Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Global CO2 emissions increase to new all-time record, but growth is slowing down

A press release from the EU's Joint Research Centre: 2013 saw global CO2 emissions from fossil fuel use and cement production reach a new all-time high. This was mainly due to the continuing steady increase in energy use in emerging economies over the past ten years.  However, emissions increased at a notably slower rate (2%) than on average in the last ten years (3.8% per year since 2003, excluding the credit crunch years).

This slowdown, which began in 2012, signals a further decoupling of global emissions and economic growth, which reflects mainly the lower emissions growth rate of China. China, the USA and the EU remain the top-3 emitters of CO2, accounting for respectively 29%, 15% and 11% of the world’s total. After years of a steady decline, the CO2 emissions of the United States grew
by 2.5% in 2013, whereas in the EU emissions continued to decrease, by 1.4% in 2013.

These are the main findings in the annual report ‘Trends in global CO2 emissions’, released today by PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency and the JRC. The report is based on recent results from the joint JRC/PBL Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research (EDGAR), the latest statistics on energy use and various other activities.

In 2013, global CO2 emissions grew to the new record of 35.3 billion tonnes (Gt). Sharp risers include Brazil (+ 6.2%), India (+ 4.4%), China (+ 4.2%) and Indonesia (+2.3%). The much lower emissions increase in China of 4.2% in 2013 and 3.4% in 2012 was primarily due to a decline in electricity and fuel demand from the basic materials industry, and aided by an increase in renewable energy and by energy efficiency improvements. The emissions increase in the United States in 2013 (+2.5%) was mainly due to a shift in power production from gas back to coal together with an increase in gas consumption due to a higher demand for space heating....

Sulphur dioxide emissions from a vent in Hawaii. But these emissions aren't made by humans.  Shot by Brocken Inaglory Brocken Inaglory, Wikimedia Commons, under the Wikimedia Commons Share and Share Alike 3.0 Unported license 

Stanford scientist examines ways to put stormwater to use in big cities

Terra Daily: Stanford researchers plan to use data from St. Paul, Minnesota, to determine the value of stormwater, and apply these lessons to water projects in Brazil and Ethiopia. Runoff from rainstorms in big cities can represent both threats and opportunities. Too much runoff in the wrong places causes flooding. Too little rainwater in the right places leads to dried-up creeks and rivers.

Water that washes up pollution from city streets can dirty downstream watersheds. Figuring out the best solutions to these problems requires lots of data - data that are easy to get in highly developed countries, but much scarcer in others.

At the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in San Francisco, Perrine Hamel, a postdoctoral scholar with the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, will speak on "Mapping Stormwater Retention in the Cities: A Flexible Model for Data-Scarce Environments." "It's really trying to mimic what would happen in a natural watershed," said Perrine.

Initially, Perrine and co-author Bonnie Keeler from the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment plan to study the data-rich Capitol Region watershed in St. Paul, Minnesota. Then they plan to extend that work to the data-poor settings of Sao Paulo, Brazil, and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Their goal is to determine the value of stormwater retention services for large cities in developing countries, and to compare their benefits to those of other services like recreation or urban heat island mitigation. Natural Capital Project partners World Wildlife Fund and The Nature Conservancy want to help large cities like Addis Ababa develop in ways that enhance the provision of ecosystem services and that don't create future problems from stormwater runoff. ...

A stormwater management pond in Patuxent, Maryland, shot by Andrew Bossi, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic licenses  

Fishing quotas defy scientists’ advice

Fiona Harvey in the Guardian (UK): Britain’s fishermen will be allowed to increase their catch of cod and other key fish species next year after late-night wrangling between EU ministers in Brussels resulted in a new set of fishing quotas that flout scientific advice. The quota for cod catches for 2015 will increase by 5% on last year, though scientific advice suggested that it should be cut by 20%.

The UK’s fisheries minister, George Eustice, hailed the deal as a triumph for Britain’s dwi
ndling fishing fleets. He said: “Although these were difficult negotiations, I am pleased that we were able to secure the best possible deal to ensure sustainable fisheries and a strong UK fishing industry. While fishermen had feared there would be major cuts, we were able to keep the same quota as last year for many species, in addition to important increases to the North Sea cod and haddock quota, which will benefit Scottish fishermen.”

UK fishermen will also be allowed to catch 15% more prawns than last year and 15% more plaice in the North Sea, while the haddock catch has been increased by 6%. But in the Celtic Sea, fewer cod and haddock will be allowed to be caught – though the number is still more than scientists advised – and the number of sole to be caught in the Bristol and Eastern channels has been reduced.

Conservationists said the deal, reached after a day and a half of negotiations in Brussels, was not in line with what scientists had advised. After nearly four years of tense negotiations, the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy was finally reformed this year. In its new state, it is supposed to guarantee that fish stocks are managed at what scientists deem to be sustainable levels, known as the maximum sustainable yield.

Andrew Clayton, of the Pew Charitable Trusts, which advocates a sustainable fisheries policy, said: “After decades of failing to get to grips with overfishing, the new common fisheries policy was supposed to bind ministers to setting sustainable fishing limits this year. Instead, they have set a considerable number of [quotas] in excess of the level scientists advised, failing to meet the targets they set themselves for overfishing. These are weak decisions, jeopardising the livelihoods of fishermen and the sustainability of stocks.”...

A fishing trawler in front of the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth, shot by Darren Rosson Darren Rosson, Wikimedia Commons via Geograph UK, under the Creative Commons 2.0 Generic license

NASA to study how African fires affect climate

Jan Piotrowski in Climate scientists have received a boost of up to US$150 million from US space agency NASA for a five year campaign to probe how air pollution, manmade fires across Africa and warming oceans may affect our climate.

The money will be split equally among five projects under the umbrella of the agency’s Earth Venture initiative, which is designed to fill major knowledge gaps in earth sciences. A mixture of plane flights and surface measurements will shed light on processes that NASA’s satellite missions cannot pick up.

The projects are: Atmospheric chemistry and air pollution, Ecosystem chan
ges in a warming ocean, Greenhouse gas sources, African fires and Atlantic clouds, and Melting Greenland glaciers....  This is NASA’s second series of Earth Venture suborbital projects, recommended by the National Research Council in 2007. In 2010, the first series of five projects was selected.

