London’s Empty Towers Mark a Very British Form of Corruption

The Guardian – Architecture Opinion.

London’s empty towers mark a very British form of corruption.

By Simon Jenkins, Wednesday 25 May 2016.

These monoliths that dominate the skyline expose the tainted wealth that has the capital’s gullible politicians in thrall.


Now we know. The glitzy 50-storey tower that looms over London’s Vauxhall and Pimlico is, as the Guardian revealed yesterday, just a stack of bank deposits. Once dubbed Prescott Tower, after the minister who approved it against all advice, it is virtually empty.

At night, vulgar lighting more suited to a casino cannot conceal the fact that its interior is dark, owned by absent Russians, Nigerians and Chinese. It makes no more contribution to London than a gold bar in a bank vault, but is far more prominent, a great smudge of tainted wealth on the city’s horizon.

In 2003 London’s first elected mayor, Ken Livingstone, was dazzled by a dinner invitation to the Villa Katoushka outside Cannes. His hosts were the titans of London’s property world and he was reportedly soon in thrall to them.

He said he would offer them “the potential to make very good profits” in his new London. He especially wanted tall buildings; the taller the better. The developer Gerald Ronson lauded him for his remarkable “vision”. Tony Pidgley of Berkeley Homes called him “refreshing”.

The mayor was as good as his word. He backed Ronson’s monster Heron Tower in the City. He backed Prescott’s Vauxhall tower. He backed the Bermondsey Shard. He even spent taxpayers’ money on lawyers to support developers at public inquiries. At the time the Tory leader of Wandsworth, Eddie Lister, assailed Livingstone’s obsession with towers as a “one-man dictatorship”. David Cameron’s then cities spokesman, John Gummer, compared Livingstone to Mussolini, and spoke of the towers as “the vulgarity of bigness”.

Yet when Cameron came to power, this was all forgotten. In London, property is the most potent lobby. The Tory mayor, Boris Johnson, increased Livingstone’s rate of tower approvals, while Lister gratefully took office as his tall-buildings champion.

There was no published plan for the drastic surgery being inflicted on London’s appearance. No limit was set to the towers’ location or height. No one took care of their appearance or bulk, their civic significance or their role in the life of the capital. Some 80% of the approvals were for luxury flats, chiefly marketed as speculations in east Asia. Such has been the rate of unrestricted growth, there seems no reason to doubt the dystopian vision of London’s future depicted in the last Star Trek movie.

Johnson’s current legacy to London is 54,000 luxury flats priced at over £1m, about to hit a market that even before the present downturn needed just 4,000 a year. This bubble simply has to burst. The waste of building resources, energy and space, the sheer market-wrecking bad planning, beggars belief.

Towers have a perfectly reputable place in the history of cities. By their nature they dominate. They mark victories and royal palaces; they signify civic centres and clustered downtowns. The tallest towers, in the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, Singapore and China, reflect the priapic obsessions of dictators and the celebrity cravings of banana republics.

Civilised cities such as Paris, Rome, Amsterdam – even New York, Boston and San Francisco – either ban new towers from historic areas or zone them into clusters. Above all they show some consideration for the aesthetics of place.

No such considerations applied to the Vauxhall tower. Some people like towers, though few want them everywhere. Architects love them as “icons”, as bankers love money.

Some cities desperate for space, such as Hong Kong and Shanghai, build high to cram in the poor, often in dire conditions. Studies from Jane Jacobs to Lynsey Hanley catalogue the impact of high living on family life and community cohesion.

In London, as the Guardian shows, these buildings have nothing to do with housing supply, let alone low-cost supply. Their front doors are manned not by concierges, but by security guards, like banks. They are the product of speculative flows of often “dodgy” cash, seeking an unregulated property market that asks no questions and seeks a quick profit. That is all.

Most cities, ironically including Hong Kong and Singapore, in some way restrict foreign or non-resident acquisition of property, as do most New York condominiums. In London gullible politicians and venal architects have conspired to suborn a great city, simply because towers seemed vaguely macho and money smells sweet.

