Posts Tagged ‘United Nations’

Antarctic Ice Melting Faster Than Thought

Wednesday, May 16th, 2012

In a sign that global warming is a reality, a new study reveals that ice shelves in western Antarctica are melting at a faster pace than previously known. Data collected by a NASA ice-watching satellite show that the ice shelves are being eaten away from below by ocean currents, which have been growing warmer even faster than the air above.  Launched in January of 2003, NASA’s ICESat (Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite) studied the changing mass and thickness of Antarctica’s ice from polar orbit.  An international research team used more than 4.5 million surface height measurements collected by ICESat’s GLAS (Geoscience Laser Altimeter System) instrument between October of 2005 and 2008.  The conclusion was that 20 of the 54 shelves studied — nearly half — were losing thickness.

Melting of ice by ocean currents can take place when air temperature remains cold, maintaining a steady process of ice loss — and ultimately a rise in the sea level.  “We can lose an awful lot of ice to the sea without ever having summers warm enough to make the snow on top of the glaciers melt,” said Hamish Pritchard of the British Antarctic Survey and the study’s lead author.  “The oceans can do all the work from below.”  The study also found a shift in Antarctica’s winds as a result of climate change.  “This has affected the strength and direction of ocean currents,” Pritchard said.  “As a result warm water is funneled beneath the floating ice.  These studies and our new results suggest Antarctica’s glaciers are responding rapidly to a changing climate.  We’ve looked all around the Antarctic coast and we see a clear pattern: in all the cases where ice shelves are being melted by the ocean, the inland glaciers are speeding up.  It’s this glacier acceleration that’s responsible for most of the increase in ice loss from the continent and this is contributing to sea-level rise.”

Antarctica contains adequate ice to raise sea levels by approximately 187 feet, although it’s unlikely to melt for thousands of years, according to the United Nations.  Some ice shelves are thinning by a few meters a year, and glaciers in response are draining billions of tons of ice into the sea, Pritchard said.  “Most profound contemporary changes to the ice sheets and their contribution to sea level rise can be attributed to ocean thermal forcing that is sustained over decades and may already have triggered a period of unstable glacier retreat.”

Some ice shelves are thinning just a few feet a year, and glaciers drain billions of tons of ice into the sea as a result.  “This supports the idea that ice shelves are important in slowing down the glaciers that feed them, controlling the loss of ice from the Antarctic ice sheet,” Pritchard said.

While conducting the study, the researchers measured how ice shelf height changed, using computer models to check changes in ice thickness due to natural snow accumulation.  Additionally, they used a tide model that eliminated height changes due to rising tides.  “This study shows very clearly why the Antarctic ice sheet is currently losing ice, which is a major advance,” said Professor David Vaughan, the leader of ice2sea.  The study is significant because it shows the key to predicting how an ice sheet might change in the future.  “Perhaps we should not only be looking to the skies above Antarctica, but also into the surrounding oceans,” Vaughan added.

Tom Wagner, cryosphere program scientist at NASA, said that the study demonstrates how “space-based, laser altimetry” can expand scientists understand of the earth.  “Coupled with NASA’s portfolio of other ice sheet research using data from our GRACE mission, satellite radars and aircraft, we get a comprehensive view of ice sheet change that improves estimates of sea level rise.”

“When ice shelves completely collapse — and we’ve seen that before — the grounded glaciers behind them will speed up; we know that,” said co-author Helen Amanda Fricker of Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego.  “But what this study is showing, which is very new, is that you don’t need to lose the shelf entirely for this to happen; just a reduction in the thickness of the ice shelf is enough to allow more of the grounded ice behind it to flow off the continent.”

Rising Greenhouse Gases in the Air to Bring Stormy Weather

Monday, November 28th, 2011

The three gases that contribute the most to global warming rose to their highest levels ever, according to the United Nations (UN). Carbon dioxide, the most significant heat-trapping gas, rose 0.59 percent to 389 parts per million molecules of air, the UN’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said.  Methane rose 0.28 percent to 1,808 parts per billion; and nitrous oxide gained 0.25 percent to 323.2 parts per billion.  Rising greenhouse gas emissions threaten to “close the door” on limiting global temperature rises to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) during this century, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

“Even if we managed to halt our greenhouse-gas emissions today, and this is far from the case, they would continue to linger in the atmosphere for decades to come and so continue to affect the delicate balance of our living planet and our climate,” WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said.

Even worse, greenhouse gases rose faster in 2010 than the average over the past 10 years, according to the annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin.

Unfortunately, the report is bad news for the earth. Climate change will make droughts and floods like those that have battered the United States and other countries in 2011 more frequent, according to a new report, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  The report, that follows a two-year process, suggests that researchers are far more confident about the prospect of more hot weather and heavy rains than they are about how global warming is impacting hurricanes and tornadoes.  The new analysis highlights a broader trend: The world is facing a new reality of more extreme weather, as policymakers and business are beginning to adjust.

Gerald Meehl, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and one of the report’s reviewers, said it highlights why climate change is more than just a gradual rise in the global temperature reading.  “The fact is, a small change in average temperature can have a big impact on extremes,” Meehl said.  “It’s pretty straightforward. As average temperatures go up, it’s fairly obvious that heat extremes go up and (the number of) low extremes go down.”

“The time is now for this report,” said University of Illinois climate scientist Don Wuebbles, citing recent studies linking climate change to extreme weather.  “Scientific studies such as a report in the journal Nature have linked the deadly 2003 heat wave in Europe to climate change.”

