Tag Archives: spain

Study predicts deserts in Spain if global warming continues

Southern Spain will become desert and deciduous forests will vanish from much of the Mediterranean basin unless global warming is reined in sharply, according to a new study.

Researchers used historical data and computer models to forecast the likely impact of climate change on the Mediterranean region, based on the targets for limiting global warming 195 countries agreed to during a summit in France last year.

“The Paris Agreement says it’s necessary to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), if possible 1.5 degrees,” Joel Guiot, a researcher at the National Center of Scientific Research in France who co-wrote the study, said. “That doesn’t seem much to people, but we wanted to see what the difference would be on a sensitive region like the Mediterranean.”

The authors examined the environmental changes the Mediterranean has undergone during the last 10,000 years, using pollen records to gauge the effect that temperatures had on plant life.

They came up with four scenarios pegged to different concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Three of the scenarios are already widely used by scientists to model future climate change, while the fourth was designed to predict what would happen if global warming remains at or below 1.5 degrees Celsius this century.

The fourth scenario is particularly ambitious because average global temperatures have already risen by 1 degree Celsius since pre-industrial times. It is, however, the only one under which Mediterranean basin ecosystems would remain within the range of changes seen in the past 10,000 years, the researchers found.

At the other extreme — the scenario in which global warming hits 2 degrees — deserts would expand in Spain, North Africa and the Near East, while vegetation in the region would undergo a significant change from the coasts right up to the mountains, the study states.

The region is considered a hotspot for biodiversity and its landscape also has long been cultivated by humans, making it a particularly interesting case study for the researchers, whose work was published online in the journal Science.

“Climate has always been important there,” said Guiot, noting that several civilizations — from the ancient Egyptians to the Greeks and the Romans — emerged around the Mediterranean over the past millennia.

While their demise probably resulted from social and political changes, climate conditions may have played a role in the past and could do so again in the future, he said.

Current flows of migrants are being driven largely by political unrest, but prolonged periods of drought could spark mass migrations of people due to climate change, Guiot said.

The researchers acknowledged that their study did not factor in the environmental impact of human activity in the Mediterranean basin. Some areas already are experiencing severe water shortages made worse by intensive agriculture and tree clearance.

“If anything, human action will exacerbate what the study projects, and it could turn out to be too optimistic,” Guiot said.

The Paris climate agreement comes into effect next week.


Spain’s top court overturns local ban on bullfighting

Spain’s top court overruled a local ban against bullfighting in the powerful northeastern region of Catalonia, saying it violated a national law protecting the much-disputed spectacle.

The Constitutional Court ruled that Catalan authorities generally could regulate such public spectacles, and even outlaw them, but in this case the national parliament’s ruling that bullfighting is part of Spain’s heritage must prevail.

Catalonia banned bullfighting in 2010. The decision was part of the growing movement against bullfighting but it was also seen as another step in the Catalan government’s push to break away from Spain.

The ban had little practical effect as Catalonia had only one functioning bullring — in its capital, Barcelona — but neither is the court decision likely to greatly change things.

“There’ll be no bullfights in Catalonia regardless of what the Constitutional Court says,” Catalan Land Minister Josep Rulls said.

The World Animal Protection group described the decision as “outrageous,” adding that “cultural heritage does not justify an activity that relies on animal torture and indefensible levels of suffering.”

But the Fighting Bull Foundation of breeders, matadors, ring workers, aficionados and event organizers welcomed the news, warning that attempts to prevent bullfights in Catalonia would now be illegal.

Catalonia’s last bullfight was in 2011 before the region’s ban took effect.

The court ruling followed a challenge to the ban by the conservative Popular Party headed by acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

Catalonia said it banned bullfighting to protect the animals but it continues to allow popular events featuring the chasing and taunting of bulls with flaming balls of wax or fireworks affixed to their horns.

Bullfighting and bull-related events in summer festivals remain immensely popular throughout Spain although animal rights groups have gained some ground in their campaigns.