Nor do towers have to do with population density. The idea that modern cities must “go high” as part of the densification cause is rubbish. External landscaping and internal servicing makes them costly and inefficient. The densest parts of London are the crowded and desirable low-rise terraces of Victorian Islington, Camden and Kensington. The recently proposed Paddington Pole, the height of the Shard, had just 330 flats on 72 storeys. Adjacent, Victorian Bayswater could supply 400 on the same plot.

London has seen nothing yet. A row of giant blocks is about to rise around the Shell Centre behind the National Theatre. The 50-storey cucumber-shaped One Blackfriars is emerging on the bank of the Thames opposite the Embankment. It will intrude on views of the City far more than does the Shard.

The line of the Thames will be marked by a series of jagged broken teeth. Prescott’s tower at Vauxhall is to be joined by two more apartment stacks next door, one even higher.

Next to Battersea power station is a crowded over-development on an almost Hong Kong scale, named Malaysia Square and aimed at the Asian super-rich. Johnson helped sell it in 2014 by actually unveiling the development not in London but in Kuala Lumpur. It will probably go bust and end up as slums. At least the poor may one day live there.

Livingstone and Johnson promoted these towers not because they cared where ordinary Londoners would live, or because they had a coherent vision of how a historic city should look in the 21st century. They knew they were planning “dead” speculations, because plenty of people told them so. They went ahead because powerful men with money and a gift for flattery just asked. It was very British sort of corruption.

The appearance of these structures on the London horizon must rank as the saddest episode in the city’s recent history. We must live with them forever. But we shall not forget their facilitators.


The Connection Between Nitrogen Fertilizer and Air Pollution

Good article explaining the connection between nitrogen fertilizer and manure, and air pollution.

Farming is ‘single biggest cause’ of worst air pollution in Europe

Fiona Harvey, Tuesday 17 May 2016.

Farming is the biggest single cause of the worst air pollution in Europe, a new study has found, as nitrogen compounds from fertilisers and animal waste drift over industrial regions.

When the nitrogen compounds are mixed with air already polluted from industry, they combine to form solid particles that can stick in the fine lung tissue of children and adults, causing breathing difficulties, impaired lungs and heart function, and eventually even premature death.

The compounds come from nitrogen-rich fertilisers, which have been in common use for decades. Nitrogen, the major content of the air we breathe, is essential for plant growth, and enhancing that growth has led to a massive industry in putting nitrogen – already naturally present in soils – back into the ground in greater quantities.

Ammonia, whose chemical composition is nitrogen and hydrogen (NH3), is a by-product both of fertilised fields and of animal waste, as it can come from the breakdown of livestock excretions.

Links between fine particulate pollution and ammonia from agricultural sources have been slow to be firmly established, but an increasing body of research suggests that this is now a leading source of air pollution.

Europe, much of the US, Russia and China have been found to suffer from the problem, in the latest research from the Earth Institute at Columbia University, in the US, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

When ammonia in the atmosphere reaches areas of industry, the pollutants from combustion, which include nitrogen oxides produced by diesel vehicles, and sulphur compounds from power plants and some other industrial processes, the chemicals combine to create very small particles, about 2.5 micrometres across.

Although invisible to human eyes, their tiny size means these particles penetrate deep into people’s lungs when they are breathed in. Not only can they cause breathing problems, particularly in the young, the elderly and people more vulnerable, but they can even cause heart disease.

More than 40,000 people a year have been found to die prematurely in the UK alone because of air pollution, prompting MPs to declare the problem a “public health emergency”.

But while MPs have called for remedies such as scrapping diesel cars in favour of petrol models, and excluding the most polluting vehicles from large parts of cities, the problem of how to control pollution from agriculture has been left largely alone.

That is partly because such diffuse pollution – which by its nature travels easily across long distances and international borders – is so hard to deal with.

Counselling farmers to use less fertiliser is one way, but it will not solve the problem. Susanne Bauer, an atmospheric scientist at Columbia, said: “This is not against fertiliser. There are many places, including Africa, that need more of it. We expect population to go up, and to produce more food, we will need more fertiliser.”

She said that controlling other sources of industrial pollution, which are the agents that turn agricultural pollution into its harmful forms, should be the priority. Cutting down on coal-fired power stations and their sulphur emissions, using more efficient vehicles and potentially electric cars, and regulating polluting industries more tightly would all have an effect, she suggested.

