Saturday, December 25, 2010

New solar fuel machine ‘mimics plant life’

A prototype solar device has been unveiled which mimics plant life, turning the Sun's energy into fuel. In the prototype, sunlight heats a ceria cylinder which breaks down water or carbon dioxide. Science / BBC

By Neil Bowdler, Science reporter, BBC News
23 December 2010 Last updated at 14:11 ET

A prototype solar device has been unveiled which mimics plant life, turning the Sun's energy into fuel.

The machine uses the Sun's rays and a metal oxide called ceria to break down carbon dioxide or water into fuels which can be stored and transported.

Conventional photovoltaic panels must use the electricity they generate in situ, and cannot deliver power at night.

Details are published in the journal Science.

The prototype, which was devised by researchers in the US and Switzerland, uses a quartz window and cavity to concentrate sunlight into a cylinder lined with cerium oxide, also known as ceria.

Ceria has a natural propensity to exhale oxygen as it heats up and inhale it as it cools down.

If as in the prototype, carbon dioxide and/or water are pumped into the vessel, the ceria will rapidly strip the oxygen from them as it cools, creating hydrogen and/or carbon monoxide.

Hydrogen produced could be used to fuel hydrogen fuel cells in cars, for example, while a combination of hydrogen and carbon monoxide can be used to create "syngas" for fuel. …

The prototype is grossly inefficient, the fuel created harnessing only between 0.7% and 0.8% of the solar energy taken into the vessel.

Most of the energy is lost through heat loss through the reactor's wall or through the re-radiation of sunlight back through the device's aperture.

But the researchers are confident that efficiency rates of up to 19% can be achieved through better insulation and smaller apertures. Such efficiency rates, they say, could make for a viable commercial device. …

New solar fuel machine 'mimics plant life'

Monday, December 20, 2010

Construction of the world’s largest neutrino observatory completed: Antarctica’s IceCube

Sensor descends down a hole in the ice as part of the final season of IceCube. Icecube is among the most ambitious scientific construction projects ever attempted. Credit: NSF / B. Gudbjartsson

ScienceDaily (Dec. 19, 2010) — Culminating a decade of planning, innovation and testing, construction of the world's largest neutrino observatory, installed in the ice of the Antarctic plateau at the geographic South Pole, was successfully completed Dec. 18, 2010, New Zealand time.

The last of 86 holes had been drilled and a total of 5,160 optical sensors are now installed to form the main detector -- a cubic kilometer of instrumented ice -- of the IceCube Neutrino Observatory, located at the National Science Foundation's Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.

From its vantage point at the end of the world, IceCube provides an innovative means to investigate the properties of fundamental particles that originate in some of the most spectacular phenomena in the universe.

In the deep, dark, stillness of the Antarctic ice, IceCube records the rare collisions of neutrinos--elusive sub-atomic particles--with the atomic nuclei of the water molecules of the ice. Some neutrinos come from the sun, while others come from cosmic rays interacting with the Earth's atmosphere and dramatic astronomical sources such as exploding stars in the Milky Way and other distant galaxies. Trillions of neutrinos stream through the human body at any given moment, but they rarely interact with regular matter, and researchers want to know more about them and where they come from. …

Construction of the world's largest neutrino observatory completed: Antarctica's IceCube

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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Science magazine’s breakthrough of the year: The first quantum machine

Qubit resonator. Andrew Cleland / Wired

Contact: Natasha Pinol,

(American Association for the Advancement of Science) Back in March, a group of researchers designed a gadget that moves in ways that can only be described by quantum mechanics -- the set of rules that governs the behavior of tiny things like molecules, atoms, and subatomic particles. In recognition of the conceptual ground their experiment breaks, the ingenuity behind it and its many potential applications, Science has called this discovery the most significant scientific advance of 2010.

Physicists Andrew Cleland and John Martinis from the University of California at Santa Barbara and their colleagues designed the machine—a tiny metal paddle of semiconductor, visible to the naked eye—and coaxed it into dancing with a quantum groove. First, they cooled the paddle until it reached its "ground state," or the lowest energy state permitted by the laws of quantum mechanics (a goal long-sought by physicists). Then they raised the widget's energy by a single quantum to produce a purely quantum-mechanical state of motion. They even managed to put the gadget in both states at once, so that it literally vibrated a little and a lot at the same time—a bizarre phenomenon allowed by the weird rules of quantum mechanics.

Science and its publisher, AAAS, the nonprofit science society, have recognized this first quantum machine as the 2010 Breakthrough of the Year. They have also compiled nine other important scientific accomplishments from this past year into a top ten list, appearing in a special news feature in the journal's 17 December 2010 issue. Additionally, Science news writers and editors have chosen to spotlight 10 "Insights of the Decade" that have transformed the landscape of science in the 21st Century.

"This year's Breakthrough of the Year represents the first time that scientists have demonstrated quantum effects in the motion of a human-made object," said Adrian Cho, a news writer for Science. "On a conceptual level that's cool because it extends quantum mechanics into a whole new realm. On a practical level, it opens up a variety of possibilities ranging from new experiments that meld quantum control over light, electrical currents and motion to, perhaps someday, tests of the bounds of quantum mechanics and our sense of reality."

The quantum machine proves that the principles of quantum mechanics can apply to the motion of macroscopic objects, as well as atomic and subatomic particles. It provides the key first step toward gaining complete control over an object's vibrations at the quantum level. Such control over the motion of an engineered device should allow scientists to manipulate those minuscule movements, much as they now control electrical currents and particles of light. In turn, that capability may lead to new devices to control the quantum states of light, ultra-sensitive force detectors and, ultimately, investigations into the bounds of quantum mechanics and our sense of reality. (This last grand goal might be achieved by trying to put a macroscopic object in a state in which it's literally in two slightly different places at the same time—an experiment that might reveal precisely why something as big as a human can't be in two places at the same time.)

"Mind you, physicists still haven't achieved a two-places-at-once state with a tiny object like this one," said Cho. "But now that they have reached the simplest state of quantum motion, it seems a whole lot more obtainable—more like a matter of 'when' than 'if.'"

