Category: Evolution


 

The Washington Times

By Jessica Chasmar

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Photo by: Matt Brown

**FILE** Smoke rises from the Colstrip Steam Electric Station, a coal burning power plant in in Colstrip, Mont., on July 1, 2013. Colstrip is kind of plant called on by President Barack Obama‘s climate change plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. On Feb. 24, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on the unanimous federal appeals court ruling that upheld the Environmental Protection Agency‘s unprecedented regulations, aimed at reducing the greenhouse gases blamed for global warming. The case comes to the court amid Obama‘s increasing use of his executive authority to act on environmental and other matters when Congress doesn’t, or won’t. (Associated Press)

A co-founder of Greenpeace told a Senate panel on Tuesday that there is no scientific evidence to back claims that humans are the “dominant cause” of climate change.

Patrick Moore, a Canadian ecologist who was a member of Greenpeace from 1971-86, told members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee environmental groups like Greenpeace use faulty computer models and scare tactics in further promoting a political agenda, Fox News reported.

“There is no scientific proof that human emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) are the dominant cause of the minor warming of the Earth’s atmosphere over the past 100 years,” Mr. Moore said. “Today, we live in an unusually cold period in the history of life on earth and there is no reason to believe that a warmer climate would be anything but beneficial for humans and the majority of other species.

“It is important to recognize, in the face of dire predictions about a [two degrees Celsius] rise in global average temperature, that humans are a tropical species,” he continued. “We evolved at the equator in a climate where freezing weather did not exist. The only reasons we can survive these cold climates are fire, clothing, and housing.

 

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New maps show how habitats may shift with climate change

This map shows how marine habitat ranges will shift likely in a segment of the Northern Hemisphere. The length of the black arrows indicates the velocity of temperature change, and the color schemes correspond with the nature of the habitat migration, as follows. SINK: Migrations terminate due to some barrier, such as coastlines. SOURCE: Migrations do not terminate. CORRIDOR: Many migrations passing through. DIVERGENCE: Fewer migrations end than start. CONVERGENCE: More migrations start than end. Credit: Michael Burrows and Jorge Garcia Molinosor (Credit: Michael Burrows and Jorge Garcia Molinosor)

This map shows how marine habitat ranges will shift likely in a segment of the Northern Hemisphere. The length of the black arrows indicates the velocity of temperature change, and the color schemes correspond with the nature of the habitat migration, as follows. SINK: Migrations terminate due to some barrier, such as coastlines. SOURCE: Migrations do not terminate. CORRIDOR: Many migrations passing through. DIVERGENCE: Fewer migrations end than start. CONVERGENCE: More migrations start than end. Credit: Michael Burrows and Jorge Garcia Molinosor

As regional temperatures shift with climate change, many plants and animals will need to relocate to make sure they stay in the range of temperatures they’re used to.

For some species, this shift will mean a fairly direct adjustment toward higher latitudes to stay with cooler temperatures, but for many others, the path will take twists and turns due to differences in the rate at which temperatures change around the world, scientists say.

Now, a team of 21 international researchers has identified potential paths of these twists and turns by mapping out climate velocities— the speed and intensity with which climate change occurs in a given region — averaged from 50 years of satellite data from 1960 through 2009, and projected for the duration of the 21st century.

MSN Weather: What causes global warming?
MSN Weather: How global warming can make cold snaps even worse

“We are taking physical data that we have had for a long time and representing them in a way that is more relevant to other disciplines, like ecology,” said co-author Michael Burrows, a researcher at the Scottish Marine Institute. “This is a relatively simple approach to understanding how climate is going to influence ocean and land systems.”

Where species come and go

The resulting maps indicate regions likely to experience an influx or exodus of new species, or behave as a corridor or, conversely, a barrier, to migration. Barriers, such as coastlines or mountain ranges, could cause local extinctions if they prevent species from relocating, the team says.  [Maps: Habitat Shifts Due to Climate Change]

“For example, because those environments are not adjacent to or directly connected to a warmer place, those species from warmer places won’t be able to get there very easily,” Burrows told Live Science. “They might still get there in other ways, like on the bottoms of ships, but they won’t get there as easily.”

