TAMPA: NASA is poised to launch Saturday its most advanced space laser ever, ICESat-2, a $1 billion dollar mission to reveal the depths of the Earth’s melting ice as the climate warms.
The half-ton satellite, about the size of a smart-car, is scheduled to blast off atop a Delta II rocket on September 15 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
The 40-minute launch window opens at 5:46 am local time (1246 GMT). The mission is “exceptionally important for science,” Richard Slonaker, ICESat-2 program executive at NASA, told reporters ahead of the launch.
That’s because it has been nearly a decade since NASA had a tool in orbit to measure ice sheet surface elevation across the globe. The preceding mission, ICESat, launched in 2003 and ended in 2009. From it, scientists learned that sea ice was thinning, and ice cover was disappearing from coastal areas in Greenland and Antarctica.
In the intervening nine years, an aircraft mission, called Operation IceBridge, has flown over the Arctic and Antarctic, “taking height measurements and documenting the changing ice,” NASA said. But an update is urgently needed.
Humanity’s constant reliance on fossil fuels for energy means planet-warming greenhouse gases are continuing to mount. Global average temperatures are climbing year after year, with four of the hottest years in modern times all taking place from 2014-2017. Ice cover is shrinking in the Arctic and Greenland, adding to sea level rise that threatens hundreds of millions of people along the coastlines.
ICESat-2 should help scientists understand just how much melting the ice sheets are contributing to sea level rise.
“We are going to be able to look at specifically how the ice is changing just over the course of a single year,” said Tom Wagner, cryosphere program scientist at NASA.
Adding this precise level of data to that collected in prior years should boost scientists’ understanding of climate change and improve forecasts of sea level rise, he said.
ICESat-2 is equipped with a pair of lasers – one is on board as a back-up – that are far more advanced than the kind aboard the preceding ICESat mission.
Though powerful, the laser will not be hot enough to melt ice from its vantage point some 300 miles (500 kilometers) above the Earth, NASA said.
The new laser will fire 10,000 times in one second, compared to the original ICESat which fired 40 times a second.
The result is a far higher degree of detail, akin to taking 130 images of a single football field, compared to one shot of each goal post.
Measurements will be taken every 2.3 feet (0.7 meters)along the satellite’s path. “The mission will gather enough data to estimate the annual elevation change in the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets even if it’s as slight as four millimeters – the width of a No. 2 pencil,” NASA said in a statement.
Importantly, the laser will measure the slope and height of the ice, not just the area it covers. “One of the things that we are trying to do is, one, characterize the change that is taking place within the ice, and this is going to greatly improve our understanding of that, especially over areas where we don’t know how well it is changing right now,” Wagner said, mentioning the deep interior of Antarctica as one such area of mystery.
The mission is meant to last three years but has enough fuel to continue for 10, if mission managers decide to extend its life.
Trash burning continues despite smog alerts
ISLAMABAD: The unprecedented fatal Smog phenomenon has caused heavy casualties and hazardous diseases across the region especially, in the neighboring countries of China and India however, the garbage burning continues in the twin cities despite several admonitions by health, environmental experts and concerned authorities.
Talking to APP, Ahmed Ali a student and resident of I-10/1 regretted the open burning of trash in various garbage trolleys, open places and roadsides causing suffocation and serious respiratory problems. He said that environmental reports, experts and doctors are repeatedly advising to avoid trash burning but still it persists in almost every sector of the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad. “There are shamming social media campaigns and hashtags going viral over the internet but nobody is bothering about creating awareness among the masses on serious and poisoning emissions caused due to the burning of waste.
There are no reports in the media over the unbridled burning of garbage at the part of the citizens, sanitation workers and rag pickers who are putting public health and environment at serious risk,” he remarked. Monazza Shehzad said that people in I-12 sector mischievously set heaps of garbage and at times dry grass in the deserted patches of the sector for fun which produces huge smoke screens in the air. “It (smoke of burning garbage) produces a pungent and stinking smell that sometimes create an emergency situation for an asthmatic patient and senior citizens which should be dealt with a strong mechanism from the concerned authorities,” she added.
