Sunday, August 31, 2008

1.9 million people flee Gustav

10:12 PM PDT on Sunday, August 31, 2008
Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS - With a historic evacuation of nearly 2 million people from the Louisiana coast complete, gun-toting police and National Guardsmen stood watch as rain started to fall on this city's empty streets Sunday night -- and even presidential politics took a back seat as the nation waited to see if Hurricane Gustav would be another Katrina.

storm track

The storm was set to crash ashore late Monday morning with frightful force, testing the three years of planning and rebuilding that followed Katrina's devastating blow to the Gulf Coast. The storm has already killed at least 94 people on its path through the Caribbean.


Painfully aware of the failings that led to more than 1,600 deaths during Katrina, this time officials moved beyond merely insisting tourists and residents leave south Louisiana. They threatened to put looters behind bars, loaded thousands onto buses and warned that anyone who remained behind would not be rescued.

They were confident that they had done all they could.

"It's amazing. It makes me feel really good that so many people are saying, 'We as Americans, we as the world, have to get this right this time,"' New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said late Sunday. "We cannot afford to screw up again."

Col. Mike Edmondson, state police commander, said he believed that 90 percent of the population had fled the Louisiana coast. The exodus of 1.9 million people is the largest evacuation in state history, and thousands more had left from Mississippi, Alabama and flood-prone southeast Texas.

Late Sunday, Gov. Bobby Jindal issued one last plea to the roughly 100,000 people still left on the coast: "If you've not evacuated, please do so. There are still a few hours left."

Louisiana and Mississippi temporarily changed traffic flow so all highway lanes led away from the coast, and cars were packed bumper-to-bumper. Stores and restaurants shut down, hotels closed and windows were boarded up. Some who planned to stay changed their mind at the last second, not willing to risk the worst.

"I was trying to get situated at home. I was trying to get things so it would be halfway safe," said 46-year-old painter Jerry Williams, who showed up at the city's Union Station to catch one of the last buses out of town. "You're torn. Do you leave it and worry about it, or do you stay and worry about living?"

There were frightening comparisons between Gustav and Katrina, which flooded 80 percent of New Orleans. There was no doubt the storm posed a major threat to the partially rebuilt city and the flood-prone coasts of Louisiana and southeast Texas.

Mindful of the potential for disaster, the Republican Party scaled back its normally jubilant convention -- set to kick off as Gustav crashed ashore. President Bush said he would skip the convention altogether, and Sen. John McCain visited Jackson, Miss., on Sunday as his campaign rewrote the script for the convention to emphasize a commitment to helping people.

The nation's economic attention was focused on Gustav's effect on refineries and offshore petroleum production rigs. The combination of prolonged production interruptions, such as occurred when Katrina and Rita damaged the Gulf infrastructure, could trigger rising prices.

Billions of dollars were at stake in other wide-ranging economic sectors, including sugar harvesting, the shipping business and tourism. The Mississippi Gaming Commission ordered a dozen casinos to close.

Forecasters said Gustav could strengthen slightly as it marched toward the coast. At 11 p.m. EDT Sunday, the National Hurricane Center said Gustav was centered about 220 miles southeast of New Orleans and was moving northwest near 16 mph. It had top sustained winds of 115 mph, and was likely to stay a Category 3 storm when it made landfall west of New Orleans. Category 3 storms have winds between 111 mph and 130 mph.

Rain started falling in New Orleans before sunset, and tropical storm-force winds had reached the southeastern tip of the state.

New Orleans will likely be on the "dirty" side of the storm -- where rainfall is heaviest and tornadoes are possible, but the storm surge is lower. If forecasts hold, the city would experience a storm surge of only 4 to 6 feet, compared to a surge of 10 to 14 feet at the site of landfall, said Corey Walton, a hurricane support meteorologist with the National Hurricane Center. Katrina, by comparison, brought a storm surge of 25 feet. Surge models suggest large areas of southeast Louisiana, including parts of the greater New Orleans area, could be flooded by several feet of water. But Gustav appears most likely to overwhelm the levees west of the city that have for decades been underfunded and neglected and are years from an update.