Catalonia, with a population of 7.5 million, is a wealthy region with its own language and a large degree of self-rule. Its current government is pushing to hold an independence referendum and secede from Spain in 2017. Spain has said it will not allow either.

Tourist-related seashell loss may have global impact

She collects seashells by the seashore, but at what cost? A new study from the University of Florida found that global tourism has increased fourfold over the past 30 years, resulting in human-induced seashell loss that may harm natural habitats worldwide.

The research was published in the journal PLOS ONE on Jan. 8.

Researchers from the Florida Museum of Natural History at the UF campus and at the University of Barcelona in Spain report that increased tourism on the Mediterranean coast of Spain correlated with a 70 percent decrease in mollusk shells during the tourist season in July and August and a 60 percent decrease in other months.

The scientists they fear shell removal could cause significant damage to natural ecosystems and organisms that rely on shells, according to lead author Michal Kowalewski at the Florida Museum.

“This research is best described as a case study that evaluates shell loss due to tourism and then explores how this process may affect natural habitats,” Kowalewski said. “It’s too early to tell whether this depletion is substantial enough to trigger major environmental changes. However, our results suggest that we should not ignore this issue.”

Researchers conducted multiple monthly surveys from 1978 to 1981 and from 2008 to 2010 on Llarga Beach, a small stretch of shoreline on the coast of Spain. Based on hotel data, researchers estimate the number of tourists visiting the beach increased threefold over the past 30 years, with most visits during the summer.

Over the same time period, the number of shells on the beach decreased by more than 60 percent. The survey area has experienced no new commercial fisheries or urban development since the 1970s, suggesting human activity unrelated to tourism is unlikely to have contributed substantially to the shell loss, Kowalewski said. Changes in ecosystem structure and local environmental conditions, which could potentially contribute to a natural decrease in shell numbers, were not observed, he said.

Shell removal at Llarga Beach was higher during the summer, and shells were more abundant during the winter when fewer tourists visited the area. Although a popular destination, the beach is not a major tourist hot spot, and the shells found there are not beautiful, diverse or valuable to collectors. If a relationship between increased tourism and accelerated shell removal can be detected at a place that is not famous for its shells, it is likely that beaches known for their shells and frequented by collectors have had more substantial impact, Kowalewski said.

“Although significant research has been done on the impacts of human activity on live shellfish, including, recreational harvesting and curio collecting, we are still lacking rigorous studies estimating the scale of shell removal by humans,” Kowalewski said. “Shells are remarkable in that they serve multiple functions in natural ecosystems, from beach stabilization to building materials for bird nests.”

Shells also provide a home or attachment surface for diverse marine organisms, including algae, seagrass, sponges and other micro- and macro-organisms. Hermit crabs use shells as their protective armor, while fish use shells to hide from predators. These discarded exoskeletons of mollusks, including clams and oysters, are also important because most are made of calcium carbonate and in many coastal habitats they dissolve slowly and recycle back into the ocean.

The study may prompt more systematic assessments of shell removal by tourists, said Geerat Vermeij, a mollusk shell expert and distinguished professor of geology with the University of California Davis who was not involved in the study.

“Molluscan shells are of prime importance to hermit crabs, and although sand beaches are not good places for such crabs, dead snail shells on mud-flats and rocky shores do form a primary resource for abundant hermit crabs,” Vermeij said. “More subtly, many small organisms settle on dead shells, and so removing such shells will eliminate habitats for these colonists.”

Though tourism-related shell loss may one day prove harmful, Kowalewski said more rigorous quantitative case studies are needed to fully understand the impact and develop reliable beach management practices aimed at shell protection.

“Humans may play a significant role in altering habitats through activities that many would perceive as mostly harmless, such as beachcombing and seashell collecting,” Kowalewski said. “It is important that we continue to investigate the more subtle aspects of tourism-related activities and their impact on shoreline habitats.”

