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Update December 2016


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Update December 24, 2016

Giraffes, rarer than elephants, put on extinction watch list

In this photo taken Thursday, Aug. 18, 2016, a giraffe walks across the savannah in Amboseli national park, Kenya, as the highest mountain in Africa Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania is seen in the background. Statuesque giraffes, overlooked because they seem to be everywhere, are now vulnerable to disappearing off the face of the Earth according to biologists who create the world’s extinction watch list, at a biodiversity meeting in Mexico Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016. (AP Photo/Khaled Kazziha)

Seth Borenstein

Washington (AP) - The giraffe, the tallest land animal, is now at risk of extinction, biologists say.

Because the giraffe population has shrunk nearly 40 percent in just 30 years, scientists put it on the official watch list of threatened and endangered species worldwide, calling it “vulnerable.” That’s two steps up the danger ladder from its previous designation of being a species of least concern. In 1985, there were between 151,000 and 163,000 giraffes but in 2015 the number was down to 97,562, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

At a biodiversity meeting Wednesday in Mexico, the IUCN increased the threat level for 35 species and lowered the threat level for seven species on its “Red List” of threatened species, considered by scientists the official list of what animals and plants are in danger of disappearing.

The giraffe is the only mammal whose status changed on the list this year. Scientists blame habitat loss.

While everyone worries about elephants, Earth has four times as many pachyderms as giraffes, said Julian Fennessy and Noelle Kumpel, co-chairs of the specialty group of biologists that put the giraffe on the IUCN Red List. They both called what’s happening to giraffes a “silent extinction.”

“Everyone assumes giraffes are everywhere,” said Fennessy, co-director of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation.

But they’re not, Fennessy said. Until recently, biologists hadn’t done a good job assessing giraffes’ numbers and where they can be found, and they have been lumped into one broad species instead of nine separate subspecies.

“There’s a strong tendency to think that familiar species (such as giraffes, chimps, etc.) must be OK because they are familiar and we see them in zoos,” said Duke University conservation biologist Stuart Pimm, who wasn’t part of the work and has criticized the IUCN for not putting enough species on the threat list. “This is dangerous.”

Fennessy blamed shrinking living space as the main culprit in the declining giraffe population, worsened by poaching and disease. People are moving into giraffe areas especially in central and eastern Africa. Giraffe numbers are plunging most in central and eastern Africa and are being offset by increases in southern Africa, he said.

This has fragmented giraffe populations, making them shrink in size with wild giraffes gone from seven countries - Burkina Faso, Eritrea, Guinea, Malawi, Mauritania, Nigeria and Senegal, said Kumpel of the Zoological Society of London.

The IUCN says 860 plant and animal species are extinct, and another 68 are extinct in the wild. Nearly 13,000 are endangered or critically endangered. The next level is vulnerable, where giraffes were placed, followed by near threatened and least concerned.

The status of two snake species worsened. The ornate ground snake, which lives on the tiny island of Saint Lucia, deteriorated from endangered to critically endangered. The Lacepede’s ground snake of Martinique, which was already critically endangered, is now considered possibly extinct, pending confirmation, as is the trondo mainty, a river fish in Madagascar.

But there is also good news for some species. The Victoria stonebasher, a freshwater fish in Africa, went from being considered endangered to least concerned with a stable population. And an African plant, the acmadenia candida, which was declared extinct, has been rediscovered and is now considered endangered. Another freshwater fish, ptychochromoides itasy, which hadn’t been seen since the 1960s, has been rediscovered in small numbers in Africa’s Sakay River and is now considered critically endangered.

Online:

International Union for the Conservation of Nature: https://www.iucn.org/


Update December 17, 2016

Russia: Space ship malfunctions, breaks up over Siberia

Nataliya Vasilyeva

Moscow (AP) - An unmanned Russian cargo spaceship heading to the International Space Station broke up in the atmosphere over Siberia on Thursday due to an unspecified malfunction, the Russian space agency said.

The Progress MS-04 cargo craft broke up at an altitude of 190 kilometers (118 miles) over the remote Russian Tuva region in Siberia that borders Mongolia, Roscosmos said in a statement. It said most of spaceship’s debris burnt up as it entered the atmosphere but some fell to Earth over what it called an uninhabited area.

Local people reported seeing a flash of light and hearing a loud thud west of the regional capital of Kyzyl, more than 3,600 kilometers (2,200 miles) east of Moscow, the Tuva government was quoted as saying late Thursday by the Interfax news agency.

The Progress cargo ship had lifted off as scheduled at 8:51 p.m. (1451 GMT) from Russia’s space launch complex in Baikonur, Kazakhstan, to deliver 2.5 metric tons of fuel, water, food and other supplies. It was set to dock with the space station on Saturday.

Roscosmos said the craft was operating normally before it stopped transmitting data 6 minutes after the launch. The Russian space agency would not immediately describe the malfunction, saying its experts were looking into it.

This is the third botched launch of a Russian spacecraft in two years. A Progress cargo ship plunged into the Pacific Ocean in May 2015, and a Proton-M rocket carrying an advanced satellite broke up in the atmosphere in May 2014.

But both Roscosmos and NASA said the crash of the ship would have no impact on the operations of the orbiting space lab that is currently home to a six-member crew, including three cosmonauts from Russia, two NASA astronauts and one from the European Union.

Orbital ATK, NASA’s other shipper, successfully sent up supplies to the space station in October, and a Japanese cargo spaceship is scheduled to launch a full load in mid-December.