Against all warnings, some gambled and decided to face the storm's wrath. On an otherwise deserted commercial block of downtown Lafayette, about 135 miles west of the city, Tim Schooler removed the awnings from his photography studio. He thought about evacuating Sunday before deciding he was better off riding out the storm at home with his wife, Nona.

"There's really no place to go. All the hotels are booked up to Little Rock and beyond," he said. "We're just hoping for the best."

The final train out of New Orleans left with fewer than 100 people on board, while one of the last buses to make the rounds of the city pulled into Union Station empty. Police made final rounds around 7 p.m. Every officer in the department was on duty, and the 1,200 on the street were joined by 1,500 National Guardsmen.

The only sign of life on St. Bernard Avenue -- a four-lane artery through the partially rebuilt Gentilly neighborhood that flooded during Katrina -- was a brown and black rooster meandering along the street.

Read the rest

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Grey squirrels are now a problem ...

to get your teeth into

– as a tasty snack with a mayo dip

Published Date: 30 August 2008
By Jenny Haworth
Environment Correspondent

THE idea of killing thousands of grey squirrels to protect native reds may leave some with a bad taste in their mouth. However, those put off by the idea of culling the furry-tailed animals are now being advised to start seeing them as food, as it is claimed grey squirrels make very tasty meals.

Thousands of greys are being trapped and shot in the Borders in an initiative to protect their native red cousins from a lethal pox.

Dr Mike Swan, head of education at the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, is suggesting we make the most of the bodies – by eating them.

Squirrel stew has long been on the menu in Dr Swan's household. He has eaten grey squirrel – rumoured to have been the favourite snack of Elvis Presley – for the past 20 years. He also has a taste for casserole and strips of fried flesh rolled, appropriately, in chopped hazelnuts.

The meat, he says, tastes a little like chicken, and he claims a squirrel can provide enough to satiate one hungry human. "They are rather hard to skin but what's inside is very nice to eat. It's like a slightly firmer, textured chicken and less strongly flavoured than rabbit," he said.

Many grey squirrels carry a pox that leaves them unaffected, but is lethal to the reds, killing them within weeks. However, Dr Swan said it does not concern him that the meat might be infected. "There's no issue with it affecting us in any way," he said. "It's not a disease we are susceptible to."

He first stumbled across the idea of eating squirrel meat when his father was asked to provide ten animals for a US embassy banquet in London. In North America, Brunswick stew has long been a popular dish, and is traditionally made with squirrel meat.

Dr Swan said: "It's popular there to the extent that they have pretty strong controls on hunting of grey squirrels. They have a completely different view of the grey squirrel to the tree rat view we have here."

Richard Wales, project manager of Red Squirrels in South Scotland – which has launched an initiative to cull thousands of greys to prevent squirrel pox spreading north through the country – has also tried the meat. "It doesn't come much more organic," he said. "It's sustain-able and it's extremely low in cholesterol."

He agrees, however, that one drawback is that it is difficult to skin. "It's not like a rabbit where it slips off like a sock; you really have to use the blade and pull the skin back."

He thinks some people will eat it out of curiosity, but admits that it might not catch on with everyone.

"The vast majority of people aren't really into eating what they kill," he said. "The majority of people wouldn't wring a chicken's neck for a Sunday roast." However, he thinks it is a good idea for people to give it a go.

It is believed that some gamekeepers are already making money out of selling grey squirrels for their meat, fetching up to £3.50 for a brace. And in Northumberland, where more than 18,000 greys have been killed in the past 18 months, some butchers have even started selling squirrel meat.

However, Ross Minett, campaigns director for Advocates for Animals, said: "I am sure that many people will feel that this is a pretty sick and opportunist idea." He added that the causing of unnecessary suffering to a grey squirrel was "not only cruel but a prosecutable offence".

The initiative by Red Squirrels in South Scotland is using a trap loan scheme to urge members of the public to help catch greys in their gardens.

A hotline number will be set up, so squirrel control officers can be called out to take away trapped animals to be shot.

The aim is to stop squirrel pox spreading from the Borders, where it is already common, into other parts of Scotland. It is estimated that 75 per cent of the UK's red squirrels live in Scotland, making it one of the last remaining strongholds.