Science's list of the nine other groundbreaking achievements from 2010 follows. …

Science's breakthrough of the year: The first quantum machine

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Scientists decipher 3 billion-year-old genomic fossils

Analysis of modern-day genomes finds evidence for ancient environmental change and a massive expansion in genetic diversity

The figure shows the evolution of gene families in ancient genomes across the Tree of Life. The sizes of the little pie charts scale with the number of evolutionary events in lineages, slices indicate event types: gene birth (red), duplication (blue), horizontal gene transfer (green), and loss (yellow). The Archean Expansion period (3.33 to 2.85 billion years ago) is highlighted in green. Credit: Lawrence David

Contact: Denise Brehm,
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

About 580 million years ago, life on Earth began a rapid period of change called the Cambrian Explosion, a period defined by the birth of new life forms over many millions of years that ultimately helped bring about the modern diversity of animals. Fossils help palaeontologists chronicle the evolution of life since then, but drawing a picture of life during the 3 billion years that preceded the Cambrian Period is challenging, because the soft-bodied Precambrian cells rarely left fossil imprints. However, those early life forms did leave behind one abundant microscopic fossil: DNA.

Because all living organisms inherit their genomes from ancestral genomes, computational biologists at MIT reasoned that they could use modern-day genomes to reconstruct the evolution of ancient microbes. They combined information from the ever-growing genome library with their own mathematical model that takes into account the ways that genes evolve: new gene families can be born and inherited; genes can be swapped or horizontally transferred between organisms; genes can be duplicated in the same genome; and genes can be lost.

The scientists traced thousands of genes from 100 modern genomes back to those genes' first appearance on Earth to create a genomic fossil telling not only when genes came into being but also which ancient microbes possessed those genes. The work suggests that the collective genome of all life underwent an expansion between 3.3 and 2.8 billion years ago, during which time 27 percent of all presently existing gene families came into being.

Eric Alm, a professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the Department of Biological Engineering, and Lawrence David, who recently received his Ph.D. from MIT and is now a Junior Fellow in the Harvard Society of Fellows, have named this period the Archean Expansion.

Because so many of the new genes they identified are related to oxygen, Alm and David first thought that the emergence of oxygen might be responsible for the Archean Expansion. Oxygen did not exist in the Earth's atmosphere until about 2.5 billion years ago when it began to accumulate, likely killing off vast numbers of anerobic life forms in the Great Oxidation Event.

"The Great Oxidation Event was probably the most catastrophic event in the history of cellular life, but we don't have any biological record of it," says Alm.

Closer inspection, however, showed that oxygen-utilizing genes didn't appear until the tail end of the Archean Expansion 2.8 billion years ago, which is more consistent with the date geochemists assign to the Great Oxidation Event. …

Scientists decipher 3 billion-year-old genomic fossils

Friday, December 17, 2010

News Corp to go carbon neutral – Fox News still denies climate change

Rupert Murdoch. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

By Kate Sheppard
Thu Dec. 16, 2010 10:34 AM PST

The Fox News memo on how to "report" on global warming (i.e., suggest the science behind it is fatally flawed) got a lot of attention on Wednesday. Not that anyone was particularly surprised—you can turn on Fox most days and see that policy in action.

But while management at Fox is still banking on sowing doubt about climate change, the big-wigs at parent company News Corp. aren't. Earlier this year I reported at length about News Corp.'s effort to go carbon neutral. Rupert Murdoch has argued that dealing with global warming is not only the right thing to do, it's good for the corporation's bottom line. Yeah, all that stuff about how global warming is just Al Gore's pipe dream? The boss man doesn't think that.

Here's a letter from Murdoch on the initiative (it apparently hasn't trickled down to Washington managing editor Bill Sammon quite yet):

News Corporation has always been about imagining the future and then making that vision a reality. We seek new ways to reach our global audiences and we address those issues that have the greatest impact on their lives. Global climate change is clearly one of those issues. So how do we, as a media company, do our part to confront this challenge?
It starts with us. We must first get our house in order. In May of 2007, we launched a global energy initiative across News Corporation to reduce our energy use and impact on the climate. Our goals are to fully understand our carbon and energy impact, to reduce that impact significantly and to inspire our employees to take action on this issue in their business and personal lives.

News Corp.'s initiative is paying off: Climate Counts, a nonprofit that scores companies' efforts to deal with climate change, gave the company a glowing review just last week. It's a sad irony that, while the parent corporation is doing the right thing, Fox executives are still selling the idea that climate change is giant hoax crafted by conniving scientists and liberals to force us all to live like cavemen again (or whatever it is they want the American public to believe).

Wood Turner, the executive director of Climate Counts, writes via email:

Apparently, Bill Sammon didn't get Mr. Murdoch's climate memo. Fox News has been ignoring its own parent company's strong climate stance for a long time now. If News Corp is as committed as Mr. Murdoch says to inspiring and educating its audiences and its employees about its vision, it could start by making sure Fox News stops misrepresenting the basic facts.

Good on Murdoch for making strides on the impacts of his empire. But it's more than a bit hypocritical that Fox News, likely his most influential product in the US, continues to warp the public's understanding of the issue.

Fox Climate Coverage Irony Alert!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

New data shows REDD+ is succeeding

Commentary by Doug Boucher, special to  
December 15, 2010

Guest commentary by Doug Boucher, director of the Tropical Forest and Climate Initiative at the Union of Concerned Scientists

Amid the whirlwind of climate change news before and after the Cancún climate conference, including a landmark agreement on REDD+ (reducing emissions from deforestation, and related pro-forest actions), an important story seems to have passed by with little notice. Over the past two months, several new analyses have given clear evidence that deforestation has gone down over the past several years. In fact, the drop is quite impressive, and shows that of all the approaches to avoiding the worst consequences of global warming, reducing tropical deforestation is the one that has contributed by far the most to date.

The first analysis to come out, in October, was the Global Forest Resources Assessment (FRA) for 2010. This compendium of data from all the countries on the planet is released every five years, and provides the broadest look at the state of the world’s forests. The new FRA data showed that tropical deforestation in the first decade of the 2000s was down 18% from the level of the 1990s, dropping from 11.33 million hectares per year in the 1990s to 9.34 million hectares per year in the 2000s. Furthermore, the rate dropped from the first 5 years of the decade to the second five years, principally due to a dramatic decline in Brazilian Amazon deforestation. The FRA 2010 data also showed that the rate of primary forest loss, not just total forest loss, has declined. …

New data shows REDD+ is succeeding

Friday, November 26, 2010

Dolphins recognize themselves in mirrors, act very silly

CNN's Randi Kaye goes down in an underwater lab to see how dolphins react to themselves in a mirror.