However, other tiny particulates can also combine with ammonia, including dust such as the Saharan desert sands that contributed to a major pollution event in the UK two years ago.

Excess fertiliser use is also one of the biggest causes of pollution in the oceans, as run-off creates “dead zones” in the seas where oxygen is virtually eliminated and fish and other marine life can no longer exist. The fertiliser that runs off or reaches the air is no longer helping the crops it was intended to grow, so if farmers were forced or encouraged to use less fertiliser, but use it more efficiently, the amounts that find their way into the seas and air might be reduced.


Portable DNA Device to Combat Wildlife Crime

Into the wild with DNA: Using portable nanopore DNA sequencers to combat wildlife crime

Date:May 11, 2016 Source: University of Leicester Summary: A team has been awarded a prize for their proposal to crack down on wildlife crime using a portable DNA sequencing device [the size of a mobile phone], the MinION, to read the ‘barcode genes’ of animals affected by illegal trafficking. Share:

The Leicester team will collaborate with organisations working in the field such as the Kenya Wildlife Service and Panthera.

The method, proposed by Dr Jon Wetton from the University of Leicester’s Department of Genetics, uses DNA barcode genes to identify animal species in real time.

This could be used to test blood stains on the machete of a poacher, identify bushmeat from endangered animals such as chimpanzees at local markets — and even detect the frequent illegal substitution of products derived from protected species in the caviar trade.

Wildlife trafficking is a global crisis — $20 billion of animal parts are illegally traded each year, fuelling criminal networks that spread insecurity, devastate species, and destroy livelihoods.

The Wildlife Crime Tech Challenge, an initiative of the U.S. Agency for International Development with support from National Geographic, Smithsonian and TRAFFIC, sourced innovative science and technology solutions to combat this problem.

Three hundred creators from 52 countries applied, of which 16 — including the University of Leicester — have each been awarded $10,000 and an opportunity to bid for a larger award of up to $500,000 to help implement their solutions in the real wild world.

The award to the University of Leicester’s Dr Jon Wetton aims to combat the wildlife trafficking trade by initiating the development of a method of determining the species of origin of animal derivatives and forensic traces in the field using a portable device to read ‘barcode genes’ — DNA sequences which vary significantly between species.

To do this the University of Leicester will use the MinION, a portable USB-powered DNA sequencer developed by Oxford Nanopore Technologies. The team will also explore the use of VolTRAX, a sample preparation device designed to allow non-scientists to prepare samples outside a laboratory environment.

Together these technologies are intended to fully automate DNA analysis from applying an original sample of blood or tissue to comparing the analysis results in real time with a reference database of species-specific barcode gene sequences.

Dr Wetton from the University of Leicester Department of Genetics said: “This project builds upon research carried out in 2003 when I led the Forensic Science Service team responsible for introducing species identification by DNA into UK casework. Our method then was costly, as it required more than a day’s work in a well-equipped laboratory, but by using the MinION device we hope to achieve the same results about one hour from collecting a sample.”

A cheap and rapid test will allow law enforcement officers to carry out the testing in developing countries, or allow rapid testing of goods in transit at customs posts.

The device will also reduce the inconvenience to legitimate traders and raise awareness of the extent and diversity of illegal trade.

Dr Wetton added: “We hope to demonstrate proof of concept within a year, with a view to working on it further so that the method is more broadly useful in the field. This initial grant will help demonstrate how the test could be used to detect traces of elephant and rhino blood in poaching cases once the device is fully developed.”






Story Source:


The above post is reprinted from materials provided by University of Leicester.

Move to Rein In Emissions by Ships and Planes

19 May 2016: Analysis

After Paris, A Move to Rein In Emissions by Ships and Planes   [ABRIDGED ARTICLE]

As the world moves to slash CO2 emissions, the shipping and aviation sectors have managed to remain on the sidelines. But the pressure is now on these two major polluting industries to start controlling their emissions at last.

By Fred Pearce.  In the global effort to reduce carbon emissions, the aviation and shipping industries have been the most conspicuous outliers. Although these two sectors currently contribute 6 percent of all manmade CO2 emissions, they have managed to remain outside international control.