"These new investigations address a variety of key scientific questions critical to advancing our understanding of how Earth works," said Jack Kaye, associate director for research in NASA's Earth Science Division in Washington in a NASA press release. “These innovative airborne experiments will let us probe inside processes and locations in unprecedented detail that complements what we can do with our fleet of Earth-observing satellites.”

Collecting hard data is the goal, but NASA scientist Hal Maring says that it is much more than an academic exercise — all projects were selected with a “heavy bias” towards their relevance for policy. “Our mission is to push the boundaries of field science to address weaknesses in our knowledge of Earth systems,” he says. “But behind these words is the assumption that the science better make a difference.”...

NASA image of fires in the Gambia in 2002

From Haiyan to Hagupit - what changed?

IRIN: On the second full day of operations responding to what entered the Philippines as Typhoon Hagupit - since downgraded to a tropical storm - national officials say disaster coordination has improved since last year’s Super Typhoon Haiyan.  Tacloban, the city that bore the bulk of the estimated 6,000-plus fatalities 13 months ago, has reported no casualties thus far.

“We evacuated sooner this year. People need longer than one to two days to evacuate,” Tacloban’s mayor Alfred Romualdez told IRIN, admitting he broke rules to suspend classes before the storm had even entered the Philippine Area of Responsibility. “People need three to four days to evacuate. You cannot force evacuation. Before they can think about evacuating, they need to borrow money from their employer. Then it takes at least one day to return home to provinces.”

More than one million people were transferred to 3,640 evacuation centres, as reported by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) on 8 December. Eight of the country’s 17 administration regions were affected.

In Tacloban, some 50,000 people were evacuated ahead of the storm, almost all of whom were already displaced from last year’s Typhoon Haiyan. Romualdez estimated at most 6,000 newly displaced. Almost all have returned to their residences.

Rather than waiting until damage assessments were in to request additional military presence, Romualdez requested military reinforcements four days before the typhoon hit, allowing the city to prepare relief goods and “custom-fit” disaster risk reduction to Tacloban’s needs, he said.

....Assistant-Secretary Camilo Gudmalin, who oversees for DSWD the region of Western Visayas, parts of which were still emerging from last year’s super typhoon when they were hit again in the latest calamity, said coordination between national and international responders has improved....

NASA image of Hagupit, December 5, 2014

Sunday, December 14, 2014

17 dead, nearly 100 missing in Indonesian landslide

Terra Daily: Torrential downpours triggered a landslide on Indonesia's main island of Java, killing at least 17 people and leaving nearly 100 others missing, with persistent rain hampering rescue efforts, officials said Saturday.

Hundreds of rescuers were digging with shovels through mud and rubble after the landslide buried scores of houses in Jemblung village in central Java late Friday, the national disaster agency said. The landslide swept down a hillside in the village, sparing only two houses, an AFP correspondent said.

"The rescue team have found 17 bodies," the national disaster agency's spokesman, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, told AFP, adding that 11 others were badly injured and rescuers were searching for 91 people still missing. The disaster agency said that 200 rescuers and 500 volunteers had joined the search for the missing....

Locator map of Java by Jeanot, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons 3.0 license

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Global warming's influence on extreme weather

A press release from Stanford University: Extreme climate and weather events such as record high temperatures, intense downpours and severe storm surges are becoming more common in many parts of the world. But because high-quality weather records go back only about 100 years, most scientists have been reluctant to say if global warming affected particular extreme events.

On Wednesday, Dec. 17, at the American Geophysical Union's Fall Meeting in San Francisco, Noah Diffenbaugh, an associate professor of environmental Earth system science at the Stanford School of Earth Sciences, will discuss approaches to this challenge in a talk titled "Quantifying the Influence of Observed Global Warming on the Probability of Unprecedented Extreme Climate Events." He will focus on weather events that – at the time they occur – are more extreme than any other event in the historical record.

Diffenbaugh emphasizes that asking precisely the right question is critical for finding the correct answer. "The media are often focused on whether global warming caused a particular event," said Diffenbaugh, who is a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. "The more useful question for real-world decisions is: 'Is the probability of a particular event statistically different now compared with a climate without human influence?'"

Diffenbaugh said the research requires three elements: a long record of climate observations; a large collection of climate model experiments that accurately simulate the observed variations in climate; and advanced statistical techniques to analyze both the observations and the climate models.

One research challenge involves having just a few decades or a century of high-quality weather data with which to make sense of events that might occur once every 1,000 or 10,000 years in a theoretical climate without human influence.

But decision makers need to appreciate the influence of global warming on extreme climate and weather events. "If we look over the last decade in the United States, there have been more than 70 events that have each caused at least $1 billion in damage, and a number of those have been considerably more costly," said Diffenbaugh. "Understanding whether the probability of those high-impact events has changed can help us to plan for future extreme events, and to value the costs and benefits of avoiding future global warming."

Navarre Beach, Florida, after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. FEMA photo

Superbugs could kill 10 million people a year

CBS News: Warnings about the dangers of antibiotic-resistant "superbugs" are taking on new urgency with the release of a frightening new report from the British government. The report says higher rates of drug-resistant bacterial infections could result in 10 million deaths a year by 2050. The report puts the financial toll at a potential $100 trillion.

"That's a tremendous impact," CBS News medical contributor Dr. David Agus told "CBS This Morning." And the problem is not just hypothetical. "It's a real threat today. It's going to be a bigger threat," he said.

Superbugs such as Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, commonly called MRSA, are currently blamed for about 23,000 deaths a year in the United States. Earlier this year, the World Health Organization warned that antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria have now spread worldwide and could lead to a "post-antibiotic era in which common infections and minor injuries...can once again kill." The WHO report called the problem "so serious that it threatens the achievements of modern medicine."

The risk has grown in recent years as the overuse of common antibiotics encouraged growth of drug-resistant strains. "Every time somebody has a fever, a doctor can give them an antibiotic. We have to stop that," Agus said. Antibiotics don't work against viral infections like a cold or the flu, but patients often ask for the drugs anyway, and too often doctors comply...

