Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Why global warming is taking a break

Fabio Benjamin at the ETH (Switzerland): ...Global warming is currently taking a break: whereas global temperatures rose drastically into the late 1990s, the global average temperature has risen only slightly since 1998 – surprising, considering scientific climate models predicted considerable warming due to rising greenhouse gas emissions. Climate sceptics used this apparent contradiction to question climate change per se – or at least the harm potential caused by greenhouse gases – as well as the validity of the climate models. Meanwhile, the majority of climate researchers continued to emphasise that the short-term ‘warming hiatus’ could largely be explained on the basis of current scientific understanding and did not contradict longer term warming.

Researchers have been looking into the possible causes of the warming hiatus over the past few years. For the first time, Reto Knutti, Professor of Climate Physics at ETH Zurich, has systematically examined all current hypotheses together with a colleague. In a study published in the latest issue of the journal Nature Geoscience, the researchers conclude that two important factors are equally responsible for the hiatus.

One of the important reasons is natural climate fluctuations, of which the weather phenomena El Niño and La Niña in the Pacific are the most important and well known. "1998 was a strong El Niño year, which is why it was so warm that year," says Knutti. In contrast, the counter-phenomenon La Niña has made the past few years cooler than they would otherwise have been.

...According to the study, the second important reason for the warming hiatus is that solar irradiance has been weaker than predicted in the past few years....Furthermore, several volcanic eruptions, such as Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland in 2010, have increased the concentration of floating particles (aerosol) in the atmosphere, which has further weakened the solar irradiance arriving at the Earth's surface.

The scientists drew their conclusions from corrective calculations of climate models. In all climate simulations, they looked for periods in which the El Niño/La Niña patterns corresponded to the measured data from the years 1997 to 2012. With a combination of over 20 periods found, they were able to arrive at a realistic estimate of the influence of El Niño and La Niña. They also retroactively applied in the model calculations the actual measured values for solar activity and aerosol concentration in the Earth's atmosphere. Model calculations corrected in this way match the measured temperature data much more closely.

...Despite the warming hiatus, Knutti is convinced there is no reason to doubt either the existing calculations for the climate activity of greenhouse gases or the latest climate models. "Short-term climate fluctuations can easily be explained. They do not alter the fact that the climate will become considerably warmer in the long term as a result of greenhouse gas emissions," says Knutti. He believes that global warming will recommence as soon as solar activity, aerosol concentrations in the atmosphere and weather phenomena such as El Niño naturally start returning to the values of previous decades....

NASA image of a sunspot

NOAA analysis reveals significant land cover changes in US coastal regions

A press release from NOAA: A new NOAA nationwide analysis shows that between 1996 and 2011, 64,975 square miles in coastal regions -- can area larger than the state of Wisconsin -- experienced changes in land cover, including a decline in wetlands and forest cover with development a major contributing factor.

Overall, 8.2 percent of the nation’s ocean and Great Lakes coastal regions experienced these changes. In analysis of the five year period between 2001-2006, coastal areas accounted for 43 percent of all land cover change in the continental U.S. This report identifies a wide variety of land cover changes that can intensify climate change risks, such as loss of coastal barriers to sea level rise and storm surge, and includes environmental data that can help coastal managers improve community resilience.

"Land cover maps document what's happening on the ground. By showing how that land cover has changed over time, scientists can determine how these changes impact our plant’s environmental health," said Nate Herold, a NOAA physical scientist who directs the mapping effort at NOAA's Coastal Services Center in Charleston, South Carolina.

Among the significant changes were the loss of 1,536 square miles of wetlands, and a decline in total forest cover by 6.1 percent. The findings mirror similar changes in coastal wetland land cover loss reported in the November 2013 report, Status and Trends of Wetlands in the Coastal Watersheds of the Conterminous United States 2004 to 2009, an interagency supported analysis published by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA.

...Development was a major contributing factor in the decline of both categories of land cover. Wetland loss due to development equals 642 square miles, a disappearance rate averaging 61 football fields lost daily. Forest changes overall totaled 27,515 square miles, equaling West Virginia, Rhode Island and Delaware combined. This total impact, however, was partially offset by reforestation growth. Still, the net forest cover loss was 16,483 square miles.

Japan landslides kill 32 in Hiroshima prefecture

BBC News: At least 32 people have been killed in landslides that struck Japan's Hiroshima prefecture, officials say. The landslides happened in a residential area near a mountain in the Hiroshima city outskirts.

They were triggered after the equivalent of a month's rain fell in the 24 hours up to Wednesday morning, Japan's weather agency said. Images from the scene showed houses buried in mud and rocks, as rescue teams worked their way towards homes.

Another nine people are still missing, said authorities. Another local government official said some people were swept away and it was "hard to know exactly how many are unaccounted for", AP reported.

The BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes says that several of those killed were children....

Onomichi Channel in Hiroshima Prefecture, shot by 663highland, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons 2.5 license 

Call for ‘ecohealth’ approach to tackling climate change

Marco Boscolo in If researchers are to effectively address the profound challenges that climate change will have on human health, they will have to work across disciplines and with local communities, says a declaration from the 5th Biennial Conference of the International Association For Ecology & Health held last week (11-15 August).

The declaration “is an endorsement and a call to action on climate change”, said Maya Gislason, a member of the conference’s international advisory committee from the University of Northern British Columbia, Canada.

“Ecohealth is a field of research, education and practice that integrates scientific evidence, professional expertise and community experience with a view to improving the health of humans, animals and ecosystems,” the declaration says. “A focus on health — across humans, animals and other species — offers new opportunities to harness synergies across disparate efforts to address climate change.”

It is not the first time a call has been made to break boundaries between disciplines but previously there has been little follow-up action, Jean Lebel, the president of the International Development Research Centre, a Canadian public corporation that supports research in developing nations and which co-organised the conference, told SciDev.Net.

...The declaration says it is intended to push more researchers to address climate change issues through concrete actions such as working directly with communities most affected by climate change, for example, those on small island states....

The alleged location of the Garden of Eden, at the mouth of the Tigris River, from Underwood's "Sacred Books and Literature of the East"

Nigeria and UNDP launch national digital flood model via Leadership (Abuja): The Federal Ministry of Environment, in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme, has launched a National Digital Flood Model for better forecasting and monitoring of flooding nationwide.

