Wednesday, 5 May 2010

SBY buys Chinese photovoltaic panels

The $35 million order is one of the largest deals of its kind to date in the Israeli solar energy market.
Amiram Barkat3 May 10 14:29
Israel's solar power integrator SBY Solutions Ltd. (formerly Solar by Yourself) will buy $35 million worth of photovoltaic panels from China's Suntech Power Holdings Co. Ltd. (NYSE: STP). This is one of the largest deals of its kind to date in the Israeli solar energy market. The panels will be able to produce 18 megawatts of electricity in Israel and in Italy, where SBY recently began operations. The panels will be delivered during the second half of 2010.
Suntech is China's largest photovoltaic panel manufacturer, and one of the largest in the world.
Yesterday, the Israel Electric Corporation (IEC) (TASE: ELEC.B22) reported that 800 small solar power installations currently produce 26 megawatts of electricity in Israel.
SBY, based at Moshav Nitzanei Oz in the Negev, has installed 220 rooftop solar power facilities to date. SBY CEO Tamir Kaplinsky founded the company in 2008, and it has about 60 employees.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - - on May 3, 2010
© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2010

Germany: Climate Meeting 'Broke the Ice'

Associated Press
KÖNIGSWINTER, Germany—Some 40 nations at a high-level climate meeting have made headway toward a pact to curb global warming, but the most important issues remain unresolved, Germany's environment minister said Tuesday.
Many delegates agreed that "this meeting has broken the ice and one cannot overestimate the importance of this," Norbert Röttgen said as the three-day Petersberg Dialogue co-hosted by Germany and Mexico, wrapped up. "This is a contribution to making success possible again."
The toughest issues—cutting greenhouse gas emissions, financial aid from rich to poor nations, and a method of measuring both — still need consideration, he said. However, progress was made on several fronts, including saving the planet's forests and transferring climate technology from rich to poor countries, he said.
Chancellor Angela Merkel initiated this meeting of ministers from nations representing all regions of the world at the U.N. climate conference of more than 190 countries in Copenhagen in December. Copenhagen was originally set to produce an international climate treaty, but it came up only with a political declaration—the so-called Copenhagen Accord.
However, the Copenhagen conference ended with a deep rift between industrialized nations, new economic powers China and India, and developing countries—with considerable differences also within each group.
Mr. Röttgen said the Petersberg Dialogue, in a mansion high above Königswinter near Bonn, had worked to overcome some of the distrust.
"This has proved to be a platform of constructive discussions," he said.
However, a Greenpeace official said the international fight against global warming is still deeply troubled.
"Fundamentally, the difficult situation we had in Copenhagen has not changed," Greenpeace climate specialist Martin Kaiser said. "The United States still has no climate law, President Obama's climate policies have failed, and therefore there is no basis for an ambitious international treaty that could bring India and China on board."
Mr. Kaiser said the Petersberg Dialogue demonstrated a pragmatic approach, with participants seeking to finalize individual projects to reduce greenhouse gases or help poor countries deal with the consequences of climate change such as droughts, floods, or heavy storms.
Outgoing United Nations climate chief Yvo de Boer had said Monday he didn't expect the international treaty to be agreed when U.N. negotiators meet in Cancun, Mexico, in December.
Mr. Röttgen said Tuesday it remains to be seen how the negotiations will be organized for the rest of the year and if at least parts of the treaty can be agreed upon in Cancun.
Mr. Röttgen also said Germany doesn't rule out continuing the Kyoto Protocol after 2012, when its current obligations under the treaty expire.
In that case, the U.S. and China also "have to deliver" as they are the globe's greatest polluters, he said.
The 1997 Kyoto Protocol obliges industrialized countries to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. The U.S. has not ratified it, and China and other up-and-coming economic powers are not covered by it.
—Copyright 2010 Associated Press

EPA Proposes Competing Approaches to Regulate Coal-Ash Waste

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said it would pursue tighter controls on the disposal of coal ash from power plants, following a December 2008 spill that sent a billion gallons of wet ash slopping over 300 acres in Tennessee.
But the agency stopped short of declaring coal ash a hazardous waste, in a temporary victory for the utility industry.
The regulation of coal-ash disposal has pitted utility companies concerned over the cost and complexity of eliminating wet-ash storage against health and environmental advocates who say arsenic, selenium and other contaminants in coal ash are a threat to human health and the environment. The two sides disagree on whether the waste material should be considered hazardous.
The EPA didn't take a stance on whether to regulate coal ash as hazardous waste, instead offering that approach as one of two possibilities. The hazardous-waste approach would put enforcement powers in the hands of federal and state officials, creating disposal restrictions and effectively phasing out the use of ash ponds. The second proposal would put in place new restrictions, but enforcement would come through lawsuits by states and individuals, the EPA said.
"In the course of developing these proposals, it became clear that there are people who feel very strongly about one or the other," said EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson during a press briefing.
The EPA estimates the cost of the hazardous-waste and nonhazardous-waste approaches at $20 billion and $8 billion, respectively. The EPA won't actually refer to coal ash as hazardous under either approach. That's because industry groups have raised concerns the terminology could hurt the reuse of the waste material in such products as cement and drywall.
The issue of coal-ash waste was the subject of 48 meetings since last fall between the staff of President Barack Obama's regulatory czar, Cass Sunstein, and industry groups, environmental advocates and others. The EPA's announcement Tuesday fueled the ongoing divide. A utility-industry group in a statement said regulation of coal ash as a nonhazardous waste alongside new federal standards for ash pond safety would be the only "prudent" course for the EPA.
"Adoption of more stringent regulation—including regulating coal combustion byproducts as hazardous waste or mandating closure of certain types of ash-management facilities—will drive up costs for our customers without providing a commensurate health or environmental benefit," said Jim Roewer, executive director of the Utility Solid Waste Activities Group, in a statement.
Environmental and health groups say hazardous-waste regulations are essential to ensure federal officials can track and enforce standards for coal-ash facilities.
The EPA's "inclusion of an option to regulate coal ash as hazardous waste is an important first step," said Trip Van Noppen, executive director of Earthjustice, in a statement. "The next important step will be to maintain this position in the face of inevitably misguided claims by polluters that the sky will fall."
The federal agency will take public comment on how to handle the waste from coal-fired generators and eventually issue final rules. —Siobhan Hughes contributed to this article.
Write to Mark Peters at

