Worst Locust Plague in "Two Decades" Threatens Australian Harvest
06-19-2010, 02:40 AM (This post was last modified: 06-19-2010 02:47 AM by ---.)
Worst Locust Plague in "Two Decades" Threatens Australian Harvest
Worst Locust Plague in Two Decades Threatens Australian Harvest
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By Wendy Pugh
June 11 (Bloomberg) -- The worst locust plague in more than two decades is threatening to strike Australia, the world’s fourth-largest wheat exporter, after rainfall boosted egg-laying by the insects in major crop growing regions.
“There are hundreds of millions of dollars worth of crops and pastures that are potentially at risk,” Chris Adriaansen, director at the Canberra-based Australian Plague Locust Commission said in an interview by phone. “Tens of millions of dollars” will be spent during the southern hemisphere spring to reduce the affects of the infestation, he said.
The forecast plague could cost Victoria’s agriculture sector A$2 billion ($1.7 billion) if left untreated, the state government said today. Widespread egg-laying across south- eastern Australia has set the scene for the biggest hatching for at least 25 years, according to the commission, which describes locusts as the nation’s most serious pest species.
“The advice of leading scientists indicates the scale of the coming spring’s outbreak could be as bad as we experienced in 1973 and 1974 when locusts swarmed through much of Victoria,” state premier John Brumby said today in a statement. “Prior to that, the last outbreak of this scale was in 1934, so we could be facing a once-in-a-lifetime locust plague with locusts swarming right across the state.”
Locusts are expected to hatch from August to October in Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia states, according to the commission. The first-generation spring hatching alone could occur over a total area of 1.8 million hectares (4.4 million acres), the commission’s Adriaansen said.
“Egg-laying has happened so it is a case of being prepared to try and knock down their numbers come September,” Victorian Farmers Federation President Andrew Broad said by phone from Bridgewater. The VFF, NSW Farmers Association and South Australian Farmers Federation have asked the federal government for additional funding to help farmers fight the insects.
The Victorian government said it will spend A$43.5 million to fight the locusts, which belong to the same order of insects as grasshoppers. Rabobank Groep NV in April raised its wheat- output forecast for Australia to 21.8 million metric tons, little changed from last harvest, after the rains.
Australian farmers have mostly completed planting of winter crops including wheat and canola, with final output depending on favorable weather through the remainder of the year. Aerial pesticide spraying and ground-level controls by agencies and growers is planned to curb the spread of the locusts and reduce damage to crops and pastures, according to the commission
Locusts can cause widespread and severe damage to pastures, cereal crops and forage crops, according to the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry website. A swarm may contain millions of locusts covering several square kilometers and overnight migrations of as much as several 100 kilometers are not uncommon, it said.
The earliest record of an Australian swarm is from 1844. High density swarms, with more than 50 insects in a square meter, can eat 20 metric tons of vegetation a day, according to a South Australian primary industries website.
“If we get a massive hatching like they are expecting in spring then what the grasshoppers will do is go into the crops and start chewing the heads off the wheat,” said Mark Hoskinson, who farms 2,500 hectares at Kikoira in New South Wales. Locusts decimated a crop sown by his grandfather after drought in the 1940s and this year’s threat follows recovery from dry weather.
“We have experienced 10 years of drought and the last thing we need is a crop failure due to grasshoppers,” said Hoskinson, also chairman of the NSW Farmers Association’s grains committee. “We really need growers to be on the lookout.”
Analysis showed every dollar spent by the commission on early intervention saved more than A$20 of later damage, the commission’s Adriaansen said.
To be sure, experience from past infestations suggested widespread crop damage from this year’s outbreak would be limited, according to analysts including Commonwealth Bank of Australia agricultural commodities strategist Luke Mathews.
“It is something that bears watching but I don’t think it is a significant factor in the minds of traders at the present stage,” Mathews said. “Weather conditions first and foremost dictate the size of the Australian wheat crop and winter crop production in total.”
Wheat production this harvest could drop below 20 million metric tons or rise or more than 23 million tons, depending on weather, Mathews said. The bank is forecasting a crop of 20 million to 21 million tons. Output last season was 21.66 million tons, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics estimated in March.
State agricultural departments are urging farmers to report and mark signs of infestations so that locust numbers can be reduced before they take flight. Some early-planted winter crops in eastern Australia were re-sown because of locust damage.
The plague locust commission, established in 1974 after a plague the previous year, organizes aerial spraying while locusts are at the nymph stage to curb swarming across eastern Australia and reduce damage from further insect generations over the following months. State and regional government agencies also work with farmers on ground-level action to protect local areas and individual properties.
The situation and prevention measures are being monitored by GrainCorp Ltd., eastern Australia’s largest grain handler, spokesman David Ginns said.
“GrainCorp has confidence in the competence and effectiveness of the state and commonwealth authorities that have a lot of experience in dealing with locust situations of this type,” he said.
Problems during planting had alerted authorities and farmers to the potential size of the spring hatching and increased the chance that damage would be contained, Rabobank Sydney-based agricultural commodities analyst Wayne Gordon said.
