Friday, August 29, 2008

Russia missile test heightens stand-off with West

by Staff Writers
Moscow (AFP) Aug 28, 2008
Russia on Thursday tested an inter-continental missile, heightening tensions with the West as France said the European Union could impose sanctions on Moscow over the Georgia conflict.

Russia also sought international support at a summit with China and Central Asian nations.

The missile test in northern Russia came barely a week after the United States completed an accord with Poland on basing an anti-missile shield in central Europe and as Russia accuses NATO of building up its navy vessels in the Black Sea.

A spokesman for Russia's strategic nuclear forces said the 6,000 kilometre (3,700 mile) test of the Topol RS-12M was successful, news agencies reported. Russia has been developing the missile in response to US plans to develop a missile-defence shield.

The announcement came as Russia complained about the number of NATO ships in the Black Sea and said it was taking "measures of precaution."

NATO said there were five warships taking part in exercises in the Black Sea that were organised before Russia's military offensive in Georgia on August 8.

The stand-off with the West has deepened since President Dmitry Medvedev's announcement that Russia recognised South Ossetia and another rebel region, Abkhazia, as independent states.

"There is no NATO naval build up in the Black Sea as Russian authorities are claiming in the media," alliance spokeswoman Carmen Romero said.

US warships have taken relief supplies to Georgia outside of the NATO exercises and other western nations are believed to have vessels in the Black Sea. Russia has moved some of its own naval forces to the Abkhaz port of Sukhumi.

EU states are considering imposing sanctions on Russia at an emergency summit on the Georgian crisis on Monday, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said.

"Sanctions are being considered, and many other means," said Kouchner, whose country holds the European Union presidency.

"We are trying to draw up a strong text showing our desire not to accept" events in Georgia, Kouchner said, adding that France was not among the EU countries proposing sanctions.

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov shrugged off the threat, saying it was made "just because they're upset that the 'little pet' of certain Western capitals didn't fulfil their expectations."

Lavrov said the French minister had a "sick imagination" for suggesting on Wednesday that Moscow could have designs on Ukraine and Moldova.

Russia claimed it had secured support from China and four other nations at a summit in Dushanbe, the Tajikistan capital.

A statement released by the six nations at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit voiced support for Russia's "active role" in "assisting in peace and cooperation in the region" but also called for dialogue and respect for "territorial integrity."

"The SCO member states express their deep concern over the recent tensions surrounding the South Ossetia question and call for the sides to peacefully resolve existing problems through dialogue," said the statement signed by Medvedev, President Hu Jintao of China and the leaders of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

The declaration called for respect for "territorial integrity" without specifically naming the Georgia case.

Medvedev described the "united position" of the SCO members as a "serious signal" to the West.

"I am sure that the united position of the SCO member states will have international resonance," Medvedev said. "And I hope it will serve as a serious signal to those who try to turn black into white and justify this aggression."

China said Wednesday it was "concerned" at the Georgia conflict and called for "dialogue and consultation" to resolve the issue.

On Wednesday, the Group of Seven industrialised powers condemned Russia's recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

"We deplore Russia's excessive use of military force in Georgia and its continued occupation of parts of Georgia," said the statement from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States.

South Ossetian prosecutor general Teimuraz Khugayev said Thursday that 1,692 people were killed and 1,500 wounded in the attack by Georgian forces on the breakaway region, news agencies reported.

Arctic ice 'is at tipping point'

By Richard Black
Environment correspondent, BBC News website

Arctic sea ice has shrunk to the second smallest extent since satellite records began, US scientists have revealed.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) says that the ice-covered area has fallen below its 2005 level, which was the second lowest on record.

Melting has occurred earlier in the year than usual, meaning that the iced area could become even smaller than last September, the lowest recorded.

Researchers say the Arctic is now at a climatic "tipping point".

"We could very well be in that quick slide downwards in terms of passing a tipping point," said Mark Serreze, a senior scientist at the Colorado-based NSIDC.

"It's tipping now. We're seeing it happen now," he told the Associated Press news agency.

Under covered

The area covered by ice on 26 August measured 5.26 million sq km (2.03 million sq miles), just below the 2005 low of 5.32 million sq km (2.05 million sq).

But the 2005 low came in late September; and with the 2008 graph pointing downwards, the NSIDC team believes last year's record could still be broken even though air temperatures, both in the Arctic and globally, have been lower than last year.

Last September, the ice covered just 4.13 million sq km (1.59 million sq miles), the smallest extent seen since satellite imaging began 30 years ago. The 1980 figure was 7.8 million sq km (3 million sq miles).

The 2008 graph shows a steeper decline than at the same time last year

Most of the cover consists of relatively thin ice that formed within a single winter and melts more easily than ice that accumulated over many years.

Irrespective of whether the 2007 record falls in the next few weeks, the long-term trend is obvious, scientists said; the ice is declining more sharply than even a decade ago, and the Arctic region will progressively turn to open water in summers.

A few years ago, scientists were predicting ice-free Arctic summers by about 2080.

Then computer models started projecting earlier dates, around 2030 to 2050; and some researchers now believe it could happen within five years.

Putin blames US for Georgia role

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has accused the US of provoking the conflict in Georgia, possibly for domestic election purposes.

Mr Putin told CNN US citizens were "in the area" during the conflict over South Ossetia and were "taking direct orders from their leaders".

He said his defence officials had told him the provocation was to benefit one of the US presidential candidates.

The White House dismissed the allegations as "not rational".

Georgia tried to retake the Russian-backed separatist region of South Ossetia this month by force after a series of clashes.

Russian forces subsequently launched a counter-attack and the conflict ended with the ejection of Georgian troops from both South Ossetia and another rebel region, Abkhazia, and an EU-brokered ceasefire.

Diplomatic wrangling

Mr Putin said in the interview: "The fact is that US citizens were indeed in the area in conflict during the hostilities.

"It should be admitted that they would do so only following direct orders from their leaders."

Thursday, July 3, 2008

South Pole Telescope (SPT) — America’s New Planet X Tracker

South Pole Telescope (SPT) — America’s New Planet X Tracker

Jacco van der Worp

South Pole Telescope (SPT) — America’s New Planet X TrackerAmerica is now spending huge sums to deploy the massive The South Pole Telescope (SPT) in Antarctica. The final installation will be the size of a mini-mall and will require a massive C-130 airlift effort to transport pre-assembled modules and a large staff to the most desolate, inhospitable and inaccessible region of the world. Why? Because Planet X / Nibiru was first sighted in 1983 and this discovery spurred the USA to build the SPT — humanity's new Planet X tracker.

Amongst independent researchers like us at YOWUSA.COM and the equally committed researchers with whom we share data, the 1983 IRAS observation of Planet X / Nibiru has always been a hot topic. On a private level, we often discuss how the NASA's IRAS spacecraft first captured infrared images of it back in 1983 with the same lament. Given the lack of corroboration, how can you publish a story that can easily be shot down as a rumor? That was then.

Now we have the corroboration we've lacked for years, The South Pole Telescope (SPT). Far more powerful capable and survivable than the 1983 IRAS spacecraft and Hubble Space Telescope put together, this manned observatory will soon begin tracking Planet X / Nibiru from the pristine skies of Antarctica.

Why is America spending a massive fortune to transport this massive facility with massive C-130 airlift to the most desolate, inhospitable and inaccessible region of the world to track this massive inbound? Because this is where astronomers will find their ultimate Kodak moment and this is good news. Their resulting multi-spectrum observations will translate into life-saving data.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

An “unprecedented” outbreak of lightning strikes ignited more than 1400 wildfires accross Northern California.

An “unprecedented” outbreak of lightning strikes ignited more than 800 wildfires in a single day across Northern California on Saturday.

A record-dry spring followed by early summer heat and electrical storms were responsible for one of the worst days for wildfires in the state’s history.

