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Northerners thawing out from a bitter freeze may get rewarded with shimmering northern lights the next couple of days.
The University of Alaska’s Geophysical Institute predicts much of Canada and the northern fringes of the U.S. should be able to see the northern lights. Chicago, Boston, Cleveland, Seattle and Des Moines might see the shimmering colours low on the horizon.
U.S. federal space weather forecaster Joe Kunches said the sun shot out a strong solar flare late Tuesday, which should arrive at Earth early Thursday. It should shake up Earth’s magnetic field and expand the Aurora Borealis south, possibly as far south as Colorado and central Illinois. He said the best viewing would probably be Thursday evening, weather permitting.
The solar storm is already causing airline flights to be diverted around the North Pole and South Pole and may disrupt GPS devices Thursday.
The northern lights are a result of charged particles from the sun interacting with the Earth’s magnetic field. As particles from the solar wind enter the Earth’s upper atmosphere, they collide with the individual atoms of our atmosphere to produce the spectacular light show.
Urgent: The public comment period on actions to protect bees from neonicotinoids in Canada closes today!
Professor Dave Goulson is a UK biologist who specializes in bees. He has published over 200 scientific articles on the ecology of bees and other insects, and is the author of Bumblebees: Their behaviour, ecology and conservation (2010, Oxford University Press) and A Sting in the Tale (2013, Jonathan Cape), a popular science book about bumblebees.
In 2010 he was BBSRC “Social Innovator of the Year” and in 2013 he won the Marsh Award for Conservation Biology from the Zoological Society of London. In 2006 he founded the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, a charity devoted to reversing bumblebee declines.
We spoke to Goulson recently to get the scoop on all this buzz about neonicotinoids.
A\J: George Monbiot, who quotes your work in his blog, says that the EU ban is not comprehensive or meaningful – that only a few kinds of neonicotinoids will be banned and that the class of pesticides as a whole will continue to be used widely.
DG: It’s not a complete ban at all. It’s only two years, so it’s temporary, it applies only to seed dressing on flowering crops, so canola, corn, sunflowers, and only the drilling of seed-treated crops in the spring and summer when bees are flying because of the dust that’s created that leads to fairly swift death for bees. It does not apply to foliar sprays on fruit and vegetables, garden use, or to seed dressings on winter wheat, which is a big crop in Europe that is drilled in the autumn. But lots of them will still be used and, given their persistence in soil, there will be lots swilling around. And even if there were a total ban for two years, because of their persistence I wouldn’t expect bee populations to be bouncing back as a result. It would take many years for these compounds to be removed from the soil.
A\J: My research on this issue indicates that bees are only one factor – that many other invertebrates and birds are threatened by these chemicals. Is part of the problem that services provided by bees can be fairly easily quantified in economic terms? Is this focus on bees at the expense of the bigger picture?
DG: I would agree completely. One of the reasons you highlight is that bees get all the attention because everyone understands that they are important, but fewer people understand the importance of worms, earwigs, etc. The second thing is that beekeepers notice when their bees die. But wild organisms have no one to look after them and no one to notice if they are having problems. The first people to notice the effects of neonicotinoids were French beekeepers back in the 1990s. But there are lots of insects in the environment that we don’t want to be killed that are also being exposed. This can be through build up in soil and water, and the pesticides can be drawn up by non-crop roots. There is every reason to suspect that the effects are much, much broader than just bees, be we have no good monitoring programs for these other organisms.
A\J: Do we have a handle on how effective neonics are at increasing crop yields? Can it be quantified?
DG: This is the most interesting thing of all. There is no doubt we need farming; we need to produce sufficient food efficiently. If these pesticides were vital to farming we might just have to accept bee kills. The irony is that there is no evidence that they are effective. Pest management in farming is not based on evidence; it’s not based on field trials. Recently there have been a few studies from the US on soybeans that found no effect on yields whatsoever. Farmers are paying good money for seed treatments that don’t benefit them in any way. There is a fundamental problem with the system, in my view, which is that most agronomic advice to farmers comes from people who work for agrichemical companies. So it’s hardly surprising that they are recommending farmers use lots of agrichemicals. And it seems as if some of the ones they are recommending aren’t doing anything. It might sound a bit crazy, but look at it this way – we all buy things that we don’t need all the time: cosmetics that don’t do anything, vitamin supplements that don’t do anything, and so on. We are all easily convinced to buy things we don’t need and farmers have no other source of information. They can’t choose not to use these chemicals anyway, because it’s impossible to get untreated seed at present, so they don’t even have a choice. They are forced to pay for something that doesn’t work, which I think is pretty outrageous and I think if farmers knew that, they might well be quite unhappy.
A\J: Are you saying that after getting their education, most agronomists end up working for agrichemical companies?
DG: I’m not an expert on the Canadian system, but I can tell you that in the UK, 80 per cent of agronomists work directly for agrichemical companies and I believe the situation is similar here.
A\J: If corn, soy and canola farmers are prevented from using neonics, what alternatives will they have? Will these be more harmful?
DG: The first response to this is whether they need an alternative at all. If these chemicals aren’t benefiting their yield, then clearly they don’t need to be replaced with anything. IF one makes the assumption that for someone, somewhere, neonics are providing some small benefit, although there’s no evidence for this, then farmers might want to use something else. They won’t go back to using organophosphates as they have been banned. It’s more likely that farmers might increase their use of pyrethroids slightly, which are being used currently anyway – most seeds treated with neonics are also sprayed with pyrethroids. So that’s the worst-case scenario. Now, pyrethroids do kill bees, they are an insecticide, but they do have a big advantage from a bee’s perspective in that they don’t persist in the environment for longer than a few days. So beekeepers can shut their hives or take them away for a few days, while neonics are in the environment 365 days a year.