Colorized transmission electron micrograph showing USA 300 strain of Staphlococcus aureus, shown in gold, outside a white blood cell, shown in blue. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). From the National Institutes of Health

Central America drought turning into humanitarian crisis

UN News Centre: A prolonged drought in Central America is turning into a humanitarian crisis for nearly two and a half million people affected by food insecurity in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) warned today. Briefing the press in Geneva today, OCHA’s Jens Laerke said most of those affected are subsistence farmers, farm labourers and low-income families.

In Honduras and Guatemala, up to 75 per cent of maize and bean crop has been lost and thousands of cattle had died. In the coming months, food insecurity is expected to get worse as families deplete their food stocks.

In Guatemala, the Government declared a state of public calamity in 16 departments in August and by October, 30,000 families had finished their food stocks. Those families were today in deep distress, said Mr. Laerke.

In the so-called “dry corridor” in eastern Guatemala, a joint Government/UN/NGO (non-governmental organization) assessment found that one in four households suffered from moderate or severe malnutrition. Children under five, pregnant women and female-headed households are most vulnerable, said Mr. Laerke.

In Honduras the Government had declared a state of emergency in the drought affected western areas, as crop loss had reached up to 75 per cent. Assessments also found high levels of malnutrition in children under five. An emergency assessment in September found that nearly 20,000 children were malnourished as a consequence of the long drought, said Mr. Laerke.

In El Salvador, the Ministry of Environment and Natural resources had reported that the country was experiencing its worst drought since 1977. The authorities said that in hotspot areas in the eastern part of the country, more than 80 per cent of farmers reported that they have lost all of their crops....

The Guatemalan highlands, shot by Pati Gaitan Pati Gaitan, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons 2.0 license

UN report says climate change adaptation costs could be much higher than thought

I'm a little late with this, but the point bears repeating... Eric Lyman at Bloomberg News via Energy and Climate Report: Efforts to adapt to climate change in the developing world could cost several times previous estimates, regardless of how successful negotiations are to reduce emissions, the United Nations said Dec. 5 at the Lima climate change conference. Estimates of a potential tripling of earlier forecast costs were revealed in the UN Environment Program’s first Adaptation Gap Report, released on Day 5 of the international climate talks in the Peruvian capital.

“The current global estimates of the costs of adaptation report a range of US$70 billion to US$100 billion per year globally by 2050 (for developing countries),” the report said. “The findings of this review suggest these values are likely to be a significant underestimate, particularly in the years 2030 and beyond. As a minimum, it seems likely that the costs of adaptation will be two to three times higher than current global estimates.”

Countries have agreed to provide at least $10 billion this year to help fund adaptation efforts in developing countries, with a goal of ramping up to $100 billion annually by 2020. But the UNEP report said that might not be nearly enough.

The report said adaptation costs will likely be higher than previously expected, regardless of what happens in negotiations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, talks that are expected to culminate late in 2015 with a global agreement in Paris...

Two more British Columbia farms affected by avian flu outbreak

Jane Deacon in the Toronto Sun via the QMI Agency: Two more Fraser Valley, B.C., poultry farms have been hit by the avian flu outbreak, bringing the total number of affected birds to 155,000.

Despite efforts to reduce the spread of the disease, health officials say more farms could be affected in the days ahead. There are now seven farms affected.

"Since this is highly contagious and can spread rapidly, we might see more at-risk farms come up," said Dr. Harpreet Kochhar, chief veterinary officer with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).

Eight countries, including the U.S., have temporarily closed their borders to B.C. and Canadian poultry products since the virus was confirmed last week...

A microscopic view of H5N1, from the US Centers for Disease Control

Friday, December 12, 2014

UK flooding: 'We must learn to live with water'

Brad Allen in the newsroom: The ever-increasing threat of flooding cannot be fully defended, so the UK must adopt a new approach where we learn to 'live with water', argues a new white paper from built environment science centre BRE.

BRE welcomed the Treasury's £2.3 billion investment in flood defences, but says that a new approach to dealing with flooding is required whereby buildings are made flood-resilient. Scroll down for full report.

BRE argues that flooding is inevitable as climate change and urbanisation have put more than 5.2 million homes in England at risk of flooding. Annual costs of flood damage are currently at least £1.1 billion and are expected to rise in coming years.

Across Europe, flooding has been traditionally managed by large-scale engineering solutions protecting conurbations from obvious risks such as rivers and the sea. However floods are now occurring within these defences requiring buildings to be adapted appropriately

BRE Centre for Resilience director Dr Stephen Garvin said: "Our urban environment continues to grow apace - surface water management needs to be embedded in the new developments we construct with things like sustainable urban drainage systems, green roofs to decrease water run off as well as localised flood resilient technologies."…

Photo of 2007 flood in Oxford by John Barker John Barker, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons 2.0 license

Thursday, December 11, 2014

NASA study shows 13-year record of drying Amazon caused vegetation declines

A press release from NASA:With global climate models projecting further drying over the Amazon in the future, the potential loss of vegetation and the associated loss of carbon storage may speed up global climate change.

The study was based on a new way to measure the “greenness” of plants and trees using satellites. While one NASA satellite measured up to 25 percent decline in rainfall across two thirds of the Amazon from 2000 to 2012, a set of different satellite instruments observed a 0.8 percent decline in greenness over the Amazon. The study was published on Nov. 11 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

While the decline of green vegetation was small, the area affected was not: 2.1 million square miles (5.4 million square kilometers), equivalent to over half the area of the continental United States. The Amazon's tropical forests are one of the largest sinks for atmospheric carbon dioxide on the planet.

"In other words, if greenness declines, this is an indication that less carbon will be removed from the atmosphere. The carbon storage of the Amazon basin is huge, and losing the ability to take up as much carbon could have global implications for climate change," said lead author Thomas Hilker, remote sensing specialist at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon. Plants absorb carbon dioxide as part of photosynthesis, the process by which green plants harvest sunlight. The healthier the plants, the greener the forest.

The Amazon basin stores an estimated 120 billion tons of Earth's carbon – that's about 3 times more carbon than humans release into the atmosphere each year. If vegetation becomes less green, it would absorb less of that carbon dioxide. As a result, more of human emissions would remain in the atmosphere, increasing the greenhouse effect that contributes to global warming and alters Earth's climate...

