Thursday, November 25, 2010

NOAA: Jan- Oct. period in 2010 warmest across world in recorded history

The ten-month period from Jan. 1 through Oct. 31 experienced the highest average air temperatures for that time of the year, as measured by the combined land and ocean surface technique, since records were started in 1880.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in its monthly State of the Climate report, issued earlier this month, that the average combined land and ocean surface temperature worldwide during that portion of this year was the same as it was in 1998.

The agency also explained that both the average worldwide land surface temperature and the average worldwide ocean surface temperature were the second highest on record for the Jan. 1-Oct. 31 period.

For the month of October itself, the combined average worldwide land and ocean surface temperature was 0.54 degrees Celsius above the historic average and was the eighth-warmest since record-keeping began.

Large areas of the planet were substantially warmer than the norm, including western Alaska, Canada, northeastern Africa, the Middle East, Kazakhstan, and large portions of Russia.

Cooler-than-average locations included most of Europe, a large portion of Australia, and Mongolia.

Precipitation was highly variable around the planet.

The wettest areas during October were Canada's southwestern coast, most of Central America, northern South America, northern Scandinavia, certain areas along Africa's west coast, most of southern and southeastern Asia, southern Japan, parts of Micronesia and the Philippines, and southeastern Australia.

The driest areas were Canada's northwest coast, parts of the southern United States, northern Mexico, Colombia, eastern Peru, and parts of southern India.

In the United States, this October was the eleventh-warmest on record.

The month's average nationwide temperature of 56.9 degrees Fahrenheit was 2.1 degrees higher than the average for October during the years 1901-2000. None of the country's nine climate regions had an average monthly temperature below the norm.

Average precipitation across the country was 0.26 inches lower than the average for the month for the years 1901-2000. However, significant swaths of the nation experienced more dryness than usual, including the Great Plains, Ohio River valley, and the South.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Washington sets critical habitat for polar bear

The icy home of the polar bear received additional legal protection Wednesday as the Obama administration designated nearly 200,000 acres as critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act.

The decision could pose an insurmountable obstacle to additional oil and gas drilling off the Alaska coast, as the designation includes large areas of sea ice.

“This critical habitat designation enables us to work with federal partners to ensure their actions within its boundaries do not harm polar bear populations,” the Interior Department's assistant secretary for fish, wildlife, and parks, Tom Strickland, said in a statement. “Nevertheless, the greatest threat to the polar bear is the melting of its sea ice habitat caused by human-induced climate change. We will continue to work toward comprehensive strategies for the long-term survival of this iconic species.”

Nearly all of the protected acreage is ice on the surface of the Chukshi and Beaufort seas, which are sought-after exploration zones for the oil and gas industry.

The designation means that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will have to decide whether extraction activity would damage the polar bear's habitat or set back its recovery before necessary exploration permits are granted.

About four percent of the lands protected by the decree are used by polar bears for denning and protection from human disturbance.

The administration lowered the amount of protected acreage by about 13,000 square miles from the total proposed in Oct. 2009. FWS also excluded five U.S. Air Force radar stations and two native villages from the area covered by the designation.

Polar bears cannot survive without sea ice. They use it as a platform to hunt seals, to seek mates, and occasionally to build maternity dens in which to raise cubs.

Private lands are not affected by the designation unless the owner seeks a federal permit, plans to use federal funds for a project, or the federal government itself engages in activities on it.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Lame-duck session could include lands bill, report says

During its lame-duck session this month and next the Senate may take up a public lands bill that would create several new national parks, national monuments, wildlife refuges, and wilderness areas.

The prospect of consideration of such an omnibus measure, and its passage, is uncertain.

According to a report in the New York Times, it is not clear that the leadership of the House of Representatives would agree to pass the bill without committee consideration in that chamber.

The package would also have to compete with several other priorities in the Senate.

The bill may also include provisions to improve protection of ocean resources and expand marine research and fisheries protections.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Fish and Wildlife Service releases annual list of candidate species

Five species of plant and animal are new candidates for protection under the Endangered Species Act, according to a notice issued today by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

One species, a mammal native to California called the Palm Springs roundtail ground squirrel, was removed from the list.

The changes mean that there are now 251 species of plants and animals on the candidate species list.

Candidates for listing meet the statutory criteria for protection under the ESA but are not added to the roster of endangered and threatened species because the agency's resources are needed to list higher priority species.

FWS can act to conserve candidate species through extension of grants to states, territorial governments, and private entities. In addition, the agency has entered into 110 Candidate Conservation Agreements under which the parties agree to take specific actions, or avoid specific actions, with the aim of reducing the threat to a candidate species' survival.

More than 100 candidate species are managed under Candidate Conservation Agreements.