Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Brazil protects giant swathe of Amazon rainforest

Reuters: The Brazilian government said on Tuesday it has put an environmentally rich area of the Amazon rainforest under federal protection, creating a reserve larger than the U.S. state of Delaware.

The new reserve, called Alto Maues, has 6,680 square km (668,000 hectares or 1.65 million acres) of mostly untouched forests that are not known to have human presence, the Brazilian Environment Ministry said. Declaring a federal reserve means forest clearing and similar development are forbidden.

Putting large areas of mostly intact rainforest under federal protection is one of the tools the Brazilian government has to combat deforestation and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. The creation of these reserves is part of the country's climate policy. Deforestation is the main cause of carbon emissions in Brazil, unlike most countries where the burning of fossil fuels leads emissions.

The decree creating the reserve was eagerly expected by environmental groups. "This is essential to protect unique Amazon species, such as
some types of primates," said Mauro Armelin, a conservationist working for the local office of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF)....

Amazon rainforest, shot by Neil Palmer (CIAT), Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons 2.0 license 

In disease outbreak management, flexibility can save lives and money

EurekAlert via Penn State: A new approach for responding to and managing disease outbreaks is being proposed by a team of epidemiologists led by two Penn State University researchers. The team's flexible approach could save many lives and millions of dollars.

The approach, called "adaptive management," allows decision-makers to use knowledge they gain during an outbreak to update ongoing interventions with the goal of containing outbreaks more quickly and efficiently. Current efforts to prevent or stem such outbreaks may fall short because of uncertainty and limited information about the real-time dynamics of the specific disease outbreak. The researchers have written a scientific paper on this adaptive management approach that will be published on 21 October in the open-access journal PLOS Biology.

"Responders often have incomplete information during a disease outbreak," said Katriona Shea, professor of biology at Penn State and a leader of the research team. "Everyone is trying to make rapid decisions, but we don't have reliable information to make the best decisions. Even if we have information about a previous outbreak, no two outbreaks are identical. Adaptive management involves planning to learn as you act for the most effective, efficient response."

...Organizations such as Doctors Without Borders work quickly to contain outbreaks as well as to prevent further spread. "Preparing, in advance, to include monitoring and evaluation with an eye toward changing management actions in light of changing conditions on the ground is the key to adaptive management. We've shown that a plan to manage adaptively can change the recommended actions on day one because, for example, you only need to manage for the worst-case scenario if it arises," Ferrari said.

...Historically, Ferrari said, "the argument has been for a very static policy because it's clear and easy to implement. We recognize that a more nuanced, context-specific approach could be better. We need to put the possibility of changing midstream into our toolbox, integrating scientific discovery with policymaking to improve intervention efforts."...

A new approach for responding to and managing disease outbreaks -- such as foot-and-mouth disease, measles, and viruses -- is being proposed by a team of epidemiologists led by two Penn State University researchers. Electron micrograph of foot and mouth disease virus by Shmuel Rozenblatt, Tel-Aviv University

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Worst case scenarios of sea level rise, and why scientists and policymakers consider them

Robert McSweeney in the Carbon Brief: Sea levels could rise by a maximum of 190 centimetres by the end of the century, according to a new study, which examines a worst case scenario for sea level rise. In reality, the amount of sea level rise we get is likely to be less than that. But scientists and policymakers examine such 'worst case' scenarios to safeguard against climate risks.

With 10 per cent of the world's population living less than 10 metres above sea level, the threat of  coastal flooding is significant. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) expects sea level rise to cause a ' significant increase' in sea levels extremes and the risk of coastal flooding.

The new study, published in  Environmental Research Letters, considers the assessment of 13 ice sheet experts. They conclude that the contribution from ice sheets is likely to be greater than projected by the IPCC. The paper suggests that sea levels could rise by as much as 190 cm this century.

Projections of sea level rise are typically constructed by working out the contribution to sea level rise from different  factors. The biggest contribution is from water expanding as it warms, followed by melting glaciers, then melting ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica.

The crucial question for sea level rise this century is how much ice will be lost from the ice sheets, the authors argue. But it remains one of the largest uncertainties. In its Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), the IPCC  says there isn't sufficient evidence for them to give probabilities of large-scale losses of ice sheets.

The new study uses expert judgement to consider areas of ice sheet loss that are often not included in the sea level  models that the IPCC bases its assessment on. They then combine these judgements with the methods used in AR5 to produce their upper-limit figure of 190 cm....

A 2008 FEMA photo by Patsy Lynch of Hurricane Ike debris in Port Arthur, Texas

Monday, October 20, 2014

Improved electricity access has little impact on climate change

A press release from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis: Expanding access to household electricity services accounts for only a small portion of total emission growth, shows a new study from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), shedding light on an ongoing debate on potential conflicts between climate and development.

Improving household electricity access in India over the last 30 years contributed only marginally to the nation’s total carbon emissions growth during that time, according to a new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

“Energy access is fundamental to development: it brings improvements to all aspects of life, including education, communication, and health,” says IIASA researcher Shonali Pachauri, who conducted the study.

While increased energy access is widely agreed to be an important goal for development efforts, such as the UN Sustainable Energy for All Initiative, the climate impacts of increased access to electricity have been unclear. The new study is the first to examine the impact of electricity access on carbon dioxide emissions using two sources of retrospective data.

“This study shows that the climate impacts of expanding access are in fact very small,” says Pachauri. However, she adds, expanding low-carbon energy technologies in developing countries would bring many co-benefits beyond climate mitigation.

Pachauri used India as a case study because while the country still lacks electricity access for much of its population—around 400 million people—it has vastly increased access in the last 30 years. From 1981 to 2011, household electricity access in the country improved from around 25% to between 67-74% of the population, an increase of approximately 650 million people.  “India is at a similar stage to many other developing countries in terms of energy access” says Pachauri, “So we believe that these findings will be applicable on a broad scale to other developing countries.”...

Electricity meters in Kolkata, shot by Jorge Royan, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons 3.0 license

Brazil must target smallholders to curb rising deforestation

Anastasia Moloney in the Guardian (UK) via the Thomson Reuters Foundation: Farmers with smallholdings are not responsible for most of the destruction of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, but their contribution to deforestation is rising and must be addressed if the country is to hold on to recent gains, according to an environmental research group.

Government efforts led to a 77% fall in deforestation in the Amazon between 2004 and 2011, but progress has slowed and deforestation is rising, the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) said in a report.

The report said that between 2004 and 2011, landowners with more than 500 hectares (1,235 acres) of property were responsible for about 48% of the deforestation. Areas owned by smallholders accounted for 12% of the forests destroyed during the same period.