Popcorn clouds above the Amazon rainforest, August 19, 2009. This type of cloud forms during the dry season, likely from water vapor released by plants during transpiration. Image Credit: NASA's Earth Observatory

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Chances of extreme heat waves in Europe up tenfold

Diane Depra in Tech Times: The Met Office released a study in 2004 about the extreme heatwave that hit Europe the previous year, finding that the event is now more than twice likely to happen because of the influence of humans on climate. The National Weather Service updated the 2004 study by exploring how hot weather chances in Mediterranean and Central Europe have changed over the course of a decade.

Published in the journal Nature Climate Change, the new study focused on summers from 2003 to 2012. Comparing the period covered by the first study (the 1990s) and the focus of the new study, researchers found that summers have become warmer by 0.81 ºC or 33.4 ºF in Mediterranean and Central Europe, increasing the likelihood of summer and extreme heatwaves happening in the regions affected.

Summer heatwaves are defined as having temperatures of 1.6 ºC or 33.9 ºF over the long-term average set between 1961 and 1990, while extreme heatwaves are 2.3 ºC or 36.1 ºF above the said average.

According to Dr. Nikos Christidis, the study's lead author, extremely hot summers that were once expected to happen twice in a century during the early 2000s are highly likely to occur more frequently now. How frequently? Expect extremely hot summers about twice every 10 years.

"Moreover, the chances of heatwaves as extreme as seen in 2003 have increased from about 1-in-1000 to about 1-in100 years and are projected to occur once every other year by the 2030s-2040s under continuing greenhouse gas emissions," Dr. Christidis added...

Giorgiogp2 - created this rendering of the 2006 European heat wave, using NASA's Modis Terra data, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Black Mesa mines: Native Americans demand return of their ancestors' bones

Leslie Macmillan in the Guardian (UK): In 1967 the Peabody coal company came to the Navajo and Hopi reservations in northern Arizona and Utah to excavate a strip mine – but the land it leased from the tribes was on an ancient tribal burial ground. So, as required by law, it hired archeologists and for the next 17 years a dig known as the Black Mesa archeological project – the largest in North American history – unearthed more than one million artefacts, including the remains of 200 Native Americans.

Now the bones and artefacts are at the centre of a debate between tribes people who say ancestral remains and archeological ruins have been desecrated, and a coal company and government officials who are planning a new dig.

Native American groups and the Sierra Club are suing the US government to protect ancient Indian burial sites as one of the world’s biggest coal companies, Peabody, seeks a lifetime mining permit for the land it leases from the tribes. “I am incensed that my ancestors were dug up, ground up and send off to universities to be studied,” said Vernon Masayesva, a plaintiff and former Hopi tribal chairman.

Peabody says it has taken good care of the artefacts and bones. The collection is curated “with the express wishes of both tribes” and “in compliance with federal law,” said Beth Sutton, a company spokesperson.

But a report by the Army Corps of Engineers, which surveyed the collection early last decade at the University of Illinois, where it is housed, found the curation to be “substandard in every respect”. Rodents and spiders “were a problem”, according to the report, which notes that facilities had been broken into and artefacts were missing.

What’s more, Alan Downer, a former historical preservation officer for the Navajo Nation, said the tribe had never authorised any remains to be loaned to a professor, Debra L Martin, who teaches at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. He said he was “shocked to find out” about eight years ago, that she had had the bones since 1980...

A thunderstom of Black Mesa, near Kayenda, Arizona. Shot by Famartin, Wikimedia Commns, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Indian anti-cyclone actions slash extreme-weather risks

Gareth Willmer at Developing nations should build resilience to extreme-weather events by learning from previous disasters and introducing technology such as early warning systems, says a report by UK-based scientific academy the Royal Society.  

As an example, the researchers highlight Cyclone Phailin, which hit the east Indian state of Odisha in October 2013. It was the area’s strongest storm since Cyclone 05B struck in 1999, killing almost 9,000 people and leaving more than 1.5 million homeless. Yet just 44 people were killed in Odisha by the 2013 cyclone and related flash floods.  

While last year’s storm still caused significant destruction, the researchers say the vastly reduced human cost shows “the effectiveness of building resilience through preparedness, early warnings, political commitment and technology”. They highlight how Odisha has pumped major investment this millennium into early-warning systems, infrastructure improvements, evacuation planning and shelters.  

And such measures could be key in coming years as developing nations face a “significant and increasing” risk from extreme weather due to their growing populations and climate change, they say. Maps in the report illustrate that the impact of floods, heatwaves and droughts will grow in many areas worldwide, but the risk will be amplified in regions such as South Asia, South-East Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa because of their patterns of population rise and urbanisation....

NASA image of Cyclone Phailin, October 11, 2013

Green Climate Fund hits $10 billion goal, after Australia surprise

Alister Doyle and Megan Rowling at via Reuters: A new Green Climate Fund that aims to help poor nations cope with global warming reached a U.N. goal of $10 billion on Tuesday at global climate talks in Lima, helped by a surprise donation from Australia.

Several of the 190 nations at the meeting welcomed the cash from both Australia and Belgium, but China said rich countries were not working fast enough to meet a broader goal of providing $100 billion a year by 2020 from public and private sources to help the poor cope. "We've got above one of the psychologically important milestones of more than $10 billion," Hela Cheikhrouhou, head of the Fund, told Reuters. Pledges by 24 nations now total $10.14 billion, she said.

Environment ministers are meeting in Lima from Dec. 1-12 to work on elements of a draft deal to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Finance is a key part of the deal, due to be agreed in Paris in late 2015, to help developing nations take part. Australia, which faced criticisms by developing nations after it did not make a pledge at a donors' meeting last month, pledged A$200 million ($166 million) and Belgium 51.6 million euros ($64 million)....

Image by Svilen.milev, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licens

Sierra Leone’s worrying ebola trend

IRIN: In the week ending 30 November, Sierra Leone reported 537 confirmed Ebola cases, 152 more than the previous week and over four times the combined number of cases in Guinea and Liberia during the same period, according to World Health Organization’s (WHO) latest updates.

