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World’s oceans turn acidic fastest in 300 mln years

CLIMATE-OCEANS/ACID
Oceans’ acidic shift may be fastest in 300 mln years
* Study finds prehistoric clues about climate change impact
* Acid waters could endanger oysters, mussels, salmon
* Few parallels seen in 300-million-year record

WASHINGTON, March 1 (Reuters) – The world’s oceans are
turning acidic at what could be the fastest pace of any time in
the past 300 million years, even more rapidly than during a
monster emission of planet-warming carbon 56 million years ago,
scientists said on Thursday.
Looking back at that bygone warm period in Earth’s history
could offer help in forecasting the impact of human-spurred
climate change, researchers said of a review of hundreds of
studies of ancient climate records published in the journal
Science.
Quickly acidifying seawater eats away at coral reefs, which
provide habitat for other animals and plants, and makes it
harder for mussels and oysters to form protective shells. It can
also interfere with small organisms that feed commercial fish
like salmon.
The phenomenon has been a top concern of Jane Lubchenco, the
head of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration, who has conducted demonstrations about
acidification during hearings in the U.S. Congress.
Oceans get more acidic when more carbon gets into the
atmosphere. In pre-industrial times, that occurred periodically
in natural pulses of carbon that also pushed up global
temperatures, the scientists wrote.
Human activities, including the burning of fossil fuels,
have increased the level of atmospheric carbon to 392 parts per
million from about 280 parts per million at the start of the
industrial revolution. Carbon dioxide is one of several
heat-trapping gases that contribute to global warming.
To figure out what ocean acidification might have done in
the prehistoric past, 21 researchers from the United States, the
United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany and Spain reviewed
studies of the geological record going back 300 million years,
looking for signs of climate disruption.
Those indications of climate change included mass extinction
events, where substantial percentages of living things on Earth
died off, such as the giant asteroid strike thought to have
killed the dinosaurs some 65 million years ago.
The events that seemed similar to what is happening now
included mass extinctions about 252 million and 201 million
years ago, as well as the warming period 56 million years in the
past.
The researchers reckoned the 5,000-year hot spell 56 million
years ago, likely due to factors like massive volcanism, was the
closest parallel to current conditions at any time in the 300
million years.
To detect that, they looked at a layer of brown mud buried
under the Southern Ocean off Antarctica. Sandwiched between
layers of white plankton fossils, the brown mud indicated an
ocean so acidic that the plankton fossils from that particular
5,000-year period dissolved into muck.
During that span, the amount of carbon in the atmosphere
doubled and average temperatures rose by 10.8 degrees F (6
degrees C), the researchers said. The oceans became more acidic
by about 0.4 unit on the 14-point pH scale over that 5,000-year
period, the researchers said.
That is a fast warm-up and a quick acidification, but it is
small compared with what has happened on Earth since the start
of the industrial revolution some 150 years ago, study author
Baerbel Hoenisch of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth
Observatory said by telephone.

EXTINCTIONS ON THE SEAFLOOR
During the warming period 56 million years ago, known as the
Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, or PETM, and occurring about 9
million years after the extinction of the dinosaurs,
acidification for each century was about .008 unit on the pH
scale, Hoenisch said.
Back then, many corals went extinct, as did many types of
single-celled organisms that lived on the sea floor, which
suggests other plants and animals higher on the food chain died
out too, researchers said.
By contrast, in the 20th century, oceans acidified by .1
unit of pH, and are projected to get more acidic at the rate of
.2 or .3 pH by the year 2100, according to the study.
The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projects
world temperatures could rise by 3.2 to 7 degrees F (1.8 to 4
degrees C) this century.
“Given that the rate of change was an order of magnitude
smaller (in the PETM) compared to what we’re doing today, and
still there were these big ecosystem changes, that gives us
concern for what is going to happen in the future,” Hoenisch
said.
Those skeptical of human-caused climate change often point
to past warming periods caused by natural events as evidence
that the current warming trend is not a result of human
activities. Hoenisch noted that natural causes such as massive
volcanism were probably responsible for the PETM.
She said, however, that the rate of warming and
acidification was much more gradual then, over the course of
five millennia compared with one century.
Richard Feely, an oceanographer at the U.S. National Oceanic
and Atmospheric Administration who was not involved in the
study, said looking at that distant past was a good way to
foresee the future.
“These studies give you a sense of the timing involved in
past ocean acidification events – they did not happen quickly,”
Feely said in a statement. “The decisions we make over the next
few decades could have significant implications on a geologic
timescale.”

