227t h
issue, June 12, 2013
South American rainforests thrived during three extreme global warming events in the past, say pale-
ontologists at the Sm...
The Andes Mountains are home to lakes, lagoons, marshes, and bogs that are collectively known as
the high Andean wetlands....
Improving energy efficiency is among four policies that the International Energy Agency said can help
achieve emissions cu...
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Newsletter 227

  1. 1. SOUTH AMERICA ENVIRONMENT, SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, AND HEALTH NEWSLETTER 227t h issue, June 12, 2013 CLIMATE CHANGE: Peru to Host Next Year's Climate Talks By Lisa Friedman A group of Latin American and Caribbean nations have decided that Peru should host the U.N. climate change conference in 2014, several people close to the process said yesterday. The decision by the Group of Latin American and Caribbean Countries in the United Nations (GRULAC) will be announced today in Bonn, Germany. It ends a competition between oil giant Venezuela -- which has become the darling of the climate justice movement by bashing the United States at every turn and indicated its desire to host when the rotating chance to hold the convention came to Latin America -- and Peru, a progressive country that has joined a Latin American coalition of governments willing to cut carbon. "Peru has been a pioneer at the climate negotiations and was one of the first developing countries to put forward a voluntary emission pledge in 2008," said Guy Edwards, a research fellow at Brown University's Center for Environmental Studies who has helped advocate for Peru to host the 20th U.N. Conference of the Parties, informally known as COP20. "It's good news that Peru got the nod for COP20. Hopefully, things could start moving in a more ambitious direction," he said. Earlier this week, 60 civil society groups signed a declaration backing Peru as host, saying the country's "climate diplomacy offers the possibility to represent in a balanced fashion the interests and concerns of all participating countries and find workable constructive compromise." That's key because countries have agreed in 2015 to sign a new pact that will bind all emitters to cut greenhouse gases, officially ending the current system in which only industrialized nations are expected to curb carbon. Climate change activists said the summit in Peru will be an important step in getting countries on a common course. A Victim and a Leader for Change. "Peru is not a country that took sides with really strong positions, so I can see a potential for them to have a good facilitation," said Enrique Maurtua Konstantinidis, regional Latin American coordinator for Climate Action Network International. Peru, he said, "is a country that can moderate well the discussions and bring people together." CAN did not take a position on which country should host. In Peru, activists said that they were elated by the news and that Peru's identity as both deeply threatened by climate change and willing to be a leader in curbing emissions will work in its favor. "We have been saying that we must ask the main emitting countries to reduce, but also get agreements from others, even those who are not the main emitters," said Rocio Valdeavellano, coordinator of the Movimiento Ciudadano frente al Cambio Climático (MOCICC) in Lima, Peru. "We are very happy. We were waiting for this, asking every day if the decision was taken." Read full article at: climatewire/2013/06/11/stories/1059982616 The information contained herein was gathered from news sources from across the region, and the views expressed below do not necessarily reflect those of the Regional Environmental HUB Office or of our constituent posts. Addressees interested in sharing any ESTH-related events of USG interest are welcome to do so. For questions or comments, please contact us at * Free translation prepared by REO staff.  Climate Change: Peru to Host Next Year’s Climate Talks.  Climate Change: Rainforests Can Take the Heat.  CHILE: A.L.M.A. Discovers “Comet Factory”.  Conservation: Conserving Neotropical Migratory Birds in the High Andean Wetlands.  Health: Compulsive Behavior Triggered and Treated.  Energy: UN Climate Goals Possible With Efficiency Measures, IEA Says.  Health: Scientists Find Autism Gene Pattern  June 24-27, 2013 REO in Sao Paulo, Brazil  June 28-29, 2013 Peru Green Build 2013 Expo & International Congress, Lima, Peru  July 10-12, 2013 Eolica, Buenos Aires, Argentina  August 19-23, 2013 10th Latin American Congress of Private Nature Reserves, Chile congreso-latino-agosto- 2013.html Next events: In this issue: Image credits: NASA.
