Category Archives: Environment

Global Warming

Coal, not oilsands, the true climate change bad guy says study

By Bob Weber, The Canadian Press | The Canadian Press

One of the world’s top climate scientists has calculated that emissions from Alberta’s oilsands are unlikely to make a big difference to global warming and that the real threat to the planet comes from burning coal.

“I was surprised by the results of our analysis,” said Andrew Weaver, a University of Victoria climate modeller, who has been a lead author on two reports from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “I thought it was larger than it was.”

In a commentary published Sunday in the prestigious journal Nature, Weaver and colleague Neil Swart analyze how burning all global stocks of coal, oil and natural gas would affect temperatures. Their analysis breaks out unconventional gas, such as undersea methane hydrates and shale gas produced by fracking, as well as unconventional oil sources including the oilsands.

They found that if all the hydrocarbons in the oilsands were mined and consumed, the carbon dioxide released would raise global temperatures by about .36 degrees C. That’s about half the total amount of warming over the last century.

When only commercially viable oilsands deposits are considered, the temperature increase is only .03 degrees C.

In contrast, the paper concludes that burning all the globe’s vast coal deposits would create a 15-degree increase in temperature. Burning all the abundant natural gas would warm the planet by more than three degrees.

Governments around the world have agreed to try to keep warming to two degrees.

“The conventional and unconventional oil is not the problem with global warming,” Weaver said. “The problem is coal and unconventional natural gas.”

He said his analysis suggests it is an increased dependence on coal — not the oilsands — that governments have to worry about. As well, there’s so much gas in the world that it will also cause problems despite the fact it emits less carbon than oil.

“One might argue that the best strategy one might take is to use our oil reserves wisely, but at the same time use them in a way that weans us of our dependence on coal and natural gas,” Weaver said. “As we become more and more dependent on these massive reserves, we’re less and less likely to wean ourselves away from them.”

Burning all the oil in the world would only raise temperatures by less than one degree, the paper concludes.

Weaver’s analysis only accounts for emissions from burning the fuel. It doesn’t count greenhouse gases released by producing the resource because that would double-count those emissions.

He said his paper is an attempt to bring some perspective to the often-fraught debate over oilsands development, which continues to cause major concerns about the impact on land, air and water. And emissions from producing oilsands crude are making it very tough for Canada to meet its greenhouse gas reduction targets.

“We’ve heard a lot about how if we burn all the oil in the tarsands it’s going to lead to this, that and the other. We thought, ‘Well, let’s take a look at this. What is the warming potential of this area?’ and the numbers are what they are.”

He said the real message is that the world has to start limiting its use of fossil fuels.

“This idea that we’re going to somehow run out of coal and natural gas and fossil fuels is really misplaced. We’ll run out of human ability to live on the planet long before we run out of them.

“I have always said that the tarsands are a symptom of a very big problem. The problem is dependence on fossil fuels.”

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version had Neil Stewart.

http://ca.news.yahoo.com/coal-not-oilsands-true-climate-change-bad-guy-184214482.html

 

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5 Ways the World Will Change Radically This Century

By Natalie Wolchover | LiveScience.com

In terms of evolution, the species Homo sapiens is extremely successful. The populations of other species that are positioned similar to us on the food chain tend to max out at about 20 million. We, by contrast, took just 120,000 years to achieve our first billion members, and then needed only another 206 years to add 6 billion more. According to the United Nations Population Division, our population will hit 7 billion on Oct. 31, and though fertility rates have begun to decline across much of the globe, we’re still projected to reach 9 billion by mid-century and level off at around 10 billion by 2100.

A panel of academics met at Columbia University’s Earth Institute on Monday (Oct. 17) to discuss the impacts of the human population explosion, including the ways in which it will change the face of the Earth this century. Here are five striking changes you — or your kids or grandkids — can expect to see.

Shifting people

Currently, it’s a well-known fact that China is the most populous country in the world, and that Africa, though riddled with problems, is not necessarily overpopulated considering its size. These facts will drastically change. China’s one-child policy has significantly curbed its growth, while in some African countries, the average woman gives birth to more than 7 children. [How Many People Can Earth Support?]

