Globally, 9 of the 10 warmest years on record occurred since 2000

The global average temperature last year was the ninth-warmest in the modern meteorological record, continuing a trend linked to greenhouse gases that saw nine of the 10 hottest years occurring since the year 2000, NASA scientists said on Thursday. A separate report from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said the average temperature for the United States in 2011 as the 23rd warmest year on record. The global average surface temperature for 2011 was 0.92 degrees F (0.51 degrees C) warmer than the mid-20th century baseline temperature, researchers at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies said in a statement. The institute's temperature record began in 1880. The first 11 years of the new century were notably hotter than the middle and late 20th century, according to institute director James Hansen. The only year from the 20th century that was among the top 10 warmest years was 1998.

Arctic sea ice ties for smallest ever

Even at its biggest, Arctic sea ice extent this winter was among the smallest ever seen, apparently tying with 2006 for the least amount of ice covering the region around the North Pole, U.S. researchers reported. Sea ice on the Arctic Ocean usually starts growing in September and hits its maximum area in February or March; this year, the maximum appeared to occur on March 7, when ice stretched over 5.65 million square miles (14.64 million square km), according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. That area of ice-covered water is 471,000 square miles (1.2 million square km) below the average maximum ice extent observed by satellites from 1979 to 2000, the center said in a statement.

China vows to cut energy, carbon intensity by 2015

China aims to cut the amount of energy and carbon dioxide emissions needed for every unit of economic growth by 16 to 17 percent from this year to the end of 2015, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said on Sunday. This was the first time a top Chinese leader had spelled out the nation's energy and carbon "intensity" goals for its new five-year development plan. China is the world's biggest emitter of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas from using fossil fuels that is stoking global warming. The goals for 2011-2015 set out by Wen are generally in step with the government's pledge to cut carbon intensity by 40 to 45 percent by 2020, relative to 2005 levels. The targets appear to be on the lower side of what some experts and officials have proposed, but Wen said they would nonetheless be demanding.

Climate change affects toads, salamanders

Climate change is affecting the breeding cycles of toads and salamanders, researchers reported on Tuesday, in the first published evidence of such changes on amphibians. They documented that two species were breeding later in the autumn than in years past, and two others were breeding earlier in the winter. Their study, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, adds to a growing body of evidence that climate change is affecting animals. Other studies have shown some birds in North America and Europe are moving northwards as temperatures rise.

China reducing rare earth export quota as environmental protection measure

China's decision to slash export quotas of rare earth elements was a necessary step to protect the country's environment, commerce minister Chen Deming said following criticism from Japanese officials. "Mass extraction of rare earth will cause great damage to the environment and that's why China has tightened controls over rare earth production, exploration and trade," Chen was quoted by state news agency Xinhua as saying on Saturday.

Hurricane Danielle weakens to Category 2 storm

Hurricane Danielle weakened to a Category 2 storm on Saturday and was set to pass east of Bermuda by the end of the day, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. Danielle, located some 340 miles southeast of Bermuda, had top sustained winds of 110 miles per hour, the Miami-based hurricane center said. The hurricane poses no direct threat to land or the U.S. Gulf of Mexico oil patch. A tropical storm watch was in effect for Bermuda but computer models showed Danielle passing well east of the island later on Saturday. The Hurricane Center said dangerous surf conditions would affect Bermuda over the next few days.

Hurricane Danielle strengthens into a Category 4 storm

Hurricane Danielle strengthened into a Category 4 storm on Friday as it churned over the Atlantic, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. Danielle, the first major hurricane of the season, was located some 545 miles southeast of Bermuda and was moving northwest at 12 miles per hour (19 km per hour). It had top sustained winds of 135 mph. Any storm packing winds of at least 111 mph is ranked as "major" by the Miami-based hurricane center. Computer models show Danielle tracking northwest and then in a more northerly direction before passing well east of Bermuda on Saturday night.

BP to retrieve blowout preventer

BP Plc aims to retrieve a failed blowout preventer atop its ruptured Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday, the top U.S. official overseeing the oil spill response said on Monday. But first, the company hopes to fish out a 3,500-foot (1,066-meter) drillpipe believed to be hanging in the giant stack of pipes and valves to ease the removal and replacement with another blowout preventer.

Mauritania plants trees to hold back desert

Mauritania has launched a tree-planting program aimed at protecting its capital from the advancing desert and coastal erosion, a project that could eventually extend thousands of kilometers across Africa. President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz on Saturday planted the first of some 2 million trees that are meant to form a "green belt" around the capital, Nouakchott, and curb erosion elsewhere in the desert nation that straddles black and Arab Africa.

Floods strand 300 foreigners in India’s Ladakh

More than 300 foreign tourists are stranded in India's Himalayan region of Ladakh, three days after flash floods killed at least 150 people and ravaged the main town of Leh, officials said on Monday. Floods triggered by unexpected heavy rains destroyed houses, uprooted telephone towers and deposited boulders and mud up to 15 feet high on highways and destroyed all communication networks, authorities and witnesses said. At least 300 people are still missing and 25,000 people affected by the floods, army officials said. At least 7,000 soldiers were deployed to rebuild roads and bridges, they said.