(Editing by Peter Cooney)
REUTERS

Annunci

BUDGET-Obama compromise heeds voter call for concilation

Independent voters will be crucial to winning in 2012

Obama ‘compromise’ may help him with voters in 2012
Critics see budget debate as a failure of leadership
Debt ceiling debate promises more Obama intervention
Fresh off a White House-brokered budget deal, President Barack Obama’s reelection team hopes his intervention can lure back the moderate and independent voters who will be crucial to winning in 2012.
The president’s campaign strategists have latched onto voters’ distaste for partisan bickering, selling his role in the negotiations as evidence of a leadership style that can fix a broken political system and bring the parties together.
“Compromise … cannot be a dirty word,” top Obama adviser David Plouffe told NBC News’ “Meet the Press,” saying he hoped this would be a model for future dealings with the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives.
But critics are not convinced. They say Obama’s accommodation of Republicans was forced upon the White House by Democratic losses in 2010, and those very losses underscore a lack of leadership from within the White House that will matter more to voters in 2012.
Voters dumped many Democratic lawmakers in the 2010 midterm elections and sent a message that government was trying to do too much and Obama was too liberal, according to research by Third Way, a nonpartisan Washington think tank.
“Obama, by trying to be the grand conciliator … shows he is heeding that call,” said Third Way’s Ryan McConaghy. “Elections are decided in the middle. … There is a real battle to be won and that is the battle of reasonableness.”
A Gallup poll before Friday’s budget deal found that 58 percent of Americans favored a compromise that averted a shutdown of the government, even if this meant giving ground on issues in the budget they personally felt strongly about.
Voters will get plenty more give and take in the months ahead, as Obama navigates a divided Congress grappling with next year’s budget and raising the country’s debt ceiling, which Republicans say they won’t do without agreement on even more spending cuts.
The government could hit the current $14.3 trillion limit on its borrowing authority by mid-May and will need Congress to approve another increase or risk defaulting and sparking a debt crisis.
CRITICS SEE WEAK LEADER
The White House says Obama will continue to seek common ground with Republicans on those issues. And he will lay out a plan to tackle the deficit over the long term in a speech in Washington on Wednesday.
While the White House portrays Obama as a unifier operating above party politics, critics see the president trying to make a virtue of necessity. The real issue, they argue, is about leadership that is not coming from the Oval Office.
Michael Barone, resident fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington, said the White House was trying to make the best of a bad situation by selling Obama’s intervention in last week’s budget showdown as a president mediating between ideologues.
“Voters may feel comfortable with that … but I don’t see this as the main problem,” said Barone. “The strong leadership thing at this point is the problem for him,” he said, arguing that Obama had sat back while Congress thrashed out the deal.
Obama formally declared himself a candidate for reelection on April 4. While the Republican field lacks a clear
front-runner, Obama will still face a challenge in recreating a coalition of moderate and independent voters and the highly energized grass-root activists who swept him into the White House in 2008.
This block frayed in the 2010 midterm elections, when Democrats lost control of the House and saw their weight
reduced in the Senate.
Republicans have been energized by support from the fiscally conservative Tea Party movement as well as social
conservatives, who pushed to exclude taxpayer support for abortion from this year’s budget.
But Obama, taking a traditional Democratic stance, beat off efforts to control birth control funding to the Planned
Parenthood family planning organization.
Plouffe maintained that line on Sunday. He also took a traditional Democratic line when he criticized a Republican
proposal to tame the long-term U.S. deficit, saying it put an unfair burden on old and poor Americans while supporting tax breaks for the country’s wealthy.