According to Joel Cohen, a population biologist at Columbia University and the keynote speaker at Monday’s conference, India’s population will overtake China’s around 2020, and sub-Saharan Africa’s will overtake India’s by 2040. Furthermore, “In 1950, there were three times as many Europeans as sub-Saharan Africans. By 2100, there will be five sub-Saharan Africans for every European. That’s a 15-fold change in the ratio,” Cohen said. “Could you imagine that that might have an impact, geopolitically and on international migration?”

Jean-Marie Guehenno, former UN Under-Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations and director of the Center for International Conflict Resolution at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, said the migration of people from Africa to Europe will present a major challenge in the near future. “You can look at it as an enormous potential from a European standpoint … or you can say, ‘[Africa] is a continent that still has 15 percent that are not going to school,’ and that can be seen as a threat,” Guehenno said. “How are you going to manage that immigration so that this aging continent of Europe benefits from it while managing it? That is going to be a huge question.”

Urbanization

Globally, the number of people living in urban areas matched and then overtook the number of rural people sometime in the past two years. The trend will continue. According to Cohen, the number ofpeople living in cities will climb from 3.5 billion today to 6.3 billion by 2050. This rate of urbanization is equivalent to “the construction of a city of a million people every five days from now for the next 40 years,” he said.

Of course, new cities don’t tend to get constructed; instead, cities that already exist tend to balloon. Guehenno argues that megacities become chaotic. “Urbanization is going to change the face of conflict in a big way. When you live in small towns and rural areas, there are all sorts of traditional conflict- resolution mechanisms. They are not all nice, but they create a sort of stable equilibrium,” he said. “With the megacities that you see now in Africa, such as Monrovia (Liberia) and Kinshasa (Republic of Congo), we see cities where the dynamics are no more under control or have been lost. We are, I think, heading toward new types of conflicts — urban conflicts — and we haven’t really thought through the implications of that.”

Water wars

Not only has the human population exploded in the past two centuries, but the per-person consumption of resources — especially in industrialized nations — has grown exponentially. Scientists think that resource shortages will cause an escalation of conflicts during this century, and will widen the gulf between the rich and the poor — the haves and the have-nots.

No resource is more precious and vital than water, and, according to economist Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia, there are already parts of the world that, because of the rapidly changing climate, are at a severe crisis point. “Take the Horn of Africa for example: Somalia’s population has risen roughly fivefold since the middle of the 20th century,” Sachs said. “Precipitation is down roughly 25 percent over the last quarter century. There’s a devastating famine under way right now after two years of complete failure of rains, and [there is] the potential that this is entering a period of long-term climate change.”

Conflicts over water shortages will probably play out as class warfare, said Upmanu Lall, director of the Columbia Water Center. “Wealth inequality tends to grow as a country’s population grows, and this is a very important point to note because per capita consumption of resources has been increasing dramatically. Couple that with inequity in income and couple that with [the issue of] the availability of water,” Lall said. [How Much Water Is On Earth?]

When you add it all up, you get this dire picture: As the population grows, there is less water per person. Meanwhile, the gap between the rich and the poor widens, and the rich demand more resources to accommodate their lifestyles. Inevitably, they will commandeer the water and other resources of the poor. In all likelihood, Lall said, this will lead to challenges, and perhaps class conflict.

Future energy

Currently, there isn’t enough energy being extracted from known sources of fossil fuels to sustain 10 billion people. This means that humans will be forced to turn to a new energy source before the end of the century. However, it’s a mystery what that new source will be.

“Energy is the basic resource which underlies every other,” said Klaus Lackner, director of the Lenfest Center for Sustainable Energy. “And actually, technology is not quite ready to solve the [energy] problem. We know there’s plenty of energy in solar, in nuclear, in carbon itself — in fossil carbon — for probably 100 or 200 years (if we are willing to clean up after ourselves and pay the extra to make that happen). But none of these technologies are quite ready. Solar has its problems and is still too expensive.”