The Minister of Environment, Mrs Laurentia Mallam, said this at the public presentation and launch of the instrument in Abuja. Represented by Mrs Rabi Jimeta, the Permanent Secretary in the ministry, Mallam said that it would ensure effective environmental governance and prompt response to impending flood disaster.

She said that the model permits interaction between predicted hydro-metrological data and earth surface conditions such as land use and soil type. However, she said that the major challenge to the use of the model was for it to be adopted in flood management service delivery in the country.

According to her, the forum was organised forum to discuss ways to create awareness among stakeholders on the adoption of the model in flood management. The minister said the launch and public presentation of the model was organised to facilitate interaction among stakeholders on the operations and success of the Flood Early Warning System (FEWS) and the National Digital Flood Model in the monitoring and management of flood in Nigeria....

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Minor variations in ice sheet size can trigger abrupt climate change

AlphaGalileo via Cardiff University: Small fluctuations in the sizes of ice sheets during the last ice age were enough to trigger abrupt climate change, scientists have found. The team, which included Cardiff University researchers, compared simulated model data with that retrieved from ice cores and marine sediments in a bid to find out why temperature jumps of up to ten degrees took place in far northern latitudes within just a few decades during the ice age.

...The research confirms that thicker ice sheets increased ocean circulation and transferred more heat to the north due to a redirection of the prevailing winds. As the north warmed, glaciers retreated, the winds returned to normal conditions, and the north became cooler once again, completing the cycle

Conor Purcell from Cardiff University’s School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, said: “Using the simulations performed with our climate model, we were able to demonstrate that the climate system can respond to small changes with abrupt climate swings. Our study suggests that at medium sea levels, powerful forces, such as the dramatic acceleration of polar ice cap melting, are not necessary to create abrupt climate shifts and temperature changes.”

At present, the extent of Arctic sea ice is far less than during the last glacial period. The Laurentide Ice Sheet, the major driving force for ocean circulation during the glacials, has also disappeared. Climate changes following the pattern of the last ice age are therefore not anticipated under today’s conditions.

Professor Gerrit Lohmann, leader of the Paleoclimate Dynamics group at the AWI said: “In terms of the Earth’s history, we are currently in one of the climate system’s more stable phases. The preconditions which gave rise to rapid temperature changes during the last ice age do not exist today, but sudden climate changes cannot be excluded in future.”

The Greenland Ice Sheet, shot by Christine Zenino, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr,  under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

World's primary forests on the brink

Terra Daily via SPX: An international team of conservationist scientists and practitioners has published new research showing the precarious state of the world's primary forests. The global analysis and map are featured in a paper appearing in the esteemed journal Conservation Letters and reveals that only five percent of the world's pre-agricultural primary forest cover is now found in protected areas.

...Representing organisations such as the US-based Wildlife Conservation Society, the Zoological Society of London, the Geos Institute and Australian National University, they conclude that primary forest protection is the joint responsibility of developed as well as developing countries and is a matter of global concern.

Primary forests - largely ignored by policy makers and under increasing land use threats - are forests where there are no visible indications of human activities, especially industrial-scale land use, and ecological processes have not been significantly disrupted.

These forests are home to an extraordinary richness of biodiversity, with up to 57 percent of all tropical forest species dependent on primary forest habitat and the ecological processes they provide. The analysis shows that almost 98 per cent of primary forest is found within 25 countries, with around half of that located in five developed countries: the U.S., Canada, Russia, Australia and New Zealand.

Professor Mackey warns that industrial logging, mining and agriculture gravely threaten primary forests, and those outside of protected areas are especially vulnerable. He adds that policies are urgently needed to reduce pressure to open up primary forests for industrial land use....

Abraham Govaerts, "Het eeuwige Woud"

India risks loss of 8.7% of GDP by 2100 on climate change

The Economic Times via PTI (India): A global failure to respond to climate changes could result in about 8.7 per cent economic loss in India's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 2100, Asian Development Bank said today.  "India, one of the largest agrarian economies in the world, is deeply at risk from climate change, and could see economic losses of up to 8.7 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP) by 2100 if the world fails to respond to a host of climate threats, the Manila bas
ed multi-lateral funding agency said in a report.

Report titled 'Assessing the Costs of Climate Change and Adaptation in South Asia' predicts Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka will see an average annual economic loss of 1.8 per cent of their collective GDP by 2050, rising sharply to 8.8 per cent by 2100.  "Without changes to current global behavior, India would see economic losses equivalent to 1.8 per cent of annual GDP by 2050, widening to 8.7 per cent by the end of the century."

But if mitigation and adaptation steps are taken to keep the temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius, the damage could be kept below 2 per cent by 2100, it said.  "Agriculture provides employment and livelihood opportunities to most of India's rural population and changes in temperature and rainfall, and an increase in floods and droughts linked to climate change, would have a devastating impact on people's food security, incomes, and lives," said Bindu Lohani, ADB Vice-President for Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development.

Changes in rainfall patterns are likely to benefit rice output in most north-eastern states, however southern states could see annual yields decline by 5 per cent in 2030s, 14.5 per cent in 2050s, and 17 per cent in 2080s.

"The country has 8,000 km of coastline and nearly half the country's 28 states could face serious consequences from a rise in the sea level, with Gujarat expected to suffer the highest level of inundation, and Maharashtra the largest number of affected people," as per the report....

Eggplants for sale in Gujarat, shot by Arne Hückelheim, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license 

USAID, Rockefeller launch $100 million climate resilience fund

Thin Lei Win in Reuters, via the Thomson Reuters Foundation: A $100 million fund launched on Tuesday aims to make people in disaster-prone regions of Asia and Africa better able to cope with natural disasters and crises, so that they can get their lives and economies back on track more quickly and effectively.

The Global Resilience Partnership (GRP) set up by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Rockefeller Foundation will focus on South and Southeast Asia, the Sahel and the Horn of Africa, where typhoons, floods, earthquakes and drought destroy lives and jobs and hamper development.

Scientists say climate change could bring more frequent and more intense weather-related disasters. If communities become more resilient, disaster recovery and relief efforts will cost less, and people will be able to reduce the disruption to lives and jobs and avoid falling into destitution.

