Capping and containment of the last sections of the former Sydney Tar Ponds nears completion. Looking northwest from the top of the old Sysco slag heap, this image, taken Wednesday evening, shows the mouth of the newly restored Muggah Creek. What appears to be black soil at the side of the stream is actually plastic sheeting, part of the engineered containment system for the stabilized and solidified coal byproducts below. From the same vantage point, the view to the southwest shows the Ferry Street bridge in the distance. Containment and capping of solidified wastes in the north Tar Pond, on the...

The number of "significant" natural catastrophes in North America causing more than $1 billion in losses of more than 50 deaths, 1950-2012: Number of natural catastrophes in North America, 1980-2011: For the climate change skeptics in the audience, these charts come not the Ecology Action Centre, the Natural Resources Defence Council, or the Pembina Institute, but from Munich Re, a $265-billion company that is one of the world's leading reinsurance brokers. (A reinsurer is an outfit that re-sells insurance liabilities when the risk becomes too great for a single retail firm, so it is on the front lines when catastrophic events loom.) Bear...

New Brunswick can have its Magnetic Hill, but for my money, when it comes to gravity defiance, nothing beats Uphill Brook at Marshy Hope in Pictou County. Motorists travelling the TransCanada 104 between New Glasgow and Antigonish take note that the next few weeks, when melting snow fills Nova Scotia's streams but foliage has not yet sprouted on our perennial shrubs, mark the best season for observing this physics-defying natural phenomenon. Sir Isaac Newton, the inventor of gravity, went to his grave without offering any explanation for it. From the turn at the bottom of the valley that is Marshy Hope, Uphill Brook...

Do wind farms make some people sick? Or do false claims of a connection between wind farms and illness make people sick? The question arises because opponents of wind farms often contend they cause illness, but scientific studies have consistently found little or no evidence to support such a connection. [This report by Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health is typical.*] Now a team of public health researchers at the University of Sydney in Australia has collected every known public complaint of wind farm-induced illness in that country (those filed with the wind companies themselves, those filed with three government commissions, and those...

Chasing Ice, a new film from director Jeff Orlowski, follows photographer James Balog's attempt to catalog the climate change-induced melting of the north polar icecap, using time lapse photography. This scene, the film's climax, shows the spectacular breakup of a Manhattan-sized chunk of ice from Greenland's Ilulissat Glacier. To appreciate the images, click the gear at the lower right edge of the film, and pick the highest resolution your monitor will support. Then view the clip full screen. The trailer for Chasing Ice is here. H/T: Melanie McGrath...

Contrarian's friend Gus writes: In my younger days I used to live in Concord, where the Contrarian spirit runs deep (and perhaps was born). Bronson Alcott, who would not wear wool because it was stolen from sheep, would have recruited Louisa May to the cause. I remain interested in the bruising local politics of these places - it would have been fun to listen to the arguments about P.E.T. bottles at town meeting. Since half the town are M.I.T professors, the lines would have been sharply drawn. The other half, Harvard professors, would have spoken at length and contributed nothing to...

With so many real and pressing environmental crises threatening to harm Planet Earth, why are so many well-meaning environmentalists so easily diverted into foolhardy projects like the campaign to ban plastic water bottles? On January 1, the Town of Concord, Massachusetts, prohibited the sale of "non-sparkling, unflavored drinking water in single-serving polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles of 1 liter (34 ounces) or less." To be clear, it's still OK to sell small, plastic bottles of Coke, Red Bull, colored sugar-water, and carbonated water, and it's OK to sell Just Plain Water in 40-oz plastic bottles or gallon jugs. In an approving report on the ban, the Globe and Mail...

"Nine of the 10 warmest years since 1880 have occurred since the year 2000," reports NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies. The first years of the new millennium experienced "sustained higher temperatures than in any decade during the 20th century." Goddard, which monitors global surface temperatures, compiled the findings into an animation showing global temperature trends since 1885.     The animated map charts differences from the average temperature recorded during a baseline period of 1951-1980. Dark Red zones are two degrees Celsius warmer than the baseline; dark blue are two degrees colder. You can download a copy of the animation here. The average incremental...

The Sydney Tar Ponds cleanup is proceeding apace. The final section of the North Pond is now undergoing solidification and stabilization, a process that increases the bearing capacity of the sediments, and reduces their (already low) water solubility. Capping has been completed in the South Pond and large sections of the North Pond. Seeding and sodding are underway. Here's how the South Pond looks from soon-to-be-reopened Ferry Street: Here's the North Pond, viewed from the Ferry Street Bridge, with the former Sysco crane, now operated by Provincial Energy Ventures, in the background, and Muggah Creek meandering gracefully through the property: When it reopens...

A couple of years ago, a friend and I travelled to Inverness for a celebration honoring the wonderful author and columnist, Frank MacDonald. On the off-chance alcohol might be consumed, we sought lodging at one of the town's two motels. Our choices were Grim and Grimmer. Inverness had many charms — spectacular setting, fascinating history, unique culture, magnificent beach — but no economic engine since its coal mines shut down in the 1960s. Boarded up storefronts and seedy hand-painted signs for the few surviving businesses offered silent testimony to the community's entrenched gloom. Into this sad civic concoction came Ben Cowan-Dewer and Allie...