[Randi Kaye  observes that dolphins’ "high levels of intelligence are, in many ways, much like our own,” and she asks scientist Diana Reiss , “If that's true, what does that tell us?"

It tells us that dolphins should be treated as 'non-human persons'. Ethically and legally, slaughtering them in such places as Taiji and the Faroes should be considered murder.]

Dolphins see themselves in mirror

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Monday, November 22, 2010

World mayors sign climate change pact

Mexico City (AFP) Nov 21, 2010 - Mayors from around the world signed a voluntary pact in Mexico City on Sunday to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at a meeting meant as a precursor to next week's s UN-sponsored talks in Cancun.

The gathering in one of the world's most polluted cities assembled some 3,000 local and regional leaders to discuss a wide range of economic and social issues, including climate change.

Participants from some 135 cities and urban areas signed a pact committing them to adopt a slate of measures to stem climate change.

The pact will be presented at next week's UN climate talks in Cancun, Mexico from November 29-December 10.

Top climate scientists from around the world hope in Cancun to break the deadlock on reducing greenhouse-gas emissions and channeling aid to poor, vulnerable countries after the widely regarded failure of the last climate summit in Copenhagen.

Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard and Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe, the current president of the United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), opened the mayoral gathering, set to last four days.

"We have to tell the international community that it's in the cities that the battle to slow global warming will be won," Ebrard said in the lead-up to the meeting. …

World mayors sign climate change pact

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The CRU Hack: One year later

The Met Office Hadley Centre is the UK’s foremost climate change research centre. We produce world-class guidance on the science of climate change and provide a focus in the UK for the scientific issues associated with climate change.

By Gavin Schmidt
20 November 2010

I woke up on Tuesday, 17 Nov 2009 completely unaware of what was about to unfold. I tried to log in to RealClimate, but for some reason my login did not work. Neither did the admin login. I logged in to the back-end via ssh, only to be inexplicably logged out again. I did it again. No dice. I then called the hosting company and told them to take us offline until I could see what was going on. When I did get control back from the hacker (and hacker it was), there was a large uploaded file on our server, and a draft post ready to go announcing the theft of the CRU emails. And so it began.

From that Friday, and for about 3 weeks afterward, we were drafted into the biggest context-setting exercise we’d ever been involved in. What was the story with Soon and Baliunas? What is the difference between tree ring density and tree ring width? What papers were being discussed in email X? What was Trenberth talking about? Or Wigley? Or Briffa or Jones? Who were any of this people anyway? The very specificity of the emails meant that it was hard for the broader scientific community to add informed comment, and so the burden on the people directly involved was high.

The posts we put up initially are still valid today – and the 1000’s of comment stand as testimony to the contemporary fervour of the conversation:

I think we did pretty well considering – no other site, nor set of scientists (not even at UEA) provided so much of the background to counter the inevitable misinterpretations that starting immediately spreading. While some commentators were predicting resignations, retractions and criminal charges, we noted that there had not been any scientific misconduct, and predicted that this is what the inquiries would find and that the science would not be affected. (Note, the most thorough inquiry, and one that will have to withstand judicial review, is the one by EPA which, strangely enough, has barely been discussed in the blogosphere). …

One year later

Friday, November 19, 2010

All viruses ‘can be DNA stowaways’

Relatives of Ebola are among the 'fossil viruses' researchers have identified. Image: Thomas W Geisbert( -- 'Fossil viruses' preserved inside the DNA of mammals and insects suggest that all viruses, including relatives of HIV and Ebola, could potentially be ‘stowaways’ transmitted from generation to generation for millions of years, according to new research.

A team from Oxford University and the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center built on earlier work at Oxford that discovered the fossilised remains of an ancient HIV-like virus in the genomes of animals including sloths, lemurs and rabbits.

The team’s new research, reported in this week’s PLoS Genetics, shows that many more different types of viruses are endogenous – capable of being transmitted from generation to generation – with ‘fossil viruses’ turning up in the genomes of creatures as different as mosquitoes, wallabies, and humans.

‘Many of these viruses, such as the ancestors of Ebola, are far more ancient and spread across many more animal groups than anyone ever suspected,’ said Dr Aris Katzourakis of Oxford University’s Department of Zoology, an author of the report. ‘We’ve demonstrated that viruses have been integrating within animal genomes for at least 100 million years.’

‘We’ve also shown that, in some cases, viral genes have been domesticated by their hosts, and put to use by the hosts for their own purposes, demonstrating that captured viral sequences may have played a larger than expected role in animal evolution.’ …

All viruses 'can be DNA stowaways'

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The tortoise and the solar plant

Biologists are relocating species such as this juvenile Mojave Desert tortoise due to the planned construction of BrightSource Energy's solar plant in southern California. Sarah McBride for NPR

By Sarah McBride
October 30, 2010

Mercy Vaughn crouches over a young tortoise peeking out from its burrow near a creosote bush in California's Mojave Desert.

The area is home to rare species, including the threatened desert tortoise. But a giant solar plant is under construction in the vast wilderness area.

To help save the animal, the company building the plant, BrightSource Energy, had to agree to a lot of conditions, including reptile relocation.

Vaughn, a biologist from Texas, and her colleague Peter Woodman are leading a team of 50 biologists hired to survey the site over and over before construction begins. They have to keep track of every single tortoise.

"This is one that was walking down the middle of the road when it was spotted by one of the monitors," Woodman says. "Luckily, we've got a radio transmitter on it now."

He's looking at an adult female tortoise; she's about the size of a dinner plate, and the transmitter is glued to her shell. It almost looks like a stray twig. …

The tortoises can't stay where construction crews might harm them, so the biologists are moving them to pens to ride out the desert winter. In the spring, they'll try relocating them to the wild.

BrightSource is spending more than $40 million to protect plants and wildlife. That includes buying acres of land to keep as nature preserves. …

The Tortoise And The Solar Plant: A Mojave Story

Monday, November 8, 2010

Climate scientists plan campaign against global warming denialists

[It’s about time. –Jim]

Smokestacks. An analysis by a liberal think tank found that half of the more than 100 new Republican Congress members are skeptics on global warming. (Chicago Tribune / February 28, 2007)

The American Geophysical Union plans to announce that 700 researchers have agreed to speak out on the issue. Other scientists plan a pushback against congressional conservatives who have vowed to kill regulations on greenhouse gas emissions.

