Environment and Ecology

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The greenhouse effect

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A layer of greenhouse gases – primarily carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide – act as a thermal blanket for the Earth, absorbing heat and warming the surface to a life-supporting average of 59 degrees Fahrenheit (15 degrees Celsius).Most scientists agree the main cause of the current global warming trend is human expansion of the "greenhouse effect" -- warming that results when the atmosphere traps heat radiating from Earth toward space.

Certain gases in the atmosphere behave like the glass on a greenhouse, allowing sunlight to enter, but blocking heat from escaping. Long-lived gases, remaining semi-permanently in the atmosphere, which do not respond physically or chemically to changes in temperature are described as "forcing" climate change whereas gases, such as water, which respond physically or chemically to changes in temperature are seen as "feedbacks."

Gases that contribute to the greenhouse effect include:

  • Water vapor. The most abundant greenhouse gas, but importantly, it acts as a feedback to the climate. Water vapor increases as the Earth's atmosphere warms, but so does the possibility of clouds and precipitation, making these some of the most important feedback mechanisms to the greenhouse effect.
  • Carbon dioxide (CO2). A minor but very important component of the atmosphere, carbon dioxide is released through natural processes such as respiration and volcano eruptions and through human activities such as deforestation, land use changes, and burning fossil fuels. Humans have increased atmospheric CO2 concentration by a third since the Industrial Revolution began. This is the most important long-lived "forcing" of climate change.
  • Methane. A hydrocarbon gas produced both through natural sources and human activities, including the decomposition of wastes in landfills, agriculture, and especially rice cultivation, as well as ruminant digestion and manure management associated with domestic livestock. On a molecule-for-molecule basis, methane is a far more active greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, but also one which is much less abundant in the atmosphere.
  • Nitrous oxide. A powerful greenhouse gas produced by soil cultivation practices, especially the use of commercial and organic fertilizers, fossil fuel combustion, nitric acid production, and biomass burning.
  • Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Synthetic compounds of entirely of industrial origin used in a number of applications, but now largely regulated in production and release to the atmosphere by international agreement for their ability to contribute to destruction of the ozone layer. They are also greenhouse gases .
 
<b>Not enough greenhouse effect:</b> The planet Mars has a very thin atmosphere, nearly all carbon dioxide.   Because of the low atmospheric pressure, and with little to no methane or water vapor to reinforce the weak greenhouse effect, Mars has a largely frozen surface that shows no evidence of life.
Not enough greenhouse effect: The planet Mars has a very thin atmosphere, nearly all carbon dioxide. Because of the low atmospheric pressure, and with little to no methane or water vapor to reinforce the weak greenhouse effect, Mars has a largely frozen surface that shows no evidence of life.
<b>Too much greenhouse effect:</b> The atmosphere of Venus, like Mars, is nearly all carbon dioxide.  But Venus has about 300 times as much carbon dioxide in its atmosphere as Earth and Mars do, producing a runaway greenhouse effect and a surface temperature hot enough to melt lead.
Too much greenhouse effect: The atmosphere of Venus, like Mars, is nearly all carbon dioxide. But Venus has about 300 times as much carbon dioxide in its atmosphere as Earth and Mars do, producing a runaway greenhouse effect and a surface temperature hot enough to melt lead.

On Earth, human activities are changing the natural greenhouse. Over the last century the burning of fossil fuels like coal and oil has increased the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2). This happens because the coal or oil burning process combines carbon with oxygen in the air to make CO2. To a lesser extent, the clearing of land for agriculture, industry, and other human activities have increased concentrations of greenhouse gases.

The consequences of changing the natural atmospheric greenhouse are difficult to predict, but certain effects seem likely:

  • On average, Earth will become warmer. Some regions may welcome warmer temperatures, but others may not.
  • Warmer conditions will probably lead to more evaporation and precipitation overall, but individual regions will vary, some becoming wetter and others dryer.
  • A stronger greenhouse effect will warm the oceans and partially melt glaciers and other ice, increasing sea level. Ocean water also will expand if it warms, contributing further to sea level rise.
  • Meanwhile, some crops and other plants may respond favorably to increased atmospheric CO2, growing more vigorously and using water more efficiently. At the same time, higher temperatures and shifting climate patterns may change the areas where crops grow best and affect the makeup of natural plant communities.