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Arctic polar bears may be adjusting their eating habits as their sea ice habitat melts and the furry white predators stand to lose the floating platform they depend on to hunt seals, their primary food. According to researchers, however, the bears are displaying flexible eating habits as their world changes around them.

Indeed, scientific studies indicate polar bear populations are falling as the sea ice disappears earlier each spring and forms later in the fall. But a series of papers based on analysis of polar bear poop released over the past several months indicate that at least some of the bears are finding food to eat when they come ashore, ranging from bird eggs and caribou to grass seeds and berries.

“What our results suggest is that polar bears have flexible foraging strategies,” Linda Gormezano, a biologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York and a co-author of several of the papers, told NBC News.

Quinoa, a dog, finds polar bear scat

Robert Rockwell / American Museum of Natural History
Quinoa, a Dutch shepherd who was trained to sniff out polar bear scat, sits next to find. Analysis of the polar bear scat reveals the animals have a flexible foraging strategy.

The results stem from research in western Hudson Bay, near Chruchill, Manitoba, Canada, which is in the southern extent of polar bear habitat and serves as a harbinger of what the animals are likely to face throughout their Arctic range as the climate continues to warm and sea ice breaks up earlier and earlier each spring.

The flexible foraging strategy of polar bears “means that there may be more to this picture in terms of how polar bears will adjust to changing ice conditions” than indicated by models based on the spring breakup date of the sea ice and thus their access to seals, Gormezano said.

She added that nobody knows for sure how well polar bears will adapt to the changing food supply, but a big step toward an answer is to study what they eat on land “rather than assume that they may just be fasting.”

Let them eat car parts
In addition to berries, birds and eggs, Andrew Derocher, a University of Alberta polar bear biologist who was not involved with the recent studies, said people have seen a polar bear drink hydraulic fluid as it was drained out of a forklift, chomp the seats of snow machines, and eat lead acid batteries.

“Polar bears will eat anything,” he told NBC News. “The question is: Does is it do them any good? And everything we can see from what bears eat when they are on land is it has a very, very minimal energetic return relative to the cost.”

Gormezano said the plants found in any given pile of poop were usually the same, suggesting the bears eat whatever they find in their immediate surroundings — they don’t spend a lot energy searching for food. Mothers and cubs, who wander farthest inland, feast on berries found there. On the coast, where adult males linger, the poop is predominantly shoreline grass seeds.

Animal remains, however, showed no pattern, which fits with a landscape rich with nesting birds and caribou and polar bears opportunistically eating whatever crosses their path, according to a paper Gormenzano and colleague Robert Rockwell published in BMC Ecology in December 2013.

In a paper published in Polar Biology in May 2013, the researchers report observations of polar bears chasing and capturing snow geese with the efficiency of a skilled hunter — snagging one right after the other.

Polar bear eats a caribou

Robert Rockwell / American Museum of Natural History
A polar bear eats a caribou on land. Recent studies suggest polar bears have a flexible foraging strategy, which help them survive as they come ashore earlier due to melting Arctic sea ice.

“Previously, it had been thought that that would not be a very energetically profitable thing for a polar bear to do because they expend more energy in the chase than they get from consuming the food,” Gormezano noted.

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Jan 10, 2014 by Sci-News.com

According to paleontologists from the University of Chicago and the University of Michigan, long-extinct Bandringa sharks migrated downstream from freshwater swamps to the ocean to spawn in shallow coastal waters and left behind fossil evidence of one of the earliest known shark nurseries.

This is an artist's impression of Bandringa shark. Image credit: John Megahan / University of Michigan.

This is an artist’s impression of Bandringa shark. Image credit: John Megahan / University of Michigan.