Study co-authors included Rosa Domènech and Jordi Martinell with the Institut de Recerca de la Biodiversitat and Departament d’Estratigrafia, Paleontologia i Geociències Marines, Facultat de Geologia, Universitat de Barcelona, in Barcelona, Spain.

2 gay men nominated for ambassador posts

President Barack Obama has nominated his former finance director to be U.S. ambassador to Denmark and tapped two major fundraisers for postings in Spain and Germany.

Fundraising guru Rufus Gifford, who raised upward of $700 million as the head of Obama’s 2012 finance operation and held a similar job previously at the Democratic National Committee, is Obama’s pick for Denmark, the White House said.

The president selected James Costos, a vice president of HBO, as his envoy to Spain.

If confirmed by the Senate, Gifford and Costos would bolster the limited ranks of ambassadors in U.S. history who have been openly gay. When Obama took office in 2009, only two previous ambassadors had been openly gay. Friday’s nominations mark the fifth and sixth, gay rights groups said.

The Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, which works to elect openly gay candidates, hailed the nominations and said they would clear the way for more gay Americans to achieve prominent positions in public service.

Obama also said he had selected John Emerson, an investment manager and former White House official, as his envoy to Germany. Both Costos and Emerson were listed in public disclosures as bundlers, meaning they raised more than $500,000 from others to benefit Obama’s campaign. Federal Election Commission records show Costos donated more than $67,000 to efforts to re-elect Obama in 2012.

Ken Hackett, who stepped down last year as the president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, is Obama’s pick to be the U.S. emissary to the Vatican. Hackett worked extensively in Africa coordinating Catholic charitable programs on the continent.

Patricia Marie Haslach, a veteran diplomat who has worked in Iraq, Pakistan and Laos, is Obama’s pick to be ambassador to Ethiopia. He nominated Liliana Ayalde, another State Department official with experience throughout Latin and Central America, for the top post in Brazil. Both Haslach and Ayalde have held the rank of ambassador before.

Wines for spring | Enjoy a splash of Spain and Portugal

Thoughts of Old World wines do not always bring Spain and Portugal to mind as top producers. But they should. After France and Italy, the Iberian Peninsula is the third largest producer of wines in the world, with 3 million acres under wine grape cultivation in Spain alone.

You might think that’s an awful lot of sherry and port, for which the two countries were historically known. But acreage devoted to the famous fortified wines is just a small part of the region’s total wine output. More and more, Spain especially is combining traditional cultivars with New World winemaking techniques, resulting in some fresh, bright approaches that are quickly finding their niche in the ever-expanding wine world.

Archeological evidence shows that wine grapes have been under cultivation in Spain since about 4000 B.C. The first wine trading port was established at Cádiz in 1100 B.C. Spain’s conquest by Roman legions in 218 B.C. helped spread the nation’s wine throughout the Roman Empire, which eventually covered most of Western Europe.

Despite centuries of expansion, however, the Spanish wine industry has lagged behind its French and Italian counterparts in its development. But the situation is changing.

There’s growing familiarity with and appreciation for Spain’s indigenous grape varieties, including Albariño, Garnacha, Tempranillo and Xarel-lo. At the same time, innovative growing techniques have kept Spanish wine prices relatively low while raising their quality to higher levels. That’s excellent news for wine drinkers in search of exciting new flavor profiles.

What’s more, Spanish winemakers see their jobs as “elaborer” rather than “fabricar” – to elaborate or nurture factors the grape already offers rather than use the raw material to simply fabricate wine. That’s an oenological aesthetic anyone can appreciate.

Here is a six-pack splash of Spanish and Portuguese wines designed to help you start celebrating the coming of spring.

White wines

In the lightest and brightest category, Portugal’s Gazela White ($7) easily takes the lead. Blended in the country’s Vinho Verde region from four different grapes, the wine arrives with a light straw color and a slight effervescence. Its natural acidity is balanced by a touch of sweetness and highlighted with bright tropical notes, resulting in a wine that’s unusually refreshing and an excellent value for the price.

