conducted on the issue, which in recent years has reached a national scale in countries such as Chile, Canada, and the United States.  In Norway and elsewhere, cited impacts include a decrease in wild salmon populations due to the influence of escaped farmed salmon, and the spread of deadly sea lice (“lakselus”, in Norwegian) and diseases throughout local wild fish populations.

Further down the coast, researchers from the Norwegian Institute of Nature Studies and the Institute for Marine Research found in a 2010 study that wild fish near salmon farms had high concentrations of organohalogenated contaminants (OCs) in their systems –chemicals such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) so toxic that their production was banned by the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants; and polybrominated diphenyl ethers, a type of flame retardant known as PBDEs.  A total of 45 percent of the fish nearby salmon farms were found to have feed pellets in their stomachs.  The pellets fall through the salmon farm pens and accumulate on the sea floor, and are then consumed by wild fish in the vicinity.  The control fish in the study were found to have no salmon pellets in their system, and up to 50 percent less OCs and PBDEs than the fish nearby salmon farms.

Although salmon farming companies and feed pellet producers tend not to disclose the precise contents of salmon feed pellets, scientists and advocates report that most pellets in the global salmon farming industry contain chemicals such as those indicated in the study, among others.

Pedersen is unaware of any studies that have been conducted within the fjords of Vestre Jakobselv and the surrounding area, but he is eager to see definitive research on what the effects of the chemicals from salmon feed pellets might be on the wild fish.  He said that he has strong suspicions that for wild fish nearby the salmon pens, the chemicals are disrupting their reproduction cycles.

Indeed, the 2010 study recommends further research into this very issue.  But Pedersen is not hopeful this will happen any time soon in his region. “At this moment, the fishermen catching wild fish, we are on the defensive,” he said.  “But in the long term, we have to stay focused on this issue.” (Barents Observer)