“The potential for that problem in the springtime has been recognized and we are fairly confident the authorities will get that under control as they have done in the past,” he said by phone. Rabobank’s wheat forecast for 21.8 million tons had potential “upside,” depending on seasonal conditions, he said.
To contact the reporter on this story: Wendy Pugh in Melbourne firstname.lastname@example.org
Last Updated: June 11, 2010 00:14 EDT
From The Times
March 5, 2010
Methane frozen beneath Arctic seabed destabilising, scientists warn
Frank Pope, Ocean Correspondent
Huge quantities of methane below the Arctic seabed are showing signs of destabilising, according to research conducted in the East Siberian Sea.
Scientists aboard Russian icebreakers have discovered that methane is leaking from the sub-sea permafrost far faster than had been previously estimated, raising concerns that climatic tipping points may have been reached.
As a greenhouse gas, methane is 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide but emissions from subsea permafrost are not included in climate change prediction models.
“The sub-sea permafrost should act as a cap or seal, preventing leakage,” Natalia Shakhova, of the University of Alaska, told The Times. “Beneath it there is methane that has accumulated at high pressure. But the permafrost is losing its ability to be an impermeable cap.”
After water vapour and carbon dioxide, methane is the most significant of the gases that cause the atmosphere to retain heat. Levels have doubled since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution but 40 per cent of sources are natural, resulting from the decomposition of organic material in wetlands and other areas.
The permafrost that covers vast tracts of land in the far North is thawing, steadily adding methane to the atmosphere. The Arctic has warmed at about twice the rate of the rest of the planet. Climate scientists are concerned that as rising temperatures melt more permafrost, the added methane will raise temperatures further and so cause a wider thaw.
Dr Shakhova said: “The climatic consequences of this are hard to predict. This type of source has never been predicted by anyone and has not been included in climate models. We’re going to keep studying this region and investigating why this is happening.
“Our concern is that the sub-sea permafrost has been showing signs of destabilisation already.”
The research is published today in the journal Science.
The permafrost covers the Siberian continental shelf, which extends up to 1,000 kilometres into the Arctic Ocean. Dr Shakhova previously investigated methane releases from terrestrial permafrost and from northern lakes.
Using Russian icebreakers to sample methane concentrations at various different water depths and above the surface at more than 5,000 locations, the team showed that methane was being released far faster than estimated.
They found that almost seven teragrams of methane, each equivalent to 1.1 billion tonnes of carbon, were being released every year from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. A similar figure had previously been estimated to be the total for all world oceans.
“This is a little alarming,” said Dr Shakhova. “We do not know how massive or sudden this outburst was. We don’t know how many there were. We don’t know how close to the equilibrium we are. A lot of questions are still open.”
Although difficult and expensive to conduct, surveys of oceanic methane production are crucial to the understanding of climatic tipping points. According to the US Geological Survey, there may be twice as much carbon in the seabed as methane locked in ice, called methane hydrates, than that in known fossil fuel reserves. Only a combination of depth and temperature keeps them from being released.
Euan Nesbit, of Royal Holloway, University of London, said the work provided a vital baseline against which to gauge future changes. “This is an important marker point. Arctic methane emissions are clearly implicated in changes at the end of the last Ice Age, and they have shown that [methane from beneath oceanic permafrost] is a future risk from warming,” he said.
Bubble of methane triggered rig blast
May 8, 2010
US President Barack Obama addresses the nation from the Oval Office of the White House about the BP oil spill. Click for more photos
Oil spill crisis
US President Barack Obama addresses the nation from the Oval Office of the White House about the BP oil spill. Photo: Reuters
The deadly blowout of an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico was triggered by a bubble of methane gas that escaped from the well and shot up the drill column, expanding quickly as it burst through several seals and barriers before exploding, according to interviews with rig workers conducted during BP's internal investigation.
While the cause of the explosion is still under investigation, the sequence of events described in the interviews provides the most detailed account of the April 20 blast that killed 11 workers and touched off the underwater gusher that has poured more than 3 million gallons of crude into the Gulf.
Portions of the interviews, two written and one taped, were described in detail to an Associated Press reporter by Robert Bea, a University of California Berkeley engineering professor who serves on a National Academy of Engineering panel on oil pipeline safety and worked for BP PLC as a risk assessment consultant during the 1990s. He received them from industry friends seeking his expert opinion.
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A group of BP executives were on board the Deepwater Horizon rig celebrating the project's safety record, according to the transcripts. Meanwhile, far below, the rig was being converted from an exploration well to a production well.
Based on the interviews, Bea believes that the workers set and then tested a cement seal at the bottom of the well. Then they reduced the pressure in the drill column and attempted to set a second seal below the sea floor. A chemical reaction caused by the setting cement created heat and a gas bubble which destroyed the seal.
Deep beneath the sea floor, methane is in a slushy, crystalline form. Deep sea oil drillers often encounter pockets of methane crystals as they dig into the earth.
As the bubble rose up the drill column from the high-pressure environs of the deep to the less pressurised shallows, it intensified and grew, breaking through various safety barriers, Bea said.