Carbon storage — a technology that prevents carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from escaping into the atmosphere when fossil fuels are burned — is still on the drawing board, though it looks possible, he added. “And lastly, nuclear energy: if we were betting on that, we may have just lost that one,” Lackner said, referring to the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan, earlier this year.

“Let me just give you a feeling how big today our energy consumption is: In New Jersey, the energy consumption exceeds the photosynthetic productivity of the same area if it were left pristine,” Lackner said. “We have to have technology help us out. I am optimistic … that the technologies can be developed to solve these problems … but I am a pessimist because we lack the societal structures which would enable us to employ these technologies, and we could very well fall on our own faces.”

In short, the future will match one of these two pictures: Either some new, superior form of energy extraction (such as highly efficient solar panels) will be widespread, or the technology, or its implementation, will fail, and humanity will face a major energy crisis.

Mass extinctions

As humans spread, we leave scant room or resources for other species. “There is good evidence that we are in the sixth massive species extinction of the history of the planet, because of the incredible amount of primary production that we take as a species to maintain 7 billion of us,” Sachs said.

Aside from the lack of land and resources left for other species, we’ve also caused rapid changes to the global climate, with which many of them cannot cope. Some biologists believe that with the current rate of extinction, 75 percent of the planet’s species will disappear within the next 300 to 2,000 years. These disappearances have already begun, and extinction events will become more and more common over the course of the century. [10 Species Our Population Explosion Will Likely Kill Off]

http://ca.news.yahoo.com/5-ways-world-change-radically-century-145807574.html


Lake Vostok Images


Lake Vostok

Lake Vostok  is the largest of more than 140 subglacial lakes found under the surface of Antarctica. The overlying ice provides a continuous paleoclimatic record of 400,000 years, although the lake water itself may have been isolated for 15 to 25 million years. The lake is named after the Vostok, the 900-ton corvette of Russian Antarctic pioneer Fabian von Bellingshausen.

Lake Vostok is located beneath Russia’s Vostok Station under the surface of the central East Antarctic Ice Sheet, which is at 3488 metres (11,443.6 ft) above mean sea level. The surface of this fresh water lake is 4000 metres (13,123.4 ft) under the surface of the ice, which places it at 512 metres (1,679.8 ft) below sea level. Measuring 250 kilometres (155.3 mi) long by 50 kilometres (31.1 mi) wide at its widest point, Lake Vostok is similar in size to Lake Ontario. Lake Vostok covers an area of 15690 square kilometre. The average depth is 344 metres (1,128.6 ft). It has an estimated volume of 5400 cubic kilometres (1,295.5 cu mi). The lake is divided into two deep basins by a ridge. The liquid water over the ridge is about 200 metres (656.2 ft), compared to roughly 400 metres (1,312.3 ft) deep in the northern basin and 800 metres (2,624.7 ft) deep in the southern.

No water sample has been obtained yet.

Discovery

Russian scientist P.A. Kropotkin first proposed the idea of fresh water under Antarctic ice sheets at the end of the 19th century. He theorized that the tremendous pressure exerted by the cumulative mass of thousands of vertical meters of ice could increase the temperature at the lowest portions of the ice sheet to the point where the ice would melt. Kropotkin’s theory was further developed by Russian glaciologist I.A Zotikov, who wrote his Ph.D. thesis on this subject in 1967. Russian scientist A.P. Kapitsa used seismic soundings in the region of Vostok Station in 1959 and 1964 to measure the thickness of the ice sheet.

When British scientists in Antarctica performed airborne ice-penetrating radar surveys in the early 1970s, they detected unusual radar readings at the site which suggested the presence of a liquid, freshwater lake below the ice. In 1991, Jeff Ridley, a remote sensing specialist with the Mullard Space Science Laboratory at University College London, directed theERS-1 satellite to turn its high-frequency array toward the center of the Antarctic ice cap. The data from ERS-1 confirmed the findings from the 1973 British surveys, but this new data was not published in the Journal of Glaciology until 1993. Space-based radar revealed that this subglacial body of fresh water was one of the largest lakes in the world—and one of some 140 subglacial lakes in Antarctica. Russian and British scientists delineated the lake in 1996 by integrating a variety of data, including airborne ice-penetrating radar imaging observations and space-based radar altimetry. It has been confirmed that the lake contains large amounts of liquid water under the more than 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) thick ice cap, promising to be the most unspoiled lake on Earth. The lake has at least 22 cavities of liquid water, averaging 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) each.