Is Obama ready for Pentagon leadership turnover?

Is Obama ready for Pentagon leadership turnover?

Gates, a holdover from Bush era, to step down this year
Panetta, Hamre and Mabus are possible successors
Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff also set to retire
As Libya adds a third war to President Barack Obama’s growing list of foreign policy challenges, a big question is how soon a long-anticipated shakeup of U.S. defense leadership might unfold.
Admiral Mike Mullen, the military’s top officer, is expected to retire after his term as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff ends in September — a tight timeline for congressional confirmation that could require the White House to nominate a replacement soon.
But the hardest part will be naming a successor to Robert Gates, who has announced his intention to retire as defense secretary this year.
Gates, a former CIA director with enormous clout in Washington, was brought in by Republican President George W. Bush in 2006 to replace Donald Rumsfeld at the height of the Iraq war. Gates was kept on by Obama, a Democrat, in an unprecedented step, becoming one of his most influential advisers.
“You have to worry about the optics of a leadership change during a time of overseas interventions. There’s always a fear of a loss of continuity,” said Darrell West of the Brookings Institute, a Washington-based think tank.
The credibility Gates has with both Republicans and Democrats will be difficult for Obama to replicate, particularly as Congress second-guesses the administration on its Libya strategy. Gates has been a voice of caution about the limits of the U.S. role in Libya, even as he supports the air campaign.
Other issues loom large: Afghanistan will move into the spotlight in July when the United States begins to pull out its troops, and the U.S. military is forging ahead with plans to completely withdraw from Iraq this year.
Turmoil elsewhere in the Middle East plus the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea also present dangers.
Stephen Biddle of the Council on Foreign Relations think tank said the next defense secretary will face tremendous budget pressure, with calls for deep defense cuts that Gates has opposed.
Speculation about replacements for Gates has centered on: Leon Panetta, the current CIA director; John Hamre, a former U.S. deputy secretary of defense; and Ray Mabus, the current secretary of the Navy.
But many observers in Washington are unconvinced, with some still looking for a surprise pick like Hillary Clinton, despite her statements that she plans to end her career in government after serving as Obama’s secretary of state.
“I don’t get a sense that there’s a clear pick at this point,” said Representative Adam Smith, the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee in the House of Representatives.
Democratic Representative Dutch Ruppersberger, also on the Armed Services Committee, said it was his opinion that everything is “on hold” for the moment because of, among other things, the conflict in Libya.
When he saw Gates in late March, Ruppersberger told him: “I just hope you stay for a while.”
“He didn’t say one thing or the other,” Ruppersberger said.
U.S. officials refused to speculate on timing.
Whoever Obama chooses as defense secretary will have to work closely with Mullen’s successor as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The turnover of both posts could come very close together.
“For a country that’s now involved in three wars, it’s an enormous amount of change at the top of the military and really will present a daunting challenge to the president,” said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA Middle East expert who has advised the White House in the past.
One way to ensure continuity would be to promote Mullen’s deputy, General James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Cartwright was dubbed Obama’s favorite general in Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward’s book “Obama’s Wars.”
Another possibility would be for Obama to pick General David Petraeus, credited with turning around the Iraq war and picked by Obama last year to do the same in Afghanistan.
But some question whether Obama would pick Petraeus, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, as one of his closest advisers. The general denies any political ambitions but there is persistent speculation he could be a potential Republican presidential candidate some day.


