Archive for January, 2010

Warblers and the Many Coffee Hounds Out There…

January 31, 2010

Next to raptors warblers are a birding passion with me. I would say for me the hardest warblers to see were the Colima (almost all uphill 7 mile hike to observe), Kirklands and Tropical Parula; very specific places to travel to. Red-faced and Lucy’s; beat a lot of brush.

I went to great fall-out areas and areas known for warblers to see them and along the way I saw warblers and many songbirds. I have been doing this a long time and the birds just start adding up even to my surprize. In fact I used to skip lunch regularly to watch migratory warblers in south Florida where there was a known fall out area for warblers and rare birds. This area was near a neat sea-turtle beach that I lead nightime walks on to see sea turtles at about the same time of year so I would scout for sea turtle nests. I even surveyed for the nests for the county and state.  I saw many Loggerhead and not so many green sea turtles and a lot of warblers to boot.

I used to confuse warbler songs so I went to Cape May to take a class on warbler songs. What I like about Cape May New Jersey is that you can usually see warblers sing their songs as they migrate to breeding grounds usually farther north.

Warblers, like most songbirds are taking a beatingf so every little bit  to help warblers counts and here is one easy suggestion.

I always get a plug in to the many coffee hounds I find out there. If you are a coffee hound, like me, and you like to bird then drink shade grown coffee. I get it in Bozeman, Montana. My guess  is that you can find it. Shade-grown coffee can be found in Wild Bird Unlimited stores or in places like the American Birding Associations retail catalog…if you can afford Starbucks you can afford shade grown coffee and you are helping neotropical birds like most of North America’s warblers. I have found that birding can be excellent on shade grown coffee plantations in Africa and Central America.

Of the more common warblers I would say Swainsons and Cerullian were hard to observe



Cold, Raptor Watching and Global Warming

January 30, 2010

There is know doubt that the folks in Virginia and North Carolina are not used to a lot of snow. I would not want to go through a cold weather outage like the folks in Oklahoma. In Southwest Montana it is 20 degrees outside and there is about a foot of snow on the ground down here; about 5,000 feet, in the valley. This evening, and all day tommorow, it is projected to snow here. Even flurries around here can be a lot of snow and I have seen people around here drive during the actual snowstorm.

This past fall I watched raptors (diurnal birds of prey) at Hawk Ridge Observatory, above the town of Dulluth, Minnesota, a Lake Superior Port where Bob Dylan grew up. I really like to hawkwatch, there is a number of hawkwatching sites throughout the world and I have been to many of these sites and I highly recommend hawkwatching to the birder, and there are many of us.

I went to see as many as 100,000 Broadwinged-hawks mirate over Hawk Ridge. I missed the primary Broad-winged Hawk migration, but I did see a good migration of Sharp-shinned hawks, some birds very close.

Some of the highlites at Hawk Ridge include about 5 Northern Goshawks, some of those Gossies were right up at Hawk Ridge. There were 7 peregrine falcons observed. One was caught in banding traps on the “Ridge” while I was there. A Gyr Falcon (Visitor from the north) visited Hawk Ridge.

One day several thousand, mostly Yellow-rumped, warblers migrated through Hawk Ridge.

Almost every day hawks are caught in the banding nets and shown off to an interested public and each hawk  captured is talked about. These hawks are adopted and then released at Hawk Ridge by the adopter. While I was at Hawk Ridge Sharp-shinned Hawks were the most common Hawk captured. I highly recommend Hawk Ridge to view hawks in the fall.

I think hawks will be negatively impacted by a warming climate. Photoperiod will be impacted, in particular hawk breeding periods and food/eating periods will be impacted. Species like the already rare Northern Goshawk will in the short-term shift their range North.  Arctic species will find even more sparse nesting areas and decline and a rarer bird will become rarer. Will these species die out? I am not sure.