The day I ate a grey… it's just like any other sort of meat

MARK Wilkinson, conservation officer at Save Our Squirrels, remembers clearly the first time he tried squirrel stew. "I started work as a red squirrel conservation officer and had heard a lot of people asking us about eating grey squirrel meat.

"Once the grey squirrels have been killed it's good to be able to do something with the bodies. "So I decided to try it. I was given a ready-dressed grey squirrel by a friend and portioned it up into the rear haunches and saddle. "Then I gently casseroled it with a few bits of vegetable and spices.....

Read the rest of the story here: The Scotsman

With recipes!

Squirrel nibbles a' la Hootsman:

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Scientists have created a robot controlled by a biological brain made of rat neurons

Shades of the late, great Arthur C. Clarke! In 1971 he published a short story titled "A Meeting With Medusa" in which the protagonist was a man who had suffered an accident which destroyed his body - but not his brain. He was "repaired" by having his brain housed in a manufactured inorganic body.

And well before 1971 there was the 1953 sci-fi/horror film "Donovan's Brain" in which Donovan's brain was kept alive and given means to communicate with the world outside his jar.

The movie was described as: "Yet another version of Curt Siodmak's novel about an honest scientist who keeps the brain of a ruthless dead millionaire (Donovan) alive in a tank. Donovan manages to impose his powerful will on the scientist, and uses him to murder his enemies."

The current research, of course, is benevolent. It's all intended to serve the "greater good," it's just the opening of an effort to provide the ultimate prosthesis for the terminally ill or badly injured person.

Sadly, perfecting the technology required in order to extend a person's life by providing a prosthetic body will require experimentation using apes, dogs or pigs to work out the required neural impulse amplification and distribution as well as learning how to keep the brain alive without a body or, presumably, an ailimentary tract.

With all due respect to the prejudices of those who believe that the Earth and everything on and in it as well as the entire universe was created in 6 days of 24 hours each in 4400 BC, this research has nothing to do with that.

If their point is that the GOD who scattered the people and confused their language because they offended by building a tower which they intended to extend to Heaven, might take a dim view of this line of experimentation, might see it as a sort of lese majeste and act accordingly - then I'd say one ought to steer clear of the area encompassing the laboratory - it's hard to guess how big an area HE will expunge should HE act.

Somehow, though, I find it pretty unlikely that GOD will punish those intrepid researchers in any kind of showy display, HE doesn't seem to do much of that anymore.

All levity aside now I, personally, am seriously concerned about the uses to which this technology is likely to be applied. I'm sure that the researchers performing the design and the work of this experiment are driven by a thirsting after knowledge and have in the backs of their minds nebulous ideas of the great boon to humanity which this technology could engender.

I look at this experiment and envision a couple of alternate scenarios which I feel are more likely to result from a success in this work.

1) Create a race of ape-brained slaves to do all the service work of mankind.
This would render all of us working-class humans redundant in the eyes of the "evil overlord" class and would result in most of us being allowed to starve to death so that the Earth's environment could be saved. Of course they would save some of the young women... For a while.
Think: "Brave New World"

2) Find a few human volunteers who would be willingly transplanted, or "disembodied". Naturally those "selfless" individuals would soon be freed from the researchers by the courts and guaranteed maintenance - at public expense, of course.

Free from the need to eek out a living as the masses must do the "bionic" people would soon become the "bionic class" and might feel that they had but little in common with the "meatbag" population.

Frankly, I am very worried about a future in which the moneyed classes have available to them a technology which would, possibly, allow one to extend his/her life far beyond bodily death and in which that self/same technology would permit the "manufacture" of a chattel workforce wholly dependent upon the owner for survival.

The only remaining impetus they (the super-class) would have for allowing us to live and to procreate would be the need for customers for their business interests and I'm pretty certain that they would find a way not to have to put up with us at all.

The original article:

14 August 2008 09:31 am ET

Scientists have created a robot controlled by a biological brain made of rat neurons.

The robot, named Gordon, is not exactly an Einstein but represents a remarkable bridging of the gap between biology and technology.

Gordon relies a dish with about 60 electrodes
to pick up electrical signals generated by the brain cells. The brain drives the robot's movements.

