World’s largest marine park created in Antarctica

October 28, 2016

The EU and 24 countries have signed an agreement to protect more than 1.55 million sq km of the Ross Sea, a deep bay in the Southern Ocean in Antarctica.  

 

A map of the Ross Sea protected area released by WWF

A map of the Ross Sea protected area released by WWF

 

 

Over 1.1 million sq km of the area will become a fully-protected marine reserve with no fishing allowed. Beyond this area, designated research zones will be set up allowing for controlled fishing for krill and toothfish. In total, the sanctuary will cover more than 12 percent of the Southern Ocean.

After 5 years of negotiations (including Russia and China blocking the deal), the agreement was made in Hobert, Australia on Friday (28.10.16) at the annual meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources. It will expire in 35 years.  WWF said that in coming years, it “will continue to push for the Ross Sea to become a marine protected area (MPA), protected in perpetuity.”

The area covered by the agreement is home to a huge variety of wildlife including 95 species of fish as well as whales, dolphins, seals, penguins, and seabirds.

“The Ross Sea has been described as the one of the most pristine wilderness areas left on Earth”, said WWF-Australia Ocean Science Manager Chris Johnson, who attended the CCAMLR meeting in Hobart.

“It is home to one third of the world’s Adélie penguins, one quarter of all emperor penguins, one third of all Antarctic petrels, and over half of all South Pacific Weddell seals.

Today’s agreement is a turning point for the protection of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean. Over 1.5 million km2 is to be set aside for conservation – an area the size of France, Germany and Spain combined – with over 70 per cent of it as fully protected marine reserves.

“This is important not just for the incredible diversity of life that it will protect, but also for the contribution it makes to building the resilience of the world’s ocean in the face of climate change”.

Source: WWF

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Exxon spending big on clean tech advertising at Olympics

August 20, 2016

In response to pressure over climate change, Exxon Mobil Corp has been keen to show off its efforts toward advancing more clean technology through TV advertising at the Rio Olympics, Reuters reports.

According to Reuters, the four advertisements made by the oil and gas giant highlight the company’s efforts toward capturing carbon dioxide from power plants, making biofuel from algae and developing fuel-efficient cars. 

Exxon spokesperson Alan Jeffers explained that,”our main objective is to provide people with more information about the important role Exxon Mobil plays in safely and responsibly meeting the world’s growing energy demands.”

He added that, “we want to inform people about the technology and innovation that go into providing energy.”

According to iSpot.tv, Exxon has spent a total of $19.3 million to air 233 TV adverts in the US market between the 5th and 17th August this year.

The company has declined to release figures for advertising expenditure in previous years, however at the Rio Olympics, Exxon has been the eighth largest spender on TV advertising, Reuters reports. 

While there is nothing uncommon about an oil company advertising at the Olympics, this advertising package comes at a time when the company is facing mounting pressure regarding its contribution to climate change, not only from environmental groups, but also from shareholders and state attorney generals.

From shareholders, the pressure comes as governments around the world are cracking down on carbon emissions and seeking to be less dependent on fossil fuels.

This year in particular Exxon has been met by escalating pressure to act on climate change.

In what marks the first shareholder proposal to pass since 2006, in May the company’s shareholders approved a measure that may place an external climate expert on its board.

Then in March, the company came under fire when over a dozen state prosecutors announced that they would be investigating whether or not past and present Exxon executives had misled the public by contradicting research by company scientists regarding the threats posed by climate change.

In response to this criticism, Exxon representatives have claimed that the company has been unfairly targeted by environmentalist groups.

They assert that the company  has acknowledged the reality of climate change for over a decade, and supports a revenue-neutral carbon tax.

The company’s research into carbon capturing is said to have been ongoing over three decades, while it’s endeavours to make biofuel from algae date back to 2009.

 

Sources include: Reuters

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Warmer ocean threatens California sea lion population

July 25, 2016
Photos of California sea lions

California sea lion harem at San Miguel Island rookery. Taken by Tony Orr (NOAA)

According to a recent Reuters article, biologists have reported worrying trends in the California sea lion population resulting from a warming ocean. This has seen both lower birth rates, and an alarming increase in young sea lions starving and being stranded on the beaches.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), since January this year, already over 2,000, mostly young sea lions have been found either dead or dying on the southern and central coasts of California.

This is apparently over twice the average number of stranded animals considered normal, yet comes nowhere near the record 4,600 beached sea lions found in 2015, predominantly in the first half of that year. (Of those animals beached in 2015, rescue teams were able to rehabilitate and release 1,300. The rest were already dead when found or died during rehabilitation.)

Rather than seeing this year’s reduction in stranded sea lions as a positive sign, however, NOAA biologists have proposed that this fall may in fact be a consequence of the declining birthrate. Both phenomena are thought to be due to rising ocean temperatures along the Pacific Coast, which has caused increasing scarcity in the sea lion’s food supply of sardines, anchovy and squid.

