The yellow and brown on this map of the western Canadian coast represent high concentrations of chlorophyll.
A California businessman lobbed 110 tons of iron into the ocean off the western coast of Canada this July, The Guardian revealed on Monday, and he did it in violation of two international moratoria on such activity. Russ George wanted to stimulate the growth of phytoplankton to sell carbon credits for the carbon dioxide that the tiny photosynthesizing organisms would take out of the atmosphere. Satellite images from August (above) showed that about 10,000 square kilometers of ocean greenery had already grown.
While Egyptians were enduring an internet blackout in recent weeks, Canadians were–and still are–dealing with an Internet problem of an entirely different degree: the onslaught of metered Internet usage. Citizens are raising their voices in protest, though, and are fighting back against the “Internet-attackers.”
Also called “usage-based billing,” metered Internet appears to be bad news for Canada’s smaller Internet Service Providers (ISPs), but good news for the giants like Bell. Smaller ISPs were profitable because they could rent bandwidth from the larger companies and only pay according to the number of customers they had, and not based on how heavily those customers used the Internet. But a recent decision from the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) is allowing these larger companies to charge according to the number of gigabytes used. So far, the story is playing in a backwards David-and-Goliath way in terms of how it’s affecting smaller ISPs:
The Canadian government today declared bisphenol A, a chemical in plastics also known as BPA, to be toxic.
A scientific assessment of the impact of human and environmental exposure to bisphenol A has determined that this substance constitutes or may constitute a danger to human health and the environment [Official notice]
The chemical has been linked to heart disease, impotence, and diabetes, while animal and cell culture experiments have shown that it can mimic the female hormone estrogen. It is found in some plastic containers, and some food cans are lined with it.
While Canada is forging ahead, most other governments are dithering about whether or not the chemical poses a health threat.
How much exposure is too much, though? There is no clear answer. Two weeks ago, the European Food Safety Authority declared that BPA did not pose sufficient risk to stop using it in food containers. While tiny amounts can leach out into food, they cannot raise human exposure to unacceptably risky levels, the authority concluded after an assessment of existing scientific studies. [Nature]
Mercury, arsenic, lead, cadmium, nickel, zinc—they’re all getting into the waters of northern Canada in dangerous amounts because of mining in the oil sands, according to a study coming out in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Canada‘s oil sands hold an estimated 13 percent of the proven oil reserves in the world, and the United States grows increasingly reliant upon them to meet our petroleum needs. However, the process of extracting and refining the oil is energy-intensive, and dirty. An industry-led group called Regional Aquatics Monitoring Program (RAMP) oversees the pollution coming from oil sands exploration, and it has maintained that elevated levels of toxins in the nearby Athabasca River system come from natural oil seepage. However, the University of Alberta’s Erin Kelly and David Schindler say in their study that no, it’s the oil exploration that’s increasing the concentration of these elements in the water.
Way up in the Great White North, beneath Canada’s Baffin Island, lies material from the very beginning of the planet.
The search for primordial stuff—rocks that have survived 4.5 billion years since the formation of the Earth without being changed by forces that shook and scrambled our planet—is one of geology’s long-running quests. In Nature this week, Matthew Jackson says he may have done it. Jackson’s team found lava rocks in Canada with a signature that matches that of the newly formed Earth, suggesting there is material below the snowy surface that has endured unchanged throughout the planet’s history.
They have the highest proportion of the isotope helium-3 relative to helium-4 of any rocks known. This suggests that the rocks came from a “primitive” region of Earth, as, unlike helium-4, helium-3 can’t be replenished and thus must have come from the original building blocks of the planet. What’s more, the ratio of two isotopes of the element neodymium match what geochemists would expect for a residue from Earth’s early ocean of molten magma [ScienceNOW].
With the perpetual flow of filthy crude from BP’s oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, just about anything seems like a better energy solution than deep sea offshore drilling. One new proposal, though, has the potential for similarly disastrous environmental harm.
The Keystone XL is a huge proposed pipeline that could carry oil from Canada’s oil sands on a snaking path through the American Midwest and all the way down to Texas, where it will be refined. The idea has been up for public comment for months, and that period comes to a close soon. So, should we build this thing?
There is one good thing about the project: It would be a source of energy that’s not the Middle East, Iran, Venezuela, or another region or country hostile to the United States.
From an energy perspective, Keystone XL delivers one thing the United States needs: plentiful oil from a friendly neighbor. Most oil companies have invested heavily in Canadian oil sands and are firmly behind it [The New York Times].
The project would bring in another million barrels of oil per day from Canada, which is already our biggest foreign oil supplier.
A study released this month by the Perryman Group, an economic analysis firm based in Waco, concluded that the project could generate as much as $2.3 billion in new spending for Texas during construction and $1.1 billion in property taxes to local and county governments over the pipeline’s operating lifetime [Houston Chronicle].
The oil sands are one of the dirtiest energy projects in the world. The oil is dirty to extract and dirty to refine, plus there are the transportation dangers.
If you need a breather from all the bad news coming out of the Gulf of Mexico, take a look way up north. In Canada this week, environmental groups and big industry—timber, in this case—actually agreed on something. With the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement, the groups reached a truce in their fight over the forests of Northern Canada. The breakthrough could protect vast swaths of forest that, if added up, would be bigger than the state of Nevada.
Signatories include AbitibiBowater, one of the world’s biggest newsprint producers; Seattle-based Weyerhaeuser, and Canfor, British Columbia’s biggest softwood lumber producer, as well as nine environmental groups such as Greenpeace, the Nature Conservancy and Forest Ethics [Financial Times].
The environmental groups agreed to suspend their “don’t buy” campaigns in exchange for timber firms agreeing not to cut down forests that constitute endangered caribou habitat until at least the end of 2012. In the meantime, the parties will try to hash out a long-term plan. If this step does result in a more permanent conservation plan, it could have benefits not just for the caribou, but for the planet as well.
Over the past decade, boreal-forest preservation has increasingly been seen to be as vital as tropical-forest preservation in efforts to combat global warming. Although tropical forests cover more of Earth’s surface than boreal forests, boreal forests store nearly twice as much carbon, mainly in their soils [Christian Science Monitor].
Up north in the Canadian province of Manitoba, polar bears are receiving some unwelcome guests. Researchers have seen grizzly bears moving into the area for the first time, and that might not be good news for the already-troubled polar bears.
Linda Gormezano and her team, who are publishing the study (pdf) in Canadian Field-Naturalist, weren’t even looking for grizzlies when they started to spot the huge mammals; they were flying around counting fox dens. Before 1996, there was no evidence that grizzly bears encroached on polar bear territory. From that year on, however, there have been at least 12 sightings, negating the prior theory that the barren landscape north of the Hudson Bay was impassable, in terms of resources, for migrating grizzly bears [Discovery News]. If grizzlies can survive there, Gormezano says, they’ll probably want to stay, because there’s a bevy of caribou, fish, and other good things to eat.