January 5 News: Lack of Sea Ice Could Be Causing More Seal Deaths, Say Researchers

Other stories below: Debate flares on U.S. natural gas exports; Insurance payouts point to climate change

AP photo: Clarke Canfield

Lack of ice could be causing more seal deaths: study

A new scientific study suggests harp seals in the North Atlantic are dying at high rates because of warming waters and a steady decline of sea ice in their traditional breeding grounds.

The research by scientists at Duke University in North Carolina tracked the decrease of sea ice due to global warming and the mortality of harp seals from 1992 to 2010.

David Johnston, a marine scientist who co-wrote the report, said it’s the first study to show that seasonal ice cover in the four seal breeding areas of North America has receded by as much as six per cent per decade.

“There has been a string of light ice years recently and we’re starting to be concerned that if ice continues to decline, this might have longer-term effects on the harp seal population,” Johnston said from his office in Beaufort, N.C.

“I’m concerned that these animals are in for a tough road with what we’re seeing with climate change.”

Should the U.S. export its natural gas? A debate flares

Last year, fuel was America’s #1 export. But not everyone’s so keen on watching the United States ship out all that energy to the rest of the world. Case in point: On Wednesday, Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) fired off a letter to Energy Secretary Steven Chu asking him whether it was really such a swell idea for the United States to be exporting its newly abundant natural gas resources all over the globe. Some experts, after all, have raised concerns that such exports could have unexpected downsides.

On the surface, there’s an alluring logic in exporting natural gas. The United States has been flooded with cheap gas thanks to its newly exploitable (and potentially large) shale resources. And gas prices are higher in many other countries. So why not ramp up exports, turn a profit, and reap the gains from trade? That explains why various producers are asking the Energy Department to green-light new export facilities, such as Cheniere Energy’s just-okayed Sabine Pass Liquefaction terminal in Cameron Parish, La., which will ship out two billion cubic feet of gas per day by 2015. Seven more projects are awaiting approval.

Insurance payouts point to climate change

Natural disasters in 2011 exerted the costliest toll in history — a whopping $380 billion worth of losses from earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires, tsunamis and more. Only a third of those costs were covered by insurance. And the tally ignores completely any expenses associated with sickness or injuries triggered by the disasters.

The single priciest events last year were the magnitude 9 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, which wrought some $210 billion worth of devastation, followed in second place by the series of earthquakes in New Zealand that triggered $16 billion worth of destruction, notes Ernst Rauch of Munich Reinsurance corporate headquarters in Munich.

Known as Munich RE, his firm is among a handful of major international corporations that insure insurance companies against failing. So it’s crucial that reinsurers know natural disasters intimately — where they’ve happened, how often, what’s caused them, how much damage they wreak and what recovery from them will cost. Munich RE has compiled one of the largest databases of natural catastrophes going back to 1980 globally, and to 1970 for U.S. and select European events.

Bus drivers and subway workers are the real environmentalists

As negotiations between the MTA and the Transport Workers Union go into their final week before the old contract expires, there’s no guarantee what will happen come Jan. 15.

But one thing is for certain: If you wanted to find some of the greenest workers on the continent, look no farther than the city’s subway tunnels and bus lanes.

When we think about “green jobs,” we usually imagine the (former) employees of Solyndra, or people putting up solar panels in the Mojave Desert or building giant windmills in the Dakotas. And those will help, some, to lessen America’s drain on energy resources. When visitors think about New York and the environment, maybe it’s the Greenmarket at Union Square that comes to mind — an awfully nice place to spend your money.

Scientists create living LED screens out of glowing bacteria

Here’s some cool news for people who love anything that glows in the dark: Scientists at UC San Diego have figured out how to make millions of flourescent E. coli bacteria flash all at once, creating a sort of living LED screen.

Jeff Hasty, a professor of biology and bioengineering who headed the research team in the university’s Division of Biological Sciences and BioCircuits Institute, said it took him and his team about five years and a series of papers to develop what he calls the “biopixels” that make up the living LED screen.

Back in 2008 Hasty and his team published a paper that showed how they built a biological clock inside a single bacterial cell that would tell the bacteria when to produce a flashing, glowing light.

In a second paper published in 2010 they showed they could synchronize thousands of bacteria in the same colony to blink on and off in unison.

