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News on Alaska
Throng of 35,000 walruses is largest ever recorded on land, sign of warming arctic
A mass of thousands of walruses were spotted hauled up on land in northwest Alaska during NOAA aerial surveys earlier this week. An estimated 35,000 occupied a single beach – a record number illustrating a trend in an unnatural behavior scientists say is due to global warming.
Alaska roasting: new NASA map shows the Final Frontier in grip of January heatwave
Alaska got California weather at the end of January, as displayed by a new map based on data by NASA's Terra satellite's Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS). The U.S. state experiences one of its warmest winter periods on record during the second half of January, including some temperatures that ran 40 degrees Fahrenheit (22 degrees Celsius) above average. According to the EPA, temperatures in Alaska have risen an average of 3.4 degrees Fahrenheit (1.9 degrees Celsius) in just the last 50 years due to climate change.
Yukon Flats experiencing more wildfires now than in the last 10,000 years
The Yukon Flats area of Alaska is today burning more frequently and severely than it has in the last 10,000 years, according to new research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Looking at charcoal fragments from 14 deep lakes in the region, scientists were able to reconstruct the fire history of this particular forest, which covers around 2,000 square kilometers. Scientists have long warned that as the temperature worldwide continue to rise from climate change, wildfires are likely to become more common.
NASA image shows nearly ice-free Alaska as temps top 96 degrees
After a colder-than-average spring, Alaska is suffering a sudden and record-breaking heatwave. Temperatures on Monday, June 17th hit a stunning 96 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius) in Talkeetna, Alaska, just below the state's highest temperature ever record of 98 degrees Fahrenheit in 1969. On the same day, NASA's Terra Satellite's Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) took a rare image of a cloud-free Alaska.
Shell suspends Arctic oil drilling for the year
Royal Dutch Shell announced today that it was setting "pause" on its exploratory drilling activities in the Arctic for 2013. Shell's operations are currently under review by the federal government after the oil company suffered numerous setbacks during last year's opening attempt to drill exploratory wells in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, including running its drilling rig aground on Sitkalidak Island in southern Alaska in late December.
Arctic oil rig runs aground
On Monday night, an oil drilling rig owned by Dutch Royal Shell ran aground on Sitkalidak Island in southern Alaska, prompting fears of an oil spill. As of yesterday no oil was seen leaking from the rig according to the Coast Guard, but efforts to secure the rig have floundered due to extreme weather. The rig, dubbed Kulluk, contains over 140,000 gallons of diesel fuel.
Legislation leaves future of world's largest temperate rainforest up in the air
Although unlikely to pass anytime in the near term, recurring legislation that would hand over 80,000 acres of the Tongass Rainforest to a Native-owned logging corporation has put local communities on guard in Southeast Alaska. "The legislation privatizes a public resource. It takes land that belongs to all of us, and that all of us have a say in the use and management of, and it gives that land to a private for-profit corporation," Andrew Thoms, Executive Director of the Sitka Conservation Society, told mongabay.com in a recent interview.
Picture of the day: Shell drilling rig within view of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
Twelve miles off shore from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge floats a seemingly tiny man-made device—at least from an airplane—but it's actually a 160-foot high Shell Dutch Royal oil drilling rig. While the hugely controversial plan to drill for oil in the Arctic ocean was postponed this year due to a variety of mishaps and delays, the Shell rig is expected to be in the area until the end of month drilling top holes in the ocean floor to prep oil drilling next year.
Future of the Tongass forest lies in salmon, not clear-cut logging
The Parnell administration's Timber Task Force recently unveiled a proposal to carve out two million acres of the Tongass National Forest for clear-cut logging under a state-managed "logging trust." The stated goal is to revive Southeast Alaska’s timber industry that collapsed two decades ago amid changing market conditions, logging cutbacks and evolving public opinion about timber harvesting on national forests.
Another mishap kills Shell's Arctic oil drilling for the year
Following global protests, a series of embarrassing mishaps, and a lengthy regulatory process, Dutch Royal Shell has announced it is abandoning its hugely controversial off-shore oil drilling in the Arctic—this year. The announcement came after the company damaged a containment dome meant to cap an oil spill. The incident was the latest in a series of delays and problems that oil the giant faced in its $4 billion plan to drill in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas.
Shell begins offshore drilling in the Alaskan Arctic
With the approval of the Obama Administration, Royal Dutch Shell began drilling into the ocean floor of the Chukchi Sea off the coast of Alaska yesterday morning. The controversial operation, which has been vehemently opposed by environmental and Native groups, will likely only last a few weeks this year until the Arctic winter sets in. The U.S. government has said that Shell must complete operations by September 24th, however the oil giant has asked for an extension.