By Neela Banerjee, Tribune Washington Bureau
November 8, 2010

Reporting from Washington —
Faced with rising political attacks, hundreds of climate scientists are joining a broad campaign to push back against congressional conservatives who have threatened prominent researchers with investigations and vowed to kill regulations to rein in man-made greenhouse gas emissions.

The still-evolving efforts reveal a shift among climate scientists, many of whom have traditionally stayed out of politics and avoided the news media. Many now say they are willing to go toe-to-toe with their critics, some of whom gained new power after the Republicans won control of the House in Tuesday's election.

On Monday, the American Geophysical Union, the country's largest association of climate scientists, plans to announce that 700 climate scientists have agreed to speak out as experts on questions about global warming and the role of man-made air pollution.

John Abraham of St. Thomas University in Minnesota, who last May wrote a widely disseminated response to climate change skeptics, is also pulling together a "climate rapid response team," which includes scientists prepared to go before what they consider potentially hostile audiences on conservative talk radio and television shows.

"This group feels strongly that science and politics can't be divorced and that we need to take bold measures to not only communicate science but also to aggressively engage the denialists and politicians who attack climate science and its scientists," said Scott Mandia, professor of physical sciences at Suffolk County Community College in New York.

"We are taking the fight to them because we are … tired of taking the hits. The notion that truth will prevail is not working. The truth has been out there for the past two decades, and nothing has changed."

During the recent campaigns, skepticism about climate change became a rallying cry for many Republican candidates. Of the more than 100 new GOP members of Congress, 50% are climate change skeptics, according to an analysis of campaign statements by the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank. …

Climate scientists plan campaign against global warming skeptics via Wit’s End

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Californians defy oil industry to save climate law Staff, BusinessGreen, Wednesday 3 November 2010 at 11:30:00

Proposition 23 defeated as voters back climate change laws, despite multimillion-dollar campaign from oil giants

California yesterday retained its position as one of the global leaders in clean technology and climate change policy, after voters rejected a proposition that would have indefinitely suspended the state's flagship climate change bill.

With results from 48 precincts having been reported, "no" votes against Proposition 23 stood at 59 per cent, representing a significant victory for green campaigners including Bill Gates, Google co-founder Sergey Brin and Avatar director James Cameron, as well as current state governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Michael Eckhart, president of trade group the American Council on Renewable Energy, told Reuters: "This is reaffirmation that we are a country of some enlightenment. A majority of Californians, even in great stress of unemployment and economic demise, will still accept this responsibility. Rejecting an attempt to destroy the environment is a good thing. "

Prop 23 would have suspended the state's AB 32 law until unemployment fell to 5.5 per cent or less for four straight quarters.

Commentators argued that the move would have effectively scrapped the legislation altogether as the state's current unemployment rate is running at over 10 per cent and has dipped below 5.5 per cent for only two short periods in the last 20 years.

The vote means that California will retain its target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, ensuring a third of the state's electricity comes from renewable sources by the same date and launching a regional emissions trading scheme.

The vote represents a major victory for green businesses and environmental groups after Republican politicians and out-of-state oil companies waged a high-profile campaign in favour of Prop 23, spending millions on TV ads in support of the proposition. …

Californians defy oil industry to save climate law

Thursday, October 21, 2010

R.I.P. Benoît Mandelbrot

Benoît Mandelbrot delivers his presentation, 'The (Mis)Behavior of Markets: A Fractal View of Risk, Ruin and Return' at Microsoft Research, 23 August 2004.

It’s with great sadness that I read about the passing of Benoît B. Mandelbrot, renowned as the Father of Fractal Geometry. He taught me more about the universe than any other individual.

I first read about fractal geometry in the late ‘70s, probably in Scientific American or Byte magazine, and this inspired me to program my Exidy Sorcerer to generate Mandelbrot Set images.

The Exidy Sorcerer personal computer, 1978–1980. Marcin Wichary /

The Exidy Sorcerer personal computer, 1978–1980.

Lest we forget, that machine had a Zilog Z80 processor running at 2 MHz, with 8 kilobytes of RAM (expandable to 32K); it took many minutes to generate a small monochrome view that was 100x100 pixels. 

Monochrome Mandelbrot Set.

Old-skool monochrome Mandelbrot Set, circa 1979.

My fascination with fractals endured throughout the ‘80s – my final project in my Digital Systems class (6.111) was an EPROM / microcode implementation of  a Mandelbrot Set engine. It could generate a 256x256 image in a minute or two.

256 color Mandelbrot Set.

Old-skool 256-color Mandelbrot Set, circa 1986.

As a senior in 1987, I was fortunate to attend a lecture by Professor Mandelbrot in the venerable room 10-250. He was charming, self-effacing, and spoke with a clarity that elicited little bursts of illumination in my brain.

The late ‘80s saw a wave of interest in fractal geometry, both in the scientific and popular literature. One of the best books to emerge was Michael Barnsley’s Fractals Everywhere, which brought a mathematical rigor to the subject that was accessible to dilettantes like me.

Fractals Everywhere: The First Course in Deterministic Fractal Geometry by Michael F. Barnsley (Hardcover - 1988)

Fractals Everywhere, by Michael Barnsley, 1988.

This book inspired me to do a bit of analysis myself, so I persuaded my employer at the time (Boeing) to let me roam the company looking for chaotic dynamics in various data sets. It was a lot of fun, and I got a paper and a conference trip to New Orleans out of it.

My second encounter with Professor Mandelbrot was in 2004, when he gave a presentation to Microsoft Research, discussing his work in applying multifractal analysis to market data. With devastating efficiency, he eviscerated Black-Shoales and the underpinnings of portfolio theory (hint: market data are not IID). I suspect that he was not surprised by the global financial collapse of 2008.

The (Mis)behavior of Markets. Benoit Mandelbrot, Richard L. Hudson, 2004.

The (Mis)behavior of Markets, by Benoit Mandelbrot and Richard L. Hudson, 2004.

Today, chaos theory and fractal geometry drift in and out of my career, with fun diversions like this generative architecture project:

Evolved structure with a double-helix form. Senatore, 2009

Gennaro Senatore: Morphogenesis of Spatial Configurations, 2009.

Here’s a quick phase-space reconstruction of 100,000 millenia of simulated insolation on Summer Solstice at 65N latitude.

