Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Polar Bears Are Not Disappearing- The Rest of the Story

Jack Dini
Livermore, CA
December 14, 2007

Abstract- There are a number of facts about polar bears that Al Gore and other alarmists haven't shared with us. Polar bears are not disappearing, are very mobile, and have survived through much warmer periods thana we are experiencing today.

Al Gore- “The melting of the ice represents bad news for creatures like polar bears. A new scientific study shows that, for the first time, polar bears have been drowning in significant numbers.”

Marlo Lewis- “I found the study. The study found four drowned polar bears in one month of one year after an abrupt windstorm. Have been drowning—that suggests an ongoing problem. Significant numbers suggests that it’s enough to affect the overall population dynamic. That’s an exaggeration.” Also, the sighting occurred in an area where polar bear numbers are increasing.

We’ve all seen the heartrending photo of a lonely bear apparently stranded on a melting ice floe. It’s become the poster centerpiece for environmentalists and the media. Time magazine chose this mammal as the cover boy for one if its issues (April l3, 2006) declaring: “Be Worried. Be Very Worried,” and Al Gore offered a computer-generated bear flailing about for icy salvation in his movie.

In April 2007 Time added, “With sea ice vanishing, polar bears—prodigious swimmers but not inexhaustible ones are starting to turn up drowned.” “There will be no polar ice by 2060,” says Larry Schweiger, president of the National Wildlife Federation. “Somewhere along that path, the polar bear drops out.”

Let’s look at some facts that Al Gore and Time either missed or conveniently forgot to share with us. It’s true in Baffin Bay, one or possibly two subpopulations of polar bears out of twenty are declining. However, here’s the rest of the story-- more than half are known to be stable, and two subpopulations are actually increasing around the Beaufort Sea. In addition, the overall bear population has increased from about five thousand in the 1960s to twenty-five thousand today. But here’s the real kicker that you haven’t heard from our doomsayers—the two populations in decline come from areas where it has actually been getting colder over the past fifty years, whereas the two increasing populations reside in areas where it is getting warmer.

Here are some more facts about the region where bears are ‘declining.’ The best studied polar bear population, living on the western coast of Hudson Bay has seen its population decline 17 percent, from 1,200 in 1987 to under 500 in 2004. This is the group that has gotten most of the press. Yet, have you heard that the population of this group was only 500 in 1981 and that 300 to 500 bears are shot each year?

And speaking of shooting polar bears, in the Davis Strait of Nunavit, this topic is on the agenda because of too many bears. Nunavit is home to 12 of Canada’s 13 polar bear populations totaling an estimated 14,780. Dr. Mitch Taylor reports, “There are maybe even too many bears now. That’s not theory. That’s not based on a model. That’s observation of reality.” With this increase, folks could be looking at the possibility of increasing hunting quotas.

Talk to some Churchill, Manitoba residents, the so-called Polar Bear Capital of the World, and you also get a different view than Al Gore and Time present. These folks base their opinions on personal experience rather than fancy charts and computer models put out by scaremongers. And getting back to famous photograph mentioned earlier of the polar bear teetering precariously on an Arctic ice-floe in the depths of winter. Seems that the doomsayers forgot to mention that it was taken three years ago during the height of summer. Clearly, when the rest of the story is examined, the relationship between polar bear populations and temperature is the opposite of what we’ve been hearing.

Polar bears are also known to be very mobile. They wander thousands of miles every year on paths in enormous private northern arcs. At least one bear has been tracked pacing the ice 3,000 miles from Alaska to Greenland, then back. So, if one part of their territory is changing, they are quite capable of changing their routes and moving elsewhere.

One last item. Recent discovery of what may be the oldest known remains of a polar bear have been discovered in the Arctic. Professor Olafur Ingolfsson from the University of Iceland says this confirms that the polar bear was a morphologically distinct species at least 100,000 years ago. Between then and now there’s been at least one interglacial period (Eeemian) and it was much warmer than our present Holocene. Existence of polar bears today is proof that they survived long periods of time when the climate of the Arctic was much warmer than at present. So why didn’t they go extinct? A World Climate Reports suggests the most likely explanation is that they modified their behavior to adapt to the changing conditions, probably by spending more time on land foraging, hunting, and denning. There is evidence that these are precisely the kinds of adaptations that bears are making to best cope with today’s warmer climate. So instead of perishing, polar bears will be quite capable of adapting.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Double the Fun at the Honolulu Marathon

Jack Dini
Livermore, CA
December 11, 2007

I was alone, ahead of the pack for 11 miles during the Honolulu Marathon. How was this possible for someone whose pace is one mile in 20 minutes? Easy. Start early! Knowing that it was going to take me 9-10 hours to cover the course (new metal knee), I decided to avoid the masses at the start and begin the race at 2 AM, three hours before the official start time.