"A small bubble becomes a really big bubble," Bea said. "So the expanding bubble becomes like a cannon shooting the gas into your face."
Up on the rig, the first thing workers noticed was the sea water in the drill column suddenly shooting back at them, rocketing 240 feet in the air, he said. Then, gas surfaced. Then oil.
"What we had learned when I worked as a drill rig labourer was swoosh, boom, run," Bea said. "The swoosh is the gas, boom is the explosion and run is what you better be doing."
The gas flooded into an adjoining room with exposed ignition sources, he said.
"That's where the first explosion happened," said Bea, who worked for Shell Oil in the 1960s during the last big northern Gulf of Mexico oil well blowout. "The mud room was next to the quarters where the party was. Then there was a series of explosions that subsequently ignited the oil that was coming from below."
According to one interview transcript, a gas cloud covered the rig, causing giant engines on the drill floor to run too fast and explode. The engines blew off the rig and set "everything on fire," the account said. Another explosion below blew more equipment overboard.
BP spokesman John Curry would not comment Friday night on whether methane gas or the series of events described in the internal documents caused the accident.
"Clearly, what happened on the Deepwater Horizon was a tragic accident," said Curry, who is based at an oil spill command centre in Robert, La. "We anticipate all the facts will come out in a full investigation."
The BP executives were injured but survived, according to one account. Nine rig crew on the rig floor and two engineers died.
"The furniture and walls trapped some and broke some bones but they managed to get in the life boats with assistance from others," said the transcript.
The reports made Bea, the 73-year-old industry veteran, cry.
"It sure as hell is painful," he said. "Tears of frustration and anger."
On Friday, a BP-chartered vessel lowered a 100-ton concrete-and-steel vault onto the ruptured well, an important step in a delicate and unprecedented attempt to stop most of the gushing crude fouling the sea.
"We are essentially taking a four-story building and lowering it 5,000 feet and setting it on the head of a pin," BP spokesman Bill Salvin told The Associated Press.
Underwater robots guided the 40-foot-tall box into place in a slow-moving drama. Now that the contraption is on the sea floor, workers will need at least 12 hours to let it settle and make sure it's stable before the robots can hook up a pipe and hose that will funnel the oil up to a tanker.
"It appears to be going exactly as we hoped," Salvin said on Friday afternoon, shortly after the four-story device hit the sea floor. "Still lots of challenges ahead, but this is very good progress."
By Sunday, the box the size of a house could be capturing up to 85 per cent of the oil.
The task became increasingly urgent as toxic oil crept deeper into the bays and marshes of the Mississippi Delta.
A sheen of oil began arriving on land last week, and crews have been laying booms, spraying chemical dispersants and setting fire to the slick to try to keep it from coming ashore. But now the thicker, stickier goo — arrayed in vivid, brick-coloured ribbons — is drawing ever closer to Louisiana's coastal communities.
There are still untold risks and unknowns with the containment box: The approach has never been tried at such depths, where the water pressure is enough to crush a submarine, and any wrong move could damage the leaking pipe and make the problem worse. The sea floor is pitch black and the water murky, though lights on the robots illuminate the area where they are working.
If the box works, another one will be dropped onto a second, smaller leak at the bottom of the Gulf.
At the same time, crews are drilling sideways into the well in hopes of plugging it up with mud and concrete, and they are working on other ways to cap it.
Investigators looking into the cause of the explosion have been focusing on the so-called blowout preventer. Federal regulators told The Associated Press Friday that they are going to examine whether these last-resort cutoff valves on offshore oil wells are reliable.
Blowouts are infrequent, because well holes are blocked by piping and pumped-in materials like synthetic mud, cement and even sea water. The pipes are plugged with cement, so fluid and gas can't typically push up inside the pipes.
Instead, a typical blowout surges up a channel around the piping. The narrow space between the well walls and the piping is usually filled with cement, so there is no pathway for a blowout. But if the cement or broken piping leaves enough space, a surge can rise to the surface.
There, at the wellhead of exploratory wells, sits the massive steel contraption known as a blowout preventer. It can snuff a blowout by squeezing rubber seals tightly around the pipes with up to 1 million pounds of force. If the seals fail, the blowout preventer deploys a last line of defense: a set of rams that can slice right through the pipes and cap the blowout.
Deepwater Horizon was also equipped with an automated backup system called a Deadman. It should have activated the blowout preventer even if workers could not.
Based on the interviews with rig workers, none of those safeguards worked.
1And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour. 2And I saw the seven angels which stood before God; and to them were given seven trumpets.
3And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. 4And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand. 5And the angel took the censer, and filled it with fire of the altar, and cast it into the earth: and there were voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake.
6And the seven angels which had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound.
7The first angel sounded, and there followed hail and fire mingled with blood, and they were cast upon the earth: and the third part of trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up.
8And the second angel sounded, and as it were a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea: and the third part of the sea became blood; 9And the third part of the creatures which were in the sea, and had life, died; and the third part of the ships were destroyed.
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