A\J: One of our bloggers has suggested that it’s time to rethink they way we practice agriculture – that enormous monocultures are extremely hard on soil, water, wildlife and humans. Are you able to comment on that?
DG: I would say that modern agriculture is probably not sustainable in the long term globally. We are losing absurd amounts of soil from repeatedly plowing in parts of the world where winds or heavy rains can wash it away. We are using up underground aquifers in some of the more arid parts of the world; we have problems of salinization in some parts of the world. We are reducing the ability of the planet to produce food globally. We do need to rethink the ways we are producing food.
A\J: John Bennett of Sierra Club Canada has noted that western Canada hasn’t seen the same die off as we in eastern and central Canada have. He wonders if it might be the difference between corn and canola production. Do you have any insight on that?
DG: I don’t know the details on that, but I’ve heard the same arguments. Application of neonics on canola is much lower than on corn. But the problems for bees are not just pesticides. Bees have been suffering for many decades because there aren’t many flowers left. Modern farming doesn’t leave room for anything but the crop. This applies more to wild bees than to honeybees, but they’ve all undergone a 70-year decline due to lack of food. On top of that we’ve accidentally introduced disease and parasites, and now we’re poisoning them. It’s this combination of stressors that’s at the heart of the problem. Bees could cope with one of them, or maybe two, but if you throw three or more factors at them they get into trouble. So maybe there are fewer stressors in the west or they exist in different combination. It may also come down to the application rate of the pesticides. I have heard that this may be exaggerated, that western bees are not as healthy as they are made out to be, but I don’t have any figures on that.
A\J: Do you have a take away message for us?
DG: I’m always really keen to get people to not just talk about honeybees. Pollination is done by a whole load of different insects and they are all really important and all need looking after. Bees have their champions, but all organisms need to be protected.
You’ve got just enough time left to tell Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency Publications Section what you think about a potential ban – comments are due today! Get the details here.
Today is the deadline for Canada to file scientific evidence to justify its claim to Arctic resources beyond its 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone.
The federal government is being cagey about the submission that it is supposed to file within 10 years of signing the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, an international treaty setting out maritime rules.
“It’s being a really closely held secret. The big thing that everyone is wondering about is how far up the Lomonosov Ridge we’re [Canada] actually going to go,” says University of Calgary professor and Arctic expert Rob Huebert.
The Lomonosov Ridge is an undersea mountain range that runs between Ellesmere Island, Canada’s most northern land mass, and the east Siberian coast in Russia.
The science package that Canada will file with the UN is essentially a series of undersea co-ordinates that map what the government claims is this country’s extended continental shelf. Under Article 76 of the UN maritime treaty, any coastal country can claim rights to the seabed and sub-seabed up to 150 nautical miles beyond its exclusive economic zone.
In one exception, a country can claim beyond 150 nautical miles if there is a ridge that juts out from its extended continental shelf.
Canada could potentially have conflicting claims with Denmark on its border with Greenland and with the U.S. in the Beaufort Sea. But the contentious overlap might be with Russia on the Lomonosov Ridge.
Russia presented its claim to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf in 2001. That claim ran along the Lomonosov Ridge right up to the North Pole. If Canada has a claim to the Lomonosov Ridge, it could reach 200 nautical miles beyond the pole. That is the halfway point between Canada and Russia.
The UN commission just judges the science and doesn’t have the power to resolve competing claims. Those have to be resolved state-to-state.
University of Ottawa Russia specialist Ivan Katchanovski doesn’t expect there will be a conflict, even if the Canadian and Russian claims overlap.
“There is potential for significant dispute, but don’t expect this is going to lead to a major confrontation or cold war,” Katchanovski told CBC News.
He argued that such a confrontation would make Russian President Vladimir Putin look weak.
“Putin wants to collaborate with Western powers. He does not want to be treated as a secondary power. He wants to be considered to be equal,” Katchanovski explained. “Any confrontation would be detrimental to the Russian image abroad.”
As for the Danes and Americans, Canada worked closely with both of them on mapping the sea floor. Denmark submitted its claim to the commission in November.
U.S. hasn’t signed treaty
The U.S. situation is a little more complicated. It has yet to ratify the maritime treaty, so it doesn’t have the right to submit a scientific claim to the UN commission.
That hasn’t stopped the Americans from working with Canada, though.
“We get along pretty well with the Canadians, and with respect to the surveying of the extended continental shelf, the two countries found that they could co-operate, and that would be a win-win that would save the taxpayers money,” said John P. Bellinger III, an international law expert and former adviser to the last Bush administration on the treaty.
Bellinger said the U.S. would accept Canada’s submission to the UN commission even if there was overlap, “provided that it does not prejudice the U.S. claim.”
Bellinger did offer one caveat to the government in Ottawa.
“If Canada tries to take the North Pole just before Christmas, I think the United States would be very opposed to that.”
- The North Pole Has Melted. Again. (theatlanticwire.com)
- North Pole melts, forms lake at top of the world (mnn.com)
- So, The North Pole Is Actually A Lake Right Now (huffingtonpost.com)
- The North Pole Is A Lake Right Now – Small Melt Lake At The Top Of The World (VIDEO) (planetsave.com)
- Arctic methane release is an ‘economic time bomb’ – study | Nafeez Ahmed (guardian.co.uk)
- North Pole Now a Lake (livescience.com)
- Arctic Methane Ticking ‘Time Bomb’ Could Cost World $60 Trillion (scienceworldreport.com)
- 2012 Melt Season – Arctic Ice in Free Fall Again? (climatecrocks.com)
- Snow and Arctic sea ice plummet suddenly as globe bakes (bangordailynews.com)