Carteret climate refugees seek home A grassroots group in Bougainville is scrambling to relocate the Carteret Islanders before rising sea levels swallow their land forever. ABC News 7 Aug 16 By Lauren Beldi for Pacific Beat At only 1.5 metres above sea level at their highest point, the Carteret Islands are some of the first to succumb to the rising ocean tides.
The grassroots Tulele Peisa group, which means “sailing the waves on our own” in the local Halia language, is hoping to relocate more than half of the population by 2020. They have secured land for new homes on the main island of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, to the east of mainland Papua New Guinea.Tulele Peisa formed in late 2006 after the Council of Elders on the islands decided to establish their own relocation program. The group’s chief executive, Ursula Rakova, says the encroaching tides on the islands have a major impact on people’s health. “We’re beginning to get more requests for people wanting to move because of the situation and the dire need for food,” she says.
The storm surges not only wash away houses, but also vegetable gardens, which are critical for the islanders’ survival.
With no cash economy on the Carterets, the only source of food is what people are able to grow for themselves……
Tulele Peisa has also provided thousands of mangrove seedlings to prevent the erosion of the coastline, and helped to build raised garden beds. But this will only stave off the inevitable for so long.
“Those are adaptation strategies, they aren’t really long-term solutions to containing the islands, because we know the islands are going, but we are looking at supporting our families,” Ms Rakova says.
She says the islanders want to maintain their independent way of living but that the international community should provide more support.
“The islanders on the Carterets are victims of what other people have caused and the international community needs to aid and support the work that we are doing,” she says.
“We have found our way forward [and] we would like to share the way forward with other people, but we need this process to be funded financially so that we can continue to sustain ourselves.” http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-08-07/carteret-climate-refugees-new-home/7693950?section=environment
Fukushima and the oceans: What do we know, five years on?, Science Daily June 30, 2016
- Goldschmidt Conference
- A major international review of the state of the oceans five years after the Fukushima disaster shows that radiation levels are decreasing rapidly except in the harbor area close to the nuclear plant itself where ongoing releases remain a concern. At the same time, the review’s lead author expresses concern at the lack of ongoing support to continue the radiation assessment, which he says is vital to understand how the risks are changing.
- These are the conclusions of a major 5 year review, with multi-international authors who are all working together as part of a Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research (SCOR) Working Group. The report is being presented at the Goldschmidt geochemistry conference in Japan. The review paper is also published in Annual Review of Marine Science*. The main points made by the report are:…….
Nuclear Plant Closure Will Benefit California Marine Species NRDC.org June 23, 2016 Elizabeth Murdock “…….Closing the Diablo Canyon nuclear facility would finally end decades of harm to marine life in the region where the plant operates. The plant’s intake pipes draw in more than 2.5 billion gallons of water per day, or 2.8 million acre-feet annually. This large and continuous seawater withdrawal is estimated to kill roughly 1.5 billion fish in early life stages each year, as creatures are sucked into the cooling systems or become impinged against the screens on the open-water pipes. The cooling water is also discharged back into the ocean water at a warmer temperature, which can cause additional harm to fish and other marine life in the area.
Moreover, Diablo Canyon’s open-ocean intake is located less than one mile from the Point Buchon State Marine Reserve and the adjacent Point Buchon State Marine Conservation Area, which together protect an ecologically diverse seascape and provide a home to more than 700 species of invertebrates, as well as 120 fish species, marine plants, seabirds, and marine mammals. This “MPA (marine protected area) cluster” is important in its own right, as well as being an important part of an ecologically connected network that runs along the coast of California. While Diablo Canyon’s intake is not directly within the MPA cluster, the area of source water being drawn into the plant likely overlaps with the MPA boundaries and has the potential to withdraw marine life out of the protected area. NRDC was a leader in the effort to design and secure California’s landmark system of marine protected areas, and we remain deeply committed to ensuring the integrity of the network the marine species and habitats it shelters.
Other power plants in California that use “once-through-cooling” (OTC) technology have similar impacts on the ocean, although Diablo Canyon and the recently closed San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station near San Diego have been responsible for the largest ocean water withdrawals in the state. The Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant is now the largest of the remaining once-through-cooling facilities, accounting for nearly 80 percent of all OTC ocean withdrawals in California.