  2. 2. South American rainforests thrived during three extreme global warming events in the past, say pale- ontologists at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. No tropical forest in South America cur- rently experiences average yearly temperatures of more than 84 degrees Fahrenheit (29 °C). But by the end of this century, average global temperatures are likely to rise by another 1–7 (0.6–4 °C) de- grees, leading some scientists to predict the demise of the world's most diverse terrestrial ecosystem. Carlos Jaramillo, staff scientist, and Andrés Cárdenas, post-doctoral fellow, at the Smithsonian in Panama reviewed almost 6,000 published measurements of ancient temperatures to provide a deep- time perspective for the debate. "To take the temperature of the past we rely on indirect evidence like oxygen isotope ratios in the fossil shells of marine organisms or from bacteria biomarkers," said Jaramillo. When intense volcanic activity produced huge quantities of carbon dioxide 120 million years ago in the mid-Cretaceous period, yearly temperatures in the South American tropics rose 9–12 degrees (5–7 °C). During the Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum, 55 million years ago, tropical temperatures rose by 5–9 degrees (3–5 °C) in less than 10,000 years. About 53 million years ago, tem- peratures soared again. According to the fossil record, rainforests prospered under these hothouse conditions. Diversity increased. Because larger areas of forest gener- ally sustain higher diversity than smaller areas do, higher diversity during warming events could be explained by the expansion of tropical forests into temperate areas. "But to our surprise, rainforests never extended much beyond the modern tropical belt, so something other than tempera- ture must have determined where they were growing," said Jaramillo. Their report, published in the Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Science, also refers to Smithsonian plant physiologist Klaus Winter's finding that leaves of some tropical trees tolerate short-term exposure to temperatures up to 122–127 degrees (50–53 °C). When carbon dioxide concen- trations double, trees use much less water: further evidence that tropical forests may prove resilient to climate change. Reference: Jaramillo, C., Cardenas, A. 2013 Global warming and neotropical rainforests: a historical perspective. Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences Volume 41. Source: STRI Read more at: A "dust trap" surrounding a young star could help explain how planets are formed, astronomers with Chile's ALMA space observatory said. The findings provide insight into how dust particles in the disk around a young star grow in size so that, over time, they form comets and planets. "It's likely that we are looking at a kind of comet factory," said Nienke van der Marel, a doctoral student at Leiden University in the Netherlands, who led the team of researchers. Van der Marel and her co-workers made their discovery when they used the ALMA observatory to study the disc in a system called Oph-IRS 48. They discovered that the star was circled by a ring of gas with a central hole, but what surprised them was the view of where larger, millimeter- sized dust particles were found, said a release from the European Southern Observatory that co-funds ALMA. "Instead of the ring we had ex- pected to see, we found a very clear cashew-nut shape," Van der Marel said. "We had to convince ourselves that this feature was real, but the strong signal and sharpness of the ALMA observations left no doubt about the structure." What they had come across was a so-called dust trap -- a place where larger dust grains were trapped and could grow in size by colliding and sticking together. Van der Marel noted that the conditions in the "comet factory" were right for the particles to grow from millimeter to comet size, but not to planet size. "But in the near future, ALMA will be able to observe dust traps closer to their parent stars, where the same mechanisms are at work," she said. "Such dust traps really would be the cradles for newborn planets." The ALMA space observatory was inaugurated on a Chilean desert plateau in March and the findings were published in the June 7 issue of the Journal Science. ALMA -- short for the Ata- cama Large Millimeter-submillimeter Array, an acronym which means "soul" in Spanish -- is a joint effort among North American, European and Asian agencies. Unlike optical or infrared telescopes, ALMA can capture the faint glow and gas present in the formation of the first stars, galaxies and planets in an extremely cold region of the universe. Read more at: 023745820.html#RiOP51z CLIMATE CHANGE: Rainforests Can Take the Heat CHILE: A.L.M.A. Discovers 'Comet Factory' Amazon River. Photo by Rex. Under Wikimedia Commons License. Photo by Magnus Manske. Under Wikimedia Commons License.
