HOT AND BOTHERED: For anyone who bought into last year's debunked "Climategate" scandal, a team of 300 scientists from around the world has an urgent message: "Global warming is undeniable," and it's getting worse by the decade. That's the gist of the new "State of the Climate" report, produced by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration but compiled by a horde of climate experts from 48 different countries. It's the 20th in a series, and while it doesn't delve into the causes of global warming, it paints a vivid picture of what's already happening, and what to expect next. "At first glance, the amount of increase each decade ... may seem small," the report explains. "But the temperature increase of about 1 degree Fahrenheit experienced during the past 50 years has already altered the planet. Glaciers and sea ice are melting, heavy rainfall is intensifying and heat waves are becoming more common and more intense." The 1980s was the warmest decade on record until the 1990s overtook it, the report points out, and now the 2000s has overtaken the '90s. Aside from obvious ills like vanishing glaciers and punishing heat waves, other recent research also points to more indirect effects, such as a Princeton study released Monday that predicts up to 6.7 million more Mexicans will begin migrating to the United States as worsening droughts kill off their crops. And another study published today in the journal Nature finds that the world's phytoplankton — the base of the marine food web — are in severe decline, falling about 40 percent overall since 1950. Although there's no clear culprit yet for this die-off, the study's authors note a suspiciously strong correlation with another troubling trend: rising ocean temperatures. (Sources: Associated Press, National Geographic, NOAA, e! Science News)
DEEP TROUBLE: The well responsible for the Gulf oil spill has been capped for two weeks now, and as crude fades away from the surface faster than expected, officials are pondering how to scale back their cleanup operation without going too far. That's why National Incident Commander Thad Allen is in New Orleans today, kicking off what he says will be "frank, open" discussions about what to do next. "One of the reasons we're here is to start a conversation with local leaders about how we transition from a response posture," Allen said during a news conference Wednesday. "Once the well is capped, what remains to be done?" Skimming boats (pictured) are running out of oil to skim from the surface, since chemical dispersants, oil-eating bacteria and simple evaporation have removed much of the sheen that spread across the Gulf during the past 100 days. Some of those boats will be repurposed to begin picking up oiled containment booms, but Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser points out that just because oil isn't visible on the surface, that doesn't mean it's gone. Much of it has already invaded beaches and marshlands across the Gulf Coast, but especially in Louisiana. "It is going to be a new fight from here on out," Nungesser said Wednesday in Baton Rouge. "There's oil all over Plaquemines Parish this morning." And as the [skipwords]Washington[/skipwords] Post reports today, up to 167 million gallons of leaked oil remains unaccounted for in government statistics, raising concerns about what it might be doing to marine life deeper in the water column, and where it might go from there. "That stuff's somewhere," a Louisiana State University professor tells the Post. "It's going to be with us for a while. I'm worried about some habitats being exposed chronically to low concentrations of toxins. ... If the water's contaminated, the animals are going to be contaminated." (Sources: Baton Rouge Advocate, Washington Post)
THE SPILLING FIELDS: Just as the Gulf oil spill seems to be finally calming down, two new U.S. oil spills are threatening wildlife both in that region and 1,100 miles away. One of the new leaks, from an abandoned well off the Louisiana coast, is spewing out oil and natural gas into marshland already plagued by petroleum from BP's Macondo well. Barataria Bay is a fragile but critical ecosystem 60 miles south of New Orleans, and on top of BP's spilled oil, it must also now endure an encroaching sheen from the "orphan well" owned by the Houston-based Cedyco Corp. It remains unclear how much oil has leaked from that well since a tug boat collided with it Tuesday morning, and estimates for capping it range from one to 12 days. About 100 people and 35 boats are involved in the cleanup, and 18,400 feet of boom have been deployed so far to contain the slick. Meanwhile, more than 800,000 gallons of oil have also spilled into Michigan's Kalamazoo River since a pipeline burst there Monday, creating a disaster that some are calling the worst oil spill to ever hit the Midwest. The oil has already fouled at least 35 miles of the river, coating fish and birds in crude, and officials are especially worried it might travel as far as the Great Lakes. "It would be a tragedy of historic proportions if this reached Lake Michigan," Gov. Jennifer Granholm tells the [skipwords]New York[/skipwords] Times. It's a pretty big tragedy even if Lake Michigan stays clean, though, as oil from the pipeline has obliterated plants and animals across a vast stretch of the already-polluted river. "It's all destroyed," a 64-year-old local fisherman tells the Times. "I'm just sick about it." (Sources: CNN, Detroit News, New York Times)
BAPTISM BY MIRE: As badly as Michigan's Kalamazoo River is suffering this week, it could be worse — it could be the Jordan River. The iconic waterway in Israel, where the Bible says Jesus Christ was baptized, is so heavily polluted that an environmental advocacy group is calling for a halt to all baptisms there until it can be cleaned up. "For reasons of public health as well as religious integrity, baptism should be banned from taking place in the river," says Gidon Bromberg, the Israeli director of EcoPeace/Friends of the Earth Middle East, which recommended the ban. Israeli officials have responded that the river's water meets health ministry standards, but Bromberg insists pollutant levels are too high to be safe for the throngs of religious pilgrims who flock to the river each year. The river suffers from "severe mismanagement," according to EcoPeace, including the diversion of 98 percent of its freshwater to Israel, Jordan and Syria, as well as the release of untreated sewage and agricultural runoff into its waters. Israel closed its side of the river for one day Monday but reopened it Tuesday; Jordan has not responded to the group's claims about its side of the river, but Bromberg says both banks are at risk. "Our call is to halt baptisms on both sides of the river," he says. "It is exactly the same polluted water." (Source: Religion News Service)
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Photo (melting ice from John Hopkins glacier in Glacier Bay, Alaska): Getty Images
Photo (oil-skimming boats off the Pensacola coast on June 26): Dave Martin/AP
Photo (oiled Canada goose on July 27): Kalamazoo Gazette, Jonathon Gruenke/AP
Photo (Christiam pilgrims in Jordan River on March 31): ZUMA Press
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