Archives for posts with tag: Oceans

The Basel Convention is a United Nations treaty that was signed in 1989 to control the transboundary movements of hazardous wastes and their disposal. The treaty helped define hazardous wastes, outlined how hazardous wastes are disposed and set guidelines such as approved facilities by city governments.

 

It’s been said that one event that prompted the Basel Convention was the Khian Sea waste disposal incident from 1986-2000. The Khian Sea cargo ship (which was registered in Liberia) was loaded with 14,355 tons of non-toxic ash from waste incinerations from the US. The story goes that a US company that handled the waste subcontracted a shipment to dump the ash in the Bahamas, however, the Bahamian government turned down the ash and so, for over one year the Khian Sea searched for a place to dump the ash. Many regions of the world refused to accept the ash and since the ash was even refused from the original area in the US from where it was received, in 1988 the crew dumped about 4,000 tons of the waste in Haiti as “topsoil fertilizer” and fled before they could pick up the ash as the Haitian commerce minister ordered. The Khian Sea then moved on to regions such as Morocco, Sri Lanka and Singapore where the captain testified to dumping about 10,000 tons of ash into the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.

 

Here is an image of the home port of the Khian Sea in Philadelphia:

 

Philadelphia_port_Green_Halo_Waste_Tracking_Khian_Sea

 

(Source: http://www.basel.int/Home/tabid/2202/Default.aspx and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khian_Sea_waste_disposal_incident )

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Approximately two months ago, President Obama’s Science Advisor, Dr. John Holdren spoke in a video titled The Polar Vortex Explained in 2 Minutes in which he explained that the poles’ temperatures are warming and that the middle latitudes are in fact, warming. Dr. John Holdren explained that the temperature difference between the poles and mid latitudes is decreasing so this has led to what is called a circumpolar vortex, which is a counterclockwise swirling of cold air. Also, since the cold air swirling will then start getting warmer based on its location, this causes the vortex to have “waviness” which will make the northern regions of the globe warmer and the southern regions of the globe cooler.

 

Computer models aided in this simulation to find contributing factors. Dr. John Holdren mentions that the computer models are still experimenting, but ends the video by stating: “I believe the odds are that we can expect as a result of global warming, to see more of this pattern of extreme cold in the mid latitudes and some extreme warm in the far north”.

 

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In a show of defiance against a recent court ruling by the UN’s International Court of Justice, hundreds of Japanese government officials, lawmakers, and pro-whaling lobbyists attended a feast that consisted almost entirely of various whale meat delicacies. At the event, which was held on Tuesday near Japan’s parliament, the attendees all vowed to continue whale hunts despite the ruling. There was even a toast which involved everyone at the event cheering in unison, ”Whale!”

Green Halo - Japanese Government Officials Feast on Whale Meat to Protest World Court RulingEven though Japan has already said it will cancel next season’s Antarctic expedition in light of the ruling, there are still two other expeditions, one along the country’s northern coast, and another in the northern Pacific, that could both continue as planned within the next few weeks. The average kill count for those programs is often around 300 minke whales each year.

Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi told the meeting that hunting whales is a part of Japanese culture, and that it “has a policy of harvesting and sustainably using the protein source from the ocean, and that is unshakable.” While coastal whaling has been around since the 12th century, it’s fairly obvious that the Antarctic expeditions, which only started in the 1930s and often pull in more than 1,000 whales each year, are anything but sustainable.

The most likely scenario is that Japan will go ahead with its two other whaling programs, and although it could also try and redesign its scientific whaling program in the Antarctic, the chances of it being approved as legitimate are virtually zero. Should the other expeditions head out to sea, they are bound to meet a great deal of resistance, which would hopefully put an end to their renewed killing spree before it even begins.

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Green Halo - 168,000+ Gallons of Oil Spills into Galveston BayA barge moving through Galveston Bay collided with another ship Saturday afternoon, spilling over 168,000 gallons of marine fuel oil. The spill is particularly devastating, even though it isn’t the largest in recent memory, because Galveston Bay is a migratory bird habitat and shorebird season is fast approaching. On top of that, the type of fuel that spilled is particularly difficult to clean up. The ship was being towed when it collided with the other vessel, though there are no details at this point on how the collision occurred.

The ship contained about 924,000 gallons of the thick, tarry fuel known as RMG 380, but officials say that only one of the barge’s tanks was breached. The six crew members on the ship are all accounted for and are in “stable condition” according to the Coast Guard. Although the wildlife habitats that surround the area are at risk from contamination, the nearby town of Texas City is reportedly not at risk.