Disaster Dims Odds of Energy Bill Compromise

The oil slick spreading through the Gulf of Mexico will prompt Congress to establish new regulatory, safety and technological requirements that could impede further off-shore oil drilling, the White House's top energy official said Tuesday.
But lawmakers said the catastrophic spill could further dim the White House's hopes for securing legislation aimed at reducing U.S. consumption of oil and other fossil fuels, by making it impossible to forge a compromise that includes expanded undersea drilling.
White House energy and environment adviser Carol Browner, in an interview, didn't say whether President Barack Obama would modify his own proposal to expand oil exploration on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Specific policy changes will have to await results of a 30-day review of the unfolding disaster due by the end of May, Ms. Browner said.
Two weeks after BP PLC's Deepwater Horizon rig exploded in flames before sinking and leaving a well gushing into the sea, Washington has begun grappling with the oil spill's implications beyond the Gulf.
Key Democrats said the spill should drive Congress forward on legislation to address climate change and promote alternative energy sources and electric cars. They also have called for regulations that would require more-robust safety technology on offshore rigs, such as remote-control acoustic shut-off switches.
Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute, said "congressional overreaction" on the regulatory front could make oil exploration in some areas economically prohibitive. "What's most important is that we get the facts before we move. We should not legislate in a vacuum based on speculation."
But some Democratic and Republican senators said the incident makes progress on energy and climate legislation less likely. Coastal senators, such as Democrats Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Bill Nelson of Florida, vowed to block expanded drilling in any bill. Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R., Ariz.) said legislation can't move forward without three "pillars": expanded oil and gas exploration, more nuclear power and a price on carbon-emissions in exchange for the first two.
"At least temporarily, this has knocked one of the legs of the stool off to the side, so my guess is that nothing proceeds at the moment," Mr. Kyl said.
Mr. Nelson agreed, saying, "It makes it more difficult to get 60 votes," the number to break a Senate filibuster. "You're not going to get offshore drilling in an energy bill."
White House officials were careful not to antagonize Republicans. "Oil is going to be a part of our energy mix for some time to come," Ms. Browner said, a position backed Tuesday by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.), a frequent critic of the oil industry. Ms. Browner said the spill is likely to pull Republicans to the negotiating table who otherwise wouldn't be there.
Progress on energy has been stymied for months because only one Republican, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, has been willing to negotiate on legislation designed to promote alternative sources, in part by raising the cost of fossil fuels.
As the White House pressed for a policy response, Democrats were pushing a political one. Both the Florida Democratic Party and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee began organizing and fund-raising around the oil blowout.
Mr. Kyl suggested a different response: drill in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a proposal long blocked by Democrats. "You're not in 5,000 feet of water. You've got a pipeline nearby, and you've got experience drilling in that area just a few miles away," Mr. Kyl said.
The White House, meanwhile, continued its efforts to detail the steps officials are taking to head off environmental catastrophe in the Gulf region and hold BP financially and legally liable for clean-up costs and economic damages. Cabinet officers fanned out on Capitol Hill Tuesday to brief lawmakers.
In Louisiana, the president's Sunday visit buoyed support among some locals.
"I'm a lifelong Republican…I've met with many presidents over the years, and this one wants to get things done. I've never seen anyone come in and take charge like that before," Plaquemines Parish president Billy Nungesser said of Mr. Obama's meeting with him and other Louisiana officials.—Corey Dade contributed to this article.
Write to Jonathan Weisman at

Fears for crops as shock figures from America show scale of bee catastrophe

The world may be on the brink of biological disaster after news that a third of US bee colonies did not survive the winter• Alison Benjamin on the prospect of a bee-less worldIn pictures: Why the decline in bees matters