“Both USAID and the Rockefeller Foundation see resilience as a vital framework to help alleviate poverty, promote more sustainable development and lessen the impacts of disasters,” said Michael Yates, director of the USAID regional mission in Asia.

The GRP’s first project is the Global Resilience Design Challenge, a multi-phase competition to be launched in September at the USAID Frontiers in Development Forum in Washington, D.C....

Sand dams' bank water for dry season in semi-arid Kenya

Isaiah Esipisu in AlertNet: Barely a month after heavy rains pounded Kenya, many seasonal rivers in the country’s semi-arid east are already drying up, and residents are preparing for the months-long dry season.

But some, like Paul Masila and other members of  the Woni Wa Mbee self-help group, are not worried about the looming dry spell. Instead, they are preparing to plant crops or are harvesting fields they planted before the rains.

The group – the name means “progressive vision” in Kamba, the local langage – have revolutionised the region’s fortunes by finding a way to store millions of litres of water under the bed of the Kaiti River, providing the once-parched community with water for domestic use and irrigation throughout the year. “Drought will never again be a problem, particularly for future generations,” said Titus Mwendo, a 31-year-old farmer in Miambwani, in the Eastern region’s Makueni County.

.... Woni Wa Mbee and other self-help groups in the area, aided by local non-governmental organisations, have found a way to trap and store the Kaiti’s water in its own sandy riverbed, keeping water available for months after the river has disappeared.

“The water reservoirs are called sand dams,” said Kevin Muneene, chief executive officer of the Utooni Development Organisation, one of the supporting NGOs. Over the past two years, the organisation has helped 80 self-help groups construct 1,528 sand dams in arid and semi-arid areas of Kenya’s Rift Valley and Eastern region.

To make a dam, he said, a high concrete barrier is constructed across a seasonal river. When it rains, the water carries sand downstream, depositing it up to the level of the barrier. When the rains finish, water remains trapped in the piled-up sand for up to a kilometre upstream of the dam, depending on the dam’s height. “A well-constructed sand dam has 60 percent of its volume as sand, while the remaining 40 percent is always water,” said Muneene, an expert in sand dam construction....

Sand dam illustration by Iangrahamneal, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Monday, August 18, 2014

Tibetan plateau warmest in 2000 years, poses risk of natural disasters

Anu Passary in Tech Times: Concerns surrounding global warming are constantly growing and fears of environmentalists are not unwarranted, as a new study reveals that the Tibetan plateau has been the warmest in the last 2000 years.

The Tibetan plateau's glacier supplies water to several million people in Asia and the study conducted by the Chinese Academy of Sciences' (CAS) Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research reveals that the plateau had been warmer in the last five decades when compared to any period in the past two millennia. "Over the past 50 years, the rate of temperature rise has been double the average global level," according to the report on the website of Science and Technology Daily per Reuters.

There's no silver lining either as researchers opine that the plateau will get more humid and hotter with the passage of time in the coming decades. This will in turn result in the shifting of glaciers and increase in desertification.

What's worrying is that the glacier retreat may upset water supply to Asian rivers that originate in the plateau like India's Brahmaputra, China's Yangtze Kiang and Yellow River, as well as the Mekong and Salween. The hazards of natural disasters like landslides and heavy floods will likely increase because of the warmer climate.

Earlier in May 2014, scientists revealed that Tibetan glaciers had shrunk 8,000 square kms or nearly 15 percent in the last three decades. However, there is a silver lining as according to the report, the ecosystem of the Tibetan plateau (which is at an elevation of 4,500 meters) has seen an overall improvement thanks to the expansion of the forest area as well as the temperate zone. Moreover, the damage to the wetlands has reduced since 2000....

A Tibetan glacier in autumn, shot by Jan Reurink, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license 

More severe tornado outbreaks may be linked to climate change

Michael Roppolo in CBS News: Climate change may be playing a role in the strength and frequency of tornadoes, a new study suggests. Research published in the journal Climate Dynamics finds that although tornadoes are occurring fewer days per year than they used to, they are forming at greater density and strength. This means that on days when tornadoes do form, there tend to be more of them and they're often more powerful.

...In the past, many scientists dismissed the impact of climate change on tornadoes because tornado occurrences vary so greatly from year to year. The number of tornado days in a year -- days in which at least one tornado occurred -- have declined since the 1970s, with a high of 187 in 1971 and a low of 79 tornado days in 2013. But at the same time, the number of days with multiple tornadoes has risen sharply.

Using data from the Storm Prediction Center, Florida State University geography professor James Elsner and his colleagues studied tornadoes with EF-1 intensity and stronger. Elsner told CBS News that when he first looked at tornado days with at least four tornadoes, he noted no change. However, when he looked at instances with larger numbers of tornadoes in a single day, he found a significant increase.

..."The bottom line is that the risk of big tornado days featuring densely concentrated tornado outbreaks is on the rise," the study states.

The researchers say their findings suggest climate change may be a factor. "These trends represent observational evidence of changes in severe deep moist convection possibly related to our changing climate," they write....

A tornado in Quail, Texas

Drought hits Central America's crops, cattle

Seed Daily via AFP: ...Nicaragua and the rest of Central America has been hit by a major drought that has killed thousands of cattle, dried up crops and forced cities to ration electricity. Costa Rica, Honduras and Guatemala have declared emergencies in the worst affected areas to speed up aid delivery. El Salvador and Nicaragua have opened special funds to help farmers.

In northern Nicaragua, vultures are eating the carcasses of cows that are dropping dead in dried out pastures. ... Central American agriculture ministers held a videoconference on Wednesday to seek coordinated actions to cope with the drought.

The lack of rain has been blamed on the probable arrival of the El Nino weather phenomen
on, which is characterized by unusually warm Pacific ocean temperatures that can trigger droughts. It is the latest trouble to hammer a region already beset by gang violence and poverty, which have driven families and unaccompanied children to migrate illegally to the United States.

The drought has swept across a region known as "the dry corridor," which covers nearly a third of Central America, where 10 million people live, according to a 2013 study by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. Nicaragua's government says the country is enduring its worst drought since 1976...

