Rising sea level predictions: 'This isn't Chicken Little,' Peconic Baykeeper says

Long Island is smack in the middle of a "hot spot" for sea-level rise, where the sea is rising at a rate three to four times faster than it is globally, according to a report released late last month by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Rates of sea-level rise along a 600-mile stretch of the Atlantic Coast from Cape Hatteras, N.C. to north of Boston, Mass. are increasing three to four times faster than sea level rise globally, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey report published June 24.

The USGS says sea levels globally will increase two to three feet by the end of this century.

A state task force created by the legislature in 2007 to study the issue found that "sea- level rise and coastal flooding from storm surge are already impacting and will increasingly affect New York’s entire ocean and estuarine coastline" and issued a call for action.

Chaired by the state environmental conservation commissioner, the task force included state emergency management, insurance, health and transportation officials, as well as representatives of NYC, Nassau and Suffolk county governments. It issued a report to the legislature in December 2010 identifying numerous hazards associated with the predicted increases and recommending steps to be taken by state and local governments to better understand the risks and prepare for the consequences.

But that report "went over like a lead balloon," according to Peconic Baykeeper Kevin McAllister.

"There has been almost no discussion of it," McAllister said.

The report said rising sea levels will result in septic system failures due to higher groundwater tables, increased flooding, increases in permanent inundation, loss of tidal wetlands, greater storm surges, increased coastal erosion and and damage to crucial infrastructures such as energy facilities, transportation networks, wastewater management systems and drinking water supplies.

The task force recommended immediately identifying and mapping vulnerable areas, so that land use planning decisions can take sea level rise into account. Those decisions should include discouraging continued development in coastal areas and imposing new, much stiffer penalties for violations of the state's coastal erosion hazard areas act — increasing penalties from $500 to $10,000 per violation, according to the report. The task force also said the government should discontinue its subsidy of low-cost flood insurance for vulnerable coastal areas, because such subsidies encourage development in areas where it should be discouraged.

"This is not Chicken Little," McAllister said. "This is a very serious issue we have completely ignored," he said.

A request to the state DEC public information office in Albany for information on the status of the task force recommendations elicited the following email response on Friday:

"DEC is working with other state agencies to develop information necessary to incorporate sea-level rise considerations into agency decision-making and to assist local governments in planning for hazards associated with sea-level rise and enhanced storm surge," DEC spokesperson Emily DeSantis said in the email.

"One example is an ongoing project to acquire more accurate elevation data, which can then be used to assess vulnerability to coastal hazards. The agencies are also developing a tool that would allow coastal communities to voluntarily assess the status of local resiliency planning."

The Nature Conservancy has already produced a coastal resiliency mapping tool for Long Island and coastal Connecticut. It depicts areas of predicted inundation in the 2020s, 2050s and 2080s, based on a sea-level rise of one meter by the end of this century, as originally forecast by the USGS.

According to the TNC mapping tool, the entire parking lot on the south side of East Main Street will likely be under water 70 years from now, as will much of the town's coastline along the river and bay.

But sea-level rise isn't even on the radar as far as local land-use planning is concerned, according to Riverhead Town planning director Rick Hanley. It was not part of the discussion in the comprehensive plan developed a decade ago, he said.

That's typical of local governments, according to McAllister.

"We absolutely have had our heads in the sand," he said.

And when local governments do take action, it's "totally reactionary," he said.

"Our response is always to fortify the coast, whether bay or Sound or ocean," McAllister said. "We're headed down a path we'll really regret, because ultimately we're going to destroy these beaches with the armory we're installing."

But calls to back off coastal development — or even regulate it more stringently — meet with strong opposition from private property rights advocates, many of whom argue that global warming is not backed by scientific evidence, and theories about global warming and sea-level rise are, at best, speculative.

"Personally I think it's a cycle," said Riverhead Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, who says she's not convinced on the subject of human-induced climate change and the effects, such as sea-level rise, believed to be caused by global warming.

"We have very harsh winters, then we have very warm summers," she said. "There are arguments both ways."

"There's clear evidence we are seeing sea level rise locally," McAllister says. "I've seen it in the field. There's no question the bays have expanded over the last 10, 20 or 30 years," he said.