For more than a month, the outbreak has been slowing in Liberia, which reported 43 cases from 24-28 November. In Guinea, where the virus was first reported in March, there has been a slight increase in cases since October. Seventy-seven cases were reported in the last week of November, says WHO.

Health authorities in Sierra Leone say the continued denial of the existence of Ebola and unsafe burials are driving up infections. Seventy percent of infections are due to unsafe burials of Ebola victims, Brima Kargbo, chief medical officer at the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, told reporters on 3 December.

“The issue of denial is still [widespread] in our communities despite the fact that there is increased awareness and sensitization. People continue to hide the sick; people continue to wash bodies,” Kargbo said.

“What we have done is continue to engage the community leaders - for them to fully understand the risk factors of Ebola and for them to see the need to be involved in the fight [against Ebola] by reporting early when their loved ones are sick; at the same time for people not to bury without the support of the medical teams.”...

Monday, December 8, 2014

Chinese tests find quarter of drinking water 'substandard'

Reuters: Almost a quarter of purified drinking water tested by China's top safety watchdog was substandard, with many products found to contain excessive levels of bacteria, the official Shanghai Daily newspaper said on Monday.

The findings underline the challenge to controlling supply chains in China, after a slew of food safety scares over the past year from donkey meat products contaminated with fox to heavy metals found in infant food.

The China Food and Drug Administration (CFDA) found excessive bacteria in purified water products from China's biggest drinks maker, Wahaha Group, as well as C'estbon Beverage Co Ltd and Danone SA's Robust brand, the newspaper said.

In a statement posted on the official Xinhua news agency, Wahaha said it had recalled the affected products and cut its supply relationship with the water station where it said the contamination had occurred....

Image by Angelsharum, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

California residents braced for floods and mudslides as rain sweeps state

Amanda Holpunch in the Guardian (UK): A Pacific storm is sweeping through California, providing the drought-stricken state with a brief respite from its arid conditions but triggering fears of mudslides and floods. The downpour, however, will put a minor dent in the three-year drought and comes with mudslide evacuations, traffic hazards and concerns that it could give a misleading impression of the state’s water conditions.

The Los Angeles region could experience its heaviest rainfall in two years. The National Weather Service predicted that up to six inches could fall in the southern part of the state by the end of Wednesday. Authorities on Tuesday issued a mandatory evacuation for 75 homes in Camarillo Springs, about 50 miles north of Los Angeles. The order was lifted at 6pm, though people were urged to voluntarily stay out of their homes. Voluntary evacuation notices were also issued to dozens of other homes in southern California.

San Francisco’s famed cable cars had to shut down during the downpour. The California highway patrol reported an increase in traffic hazards and a large number of car crashes in the Bay Area. Many flights in the region were delayed because of the rain.

Sacramento received 0.53 inches of rain on Tuesday, and was due for another half-inch into Wednesday. Over the next few days, more than four inches of rain are expected in the mountainous parts of the state.

Flash-flood warnings were issued to in parts of El Dorado and Placer counties because of the quick pace of the rain storm. These regions were beset by the King Fire, which covered more than 150 square miles and brought in firefighters from other states including Alaska and Florida. The state has launched projects to fight erosion of the devastated land...

The Golden Gate through the rain drops. A beautiful shot by Brocken Inaglory Brocken Inaglory, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons 3.0

Drying of Botswana's Gaborone dam due to insufficient rain

Mmoniemang Motsamai in via the Daily News (Botswana): Minister of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources, Mr Kitso Mokaila has told Parliament that the drying up of Gaborone Dam and its inability to accumulate water was a result of insufficient rain in Gaborone and its catchment areas. "The fact that there had been no rains here and certainly the history of rainfall in Gaborone can be confirmed by Metrological Services", said Mr Mokaila.

He also brushed aside sentiments that small dams up stream could be responsible for the drying up of the Gaborone Dam, saying, instead such dams had been a blessing in disguise because they had been depositing water into the dam.

The Gaborone Dam is currently at 5.4 per cent, yielding 14 million litres of water a day, but had the capacity to yield 88 million litres of water a day. "And maybe in the next two weeks it will be dry and we won't be able to extract anything out of it," the minister said.

He further told MPs that when government realised the need for standardised water issues, it took a decision to give Water Utilities Corporation the authority to supply water to the nation. He said at the time, WUC was supplying water to main towns from dams and that councils were using boreholes to supply water to individual villages with water affairs doing the same.

Mr Mokaila said, however, that the charges were not standard to all the areas and it was imperative for one authority to do so. For example; he said Molepolole was paying P2.60 per kilo-litre while Selebi Phikwe was paying P1.30.

With regards to the provision of water in the southern region, he said government went a step further to negotiate with states along the Zambezi River for Botswana to source water from the Zambezi River to water the Kgalagadi-Tsabong area....

NASA image of the Gaborone Dam in Botswana, shot from the International Space Station

New study explains the role of oceans in global ‘warming hiatus’

A press release from the University of Southampton: New research shows that ocean heat uptake across three oceans is the likely cause of the ‘warming hiatus’ – the current decade-long slowdown in global surface warming.  Using data from a range of state-of-the-art ocean and atmosphere models, the research shows that the increased oceanic heat drawdown in the equatorial Pacific, North Atlantic and Southern Ocean basins has played a significant role in the hiatus.

The new analysis has been published in Geophysical Research Letters by Professor Sybren Drijfhout from the University of Southampton and collaborators from the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) Dr Adam Blaker, Professor Simon Josey, Dr George Nurser and Dr Bablu Sinha, together with Dr Magdalena Balmaseda from the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting (ECMWF).

Professor Drijfhout said: “This study attributes the increased oceanic heat drawdown in the equatorial Pacific, North Atlantic and Southern Ocean to specific, different mechanisms in each region. This is important as current climate models have been unable to simulate the hiatus. Our study gives clues to where the heat is drawn down and by which processes. This can serve as a benchmark for climate models on how to improve their projections of future global mean temperature.”

Previously, the drawdown of heat by the Equatorial Pacific Ocean over the hiatus period, due to cool sea-surface temperatures associated with a succession of cool-surface La Nina episodes, was thought to be sufficient to explain the hiatus.  However, this new analysis reveals that the northern North Atlantic, the Southern Ocean and Equatorial Pacific Ocean are all important regions of ocean heat uptake. Each basin contributes a roughly equal amount to explaining the hiatus, but the mechanisms of heat drawdown are different and specific in each basin.

