June 20, 2013 – SINGAPORE – Fast-food deliveries have been cancelled, the army has suspended field training and even Singapore’s top marathon runner has retreated as residents try to protect themselves from the smog that has descended on the city-state. In Singapore’s worst environmental crisis in more than a decade, the skyscrapers lining the Marina Bay financial district were shrouded by thick smoke Thursday as raging forest fires in neighboring Indonesia’s Sumatra Island pushed air pollution levels to an all-time high. Marathon runner Mok Ying Ren said the haze had forced him to run indoors on a gym treadmill as “it is just too crazy to run outdoors in these conditions. I tried running with a mask on, but after 45 minutes it is too sweaty and uncomfortable,” said the 25-year-old doctor, who clocks 100 kilometers (62 miles) a week as part of a grueling training program to qualify for the 2016 Olympics. Singapore’s army on Wednesday night said it was suspending all field training “to ensure the well-being and safety of our soldiers.” Even a comforting takeaway has become harder to find as fast-food giants McDonald’s, KFC and Pizza Hut have suspended deliveries due to safety concerns for their motorcycle-riding delivery staff. Hunched commuters wore masks or covered their mouths as they walked home in the evening smog on Thursday, with major drug stores telling AFP they had temporarily run out of masks and refusing to accept advance orders. “At present, we are not facing any pressing health issues with the animals in our collection as a result of the haze. The animals are exhibiting normal behavior with no noticeable adverse reactions towards the air pollution.” Southeast Asia’s worst haze crisis took place in 1997-1998, causing widespread health problems and costing the regional economy billions of dollars as a result of business and air transport disruptions that lasted for weeks. The last major haze outbreak in the region was in 2006. –Physics
June 20, 2013 – GULF OF MEXICO – Scientists are expecting a very large “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico and a smaller than average hypoxic level in the Chesapeake Bay this year, based on several NOAA-supported forecast models. NOAA-supported modelers at the University of Michigan, Louisiana State University, and the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium are forecasting that this year’s Gulf of Mexico hypoxic “dead” zone will be between 7,286 and 8,561 square miles, which could place it among the ten largest recorded. That would range from an area the size of Connecticut, Rhode Island and the District of Columbia combined on the low end to the New Jersey on the upper end. The high estimate would exceed the largest ever reported, 8,481 square miles in 2002. Hypoxic (very low oxygen) and anoxic (no oxygen) zones are caused by excessive nutrient pollution, often from human activities such as agriculture, which results in insufficient oxygen to support most marine life in near-bottom waters. Aspects of weather, including wind speed, wind direction, precipitation and temperature, also impact the size of dead zones. The Gulf estimate is based on the assumption of no significant tropical storms in the two weeks preceding or during the official measurement survey cruise scheduled from July 25-August 3 2013. If a storm does occur the size estimate could drop to a low of 5344 square miles, slightly smaller than the size of Connecticut. This year’s prediction for the Gulf reflects flood conditions in the Midwest that caused large amounts of nutrients to be transported from the Mississippi watershed to the Gulf. Last year’s dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico was the fourth smallest on record due to drought conditions, covering an area of approximately 2,889 square miles, an area slightly larger than the state of Delaware.
The overall average between 1995-2012 is 5,960 square miles, an area about the size of Connecticut. A second NOAA-funded forecast, for the Chesapeake Bay, calls for a smaller than average dead zone in the nation’s largest estuary. The forecasts from researchers at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and the University of Michigan has three parts: a prediction for the mid-summer volume of the low-oxygen hypoxic zone, one for the mid-summer oxygen-free anoxic zone, and a third that is an average value for the entire summer season. The forecasts call for a mid-summer hypoxic zone of 1.46 cubic miles, a mid-summer anoxic zone of 0.26 to 0.38 cubic miles, and a summer average hypoxia of 1.108 cubic miles, all at the low end of previously recorded zones. Last year the final mid-summer hypoxic zone was 1.45 cubic miles. This is the seventh year for the Bay outlook which, because of the shallow nature of large areas of the estuary, focuses on water volume or cubic miles, instead of square mileage as used in the Gulf. The history of hypoxia in the Chesapeake Bay since 1985 can be found at the EcoCheck website. –Science Codex
June 20, 2013 – CHILE – A magnitude-5.7 earthquake shook central Chile on Wednesday, causing buildings to sway in the capital but apparently causing no major damage. The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake struck at 17:29 p.m. local time and its epicenter was about 60 kilometers (37 miles) east-north-east of Los Andes, Chile. Officials discarded the possibility of a tsunami and said there were no immediate reports of deaths or damages. Chile is one of the world’s most earthquake-prone countries. A magnitude-8.8 quake and the tsunami it unleashed in 2010 killed more than 500 people and destroyed 220,000 homes. –ABC
Evangelista Anita Fuentes