Every time the robot nears an object, signals are directed to stimulate the brain by means
of the electrodes, the researchers explained in a statement released today by the University of Reading in England.

In response, the brain's output drives the robot's wheels
left and right, so that it moves around in an attempt to avoid hitting objects.

The robot has no additional control from a human or a computer, the scientists state.
Its sole means of control is from its own brain. Read the rest of the article here.

Gordon's brain of rat neurons and electrodes controls its movements.
Credit: University of Reading

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

There was more to him than met the eye...

William M.V. Kingsland, a free-lance researcher and genealogist, died in March 2006 of a heart attack. "He was an unending trove of historic facts of the Upper East Side," a longtime friend, Eliot Rowlands, said. Mr. Kingsland was believed to be 62 when he passed away on March 21.

"He was a walking gazetteer," a Landmarks Committee member of Manhattan's Community Board 8, Barry Schneider, said. A co-chair of Defenders of the Historic Upper East Side, Elizabeth Ashby, said, "You couldn't mention an address that he wouldn't have known who had ever lived there and what had ever had happened there. Crimes, adultery, elopements, who ran off with the butler, he knew it all."

Kingsland's wry smile and store of knowledge was well known among the Upper East Side historic preservationists, art gallerists, and the employees of New York auction houses. In summer, he wore a plastic visor that made him look somewhat like an old time card shark; while in winter, he usually wore a scarf and beret. He served as a public member for the Landmarks Committee of Community Board 8.

Wearing a creased blue blazer over a white Oxford shirt, Kingsland had a slightly anachronistic way of dressing and always seemed just a little misplaced in time. It was as if he were just a little out of synchronization with the world. "The thing about Kingsland," author Barnaby Conrad III said, "was that he was slightly annoyed that the 20th century had occurred."

At Landmarks meetings, Kingsland would cross his legs, lean back in his chair, and take everything in. "He spoke in a very considered manner and hit the nail on the head," said Teri Slater, who recruited him as a public member for the Landmarks Committee.

A Landmarks Committee co-chair, Margery Perlmutter, recalled the time someone at a meeting showed a photo of simply a doorway. Astonishingly, Kingsland identified its street address. He knew prices of townhouses, exteriors of buildings, and types of renovation styles by architect and even the history of window changes on buildings. He collected landmarks violations and reported them.

He had an encyclopedic knowledge of the minutiae of the lives in Upper East Side buildings over generations - the sort of background elements animating novels by Henry James or Edith Wharton. "When you have enough of that information accumulated," David Redden said, "it's no longer trivia. You can make connections and suddenly it gains significance."

Mr. Redden, who as a young cataloger at an auction house first met Kingsland in the 1970s, said Kingsland's knowledge evoked a "shadow of another world." He knew whose ancestors had been beer or steel barons or who had been an original partner in Standard Oil.

Mr. Kingsland was also a volunteer at the New York office of the American Academy in Rome, and was a volunteer room-sitter at the American Hospital of Paris Foundation designer show house.

But it was with the New York Marble Cemetery, that he likely made his greatest contribution by researching and piecing together connections between cemetery vault purchasers and their living descendants. A trustee of the cemetery would research the family genealogies, mostly from the 19th century, and pass the information to Kingsland who would carry on the research, usually at the New York Society Library.

He mailed detailed genealogies to Ms. Anne Brown, the trustee, who later learned that Kingsland was able to discuss a few thousand descendants from memory as he did not save copies for himself. "If we had all the money in the world, we couldn't have hired someone to do what he did," she said. "You couldn't design someone with his knowledge and interests. His expertise and the cemetery's needs were a perfect fit."

Mr. Kingsland would often stop friends on the sidewalk to visit and seemed to have all day to talk. He did not appear to have to be anywhere unless he decided to be there. He had leisure to deliver correspondence personally, too.

A frugal man, he recycled envelopes. He favored Gilbert and Sullivan, and could play classical music at sight. He liked puns: When a woman at a St. James Church fair exclaimed, "Look at the fuschia!" Kingsland retorted, "I prefer the past myself."

A proprietor of Jennings and Rohn Antiques, Fritz Rohn, recalled years ago playing a game with Kingsland. They would match the faces of passers-by, on the street, with Old Master painters likely to have painted them.