CO2 levels are currently 389 parts per million, an increase from approximately 280 parts per million 250 years ago. According to WMO Deputy Secretary-General Jeremiah Lengoasa, CO2 emissions are to blame for about 80 percent of the rise.  But he noted the delay between what is emitted into the atmosphere and its impact on climate.  “With this picture in mind, even if emissions were stopped overnight globally, the atmospheric concentrations would continue for decades because of the long lifetime of these greenhouse gases in the atmosphere,” he said.

Representatives from a majority of the world’s nations are gathering to try to agree on how to avoid the worst of the climate disruptions that experts say will result if concentrations hit 450 parts per million.  At the present rate, that could happen within several decades, although some climate activists and at-risk nations say the world has already passed the danger point of 350 parts per million and must be undone.  According to the WMO, the 2.3 parts per million increase of CO2 in the atmosphere between 2009 and 2010 shows a speeding up when compared with the average 1.5 parts per million increase during the 1990s.  Since 1750, the WMO says, atmospheric concentrations of CO2 have jumped 39 percent; nitrous oxide has gone up 20 percent; and methane concentrations soared 158 percent.  Fossil fuel-burning, loss of forests that absorb CO2 and fertilizer use are the primary culprits.

Earlier this year, BP released data showing that global carbon dioxide emissions grew at their fastest rate since 1969 in 2010, as nations recovered from economic recession.  According to the WMO, greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere rose by 1.4 percent last year from 2009 and 29 percent since 1990.  The WMO measured the global amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, gathered from monitors in more than 50 nations, including natural emissions and absorption processes – known as sources and sinks – as well as human activity.

The WMO noted that methane is increasing following a brief period of “relative stabilization” between 1999 and 2006.  “Scientists are conducting research into the reasons for this, including the potential role of the thawing of the methane-rich Northern permafrost and increased emissions from tropical wetlands.”

Thanksgiving Dinner to Cost 13 Percent More This Year

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011

This year’s Thanksgiving dinner on average will cost 13 percent more than it did in 2010. The price of the traditional holiday meal for 10 people will average $49.20, an increase from $43.47 in 2010, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF).  That’s the biggest increase since 1990, as the cost of sweet potatoes, rolls, stuffing and whipped cream rose in 2011.  The classic Thanksgiving meal totals approximately $5 per person.

Bad weather and soaring commodity prices are two reasons that have caused an increase in food and beverage prices.  On Thanksgiving Day, a 30-ounce can of pumpkin pie mix will cost 16 percent more than it did last year.  A pound of frozen green peas will cost 17 percent more, while the cost of a gallon of milk will climb 13 percent.

The turkey itself will be the biggest item.  A 16-pound turkey is expected to cost approximately $21.57, or 22 percent more than in 2010.  Economists said the leap is a result of strong demand in the U.S. and abroad.  “Retailers are being more aggressive about passing on higher costs for shipping, processing and storing food to consumers,” John Anderson, a senior economist with the group, said.  The report, which the federation says is “an informal gauge of price trends around the nation,” is the latest in a series that date back to 1986.  Back then, Thanksgiving dinner cost $28.74.

“Our informal survey is a good barometer of the rising trend in food prices this year,” Anderson said. “We are starting to see the supply response to higher prices, but there are substantial lags.”

Thanksgiving dinner costs have increased at a faster pace than food inflation; the government forecasts prices will increase 3.5 to 4.5 percent this year, the fastest rate since 2008.  Rising commodity and energy prices boosted the cost of food by 6.3 percent in September compared with the same timeframe of 2010, according to Census Bureau data.  “The era of grocers holding the line on retail-food cost increases is basically over,” Anderson said.  “The worst of the price inflation may be ending, and we should see a moderation in 2012.”

At a time when global food prices tracked by the United Nations fell 9.1 percent from a high point in February, Americans are paying record prices, including on hams, ground beef, bread, flour and cheese.  World food costs are 68 percent higher than five years ago after bad weather the past three years hampered global production gains.  “We are still in a period of accelerating food inflation that may begin to moderate in 2012,” Alexander said. “Consumers are getting a double whammy.  It costs more to get to work, and they have less disposable income to spend on other things after they go to the grocery store.”

A total of 141 volunteers from 35 states participated in this year’s project.  The dinner menu has remained unchanged since 1986 to assure consistent price comparisons.  “A dinner for 10 at under $5 a head is still a bargain,” Anderson said.  “The average American household still spends less on food than any other nation in the world.”

Foreign Governments Paying Cash for Pricey Manhattan Real Estate

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

Foreign governments are snapping up prime Manhattan real estate for consulates, U.N. offices.Foreign governments are a growth engine for New York City commercial and residential real estate at a time when many cash-strapped European nations are facing financial crises.  For example, Sri Lanka’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations has $8 million to spend and is looking at Manhattan office space.  Laos recently paid $4.2 million in cash for a five-story townhouse in the Murray Hill neighborhood.  Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Anton Troianovski notes that “Even the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country – Haiti – was gearing up to bid on a Second Avenue office condominium when the earthquake struck and derailed its plans.”

Foreign governments “are almost the only game in town,” according to Ken Krasnow, managing director with Massey Knakal.  During the boom years, foreign governments looking to buy real estate for consulates and U.N. missions found stiff competition from private developers.  Since last year, however, Senegal, Singapore, South Korea and the United Arab Emirates have purchased prime properties for redevelopment.  Additionally, governments are paying top dollar – usually in cash – for office space or land sites that are within walking distance of the United Nations.  Troianovski notes that “This trend underscores the bench strength of New York real estate:  When certain buying groups move to the sidelines, others are waiting to take their place.”

Dealing with foreign governments means that the transaction typically progresses at a glacial pace.  Philips International spent three years in negotiations with the Ivory Coast to close on an $8 million office condominium at 800 Second Avenue.  The transaction, which closed last September, spent 377 days in escrow.