Syria: National Committee to Improve Air Quality

Damascus, (ST)_ Environmental Affairs State Minister, the Natheera Serkis, has chaired the first meeting of the national committee to improve air quality in Syria.

“The meeting aimed to lay down a national plan that includes the schemes and projects to be carried out by the concerned ministries in the coming period to put an end to air pollution”, Dr. Serkis declared.

Dr. Serkis pointed out that deterioration of air quality requires full mobilization of all governmental sectors; directing attention to the Ministry’s role in defining pollutants and their sources,as well as findingappropriate air pollution solutions.

 Air Safety director at the Environment Ministry, engineer Tha’er Al-Def, outlined the ministry and concerned parties' activities to monitor pollution levels in Syrian governorates.He also underlined the attempts to establish a specialized database including air pollutants and most polluted areas.

Obaida.

Uncovering the secrets of North America's Ice Age giants

Eighty thousand years ago the Earth began to cool, marking the start of the last Ice Age. Experts are still discovering how the big freeze affected the giant mammals which prowled its dramatically changing landscape.

Scientists are helping to uncover the secrets of giant Ice Age beasts like the sabretooth cat - by foraging in crates of dirt which were collected during the building of a car park.

Wooden boxes were built around deposits of earth in 2006 after construction workers discovered the near-complete skeleton of a woolly mammoth while digging underground parking spaces at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

The crates were designed to salvage the remains for scientists at nearby Page Museum while also making way for the bulldozers.

More than three million prehistoric fossils from 600 species have been excavated from California's tar pits, which trapped and preserved Ice Age creatures as they roamed the territory tens of thousands of years ago.

The 23 crates, which each have a resident palaeontologist, and 327 buckets of fossil material are yielding vital discoveries and are expected to take several years to examine in full.

Project 23 is just one of a series of explorations documented by a new BBC series, Ice Age Giants, which has combined cutting edge fossil studies and CGI to create lifelike footage of the prehistoric beasts.

Here are some of the Ice Age giants of North America. The continent was half-covered by an enormous ice sheet at the peak of the last Ice Age, but land south of the ice suddenly became richer than ever before.

Source :BBC

N.H.Khider

Climate slowdown means extreme rates of warming

Scientists say the recent downturn in the rate of global warming will lead to lower temperature rises in the short-term.

Since 1998, there has been an unexplained "standstill" in the heating of the Earth's atmosphere.

Writing in Nature Geoscience, the researchers say this will reduce predicted warming in the coming decades.

But long-term, the expected temperature rises will not alter significantly.

The slowdown in the expected rate of global warming has been studied for several years now.

An international team of researchers looked at how the last decade would impact long-term, equilibrium climate sensitivity and the shorter term climate response.

Climate sensitivity looks to see what would happen if we doubled concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere and let the Earth's oceans and ice sheets respond to it over several thousand years. Transient climate response is much shorter term calculation again based on a doubling of CO2.

Reports  in 2007 said that the short-term temperature rise would most likely be 1-3C (1.8-5.4F).

But in this new analysis, by only including the temperatures from the last decade, the projected range would be 0.9-2.0C.

Ice The report suggests that warming in the near term will be less than forecast.

"The hottest of the models in the medium-term, they are actually looking less likely or inconsistent with the data from the last decade alone," said Dr Alexander Otto from the University of Oxford.

The authors calculate that over the coming decades global average temperatures will warm about 20% more slowly than expected.

But when it comes to the longer term picture, the authors say their work is consistent with previous estimates. Scientists said that climate sensitivity was in the range of 2.0-4.5C

This latest research, including the decade of stalled temperature rises, produces a range of 0.9-5.0C.

The researchers say the difference between the lower short-term estimate and the more consistent long-term picture can be explained by the fact that the heat from the last decade has been absorbed into and is being stored by the world's oceans.

The authors say there are ongoing uncertainties surrounding the role of aerosols in the atmosphere and around the issue of clouds.

Source:BBC

N.H.Khider

The Hidden World Under Our Feet

THE world’s worrisome decline in biodiversity is well known. Some experts say we are well on our way toward the sixth great extinction and that by 2100 half of all the world’s plant and animal species may disappear.

Yet one of the most important threats to biodiversity has received little attention — though it lies under our feet.