...Dr Sinha concluded: “The deeper understanding gained in this study of the processes and regions responsible for variations in oceanic heat drawdown and retention will improve the accuracy of future climate projections.”

Fish at an oil platform, Gulf of Mexico, photo by US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management

India rushes water aid to thirsty Maldives to take a lead over China

Shubham Ghosh in One India: India rushed to maritime neighbour Maldives' rescue after receiving a distress call from Male which faced a massive water crisis after its main water treatment plant was damaged in a fire. New Delhi sent 200 tonnes of potable water by air and water ways.

Maldives conveyed its plight to foreign minister Sushma Swaraj through her Maldivian counterpart Dunya Maumoon that the capital was in a state of emergency as 1,00,000 residents were left without a drop to drinking following the fire at the treatment plant. Maldives has no natural source of water and depends on treated sea water. Swaraj immediately took up the matter with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and New Delhi wasted no time to use the opportunity to strengthen its ties with the maritime neighbour. Foreign ministry spokesperson

Syed Akbaruddin said India was the first country to stand by Maldives at its hour of need and reiterated that India would help any member of the Saarc fraternity in all possible way. It may be mentioned here that Prime Minister Modi has stressed improving South Asian solidarity on all platforms, including the recent Saarc Summit held in Nepal. The prime minister also assured Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen about India's help and expressed hope about further progress in the relation between the two neighbours.

Maldives also sought help from Sri Lanka, China and United States. Former Maldivian presidents Mayoom Abdul Gayoom and Mohammed Naseed thanked the Indian government for aiding their country at the time of the crisis....

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Antarctica: Heat comes from the deep

A press release from the Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research-Kiel: The water temperatures on the West Antarctic shelf are rising. The reason for this is predominantly warm water from greater depths, which as a result of global change now increasingly reaches the shallow shelf. There it has the potential to accelerate the glacier melt from below and trigger the sliding of big glaciers. These data are published today by scientists of the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel together with colleagues from the UK, the US and Japan in the international journal Science.

... "There are many large glaciers in the area. The elevated temperatures have accelerated the melting and sliding of these glaciers in recent decades and there are no indications that this trend is changing,"says the lead author of the study, Dr. Sunke Schmidtko from GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel.

For their study, he and his colleagues of the University of East Anglia, the California Institute of Technology and the University of Hokkaido (Japan) evaluated all oceanographic data from the waters around Antarctica from 1960 to 2014 that were available in public databases. These data show that five decades ago, the water masses in the West Antarctic shelf seas were already warmer than in other parts of Antarctica, for example, in the Weddell Sea. However, the temperature difference is not constant. Since 1960, the temperatures in the West Antarctic Amundsen Sea and the Bellingshausen Sea have been rising. "Based on the data we were able to see that this shelf process is induced from the open ocean," says Dr. Schmidtko.

..."These are the regions in which accelerated glacial melting has been observed for some time. We show that oceanographic changes over the past 50 years have probably caused this melting. If the water continues to warm, the increased penetration of warmer water masses onto the shelf will likely further accelerate this process, with an impact on the rate of global sea level rise " explains Professor Karen Heywood from the University of East Anglia.

The scientists also draw attention to the rising up of warm water masses in the southwestern Weddell Sea. Here very cold temperatures (less than minus 1.5°C or 29°F) prevail on the shelf and a large-scale melting of shelf ice has not been observed yet. If the shoaling of warm water masses continues, it is expected that there will be major environmental changes with dramatic consequences for the Filchner or Ronne Ice Shelf, too. For the first time glaciers outside the West Antarctic could experience enhanced melting from below....

A NASA/Cryosat image of ice on the Weddell Sea

Evidence suggests California's drought is the worst in 1,200 years

A press release from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute: As California finally experiences the arrival of a rain-bearing Pineapple Express this week, two climate scientists from the University of Minnesota and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution have shown that the drought of 2012-2014 has been the worst in 1,200 years.

Daniel Griffin, an assistant professor in the Department of Geography, Environment and Society at the University of Minnesota, and Kevin Anchukaitis, an assistant scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, asked the question, “How unusual is the ongoing California drought?"  Watching the severity of the California drought intensify since last autumn, they wondered how it would eventually compare to other extreme droughts throughout the state's history.

To answer those questions, Griffin and Anchukaitis collected new tree-ring samples from blue oak trees in southern and central California. “California’s old blue oaks are as close to nature’s rain gauges as we get,” says Griffin. “They thrive in some of the driest environments where trees can grow in California.” These trees are particularly sensitive to moisture changes and their tree rings display moisture fluctuations vividly.

As soon as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released climate data for the summer of 2014, the two scientists sprang into action. Using their blue oak data, they reconstructed rainfall back to the 13th century.  ... Griffin and Anchukaitis found that while the current period of low precipitation is not unusual in California’s history, these rainfall deficits combined with sustained record high temperatures created the current multiyear severe water shortages.  "While it is precipitation that sets the rhythm of California drought, temperature weighs in on the pitch," says Anchukaitis.

“We were genuinely surprised at the result,” says Griffin, a NOAA Climate & Global Change Fellow and former WHOI postdoctoral scholar. “This is California--drought happens. Time and again, the most common result in tree-ring studies is that drought episodes in the past were more extreme than those of more recent eras.  This time, however, the result was different.” While there is good evidence of past sustained, multi-decadal droughts or so-called “megadroughts”' in California, the authors say those past episodes were probably punctuated by occasional wet years, even if the cumulative effect over decades was one of overall drying.  The current short-term drought appears to be worse than any previous span of consecutive years of drought without reprieve....

A 2011 shot of a dried lake near San Luis Obispo, Natural Resources Conservation Service, public domain

UN report urges more funds for climate change adaptation, warns on temperature rise

UN News Centre: Despite public funding of climate change adaptation measures reaching as high as $26 billion in 2012-2013, a new United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report predicts a significant funding gap after 2020 unless new and additional finance for adaptation is made available.