In 2005 an island was found in the central part of the lake. Then, in January 2006, the discovery of two nearby smaller lakes under the ice cap was published; they are named 90 Degrees East and Sovetskaya. It is suspected that these Antarctic subglacial lakes may be connected by a network of subterranean rivers. Centre for Polar Observation & Modelling glaciologists Duncan Wingham and Martin Siegert published in Nature in 2006 that many of the subglacial lakes of Antarctica are at least temporarily interconnected. Because of varying water pressure in individual lakes, large subsurface rivers may suddenly form and then force large amounts of water through the solid ice.

Geological History and Research 

Africa separated from Antarctica around 160 million years ago, followed by the Indian subcontinent, in the earlyCretaceous (about 125 million years ago). About 65 million years ago, Antarctica (then connected to Australia) still had atropical to subtropical climate, complete with marsupial fauna and an extensive temperate rainforest.

The Lake Vostok basin is a small (50 km wide) tectonic feature within the overall setting of a several hundred kilometer widecontinental collision zone between the Gamburtsev Mountain Range, a subglacial mountain range and the Dome C region. The lake water is cradled on a bed of sediments 70 metres (229.7 ft) thick, offering the possibility that they contain a unique record of the climate and life in Antarctica before the ice cap formed.

The lake water is believed to have been sealed off under the thick ice sheet about 15 million years ago. Initially, it was thought that the same water had made up the lake since the time of its formation, giving a residence time in the order of one million years. Later research by Robin Bell and Michael Studinger from the Lamont–Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University suggested that the water of the lake is continually freezing and being carried away by the motion of the Antarctic ice sheet, while being replaced by water melting from other parts of the ice sheet in these high pressure conditions. This resulted in an estimate that the entire volume of the lake is frozen and removed every 13,300 years—its effective mean residence time.

Drilling for sample cores was halted in 1998 at roughly 100 metres (328.1 ft). In November 2010, when the team came up with new, ecologically-safe methods of probing the lake without contamination; the scientists submitted a final environmental evaluation of the project to the Antarctic Treaty System‘s environmental protection committee and were given the go-ahead to sample the ancient waters. In January 2011 the head of the Russian Antarctic Expedition, Valery Lukin, announced that his team had only 50 meters of ice left to drill in order to reach the water. The researchers then switched to a new thermal drill head with a “clean” silicone oil fluid to drill the rest of the way. Instead of drilling all the way into the water, they would stop just above it, when a sensor on the thermal drill detects free water. At that point, the drill will be stopped and extracted from the bore hole, thereby lowering the pressure beneath it and drawing water into the hole and left for quite some time to freeze, creating a plug of frozen ice in the bottom of the hole. Finally, next summer, the team would drill down again to take a sample of that ice and analyze it.

Drilling stopped on 5 February 2011 at a depth of 3720 metres (12,204.7 ft) so that the research team could make it off the ice and onto the last flight before the beginning of the Antarctic winter season. The drilling team left by aircraft on February 6 and will have to wait until the next austral summer begins in December 2011 to try again.

In the Antarctic summer of 2012–13, the Russian team also plans to send an underwater robot into the lake to collect water samples and sediments from the bottom. An environmental assessment of the plan will be submitted at the Antarctic Treaty’s consultative meeting in May 2012.

Temperature

It was at Vostok Station that the coldest temperature ever observed on Earth was recorded on 21 July 1983. The average water temperature is calculated to be around -3 °C; it remains liquid below the normal freezing point because of high pressure from the weight of the ice above it. Geothermal heat from the Earth’s interior warms the bottom of the lake. The ice sheet itself insulates the lake from cold temperatures on the surface.