Farkhanda Ilyas, a resident of Asghar Mall Scheme, Rawalpindi said that trash and household waste burning is common in every nook and corner of the area. “People are found setting a small pile of garbage at the fire just to warm them which is deplorable as they do not know its impacts on the environment and public health. Such persons should be charged with heavy fines and punishment by the concerned authorities,” she said.
The Environment Protection Agency (PAK-EPA) officials said that the agency was making all-out efforts but it is now at the part of the society and media to educate the masses over the looming issue they were breeding themselves as EPA was doing its lot within available resources.
Wildlife: Eel trafficking in the EU!
PARIS: Billions of euros worth of critically endangered eels are being trafficked each year from Europe, ending up on tables in China and Japan in what campaigners say is “the largest wildlife crime on Earth.”
Stocks of European eel (Anguilla Anguilla) have plummeted 90 percent in three decades as mankind has developed the wetlands and dammed the rivers it needs to grow and feed in, and experts fear criminal gangs smuggling the lucrative fish are pushing it towards oblivion.
Despite growing alarm from conservationists, hundreds of tonnes of eels are still legally and illegally fished each year. In France – which catches more of the fish than any other EU state — the issue has taken on political dimensions.
“There’s around 10 percent of stocks left compared to 30 years ago due to habitat loss and what we’ve done to the migration pathways in Europe,” Andrew Kerr, chairman of the Sustainable Eel Group (SEG) that works to conserve the species, told the Media.
The eel’s vertiginous decline has provoked some action from governments and law enforcement agencies. It is now listed in the CITES international convention on trade in endangered species, resulting in strict national catch quotas.
The problem, according to Michel Vignaud, head of fishing regulation at France’s National Biodiversity Agency, is exploding Asian demand for a product viewed as both a delicacy and an aphrodisiac.
“We cannot legally export eels outside the EU, but the prices are different in Asia. There is a real Asian demand for eel,” he told the Media.
The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization said that in 2016 China produced close to a quarter of a million tonnes of eel for consumption, far ahead of Japan – where eating eel is seen as bringing good luck and fertility – and the EU.
The bloc’s law enforcement agency EUROPOL estimates as many as 100 tonnes of baby eels – known as glass eels for their translucent skin – are trafficked abroad each year: equivalent to around 350 million fish.
“Glass eels trafficking involves environmental crime, smuggling, document fraud, tax evasion, and money laundering,” a spokesman told the Media.
The live eels are largely caught – legally or otherwise – in Western Europe before being smuggled eastwards in vans or lorries, often falsely labeled as non-endangered fish, police, and conservationists say.
Criminal gangs then divide the eels into suitcases, up to 50,000 of the tiny fish per bag, which are then flown by commercial airliner to Asia.
The fish are grown in special farms to their full size – up to a meter and a half – and then sold to market for the equivalent of 10 euros each.
“Prices vary so you can only come up with bracket figures, but we’re talking billions (of euros). It’s the biggest wildlife crime by value on Earth,” said Kerr. “It’s the most trafficked and traveled animal on the planet.”
The European eel’s extraordinary life-cycle begins in the topaz waters of the Sargasso Sea. The eggs drift on the current across the Atlantic, often taking up to two years to reach the feeding grounds of Europe.
The baby eels swim up rivers where they live for up to 25 years, feeding on larvae and worms until fully grown before embarking on the 4,000-mile (6,500-kilometre) journey back home to the Caribbean, where they breed and finally die.
But they are under threat from a host of manmade dangers, including illegal fishing, pollution, and the estimated 1.3 million river barriers blocking their path across Europe.
“Our hope is that any eels still alive are left alone by humans,” said Charlotte Nithart, head of the Robin des Bois conservation group.
She said that France’s current legal eel quota – 60 tonnes per year, of which 60 percent must go to restocking efforts — was contributing to the species’ decline.
“We have never said that trafficking alone is responsible for the disappearance of eels,” she said.
“We want to cancel or at least dramatically reduce fishing quotas and reinforce the means to fight to traffic.”
For Guillaume de Preillec, who represents the local fishing committee in Brittany, quotas are “justified” for those whose livelihoods depend on the eel fishing season, which began across France last week.