The long-snouted Bandringa shark (Elasmobranchii, Chondrichthyes) – a bottom-feeding predator that lived in an ancient river delta system in what is today the Upper Midwest – is likely one of the earliest close relatives of modern sharks.

It resembled present-day sawfish and paddlefish, with a spoon-billed snout up to half its body length. Juveniles were 4 to 6 inches long and grew into adults of up to 10 feet.

Bandringa sharks were discovered in 1969 and soon became one of the most prized fossils from the well-known Mazon Creek deposits in northern Illinois.

Until now, paleontologists believed that the genus Bandringa contained two species – B. rayi and B. herdinae, one that lived in freshwater swamps and rivers and another that lived in the shallow ocean.

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Jan 16, 2014 by Sci-News.com

By using the same experimental framework normally applied to test learnt behavioral responses in animals, biologists from Australia and Italy have successfully demonstrated that Mimosa pudica – an exotic herb native to South America and Central America – can learn and remember just as well as it would be expected of animals.

Mimosa pudica at the Botanical Garden KIT, Karlsruhe, Germany. Image credit: H. Zell / CC BY-SA 3.0.

Mimosa pudica at the Botanical Garden KIT, Karlsruhe, Germany. Image credit: H. Zell / CC BY-SA 3.0.

Mimosa pudica is known as the Sensitive plant or a touch-me-not. Dr Monica Gagliano from the University of Western Australia and her colleagues designed their experiments as if Mimosa was indeed an animal.

They trained Mimosa‘s short- and long-term memories under both high and low-light environments by repeatedly dropping water on them using a custom-designed apparatus.

The scientists show how Mimosa plants stopped closing their leaves when they learnt that the repeated disturbance had no real damaging consequence.

The plants were able to acquire the learnt behavior in a matter of seconds and as in animals, learning was faster in less favorable environment.

Most remarkably, these plants were able to remember what had been learned for several weeks, even after environmental conditions had changed.

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the Daily Galaxy

August 28, 2013

Permian Mass Extinction Paved Way for the Rise of Mammals and Intelligent Life

Dinogorgon_923_600x450

The first mammals arose in the Triassic period, more than 225 million years ago, including small shrew-like animals such as Morganucodon from England, Megazostrodon from South Africa and Bienotherium from China. They had differentiated teeth (incisors, canines, molars) and large brains and were probably warm-blooded and covered in fur – all characteristics that stand them apart from their reptile ancestors, and which contribute to their huge success today.

However, new research suggests that this array of unique features arose gradually over a long span of time, and that the first mammals may have arisen as a result of the end-Permian mass extinction – which wiped out 90 per cent of marine organisms and 70 per cent of terrestrial species.

Mass extinctions are seen as entirely negative. However, in this case, cynodont therapsids, which included a very small number of species before the extinction, really took off afterwards and were able to adapt to fill many different niches in the Triassic – from carnivores to herbivoresm,” said Dr Marcello Ruta, lead author and evolutionary palaeobiologist from the University of Lincoln.

“During the Triassic, the cynodonts split into two groups, the cynognathians and the probainognathians,” added
co-author Dr Jennifer Botha-Brink of the National Museum in Bloemfontein, South Africa. “The first were mainly plant-eaters, the second mainly flesh-eaters and the two groups seemed to rise and fall at random – first one expanding, and then the other. In the end, the probainognathians became the most diverse and most varied in adaptations, and they gave rise to the first mammals some 25 million years after the mass extinction.”

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the Daily Galaxy

August 06, 2013

EcoAlert: Replay of Ancient “Greenhouse World”? — Dramatically Altered Coral Reefs & Marine Life

2009_01_24_5073-mod-closeup-antarctica-scotia-sea-birds
If history’s closest analog is any indication, the look of the oceans will change drastically in the future as the coming greenhouse world alters marine food webs and gives certain species advantages over others. For the past million years, atmospheric CO2 concentrations have never exceeded 280 parts per million, but industrialization, forest clearing, agriculture, and other human activities have rapidly increased concentrations of CO2 and other gases known to create a “greenhouse” effect that traps heat in the atmosphere. For several days in May 2013, CO2 levels exceeded 400 parts per million for the first time in human history and that milestone could be left well behind in the next decades. At its current pace, Earth could recreate the CO2 content of the atmosphere in the greenhouse world in just 80 years.

Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego, paleobiologist Richard Norris and colleagues show that the ancient greenhouse world had few large reefs, a poorly oxygenated ocean, tropical surface waters like a hot tub, and food webs that did not sustain the abundance of large sharks, whales, seabirds, and seals of the modern ocean. Aspects of this greenhouse ocean could reappear in the future if greenhouse gases continue to rise at current accelerating rates.

The researchers base their projections on what is known about the “greenhouse world” of 50 million years ago when levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere were much higher than those that have been present during human history. Their review article appears in an Aug. 2 special edition of the journal Science titled “Natural Systems in Changing Climates.”

In the greenhouse world, fossils indicate that CO2 concentrations reached 800-1,000 parts per million. Tropical ocean temperatures reached 35º C (95º F), and the polar oceans reached 12°C (53°F) — similar to current ocean temperatures offshore San Francisco. There were no polar ice sheets. Scientists have identified a “reef gap” between 42 and 57 million years ago in which complex coral reefs largely disappeared and the seabed was dominated by piles of pebble-like single-celled organisms called foraminifera.

“The ‘rainforests-of-the-sea’ reefs were replaced by the ‘gravel parking lots’ of the greenhouse world,” said Norris.
The greenhouse world was also marked by differences in the ocean food web with large parts of the tropical and subtropical ocean ecosystems supported by minute picoplankton instead of the larger diatoms typically found in highly productive ecosystems today. Indeed, large marine animals — sharks, tunas, whales, seals, even seabirds — mostly became abundant when algae became large enough to support top predators in the cold oceans of recent geologic times.

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Image Source  :  Wikimedia Commons

Author Brocken Inaglory

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Live Science

Seaweed could smother polar underwater ecosystems as melting sea ice exposes the seafloor to more sunlight, new research shows.

Animals that dwell on the seafloor of the Arctic and Antarctic spend most of their lives in total darkness: Sea ice blocks rays during the spring and early summer, and the sun sets completely in the winter. Late summer and early fall — when the ocean warms up enough to thaw the ice — often marks the only time these critters see light.

But as climate change causes sea ice to begin melting earlier and earlier in the summer, shallow-water ecosystems will soak up increasingly more rays. New research from a team of Australian biologists suggests this could cause a major shift in the seafloor communities along the coast of Antarctica, where invertebrates like sponges, worms and tunicates — globular organisms that anchor to rocks on the seafloor — currently dominate. A manuscript of the report is currently in press at the journal Global Change Biology. [6 Unexpected Effects of Climate Change]

“Some areas where ice breaks out early in summer are already shifting to algal domination,” said Graeme Clark, a biologist at the University of New South Wales who was involved in the study.

Seasons and tipping points

Early-summer ice melt not only lengthens the amount of time photosynthesizing organisms like macroalgae (or seaweed) can thrive under the sun during the summer, but it also increases the intensity of that exposure. The sun sits highest in the sky during the summer solstice — the period when Earth tilts most directly toward the sun — that occurs between June 20 and 23 in the Northern Hemisphere and Dec. 20 and 23 in the Southern Hemisphere, depending on the phase of the Earth’s orbit. Rays travel directly to the seafloor during this time. During spring and fall, however, low-angle rays reflect off the sea surface and often never make it to the seafloor.

This compounding effect of a longer sunlit season and higher-intensity rays could exponentially increase the amount of sunlight hitting benthic, or seafloor, communities in the coming decades and cause major tipping points for those invertebrate-dominated ecosystems, Clark said.