A pall of thick smoke obscured the sky and reduced visibility to less than 2 miles in San Francisco and other cities of Northern California.

Veteran Bay Area meteorologist Mike Pechner described the huge clouds of smoke as the worst in living memory.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger told reporters he found it "quite shocking" how quickly the number of fires has risen in just one day.

The governor declared a state of emergency and requested firefighting assistance from neighboring states. But even with the help from out of state, the combined crews were unable to handle all of the blazes burning across a vast area, many of which were left to burn out of control.

Besides darkening the skies across many parts of California, smoke from the blazes blew eastward, casting a pall over neighboring Nevada and the downwind state of Utah. The smoke also created a health hazard for many cities, where officials warned residents to remain indoors as much as possible.

The image to the upper right was captured at middday on Monday by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) sensor orbiting aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite.

It clearly shows large wildfires burning from near the Oregon border, southward to around Yosemite National Park and the Big Sur coastline. Other fires can be seen burning in the Wine Country to the north of San Francisco.

The expansive white fog bank along the coast is typical during Northern California’s summers, and was not related to the fires.

Hidden area beneath Antarctic ice revealed

By Richard Gray, Science Correspondent
Last Updated: 7:01pm BST 21/06/2008

With jagged mountain ranges, plunging valleys and majestic lakes, Antarctica has scenery to rival any beauty spot in the world – except that no-one has ever seen the continent's hidden landscape.
# Climate change threat to Antarctic whales
# Antarctica 'warm as Africa' 100m years ago
# Telegraph Earth homepage

For more than 25 million years, the fifth biggest continent on the planet has remained locked under a massive ice sheet that has concealed its secrets through out the whole of human history.

Entire mountain ranges, volcanoes, rivers, waterfalls and even new forms of life are waiting to be discovered beneath the ice.

Now scientists are hoping to reveal the secrets of this hidden Antarctic landscape for the first time with one of the biggest exploration projects undertaken in more than three decades.

Using new technology they aim to peer through the ice, which can be up to three miles thick in places, to create the most complete picture of what the ground beneath is really like.

Robotic submarines will also be sent down through shafts drilled into the ice to search the depths of lakes that have been found under the ice sheets for new forms of bacteria and other small organisms that scientists believe could be thriving there.

Their research promises to reveal more about this lost continent than has ever been known before.

"We know more about the surface of Mars than we do about the land beneath the ice in Antarctica," explained Professor Martin Siegert, one of the leaders behind the exploration projects and head of geosciences at the University of Edinburgh.

"People often forget that there is land beneath all the ice, and it is of fundamental value to us in understanding how the ice flows and the impact it will have on sea level rise."

Only the occasional tip of a rocky mountain peeking through the frozen, inhospitable wastes hints at the mysterious landscape below.

Antarctica has not always been a frozen land, and around 40 million years ago it had a climate that was warmer than the UK is currently.

Ice sheets began to form on the continent 30 million years ago and now it is almost completely covered by a barren ice sheet, where temperatures fall to -89 degrees C.

In places the ice is known to be three miles thick and the intense pressure created has scoured huge valleys and basins out of the rock, so that in some areas the solid ground is more than a mile below sea level.

Together with a British Antarctic Survey project to survey another part of Antarctic, the Edinburgh scientists behind the ICECAP project will use specially equipped aircraft to map 3.8 million square miles, about a third of the continent.

The planes, which will be Basler long range and Twin-Otter short range aircraft, will use high definition radar to penetrate the ice and image the landscape below, while gravity meters and magnetic meters will measure the type of rocks of which the land is made up.

A separate project is also aiming to explore on of the deep water lakes that have been found beneath the antarctic ice.

These subglacial lakes, as they are known, are formed in basins that are carved out by the huge quantities of ice above the land.

The extremely high pressures created by the ice pushing down on the ground can cause the ice at the base of the ice sheets to melt to form lakes and rivers, despite the cold temperatures.

This occurs because water fills a smaller volume when it is a liquid than when it is solid, so when under high pressures the water will become liquid more easily and the heat from the ground can be enough to melt it.

One of the biggest such subglacial lakes, as they are known, discovered so far is Lake Vostok in East Antarctica. It is thought to be more than 150 miles long and 50 miles wide.

Almost nothing is known about these lakes and what they hold, including possible new life forms.

Professor Siegert and his colleagues are now planning to send a robotic submarine into one lake, known as Lake Ellsworth in West Antarctica.

The remote controlled robot will then explore the dark water searching for microscopic life that may have been evolving for millions of years in the harsh conditions.

Dr Fausto Ferraccioli, the aero-geophysics group leader at the British Antarctic Survey, said: "There could be hundreds more of these lakes beneath the ice, and entire mountain ranges waiting to be found."

Global Warming Puts the Arctic on Thin Ice

1. Why are global warming specialists watching the Arctic so closely?
The Arctic is global warming's canary in the coal mine. It's a highly sensitive region, and it's being profoundly affected by the changing climate. Most scientists view what's happening now in the Arctic as a harbinger of things to come.
2. What kinds of changes are taking place in the Arctic now?Average temperatures in the Arctic region are rising twice as fast as they are elsewhere in the world. Arctic ice is getting thinner, melting and rupturing. For example, the largest single block of ice in the Arctic, the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf, had been around for 3,000 years before it started cracking in 2000. Within two years it had split all the way through and is now breaking into pieces.

The polar ice cap as a whole is shrinking. Images from NASA satellites show that the area of permanent ice cover is contracting at a rate of 9 percent each decade. If this trend continues, summers in the Arctic could become ice-free by the end of the century.

3. How does this dramatic ice melt affect the Arctic?

The melting of once-permanent ice is already affecting native people, wildlife and plants. When the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf splintered, the rare freshwater lake it enclosed, along with its unique ecosystem, drained into the ocean. Polar bears, whales, walrus and seals are changing their feeding and migration patterns, making it harder for native people to hunt them. And along Arctic coastlines, entire villages will be uprooted because they're in danger of being swamped. The native people of the Arctic view global warming as a threat to their cultural identity and their very survival.

4. Will Arctic ice melt have any effects beyond the polar region?

Arctic Ice: Going, Going...

The chances for a total meltdown at the pole are higher than ever because the layer of ice coating the sea is thinner than ever, he said.

"A large area at the North Pole and surrounding the North Pole is first-year ice," Serreze said. "That's the stuff that tends to melt out in the summer because it's thin."

Preliminary February and March data from a NASA satellite shows that the circle of ice surrounding the North Pole is "considerably thinner" than scientists have seen during the five years the satellite has been taking pictures, NASA ice scientist Jay Zwally said Friday. He thinks there is slightly less than a 50-50 chance the North Pole will be ice-free.

Last year was a record year for ice melt all over the Arctic and the ice band surrounding the North Pole is even thinner now.

There is nothing scientifically significant about the North Pole, Serreze said. But there is a cultural and symbolic importance. It's home to Santa Claus, after all. Last August, the Northwest Passage was open to navigation for the first time in memory.

A more conservative ice scientist, Cecilia Bitz at the University of Washington, put the odds of a North Pole without ice closer to 1 in 4. Even that is far worse than climate models had predicted, which was 1 in 70 sometime in the next decade, she said.

But both she and Serreze agree it's just a matter of time.

Ex-weapons inspector says Iran not pursuing nukes, but U.S. will attack before ‘09

By Jason Leopold
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Jun 27, 2008, 00:23

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In 2002, Scott Ritter, the former chief United Nations weapons inspector In Iraq, publicly accused the Bush administration of lying to Congress and the public about assertions that Iraq was hiding a chemical and biological weapons arsenal.

By speaking out publicly, Ritter emerged as one of the most prominent whistleblowers since Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers to The New York Times in the early 1970s.

