Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Transocean oil rig suffered start of blow-out in North Sea

(from The Guardian) - Drilling company Transocean had an incident on one of its North Sea rigs similar to that which caused the biggest oil spill in US history earlier this year, it emerged today.

Transocean was operating BP's Deepwater Horizon rig when it suffered a blow-out, killing 11 workers and releasing millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

An internal company report obtained by the BBC shows that four months before the US disaster the Sedco 711 rig in the North Sea, which is leased by Shell and operated by Transocean, experienced similar problems.

In this case, however, the blow-out preventer – which is believed to have failed on the Deepwater Horizon – worked effectively, preventing oil and gas from spurting uncontrolled up the rig's pipe.

The incident on 23 December 2009 was investigated by the Health and Safety Executive and Transocean drew up an internal report.

Oil expert Dr Greville Williams of the Institution of Chemical Engineers, who has seen the report, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "It is the story of a blow-out occurring during a completion exercise. They had drilled the well, they had got the end of the pipe sorted out.

"What's happened is that the flow valve at the bottom looks like it has been unseated during operations. When they started to displace the mud which is holding the reservoir back, the pressure started to move that mud and seawater back up the column. That's the blow-out starting to happen."

Dr Williams said the report showed that key indicators that something was going wrong were misinterpreted or discounted, while undue weight was given to a positive pressure test at the base of the well.

"It seems to me from this that they were accepting that they didn't do enough pressure testing of the flow control valve and probably didn't allow for more than one barrier to prevent the reservoir from communicating," he said.

"Normally, you would like to have at least two, but they were relying at this point on one barrier."

The report itself said: "The risk perception of barrier failure was blinkered by the positive inflow test."

The BBC said that a potentially major spill was avoided when the blow-out preventer was activated, capping off the well.

In a statement, Transocean told the BBC: "Any (safety-) related events that occur on a rig anywhere in the world, including the one on 23 December 2009, are immediately reported to management, fully investigated and the valuable information gleaned from that investigation is used to improve existing safety systems across the fleet."

Tim Yeo, the chairman of the House of Commons energy committee, told Today: "I think what we need to try to understand is how frequently this sort of thing is happening offshore and whether there is therefore a risk of a much more serious spill occurring.

"It is not clear that this was something which had been properly prepared for, and it may well have been more luck than judgment that got this under control.

"We don't want to see people working without the necessary kit, without proper training or procedures and the result of that being a major spill."

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

O my, it's winter

"Winter is nature's way of saying, 'Up yours'" (Robert Byrne)

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

2010 landscape photographer of the year award

And the award goes to...

Corfe Castle, Dorset by Antony Spencer (Landscape Photographer of the Year 2010)

Visit Anthony Spencer's official webpage at

Monday, 22 November 2010

Illicit tiger trade in Burma

Below is a series of photographs documenting the illegal trade of exotic animals in the village of Mong La, Burma. Tigers, leopards, jaguars and other magnificent specimen are poached in the Burmese forests, and taken to the town's local markets to be sold.

Dealers, collectors and tourists are some of the potential buyers.

The tiger populations have decreased of 97 per cent over the last 100 years. These animals are at high risk of extinction. It is not only dealers and poachers who are responsible for the extermination. What makes their business profitable is collectors, tourists and all those people who, although not involved in the practical crime of killing these animals, seek for and buy skins or other body parts.

(Photographs source, The Guardian - The entire reportage is available here)

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Vieni via con me

"Questo è il Paese felice. Dove se non muori, sei colpevole perchè vivi."

