Blue Marble - August 2012

No, Menstruating Women Do Not Attract Bear Attacks

| Wed Aug. 15, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

This story originally appeared on Mother Nature Network.

Women who might think twice about a summer trip to a national park can now officially rest assured: it turns out that menstrual odors do not attract bear attacks, according to a paper by the National Park Service.

The paper was written in response to the long-standing concern that the odors associated with menstruation could lure in hungry bears, putting women at a higher risk than men of being mauled. The concern proved to be little more than an urban legend, at least when it comes to grizzly and black bears.

According to researcher Kerry A. Gunther, who wrote the paper: "There is no evidence that grizzly and black bears are overly attracted to menstrual odors more than any other odor."

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Fukushima Radiation Gives Rise to Mutant Butterflies?

| Wed Aug. 15, 2012 6:00 AM EDT
The pale grass blue butterfly, Zizeeria maha.

Last March, the 9.0 magnitude Tōhoku earthquake triggered a tsunami that sent over 45-foot waves of water crashing down on the reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant, causing the largest nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986. While health officials scrambled to quickly stabilize the situation, it was unclear how much radiation had made it out of the plant—and how it could affect people, plants, and animals who came into contact with it.

Eliot Spitzer: A Climate Change Fix Conservatives Can Love

| Tue Aug. 14, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

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

So let me get this straight. We just found out that July was the hottest month on record.

This past week, James Hansen, the director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies and father of climate change science, wrote of the peer-reviewed research he just completed: "For the extreme hot weather of the recent past, there is virtually no explanation other than climate change."

And last month, Richard Muller, a University of California-Berkeley physics professor, MacArthur Fellow, and former climate change skeptic—whose research was funded by the Koch brothers—concluded that "global warming was real and that prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I'm now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause."

The pace of global warming is accelerating and the scale of the impact is devastating. The time for action is limited—we are approaching a tipping point beyond which the opportunity to reverse the damage of CO2 emissions will disappear.

Climate Change and the Fate of a Million Kids

| Tue Aug. 14, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

 Sahel landscape: Center for International Forestry Research via FlickrSahel landscape in a good year: Center for International Forestry Research via Flickr

If you had to pick ground zero for climate change, you might pick the Sahel, the grasslands between the Sahara in the north and African tropical rainforests in the south. The region is immensely fertile—when it isn't being slammed by recurrent droughts and floods. Many human lives are suspended in a fragile balance with the volatile climate of this region.

During the epic drought of the 1970s and 1980s, 30 percent less rain fell in the Sahel compared to the 1950s and more than 100,000 people died. Basically it was the biggest drought over the largest land area of the 20th century, according to the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Lab at Princeton (GFDL).

At that time most believed the cause of drought was human overuse of the land—grazing, deforestation, poor farming practices—on a local scale. Nowadays the data suggest recurring Sahelian droughts are driven by a more complex constellation of factors, some related to global climate change, including:

  • Warming sea surface temperatures in the Indian Ocean (see this paper in Science)
  • Increase in greenhouse gases combined with increase in atmospheric aerosols (see GFDL)
  • Changes in the Atlantic multidecadal oscillation, which may or may not be manmade (see this paper in International Journal of Climatology)

Sadly 2012 has produced another drought in the Sahel, only two years after the 2010 drought. Water shortages, failed crops, insect plagues, high food prices, human displacement, conflict, and chronic poverty now threaten the lives of 18 million people in the region, including at least a million children, says UNICEF.

The global warming casualty list already includes 150,000 additional people killed every year, mostly from disease and malnutrition. That number is projected to grow. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, heat waves could kill 150,000 Americans alone by 2099 (scary map of that here.)

 

 

Obama Announces Federal Aid for Drought-Stricken Agriculture Industry

| Mon Aug. 13, 2012 6:26 PM EDT
President Obama is briefed by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

This story was originally published at The Guardian.

President Barack Obama moved to stem the impact of the worst drought in 50 years as he directed the Department of Agriculture to buy up to $170 million of pork, lamb, chicken and catfish.

The move comes as the G20 group of countries are reportedly planning their response to drought and soaring food prices around the world. The US is the world's largest exporter of corn, soybeans and wheat and the drought has already sent prices to record levels.

Obama made the announcement on Monday at the start of his three-day trip to Iowa, a swing state the Democrats hope to win in this November's election. The state that has been hit hard by a drought that last week drove US corn prices to an all-time high.