Ice Core

Researchers working at Vostok Station produced one of the world’s longest ice cores in 1998. A joint Russian, French, and United States team drilled and analyzed the core, which is 3623 metres (11,886.5 ft) long. Ice samples from cores drilled close to the top of the lake have been assessed to be as old as 420,000 years, suggesting that the lake was sealed under the ice cap 15 million years ago. Drilling of the core was deliberately halted roughly 100 metres (328.1 ft) above the suspected boundary where the ice sheet and the liquid waters of the lake are thought to meet. This was to prevent contamination of the lake from the 60 ton column of freon and kerosene Russian scientists filled it with to prevent the borehole from collapsing and freezing over.

From this core, specifically from ice that is thought to have formed from lake water freezing onto the base of the ice sheet,extremophile microbes were found, suggesting that the lake water supports life. Scientists suggested that the lake could possess a unique habitat for ancient bacteria with an isolated microbial gene pool containing characteristics developed perhaps 500,000 years ago.

Oxygen Levels 

Lake Vostok is an oligotrophic extreme environment, one that is expected to be supersaturated with nitrogen and oxygen, measuring 2.5 liters of nitrogen and oxygen per 1 kilograms (2.2 lb) of water, that is 50 times higher than those typically found in ordinary freshwater lakes on Earth. The sheer weight and pressure (350 atmospheres) of the continental ice cap on top of Lake Vostok is believed to contribute to the high gas concentration.

Besides dissolving in the water, oxygen and other gases are trapped in a type of structure called a clathrate. In clathrate structures, gases are enclosed in an icy cage and look like packed snow. These structures form at the high-pressure depths of Lake Vostok and would become unstable if brought to the surface.

Tidal Forces

In April 2005, German, Russian, and Japanese researchers found that the lake has tides. Depending on the position of the Sun and the Moon, the surface of the lake rises about 12 millimeters.

Life

The lake is under complete darkness and expected to be rich in oxygen, so there is speculation that any organisms inhabiting the lake could have evolved in a manner unique to this environment. These adaptations to an oxygen-rich environment might include high concentrations of protective oxidative enzymes.

Living Hydrogenophilus thermoluteolus microorganisms have been found in Lake Vostok’s deep ice core drillings; they are an extant surface dwelling species. This suggests the presence of a deep biosphere utilizing a geothermal system of the bedrock encircling the subglacial lake. There is optimism that microbial life in the lake may be possible despite high pressure, constant cold, low nutrient input, potentially high oxygen concentration and an absence of sunlight.

Due to the lake’s similarity to Jupiter‘s moon Europa and Saturn‘s moon Enceladus, any confirmation of life living in Lake Vostok would strengthen the prospect for the possible presence of life on Europa or Enceladus.

Controversy

The drilling project was opposed by some environmental groups and scientists who argued that hot-water drilling would do less environmental damage. The Russians however complained that hot-water drilling required more power than they could generate at their remote camp. Scientists of the United States National Research Council have taken the position that it should be assumed that microbial life exists in Lake Vostok and that after such a long isolation, any life forms in the lake require strict protection from contamination. Sediments on its floor should give clues to its long-term climate, and isotopes in its water are expected to help geologists determine how and when subglacial lakes such as Lake Vostok form. However, meticulously documented decontamination procedures will be required to establish the credibility of the scientific data obtained.

The drilling technique employed thus far by the Russians has involved the use of freon and kerosene to lubricate the borehole and prevent it from collapsing and freezing over; 60 tons of these chemicals have been used thus far on the ice above Lake Vostok. Other countries, particularly the United States and Britain, have failed to persuade the Russians not to pierce to the lake until cleaner technologies such as hot-water drilling are available. Though the Russians claims to have improved their operations, they continue to use the same borehole, which has already been filled with kerosene. According to the head of Russian Antarctic Expeditions, Valery Lukin, the new equipment had been developed by researchers at the St. Petersburg Nuclear Physics Institute that would ensure the lake remains uncontaminated upon intrusion. Lukin has repeatedly reassured other signatory nations to the Antarctic Treaty System that the drilling will not affect the lake. He argues that on breakthrough, water will rush up the borehole, freeze, and seal the chemical fluids out.

