Storms dampen hopes for bountiful NKorea harvest By Jean h. Lee, Associated Press | Associated Press – 13 hours ago Another year, another dim harvest prediction following typhoons and flooding in North Korea WONSAN, North Korea (AP) — First came an extended dry spell in the spring, followed by a summer of flash floods and typhoons.Now, with North Korean farmers preparing to head out into autumn fields to cut and thresh the nation’s most important crop, rice, there are renewed concerns that continued harsh weather will mean another shortfall of food in this chronically hungry land.There had been high hopes for better crop yields this year following the implementation of more modern farming techniques, said Kang Su Ik, a professor at North Korea’s premier agricultural school. But those hopes have faded in what has proven to be another tough year for farmers in the disaster-prone North.”I can’t predict this year’s harvest,” said Kang, head of the Department of Crop Science at the Wonsan University of Agriculture in eastern North Korea. „But it’s probable that this year’s output will be lower than expected.”Agriculture remains the nation’s lifeblood, contributing a quarter of the nation’s economy and engaging a third of the population, according to the World Food Program.But this craggy country of mountains and valleys has little arable land and for decades has not been able to grow enough food for its 24 million people. And in an era when most Northeast Asian nations leave most of the work to machines, northern farms still rely on backbreaking manual labor and have had to rely on foreign aid to make up for shortfalls in seeds and fertilizer.The leanest period was a famine in the mid-1990s, a time known here as the „Arduous March,” when foreign economists estimate that hundreds of thousands of North Koreans died of hunger.With fall approaching, the harvest is on everyone’s minds, from kindergarteners hunched over drawings of bright red tractors to art troupes and military bands rehearsing the rousing tunes they’ll use to raise the spirits of farmers out in the fields.This harvest is especially important to the government because it will be the first since Kim Jong Un assumed power following the December death of his father, Kim Jong Il. The young leader has declared the era of „belt-tightening” must end — an extraordinary acknowledgment of economic hardship from a regime that rarely admits weakness. By doing so, he challenged bureaucrats to find a way to turn things around.With the summer corn crop picked and laid out to dry on roof tiles, the focus is now turning to the rice harvest, which begins later this month around the time of „chusok,” or thanksgiving, a period that marks the beginning of frenzied farming activity, when even city dwellers are expected to help gather crops.Rice is followed by soybeans later in the fall, then everyone hunkers down to turn cabbage into kimchi, the spicy fermented side dish that is considered nearly as much of a staple as white rice.North Koreans refer to this busy time of year as „going into battle,” a distinctive approach to the harvest in a country that operates under a „military first” policy and relies on the socialist collective spirit to make up for a lack of fuel and machinery.But this year’s extreme weather has dimmed hopes of a bountiful harvest.Rural areas endured a protracted dry spell in May and June, just as crops needed water to germinate, said Kang, the Wonsan professor. Because of this, North Korean farmers brought in less than half the wheat, barley and potatoes anticipated in the spring, officials said.Then, flash floods from summer storms killed scores of North Koreans, destroyed thousands of homes and drowned hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland, according to state media.In recent weeks, a series of typhoons has lashed some parts of North Korea, leaving more people homeless.The damage and death tolls could not be independently confirmed, but Associated Press journalists who traveled through the countryside in August saw roadways ripped apart and entire hamlets swept away by water that gushed down denuded mountainsides. Last month, just weeks before the corn harvest, acres of stalks languished in the muddy fields of South Phyongan Province, a key agricultural area.United Nations officials said the extent of the damage to crops remains unclear and there are hopes it will be limited to areas hit hard by the flash floods. U.N. workers will fan out across the country starting next week for a far-reaching assessment that should provide a clearer picture on the current state of North Korea’s food situation.Longer-term, said Kang, the Wonsan professor, North Korea needs to continue modernizing its farming techniques and equipment.”We need technology to step up to the world’s standards,” he told AP in an interview.Most tractors are 10 to 15 years