For something a little more complex, try the 2011 Lo Nuevo Lunares ($11), produced from Verdejo grapes grown on old vines in Spain’s Rueda region northwest of Madrid. The palate explodes with pineapple and floral notes, followed by a creamy mouthfeel, vibrant acidity and a lingering finish. This is a surprisingly fresh-flavored excursion for a wine grown from vines around 100 years old

The Martin Codax 2011 Rias Baixas Albariño ($16) is made from one Spain’s best-known varietals. Medium-bodied and delicately flavored, the wine teases the palate with tastes of apple, pear and lemon. The wine also has a distinct acidity and bright minerality that make this one exceptional for both sipping and supping.

Red wines

As nice as the whites are, the reds are even better – starting with the 2009 Callabriga Dáo Red ($17) from Portugal’s Dáo region. Produced from a blend of Tinta Roriz, Touriga Nacional and Alfrocheiro Preto grapes, the wine pours a deep red with an aroma of spicy, even balsamic notes with a flavor profile to match. Firm tannins and a good acidity make this full-bodied wine an excellent accompaniment to heavier dishes.

More old-vine fruit comes into play with the 2009 Las Rocas Garnacha Viñas Viejas ($17), also from northwest Spain. Harvested from aging vines clinging to the hillsides of the arid Aragon region, the wine presents with a deep ruby color and spicy bouquet. Las Rochas’ flavors are characterized by dark cherry and stone fruit notes, with vanilla essences from the French oak in which part of the harvest was aged. Round supple tannins and a fruit-forward finish round out this fine red varietal.

Another standout, both in terms of flavor and economy, is the 2005 El Coto de Rioja de Imaz Rioja Reserva ($21). Produced from Tempranillo, Spain’s signature red wine grape, the El Coto de Rioja offers red berry aromas with smoky vanilla notes extracted from its American oak casks. Blessed with a supple, velvety mouthfeel, the wine’s red cherry flavors are backed by subtle tannins and just the right amount of acidity. The result is an outstanding wine for both casual as well as formal occasions.

Top Spanish court to rule on gay marriage

Spain’s Constitutional Court is expected to rule on an appeal against the country’s gay marriage law, seven years after the legislation was approved.

The conservative Popular Party filed the appeal in 2005 on the grounds that ‘‘marriage’’ in the Spanish constitution meant the union of a man and a woman in matrimony.

A court spokesman said the tribunal will meet later Nov. 6 to study the appeal and is expected to vote.

Spain’s Parliament passed the gay marriage bill in June 2005 when it was Socialist-controlled, with only Popular Party deputies opposing. The Popular Party has since come to power.

The law angered the predominant Roman Catholic Church but opinion surveys showed most Spaniards backed it. Spain was the world’s third country to give full legal recognition to same sex marriages.

Spain’s dictionary updated to include gay marriage

Spain legalized gay marriage seven years ago, but only this month has its official dictionary been updated to include a definition.

The Los Angeles Times reports that the Royal Spanish Academy, which regulates the Spanish language, expanded the definition of marriage in its online dictionary, defining it as “under some laws, the union of two people of the same sex.”

The change is one of 1,700 made to Spain’s dictionary since 2001.

“Blogueros” are now officially recognized typing away on their blogs. The “Popemobile” is now known en español as the “papamovil.” And the mingling of English and Spanish? That’s “espanglish,” the Times reported.

Spaniards can get “friki” on the dance floor, “chatear” online, play “sudoku,” or “okupar” their cities in protest. They might identify themselves as “cienciologos” – what Californians know as Scientologists.

Perhaps most tellingly in this uneasy year for the euro, the academy has now christened “euroescepticismo” as “distrust for the political projects of the European Union.”

The Academy “doesn’t promote words,” its secretary, Dario Villanueva said when the changes were announced. “It records what people use.”

Earlier this year, a U.S. citizen began a petition drive to encourage dictionary.com to change its definition of marriage to include same-sex marriages. Read more.

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