The role of human activity

In its recently released Fourth Assessment Report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of 1,300 independent scientific experts from countries all over the world under the auspices of the United Nations, concluded there's a more than 90 percent probability that human activities over the past 250 years have warmed our planet.

The industrial activities that our modern civilization depends upon have raised atmospheric carbon dioxide levels from 280 parts per million to 379 parts per million in the last 150 years. The panel also concluded there's a better than 90 percent probability that human-produced greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide have caused much of the observed increase in Earth's temperatures over the past 50 years.

They said the rate of increase in global warming due to these gases is very likely to be unprecedented within the past 10,000 years or more. The panel's full Summary for Policymakers report is online at http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/syr/ar4_syr_spm.pdf.

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Growing Organic Agriculture from Eastern Europe to Central Asia

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UNEP Green Economy Initiative Assesses Role of Sustainable Agriculture in Boosting Exports, Livelihoods and Jobs Across the Region - The potential to create a booming organic agriculture sector across Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia is the focus of a study announced today by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

Geneva, 12 April 2010 

Organic AgricultureUNEP is partnering with the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) to examine the economic, employment, poverty reduction and environmental benefits that could be achieved through greater investment in sustainable agriculture in the Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia (EECCA) region.

This latest Green Economy Initiative project, being conducted at the request of environment ministers of the UN Economic Commission for Europe region, will include a sub-regional analysis and national studies in Ukraine, Armenia and Moldova.

National workshops will be organised in the three countries to consult a broad range of stakeholders, and the first forum in Armenia will be held tomorrow (13 April).

The study, funded by the Government of Sweden, will build on the findings of a 2007 report on sustainable consumption by UNEP and the European Environment Agency which concluded that the EECCA region's low use of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides, and its availability of workers presented good prospects for the growth and export of organic food products to Western Europe.

Organic AgricultureAccording to the IFOAM, organic agriculture worldwide is developing rapidly with 35 million hectares of agricultural land managed organically by almost 1.4 million producers in over 150 countries, and the European Union is one of the world's largest and fastest growing markets for organics.

Yet the share of organic farmland in Ukraine and Moldova is less than 1%, while sustainable farming is just beginning in Armenia.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director, said: "Organic agriculture can trigger sharply polarized views, sometimes presented as the anti-dote to modern, intensive agriculture systems or cast as a niche, luxury market for the few and the rich.

"But there is increasing evidence from Africa and elsewhere that organic agriculture can play its part in feeding the world and in meeting various sustainability goals, from water and improved soil quality to delivering higher levels of employment and conservation of biodiversity," he said.

"Several countries in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia are already producing organic produce and are part of one of the world's growth industries. This new initiative aims to assist in catalyzing more countries to take part and to increase the hectares of organic production in a region keenly looking for sustainable, Green Economy choices," added Mr Steiner.

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Climate change negotiators agree on intensified UNFCCC negotiating schedule for 2010

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WindpowerBonn, 11 April 2010
- The first round of UN climate change talks since the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen at the end of 2009 concluded Sunday in Bonn with agreement to intensify the negotiating schedule in order to achieve a strong outcome in Mexico at the end of the year. 

In addition to the negotiating sessions already scheduled for 2010, governments decided at the Bonn April meeting to hold two additional sessions of at least one week each. 

The additional sessions will take place between the 32nd session of the UNFCCC Convention subsidiary bodies from 31 May to 11 June 2010 and the UN Climate Change Conference in Mexico from 29 November to 10 December 2010. 

The Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention (AWG-LCA) invited its Chair to prepare, under her own responsibility, a text to facilitate negotiations among Parties, in time for the May/June sessions in Bonn.

"At this meeting in Bonn, I have generally seen a strong desire to make progress," said UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer. "However, whilst more meeting time is important, it is itself not a recipe for success," he cautioned.

Climate Change - Polar BearsThe UN's top climate change official called on governments to overcome differences, and work for greater clarity on what can be decided in the course of 2010 in the UN Climate Change negotiations.

"We need to decide what can be agreed at the end of this year in Cancún and what can be put off until later," he said.

According to Mr. de Boer, negotiators must tackle three categories of issues in the course of this year: issues which were close to completion in Copenhagen and can be finalized at the UN Climate Change Conference in Cancún at the end of the year; issues where there are still considerable differences, but on which the Copenhagen Accord can provide important political guidance; and issues where governments are still far from agreement.

"The UN Climate Change Conference in Cancún must do what Copenhagen did not achieve: It must finalize a functioning architecture for implementation that launches global climate action, across the board, especially in developing nations," said Yvo de Boer.