Neil Palmer (CIAT) took this photo of a farmer irrigating crops during the dry season in drought-affected Nicaragua, made possible by the use of special reservoirs to capture and store excess rainwater during the country's rainy season. Wikimedia Commons via Flickr,  under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Dust — and the microbes hitching rides on it — influences rain, climate

A press release from the American Chemical Society: Dusty air blowing across the Pacific from Asia and Africa plays a critical role in precipitation patterns throughout the drought-stricken western U.S. Today, a scientist will present new research suggesting that the exact chemical make-up of that dust, including microbes found in it, is the key to how much rain and snow falls from clouds throughout the region. This information could help better predict rain events, as well as explain how air pollution from a variety of sources influences regional climate in general.

...“We’ve learned that not all of the particles in the air at high altitudes have the same influence on clouds. We’re starting to think that these differences contribute to how rain gets distributed,” says Kim Prather, Ph.D.

Most of the dust that Prather’s team at the University of California, San Diego, detects in clouds and precipitation originates in Asian and Chinese deserts. It gets swept westward by the jet stream where it mixes with a variety of other airborne particles such as sea spray and smoke. Prather says that each of these types of particles — collectively known as aerosols — has its own, distinctive impact on clouds.

A major key to what turns ordinary clouds into rainmakers in the first place is their ability to form ice crystals around the microscopic particles that invade and “seed” them, Prather said. Without ice crystals as a catalyst, rain development inside clouds can be impaired.   “The standard belief is the more ice you have in a cloud, the more likely you will get precipitation out of it,” she says. “Our goal is to catch the first stages of ice forming and find out what exactly the chemical constituents are that the ice is forming on.”

...Prather speculates that the microbes hitch a ride on bits of sand, iron and other debris swept aloft from desert regions. Microbes and biological components could also become mixed with the dust as it is transported across the Pacific. She and her team are eager to learn just how important these bioparticles are in the rainmaking process.

...“Long term, our goal is to be able to predict how much precipitation we can expect to form when certain aerosols such as dust are coming toward us,” says Prather. “That’s a lofty goal but we’re making headway.”...

Via NASA, a satellite view of a dust cloud over Asia

Japan to assist with disaster risk reduction training in Latin America and the Caribbean

Continuity Central: On July 31st 2014, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) signed a Memorandum of Cooperation for the ‘Disaster Risk Reduction Training Program for Latin America and the Caribbean’ with the Chilean International Cooperation Agency (AGCI).

The Memorandum of Cooperation will enable JICA to assist with disaster risk reduction training in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Through the combination of Japan and Chile’s disaster management resources, the program is designed to efficiently and effectively develop human resources with a high level of specialization, as well as to improve the capacity of government officials to respond to actual disasters. The program also aims to build a regional network for sharing experiences and knowledge from other Latin America and the Caribbean countries....

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Food security alarm for east, central Africa

IRIN: Some 20 million people are facing acute food insecurity in eastern and central Africa, with most of them being at “crisis” and “emergency” levels, according to aid agencies. This figure compares unfavorably with 15.8 million people in July 2013.  The affected countries include Somalia, Uganda, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Central Africa Republic (CAR), Sudan, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Tanzania.

“The overall nutrition situation in the region has deteriorated precipitously and, according to survey results, the Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) levels are higher than 20 percent, exceeding the World Health Organization’s emergency threshold of 15 percent, especially in parts of South Sudan, CAR, Somalia and northern Kenya,” said the East and Central Africa Food Security and Nutrition Working Group (FSNWG), a multi-stakeholder regional forum chaired by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

FSNWG warned that the situation could deteriorate further in the absence of quick action.  “FSNWG strongly believes that in the absence of an increased and immediate multi-sectoral response, the food and nutrition status of affected populations is likely to deteriorate further.”...

Kenya food aid, image by USAID

Floods submerge cane fields in North India

Ratnajyoti Dutta in Reuters: Heavy monsoon rains in India have caused flooding in the country's main sugar producing state Uttar Pradesh, but the full extent of any damage to the crop will not be known until floodwaters recede.

There were apprehensions that a slow start to India's monsoon season would trim cane output in the world's second biggest sugar producing nation, but a late revival in rains resulted in higher acreage being planted. However, fresh floods in North India have now raised fears of damage to the cane crop.

...According to the latest assessment of the Indian Sugar Mills Association, the country's sugar output could rise 4 percent to 25.3 million tonnes in 2014/15, the fifth surplus year in a row, because of higher cane yields in other major producing states of Maharashtra and Karnataka.

Heavy monsoon rains since Friday in the northern hill state of Uttarakhand caused two major rivers in downstream Uttar Pradesh to rise above danger marks. "Water is flowing above the red zone on the Ghagra river at Barabanki and the Rapti river at Balarampur of UP," an official at the National Disaster Management Authority told Reuters on Sunday. The floodwaters have affected eight districts of Uttar Pradesh and displaced thousands of people...

A cane field, location unknown, shot by Rasool Sarang, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Fire crews remain busy on several western Montana wildfires

Dillon Kato in the Missoulian: Although the weather in the area has been cooler in recent days and brought more moisture to western Montana and Idaho, fire crews are still working on several blazes in the region.

The Thompson River Complex, burning six miles northeast of Thompson Falls, held steady at 1,635 acres on Saturday. Cooler, wetter weather over the past few days helped the firefighting effort. By Saturday, 519 firefighters and their equipment were working on the fire, as well as seven helicopters and four air tankers as needed.

The lightning-caused fires are listed at 20 percent contained overall, with the Koo Koo Sint fire at 55 percent contained and the Marmot fire perimeter at 30 percent. The complex also includes the Spruce fire, and the Sleepy Gulch fire, which was discovered on Aug. 12.

Area and road closures are still in place for the fire, including the Koo Koo Sint Trail 445 and the access road to the trailhead. Big Spruce Creek Trail 1102, Sundance Ridge Trail 433 and the West Fork Thompson River Road 603 are also closed. A flight restriction is also in effect for the area surrounding the fire.

The West Alder fire saw no growth and remained at 82 acres. Rain helped with containment efforts, with 54 firefighters currently working on the fire, burning one mile southwest of Bitterroot Flat Campground west of Rock Creek, about 20 miles south of Interstate 90. No structures or property are currently threatened by the fire....