Kingsland worked at Vito Giallo Antiques on Madison Avenue three days a week from 1986 to 1991. Singer Elton John was so enchanted with Kingsland that he left a blank check for him to fill out for 19th-century statues. Andy Warhol befriended Kingsland for a time. At lunchtime, frugal Mr. Kingsland would usually eat two jars of Gerber baby food.

A longtime preservationist, Tony Wood, said there was an "air of delightful mystery around him." Though he said he had attended Groton, the school has no record of him. The earliest record of him identified in New York is a letter he wrote to the New York Times as a teenager in the summer of 1961 about the Elgin Marbles. (You do know what the Elgin Marbles are... Don't you?)

There are records that he attended the University of Vermont in 1964. In the late 1960s, Kingsland conducted research for Henry Hope Reed's walking tours, particularly on the genealogy of New York families. It was around that time that a New York real estate attorney, Spencer Compton, and realist painter Joseph Keiffer both met him while volunteering for Eugene Mc-Carthy's presidential campaign.

Artist Ken Rush met him in an elevator in 1972 at an art show on 57th street. Kingsland bought a painting from him around 1973 for about $50, and proceeded to send third-party checks endorsed over to him in $25 and $15 increments until it was fully paid.

Kingsland spent the summer of 1976 on East 93rd Street in a limestone-clad brownstone owned by Leslie Larned Gibson. That year, he began to write auction columns for Art/World, a monthly founded by Bruce Duff Hooton and based in the Hotel Wales on 94th Street and Madison Avenue. He later became a contributing editor for Art + Auction.

In successive apartments on East 78th and 72nd Streets, friends recalled floor to ceiling paintings, some stacked against each other more for protection than for show. Shelves of books vied for space with tapestries, objets de art, bronzes, and illuminated manuscripts. Kenyon Gibson, who now lives in England, recalled three layers of rugs. Reliquaries may have been kept in the dishwasher, Kingsland was known to have kept his phone in the closet.

While he said his East 72nd Street apartment was for storage, it is unclear where his primary residence was.

He is known to have said his initials stood for Milliken Vanderbilt, that he was once married, and that his parents had lived in Florida. There are no known surviving relatives. .

Mr. Kingsland left a rather extensive collection of art, including works by Pablo Picasso among many others, crammed into the one-bedroom apartment. No heirs have been found to claim ownership of the sketches, sculptures and paintings. City officials hired two auction houses to sell off the collection.

During that process, two movers made off with two Picassos. The culprits were apprehended and the works recovered.

Pablo Picasso: Un-named

As it turns out, that was only the beginning of the complications the city has encountered in dealing with Mr. Kingsland's estate.

Christie's auction house subsequently discovered that some of the pieces in the hoard were listed as having been stolen in the 1960s and 1970s. Additionally, a gallery owner who purchased a portrait by John Singleton Copley found that it had been donated to Harvard University in 1943 and never sold.

Now the FBI is involved, trying to ascertain just how much of the collection is stolen and, trying to find out whether Mr. Kingsland, in addition to his public persona, might have also been an art thief.

Here are a few of the paintings which Mr. Kingsland had stacked haphazardly around his apartment:

Picasso: Tete de Femme

Gilbert Stuart: Portrait of a Gentleman
Frederick Waters Watts: Windmill in a Landscape

Eugene Boudin: Trouville

See the rest of the collection here

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

International Credit Card Info Theft Ring May Have Your Numbers!

11 charged in connection with credit card fraud

Aug 6, 9:35 AM (ET)

BOSTON (AP) -Authorities have cracked what is believed to be the largest federal hacking and identity theft case ever, involving the theft and sale of more than 41 million credit and debit card numbers.

Eleven people, including a U.S. Secret Service informant, have been charged in connection with data breaches at nine major retailers, the Justice Department announced Tuesday. Three of those charged are U.S. citizens while the others are from places such as Estonia, Ukraine, Belarus and China.

The indictment returned Tuesday by a federal grand jury in Boston alleges that the suspects hacked into the wireless computer networks of retailers including TJX Companies, BJ's Wholesale Club, OfficeMax, Boston Market, Barnes & Noble, Sports Authority, Forever 21 and DSW and set up programs that captured card numbers, passwords and account information.