Obama Said to Seek $54 Billion in Nuclear-Power Loan Guarantees

January 29, 2010

Might be our next step on clean energy. Hanson supports this but the mainstream of global warming conservation does not support this…! I just throw my hands up. I hate to politicize global climate change but we, as a species are running out of time and I believe we have no known technologies for “clean coal”. I do not see oil or gas or natural gas as transitional fuels for a clean economy. Where is the rock and hard place? I am  going to sit there for awhile.


By Daniel Whitten and Hans Nichols

Jan. 29 (Bloomberg) — President Barack Obama, acting on a pledge to support nuclear power, will propose tripling loan guarantees for new reactors to more than $54 billion, two people familiar with the plan said.

The additional loan guarantees in Obama’s budget, which will be released on Feb. 1, are part of an effort to bolster nuclear-power production after Obama called for doing so in his State of the Union address Jan. 27. Today, the Energy Department plans to announce creation of a panel to find a solution to storing the waste generated by nuclear plants.
“To create more of these clean-energy jobs, we need more production, more efficiency, more incentives,” Obama said in his speech. “That means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear-power plants in this country. ”

For the 2011 budget, the department will add $36 billion to the $18.5 billion already approved for nuclear-power plant loan guarantees, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the budget hasn’t been released. The program was started in 2005 by Congress to encourage new plant construction, but the department has yet to issue a loan guarantee.
Nuclear plants accounted for 20 percent of U.S. power generation in 2008, according to the Energy Department.

Industry groups such as the Washington-based Nuclear Energy Institute have said the loan guarantees are critical to reviving the industry because most companies can’t afford the capital investment in a facility that can take a decade to complete. The institute in a December report put the cost of a reactor at as much as $9 billion.

outhern Co.’s Reactors
Southern Co. of Atlanta expects to be the first to get a loan guarantee, in two or three months, which may help it finance two additional nuclear reactors at its two-unit Vogtle plant in Georgia, Chief Executive Officer David M. Ratcliffe said in an interview Jan. 27.
The Energy Department will announce formation of a panel that will study alternatives to the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada, according to an administration official. Obama has said he would halt work on the Nevada project and find another solution to handling spent nuclear fuel.
Energy Department Spokeswoman Stephanie Mueller said she couldn’t comment on the budget. Kenneth Baer, a spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget, didn’t immediately return a phone call. A White House spokesman declined to comment.
–With assistance from Katarzyna Klimasinska in Houston. Editors: Larry Liebert, Joe Winski

Marine Mammal Observations and Global Climate Change

January 28, 2010

I feel this urge to tell about lifeforms that will be gone for sure this century; more towards the second half of this century. I feel we, as a species, need to pay attention to our plight or we will not be around to catch the next century.

YES! That is how  I feel. I really believe it . My feeling is there is nothing I can do to change that. I really feel human change agents are few and far between and they only will change so much of humanity, not enough to change the way we all do things…irresponsable at times. I would call Mohatma Ghandi or  Henry David Thoreau, change agents, but their collective impacts only go so far.

For many, Jesus Christ is a change agent, but what I see about global warming in the religious strikes me as too little, too late…”oh yee of little faith” (that would be me)…but I think you get the point…I definitely got up on the wrong side of the bed today.

Naturalistjourneys, you say?

 I know very little about ants much to E.O. Wilson’s chagrin, or not,  and I learned the Embdenmyerhoff Pathway on a sheet of hand towels back in the day when I was a waster of things like paper towels.

 I do know a little about mammals, plants and birds, at least enough to almost satisfy me. So here are recent observations of marine mammals near Santa Cruz, California and some other sitings that come to mind and may be of interest.

 I sat above a bench by a beach (small) called Sunny Cove about 5 blocks from my little sisters.

At times the beach had a sampling of boogey borders, labs (mostly), nearby surfers, lovers and teens-mostly standing in the wind-smoking weed out of the judgement of most parents.

I sat on a bench, watched birds, drank coffee, drank water, ate sandwiches and ate bannanas or candy from a nearby dollar store that was great. I watched a riveting sun set over Monteray Bay and watched enough marine mammals to say ” this was a good site for the daily marine mammal.”

