Google joins fight against overfishing


Click to enlarge

Google has partnered with SkyTruth and Oceana to produce a new tool to track global fishing activity. Known as Global Fishing Watch, the interactive web tool uses satellite data to provide detailed vessel tracking, and aims to harness the power of citizen engagement to tackle the issue of overfishing.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, more than 90 percent of the world’s fisheries are working at peak capacity, with as much as one-third of marine fish stocks now suffering from overfishing.

Though a clear issue, the distant and out-of-sight nature of commercial fishing creates a problem when it comes to accountability. To help combat this, Google has teamed up with marine advocacy group Oceana and mapping company SkyTruth to develop the Global Fishing Watch – a tool that allows anyone with an internet connection access to the timing and position of intensive fishing around the world…

The tool shows users the number of hours that individual ships spent fishing certain areas, and allows almost anyone to explore global fishing activity. Users can filter data by country, and can even look at the route taken by individual vessels, with a data point being created every time a ship sets and retrieves its lines.

In the long run, it provides fisherman and companies with an opportunity to illustrate that they’re obeying the law in regard to overfishing. It will also likely prove a useful tool for researchers, who will be able to access a comprehensive database of global fishing activity, with data spanning back for years.

I grew up in a family that relied on subsistence fishing for most of our weekly animal protein. It was early days for coastal trawlers. They would be considered small and inefficient by today’s factory ship standards.

Still, we knew if just one showed up and wandered along our favorite fishing spots – no matter what variety of fish was running at the time – we might as well pack up and go home. There would be nothing left for us for the next few days.

No one in government cared a rat’s ass either.

Did you ever realize how bad a comet smells?

Researchers describe the scent coming off 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko as reminiscent of rotten eggs and a horse stable.

They had outfitted Rosetta with a sort of artificial nose — an instrument called ROSINA — that can analyze gas vapors and replicate smell. Among other trace chemicals, Chury offers a powerful punch of hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, formaldehyde and hydrogen cyanide.

The strong presence of rotten egg (hydrogen sulfide) and horse stable (ammonia) smells are accented by notes of alcohol (methane) and vinegar (sulfur dioxide). In case that wasn’t gross enough, the hyrdogen cyanide and carbon disulfide offer a hint of sugared almonds.

Researchers say it’s the first time they’ve really gotten a good whiff of a comet.

“We’ve never been that close to a comet,” Kathrin Altwegg, the researcher who manages the ROSINA instrument from a lab at the University of Bern in Switzerland…

The comet — which Rosetta tried to anchor to with the exploratory craft called Philae — is 250 million miles from the sun. But it’s getting closer. And that’s bad news for astronomers with a weak stomach.

“The closer the comet gets to the sun, the more of its ice will evaporate, and the gas emissions will get more intense,” Altwegg explained to Deutsche Welle.

Sounds like the next time Earthlings sneak up on a comet and land on it to research its composition – we might include a little gas-powered engine in addition to solar panels to power the research vehicle. Something that runs on horse farts.

[Adapted from an article published just before Philae landed on 67P]

Too many people, not enough water — now and 2,700 years ago


That may be the US Embassy over on the right — or at least the inspiration for the one in Baghdad

The Assyrian Empire once dominated the ancient Near East. At the start of the 7th century BC, it was a mighty military machine and the largest empire the Old World had yet seen. But then, before the century was out, it had collapsed. Why? An international study now offers two new factors as possible contributors to the empire’s sudden demise – overpopulation and drought…

Adam Schneider of the University of California, San Diego and Selim Adalı of Koç University in Istanbul, Turkey, have just published evidence for their novel claim…

The researchers’ work connects recently published climate data to text found on a clay tablet. The text is a letter to the king, written by a court astrologer, reporting (almost incidentally) that “no harvest was reaped” in 657 BC.

Paleoclimatic records back up the courtier’s statement. Further, analysis of the region’s weather patterns, in what is now Northern Iraq and Syria, suggests that the drought was not a one-off event but part of a series of arid years.

Add to that the strain of overpopulation, especially in places like the Assyrian capital of Nineveh (near present-day Mosul) – which had grown unsustainably large during the reign of King Sennacherib – and Assyria was fatally weakened, the researchers argue…

“We’re not saying that the Assyrians suddenly starved to death or were forced to wander off into the desert en masse, abandoning their cities,” Schneider said. “Rather, we’re saying that drought and overpopulation affected the economy and destabilized the political system to a point where the empire couldn’t withstand unrest and the onslaught of other peoples…”

Schneider also sees an eerie similarity between Nineveh and Southern California. Though people weren’t forcibly relocated to Los Angeles or San Diego to help an emperor grow himself a “great city,” still, the populations of these contemporary metropolitan areas are probably also too large for their environments…

“The Assyrians can be ‘excused’ to some extent,” they write, “for focusing on short-term economic or political goals which increased their risk of being negatively impacted by climate change, given their technological capacity and their level of scientific understanding about how the natural world works. We, however, have no such excuses, and we also possess the additional benefit of hindsight, which allows us to piece together from the past what can go wrong if we choose not to enact policies that promote longer-term sustainability.”

Republicans – like their mentors at the US Chamber of Commerce – are tucked neatly into the wallets of legacy fossil fuel corporations. Wealth derived from out-of-date means of profit still sufficient to buy enormous political power is close to being one of the most contemptible uses of power in a capitalist economy.

Nineveh wasn’t this advanced. I’m not certain about Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats either.

Thanks, Mike