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Tagging sharks to monitor their movements is nothing new, in fact, through organizations like OCEARCH, it has helped us learn a lot more about the threatened species and their behavior. Now scientists have taken tagging a bit further by using a gadget made up of sophisticated sensors and a video camera to get a sharks-eye-view of the ocean.

Researchers at University of Hawaii and University of Tokyo created the rig to see where sharks are going, how they are getting there, and what they are doing once they reach their destinations.

“What we are doing is really trying to fill out the detail of what their role is in the ocean,” said Carl Meyer, an assistant researcher at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. “It is all about getting a much deeper understanding of sharks’ ecological role in the ocean, which is important to the health of the ocean and, by extension, to our own well-being.”

Green Halo - Gadget Made up of Sophisticated Sensors & Camera to get a Sharks-Eye-View of the Ocean

The gadget has already disproved some misconceptions about the way sharks travel, for instance, they found that sharks used powered swimming more often than a gliding motion, which is contrary to what scientists previously thought. They also found that deep-sea sharks swim in slow motion compared to shallow water sharks.

“These instrument packages are like flight data recorders for sharks,” Meyer said. “They allow us to quantify a variety of different things that we haven’t been able to quantify before.”

“It has really drawn back the veil on what these animals do and answered some longstanding questions,” he added.

Next up for the research team is creating an ingestible device that would help them to understand the sharks’ diets and feeding patterns. The instruments track ingestion and digestion of prey and can help researchers understand where, when, what and how much sharks are eating.

Check out the video below to get a glimpse of that shark’s eye view:

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The Sierra Club has put together a list of “The 5 Worst Foods for Environmentalists to Eat.” For many of you, this list probably doesn’t hold many surprises, but it is still an important reminder of the decisions we as consumers make on a daily basis when choosing what to put into our bodies. Some foods, like it or not, are best avoided completely, no matter how delicious they may taste.

Conventional Coffee

From an environmental standpoint, it’s crucial to buy shade-grown, organic coffee. (Fair trade is also important for the growers.) Coffee is meant to grow in the shade, but many farmers now grow it in full sunlight, with a heavy dependence on pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and fertilizers. They also chop down rainforests, destroying bird habitats. Look for the green gecko stamp from the Rainforest Alliance when purchasing coffee.

Factory-farmed Beef

“Cheap burgers are environmental assassins,” says Logan Strenchock, Central European University’s sustainability officer. Forests are clear-cut to grow the GMO corn and soy used to feed cows. Those crops have awful pesticide runoff that contaminate waterways, not to mention the waste generated by keeping large numbers of cows in CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operation). Even grass-fed beef “depletes native biodiversity, increases invasive exotics, diverts water, fouls streams, and bares the soil,” according to Mary O’Brien, director of the Utah Forests Program. Then the fresh meat has to be kept cool till it’s used, requiring vast amounts of energy.

Palm Oil

Palm oil is used in half of all packaged foods sold in the U.S., particularly cookies, crackers, and soups. Pam oil is the largest cause of rainforest destruction, resulting in huge swaths of Indonesian and Malaysian rainforests being bulldozed in order to plant palm oil trees. “Eight million acres have been cleared and burned already, and the orangutan is on its way to extinction,” says Christy Wilhelmi, author of Gardening for Geeks. The solution? Ditch those packaged foods, start cooking from scratch, and always, always read labels.

Bluefin Tuna

Bluefin is a popular choice at high-end sushi restaurants, but their numbers in the oceans are dropping fast. Because they live so long, Bluefin are unable to stand up to overfishing. They’re also high in mercury. The Sierra Club quotes food critic Jonathan Gold, saying, “People need to stop eating Bluefin tuna, period… The numbers of these magnificent fish are dropping fast. If we don’t stop eating them now, we’ll stop in a few years anyway because there won’t be any more.”

Genetically Modified Corn

GMO corn “destroys habitats, depletes soils, breaks nutrient cycles, pollutes air and water, contaminates native maize varieties, and on and on,” according to Douglas Fox, professor of sustainable agriculture at Unity College. It kills bees, reduces biodiversity, drives heirloom crops to extinction, and requires excessive processing to transform it into high fructose corn syrup, another ingredient found in processed foods (which should be avoided anyways because they contain palm oil).