Tipping points occur when relatively minor environmental changes — like sea ice melting several days earlier than usual — cause rapid and significant ecological transformation. In this case, the tipping point would push ecosystems from invertebrate-dominated to algae-dominated.

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Prevent Disease .com

Amaranth Plants Are Now Succeeding Where GMO Activists Are Failing – They Are Resisting Monsanto’s Glyphosate

Nature has a funny way of always coming on top and the Amaranth plant is a perfect example. All anti-GMO activism has led to little resistance against the powerful lobbyists at Monsanto and their dominion over government policy. But Amaranth is showing the biotech giant you can’t mess with nature without consequences.

A Superstar of the Plant Kingdom

The Amaranth is a plant well known to our ancestors, since the Incas considered it a sacred plant. Ancient amaranth grains were cultivated on a large scale in ancient Mexico, Guatemala, and Peru. In a 1977 article in Science, amaranth was described as “the crop of the future.”

Approximately 60 species are recognized and each plant produces about 12,000 seeds per year, with the leaves containing an abundance of vitamins and minerals. It has been proposed as an inexpensive native crop that could be cultivated by indigenous people in rural areas for several reasons:

  1. It is easily harvested.
  2. Its seeds are a good source of protein. Compared to other grains, amaranth is unusually rich in the essential amino acid lysine and some dieticians have argued that amaranth protein in higher than that of cow’s milk and far richer than soy.
  3. The seeds of Amaranthus species contain about thirty percent more protein than cereals like rice, sorghum and rye.
  4. It is easy to cook. As befits its weedy life history, amaranth grains grow very rapidly and their large seedheads can weigh up to 1 kilogram and contain a half-million seeds in three species of amaranth.

Amaranth Is Fighting the GMO Battle Like No Other

Besides the incredible nutritional benefits which nature has bestowed upon the human race with Amaranth, it appears it also knows how to fight GMO manipulation.

Studies began documenting weed resistance several years ago but the problem continues to mount, with The New York Times warning of the “Rise of the Superweeds” analogous to that of the ‘superbugs’ in medicine. But nature only does what its designed to do.

Kept as a very secretive incident, in 2004 the first farmers noticed that some of amaranth seedlings were resistant to Monsanto’s Roundup ready technology as they generously generously sprayed their soybean plants.

It turns out the amaranth seed received a resistance gene for Roundup.

Since then, the phenomenon has spread to other states: South Carolina, and northern Arkansas, Missouri and  Tennessee.

“There’s no question, we have a lot of problems in the Southeast,” York said. “For us, the horse is already out of the barn. For the Mid-South, you don’t want to go down this path we’re on right now.”

On July 25, 2005, the Guardian published an article by Paul Brown, who revealed that the modified genes were passed to the natural plants, creating a seed resistant to herbicides.

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The World Meteorological Organisation revealed in Statement on the Status of the Global Climate, that during the August to September 2012 melting season, the Arctic’s sea ice cover was just 3.4 million square kilometres (1.32 million square miles). That is equal to 18% less than record low set in 2007. Last year was the ninth warmest year since recorded history and the 27th consecutive year that the global land and ocean temperatures were above the 1961–1990 average. The 2012 global land and ocean surface temperature during January–December 2012 is estimated to be 0.45°C (±0.11°C) above the 1961–1990 average of 14.0°C. The years 2001–2012...
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The World Meteorological Organisation revealed in Statement on the Status of the Global Climate, that during the August to September 2012 melting season, the Arctic’s sea ice cover was just 3.4 million square kilometres (1.32 million square miles). That is equal to 18% less than record low set in 2007. Last year was the ninth warmest year since recorded history and the 27th consecutive year that the global land and ocean temperatures were above the 1961–1990 average.

The 2012 global land and ocean surface temperature during January–December 2012 is estimated to be 0.45°C (±0.11°C) above the 1961–1990 average of 14.0°C. The years 2001–2012 were all among the top 13 warmest years on record. Last year’s warming came despite a cooling La Nina at the beginning of the year.