What fun! Along the way I passed many parties—after all it was still in the wee hours of the morning. A number of street folks (homeless) were kind enough to wish me well after asking when the race would start, and not a one panhandled me (quite different from what would have happened to me at 2-3 AM in San Francisco). Some folks on Ala Moana Blvd were waiting at different bus stops. I didn’t think they would ever see The Bus; at least I didn’t for 2 miles (40 minutes). Many volunteers were getting instructions and setting up their stations in a flurry of activity. And, of course, there were many police persons at the various intersections. Once, when a heavy rain stated falling, I was able to duck into one of the porta-potties and sit out the storm. After all, no one else was waiting to use my selected toilet since the other runners hadn’t yet started.

Around mile 10.5 the first wheel chair racer passed by in what looked like a high-speed chase to me. He was preceded by two bicyclists with flashing lights and bells and followed by two other folks on bicycles. I later learned that this was Masazumi Soejima of Japan who finished the race course in 1:33. That’s about a 17 mph pace, so no wonder I was impressed with the speed. Three other wheel chair racers passed before the first runners appeared. They were a group of four who seemed to just glide along. They were so close to one another that if one fell they all were going down. Very quite, effortlessly cruising along, they made it look much easier than it really is (to me, at least.). These four were well ahead of the rest of the pack but after another 30 minutes or so, the mob had caught up to me. From then on, the race seemed like a typical marathon—folks passing me left and right. Before I finished, just short of 10 hours, I’m sure most of the folks who didn’t start until 3 hours after I did had passed me by. So what? I had a great time, both at the front end and at the back.

Thanks Honolulu and all your volunteers for another great race.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Superfund Sites Yield New Drugs/Tourist Attractions/Physics Laboratory

Superfund Sites Yield New Drugs/Tourist Attractions/Physics Laboratory

Jack Dini
Livermore, California

In 1993 Travel and Leisure Magazine ran an article on the Continental Divide. It was tough on Butte, Montana: “the ugliest spot in Montana…despite a spirited historic district amid the rubble, the overall picture is desolate.” It called nearby Anaconda “a sad sack mining town dominated by a smelter smokestack.” (1) Today things are somewhat different for these two sites.

Butte, Montana- Lake Berkeley

Edwin Dobb reports, “At one time Butte provided a third of the copper used in the United States—all from a mining district only four miles square. Eventually open-pit mining was used and the pit became the world’s largest truck operated mine, along the way displacing some Italian and Serbo-Croatian neighborhoods. Mining came to a halt in the early 1980s, as did the pumps that had been sucking groundwater out of the mines for a century. The flooding began.”(2)

The 1.5 mile wide, 1,800 foot deep pit, part of the nation’s largest Superfund site, has been filling for the last 20 years with a poisonous broth laced with heavy metals—a legacy of Butte’s copper mining days. When mining officials abandoned the pit and stopped the pumps that kept it dry, they opened the spigots to about 3 millions gallons of water per day. Today, the lake is about 850 foot deep and contains more than 3 billion cubic feet of water. (3)

Lake Berkeley, also known as The Berkeley Pit, covers almost 700 acres of the former open-pit copper mine. It holds some 30 billion gallons of highly acidic, metal-laden water. It’s the country’s largest and most unusual body of contaminated water, with a pH of 2.6 and metals such as aluminum, arsenic, cadmium, copper, iron, manganese, zinc, and others. (1) Yet, as New Scientist reports, “Every cloud has a silver lining.” The contaminated lake designated hazardous is turning out to be a source of novel chemicals that could help fight migraines and cancer. (4)

In recent years more than 40 small organisms have been discovered in the lake and these hold much potential for agriculture and medicine. It’s even thought that some of these organisms can be employed to reclaim the lake and other similar contaminated waters by neutralizing acidity and absorbing dissolved metals.