Friday, 19 November 2010

A Bologna rinvenuto coccodrillo piu' antico mai scoperto

(Ansa) - Scoperti in Italia i resti del piu' antico coccodrillo del mondo. E' vissuto circa 165 milioni di anni fa lungo la costa nord-africana. Il teschio fossile e' giunto al terzo millennio intrappolato in un blocco di pietra estratto nel Veronese, del tipo di cui sono pavimentati i portici di Bologna. E' qui, all'interno di un museo, che l'hanno trovato due scienziati poco piu' che trentenni, Federico Fanti e Andrea Cau. Lo annuncia una nota dell'ateneo bolognese.
Nel 1955 la testa del coccodrillo era finita dentro un blocco di roccia, destinato ai lavori di costruzione di un cavalcavia ed estratto da una qualche cava nei pressi di Sant'Ambrogio Veronese, ad est del Lago di Garda. Si tratta di rosso ammonitico veronese, un calcare molto comune nell'edilizia.
Un marmista di Portomaggiore (Ferrara) si accorse che quattro delle lastre erano molto diverse dalle solite ammoniti che alla pietra danno il nome. Si rivolse a degli esperti, sia a Ferrara che a Bologna.

Due lastre vennero date al museo di storia naturale di Ferrara. Le altre due al Museo geologico Capellini dell'Universita' di Bologna. Qui vengono esposte a partire dagli anni '60. ''Un giorno di due anni fa ero con Andrea davanti alle due lastre - e' ancora Fanti che racconta - e ci siamo detti: 'Ma perche' non cerchiamo di capire qualcosa di piu' di questa bestia?'''.

Si accorsero che il ''coccodrillo di Portomaggiore'', come veniva informalmente indicato, e' molto piu' vecchio di quanto inizialmente ritenuto: circa 10 milioni di anni in piu'. Questo ne fa il piu' antico mai scoperto sull'intero pianeta, e il primo trovato non solo in Italia, ma lungo la costa nord dell'antico continente australe del Gondwana che univa in un unico blocco Africa, America del Sud, Antartide, Australia e India.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

China needs to address sustainability - WWF

WWF calls for China to address its environmental issues and boost sustainable development to avoid “bottleneck economic growth,” with the release of a report on the country's ecological footprint.

The study on the ecological footprint, conducted with the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development (CCICED), was done to “evaluate the ecological deficits of different provinces in China as well as the impacts of specific businesses and households activities,” as written in the report.

According to the findings, China – which has undergone a steady economic growth since the 1970s – currently needs almost twice the amount of its natural resources to sustain its population. This deficit is largely due to emissions of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels. Industrialization, large scale urban development and intensive agriculture have increased the country's burden on the environment.

The lack of internal resources pushes China to import biological capacity from other countries. This dependence has been increasing, as has the need for the country to address this issue.

Zhu Guangyao, CCICED Secretary General, said in an official statement: “Due to rapid social and economic development [in China], environmental issues are increasingly becoming a bottleneck for future economic growth.

“The next 20 years will be critical for China to realise sustainable development. With this in mind, it is the goal of the Chinese government to accelerate the formation of a resource efficient and environmentally friendly society.”

To achieve these goals, says the report, China would need to enhance its infrastructure on the one hand, and change regulations on the other – both measures would help to drastically diminish the impact of its growth on the environment.

“China is already consuming more than twice as much as can be provided by its own ecosystems,” wrote James Leape, WWF International Director General.

“People in China today have an ecological footprint of 1.6 'global hectares' – that is, on average, each person needs 1.6 hectares of biologically productive land to meet the demands of their lifestyle. This is still lower than the world average of 2.2 global hectares, but it nonetheless presents important challenges.

“Raising awareness of China's footprint is a crucial step in China's efforts to improve the wellbeing of its people without jeopardising their future.”

As a matter of fact, many China-based industries that add up to the impact of the country's carbon emissions and ecological footprint are foreign companies that, after closing factories in their own countries, re-directed the production to south-east Asia. Here the workforce is less costly and the environmental regulations are vague.

Calculating the ecological footprint is meant to establish the level of land and water that are needed by a population. It is also meaningful to assess the impact that a population or a country has on a global scale, in terms of use of internal and external natural resources; those that are available within the country, and those that have to be imported from elsewhere.

As recently as 2003, the world's population consumed 25% more biological capacity than the planet could provide. The WWF warns that, if measures are not taken to tackle this trend, a spiral of degradation may wear off the world's resources.