Above-average temperatures were observed across most of the globe’s land surface areas, most notably North America, southern Europe, western Russia, parts of northern Africa and southern South America while cooler than average conditions were observed across Alaska, parts of northern and eastern Australia, and central Asia.

Global land and ocean surface temperature anomalies with respect to the 1961-1990 base period (Source: WMO)

Precipitation also varied, with drier-than-average conditions across much of the central United States, northern Mexico, northeastern Brazil, central Russia, and south-central Australia. Northern Europe, western Africa, north-central Argentina, western Alaska, and most of northern China were meanwhile wetter than average.

Annual precipitation anomalies for global land areas for 2012; gridded 1.0-degree rain gauge-based analysis as percentages of average focusing on the 1951–2000 base period (Source: Global Precipitation Climatology Centre, Deutscher Wetterdienst, Germany)

According to data from the Global Snow Laboratory, snow cover extent in North America during the 2011/2012 winter was below average. The previous two winters (2009/2010 and 2010/2011) had the largest and third largest snow cover extent, respectively, since records began in 1966.

On the other side, the Eurasian continent snow cover extent during the winter was above average, resulting in the fourth largest snow cover extent on record. Overall, the northern hemisphere snow cover extent was above average – 590000 km2 above the average of 45.2 million km2.

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Antarctic sea ice cover is increasing under the effects of climate change

Antarctic sea ice drift caused by changing winds are responsible for observed increases in Antarctic sea ice cover in the past two decades according to new study by British Antarctic Survey and NASA. While Arctic experienced dramatic record ice loss due the climate change, Antarctic sea ice cover has increased due the climate change. Antarctic  ice cover expands to an area roughly twice the size of Europe during the winter season.  By the end of winter the ice covers an area of 19 million square kilometres, more than doubling the size of the continent. More than five million daily ice-motion measurements by four U.S....
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Antarctic sea ice drift caused by changing winds are responsible for observed increases in Antarctic sea ice cover in the past two decades according to new study by British Antarctic Survey and NASA. While Arctic experienced dramatic record ice loss due the climate change, Antarctic sea ice cover has increased due the climate change. Antarctic  ice cover expands to an area roughly twice the size of Europe during the winter season.  By the end of winter the ice covers an area of 19 million square kilometres, more than doubling the size of the continent.

Monthly sea ice extent for October 2012 – Blue Marble view (Image courtesy of the National Snow and Ice Data Center, University of Colorado, Boulder and NASA Earth Observatory)

More than five million daily ice-motion measurements by four U.S. Defense Meteorological satellites, over a period of 19 years, were mapped by JPL and used in research. Scientists Paul Holland of the Natural Environment Research Council’s British Antarctic Survey and Ron Kwok of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, analysed data which show long-term changes in sea ice drift around Antarctica for the first time. Before that, researchers used computer models of Antarctic winds.

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Carlos Duarte: “We are facing the first clear evidence of a dangerous climate change”

“We are facing the first clear evidence of a dangerous climate change. However, some of the researchers and some of the Media are plunged into a semantic debate about whether the Arctic Sea-Ice has reached a tipping point or not. This all is distracting the attention on the need to develop indicators that warn about the proximity of abrupt changes in the future, as well as on the policymaking to prevent them”, prof. Carlos Duarte, Director of the Oceans Institute at The University of Western Australia and Research Professor with the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) at the Mediterranean Institute for Advanced...
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“We are facing the first clear evidence of a dangerous climate change. However, some of the researchers and some of the Media are plunged into a semantic debate about whether the Arctic Sea-Ice has reached a tipping point or not. This all is distracting the attention on the need to develop indicators that warn about the proximity of abrupt changes in the future, as well as on the policymaking to prevent them”, prof. Carlos Duarte, Director of the Oceans Institute at The University of Western Australia and Research Professor with the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) at the Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Studies (IMEDEA) in Mallorca, Spain.