old, and there aren’t enough trucks and fuel to carry crops to threshing yards and storage sheds before they spoil, U.N. officials said. North Korea has also struggled to secure high-quality seeds and the fertilizer needed to pump up yields.This year, the U.N. has provided combine harvesters imported from Brazil and China, and state media said engineers at Kim Il Sung University have developed a more efficient harvester. North Korea is also sending farming experts to study in Russia, China and elsewhere, Kang said.But while food is plentiful in the capital, Pyongyang, where many have the cash to supplement state-provided rice and cornmeal with meat, vegetables and fruit, 16 million other North Koreans struggle to eat a well-balanced diet, according to a U.N appeal to donors in June.”Beyond the immediate needs due to flooding, the WFP is very concerned about the long-term intellectual and physical development of young children who are malnourished,” said Claudia von Roehl, WFP’s representative in Pyongyang, „mainly due to a monotonous diet lacking in key proteins, fats and micronutrients.”Even if the fall harvest isn’t as bountiful as hoped, Kang said, he doesn’t anticipate a return to the dark days of the Arduous March.”We won’t go back to those hard times again,” he said._Follow AP’s Korea bureau chief for Seoul and Pyongyang at twitter.com/newsjean.
Arctic summer icepack shrinks to record low By seattle pi
he 2012 summer melt of Arctic sea ice has halted, but the ice pack shrank to record low levels this year and covers only half the area that it did as recently as 30 years ago, scientists announced on Wednesday.The National Snow and Ice Data Center reported that sea ice in the Arctic Ocean covered 1.32 million square miles as of Sunday, nearly 20 percent smaller than the previous record low of 1.61 million square miles set five years ago.
Gore (AP photo) The ice pack covered only 24 percent of the surface of the Arctic Ocean, compared to 29 percent in 2007. Half of the ocean’s surface was covered when satellite tracking began in the late 1970s.“Time to act without further dangerous delay,” former Vice President Al Gore tweeted after the report was released.Mark Serreze, director of the snow/ice center, which is funded by the government, said:“We are now in uncharted territory. While we’ve long known that as the planet warms up, changes would be seen first and be most pronounced in the Arctic, few of us were prepared for how rapidly the changes would actually occur.”The main question facing scientists is what those changes mean for the rest of the Earth.Walt Meier, a research scientist at the snow and ice center, told The New York Times: “The Arctic is the Earth’s air conditioner. We’re losing that. It’s not just that polar bears might go extinct, or that native communities might have to adapt, which we’re already seeing — there are larger climate effects.”The Arctic has experienced global warming at a faster rate than any other place on Earth.
- A large lead develops north of Point Hope in the Chukchi Sea, Alaska, during sea ice breakup in late May. (Florian Schulz / visionsofthewild.com) Polar bears have been classified under the Endangered Species Act because of the loss of ice floes from which they hunt seals. Arctic villages, shorn of ice pack protection, have been buffeted by violent late fall/early winter storms. The melting of permafrost has produced listing trees, “drunken forests” that are releasing methane into the atmosphere.The carbon economy, largely responsible for climate change, has invaded Arctic waters as the United States, Russia and Canada have rushed to explore for gas, oil and minerals.But the impacts of shrinking ice are likely to be felt far beyond the far north.Sea ice reflects back more than 90 percent of solar heat, but open water absorbs more than half that amount of heat. Scientists are examining whether this is a cause of the upsurge in violent and extreme weather — and such consequences as spreading fires in the American West.“The scientific community realizes that we have a planetary emergency: It’s hard for the public to recognize this because they stick their head out the window and don’t see that much going on,” Dr. James Hansen, the NASA climate scientist, told a Greenpeace-sponsored panel in New York.Led by the National Association of Manufacturers, major U.S. industries have repeatedly tried to block the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from setting limits on emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, while acknowledging climate change, opposes the EPA working to regulate its causes. Romney was cheered wildly when he made a joke about rising ocean levels in his Republican Convention acceptance speech.Scientists had forecast that the Arctic ice pack will disappear in summer by the year 2050.With this year’s rapid melt, they see it happening sooner.