Alison Benjamin
The Observer, Sunday 2 May 2010

Disturbing evidence that honeybees are in terminal decline has emerged from the United States where, for the fourth year in a row, more than a third of colonies have failed to survive the winter.
The decline of the country's estimated 2.4 million beehives began in 2006, when a phenomenon dubbed colony collapse disorder (CCD) led to the disappearance of hundreds of thousands of colonies. Since then more than three million colonies in the US and billions of honeybees worldwide have died and scientists are no nearer to knowing what is causing the catastrophic fall in numbers.
The number of managed honeybee colonies in the US fell by 33.8% last winter, according to the annual survey by the Apiary Inspectors of America and the US government's Agricultural Research Service (ARS).
The collapse in the global honeybee population is a major threat to crops. It is estimated that a third of everything we eat depends upon honeybee pollination, which means that bees contribute some £26bn to the global economy.
Potential causes range from parasites, such as the bloodsucking varroa mite, to viral and bacterial infections, pesticides and poor nutrition stemming from intensive farming methods. The disappearance of so many colonies has also been dubbed "Mary Celeste syndrome" due to the absence of dead bees in many of the empty hives.
US scientists have found 121 different pesticides in samples of bees, wax and pollen, lending credence to the notion that pesticides are a key problem. "We believe that some subtle interactions between nutrition, pesticide exposure and other stressors are converging to kill colonies," said Jeffery Pettis, of the ARS's bee research laboratory.
A global review of honeybee deaths by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) reported last week that there was no one single cause, but pointed the finger at the "irresponsible use" of pesticides that may damage bee health and make them more susceptible to diseases. Bernard Vallat, the OIE's director-general, warned: "Bees contribute to global food security, and their extinction would represent a terrible biological disaster."
Dave Hackenberg of Hackenberg Apiaries, the Pennsylvania-based commercial beekeeper who first raised the alarm about CCD, said that last year had been the worst yet for bee losses, with 62% of his 2,600 hives dying between May 2009 and April 2010. "It's getting worse," he said. "The AIA survey doesn't give you the full picture because it is only measuring losses through the winter. In the summer the bees are exposed to lots of pesticides. Farmers mix them together and no one has any idea what the effects might be."
Pettis agreed that losses in some commercial operations are running at 50% or greater. "Continued losses of this magnitude are not economically sustainable for commercial beekeepers," he said, adding that a solution may be years away. "Look at Aids, they have billions in research dollars and a causative agent and still no cure. Research takes time and beehives are complex organisms."
In the UK it is still too early to judge how Britain's estimated 250,000 honeybee colonies have fared during the long winter. Tim Lovett, president of the British Beekeepers' Association, said: "Anecdotally, it is hugely variable. There are reports of some beekeepers losing almost a third of their hives and others losing none." Results from a survey of the association's 15,000 members are expected this month.
John Chapple, chairman of the London Beekeepers' Association, put losses among his 150 members at between a fifth and a quarter. Eight of his 36 hives across the capital did not survive. "There are still a lot of mysterious disappearances," he said. "We are no nearer to knowing what is causing them."
Bee farmers in Scotland have reported losses on the American scale for the past three years. Andrew Scarlett, a Perthshire-based bee farmer and honey packer, lost 80% of his 1,200 hives this winter. But he attributed the massive decline to a virulent bacterial infection that quickly spread because of a lack of bee inspectors, coupled with sustained poor weather that prevented honeybees from building up sufficient pollen and nectar stores.
The government's National Bee Unit has always denied the existence of CCD in Britain, despite honeybee losses of 20% during the winter of 2008-09 and close to a third the previous year. It attributes the demise to the varroa mite – which is found in almost every UK hive – and rainy summers that stop bees foraging for food.
In a hard-hitting report last year, the National Audit Office suggested that amateur beekeepers who failed to spot diseases in bees were a threat to honeybees' survival and called for the National Bee Unit to carry out more inspections and train more beekeepers. Last summer MPs on the influential cross-party public accounts committee called on the government to fund more research into what it called the "alarming" decline of honeybees.
The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has contributed £2.5m towards a £10m fund for research on pollinators. The public accounts committee has called for a significant proportion of this funding to be "ring-fenced" for honeybees. Decisions on which research projects to back are expected this month.
Flowering plants require insects for pollination. The most effective is the honeybee, which pollinates 90 commercial crops worldwide. As well as most fruits and vegetables – including apples, oranges, strawberries, onions and carrots – they pollinate nuts, sunflowers and oil-seed rape. Coffee, soya beans, clovers – like alfafa, which is used for cattle feed – and even cotton are all dependent on honeybee pollination to increase yields.
In the UK alone, honeybee pollination is valued at £200m. Mankind has been managing and transporting bees for centuries to pollinate food and produce honey, nature's natural sweetener and antiseptic. Their extinction would mean not only a colourless, meatless diet of cereals and rice, and cottonless clothes, but a landscape without orchards, allotments and meadows of wildflowers – and the collapse of the food chain that sustains wild birds and animals.