Ritter’s criticisms about the Bush administration’s flawed prewar Iraq intelligence have been borne out by numerous investigations and reports, including one recently published by the Senate Armed Services Committee that found President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and other senior administration officials knowingly lied about the threat Iraq posed to the United States.

Now Ritter, who was a Marine Corps intelligence officer for 12 years, is speaking out about what he sees as history repeating itself regarding U.S. policy toward Iran and the inevitability of a U.S.-led attack on the country, which he believes will happen prior to a new president being sworn into office in January 2009.

“We’re going to see some military activity before the new administration is sworn in.” Ritter said. But he added that “Iran is not a threat to the United States and Iran is not pursuing a nuclear weapons program. That’s documented.” Ritter teamed up with the Los Angeles-based U.S. Tour of Duty’s Real Intelligence, a nonprofit organization that represents former intelligence officials who openly discuss domestic and foreign policy issues. Ritter went on the road nearly a year ago to promote his recently published book, Waging Peace: The Art of War for the Antiwar Movement. But over the past several months, issues related to Iran have dominated his discussions.

In a wide-ranging interview with The Public Record, Ritter said he has been keeping close tabs on the issue for years and continues to approach the issue as if he were still employed as an intelligence officer. He explained why he believes the U.S. is gearing up toward launching a military strike in Iran and how the media has misrepresented a recent report by the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) regarding Iran’s continued enrichment of uranium.


He said one of the reasons he believes Democratic lawmakers have been reluctant to address the issue is the powerful Israeli lobby, such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). AIPAC has been pressuring the Bush administration to be even tougher on Iran. The lobby is largely responsible for drafting a resolution calling for stricter inspections and harsher economic sanctions against the country, which is expected to be voted on by the House next week.

Resolution 362 introduced by Congressman Gary Ackerman, a New York Democrat, has 170 Democratic and Republican co-sponsors.

The bill "demands that the president initiate an international effort to immediately and dramatically increase the economic, political, and diplomatic pressure on Iran to verifiably suspend its nuclear enrichment activities by, inter alia, prohibiting the export to Iran of all refined petroleum products; imposing stringent inspection requirements on all persons, vehicles, ships, planes, trains, and cargo entering or departing Iran; and prohibiting the international movement of all Iranian officials not involved in negotiating the suspension of Iran’s nuclear program.”

The resolution calls on President Bush to impose "stringent inspection requirements on all persons, vehicles, ships, planes, trains, and cargo entering or departing Iran”

Ritter says AIPAC's involvement in Iran policy is partially the reason Democrats have not been willing to take a stand against the Bush administration's hard-line tactics toward Iran.

“Congress has linked Iran policy to Israel. In this day and age of presidential politics, no one wants to take on the Israeli lobby. That’s just the facts,” Ritter said. “You have to find a way to address this issue that sidesteps Israel. Some people may object to that. On the other hand, if you couch this thing in economic terms I think you now empower Congress to address this issue in a manner that sidesteps Israel.”

Last week, a Senate committee approved legislation to strengthen sanctions against Iran by restricting the import of Iranian carpets, caviar, and nuts to the United States.

"The strong sanctions we've approved today will work to deter the Iranian government from producing a nuclear weapon," said Sen. Max Baucus, D-Montana, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

Ritter said the public would likely become more outspoken on the Bush administration’s policies toward Iran if they understood how an attack on Iran could lead to an economic collapse here at home.

“You have to talk about what’s going to happen to the price of oil, the price of food. People have to focus on that. Iran does not pose a threat whatsoever to the average American. We’ve got this hyped up threat. We need people to understand that they are being sold a bill of goods. There is no threat. Our welfare is going out the door right now because of this policy. We have to find a way to get this to resonate.”

Intelligence vs. smoking guns

One of the first questions Ritter says he is asked when he explains why the administration is planning an air assault against Iran is “where’s the smoking gun.”

“People will say ‘how do you know for certain,’” Ritter said. “You know I was in the in the intelligence business for a long time and we don’t make a living off of smoking guns. That’s what politicians do. We evaluate the totality of the available information and we make informed assessments and we do it in a systematic fashion. And that’s what I’ve been doing on the issue of Iran.”

Ritter said the increased rhetoric toward Tehran by various White House officials is a key indicator in understanding the Bush administration’s intent.

“I don’t like the word intent usually because the Bush administration used that with Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction,” he said. “Intent void of a factual basis is speculation. But here we do have documentation. We have a national security strategy. We have repeated statements by the current players themselves that they seek regional transformation in the Middle East inclusive of regime change in Iran. This is the policy objective of the Bush administration.

"So we have the intent. Now with the intent we have the escalation of rhetoric. So we not only have stated intent we now have statements that reinforce those intents and seek to activate this intent,” Ritter added. “And then you have the rhetoric that’s matched with the capabilities. Clearly you have the capabilities deployed in the region to act on this We’ve seen the nature of the strike be defined down to a limited strike to one or two strikes inside Iran affiliated with the Revolutionary Guard command. So you have all of these facilitators taking place."

IAEA report

In May, the media characterized a report by the IAEA on Iran’s uranium enrichment program as evidence that Tehran is actively pursuing a nuclear weapons program. The Bush administration held up that report as evidence that Iran is a grave threat to the United States and Israel.

But Ritter said the media misrepresented the report and likely did not thoroughly review its findings.

“We have a situation where the IAEA has published several technical reports all of which state there is no evidence Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program. None. Zero,” Ritter said.

Ritter explained how the IAEA report was drafted. “Information has been provided to the IAEA by member nations, intelligence information. Now the IAEA has to be very circumspect when it says this but we all know that it’s basically intelligence provided to the agency by the United States of America, a nation openly hostile to Iran, a nation that has a track record of fabricating, exaggerating, and misrepresenting intelligence data. The data that’s been provided to the IAEA has derived from a laptop computer which even the IAEA claims is of questionable providence,” he said.

Ritter said that because the United States has such a dominant role in the United Nations Security Council and in the Board of Governors, the IAEA couldn’t ignore the information it receives from the United States about Iran.

“The IAEA can’t go to Iran with information that isn’t serious. So they say it’s serious and it needs to be investigated. So they go to Iran and the Iranians say, correctly so, ‘this is bullshit.’ You’re basically serving as a front to the CIA. The CIA is asking intelligence based questions about issues that are not relevant to the safeguards agreement, which, by the way, is the legally binding mandate that gives the IAEA the authority to do its work in Iran. You have to read the small print.

“The IAEA acknowledges that what it’s asking Iran to answer has nothing to do with its mandate of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It is related to Security Council resolutions calling for the suspension of uranium and an investigation into a nuclear weapons program,but the bottom line is what the IAEA has said is that Iran has not been forthcoming and Iran is saying it’s not their job to answer the CIA’s questions. So the IAEA reports that Iran is not being forthcoming on these issues and now it’s unnamed diplomats, i.e., American and British diplomats, who say they are very concerned because Iran’s refusal to cooperate only reinforces their concern that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program.

"This is purely CIA instigated tripe. When we get down to the nuts and bolts of the technical question of Iran’s uranium enrichment program and whether or not there’s any infrastructure in Iran that supports a nuclear weapons program and the IAEA technical find says there is none,” Ritter said.

Mohammed ElBaradei, the head of the IAEA, said, in an interview last week with Al Arabiya Television that he would resign from the agency if Iran is attacked and warned that a military strike against the country would be catastrophic.

"I don’t believe that what I see in Iran today is a current, grave and urgent danger. If a military strike is carried out against Iran at this time . . . it would make me unable to continue my work,” ElBaradei said. "A military strike, in my opinion, would be worse than anything possible. It would turn the region into a fireball,” he said, emphasizing that any attack would only make the Islamic Republic more determined to obtain nuclear power."