I did see sea otters, at least 3 times, swimming on their back and occasionally diving for abelone, which I saw one otter cracking and eating.

I saw bottlenose dolphins and harbor porpoises  come out of the water just beyond the surfer zone, (I called that area the zone. Surfers bobbed up and down, looking for the right wave to surf on).

I saw California Sea Lions even swimming in the zone, I saw a harbor seal spying on nearby surfers, elephant seals swimming just beyond the surfers.

I saw 3 whales swimming way out in Monteray Bay. Humpbacks and Grays could both be passing at this time so I assumed it was one or the other. I just saw water spouts and a fluke…the whales were in my binochulars, way beyond eye range.

This reminded me of another time I was near Santa Cruz at a place called Anna Nueva where huge 2-3000 pound male seals hauled on shore to breed with 600 to 1000 pound female seals.  I was watching, engrossed, as two huge male seals snuck around some dunes to get at a large female sleeping in nearby sand.

I was so engrossed in the fight that was about to take place that I did not see another male with his eyes on the same loafing female. I know what was driving the male seal, however this seal was not watching or just did not care about my 30 pound, 2 year old daughter who was between him and the nearby loafing female. I did!!!!I stopped looking and ran (I have seen hese blubberful seals move really fast to get it on with female seals). I grabbed up my daughter and got out of the way of  the seal fight that was about to take place.  I did not want to see my daughter crushed by my not paying attention, or a huge rutting elephant seal.It was a close call to my brain but I was unwilling to take chances with my daughter. I had been around wildlife enough to know that “things” could happen fast.

I saw a number of Stellar Sea Lions loafing on sea rocks near Kodiak, Alaska and in Kenai Fiords National Park, Alaska. I would write more about these sea lions but I only saw them loaf or occasionally swim around a harbor.

 I was fishing with an eskimo near a town called Akhiok Kaguiak when we spotted a dead blue whale on shore. 38 brown bears were feeding on the whale so the eskimo told me he would come back for the whale’s baleen, which he used for artwork. He only hoped another Allutiiq would not beat him to the punch and get the  whale’s baleen or get mauled by a feeding brown bear.

Orcas would herd chum salmon into the bay at the mouth of the Canoona River in Northern British Columbia. There was a large, and I do mean large, white (non albino) “spirit bear”; An actual black bear. We called this particular bear the Canoona bear. When he  heard the orcas he would run to the river mouth to trap salmon as they escaped certain death from the orcas. 9 pound salmon had no idea that a bear (also certain death) was above the huge, predacious orcas, positioning himself in the middle of the river bed, hoping to trap a large salmon. The orca arrival was like a dinner bell to the large spirit bear of the rainforest (temperate) or as the nearby Tshim Tshan Indians called him, Mok s’ gmol.

These kinds of observations will become non- exsistant as our climate changes. These observations were already rare, only to soon disappear, as our climate warms up, even if we stop our global warming  by changing our behavior now, dead in its tracks……..


North American Large Predators

January 27, 2010

The 3 species of North American Bears, black, brown (includes the grizzly) and polar bears played a huge role in the development of my  life. I have seen numerous black and brown bears…and like I wrote yesterday, I have had many encounters with wild North American Bears.

If you enter bear country as often as I did, you will encounter the gray wolf, and I did.

 One of the memorable experiances I had with gray wolves was to see one swimming between islands of Northern British Columbia. I saw a wolf swimming after a buck Sitka black-tailed mule deer.

I have seen 7 wild  mountain lions over a 25 year period and I have seen numerous tracks of this large cat.

Once I was with my family, driving down an isolated canyon near Yellowstone National Park. We came around a corner and what appeared to be a large lion was in the middle of the non paved road staring at the car; a Honda Civic wagon travelling slowly. The lion jumped up on the hillside adjacent to the road and I pulled up and stared right into the lion’s eye; maybe about 10 feet from the cat. We stared at each other for about 10 seconds and the lion continued up the hill never looking back; near Bozeman, Montana.