The international scientific community however remains unconvinced by these arguments. The Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition argues that this is a profoundly misguided step, which endangers not only Lake Vostok itself, but could harm other subglacial lakes in Antarctica, which some scientists are convinced are inter-linked with Lake Vostok. This coalition asserts that “it would be far preferable to join with other countries to penetrate a smaller and more isolated lake, before re-examining whether penetration of Lake Vostok is environmentally defensible. If we are wise, the Lake
will be allowed to reveal its secrets in due course.”

http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/topics/Lake_Vostok

Documentary

http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/the-lost-world-of-lake-vostok/

 


Radioactive water leaks into ocean

By Eugene Hoshiko,Mari Yamaguchi, The Associated PressThe Canadian Press

RIKUZENTAKATA, Japan – Highly radioactive water spilled into the ocean from a tsunami-damaged nuclear power plant Saturday as Japan’s prime minister surveyed the damage in a town gutted by the wave.

The Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex has been spewing radioactivity since March 11, when a magnitude-9.0 earthquake and ensuing wave knocked out power, disabling cooling systems and allowing radiation to seep out of the overheating reactors. Authorities said the leak they identified Saturday could be the source of radioactivity found in coastal waters in recent days.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan went to the plant and flew over the tsunami-ravaged coast soon after the wave hit, but Saturday was the first time he set foot in one of the pulverized towns.

Dressed in the blue work clothes that have become almost a uniform for officials, Kan stopped in Rikuzentakata, where the town hall is one of the few buildings still standing. All its windows are blown out and a tangle of metal and other debris is piled in front of it.

The prime minister bowed his head for a minute of silence in front of the building. He met with the town’s mayor, whose 38-year-old wife was swept away in the wave and is still missing. Officials fear about 25,000 people may have been killed, many of whose bodies have not been found.

“The government fully supports you until the end,” Kan later told 250 people at an elementary school that is serving as an evacuation centre.

Megumi Shimanuki, whose family is living in a similar shelter 100 miles (160 kilometres) away in Natori, said Kan didn’t spend enough time with people on the ground. Kan returned to Tokyo in the afternoon.

“The government has been too focused on the Fukushima power plant rather than the tsunami victims,” said Shimanuki, 35. “Both deserve attention.”

Saturday’s leak was from a newly discovered crack in a maintenance pit on the edge of the Fukushima complex, Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency spokesman Hidehiko Nishiyama said.

The crack was apparently caused by the quake and may have been leaking since then, said spokesman Osamu Yokokura of Tokyo Electric Power Co., which runs the plant.

Measurements showed the air above the radioactive water in the pit contained more than 1,000 millisieverts per hour of radioactivity. Even just two feet (60 centimetres) away, that figure dropped to 400 millisieverts. Workers have taken samples of the water in the pit and seawater and are analyzing them to determine the level of contamination.

Radiation quickly disperses in both air and water, and experts have said that it would be quickly diluted by the vast Pacific Ocean, where even large amounts have little effect. TEPCO is trying to pour concrete to seal the 8-inch-long (20-centimetre-long) crack, spokesman Takashi Kurita said.

“This could be one of the sources of seawater contamination,” Nishiyama said. “There could be other similar cracks in the area, and we must find them as quickly as possible.”

Radioactive iodine-131 at concentrations higher than the legal limit was first detected in waters off the plant more than a week ago. Readings released Saturday showed radiation in seawater had spread to 25 miles (40 kilometres) south of the plant; the concentration of iodine there was twice the legal limit, but officials stressed it was still well below levels that are dangerous to human health.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether workers who have been rushing to bring the reactors under control were exposed. People living within 12 miles (20 kilometres) of the plant have been evacuated, and no fishing is taking place in the waters just off the plant.

Because of the evacuations, the plant workers have been the primary people exposed to the radiation leaks.

A worker fell into the ocean Friday while trying to board a barge carrying water to help cool the plant, the nuclear safety agency said Saturday. He was immediately plucked from the water and rinsed off, and he tested negative for skin contamination. He said he did not think he had swallowed any water, but officials are still waiting for test results to make sure he was not exposed to unsafe levels of radiation.