Israel not involved

Ritter said an attack on Iran would come in the form of a “sustained aerial bombardment.” He added that a military strike would not involve Israel as asserted last weekend by John Bolton, the former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, who told Fox News that Israel would attack Iran after the presidential election in the fall. Moreover, Ritter said a report in The New York Times last week that alleged Israel conducted a major aerial exercise over the eastern Mediterranean as a warning to Iran is simply untrue.

“Only a few analysts have reflected on what I’ve said all along: Israel cannot initiate and sustain an air strike against Iran,” Ritter explained. “They’re incapable of it because they don’t have the military force. They don’t share a common border [with Iran]. They have to fly over sovereign states. The immediate international outcry would be tremendous. When we sought to fly U2 aircraft into Iraq, when I was a weapons inspector, if we felt that the Iraqis delayed in their acknowledgement the United States Air Force would sortie a support package to go in. That included electronic warfare aircraft, refueling aircraft, etc. Just to get one U2 to fly a mission over Iraq with a support package involved 80 aircraft.

“For Israel to strike Iran, and remember Iran isn’t Iraq, Iran has a viable air-defense system, an Air Force, radar, and Israel would have to suppress it all and it can’t do it,” Ritter added. “Israel just doesn’t have the capability. Israel does not have the ability to initiate and sustain major combat operations against Iran. Israel is not going to start this fight. It will be the United States. All this talk about Israel getting involved, I minimize that. Israel’s not going into Iran.”

Ritter said Bolton’s comments is an indicator that the “clock is running out” for ideologues in the Bush administration.

“It’s becoming increasingly clear that John McCain is not going to become the next president of the United States of America, which means the next administration has the potential of deviating in a meaningful fashion away from the policies of the current administration,” Ritter said. “Clearly, the Bush administration is populated by ideologues that are very serious about what they want to accomplish. They aren’t playing games here. They aren’t children. They are serious. They believe there is a threat to the United States and that the United States has to take action. Why I bring this up is that the clock is running out for them.”

Congress refuses to act

Ritter had some tough words for Washington lawmakers for continuously failing to put any obstacles into place to block the Bush administration from even attempting to attack Iran without first consulting Congress.

“We see not only has Congress not sought to put any obstacles in the way of this policy, but in fact Congress is actively facilitating this policy by refusing to enact legislation that would require the president to get the consent of Congress before going into Iran,” Ritter said. “The fact that Congress has opted out from tying the president’s hands reinforces, at least in the Bush administration’s mind, that Congress is legitimizing the potential of action.

“So when you put all of this together you start to see that there is not only a real risk of war, but that those who would like to do it see that there aren’t any obstacles being put in the way of their accomplishing this, which makes the likelihood of military action even greater. Every day that goes by without Congressional action is another day that reinforces that there will be a military strike against Iran.”

Ritter has been trying to pass along his intelligence analysis on Iran to Congress for some time. He said that “given the political situation that exists I don’t think you’re going to find any politician on either side of the political spectrum reaching out to me or talking with me directly.”

But he has been able, at the very least, to distribute his intelligence to middlemen who can get the information to Congress.

“What I am saying to you is being said to the powers that be in Washington, so there is no way [Democrats and Republicans] can say that they haven’t been made aware of this analysis,” Ritter said. “Ideally, there would be hearings and I would be invited to testify. So that not only these words would be given to the policymakers but it would be done in a way that the constituents would be cognizant of the fact that this is an analysis that was made available to policymakers who chose to act upon it or ignore it at their own risk.”

I contacted aides in the Democratic leadership offices of both Houses over the past week and also spoke to aides in minority offices. No one would comment on the record about the Bush administration’s policies toward Iran or discuss whether they have been made aware of Ritter’s intelligence analysis on the issue.

An aide to John Conyers, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, pointed to the congressman’s May 8 letter sent to President Bush stating that Conyers would initiate impeachment proceedings if an attack on Iran was launched without first receiving approval from Congress.

"Late last year, Senator Joseph Biden stated unequivocally that ‘the president has no authority to unilaterally attack Iran, and if he does, as Foreign Relations Committee chairman, I will move to impeach’ the president,” Conyers’ letter says. "We agree with Senator Biden, and it is our view that if you do not obtain the constitutionally required congressional authorization before launching preemptive military strikes against Iran or any other nation, impeachment proceedings should be pursued.”

Ritter was critical of the letter Conyers sent to Bush, saying the congressman is still avoiding the issue.

“John Conyers is so off base on this one,” Ritter said. “I appreciate his passion, but the fact is rather than Conyers say [to President Bush] if you attack Iran, I am going to impeach you, why doesn’t Conyers reflect on the fact that there is no basis for impeachment because he’s been constitutionally empowered by Congress. If Conyers is so worried about this, what Conyers needs to do is work with Congress to revoke the two existing war powers resolutions concerning Afghanistan and Iraq and then reconfigure the president’s war powers authority in a manner which constitutionally permits ongoing combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan but tells the president that if you seek any expansion of your authority, you have to get the consent of Congress. Now if the president attacks Iran you can impeach him.”

Conyers' office declined to comment.

Ritter said he understood that the hotly contested presidential election makes it difficult for Democratic lawmakers to address the issue of Iran.

“Let’s talk about political reality here. You cannot expect a politician, especially Democrats who want to retain control of Congress and want a Democrat to be president of the United States, to commit political suicide,” Ritter said.

Jason Leopold is the author of "News Junkie," a memoir. Visit for a preview. His new website is The Public Record.

It was oil, all along-Iraq War

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship
Online Journal Guest Writers

Jun 30, 2008, 00:08

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Oh, no, they told us, Iraq isn't a war about oil. That's cynical and simplistic, they said. It's about terror and al Qaeda and toppling a dictator and spreading democracy and protecting ourselves from weapons of mass destruction. But one by one, these concocted rationales went up in smoke, fire, and ashes. And now the bottom line turns out to be . . . the bottom line. It is about oil.

Alan Greenspan said so last fall. The former chairman of the Federal Reserve, safely out of office, confessed in his memoir, " . . . Everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil." He elaborated in an interview with the Washington Post's Bob Woodward, "If Saddam Hussein had been head of Iraq and there was no oil under those sands, our response to him would not have been as strong as it was in the first gulf war."

Remember, also, that soon after the invasion, Donald Rumsfeld's deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, told the press that war was our only strategic choice. " . . . We had virtually no economic options with Iraq," he explained, "because the country floats on a sea of oil."

Shades of Daniel Plainview, the monstrous petroleum tycoon in the movie There Will Be Blood. Half-mad, he exclaims, "There's a whole ocean of oil under our feet!" then adds, "No one can get at it except for me!"

No wonder American troops only guarded the Ministries of Oil and the Interior in Baghdad, even as looters pillaged museums of their priceless antiquities. They were making sure no one could get at the oil except . . . guess who?

Here's a recent headline in The New York Times: "Deals with Iraq Are Set to Bring Oil Giants Back." Read on: "Four western companies are in the final stages of negotiations this month on contracts that will return them to Iraq, 36 years after losing their oil concession to nationalization as Saddam Hussein rose to power."

There you have it. After a long exile, Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total and BP are back in Iraq. And on the wings of no-bid contracts -- that's right, sweetheart deals like those given Halliburton, KBR, Blackwater. The kind of deals you get only if you have friends in high places. And these war profiteers have friends in very high places.

Let's go back a few years to the 1990s, when private citizen Dick Cheney was running Halliburton, the big energy supplier. That's when he told the oil industry that, "By 2010 we will need on the order of an additional 50 million barrels a day. So where is the oil going to come from? While many regions of the world offer great oil opportunities, the Middle East, with two-thirds of the world's oil and the lowest cost, is still where the prize ultimately lies."

