On the horizon

Kinship with a killer whale

A conflict over a killer whale has troubled the waters of Nootka Sound in British Columbia. Whale experts seeking to reunite the endangered orca with its pod have run into unexpected opposition from the members of the Mowachaht-Muchalaht First Nation.

As the scientists tried to put the orca in a pen last week, tribal members used their canoe to guide the creature, nicknamed Luna, in the opposite direction.

The Mowachaht-Muchalaht do not want Luna taken away - they believe he embodies the spirit of their late chief, who promised to return as an orca. The chief died a week before Luna arrived in their traditional territory in 2001.

Officials want to use a specially equipped truck to carry Luna to the Juan de Fuca Strait, some 130 miles south. The Mowachaht-Muchalaht counter that if Luna must be relocated, he should be led by canoe.

Canada's fisheries and oceans department has halted the reunification efforts until an agreement with tribal members can be reached.

Cleaner air for the sea

Seagoing ships must clean up their act. An agreement made this week by the European Union mandates cutting sulfur dioxide emissions by at least two-thirds by 2007. Ship fuel contains up to 5,000 times as much SO2 as gasoline for cars. And all that sulfur dioxide raises acid levels in lakes, rivers, and forests.

The EU agreement requires that SO2 emissions be reduced by more than 492,000 tons every year. Only five of the 25 EU nations now meet the stricter pollution norms: Denmark, Germany, Greece, Spain, and Sweden.

Officials called the move long overdue. "EU countries can and must do more internationally to improve environmental standards for ships," said EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström.

Warmer globe may mean fewer crops

Another sign of fallout from global warming: For every increase of 1 degree C in the average daily temperature, rice crops could fall 10 percent, according to a study published in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The reason, researchers speculate, is that hotter nights make plants work harder just to maintain themselves, diverting energy from growth.

Increasing temperatures, thought to result from heat trapped by industrial and other chemicals in the atmosphere, have caused mounting concern in recent years. Scientists have argued over the potential effects of climate change on crops, largely basing their contentions on laboratory tests and computer models of climate and crop yield.

The new study was a direct measurement of yields under field conditions using practices that good farmers would employ, says lead researcher Kenneth Cassman of the University of Nebraska.

Dr. Cassman and colleagues studied 12 years of rice yields at a farm, along with weather data, to reach their conclusions. The results are generally similar to findings reported last year following a 17-year study of US crop yields. That study indicated that increased temperatures reduced corn and soybean yields.

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