Because of the significant impacts of OTC, NRDC has played a central role in advocating that California phase out the destructive practice altogether. Most notably, we have been deeply involved in the drafting, passage, and implementation of the State Water Board’s 2010 Once-Through-Cooling (OTC) Policy, which seeks to reduce the extreme impacts of power plant OTC systems on marine life and habitats. The policy directs plants to reduce their ocean intake flow rates by roughly 93 percent. For the Diablo Canyon facility to come into compliance, PG&E would have had to build close-cycle cooling towers by the end of 2024, which would have cost billions. But under the Joint Proposal, once PG&E begins decommissioning the Diablo Canyon facility, it will reduce its water intake rates—and thus its impacts on marine life—even more than it would be required to do under the OTC Policy. And ultimately, upon complete shutdown, it will cease its ocean water intakes and the associated impacts altogether.
California’s iconic ocean habitats and their marine species are of immense ecological, economic, and cultural value, within California and beyond. For three decades, the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant has had a significant impact on the marine life in the region of the plant and the once-pristine bay where it is located. Removing this impact to California’s treasured marine wildlife and coastal habitats—and replacing it with clean energy—is something all Californians can celebrate. https://www.nrdc.org/experts/elizabeth-murdock/nuclear-plant-closure-will-benefit-california-marine-species
More than 167,000 hectares of coastland – about 0.6% of the country’s total area – are projected to go underwater in the Philippines, especially in low-lying island communities. …
The Philippines government has been forced to take this into consideration. The Department of Environment and National Resources has its own climate change office, which has set up various programs to educate communities in high-risk areas. …
But soon, adaptation on a local level won’t be enough. Policy makers need to convince governments to curb their emissions on a global level. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/06/160606101406.htm
Element from Fukushima plant reaches island cattle; But research finds levels are nothing to be alarmed about http://hawaiitribune-herald.com/news/local-news/element-fukushima-plant-reaches-island-cattle-research-finds-levels-are-nothing-be June 10, 2016 By MAX DIBLE West Hawaii Today KAILUA-KONA — It took only one week for radionuclides to infiltrate the atmosphere above the Hawaiian Islands after they were released from damaged reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant following the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami March 11, 2011.
By early April of that year, researchers from the University of Hawaii at Manoa began collecting ocean water and sediments to provide a baseline for cesium levels. Cesium is an alkaline earth element and a beta radiation emitter, meaning as it decays it emits electrons that can damage cell structures within the human body.
Establishing a baseline was critical, as data from government-monitored cesium tests from the 1960s through the early 1980s were the most recent available. That monitoring was administered to measure the effects of nuclear weapons testing by the United States in the Pacific following World War II.
Tests by the UH-Manoa research team continued every month through 2011 and were administered every three to six months in subsequent years. They were expanded to include tests on algae, lichen, coconuts, fish and mushrooms. An update on the research was posted on the university’s news website last Friday.
“The conclusion is pretty much that all is safe,” said Henrietta Dulai, associate professor in the Marine and Environmental Geology Division of the UH-Manoa Department of Geology and Geophysics. Dulai oversaw a small research team that included graduate students Hannah Azouz and Trista McKenzie. “Tests are still ongoing, but we do not expect any significant levels at all.”
Ocean currents that might have carried radioactive materials from Japan to Hawaiian shores never made direct contact with the near-shore environment of the Hawaiian Islands, and so ocean water and sediment samples collected by the researchers off Oahu never showed a spike in cesium levels.
However, Dulai said elevated levels were found in ocean water farther north around the Midway Islands and have been detected off the West Coast of the United States and Canada, reaching as far north as Alaska.
While the immediate surrounding oceans were spared, the Hawaiian Islands didn’t escape the disaster totally unscathed.
“The Department of Health monitored precipitation and the atmosphere and also milk,” Dulai said. “They found positive (cesium) hits in all of these.”
Dulai and her team were curious as to why they found nothing in their samples despite the state DOH detecting elevated cesium levels in the atmosphere. The team began collecting samples on precipitation gradients on Oahu and Hawaii Island, where it did locate elevated cesium levels.
A correlation was established between areas of higher rainfall and higher cesium levels in the soil. At higher elevations, more rainfall occurred and more cesium was absorbed by the soil. This is what led to elevated cesium levels detected in milk from grazing cattle.
It turned out that the topography of the islands captured the clouds and to a large extent spared the oceans from excess radioactivity, as cesium deposits from rainfall tended to accumulate on land. While this news might sound concerning, Dulai said residents of the Hawaiian Islands need not be alarmed.