Fast forward to Cheney's first heady days in the White House. The oil industry and other energy conglomerates have been handed backdoor keys to the White House, and their CEOs and lobbyists were trooping in and out for meetings with their old pal, now Vice President Cheney. The meetings are secret, conducted under tight security, but as we reported five years ago, among the documents that turned up from some of those meetings were maps of oil fields in Iraq -- and a list of companies who wanted access to them. The conservative group Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club filed suit to try to find out who attended the meetings and what was discussed, but the White House fought all the way to the Supreme Court to keep the press and public from learning the whole truth.

Think about it. These secret meetings took place six months before 9/11, two years before Bush and Cheney invaded Iraq. We still don't know what they were about. What we know is that this is the oil industry that's enjoying swollen profits these days. It would be laughable if it weren't so painful to remember that their erstwhile cheerleader for invading Iraq -- the press mogul Rupert Murdoch -- once said that a successful war there would bring us $20 a barrel of oil. The last time we looked, it was more than $140 a barrel. Where are you, Rupert, when the facts need checking and the predictions are revisited?

At a congressional hearing last week, James Hansen, the NASA climate scientist who exactly 20 years ago alerted Congress and the world to the dangers of global warming, compared the chief executives of Big Oil to the tobacco moguls who denied that nicotine is addictive or that there's a link between smoking and cancer. Hansen, who the administration has tried again and again to silence, said these barons of black gold should be tried for committing crimes against humanity and nature in opposing efforts to deal with global warming.

Perhaps those sweetheart deals in Iraq should be added to his proposed indictments. They have been purchased at a very high price. Four thousand American soldiers dead, tens of thousands permanently wounded for life, a million-plus dead and crippled Iraqis plus five million displaced, and a cost that will mount into trillions of dollars. The political analyst Kevin Phillips says America has become little more than an "energy protection force," doing anything to gain access to expensive fuel without regard to the lives of others or the earth itself. One thinks again of Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood. His lust for oil came at the price of his son and his soul.

Bill Moyers is managing editor and Michael Winship is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program Bill Moyers Journal, which airs Friday nights on PBS. Check local airtimes or comment at The Moyers Blog.

War drums becoming deafening

By Linda S. Heard
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Jul 2, 2008, 00:19

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The Americans and the Israelis are acting in concert vis-à-vis Iran. The unmistakable message they are putting out loud and clear is that an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities is on the cards in the event Tehran doesn’t cave in to their demands. Are they bluffing as part of an arm-twisting strategy or are they seriously planning to transform this region into an inferno?

Pundits have been analyzing the probability of a US or Israeli attack on Iran for several years now. Some have even come up with likely dates but most of those have come and gone, eroding the analysts’ credibility and dulling fears. There’s been so much chatter on the subject that we may reach the point when a “will they or won’t they?” discussion will turn into nothing more than an academic exercise on the basis it hasn’t happened so, therefore, it probably never will. The danger is Iran and the region could easily be lured into letting down its guard. Certainly, members of the Iranian leadership have indicated they don’t take the threat very seriously even though they are planning for every contingency and threatening to set the Middle East aflame if attacked.

In recent weeks, since the Israelis launched a supposed dry run in the eastern Mediterranean using 100 fighter planes and aerial tankers, the chatter has reached a crescendo. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has vowed, “Iran will not be nuclear." Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz has termed a strike on Iran “unavoidable."

Retired Mossad chief Shabtai Shavit warned that if Israel doesn’t destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities within a year, Israel would be vulnerable to nuclear incineration. He says that even if Israel doesn’t receive a green light from the US, it should be prepared to go it alone. Shavit believes there is a window of opportunity before the upcoming US election when the deed should be done in case of a win by Barack Obama, who has advocated jaw-jaw before war-war.

Arch neoconservative and former US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton says he believes Israel is poised to strike in November once the ballot has taken place.

Knesset member and retired Maj. Gen. Dani Yotom, who isn’t known for his hawkish views, says sanctions against Iran aren’t working and so “a military operation is needed." Even the normally moderate Israeli historian Benny Morris recently said, “If the issue is whether Israel or Iran should perish, then Iran should perish."

Suspicions that an attack might be in the pipeline were heightened after leaks supposedly forced the Israeli prime minister to admit he had secretly met with Aviam Sela, a brilliant military tactician said to be the architect of Israel’s 1981 strike on Iraq’s Osirak reactor. It is believed that Sela was asked to give his opinion on the feasibility of similarly putting Iran’s nuclear facilities out of action.

There is no doubt that Israelis genuinely fear a nuclear-armed Iran, which they believe would constitute an existential threat, but why are Israelis being so upfront about their intentions when history tells us they normally strike first and answer questions later?

Given that Iran is not Iraq circa the 1980s, as far as airpower, weaponry, technology and sophisticated communications go and in light of the fact Iran’s main nuclear facilities are buried under layers of steel and concrete, as much as 100 feet underground, eradicating Tehran’s nuclear capability would be challenging for any military unless it was prepared to unleash nuclear bunker-busters. Moreover, unlike the Osirak surprise strike, an attack on Iran would trigger serious military repercussions that could involve Syria, Hezbollah and pro-Iranian Shiite Iraqi groups. Such a preemptive move would probably result in a massive loss of life on all sides and would have a devastating effect on the global economy with oil prices reaching hitherto unimaginable heights.

Further, since neither Israel nor the US are in any position to launch a ground invasion without the complicity of anti-government Iranian surrogates, strikes on Iranian nuclear plants would probably result in Tehran not only reconstructing but setting their sights on developing nuclear weapons even if they’ve no plans to do so now. It’s worth mentioning that the Osirak reactor was for peaceful purposes and it was only after it was hit that Saddam Hussein actively sought a bomb.

According to the New Yorker’s veteran investigative journalist Seymour Hersh in an article, titled “Preparing the Battlefield," President George W. Bush has sanctioned covert operations and requested $400 million designed to destabilize Iran outside the sphere of the US military. These will largely be carried out by Iranian dissidents rather than Americans in the field, he says. But, once again, Iran is not Iraq. It’s a far more cohesive country and although not all of its citizens support the government, most identify themselves as proud Iranians who harbor a historical aversion to neoimperialist plots.

There is no doubt that Israel and the US would like the Iranian government to be wiped off the face of the earth along with its nuclear ambitions but both countries are divided on what to do. So far their joint and separate belligerency isn’t working. If their bellicose words and provocative actions are, indeed, a giant bluff they are ineffective. They are simply causing the Iranian leadership to dig its heels in further and assert its right under the NPT to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. Even if this is a coordinated bluff, it could so easily reach the point of no return when to maintain strategic credibility, the players will have to make good on their threats. Certainly, one Iranian commander Brig. Gen. Mir-Faisal Baqerzadeh is taking these to heart already. According to Press TV, he has already got his troops digging more than 320,000 graves within Iran’s bordering provinces to provide any invading force with “the respect they deserve."

Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at

UFOs Spotted Again In UK

London Telegraph

A Royal Navy aircraft engineer claims to have seen a "glowing" UFO hover over the M5 motorway.

Michael Madden, 25, said he watched in disbelief as the disc-shaped object floated above his head before it "zoomed off at incredible speed".

He said the unidentified flying object flew for up to three minutes above junction 21 of the M5, near Weston-super-Mare, Somerset.

Mr Madden was on his way back from Manchester with colleague Michael Casson, 22, at 9.50pm on Sunday June 29 when he saw the suspected 'extra-terrestrial' craft.

He said: "I work with aircraft and grew up next to Manchester Airport so I know exactly what a plane looks and sounds like. This was definitely not a plane.

"It was a circular disc which was glowing bright, hovering hundreds of metres up.

"Other people must have spotted it. It was unlike anything I've ever seen in my life. It really did look like the alien aircraft in films. It had an antenna fixed to the back."

Mr Madden's claim follows a string of recent UFO "sightings".