States prepare to rise to CO2 challenge as Senate climate bill collapses

Climate proposals due to be unveiled before the Senate would strip 23 US states of their power to act on climate change

Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent, Tuesday 4 May 2010 13.28 BST
The collapse of an energy reform proposal in Congress last week could return power to north America's historic actors on climate change: the regions.
In Washington, even Barack Obama's fellow Democrats are reluctant to take up proposals in Congress that would put a cap on greenhouse gas emissions — prompting the sole Republican ally to withdraw his support.
In Ottawa, Canada's prime minister, Stephen Harper, has adopted an action plan on climate change that would lead to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade.
By default, that leaves regional governments as the drivers for tougher action on climate change in what is now becoming a familiar role, the White House admits.
"If the states hadn't taken the positions they have in the last four or five years we wouldn't have any programmes in place," Carol Browner, the White House climate adviser, told reporters recently.
The power of regional governments to deal with climate change is coming into sharper focus because of the lack of progress on national and international agreements to deal with climate change – and because it is under threat. The climate proposals due to be unveiled before the Senate would strip state authorities of their power to act on climate change.
In a recent conference call with reporters, environmental authorities from a number of states argued their policies had helped set the pace for reform on a national stage, prodding the federal government forward and serving as a test lab for new policies.
Though Washington and Ottawa have yet to pass cap-and-trade legislation, 23 US states and four Canadian provinces have already put a price on carbon. Between them, the carbon cutting regimes will eventually cover half of America's population and about a third of its emissions and about three-quarters of Canada's population and half of its emissions.
"The bottom line here is that the federal government needs to explicitly recognise the value of state programmes," Mary Nichols, who heads California's air resources board, told reporters.
After leading the way on emissions cuts and vehicle exhaust standards, California is now looking at measures to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from the plastic components used in car interiors. The state has also set high energy efficiency standards for flatscreen TVs.
Even some of the states that have not formally signed on to cap and trade are also moving away from fossil fuels. Colorado this month adopted a plan to meet 30% of its energy needs from renewable sources like wind and solar power by 2020. Arizona has put restrictions on wood burning fireplaces.
State authorities say such forward-looking policies simply make economic sense. Nichols said California's climate law, which called for 25% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, had led to the creation of 500,000 new green jobs in the state.
The same incentives hold true north of the border. Quebec, for example, has been relentlessly talking up its green credentials to help market its zero emissions hydro-electric power to north-eastern states. The provincial premier, Jean Charest, argues that the decentralised nature of authority in Canada and the US established regional governments as natural leaders.
"Regional governments everywhere account for 50% to 80% of what will be done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions," he said. "We are the ones that are going to be the operating arm."
Quebec, thanks to its riches in emissions-free hydro, already had a head start in reducing its carbon footprint. Its per capita emissions of carbon dioxide are 11 tonnes – about half of the Canadian average.
For the last few years, Quebec has levied a small tax on petrol to help fund public transit and is facing pressure to raise the charge in the next budget.
The province raised the bar even further at the Copenhagen summit by setting the most ambitious targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions in North America, a 20% cut from 1990 levels by 2020. A month later, Quebec signed on to California's stringent car standards raising fuel efficiency and reducing greenhouse gas emissions in exhaust.
Montreal, whose greater metropolitan area is home to about 5 million people, is also playing a leading role. Its motorists have long boycotted big gas guzzlers in favour of smaller more economical cars, and Montreal is one of a handful of north American cities with an efficient public transit system. The city has a 30km/h speed limit and has banned idling cars, unless the temperature drops far below zero. It will outlaw dumping paper and other recyclables or organic waste in landfill sites from 2013. It pioneered the Bixi bike sharing scheme, which it is now exporting to London, Melbourne, Boston and Minneapolis.
Charest and others say the division of powers in America and Canada lends itself to regional initiative. "It makes a lot of sense for provinces and states to act because they do have most of the jurisdiction to action on climate change. They have exclusive jurisdiction over energy, on transportation, on urban sprawl, on agriculture — basically over everything that emits C02," Ribaux said.
Cities are even keener. San Francisco now requires all new buildings to be fitted with charging outlets for electric cars. Chicago now has 88 LEED standard green buildings, and the small city of Grand Rapids, Michigan, has 44. London, Ontario, has banned bottled water. Montreal's mayor Gerald Tremblay wanders the historic city hall building switching off the chandeliers. "I'm always telling them, you don't need them on. It's light outside," he says.
Are such regional initiatives enough on their own to compensate for the lack of action by federal government? Quebec's Charest, who has put the green economy at the core of his premiership, won't go quite that far. "Keeping to 2C [rise in global temperatures] through regional arrangements would be pretty tough," he said.
But while they will not, on their own, prevent the most dangerous effects of climate change, the three regional cap-and-trade regimes would manage to stabilise US emissions, said Franz Litz who heads the state climate programme at the World Resources Institute.
"It is a significant amount of reduction, but it is not enough to get us where we want to go," said Litz. "It is not the answer, but it is the start."
He said the regional initiatives suggested states would continue pressing for action on climate change. Such efforts slowed over the last year with states looking to Congress to take the lead on energy reform. "If it becomes clear that [as we are] not going to get something in this Congress I think we will see states evaluating their next moves," he said.
And in staking its leadership on climate, regional players could help pull other parts of Canada and the US in a greener direction. "The states are the ones with boots on the ground," said Vicki Arroyo, director of the Georgetown University climate centre.