“If you are in commercial fishing people tell you that when you fish more you earn more. So the fishermen always want more,” he said.
As the numbers of fish arriving on Europe’s shores goes down, smugglers are taking greater risks to sate voracious Asian demand.
“Trying to control the traffickers is getting more dangerous. These are people who operate on the sidelines of mass organized crime,” said Vignaud.
EUROPOL has scored a number of major hauls in recent years, including Spanish police busting an eel-smuggling gang in possession of 350 kilograms of glass eels in April.
But despite such seizures and a handful of ongoing trials, campaigners say the penalties remain flimsy compared with those for other trafficking crimes.
“EUROPOL can act on the level of customs but there’s not a European intervention force to fight trafficking and traffickers,” said Nithart.
Eels are mentioned in England’s 11th-century Domesday Book and used to be an accepted tax payment in medieval times.
But as mass trafficking continues to undermine EU-wide efforts to save the threatened species, there are fears for the future of one of the world’s most storied fish.
“One of the sad things about today, in general, is how human beings are losing touch with nature, and the eel really symbolizes this,” said Kerr.
Fishing nations fail in bid to cut quotas
Dubrovnik (Croatia): Dozens of nations on Monday failed to agree on measures to preserve one of the planet’s most valuable fish: the bigeye tuna, backbone of a billion-dollar business that is severely overfished.
Some 50 countries as well as European Union member states wrapped up a meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) in the Croatian seaside city of Dubrovnik without reaching a consensus on quotas.
“It’s a setback and it’s bad news,” said Javier Garat Perez, secretary general of the Spanish fishing confederation Cepesca.
Scientists shocked many in the industry last month when they warned that unless catch levels are sharply reduced, stocks of the fatty, fast-swimming predator could crash within a decade or two.
They warned that populations had fallen to less than 20 percent of historic levels.
Less iconic than Atlantic bluefin but more valuable as an industry, bigeye (Thunnus obesus) — one of several so-called tropical tunas — is prized for sashimi in Japan and canned for supermarket sales worldwide.
Three years ago, ICCAT introduced a 65,000-tonne catch limit for the seven largest fishers of bigeye, and a moratorium in certain areas of ocean.
But other countries are not bound by the quotas, and bigeye hauls last year topped 80,000 tonnes — far too high to begin replenishing stocks.
The Dubrovnik meeting saw calls to bring countries fishing more than 1,575 tonnes such as Brazil, Senegal, Guatemala and Cape Verde under quotas but these were blocked due to commercial interests, many delegates said.
“The industry wants to make money and in the quickest way it can,” said Siphokazi Ndudane, who headed the South African delegation at the talks.
The current quota of 65,000 tonnes was extended for a year as well as a partial moratorium on Fish Aggregating Devices or FADs: buoys or floats tethered to the ocean floor with concrete blocks which attract certain types of fish.
The last proposal at the conference was made by South Africa which suggested a quota of 62,500 tonnes from 2019 to 2021.
Some disappointed delegates sounded the alarm.
“If we don’t reach consensus next year, it’s catastrophe,” said Yvan Riva, president of the French fishing organization Orthongel.
The various players also traded blame.
Garat Perez pointed to Asian countries saying they “tried to avoid any measure that could affect their fleet of longliners,” adding that “Europeans were prepared to make sacrifices.”
But one member of a coastal African nation said it was a “lack of will” on the part of the big fishing nations.
Some experts have calculated that cutting the total catch to 50,000 tonnes per year would give bigeye a 70 percent probability of recovery by 2028.
Some delegates said the ICCAT had not taken in the lessons from the bluefin tuna.
In 2007 when one species of bluefin (Thunnus thynnus) was put on the UN list of threatened species, the ICCAT was forced to adopt drastic protective measures in the Atlantic and Mediterranean and stocks began to recover.
In Dubrovnik, after lengthy negotiations, the ICCAT put in place its 2019 management plan including relaxed fishing periods and for developing countries, the opportunity to set up bluefin tuna fattening farms.
“Bottom line, there are simply too many boats in the water chasing too few fish,” said Paulus Tak, a senior officer for the Pew Charitable Trusts, and an official observer at the ICCAT meeting, about the bigeye tuna situation.