Friday, August 15, 2014

Ebola highlights growing global virus threat

Mariette Le Roux and Elisabeth Zingg in Medical Press:  Like the Spanish flu, polio, AIDS, and SARS before it, Ebola has erupted from seemingly nowhere to claim lives and sow fear of a catastrophic global outbreak.

While experts say the current epidemic is unlikely to become global, they warn of ever more viral outbreaks in future as increasing numbers of globetrotters are exposed to strange new pathogens that they take home to spread in crowded cities. "New viral diseases are on the rise as populations become more dense and mobile," said Arnaud Fontanet, head of epidemiology at France's Insitut Pasteur.

Add to this habitat loss from deforestation and climate change forcing pathogen-carrying animals closer to human settlements, and you have all the ingredients for brewing potent pandemics. "Outbreaks do seem to be getting more frequent," University of Nottingham molecular virology professor Jonathan Ball told AFP.

"Are we heading for the big one? It wouldn't be a huge surprise if there's another (major pandemic) waiting to happen. What that virus will be or when it will happen is tricky to judge. All we can do is monitor and be prepared."

Perhaps more than any other in recent history, the 2003 outbreak of SARS—a deadly new respiratory disease—raised the spectre of the kind of global devastation caused by the 1918-20 Spanish flu that wiped out 50-100 million people. SARS claimed 800 lives, mainly in Asia, but not before infecting people in nearly 40 countries within weeks and causing a panic that saw flights cancelled, schools closed and sales of surgical masks spike....

A box of surgical masks, shot by Tokumeigakarinoaoshima, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons 0.0 license

Antarctica could raise sea level faster than previously thought

Terra Daily via SPX: The results reproduce Antarctica's recent contribution to sea level rise as observed by satellites in the last two decades and show that the ice continent could become the largest contributor to sea level rise much sooner than previously thought.

"If greenhouse gases continue to rise as before, ice discharge from Antarctica could raise the global ocean by an additional 1 to 37 centimeters in this century already," says lead author Anders Levermann. "Now this is a big range - which is exactly why we call it a risk: Science needs to be clear about the uncertainty, so that decision makers at the coast and in coastal megacities like Shanghai or New York can consider the potential implications in their planning processes," says Levermann.

The scientists analyzed how rising global mean temperatures resulted in a warming of the ocean around Antarctica, thus influencing the melting of the Antarctic ice shelves.

While Antarctica currently contributes less than 10 percent to global sea level rise and is a minor contributor compared to the thermal expansion of the warming oceans and melting mountain glaciers, it is Greenland and especially the Antarctic ice sheets with their huge volume of ice that are expected to be the major contributors to future long-term sea level rise. The marine ice sheets in West Antarctica alone have the potential to elevate sea level by several meters - over several centuries.

According to the study, the computed projections for this century's sea level contribution are significantly higher than the latest IPCC projections on the upper end. Even in a scenario of strict climate policies limiting global warming in line with the 2 C target, the contribution of Antarctica to global sea level rise covers a range of 0 to 23 centimeters.

"Rising sea level is widely regarded as a current and ongoing result of climate change that directly affects hundreds of millions of coastal dwellers around the world and indirectly affects billions more that share its financial costs," says co-author Robert Bindschadler from the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center....

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Helping Tanzanian families build their resilience in the aftermath of a disaster

Sheila Chemjor in via the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies: Families in Morogoro's Dakawa and Kilosa area, 270 kilometres northwest of Tanzania's capital Dar es Salaam, are rebuilding their lives following flash floods that left a massive trail of destruction earlier in the year, affecting at least 10,000 people. It is the first time since the 1970s that they had experienced such heavy rainfall and as such were completely unprepared. Some houses were washed away leaving no trace of their existence.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) allocated 180,676 Swiss francs from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund to help the Tanzania Red Cross Society in assisting 2,000 people affected by the floods. With the help of the Red Cross, families have now constructed shelters at a temporary site allocated to them by the Government of Tanzania, as they wait to be settled permanently on safer grounds.

As part of the emergency operation, Tanzania Red Cross Society volunteers carried out hygiene promotion to prevent an outbreak of diseases, and provided water and sanitation facilities and shelter materials. They also offered psychosocial support.

With agriculture as their main source of livelihoods, the community was hard pressed as their farms were completely destroyed. Not wanting to wallow in pity, they started to plough the land around their settlements, planting maize, beans and indigenous vegetables to avoid relying on food aid. Others went back to their original homes to plant their crops on their farms while they continue to live in the settlement....

A flood in Dar es Salaam, shot by Muddyb Blast Producer, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

The sinking mega-cities

A bulletin from Lloyd's: As sea levels rise, ground levels in coastal megacities are also falling – with potentially disastrous implications for insurers. Insurers of large property portfolios in the world’s great coastal cities will have factored the effects of climate change into their catastrophe models – including rising sea levels and more frequent storm surges. But what’s often missed is that many of these cities are sinking faster than the water is rising. In some, subsidence outstrips sea level rise by a factor of ten to one.

Together with sea water inundation and flood damage, this can have disastrous consequences for the built environment – and property and business interruption insurers. The surge that overwhelmed New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, and the subsequent cascading collapse of critical infrastructure, offered a glimpse of the sort of scenario underwriters fear. “We’re going down and the sea is coming up,” confirms Gilles Erkens, of the Deltares Research Institute in Utrecht. “Potential losses could run into hundreds of millions of dollars every year.”

The causes are varied. Foremost is large-scale groundwater extraction for drinking water and industrial processes – although elsewhere, like Los Angeles, it is oil and gas extraction that is to blame. Some urban areas are also constructed on multiple layers of soft soil, which compacts when built on – one of the problems facing New Orleans, for instance, and a feature of megacities that spring up on river deltas, such as Guangzhou in south west China.

One of the most severely affected cities was Tokyo, which grew rapidly in the middle of the last century and sunk over four metres as a result – until drastic remedial measures were put in place in the 1970s to restrict the extraction of groundwater. Since then the subsidence has stabilised. But from Jakarta and Dhaka to Venice, the risks are still all too real…

Jakarta is subsiding faster than any other megacity. The northern part has sunk by nearly four metres in the last 35 years, mainly due to groundwater extraction as the population has mushroomed and former agricultural land has been taken over by massive residential and industrial developments.