However, since 2005, the contribution to annual deforestation by the largest landowners has fallen by 63%, while that of smallholders has increased by 69%, the report said. “Despite the gains made to stem deforestation from 2004 onwards … the outlook today is not all positive,” said Javier Godar, a research fellow at SEI and lead author of the study.

In 2013, deforestation increased by 28% compared with the previous year. Godar said part of the reason for the rise was that many conservation areas had been scaled down or had their protection status changed, and flagship public-private initiatives, such as a moratorium on trading soya beans from newly deforested areas in the Amazon, were about to end. A boom in infrastructure projects in the Amazon since 2009, including the building of new roads and dams, may also be contributing to Brazil’s rising deforestation rates, Godar said....

A logging truck in the Mato Grasso, shot by Herr Klugbeisser, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons 3.0 license 

Ebola hits West Africa food security

IRIN: West Africa's Ebola outbreak, which has been disrupting agricultural and market activities, threatens to erode food security and negatively affect the livelihoods of millions of already vulnerable people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone unless more is done to meet their immediate food and nutritional needs, say aid agencies.

They say they are still calculating the number of food insecure households, but alre
ady the results of initial rapid assessments are worrying.

The World Food Programme (WFP) found that more than 80 percent of people surveyed via mobile phone in the eastern part of Sierra Leone say they have been eating less expensive food since the outbreak began. Three-quarters of respondents have begun to reduce the number of daily meals and portion sizes.

...A rapid assessment survey last month in Sierra Leone by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) found that 47 percent of farmers have had their work "considerably disrupted" by the Ebola outbreak.

"Here, we have the largest cocoa farms," said Sidikie Kabba, a farmer from eastern Sierra Leone. "Now it's quarantined because of Ebola, so people aren't travelling. Before, I was harvesting my produce - up to 50 bags - but now even 10 bags is difficult. So I'm losing money," he said...

A chart of Ebola deaths to October 1, created by Malanoqa, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons 4.0 International license

Lake Erie increasingly susceptible to large cyanobacteria blooms

A press release from the University of Michigan: Lake Erie has become increasingly susceptible to large blooms of toxin-producing cyanobacteria since 2002, potentially complicating efforts to rein in the problem in the wake of this year's Toledo drinking water crisis, according to a new study led by University of Michigan researchers.

Since the detection of the toxin microcystin left nearly half a million Ohio and Michigan residents without drinking water for several days in early August, discussions of ways to prevent a recurrence have largely focused on the need to reduce the amount of phosphorus fertilizer that washes off croplands and flows into western Lake Erie to trigger harmful cyanobacteria blooms.

In a study published online Oct. 8 in the journal Water Resources Research, scientists from U-M and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration conclude that microcystin-producing cyanobacteria in Lake Erie are becoming more sensitive to phosphorus and that reductions may have to cut far deeper than recently proposed targets.

"Our results suggest that current phosphorus loading targets will be insufficient for reducing the intensity of cyanobacteria blooms to desired levels, so long as the lake remains in a heightened state of bloom susceptibility," said lead author Daniel Obenour, formerly of the U-M Water Center and now at North Carolina State University. Other authors are Don Scavia of U-M and Andrew Gronewold and Craig Stow of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

...Though the total amount of phosphorus entering the lake seems to be the best predictor of bloom size, that variable alone doesn't fully explain the observed size increase during the study period examined by the team, 2002 to 2013....

NASA image of a toxic algae bloom in Lake Erie

Sophisticated sensor will give NOAA earlier warnings of severe storms

A press release from Lockheed Martin: A Lockheed Martin .. team delivered the first Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM) instrument that will provide earlier alerts of developing severe storms and contribute to more accurate tornado warnings. The sensor will fly on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) next-generation Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) satellite missions, known as the GOES-R Series.

The team is preparing integration with the first GOES-R spacecraft at Lockheed Martin’s facility near Denver. The satellite is expected to launch in early 2016.

“GLM will have the potential to save lives by using lightning as a reliable indicator of severe weather, like tornados,” said Russell Katz, Lockheed Martin GLM deputy program manager. “A rapid increase of in-cloud lightning can precede severe weather on the ground. Changes in that type of lightning can also give us a better understanding of the updraft strength in thunderstorms.” The instrument also gives us a better understanding of the updraft strength of thunderstorms by capturing changes of the in-cloud lightning.”

GLM provides a new capability to track lightning flashes from geostationary orbit, with continuous coverage of the United States and most of the Western Hemisphere. The heart of the GLM instrument is a high-speed (500 frames per second), 1.8 megapixel focal plane, integrated with low-noise electronics and specialized optics to detect weak lightning signals, even against bright, sunlit cloud backgrounds.

...GOES satellites are a key element in NOAA’s National Weather Service operations, providing a continuous stream of environmental information (weather imagery and sounding data) used to support weather forecasting, severe-storm tracking and meteorological research....

The first Geostationary Lightning Mapper instrument, shown here in a file photo, will be launched aboard the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s next-generation weather satellite missions, GOES-R, starting in 2016. Photo from the Lockheed Martin website

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The link between environmental degradation and Ebola

Peter Stoett and Catherine Machalaba in the Toronto Star:  The Ebola epidemic besieging West Africa is perhaps the starkest warning yet that as we tear down forests, we open ourselves up to new strains of virulent disease. Among the key lessons from the current outbreak is that human-created pressures such as intensified food production, rapid trade and travel, and climate change, are putting future generations at risk of further Ebola-like catastrophes.

Through some mix of travel control, medical advances, and humanitarian assistance, we can hopefully stop the current outbreak’s carnage. But what can we do to prevent future outbreaks of so-called exotic diseases?

Delegates at the recent UN conference on biodiversity in South Korea expressed particular concern that the long-term alteration of habitats (by, for example, logging, farming, mining) and speeding climate change will increase the chances of the spread of exotic diseases. They compellingly made the case that Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone are all known for their high deforestation rates; and each has been affected by periods of civil strife that exacerbated population displacement and relocation.

It would be premature to conclude that deforestation or other causes of ecosystem change were the factors behind this outbreak, but they remain part of the equation for Ebola, other emerging illnesses and even established diseases like malaria.

Unsustainable policies designed to increase agricultural output for export, illegal logging, the mercurial rise of the palm oil industry and the hunt for oil and gold within tropical and boreal forests — all of these place humans in greater contact with wild species, in some cases for the first time, enabling more efficient transmission of diseases both known and unknown.