No doubt there are many other foods that should be added to this environmental blacklist, but banishing these five from one’s diet is a good place to start.

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Two and a half years after a near meltdown, the Fukushima nuclear power plant is still in trouble. The Nuclear Regulation Authority issued a new warning Wednesday, raising the severity level of the continuing leak from one to three on an international eight-point scale.

Ever since the devastating 2011 Tōhoku earthquake shook the area, the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant has been subject to numerous leaks and controversies.

The alert comes as TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Co) found at least 300 metric tons of radioactive water to have leaked from the site, with ‘hotspots’ found nearby. Workers are now scrambling to check an additional 300 tanks that currently contain contaminated water at the stricken nuclear power plant.Green Halo - Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant Leaks 100 Tons of Radioactive Water

Each point on the International Atomic Energy Agencies eight-point scale of the scale represents a ten-fold increase in radiation, so a jump of two points is highly significant. The latest confirmed leak, from a tank which can hold up to 1,000 tonnes of water, hasn’t been stopped yet and TEPCO acknowledges that they have yet to identify the cause of the leak.

TEPCO has stated that there is no evidence that the contaminated water from these leaks has reached the ocean, but there is significant contamination to the soil in the area, which will need to be addressed. The prime minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, has expressed a loss of confidence in Tepco’s ability to deal with the situation, and has stated that the government will be stepping in to take additional measures to address this continuing disaster.

Tepco has also been criticized for delaying the release of strontium-90 levels in local groundwater despite demands from regulators.

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Scientists say that tuna swimming in the Gulf of Mexico during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill may have experienced heart damage. 

Lab research has demonstrated how crude oil chemicals can disrupt heart function in the fish. The study, published in Science magazine, is part of the ongoing work to try to understand the impacts of the disaster.

The gulf is an important spawning ground for bluefin and yellowfin tuna. Tracking studies have indicated that many of these fish would have been in the area during the 2010 disaster.

Green Halo - Tuna Fish Impacted from 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

Scientists have long known that certain chemicals in crude oil – such as polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) – can be harmful to the hearts of embryonic and developing fish. These molecules, which have distinct ring-like structures, cause a slowing of the heart, irregularities in rhythm and even cardiac arrest at high exposures.

Pathways blocked

Earlier studies never explained the precise mechanisms involved. Now, scientists from Stanford University and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) think they have some answers. Working on tuna heart tissues in the lab, they have detailed how PAHs can block important cellular pathways. These are pathways where potassium and calcium ions move in and out of cells. Their ability to do so quickly is vital to the proper functioning of those heart cells.

“What we found was that oil blocked key processes in the cardiac cells involved with linking excitation to contraction, which means that beat to beat, we slowed the heart cells down and we also decreased their contractility,” Barbara Block, a professor of marine sciences at Stanford.

Human implications?

Because the mechanisms involved operate in the same way in the hearts of all vertebrates, it is highly likely, the team says, that other animals swimming in waters around the crippled rig would have been exposed to similar cardiac risks. And the questions also reach across to human health – because vehicle engines put PAHs into the air in our cities.

Green Halo - Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill 2010 Impacting Environment and Animal Life

“Impressively, the cardiac excitation-contraction coupling pathways are the most conserved pathways in all of animals. It means that the same ion channels present in tuna to make its heart beat are present in humans. So we’re interested in the impact of oil petroleum products on our own excitation-contraction coupling, and we’re interested in linking air pollution, for example – a place where petroleum products are often found, volatiles from our exhausts – to the problems of cardiac morbidity that are seen across the planet on a very smoggy day,” said Prof Block.

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Seaborne radiation from Japan’s wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant will wash up on the West Coast of the U.S. this year.

That’s raising concerns among some Americans including the residents of the San Francisco Bay Area city of Fairfax, which passed a resolution on Dec. 6 calling for more testing of coastal seafood.

Green Halo Fukushima Radiation Seafood Pacific Ocean Japan Nuclear Power Plant Accident

At the same time, oceanographers and radio-logical scientists say such concerns are unwarranted given existing levels of radiation in the ocean.

The runoff from the Japanese plant will mingle with radiation released by other atomic stations, such as Diablo Canyon in California. Under normal operations, Diablo Canyon discharges more radiation into the sea, albeit of a less dangerous isotope, than the Fukushima station, which suffered the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.