BP's Olympic Ads Seek To Erase Oil Spill From Memory

| Sat Aug. 11, 2012 6:03 AM EDT

BP may not be top-notch at preventing huge, toxic oil spills, but the company is certainly PR-savvy.

In this spring's run-up to the Olympic games, London 2012 organizers announced that BP would be a main sponsor of the event—specifically, a "Sustainability Partner" helping to create the "greenest Games ever." The enviro community balked at the move, launching campaigns, circulating videos, and pranking high-profile orgs to underscore the irony. But to little avail, it seems: Despite the controversy, a survey published this week shows that the oil and gas giant's Olympic ads seem to be rekindling the public's BP love.

Of all the main Olympic sponsors, BP went into the games dead last in brand perception ratings—in fact, it was the only company with a rating in the negative numbers, according to the survey from YouGov BrandIndex. Now, with ads on billboards and television (see below), BP has catapulted from a -5.9 perception rating to a 2.6, a massive jump rivaled only by Visa. And that's among the US population specifically, since all of YouGov's survey respondents were US adults:YouGov G BrandIndexYouGov G BrandIndex

Part of BP's massive Olympic ad effort is "BP Team USA," a group of nine US Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls serving as the brand's athlete ambassadors. Two of the team's members—track and fielder Sanya Richards-Ross and swimmer Rebecca Soni—have already brought in three gold medals and a silver, likely further boosting the hunky-dory US attitudes towards BP at the games.

Also notable: A couple of those BP Team USA ads are grouped on its YouTube channel under the title "Overcoming Setbacks." An admirable athletic sentiment, sure, but an ironic one when employed by a company that's using these ads—and the athletes in them—to fix its own "setbacks."

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Fukushima Victim Resurrects Sake Brewery

| Sat Aug. 11, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

Iwaki city, one of the most damaged areas in Fukushima.

This story first appeared on the Guardian website.

It's little wonder that Chieko Sasaki is gripping two bottles of sake like her life depends on it.

For weeks after the meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant last March, Sasaki believed her brewing business had met the same fate as her hometown, Iitate.

The farming village lies just outside the 20km (12-mile) evacuation zone surrounding the plant, but was evacuated two months after the accident after independent monitors discovered dangerously high levels of radiation there.

Sasaki, along with 7,000 Iitate residents, left the home she shared with her husband, son and grandson, and said a quiet farewell to her brewery, restaurant and the fields where she once grew organic rice and vegetables.

"When I think about my old house, I get a headache and can't sleep," she said. "I took out millions of yen in loans to build my old brewery and restaurant, and I was on the verge of paying them off when the accident happened.

"Then I had to borrow more money to open this place. Tokyo Electric Power [the operator of the plant] has paid me some compensation, but it's a drop in the ocean."

Almost a year and half later, Iitate's residents, now scattered around the region in temporary shelters and private accommodation, still don't know when they will be able to make a permanent return, although many are now permitted to visit during daylight hours.

Kitty Cams Reveal Shocking Truth

| Fri Aug. 10, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

Night kitteh sez resistence is futile.  University of Georgia and National Geographic Remote ImagingLOOK INTEW MAI EYEZ. Night kitteh sez resistance is futile. University of Georgia and National Geographic Remote Imaging

A new study from the University of Georgia affirms your deepest, darkest suspicion, America: Your little kitty witty cat may be out for blood behind your back.

University researchers outfitted 60 pet kitties in Athens, Ga. with three-ounce video cameras provided by National Geographic to figure out what the heck cats do all day when they're turned loose into the suburban wild. Between November 2010 and October 2011, the "Kitty Cams" captured more than 2,000 hours of life in the seedy underbelly of neighborhood fauna, revealing that Princess Fluffywuffykins and her fuzzied ilk are likely killing a lot more critters than the precious gifts they leave for you and your dustpan on the doorstep.

"All the previous studies were based on counts of things brought to the house and this time in this study, we found that cats don’t bring most of their prey back to their house," ecologist Kerrie Anne Loyd, the lead author of the study, explained. "So the previous studies were missing a huge portion of captures from hunters."

About 30 percent of the sampled cats were successful hunters and killed, on average, two animals a week. Almost half of their spoils were abandoned at the scene of the crime. Extrapolating from the data to include the millions of feral cats brutalizing native wildlife across the country, the American Bird Conservancy estimates that kitties are killing more than 4 billion animals annually. And that number's based on a conservative weekly kill rate, said Robert Johns, a spokesman for the conservancy.