“The natural radioactivity in the soil is orders of magnitude higher than this added cesium level,” Dulai explained. “The added cesium is a tiny fraction of what is there naturally or what was deposited during the nuclear weapons testing.”
Contamination in seafood and mushrooms also was found to be “orders of magnitude below” any health limits set by the FDA. Fish were a primary concern because they migrate, so while they wouldn’t have picked up extra cesium in Hawaiian waters, they might have been contaminated in waters from where they migrated.
Dulai and her team’s research will continue, as will monitoring done by the DOH, according to its website. The website states surveys since May 2011 conducting shoreline surveillance “remain consistent with normal background levels.”
The department also continues to monitor air, precipitation and drinking water using the Environmental Protection Agency’s RadNet system.
Email Max Dible at email@example.com.
Bikini Atoll radiation levels remain alarmingly high https://www.sciencenews.org/article/bikini-atoll-radiation-levels-remain-alarmingly-high New measurements made decades after Pacific island used to test nuclear bombs BY THOMAS SUMNER , JUNE 6, 2016
Radiation from the 23 nuclear tests conducted near Bikini Atoll in the 1940s and ’50s has lingered far longer than previously predicted.
Radioactive material such as cesium-137 currently produces, on average, 184 miLLIREMS OF RADIATION PER YEAR ON BIKINI ATOLL. AND SOME PARTS OF THE ISLAND HIT 639 MILLIREMS PER YEAR, RESEARCHERS REPORT ONLINE THE WEEK OF JUNE 6 IN THE PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES. THOSE MEASUREMENTS, MADE LAST YEAR, SURPASS THE 100 MILLIREMS PER YEAR SAFETY STANDARD SET BY THE UNITED STATES AND THE REPUBLIC OF THE MARSHALL ISLANDS, WHICH CONTROLS THE ISLAND.
Scientists had predicted that, by now, radiation levels would have dropped to 16 to 24 millirems per year. But those estimates came from extrapolating from measurements made in the 1970s. The mismatch probably stems from incorrect assumptions about how rapidly radioactive material washes off the island, proposes study coauthor Emlyn Hughes, a physicist at Columbia University.
Whether the higher radiation levels pose a serious health risk to caretakers who live on the island for part of the year depends on how long they stay on the island and whether the local fruit they eat is safe, Hughes says.
China to send nuclear-armed submarines into Pacific amid tensions with US
Beijing risks stoking new arms race with move although military says expansion of the US missile defence has left it with no choice, Guardian, Julian Borger , 26 May 16 [ video, excellent graphics] The Chinese military is poised to send submarines armed with nuclear missiles into the Pacific Ocean for the first time, arguing that new US weapons systems have so undermined Beijing’s existing deterrent force that it has been left with no alternative.
Chinese military officials are not commenting on the timing of a maiden patrol, but insist the move is inevitable.
They point to plans unveiled in March to station the US Thaad anti-ballistic system in South Korea, and the development of hypersonic glide missiles potentially capable of hitting China less than an hour after launch, as huge threats to the effectiveness of its land-based deterrent force.
A recent Pentagon report to Congress predicted that “China will probably conduct its first nuclear deterrence patrol sometime in 2016”, though top US officers have made such predictions before…….
Last Tuesday, a US spy plane and two Chinese fighter jets came close to colliding 50 miles of Hainan island, where China’s four Jin-Class ballistic missile submarines are based. A fifth is under construction.
The two countries’ navies have also come uncomfortably close around disputed islands in the same region, and the chance of a clash will be heightened by cat-and-mouse submarine operations, according to Wu Riqiang, an associate professor at the School of International Studies at the Renmin University in Beijing.
“Because China’s SSBNs [nuclear missile submarines] are in the South China Sea, the US navy will try to send spy ships in there and get close to the SSBNs. China’s navy hates that and will try to push them away,” Wu said.
The primary reason Chinese military officials give for the move towards a sea-based deterrent is the expansion of US missile defence, which Moscow also claims is disturbing the global strategic balance and potentially stoking a new arms race.
The decision to deploy Thaad anti-ballistic interceptors in South Korea was taken after North Korea’s fourth nuclear test, and the stated mission of the truck-launched interceptors is to shield the south from missile attack.