Obama approves preparation for oil drilling in Arctic, Shell en route
In the same week that sea ice in the Arctic Ocean hit another record low due to climate change, the Obama Administration has given final approval to Royal Dutch Shell to prepare for exploratory drilling in the region. Vehemently opposed by environmentalists and indigenous groups, the drilling plans are a part of the Obama Administrations 'all of the above' energy policy. Whether or not Shell will actually drill a well this season, however, is still up in the air as its oil spill containment barge remains docked in Washington state for an upgrade that could last several days.
Shell running out of time to drill in U.S. Arctic - this year
The clock is running out for oil giant, Royal Dutch Shell, to drill controversial oil wells in the U.S. Arctic before the harsh winter sets in, reports the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg. While the company is still optimistic it can reach the Arctic by summer's end, it awaits a number of final permits after suffering numerous setbacks, including one of its drilling ships going adrift and nearly running aground in Alaska.
Featured video: restoring rivers in the Tongass Rainforest
A new video highlights recent efforts to restore rivers in the Tongass Forest, the world's largest intact temperate rainforest. Industrial logging in vital watersheds have hurt salmon populations and other wildlife in the region, an issue the government, along with several partners, are now trying to rectify.
Obama Administration, Shell moving ahead with Arctic oil exploitation
Last week, the U.S. Department of the Interior approved oil spill clean-up plans by Royal Dutch Shell Oil in the Beaufort Sea, paving the way for offshore oil drilling in the Arctic to begin as soon this year. The Interior's approval was blasted by environmentalists, who contend that oil companies have no viable way of dealing with a spill in the icy, hazardous conditions of the Arctic, far from large-scale infrastructure. Shell, which has spent $4 billion to date to gain access to the Arctic, must still be granted final permits for drilling.
Alaskan fishermen tell government to focus on salmon, not logging
Alaskan fishermen and tour operators visited Washington D.C. last week to urge the federal government to shift the focus from logging to conservation in the Tongass rainforest. Local Alaskans along with NGOs Trout Unlimited, Alaska Program, and Sitka Conservation Society, made the case that conservation, including the restoration of fish habitat, was a far better strategy for the local economy and jobs than logging. The Tongass rainforest is currently the subject of a controversial logging proposal by the government for the indigenous-owned company, Sealaska.
U.S. legislation threatens oldest, tallest trees in Tongass rainforest
Up to 17 percent of the tallest old-growth trees in the Tongass temperate rainforest could be cut under new U.S. legislation, according to a report by Audubon Alaska. The report argues that the legislation under consideration (S 730 and HR 1408) would resurrect the banned practice of "high-grading," which allows loggers to select the largest, most-ancient trees across the forest for cutting despite their ecological importance. The legislation is a part of a controversial 65,000 acre logging concession in Tongass to Sealaska Corporation, which is owned by 20,000 members of Native communities, from the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian tribes.
Opposition rising against U.S. Arctic drilling
Drilling in the Arctic waters of the U.S. may become as contested an issue as the Keystone Pipeline XL in up-coming months. Scientists, congress members, and ordinary Americans have all come out in large numbers against the Obama Administration's leases for exploratory drilling in the Beaufort Sea and the Chuckchi Sea.
Photos: camera traps reveal oil's unexpected impact on Arctic birds
A study in the Alaskan Arctic, employing camera traps, has shown that oil drilling impacts migrating birds in an unexpected way. The study found that populations of opportunistic predators, which prey on bird eggs or fledglings, may increase in oil drilling areas, putting extra pressure on nesting birds. Predators like fox, ravens, and gulls take advantage of industry infrastructure for nests and dens, moving into areas that may otherwise be inhospitable. In addition, garbage provides sustenance for larger populations of the opportunists.
Obama administration opens more of the Arctic to drilling
Nearly 500 Arctic oil and gas leases from the Bush administration have been restarted this week by the Obama administration. Known as Chukchi Lease 193, the various leases had been held up in court after environmental groups and indigenous groups challenged them, citing a significant lack of baseline information about the Chukchi Sea ecosystem. The Obama administration now says that many of the ecosystem gaps need not be filled, but Arctic indigenous and environmental groups disagree.
Deepwater spill 'meets the Titanic': groups sue to stop Arctic drilling
Following the Obama administration's approval of Royal Dutch Shell to drill in the Arctic's Beaufort Sea, a wide-swathe of environmental have filed a lawsuit to stop the drilling, which could begin as early as next summer. Those filing the lawsuit today blasted Shell for what they perceived as a pathetic oil spill response plan, and the Obama administration for acquiescing to the big oil company.