"We could be looking at 10, 15, 20 billion wildlife killed (per year)," Johns said.

She hadn’t ripped the bird apart yet, but it was clear that the bird was in great distress and it was very upsetting."

The kill footage, Loyd noted, is "pretty horrible to watch," which is why you'll find a video of kitteh finding tasty Chex Mix on her research website, but not kitteh dismembering Woodland Vole. One pet owner, Evet Loewen, was particularly scandalized by what she saw and almost dropped out of the study. After downloading a day's worth of video recordings from her cat Ursa's Kitty Cam, she caught the former feral committing the Unspeakable.

"You could see her whiskers and you could see her staring at the sky, looking at the trees…and in this particular instance…it was clear that she was under the deck of my house and had a bird," Loewen said. "And she hadn’t ripped the bird apart yet, but it was clear that the bird was in great distress and it was very upsetting."

"I stopped watching because I knew what the end point was, that the bird wasn’t going to live. I was very upset with my cat."

The feline propensity for food-play is a well-documented phenomenon (See "Cat Breading"), so this is nothing new. But what was surprising about the killings, according to Loyd, was the kitties' penchant for scaly, cold-blooded flesh: The most common prey were Carolina anoles, followed by small mammals and finally, birds. (But lizards! Gross! So who cares.)

To stop Ursa's onslaught on animal-kind, Loewen took the advice of the UGA researchers and outfitted her naughty kitty with a cat bib and bell attachment, effectively disabling any of Ursa's predatory prowess.

"She still likes to sit down and watch birds, but she cannot get them at this point because her movements are so inhibited," Loewen said. "She can be outside and she can look at the birds all she wants but she gets up and this bell goes right off."

The fine, feathered creatures of Athens can sleep peacefully tonight, knowing one more feline enemy-combatant is off the streets for good.

Meanwhile, here are the cat photos you came here for:

 

Grumpy kitteh is grumpy. Sez collars are fur dogs. University of Georgia and National Geographic Remote ImagingGrumpy kitteh sez collars are "fur" dogs. (LOL!) University of Georgia and National Geographic Remote Imaging

 

Prowling kitteh stalks wildlyfe, looking for noms.  University of Georgia and National Geographic Remote ImagingProwling kitteh stalks wildlife, looking for noms. University of Georgia and National Geographic Remote Imaging

 

Car kitteh lurks where you least expect him.  University of Georgia and National Geographic Remote ImagingCar kitteh disapproves of your crummy park job. University of Georgia and National Geographic Remote Imaging

 

Night kitteh's eyes penetrate your soul. University of Georgia and National Geographic Remote ImagingNight kitteh's eyes penetrate your soul. University of Georgia and National Geographic Remote Imaging

Consumers of the Internet, behold more Kitty Cam photos here.

VIDEO: Adorable Singing Penguin Threatened by Climate Change, Nets

| Fri Aug. 10, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

This post was originally published at Scientific American.

It has been a rough few decades for endangered yellow-eyed penguins (Megadyptes antipodes). The species can only be found along a small portion of the southeastern coast of New Zealand's South Island, the nearby Auckland Islands, and the isles of Campbell, Stewart and Codfish. Their total population numbered nearly 7,000 birds just 30 years ago but today that total has fallen to closer to 4,000. The species seems to face threats from all sides: Feral cats and invasive stoats (a kind of weasel that also threatens kiwis) prey on their nests; bacterial diseases and a blood parasite have killed them by the hundreds; food has at times been scarce, possibly due to climate change; and ecotourists have been known to disturb the penguins' breeding colonies, lowering fledglings' chances of survival.

Chevron Fire Investigators Wait For All-Clear Before Refinery Inspection

| Thu Aug. 9, 2012 7:48 PM EDT
The Chevron refinery fire in Richmond on August 6

This story first appeared on the Guardian website.

Investigators are waiting to see if it is safe to enter a smouldering Chevron oil refinery after it was ravaged by fire, sending plumes across the San Francisco bay area and Californian gasoline prices surging.

Experts warned it could take months to repair the refinery in Richmond, a 2,900-acre facility which refines about 150,000 gallons of gasoline daily, 15% of the state's daily needs.

Monday evening's blaze began in a tower and spread to at least three units used to cool water, prompting hundreds of people to seek treatment for respiratory problems and panic buying at the pumps, raising prices 11% in the bay area.

However, initial predictions that prices could exceed $4 per gallon were scaled back because spare capacity in other west coast refineries could fill much, if not all, of the gap.