Climatologist Ellen Mosley-Thompson on warming in Antarctica

Earlier this year, climatologist Ellen Mosley-Thompson led an expedition to drill into glacial ice on the Antarctic Peninsula, one of the world's fastest-warming regions. Here, she describes what it's like working in the world's swiftly melting ice zones

From Yale Environment 360, part of the Guardian Environment Network, Tuesday 4 May 2010 14.18 BST
Ellen Mosley-Thompson and her husband, Lonnie Thompson, are two of the world's most respected climatologists and glaciologists, traveling around the globe to bore holes in shrinking glaciers and ice sheets. Mosley-Thompson works mainly at the poles, in Greenland and Antarctica, while her husband has done more ice corings of low-latitude glaciers — in the Andes, Africa, and the Himalayas — than any other person alive. Their work, taken together, paints a sobering portrait of the rapid retreat of most of the world's glaciers and ice caps in the face of the buildup of planet-warming greenhouse gases.
Several months ago, during the Antarctic summer, Mosley-Thompson — the director of the Byrd Polar Research Center at Ohio State University — returned to Antarctica for the ninth time to head a six-person expedition to the Bruce Plateau on the Antarctic Peninsula. The peninsula has warmed faster than almost any other place on Earth, with winter temperatures increasing by 11 degrees F over the past 60 years and year-round temperatures rising by 5 degrees F. As a result, sea ice now covers the western Antarctic Peninsula three months less a year than three decades ago, 90 percent of glaciers along the western Antarctic Peninsula are in retreat, and large floating ice shelves are crumbling.
The most famous of those ice shelves is the Larsen B, a slab of ice — once the size of Connecticut — that disintegrated spectacularly in 2002 in the Weddell Sea. Mosley-Thompson's expedition was part of a larger study to research the collapse of the Larsen A & B ice shelves and to place this major event in the context of previous eras of climate change.
Working for 42 days in frigid temperatures at 6,500 feet, Mosley-Thompson and her team encountered numerous hardships and difficulties, including the loss of ice drills. Thanks to the ingenuity and engineering skills of her team members, the group finally succeeded in drilling 1,462 feet to the bedrock atop the Bruce Plateau. When the ice cores return to Ohio State in June, Mosley-Thompson and her colleagues hope to analyze the ice to track the history of climate change for thousands of years, perhaps to the last glacial period and beyond.
But even before she analyzes her latest drilling samples, Mosley-Thompson tells Yale Environment 360 senior editor Fen Montaigne, one thing is clear: the retreat of the world's glaciers, coupled with evidence from other Antarctic ice cores showing atmospheric concentrations of CO2 at their highest levels in more than 800,000 years, "tells us very clearly that we have a serious problem."
Yale Environment 360: I wondered if you could describe for our readers the purpose of this ice coring expedition.
Helen Mosley-Thompson: We were part of a much larger International Polar Year project sponsored by the National Science Foundation. The name of the big project is LARISSA. This was a very large, multidisciplinary international effort to get a better understanding of the interaction of the various systems operating in the Larsen B embayment — for example, the oceanographic system, the ice system, the ecological system, the atmosphere.
e360: And [the Bruce Plateau] is basically a big ice cap or glacier in the midst of these beautiful mountains that run the length of the Antarctic Peninsula?
Mosley-Thompson: Yes, that's correct. Actually, the Bruce Plateau itself is relatively narrow at the spot where we were drilling. So on our six clear days — we were there 42 days — we had excellent horizon. We could see mountains and we could look out into the distance where we knew the remaining part of the Larsen B Ice Shelf and the Larsen C Ice Shelf were out to the east.
e360: Was [this project] basically an attempt to understand the warming behind the break up of the Larsen B [Ice Shelf] and how it fits into a climate history record?
Mosley-Thompson: Yes. Of course the break up of the ice essentially makes an area available that has not been available for five to ten thousand years. So the idea is that the ecologists could actually look at an ecosystem on the ocean bottom in an area that, eight or nine years ago, was covered by ice – and [had been] for thousands of years — [compared] to one that is now open water. And of course the ecosystems in that area will be adjusting to the new normal. So the idea for the ecologists was that they would be
The question is how much additional ice is being dumped through those major glaciers?"
able to look at the potentially rapid changes in a disturbed ecosystem.
For the glaciologists, one of the critical things that they wanted to examine closely was — and still is — since the 2002 break up, how much more rapidly are the land-based glaciers discharging ice out into the ocean. Some measurements back in 2004 based upon satellite imagery suggested some of those glaciers increased their flow speed by four to eight times. Because if the ice shelf is gone, then you've lost that buttressing effect. And so the question really is how much additional ice is being dumped through those major glaciers?
e360: And, the glaciers whose motion to the sea is being accelerated because the ice shelf isn't holding them back, that leads to direct sea level rises?
Mosley-Thompson: That's correct. Any ice that's on land that you put in the water will raise sea level. And so then the marine group had people who were looking at changes in marine geochemistry. They have chemical measurements of the ocean, they have drilled cores in the ocean bottom along the outer margins of the Larsen B, when it was in place. And the idea is that they could now come into the area that was ice covered very recently and collect new cores. So then [we] integrate those records, [and] where appropriate, where the time scales overlap, compare with the records that we'll be getting from the cores that we drilled.