Tipping points are defined as critical points within a system, of which future condition may be qualitatively affected by small perturbations. On the other hand, tipping elements are defined as those components of the Earth system that may show tipping signs.

According to the experts, the Arctic shows the largest concentration of potential tipping elements in Earth’s Climate System: Arctic Sea-Ice; Greenland Ice-Sheet; North Atlantic deep water formation regions; boreal forests; plankton communities; permafrost; and marine methane hydrates among others.

Duarte maintains: “Due to all of this, the Arctic region is particularly prone to show abrupt changes and transfer them to the Global Earth System. It is necessary to find rapid alarm signs, which warn us about the proximity of tipping points, for the development and deployment of adaptive strategies. This all would help to adopt more preventive policies”.

In an article, published in the latest number of ‘AMBIO’, Duarte and other CSIC researchers detail the tipping elements present in the Arctic. They also provide evidence to prove that many of these tipping elements have already entered into a dynamic of change that may become abrupt in most of the cases. According to the study, it is possible to observe numerous tipping elements that would impact on the Global Climate System if they were perturbed.

CSIC scientist explains: “In this work, we provide evidence showing that many of these tipping elements have already started up. We also identify which are the climate change thresholds that may accelerate the global climate change. The very human reaction to climate change in the Arctic (dominated by the increase of activities such as transportation, shipping, and resource exploitation) may contribute to accelerate the changes already happening”. CSIC website

Arctic – 2011 in review

Map of the Arctic (Source: The Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection)

According to US National Snow and Ice Data Center, Arctic sea ice extent for December 2011 was the third lowest in the satellite record. The five lowest December extents in the satellite record have occurred in the past six years. Including the year 2011, the linear rate of decline ice December ice extent over the satellite record is -3.5% per decade. The Arctic gained 2.37 million square kilometers (915,000 square miles) of ice during the month. The average ice gain for December was 1.86 million square kilometers (718,000 square miles). On December 31, Arctic sea ice extent was 13.25 million square kilometers (5.12 million square miles), 561,000 square kilometers (217,000 square miles) more than the ice extent on December 31, 2010, the lowest extent on December 31 in the satellite record.

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.

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The patent case pits the future of biotechnology innovation against high farm prices. For now, it looks like innovation is winning.

WASHINGTON — Monsanto’s patent for genetically modified soybeans appears safe in the Supreme Court’s hands. And that’s good news for innovations in biotechnology, computer software and other self-replicating products.

The biggest mystery arising from the justices’ 70-minute consideration Tuesday of an Indiana farmer’s challenge to Monsanto, in fact, was why they had agreed to hear the case at all, since two lower courts already had ruled for Monsanto.

In a classic case of David vs. Goliath, 75-year-old Vernon Hugh Bowman is challenging the agribusiness giant’s patent on soybeans that are resistant to the weed killer Roundup. He bought his first batch of “Roundup Ready” seeds from Monsanto but then bought a cheaper mixture from a grain elevator that included some Monsanto seeds.

It’s the third generation of seeds that’s at issue in the case, because Bowman then began replanting his own herbicide-resistant seeds — and that violated Monsanto’s patent, the company claims.

From Tuesday’s oral arguments, it didn’t seem Bowman had a vote in the room. “You cannot make copies of a patented invention,” said Justice Stephen Breyer.

It’s for that reason Monsanto has required farmers using its seeds to sign an agreement promising not to save and replant harvested seeds. But even if there was no license, the justices seemed to doubt Bowman’s right to create new generations of identical seed under patent law.

Bowman’s attorney, Mark Walters, argued that Monsanto’s patent rights were exhausted after the farmer bought his second round of seeds from the grain elevator. If that was not the case, he said, every grain elevator would be violating the patent, because Monsanto seeds are ubiquitous.

Besides, Walters argued, Bowman’s use of grain elevator seeds “is never going to be a threat to Monsanto’s business.”