But Beijing says the Thaad system’s range extends across much of China and contributes to the undermining of its nuclear deterrent. It has warned Seoul that relations between the two countries could be “destroyed in an instant” if the Thaad deployment goes ahead……
Under Xi’s assertive leadership, China seems determined that the Chinese nuclear deterrent will take finally to the ocean, and it has already taken thestep of putting multiple warheads on its missiles. Those steps are mostly in response to US measures, which in turn were triggered by unrelated actions by the North Koreans.
The law of unintended consequences is in danger of taking the upper hand. “The two sides may thus be stumbling blindly into severe crisis instability and growing competition by China with respect to strategic forces,” Lewis argues. “A competition between unevenly matched forces is inherently unstable.”http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/may/26/china-send-nuclear-armed-submarines-into-pacific-us
The Indian Ocean Won’t Be a ‘Nuclear Free Zone’ Anytime Soon Undersea nuclear deterrence in the Indian Ocean is here to stay., The Diplomat, By Ankit Panda May 20, 2016 Sartaj Aziz, adviser to Pakistan’s prime minister on foreign affairs, presented an interesting proposal to the Pakistani Senate on Thursday. He said that he would consider having Pakistan introduce a resolution at the United Nations that would urge the body to declare the Indian Ocean a “nuclear free zone.” Leaving aside the fact that the United Nations isn’t in the business of declaring nuclear weapon free zones, Aziz’s comments reflect increasing anxieties in Pakistan about India’s burgeoning sea-based nuclear deterrent.
With the first of Arihant-class of domestically designed ballistic missile submarines rolling out and testing underway of Delhi’s K-4 submarine-launched ballistic missiles ongoing, Delhi is coming closer to operationalizing its sea-based deterrent. (The K-4 has been test launched from the Arihant‘s on-board silos, as I discussed last month.)
Aziz is well aware of these developments. ”Apart from this air defence system, India has also recently conducted tests of nuclear capable, submarine based K4 ballistic missiles. Simultaneously large nuclear powered submarines are being built to carry these nuclear armed missile as a part of its second strike nuclear capability,” he told the Senate, according to a report in Dawn.
Unfortunately, for Pakistan, the United Nations won’t be able to solve this problem anytime soon. Moreover, India won’t be the only country looking to operate nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) in the waters of the Indian Ocean. China started operating Song– and Shang-class submarines in the Indian Ocean in 2014, according to the U.S. Department of Defense. Ostensibly, Beijing’s upcoming first overseas military facility—in Djibouti—will play a role in support submarine logistics.
According to the U.S. Defense Department’s most recent report on China’s military, four Chinese Jin-class SSBNs—China’s first sea-based deterrent as well—are operational. These submarines currently operate out off the People’s Liberation Army-Navy’s submarine base at Hainan Island, in the South China Sea, but Beijing may look to have its SSBNs patrolling the Indian Ocean soon enough……
Unsurprisingly, amid increased Chinese sub-surface activity in the Indian Ocean, we’ve seen the United States and India deepen their anti-submarine warfare cooperation. Moreover, Delhi has started extending its maritime patrol and surveillance capabilities further southward; it sent a P-8I Neptune aircraft to the Seychelles earlier this year.
With India’s Arihant-class on the verge of commissioning and Chinese SSBNs possibly on the way to supplement the PLAN’s existing hunter-killer and nuclear attack submarines, the Indian Ocean won’t become a “nuclear free zone” anytime soon. Islamabad could look to build up its own undersea nuclear capabilities, but, as I’ve discussed before, that’ll be limited by a range of factors. http://thediplomat.com/2016/05/the-indian-ocean-wont-be-a-nuclear-free-zone-anytime-soon/
Acidic oceans are dissolving shells of tiny sea snails, researchers find, ABC News, 2 May 16 By Kieran Jones Small organisms are struggling to survive as the ocean becomes more acidic, researchers say, including tiny sea snails whose shells are dissolving.
- Acidification could severely affect the ocean’s food chain
- Small organisms are being damaged and scientists fear it could affect large animals
- A prominent researcher says reducing CO2 emissions would reduce acidification
Researchers fear an increase in acidification in the Southern Ocean could have a severe impact on the food chain off Australia’s south coast.
The concerns come as 350 scientists from more than 30 countries gather in Hobart for an international symposium on the impact of carbon dioxide on the world’s oceans.