Indeed, scientists started linking infectious diseases with environmental alteration decades ago. Today, climate change complicates the issue: most predictions (many of them already realized) suggest the changing climate will allow for the spread of invasive species, degrade ecosystems’ resiliency and ultimately broaden the reach of some diseases....

CDC Disease detective Kari Yacisin (left) conducts contact tracing for Ebola in West Africa with a local health official. CDC photo via Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons 2.0 license

The 1934 drought was worst of the last millennium

A press release from the American Geophysical Union: The 1934 drought was by far the most intense and far-reaching drought of the last 1,000 years in North America, and was caused in part by an atmospheric phenomenon that may have also led to the current drought in California, according to a new study.

New research finds that the extent of the 1934 drought was approximately seven times larger than droughts of comparable intensity that struck North America between 1000 A.D. and 2005, and nearly 30 percent worse than the next most severe drought that struck the continent in 1580.

“We noticed that 1934 really stuck out as not only the worst drou
ght but far outside the normal range of what we see in the record,” said Benjamin Cook, an environmental scientist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City and lead author of a new paper that has been accepted for publication in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.

The new study also finds that the same atmospheric pattern of a high pressure ridge over the West Coast deflecting away storms laden with rain last winter was also present over the area during the winter of 1933-34.

This ridging pattern has preceded some of the worst West Coast droughts, including the 1976 California drought—the beginning of a two-year dry spell which is widely regarded as one of the most severe droughts in the state’s history. The three-year drought currently crippling California will cost the state $2.2 billion in 2014 alone, and will likely continue through 2015, according to a recent report from the University of California, Davis.

Yet the current drought is nothing, so far, compared to what occurred in 1934, the start of a decade-spanning drought that would come to be known as the Dust Bowl and was one of the worst environmental disasters in the history of the United States.

The drought, which afflicted nearly 72 percent of the western United States, was likely made even worse by atmospheric effects from human-created dust storms, according to the new research. The new study suggests that such interactions between the land and the atmosphere may have an important role to play in drought severity, said Cook, who holds a joint appointment at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory....

Arthur Rothstein's 1936 of a dust storm in the Texas Panhandle

New forecasting method for predicting extreme floods in the Andes mountains

A press release from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research: Predicting floods following extreme rainfall in the central Andes is enabled by a new method. Climate change has made these events more frequent and more severe in recent decades. Now complex networks analysis of satellite weather data makes it possible to produce a robust warning system for the first time, a study to be published in the journal Nature Communications shows. This might allow for improved disaster preparedness. As the complex systems technique builds upon a mathematical comparison that can be utilised for any time series data, the approach could be applied to extreme events in all sorts of complex systems.

“Current weather forecast models cannot capture the intensity of the most extreme rainfall events, yet these events are of course the most dangerous, and can have severe impacts for the local population, for example major floods or even landslides,” says lead author Niklas Boers of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). “Using complex networks analysis, we now found a way to predict such events in the South American Andes.”

When the monsoon hits South America from December to February, it brings moist warm air masses from the tropical Atlantic. Travelling westwards, these winds are blocked by the steep Andes mountains, several thousand metres high, and turn southwards. Under specific air pressure conditions, the warm air masses, loaded with moisture, meet cold and dry winds approaching from the south. This leads to abundant rainfa
ll at high elevations, resulting in floods in the densely populated foothills of the Bolivian and Argentinian Andes. “Surprisingly, and in contrast to widespread understanding so far, these events propagate against the southward wind direction,” says Boers.

The international team of scientists performed a ‘Big Data’ analysis of close to 50,000 high-resolution weather data time series dating from the 15 years since high quality satellite data became available, generated by NASA together with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. “We found that these huge rainfall clusters start off in the area around Buenos Aires, but then wander northwestward towards the Andes, where after two days they cause extreme rainfall events”, says Boers. The new method makes it possible to correctly predict 90 percent of extreme rainfall events in the Central Andes occurring during conditions of the El Niño weather phenomenon when floods are generally more frequent, and 60 percent of those occurring under any other conditions....

The Andes between Chile and Argentina, shot by Jorge Morales Pideri, public domain

The 'threat multiplier’ of climate change

John D. Banusiewicz at Department of Defense News, Defense Media Activity: Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel [outlined] the effects of climate change on the world’s security environment and [unveiled] the Defense Department’s plan to meet that challenge in a speech this afternoon at the Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas in Arequipa, Peru.

In a statement, Hagel noted that thinking ahead and planning for a wide range of contingencies is the Defense Department’s responsibili
ty in providing security for the nation, and that climate change is a trend that will affect national security.

“Rising global temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, climbing sea levels and more extreme weather events will intensify the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty, and conflict,” he said. “They will likely lead to food and water shortages, pandemic disease, disputes over refugees and resources, and destruction by natural disasters in regions across the globe.”

The U.S. defense strategy refers to climate change as a “threat multiplier,” the secretary said, because it has the potential to exacerbate many challenges, including infectious disease and terrorism. “We are already beginning to see some of these impacts,” he added.

A changing climate will have real impacts on the military and the way it executes its missions, Hagel said, noting that the military could be called upon more often to support civil authorities and to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief in the face of more frequent and more intense natural disasters.

“Our coastal installations are vulnerable to rising sea levels and increased flooding, while droughts, wildfires and more extreme temperatures could threaten many of our training activities,” he said. “Our supply chains could be impacted, and we will need to ensure our critical equipment works under more extreme weather conditions.”

Weather always has affected military operations, and as the climate changes, the way the military executes operations may be altered or constrained, the secretary said. Uncertainty is no excuse for delaying action

David Gleason shot this picture of the Pentagon in 2008, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons 2.0 license

Monday, October 13, 2014

Cyclone wreaks havoc on east India coast, kills at least eight

Reuters via the Thomson Reuters Foundation: Cyclone Hudhud powered its way inland over eastern India on Monday, leaving a swathe of destruction but the loss of life appeared limited after tens of thousands of people sought safety in storm shelters, aid workers and officials said.

Packing wind speeds of up to 195 kph (over 120 mph), Hudhud hammered the coasts of Andhra Pradesh and Odisha states on Sunday, killing at least eight people and causing widespread devastation.

In the port city of Visakhapatnam, which is home to two million people, wreckage was strewn everywhere. The storm uprooted trees, tore sign boards off buildings, snapped telecom and power lines and ripped roofs and walls from scores of homes.

"I saw the wind blow huge sign boards and water tanks and make them swirl and fly through the air before they came crashing down," said Narayana, cleaning up debris in front of his house, the roof and front wall of which had been torn off. "It is the first time I have seen such a horrific situation in Visakhapatnam."...