But in the wake of the historic United Nations climate agreement reached in Paris in December, the pressure is finally on to rein in these two big freeloaders. International aviation and shipping emissions were excluded from the Paris pact, which introduced limits on greenhouse gas emissions for all nations starting in 2020. With power generation, manufacturing, domestic transport, deforestation, and even changes in land use all now constrained, calls are growing for these two big sectors to be tamed as well. Aviation and shipping each emit roughly the same volume of CO2 annually as the U.K. or Germany, and unlike the emissions of those two countries, their greenhouse gases continue to rise dramatically. Between 1990 and 2010, their contributions to the accumulation of planet-warming CO2 in the atmosphere rose by an average 3 percent a year, three times faster than overall global CO2 emissions. According to a study by University College London’s Energy Institute, aviation and shipping are on target to increase their contributions to overall CO2 emissions from today’s 6 percent to 40 percent by 2050, even as emissions from other sectors are slashed. By the end of the year, the U.N. agencies charged with controlling aviation and shipping will decide whether to cap their emissions in line with the Paris Agreement. If they cannot, then calls by scientists, activists, and climate negotiators for the decisions to be taken out of the industries’ hands will intensify. International transportation has been left out of U.N. agreements on fighting climate change because it does not fit easily into control regimes, such as the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement, which are based on national targets. Which nation should be responsible, say, for a flight from Mexico City to New York, or a container ship heading from Shanghai to Los Angeles? Should the emissions be logged with the country where the plane or ship departs, or where it arrives, or according to its national flag or legal jurisdiction, or where it takes on fuel, or according to who or what is on board?

But it hasn’t worked out like that. Those two agencies have spent most of the 24 years since the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was agreed in 1992 doing virtually nothing, while watching the emissions from aviation and shipping soar far faster than other industrial sectors.
And with shipping, the problem has been further complicated by international lines that registered their ships in nations with lax regulatory systems, known as “flags of convenience.” Two-thirds of the world’s ships are registered in small non-industrial countries such as Panama, Liberia, and the Marshall Islands.

transport pollution graph

Projected share of global CO2 emissions from aviation and shipping.

With airlines responsible for 90 percent of aviation traffic backing the proposals, an agreement should be reached. But the shipping industry, according to observers after the IMO’s most recent environment committee meeting in April, remains in denial. The aviation industry was pushed into action by a plan drawn up by the European Union in 2012. It required airlines flying into European airports to, in effect, pay a tax on emissions by being required to subscribe to the EU’s existing emissions trading scheme and buy permits for the pollution they cause. The industry challenged the European plan under international law, which prohibits national taxes on international aviation. But, in return for the EU putting the plan on hold, the ICAO agreed to draw up its own proposals. The political pressure to push through an aviation emissions cap is growing. Without a deal, the EU has promised to revisit its trading-scheme plan. And President Obama, in a joint announcement with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earlier this year, pledged to get an ICAO deal before he leaves office. Under the ICAO’s draft plan, aviation emissions will be capped at 2020 levels. Airlines will have to prevent any further increases in their emissions after that date. Any unavoidable increases will have to be offset, either by airlines trading emissions rights among themselves, or by investing in offset schemes such as reforestation or forest conservation to soak up the excess CO2. Current industry projections see aviation activity increasing between three- and four-fold by 2040, according to an analysis by Annie Petsonk of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) in Washington, D.C. More efficient planes can reduce emissions slightly below that.

But Petsonk still expects annual emissions of CO2 from international aviation to be 7.8 billion tons higher in 2040 than today. That is an increase roughly equivalent to current U.S. national emissions from all activities.