The next step was to find out if they could get bacteria in different colonies to blink on and off at the same time.

27 Responses to January 5 News: Lack of Sea Ice Could Be Causing More Seal Deaths, Say Researchers

  1. todd tanner says:

    This is pretty unbelievable. It’s January 5th and Browning, MT, which is northeast of here on the east side of Glacier Park (and just south of the Canadian border) is dealing with huge wildfires. Browning should have snow on the ground right now. Instead, they’re burning up and evacuating people. Crazy stuff.

  2. prokaryotes says:

    Btw. Must See… how a polar bear trys to prevent breaking up of sea ice…

    This Month in Photo of the Day

    While at it, more polar bear imaging and low sea ice…

  3. prokaryotes says:

    Deadly floods ravage Brazil’s Minas Gerais
    Firefighters recover the body of a man killed by a landslide in Ouro Preto. Picture Agencia Brasil Civil defence workers have been digging to recover bodies in Ouro Preto

    Floods and landslides caused by heavy rain in south-eastern Brazil have killed at least six people and forced thousands from their homes.

  4. Michael T says:

    NSIDC just released their report on December Arctic Sea Ice:

    Arctic sea ice extent remained unusually low through December, especially in the Barents and Kara seas. In sharp contrast to the past two winters, the winter of 2011 has so far seen a generally positive phase of the Arctic Oscillation, a weather pattern that helps to explain low snow cover extent and warmer than average conditions over much of the United States and Eastern Europe. In Antarctica, where summer is beginning, sea ice extent is presently above average.

  5. Colorado Bob says:

    TT –
    Farther North :
    Sask. sees record breaking temperatures
    Over ten communities broke weather records on Wednesday

    Maple Creek hit an all-time weather high of 16 C Wednesday shattering a previous record of 8.8 C.

  6. Colorado Bob says:

    Annual Australian Climate Statement 2011

    Consecutive La Niña events bring Australia’s third-wettest year on record and second-highest two year total.

    * La Niña brings heavy rain, eases drought and causes widespread flooding.
    * Second-highest two-year (2010-2011) rainfall on record.
    * Australia’s first cooler than average year since 2001.
    * Australia’s coldest autumn since at least 1950.
    * The 10 years from 2002 to 2011 Australia’s equal-warmest 10-year period on record.

  7. Joan Savage says:

    Brazil dam burst forces thousands from homes

    [After last year’s flooding disaster that killed 800, the Brazilian government set up an early warning system.]

  8. Colorado Bob says:

    Sea Surface Temperatures in the Australian Region

    Sea-surface temperatures (SSTs) in the Australian region were slightly cooler than 2010, but were still 0.39 °C above average. The most notable monthly average anomalies were January, ranking second (+0.39 °C), and November, third (+0.43 °C), warmest on record. Furthermore, during 2011, 9 out of 11 months ranked in the top 10 warmest observations on record for their respective months. Conditions were particularly warm in the eastern and southern Indian Ocean with record warm conditions occurring in autumn, winter, and spring to the west of Perth.

  9. Paul Magnus says:

    Happening in Alberta Canada also. Weird stuff. Video…

    From the Browning fire…
    ‎”It’s probably the biggest grass fire in reservation history,” Smith told The Associated Press

  10. Paul Magnus says:

    Dont think that anyone fully appreciated what the increases in sustained wind speed due to GW means for fire.

    It dries out, starts fires (due to down power lines, more lighting storms) and spreads them fast and far.

  11. Paul Magnus says:

    100 firefighters are battling a major bushfire near Port Augusta, while blazes rage in three other states.

  12. Colorado Bob says:

    What about all-time highs for the month of January? (Thanks to the NWS office in Bismark, ND for this information)

    BISMARCK…. 63 ON JANUARY 08 2002.
    DICKINSON… 63 ON JANUARY 23 1981.
    JAMESTOWN… 56 ON JANUARY 19 1908.
    MINOT……. 59 ON JANUARY 28 1906. (60 so far)
    WILLISTON… 55 ON JANUARY 23 1944.

