Archive for the 'International' Category

11
Jan
10

Old Hay and Alpine Ibex Horns Reveal How Grasslands Respond to Climate Change..

 

Inner Mongolia, the grasslands are turning to sand

How do plant ecosystems react to rising concentrations of the greenhouse gas CO2 in the atmosphere over the long term? This fundamental question is becoming increasingly pressing in light of global climate change. Researchers from the Chair of Grassland Science at the Technische Universitaet Muenchen (TUM) have now — for the first time worldwide — taken up this issue for grasslands. The scientists found their answers in two unlikely places: in horns of Alpine ibex from Switzerland and in 150-year-old hay from England.

 

 

Young ibex (Bouquetin). Ibex store isotopic information in their horns that reflects the water use of the vegetation they consume.

Researchers studying the reactions of trees to rising CO2 concentration in the atmosphere have it easy. Since trees store the carbon they absorb in wood, all they need to do is take core samples from tree trunks. A centenarian oak will reveal how it coped with the incipient climate change over a period of a hundred years in its annual rings. “However, the grassland vegetation we work with is grazed or dies off in a matter of months and decomposes,” explains Prof. Hans Schnyder, who is doing research in the field of grasslands at the Center for Life and Food Sciences Weihenstephan at the TUM. The Swiss scientist nonetheless wanted to establish out how economically grasslands deal with water when temperatures rise and the carbon dioxide concentration in the air increases.

Important in this context is that all plants absorb CO2 from the atmosphere. At the same time they transpire water vapor to cool their sunlit leaves. Both processes run via the stomata, tiny pores in the leaves, the opening size of which plants can regulate. During longer periods of drought plants close the stomata to curb water loss, albeit at the expense of CO2 absorption. Laboratory experiments show that, for a given stoma aperture, an artificial increase of ambient CO2 leads to a temporary increase in the absorption capacity for the gas. However, to ascertain the actual change of water use efficiency in grassland vegetation over the course of the last century, Prof. Schnyder had to find grassland time series comparable in length to those of trees.

 

Alpine Ibex

This is where the team turned their sights to the Alpine ibex horn collection at the Museum of Natural History in Bern. Ibex store isotopic information in their horns that reflects the water use of the vegetation they consume. The TUM researchers went at the museum collection, which covers the years 1938 to 2006, with a carving knife, to remove tiny samples from the horns. Since ibex horns also have annual rings, the grassland researchers were able to use the samples to draw conclusions about temporal changes in the grassland vegetation of the Bernese Alps where the ibex had grazed.

A unique specimen archive at the research station Rothamsted in England eventually enabled a comparison with a second grassland region. The “Park Grass Experiment” — the longest running ecological grassland experiment worldwide — was initiated in Rothamsted over 150 years ago. Since 1857 specimens have been archived there to allow future generations of scientists to gain long-term insights into the local ecosystem using modern research methods. And indeed, the TUM scientists were able to benefit from the hay specimens dating as far back as 150 years. Once again analyzing the isotope signature, they could infer how the English grassland vegetation had utilized the water over the years.

The Weihenstephan researchers thus determined the individual isotope composition of the grassland vegetation in both the Bernese Alps and in the British lowlands over extended periods of time: more than 69 years based on the horns, and as far back as 150 years using the hay specimens. In a second step this data was lined up with climate data, e.g. air temperature and aridity, of the respective region.

The result:

In both locations the intrinsic water-use efficiency of the grassland vegetation rose over the years. This implies that the plants improved their water storage potential as temperatures rose and the level of CO2 in the atmosphere increased. Based on these results the TUM scientists have now, for the first time ever, managed to demonstrate the long-term effects of anthropogenic climate change on the water-use efficiency of grasslands.

 

Alpine Meadows

There were, however, also differences between the two locations. In Switzerland the effective water-use efficiency of the Alpine meadows remained unchanged in spite of the increased intrinsic water-use efficiency of the grassland. This was because, overall, the air had become drier and warmer as a result of the climate change. In England the scientists found evidence for this effect only during the fall. In the spring though — which in Rothamsted is no drier today than it was 150 years ago — the water storage potential of grassland vegetation had a real effect. This insight will help to further improve climate simulations. In the past, complex simulation models that included vegetation had to rely on estimates where grassland was concerned. The scientists at the TU Muenchen have now succeeded in prying open this climate research black box.

Source: ScienceDaily (Jan. 10, 2010)

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30
Dec
09

Machine-Readable Passport (MRP): Favouring the fallible again..!

The tender evaluation committee has once again recommended that the contract for the machine-readable passport (MRP) projects go to a Malaysia-based company, despite cancelling its offer earlier.

No plausible explanation has been offered for awarding the same contract to an associate of the same concern that had failed in the past to deliver an IT-related project of the central bank.