"They used sophisticated computer hacking techniques that would allow them to breach security systems and install programs that gathered enormous quantities of personal financial data, which they then allegedly either sold to others or used themselves," Attorney General Michael Mukasey said at a news conference. "And in total, they caused widespread losses by banks, retailers, and consumers."

Mukasey called the total dollar amount of the alleged theft "impossible to quantify at this point." U.S. Attorney Michael J. Sullivan said that while most of the victims were in the United States, officials still haven't identified all the people who had a card number stolen.

"I suspect that a lot of people are unaware that their identifying information has been compromised," he said.

Sullivan said the alleged thieves weren't computer geniuses, just opportunists who used a technique called "wardriving," which involved cruising through different areas with a laptop and looking for accessible wireless Internet signals. Once they located a vulnerable network, they installed so-called "sniffer programs" that captured credit and debit card numbers as they moved through a retailer's processing networks.

The information was stored on two servers in Ukraine and Latvia - one with more than 25 million credit and debit card numbers and another with more than 16 million numbers, Sullivan said.

The heist was a black eye for retailers like TJX. The company initially disclosed the data breach in January 2007 but said a few months later that at least 45.7 million cards were exposed to possible fraud in a breach of its computer systems that began in July 2005. Court filings by some banks that sued TJX put the number of cards affected at more than 100 million, based on estimates by officials with Visa and MasterCard, who were deposed in the suit.

In May, TJX said it won support from MasterCard-issuing banks for a settlement that will pay them as much as $24 million to cover costs from the breach. A similar agreement reached last November with Visa-card issuing banks set aside as much as $40.9 million to help banks cover costs including replacing customers' payment cards and covering fraudulent charges.

According to the indictments unsealed Tuesday, three of the defendants are U.S. citizens, one is from Estonia, three are from Ukraine, two are from China and one is from Belarus. One individual is known only by an alias online, and his place of origin is unknown.

At a press briefing in San Jose, Calif., Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said the non-U.S. citizens under indictment were part of an international stolen credit and debit card ring.

The ring operated in mainly in Eastern Europe, the Phillipines, China and Thailand, and the alleged foreign conspirators remained outside the U.S., Chertoff said.

The thefts were criminal actions committed for the personal gain of the defendants, who investigators did not consider a national security threat, Chertoff said.

Still, he said, their alleged crimes demonstrated the weaknesses of cybersecurity in the U.S.

"Today's indictments are a reminder of a growing threat that every American faces in the 21st century - the fact that each individual's greatest asset is their names, their identity," Chertoff said.

In the Boston indictment, the alleged ringleader Albert "Segvec" Gonzalez of Miami was charged with computer fraud, wire fraud, access device fraud, aggravated identity theft and conspiracy. Gonzalez, who is in custody in New York, faces a maximum penalty of life in prison if he is convicted of all the charges.

Gonzalez was a U.S. Secret Service informant who helped the agency take over a Web site being used to transmit stolen identifiers and stolen credit card numbers, U.S. Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan said at the news conference.

"That was the first time ever that a computer system was wiretapped," he said.

But he said the Secret Service later found out that Gonzalez had also been feeding criminals information about ongoing investigations - even warning off at least one person.

"Obviously, we weren't happy that a person working for us as an informant was double-dealing," Mark Sullivan said.

Indictments were also unsealed Tuesday in San Diego against Maksym "Maksik" Yastremskiy of Kharkov, Ukraine, and Aleksandr "Jonny Hell" Suvorov of Sillamae, Estonia. They are charged with crimes related to the sale of the stolen credit card data.

Yastremskiy was arrested when he traveled to Turkey on vacation in July 2007. He is facing related Turkish charges, and U.S. officials said they have requested his extradition.

Justice Department officials said Suvorov was arrested on the San Diego charges by German officials in March when he traveled there on vacation. He is in custody awaiting the resolution of extradition proceedings.

Indictments against Hung-Ming Chiu and Zhi Zhi Wang, both of China, and a person known only by the online nickname "Delpiero" were also unsealed in San Diego. Rest of the article here.