On June 7 three soldiers said they saw 13 UFOs, which looked like "rotating cubes", while on night patrol at Tern Hill military barracks near Market Drayton, Shropshire. One, Corporal Mark Proctor, 38, of the 1st Battalion of the Irish Regiment, recorded the sighting on his mobile phone and reported it to Army officers.

That sighting came just two hours before helicopter police officers reported an encounter with a huge craft 80 miles away near Cardiff. They claimed to have given chase to the "flying saucer-shaped" object after it almost collided with their aircraft near the Ministry of Defence base of St Athan.

Then Father-of-two David Osborne, 47, videoed 12 orange objects in the night sky above Basingstoke, Hampshire, at 10.40pm on June 28.

The alleged UFOs moved across the sky, switching from a D formation, to a random pattern, to a line then a triangle before disappearing.

Claim: Midwest Floods Sign Of Global Warming

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Floods like those that inundated the U.S. Midwest are supposed to occur once every 500 years but this is the second since 1993, suggesting flawed forecasts that do not take global warming into account, conservation experts said on Tuesday.

"Although no single weather event can be attributed to global warming, it's critical to understand that a warming climate is supplying the very conditions that fuel these kinds of weather events," said Amanda Staudt, a climate scientist with the National Wildlife Federation.

Warmer air can carry more water, Staudt said in a telephone briefing, and this means more heavy precipitation in the central United States. Big Midwestern storms that used to be seen every 20 years or so will likely occur every four to six years by century's end, she said.

The idea that certain places along the Mississippi River and its tributaries will only flood once every 500 years may be based on mistaken assumptions that flood patterns do not change over time, said Nicholas Pinter of Southern Illinois University.

Pinter said these assumptions are contained in an analysis on Mississippi River flooding in the upper Midwest, led by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which among other things builds and maintains river levees.

In the last 35 years, there have been four floods in the Mississippi River basin that qualified as 100-year floods or higher according to the Army Corps' analysis, Pinter said.


"It is an impossibility that those numbers can be correct," Pinter told reporters. "These are not random events. We're getting a systematic pattern of floods larger and/or more frequent than currently estimated by those calculations."

The Army Corps' analysis rejects any kind of climate change -- human-generated or naturally occurring -- as a mechanism that could alter flood patterns along the Mississippi over the last century, Pinter said.

He said the analysis also rejects the effects of land use and navigation construction over that period.

"We suggest the current flood, sadly, is a confirmation that ... these numbers are probably invalid, underestimating the occurrence of floods up and down this river for a variety of mechanisms," Pinter said.

Given the impact of this year's Midwest floods, the National Wildlife Federation, a non-profit conservation group, called on Congress to hold immediate hearings to revise the National Flood Insurance Reform and Modernization Act.

In a letter to chairmen and ranking members of the Senate Banking Committee and House Financial Services Committee, federation president Larry Schweiger noted that there was significant rebuilding in flood plains along the Mississippi after the 1993 floods.

"While there may have been an expectation that such floods would only happen every 500 years, scientists now warn that climate change will make such floods far more frequent," Schweiger wrote.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Mediterranean resorts menaced as stinging jellyfish arrive early

By John Lichfield in Paris
Monday, 23 June 2008


Mauve stingers have been appearing in ever-greater numbers for the past eight years

    Nature laid waste: The destruction of Africa

    Wednesday, 11 June 2008
    The massive scale of environmental devastation across the continent has been fully revealed for the first time in an atlas compiled by UN geographers. Michael McCarthy reports

    It was long shrouded in mystery, called "the Dark Continent" by Europeans in awe of its massive size and impenetrable depths. Then its wondrous natural riches were revealed to the world. Now a third image of Africa and its environment is being laid before us – one of destruction on a vast and disturbing scale.

    Using "before and after" satellite photos, taken in all 53 countries, UN geographers have constructed an African atlas of environmental change over the past four decades – the vast majority of it for the worse.

    In nearly 400 pages of dramatic pictures, disappearing forests, shrinking lakes, vanishing glaciers and degraded landscapes are brought together for the first time, providing a deeply disturbing portfolio of devastation.

    The atlas, compiled by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) at the request of African environment ministers, and launched yesterday simultaneously in Johannesburg and London, underlines how extensively development choices, population growth, regional conflicts and climate change are impacting on the natural world and the nature-based assets of the continent.

    The satellite photos, some of them spanning a 35-year period, offer striking snapshots of environmental transformation in every country.

    The purpose of the atlas is to inspire African governments to improve their records as environmental custodians, and as such, its language and tone are studiously neutral, generally referring to environmental "change" rather than destruction. But although there are some examples given of change for the better, the vast majority of the case studies are of large-scale environmental degradation, and the atlas compilers freely accept that this represents the true picture.

    They write of "the swell of grey-coloured cities over a once-green countryside; protected areas shrinking as farms encroach upon their boundaries; the tracks of road networks through forests; pollutants that drift over borders of neighbouring countries; the erosion of deltas; refugee settlements scattered across the continent causing further pressure on the environment; and shrinking mountain glaciers."

    For its visual impact, the atlas takes advantage of the latest space technology and Earth observation science, including the 36-year-old legacy of the US Landsat satellite programme, demonstrating the potential of satellite data in monitoring ecosystems and changes to them.

    The "before and after" shots show vividly just how vast the changes have been, not only since the first Landsat satellite in 1972, but on much shorter timescales. Deforestation is shown not only as mass forest disappearance in countries such as Rwanda, but also as the insidious spread of logging roads through once entirely untouched rainforests in countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the replacement of natural forest by bright green rubber and palm plantations in Cameroon.

    Urban spread is illustrated not only by the dramatic expansion of the Senegalese capital Dakar over the past half century, from a small urban centre at the tip of the Cape Verde peninsula, to a metropolitan area with 2.5 million people spread over the entire peninsula, but by the rapid development of a small town like Bangassou in the Central Africa republic, now beginning to affect the nearby forest.

    Shrinkage of mountain glaciers is shown only in the well-known case of Mount Kilimanjaro, but also in the disappearing glaciers in Uganda's Rwenzori mountains, which decreased by 50 per cent between 1987 and 2003. And to the well-known cases of the drying up of Lake Chad, and falling water levels in Lake Victoria, the atlas adds new cases of disappearing water bodies like the drying up of Lake Faguibine in Mali, as well as many examples of desertification, unsustainable large-scale irrigation and degraded coastal areas.

    Put it all together and you have a picture that is hard to credit, so enormous is the destruction. Statistically, the atlas finds that deforestation is a major concern in no fewer than 35 African countries, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Nigeria and Malawi, among others. Africa is losing more than four million hectares of forest every year – twice the world's average deforestation rate.

    That problem is closely followed in significance by major loss of biodiversity [wildlife] which is occurring in 34 countries, such as Angola, Ethiopia, Gabon and Mali. Land degradation is similarly a major worry for 32 countries, including Cameroon, Eritrea and Ghana, with some areas across the continent said to be losing more than 50 metric tonnes of soil per hectare per year.

    The atlas shows that erosion, as well as chemical and physical damage, have degraded about 65 per cent of the continent's farmlands. In addition, slash-and-burn agriculture is adding to the number of wildfires which are naturally caused by Africa's high prevalence of lightning.

    Rapidly rising populations account for one of the principal pressures on the natural resource base. Between 2000 and 2005, the atlas says, Africa's population grew by 2.32 per cent annually – nearly double the global rate of 1.24 per cent per year. Twenty of the 30 fastest growing countries in the world are in Africa, including Liberia, which has the highest annual growth rate – 4.8 per cent – of any country in the world. In the next half century Africa will have twice the population growth rate of any other region. This means that more and more land must be devoted to agriculture, but as the amount of available land is limited, the amount available per person is swiftly shrinking. The atlas points out that in 1950 there were 13.5 hectares of land per person in Africa, but by 1990 this had shrunk to 4.7 hectares per person and by 2005 to 3.2 hectares per person – while on present population growth estimates, by 2050 the amount will be 1.5 hectares per person.