The effect of Cyclone Hudhud at RK Beach road, Visakhapatnam, shot by dityamadhav83, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share International 4.0 license

Eastern China set for record-hot summers

Yahoo via AFP: By 2024, more than half of summers in eastern China will be as hot as in 2013, when the region was hit by a record-busting heatwave and devastating drought, a study said Sunday. Based on current global warming trends, the big heat will happen even if rising greenhouse gas emissions are braked over the next decade, it said.

The summer of 2013 was the hottest on record in eastern China -- a massive 1.1 degrees Celsius (two degrees Fahrenheit) above the long-term average. On 31 days, the temperature reached or exceeded the heatwave benchmark of 35 degrees Celsius -- more than double the usual June-August tally.

Nine provinces, with half a billion inhabitants, were affected. Direct economic losses, in China's most populated and economically developed region, have been put at 59 billion renminbi ($9.6 billion).

Reporting in the journal Nature Climate Change, scientists in Beijing, Canada and the United States said the probability of a 2013-like summer in eastern China had increased by a factor of 60 since the early 1950s....

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Rivers recover natural conditions quickly following dam removal

Oregon State University News and Research Communications: A study of the removal of two dams in Oregon suggests that rivers can return surprisingly fast to a condition close to their natural state, both physically and biologically, and that the biological recovery might outpace the physical recovery.

The analysis, published by researchers from Oregon State University in the journal PLOS One, examined portions of two rivers – the Calapooia River and Rogue River. It illustrated how rapidly rivers can recover, both from the long-term impact of the dam and from the short-term impact of releasing stored sediment when the dam is removed.

Most dams have decades of accumulated sediment behind them, and a primary concern has been whether the sudden release of all that sediment could cause significant damage to river ecology or infrastructure. However, this study concluded that the continued presence of a dam on the river constituted more of a sustained and significant alteration of riv
er status than did the sediment pulse caused by dam removal.

“The processes of ecological and physical recovery of river systems following dam removal are important, because thousands of dams are being removed all over the world,” said Desirée Tullos, an associate professor in the OSU Department of Biological and Ecological Engineering.

“Dams are a significant element in our nation’s aging infrastructure,” she said. “In many cases, the dams haven’t been adequately maintained and they are literally falling apart. Depending on the benefits provided by the dam, it’s often cheaper to remove them than to repair them.”...

The remains of the Savage Rapids Dam on the Rogue River in Oregon, shot by Finetooth, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Powerful typhoon churns toward Okinawa with strong winds

Reuters: A large powerful typhoon moved slowly towards Japan's Okinawa island chain on Saturday, packing heavy winds that disrupted flights and knocked out power.

Typhoon Vongfong, Japan's strongest storm this year, at 0500 GMT Saturday was about 150 km (94 miles) southeast of Naha City, the biggest city in Okinawa, and moving north at 15 kph (9 mph), Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) said.

Its winds gusted up to 234 kph (146 mph). Fourteen people in Okinawa and Kagoshima prefecture in Kyushu were injured due to strong winds, the Mainichi newspaper reported.

It was likely to be closest to Okinawa - 1,600 km (1,000 miles) southwest of Tokyo, and the home of the largest contingent of U.S. troops in Japan - on Sunday morning Japan time, local media reports said.

The typhoon was expected to weaken as it moved north, however, and likely to hit land on Monday morning on the westernmost main island of Kyushu, before moving northeast towards Japan's main island of Honshu on Tuesday....

Typhoon Vongfong shot by NASA, October 10, 2014

Cyclones and climate change: The $9.7 trillion problem

Brian Kahn at the Weather Channel via Climate Central: You can do a lot with $9.7 trillion: buy all the real estate in Manhattan 12 times over, purchase 22 carbon copies of Apple, or an absurd quantity of apples. It’s also the amount of money that tropical cyclones could cost the global economy over the next century, especially if climate projections of fewer but more intense cyclones are accurate. In comparison to those losses, the cost of action to reduce emissions and beef up coastal preparedness is relatively cheap say researchers.

Humanity and cyclones are no strangers to each other. Roughly 35 percent of the world’s 7 billion people are in the path of cyclones and coastal populations are expected to swell in the coming century. To understand the future damage that cyclones could inflict on ever-growing coastal cities, two researchers looked at 60 years of cyclone and economic data in a recent National Bureau of Economic Research study.

They found that cyclones — known as hurricanes or typhoons depending on the ocean basin in which they form — left lasting impacts on the economies of the countries they hit. In the case of major events, such as 1-in-100 year storm like Hurricane Ivan in 2004, the impacts were worse and longer-lasting than a full-blown financial crisis. If that sounds shocking to you, you’re not the only one who felt that way. “We didn’t believe what we saw at first,” said Amir Jina, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Chicago and one of the study’s authors.

Part of the surprise for Jina was the robustness of the results and how they fly in the face of one commonly held thought in economics that disasters can actually give a boost to a country’s economy in the long run.

The losses are essentially hidden in plain sight, spread over long periods of time rather than one big hit. Countries hit by cyclones continue to grow. But the study showed that they are knocked onto a different, slightly lower growth track, like a car switching from a highway’s fast lane to the slow (or at least slightly less fast) lane....

A beach house in Breezy Point, Queens, New York, wrecked by Hurricane Sandy, shot by Jim.henderson, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

Satellite data shows surprising methane hotspot in US southwest

The Guardian (UK) via AP: A surprising hotspot of the potent global warming gas methane hovers over part of the southwestern US, according to satellite data and is likely to be leakage from pumping methane out of coal mines. The result hints that the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other agencies considerably underestimate leaks of methane, which is also called natural gas.

The higher level of methane is not a local safety or a health issue for residents, but is a factor in overall global warming. While methane isn’t the most plentiful heat-trapping gas, scientists worry about its increasing amounts and have had difficulties tracking emissions.

A satellite image shows the hotspot of atmospheric methane concentrations as a bright red blip over the Four Corners area of New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and Utah in continental US. The image used data from 2003 to 2009.

Within that hotspot, a European satellite found atmospheric methane concentrations equivalent to emissions of about £1.3m a year. That’s about 80% more than the EPA figured. Other ground-based studies have calculated that EPA estimates were off by 50%. The methane concentration in the hotspot was more than triple the amount previously estimated by European scientists.

The amount of methane in the Four Corners, an area covering about 2,500 square miles would trap more heat in the atmosphere than all the carbon dioxide produced yearly in Sweden. That’s because methane is 86 times more potent for trapping heat in the sh
ort-term than carbon dioxide.