  3. 3. The Andes Mountains are home to lakes, lagoons, marshes, and bogs that are collectively known as the high Andean wetlands. These ecosystems provide fresh water for more than 100 million people and provide important habitat for valuable plants and wildlife, including Neotropical migratory birds. However, major threats to these wetlands are putting the well-being of human and animal popula- tions that depend on them at risk. Since 2011, BirdLife International and a group of local partners have been working across four coun- tries in the region on a project called “Conserving Neotropical Migratory Birds in the High Andean Wetlands.” We talked with Isadora Angarita-Martínez, the project’s regional coordinator, and Patricia Marconi, project coordinator in Argentina, about the current situation in the high Andean wetlands and how the project is working with governments and local communities to protect these ecosystems and contribute to migratory bird conservation.  Why are the high Andean wetlands special or important? Angarita-Martínez: These ecosystems are large producers, regulators, and storehouses of water in the Andean countries. The high Andean wetlands of Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina provide stopover and overwintering habitats for ap- proximately 15 species of Neotropical migratory birds of interest to conservation and are also home to farming and indigenous communities. Marconi: The high Andean wetlands, as well as the grasslands or puna ecosystems in Catamarca, the most extensive in Argentina, provide impor- tant bird habitat. They are summer concentration and nesting sites for the two species of high Andean flamingos (Phoenicoparrus andinus and P. jamesi), and safeguard all the endemic and characteristic species of the Altos Andes and the puna, such as the giant coot (Fulica gigantea) and the Andean avocet (Recurvirostra andina). They’re also home to five species of migratory birds from the Northern Hemisphere: Baird’s sandpiper (Calidris bairdii), lesser yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes), greater yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca), Wilson’s phalarope (Steganopus tricolor), and the American golden plover (Pluvialis dominica).  What are the main threats to these ecosystems? Angarita-Martínez: They are seriously threatened by mining, which has cleared vegetation and contaminated water sources, as well as the un- regulated growth in agriculture, ranching, and tourism. These activities are largely unregulated since it’s difficult for authorities to reach and guard the ecosystems. Moreover, most of the conservation efforts on this continent have been focused on forests and jungles and not so much on other ecosystems such as the high Andean wetlands, savannahs and natural grasslands. Read full article at: Researchers have both created and relieved symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in genetically modified mice using a technique that turns brain cells on and off with light, known as optogenetics. The work, by two separate teams, confirms the neural circuits that contribute to the condition and points to treatment targets. It also provides insight into how quickly compulsive behaviours can develop — and how quickly they might be soothed. The results of the studies are published in Science. Brain scanning in humans with OCD has pointed to two areas — the orbitofrontal cortex, just behind the eyes, and the striatum, a hub in the mid- dle of the brain — as being involved in the condition's characteristic repetitive and compulsive behaviours. But “in people we have no way of testing cause and effect”, says Susanne Ahmari, a psychiatrist and neuroscientist at Columbia University in New York who led one of the studies. It is not clear, for example, whether abnormal brain activity causes the compulsions, or whether the behaviour simply results from the brain try- ing to hold symptoms at bay by compensating. “There’s been a big debate in the field,” says Satinder Kaur Singh of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, who studies molecules involved in OCD-like disorders but was not involved in the new studies. “What the Ahmari paper shows is that it is causative.” Off Switch. Ahmari’s team wanted to see if optogenetics could prompt repetitive grooming in mice — a commonly used equivalent sign of an OCD-like condition in animal models. The team injected viruses into the orbitofrontal cortex carrying genes for light-sensitive proteins. Certain nerve cells then began to produce the protein and became sensitive to light. The researchers then inserted an optical fibre to shine a light on these cells for a few minutes a day. It was only after a few days that they started to see the compulsive behaviour. “Beforehand, I thought that we would immediately see repetitive behaviours when the light was turned on,” Ahmari says. Rather, it seemed to be chronic activity in these networks that sets off the abnormal grooming. That could have implications for how these patterns of behaviour develop in humans. Read full article at: CONSERVATION: Conserving Neotropical Migratory Birds in the High Andean Wetlands, BirdLife International By Yessenia Soto Photo by @Doug88888(flickr user). Under Creative Commons License. PhotobyAaron Logan.UnderWikimediaCommonsLicense. HEALTH: Compulsive Behaviour Triggered and Treated By Kerry Smith