One way out would be to convert planes to burning biofuels. If those crop-based fuels are sustainably produced, airlines could mark such flights as zero emitters. Virgin and Lufthansa have run commercial flights on biofuels, but they have yet to go mainstream. In any event, the carbon neutrality of biofuels is widely contested by environmental groups, and turning large areas of land over to their production could threaten food security in some countries. Last month, the Environmental Defense Fund, The Nature Conservancy, and Conservation International all backed the offsetting option, urging aviation to puts its money into the U.N.’s Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) program, which channels funds into conservation of forests as carbon sinks. These groups called this approach “essential” to meet the stabilization target. But not all environmental organizations agree. Some, including Greenpeace and a host of European NGOs, believe forest conservation offsets do little in practice to protect forests and are prone to fraud and double-counting, in which various organizations funding forest conservation each end up claiming the supposed carbon benefit. But at least aviation is now engaged in a discussion about how to comply with its pledges. The shipping industry, in contrast, remains unsure about whether it wants to commit to curbing its emissions at all – even though the IMO’s own estimates suggest shipping emissions will rise by 250 percent by 2050 and could by then make up 17 percent of all global emissions. Carbon emissions standards on individual new ships that will be introduced from 2019 will reduce emissions per ton of cargo. But the IMO has no plans to extend the standards to existing shipping or to impose caps on the industry’s overall emissions. Last September, the IMO’s then-secretary general Koji Sekimizu said shipping emissions should not be capped because to do so could damage economic growth. “Such measures would artificially limit the ability of shipping to meet the demand created by the world economy, or would unbalance the level playing field that the shipping industry needs for efficient operation, and therefore must be avoided,” he said.

While the EU and two of the three nations with the largest “flag of convenience” shipping fleets — Liberia and the Marshall Islands — backed drawing up plans to bring shipping into line on emissions curbs, they met fierce opposition. Russia, China, India, Brazil, and the third major flag of convenience state, Panama, all put up strong resistance to any idea of substantive talks on limiting emissions. This veto from big developing nations has angered some major players in the industry, including a group called the Sustainable Shipping Initiative (SSI), whose members include major shipping lines such as the Danish giant Maersk, cruise company Carnival, and big users of shipping such as Cargill, the commodities conglomerate. “The shipping industry cannot go to Morocco without a process for emissions reductions. It would simply be unacceptable,” Fischbacher told Yale Environment 360. “Not only would it damage the industry’s reputation, it would also run the risk of external regulators taking the matter into their own hands and circumnavigating the IMO.”

Despite the IMO’s reluctance, making big reductions in emissions from shipping is not that difficult. A lot could be done to improve the fuel efficiency of shipping. Maersk says that during the economic slump after 2008, when shipping fleets had huge surplus capacity, the company cut fuel use and CO2 emissions by 30 percent simply by telling the captains of its massive container ships to travel more slowly.

And the International Chamber of Shipping says better-designed engines, hulls, and propellers could cut emissions by a further 15-20 percent. Different fuels for ships could also make a big difference. Maersk has conducted trials with biofuels. Carnival recently ordered the world’s first cruise ship powered by liquefied natural gas. And engineers are working on designs for ships powered by the sun or even a return to sails. But Fischbacher says for these innovations to be widely adopted, “there needs to be a mandatory incentive with global targets.” “Shipping and aviation are in a similar situation today,” he says. “If left unchecked, their greenhouse gas emissions are set to rise exponentially by 2050. So far, both have failed to implement meaningful measures.” Yet while aviation seems to be facing up to the challenges of a carbon-constrained world, shipping looks like the last holdout.

Cruise Ships – Their Wake of Pollution

John Vidal, Saturday 21 May 2016.

When the gargantuan Harmony of the Seas slips out of Southampton docks on Sunday afternoon on its first commercial voyage, the 16-deck-high floating city will switch off its auxiliary engines, fire up its three giant diesels and head to the open sea.

Harmony Of The Seas

Harmony Of The Seas

But while the 6,780 passengers and 2,100 crew on the largest cruise ship in the world wave goodbye to England, many people left behind in Southampton say they will be glad to see it go. They complain that air pollution from such nautical behemoths is getting worse every year as cruising becomes the fastest growing sector of the mass tourism industry and as ships get bigger and bigger.

According to its owners, Royal Caribbean, each of the Harmony’s three four-storey high 16-cylinder Wärtsilä engines will, at full power, burn 1,377 US gallons of fuel an hour, or about 96,000 gallons a day of some of the most polluting diesel fuel in the world.