...“It’s the largest signal we can see from the satellite,” said study lead author Eric Kort, a University of Michigan atmospheric scientist. “It’s hard to hide from space.” There could be some areas elsewhere in the country where more methane is emitted if it is dispersed by wind, Kort said. Kort said the methane likely comes from leaks as workers extract natural gas from coal beds, and not from hydraulic fracturing, called fracking, because the data were collected before fracking really caught on....

Image of hotspot from NASA

UNFCCC draws lessons from adaptation planning processes

IISD Reporting Services: The UNFCCC Secretariat has published a ‘Synthesis report on methods and tools for, and good practices and lessons learned relating to, adaptation planning processes addressing ecosystems, human settlements, water resources and health, and good practices and lessons learned related to processes and structures for linking national and local adaptation planning.'

The report synthesizes information contained in submissions from parties and Nairobi work programme (NWP) partner organizations on: available and implemented tools and methods for adaptation planning processes that address ecosystems, human settlements, water resources and health; good practices and lessons learned regarding planning processes, including monitoring and evaluation, in the four sectors; and good practices and lessons learned related to processes and structures for linking national and local adaptation planning.

The report concludes with a brief summary of the main elements common to the submissions, such as the importance of knowledge management systems. An annex contains examples of methods and tools for adaptation planning processes addressing the four sectors.

...The paper emphasizes: the need to develop a holistic approach to climate change response and development, and to integrate adaptation planning and practices across sectors; effective coordination and clarity on roles and responsibilities among ministries; the importance of partnerships and involving all stakeholders in adaptation planning processes; the importance of integrating adaptation planning into development and sector planning and implementation; and decision-making processes informed by local and scientific information...

Kibera, in Nairobi, shot by Blazej Mikula, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons license 3.0

Burkina Faso’s poorest farmers leading fight against climate change

A press release from the Overseas Development Institute (ODI): Burkina Faso’s subsistence farmers are leading the fight against climate change despite getting almost no outside help, reveals a new report from the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) – the UK’s leading think-tank on development issues.

The report A greener Burkina- Sustainable farming techniques, land reclamation and improved livelihoods will be launched in Ouagadougou, on Wednesday 8 October, and reveals that poor farmers on the edge of the Sahel in the Central Plateau have restored up to 300,000 hectares of degraded land by using traditional farming practices.

These consist of careful land preparation, water conservation and enriching the soil with natural nutrients rather than expensive fertilisers. These farmers have managed to provide food for half a million people in the area who otherwise would have likely starved. While they have received some help from international aid agencies and the government, most of the success has been accomplished on their own.

Burkina Faso is experiencing increasingly unpredictable rainfall and severe droughts as a result of climate change, threatening the lives of millions of people. Decades of over-farming and overgrazing, has also resulted in huge tracts of fertile lands changing into desert, with up to 65% of land degraded in some areas.

Despite the scale of this crisis, international support for the whole of sub-Saharan Africa to adapt to climate change has averaged only $130 million annually, lending weight to what Archbishop Desmond Tutu calls ‘adaptation apartheid’.

The report authors hope that the example of Burkina Faso’s poor farmers in the Sahel region will empower others in the region to confront the effects of climate change, adapting their agriculture methods to offset some of its worst shocks, despite getting almost no outside help....

A village granary near Fada, Burkina Faso, shot by TREEAID, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons 2.0 license 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Wildlife refuge plans show strengths and weaknesses for adaptation to climate change

EurekAlert via the American Institute of Biological Sciences: As the effects of a changing climate become acute, organizations charged with overseeing refuge areas must take action to adapt. The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) maintains the National Wildlife Refuge System, which constitutes world's largest system of protected lands and waters. According to a November BioScience article by Robert Fischman and Vicky Meretsky of Indiana University and their coauthors, the service may not always be adequately planning for an altered future, but best practices from several plans point the way for improvement. For instance, existing plans that enlarge the conservation scope of refuges by promoting wildlife corridors show how conservation reserves can simultaneously improve habitat, reduce nonclimate impacts, and enhance resilience to climate change.

The authors undertook a study of 185 USFWS comprehensive conservation plans published from 2005 to 2011 and evaluated their coverage of nine climate-change categories. Of the 185 plans, 115 (62%) mentioned at least one of the climate-change categories; of these, only 73 included prescriptions for adaptation. Moreover, the percentage of plans with climate-change prescriptions actually dropped in 2011, after steadily rising in each of the previous five years.

When prescriptions were present, they tended to be focused on monitoring that did not include specific criteria for action, rather than on monitoring with action criteria or on adaptive responses, themselves. This can be a result of managers' desire to maintain flexibility in the face of uncertainty, but the authors argue that "without specific criteria for evaluating success, refuge managers will have difficulty knowing whether and how to adjust activities on the basis of monitoring."

Despite some shortcomings of existing comprehensive conservation plans, the authors see cause for hope in the USFWS's 2013 strategic plan, which calls for reviews that will bring together multiple refuge-level plans in order to produce wider-scale "landscape conservation designs." These landscape conservation designs will allow reserve managers collectively to make a greater contribution to climate-change adaptation than they otherwise could. As the authors put it, "coordinating the actions of a disparate collection of reserves so that they achieve more together than each can independently is, after all, the whole point of having a conservation system."...

Atchafalaya Basin in Louisiana, USA, in the Sherburne Complex Wildlife Management Area, a Nature Conservancy reserve. US Army Corps of Engineers photo

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Scientists suggest ocean warming in Southern Hemisphere underestimated

Anne M. Stark at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory: Using satellite observations and a large suite of climate models, Lawrence Livermore scientists have found that long-term ocean warming in the upper 700 meters of Southern Hemisphere oceans has likely been underestimated.

"This underestimation is a result of poor sampling prior to the last decade and limitations of the analysis methods that conservatively estimated temperature changes in data-€sparse regions," said LLNL oceanographer Paul Durack, lead author of a paper appearing in the October 5 issue of the journal Nature Climate Change.

Ocean heat storage is important because it accounts for more than 90 percent of the Earth's excess heat that is associated with global warming. The observed ocean and atmosphere warming is a result of continuing greenhouse gas emissions. The Southern Hemisphere oceans make up 60 percent of the world's oceans.

The team found that climate models simulate the relative increase in sea surface height -- a leading indicator of climate change -- between Northern and Southern hemispheres is consistent with highly accurate altimeter observations. However, separating the simulated upper-€ocean warming in the Northern and Southern hemispheres is inconsistent with observed estimates of ocean heat content change. These sea level and ocean heat content changes should be consistent, and suggest that until recent improvements occurred in the observational system in the early 21st century, Southern Hemisphere ocean heat content changes were likely underestimated.