“Today China’s global influence is greater than at any time in recent history,” said Mr Leape. “By reducing pressure on natural resources through better management and increased efficiency, the country can play an important role in sustaining the global environment while gaining competitiveness.”

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Cerchi il rospo e trovi le rane

Una spedizione scientifica nelle foreste della Colombia, America meridionale, ha scoperto tre nuove specie di rana, finora sconosciute. Il gruppo di ricercatori era nel nord del Paese alla ricerca di una specie di rospo ritenuta scomparsa da decenni.

Sotto: le foto delle nuove specie rinvenute (fonte Ansa)

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome the bull frog

38degrees petition

The petition set up by 38degrees against the government's plan to sell off part of the state-owned English woodland, has been signed by 69,162 people so far.

Sign the petition at:


How badly we need our forests

David Clark, on The Guardian:

Next year, 2011, will be the UN's International Year of Forests, aiming to strengthen the sustainable management of forests for the benefit of current and future generations. It would be a tragic legacy for the government if it marked this year by starting to sell off large parts of our public forests. We hold these magnificent green spaces in trust for our children. Once they've gone we will not get them back.

Government claims, articulated in the Guardian by environment secretary Caroline Spelman, that the environmental and public benefits would be maintained if forests are sold off simply do not stand up to scrutiny.

Some private landowners do receive grants under the England Woodland Grant Scheme. However, they typically get this money to undertake just one or two projects such as creating some new footpaths or planting more trees. This does not in any way match what the Forestry Commission does on land which it manages and, in any case, most private landowners do not apply for these grants.

The sustainable management of woodland requires a lot of work. All the Forestry Commission's woods are independently certified against the internationally recognised Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) standard. A new owner would not be required to certify their woodlands.

A private landowner needs a licence to fell trees but it is essentially up to them how they manage their woodland, when and if they fell, what areas they fell and what types of trees they plant.

The Forestry Commission plants about 17m trees every year and has an important programme to restore our native woodlands. The organisation has also created 3000 hectares of new community woodlands in urban areas in the past 10 years.

Access on foot is currently safeguarded for freehold woodlands which the commission sells. However, there is no legal requirement to allow access for cycling or horse riding and there are no access rights on woodlands which are leased.

The commission maintains 24,000km of forest roads, seven times the total amount of motorway in Britain. It looks after thousands kilometres of footpaths and cycle trails too.

The commission employs specialist wildlife rangers and foresters who have restored important wildlife habitats on an unprecedented scale over the past 10 years, making a huge contribution to UK and European biodiversity targets.

By early this year, 99% of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) managed by the commission were in favourable or recovering condition. This exceeded the government target of 95% set for the end of 2010 and is greater than that achieved by any other significant SSSI manager in England in the public, private or charitable sectors. The commission is also leading the way in developing woodfuel as a more environmentally friendly source of energy.

Ministers are now trying to suggest that their plans are simply an extension of past sales of Forestry Commission land. However, the large scale sell-off the government appears to be planning bears no similarity to previous small sales of the land with the least environmental and public benefits.

What I find so extraordinary is that selling off large areas of our forests would risk so much while paying off only a small fraction of the national debt.

The commission costs less than 30p a year for every taxpayer, while 70% of the costs of managing our public forests in England are covered by commercial revenue.

We owe it to future generations to ensure our green gems are looked after and handed on to them rather than being sold off to the highest bidder.

(Lord Clark of Windermere was chairman of the Forestry Commission for eight years until December 2008)

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Hello turtles in the sand

World's rarest turtles caught illegally in Madagascar

(The Guardian) - Up to 16,000 of the world's rarest turtles are being caught every year by villages in just one part of Madagascar, a year-long survey has revealed.

The study is the first direct assessment of the level of exploitation of turtles in Madagascar. Until now, measuring information on the small-scale turtle catches in the most remote areas has been tough, because of difficulties accessing these regions.