Poincaré map for 100,000 millenia of simulated insolation. Galasyn, 2009

Poincaré map for 100 million years of Earth’s wiggles.

Benoît Mandelbrot’s work has formed the background for my entire adult life. Maybe he’ll receive a posthumous Nobel Prize.  The man who gave us this certainly deserves it:

Partial view of the Mandelbrot set. Step 7 of a zoom sequence: Each of this crowns consists of similar 'seahorse tails'. Their number increases with powers of 2, a typical phenomenon in the environment of satellites. # Coordinates of the center: Re(c) = -.743,643,135, Im(c) = .131,825,963 # Horizontal diameter of the image: .000,014,628 # Magnification relative to the initial image: 210,350. Created by Wolfgang Beyer with the program Ultra Fractal 3. via

Partial view of the Mandelbrot set, by Wolfgang Beyer with the program Ultra Fractal 3.

Thank you, Benoît Mandelbrot.

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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Why did Google bet $1 million on Shweeb?

Shweeb, a pedal-powered monorail.

By Kyle Almond, CNN
October 12, 2010 8:59 a.m. EDT | Filed under: Innovation

(CNN) -- Living in Tokyo, Japan, during the late '90s, Geoffrey Barnett found it extremely difficult -- even dangerous -- to ride his bicycle to work every day.

"The traffic is incredible, and there's so much pollution," said Barnett, an Australian who worked in the city as an English teacher.

His students shared his frustration, and they would often talk about Tokyo's jam-packed streets during class.

"It was always a topic of discussion that motivated the students to talk, because it was a part of their life as well," Barnett recalled.

Out of those frequent discussions evolved Barnett's idea for Shweeb, a system of personal, pedal-powered monorail pods that he hopes can one day become an alternative form of urban transit. With Shweeb, pods hang from an elevated track that, theoretically, would stretch to destinations throughout a city.

"Cumbersome, jammed-up cities of today should be rendered into completely accessible worlds once you've got a way to shoot over the traffic," said Barnett, who derived the name Shweeb from the German word "schweben," which means to hang, hover or float. He left Tokyo in 2000 to design a prototype.

Barnett's vision received a significant boost last month when Google awarded Shweeb $1 million for research and development. Shweeb was one of five winners of Project 10^100, Google's "call for ideas to change the world." …

Why did Google bet $1 million on Shweeb?

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Monday, October 11, 2010

After oil spill, Alabama, Mississippi landowners paid to create artificial marshes

A great blue heron stands tall among a flock of seagulls on pier along Front Beach Drive in Ocean Springs Friday Oct. 10, 2008. Alabama and Mississippi are paying landowners to build artificial marshlands for birds deprived of natural marshland by the oil spill. The Mississippi Press / Jon Hauge

By George Altman, Press-Register
Monday, October 11, 2010

WASHINGTON — Alabama and Mississippi are paying landowners $6.75 million in total to create artificial marshes, typically by flooding farm fields, for birds deprived of natural marshland by the oil spill, according to government information.

Top conservation officials in both states said that the decision to launch the federal program, dubbed the Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative, was made in the early stages of the spill, when no one knew how much oil would gush or for how long.

Although the surface of Gulf waters and shores appears to have escaped a worst-case scenario, they say the program is still doing good.

“Had we done nothing and then the worst would have happened, where would we be?” said Alabama State Conservationist William Puckett. …

Homer Wilkes, state conservationist for Mississippi, said that the “ounce of prevention” represented by the program is far better than the “pound of cure” that would have been required had birds been limited to oiled marshes. …

Puckett said that regardless of the program’s initial spill-related mission, new places for migratory birds to rest are beneficial. “The positive is, we did create thousands and thousands of acres of additional bird habitat,” he said. …

After oil spill, Alabama, Mississippi landowners paid to create artificial marshes

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Cuccinelli goes fishing again: Virginia AG revives witch hunt against climate scientist

Virginia AG Ken Cuccinelli has launched another wtich hunt against climate scientist Michael mann. washingtonpost.comRealClimate @ 4 October 2010

In keeping with our role as a site that tries to deal with the science of climate change rather than the politics, we have specifically refrained from commenting on various politically-motivated legal shenanigans relating to climate science. Some of them have involved us directly, but we didn’t (don’t) want to have RC become just a blog about us. However, the latest move by Ken Cuccinelli, the Attorney General of Virginia, against Mike Mann and UVa is so ridiculous it needs to be highlighted to the widest audience possible.

For background, Rosalind Helderman at the Washington Post has covered most of the story. The last installment was that Cuccinelli’s attempt to subpoena 10 years of emails between 39 scientists and Mike Mann and ‘all documents’ residing at UVa related to four federal and one Commonwealth of Virginia grant, was thrown out by a judge because Cuccinelli did not provide any reason to suspect that fraud had occurred and that federal grants are not covered by the relevant statute. Without due cause, the AG is not allowed to investigate (and without such a restriction, there would be no end to politically motivated witch hunts).

Yesterday, Cuccinelli filed a new demand that takes this previous judgment into account. Namely, he attempts to give a reason to suspect fraud and only targets the Commonwealth grant – though still asks for 10 years of emails with an assortment of scientists. However, his reasoning should scare the bejesus of anyone who has ever published a paper on any topic that any attorney might have a political grudge against. …

Cuccinelli goes fishing again

Good news from Italy: the Kitegen is in motion

Illustration of Kitegen airborne wind energy system.

Posted by Ugo Bardi
October 4, 2010 - 5:23am

I am just back from a trip to Piedmont, Northern Italy, where I have visited the construction site of the new prototype of the Kitegen; the high altitude wind power (or "Airborne Wind Energy", AWE) system being developed by Kitegen Research s.r.l., headed by Massimo Ippolito. I can bring good news to you: the kitegen project is in motion. After a first, reduced scale prototype, built and tested two years ago, now a full size system is being completed.

The Kitegen is a very innovative technology based on the idea of capturing the abundant energy of high altitude winds. It uses a kite that is launched from a ground based structure that contains all the machinery and control systems. The kite is expected to fly at altitudes up to 2000 meters and to provide energy by pulling on a set of cables that act on a power generator.