Ocean acidification means the pH level of water has decreased, making it inhospitable for small organisms.
CSIRO research scientist Andrew Lenton was part of a team that developed a map of acidification around Australia.
He said the impact was already being felt.
“The changes in Australia are very close to the changes that are occurring everywhere else in the world, so this is really a global problem that Australia is part of,” he said.
“Already there are detectable changes in the Southern Ocean.”
Reducing carbon dioxide emissions would reduce acidification………The impact is also visible in tiny free-swimming sea snails call pteropods, which are a vital part of the diet of many large fish.
Researchers said the percentage of pteropods with dissolving shells observed had doubled since the pre-industrial era and was on track to triple by 2050.
Dr Richard Feely from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said reducing carbon dioxide emissions was the best way to avoid acidification.
“In order for us to address ocean acidification on a global scale we would have to add two billion tonnes of calcium carbonate,” he said………http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-05-02/acidic-oceans-are-dissolving-shells-on-tiny-sea-snails/7376696?section=environment
Details Emerge from Cold War-Era Nuclear Shipwreck, New Historian, David DeMar May 01, 2016 More details have emerged regarding the wreck of the USS Independence, a US Navy vessel deliberately sacrificed in 1946 at the Bikini Atoll nuclear weapons tests at the very inception of the Cold War…….
NOAA and Boeing used a combination of high-resolution sonar imaging and an unmanned submersible known as “Echo Ranger” to locate and safely survey the still-irradiated wreck of the Independence. The resultant case study, plus newly declassified files on the Navy ship straight from the US National Archives, concerning its time as a nuclear weapons testbed, have been published in theJournal of Maritime Archaeology (JNA)……
merging documentary evidence with a study of the physical remains of a maritime archaeological site is a goal that can and should be pursued…….
The infamous tests at Bikini Atoll, The Bikini tests, conceived and undertaken just one year after dropping not one but two nuclear weapons on Japan, at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to end the Second World War, was one of the most visible and noteworthy events to signal a fundamental shift in postwar history.
In one of the newly-declassified reports dating from the era, it was suggested that the awesome power of nuclear weaponry represented a new era where the utter destruction of man had become possible, scouring the Earth of nothing but vestigial traces of humanity. http://www.newhistorian.com/details-emerge-cold-war-era-nuclear-shipwreck/6397/
This dome in the Pacific houses tons of radioactive waste – and it’s leaking
The Runit Dome in the Marshall Islands is a hulking legacy of years of US nuclear testing. Now locals and scientists are warning that rising sea levels caused by climate change could cause 111,000 cubic yards of debris to spill into the ocean , Guardian Coleen Jose, Kim Wall and Jan Hendrik Hinzel on Runit Island 3 July 2015
“……..Officially, this vast structure is known as the Runit Dome. Locals call it The Tomb.
Below the 18-inch concrete cap rests the United States’ cold war legacy to this remote corner of the Pacific Ocean: 111,000 cubic yards of radioactive debris left behind after 12 years of nuclear tests.
Brackish water pools around the edge of the dome, where sections of concrete have started to crack away. Underground, radioactive waste has already started to leach out of the crater: according to a 2013 report by the US Department of Energy, soil around the dome is already more contaminated than its contents.
Now locals, scientists and environmental activists fear that a storm surge, typhoon or other cataclysmic event brought on by climate change could tear the concrete mantel wide open, releasing its contents into the Pacific Ocean.
“Runit Dome represents a tragic confluence of nuclear testing and climate change,” said Michael Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University, who visited the dome in 2010.
“It resulted from US nuclear testing and the leaving behind of large quantities of plutonium,” he said. “Now it has been gradually submerged as result of sea level rise from greenhouse gas emissions by industrial countries led by the United States.”
Enewetak Atoll, and the much better-known Bikini Atoll, were the main sites of the United States Pacific Proving Grounds, the setting for dozens of atomic explosions during the early years of the cold war……..http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jul/03/runit-dome-pacific-radioactive-waste
Now the scientists have found that the coping mechanism barrier reef corals use to prepare themselves to face warm summer water is also under threat from global warming, and from human activities such as agriculture, shipping, and fishing.