On PBS News Hour Jim Lehrer, “Carp Invade, Threaten Great Lakes’ Ecosystem”

January 27, 2010


 January 25, 2010

By Tom Bearden Watch Here:

 There was a huge cry when Sea Lampreys, a US  ocean species, made its way into the Great Lakes and deystroyed a part of the Great Lakes Endemic Fisheries.The US and Canadian Governments have paid millions of dollars to mitigate Sea Lampreys that got into the Great Lakes mostly to save important endemic fisheries.

Now we transplanted the excotic Asian Carp near the Great Lakes and as they get into the lakes they will possibly be the end of a fisheries, as we know it,  in the Great Lakes. I can only hope the Asian Carp is controlled in the Great Lakes. The Asian Carp will wipe out, or almost, Great Lakes endemic fisheries. This exotic fish can pose huge damage in the Great Lakes.


BEARDEN: These are the invaders, large fish that leap high out of the water when disturbed. They are called Asian carp. The Chinese have been growing them for food for 1,000 years. But, to Americans, they are an invasive species, destroying the habitat of native fish in the Mississippi River and its tributaries, all the way from the Gulf of Mexico to Chicago. The fear that they will do the same to the Great Lakes has set state against state, with Michigan filing suit, along with five other Great Lakes states, to force Illinois and the federal government to stop these fish in their tracks. JIM ROBINETT, vice president of animal regulation, Shedd Aquarium: This is a bighead carp right here, and this is a little guy. I have collected them on the Illinois River, where they are easily twice that length. They would weigh upwards of 50 pounds. I have been told they will hit 100 pounds. But these guys will eat probably at least half their body weight in plankton every single day. TOM BEARDEN: Eating that much plankton scares Jim Robinett, vice president of animal regulation at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. Plankton consist of several species of tiny plants and animals in the water. They are the foundation of the entire food chain. JIM ROBINETT: It is an issue that is a potential time bomb, I would say. It would have a devastating affect on the Great Lakes if the Asian carp were to get in there and be able to reproduce in huge numbers. It could wipe out the upwards of $7 billion fishery in the Great Lakes by just outcompeting all the desirable fish. TOM BEARDEN: One hundred and twenty-five miles across the lake, in Muskegon, Michigan, commercial fishermen Paul Jensen is worried the carp could destroy his business. He spent decades trying to cope with the more than 180 invasive species already in Lake Michigan. PAUL JENSEN: I am quite certain that the commercial fishing business in Michigan and in all the Great Lakes States has been driven down by the invasive species arrival, because it keeps changing the game. And fisherman are adaptive creatures, but, you know, the — the adaptions cost money and time and — and create big issues. And we get worried about the next one, just like the carp. TOM BEARDEN: One path for invasive species was the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. Hailed as an engineering marvel when the city opened it in 1900, the canal reversed the flow of the Chicago River and established a water link between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River system. The canal made Chicago an important port, and it also carried sewage away from the city. To stop the carp from using the canal to enter Lake Michigan, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built an underwater electric barrier in 2002. A second larger installation followed, and a third is planned. MIKE COX, attorney general, Michigan: There’s been DNA found here of both kinds of carp, both kinds of carp found here. TOM BEARDEN: But when small traces of carp DNA showed up beyond the barriers, Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox asked the Supreme Court to order Chicago to close the locks that link the river to the lake. MIKE COX: They are ecological and economic danger to the Great Lakes. And, quite simply, they are biological terrorists. And if they get in our Great Lakes, and hit, impact the ecology and the economy of eight different states, two different Canadian provinces, it could cost billions. TOM BEARDEN: On Tuesday, the court issued a one-sentence statement denying Michigan’s request to immediately close the locks. While the preliminary injunction was denied, Cox says the Supreme Court could order the larger case back to a lower court, appoint a special master to oversee a settlement, or order the waterway to be permanently closed.