26 dead, 46 injured in Mexico pipeline fire By CHRISTOPHER SHERMAN | Associated Press – 11 hrs ago REYNOSA, Mexico (AP) — Mexico’s state-owned oil company says at least five people are still listed as missing in a pipeline fire that killed 26 workers and injured 46 others at a plant near the U.S. border.Juan Jose Suarez, director of the state-owned Petroleos Mexicanos company, told local media Wednesday that at least 5 workers have not been seen since the blast. Two of the 46 injured were in serious condition.President Felipe Calderon said emergency teams’ quick reaction prevented a „real catastrophe,” by controlling the fire before it reached the massive tanks of a neighboring gas processing plant.The enormous fire Tuesday hit a distribution center near the U.S. border that handles gas coming in from wells and sends it to a processing plant next door.”The timely response by oil workers, firefighter and the Mexican Army was able to control the fire relatively quickly and avoid a real catastrophe of bigger proportions and greater damages if the fire had spread to the center for gas processing which is right there,” Calderon said in a speech in Mexico City.The blast and ensuing fire were so powerful they left charred tanks and a mound of tangled steel at the walled plant near the border city of Reynosa, across from McAllen, Texas.Officials of Petroleos Mexicanos, also known as Pemex, say the blast appeared to have been caused by an accidental leak, and there was no sign so far of sabotage.The facility had perimeter walls topped with razor wire as a security measure in a country which has seen thieves, saboteurs and drug gangs target oil installations, and that presented an obstacle for plant workers trying to flee.Esteban Vazquez Huerta, 18, who was inside the plant when the fire occurred, managed to find a gap in the wire, scale a wall and escape. „We had to climb the wall from that side because the fire, the heat was reaching us,” Vazquez Huerta said Wednesday as he stood outside the plant, waiting for word of missing co-workers.Until the final moments before the explosion there was no sign anything was amiss, Vazquez Huerta said. Pemex said workers from contracting firms, such as Vazquez Huerta, and its own employees were performing routine maintenance at the plant, where pipelines from gas wells in Burgos basin converge. The plant sends gas from wells next door to separate liquid hydrocarbons from the gas. The production is for domestic Mexican use.Vazquez Huerta said that suddenly the pipes where he was working, about 300 to 400 yards (meters) from the explosion, began to sound like they were repressurizing, after being closed for maintenance.There was a blast and he and two co-workers began running. A second explosion knocked them to the ground, but they got up and continued running. They found a space along the back wall that wasn’t topped with razor wire and boosted each other over.Calderon said the government will carry out an exhaustive investigation of the cause of the fire and that federal prosecutors will open a probe.The blast forced the closure of the wells and the evacuation of people at ranches and homes within three miles (five kilometers) of the gas facility, which is about 12 miles (19 kilometers) southwest of Reynosa.Pemex initially reported 10 deaths. Later, the death toll was raised to 26, including a man who was run over when he rushed onto a highway running away from the facility.Company executives said there was a gas leak, followed by an explosion, but the precise cause had not been determined.”Why there was such leak is something that must be investigated,” said Carlos Morales Gil, Pemex’s director of exploration and production.Calderon sent condolences to the victims’ relatives and vowed to make sure those injured receive help.Pipelines carrying gasoline and diesel in Mexico are frequently tapped by thieves looking to steal fuel, and those sometimes cause spills or explosions. But thieves seldom target gas pipelines.In December 2010, authorities blamed oil thieves for an oil pipeline explosion in a central Mexico city near the capital that killed 28 people, including 13 children. The blast burned people and scorched homes, affecting 5,000 residents in an area six miles (10 kilometers) wide in San Martin Texmelucan.
