Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Anchorage Breaks Heat Record, in Unusually Warm Summer

July 31,2013

Kan Kil floats face-first in the cool waters of Campbell Creek, near Lake Otis Parkway, while beating the heat on Tuesday, July 30, 2013. Anchorage broke a record on Tuesday for hitting 70 degrees or more for the 14th straight day. (AP Photo/Anchorage Daily News, Bill Roth)
FAIRBANKS, Alaska  — Anchorage has set a record for the most consecutive days over 70 degrees during this unusually warm summer, while Fairbanks is closing in on its own seasonal heat record.
The National Weather Service said Alaska's largest city topped out at 70 degrees at 4 p.m. Tuesday, making it the 14th straight day the thermometer read 70 or higher. That breaks a record of 13 straight days set in 2004.
(MORE:  Anchorage Forecast)
In Fairbanks, temperatures Monday reached 80 or higher for the 29th day this summer. The record is 30 days of 80 degrees or higher, set in 2004.
Tuesday's high in Fairbanks was 77, weather service meteorologist Scott Berg said there's still an opportunity for a milestone.
"We have 80s forecast every day this week, so we're probably going to get that record; it all depends on cloud cover," Berg told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. "We're going to stay in this warm trend at least into the weekend."
To put it in perspective, Fairbanks has an average of 11 days a summer when temperatures reach the 80-degree mark.
Alaska's second-largest city usually has three days a summer of 85 degrees or hotter. This year it's been 85 degrees or warmer on 12 days, breaking the record of 10 days that was set in 1987 and tied in 1990.
Temperatures are projected to cool off a bit next week, but there's still no rain in the forecast.
"We're looking at temperatures closer to normal in the low 70s or around 70," Berg said. "There's potential for showers and sprinkles, but for the most part it looks like it's going to be nice."
MORE:  Alaska's Bears Come to a Computer Near You
Getty Images
For the second year, brown bears in Alaska's Katmai National Park and Preserve will be broadcast live on webcams as they hunt for salmon. (Keren Su/Getty Images)

Climate Controls Will Help Economy, New EPA Chief Says

By: Dina Cappiello
Published: July 31,2013
Gina McCarthy
AP Photo/Steven Senne
New U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy delivers a speech at Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Mass., Tuesday, July 30, 2013.
WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama's top environmental official wasted no time Tuesday taking on opponents of the administration's plan to crack down on global warming pollution.
In her first speech as the head of EPA, Gina McCarthy told an audience gathered at Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Mass., that curbing climate-altering pollution will spark business innovation, grow jobs and strengthen the economy. The message was classic Obama, who has long said that the environment and the economy aren't in conflict and has sold ambitious plans to reduce greenhouse gases as a means to jumpstart a clean energy economy.
McCarthy signaled Tuesday that she was ready for the fight, saying that the agency would continue issuing new rules, regardless of claims by Republicans and industry groups that under Obama the EPA has been the most aggressive and overreaching since it was formed more than 40 years ago.
(MORE: Plastic Particles Found in Great Lakes a Big Problem)
"Can we stop talking about environmental regulations killing jobs? Please, at least for today," said McCarthy, referring to one of the favorite talking points of Republicans and industry groups.
"Let's talk about this as an opportunity of a lifetime, because there are too many lifetimes at stake," she said of efforts to address global warming.
In Obama's first four years, the EPA has issued the first-ever limits on toxic mercury pollution from power plants, regulated greenhouse gases for the first time, and updated a host of air pollution health standards.
McCarthy acknowledged the agency had been the most productive in its history. But she said Tuesday that "we are not just about rules and regulations, we are about getting environmental improvement."
But improvement, she said, could be made "everywhere."
(MORE: See What's Forming Near the North Pole)
That optimistic vision runs counter to claims by Republican lawmakers and some industry groups that more rules will kill jobs and fossil fuel industries. The EPA under Obama has already put in place or proposed new rules to reduce carbon pollution from cars and trucks, large smokestacks, and new power plants - regulations that McCarthy helped to draft as head of the air pollution office. Next on its agenda is the nation's existing fleet of coal-fired power plants, the largest single source of carbon dioxide left. Obama in a June speech gave the agency until June 2014 to draft those regulations.
"It is not supposed to be easy. It is supposed to be hard," McCarthy said of the road ahead. "I don't think it is my job out of the gate to know what the path forward is. It is my obligation to let those voices be heard and listen to them."
A panel in the Republican-controlled House recently signed off on a plan to cut the agency's budget by a third and attached a series of measures that McCarthy said "do everything but say the EPA can't do anything."
Yet, last week, in a victory, a federal court dismissed challenges brought by Texas and power companies to EPA's plans to regulate the largest sources of heat-trapping gases.
"Climate change will not be resolved overnight," she added. "But it will be engaged over the next three years - that I can promise you."