“As temperature warms, the evidence is that this protective mechanism will no longer function
How the Great Barrier Reef is going from bad to worse Christian Science Monitor, 14 Apr 16 Though the corals of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef historically have managed to adjust to gradually warming seawater of the summer months, they will likely lose their defenses when the ocean warms overall in the near future, say scientists. (at left – coral bleaching )
This was the latest finding from a team of American and Australian coral reef experts from James Cook University, the University of Queensland, and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
These same scientists recently reported that their aerial surveys of some of the 3,000 coral reefs that make up this iconic natural wonder off Australia’s northeastern coast have showed that coral bleaching this year is the worst that has ever been observed. This is largely due to a recurring weather event known as El Niño, a storm system that is expected to become more frequent and more severe in the future.
I agree that El Niño is a natural variability; it’s a part of nature, but that variation in patterns and temperatures is superimposed upon a trend of warming,” Scott Heron, a NOAA coral reef scientist based in Australia, tells The Christian Science Monitor in an interview. “There are ups and downs, but now there are just higher ups than ever before, and the downs are not as low,” he says.
Coral bleaching happens when ocean temperatures rise to a point that zooxanthellae – tiny algae that live on corals and provide them with nutrients and their radiant colors – leave their coral homes, thereby rendering coral white or “bleached.” When corals go without zooxanthellae for too long, they die. This affects about a quarter of marine species that depend on coral reefs for shelter, and the humans who depend on those species for their livelihoods.
This year’s is the third major bleaching event in recent history for the 2,300-kilometer-long Great Barrier Reef, which is home to one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world. But this one is much worse than the bleaching events that occurred in 1998 and 2002, say scientists who recently found bleaching in almost 1,100 kilometers of northern barrier reef, from the island of New Guinea to the Australian coastal city of Cairns. The researchers estimate that 30 to 50 percent of the corals there are already be dead.
Now the scientists have found that the coping mechanism barrier reef corals use to prepare themselves to face warm summer water is also under threat from global warming, and from human activities such as agriculture, shipping, and fishing.
“As temperature warms, the evidence is that this protective mechanism will no longer function,” C. Mark Eakin, a scientist with NOAA Coral Reef Watch, tells the Monitor in an interview…….
The most viable immediate remedy, say paper authors, is to reduce the carbon emissions that cause warming and restrict other human activities near the reefs that add more stress, including runoff from agriculture, unsustainable fishing practices, and physical damage to the reef from ship groundings.
“These are all human stressors on reef that have to be minimized or eliminated for reefs to be able to bounce back from these bleaching events, even in a decade or two,” Eakin says.http://www.csmonitor.com/Science/2016/0414/How-the-Great-Barrier-Reef-is-going-from-bad-to-worse
Scientists Are Watching in Horror as Ice Collapses Everything we learn about ice shows that it is disturbingly fragile, even in Antarctica. National Geographic, By Douglas Fox APRIL 12, 2016 “……..The catastrophic collapse of Larsen A and several other ice shelves along the Antarctic Peninsula has yielded important lessons about the vulnerability of Antarctica’s ice sheets to a warming climate. A new analysis of ice sheet instability, published March 31 in Nature, took the public by surprise when it projected that global sea level might rise six feet by 2100, and as much as 40 to 50 feet by the year 2500. (Read “Why the New Sea Level Alarm Can’t Be Ignored.”) That study seemed to double, overnight, the amount of sea level rise that can be expected. But many glacial scientists weren’t surprised. The new estimate is based on insights that have emerged slowly, over 20 years, in the aftermath of these ice shelf collapses.
The Aftermath of an Ice Shelf Collapse
Explore the fjords along the northeastern Antarctic Peninsula today, and it’s easy to find landscapes that look scarred even to the casual observer. …..
The glacier, now absent, had retreated several miles into its fjord. The fjord used to hold 2,000 feet (600 meters) of ice. Now it held 2,000 feet of seawater instead.
The aftermath of an ice shelf collapse is obvious in Sjögren’s fjord. When the ice shelf in front of Sjögren disintegrated in 1995, it removed the buttress that stabilized the glacier. The glacier started sliding into the sea at twice its original speed. Sjögren erupted in crevasses and thinned by several hundred feet as it stretched. After a few years, the glacier had retreated miles into its fjord as icebergs splintered off the glacier’s front faster than the ice could flow forward…….
Every ice shelf that disintegrated along the Antarctic Peninsula has shown the same pattern: summer melting of its top layers, winter refreezing of those top layers into icy crusts able to hold large melt ponds, and the re-exposure of long-buried crevasses.