Record-High Antarctic Sea Ice Levels Don’t Disprove Global Warming By Natalie Wolchover | LiveScience.com – 6 hrs ago Distracting from the news that Arctic sea-ice extent reached a record low on Sept.16 is a widely circulating blog article claiming that at the opposite end of the Earth, Antarctic sea ice is more than making up for the losses.In the post, climate change skeptic and blogger Steven Goddard states that Antarctic sea ice reached its highest level ever recorded for the 256th day of the calendar year on Sept. 12. He reasons that the Southern Hemisphere must be balancing the warming of the Northern Hemisphere by becoming colder (and thus, net global warming is zero).The National Snow & Ice Data Center (NSIDC), which tracks sea iceusing satellite data, explains on its website why Antarctic ice has weathered global warming more robustly than Arctic ice. Goddard dismisses the explanation, concluding instead, „Antarctic andArctic ice move opposite each other. NSIDC’s dissonance about this is astonishing.”Despite its lack of scientific support, Goddard’s post has garnered attention around the Web. In a Forbes.com column about the record high Antarctic sea ice, skeptic James Taylor writes, „Please, nobody tell the mainstream media or they might have to retract some stories and admit they are misrepresenting scientific data.”But if anyone had asked an actual scientist, they would have learned that a good year for sea ice in the Antarctic in no way nullifies the precipitous drop in Arctic sea-ice levels year after year — or the mounds of other evidence indicating global warming is really happening.”Antarctic sea ice hasn’t seen these big reductions we’ve seen in the Arctic. This is not a surprise to us,” said climate scientist Mark Serreze, director of the NSIDC. „Some of the skeptics say ‘Well, everything is OK because the big changes in the Arctic are essentially balanced by what’s happening in the Antarctic.’ This is simply not true.” [Former Global Warming Skeptic Makes a ‘Total Turnaround’]Projections made from climate models all predict that global warming should impact Arctic sea ice first and most intensely, Serreze said. „We have known for many years that as the Earth started to warm up, the effects would be seen first in the Arctic and not the Antarctic. The physical geography of the two hemispheres is very different. Largely as a result of that, they behave very differently.The Arctic, an ocean surrounded by land, responds much more directly to changes in air and sea-surface temperatures than Antarctica, Serreze explained. The climate of Antarctica, land surrounded by ocean, is governed much more by wind and ocean currents. Some studies indicate climate changehas strengthened westerly winds in the Southern Hemisphere, and because wind has a cooling effect, scientists say this partly accounts for the marginal increase in sea ice levels that have been observed in the Antarctic in recent decades.”Another reason why the sea-ice extent in the Antarctic is remaining fairly high is, interestingly, theozone hole,” Serreze told Life’s Little Mysteries. This hole was carved out over time by chlorofluorocarbons, toxic chemicals formerly that were used in air conditioners and solvents before being banned. „The ozone hole affects the circulation of the atmosphere down there. Because of the ozone hole, the stratosphere above Antarctica is quite cold. Ozone in the stratosphere absorbs UV light, and less absorption [by] ozone makes the stratosphere really cold. This cold air propagates down to the surface by influencing the atmospheric circulation in the Antarctic, and that keeps thesea ice extensive.”But these effects are very small, and Antarctic sea-ice levels have increased only marginally. In the coming decades, climate models suggest rising global temperatures will overwhelm the other influences and cause Antarctic sea ice to scale back, too.The extent of Arctic sea ice at its summertime low point has dropped 40 percent in the past three decades. The idea that a tiny Antarctic ice expansion makes up for this — that heat is merely shifting from the the Southern Hemisphere to the Northern and therefore global warming must not be happening — is „just nonsense,” Serreze said.Follow Natalie Wolchover on Twitter @nattyover or Life’s Little Mysteries @llmysteries. We’re also on Facebook & Google+.