The California sea lion population has been estimated to be around 300,000; however this was prior to the dramatic rise in beached animals which began in 2013, the overall impact of which has not yet been calculated.

In contrast to other sea lion populations, California sea lions are not yet considered too be a species at risk. Nevertheless, if continued for a decade or more, this trend could pose “pretty dire consequences,” said NOAA’s Jeff Laake. 

According to Laake, “It’s all nutrition-based.” 

Scarcity of food around the island rookeries off Southern California has lead nursing mothers to venture further afield to feed their pups, which in turn has meant young sea lions being left on their own for greater periods of time. 

Normally, the pups fast for several days while their mothers are away, however, with longer to wait, many malnourished pups and juveniles stray from the islands in search of food, before being caught up in currents and washed up on mainland beaches.

The reproductive cycle of these marine mammals has also been severely affected. NOAA figures from the Santa Barbara coast in the Channel Islands show a 40 percent fall in sea lion births between 2014 and 2015. According to Reuters, this is also due to food-related stresses on adult female sea lions. The more energy required to find prey, the harder it is for them to successfully breed or carry their pups to term.

The rise in sea temperatures has been linked to a decline in winds which help bring cooler, nutrition-rich water from the depths of the Pacific up closer to the surface. It is unclear how long these conditions will persist and experts have postulated that this situation may have been exacerbated by the recent El Niño impact. 

In 1983, another El Niño year, California sea lion pup numbers on all rookery islands in the Channel Islands declined between 30 – 71 percent, according to the NOAA, and it took another 6 years before the recorded total born and that survived equalled those recorded in 1982. 

Sources include: Reuters and NOAA

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Hydrogen cars have the edge on Electric

June 5, 2014

Toyota Motor Corp will next year launch a hydrogen-powered car in the United States, Japan and Europe. For now, people at Toyota are calling it the 2015 FC car, for fuel-cell.

Hydrogen fuel-cell cars will cost significantly more than conventional cars and there are currently few refuelling stations. But Toyota believes that when they are compared to the other zero-emissions alternative, battery-powered electric vehicles, or EVs, fuel cells suddenly don’t look so bad.

Fuel-cell cars use a “stack” of cells that electro-chemically combine hydrogen with oxygen to generate electricity that helps propel the car. Their only emission, apart from heat, is water vapor, they can run five times longer than battery electric cars, and it takes just minutes to fill the tank with hydrogen – far quicker than even the most rapid charger can recharge a battery electric car.

“With the 2015 FC car we think we’ve achieved a degree of dominance over our rivals,” Satoshi Ogiso, a Toyota managing director, said in a recent interview at the group’s global headquarters. “With the car, we make a first giant step” toward making fuel-cell vehicles practical for everyday use.

What’s more, executives and engineers say Toyota is willing to sell the car at a loss for a long while to popularize the new technology – just as it did with the Prius, which, with other hybrids, now accounts for 14 percent of Toyota’s annual sales, excluding group companies, of around 9 million vehicles.

As a result, drivers in key “green” markets such as California may be able to buy the car for a little more than $30,000-$40,000, after government subsidies – if management approves a pricing strategy put forward by a group of managers and engineers. General Motors Co’s Chevrolet Volt, a near-all-electric plug-in hybrid, for comparison, starts at around $35,000 in the United States.

“It really provides all the benefits of a plug-in EV without the range anxiety and without the time it takes to recharge it,” says Bill Fay, group vice president of the Toyota division, in a interview at the Chicago Auto Show.

Since most battery-powered cars are limited to about 100 miles per charge, the term “range anxiety” has come to mean the worries that owners face about running out of juice before they can limp home or to a public charging station. Hydrogen cars can go hundreds of miles on a fillup, and the fillup only takes about five minutes, Fay points out.

Takeshi Uchiyamada, the 67-year-old “father of the Prius” whose success catapulted him from mid-level engineer to Toyota board chairman, says technology inefficiencies will make the battery electric car little more than an “errands car” – a small run-around for shopping, dropping the kids at school and other short-haul chores.

As with battery electric cars, a major challenge for fuel-cell automakers is a lack of infrastructure, with few hydrogen fuel stations in the world. Estimates vary, but it costs about $2 million to build a single hydrogen fuel station in the United States, according to Toyota executives.

At present, California, the state that once had planned a “hydrogen highway” of stations, has nine. But the state has plans to vastly increase the network, says Bob Carter, a senior vice president for Toyota.

Studies have shown, he says, that fewer stations than might be expected can support the needs of a lot of drivers. As few as 68 is enough to meet the needs of drivers of 10,000 cars.