The promise of the kitegen is remarkable; preliminary calculations indicate an EROEI better than anything that can be obtained by traditional wind or solar technologies. However, one thing is paper, another is the reality of putting together a machine that had never been built before. It is an incredible challenge that Massimo Ippolito has taken onto himself and that he is succeeding in overcoming; step by step. …

Good news from Italy: the Kitegen is in motion

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Saturday, October 2, 2010

Genetically altered trees and plants could help counter global warming

Phytosequestration, including fossil-fuel offset by bioenergy crops: Potential strategies for phytosequestration and estimated carbon (C) sequestration rates by 2050. Jansson, et al, 2010

Forests of genetically altered trees and other plants could sequester several billion tons of carbon from the atmosphere each year and so help ameliorate global warming, according to estimates published in the October issue of BioScience.

The study [pdf], by researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, outlines a variety of strategies for augmenting the processes that plants use to sequester carbon dioxide from the air and convert it into long-lived forms of carbon, first in vegetation and ultimately in soil. Besides increasing the efficiency of plants' absorption of light, researchers might be able to genetically alter plants so they send more carbon into their roots—where some may be converted into soil carbon and remain out of circulation for centuries. Other possibilities include altering plants so that they can better withstand the stresses of growing on marginal land, and so that they yield improved bioenergy and food crops. Such innovations might in combination boost substantially the amount of carbon that vegetation naturally extracts from air, according to the authors' estimates. The researchers stress that the use of genetically engineered plants for carbon sequestration is only one of many policy initiatives and technical tools that might boost the carbon sequestration already occurring in natural vegetation and crops.

The article, by Christer Jansson, Stan D. Wullschleger, Udaya C. Kalluri, and Gerald A. Tuskan, is the first in a Special Section in the October BioScience that includes several perspectives on the prospects for enhancing biological carbon sequestration. Other articles in the section analyze the substantial ecological and economic constraints that limit such efforts. One article discusses the prospects for sequestering carbon by culturing algae to produce biofuel feedstocks; one proposes a modification of the current regulatory climate for producing genetically engineered trees in the United States; and one discusses societal perceptions of the issues surrounding the use of genetically altered organisms to ameliorate warming attributed to the buildup of greenhouse gases.

Genetically Altered Trees and Plants Could Help Counter Global Warming

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Techo-leapfrogging at its best: 2,000 Indian villages skip fossil fuels, get first electricity from solar

Puri Orissa, India. Nomad Tales via flickr

By Matthew McDermott, New York, NY

If you ever need a great example of technological leapfrogging in practice, here it is: In the Indian state of Orissa, the state government has decided to electrify approximately an additional 2,000 villages by March 2012. But rather than hook them up to coal-fired power plants, it will be using decentralized solar power. Biomass, wind power and a variety of small-scale hydropower projects are also in the mix.

Express Buzz reports that currently there are 395 villages powered through solar, with an additional 205 to be completed by the end of the year. Detailed reports to deploy solar to at the remaining villages are being drawn up.

Further renewable energy development in Orissa includes 118 MW of biomass plants, with 20 MW of that to be completed soon. Two wind power projects, 150 MW in size are in the works, with surveys for 22 more locations underway. Micro, mini and small-scale hydropower projects are also planned for deliver an additional 300 MW. …

Techo-Leapfrogging At Its Best: 2,000 Indian Villages Skip Fossil Fuels, Get First Electricity From Solar

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Canceled coal plants show carbon trade is working, Barclays analyst says

Point Carbon's OTC price assessments

By Mathew Carr - Sep 14, 2010 4:24 AM PT

Planned investment by European utilities and RWE AG’s cancellation of a coal plant in Poland demonstrates that emissions trading works, according to an analyst at the investment bank of Barclays Plc.

One European utility wants to boost its renewable energy capacity to 21 gigawatts by 2020 from 2.2 gigawatts this year, Trevor Sikorksi, a London-based analyst at Barclays Capital, said in a Sept. 13 research note, citing a speech at one of the bank’s conferences. He didn’t name the company.

Essen-based RWE plans to halt construction of the 800- megawatt coal-fired power plant near Katowice, southern Poland, showing “how extensively the investment behavior of companies in large-emitting sectors has changed with the introduction of the European Union emissions-trading system,” he said. The program started in 2005.

Canceled Coal Plants Show Carbon Trade Is Working, Barclays Analyst Says

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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Potomac River: 10-fold increase in native submerged vegetation reflects improved water quality

Stargrass (Heteranthera) with milfoil (Myriophyllum). (Credit: Nancy Rybicki, U.S. Geological Survey) 

ScienceDaily (Sep. 7, 2010) — The Potomac River in Washington, D.C. is showing multiple benefits from restoration efforts, newly published research suggests.Reduced nutrients and improved water clarity have increased the abundance and diversity of submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) in the Potomac, according to direct measurements taken during the 18-year field study.

Since 1990, the area covered by SAV in the lower Potomac has doubled, the area covered by native SAV has increased ten-fold, the diversity of plant species has increased, and the proportion of exotic species to native species has declined as nutrients have declined, according to the study by the U.S. Geological Survey and England's National Oceanography Centre (NOC) in Southhampton, UK.

"Improvements to plant communities living at the bottom of the river have occurred nearly in lock step with decreases in nutrients and sediment in the water and incremental reductions in nitrogen effluent entering the river from the wastewater treatment plant for the Washington DC area," said USGS scientist Dr. Nancy Rybicki.

More than a dozen species of SAV, including the exotic hydrilla, co-exist in this reach of the Potomac that was almost barren in a 1978-1981 USGS study.

"People want to know that money spent on ecosystem restoration is having tangible results, but many feel that efforts to clean up Chesapeake Bay have so far had limited success," said researcher Dr Henry Ruhl of the NOC.

"Upgrades to the wastewater treatment plant have benefited SAV habitats 50-miles downstream. These findings underscore the benefits of nutrient reduction efforts on a major tributary to the Chesapeake Bay," said Rybicki, who has been conducting research on the Potomac since 1979.

"Our results suggest that widespread recovery of submerged vegetation abundance and diversity can be achievable if restoration efforts are enhanced across the bay," said Henry Ruhl of the National Oceanography Centre. "There are many other estuaries globally where nutrients have been identified as contributing to SAV habitat decline, so restoration is an issue for many governments." …

Potomac River: 10-fold increase in native submerged vegetation reflects improved water quality

Insurers demand key role in climate adaptation

Property insurance premiums (non-life, non-health) per person and per year. Munich Re, 2006 / Staff, BusinessGreen, Tuesday 7 September 2010 at 00:15:00

Coalition of insurance firms issue statement urging governments to support public-private initiatives designed to accelerate rollout of climate-related insurance policies

Over 100 of the world's leading insurance companies joined forces yesterday to urge world leaders to draw on the industry's expertise to shape climate adaptation policies for developing countries being worked on as part of the UN's climate change negotiations.