"Because turtles are an endangered species, it's important for us to know what's going on in the region so we can work with the local community to find a sustainable way forward," said Annette Broderick of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation at the University of Exeter, who led the latest survey. The harvesting of turtles is illegal in the region, but the ban is not enforced for various cultural and practical reasons.

"When we contextualise our data with those of previous studies elsewhere in the region, we conservatively estimate that the annual turtle catch in the southwestern province of Madagascar is between 10,000 and 16,000," wrote Broderick in a paper published in the journal Animal Conservation.

Read the full article here.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Floods and droughts: the paradox of the Amazon Basin

The paradoxical situation of the Amazon Basin, where people do not have enough water to drink, is told here by photographer Rodrigo Baleia.

The River Amazon, the world's largest river and one of the cleanest sources of water, has been facing frequent droughts and massive floods in the recent years - creating serious problems for the populations that live on its shore and the habitat.

Here is a blogpost from the Greenpeace website:

"What scares me is the proximity of the events [in the Amazon Basin]: in a period of one year, we've had the biggest flood and now the worst drought. Some scientists who accompanied me during these trips said they were expecting that these extremes would only happen every 50 years.

"The fact that these extreme events are so close may indicate changes in the climate. And not only here in the region - the Amazon influences the rains not just here, but also in the South of Brazil. Deforestation, therefore, affects this entire system. In the last decade, I photographed extreme events – such as tornadoes and desertification – in Brazil’s south and northeastern regions. Brazil has not experienced extreme events like these in the past. But they are now happening, with increasing strength and frequency.

"This drought directly affects the lives of people who live along the rivers. These people depend on the river for transportation, meals, and end up isolated because of the drought. I went to areas where, in the middle of the Amazon basin, people had no water to drink."

(Rodrigo Baleia - Greenpeace photographer)

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Next oil spill may be in the Arctic sea

(The Guardian) - The next big offshore oil disaster could take place in the remote Arctic seas where hurricane-force winds, 30ft seas, sub-zero temperatures and winter darkness would overwhelm any clean-up attempts, a new report warns.

With the ban on offshore drilling lifted in the Gulf of Mexico, big oil companies such as Royal Dutch Shell are pressing hard for the Obama administration to grant final approval to Arctic drilling. Shell has invested more than $2bn to drill off Alaska's north coast, and is campaigning to begin next summer.

(Susan Goldenberg, US environment correspondent - read the full piece here)

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Le rovine crollano sotto il peso dell'incuria

"Il crollo avvenuto a Pompei, un luogo che appartiene al Patrimonio all’Umanità, dimostra che chi ha sottovalutato la situazione è un irresponsabile. Leggete il nostro articolo pubblicato all’inizio del 2009, e potrete verificare che l’ex sovrintendente poneva una questione molto semplice: i fondi. Servivano, per mettere le strutture in sicurezza, per fare i necessari lavori, 270 milioni di euro. Soldi mai arrivati."

(dal blog di Guglielmo Pepe, direttore di National Geographic Italia)

Sopra: la domus gladoria crollata

Pic of the day

One of the coolest animals (literally) on the planet, the wood frog has the ability to go into complete hibernation (including complete heart stoppage) during the winter season. The heart, lungs, and brain completely freeze. In spring, the frog thaws out and comes "back to life". Spotted at Potato Creek State Park, Indiana.

Photograph: Kevin Chodzinski

Save the forests - petition

Today, I signed a 38degrees petition against a government plan to sell almost a third of the publicly owned woodland.

The petition text reads: "Save our forests - don't sell them off to the highest bidder"

. Don't let private companies chop down our woodland.
. Protect trees for the conservation of wildlife and the enjoyment of the public.
So far, more than 62,000 people have signed already. 

Do you want to see century-old trees taken off to give way to a brand new golf field? Sign the petition here.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Quando crollano le rovine

(Da Il Fatto Quotidiano) La Domus Gladiatoria, una delle rovine più importanti degli scavi di Pompei, si è sbriciolata. Il crollo, secondo primi accertamenti, è avvenuto all’alba, poco prima delle 6. Sono stati i custodi appena arrivati al lavoro verso le ore 7.30 ad accorgersene.