In port, and close to US and some European coasts, the Harmony must burn low sulphur fuel. But, says Colin MacQueen, who lives around 400 yards from the docks and is a member of new environment group Southampton Clean Air, the fumes from cruise liners and bulk cargo ships are “definitely” contributing to Southampton’s highly polluted air.

“We can smell, see and taste it. These ships are like blocks of flats. Sometimes there are five or more in the docks at the same time. The wind blows their pollution directly into the city and as far we can tell, there is no monitoring of their pollution. We are pushing for them to use shore power but they have resisted.”

“The liners pollute, but the road traffic that they and the cargo ships generate is also huge,” he adds.

Royal Caribbean, the US owners of the Harmony of the Seas, said that the latest and most efficient pollution control systems were used and that the ship met all legal requirements. Industry body Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) added that companies had “invested significantly over the last decade to develop new technologies to help reduce air emissions”.

But marine pollution analysts in Germany and Brussels said that such a large ship would probably burn at least 150 tonnes of fuel a day, and emit more sulphur than several million cars, more NO2 gas than all the traffic passing through a medium-sized town and more particulate emissions than thousands of London buses.

According to leading independent German pollution analyst Axel Friedrich, a single large cruise ship will emit over five tonnes of NOX emissions, and 450kg of ultra fine particles a day.

Bill Hemmings, marine expert at Brussels-based Transport and Environment group said: “These ships burn as much fuel as whole towns. They use a lot more power than container ships and even when they burn low sulphur fuel, it’s 100 times worse than road diesel.”

“Air pollution from international shipping accounts for around 50,000 premature deaths per year in Europe alone, at an annual cost to society of more than €58bn [ $65bn],” says the group on its website.

Daniel Rieger, a transport officer at German environment group Nabu, said: “Cruise companies create a picture of being a bright, clean and environmentally friendly tourism sector. But the opposite is true. One cruise ship emits emits as many air pollutants as five million cars going the same distance because these ships use heavy fuel that on land would have to be disposed of as hazardous waste.”

Nabu has measured pollution in large German ports and found high concentrations of pollutants. “Heavy fuel oil can contain 3,500 times more sulphur than diesel that is used for land traffic vehicles. Ships do not have exhaust abatement technologies like particulate filters that are standard on passenger cars and lorries,” says Rieger.

Southampton, which has Britain’s second largest container port and is Europe’s busiest cruise terminal, is one of nine UK cities cited by the World Health Organisation as breaching air quality guidelines even though it has little manufacturing.

“Up to five large liners a day can be berthed in the docks at the same time, all running engines 24/7, said Chris Hinds, vice chair of the Southampton docks watchdog group WDCF. “Pollution from the port is leading to asthma and chest diseases. We are now seeing more, bigger liners but also very large bulk cargo ships.”

According to CLIA, the cruise ship industry is now one of the fastest growing sectors in the mass tourism market, with 24 million passengers expected to sail in 2016, compared to 15 million in 2006 and just 1.4 million in 1980.

“The industry shows no signs of slowing down. It generated $119.9bn (£83bn) in total output worldwide in 2015, supporting 939,232 full-time equivalent jobs,” said a spokesman.

“The luxury sector is seeing the most amazing growth that it has ever seen in its history,” said Larry Pimentel, president of Azamara club cruises.

Week Ending Saturday, May 14th

Thursday.  We gathered in the 15 ponies which have for the past three months, been grazing chalk grassland on the National Trust’s Gayles Farm property, perched midway along the Seven Sisters.  Just two of us managed the whole operation in readiness for our haulier Bob’s arrival at midday, to transport them up to the RSPB’s Broadwater Warren Reserve near Tunbridge Wells for the summer.

Saturday.  At Pippingford Park, on the Ashdown Forest SSSI, the commencement of growth of the dominant native purple moor-grass is always later than the other heathland sites we graze in Sussex.  In bloom at the moment are heath milkwort, lousewort and petty whin.

Petty whin.

Petty whin.

Below, ‘Jimmy’ showing off his 4 x 4 skills in order to graze the new growth on one of the many acid, wet flushes on Pippingford.  Six years of constant grazing are transforming this large area, it having a particularly good effect on increasing the specialised flora that live in these very wet areas.


Methane Perhaps Not Such a Threat?