Asked why the IRIS Corporation Barhad was again given the job despite cancelling it initially, Brigadier General Refayetullah, director of MRP and machine-readable visa (MRV) project, told bdnews24.com that after the evaluation committee made the recommendation after it was was convinced that IRIS Corporation had not been blacklisted in Turkey.

The tender evaluation committee forwarded its latest report on the project on Dec 20 to the home ministry.

The evaluation committee in its first report forwarded on Nov 23 recommended that IRIS and Flora Telecomm with Gemalto (Luxembourg) be awarded the MRP and MRV project contract.

Page of a passport with Machine Readable Zone in the red oval

After a probe into the related documents, bdnews24.com published a report on Dec 4 on the failure of those companies in delivering similar job in the past.

The firms certified by the project evaluation committee as fit to provide required technical and technological support. But bdnews24.com found that IRIS was blacklisted in Turkey and Flora Telecom’s associate ‘Patimass’ was blacklisted with Bangladesh Bank. The Turkish government barred IRIS from bidding for any government work until October 2011 as it failed to complete the nation’s MRP project in time.

It does not have the experience of supplying 2.5 crore passport books and manufacturing 80,00,000 passports a year as mentioned in the bidding requirements. On the other hand, ‘Patimas’ was blacklisted by the Bangladesh Bank for its failure to develop a software to facilitate inter-bank transactions. The evaluation committee in its second report on Dec 8 recommended that Flora Telecom should be exclusively awarded the project contract, excluding IRIS.

General Refayetullah said, “IRIS submitted documents to the committee claiming that they had not been blacklisted in Turkey. On scrutiny of the submitted documents, we were convinced about the authenticity of their claim and included the firm in the third and most recent recommendation forwarded on Dec 20.”

Bangladeshi Passport

bdnews24.com probe found that “IRIS Technology Ltd” blacklisted in Turkey and IRIS Corporation Barhad were in fact the same company with same address. When the competence of the two firms were questioned considering the importance of the emergency, massive project–International Civil Aviation Authority has asks all the countries to introduce MRPs and MRVs by April 2010– the project director did not sound all too convincing.

“The firms lacked in fulfilling certain technical criteria, which are ‘rectifiable’,” he said.

“Our job is done, now it up to the ministry. We should cooperate with whatever firm the government awards the contract to.”

He said in case IRIS and Flora were unwilling to accept the work order, offers of France’s Oberthur Technology and China’s Beijing Jinchen Ciccone Security Printing Co, Ltd could be re-evaluated for getting the job done by the deadline, after which travelling abroad will be barred without the e-passport and visa.

Asked if he was apprehensive about accomplishing the work in time, the General Refayetullah said, “The delay caused by not issuing the work order to the tender winning bidder in early December can be overcome. If necessary, we’ll work overtime.”

Handwritten, untidy and sometimes barely readable passports often cause Bangladeshi travellers to be singled out for interrogation at airports abroad

He claimed that the project activities were progressing following regulations and the work would be completed in time. Md Abdul Mabud, director general, of the Department of Immigration and Passport (DIP) told bdnews24.com on Sunday, “Despite a little delay, we’re expecting that the government would decide the matter as soon as possible to allow the MRP and MRV project to be accomplished within the timeframe.”

An ECNEC meeting on Mar 19 decided to issue 174,00,000 general and 10,00,000 urgent passports under the five-year project at a cost of Tk 283 crore. The project, launched in July, is expected to be complete by June 2014.

The government assigned the army to supervise the project and invited international tender on Sep 16 which closed on Oct 27. Eight companies participated in the bidding. The tender was called for supplying 22,00,000 passports every year. Iris, ‘Beijing Jinchen Ciccone Security Printing Co, Ltd.’ (China), Flora Telecom and Gammeltoe (Luxembourg), ‘Oberthur’ (France), and ‘ST Electronics’ (Singapore) were the leading contenders for this project.

The successful bidders will get the task to operate and maintain the project for two years and DIP will take over the project in phases. DIP officials said no old (manual) passport will be issued after the project starts functioning. But those with old passports with valid expiry dates will not face any problem. There are some 1.2 crore manual passport holders in the country.

Source: bdnews24.com

30
Dec
09

After economic storm, Asia faces 2010 political risks…

Cartoon by Daryl Cagle

Investors who kept faith in Asia as the world teetered on the brink of financial meltdown a year ago have been richly rewarded — the region’s markets rode out the storm in spectacular style and posted stunning gains.

The economic outlook for 2010 appears far sunnier. But with frothy markets betting on a smooth return to business as usual, the danger of a sudden correction hangs over Asia, unless the region can steer its way past some treacherous political risks.