  4. 4. Improving energy efficiency is among four policies that the International Energy Agency said can help achieve emissions cuts needed to keep global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). The measures would reduce energy-industry emissions by about 3.1 billion metric tons of carbon- dioxide equivalent compared with a business-as-usual scenario, the Paris-based adviser to 28 devel- oped nations said in an e-mailed report. The reduction is about 80 percent of what’s needed by the end of the decade to meet the United Nations goal of keeping global temperatures within 2 degrees Celsius of pre-industrial levels. The report shows “the path we are currently on is more likely to result in a temperature increase of between 3.6 degrees Celsius and 5.3 degrees Celsius but also finds that much more can be done to tackle energy-sector emissions without jeopardizing economic growth,” IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven said in a statement. The IEA’s policies include improving energy efficiency in buildings, industry and transport; cutting construction and use of the least-efficient coal plants; minimizing methane emissions from oil and natural gas production and accelerating the phase-out of some fossil-fuel consumption subsidies. UN envoys have been meeting in Bonn since last week to work on a post-2020 climate agreement they want to seal by 2015. Delaying emission- reduction policies would be costly, and putting off $1.5 trillion in low-carbon investments before the end of the decade would require $5 trillion in additional spending to get back on track after 2020, the IEA said. Global energy industry-related carbon dioxide emissions in 2012 rose 1.4 percent in 2012 to a record 31.6 billion tons, according to the IEA’s re- port called Redrawing the Energy-Climate Map. In the U.S., carbon output fell by 200 million tons amid a switch to gas from coal for power gen- eration. China had the biggest increase with 300 million tons, though the pace of growth was the lowest for the country in a decade, the IEA said. Read more: Scientists have identified a genetic pattern common to people with autism that is linked to the way messages are sent in the brain. Medical Research Council (MRC) researchers at the University of Oxford said the knowledge could help them understand the role that genetics plays in autism. Doctors can currently only identify the exact genetic cause of autism in about one in five cases but it is known that genes play an important role in the development of autism spectrum disorders, said an MRC spokeswoman. A total of 181 autism patients who either had additional copies of some genes, or fewer copies, than those without autism were studied by the team at the MRC's functional genetics unit. The researchers found that in about half the patients, the affected genes worked together as part of a biological network involved in the way information passes between brain cells. Dr Caleb Webber, lead author of the study published in the journal PLOS Genetics, said: "Think of a pipe that carries water. At some points along the pipe there are genes that act as taps to let more water into the pipe. "At other points genes act as holes to let some of the water out. We found that in individuals with autism the mutations in all these different types of genes act in the same way to affect water flow. "This indicates the 'tap' genes are duplicated in some individuals with autism which increases flow into the pipe, while in other individuals with autism the 'hole' genes are deleted which decreases the amount of water leaving the pipe. Both of these events cause the same thing - too much water flowing through the pipe. "Knowing not just which 'pipes' in the cell are affected in autism but also in what way they are affected helps us to know in which way we have to change the flow to restore the balance." Autism spectrum disorders affect about 1% of the population and affect social interaction, communication and repetitive be- haviour. Read full article at: h UN Climate Goals Possible With Efficiency Measures, IEA Says By Mathew Carr & Sally Bakewell Photo by Scott Manes. Under Wikimedia Commons License. HEALTH: Scientists Find Autism Gene Pattern Image by Ioannes.baptista. U n d e r W ik im e d ia Commons License.