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Gaia: some implications for theoretical ecology

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Teddy GoldsmithIf we accept the Gaia Hypothesis, then modern reductionist and mechanistic ecology, as taught in our universities, can no longer be defended. However, rather than simply returning to the 'holistic' ecology of Clements and Shelford, a more sophisticated ecology must be developed to take account of the work of such holistic thinkers as C. H. Waddington, Paul Weiss, Ludwig Von Bertalanffy and others.

This paper was presented at the Wadebridge Ecological Centre's Conference: "Gaia: Theory, practice and implications", which took place at Camelford, Cornwall in October 1987. It was published in The Ecologist Vol. 18 No. 2/3, 1988.

Ecology, as an academic discipline, was developed towards the end of the last century. It came into being largely when a few biologists came to realise that the biological organisms and populations which they studied were not arranged at random but were, on the contrary, organised to form 'communities' or 'associations' whose structure and function could not be understood by examining their parts in isolation from each other. Both Frederick Clements and Victor Shelford, two of the most distinguished of the early ecologists in the USA, defined ecology as the "science of communities". [1]

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Is the scientific evidence of human-induced climate change unequivocal?

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Climate ChangeLast December, a very large majority of the scientific community and most politicians would have agreed that the scientific evidence of human-induced climate change was unequivocal and that the only question was whether the world’s political leaders could agree in Copenhagen to meaningful legally binding greenhouse gas emission reduction targets. 

But, as we now know, the negotiations only produced an aspirational target—to limit the global mean surface temperature to no more than 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels—and an accord that does not bind any country to reduce their emissions. 

Since then, the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment report has been criticized for errors or imprecise wording.

  • For example, the statements that the Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035 or earlier (IPCC admitted that this was an error and not evidence-based);
  • that agricultural production in some North African countries would decrease by up to 50% by 2020 (the synthesis report did not contain the nuances and more detailed discussion in the underlying chapter);
  • and that over half of the Netherlands was below sea level rather than a quarter (this was largely a definitional issue – the Netherlands Dutch Ministry of transport uses the figure 60% - below high water level during storms). 

These inaccuracies, coupled with the controversy surrounding illegally hacked e-mails and temperature data from the University of East Anglia (UEA), have provided climate skeptics and some media with ammunition to undermine public confidence in the conclusions of the IPCC and climate science in general.

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Lots of Life in One Place - Permaculture Demonstration Farm of Arina and Scott Pittman

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Arnia and Scott PittmanWith all travel and work away from home, it looked nearly impossible to attempt “walking the talk” at our farm. That was nine years ago, though, and we since have succeeded in turning our land and and home into a drylands permaculture and sustainable living showcase. Our practices and climate reflect the need for a more perennial polyculture system which is in the best tradition of permaculture. We also have to take into consideration the aesthetics and desires of our fellow community members, with whom we share the joys and the ownership of our ten acre oasis. 

After years of building soil, “growing” shade and biomass, increasing biodiversity, incorporating animals (and people), working with sun, wind, water, cold drainage and Mother Nature - we are now celebrating the gifts of good land!

Fruit trees’ bloom, native and honey bees, medley of medicinal herbs, milk goats, heirloom chickens and turkeys, a gang of loud guinea fowl, a restored wetlands teeming with fish, dragonflies, bugs and native waterfowl; rich gardens, pastures and orchards surround our natural home with its cutting edge energy and water management design. It is truly beautiful and rewarding to be alive in a permaculture oasis!

Farm of Scott Pittman

With the abundance comes food processing, sharing of surplus, recycling of nutrients, teaching and learning new aspects of permaculture life style.

Sample partial plant lists for guild planting in desert Southwest:

Farm of Scott Pittman

 

WORLD WATER DAY

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UNITED NATIONS - NATIONS UNIES
THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
MESSAGE ON WORLD WATER DAY
22 March 2010

World Water Day - 2010Water is the source of life and the link that binds all living beings on this planet. It is connected directly to all our United Nations goals: improved maternal and child health and life expectancy, women’s empowerment, food security, sustainable development and climate change adaptation and mitigation. Recognition of these links led to the declaration of 2005-2015 as the International Decade for Action “Water for Life”.