MORE: NASA Captures Dramatic Climate Change on Satellite

The Ash Creek Fire seen here is one of some 27,000 fires which have destroyed nearly 2 million acres of the western U.S. since the start of 2012. Extremely dry conditions, stiff winds, unusually warm weather, and trees killed by outbreaks of pine bark beetles have provided ideal conditions for the blazes. (Credit: NASA)

Masses of Plastic Particles Found in Great Lakes

By: John Flesher
Published: July 31,2013
In this 2012 photo provided by is a sample collected in eastern Lake Erie showing tiny bits of plastic on a penny. (AP Photo/Courtesy, Carolyn Box)
TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- Already ravaged by toxic algae, invasive mussels and industrial pollution, the Great Lakes now confront another potential threat that few had even imagined until recently: untold millions of plastic litter bits, some visible only through a microscope.
Scientists who have studied gigantic masses of floating plastic in the world's oceans are now reporting similar discoveries in the lakes that make up nearly one-fifth of the world's fresh water. They retrieved the particles from Lakes Superior, Huron and Erie last year. This summer, they're widening the search to Lakes Michigan and Ontario, skimming the surface with finely meshed netting dragged behind sailing vessels.
"If you're out boating in the Great Lakes, you're not going to see large islands of plastic," said Sherri Mason, a chemist with State University of New York at Fredonia and one of the project leaders. "But all these bits of plastic are out there."
Experts say it's unclear how long "microplastic" pollution has been in the lakes or how it is affecting the environment. Studies are under way to determine whether fish are eating the particles.
The newly identified hazard is the latest of many for a Great Lakes fish population that has been hammered by natural enemies like the parasitic sea lamprey, which nearly wiped out lake trout, and man-made contamination. Through it all, the fishing industry remains a pillar of the region's tourist economy. Until the research is completed, it won't be clear whether the pollution will affect fishing guidelines, the use of certain plastics or cities that discharge treated wastewater into the lakes.
Scientists have already made a couple startling finds. The sheer number of plastic specks in some samples hauled from Lake Erie, the shallowest and smallest by volume, were higher than in comparable samples taken in the oceans.
Also, while it's unknown where the ocean plastic came from, microscopic examination of Great Lakes samples has produced a smoking gun: many particles are perfectly round pellets. The scientists suspect they are abrasive "micro beads" used in personal care products such as facial and body washes and toothpaste.
They're so minuscule that they flow through screens at waste treatment plants and wind up in the lakes, said Lorena Rios Mendoza, a chemist with the University of Wisconsin-Superior. At the urging of scientists and advocates, some big companies have agreed to phase them out.
During a meeting of the American Chemical Society in April, Rios reported the team had collected up to 1.7 million tiny particles last year in Lake Erie, which acts as something of a "sink" because it receives the outflow from the three lakes to the north - Superior, Michigan and Huron.
(PHOTOS: See What They Spotted From Space)
Mason said preliminary samples indicate "Lake Ontario is as contaminated as Lake Erie, if not more so."
The Great Lakes are no stranger to ecological calamity. Zebra and quagga mussels have destabilized food chains, and ravenous Asian carp are poised to invade. Runaway algae blooms that had been stamped out a generation ago have returned. Dozens of harbors and river mouths are fouled with toxic waste.
Now, researchers are stepping up efforts to determine how much damage the plastic could do. Mason and Rios are working with the 5 Gyres Institute, a nonprofit group based in Los Angeles that has called attention to sprawling masses of plastic in the oceans.
While Mason searches Lake Michigan for more plastic, Rios is poking through fish innards for plastic fragments. In ocean environments, fish and birds are known to feed on microplastics, apparently mistaking them for fish eggs.
A more complicated question is whether the particles are soaking up toxins in the water, potentially contaminating fish that eat them - and sending them up the food chain.
Rios said lab examination had detected two potentially harmful compounds in the Lake Erie plastic debris: PAHs, which are created during incineration of coal or oil products; and PCBs, which were used in electrical transformers and hydraulic systems before they were banned in 1979. Both are capable of causing cancer and birth defects.
(MORE: A Lake Seen on Camera ... Near the North Pole)
Everyone agrees the best way to avoid environmental damage from plastics is to keep them out of the water in the first place. Eriksen's group has urged makers of personal care products to stop using microbeads. Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson have announced phaseout plans. L'Oreal says it won't develop new products with microbeads.
For anglers who regularly feast on salmon, perch and other delicacies from the lakes' depths, the most common reaction to the microplastic scare is a resigned shrug. They're used to warnings against overindulging on fish because of mercury, PCBs and other contaminants.
"I think people aren't going to be really worried about it until more research is done to see just what we're dealing with," said Ron Dohm, president of the Grand Traverse Area Sport Fishing Association in northern Michigan. "You look in the waters and you see all those cigarette butts - the fish eat them, too."