Maybe there is hope for life on Earth as we currently know it, in the face of increasing global warming…

Retreat of the ice followed by a millennia of methane release

Date:  May 13, 2016


CAGE – Center for Arctic Gas Hydrate, Climate and Environment


Methane was seeping from the seafloor for thousands of years following the retreat of the Barents Sea ice sheet, shows a groundbreaking new study.


Scientists have calculated that the present day ice sheets keep vast amounts of climate gas methane in check. Ice sheets are heavy and cold, providing pressure and temperatures that contain methane in form of ice-like substance called gas hydrate. If the ice sheets retreat the weight of the ice will be lifted from the ocean floor, the gas hydrates will be destabilised and the methane will be released.

Studies conducted at CAGE have previously shown that ice sheets and methane hydrates are closely connected, and that release of methane from the seafloor has followed the retreat of the Barents Sea ice sheet some 20,000 years ago. But is all such release of the potent climate gas bound to be catastrophic?

Not necessarily, according to a new study published in Nature Communications. It shows that the methane was indeed released as the ice sheets retreated. However the seepage did not occur in one major pulse, but over a period of 7000 to 10000 years following the initial release.

“The release was too slow to significantly impact the concentration of methane in the atmosphere.” says researcher and project leader Aivo Lepland at Norwegian geological Survey (NGU) and CAGE. This may help explain why we have yet to discover a signal for such events in the various climate records of the past.

Radioactive material tells time

A new and groundbreaking method of dating carbonate rocks has been used to come to this conclusion. The seepage of methane over a long period of time created perfect conditions for formation of a special type of rock called authigenic carbonate crust. This could then be dated by scientists by a using a radiometric technique to measure natural decay of uranium to thorium.

“We have used carbonate crusts that form just below the sea-floor. They are a direct result of the oxidation of methane moving upwards though the sediment layers from deeper reservoirs. The chemical composition of the crust tells us that the source fluid was methane-rich, and the uranium-thorium dating tells us when this methane release happened.” explains lead author of the study Antoine Cremiere, post.doc at NGU/CAGE.

Knowledge of the timescales of gas hydrate dissociation and subsequent methane release are critical in understanding the impact of marine gas hydrates on the ocean-atmosphere system, says Shyam Chand, researcher at NGU/CAGE.

Paper reference: Cremiere et. al. Timescales of methane seepage on the Norwegian margin following collapse of the Scandinavian Ice Sheet. Nature Communications 7, May 2016.

Story Source:

The above post is reprinted from materials provided by CAGE – Center for Arctic Gas Hydrate, Climate and Environment. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Antoine Crémière, Aivo Lepland, Shyam Chand, Diana Sahy, Daniel J. Condon, Stephen R. Noble, Tõnu Martma, Terje Thorsnes, Simone Sauer, Harald Brunstad. Timescales of methane seepage on the Norwegian margin following collapse of the Scandinavian Ice Sheet. Nature Communications, 2016; 7: 11509 DOI: 1038/ncomms11509


Lynx Debate: Claims That Sheep Increase Biodiversity Are Wrong?

Found this interesting article on the Rewilding Britain site.  I would suggest that the truth lay somewhere between the two proponents of the debate.  To use chalk grassland and lowland heath here in Sussex as examples, I have related my view as a ‘Page’ – To Graze Or Not To Graze, on the home page of my blog.

 The lynx debate: why claims that sheep increase biodiversity are wrong

The National Sheep Association believes that grazing enhances biodiversity. The independent environmental consultancy Ecosulis isn’t so sure. Here’s why, including its views on reintroducing lynx

Lynx: a keystone species with an important role to play in the environment

Lynx: a keystone species with an important role to play in the environment.


25 Apr 2016

The National Sheep Association (NSA) recently published a report entitled The Wider Consequences of the Introduction of Eurasian Lynx to the UK. In the report, the NSA raises a host of concerns about proposals to reintroduce lynx to the UK. This article is a response from independent environmental consultancy Ecosulis, with particular focus on biodiversity associated with many sheep farms.

The Eurasian lynx is a keystone species, similar to beavers and pine marten, both subject to separate reintroduction projects. A keystone species is one that has a large impact on its community by controlling the dominance of other species or by changing habitat structure (beaver dams, for instance). It can therefore have a big impact on biodiversity and wildlife.