Development emergency: those in the teeth of this economic storm are women and children

Development emergency: those in the teeth of this economic storm are women and children

The two most important issues for the world economy in the coming year are political — the pivotal relationship between the United States and China, and the timing and coordination of exit strategies from the stimulus measures that kept disaster at bay.

Investors in Asia also need to be wary of political shocks that could suddenly overturn the region’s risk profile.

Upheaval in North Korea, where there are persistent doubts about the health of leader Kim Jong-il and where the economy is going from bad to worse, could cause profound regional instability.

And the risk of a confrontation between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, perhaps sparked by another militant atrocity in India, is ticking upwards again.

“A multitude of political, security and operational risks converge in Asia,” said Michael Denison, research director at London-based Control Risks consultancy. “The causes of the global recession are now well understood. The contours of the recovery, by contrast, are far from clear.”

RELATIONSHIP PROBLEMS

G2 Relationship

The United States and China are already by far the two most important countries in terms of political clout. And in 2010 China is set to overtake Japan as the second-largest economy. The “G2″ relationship is key to shaping our destiny not just in the coming year or coming decade, but through the 21st century.

Like most relationships, it is not easy.

Pressure on China to allow the yuan to appreciate will become ever more intense in 2010 as economic storm clouds evaporate, and one-year non-deliverable forwards suggest modest gains by the currency by the end of 2010.

But Beijing will not want to jeopardise economic growth by letting the currency rise too quickly, and does not appreciate being told what to do by Washington or anyone else. In the United States, meanwhile, yuan weakness is regarded as a protectionist policy that threatens the U.S. recovery.

Into this volatile mix add the ever-present threat of import restrictions, like the U.S. imposition of tariffs on Chinese tyres in September, sparking a tit-for-tat trade war.

Plus the danger that Beijing’s backing of regimes that Washington finds unpalatable, from Pyongyang to Yangon to Tehran and Khartoum, explodes into a political confrontation.

Most analysts say Washington and Beijing are painfully aware of the risks and would step back from the brink before any dispute threatened the global economy. But the two countries have yet to find a way to communicate comfortably as partners. The risk of a misunderstanding or sudden chill in relations is real.

The second key political risk for Asia — and indeed the world — is dealing with the hangover from the stimulus measures that helped keep the global economy afloat over the past two years.

World Economic Forum

If governments withdraw the stimulus too soon, they jeopardise growth. But keep policy too loose for too long and they risk not just inflation but also catastrophic asset price bubbles.

Given China’s importance to the global recovery, signs of property and equity bubbles there are a particular concern.

Another risk for investors is if countries trying to prevent bubbles and curb inflows of “hot money” tighten capital controls. Analysts say this could be a key issue for India and Indonesia in 2010.

Disagreements could also erupt within countries, between governments focused on safeguarding growth and central banks fearful of inflation and bubbles. That could lead to bad decisions, and make policy hard to forecast. Policy friction is already an issue in Japan. India and South Korea could be next.

KNOWN UNKNOWNS

As in any year, the best-laid plans in 2010 could be derailed by unexpected shocks. We have no idea about some of the lightning bolts that will hit Asia in 2010 — the surprises that author and fund manager Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls “black swans” and former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called “unknown unknowns”. But there are plenty of known unknowns to worry about. Mass social unrest due to economic hardship was the dog that failed to bark in 2009. That could change in 2010.

Economy Recovery

“A structural rise in unemployment will represent a key macro, political and security risk in 2010, even in states like China where growth has remained relatively solid,” Denison said.

The decisive victory of the Congress party in India’s 2009 elections was another good-news story for markets that could be threatened if militants based in Pakistan provoke a confrontation again. Investors are already rattled that reforms in India are going slower than expected. The last thing they want is war risk.

Ian Bremmer, 2d from right with, from left, Pres. Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian of Armenia, and Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki of Iran at the World Economic Forum in Davos

“Another major attack would all but force India’s government to take a much more hostile approach to Pakistan … allowing Pakistan’s military leadership to set aside attacks on local militants and turn their attention to an enemy they feel less reluctant to antagonise,” said Ian Bremmer, president of the U.S.-based Eurasia Group political risk consultancy.

And finally, two key Asian heads of state are ailing, with the question of who and what will come after them far from settled. Thailand’s 82-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej has been in hospital since September, another complication in the long-running political crisis that has riven the country.

Many analysts expect instability to get even worse after his reign ends — giving Thai markets another rough ride. But most say there is little risk of contagion in other markets.

By contrast, when North Korean leader Kim Jong-il dies, the tremors will be felt in South Korea, Japan and beyond.

World Economic Storm

Many analysts say Kim’s death would herald the collapse of the regime in Pyongyang, leading possibly to prolonged civil war in North Korea, aggressive moves against the South, or the sudden reunification of the Korean peninsula. In all of these cases, the likely market reaction would be the same — panic.




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