MORE: Earth's Plant Life, Seen From Space

Subtle vegetation changes are visible in this year-long visualization. Large-scale patterns vary with seasons, but the local variations in green are also sensitive precipitation, drought and fire. (NASA/NOAA)

Louisiana's Disappearing Islands

By: Alan Raymond
Published: July 31,2013
A string of uninhabited islands in the Gulf of Mexico have gone from teeming with wildlife to nearly non-existent thanks to constant pummeling from tropical systems, and according to some scientists, climate change is making matters far worse.
Restoration efforts on the books to save the Chandeleur Islands, a 50-mile trail of atolls just off the coast of Louisiana, and home to the Brenton National Wildlife Refuge, may be too little, too late.

Part of a $320 million settlement has been designated to help restore parts of North Breton Island, according to the Federal Register, which tracks all federal environmental action. The money comes from $1 billion set aside by BP to compensate for damages to natural resources in wake of the Gulf oil spill. But no firm timetable has been set for the project.
The restoration project won’t be enough to save the entire chain, said Neil Lalonde, wildlife refuge manager with the National Fish and Wildlife Services. The islands’ degradation from continued storm surge could lead major implications to southeast Louisiana, he said.
Climate change will also add to the crisis, said Dr. John Lopez, executive director of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, a group dedicated to restoring and preserving the water quality, coast and natural habitats of the region.
"The loss of the islands is part of a natural process of delta barrier island evolution that may well be accelerated due to more frequent storms resulting from climate change," Lopez said. "The loss of the islands is a tragedy that can be averted."

Jewel of the Natural World

The islands are the remnants of an abandoned Mississippi River delta and are a haven for millions of marine animals for more than 2,500 years. In 1904 President Theodore Roosevelt, after learning of the destruction of bird habitats, designated the chain a wildlife refuge.
Breton is an extremely rich estuary system that is important to wading, sea and shore birds, migratory waterfowl and songbirds, crab, shrimp and saltwater fish, Lalonde said. The refuge also provides critical habitat for large colonies of nesting seabirds, including brown pelicans, laughing gulls and terns.
During the last 15 years unprecedented erosion, due to constant pummeling from tropical systems, have left the barrier islands clinging to existence and its wildlife seeking other habitats, Lalonde said.