 

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Farmers Cope With Roundup-Resistant Weeds

Christopher Berkey for The New York Times
Jason Hamlin, a certified crop adviser and agronomist, looks for weeds resistant to glyphosate in Dyersburg, Tenn.
By WILLIAM NEUMAN and ANDREW POLLACK
Published: May 3, 2010

Invasion of the Superweeds

Michael Pollan and others on what Roundup-resistant weeds mean for American agriculture.

But not this year.

On a recent afternoon here, Mr. Anderson watched as tractors crisscrossed a rolling field — plowing and mixing herbicides into the soil to kill weeds where soybeans will soon be planted.

Just as the heavy use of antibiotics contributed to the rise of drug-resistant supergerms, American farmers’ near-ubiquitous use of the weedkiller Roundup has led to the rapid growth of tenacious new superweeds.

To fight them, Mr. Anderson and farmers throughout the East, Midwest and South are being forced to spray fields with more toxic herbicides, pull weeds by hand and return to more labor-intensive methods like regular plowing.

“We’re back to where we were 20 years ago,” said Mr. Anderson, who will plow about one-third of his 3,000 acres of soybean fields this spring, more than he has in years. “We’re trying to find out what works.”

Farm experts say that such efforts could lead to higher food prices, lower crop yields, rising farm costs and more pollution of land and water.

“It is the single largest threat to production agriculture that we have ever seen,” said Andrew Wargo III, the president of the Arkansas Association of Conservation Districts.

The first resistant species to pose a serious threat to agriculture was spotted in a Delaware soybean field in 2000. Since then, the problem has spread, with 10 resistant species in at least 22 states infesting millions of acres, predominantly soybeans, cotton and corn.

The superweeds could temper American agriculture’s enthusiasm for some genetically modified crops. Soybeans, corn and cotton that are engineered to survive spraying with Roundup have become standard in American fields. However, if Roundup doesn’t kill the weeds, farmers have little incentive to spend the extra money for the special seeds.

Roundup — originally made by Monsanto but now also sold by others under the generic name glyphosate — has been little short of a miracle chemical for farmers. It kills a broad spectrum of weeds, is easy and safe to work with, and breaks down quickly, reducing its environmental impact.

Sales took off in the late 1990s, after Monsanto created its brand of Roundup Ready crops that were genetically modified to tolerate the chemical, allowing farmers to spray their fields to kill the weeds while leaving the crop unharmed. Today, Roundup Ready crops account for about 90 percent of the soybeans and 70 percent of the corn and cotton grown in the United States.

But farmers sprayed so much Roundup that weeds quickly evolved to survive it. “What we’re talking about here is Darwinian evolution in fast-forward,” Mike Owen, a weed scientist at Iowa State University, said.

 

Read Full Article Here

 

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Who Owns Seeds? Monsanto Says Not You

Published: Friday, 15 Feb 2013 | 1:40 PM ET

By: CNBC Reporter

Say you’re a Hollywood studio who spent a couple hundred million dollars on a blockbuster movie. Someone buys it on DVD, and then proceeds to copy the DVD and sell those copies at a profit.

That would be against the law.

Can you make the same argument about buying patented seeds to grow a crop, and then keeping some of that first crop to reap seeds and grow a second crop? A third?

 

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The United States Supreme Court will decide that in a case involving a 75-year-old farmer from Indiana named Vernon Bowman. Monsanto sued Bowman in 2007, claiming the farmer has for years used seeds reaped from a first crop of Monsanto Roundup Ready soybean seeds to grow another crop.

Monsanto said that violates its patent, as farmers sign an agreement when they buy the seeds to only use them once. The resulting crop can be sold for things like feed or oil, not to create another generation of seeds.

From Monsanto’s perspective, what Bowman has done is like the farming version of Napster. From the farmer’s perspective, to force him to buy new seeds every year is a monopoly, and Monsanto’s patent should “expire” after the first crop.

Monsanto won in lower court, but Bowman has appealed, and in a move that caught corporate America off guard, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case next Tuesday.

 

Read Full Article  and Watch Video Here

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