Our indispensable water resources have proven themselves to be greatly resilient, but they are increasingly vulnerable and threatened. Our growing population’s need for water for food, raw materials and energy is increasingly competing with nature’s own demands for water to sustain already imperiled ecosystems and the services on which we depend. Day after day, we pour millions of tons of untreated sewage and industrial and agricultural wastes into the world’s water systems. Clean water has become scarce and will become even scarcer with the onset of climate change. And the poor continue to suffer first and most from pollution, water shortages and the lack of adequate sanitation.

The theme of this year’s World Water Day, “Clean Water for a Healthy World”, emphasizes that both the quality and the quantity of water resources are at risk. More people die from unsafe water than from all forms of violence, including war. These deaths are an affront to our common humanity, and undermine the efforts of many countries to achieve their development potential.

The world has the know-how to solve these challenges and become better stewards of our water resources. Water is central to all our development goals. As we mark the mid-point of the International Decade for Action, and look forward to this year’s MDG Summit, let us protect and sustainably manage our waters for the poor, the vulnerable and for all life on Earth.


 

World Water Day Co-ordination

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is coordinating the organization of the World Water Day 2010 campaign on behalf of UN-Water and in collaboration with FAO, UNDP, UNECE, UNICEF, UNESCO, UN-Habitat, WHO, and the UN-Water Decade Programme on Advocacy and Communication as well as with partner organizations such as International Water Association, World Wide Fund for Nature and World Water Council.

 

Interconnections, Relationships, and Environmental Wholes: A Phenomenological Ecology of Natural and Built Worlds

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Ecology of Natural and Built Worlds

Ecology, both as a science and as a world view, emphasizes the study of relationships, interconnections, and environmental wholes that are different from the sum of their environmental parts. “Special qualities emerge out of interactions and collectivities,” writes intellectual historian Donald Worster (1994, p. 22), in his Nature’s Economy, a history of ecological ideas in the Western world. [1]

The central question I address here is this: What do the relationships, interconnections, and environmental wholes of ecology become in a phenomenological perspective? [2] To examine this question, I consider one phenomenon from the natural world—color—and one phenomenon from the humanmade world—lively urban places. I think it important to offer an example from both natural and human worlds because a “phenomenological ecology,” as it might be called, must be responsive to all lived relationships and interconnections, examining and describing the ways that things, living forms, people, events, situations and worlds come together to make environmental and human wholes (Riegner 1993, p. 211-12; Seamon 1993, p. 16). [3]

By “lively urban places,” I refer to city neighborhoods and districts that provide easy access for pedestrians and generate, just by being what they are, chance face-to-face encounters, sidewalk life, and a sense of taken-for-granted safety because many people are present. To discuss a phenomenology of lively urban places, I turn to my own work on the bodily dimensions of environmental experience and action, especially as the lived body comes to know its everyday environment through the regularity and routine of extended time-space patterns contributing to the transformation of physical space into lived place.

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GIS and Space Syntax: An Analysis of Accessibility to Urban Green Areas in Doha District of Dammam Metropolitan Area

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GIS and TransportationIsmaila Abubakar
Department of City and Regional Planning
King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
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Yusuf A. Aina
Department of City and Regional Planning
King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
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ABSTRACT:

Accessibility as a relative nearness of one place to another indicates easiness of reaching destination from origin. As a spatial analytic measure, it plays a vital role for decision makers in deciding where to locate public facilities or amenities so as to maximise their usability. More accessible public facilities like parks and open spaces improve social cohesion and interaction as more people patronise them. Better accessibility to facilities also ensures economic efficiency in the use of such facilities because when they service more people, they would be more cost effective. One of such places where the location of green areas is meant to serve the above-mentioned purposes is Doha district in Saudi Arabia.

Doha is a new district in Dammam metropolitan region of Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. It is designed in grid-iron pattern with some organised green areas in contrast with the old traditional organic settlements. The District is planned by Saudi Arabian Oil Company (ARAMCO) to serve as a model to the new and traditional settlements in the country. The green areas include parks and open spaces serving as public recreation centres. But are they accessible to their intended beneficiaries?

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Village Tours - Architectural Guided Tours of Southern Europe

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Village Tours

Village Habitat DesignEducation has always been one of the missions of Village Habitat Design. They have produced video, written, and speak at conferences across the country and the world. Now, through Village Tours, LLC, principals from Village Habitat Design are leading 10-day programs in Italy and France including a bicycle tour of the Dordogne Valley in France.

