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June 20th, 2008:

Canada’s Track And Field Team To Skip Opening Ceremonies

Canadian Press – June 20, 2008 at 3:57 PM EDT

TORONTO — When the Summer Games open Aug. 8 in Beijing, Canada’s track and field team will be in Singapore.

The Olympic schedule, along with concerns about pollution, traffic and access to training, will keep the Canadian track and field team out of the opening ceremonies and far away from Beijing until the last possible moment.

The Beijing track program doesn’t start until Aug. 15, a week after the opening. The Canadians will hold their pre-Olympic training camp in Singapore and then make the five-hour flight into Beijing — depending on the athlete and the event — a couple of days before they compete.

“Not just because of the pollution but because of the environment of training,” said Canadian head coach Les Gramantik. “There’s only one track that you train at (in Beijing), it’s a relatively long distance and the traffic is always crazy.

“It’s just a more peaceful in Singapore.”

The Canadians held a training camp in Singapore prior to last summer’s world championships in Osaka, Japan.

“We worked very well in Singapore last year, they were very supportive of us, it’s a very peaceful, clean, quiet environment,” Gramantik said.

The Australian track and field team is taking a similar approach, keeping its athletes in Hong Kong until three or four days before their scheduled events.

“As many sports have said, China presents difficulties for athletes going in and being there for a period of time,” Athletics Australia national performance manager Max Binnington told The Associated Press. “Anything more than five or six days and they inevitably end up with some sort of respiratory problem. So that was they many of the sports who don’t have to be in there early are choosing not to go in.

“And the outcome is that it’s almost impossible to go for the opening ceremony.”

Gramantik said, except for one or two questions raised at a meeting earlier this year, none of the Canadian athletes had problems with taking a pass on the opening ceremonies when informed of the plan.

“It’s really not an issue,” the coach said in a phone interview from Calgary. “Most of the people accept the fact that opening ceremonies is for the public and TV and for those athletes who have no hope to go anywhere, and we don’t carry those athletes anymore.

“Our athletes have more than just participation dreams, they want to be competitive.”

Beijing officials have said that they’re cutting down on pollution by halting construction and shutting down heavy industries after July 20.

Gramantik said he’s not overly concerned about the pollution problems they may face when they eventually arrive in the host city.

“We tend to create an opportunity to find excuses, ‘Well the air is bad,”‘ Gramantik said. “The air is going to be bad for everybody. Some obviously will be affected more than others, in some events, but it’s still going to be the Olympics, still going to be competing.

“But I think it’s going to be much better than people anticipate. I’m not really that concerned, but we’re going to spend as little time as possible in Beijing for each athlete.”

Foreign Experts To Help Fight Pollution

Source: – 06-20-2008 11:41

The countdown continues to the Beijing Olympics, and with fewer than 50 days to go, a group of foreign experts is now in China’s capital, on a mission to assess and improve air quality in Beijing.

The 12-person panel, including scientists from Hong Kong SAR, the United States and Italy, will monitor and forecast air quality in Beijing during the Olympics. They’ll also evaluate measures already taken to improve air quality.

The panel will be headed by Tang Xiaoyan from the Chinese Academy of Engineering.

Tang Xiaoyan from Chinese Academy of Engineering said, “We will conduct timely forecasts during the Olympic period. If the forecast indicates bad weather, we will take emergency measures to ensure the Games.”

Beijing has spent 140 billion yuan on environmental improvements over the last decade. It has shut down heavy-polluting factories, switched thousands of homes from oil to gas heating and imposed higher emission standards on vehicles.

Beijing plans to close more factories and force 19 heavy polluters to reduce emissions by 30 percent for two months starting July 20th. Six surrounding provinces also have emergency plans in place to reduce pollution even further if necessary.

North Pole May Be Ice-Free for First Time This Summer

Aalok Mehta aboard the C.C.G.S. Amundsen – National Geographic News – June 20, 2008

Arctic warming has become so dramatic that the North Pole may melt this summer, report scientists studying the effects of climate change in the field.

“We’re actually projecting this year that the North Pole may be free of ice for the first time [in history],” David Barber, of the University of Manitoba, told National Geographic News aboard the C.C.G.S. Amundsen, a Canadian research icebreaker.

Firsthand observations and satellite images show that the immediate area around the geographic North Pole is now mostly annual, or first-year, ice—thin new ice that forms each year during the winter freeze.

Such ice is much more prone to melting during the summer months than perennial, or multiyear, ice, which is thick and dense ice that has lasted through multiple cycles of thawing and refreezing.

“I would say the ice in the vicinity of the North Pole is primed for melting, and an ice-free North Pole is a good possibility,” Sheldon Drobot, a climatologist at the Colorado Center for Astrodynamics Research at the University of Colorado, said by email.

The melt would be mostly symbolic—thicker ice, pushed against the Canadian continental shelf by weather and Earth’s rotation, would still survive the summer.

Recent models suggest that the Arctic won’t see its first completely ice-free summer until somewhere between 2013 and 2030.

But this summer’s forecast—and unusual early melting events all around the Arctic—serve as a dire warning of how quickly the polar regions are being affected by climate change.

Massive Melt

Scientists are particularly interested in the North and South Poles because they are expected to show the most dramatic effects of global warming.

Models predict that the regions will see temperature increases roughly three times as quickly as the rest of the globe because of an effect known as ice albedo feedback, which occurs when highly reflective ice gives way to dark water.

The water absorbs much more of the sun’s energy, increasing temperatures and causing further ice melting.

That has been reflected in the satellite record, which shows a gradual decrease in the extent of Arctic ice coverage over the years.

But the North Pole’s current plight stems from a much more startling reduction in sea ice that took place last summer. That extensive melt shattered all previous records and destroyed a significant portion of the Arctic’s multiyear ice.

We lost 65 percent of the ice cover in the Northern Hemisphere all in one year,” Barber said. “So it was a whopping decrease. We didn’t even think it was possible for the system to lose so much ice all at once.”

Scientists say the record loss last year was due to a combination of warm ocean currents, fluke winds, and unusually sunny weather. (See: “Warming Oceans Contributed to Record Arctic Melt” [December 14, 2007].)

It’s unlikely that such a mixture of conditions will occur again, University of Colorado’s Drobot said.

But forecasts for this summer’s ice suggest the damage has already been done.

An unusually cold winter had raised hopes for a recovery, but much of the ice that formed froze later than usual, ending up so thin that it has already started to break up.

Scientists are hesitant, however, to offer a definitive prediction specifically about the North Pole, since that is dependent on weather conditions that are highly erratic.

“Nobody knows for sure,” Ron Lindsay, of the University of Washington, Seattle’s Polar Science Center, said by email.

“While much of the first-year ice melts in the summer, not all of it does, so we can’t be sure it will melt at the Pole,” he said. “We also don’t know what the winds will be like this summer, and they play an important role in determining just what parts of the Arctic Ocean are ice-free.”

But given the rapid changes now evident in the Arctic, the ultimate fate of the North Pole—in fact, all permanent ice in the Arctic—may be all but assured. Almost all models have the Arctic completely ice free in the summer by 2100.

“We jokingly call [perennial ice] an endangered species,” Barber said. “It’s on its way out. And so we’re studying it as quickly as we can, because there isn’t going to be any of it left pretty soon.”