You know one of the things we don't really know for that region is how extensive the ice cover on the peninsula was during the last glacial stage, when North America, from Canada and the northern part of the U.S., and the Finnish/Scandinavian area, was covered by these large ice sheets during the last glaciation. The perception is that you would have had more extensive ice cover in the Antarctic Peninsula, but there's no evidence to either support or refute that. Those records [are] not in hand yet. And so one of the big questions for the ice core that we drilled was, does the basal or bottom ice contain ice that was deposited during the last glacial stage, or has all of the ice that exists on the spine of the peninsula been deposited since the beginning of Holocene.
e360: Which is what, ten, twelve thousand years ago?
Mosley-Thompson: Exactly. And so we don't have those answers yet. The ice cores that we drilled won't even arrive in Columbus, Ohio [until] June 18th. So they're still in transit.
e360: What are you hoping to find out about the climate records of the recent thousands of years?
Mosley-Thompson: Well we want as many details as we possibly can. So we'll be looking at the oxygen and hydrogen isotopic ratios that tell us something about the temperatures in the area. We'll be measuring particulates. We'll be looking at the sulfate — that, we already know, gives us an excellent record of the volcanic activity. We're going to look at something called methane sulfonic acid, MSA. If you have more MSA, the thinking is that you probably then have more open water because the primary source for that would be from phytoplankton. So we're going to be looking at this to see if it might be consistent with other evidence that would tell us whether the sea ice was more extensive, less extensive, or absent.
e360: MSA, from the photosynthetic process that involves phytoplankton's growth, would put compounds into the atmosphere that you could actually find in the [glacial] ice?
Mosley-Thompson: Right. They convert to dimethyl sulfide, DMS. DMS is actually what is put in the atmosphere and then that converts to this MSA. That's what we can measure in the ice. We also have a facility here that we've just implemented or installed in the last few months that can do what's called trace element analysis. So if there are specific areas of the core that are of interest — I mean once we have constructed a robust time scale for the core, there will be periods in the past that are of specific interest to the climatological community. We can then go into those parts of the core and measure very, very tiny concentrations.
e360: What do you think is the minimum age that you'll be able to go back to?
Mosley-Thompson: We picked up 100 percent of the ice [down to the bedrock], contained in 445 meters of core. So what that means is that as we
Our intent is to analyze the [ice] core in the highest possible time resolution."
get lower and lower in the core, time is going to become very compressed. We do not know at what point we will lose our ability to pick up annual variation. Our intent is to analyze the core in the highest possible time resolution, so that we don't lose any valuable information. But there will be a point beyond which we will not be able to look at the seasonally varying parameters and count those years.
e360: And that's because the weight of the snow and ice just compresses those years so tightly that you can't distinguish them.
Mosley-Thompson: That's right... But we should know pretty quickly whether or not that bottom ice was deposited during a warm period, like the Holocene, or during a somewhat [colder] or much colder period, like the end of the last glacial stage. And we'll know that from the oxygen and hydrogen isotopic ratios. There's a very clear signature in the depletion of oxygen 18 [indicating cooling] in the glacial stage ice... We anticipate that this ice probably did build up in the latter part of the last glaciation. Knowing that answer will provide some really interesting constraints on what the climate must have been like at the end of the last glacial and in the early Holocene period.
Another thing that our team here at Ohio State is intently studying is a fairly large abrupt climate event around 5,200 years ago that seems to be very widespread, and no driving mechanism has yet been identified for that. We do not know whether there's any signature of it in Antarctica. But since this event was most strongly expressed in mid- to low- latitudes, if it is in Antarctica you would expect it's going to be in the peninsula for sure, because of the [Antarctic Peninsula's] tighter connection to the mid-latitudes of the southern hemisphere.
e360: Is this the same signal that your husband, Lonnie Thompson, picked up in some Andean glaciers?
Mosley-Thompson: Exactly. The Quelccaya ice cap in the southern Andes of Peru is rapidly retreating, and as it has retreated the plant deposits are exposed and they're very fresh, which means that they've never been exposed before. They literally dry out in the course of a year and so these are fresh plant deposits, but they're all 5,200 years old. Which means that that ice cap advanced over those plants and that ice cap has never been smaller for 5,200 years. But there is evidence for this abrupt shift all the way from logs that are now coming out of glaciers in Alaska as they retreat, [to] very rapid changes in bogs in Patagonia. All throughout the tropical regions there are different types of evidence suggesting a very rapid change. And the change wasn't consistent. In some areas the change was to cold and dry and in other areas it was to cold and wet. So is it evident in the [Antarctic] Peninsula? That's one of the key things we want to answer.
