The Week That Was
February 2, 2002

The Week That Was (February 2, 2002) brought to you by SEPP

1. Gordon Prather is back - with a wry discussion of our hydrogen energy future (New on the Web).

2. White House Expected to Move On Treaties On Pollutants. And the Law of the Sea may be submitted for ratification now that favorable changes have been made.

3. Bacteria Breaks Down PCBs, it seems. So will EPA stop its drive to get GE to dredge the Hudson? Don't count on it.

4. Random "Noise" Could Have Triggered A Climatic Roller Coaster. The researchers confirm that the present warm interglacial has a more stable climate than the frigid Ice Age. Does this tell us something about climate behavior? Is Global Warming good for the climate?

5. An ill wind from Denmark for Danish wind energy

6. Discarded Refrigerators Pile Up in England - as the UK fights ozone depletion

7. And it's back to British frogs: `Why they croaked`



According to BNA's Daily Environment Report, the Bush administration is preparing to ask the Senate to ratify two international treaties controlling the use of hazardous chemicals. The White House will be seeking Senate ratification of the UNEP treaty on Persistent Organic Pollutants and Prior Informed Consent treaties. In addition, draft legislation that would revise the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to make it consistent with the treaties and a protocol in a third international agreement has been approved by all relevant federal agencies and is ready for transmittal to Congress. No decision has been made as to whether the administration will also seek ratification of the POPs protocol for the air pollution treaty, although the proposed legislative changes would permit that action. An EPA official familiar with the draft legislation said the changes to TSCA needed for the POPS protocol are essentially the same as those needed for the Stockholm convention. Representatives of the chemical industry and environmental groups have told BNA that the legislation could get bogged down in debate if lawmakers propose changes to TSCA beyond those needed to implement the treaties.

3. BACTERIA BREAKS DOWN PCBS: Using a rapid DNA screening method, researchers from the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute (UMBI) and the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) have identified a strain of bacterium that breaks down chlorine bonds in polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). According to ScienceDaily Magazine, the discovery of the bacteria could have a significant impact on current technologies used to identify, remediate and monitor areas of PCB contamination. The report concludes that the UMBI method could be used to identify additional PCB-degrading microbes. The bacterium catalyzes dechlorination of PCBs. Until recently, scientists had identified few bacteria species that "reduce" chlorinated organic molecules of any kind. Today several are known. However, the bacterium in the UMBI/ MUSC study is the first found to break the chlorine bonds in the critical ortho position.

4. RANDOM "NOISE" COULD HAVE TRIGGERED A CLIMATIC ROLLER COASTER during the last Ice Age, research suggests. Under certain conditions, random noise, such as electrical static, can paradoxically increase a weak signal's detectability, and in general amplify the signal's influence on its surroundings. This phenomenon, called "stochastic resonance" (SR), has been observed in settings as diverse as chaotic lasers and human reflex systems. Interestingly, researchers originally proposed the concept of SR in 1982, to explain how random climate events may have helped generate a regularly repeating interval of approximately 100,000 years between Ice Ages. However, subsequent evidence did not support this idea.

Now, SR is coming back home to climate: Researchers (Andrey Ganopolski and Stefan Rahmstorf, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, have shown that stochastic resonance may have played a role in triggering Dansgaard-Oeschger (D/O) events, abrupt and dramatic climate shifts during the last great Ice Age, which lasted from about 120,000 to 10,000 years ago. These events started with sudden warmings of at least 10 degrees Celsius over the north part of the Northern Atlantic, taking place over approximately a decade and lasting for centuries. Curiously, the D/O events most often occurred 1,500 years apart, but sometimes they "missed a beat" and occurred after 3,000 or 4,500 years. This suggests they were caused, at least in part, by a weak underlying cycle, such as a periodic, but slight, fluctuation in the sun's intensity.

Furthermore, using a computer model of the world's climate, the researchers found that North Atlantic ocean currents during the Ice Age could flip between two different states, one in which warm Gulf Stream waters reached only to mid-latitudes and another in which warm waters penetrated much farther north. As the researchers explain, these climate-altering circulation patterns might have switched from one state to another through the influence of a weak 1,500 year cycle, whose effects were amplified by environmental noise, such as random changes in the amount of precipitation and meltwater (melted ice and snow) entering the Nordic Seas.

While the exact source of the regular cycle remains unspecified, a SR-based explanation reproduces key features of the D/O events and North Atlantic ocean circulation during the last Ice Age. If confirmed, this mechanism may help to explain why the Ice Age climate was so much less stable compared to that of the past 10,000 years, in which human civilization was able to thrive. (Ganopolski and Rahmstorf, Physical Review Letters, 21 January 2002; text available at
The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Physics News Number 572, 8 January 2002 by Phillip F. Schewe, Ben Stein, and James Riordon


5. DANISH WIND ENERGY RECEIVES A BLOW: The new Danish government favors trashing 3 planned big sea-based wind farms with a total value of 5 to 7 billion Dkr. Not building the wind farms, will save the Danes 900 million Dkr a year. [Exchange rate is $1 = 8.6 Dkr] The lead editorial of Jyllandsposten (biggest newspaper in Denmark) opines that without government subsidies no more sea-based wind farms will be built.

The numerous wind turbines in Denmark have caused havoc on the market for electricity and raised its price to one the highest in the world. The present windmills supply electric power at three times the price on the spot market.

Minister of Business and Industry Bendt Bendtsen (Conservative) is deeply concerned about the social and industrial consequences if Demark keeps deploying wind turbines, thereby far exceeding the limits for intermittent energy supplies.

This is a significant break from the ideologically driven policies of the previous environment minister Svend Auken (Social Democrat). In the past 9 years, these policies have led to the installation of 6300 windmills, which the editorial calls uneconomic and technically unrealistic.

Rumor has it that land-based windmills will lose their subsidies within this year; this means that the owners might go broke. All these facts and rumors are killing the market for wind turbines. Their share prices are falling like rocks these days, pulling the whole Danish stock market down. The producers of wind turbines are in panic. They have been complaining on Danish radio and television, saying it will seriously damage their exports once the word gets around.

SEPP Comment: Yes, wait till the Dutch and Germans hear about this


6. DISCARDED REFRIGERATORS PILE UP IN ENGLAND (Associated Press) -- Protecting the ozone layer has spawned a chilling new menace to the English countryside -- abandoned refrigerators. Rural residents say unsightly dumps of old appliances have sprouted across the land since European environmental regulations took effect Jan. 1, making it illegal to dump the ozone-depleting foam insulation from fridges and freezers.

7. BRITISH FROGS CROAKING: For some years now some people have been blaming the decline in the British frog population on `global warming`. But here is an item from The Times of January 29 on page 10 (`News in Brief` column]:

`Why they croaked`
`A mystery epidemic that has killed millions of British frogs over the past decade was caused by ranavirus, the Froglife Trust`s study of 62,000 corpses found. "Red leg syndrome", which makes limbs drop off, was probably imported from the US with goldfish. There is no cure`.

SEPP comment: Seems like a fair trade. After all, the Brits exported Mad-Cow disease. There is no cure for that either.



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