...Venice sunk about 120mm in the 20th century due to natural and human causes. In addition, the sea level rose about 110mm. A range of measures – such as restrictions on groundwater extraction – were introduced to stabilise the problem. But recent satellite mapping suggests these may not be enough, as the city is still subsiding by one to two millimetres a year. The causes are two-fold....

A waterside shanty in Jakarta, shot by Thehero, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons 2.0 license

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Heavy Michigan rains close GM tech center, affect other automakers

Reuters: Heavy rains in southeast Michigan hit the operations of U.S. automakers in the region, including forcing the closure of General Motors Co's technical center outside Detroit Detroit city officials said Monday night's heavy rainfall was the most rain the city had seen in almost nine decades. It caused flooding, power losses and road closures, including parts of several major highways.

GM's technical center in Warren, Michigan, was closed after flooding caused loss of power in parts of the campus, a spokeswoman said. GM and contractors employ about 19,000 people there in various functions. including research and development, design, engineering, information technology and customer satisfaction.

The employees were told to work from home or other remote locations while the No. 1 U.S. automaker worked to get the technical center reopened, the spokeswoman said. No timetable was available on when that would be.

GM said there had been no impact on any of its plants in the region. Ford Motor Co said some plant operations were affected Monday night, including production slowdowns at the Dearborn, Michigan, truck and stamping plants; an assembly plant in Wayne, Michigan; the Sterling, Michigan, axle and transmission plants; and a stamping plant in Woodhaven, Michigan.

Additionally, a spokeswoman said the No.2 U.S. automaker's Chicago and Kentucky assembly plants experienced some production interruptions due to flooding at Michigan-based suppliers, but all Ford plants were operating on normal schedules.

Chrysler Group, a unit of Italy's Fiat, said four of its plants in Michigan had been affected by flooding. The unit said it also had higher-than-normal worker absenteeism and slowed deliveries due to road.

A satellite image of Detroit by, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license

Typhoon Halong leaves 10 dead in Japan

Space Daily via AFP: At least 10 people died and dozens were injured as Typhoon Halong hurtled across the Japanese archipelago at the weekend, reports said Monday, with heavy rain still lashing the country's north.

The storm moved over the Sea of Japan (East Sea) and lurched towards Russia's far east coast Monday, after sweeping across Japan's largest and most populous island of Honshu. The outer bands of the storm continued to lash northern Japan with heavy rain as officials warned of landslides, floods and possible tornadoes in the area. The Japan Meteorological Agency downgraded the typhoon at 9:00 am Monday as it was off the Russian coast.

The National Police Agency confirmed that the storm, as well as heavy rain last week, killed at least two people and left two others missing. A total of 96 people were injured, public broadcaster NHK reported.

But the Nikkei newspaper said that 10 deaths were linked to the storm with two others missing. Among the victims, the body of an Iranian man was found in Ibaraki, northeast of Tokyo, while two Japanese women died in the country's west, the Nikkei said....

Keith Edkins created this  Track map of Typhoon Halong of the 2014 Pacific typhoon season. The points show the location of the storm at 6-hour intervals. The colour represents the storm's maximum sustained wind speeds as classified in the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale

Trapped atmospheric waves triggered more weather extremes

A press release from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research: Weather extremes in the summer - such as the record heat wave in the United States that hit corn farmers and worsened wildfires in 2012 - have reached an exceptional number in the last ten years. Man-made global warming can explain a gradual increase in periods of severe heat, but the observed change in the magnitude and duration of some events is not so easily explained. It has been linked to a recently discovered mechanism: the trapping of giant waves in the atmosphere. A new data analysis now shows that such wave-trapping events are indeed on the rise.

“The large number of recent high-impact extreme weather events has struck and puzzled us,” says Dim Coumou, lead author of the study conducted by a team of scientists from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). “Of course we are warming our atmosphere by emitting CO2 from fossil fuels, but the increase in devastating heat waves in regions like Europe or the US seems disproportionate.” One reason could be changes in circulation patterns in the atmosphere. By analysing large sets of global weather data, the researchers found an intriguing connection.

An important part of the global air motion in the mid-latitudes normally takes the form of waves wandering around the globe, called Rossby Waves. When they swing north, they suck warm air from the tropics to Europe, Russia, or the US; and when they swing south, they do the same thing with cold air from the Arctic. However, the study shows that in periods with extreme weather, some of these waves become virtually stalled and greatly amplified. While a few warm days have little impact, effects on people and ecosystems can be severe when these periods are prolonged.

“Behind this, there is a subtle resonance mechanism that traps waves in the mid-latitudes and amplifies them strongly,” says Stefan Rahmstorf, co-author of the study to be published in the Proceedings of the US National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Using advanced data analysis, the new study shows that when certain resonance conditions are fulfilled, the atmosphere tends to develop anomalously slowly propagating waves with large amplitudes, typically associated with extreme weather on the ground. An important finding is that this phenomenon is occurring more often: After the year 2000, it has been almost twice as frequent as before. “Evidence for actual changes in planetary wave activity was so far not clear. But by knowing what patterns to look for, we have now found strong evidence for an increase in these resonance events.”

Why would these events be on the rise? Both theory and the new data suggest a link to processes in the Arctic. Since the year 2000, the Arctic is warming about twice as fast as the rest of the globe. One reason for this is that because the white sea ice is rapidly shrinking, less sunlight gets reflected back into space, while the open ocean is dark and hence warms more. “This melting of ice and snow is actually due to our lifestyle of churning out unprecedented amounts of greenhouse gases from fossil fuels,” says Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, co-author of the study and director of PIK. As the Arctic warms more rapidly, the temperature difference to other regions decreases. Yet temperature differences are a major driver of the atmospheric circulation patterns that in turn rule our weather.

“The planetary waves topic illustrates how delicately interlinked components in the Earth system are.” Schellnhuber concludes: "And it shows how disproportionately the system might react to our perturbations.”