e360: Out of your core atop the Bruce Plateau, do you expect that for quite a few hundred or more than a thousand years back you will have a good CO2 and temperature record?
Mosley-Thompson: There is no reason to expect that we will not.
e360: As some of our readers may know, there have been some extremely deep ice cores taken in Antarctica at Dome C that go back 800,000 or 900,000 years.
Mosley-Thompson: Right.
e360: I understand that the Dome C record shows very clearly that we've got more CO2 in our atmosphere now than at any time in 800,000 years.
Mosley-Thompson: Oh yeah. Very clearly. If you look back over the eight glacial/interglacial cycles, you essentially see that CO2 never rises above 300 parts per million and we're at about 389 now. Methane never
It's like these glaciers are just literally being decapitated. And it's very frightening."
rises above about 800 parts per billion, and I think we're at about 1,700 parts per billion. So we're clearly outside the range of natural variability. I personally think that graph simply showing the natural fluctuations in those two important greenhouse gases, over almost a million years of Earth history — and then you see the two dots [today] that are so much higher than anything that we see in that near-million history — tells us very clearly that we have a serious problem.
e360: I know you have done a lot of ice coring in Greenland and Antarctica and I know your husband has done groundbreaking work in low-latitude glaciated areas like the Andes and the Himalaya. What does this cumulative ice coring work show about what we're experiencing in the last century or so in terms of the warming of the planet?
Mosley-Thompson: Well, from the tropical work, the cores in the Andes and the Himalaya, the oxygen isotopic ratio in those cores, when you stack those cores together, show very clearly that the last 50 or 60 years have been the warmest in the last 2,000 years. There's a lot of regional variability. So for example, we'll often hear that the Medieval Warm Period, roughly 1,000 years ago, was as warm as today. And it's interesting if we look at the three ice cores from the Andes, we do see a Medieval Warm Period signature and a very, very distinct Little Ice Age cool signature. That's not surprising because both the Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age are expressed most strongly around the Atlantic Basin. And the moisture that builds the glaciers in the Andes of Peru actually comes from the southern part of the North Atlantic and the equatorial Atlantic, and not from the Pacific, as people might think. So these Andean cores showed a very distinct Atlantic signature.
But the four cores from the Tibetan Himalaya show virtually no signature of medieval warming or Little Ice Age cooling. They're sampling a totally different region, and so when we put these records together, the medieval warming is very modest and the Little Ice Age signature is strongly muted as well. And what really stands out when you put these all together and into the composite, is the last 60 years. The oxygen isotopic enrichment in the tops of the cores [indicating warming] is very striking.
The other thing that we are now seeing, particularly with the tropical ice fields — and it's not something that we really were looking for when we started going to the high mountains — is that these glaciers are retreating very rapidly. And, in fact, several of the ice fields, particularly one that we recently published the results [for] in the southwestern Himalaya, it has not gained mass or has no ice that was deposited after 1950. It's like these glaciers are just literally being decapitated. And it's very frightening.
e360: When you see global warming skeptics seize on a bit of sloppy work in the IPCC report that predicted the end of Himalayan glaciers in 2035, the skeptics then say, "Well, see, the glaciers aren't melting." It must be extremely frustrating to you that this kind of misinformation gets out to the public when in fact you and your husband see that the world's glaciers are disappearing at a very rapid rate.
Mosley-Thompson: Of course it is frustrating, but you know any time that a system, a human system, shows change and people may have to make changes and there are clearly economic consequences, you get into these debates. The unfortunate thing is that scientists generally operate by one set of rules, and the way that we debate and the words that we use and the standards to which we try to hold ourselves are quite different for political debate. In political debate you can use quite different language, things don't have to be precise, you can virtually lie if you want to and then apologize later. But a scientist, if you speak untruthfully, then what's on the line for you as a scientist is your credibility and your reputation. But frankly, I'd like to turn that around and say that when you look at the breadth of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports, and how much information is in there, the fact that this must be the most egregious error, otherwise they would be making more of something else — I think it's astounding that the IPCC got as much right as they did because there was just tremendous potential for error.
e360: You and your husband work in the world's ice zones, and so you're getting a first-hand and almost shocking look at the rate of melt. Do you sometimes wish that if the general public could somehow accompany you on your work they would have a much greater sense of urgency about doing something about global warming?
Mosley-Thompson: Well, you know, a picture is worth a thousand words. Generally when we go and give talks and we show that the loss of ice is occurring in virtually every environment that has ice, people walk out and say, "Wow, I just didn't realize the scope of this."
e360: And if we don't begin to rein in CO2 emissions, where do you think the cryosphere, the Earth's ice zone, is heading?
Mosley-Thompson: To the oceans. Ultimately that's where all water goes, to the lowest level.