Tra le cause del crollo della “Schola Armaturarum Juventutis Pompeianae” (così chiamata perché ospitava gli allenamenti dei gladiatori e conservava le loro armature), si considerano le infiltrazioni d’acqua dovute alle piogge di questi giorni, la posizione della Domus accanto a un terrapieno, o ancora il rifacimento in materiali troppo pesanti del tetto, che fu distrutto dai bombardamenti della seconda guerra mondiali.

Da anni gli esperti lanciano l’allarme sullo stato di conservazione delle rovine. Anche il sindaco di Pompei, Claudio D’Alessio, ha detto che la domus era da anni “in attesa di essere ristrutturata”. Il cedimento dell’edificio è un crollo annunciato: “succede quando non c’è la dovuta attenzione e cura” per un patrimonio secolare che andrebbe “preservato da ogni tipo di sollecitazione, anche atmosferica. C’è il dispiacere tipico di una comunità – ha sottolineato all’agenzia di stampa Adnkronos D’Alessio – di un territorio su cui vi è il museo all’aperto più grande del mondo e che purtroppo viene trascurato”. “In passato -ha rilevato – sono stati persi molti fondi, che non venivano utilizzati, e non sono state avviate le procedure per il restauro”. Il sito archeologico, ha spiegato il primo cittadino, oltre ad avere un’importanza “culturale” dà anche “ricchezza a questo territorio” con il turismo. “Scontiamo la mancanza di un coinvolgimento in questo tipo di iniziative – ha concluso – ci limitiamo a fare appelli sensibili e solerti nel sollecitare l’attenzione che il sito necessita”.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Venduta all'asta l'auto di 007

(Ansa) - LONDRA - Un uomo d'affari americano si è accaparrato la favolosa Aston Martin DB5 del 1964 di James Bond per 2,9 milioni di sterline, oltre tre milioni e 300 mila euro. L'auto guidata da Sean Connery in 'Goldfinger' e 'Thuderball' è stata battuta all'asta da Rm Auctions a Londra, realizzando però una cifra inferiore a quanto previsto. "E' la macchina che ho sempre voluto e dopo tutto è l'auto più famosa al mondo - ha detto in un comunicato l'acquirente, Harry Yeaggy - Il mio progetto è metterla in mostra nel mio museo privato di automobili in Ohio". Yeaggy è il secondo proprietario dell'argentea Aston Martin di James Bond. Il venditore, l'americano Jerry Lee, l'aveva comperata direttamente dalla fabbrica per 12 mila sterline nel 1969. L'auto è una delle due - e la sola rimasta - di quelle originali di 007 apparse sullo schermo con Connery. E' stata battuta all'asta con tutti i suoi 'accessori', inclusi mitragliatrici, parabrezza a prova di proiettile, targa ruotante, diffusori di olio e di chiodi e cortina fumogena.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Pic of the day

Nablus, West Bank: Samaritans celebrate a sunrise service on Mount Gerizim as they celebrate Sukkot.

Truth on Iraq War revealed by whistleblowing website WikiLeaks

WikiLeaks reveals truth about the Iraq War with the publication of 400.000 documents. Click here to see it.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

The abominable Chinese Snowman

(Reuters) - A group of Chinese scientists and explorers is looking for international help to mount a new search for the country's answer to Bigfoot, known locally as the "Yeren," or "wild man."

Over the years, more than 400 people have claimed sightings of the half-man, half-ape Yeren in a remote, mountainous area of the central province of Hubei, state news agency Xinhua said on Saturday.

Expeditions in the 1970s and 1980s yielded hair, a footprint, excrement and a sleeping nest suspected of belonging to the Yeren, but there has been no conclusive proof, the report added.

Witnesses describe a creature that walks upright, is more than 2 metres (6 ft 7 in) tall and with grey, red or black hair all over its body, Xinhua said.

Now the Hubei Wild Man Research Association is looking for volunteers from around the world to join them on another expedition to look for the Yeren.