Since 2004, automated profiling floats (named Argo) have been used to measure global ocean temperatures from the surface down to 2,000 meters. The 3,600 Argo floats currently observing the global ocean provide systematic coverage of the Southern Hemisphere for the first time. Argo float measurements over the last decade, as well as data from earlier measurements, show that the ocean has been gradually warming, according to Durack.

"Prior to 2004, research has been very limited by the poor measurement coverage," he said. "By using satellite data, along with a large suite of climate model simulations, our results suggest that global ocean warming has been underestimated by 24 to 58 percent. The conclusion that warming has been underestimated agrees with previous studies, however it's the first time that scientists have tried to estimate how much heat we've missed."

Deploying an Argo float. Akin to having a fleet of miniature research vessels, the global flotilla of more than 3,600 robotic profiling floats provides crucial information on upper layers of the world's ocean currents. Photo by Alicia Navidad/CSIRO

Researchers create more accurate model for greenhouse gases from peatlands

A press release from Argonne National Laboratory: Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory have created a new model to more accurately describe the greenhouse gases likely to be released from Arctic peatlands as they warm. Their findings, based on modeling how oxygen filters through soil, suggest that previous models probably underestimated methane emissions and overrepresented carbon dioxide emissions from these regions.

Peatlands, common in the Arctic, are wetlands filled with dead and decaying organic matter. ...Cold temperatures keep the carbon locked in the soil. As the ground warms, however, microbes come to life and begin to decompose all that organic matter, which releases carbon into the atmosphere. Unfortunately, the extreme northern regions of the world are where warming has accelerated the most quickly—and it’s expected to pick up in the future. Scientists are concerned that Arctic warming could spiral quickly into a self-reinforcing cycle that dumps an enormous amount of carbon into the atmosphere.

...Up until now, researchers had been using a simple model that assumed water was the primary divider; soil above the water table would produce microbes that made CO2, and microbes below would produce methane. “But experiments had been showing that there could be significant limits on oxygen availability above the water ta
ble, and this would affect what form of carbon microbes release,” Fan said.

The size and characteristics of soil particles matter. If the oxygen gets trapped in air bubbles and consumed by other microbes or can’t filter down through soil, soil microbes will produce methane even if they’re above the water table. “So we set out to make a model that would take these findings into account,” Fan said.

The team used experimental data from peatland taken near Fairbanks, Alaska and plugged it into their model. The results showed their new model was much more accurate and suggested that more methane is produced and proportionally less CO2—than predicted by older water table-based models. “Revising this calculation will substantially affect current greenhouse gas production models in the Arctic,” Fan said....

Looks like a bulldozer sinking into thawing muskeg in Alaska, shot by Wyoherminator, public domain

US east coast cities face frequent flooding due to climate change

Suzanne Goldenberg in the Guardian (UK): Dozens of America’s east coast cities face routine tidal flooding under climate change, researchers said on Wednesday. Miami – where the habitues of South Beach are used to sloshing through water at high tide – will deploy new pumps this week to hold back the waters of the King Tides, the highest annual high tides, which are projected to crest at 3.5 feet (1.07m).

Other cities are going to have to undertake similar measures if they want to avoid soggy streets in the future, the researchers said.

The report, Encroaching Tides: How Sea Level Rise and Tidal Flooding Threaten U.S. East and Gulf Coast Communities over the Next 30 Years, from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), found most of the towns on America’s east coast will see triple the number of flooding events by 2030.

By 2045, those towns will see 10 times as many tidal floods – and those floods will seep further inland, and last longer, the researchers said. Many coastal towns already see dozens of small tidal floods every year, typically lasting only a few hours.

But the frequency of such events is marching upwards because of sea level rise – which at some points along the east coast is more than twice the global average. Some east coast towns have recorded four times as many flood days as in 1970, the report found.....

Flood and wind damage at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, from Hurricane Isabel in 2003. US Navy photo

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Drought dries up California hydropower

Bobby Magill in Climate Central: As California’s historic drought dries up the state’s water supplies and withers its crops, it’s also shaking up the way electricity is produced there. There’s so little water available in the state’s reservoirs that California’s ability to produce hydropower has been cut in half, while its use of renewables and natural gas power has spiked, a U.S. Energy Information Administration report published Monday shows.

Normally, 20 percent of California’s power comes from hydroelectric sources. But not anym
ore. For the first six months of 2014, only 10 percent of the state’s electricity was hydropower, roughly between 900,000 megawatt hours in January and 2.3 million megawatt hours in June, EIA data show. The average hydropower generation for January is  about 2 million megawatt hours, and nearly 4 million megawatt hours in June.

Most of California has been mired in an extreme or exceptional drought since 2011, a phenomenon that recent studies show has a complicated connection to climate change. As of the latest drought monitor, more than 58 percent of California is experiencing the most intense drought conditions, while the entire state is currently seeing some level of severe or extreme drought.

Nearly all of California’s reservoir levels are below average for this time of year, with the water level of Lake Shasta, one of the state’s largest reservoirs, currently sitting at 42 percent of historical average, said California Department of Water Resources spokesman Ted Thomas....

A bear ornament on the downstream side of the Mulholland Dam in Los Angeles. National Park Service photo

India dengue fever cases 300 times higher than officially reported

Jason Burke in the Guardian (UK): The annual number of dengue fever cases in India is nearly 300 times higher than officially reported, according to a study by US and Indian researchers. The report also finds the sometimes-fatal viral disease, which is transmitted by mosquitoes, costs the emerging economic power at least $1.1bn (£700m) each year in medical and other expenses.

“We found that India had nearly 6m annual clinically diagnosed dengue cases between 2006 and 2012 – almost 300 times greater than the number of cases that had been officially reported,” said Prof Donald S Shepard, health economics professor at Brandeis University, Massachusetts, who led the five-year research project.

The scale of the under-reporting surprised researchers and will raise concerns that India’s response to the disease is inadequate, causing unnecessary suffering locally and undermining global attempts to restrict the spread of the virus.

“With most infectious diseases the public healthy community has been succeeding. Ebola is an exception but hopefully a short-term one. My hope for the next decade is that we turn the tide with dengue,” said Shepard, who has been working on dengue since the early 1990s....

The culprit, shot by ProjectManhattan, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons 3.0 license 

Effects of growing rice in low water, high salt conditions

Research Asia News: Rice is a staple food across Asia, with both people and economies reliant on its successful harvest. One paper finds that low water input does not affect rice growth as much as the levels of nutrients in soil can, and the second suggests that, although rice is seriously stressed by high salt levels in soil, this can be countered by the application of locally produced compost.