8-18-2008 For a late update on this situation see here,

Cattails Seen As Global Warming Solution In Calif.

POSTED: 11:53 am PDT August 6, 2008

About 21/2 years ago, as they measured the plants' ability to restore the islands' soil, scientists noticed that their "big garden," as Miller calls it, was removing a lot of carbon dioxide, one of the greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.On one side of the gravel road are hundreds of acres of corn. On the other is a much different crop that scientists hope will enable farmers to rebuild sinking islands in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, combat global warming and make a profit at the same time.

The alternate field is full of tules and cattails that are being grown by the U.S. Geological Survey on about 15 acres on Twitchell Island, about 5.7 square miles of rich but fragile peat soil 30 miles south of Sacramento. Twitchell and other delta islands are slowing sinking, their soil eaten away by wind, rain and farming. Most are more than 20 feet below the surrounding water. Only a system of increasingly pressured levees keeps them from being flooded. A collapse of the levees would bring in salt water from San Francisco Bay, damaging delta ecosystems and jeopardizing the state and federal programs that pump fresh water out of the delta for farms and cities to the south.

The Geological Survey project started 15 years ago as a small experiment on two, 30 foot-by- 30 foot plots to see if growing mostly tules and cattails would help rebuild the islands' soil. The plants can grow high enough to dwarf the average adult. As they die and decay, they slowly build up the peat. The soil under the 15-acre site has risen one to two feet since the project was moved there in 1996. "All that soil out there are plants that grew 6,000 years ago and didn't decompose completely," said Robin Miller, a biogeochemist with the Geological Survey.

"That's what peat is. So we're just making the same thing happen that happened here for millennia." "We were capturing a lot of (carbon dioxide) at levels much greater than other systems -- marshes and forests, grasslands," said Roger Fujii, the project's director and the bay-delta program chief for the Geological Survey's California Water Science Center.
Scientists say the cattail and tule plot removes two to three times as much carbon dioxide as the other natural green spaces.

That revelation convinced state and federal officials to expand the project. They are now trying to determine whether the tules and cattails could be put to use combating global warming through what they call "carbon-capture" farming. Under that scenario, companies could meet state greenhouse gas limits by paying delta farmers to plant tules and cattails rather than row crops. "They can just sit back and watch the tules grow, and they should be making money," said Fujii. "That's what the vision is. It's not to do it just on Twitchell Island. It's to see if we can do it throughout the delta on subsided land."

The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is at the heart of California's water delivery system and is one of the most important ecosystems on the West Coast. It's the meeting place of some of the state's largest rivers, draining an area stretching from the Cascades in Northern California to the central Sierra Nevada.

The region between the state capital and San Francisco Bay is dotted with dozens of islands, most of them surrounded by narrow canals and many used for farming. With a three-year, $12.3 million grant from the state Department of Water Resources, the Geological Survey and its research partners at the University of California, Davis plan to move the project to a 300- to 400-acre site somewhere in the delta next year. The larger size would enable farmers to see how "they could really make a difference," Fujii said.

There are a series of environmental questions that have to be answered before scientists can conclude that carbon-capture farming is beneficial. Those questions include whether turning corn fields into tule-filled wetlands will only replace one type of greenhouse gas with more of another.

Plowing for agriculture oxidizes the soil, creating "perfect banquet conditions" for microbes that eat the peat and release carbon dioxide, Miller said. Flooding the fields with low levels of water to make wetlands limits the oxygen but forces the microbes to turn to other compounds.

Read the rest of the story here.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

"Last Ice Age happened in less than year say scientists"

According to a release by the German Research Center for Geosciences (cited in The Scotsman) the shift from post glacial warming in Europe, 12900 years ago, back into a glacial freezing pattern called the Younger Dryas happened during the course of a single year.

Dr Achim Brauer, of the GFZ (GeoForschungs Zentrum) and colleagues determined through analysis of annual layers of sedimentation from a crater lake in Germany that the onset of re-glaciation was a sudden event. In essence winter came and simply stayed.

It is theorized that the abrupt freezing was caused by a disruption in Atlantic Ocean currents and atmospheric circulation.