The number of planetary wave resonance events is shown as grey bars for each 4-year interval. While there used to be one or two events in a 4-year period, 2004-2007 saw three such events and 2008-2011 even five events. For comparison the red curve shows the change in Arctic temperature relative to that in the remainder of the Northern Hemisphere. Since 2000, the Arctic has warmed much faster than other latitudes. Graph: PIK

Report rings alarm over climate change

Shehla Ambreen in the Nation (Pakistan): The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) fifth assessment report titled "IPCC AR5 - What it means for a stronger and more inclusive Pakistan" released on Monday held that in South Asia some low-carbon development options may be less costly in the long run in terms of climate change with integrated climate adaptation, mitigation and development approaches.

Besides, the report emphasised on international cooperation as vital to avert dangerous climate change and enabling South Asian governments to promote ambitious global action. Ali Tauqeer Sheikh, CEO, LEAD Pakistan, said that it was the most comprehensive assessment of climate change ever with input of 830 expert authors from 85 countries. He said: "The report reviews the scientific evidence on the trends and causes of climate change, the risks to human and natural systems, and options for adaptation and mitigation."

...Dr Adil Najam, Dean of Pardee School of Global Studies said that everyone should step forward and take action in fighting against climate change. He said: "There is no doubt in saying that climate change is posing a great threat to the water and food security, health, livelihood and infrastructure in South Asia."

"Climate becomes unpredictable if it is messed and management of adaptation for the future will be mostly related to water, because climate of the future is very wet," he added. The report warned that climate change would have widespread impacts on South Asian society and its interaction with the natural environment. It stated that climate change adaptations were mostly going to be about changes in life style, ways of energy production and going for advanced technologies....

A man points to the level that the water came up to on the side of his home when floods swept through his village in Pakistan's Sindh province in August 2010.Shot by DFID - UK Department for International Development, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

UNEP urges Africa to invest in climate change adaptation

APA in StarAfrica: Investment in climate change adaptation can help ensure that the impacts of climate change do not reverse decades of development progress in Africa, according to a new report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).The report released in the Kenyan capital Nairobi on Tuesday claims the adoption of climate change practices will reverse a projected 20 – 50 per cent decline in water availability.

The report titled "Keeping Track of Adaptation Actions in Africa:  Targeted Fiscal Stimulus Actions Making a Difference" is the first graphical account presenting practical examples of successful low-cost adaptation solutions from around sub-Saharan Africa in one concise handbook.

The report includes examples of successful adaptation projects that have provided the impetus for large-scale government investments and policy action. According to the report, by 2050 Africa’s population will have doubled. The continent will then be home to 2 billion people, the majority of which will still largely depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, it says.

"With 94 per cent of agriculture dependent on rainfall, the future impacts of climate change – including increased droughts, flooding, and seal-level rise – may reduce crop yields in some parts of Africa by 15 – 20 per cent," UN-Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner adds....

The Sahara in Mauritania, shot by Annabel Symington, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Pakistan's juniper forest sacrificed for fuel, fruit orchards

Aamir Saeed in Thomson Reuters Foundation: One of the world’s largest and most ancient juniper forests in southwestern Pakistan, already stressed by water shortages, faces a further threat as its trees are cut down for fuel and to clear land for orchards.

Some of the trees in the juniper forest in the picturesque Ziarat valley of Balochistan province are believed to be as much as 7,000 years old. The forest covers an area of around 280,000 hectares (700,000 acres), of which around a third belongs to the state.

Protecting forests is crucial to curbing extreme weather and other problems associated with climate change, as trees absorb carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas. But persuading local residents not to fell them is difficult due to the profits to be made from selling timber, and because many people lack other sources of energy to heat their homes and cook food.

“We know the forest is an asset and we really want to protect, it but unfortunately we don’t have any alternative to firewood,” said Muhammad Hashim, a resident of Baba Kharwari, a village 8 km (5 miles) from the town of Ziarat.

Hashim, 55, is the only breadwinner for the 15 members of his family. He owns a 5-acre tract of land in the juniper forest, and to make ends meethe sells the trees to a local “mafia” that trades timber illegally....

A snow-dusted road in the Ziarat valley. Maybe those are junipers on that bluff. Shot by Akashahmed007, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license 

Cholera surges in Cameroon

IRIN: Rains and insecurity caused by Nigerian Islamist militants are aggravating a cholera outbreak in northern Cameroon which has killed at least 75 people and infected some 1,400 others since April. Water scarcity, poor public health care and risky hygienic practices have rekindled the disease which badly hit the country between 2009 and 2011, experts say.

Population movement during the current school holidays could help spread infections to other regions of Cameroon or even to neighbouring countries, said Félicité Tchibindat, a UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) representative in Cameroon.

The first cholera case was in a Nigerian family who were among a group of refugees fleeing to Cameroon from bombings and attacks by Nigeria’s Boko Haram extremist militia in April. Scarcity of safe drinking water, open defecation and other poor hygienic habits have exacerbated the cholera cases in northern Cameroon, Tchibindat said.

More than 26,000 cholera cases have been reported in Nigeria since the start of the year, according to health authorities. “For the moment we are supporting health workers, conducting community sensitization, supplied water and cholera treatment kits. But given the insecurity, whether the community mobilizers can visit all the villages is a question we are still asking ourselves,” Tchibindat told IRIN....

Typhoon Halong rips through western Japan

Terra Daily via AFP: Typhoon Halong slammed into western Japan on Sunday, making landfall on the main Honshu island as the weather agency issued its highest alert.

The strong typhoon hit Japan's largest and most populous island at around 10:00 am (0100 GMT) near the city of Ako on the southwest coast, the Japan Meteorological Agency said.

Packing winds of up to 162 kilometres per hour, the typhoon barrelled in to the smaller western island of Shikoku earlier Sunday, with huge waves battering the coast.

On Honshu, the weather agency maintained its highest warning -- meaning a threat to life and the risk of massive damage -- for Mie prefecture, some 300 kilometres (190 miles) west of Tokyo, warning that "unprecedented" torrential rain in the area could trigger massive landslides or major floods.

Storms and torrential rain earlier this week left one dead and 25 injured, Japan's public broadcaster NHK said....

