Warm seas melting ice shelf the size of
By Steve Connor
Oct. 31 An ice shelf in Antarctica the size of Scotland is
rapidly disintegrating because of warmer seas, scientists said yesterday.
They believe that the Larsen ice shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula may
disappear within 70 years.
Scientists say that its loss may trigger a release of ice from the peninsulas
mainland, causing global sea levels to rise by 3ft, 3in.
Researchers led by Dr. Andrew Shepherd, a glaciologist from Cambridge
University, found that the Larsen ice shelf had thinned by as much as
59 feet in the past 10 years. That can only be explained by a warmer ocean,
The study is published in the journal Science a day after a study revealed
that the ice in the Arctic was melting rapidly due to a rise in temperatures,
threatening the natural habitat of the polar bear.
Both studies used radar measurements taken by the European Space Agencys
ERS-1 and ERS-2 satellites. This enabled the scientists to monitor the
loss of ice over huge areas of sea at opposite ends of the Earth for 10
Dr. Shepherd said, Weve discovered that the Larsen ice shelf
is thinning due to warmer oceans around it.
The radar measurements of the ice shelfs average height above the
sea, which are accurate to within 8 inches, revealed a pattern of thinning
since measurements began in 1992, Dr. Shepherd said.
The amount of melting freshwater running off the ice shelf into the surrounding
sea was equivalent to eight times the flow of the River Thames. This could
disturb the local sea currents that were part of a much wider global ocean
circulation, he said. Dr. Shepherd said that it was not possible to say
with certainty whether global warming was directly responsible for the
melting. However, he said that it was indisputable that the sea around
the Antarctic Peninsula was getting warmer although other parts
of the Antarctic continent were getting colder.
Dr. Shepherd said the Larsen ice shelf was about 984 feet thick. When
two previous sections of the shelf thinned to about 656 feet they quickly
Current estimates suggested that the Larsen ice shelf would begin to disintegrate
rapidly by about 2070, although that was likely to happen sooner if current
warming trends continued, Dr. Shepherd said.
The disappearance of the ice shelf might also affect the local ice sheets,
large bodies of ice trapped on land by the ice shelf. This is a
really important indicator of how grounded ice behind will respond to
this disintegration, Dr. Shepherd said.
Much bigger ice shelves in Antarctica are also being monitored. The Ronne
and the Ross ice shelves are about 10 times the size of the Larsen ice
shelf and their disintegration would be a far more serious event. Scientists
estimate that the Larsen ice shelf has been in existence for 2,000 years
and took many centuries to form.
Source: Independent (UK)
Canadian top court protects
polluter pays principle
By Kirk Makin
Oct. 30 Polluters must be prepared to pay for damage
they cause, the Supreme Court of Canada said in a 90 ruling Thursday.
The court rejected arguments from Imperial Oil Ltd. that the Quebec
government was caught in a conflict of interest when it ordered the
company to clean up a large amount of polluted soil.
There was no conflict of interest such as would warrant judicial
intervention let alone any abuse or misuse of power, Mr.
Justice Louis LeBel wrote for the majority.
The case stems from a 1998 order from the Quebec Ministry of the Environment
to Imperial Oil to clean up oil and grease contamination from decades
old storage tanks that had leaked deep into the soil on which 20 homes
have been built in a subdivision near the city of Levis.
This decision is one of the great environmental law victories
in Canadian history, Sierra Legal Defence Fund managing lawyer
Jerry DeMarco said following the decision. Kudos to the Supreme
Court of Canada for again recognizing the importance of environmental
protection in safeguarding the well being of Canadians. There are tens
of thousands of contaminated sites in Canada, from the Sydney tar ponds,
to Levis, Quebec, Hamilton, Calgary, and so on. Toxic messes have been
left behind by polluters and now polluters must pay for the environmental
harm they have caused.
Company lawyers had claimed the ministry order was illegal on account
of several lawsuits it faces from homeowners over botched attempts to
clean up the problem.