    And now, it says, climate change is emerging as a driving force behind many of these problems and is likely to intensify the "already dramatic transformations" taking place. Although Africa's 965 million people produce only 4 per cent of the world's total greenhouse gas emissions, they are likely to suffer disproportionately from the consequences of global warming, not least because African nations' ability to adapt to climate change is relatively low.

    One of the key points the atlas makes is that environmental degradation is likely to have a higher human cost in Africa than in other regions, as people on the continent live in closer relation to the natural world than elsewhere: they are often directly dependent on the environment.

    It was for African governments themselves to address the problem, said Marion Cheatle, chief of UNEP's Early Warning Branch, who introduced the atlas in London. "In many places you have a problem of policies being enforced. Not that policies and legislative instruments [to protect the African environment] are not in place, but very often they're only on paper, and they don't have the management to follow that really should be in place."

    Arctic thaw threatens Siberian permafrost

    By Steve Connor, Science Editor
    Saturday, 14 June 2008

    The permafrost belt stretching across Siberia to Alaska and Canada could start melting three times faster than expected because of the speed at which Arctic Sea ice is disappearing.

    A study found that the effects of sea-ice loss – which reached an all-time record last summer – extend almost 1,000 miles inland to areas where the ground is usually frozen all year round.

    The smaller the area of sea ice, the less sunlight is reflected and the more heat is absorbed. That means scientists expect a tripling in the rate of warming over the continental land mass surrounding the Arctic. "Our study suggests that, if sea ice continues to contract rapidly over the next several years, Arctic land warming and permafrost thaw are likely to accelerate," said David Lawrence of the US National Centre for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.

    Last September, the sea ice of the Arctic shrank to more than 30 per cent of its average extent for that time of the year. Meanwhile, air temperatures over the Arctic region rose by about 2C above the long-term average for the period 1978 to 2006.

    Melting permafrost threatens to undermine the roads, oil pipelines and buildings that are built on the permanently frozen ground. It will also endanger the region's wildlife as well as triggering the possible release of the greenhouse gases locked in the soil, which would exacerbate global warming.

    Dr Lawrence and researchers at National Snow and Ice Data Centre used computer models to analyse how the loss of sea ice could influence rising air temperatures and the melting of permafrost. They looked in particular at the creation of "taliks", which are patches of unfrozen ground sandwiched between layers of permanently frozen soil lower down and a seasonally frozen patch of soil above.

    "Taliks form when the downwelling summer heating wave extends deeper than the corresponding winter cooling wave, thereby preventing the talik from refreezing in winter and permitting heat to accumulate at depth as soil ice melts," the scientists said in their study to be published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

    Taliks allow heat to build up more quickly in the soil which increases the rate at which permafrost is subjected to a long-term thaw. "Taken together, these results imply a link between rapid sea ice loss and permafrost health," the scientists warned.

    Dr Lawrence said that about a quarter of the northern hemisphere's land contains perma-frost and the Arctic region's soils are believed to hold about 30 per cent of all the carbon stored in the world's soil. "An important, unresolved question is how the delicate balance of life in the Arctic will respond to such a rapid warming," he said. "Will we see, for example, accelerated coastal erosion, or increased methane emissions, or faster shrub encroachment into tundra regions if sea ice continues to retreat rapidly?"

    Andrew Slater, a co-author of the study, said: "The rapid loss of sea ice can trigger widespread changes that would be felt across the region."

    Claire Parkinson of Nasa said the consequences of the loss of the permafrost were unknown. "They could be significant, both on the climate through release of greenhouse gases and on the local communities through damage to roads and buildings as the frozen ground underneath thaws and destabilises".

    Friday, June 20, 2008

    North Pole May Be Ice Free for First Time This Summer

    Aalok Mehta aboard the C.C.G.S. Amundsen
    National Geographic News
    June 20, 2008

    Arctic warming has become so dramatic that the North Pole may melt this summer, report scientists studying the effects of climate change in the field.

    "We're actually projecting this year that the North Pole may be free of ice for the first time [in history]," David Barber, of the University of Manitoba, told National Geographic News aboard the C.C.G.S. Amundsen, a Canadian research

    Firsthand observations and satellite images show that the immediate area around the geographic North Pole is now mostly annual, or first-year, ice—thin new ice that forms each year during the winter freeze.

    Such ice is much more prone to melting during the summer months than perennial, or multiyear, ice, which is thick and dense ice that has lasted through multiple cycles of thawing and refreezing.

    "I would say the ice in the vicinity of the North Pole is primed for melting, and an ice-free North Pole is a good possibility," Sheldon Drobot, a climatologist at the Colorado Center for Astrodynamics Research at the University of Colorado, said by email.

    The melt would be mostly symbolic—thicker ice, pushed against the Canadian continental shelf by weather and Earth's rotation, would still survive the summer.

    Recent models suggest that the Arctic won't see its first completely ice-free summer until somewhere between 2013 and 2030.

    But this summer's forecast—and unusual early melting events all around the Arctic—serve as a dire warning of how quickly the polar regions are being affected by climate change

    Massive Melt

    Scientists are particularly interested in the North and South Poles because they are expected to show the most dramatic effects of global warming.

    Models predict that the regions will see temperature increases roughly three times as quickly as the rest of the globe because of an effect known as ice albedo feedback, which occurs when highly reflective ice gives way to dark water.

    The water absorbs much more of the sun's energy, increasing temperatures and causing further ice melting.

    Thursday, June 19, 2008

    Iran Urges OPEC To Dump Dollar

    Source: Press Tv
    Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Tuesday urged world oil exporting countries to find ways to switch their oil revenues from the U.S. dollar to alternative currencies, the official IRNA news agency reported.

    Ahmadinejad made the remarks in his speech at the 29th Meeting of the Council of Ministers of OPEC Fund for International Development which is underway in Isfahan, central Iran.

    This was one of suggestions made by the Iranian president to overcome the existing challenges facing the developing countries, IRNA reported.

    "Today, the experts in international economy and the analysts of the oil market all agree that the economic crisis in the U.S. together with the fall in the value of dollar have especially affected the development of the poor and developing countries," Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying.

    The Iranian president added that the current situation had adverse effect on the oil exporting countries economy.

    "The lower dollar has given rise to severe fluctuations in capital markets and fueled an inordinate level of speculative activity," Ahmadinejad said. "Huge sums of money have been diverted into oil exchange resulting in a bubble in the oil market."

    "Here, in addition to the poor and developing countries, economy of the oil-exporting nations has been adversely affected by these circumstances," he said.

    High-ranking officials from 12 OPEC member countries were participating in the conference in Isfahan, which aimed to remove problems facing the energy sector and survey economic issues of the OPEC members.

    Nuclear weapons parts missing

    The US military cannot locate hundreds of sensitive nuclear missile components, according to several government officials familiar with a Pentagon report on nuclear safeguards
    The US military cannot locate hundreds of sensitive nuclear missile components, according to several government officials familiar with a Pentagon report on nuclear safeguards.
    Robert Gates, US defence secretary, recently fired both the US Air Force chief of staff and air force secretary after an investigation blamed the air force for the inadvertent shipment of nuclear missile nose cones to Taiwan.

    According to previously undisclosed details obtained by the FT, the investigation also concluded that the air force could not account for many sensitive components previously included in its nuclear inventory.

    One official said the number of missing components was more than 1,000.

    The disclosure is the latest embarrassing episode for the air force, which last year had to explain how a bomber mistakenly carried six nuclear missiles across the US. The incidents have raised concerns about US nuclear safeguards as Washington presses other countries to bolster counter-proliferation measures.