"The Younger Dryas stadial, named after the alpine / tundra wildflower Dryas octopetala, and also referred to as the Big Freeze,[1] was a brief (approximately 1300 ± 70 years) cold climate period following the Bölling/Allerød interstadial at the end of the Pleistocene between approximately 12,800 to 11,500 years Before Present,[2] and preceding the Preboreal of the early Holocene.

The Younger Dryas (GS1) is also a Blytt-Sernander climate period detected from layers in north European bog peat. It is dated approximately 12,900-11,500 BP calibrated, or 11,000-10,000 BP uncalibrated." (Wikipedia)

A paper entitled "Evidence for an extraterrestrial impact 12,900 years ago that contributed to the megafaunal extinctions and the Younger Dryas cooling" can be downloaded in PDF format at:

This paper deals with a suspected cause of the YD cooling and its abrupt onset.

The paper leads off with the following provocative introduction and develops a case for accepting an ET impact event as the cause for several troublesome anomalies:

"A carbon-rich black layer, dating to 12.9 ka, has been previously identified at 50 Clovis-age sites across North America and appears contemporaneous with the abrupt onset of Younger Dryas (YD) cooling. The in situ bones of extinct Pleistocene megafauna, along with Clovis tool assemblages, occur below this black layer but not within or above it. Causes for the extinctions, YD cooling, and termination of Clovis culture have long been controversial. In this paper, we provide evidence for an extraterrestrial (ET) impact event at 12.9 ka, which we hypothesize caused abrupt environmental changes that contributed to YD cooling, major ecological reorganization, broad-scale extinctions, and rapid human behavioral shifts at the end of the Clovis Period..."

"Increasing evidence suggests that the extinction of many mammalian and avian taxa occurred abruptly and perhaps catastrophically at the onset of the YD, and this extinction was pronounced in North America where at least 35 mammal genera disappeared (3), including mammoths, mastodons, ground sloths, horses, and camels, along with birds and smaller mammals.

At Murray Springs, AZ, a well known Clovis site, mammoth bones and Clovis-age stone tools lie directly beneath the black layer where, as described by Haynes: ‘‘[T]he sudden extinction of the Pleistocene megafauna would be dramatically revealed by explaining that all were gone an instant before the black mat was deposited.’’

The cause of this extinction has long been debated and remains highly controversial due, in part, to the limitations of available data but also because the two major competing hypotheses, human overkill (5) and abrupt cooling (6), fall short of explaining many observations.

For example, Grayson and Meltzer (7) summarized serious problems with the overkill hypothesis, such as the absence of kill sites for 33 genera of extinct mammals, including camels and sloths. In addition, although abrupt cooling episodes of magnitudes similar to the YD occurred often during the past 80 ka, none are known to be associated with major extinctions..." © 2007 by The National Academy of Sciences of the USA

Should this information be correct it will finally lay to rest the attribution of wholesale fauna extinctions in the Americas, North America especially, to early indigenous humans.

The article in "The Scotsman" is a bit Euro-centric, if that's an acceptable construction, and expresses concern that the sudden cooling of Europe might be repeated soon. The writer did not make any reference to a suspected cause for the observed abrupt freezing.

Dr. Firestone's (and many others) paper from PNAS indicates that the evidence strongly suggests one or more large low-density ET objects exploded over northern North America, towards the end of the last ice age. This caused two main effects: First a huge disruption to the atmosphere, including a reduction of the ozone layer, massive injection of particulates (from fires caused by the impact) and sulphur and nitrogen compounds, as well as water vapor into the upper atmosphere. Second, the impact destabilized the Laurentide ice sheet releasing huge quantities of ice and fresh water into the North Atlantic causing the thermohaline circulation in the northern Atlantic to weaken. This caused the sudden onset of re-glaciation in Europe and sustained the cooling for 1,000 years or so until the feedback mechanisms restored ocean circulation.

So, while another abrupt cooling might well occur soon, the trigger mechanism would probably not go unobserved and the cooling might prove to be the least troublesome effect experienced...

Just one more reason to step up the process of cataloging near Earth objects and Earth-orbit crossing objects in space. It's possible that we may soon develop technologies which will allow us to deal with such ET objects before they become "an event"...