What Hurricanes Have Done

Although the sands around the Chandeleur Islands have been shifting for centuries, the last 25 years have seen them virtually eliminated. Their demise isn't from direct human interaction. Mother Nature has torn the islands to shreds with numerous hits from hurricanes.
“Every passing hurricane takes a toll on the islands,” Lalonde said. “Without any major restoration projects the islands are in imminent danger of disappearing.”
In 1998, Hurricane Georges damaged the ecosystem and the physical structure of the land. Georges also lead to a 2001 multimillion dollar restoration project. Native flora was replanted in hopes of helping the Chandeleur Islands retain sediments for the next big hurricane.
But that work was in vain as Hurricane Ivan, a Category 3 behemoth that made landfall near Pensacola, Fla. in 2004, once again damaged the islands.
Since Ivan, the Chandeleur Islands have weathered at least six hurricanes. The most notorious was 2005's Hurricane Katrina.
Historically, Breton National Wildlife Refuge, including the Chandeleur Islands, was about 11,000 acres, according to Lalonde. The refuge was about 1,100 acres in 1998, before Hurricane Georges. It was down to 500 acres in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina, Lelonde said.
Katrina, one of the country’s deadliest and most destructive hurricanes, roared over the islands with Category 3 strength winds. According to a Texas A&M study, there is some evidence that the loss of coastal barriers made the Hurricane Katrina storm surge worse, leading to the flooding of New Orleans in August 2005.
The islands took a beating from Katrina’s strong winds and massive waves, some higher than a two-story house, razed an iconic lighthouse built in 1896 and washed away the majority of Chandeluer's land masses, leaving them in desperate need of repair.
That renourishment, natural or otherwise, never came as hurricanes Rita in 2005, Gustav in 2008 and Ike, also in 2008, laid claim to the islands, each taking chunks of an ecosystem as they left.
In 2010, sand berms were built to protect parts of the archipelago from oil spewing from the Deepwater Horizon disaster, a 2012 USGS report said. A $360 million settlement from BP paid for the sand berms, which were built by the state of Louisiana. However, in a post-Hurricane Isaac coastal survey from a USGS team revealed that the sand berms virtually obliterated.
While the islands were overrun with water in 2012, they were still intact and offered some amount protection to the mainland.
But as each progressive storm passes, it takes massive chunks of the islands. At the current rate, these invaluable islands could be long gone within a generation, Lalonde said, leaving the fragile Louisiana coast even more vulnerable.

Chandeleur Islands Battered By Katrina

Chandeleur Islands Battered By Katrina
NASA images of the Chandeleur Islands before (left) and after (right) taking a hit from Hurricane Katrina, in 2005.
  • Chandeleur Islands Battered By Katrina
  • Sequential Comparison of the Chandeleur Islands, 2001-2005
  • Chandeleur Islands Comparisons
  • Chandeleur Islands Comparisons
  • Chandeleur Islands Comparisons in 2012
  • Chandeleur Islands Comparisons

Tropical Storm Gil in the Eastern Pacific

July 31,2013

Tropical Storm Gil continues to gather strength, almost 900 miles southwest of the tip of Mexico's Baja California peninsula.
Gil is expected to strengthen to a hurricane by Thursday, before weakening as it encounters the twin nemeses of increased vertical wind shear and stable, dry air.
It will move west-northwest over the next five days and is no imminent threat to land. However, while unlikely, it is not completely impossible that Gil or some remnant of Gil could pass near the Hawaiian Islands next week.
This is the sixth time the name "Gil" has been used in the eastern Pacific. The first Gil, in 1983, passed just north of the Hawaiian Islands as a tropical storm.

Projected Path

Projected Path

Projected Path

The latest forecast path and wind speeds from the National Hurricane Center.


Storm Information

Storm Information

Current Information

So, where exactly is the cyclone's center located now? If you're plotting the storm along with us, click on the "Current Information" map below to get the latitude/longitude coordinates, distance away from the nearest land location, maximum sustained winds and central pressure (measured in millibars).





How does the system look on satellite imagery. Click on "infrared" satellite imagery, to see how "cold" the cloud tops are. Brighter orange and red shadings concentrated near the center of circulation signify a healthy tropical cyclone.