For all of these ice shelves, the moment of death occurred suddenly. Each collapse began when water from the melt ponds drained into the crevasses. The weight of the water drove the cracks deeper—like a wedge, says Ted Scambos, a glaciologist with the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado in Boulder, who discovered the process. These fluid wedges eventually broke through the bottom of the ice shelf, calving off one iceberg, then another and another—a process called hydrofracturing that can devour an ice shelf nearly the size of Rhode Island in a matter of hours or days……..
Ice loss may have begun at a narrow beachhead in Antarctica, at the north end of the Antarctic Peninsula, but it has expanded on multiple fronts, as new regions of ice come into play every several years. As warm summer temperatures push farther south, so will the problems of melt ponding, ice shelf disintegration, and ice cliff collapse, which drive the rapid retreat of ice. (Read more about how calving causes mini-tsunamis daily in Antarctica.)
Environment 360 7 April 2011 With contaminated water from Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear complex continuing to pour into the Pacific, scientists are concerned about how that radioactivity might affect marine life. Although the ocean’s capacity to dilute radiation is huge, signs are that nuclear isotopes are already moving up the local food chain. by Elizabeth Grossman Over the past half-century, the world has seen its share of incidents in which radioactive material has been dumped or discharged into the oceans. A British nuclear fuels plant has repeatedly released radioactive waste into the Irish Sea, a French nuclear reprocessing plant has discharged similar waste into the English Channel, and for decades the Soviets dumped large quantities of radioactive material into the Arctic Ocean, Kara Sea, and Barents Sea. That radioactive material included reactors from at least 16 Soviet nuclear-powered submarines and icebreakers, and large amounts of liquid and solid nuclear waste from USSR military bases and weapons plants.
Still, the world has never quite seen an event like the one unfolding now off the coast of eastern Japan, in which thousands of tons of radioactively contaminated water from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant are pouring directly into the ocean. And though the vastness of the ocean has the capacity to dilute nuclear contamination, signs of spreading radioactive material are being found off Japan, including the discovery of elevated concentrations of radioactive cesium and iodine in small fish several dozen miles south of Fukushima, and high levels of radioactivity in seawater 25 miles offshore.
How this continuing contamination will affect marine life, or humans, is still unclear. But scientists agree that the governments of Japan, the United States, and other nations on the Pacific Rim need to ramp up studies of how far this contamination might spread and in what concentrations.
“Given that the Fukushima nuclear power plant is on the ocean, and with leaks and runoff directly to the ocean, the impacts on the ocean will exceed those of Chernobyl, which was hundreds of miles from any sea,” said Ken Buesseler, senior scientist in marine chemistry at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. “My biggest concern is the lack of information. We still don’t know the whole range of radioactive compounds that have been released into the ocean, nor do we know their distribution. We have a few data points from the Japanese — all close to the coast — but to understand the full impact, including for fisheries, we need broader surveys and scientific study of the area.”
Buessler and other experts say this much is clear: Both short-lived radioactive elements, such as iodine-131, and longer-lived elements — such as cesium-137, with a half-life of 30 years — can be absorbed by phytoplankton, zooplankton, kelp, and other marine life and then be transmitted up the food chain, to fish, marine mammals, and humans. Other radioactive elements — including plutonium, which has been detected outside the Fukushima plant — also pose a threat to marine life. A key question is how concentrated will the radioactive contamination be. Japanese officials hope that a temporary fishing ban off the northeastern Japanese coast will be enough to avert any danger to human health until the flow of radioactive water into the sea can be stopped…….
The Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) has reported that seawater containing radioactive iodine-131 at 5 million times the legal limit has been detected near the plant. According to the Japanese news service, NHK, a recent sample also contained 1.1 million times the legal level of radioactive cesium-137.
Studies from previous releases of nuclear material in the Irish, Kara and Barents Seas, as well as in the Pacific Ocean, show that such radioactive material does travel with ocean currents, is deposited in marine sediment, and does climb the marine food web. In the Irish Sea — where the British Nuclear Fuels plant at Sellafield in the northwestern United Kingdom released radioactive material over many decades, beginning in the 1950s — studies have found radioactive cesium and plutonium concentrating significantly in seals and porpoises that ate contaminated fish. Other studies have shown that radioactive material from Sellafield and from the nuclear reprocessing plant at Cap de la Hague in France have been transported to the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans. A study published in 2003 found that a substantial part of the world’s radioactive contamination is in the marine environment.