Shell spills over 50,000 gallons of oil off Scotland
Yesterday, Royal Dutch Shell estimated that to date 54,600 gallons of oil had spilled into the North Sea off the east coast of Scotland, spreading some 19 miles wide (30 kilometers) at its maximum. While the company stopped the initial leak on Thursday, it has now announced that the oil has found a 'second pathway' and is still leaking into the sea around 84 gallons a day.
Goodbye national parks: when 'eternal' protected areas come under attack
One of the major tenets behind the creation of a national park, or other protected area, is that it will not fade, but remain in essence beyond the pressures of human society, enjoyed by current generations while being preserved for future ones. The protected area is a gift, in a way, handed from one wise generation to the next. However, in the real world, dominated by short-term thinking, government protected areas are not 'inalienable', as Abraham Lincoln dubbed one of the first; but face being shrunk, losing legal protection, or in some cases abolished altogether. A first of its kind study, published in Conservation Letters, recorded 89 instances in 27 countries of protected areas being downsized (shrunk), downgraded (decrease in legal protections), and degazetted (abolished) since 1900. Referred to by the authors as PADDD (protected areas downgraded, downsized, or degazetted), the trend has been little studied despite its large impact on conservation efforts.
Birnam Wood in the 21st Century: northern forest invading Arctic tundra as world warms
In Shakespeare's play Macbeth the forest of Birnam Wood fulfills a seemingly impossible prophecy by moving to surround the murderous king (the marching trees are helped, of course, by an army of axe-wielding camouflaged Scots). The Arctic tundra may soon feel much like the doomed Macbeth with an army of trees (and invading species) closing in. In a recent study, researchers found that climate change is likely to push the northern forests of the boreal into the Arctic tundra—a trend that is already being confirmed in Alaska.
Arctic fish catch vastly underreported (by hundreds of thousands of metric tons) for 5 decades
From 1950 to 2006 the United Nation Food and Agriculture Agency (FAO) estimated that 12,700 metric tons of fish were caught in the Arctic, giving the impression that the Arctic was a still-pristine ecosystem, remaining underexploited by the world's fisheries. However, a recent study by the University of British Colombia Fisheries Center and Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences throws cold water on this widespread belief. According to the study, published in Polar Biology, the total Arctic catch from 1950 to 2006 is likely to have been nearly a million metric tons, almost 75 times the FAO's official record.
Kite-photography gives new perspective to whale migration
A new project sponsored by Nokia uses KAPing - kite aerial photography - to get an innovative look at whale behavior. The project will be taking place in Hawaii and will document the area's annual humpback whale migration.
New hope for polar bears
Once thought of as a doomed species, new research published in the journal Nature and conducted by scientists from several institutions, including the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Geological Survey, finds that polar bears could be saved from extinction - if certain measures are taken.
Unprecedented tundra fire likely linked to climate change
A thousand square kilometers of the Alaskan tundra burned in September 2007, a single fire that doubled the area burned in the region since 1950. However, a new study in the Journal of Geophysical Research finds that the fire was even more unprecedented than imagined: sediment cores found that it was the most destructive fire in the area for at least 5,000 years and maybe longer. "If such fires occur every 200 years or every 500 years, it's a natural event," University of Illinois plant biology professor Feng Sheng Hu explains in a press release. "But another possibility is that these are truly unprecedented events caused by, say, greenhouse warming."
Open landfills feed population growth of predatory Alaskan gulls
Gulls in northern Alaska are making a killing on the garbage they scavenge from landfills, new research shows. Glaucous gulls that consume a lot of trash raise more chicks than gulls that eat only natural food, according to a study in the August 2010 issue of The Condor. The garbage is a boon for the gulls, but it’s a bust for other birds nesting on Alaska's coastal plain. These gulls are predators, and their burgeoning numbers threaten waterbird populations already in decline.
Conservation photography: on shooting and saving the world's largest temperate rainforest, an interview with Amy Gulick
Most of the US's large ecosystems are but shadows of their former selves. The old-growth deciduous forests that once covered nearly all of the east and mid-west continental US are gone, reduced to a few fragmented patches that are still being lost. The tall grassy plains that once stretched further than any eye could see have been almost wholly replaced by agriculture and increasing suburbs. Habitats, from deserts to western forests, are largely carved by roads and under heavy impact from resource exploitation to invasive species. Coastal marine systems, once super abundant, have partially collapsed in many places due to overfishing, as well as pollution and development. Despite this, there are still places in the US where the 'wild' in wilderness remains largely true, and one of those is the Tongass temperate rainforest of Southeast Alaska.