More Snow, Large Mammals and Global Warming

January 26, 2010

There is a light snow outside. It is cold. The clouds are way low, hugging the landscape like a scared child hugs his/her Mom. This is like the Bozeman winters of old.

For the past two days I have written about some of the mammals I have seen.

Large mammals are the animals I  have seen the most of and these are a few stories-a small portion of the stories. I see deer, 2 species, and US antelope, every time I leave Bozeman, Montana. There is a drainage in the Bob Marshall Wilderness where I saw 2 large Whitetail bucks moving up the drainage, away from me, whistling and  stamping a front hoof as they moved away from me. This was in the early fall.

I saw six mule deer over a three week period in the summer near Philipsburg, Montana. The six were all mature bucks in velvet. I saw these bucks near the roadside when I drove to work each morning at a dock on Georgetown lake.

I  have seen Mountain goats  in ranges throughout Western Montana. I have seen them near the top of Glacier National Park on Mount Siyah. The goats grazed in sparse plants within the scree and when they spotted me they came over to lick my day pack. I have seen Mountain Goats lick packs throughout Glacier National Park.

There was a herd of old bighorn sheep banging heads during the fall rut in Yellowstone National Park. I watched bighorn rams bang heads for about 2 hours a day over a three day period late in the fall. These same rams later died of a pink eye outbreak, many rams did.

I have called in close, rutting bull elk, using cow elk calls in the early fall in Montana and Wyoming for about 9 falls in a row. Next to mule deer and whitetail deer I have observed a lot of elk in the wild. Iam talking about thousands of elk.

I have 4 times almost been run over by mature Bull Moose in Montana and Alaska in summer and in the fall.

I have had close calls with all 3 bears, black-brown and polar, in North America. For example, in Yellowstone, I have had a large grizzly almost bite my belly as he freaked out, trying to escape. I saw fear in the bears eyes, and there was fear in me.

Global climate change, already here, will ipact mammals and birds-negatively. Here is an example

In the short term, over a two decade period, grizzly bears in the Yellowstone Ecosystem will be hugely impacted by global warming as whitebark pine dies out, Army Cutworm Moths die out and Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout  become rare. These lifeforms will die out or become rare as temperatures increase in the Yellowstone Ecosystem.

It may be cold now but this past decade was the warmest decade recorded and we will have more of that.


Cold, and Medium Sized Mammals

January 25, 2010

It is cold outside.I just walked back from the grocery store and it was 19 degrees outside and there was a lot of snow on the ground. I can honestly say it is cold! Cold! and cold!

A brief point: I would have pac boots over vibram bottomed heavy boots in snow with ice underneath. This sounds a bit persnickety but I base this on about 30 years of walking on ice in the winters…give me a pac boot for snow and icy walks.

I have seen some neat mid-sized mammals over a 30 year period where I looked for wild mammals.

On top of that list is the sighting of a lynx, broadside, in the Selway Bitteroot Wilderness. I also saw a lynx adjacent to the road, near the Teklaneka Rivern in Mount McKinley National Park in Alaska. In three different places in Montana I have seen the tracks of lynx in the snow. First reaction…huge!

I have seen several bobcats in the wilds of Montana. Primarily I have seen them sneak away from me.

I have seen ten wolverines. My reaction is that they are more agile and quicker then you might expect. Primary prey I have seen them go for…willow ptarmigan. I have seen them scavenge on moose, elk and mule deer.

I have seen a lot of coyotes. I have watched as a male? coyote came out of a den to harrass a grizzly bear that came to close in the estemation of the coyote. I have watched a coyote try (without luck) to ward off 3 gray wolves that were attacking, probably lethally. I can say the coyote put up a hellacious fight.

I saw javelina’s, collared peccaries, come into a national park campground in Texas root around for  food, but found (strong sense of smell) toothpaste instead, and carried the toothpaste away.