Approximately 576 million tonnes of rice are produced globally each year, with about 90% produced and consumed in Asia. 75% of the world's rice is grown in irrigated lowlands, and with water for agriculture becoming increasingly scarce, the question of the effect of low water levels on rice growth is becoming more critical. Jahan, M. S. and colleagues at the Faculty of Agriculture at Universiti Putra Malaysia, set out to determine the effect, on both rice production and the chemical properties of the soil in which rice grows. They found that iron content in soil slowly increases as rice is growing, but even more so after water is drained off. Manganese, on the other hand, increased sharply after flooding, but decreased after that. They found that water levels did not affect the growth of rice as much as expected. Their results provide recommendations for water management as saturation throughout the cultivation process does not seem to be as important as is believed. Low water input rice production could be implemented and fresh water saved for other sectors.

In a second paper in the same issue, Muhammad Ibrahim and colleagues from Pakistan’s University College of Agriculture and Government College University as well as the South Korea’s National Academy of Agricultural Science, looked at salt levels in soil and the effect on rice growth. They took twenty day old rice plants and transplanted them into clay pots filled with either normal or saline soil. They found that the saline soil had a significant effect on the growth of the rice, but when they applied compost the results improved. Further work is needed to optimise the compost mixture and resulting growth but their work provides hope for many poor rice farmers as compost can be locally made and produced from a variety of waste materials.

A rice terrace in Yangshuo, China, shot by McKay Savage, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr,  under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Typhoon Phanfone churns toward Tokyo with heavy wind, rain

Reuters: Typhoon Phanfone, which was downgraded from an earlier status of a super typhoon, is moving northeast at 25 kph (16 mph), after lashing parts of the Kyushu and Okinawa islands, the Japan Meteorological Agency said on Sunday.

About 30 cm (12 inches) of rain and heavy wind are forecast for eastern Japan, including the Tokyo metropolitan area. ... Toyota Motor Corp plans to halt production on Monday morning at 12 plants in Japan due to the storm, a company spokesman said.

On Sunday, several airlines, including All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines Co, canceled over 150 flights to several southern Japanese cities, broadcaster NHK said. Kyushu Electric Power Co said about 18,500 households were without power late Sunday afternoon.

Nansei Sekiyu, a Japanese refiner wholly owned by Brazil's Petrobras, has suspended marine operations at its 100,000 barrels-per-dayrefinery in Okinawa due to the typhoon, but other operations are unaffected, a company spokesman said....

Typhoon Phanfone on October 5, 2014

Scientists to ‘fast-track’ evidence linking global warming to wild weather

Tom Bawden in the Independent (UK): Scientists are to challenge the climate-change sceptics by vastly improving the speed with which they can prove links between a heatwave or other extreme weather event and man-made changes to the atmosphere.

It typically takes about a year to determine whether human-induced global warming played a role in a drought, storm, torrential downpour or heatwave – and how big a role it played. This allows climate sceptics to dismiss any given extreme event as part of the “natural weather variation” in the immediate aftermath, while campaigners automatically blame it on global warming. By the time the truth comes out most people have lost interest in the event, the Oxford University scientists involved in the project say.

They are developing a new scientific model that will shrink to as little as three days the time it takes to establish or rule out a link to climate change, in large part by using highly accurate estimates of sea surface temperatures rather than waiting for the actual readings to be published – a process that can  often take months.

“We want to clear up the huge amounts of confusion around how climate change is influencing the weather, in both directions.  For example, the typhoon in the Philippines that dominated the UN climate change talks in Warsaw last November and that many people put down to climate change – it turned out it had no detectable evidence. And the same goes for Hurricane Sandy,” Dr Friederike Otto, of Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute, told The Independent.

But there are plenty of other cases where climate change is likely to have been involved, she said. Examples include last year’s record heatwave in Australia – the severity of which an eminent scientist concluded this week “was virtually impossible without climate change” – and the flooding in the UK at the start of the year, which Dr Otto’s department has just established was made 25 per cent more likely by global warming....

A smoky sunset in Albury, New South Wales, shot by Thennicke, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Changing Antarctic waters could trigger steep rise in sea levels

A press release from the ARC Centre for Excellence for Climate Science (Australia): Current changes in the ocean around Antarctica are disturbingly close to conditions 14,000 years ago that new research shows may have led to the rapid melting of Antarctic ice and an abrupt 3-4 metre rise in global sea level.

The research published in Nature Communications found that in the past, when ocean temperatures around Antarctica became more layered - with a warm layer of water below a cold surface layer -  ice sheets and glaciers melted much faster than when the cool and warm layers mixed more easily. This defined layering of temperatures is exactly what is happening now around the Antarctic.

“The reason for the layering is that global warming in parts of Antarctica is causing land-based ice to melt, adding massive amounts of freshwater to the ocean surface,” said ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science researcher Prof Matthew England an author of the paper.

“At the same time as the surface is cooling, the deeper ocean is warming, which has already accelerated the decline of glaciers on Pine Island and Totten. It appears global warming is replicating conditions that, in the past, triggered significant shifts in the stability of the Antarctic ice sheet.”

The modelling shows the last time this occurred, 14,000 years ago, the Antarctic alone contributed 3-4 metres to global sea levels in just a few centuries. “Our model simulations provide a new mechanism that reconciles geological evidence of past global sea level rise,” said researcher UNSW ARC Future Fellow Dr Chris Fogwill.

“The results demonstrate that while Antarctic ice sheets are remote, they may play a far bigger role in driving past and importantly future sea level rise than we previously suspected.” The accelerating melting of land ice into the sea makes the surface of the ocean around Antarctica colder, less salty and more easily frozen, leading to extensive sea ice in some areas. It is one of the reasons ascribed to the increasing trend in sea ice around Antarctica....

A backlit iceberg off the Antarctic coast, shot by Jason Auch, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Preventing climate change and adapting to it are not morally equivalent

I usually don't link to Grist, because I assume my audience is already reading it. But recently David Roberts had a significant piece that everyone should read: Climate hawks are familiar with the framing of climate policy credited to White House science advisor John Holdren, to wit: We will respond to climate change with some mix of mitigation, adaptation, and suffering; all that remains to be determined is the mix.

It’s a powerful bit of language. It makes clear that not acting is itself a choice — a choice in favor of suffering. But in another way, Holdren’s formulation obscures an important difference between mitigation (reducing greenhouse gas emissions to prevent climate effects) and adaptation (changing infrastructure and institutions to cope with climate effects). It makes them sound fungible, as though a unit of either can be traded in for an equivalent unit of suffering. That’s misleading. They are very different, not only on a practical level but morally.