The concept for the trips is to spend 10 days in a truly beautiful place, enjoy good food and drink and conversation, and get some fresh inspiration for what sustainable development can be, guided by leaders in the profession.

On the trip participants:

  • Spend a week in a historic home [a castle in Italy]
  • Enjoy seeing some of the charming old villages of Tuscany or Provence off the beaten tourist track
  • Get some inspiration for how to use some of those good old ideas in your own projects here in the USA
  • Have a guide the whole time
  • Get a tax deduction
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The Ecovillage at Findhorn

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Findhorn Ecovillage

• is at the heart of the largest single intentional community in the UK
• links the spiritual, social, ecological and economic domains
Living Machine at Findhorn• a pioneering ecovillage since 1985
• a major centre of adult education serving 9,000 visitors a year from over 50 countries
• ecological footprint is half the national (UK) average
• 55 ecologically-benign buildings
• 4 wind turbines
biological Living Machine sewage treatment system
• UK's oldest and largest Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) system
• numerous solar water heating systems
• comprehensive recycling scheme
• publisher of UK's first technical guide to ecological housing
• own bank and community currency
     

Barrel House at FindhornThe Findhorn Ecovillage is a tangible demonstration of the links between the spiritual, social, ecological and economic aspects of life and is a synthesis of the very best of current thinking on human habitats. It is a constantly evolving model used as a teaching resource by a number of university and school groups as well as by professional organisations and municipalities worldwide.

We are a founder member of the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN) a non-profit organisation that links together a highly diverse worldwide movement of autonomous ecovillages and related projects, and we work with intergovernmental agencies both educationally and in the creation of policy guidance for sustainable development and delivery of village-scale sustainability programmes.

Preliminary results of the ecological footprint study for the Findhorn Ecovillage confirms what we have guessed for some time that ecovillages tread significantly more lightly on the Earth.

The Findhorn Foundation Ecovillage Project has received Best Practice designation from the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat). 

 

Action to support Asia’s environment

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Asia has a diverse environment which is under growing pressure from population growth, economic development and climate change. The region now faces a number of challenges including deforestation, desertification and loss of biodiversity, meanwhile, inter-related issues, such as air and water pollution, waste management and rapid urbanisation also crowd the environment agenda.

Environment - Asia

The EU is committed to helping Asia protect its environment and to finding a sustainable future for the region’s growing economies. Environmental problems are rarely contained within national borders, which is why the EU has developed an approach to deal with them at regional level.

 EC programmes in the environmental field

The Commission’s Regional Strategy Paper for EU-Asia Cooperation  (2007-2013) has identified the environment as a sector in need of major support. Funding of about €102 million has been allocated for the strategy’s first four years, to be spent on implementing two programmes in Asia: SWITCH Asia which focuses on sustainable consumption and production (SCP) and FLEGT Asia which promotes sustainable forest management.

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Ecosystem Approach to Management (EAM)

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EcosystemsAn Ecosystem Approach to Management (EAM) is one that provides a comprehensive framework for living resource decision making. In contrast to individual species or single issue management, EAM considers a wider range of relevant ecological, environmental, and human factors bearing on societal choices regarding resource use.

NOAA defines EAM as a geographically specified, adaptive approach that takes account of ecosystem knowledge and uncertainties, considers multiple external influences, and strives to balance diverse societal objectives. Implementation will need to be incremental and collaborative. NOAA recognizes that transition to and implementation of an ecosystem approach to management needs to be incremental and collaborative.

NOAA's Seven Characteristics of EAM:

  1. Geographically Specified Areas
  2. Adaptive Management
  3. Takes Account of Ecosystem Knowledge & Uncertainty
  4. Strives to Balance Diverse Societal Objectives
  5. Considers Multiple External Influences
  6. Incremental
  7. Collaborative


Geographically Specified Areas

Geographically Specified Areas - Place and issue based, with appropriate boundaries defined by the scope of the problem, area of influence, and the potential area over which solutions may be applied.

EAM is inherently linked to a place. Yet resource management often crosses traditional political boundaries and is influenced by ecosystem drivers, such as oceanographic and climatic conditions, and socioeconomic factors. Due to the dynamic nature of the environment, boundaries may be "fuzzy" or imprecise at times, but they help to provide a framework for the implementation of EAM by focusing us on the place and the issue. To be credible and fully accepted, boundaries should be established so that they are appropriate to the issue being addressed and identified through an open process. Ultimately, boundaries form the basis for scientific investigation and collaborative management strategies.

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