"We want the team members to be devoted, as there will be a lot a hard work in the process," Luo Baosheng, vice president of the group, told Xinhua.

But the team will have to come up with about 10 million yuan ($1.50 million) first, and is talking to companies and other bodies to secure the funding, so there is no timetable yet for when they may start, the report added.
China is no stranger to cryptozoology. Tales abound of mysterious, Loch Ness monster-like creatures living in lakes in remote parts of the country.

Tibetans have also long talked about the existence of the Yeti, or "Abominable Snowman," in the high mountains of their snowy homeland.

Walking may prevent brain shrinkage, scientists say

(Reuters) - Walking at least six miles a week may be one thing people can do to keep their brains from shrinking and fight off dementia, U.S. researchers said on Wednesday.
A study of nearly 300 people in Pittsburgh who kept track of how much they walked each week showed that those who walked at least six miles had less age-related brain shrinkage than people who walked less.

"Brain size shrinks in late adulthood, which can cause memory problems. Our results should encourage well-designed trials of physical exercise in older adults as a promising approach for preventing dementia and Alzheimer's disease," said Kirk Erickson of the University of Pittsburgh, whose study appears in the journal Neurology.

Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of dementia, slowly kills off brain cells, and activities like walking have been shown to build brain volume.

Erickson and colleagues tested to see if people who walk a lot might be better positioned to fight off the disease.

They studied 299 volunteers who were free of dementia and who kept track of how much they walked.

Nine years later, scientists took brain scans to measure their brain volume. After four more years, they tested to see if anyone in the study had cognitive impairment or dementia.

They found that people who walked roughly six to nine miles a week halved their risk of developing memory problems.

"Our results are in line with data that aerobic activity induces a host of cellular cascades that could conceivably increase gray matter volume," the team wrote.

They said more studies need to be done on the effects of exercise on dementia, but in the absence of any effective treatments for Alzheimer's, walking may be one thing people can do that may help down the road.

"If regular exercise in midlife could improve brain health and improve thinking and memory in later life, it would be one more reason to make regular exercise in people of all ages a public health imperative," Erickson said.

No current drugs can alter the progression of Alzheimer's, which affects more than 26 million people globally.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Monday, 11 October 2010

Friday, 8 October 2010

Emozioni ad alta quota

Walter Nones

Tributo a Walter Nones

Dal blog di Walter Nones, alpinista professionista di Selva di Val Gardena:

03 ottobre 2010
"Walter ha avuto un incidente questa mattina.

Non potremo più riabbracciarlo, possiamo solo ricordarlo per il GRANDE UOMO SPECIALE che era.

Non ci sono ancora informazioni precise sull’accaduto quindi chiedo rispetto da parte dei mezzi d’informazione nel diffondere la notizia.
Quando avrò maggiori informazioni le pubblicherò sul blog.

Grazie, Manuela"

Walter Nones, rocciatore di 39 anni, è deceduto lo scorso 3 ottobre in un incidente alpino avvenuto mentre stava scalando uno degli ottomila dell'Himalaya, il Cho Oyu. A due anni di distanza dalla tragedia del Nanga Parbat, dove morì il compagno di cordata Karl Unterkircher, su un'altra vetta himalayana ha trovato la morte un altro intrepido scalatore.

Per maggiori informazioni visitate il suo sito:

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Nubifragio e inondazioni devastano la Liguria

Alcune immagini del nubifragio che si è abbattuto nella giornata di ieri sulla Liguria, provocando i danni maggiori nelle cittadine del Ponente Genovese di Cogoleto e Varazze. Mai si era verificato un evento di tale portata distruttiva sul litorale della regione.

(Fonte immagini: Ansa)

Da Londra il Popolo Viola contro B.

Davide Ghilotti da Londra in occasione del No B. Day 2, manifestazione organizzata dal Popolo Viola nella capitale, sabato scorso. Articolo pubblicato sul Fatto Quotidiano.

Per leggere l'intero articolo clicca qui.