SNP and Plaid Cymru champion a green revolution

Both the Scottish and Welsh nationalist parties are passionate advocates of action against climate change, writes Martin Robbins, but other areas of their science policies are sketchy
Read Plaid Cymru's responses in full here

Martin Robbins, Tuesday 4 May 2010 17.53 BST

So far I've covered the major UK parties, but in Scotland and Wales elections are contested between a different set of players, with the Scottish National Party (SNP) and Plaid Cymru representing nationalist voters in their respective countries. Discussion of these parties' policies is often centred around devolution, but how do they perform on science?
I also take a brief look at the BNP and the Christian Party towards the end of this article.
Plaid Cymru's manifesto shows a business-minded attitude to science and technology, with pledges to upgrade Wales' IT infrastructure. On the environment it calls for nothing less than a 'green revolution', emphasising job creation and initiatives that enable communities to take part in projects suchs as small-scale energy production and community-based farming. Some leaders promise a Ferrari in every garage, Plaid Cymru promises a goat – and I highlight that as a compliment, although given the lack of efficiency of small farms I'm not sure how viable a strategy they are for curbing emissions.
The SNP makes little mention of science in its manifesto, but has some interesting ideas on the environment, including a focus on preserving marine ecosystems, and an initiative to become a world leader in carbon storage. Unfortunately, the SNP did not respond to our questions, so where possible its views have been inferred from its manifesto, website and policy statements.
Brian Cox: Science funding
Do you plan to maintain Britain's science budget below the European average?
Plaid Cymru's response continues the business-oriented theme evident in its manifesto, bringing the party surprisingly close to the Conservative and Labour positions, which seem to view science as primarily a tool for innovation in the economy. It's difficult to tell whether the lack of blue-sky thinking has ideological roots, or if it's simply the consequence of dealing with the needs of a much smaller nation with fewer resources to speculate with. The creation of a national academy is an interesting but slightly vague proposal.
The centrepiece of the SNP's campaign is a pledge to protect Scotland from cuts to public services, including an attack on wasteful schemes such as ID cards. Having preserved Scotland's budget, it would then invest considerably in research, with the ambitious aim of creating 60,000 green jobs.
Alternative medicine
If the balance of evidence suggests that a treatment does not perform any better than placebo, should it be supported by the NHS?
The SNP supported patient access to alternative medicine in its 2007 manifesto. I couldn't find any similar mention in the 2010 campaign, so it's unclear whether the party still supports it. Plaid Cymru, meanwhile, has no specific policies on alternative medicine.
Simon Singh: Libel
What will your party do to reduce the chilling effect of our libel laws on science?
Plaid Cymru has joined the cross-party consensus on the need to change libel laws. The Libel Reform campaign is focused on laws that apply in England and Wales, and so the question is less relevant to the SNP.
Climate change/Energy
Should nuclear power be part of our country's strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions? How soon can we bring new plants online?
Both Plaid Cymru and the SNP are passionate advocates of action against climate change, and both adopt a range of very similar policies in this area, rejecting the need for nuclear power stations in their countries, preferring to draw on their natural resources to develop renewable energy supplies. Plaid Cymru's objection to nuclear appears slightly more ideological, whereas the SNP points to a lack of any need for it for the relatively small Scottish population.
Both parties put a lot of faith in the potential of a green revolution to create jobs, with the SNP aiming for 60,000 new jobs, and Plaid Cymru planning a massive expansion of the renewable energy industry. The differences lie in the details, with the Scottish exploring the possibility of becoming a world-leading carbon importer, and the Welsh seeking to construct local, sustainable communities self-reliant in energy where possible.
How feasible these plans are given the investment available is unclear, and it's interesting that the SNP's policies seem more centralised than the local initiatives outlined by Plaid Cymru. But clearly both parties have a very passionate commitment to this area.
David Nutt: Drug policy
To what extent should drug policy be based on scientific evidence? What evidence, if any, would you require to declassify a drug?
"We believe drug policy should be entirely based on scientific evidence."
It's a bold and welcome statement. Plaid Cymru also clearly sees drug harm as a public health issue rather than a criminal problem, with the party's policies focusing on rehabilitation and education. Its call for "a public debate over drugs laws" is admirable, but given the poor state of media reporting on the issue it would probably backfire. Notably, Plaid is the first party responding to these questions to explicitly state that it would decriminalise a drug – cannabis.
The SNP adopts a similar public health focus, with an emphasis on treatment and rehabilitation. However, the rhetoric on its website still falls into the trap of suggesting that drug use is automatically a problem.
Other parties
The BNP bravely joins Ukip in the fight against the fight against climate change, although it does still take environmental protection and green belts seriously. There appears to be a lack of understanding when it comes to climate change, which the party believes to be a theory "which holds that all western nations need to be stripped of their manufacturing base and pay untold billions to the Third World to build up their industries".
Its ideal of libel reform also bucks the trend, with plans to introduce laws which "will hold journalists and their media outlets criminally liable for knowingly publishing falsehoods".
From the desk of the party's sci-fi spokesman we have uncosted proposals for a 200mph intercity maglev network. Under the BNP, soil would be "reinvigorated", GM produce would be banned, and the family farm would become the basic unit of British agriculture. If you want to keep reading the 84 pages I couldn't be bothered to look at, be my guest.
The Christian Party has an innovative approach to policy-making that can be summed up as "what does the Bible say?" This is taken to such extremes that all taxes – VAT, income tax, corporation tax, and so on – would be set at 20%, apparently because this is what the pharaohs of Egypt were told to set their taxes at in Genesis.
Abortion is obviously a big fat no, while the party adopts a zero-tolerance policy on drug abuse (though not, presumably, on the drug that is in Communion wine). Having teased the Jeremy Clarkson vote with promises of raising the speed limit to 90mph, the Christian Party brushes it aside with a surprising focus on the environment.
In terms of education, under the Christian Party children would be taught chastity until marriage, and creationism would be restored to its rightful place in the national curriculum. If that all sounds good to you, then you're probably reading the wrong column. Shoo!
The less said about the BNP and the Christian Party, the better. One MP from either party would be one too many, and many of their policies fall foul of Poe's Law – so absurd as to be indistinguishable from parody.
For Plaid Cymru and the SNP the results are mixed, as you would expect from smaller parties. It's hard not to admire both for their commitment to environmental issues, an area in which they provide glimpses of the sort of thinking that English greens might achieve if they were more willing to engage with real science. That said, while their plans are ambitious, it's difficult to assess how feasible they might be.
Both parties take a very practical view of science funding, placing it at the heart of their economic plans, something on which your mileage may vary.
Where the regional parties falter is in fringe areas – neither party seems particularly strong on alternative medicine, and little thought has been given to areas like stem cell research or GM crops. Plaid Cymru has an excellent policy on drugs, while the SNP doesn't seem to go far enough, and doesn't appear to quite grasp the root causes of the problems it wants to tackle.
In summary, while I wouldn't rush out to cast my vote for these parties on the basis of their science policies, I don't see many problems here either.