The Prince of Wales's ClimateWise insurance industry group, the Geneva Association think tank, UN Environment Programme Finance Initiative (UNEP FI) and Munich Climate Insurance Initiative, which together represent the world's leading insurance and risk management firms, co-ordinated the joint statement calling on governments to better support proven insurance mechanisms for tackling climate change risks.

The four-page statement [pdf], which was released on the eve of the British government's Capital Markets Climate Initiative conference in London, argues that public-private initiatives would allow insurers to extend climate-related policies to developing economies that would help them to manage the risks posed by extreme weather events.

Specifically it calls on governments to formally acknowledge the role of the insurance industry in the on-going UN climate change negotiations and deliver funding and regulatory frameworks that enable the wider rollout of climate-related insurance products.

Andrew Torrance, chairman of ClimateWise and chief executive of Allianz Insurance, said that it was in governments' own interests to utilise the risk management skills found in the insurance industry. …

Insurers demand key role in climate adaptation

Monday, September 6, 2010

Listening in on my brainwaves

Here I am doing a demo of my near-realtime brainwave-to-sound program. Occasionally, my brainwaves sound like something by György Ligeti.

Brainwave to soundwave demonstration

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Friday, September 3, 2010

HP competition winner has rooftop farms, plugin units

National Winner, HP Skyline 2020 Online Competition. Participants Anto Gloren, Sayali Athale, Pune

The HP Skyline 2020 competition "outlined fresh visual imaginations for the skyline discarding preconceived notions" and "allowed students and professionals to partner and elucidate their visions and designs that would change the skyline thereby transforming the city itself."

The winners, Anto Gloren, Sayali Athale, and Pune, hung 1000 square foot units from towers in a tensegrity structure. Their roofs are all used for agriculture, their waste is purified and used to water the farm on the next level down, and biowaste and human waste is treated and turned into biofuel to create energy for the project. The designers try to address the food crisis, the water crisis and the energy crisis …

HP Competition Winner Has Rooftop Farms, Plugin Units

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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

6 global warming skeptics who changed their minds

Climate change doubters have just lost one of their leading lights, as writer Bjorn Lomborg calls for a worldwide carbon tax. But he's not the first high-profile defector

Bjorn Lomborg, a renowned climate change skeptic, recently announced he's changed his mind on the topic. Photo: Facebook

posted on September 1, 2010, at 2:15 PM

With 2010 shaping up as the warmest year on record and unprecedented heat waves gripping the planet, global warming skeptics have suffered another blow with the defection of the "most high-profile" member of their camp, author Bjorn Lomborg. But Lomborg isn't the first doubter to accept the scientific consensus that human carbon emissions are warming the planet and need to be curtailed. Here, a review of several prominent cases:

1. Bjorn Lomborg, Danish academic

Lomborg made waves with his 2001 book, The Skeptical Environmentalist, which argued that global warming was no big deal, and fighting it would be a waste of money. This month, he's publishing Smart Solutions to Climate Change, which argues that a global carbon tax should be imposed to raise $150 billion a year to address global warming.
Before quote: "In 20 years' time, we’ll look back and wonder why we worried so much." (2002)

After quote: "We actually have only one option: we all need to start seriously focusing, right now, on the most effective ways to fix global warming." (2010)

2. Dmitri Medvedev, Russian president

Russian leaders are famously skeptical of global warming, with then–President Vladimir Putin quipping in 2003 that a warmer Russia "wouldn't be so bad" because "we could spend less on fur coats, and the grain harvest would go up." Then Russia caught fire this summer, choking Moscow with deadly smoke, devastating agricultural production, and convincing Medvedev and other leaders that perhaps global warming is a threat, after all.

Before quote: Climate change is "some kind of tricky campaign made up by some commercial structures to promote their business projects." (2009)

After quote: "Unfortunately, what is happening now in our central regions is evidence of this global climate change, because we have never in our history faced such weather conditions in the past." (2010) …

6 global warming skeptics who changed their minds

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Climate change and the wealth of nations

Environmental economist Matthew Kahn.

August 31, 2010, 6:00 am

The pressing needs of a great recession crowd out interest in global warming. The environmental economists Matthew Kahn and Matthew Kotchen have found that a higher state unemployment rate is associated with a decrease in Google searches for the term “global warming” and a lower “probability that residents think global warming is happening.” But I hope enough readers can tear themselves away from the current downturn to look at Professor Kahn’s engaging and provocative new book, Climatopolis: How Our Cities Will Thrive in the Hotter Future.

Professor Kahn has been one of my favorite economists and co-authors since we studied urban economics together 20 years ago. He made his name working on the intersection of urban and environmental economics, on topics like the silver lining of the Rust Belt’s decline. The improvement of air quality in deindustrializing places like Pittsburgh seems to have attracted skilled people and boosted the local economy. He has done important work with his wife, Dora Costa, on the correlates of cowardice during the Civil War, and he now maintains one of the more enjoyable economics blogs.

Professor Kahn isn’t skeptical about global warming, but he is (quite reasonably) skeptical about our ability individually and collectively to reduce carbon emissions: “attempts to reduce or reverse our carbon output — to mitigate the damage that we’ve already done — aren’t going so well” and “evidence shows that very few individuals have cut back on their carbon-producing activities at all.” Consequently, he predicts, “the world is going to get hotter.”

But while this would lead many people to doomsday scenarios, Professor Kahn is an optimist who believes “that we will save ourselves by adapting to our ever-changing circumstances.” He says this salvation will come from “a multitude of self-interested people armed only with their wits and access to capital markets.” In short, the same economic system that led to global warming will rescue us from it.

Professor Kahn emphasizes that “migration is crucial for reducing the costs we incur from a given shock,” that moving from places that have become less unbearably hot to places that have become more pleasant — “the ability to ‘vote with your feet’ and migrate to other cities” — acts as an insurance policy. If hot places become unbearable, then once unfashionably icy places will boom. That seems reasonable to me, although there will be plenty of social loss if we abandon cities where we have invested billions in infrastructure. …

Climate Change and the Wealth of Nations

Slowing urban sprawl, adding forests curb floods and help rivers

QuickBird Natural Color Image of an Urban Sprawl - Copyright © 2001-2009 Satellite Imaging Corporation

By Brian Wallheimer
August 18, 2010

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Controlling urban growth and increasing forested land are the most effective ways to decrease future water runoff and flooding, according to a Purdue University study.