In its report, the NSA states that traditionally grazed woodlands should be introduced to enhance biodiversity. It is accepted by many ecologists and habitat managers that woodlands are reduced in biodiversity and structural quality as a result of intensive grazing, both from deer and sheep, and that efforts to minimise deer populations in woodlands are a priority. The reintroduction of lynx could reduce deer numbers by introducing an ‘ecology of fear’ and therefore restore the health and biodiversity of our woodlands by allowing ground flora and associated species to regenerate. Indeed, ambush predators such as the Eurasian lynx may have a stronger affect than wolves. Sheep can also damage woodland edge habitats where intensive grazing can reduce floristic diversity of grassland (and therefore have impacts on other wildlife, including bats) and expose woodland to disturbance.

Grasslands – undergrazing is good too

The NSA advises that undergrazing of semi-natural habitats by removing sheep from the upland would result in a loss of biodiversity. Undergrazing, however, would lead to increased grassland sward and, consequently, greater floristic diversity and opportunities for invertebrates. This, in turn, would enhance opportunities for other wildlife, including bats and byrophytes. Ecologists and wildlife trusts encourage areas of ungrazed habitats within management plans and mitigation strategies. This is because they allow grassland swards, wildflower meadows and woodland edge habitats to mature and flourish.

The measure of biodiversity

Bats can be used as an indicator of biodiversity change because they show trends in invertebrate prey and the quality of habitat structure

Ecosulis, driven by its shared vision of Rewilding Britain, uses the Biodiversity Quality Calculator (BQC) developed by Dr Alan Feest. This tool measures biodiversity quality and was recently used to quantify the changes that resulted from beaver reintroduction at the Okehampton reserve in Devon. We have used it to illustrate the biodiversity value associated with a site in Sussex where sheep graze half the site and the other half is left ungrazed (each section is 1.5ha).

Bats can be used as an indicator of biodiversity change because they show trends in invertebrate prey and the quality of habitat structure. So, in September 2014, we undertook bat activity surveys on the site, with bat counts taken for each sample area. This is by no means a comprehensive study but it can be used to illustrate the differences for the site.

Our BQC findings show several changes in biodiversity when comparing the sheep-grazed half of the site against the ungrazed area. Species richness and density increase within the ungrazed area. In addition, biomass is higher, indicating more invertebrate prey for bats. Species rarity across the site appears to be the same, although the evenness score indicates that there is a better spread of species (or less dominance of any one species) in the ungrazed area of the site. These all indicate that, in this example, biodiversity is higher in the ungrazed area than the sheep-grazed half of the site. We would hypothesise that this trend would be consistent in similar comparisons and across other species groups. We suggest, therefore, that the NSA claims regarding the benefits of grazing to biodiversity are flawed.

Rewilding – with informed decisions

The NSA concludes that “sheep play an important part of maintaining the biodiversity of the current, perfectly functioning ecosystem, which would be disrupted by the introduction of an unnecessary predator. Reintroduction of lynx would be a costly, complex process, with little benefit to the woodlands or ecosystems as a whole”.

This article questions the basis for that statement and we would welcome any details from the NSA concerning the valuation methods that show this correlation between sheep grazing and biodiversity. Our initial studies, and our work with wildlife trusts on biodiversity change associated with the reintroduction of keystone species, reveal a significant increase in biodiversity following the reintroduction of beavers, for example. Lynx are a keystone species and could assist with controlling deer numbers, which would increase biodiversity and habitat structure in our woodlands.

We agree that more information is needed on the impact of lynx on biodiversity and ecosystem services and this is currently in development. We also strongly believe in partnerships between stakeholders, including sheep farmers, for all proposed reintroductions and consideration must be given to the potential impact on sheep farming as well as other related factors. Furthermore, reintroduction and rewilding projects should adopt robust biodiversity valuation methodology to clearly demonstrate the direction of change. This can then be used to inform decisions on reintroduction suitability, scale and locations.

About the authors

Cain Blythe is Managing Director of Ecosulis.

Sara King is a Senior Ecological Consultant at the company.