    Record Highs so far today:

    Rapid City, ND: 70 degrees so far, broke the old record (2008) by 10 degrees

    Minot, ND: 60 degrees is the record high for the month of January! The old record was 59 set back in 1906. (See list above)

    Aberdeen, SD: 58 so far, old record was 46 set back in 1935

  13. Colorado Bob says:

    On the thread there –

    Nicola Crosbie, chief meteorologist for Global Edmonton, said the temperature hit 11.7 C at City Centre Airport at around 3 p.m., breaking the Jan. 4 record of 8.9 set in 1947.

    A 98-year-old record was smashed in Calgary, where the temperature rose to 15.3. The day’s previous record of 12.2 was set in 1914.

  14. Colorado Bob says:

    PM –

    The day before “Black Saturday” …….. 114F in the Northern Suburbs of Melbourne with 60mph to 70mph winds.

  15. Colorado Bob says:

    The state of Minas Gerais will receive 300 millimeters (11.8 inches) of showers in the seven days through Jan. 10, said Marco Antonio dos Santos, a meteorologist at Sao Paulo-based Somar Meteorologia. That equals the average for the entire month of January in the past 30 years, Santos said yesterday in an interview from Valinhos, Brazil.

  16. Joan Savage says:

    Further down in the businessweek article you linked about Minas Gerais is a comment reminiscent of last year’s Australian floods’ effects on mining:

    Downpours in the January-March rainy season reduced output at Vale, CSN and MMX mines and disrupted ports and railways in the past two years.

    Rain can be “a serious problem for mining in Brazil,” Pedro Galdi, an equity strategist at brokerage SLW Corretora, said in a phone interview from Sao Paulo yesterday. “It’s hard to operate with storms and water.”

  17. Colorado Bob says:

    JS –
    February 10, 2008

    These are the photos of the submersed drag line that all of you in Australia have all seen on the news.

  18. EDpeak says:

    Speaking of ice, what about arctic ice, VOLUME not surface area this time?

    CP ran an article showing graphs including 9in green) volume going from 4.4 in 2010 to 4.4 (thousands of km^3) in 2011…but that was as of August 31, 2011..

    More recently thought the numbers could still be tweaked later, but best estimate is 4.0 not 4.3, for 2011!

    Has CP blogged about this? If so, url please?

    If not, could you soonish?


    See second image from the top at

  19. EDpeak says:

    Interesting (potential) coincidence:

    The year the arctic is virtually ice-free during the summer, might be the same year, or not many years off from, the year we hit 400ppm.

    Not causal of course, just reaching two “milestones”

    Predictions: 1) environmentalists will try to use this to wake more people up

    2) Fossil industries and the “free” market fundamentalists will still say “hoax!” or “science is uncertain!” and cry bloody murder at the thought of any “regulation”

    Suggested language reframing: instead of “Regulation” we should speak of:

    a. Oversight


    b. Rule of law (applied to industries once we have actual real oversight)

    But yes we need more than just rule of law for current laws…we need stronger about instead of ‘more regulation’, instead, “stronger protection”?

    Without apologies: If the right wing “Free” market fundamentalists can use linguistic re-framing to try to maximize profits and destroy the earth, we can try re-framing to protect the earth and our children’s futures.

  20. prokaryotes says:

    See comment #4 and always good to refer to winter or summer sea ice and volume/extent etc…

  21. prokaryotes says:

    Errr, ok i see you was refering to volume, ingnor my comment :)

  22. David B. Benson says:

    Too warm and too dry so far this winter.

  23. David B. Benson says:

    Will this CO2 capture method actually work?

    New Materials Remove Carbon Dioxide from Smokestacks, Tailpipes and Even the Air

  24. John Tucker says:

    There is a toxin, pathogen also at work in a few west coast seal species; especially ringed seals and now walrus it seems that has the potential of being a real problem. ( )

    They are testing for everything, even for radiation but likely it is a pathogen (or heavy metal??) because of the animal’s range.

    Phocine Distemper outbreaks in the Atlantic have been severe in past years and certainly environmental stress increases the severity of disease breakouts, if not singularly causes/facilitates them also.

  25. Greg Junell says:

    December was among the driest on record in Northern California. The state Department of Water Resources reported the snowpack water content throughout the Sierra at 19 percent of the average for early January.

    And rain is not in the forecast for at least the next week, according to the National Weather Service.

    (Fresno Bee)