These mammals may not make it in a warming world. The coyote has the best chance to.


Snow, Small Mammals and “Big”

January 24, 2010

I find it really interesting when it snows out of one side, light and fluffy,and on the other side I can see bright sunshine and bright blue. Around here I see that happening right now. Fluffy snow falling on one side and bright sun and sky on the other side.

For the past couple of days I have thought about my small Mammal adventures. I have had my share of them. So have you. I will share a few with you.

Just recently in Santa Cruz, California I saw a striped skunk across the road, in a patch of wood and grassland. That used to be a common sight in the area I grew up in. Now, for whatever reason, it is not. I am talking about a youth that happened around Washington D.C.. I had a friend who camped with me in an Appalacian Trail Shelter. He had a bunch of his gear under the lower bunk. Well his gear kept pushing out. We actually trapped a spotted skunk under his bunk by his gear. Sheer ignorance on our part, until the skunk-unruffled-ambled out from under the bunk.

 Racoons are very common down in Florida but I saw them as a child on house rooftops in Washington D.C.. Their tracks were used commonly with plasture back then to take back to a nature center and compare to deer and wild  turkey tracks that were also in plasture. I have seen large bodied racoons climb out of coniferous trees in Georgia and Washington. I have seen racoons in Pine Butte Swamp in Montana. We were actually looking for grizzly bears. My point is that I have seen racoons all throughout the USA.

I saw gray fox 3 times in Florida, twice in Maryland and once in Washington D.C. They were uncommon. By their tdack sign they seemed to be uncommon where I grew up in the woodlands of nearby Rock Creek Park and Hughs Hollow or McKee Besher state wildlife management area, a wild place about 30 miles from where I grew up.

I saw swift foxes within seconds of feelingf numerous Prickly Pear Cactus needles in my elbow in Eastern Montana. Talk about a rare mammal!

 I saw red fox around the C and O Towpath in the Washington D.C. area. I have seen 5 color phases of this fox up along the Hudson Bay coastline. I have seen this fox in the backyard of my older sister in Maryland. I have seen this same fox on the top of peaks in Wyoming and Montana simular to the racoon in distribution, but not as common, the red fox was everywhere in the lower 48 of the US. Introduced from Europe, except the ones in the Rockies, on top of peaks.

In contrast I have seen the arctic fox (locally common). This fox eats small mammals, like the lemming and they will ocassionally eat the Willow Ptarmigan when the oppurtunity arizes. I have seen them way out on arctic ice. I have seen them scavenge on mostly ringed seal remains left by polar bear in the arctic. This is a much more daytime use fox than the red is from what I have seen. The gray foxes that I have seen are either nightime or near nightime activity. The reds are active anytime but mostly in the elbows of the dat from what I have seen and heard.

Three times in Wyoming and a few times I have seen badgers in Montana and twice in Washington State in woodlands near to grasslands. Except for some habituated, and unfortunately near a busy road, youngsters, most badgers I have seen were snarling at me from a hole they were digging. They showed some very sharp canines as they snarled so I kept my distance.

I saw pine martins, 4 or 5 of them, on top of woodpiles, midwinter in the center of Yellowstone National Park. I saw 2 of them over the years staring down at me from Lodgepole Pines as I cruized by on cross-country skis in the backcountry.

I got quilled by a porcupine inWashington State as I tried to get a quill from its tail. I have owned dogs that have come to me with muzzles filled with quills.

Again, in the neighborhood I grew up in, within Washington D.C. I saw several marsupial oppossums, one in a garage, but mostly in back alleys near  my house. About 5 years ago I saw a large, seemingly slow, opossum in my older sister’s next door neighbors yard.

She and her neighbor had wood chucks (mostly young of the year) in their yards 5 and six years ago. This was in Rockville, Maryland.

I heard and saw what we called rock conies (pikas) in the Selway-Bitteroot Wilderness in rock rubble piles in the backcountry of Montana. I also saw and heard them in Glacier National Park, the Glacier high country, beeping at us as they scurried back and forth to their den harvesting grass.