But what impact this radioactive contamination has on marine life and humans is still unclear. Even the mass dumping of nuclear material by the Soviets in the Arctic has not been definitively shown to have caused widespread harm to marine life. That may be because containment vessels around some of the dumped reactors are preventing the escape of radiation. A lack of comprehensive studies by the Russians in the areas where nuclear waste was dumped also has hampered understanding. Two events in the early 1990s — a die-off of seals in the Barents Sea and White Sea from blood cancer, and the deaths of millions of starfish, shellfish, seals and porpoises in the White Sea — have been variously attributed by Russian scientists to pollution or nuclear contamination.
How the radioactive materials released from the Fukushima plants will behave in the ocean will depend on their chemical properties and reactivity, explained Ted Poston, a ecotoxicologist with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, a U.S. government facility in Richland, Washington. If the radionuclides are in soluble form, they will behave differently than if they are absorbed into particles, said Poston. Soluble iodine, for example, will disperse rather rapidly. But if a radionuclide reacts with other molecules or gets deposited on existing particulates — bits of minerals, for example — they can be suspended in the water or, if larger, may drop to the sea floor.
“If particulates in the water column are very small they will move with the current,” he explained. “If bigger or denser, they can settle in sediment.”…….http://e360.yale.edu/feature/radioactivity_in_the_ocean_diluted_but_far_from_harmless/2391/
New Gov’t Report: Fukushima radiation found in US marine life — Investigators detect radioactive contamination “in a variety of marine products” harvested off West Coast — Effects of exposure need to be studied and understood in coming yearshttp://enenews.com/new-govt-study-finds-fukushima-radiation-marine-life-investigators-detect-radioactive-contamination-variety-marine-products-harvested-west-coast-effects-exposure-marine-life-be-studied-understoo?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+ENENews+%28Energy+News%29
U.S. Department of Commerce – NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service (pdf), Dec 2015 (emphasis added): Results of testing for Fukushima Radiation in northern fur seals on St. Paul Island, AK – In summer 2014, NOAA Fisheries in partnership with Colorado State University collected tissue from northern fur seals harvested from St. Paul Island for lab testing.
We detected very small amounts of Fukushima-derived radioactive material in the seal tissue…
Journal of Environmental Radioactivity, Feb 2016: Fukushima-derived radiocesium was detected in migratory northern fur seal… In July 2014, our investigative team traveled to St. Paul Island, Alaska to measure concentrations of radiocesium in wild-caught food… [O]ther investigators have detected Fukushima-derived radionuclides in a variety of marine products harvested off the western coast of North America. We tested… 54 northern fur seal… when composited, northern fur seal tissues tested positive for trace quantities of [Cesium-134 adn Cesium-137]. Radiocesium was detected at an activity concentration of 37.2 mBq 134Cs kg [fresh weight, not dried] and 141.2 mBq 137Cs kg… indicating that this population of seals has been exposed to small quantities of Fukushima-derived radiocesium… [The] 2011 Tohoku earthquake… led to loss of containment [at the Fukushima nuclear power plant] and releases of radionuclides to the atmosphere and the marine environment… [M]arine releases may be ongoing due to groundwater seepage… The atmospheric plume from the Fukushima Daiichi reactors traveled east and passed over North America days after the initial release… The arrival of the Fukushima marine plume has aroused concern for some North American stakeholders, particularly those living near the coast and those who consume seafood from the Pacific Ocean. Additionally, the potential effects of exposure to Fukushima derived radionuclides on sensitive marine species will need to be studied and understood in the coming years… Radiocesium biomagnifies through marine foodwebs…Thus the northern fur seal, a predator, should be an excellent sentinel of marine radiocesium in the North Pacific… Northern fur seal exposure to Fukushima radionuclides likely occurred via the consumption of fish or other prey from areas of the Pacific Ocean contaminated by the Fukushima marine release… the population likely has not been exposed to the higher concentrations found within the main body of the Fukushima marine plume… Radiocesium is unlikely to cause health impacts in northern fur seal or the human populations consuming this species.
See also: “Alarming signs of oceanic distress” on West Coast — Record number of stranded Northern Fur Seal pups, nearly 2,000% of normal levels — “Bags of skin and bones” (VIDEO)