“There’s a point to be made that we live in a radioactive world and the ocean just has radioactive isotopes in it,” said Ken Buesseler, senior scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution inMassachusetts, who forecasts the Fukushima plume will arrive in the U.S. early this year. “People have a limited knowledge of radioactivity.”

Leaking Groundwater

At Tokyo Electric Power Co. (9501)’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi station, where three reactors melted down after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, about 300 metric tons of contaminated groundwater seep into the ocean each day,Green Halo Fukushima Radiation Seafood Pacific Ocean Japan Nuclear Power Plant Accident 3 according to Japan’s government.

Between May 2011 and August 2013, as many as 20 trillion becquerels of cesium-137, 10 trillion becquerels of strontium-90 and 40 trillion becquerels of tritium entered the ocean via groundwater, according to Tokyo Electric.

Cesium isotopes, which emit flesh-penetrating gamma rays, are among the most dangerous radionuclides emitted by the plant, said Colin Hill, an associate professor of radiation oncology at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine.

Strontium-90, which mimics calcium, increases the exposure risk for humans by remaining in the bones of fish for extended periods. While tritium is less radiologically intense than cesium and passes through fish faster than strontium, it can also contaminate sea creatures that encounter the isotope in high levels, Hill said.

Not Happy

Water exposed to radiation from the Fukushima plant would reach the U.S. at levels at least 100 times lower than the U.S.’s drinking water threshold, Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairman Allison Macfarlane said at a Dec. 6 briefing in Tokyo.

Green Halo Fukushima Radiation Seafood Pacific Ocean Japan Nuclear Power Plant Accident 2

The assurances haven’t eased concerns for some. “I’m terrified,” Doreen Jean Dempski, a children’s book author, said by phone from her home more than 5,000 miles across the Pacific from Fukushima in Carpinteria, California. “My boyfriend is a surfer and he spends hours a day in the water.”

Sharing Dempski’s worries are the Fairfax city council, which passed the coastal testingresolution, and more than 127,000 signatories to an online petition calling for a United Nations’

takeover of part of the Fukushima cleanup. South Korea has already banned imports of fish from Japan’s northern Pacific coast.

Fukushima radiation is being erroneously blamed for everything from sea-lion deaths to sickened polar bears, according to an editorial this week in Canada’s Times Colonist newspaper.

Risk Expectations

Part of the issue is general concern about radiation, and the startling amounts that are released into the environment by the 435 nuclear power plants operating worldwide as of Jan. 3. Measurements that puzzle the public — becquerels, rems, curies and sieverts — don’t aid transparency. And, worse, scientists disagree on the health risks from low-dose radiation exposure.

A report on the Fukushima disaster by the World Health Organization in February last year estimated increased cancer risk for those in the most contaminated areas around the plant, but not elsewhere in Japan. However, the report also notes that better understanding of the effects of low-dose radiation may alter risk expectations from the Fukushima accident.

Less than 100 miles up the coast from Dempski’s home, Pacific Gas & Electric Co.’s Diablo Canyon plant in San Luis Obispo discharged 323 million liters of water into the Pacific in 2012, or about 870 tons a day, according to data from the company on the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s website. That’s equivalent to 130 Olympic swimming pools and more than twice the daily amount leaking from Fukushima.

Inadvertent Contact

That water contained 3,670 curies of tritium, or 136 trillion becquerels, according to the company, almost three-and-a-half times the amount released from the Fukushima plant into the ocean in the period starting May 2011. The plant also discharged cesium-137, though at lower levels than Fukushima, while its output of strontium-90 is below detectable levels.

Diablo Canyon’s discharges are regulated by the NRC and the plant complies with its licensing requirements, PG&E spokesman Blair Jones said in an e-mail. Total liquid discharges from Diablo Canyon in 2012 were 0.0165 percent of what the NRC allows, Jones said.

The radioactivity in plant wastewater comes from inadvertent contact between the isotopes and cooling water pumped through nuclear plants.

“Tritium is produced when a reactor is operating,” Jones said. “Fukushima is not operating so naturally the tritium levels are lower when compared to Diablo Canyon.”

Rick Castello, a San Luis Obispo-based project manager for a technology company, said by phone that he was unaware of the discharges from the nearby nuclear plant. He also harbors concerns about the approaching radiation from Fukushima.

“It’s not like I think official sources would be intentionally hiding information from the people,” he said by phone. “But sometimes we just don’t know.”

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