Another crew member described difficult conditions inside the complex in an interview published Saturday.

The plant has run out of the nylon protective booties that workers put over their shoes. Earlier, TEPCO acknowledged that the tsunami had destroyed many of the gauges used to measure radiation, forcing workers to share. More gauges have since arrived at the site.

“We only put something like plastic garbage bags you can buy at a convenience store and sealed them with masking tape,” said the worker, who spoke to the national Mainichi newspaper. Such interviews have been exceedingly rare and always anonymous.

The worker also said the tsunami littered the grounds with dead fish that remained scattered throughout the plant, attracting birds.

Radiation concerns have rattled the Japanese public, already struggling to return to normal life after the earthquake-generated tsunami. Three weeks later, more than 165,000 people are living in shelters, while 260,000 households still do not have running water and 170,000 do not have electricity.

People whose houses are within the evacuation zone are growing increasingly frustrated and some have been sneaking back in. Government officials warned Friday that there were no plans to lift the evacuation order anytime soon.

After the quake, Tadashi and Ritsuko Yanai and their 1-month-old boy fled their home, which is six miles (10 kilometres) from the plant. Baby Kaon has grown accustomed to life in a shelter, but his parents haven’t.

When asked if he had anything he would like to say to Kan, the 32-year-old father paused to think and then replied: “We want to go home. That’s all, we just want to go home.”

Thousands of families are also still awaiting news of their loved ones. More than 15,500 people are still missing.

U.S. and Japanese troops launched an all-out search of the coastline Friday for any remaining bodies in what could be their last chance to find those swept out to sea. They have found nearly 50 bodies since Friday, most floating in coastal waters. So far, 11,800 deaths have been confirmed.

Up and down the coast, helicopters, planes and boats carrying U.S. and Japanese troops scoured for the dead again Saturday.

Some bodies may have sunk and just now be resurfacing. Others may never be found.

Coast guard crews conducting similar searches rescued a dog Friday that was drifting on a rooftop. It took several hours to grab the dog because it initially scampered across other floating wreckage as crews winched down from a helicopter. It was unclear how long the dog had been at sea.

http://ca.news.yahoo.com/japans-pm-visits-tsunami-hit-villages-us-japanese-20110401-211211-756.html


Japan’s earthquake shifted balance of the planet

By Liz Goodwin | US News – The Lookout

Last week’s devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan has actually moved the island closer to the United States and shifted the planet’s axis.

The quake caused a rift 24 kilometres below the sea floor that stretched nearly 300 kilometres long and 150 kilometres wide, according to the AP. The areas closest to the epicenter of the quake jumped a full 13 feet closer to the United States, geophysicist Ross Stein at the United States Geological Survey told The New York Times.

The world’s fifth-largest, 8.8 magnitude quake was caused when thePacific tectonic plate dived under the North American plate, which shifted Eastern Japan towards North America by about 13 feet (see NASA’s before and after photos at right). The quake also shifted the earth’s axis by 6.5 inches, shortened the day by 1.6 microseconds, and sunk Japan downward by about two feet. As Japan’s eastern coastline sunk, the tsunami’s waves rolled in.

Why did the quake shorten the day?  The earth’s mass shifted towards the center, spurring the planet to spin a bit faster. Last year’s massive 8.8 magnitude earthquake in Chile also shortened the day, but by an even smaller fraction of a second. The 2004 Sumatra quake knocked a whopping 6.8 micro-seconds off the day.

After the country’s 1995 earthquake, Japan placed high-tech sensors around the country to observe even the slightest movements, which is why scientists are able to calculate the quake’s impact down to the inch. “This is overwhelmingly the best-recorded great earthquake ever,” Lucy Jones, chief scientist for the Multi-Hazards project at the U.S. Geological Surveytold The Boston Herald.

The tsunami’s waves necessitated life-saving evacuations as far away as Chile. Fisherman off the coast of Mexico reported a banner fishing day Friday, and speculated that the tsunami knocked sealife in their direction.

http://ca.news.yahoo.com/blogs/dailybrew/japan-earthquake-shifted-balance-planet-20110314-065608-417.html


Analysis: Worst case nuclear cloud seen limited to Japan

By Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent | Reuters

OSLO (Reuters) – In the worst case, any radioactive cloud from Japan’s damaged nuclear plant is likely to be limited to the densely populated nation — unlike the wider fallout from the Chernobyl disaster, experts say.