Andrea and Don Stierle and their colleagues have found a strain of the pithomyces fungi producing a compound that bonds to a receptor that causes migraines and could block headaches, while a strain of penicillium fungi makes a different compound that inhibits the growth of cancer cells. In July 2006 the Stierle team revealed that a novel Berkeley Lake compound called berkelic acid from another new strain of penicillium fungus reduces the rate of ovarian cancer cell growth by 50 percent. (5)

How is this possible? Essentially, some organisms actually flourish in the presence of acidity and make use of some of the dissolved metals in the lake. These are called extremophiles (liking extremes), because they not only tolerate, but even thrive in extreme conditions. Extremophiles can tolerate heat, very cold climates, high pressure, and low pH and high pH solutions. Japanese scientist Koki Horikoshi has found a variety of chemically tolerant extremophiles in the deepest parts of the ocean; some of them can even degrade hydrocarbons while thriving in water containing up to 50% solutes such as toluene, benzene, or kerosene. (6)

Why do extremophiles show new antibiotic and anticarcinogenic activities? Best guess is that some of them have evolved powerful toxins to attack an enzyme associated with a particular fungal growth phase. Another possibility is that they are particularly adept at sticking tightly to surfaces and this is one of the attributes researchers look for in anti-cancer drugs. (7)

Anaconda, Montana—The Old Works Golf Course

Twenty-five miles down the road from Lake Berkeley is the town of Anaconda, another Superfund site. The Anaconda smelter was once one of the shining stars of the American mining industry employing thousands of people. The facility first began copper smelting operations in 1884 and the smelter rose quickly to national prominence because of its noticeable annual copper production. However, this all came at a price to the environment. The land was left gouged with mines and extensively contaminated with heavy metals. The Anaconda smelter was demolished after its closure in 1981. However, the smelter stack, the tallest and possibly largest free-standing masonry structure in the world, remains standing. The site is now a Montana State Park. (8)

And speaking of parks and tourism, these days the town of Anaconda has redefined itself turning to tourism and recreational pursuits to attract visitors and provide jobs for its citizens. A major attraction is the Old Works Golf Course built on the site of the copper smelter. Jack Nicklaus, hired to design the course, reportedly called the site the ugliest he had ever see. One of the most expensive golf course reclamation projects ever undertaken, the $15 million project included capping the entire area with crushed rock, clay, and topsoil. Lakes were created to catch and filter water, and plastic liners were installed to protect trees, greens, and bunkers. (9)

The course includes capped slag and tailing pipes and some of the landscape’s century old flues and smelting ovens. Sand traps are black, a clever use for more than 14,000 cubic yards of inert smelting slag ground to the texture of sand. Massive stone furnace walls line some of the fairways. For the non-golfer, a historic hiking trail highlighting Anaconda’s smelting heritage and giving hikers an insight into copper mining techniques of years past winds its way around the course.

Some Other Sites

The Homestake Gold Mine in South Dakota, site of a spill of six to seven tons of cyanide-laced tailings into a creek in 1998, has been selected as the preferred site for a $500 million Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory. (10) Because of the up to 8000 foot depth in the mine, this would make it the best shielded laboratory in the world for neutrino studies and a major advance in sensitivity in the search for proton decay.

An artificial lake in El Salvador brimming with sewage and industrial waste is mystifying scientists by attracting thousands of migratory and sea birds. Built in 1974 to drive El Salvador’s biggest hydroelectric project, the 33,360 acre Cerron Grande reservoir collects some 3,800 tons of excrement each year from sewage pipes, as well as factory run-off and traces of heavy metals like chromium and lead. What surprises scientists is the fact that some 150,000 seabirds from more than 130 species have chosen to make the reservoir their home. At least 90 of the species are migratory birds arriving from as far away as Alaska. (11) Birds do not survive in Lake Berkeley. So what’s the difference between the two lakes? Could it be the 3,800 tons of excrement?


1. Florence Williams, “Butte, Montana, seeks a new life,” High Country News, Volume 25, November 29, 1993
2. Edwin Dobb, “New Life in a Death Trap,” Discover, 21, 86, December 2000
3. Mark Matthews, “Could a Toxic Lake Yield Life-Saving Microbes?” The Washington Post, March 8, 1999, Page A09
4. “Dirty old mine has rich seam of drugs,” New Scientist, 191, 19, July 15, 2006
5. Andrea A. Stierle, Donald B. Stierle, and Kal Kelly, “Berkelic Acid, A Novel Spiroketal With Selective Anticancer Activity From an Acid Mine Waste Fungal Extremophile, J. Org. Chem., 71, 5357, June 10, 2006
6. Carol Stone, “Extremophiles, Life at the Edge,” ChemMatters, 17, 14, December 1999
7. Michael R. Taylor, Dark Life, (New York, Scribner, 1999), 119
8. “Anaconda Smelter Stack,”
9. Alex Markels, “The Greening of America,” Audubon, July-August 1998, Page 42
10. Geoff Brumfiel, “Deep science strikes gold after latest site is named,” Nature , 448, 232, July 19, 2007
11. Alberto Barrera, “Contaminated Salvador Lake is Mystery Brid Magnet,”, May 21, 2007