"There are oak trees dead as a doornail with high tide at their feet," Mcallister said. "They can't live in a moist substrate. When you have mature oak trees now standing dead in the water, that's physical evidence of rising sea levels. Those oaks grew there when they were high and dry."

"The state has revised the flood maps and put stricter flood plains restrictions in place," Giglio said.

More regulations impede private property rights and hurt businesses, according to the councilwoman, who also operates a permit expediting firm.

"You have to look at the effect of every law you put in place," she said.

Malaria-carrying mosquitoes rendered harmless after scientists use GM bacteria to kill off parasite in stomach

Malaria could be stopped by infecting mosquitoes with genetically engineered bacteria.

The modified bug destroys the parasite that causes the disease - meaning their bites will only be itchy, not deadly.

Known as Pantoea agglomerans, it was altered to secrete proteins poisonous to the malaria organism - but not harmful to mosquitoes or humans.

A study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed the new bacteria virtually wiped out the malaria parasite in the insects.

Professor Marcelo Jacobs-Lorena, of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland, said: 'In the past we worked to genetically modify the mosquito to resist malaria, but genetic modification of bacteria is a simpler approach.

'The ultimate goal is to completely prevent the mosquito from spreading the malaria parasite to people.'

P agglomerans is found in the midguts of Anopheles gambiae, the most important malaria carrying mosquito species in Africa.

The engineered strain inhibited development of the deadliest human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum by up to 98 percent within the mosquito.

After the insects were infected with the bacteria by feeding them with cotton pads soaked in sugar the proportion carrying parasites decreased by up to 84 percent.

Prof Jacobs-Lorena said: 'We demonstrate the use of an engineered symbiotic bacterium to interfere with the development of P. falciparum in the mosquito.

'These findings provide the foundation for the use of genetically modified symbiotic bacteria as a powerful tool to combat malaria.'

Malaria is one of the most widespread and dangerous insect-transmitted human disease in the world.

It infects more than 500 million people - about one in twelve humans - and causes between one and two million deaths each year.

It is found in large areas of Central and South America, Africa and the Indian subcontinent. Singer Cheryl Cole fell seriously ill with the disease in 2010 after picking it up on holiday in Tanzania.

The incidence of malaria is increasing and new measures to combat it are desperately needed.

US approves first HIV-prevention drug

For the first time, a once-a-day pill which reduces the chance of contracting HIV among high risk groups "significantly" has got green signal in the US, where 1.2 million people are infected by the deadly disease.

The drug,'Truvada' can now be used by those at high risk of the infection and anyone who may engage in sexual activity with HIV-infected partners, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced.

"In two large clinical trials, daily use of the drug was shown to significantly reduce the risk of HIV infection," it said yesterday.

However, some health workers and groups active in the HIV community opposed the approval for the once-a-day pill.

There are concerns that circulation of such a drug could engender a false sense of security and mean people will take more risks. There have also been fears that a drug-resistant strain of HIV could develop.

People diagnosed with HIV that without treatment develops into AIDS take antiviral medications to control the infection that attacks their immune system.

In a statement, the FDA stressed that the drug should be used as part of a "comprehensive HIV prevention plan", including condom use and regular HIV testing.

An advisory group of health experts recommended approval for the pill in May this year.

Truvada, is already backed by the FDA to be taken with existing antiretroviral drugs for people who have HIV.

Studies have shown that Truvada reduced the risk of HIV in healthy gay men - and among HIV-negative heterosexual partners of HIV-positive people - by between 44 per cent and 73 per cent.

"In the 80s and early 90s, HIV was viewed as a life-threatening disease; in some parts of the world it still is. Medical advances, along with the availability of close to 30 approved individual HIV drugs, have enabled us to treat it as a chronic disease most of the time," Debra Birnkrant, director of the Division of Antiviral Products at FDA, said.

"But it is still better to prevent HIV than to treat a life-long infection of HIV," she said.

Studies have shown the drug manufactured by a California-based company can reduce the risk of contracting Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

About 1.2 million Americans have HIV. The body’s immune system is devastated by AIDS, leaving those who have it vulnerable to deadly infections. Each year, about 50,000 adults and adolescents in the US are newly diagnosed with HIV.