Scientists using new analytical techniques over the last decade have found that the world’s ocean of soil is one of our largest reservoirs of biodiversity. It contains almost one-third of all living organisms, but only about 1 percent of its micro-organisms have been identified, and the relationships among those myriad life-forms is poorly understood.

Soil is the foundation on which the house of terrestrial biodiversity is built. Without robust soil ecosystems, the world’s food web would be in trouble.

To understand more, scientists recently embarked on what they call the Global Soil Biodiversity Initiative to assess what is known about soil life, pinpoint where it is endangered and determine the health of the essential ecosystem services that soil provides.

The focus is on the life that resides in the soil — the microbes, fungi, nematodes, mites and even gophers that make up a complex web of interrelationships.

A teaspoon of soil may have billions of microbes divided among 5,000 different types, thousands of species of fungi and protozoa, nematodes, mites and a couple of termite species. How these and other pieces all fit together is still largely a mystery.

Forget the term “dumb as dirt.” The complex soil ecosystem is highly evolved and sophisticated. It processes organic waste into soil. It filters and cleans much of the water we drink and the air we breathe by retaining dust and pathogens. It plays a large role in how much carbon dioxide is in the atmosphere. Soil, with all of its organic matter, is second to the oceans as the largest carbon repository on the planet. Annual plowing, erosion and other mismanagement releases carbon in the form of carbon dioxide, and exacerbates climate change.

The last decade of research has overturned a key concept. For decades there was a saying among soil scientists — “everything is everywhere,” which meant that soil was largely the same across the globe. That has proved to be spectacularly untrue.

A 2003 study in the journal Ecosystems estimated that the biodiversity of nearly 5 percent of the nation’s soil was “in danger of substantial loss, or complete extinction, due to agriculture and urbanization,” though that was most likely a very conservative guess, since the planet’s soil was even more unexplored then than today, and study techniques were far less developed.

That means that species critical to some important functions could have already disappeared or be on their way out. That’s why the global soil assessment is a matter of some urgency.

There are numerous threats to soil life. Modern tillage agriculture is a big one, because it deprives soil life of organic matter it needs for food, allows it to dry out and adds pesticides, herbicides and synthetic nitrogen. Soil “sealing” from the asphalt and concrete of suburban sprawl destroys soil life, as do heavy machinery and pollution. Even long-ago insults like acid rain still take a toll on life in the soil by having made the soil more acidic.

THE problem is global. In nearly half of Africa, for example, overgrazing and intensive agriculture has destroyed topsoil and led to desertification.

N.H.Khider

Source: New York Times

National Environmental Observatory in Lattakia

LATTAKIA, (ST) -The Ministry of State for Environmental Affairs recently launched the National Environmental Observatory Project in Lattakia. A presentation was made about the observatory project and the project that had been done in the Great Northern River.

Director of Studies Department at the ministry, eng  Mahmoud Haider, said to reporters that the Observatory, which was launched at the national level, will work to accomplish an integrated environmental map for Syria and specific maps and to every governorate and databases for all activities that occur within the framework of sustainable development.

He noted that the observatory includes a collection of digital maps for all aspects of pollution in addition to satellite images, pointing out that a team, composed of all central departments in the governorate, is now rehabilitated for this purpose.

“A range of applications related to environment maps and databases will be accomplished, whereas an integrated study about the Great Northern River has been done in the form of digital maps and databases as constituents of the environmental observatory concerning water resources in Latakia and a study will be conducted about all water sources in the governorate and completed as required,” eng. Haider clarified.

For his part, Director of Agricultural and Environmental Studies at Remote Sensing Association, Dr. Yunus Idris, explained that the importance of the study of the Great Northern River is to bring out the situation of the basin, undulations of the ground, the morphological situation and the mechanics of sewage discharge, industrial, economic and tourist installations and olive presses.

The aim of the National Environmental Observatory, which was initiated in September last year, at the central level in Damascus is to unify the environmental work and continue building  databases and develop data bank to be able to store environmental projects carried out in the ministry, publish the results among bodies concerned according to an agreed system, ensure the safety of networking between the ministry and sub-districts and other institutions concerned in addition to training and rehabilitation of a team of technicians and engineers from the departments of Environmental Affairs in the rest of the governorates.

Sh. Kh