Environmental Policy

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:: Stanford scientists document fragile land-sea ecological chain

Intricate, often invisible chains of life are threatened with extinction around the world. A new study quantifies one of the longest such chains ever documented. By Rob Jordan

:: Climate scientists discover new weak point of the Antarctic ice sheet

The Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf fringing the Weddell Sea, Antarctica, may start to melt rapidly in this century and no longer act as a barrier for  ice streams draining the Antarctic Ice Sheet. These predictions are made by climate researchers of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in the Helmholtz Association in the coming issue of the British science magazine “Nature“. They refute the widespread assumption that ice shelves in the Weddell Sea would not be affected by the direct influences of global warming due to the peripheral location of the Sea.

:: State of Himalayan glaciers less alarming than feared

Several hundreds of millions of people in Southeast Asia depend, to varying degrees, on the freshwater reservoirs of the Himalayan glaciers. Consequently, it is important to detect the potential impact of climate changes on the Himalayan glaciers at an early stage. Together with international researchers, glaciologists from the University of Zurich now reveal that the glaciers in the Himalayas are declining less rapidly than was previously thought. However, the scientists see major hazard potential from outbursts of glacial lakes.

:: Greenland ice sheet may melt completely with 1.6 degrees global warming

The Greenland ice sheet is likely to be more vulnerable to global warming than previously thought. The temperature threshold for melting the ice sheet completely is in the range of 0.8 to 3.2 degrees Celsius global warming, with a best estimate of 1.6 degrees above pre-industrial levels, shows a new study by scientists from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) and the Universidad Complutense de Madrid. Today, already 0.8 degrees global warming has been observed. Substantial melting of land ice could contribute to long-term sea-level rise of several meters and therefore it potentially affects the lives of many millions of people.

:: WMO annual statement confirms 2011 as 11th warmest on record

Climate change accelerated in 2001-2010, according to preliminary assessment. The World Meteorological Organization’s Annual Statement on the Status of the Global Climate said that 2011 was the 11th warmest since records began in 1850. It confirmed preliminary findings that 2011 was the warmest year on record with a La Niña, which has a cooling influence. Globally-averaged temperatures in 2011 were estimated to be 0.40° Centigrade above the 1961-1990 annual average of 14°C.

:: Water scarcity affects 2.7 billion, finds new detailed report

Water scarcity impacts at least 2.7 billion people in 201 river basins for at least one month each year, according to a new report published in the online journal PLoS ONE. Global Monthly Water Scarcity: Blue Water Footprints versus Blue Water Availability, which analysed 405 river basins around the world, marks an advance on previous estimations of water stress by looking at monthly rather than annual averages of water availability and consumption.

:: CFC substitutes: good for the ozone layer, bad for the climate

The Montreal Protocol led to a global phase-out of most substances that deplete the ozone layer, such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). A happy side-effect of the gradual ban of these products is that the Earth’s climate has also benefited because CFCs are also potent greenhouse gases. However, now a „rebound effect“ threatens to accelerate the rate of global warming. Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which have been used in recent years in increasing quantities as substitutes for CFCs, are also climatically very active and many are also extremely long-lived.

:: Global permafrost zones in high-resolution images on Google Earth

Thawing permafrost will have far-reaching ramifications for populated areas, infrastructure and ecosystems. A geographer from the University of Zurich reveals where it is important to confront the issue based on new permafrost maps – the most precise global maps around. They depict the global distribution of permafrost in high-resolution images and are available on Google Earth.

:: Damaging Earthquakes Database 2011 The Year in Review

2011 has played host to the largest two earthquakes, economically speaking, in the history of the countries of Japan and New Zealand. The M9.0 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami of 11th March, 2011 proved to be the most expensive earthquake of all time, causing between $400-700 billion USD in total losses and approximately 19000 deaths, while the Christchurch earthquake (a M6.3 quake close to the city of Christchurch) caused a huge building stock loss and approximately $15-20 billion USD damage with around 80% insured losses.

:: Industrial air pollution cost Europe up to €169 billion in 2009, EEA reveals

Air pollution from the 10,000 largest polluting facilities in Europe cost citizens between € 102 and 169 billion in 2009. This was one of the findings of a new report from the European Environment Agency (EEA) which analysed the costs of harm to health and the environment caused by air pollution. Half of the total damage cost (between € 51 and 85 billion) was caused by just 191 facilities.

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