    In announcing the departure of the top air force officials earlier this month, Mr Gates said Admiral Kirkland Donald, the officer who led the investigation, concluded that both incidents had a “common origin” which was “the gradual erosion of nuclear standards and a lack of effective oversight by air force leadership”.

    Mr Gates added that the Pentagon was evaluating the results of a “comprehensive inventory of all nuclear and nuclear-related materials [conducted] to re-establish positive control of these sensitive, classified components”.

    Adm Donald briefed Congress on the results of his investigation on Wednesday. Bryan Whitman, Pentagon spokesman, declined to comment on the classified report.

    A senior defence official said the report had “identified issues about record keeping” for sensitive nuclear missile components. But he stressed that there was no suggestion that components had ended up in the hands of countries that should not have received them.

    But Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association in Washington, said the revelation was “very significant and extremely troubling” because it meant the US could not establish the positive control referred to by Mr Gates.

    “It raises a serious question about where else these unaccounted for warhead related parts may have gone,” said Mr Kimball. “I would not be surprised if the recent Taiwan incident is not the only one.”

    A senior military officer said the military leadership, including Adm Mike Mullen, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, was “deeply troubled” by the findings of the Donald report. He added that they would be paying close attention to recommendations for improving nuclear safeguards that Mr Gates has asked James Schlesinger, a former defence secretary, to make.

    Gordon Johndroe, National Security Council spokesman, declined to comment on the disclosure about the unaccounted for components. But he said the “the White House has confidence that secretary Gates through his actions with the air force is addressing all of these issues”.

    Email the reporter at

    Volcano Activity in the News

    New Activity/Unrest

    CHAITEN Southern Chile 42.833°S, 72.646°W; summit elev. 1122 m

    SERNAGEOMIN reported that visual observations of Chaitén were inhibited due to inclement weather during 10-12 June. Customs officers in the town of Chaitén reported noises on 11 June. They also reported the presence of two new craters to the S that emitted ash-and-gas plumes on 12 June. The plumes drifted S. Later that day in Chaitén town, an abrupt swelling of the river Chaitén was observed. Seismic events increased in number and intensity.

    An overflight on 14 June revealed spines rising above the top of the new lava dome, which had grown in height to exceed the old dome. Gas, ash, and steam plumes were primarily emitted from a vent, about 100 m in diameter, at the SE contact between the old and the new lava dome. Previously, emissions came from the NW contact between the old and new domes. Continuous explosions produced ash plumes that rose to an altitude of 3 km (10,000 ft) a.s.l.caldera floor. The Alert Level remained at Red. and drifted E. Several other points of gas-and-steam emissions were seen along the contact. Small block-and-ash flows from the new dome had descended the S flank of the old dome and occasionally reached the

    Based on observations of satellite imagery, SIGMET reports, and pilot observations, the Buenos Aires VAAC reported that during 11-16 June ash plumes rose to altitudes of 2.1-3.7 km (7,000-12,000 ft) a.s.l. and drifted N, NE, and E.

    Geologic Summary. Chaitén is a small, glacier-free caldera with a Holocene lava dome located 10 km NE of the town of Chaitén on the Gulf of Corcovado. A pyroclastic-surge and pumiceobsidian lava dome occupies much of the caldera floor. Obsidian cobbles from this dome found in the Blanco River are the source of prehistorical artifacts from archaeological sites along the Pacific coast as far as 400 km away from the volcano to the north and south. The caldera is breached on the SW side by a river that drains to the bay of Chaitén, and the high point on its southern rim reaches 1122 m. deposit considered to originate from the eruption that formed the elliptical 2.5 x 4 km wide summit caldera was dated at about 9400 years ago. A rhyolitic, 962-m-high


    Sources: Servicio Nacional de Geología y Minería (SERNAGEOMIN), Buenos Aires Volcanic Ash Advisory Center (VAAC)

    GORELY Southern Kamchatka 52.558°N, 158.03°E; summit elev. 1829 m

    KVERT reported that seismic activity in the area of Gorely and Mutnovsky volcanoes increased on 13 June. There is only one seismic station in the area of the two volcanoes, so the source of the seismicity could not be determined. Activity was not visually noted and satellite imagery was not available at the time of the seismicity increase. The level of Concern Color Code was raised to Yellow on 14 June.

    Geologic Summary. Gorely volcano, one of the most active in southern Kamchatka, consists of five small overlapping stratovolcanoes constructed along a WNW-ESE line within a large 9 x 13.5 km late-Pleistocene caldera. The massive Gorely complex contains 11 summit and 30 flank craters. During the early Holocene, activity was characterized by frequent mild eruptions with occasional larger explosions and lava flows that filled in the caldera. Quiescent periods became longer between 6,000 and 2,000 years ago, after which the activity was mainly explosive. About 600-650 years ago intermittent strong explosions and lava flow effusion accompanied frequent mild eruptions. Historical eruptions have consisted of vulcanian and phreatic explosions of moderate volume.


    Source: Kamchatkan Volcanic Eruption Response Team (KVERT)

    MUTNOVSKY Southern Kamchatka 52.453°N, 158.195°E; summit elev. 2322 m

    KVERT reported that seismic activity in the area of Gorely and Mutnovsky volcanoes increased on 13 June. There is only one seismic station in the area of the two volcanoes, so the source of the seismicity could not be determined. Activity was not visually noted and satellite imagery was not available at the time of the seismicity increase. The level of Concern Color Code was raised to Yellow on 14 June.

    Geologic Summary. Massive Mutnovsky, one of the most active volcanoes of southern Kamchatka, is formed of four coalescing stratovolcanoes of predominately basalticHolocene activity was characterized by mild-to-moderate phreatic and phreatomagmatic eruptions from the summit crater. Historical eruptions have been explosive, with lava flows produced only during the 1904 eruption. Geothermal development is planned at Mutnovsky, which has the highest heat capacity of any volcano in the Kuril-Kamchatka arc. composition. Multiple summit craters cap the volcanic complex. Growth of Mutnovsky IV, the youngest cone, began during the early Holocene. An intracrater cone was constructed along the northern wall of the 1.3-km-wide summit crater. Abundant flank cinder cones were concentrated on the SW side.


    Source: Kamchatkan Volcanic Eruption Response Team (KVERT)

    Epidemics emerge as major threat in China's quake zone: report

    by Staff Writers
    Beijing (AFP) June 18, 2008
    Infectious diseases are emerging as a major threat in China's quake zone, with injured and traumatised victims most at risk, the health minister was quoted as saying Wednesday.

    As summer approaches, the warmer weather creates optimal conditions for epidemics, with survivors of the massive May 12 quake particularly vulnerable to disease, the China Daily reported, citing Health Minister Chen Zhu.

    "Simply experiencing such a huge trauma weakens people's immune systems. For those in more vulnerable groups, such as the elderly and children, the risk of infection is even greater," Chen said, according to the paper.

    Although no major disease outbreak has occurred, the paper warned that health workers were facing an "uphill battle," with medical services in the quake zone taking a serious hit.

    "We are trying our best to meet the health service demands and restore proper facilities as soon as possible," Chen said, according to the paper.

    Earlier this month, Health Ministry spokesman Mao Qunan said there would be no epidemics in an online discussion on

    "We have the ability and the confidence to guarantee that after the disaster, there will be no epidemics," the spokesman said.

    Given the large loss of manpower, medical workers from other parts of the country will be deployed to help those in the quake area, he said.

    In the first 10 days of June, more than half a million children under the age of 12 in quake-affected areas were vaccinated against infections, such as hepatitis A and encephalitis B, the paper said.

    The death toll from the Sichuan earthquake, the worst natural disaster to hit China in three decades, had reached 69,172 on Tuesday, the government said. Another 17,420 people were still missing.