The first UNEP Adaptation Gap Report finds that even if global greenhouse gas emissions are cut to the level required to keep temperature rise below 2°C, the cost of climate change adaptation in developing countries is likely to reach two to three times the previous estimates of $70-100 billion per year by 2050.

“Debating the economics of our response to climate change must become more honest,” said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner in a press release on the challenges ahead, released as the first week of UN climate talks in Lima, Peru wrap up. That conference is set to conclude its work on 12 December.

“As world leaders meet in Lima to take the critical next step in realizing a global agreement on climate change, this report underlines the importance of including comprehensive adaptation plans in the agreement.”

The report assesses global adaptation gaps in finance, technology and knowledge, and lays out a framework for future work to better define and bridge those gaps. It calls for further action to cut emissions to prevent adaptation costs from soaring as wider and more-expensive action is needed to protect communities from the intensifying impacts of climate change...

A panorama of Naajaat in northwest Greenland, Image shot by Slaunger and stitched together by Herbythyme, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Climate researchers discover El Nino's fueling effect on intense hurricanes

A press release from the University of Hawaii-Manoa: El Niño, the abnormal warming of sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, is a well-studied tropical climate phenomenon that occurs every few years. It has major impacts on society and Earth’s climate – inducing intense droughts and floods in multiple regions of the globe. Further, scientists have observed that El Niño greatly influences the yearly variations of tropical cyclones (a general term that includes hurricanes, typhoons and cyclones) in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.

However, there is a mismatch in both timing and location between this climate disturbance and the Northern Hemisphere hurricane season: El Niño peaks in winter and its surface ocean warming occurs mostly along the equator, i.e., a season and region without tropical cyclone (TC) activity. This prompted scientists to investigate El Niño’s influence on hurricanes via its remote ability to alter atmospheric conditions such as stability and vertical wind shear rather than the local oceanic environment.

Fei-Fei Jin and Julien Boucharel at the UH Mānoa School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST), and I-I Lin at the National Taiwan University published a paper today in Nature that uncovers what’s behind this “remote control.” Jin and colleagues uncovered an oceanic pathway that brings El Niño’s heat into the Northeastern Pacific basin two or three seasons after its winter peak – right in time to directly fuel intense hurricanes in that region.

El Niño develops as the equatorial Pacific Ocean builds up a huge amount of heat underneath the surface and it turns into La Niña when this heat is discharged out of the equatorial region.  “This recharge/discharge of heat makes El Niño/La Niña evolve somewhat like a swing,” said Jin, lead author of the study.

Prior to Jin's and colleagues’ recent work, researchers had largely ignored the huge accumulation of heat occurring underneath the ocean surface during every El Niño event as a potential culprit for fueling hurricane activity.

“We did not connect the discharged heat of El Niño to the fueling of hurricanes until recently, when we noticed another line of active research in the tropical cyclone community that clearly demonstrated that a strong hurricane is able to get its energy not only from the warm surface water, but also by causing warm, deep water – up to 100 meters deep – to upwell to the surface,” said Jin....

El Niño’s discharged heat fuels intense hurricanes (historical tracks in black). Credit: Jin/SOEST.

Typhoon Hagupit: at least three dead and a million evacuated in Philippines

Kate Hodal in the Guardian (UK): At least three people have been killed and over a million evacuated after typhoon Hagupit tore into the Philippines this weekend, causing landslides, pummelling houses and stirring up gusts of 170kph (106mph) across the country’s central islands.

But the disaster-prone nation – which sees up to 20 typhoons a year – was spared from the extreme death and devastation of last year’s typhoon Haiyan, which killed over 6,000 people and displaced around 4 million, thanks to evacuation and national preparedness strategies that saw aid and government agencies deliver provisions and supplies ahead of the storm.

Hagupit, which is named “Ruby” in the Philippines, was the most powerful storm to hit the country this year. A category 3 typhoon when it made landfall on eastern Samar island on Saturday night – the same place last year’s typhoon Haiyan first struck – Hagupit is thought to have destroyed around 80% of all the homes along some coastal areas, where it also washed away rice crops, Reuters reported.

...Whereas the national government was criticised for its slow relief and debris-clearance efforts after Haiyan, this year military troops were on hand to help clear roads and the air force was on standby to help deliver aid or participate in rescue missions ahead of time, local media reported...

NASA image of Typhoon Hagupit on December 6, 2014

Friday, December 5, 2014

To conserve Arctic species, take action in Africa

Jacques Trouvilliez (Executive Secretary of AEWA, the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds) in IPS: So great are the contrasts between the frozen empty expanses of the far north and Africa’s baking deserts, steamy rain forests and savannahs that any direct connections between the two seem far-fetched – if they indeed exist at all.

In fact, migratory birds provide an environmental tie linking the Arctic and Africa and are the reason why the U.N. Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) and the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF), the biodiversity working group of the Arctic Council, have entered a commitment to cooperate.

The Arctic Council is holding its first Arctic Biodiversity Congress in Trondheim, Norway and far from being of marginal interest to AEWA, its deliberations over the fauna inhabiting the regions around the North Pole could hardly be more relevant.

Following publication of the Arctic Biodiversity Assessment in May 2013, progress is being made in elaborating a strategy under the Arctic Migratory Birds Initiative (AMBI): a concrete example of where we can collaborate with practical work on the ground.

The habitats could hardly be more different and the distances between them are large, but the waterfowl, shorebird and seabird species – the predominant birds of the Arctic – find the conditions they require at different times of the year in the various habitats of the world.

The birds have adapted to develop the capacity to make their often arduous journeys from their Arctic breeding grounds to wintering sites and back. These wintering sites can be in Europe – but in some cases they even lie as far as in Southern Africa, as is the case for the Red Knot....

A Red Knot, shot by Ron Knight, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Brazil to launch new satellite to track deforestation

The New Age (South Africa): Brazil will launch a satellite from China Sunday to keep an eye in the sky on deforestation in the Amazon, the National Space Agency (Inpe) said Thursday. An agency spokesman said the launch of the Cbers-4 satellite was scheduled for 0326 GMT December from Tayuan, China, about 750 kilometers (460 miles) southwest of Beijing.