The 1986 blast in then-Soviet Ukraine, when the reactor exploded, contaminated large parts of Europe in the world’s worst nuclear disaster. At the Fukushima plant, the explosive potential within the six reactors is easing with time.

“In the worst case, a radioactive cloud would not go that far up in the atmosphere,” said Jan Beranek, head of environmental groupGreenpeace’s International Nuclear Campaign.

“That is good news for the world, but bad news for Japan.”

Despite assurances by Japanese authorities about low health risks, the crisis at the Fukushima plant has worsened since Friday’s quake-caused tsunami, with desperate, unsuccessful attempts on Wednesday to water-bomb the facility.

“We are at the beginning of the catastrophic phase,” Sebastian Pflugbeil, president of the private, German-based Society for Radiation Protection, said of Japan’s efforts to pull the Fukushima plant back from the brink.

“Maybe we have to pray,” he said, adding that a wind blowing any nuclear fallout east into the Pacific would limit any damage for Japan’s 127 million population in case of a meltdown or other releases, for instance from spent fuel storage “ponds.”

Japan placed top priority on Wednesday on efforts to cool down a plutonium-fueled nuclear reactor at Fukushima — the only one of six not fueled by less hazardous uranium. Some countries advised their nationals to leave the country.

Many experts expect the outcome to be worse than the partial reactor meltdown at Three Mile Island in the United States in 1979, which caused no widespread health damage, but less severe than Chernobyl.

A U.N. study estimated that there could be 4,000 to 9,000 extra cancer deaths from Chernobyl, but Greenpeace has said that the disaster could cause more than 250,000 cancer cases, including 100,000 fatalities.

“In Chernobyl the whole plant core exploded,” said Malcolm Crick, Secretary of the U.N. Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR). “But there was also a lot of heat and that lifted it high into the atmosphere.”

He said Fukushima was “a serious situation but it’s too early to say” what the worst outcome could be.

Malcolm Grimston, a nuclear expert at the Chatham House think-tank in Britain, said Fukushima was not like Chernobyl.

“We’re nearly five days after the fission process was stopped, the levels of radioactive iodine will only be about two-thirds of where they were at the start, some of the other very short-lived, very radioactive material will be gone altogether by now,” he said.

“The situation may recede or deteriorate and lead to a massive radiation leak to the atmosphere,” said Professor Javier Dies, head of Nuclear Engineering at the Polytechnic University of Barcelona. “As things stand, this cannot be ruled out.”

Greenpeace’s Beranek said that heavy pollution from cesium could make some areas of Japan near the plant uninhabitable, at least for decades, as happened around Chernobyl. Pflugbeil also said some areas might be off-limits.

Laurence G. Williams, Professor of Nuclear Safety at the John Tyndall Institute for Nuclear Research in Britain, said he did not see a Chernobyl-type blast as likely.

“I can’t think of anything at the moment that would drive that explosive force,” he said. “It will just be a melting, or a degrading, heating up of the fuel which will just crumble into a heap like what happened at Three Mile Island.”

Richard Wakeford, of the Dalton Nuclear Institute at the University of Manchester, said in a statement that words like “apocalypse” and “catastrophe” were “utterly inappropriate” about the situation at Fukushima and could cause unnecessary panic.

Leaks from Fukushima have already spread some radiation from the plant, briefly raising levels in Tokyo to 10 times normal levels, but are far below the level of a catastrophic release that would pose a wide threat to human health, experts say.

Crick at UNSCEAR said that long-term exposure after Chernobyl for people living in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia was about 10 millisieverts, the equivalent of the radiation in one CT scan, a special type of x-ray. People pick up about 2.4 millisieverts a year in background radiation.

http://ca.news.yahoo.com/worst-case-nuclear-cloud-seen-limited-japan-20110316-094830-218.html