News & Current Affairs

January 31, 2009

Australia counts heatwave deaths

Australia counts heatwave deaths

The Australian authorities fear about 20 people have died as a result of one of the worst heatwaves in 100 years to hit the south-east of the country.

Most of them were elderly people who had been struggling in the heat.

The heatwave has also caused power outages in Melbourne, Australia’s second biggest city.

Extreme temperatures of more than 40C (104F) have hit the south-eastern states of Victoria and South Australia in the past three days.

If the high temperatures continue into Sunday, it will equal the worst heatwave that south-eastern Australia has witnessed in 100 years.

Already, it has caused disruption, destruction and death.

Map

In Adelaide, the capital of South Australia, health officials reported more than 20 sudden deaths, most of them elderly people overcome by the baking temperatures of over 40C who had suffered strokes and heart attacks.

Raging wildfires have ripped through the Gippsland region of neighbouring Victoria, and at least 10 homes have been destroyed near the rural town of Boolarra.

In Melbourne, the state capital, the heatwave has meant disruption to transportation services and power outages.

Trains have been cancelled because the rail lines have buckled in the heat.

An explosion at an electrical substation left over 300,000 homes without power.

Some traffic lights in the city have stopped working, so too the signals in parts of the rail network.

 


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September 7, 2008

Antarctic scientists seek plumber

Antarctic scientists seek plumber

Bird Island station

Accommodation is comfortable with two to three to a room

The British Antarctic Survey is looking for a plumber at Bird Island research station off South Georgia.

While there will be no call-out charge, frozen pipes and maintaining heating in temperatures of -20C will certainly keep the successful applicant busy.

The £22,340 salary may be low by UK standards, but accommodation is provided and living costs are next to nothing, the Survey says.

In addition they will “enjoy stunning scenery…no junk mail or television”.

“Experience of ducted ventilation systems, conventional radiator central heating and low-pressure oil-fired boilers would be a significant advantage,” it says.

According to Athena Dinar of the British Antarctic Survey – which is also looking for an electrician – the post would suit someone with a love of adventure and ready for “an opportunity of a lifetime”.

“This role is for 18 months, so it would suit somebody single or who has a very understanding partner,” she added.

Unloading cargo

Staff at Bird Island take turns cooking and making bread, so culinary skills would also be an advantage.

Map of Bird Island

Hours can be long, especially if a ship comes in, when you could be spending 12 hours unloading cargo.

However, the philosophy is “work hard, play hard”.

Pastimes can include walking, skiing, snowboarding and learning languages.

Bird Island is the smallest of five BAS research stations. It lies 500 meters off the north-west tip of South Georgia in the South Atlantic.

It is approximately 1000km south east of the Falkland Islands and is accessible only by boat or helicopter.

During the southern hemisphere’s summer months it is home to a staff of 10, including scientists researching the island’s seals, penguins and albatross.

The deadline for applications is Friday.

September 3, 2008

Major ice-shelf loss for Canada

Major ice-shelf loss for Canada

Ice drifts away from the Ward Hunt ice shelf in northern Canada

Ward Hunt is the largest of the remnant ice shelves

The ice shelves in Canada’s High Arctic have lost a colossal area this year, scientists report.

The floating tongues of ice attached to Ellesmere Island, which have lasted for thousands of years, have seen almost a quarter of their cover break away.

One of them, the 50 sq km (20 sq miles) Markham shelf, has completely broken off to become floating sea-ice.

Researchers say warm air temperatures and reduced sea-ice conditions in the region have assisted the break-up.

“These substantial calving events underscore the rapidity of changes taking place in the Arctic,” said Trent University’s Dr Derek Mueller.

“These changes are irreversible under the present climate.”

Satellite images of ice loss

Satellite images show the loss of the Markham Ice Shelf over the last year

Scientists reported in July that substantial slabs of ice had calved from Ward Hunt Ice Shelf, the largest of the Ellesmere shelves.

Similar changes have been seen in the other four shelves.

As well as the complete breakaway of the Markham, the Serson shelf lost two sections totaling an estimated 122 sq km (47 sq miles), and the break-up of the Ward Hunt has continued.

Cold remnants

The shelves themselves are merely remnants of a much larger feature that was once bounded to Ellesmere Island and covered almost 10,000 sq km (3,500 sq miles).

Over the past 100 years, this expanse of ice has retreated by 90%, and at the start of this summer season covered just under 1,000 sq km (400 sq miles).

Much of the area was lost during a warm period in the 1930s and 1940s.

Melt water on ice shelf

“Long meltwater lakes” were imaged on the Markham shelf in 2005

Temperatures in the Arctic are now even higher than they were then, and a period of renewed ice shelf break-up has ensued since 2002.

Unlike much of the floating sea-ice which comes and goes, the shelves contain ice that is up to 4,500 years old.

A rapid sea-ice retreat is being experienced across the Arctic again this year, affecting both the ice attached to the coast and floating in the open ocean.

The floating sea-ice, which would normally keep the shelves hemmed in, has shrunk to just under five million sq km, the second lowest extent recorded since the era of satellite measurement began about 30 years ago.

“Reduced sea-ice conditions and unusually high air temperatures have facilitated the ice shelf losses this summer,” said Dr Luke Copland from the University of Ottawa.

“And extensive new cracks across remaining parts of the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf mean that it will continue to disintegrate in the coming years.”

Loss of ice in the Arctic, and in particular the extensive sea-ice, has global implications. The “white parasol” at the top of the planet reflects energy from the Sun straight back out into space, helping to cool the Earth.

Further loss of Arctic ice will see radiation absorbed by darker seawater and snow-free land, potentially warming the Earth’s climate at an even faster rate than current observational data indicates.

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