Japan’s nuclear crisis: main developments

Japan Nuclear Alert

Following are main developments after a massive earthquake and tsunami devastated northeast Japan and crippled a nuclear power station, raising the risk of an uncontrolled radiation leak.
An aide to Prime Minister Naoto Kan says the government’s main aim is to stop radiation leaks from the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant that are spooking Japanese, hindering work and frightening tourists.
Plant operator Tokyo Electric Company (TEPCO) has poured concrete into a crack in a concrete pit in reactor no. 2 but this has failed to stop leaks. TEPCO is also using water-absorbent polymers, with plans to top the polymers with more concrete to halt the leaks.
Engineers examine alternatives to pumping in water to cool the reactor, including an improvised air conditioning system, spraying fuel rods with vaporised water or using the plant’s cleaning system.
Radiation levels in the sea nearby stand at 4,000 times the legal limit.
A group of farmers from the Fukushima region came to Tokyo with Geiger counters to show their produce is safe.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan ensured residents in the disaster zone on Saturday that the government would offer support in rebuilding. He entered the 20-km evacuation zone around the wrecked plant and visited “J-village”, a sports facility serving as headquarters for emergency teams tring to cool down reactors.
Kan said on Friday that TEPCO should remain in private hands, even though the company would need financial assistance from the government to deal with the aftermath of the disaster. Earlier, the Manichi newspaper said the government would take control of TEPCO.
Kan also said that he wanted to decide by the end of April on the content of an extra budget for earthquake relief.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said the evacuation of residents near the plant will be a “long-term” operation.
A U.N. watchdog on Thursday suggested widening of the exclusion zone around the station after radiation measured at a village 40 km distant exceeded a criterion for evacuation.
Japanese manufacturing activity slumped to a two-year low in March and posted the sharpest monthly fall on record as the quake and tsunami hit supply chains and output.
A total of 11,938 people are confirmed dead by Japan’s National Police Agency, while 15,478 are missing. A total of 168,586 households are without electricity and 220,000 without running water.
More than 164,200 people are living in shelters on high ground above vast plains of mud-covered debris.
Thousands of Japanese and U.S. Soldiers conducted a search for bodies on Saturday using dozens of ships and helicopters to sweep across land still under water along the northeast coast.
Estimated cost of damage to top $300 billion, making it the world’s costliest natural disaster. The 1995 Kobe quake cost $100 billion while Hurricane Katrina in 2005 caused $81 billion in damage.


Japan: “Problem is not nuclear industry, it’s safety” Sarkozy sheltered his nuclear business

Sarkozy in Japan shelters France nuclear business

France Sarkozy is first foreign leader in Japan post-quake: he shelters his nuclear business and proposes May G20 meeting on nuclear safety standards.
IAEA draws up safety standards, but they are not binding French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Thursday proposed a meeting of G20 nuclear industry officials in May to start hammering out new global safety standards in the wake of the power plant disaster in Japan.
Japan’s battle to avert a catastrophic meltdown of fuel rods at the earthquake-wrecked facility north of Tokyo has triggered alarm and safety reviews in nuclear-powered countries around the world.
Sarkozy, the first foreign leader to visit Japan since the March 11 disaster, said the incident should not cast doubt on the wisdom of pursuing nuclear energy itself but on the lack of international norms for ensuring the industry remains safe.
“The problem is more about establishing safety norms than it is about the choice of nuclear energy, for this there is no alternative right now,” he told a news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan in Tokyo.
“We must address this anomaly that there are no international safety norms for nuclear matters. We want international standards because the world is a village and what happens in Japan can have consequences elsewhere.”
He said France would ask the nuclear safety authorities of the Group of 20 countries to meet in Paris in May to lay groundwork for a special meeting of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) conference the following month.
“We need international safety standards before the end of the year,” said Sarkozy, whose country heads the G20 and G8 for most of 2011.
The IAEA draws up nuclear safety standards and recommendations, but they are not legally binding. Nuclear safety is primarily the responsibility of member states.
There is, however, a Convention on Nuclear Safety drawn up after the accidents at Three Mile Island in the United States and Chernobyl in Ukraine which obliges its signatories, currently 72, to achieve and maintain a high level of safety, largely based on the IAEA principles.
Kan backed the French proposal for a global nuclear review, saying it was Japan’s “duty to accurately share with the world our experience”.
Sarkozy, who flew to Tokyo after addressing a G20 seminar in China on global monetary reform, told Japan it had the support of the whole world as it strives to contain its nuclear calamity and deal with the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami that left some 28,000 people dead or missing.
A team of French nuclear experts, including the CEO of state-owned Areva , flew to Tokyo earlier this week to help Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) as it battles to bring its crippled Fukushima plant under control.
France is the world’s most nuclear-dependent country, producing 75 percent of its electricity from 58 reactors.
“Consider me your employee,” Areva Chief Executive Anne Lauvergeon told Japanese officials.
At a meeting with French expatriates in Tokyo earlier, Sarkozy acknowledged that when France became the first country to tell its nationals to leave the city because of the nuclear disaster it “met with some ridicule”.
France has since changed its advice. “All the experts agree that living in Tokyo now does no represent a health risk,” Sarkozy said.