Brazil and China will share the $30 million cost of sending the two-ton satellite into a 778-kilometer high orbit, the spokesman added.Both countries participated in the development of the satellite, which has four cameras in its payload module. The launch comes a year after its predecessor satellite failed to enter orbit because of a fault with the launch vehicle, China's Long March 4B.

Cbers, standing for China-Brazil Earth Resources Satellite, will allow Brazil to keep a close watch from space on deforestation in the Amazon, the world's largest tropical rain forest, as well as administer agriculture and monitor livestock movement. Brazil and China began space cooperation in 1988 and Cbers 1 was launched in 1999, with a second satellite in 2003 and a third in 2007...

A line drawing of the Cbers-1 satellite, public domain

Super typhoon intensifies as it threatens Philippines

Terra Daily via AFP: A super typhoon gained strength on Thursday as it tracked towards the Philippines, threatening more devastation for mostly poor communities where thousands of people have died in an annual tirade of mega-storms.

Weather forecasters warned Hagupit, already generating wind gusts of 240 kilometres (149 miles) an hour, would continue to intensify as it swept in from the Pacific Ocean, and likely hit eastern islands on Saturday.

"Let's prepare for everything," President Benigno Aquino told a nationally televised meeting of disaster agency chiefs, after hearing warnings of giant storm surges and house-destroying winds.

Authorities said Hagupit would likely hit or pass near areas yet to recover from Super Typhoon Haiyan, the most powerful storm ever recorded on land that killed or left missing more than 7,350 people in November last year.

In Tacloban, one of the cities worst-hit by Haiyan, some residents began evacuating from vulnerable coastal areas well ahead of Hagupit's expected arrival, while others emptied supermarket shelves of essential supplies....

NASA image of Hagupit, taken December 4, 2014

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Report warns of soaring risk of ‘mega-fires’ in British Columbia

Bethany Lindsay and Larry Pynn in the Vancouver Sun: As the planet heats up and the risk of “mega fires” rises, B.C. will no longer be able to lean on its world-class wildfire-fighting teams to keep people and property safe, according to a draft provincial document.

The Forests Ministry paper, called Climate Change Adaption Action Plan for Wildfire Management 2014-2024, suggests fire prevention should become the top priority of the province.

“It is not an option to continue to increase fire suppression response and associated costs, because even the most aggressive action would neither be safe nor effective for the extreme wildfire events such as those seen in Kelowna in 2003 and Slave Lake in 2010,” reads the draft, obtained through a freedom of information request.

“During these events, suppression response cannot be relied upon to protect communities or natural resource values. The only protection provided will be the protection established before the fire, provided through wildland-urban interface fuel reduction and landscape fire management.”

The document, dated last April, says the average temperature in B.C. is predicted to rise by four degrees by 2080. That warming trend, combined with the higher rate of wildfire spread in forests affected by the mountain pine beetle, means that “mega fires” will be increasingly common.

The Insurance Bureau of Canada has predicted that severe wildfires will happen at least 50 per cent more often by 2050....

Generic fire image by the US Fish and Wildlife Service

Buckyballs enhance carbon capture

A press release from Rice University: Rice University scientists have discovered an environmentally friendly carbon-capture method that could be equally adept at drawing carbon dioxide emissions from industrial flue gases and natural gas wells.

The Rice lab of chemist Andrew Barron revealed in a proof-of-concept study that amine-rich compounds are highly effective at capturing the greenhouse gas when combined with carbon-60 molecules. The research is the subject of an open-access paper today in Nature’s online journal Scientific Reports.

“We had two goals,” Barron said. “One was to make the compound 100 percent selective between carbon dioxide and methane at any pressure and temperature. The other was to reduce the high temperature needed by other amine solutions to get the carbon dioxide back out again. We’ve been successful on both counts.”

Tests from one to 50 atmospheric pressures showed the Rice compound captured a fifth of its weight in carbon dioxide but no measurable amount of methane, Barron said, and the material did not degrade over many absorption/desorption cycles.

Carbon-60, the soccer ball-shaped molecule also known as buckminsterfullerene (or the “buckyball”) was discovered at Rice by Nobel Prize laureates Richard Smalley, Robert Curl and Harold Kroto in 1985. The ultimate curvature of buckyballs may make them the best possible way to bind amine molecules that capture carbon dioxide but allow desirable methane to pass through.

The Rice lab used buckyballs as crosslinkers between amines, nitrogen-based molecules drawn from polyethyleneimine. The lab produced a brown, spongy material in which hydrophobic (water-avoiding) buckyballs forced the hydrophilic (water-seeking) amines to the outside, where passing carbon dioxide could bind to the exposed nitrogen.

When Barron and his team began combining carbons and amines several years ago, they noticed an interesting progression: Flat graphene absorbed carbon dioxide well, multiwalled nanotubes absorbed it better, and thinner single-walled nanotubes even better. “That suggested the curvature was important,” Barron said. “C-60, being a sphere, has the highest possible curvature among carbon materials.”...

Carbon-60 molecules, also known as buckyballs, were combined with amines in a compound that absorbs a fifth of its weight in carbon dioxide. It shows potential as an environmentally friendly material for capturing carbon from natural gas wells and industrial plants. (Courtesy of the Barron Research Group/Rice University)

Press 4 for fertilizer - M-farming in Ethiopia

IRIN: One reason farmers in Africa mostly produce so much less than those in other parts of the world is that they have limited access to the technical knowledge and practical tips that can significantly increase yields. But as the continent becomes increasingly wired, this information deficit is narrowing.

While there are other factors, such as poor infrastructure and low access to credit and markets, that have helped keep average yields in Africa largely unchanged since the 1960s, detailed and speedily-delivered information is now increasingly recognized as an essential part of bringing agricultural production levels closer to their full potential.

In Ethiopia, which already has one of the most extensive systems in the world for educating the 85 percent of the population who work the land for a living, this recognition has driven the development of a multilingual mobile phone-based resource centre.

The hotline, operated by the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research, and Ethio Telecom, and created by the Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA), has proved a huge hit. Since its July launch and still in its pilot phase, more than three million farmers in the regions of Amhara, Oromia, Tigray and the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples' Region (SNNPR) have punched 8028 on their mobiles to access the system, which uses both interactive voice response (IVR) and SMS technology....

Image by Mmckinley, Wikimedia Commons, public domain