Hydrogen fuel cell cars, Carter says, will “fundamentally change” how America thinks about alternative fuel vehicles.

However, many automobile manufacturers are staking their future on battery electric cars including Nissan Motor Co, Tesla Motors Inc, Bayerische Motoren Werke AG,GM, Ford Motor Co and Chinese automakers backed by the country’s industrial policymakers. China offers generous purchase incentives for those buying battery electric cars and aims to have 5 million “new energy” vehicles – mostly all-electric and near all-electric plug-in hybrids – on the road by 2020.

Tesla chief Elon Musk has said hydrogen is an unsuitable fuel for cars. In a videotaped speech last year to employees and others at a new Tesla service center in Germany, Musk said: “Fuel-cell is so bullshit. Hydrogen is a quite dangerous gas. It’s suitable for the upper-stage rocket, but not for cars.”

Even Toyota only expects tens of thousands of fuel-cell cars to be sold each year a decade from now as the new technology will need time to gain traction. Ogiso says Toyota has cut the platinum use per car by more than two-thirds through nanotechnology and stack-design improvements, and he expects to trim that further. Engineer Hitoshi Nomasa said a hydrogen-powered Toyota SUV now uses around 30 grams of platinum in the fuel-cell, down from 100 grams previously. Platinum currently costs $1,437 an ounce (28 grams) on world markets.

Toyota has also borrowed spare parts from the Prius and other gasoline-electric hybrids it sells around the world. While the fuel-cell car uses hydrogen as fuel, it otherwise resembles the hybrid models as both use electricity to power their motors.

While costs have come down significantly, Toyota says a hydrogen car’s fuel-cell propulsion system alone still costs it close to $50,000 to produce. That’s partly why some Toyota money managers want a more conservative pricing strategy – of $50,000-$100,000 – said one individual on the 2015 FC car launch team.

“It might be tough to price it below $50,000,” Ogiso said. “But anything is possible at this point.”

 

Sources: USA Today, Business Insider, Toyota Co.

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“Massive shift” to renewable energy needed, says UN report

April 14, 2014

A new report drawn up by the United Nations has called for a ‘massive shift’ to renewable energy. The study, which comes after a week of hard negotiations between scientists and government officials in Berlin, Germany, says that climate change can only be reduced by a significant and rapid shift away from non-renewable carbon fuels.

Whilst the report advocates the use of natural gas as a means of bridging the transition from oil and coal to other, renewable sources of energy, such as wind and hydroelectricity, the UN has as yet been unable to agree upon how this energy transition will be funded.

The UK’s Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey spoke of the importance of fighting climate change by all possible means, saying that “We can do this, we have to because it’s so challenging and threatening to our economies and societies, our health, our food security. The report today shows we can do it if we have the political will.”

The UK prides itself on being a major contributor to the fight against climate change and a leader in the use of renewable energy sources. Mr Davey added that “We’ve, for example, doubled the amount of renewable electricity in the last few years. We’re likely to do better than our targets in increasing renewable electricity. But we’ve got to do more.”

The United Nations report suggests that of all of the carbon emitted by human activity since 1750 has been produced in the past 40 years, and rates continue to rise. In particular, the report draws attention to the high increase in coal use since 2000: before this point, global energy rates were pointing towards a possible trend of decarbonisation.

The report warns that if drastic action is not taken immediately, our continually growing population and subsequent increased levels of fuel use could cause the average temperature of our planet to rise by up to 4.8 degrees Celsius by 2100, far above the 2 degree level which is commonly regarded as the point beyond which dangerous impacts of climate change will be felt.

However, scientists involved in the report believe that this situation is not irreversible, and whilst it will involve massive changes in the energy sector. Professor Jim Skea, vice chair of one of the groups working on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) report, said that “One of the biggest areas that’s important is getting the carbon out of electricity, so renewable energy, nuclear, fossil fuels with carbon capture and storage, that’s all part of the menu if we are going to make the transition to stay under the 2 degree target.”

For this target to be reached, the world will need to see a 40-70 per cent lowering of carbon emissions by 2050. The IPCC is a keen advocate of the use of renewables in reaching this target, and has praised the progress that renewable energy has made over the past few years, saying that it has come on in ‘leaps and bounds’ since 2007. In 2012, renewable energy use accounted for just over half of the new electricity generation added around the world, and it is hoped that such progress will continue to increase as the need for a reduction in carbon emissions reaches critical levels.

Sources include: The Guardian, BBC News

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Culture and climate change: UNESCO World Heritage sites threatened by sea level rise

March 6, 2014

Concerns about climate change are often expressed in environmental and economic terms, but a new study has brought an “an additional dimension” to the discussion: that of culture and human heritage

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Although not on the coast, the Leaning Tower of Pisa could also be affected by increased sea levels, due to its low-lying situation, The Guardian reported. 

The Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Sydney Opera House, the Statue of Liberty, and even Westminster Abbey could become victims of rising sea levels if current trends in global warming are maintained over the next two millenia, says a new study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, reported on by Science Daily.

19% (or 136) of the 740 UNESCO current World Heritage sites will be affected if the earth experiences a rise in temperature of a mere 3C, triggering extensive melting of ice sheets and glaciers. This is a temperature shift which, according to climate science experts, could very well occur within the next century.

The paper also makes clear that loss of territory is among other potential problems brought on by ever-rising sea levels: “at this warming level, 3–12 countries will experience a loss of more than half of their current land surface, 25–36 countries lose at least 10% of their territory, and 7% of the global population currently lives in regions that will be below local sea level.” These  would include low lying cities like Venice, Naples, Bruges, St Petersburg and Hamburg, as well as islands like the Maldives and the Bahamas.

A study which focuses on the cultural impact marks a distinct change in tact from the typical worries about costs and environmental systems, perhaps to appeal to those who remain sceptical about the subject of climate change. UNESCO’s mission is to contribute to the “identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity”. These sites represent the beauty of nature but also that beauty created by civilisation through art, architecture and infrastructure. And indeed, although two millenia seems rather a long way away, many currently existing world heritage sites are as old or older than this. Meaning some may sit up and take note despite the extent of the conjecture.

One may not need to justify the study’s importance any further however, as the lead author, Prof Ben Marzeion of the University of Innsbruck in Austria told the Guardian: “It’s relatively safe to say that we will see the first impacts at these sites in the 21st century,” and instructs that flood defences must be improved to mitigate these effects.

Sources: The Guardian, Science Daily, iopscience, Environmental Research Letters

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Japan launches precipitation-measuring satellite in bid to understand world’s weather

February 28, 2014

Following weeks of extreme and highly unpredictable weather all over the world, the launch of a new “precipitation measuring” satellite means we may from now on be more prepared…

Japan has successfully launched a rocket carrying a satellite built to track global rain- and snowfall, according to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). The US-built “Global Precipitation Measurement Core Observatory” launched at 3.37am (Japan Standard Time) on Friday 28th February from the Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan.  The satellite is part of an international initiative to help us better understand the world’s water cycle and its relationship to storms, droughts and climate change, and is designed to help meteorologists more confidently predict extreme weather such as storms and typhoons.

Steve Neeck, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for Earth science flight programs, said of the project:

“Why are we flying GPM? Rain and snowfall affect our daily lives in many ways … The distribution of precipitation … directly affects the availability of fresh water for sustaining life. Extreme precipitation events like hurricanes, blizzards, floods, droughts and landslides have significant socio-economic impacts on our society.”

Indeed, after months of volatile weather, including deadly snowfall in Japan, severe flooding in the UK and a life-threatening Arctic freeze in the US, the promise of a more comprehensive weather observation system could not come at a better time.

The mission to launch the GPM Core satellite has been in place for over a decade. As a continuation of the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission, which began in November 1997, GPM will, among other uses, improve the resolution of images gathered by the TRMM satellite.

JAXA, the Japanese Space Agency, and NASA, have collaborated on the project and together have invested over $1.2 billion creating the sophisticated technology.

Designed and built at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, the GPM Core satellite weighs more than four tons fully fueled. It hosts two instruments to peer inside storms and through cloud layers from an altitude of more than 250 miles, acting like an X-ray for the clouds.

One of the instruments, the Dual-frequency Precipitation Radar provided by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, will scan the planet to acquire three-dimensional views of rain and snow showers.

The other, NASA’s GPM Microwave Imager, or GMI, built by Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp. will measure the total precipitation suspended inside clouds and falling to Earth.

“The GMI will sense the total precipitation within all cloudlayers, including, for the first time, light rain and snowfall,” Neeck said. “The DPR will make detailed three-dimensional measurements of precipitation structures and rates as well as particle drop size.”

The information gathered by the Observatory will fill gaps in precipitation data over oceans, remote land masses and other undeveloped regions.

The spacecraft is set to become the centrepiece of a worldwide program to synthesize observations from disparate international satellites into a database of global rainfall and snowfall, which will be accessible every three hours.

Researchers plan to use data from the GPM Core Observatory to calibrate microwave measurements gathered from the network of already-flying international satellite missions (developed by the United States, Japan, France, India and Eumetsat, the European weather satellite agency), creating a uniform dataset scientists can rely on in their work.

“When scientists incorporate data from the international fleet, they can get a snapshot of all precipitation on Earth every three hours” said Gail Skofronick-Jackson, NASA’s deputy GPM project scientist.

In this way, said Riko Oki, JAXA’s lead scientist in the project, the data recorded by GPM Core Observatory “will be to the benefit of all.”

Sources include: space.com; The Japan Times

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