Bryan Pijanowski, an associate professor of forestry and natural resources, used a model to simulate Michigan's Muskegon River watershed runoff rates from 1900 through the present and forecast them 30 years into the future. Several scenarios, including forest regrowth, urbanization, and buffers between development and streams, were analyzed to estimate their impact on rivers and streams.

"Changes in the land's surface feed back to runoff. Urban sprawl and impervious surfaces are the biggest culprits," Pijanowski said. "If you're able to control development, it is the most effective way to save our river ecosystem."

Pijanowski said urban areas in the United States would double in 20 years at the current rate. In the model predictions, doubling the urban area in the Muskegon River watershed would increase runoff by 1 1/2 times.

Excess runoff can have several consequences, including flooding, increases in agricultural nutrients and urban pollutants entering nearby water and affecting aquatic life, increases in water temperature in rivers and streams that can affect aquatic life, and changes in the apportionment of water to wetlands and groundwater.

Pijanowski's findings, published in the early online version of the journal Environmental Management, suggest that slowing the rate of urban sprawl would be the most effective way to reduce or control runoff. Adding forest near rivers and streams and requiring buffer zones between those waterways and development also could help. …

Slowing urban sprawl, adding forests curb floods and help rivers

Thursday, August 26, 2010

IPCC chief Rajendra Pachauri cleared of financial misdealings or conflict of interest -- UK Telegraph apologizes for smearing him

Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Photograph: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

By Joe Romm
August 26, 2010

No evidence was found that indicated personal fiduciary benefits accruing to Pachauri from his various advisory roles that would have led to a conflict of interest.

That’s the finding of a detailed report by KPMG on the finances of Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

A great many U.S. reporters and bloggers owe an apology to Pachauri (see “N.Y. Times and Elisabeth Rosenthal Face Credibility Siege over Unbalanced Climate Coverage“).

Let’s see if they own up to it as the UK’s Telegraph finally did:

On 20 December 2009 we published an article about Dr Pachauri and his business interests. It was not intended to suggest that Dr Pachauri was corrupt or abusing his position as head of the IPCC and we accept KPMG found Dr Pachauri had not made “millions of dollars” in recent years. We apologise to Dr Pachauri for any embarrassment caused.

In fact, suggesting Pachauri was corrupt or abusing his position was the whole point of the story, which has been removed from their website but which you can easily find on right-wing websites by googling the title:  “Questions over business deals of UN climate change guru Dr Rajendra Pachauri” by Christopher Booker and Richard North. …

KPMG review finds IPCC chief Pachauri innocent of financial misdealings or conflict of interest, UK Telegraph apologizes for smearing him

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

German scientist hands Putin frosty climate rebuke

Putin visits fire site 

Moscow (AFP) Aug 23, 2010 - Prime Minister Vladimir Putin queried Monday whether man was to blame for climate change on a visit to the remote Russian Arctic, only to find himself bluntly contradicted by a German scientist.

Putin, known for his tough-guy visits to his country's most far-flung areas, went by helicopter to a Russian-German research station on an island at the mouth of the Lena River in the Far Eastern Yakutia region on the Arctic Ocean.

Wearing a black jacket to protect against the wind on the Samoilovsky Island off the settlement of Tiksi, Putin was shown ice said to be up to 3,000 years old and handled bones from a now extinct mammoth.

"Does climate change happen because the earth is breathing, living, giving off gas, methane, or is it due to the influence of human activity?" mused Putin as he sat down to tea with the scientists in their hut.

He noted that "10,000 years ago, the mammoths started to die out. This was linked to a warming of the climate, a rise in sea levels, a reduction of pastures."

"All this happened without human influence," he said in comments broadcast on state television. …

A German female scientist working at the station however showed no fear in making her opinion clear to the Russian strongman.

"The burning of various kinds of fuel has a far greater effect on climate than these methane emissions," said Inken Preuss quoted by Russian news agencies.

"Climate change has never happened like now and mankind is making a large impact," she added. …

German scientist hands Putin frosty climate rebuke

Monday, August 23, 2010

Good riddance to overfishing: New management can end unsustainable practices

 JUST TOO TASTY: Bluefin tuna populations are dropping fast because of overfishing. OpenCage

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of online exclusives about natural phenomena and human endeavors we'd like to see come to an end. They are connected with the September 2010 special issue of Scientific American called "The End".

The meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES (pronounced "sight-eez") this past March was a decided defeat for the Atlantic bluefin tuna. Delegates voted 72 to 43 not to restrict fishing and international trade of the tuna so prized for its sushi that stocks are estimated to be at 15 percent of their historic levels. Although dismayed, conservationists remain upbeat, because they have at their disposal other management tools that could save the species.

Those strategies belong to the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), which actually has the job to manage tuna and tunalike species (a point argued by Japan and other opponents of a CITIES trade ban). Conservationists had forged ahead with a CITES effort anyway, because "we felt that a CITES ban would be a useful part of a package of tools to help reduce incentives for going over the quota," says Rebecca Lent, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of International Affairs and U.S. commissioner for ICCAT.

ICCAT, one of many regional fishery management organizations around the world, used a different tool to rebuild Atlantic swordfish populations (pdf) last September—namely, quotas. "The most important thing was setting the quotas at the appropriate level," Lent says, so that both the fish and the fishery economy can be sustained. To help enforce those limits, ICCAT tracked international trade to find countries that were catching (and selling) more fish than they reported. And domestically, the U.S. prohibited fisheries from waters where juvenile swordfish were getting killed as bycatch.
Still, getting countries to adhere to quotas is "the hardest challenge internationally," Lent says. Catch share programs, in which regional fishery councils divvy up quota shares to fishermen, could help ease this burden. Instead of creating a "struggle over a shrinking pie, you make [fishermen into] stakeholders, and that generates an incentive to be better stewards," says Frank Alcock, director of the Marine Policy Institute at the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Fla. In the Pacific Northwest, for example, the program helped cut halibut fishing levels by one quarter. …

Good Riddance to Overfishing: New Management Can End Unsustainable Practices