NASA of Halong on August 10, 2014

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Washington state's 3,300 acre Rowena Wildfire threatens 740 homes

KOIN 6: A wildfire burning dangerously close to the small Columbia River Gorge community of Rowena has spread to more than 3,300 acres, but by Friday evening, fire crews said it was finally looking up. “We have gone hard at this fire for all the right reasons,” said Oregon Department of Forestry Incident Commander John Buckman. “We turned the corner today and things are looking much better.”

Crews were able to bring the flames under 35% containment, but not before at least two homes were damaged and another destroyed, and the state spent nearly $2 million.

A total of 740 homes are currently threatened, with 143 homes under a Level III (Go!) evacuation notice, according to a late afternoon update, while 597 homes are on a Level 1 (Get Ready) evacuation warning.  Based on infrared imaging, the Oregon State Fire Marshal estimates the fire to be at 3,372 acres, but a new update is expected by morning.

...By Thursday night, the fire displaced residents of about 275 homes and had scorched over 2,600 acres with zero percent containment. Some of those residents were allowed back into their homes later in the day when the number of homes under a Level 3 evacuation dropped to 143 as the fire moved east. The marshal’s office at that time had estimated the cost of the fire at $937,000....

A generic wildfire shot, from California, public domain

Bringing “smart” building technology to Jamaica's shantytowns

Jewel Fraser in IPS: Buildings are among the largest consumers of earth’s natural resources. According to the Sustainable Buildings and Climate Initiative, they use about 40 percent of global energy and 25 percent of global water, while emitting about a third of greenhouse gas emissions.

Anthony Clayton, a professor of sustainable development at the University of the West Indies, Jamaica, says those statistics make buildings vital to developing resilience to climate change and to reducing pockets of entrenched poverty in the Caribbean region.  “At the moment, most of the buildings in Jamaica are very energy inefficient with very expensive electricity that reduces the level of disposable incomes, which is one of the factors acting as a break on the economy. If we build to a higher standard of energy efficiency,” the country will also be more resilient to climate change, he added.

Clayton and his colleague, Professor Tara Dasgupta, are currently working on the prototype of a smart building whose key features would be “optimal sustainability and efficiency” with particular attention given to water efficiency, renewable energies, materials and resources, and indoor environmental quality.

The proposed “net zero energy” building, which is the first of its kind in the region, is now in the design phase. The University of the West Indies’ Institute for Sustainable Development (ISD), where Clayton holds the Alcan chair, is working in collaboration with the Global Environment Facility and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) on the seven-million-dollar research and building project.

Clayton, who is also a member of several advisory groups serving the Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery, the UNEP Division of Technology, Industry and Economics, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, told IPS that a major hazard of the current housing stock in Jamaica, in light of climate change, is its proliferation of informal settlements...

Photo by Rennett Stowe, Wikimedia Commons via Flicker, under the Creative Commons 2.0 license 

East India flood threat eases, 30,000 villagers told to go home

Jatindra Dash at the Thomson Reuters Foundation: About 30,000 evacuated villagers in eastern India began returning home on Tuesday after the threat of floods due to a  landslide in neighbouring Nepal eased, but 100,000 remained in relief camps, government officials said.

The landslide, triggered by heavy rains in Nepal's Sindhupalchowk district on Saturday,  killed at least 33 people and created a mud dam blocking the Sunkoshi river, which flows into India as the Kosi river. Indian authorities, fearing a torrent of water as the Nepalese army tried to clear the landslide, evacuated more than 130,000 villagers in Bihar state over the weekend.

A senior disaster management official said the careful clearing of the landslide across the border had lessened the risk of flash floods and 30,000 evacuees were told to return home. "Some of the districts … in the downstream area such as Darbhanga, Madhubani, Khagaria and Bhagalpur, they may not face the problems anticipated earlier," said Vyasji, principal secretary of Bihar disaster management department.

"We have stopped our evacuation process in these four districts. People who are at the relief camps have been told to go back to their villages," he told Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Patna, Bihar's main city....

The Sunkoshi River in a dryer time, shot by Rajesh2044, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Burundi flood victims need more help

IRIN: Thousands of people displaced by floods and a mudslide in the Burundian capital Bujumbura and surrounding areas in February 2014 need more help to reconstruct their homes and livelihoods, aid workers say.
“These people who haven’t been resettled and even those who have gone back to their homes are in need of proper shelter, food and blankets,” Methode Niyungeko, coordinator of the Platform for the Prevention of Risks, a  local NGO, told IRIN.
“The government is working with partners to identify those who need help with reconstruction and is mobilizing resources towards that. We realize and appreciate many of those who were affected were orphans and widows who cannot reconstruct their homes on their own,” Divine Claudine from the deputy vice president’s office, told IRIN.
The government says it needs 166,236 iron sheets to help reconstruct houses for 7,556 vulnerable households.
“There were those who were living in rented houses before the floods [and who lost their own homes]... They are now living with relatives and these host families are facing a lot of hardships in catering for them. We know of about 800 such families,” Deogratias Niyonzima, a representative of the Christian Community Development of Burundi (CCDB), told IRIN....

A loft of view of Bujumbura, public domain

Tuvalu family cites global warming on accepted refugee application

Terra Daily via UPI: On a refugee application recently accepted by New Zealand, a Tuvalu family claimed they'd be forced out by global warming if they returned home. It's the first instance of refugees citing climate change as one of the reasons for their displacement.

But this particular family could be the first of many if sea level rise continues at the rate many climatologists have predicted. Tuvalu is a tiny island nation in the Pacific, between Hawaii and New Zealand. At just 6 feet above sea level, Tuvalu is one of many island nations that could be nearly swallowed by the sea by the end of the century.

Even if sea level rise happens at only half the rate of more dooming predictions, these sorts of places could quickly become uninhabitable as their coasts become increasingly vulnerable to storms. This latest refugee case has many wondering: When will the floodgates for global warming refugees open?

As of now, climate change and sea level rise are not officially recognized as legitimate causes of displacement by the International Refugee Convention. And while the case of this Tuvalu family's application featured other circumstances -- the family had lived in New Zealand since 2007 and had strong ties to the community -- environmental lawyers have watched the situation closely, curious as to the case's larger implications....

Ocean on all sides. A landscape in Tuvalu, image by Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade , Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons 2.0 license