MORE: 20 Amazing Hurricane Images

Amazing Hurricane Images: Isabel - 2003 (NASA)

Amazing Hurricane Images: Isabel - 2003 (NASA)
This image was taken from satellite on September 13, 2003 when Isabel was strengthening back to Category 5 status. Several pinwheel shaped features can be seen spinning inside the eye.

Destination Uncharted: The Great Barrier Reef

July 30,2013

This undated photo shows a colorful scene on the Great Barrier Reef off Australia's northeastern coast. (AFP/Getty Images)
The Great Barrier Reef is a unique and beautiful natural wonder. The reef is 2,300 km (1,426 miles) long, encompassing a total area of over 300,000 square km (186,000 square miles), and is reportedly the only living structure on Earth visible from space.

Coral reefs are formed when coral animals, or polyps, attach to a hard surface and build a cup-shaped exoskeleton, or calyx, by excreting calcium carbonate. The polyps will occasionally detach from their calyx and secrete a new one above it, causing the coral structure to grow slowly over time, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The origin of the Great Barrier Reef can be traced back to an ice age that occurred roughly 15,000 years ago, when much of the Earth's water was locked in glaciers, and sea levels were 300-400 feet lower than they are today. Coral polyps settled along Queensland's continental shelf, which was exposed to air at that time, and as the glaciers melted and the sea level rose, the coral structures were able to grow fast enough to keep the coral polyps in the lighted surface waters where they were able to survive, reports.

The Great Barrier Reef contains close to 400 different types of corals, the Australian Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority states, which form structures in an amazing variety of shapes and colors, making the reef a place of incredible beauty, resembling a rainforest in an alien landscape.

In fact, coral reefs are often called rainforests of the sea because of their biodiversity, and even though they consist of less than .01% of the Earth's oceans, they provide a home for 25% of all marine species, the reports. The Great Barrier Reef, the largest reef structure in the world, contains 500 seaweed species, 215 species of birds, 16 species of snakes, 4,000 species of mollusks and 1,500 different species of fish, according to the Sydney Sea Life Aquarium.

In addition, the reef also provides a home for over 30 different species of marine mammals for at least part of the year, including Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins, Australian snubfin dolphins, spinner dolphins, pan-tropical spotted dolphins, killer whales, short-finned pilot whales, sperm whales, and humpback whales, which return to the reef from May to September in order to have their calves and build up strength for their return trip to the Antarctic, states Six of the seven species of sea-turtles also dwell in the confines of The Great Barrier Reef, and the reef provides a protected home for the iconic dugongs, also known as sea cows, endangered marine mammals which were at least partially responsible for the legends of mermaids when they were first seen by early sailors, according to the Australian Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

The reef is extremely important to humans as well. Majestic marine mammals, the riot of color from the many diverse species of fish, the unearthly beauty of the coral "forest", and the warm gentle ocean currents all contribute to making the Great Barrier Reef a popular tourist destination, and other parts of the reef supports a large commercial fishing industry that is vital to the Australian economy, as well as fishing in the reef providing food for indigenous people, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority reports. The GBRMPA is responsible for insuring that the waters of the reef are not overfished, as well addressing other threats to the reef such as pollution from the millions of tourists who visit each year, in order to make sure this delicate ecosystem is not harmed.

The most powerful threat to the reef seems to come from the forces of nature. Intense hurricanes can cause massive damage to the reef. The Great Barrier Reef seems to have lost half of its coral cover in the past 27 years, with loss being attributed to the following causes: storm damage - 48%, crown of thorns starfish - 42%, and coral bleaching - 10%, according to researchers from the Australian Institute of Marine Science. The CEO of the AIMS goes on to say if the starfish proliferation could be halted, the reef could start to recover, growing at a rate of 0.89% per year. Coral bleaching is a phenomenon in which ocean conditions, such as temperature or acidification, cause the corals to expel the algae which give them their color, and while corals can survive bleaching, they become more vulnerable when it occurs, according to NOAA.  According to another study that was reported on from Institut Pierre Simon Laplace and Stanford University, ocean acidification, which the study states is a condition in which the ocean becomes more acidic as a result of CO2 emissions, may result in the death of all shallow-water coral reefs in the next 100 years.