September 14, 2011
Boundary Waters Canoe Area

Boundary Waters Canoe Area     Photo: steve conry/Flickr

Fire Rages in Boundary Waters

100,000-acre blaze forces evacuation

A forest fire that began last month in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area of Minnesota jumped out of control on Sunday and has now burned more than 100,000 acres, the largest recent history. The fire began August 18 with a lightning strike near Pagami Creek and remained small until high winds pushed the blaze into an area of downed forest on Sunday and Monday. The fire moved 16 miles in fewer than 24 hours, throwing up a plume of smoke that has now reached Chicago, 600 miles to the southeast, and had obscured efforts to map the fire's boundaries until today. Officials have evacuated some 100 people now believe that more than 100,000 acres, including 36 homes, have burned. The Boundary Waters Canoe Area, with thousands of acres of interconnected lakes and rivers west of Lake Superior, is a world-famous destination for canoeists. Forest Service spokeswoman Lisa Radosevich-Craig told reporters on Wednesday that the fire may not fully extinguish until snow arrives in November.

Read more at Reuters


Canola field, Germany

Canola field, Germany     Photo: sethschoen/Flickr

Error Overestimates Biofuel Savings

EU double counted biofuel carbon savings

A group of researchers at European Environment Agency Scientific Committee has released a preliminary report suggesting that the European Union has double counted the carbon savings of biofuels, potentially inviting a worldwide reevaluation of biofuels' environmental promise. Calculations under the old model led researchers to believe that the net carbon footprint of plant-based fuels was neutral or even negative, as biofuels release only carbon that they have already absorbed from the atmosphere. But in a report due early next month, the committee said those estimates failed to consider the carbon storage capacity that is lost when trees and grassland are cleared to make way for biofuel crops. "It may take decades for this carbon absorption (which offsets emissions) to catch up to the lost carbon storage and forgone carbon sequestration of the forest.” The previous calculations have been used to guide environmental policy in countries around world. "I think there's still a role for bioenergy, but maybe a little bit less positive than it is now," one of the report's authors said.

Read more at Reuters


Ice in the Arctic Ocean

Ice in the Arctic Ocean     Photo: U.S. Geological Survey/Flickr

Arctic Ice Nears Record Low

Ice could vanish in summer within decade

Scientists studying arctic-ice coverage by satellite say that melting in 2011 is approaching the record low measured in 2007, when only 1.61 million square miles in the Arctic Ocean had ice coverage of 15 percent or more. Areas with coverage above 15 percent are now at 1.68 million acres, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, with some melting expected to continue into late September. Earlier reports have suggested that melting this year occurred  Ice coverage has declined precipitously since 1979, when satellite measurement first began, and 2011's coverage is one third lower than the 21-year average from 1979 through 2000. Melting ice is a both a consequence and cause of climate change: warmer temperatures melt ice, which scientists believe alters wind patterns in the Northern Hemisphere, likely causing colder winters in Great Britain and disrupting animal habitats and vegetation in the far north. Another study released earlier this month suggested that ice coverage in 2011 had exceeded the 2007 record low. Some scientists believe that Arctic ice may disappear in summer months within a decade.

Read more at Reuters


    Photo: Storem/Flickr

Gladiator School Ruins Found in Austria

School is first discovered outside Italy

Archaeologists have discovered ruins of an ancient gladiator school buried about 24 miles east of Vienna, Austria, the first gladiator school ever found outside of Italy. A group from Vienna's Ludwig-Boltzmann Institute used radar images to chart the layout and structure of the school, which was likely in use some 1,700 years ago. Frank Humer, one of the institute's archaeologists, told The Independent that the school includes sleeping cells, a circular fighting arena with wooden benches, and wooden posts used as dummy opponents in combat training. Gladiators were trained Roman combatants, often prisoners, who fought to the death for public entertainment. Humer said that radar images indicate that there was space for a gladiator graveyard on site. The group plans to excavate for further investigation.

Read more at Time


Walter Bonatti on the Matterhorn     Photo: nordique/Flickr

Legendary Mountaineer Bonatti Dead at 81

Alpinist involved in controversial K2 climb

Walter Bonatti, the famous Italian alpinist who notched first ascents in the Alps and Himalayas during the 1950s and 60s, died Tuesday after a battle with cancer. He was 81. Bonatti began his climbing career at age 18 when he made the fourth ascent of the north face of the Grandes Jorasses. He would go on to establish other hard routes in alpine style, including first ascents on Grand Capucin in 1951 and Gasherbrum IV in 1958, and the first ascent of a new line up the North Face of the Matterhorn in 1965. Bonatti's most infamous climb, however, came in 1954 during the Italian expedition that made the first ascent of K2. Bonatti and Ahmir Mahdi were forced to weather an open bivy high on the mountain after fellow climbers Achille Compagnoni and Lino Lacedelli violated a pre-climb plan and established camp at a higher elevation, ostensibly to prevent the younger, fitter Bonatti from joining the summit push. Mahdi lost his fingers and toes from frostbite, and Compagnoni later accused Bonatti of using some of the summit team's oxygen, events later chronicled in Bonatti's 2001 book The Mountains of My Life. In 2008, the Italian Alpine Club officially confirmed Bonatti's version of the climb.

Read more at Alpinist