Update December 10, 2016

Get used to heat records; study predicts far more in future

Seth Borenstein

Washington (AP) - The United States is already setting twice as many daily heat records as cold records, but a new study predicts that will get a lot more lopsided as man-made climate change worsens.

Under normal conditions, without extra heat-trapping gases from human activity, the nation should set about the same number of hot and cold records over the course of several years. But that’s not happening and it’s steadily getting worse, scientists said.

If and when the nation warms another 4.5 degrees (2.5 degrees Celsius), expect there to be around 15 heat records for every cold one, the new study in Monday’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences predicts. That warming can be as early as 50 years from now if greenhouse gas emissions - from the burning of coal, oil and gas - continue at their recent pace or a century away if carbon pollution slows down, said study lead author Gerald Meehl, senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

“This climate is on a trajectory that goes somewhere we’ve never been. And records are a very easy measure of that,” said study co-author Claudia Tebaldi, who’s also at the atmospheric center in Boulder, Colorado.

They used records from the nation’s weather stations for their statistical calculations.

After an earlier study in 2009, Meehl and Tebaldi looked further in the past and into the future. In the Dust Bowl hot 1930s, there were 1.1 hot records for every cold. After a couple decades of more cold records and an even one-to-one ratio in the 1980s, the number of high heat marks left cold in the dust.

So far in the 2010s there have been 2.2 hot records for every cold, including six hot records for every cold this year, Meehl said.

Looking at records is important because people don’t feel shifts in average temperature, but they do notice shifts in extremes like this, Meehl said.

“These results are not surprising,” University of Georgia meteorology professor Marshall Shepherd said in an email. “And it further points to the notion that ‘extremes’ not averages get our attention. In life we get alarmed when we have a fever, not when our temperature is near the 98.6 average. We are setting Earth on course for high fever events to be quite common.”

Online:

Journal: http://www.pnas.org   


Update December 3, 2016

Best weather satellite ever built rockets into space

This photo provided by United Launch Alliance shows a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying GOES-R spacecraft for NASA and NOAA lifting off from Space Launch Complex-41 at 6:42 p.m. EST at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016. (United Launch Alliance via AP)

Marcia Dunn

Cape Canaveral, Fla. (AP) - The most advanced weather satellite ever built rocketed into space Saturday night, Nov. 19, part of an $11 billion effort to revolutionize forecasting and save lives.

This new GOES-R spacecraft will track U.S. weather as never before: hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding, volcanic ash clouds, wildfires, lightning storms, even solar flares. Indeed, about 50 TV meteorologists from around the country converged on the launch site along with 8,000 space program workers and guests.

“What’s so exciting is that we’re going to be getting more data, more often, much more detailed, higher resolution,” NBC’s Al Roker said. In the case of tornadoes, “if we can give people another 10, 15, 20 minutes, we’re talking about lives being saved.”

Think superhero speed and accuracy for forecasting. Super high-definition TV, versus black-and-white.

“Really a quantum leap above any satellite NOAA has ever flown,” said Stephen Volz, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s director of satellites.

“For the American public, that will mean faster, more accurate weather forecasts and warnings,” Volz said earlier in the week. “That also will mean more lives saved and better environmental intelligence” for government officials responsible for hurricane and other evacuations.

Airline passengers also stand to benefit, as do rocket launch teams. Improved forecasting will help pilots avoid bad weather and help rocket scientists know when to call off a launch.

NASA declared success 3 1/2 hours after liftoff, following separation from the upper stage.

The first in a series of four high-tech satellites, GOES-R hitched a ride on an unmanned Atlas V rocket, delayed an hour by rocket and other problems. NOAA teamed up with NASA for the mission.

The satellite - valued by NOAA at $1 billion - is aiming for a 22,300-mile-high equatorial orbit. There, it will join three aging spacecraft with 40-year-old technology, and become known as GOES-16. After months of testing, this newest satellite will take over for one of the older ones. The second satellite in the series will follow in 2018. All told, the series should stretch to 2036.

GOES stands for Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite. The first was launched in 1975.

GOES-R’s premier imager - one of six science instruments - will offer three times as many channels as the existing system, four times the resolution and five times the scan speed, said NOAA program director Greg Mandt. A similar imager is also flying on a Japanese weather satellite.

Typically, it will churn out full images of the Western Hemisphere every 15 minutes and the continental United States every five minutes. Specific storm regions will be updated every 30 seconds.

Forecasters will get pictures “like they’ve never seen before,” Mandt promised.

A first-of-its-kind lightning mapper, meanwhile, will take 500 snapshots a second.

This next-generation GOES program - $11 billion in all - includes four satellites, an extensive land system of satellite dishes and other equipment, and new methods for crunching the massive, nonstop stream of expected data.

Hurricane Matthew, interestingly enough, delayed the launch by a couple weeks. As the hurricane bore down on Florida in early October, launch preps were put on hold. Matthew stayed far enough offshore to cause minimal damage to Cape Canaveral, despite some early forecasts that suggested a direct strike.

Online:

NOAA: http://www.noaa.gov/

NASA: https://www.nasa.gov/
 


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HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

Giraffes, rarer than elephants, put on extinction watch list


Russia: Space ship malfunctions, breaks up over Siberia


Get used to heat records; study predicts far more in future


Best weather satellite ever built rockets into space

 



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