What is interesting now is that the pika, or rock cony, is being studied as one of the species that may soon go extinct because of a warming climate.

 I saw several river otters in Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks and in several other places in the west and northwest but I did not expect to see them in Florida. I did. In fact I saw one behind an apartment complex, in a canal in Coral Springs, a suburb of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. This was a large otter, I speculated a male looking for a mate, and he stayed around swimming for an hour, or so. I watched the otter during that time.

I saw a huge beaver in Montana, that  looked like a 60 pounder and burrowed into the bank of the river, along the Bitteroot River and I saw 20 pounders swimming and slapping tails in warning to other beavers before they dived. I saw beavers along  the C and O Canal  Towpath near Violettes Lock, these beavers built houses and dams, about 25 miles west of Washington D.C. .

On another interesting policy issue: “Big” corporations will be able to throw as much money as they can afford-in the case of Exxon-Mobile a lot-at people or issues they do not agree with, in the form of  T.V. ads. They will do just that. Do you expect these large corporations not to? I do not think so. This is so un-American but what did the public expect when Bush appointed people like Alito and Roberts on the Supreme court, and this was approved by congress (both parties). This is a form of judicial activism that will actually hurt common sense people and critical issues like mitigating a warming planet. This huge issue has potential to impact important things this decade.
To put that in perspective I have about a fifty year window of small mammal adventures. Within a decade, because of this sea change, brought about by the Supreme Court of the US, bad things can happen to our environment. UNBELIEVABLE HARM can result from this horrendous decision by an awful Supreme Court.


P.S. This  may be the nail in the human coffin!!!!!!

Last decade warmest ever: NASA

January 23, 2010

This article puts my anecdotes into reality.


The US space agency also found that 2009 was the second-warmest year on record since modern temperature measurements in 1880. Last year was only a small fraction of a degree cooler than 2005, the warmest yet, putting 2009 in a virtual tie with the other hottest years, which have all occurred since 1998.

According to James Hansen, who heads NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, global temperatures change due to variations in ocean heating and cooling.

“When we average temperature over five or 10 years to minimize that variability, we find global warming is continuing unabated,” Hansen said in a statement.

A strong La Nina effect that cooled the tropical Pacific Ocean made 2008 the coolest year of the decade, according to the New York-based institute.

In analyzing the data, NASA scientists found a clear warming trend, although a leveling off took place in the 1940s and 1970s.

The records showed that temperatures trended upward by about 0.36 degrees Fahrenheit (0.2 Celsius) per decade over the past 30 years. Average global temperatures have increased a total of about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 Celsius) since 1880.

“That’s the important number to keep in mind,” said Gavin Schmidt, a climatologist with the institute.

“The difference between the second and sixth warmest years is trivial because the known uncertainty in the temperature measurement is larger than some of the differences between the warmest years.”

Last year’s near-record temperatures took place despite an unseasonably cool December in much of North America and a warmer-than-normal Arctic, with frigid air from the Arctic rushing into the region while warmer mid-latitude air shifted northward, the institute said.

The analysis was based on weather data from over a thousand meteorological stations worldwide, satellite observations of sea surface temperatures and Antarctic research station measurements.

But the newly released figures were unlikely to quell a heated climate debate.

The so-called “climategate” controversy that exploded last fall on the eve of UN-sponsored climate talks unleashed a furor over whether the planet was heating and, if so, at what pace.

Hundreds of emails intercepted from scientists at Britain’s University of East Anglia, a top center for climate research, have been seized upon by skeptics as evidence that experts twisted data in order to dramatize global warming.

World powers agreed at the Copenhagen climate summit last month to seek to prevent average global temperatures from rising beyond 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (two Celsius) above pre-industrial levels in order to halt the most devastating effects of global warming.

“There’s a contradiction between the results shown here and popular perceptions about climate trends,” Hansen said. “In the last decade, global warming has not stopped