Google takes on Facebook with latest social tweak

The Virtual World War

Google takes on Facebook with latest social tweak
* New feature lets users endorse search results
* Feature does not currently affect search result ranking
* Highlights Google’s battle with Facebook
(Adds details on feature, link to FTC settlement, byline)
Google Inc will begin allowing users to personally endorse search results and Web pages, its latest attempt to stave off rival Facebook Inc while trying to jump onboard a social networking boom.
The so-called “+1” button will start to appear alongside Google search results for select users from Wednesday, letting people recommend specific search results to friends and contacts by clicking on that button.
Eventually, the feature may begin to influence the ranking of search results, though that is only under consideration.
Results are now ranked via a closely guarded algorithm.
The world’s leader in Internet search is battling to maintain its share of Web surfers’ time and attention, which is increasingly getting taken up by Facebook, Twitter and other social networks. But it has struggled to find its footing in the nascent market.
Its last attempt to create a social network — Buzz — has not fared well. A flood of complaints about how Buzz handled user privacy cast a pall over the product. On Wednesday, Google announced it had reached a settlement with regulators under which it agreed to independent privacy audits every two years.
With the new +1 buttons, Google aims to counter one of Facebook’s most popular features. The new feature comes nearly a year after Facebook began offering special “Like” buttons to websites, creating a personalized recommendation system that some analysts believe could challenge the traditional ranking algorithms that search engines use to find online information.
A LOSING BATTLE?
Maintaining its role as the main gateway to information on the Internet is key for Google, which generated roughly $29 billion in revenue last year — primarily from search ads.
While Google remains the Internet search and advertising leader, Facebook is taking a larger and larger portion of advertising dollars.
Google said that +1 recommendations will also appear in the paid ads that Google displays alongside its search results. In its internal tests, Google found that including the recommendations boosted the rates at which people click on the ads, executives told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday.
Eventually, Google plans to let third-party websites feature +1 buttons directly on their own pages, the company said.
Google’s Matt Cutts, a principal engineer for search, said the +1 buttons were part of the evolution of Google’s own social search efforts, rather than a direct response to Facebook’s Like buttons.
“We always keep an eye out on what other people are doing, but for me the compelling value is just that it’s right there
in the search results,” said Cutts.
Google introduced social search in 2009, and in February the company began displaying special snippets underneath any search results that have been shared by a person’s contacts on Twitter, the popular Internet microblogging service.
Currently Google is not using +1 recommendations as a factor in how it ranks search results — a user only sees that a friend recommended a search result if the result would have turned up in a search based on Google’s existing ranking criteria.
Google’s Cutts said the company is evaluating whether to use +1 recommendations as a ranking factor in the future.
To use the new recommendation system, users must create a Google Profile page. Any +1 clicks that a person makes will be publicly visible to their network of contacts, which is based on existing contacts in Google products such as the company’s Gmail email and its instant messaging service.
Google faced privacy criticisms last year when it launched Buzz, a social networking messaging product that automatically revealed people’s personal contact lists to the public.
Cutts said that Google hoped to address any potential privacy concerns with the +1 service by making it clear that any +1 tags are public.
“As long as people have that mental model, they know what to expect, they’re not surprised if they +1 something and it shows up in a different context,” he said.
The feature will initially be available to a small portion of Google users in the United States on Wednesday, and the company plans to allow other U.S. users to sign up to try the +1 feature later in the day.


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