Sea levels may rise much higher due to warming

Sea levels may rise much higher than previously thought, as a new study on fossil corals has found that warmer climes in the past promoted dramatic melting of polar ice.

Researchers built an extensive database by compiling age and elevation data of fossil corals that live near the sea surface, using a model to factor in the physics of how changing masses of ice sheets would affect regional sea level at the various fossil coral sites, a statement from the Australian National University said.

“In this way, we were able to account for the geographic variability in sea level observations from this time period and compute the highest point that average global sea level attained. The observations from the corals confirmed the sea level patterns that we predicted using the geophysical model,” Andrea Dutton, who is currently based at University of Florida, said.

The research concluded that sea level during the last interglacial period peaked at 5.5 to 9 metres above present sea level.

“Sea level change — in the past, present, and future — is geographically variable and we must consider this variability to infer what the average global sea level was doing in the past. We observed 5.5 to 9 metres of sea level rise,” said Dutton.

“To explain that, polar ice sheets must have melted: part of Greenland, most of the West Antarctic ice sheet, and perhaps some of the East Antarctic ice sheet. Our findings have important implications for future sea levels,” added Dutton.

“For the period we studied, the poles were probably only three to five degrees warmer than present. That amount of polar warming is well within what we are predicted to reach this century. This implies that the polar ice sheets may be very sensitive to small increases in temperature,” the statement quoted Dutton as saying.

“This magnitude of sea level rise — up to 9 metres — is obviously not going to happen overnight. But it could happen within a few centuries, so it is important to consider the long-term commitment we make in terms of total sea level rise when we talk about various targets and emission scenarios, concluded Dutton.

Andrea Dutton, formerly of the Australian National University College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, teamed up with Kurt Lambeck, ANU professor to analyse fossil corals around the world from the last interglacial period, 125,000 years ago.

BMW 3-series to be launched in India on July 27, 2012

The 2012 3-series (F30) will bow into India on July 27, aiming at being the ultimate 3-series ever launched.

The all-new 3-series had been creating a lot of buzz and speculation about its launch date. While many, including BMW’s own micro-site hinted at an August 3, 2012 launch for the new 3, some claimed that July 19, 2012 was the chosen date. However, seems like we won the automotive roulette, for the new 3-series comes into India by the end of this month – July, 27, to be precise.

BMW will launch the new 3-series in Mumbai, followed by subsequent launches throughout the country. The car will go on sale immediately after its launch with many prospective customers having lined-up for the new F30 3-series. We are being told that the long-awaited 3-series ran into a problem with the customs due to the significant change in the taxation after the Union Budget 2012 was put into effect a few months back. With the additional import duties, we expect the 3-series to be slightly pricier than the outgoing model – but on par with the competition i.e. the Mercedes Benz C-class, the revised Audi A4, the Volvo S60 and the Nissan Teana.

As we mentioned earlier, BMW is participating in heavy social media activity surrounding the 2012 3-series. The car is expected to come with two petrol and two diesel options at launch with three trim levels – Sport Line, Modern Line and Luxury Line. Stay tuned to OnCars as we reveal more details of the 2012 BMW 3-series soon.

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Coffee lowers risk of skin cancer

Drinking more coffee could lower the risk of basal cell carcinoma, the commonest form of skin cancer, according to a new study. ”Our data indicate that the more caffeinated coffee you consume, the lower your risk of developing basal cell carcinoma (BCC),” said Jiali Han, associate professor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston.

“I would not recommend increasing your coffee intake based on these data alone. However, our results add basal cell carcinoma to a list of conditions for which risk is decreased with increasing coffee consumption,” said Han, the journal Cancer Research, reported. 

Even though BCC is slow-growing, it places a burden on health care systems. Though the cancer rarely kills, it can cause significant destruction and disfigurement by invading surrounding tissues. ”Given the large number of newly diagnosed cases, daily dietary changes having any protective effect may have an impact on public health,” said Han, according to a university statement.

Of the 112,897 participants included in the analyses, 22,786 developed basal cell carcinoma during the more than 20 years of follow-up in the two studies.  ”These results really suggest that it is the caffeine in coffee that is responsible for the decreased risk of basal cell carcinoma associated with increasing coffee consumption,” said Han.