The lawsuits accuse the ministry of inadequately supervising the previous
The company maintained that any moves the province made since the lawsuits
were launched could be seen as motivated by their desire to reduce the
provinces civil liability a clear conflict of interest.
The Supreme Court disagreed.
The only interests the Minister was representing were the public
interest in protecting the environment and the interest of the State,
which is responsible for preserving the environment, Judge LeBel
In the circumstances of this case, it was difficult to separate
those interests, he said. In exercising his discretion,
the Minister could properly consider a solution that would save some
Environmentalists have been on tenterhooks ever since a Quebec Superior
Court judge ruled in favor of Imperial Oils arguments in 2000.
The Quebec Court of Appeal later reversed that ruling, setting up an
appeal to the Supreme Court.
The Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General sided with environmentalists
during oral arguments, warning that polluters could skip away from thousands
of contaminated sites across the country unless the Supreme Court put
a stop to Imperials challenge.
An adverse ruling would prevent governments from issuing cleanup orders
and be disastrous for environmental regulation across Canada,
Lawyers for the province also warned that heightened public awareness
of environmental issues is likely to multiply the number of lawsuits
authorities face in future.
According to Friends of the Earth, another environmental group, about
30,000 sites in Canada are contaminated. It maintained polluters could
have effectively abandoned them had the Supreme Court ruling gone the
The contaminated land in Levis was sold by Imperial Oil in 1979. About
32,808 cubic feet of contaminated soil from the Quebec site were removed
soon afterward, and approximately 20 homes were built on the site.
In 1995, worried homeowners asked the ministry to order Imperial Oil
to deal with continuing pollution problems. After three years of investigation,
the ministry issued the contentious order.
Source: Globe and Mail (Toronto)
Healthy Forests logging bill
communities and national forests
Washington, DC, Nov. 1 Thursday night, on Eve of Halloween,
the US Senate passed the Bush Administrations Healthy Forest
logging initiative by a vote of 80-14. This misguided piece of wildfire
legislation does virtually nothing to protect homeowners from wildfire.
Instead, the bill limits citizen participation, undermines key environmental
laws, and allows logging companies to cut down 20 million acres (31,250
square miles) of Americas national forests under the guise of
Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) predicted during Thursdays Senate
debate that White House sponsored Healthy Forests logging
legislation would be a Halloween trick on communities threatened
by wildfires. Leahy, with thirteen other Senators, voted against
final passage of the Healthy Forests legislation.
Andrew George, campaign coordinator with the National Forest Protection
Alliance, a national network of over 130 grassroots conservation groups,
explained: The Bush administration is exploiting the California
wildfire disaster for political gain. Like other reckless White House
policies, this is sure to backfire when more communities burn in the
future as the logging industry cuts down the biggest, fire-resistant
old growth trees. George continued, Our grassroots alliance
will use whatever rights we still have to expose the Bush Administrations
scam for the pro-logging agenda it is.
On Halloween, activists held over 40 separate demonstrations across
the country during a Day of Action against the Bush administrations
national forest logging plan.
The legislation is seriously flawed, and falls far short of achieving
what is supposed to be its primary goal: improving the safety of homeowners
and communities across the country from the threat of wildfires. The
bill also contains provisions that will make it far more difficult for
citizens to challenge ill-conceived timber projects disguised as fuel-reduction,
and no meaningful protection for the last remaining stands of old growth
trees on Americas national forests.
The real tragedy of todays vote is that communities like
those around Los Angeles will remain unprotected, while old growth and
roadless areas will now be handed over to the logging companies,
said Mike Petersen with the Lands Council in Spokane, WA.
The entire premise of the Healthy Forest Initiative continues
to be seriously undermined by repeated reports from the General Accounting
Office. On October 24th, 2003 the GAO report found that 95% of the 818
Forest Service fuels reduction projects it reviewed were ready for implementation
within the standard 90-day review period and 97% of the projects went
forward without litigation.
Source: National Forest Protection Alliance