Carbon is global, adaptation is local... [M]itigation is fundamentally altruistic, other-focused.

...Adaptation is nearly the opposite. It is action taken to protect oneself, one’s own city, tribe, or nation, from the effects of unchecked climate change. An adapta
tion dollar does not benefit all of humanity like a mitigation dollar does. It benefits only those proximate to the spender. A New Yorker who spends a dollar on mitigation is disproportionately preventing suffering among future Bangladeshis. A New Yorker who spends a dollar on a sea wall is preventing suffering only among present and future New Yorkers. The benefits of adaptation, as an iterative process that will continue as long as the climate keeps changing, are both spatially and temporally local....

A smoking chimney, shot by Sampsonchen, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons 3.0 license 

New UN report warns of ‘devastating’ effects from ongoing destruction of mangrove forests

UN News Centre: The world is losing its mangroves at a faster rate than global deforestation, the United Nations revealed today, adding that the destruction of the coastal habitats was costing billions in economic damages and impacting millions of lives.

In a new report launched today at the 16th Global Meeting of the Regional Seas Conventions and Action Plans, held in Athens, Greece, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) warned that the deforestation of the planet’s mangroves was exceeding average global forest loss by a rate of three to five times, resulting in economic damages of up to $42 billion annually and exposing ecosystems and coastal habitats to an increased risk of devastation from climate change.

“The escalating destruction and degradation of mangroves – driven by land conversion for aquaculture and agriculture, coastal development, and pollution – is occurring at an alarming rate, with over a quarter of the earth’s original mangrove cover now lost,” said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.

“This has potentially devastating effects on biodiversity, food security and the livelihoods of some of the most marginalized coastal communities in developing countries, where more than 90 per cent of the world’s mangroves are found,” he added.

The Executive Director noted that mangroves – which are found in 123 countries around the world – provide ecosystem services worth up to $57,000 per hectare per year, storing carbon that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere and providing the over 100 million people who live in their vicinity with a variety of goods and services such as fisheries and forest products, clean water and protection against erosion and extreme weather events....

A mangrove forest in Brazil, Shot by Ulf Mehlig, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons 2.5 license

West Africa gears up to contain Ebola spread

IRIN: As the Ebola caseload rises to over 5,350, aid agencies and governments in countries not yet affected by the deadly virus are gearing up for its potential spread across new borders by pre-positioning supplies, training health workers, identifying isolation centres, and disseminating prevention campaign messages, among other activities.

Countries that share a land border with the affected countries, including Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea Bissau, and Mali, are considered to be most at risk.

"It is vitally important that, countries - especially surrounding countries that don't have Ebola cases as of yet - are prepared for a worst case scenario," said Pieter Desloovere, a spokesperson for the World Health Organization (WHO).

In August, WHO issued an Ebola Response Roadmap to help countries across the region limit the spread of the virus. One of its three objectives is to strengthen the ability of all countries to detect and deal with any potential cases.

"The reason that Ebola started in Guinea and has since spread to Liberia and other countries is that no one was paying attention," said Grev Hunt, the UN Children's Fund's (UNICEF's) sub-regional coordinator for the Ebola outbreak. "We were caught unaware. But now, we are paying very close attention to what is going on and making sure the same thing won't happen again."....

Ebola cases in Guinea in 2014. Graph created by StefanPohl, public domain

NASA photographs show eastern basin of Aral Sea totally dry

Isabel Cocoli in Voice of America: New NASA photographs taken by satellite show Central Asia' once-vibrant Aral Sea shrinking to levels possibly not seen in centuries. The images taken in August by the Terra satellite show that the sea's eastern basin, on the border of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, completely empty, the first time in modern times, said Philip Micklin, a well-known geographer and professor emeritus of Western Michigan University and an Aral Sea expert.

"And it is likely the first time it has completely dried in 600 years, since medieval desiccation associated with diversion of the Amu Darya [river] to the Caspian Sea," he told NASA. By some accounts, the destruction of the sea is considered one of the world's worst environmental catastrophes.

Once the fourth-largest sea in the world, the Aral has been shrinking since the 1960s when the Soviet Union undertook a major irrigation project to supply the arid plains of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

The region's two main rivers — the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya — were tapped to irrigate water-intensive crops like cotton and others in the arid Central Asian desert. The desert bloomed in many places, but at the expense of the lake, which has shriveled, destroying ecosystems, decimating a vibrant fishing industry and leaving dozens of communities suffering from poverty and environmentally-induced disease.

Micklin said lower rain and snow fall in the mountains to the east this year  considerably reduced the flow into the Amu Darya feeding the lake. Uzbekistan continues to use the river for its economically-important cotton industry.

As the water receded, the sea has split into two separate sections: the North, or Small, Aral Sea, located within Kazakhstan; and the South, or Large, Aral Sea. The latter split into western and eastern basins.

NASA image of the Aral Sea on August 19, 2014

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

European Space Agency satellite reveals gravity dip from ice loss

A press release from the European Space Agency: Although not designed to map changes in Earth’s gravity over time, ESA’s extraordinary satellite has shown that the ice lost from West Antarctica over the last few years has left its signature.

More than doubling its planned life in orbit, GOCE spent four years measuring Earth’s gravity in unprecedented detail.  Scientists are now armed with the most accurate gravity model ever produced. This is leading to a much better understanding of many facets of our planet – from the boundary between Earth’s crust and upper mantle to the density of the upper atmosphere.

The strength of gravity at Earth’s surface varies subtly from place to place owing to factors such as the planet’s rotation and the position of mountains and ocean trenches.

Recently, the high-resolution measurements from GOCE over Antarctica between November 2009 and June 2012 have been analysed by scientists from the German Geodetic Research Institute, Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, the Jet Propulsion Lab in USA and the Technical University of Munich in Germany.

Remarkably, they found that the decrease in the mass of ice during this period was mirrored in GOCE’s measurements, even though the mission was not designed to detect changes over time.

Using gravity data to assess changes in ice mass is not new. The NASA–German Grace satellite, which was designed to measure change, has been providing this information for over 10 years. However, measurements from Grace are much coarser than those of GOCE, so they cannot be used to look at features such as Antarctica’s smaller ‘catchment basins’....

Changes in Earth’s gravity field resulting from loss of ice from West Antarctica between November 2009 and June 2012 (mE = 10–12 s–2).  A combination of data from ESA’s GOCE mission and NASA’s Grace satellites shows the ‘vertical gravity gradient change’