Monday, September 1, 2014

Reducing water scarcity possible by 2050

A press release from McGill University: Water scarcity is not a problem just for the developing world. In California, legislators are currently proposing a $7.5 billion emergency water plan to their voters; and U.S. federal officials last year warned residents of Arizona and Nevada that they could face cuts in Colorado River water deliveries in 2016.

Irrigation techniques, industrial and residential habits combined with climate change lie at the root of the problem. But despite what appears to be an insurmountable problem, according to researchers from McGill and Utrecht University it is possible to turn the situation around and significantly reduce water scarcity in just over 35 years.

In a new paper published in Nature Geoscience, the researchers outline strategies in six key areas that they believe can be combined in different ways in different parts of the
world in order to effectively reduce water stress. (Water stress occurs in an area where more than 40 percent of the available water from rivers is unavailable because it is already being used – a situation that currently affects about a third of the global population, and may affect as many as half the people in the world by the end of the century if the current pattern of water use continues).

The researchers separate six key strategy areas for reducing water stress into “hard path” measures, involving building more reservoirs and increasing desalination efforts of sea water, and “soft path” measures that focus on reducing water demand rather than increasing water supply thanks to community-scale efforts and decision-making, combining efficient technology and environmental protection. The researchers believe that while there are some economic, cultural and social factors that may make certain of the “soft path” measures such as population control difficult, the “soft path” measures offer the more realistic path forward in terms of reducing water stress.

“There is no single silver bullet to deal with the problem around the world,” says Prof. Tom Gleeson, of McGill’s Department of Civil Engineering and one of the authors of the paper. “But, by looking at the problem on a global scale, we have calculated that if four of these strategies are applied at the same time we could actually stabilize the number of people in the world who are facing water stress rather than continue to allow their numbers to grow, which is what will happen if we continue with business as usual.”...

Concerned scientists tell the UN: hunger will never be eradicated without better rainwater management

Worldwaterweek.org: The world is missing a chance to eradicate hunger and poverty for billions of people living in regions with variable and scarce rainfall. Without improved management of rainwater, the future development goals currently being discussed are unrealistic, say leading scientists.

Some of the world’s leading water, environment and resilience scientists and experts today publish a call to the UN, saying that rain, and the way it is managed, is what will determine whether hunger and poverty can be eradicated in the world.

The call was made at the onset of World Water Week in Stockholm – the leading annual meeting place for water and development issues.

The scientists, including Professor Malin Falkenmark of Stockholm International Water Institute/Stockholm Resilience Centre andProfessorJohan Rockström of Stockholm Resilience Centre, are “deeply concerned that sustainable management of rainfall in water scarce regions of the world is missing in the goals and targets proposed by the UN Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on Poverty (Goal 1), Hunger (Goal 2) and Freshwater (Goal 6).

More than two billion people live in some of the driest and poorest areas of the world, also home to the fastest growing populations. These regions depend on highly variable, unreliable and unpredictable rainfall. When it rains, it pours, making agriculture extremely challenging. However, over time these areas do receive enough rain, and with better methods of using the rainwater, food production could be drastically improved.

Attempting to eradicate global poverty and hunger without addressing the productivity of rain “is a serious and unacceptable omission”, and the Sustainable Development Goals as currently proposed “cannot be achieved without a strong focus on sustainable and resilient management of rainfall for resilient food production” the scientists say.

The signatories call upon the United Nations to add a target on rainwater management to any Hunger Goal in the Sustainable Development Goals, which are to be agreed on in 2015....

Leading Ebola researcher says there’s an effective treatment

A press release from the University of Texas Medical Branch: A leading U.S. Ebola researcher from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston has gone on record stating that a blend of three monoclonal antibodies can completely protect monkeys against a lethal dose of Ebola virus up to 5 days after infection, at a time when the disease is severe.

Thomas Geisbert, professor of microbiology and immunology, has written an editorial for Nature discussing advances in Ebola treatment research. The filoviruses known as Ebola virus and Marburg virus are among the most deadly of pathogens, with fatality rates of up to 90 percent.

Since the discovery of Ebola in 1976, researchers have been actively working on treatments to combat infection. Studies over the past decade have uncovered three treatments that offer partial protection for monkeys against Ebola when given within an hour of virus exposure. One of these treatments, a VSV-based vaccine was used in 2009 to treat a laboratory worker in Germany shortly after she was accidentally stuck with a needle possibly contaminated by an Ebola-infected animal.

Further advances have been made that can completely protect monkeys against Ebola using small ‘interfering’ RNAs and various combinations of antibodies. But these treatments need to be given within two days of Ebola exposure. “So although these approaches are highly important and can be used to treat known exposures, the need for treatments that can protect at later times after infection was paramount,” said Geisbert.

Further research led to a cocktail of monoclonal antibodies that protected 43% of monkeys when given as late as five days after Ebola exposure, at a time when the clinical signs of the disease are showing.

The new study from Qui and colleagues at MAPP Biopharmaceutical Inc. used ZMAPP to treat monkeys given a lethal dose of Ebola. All of the animals survived and did not show any evidence of the virus in their systems 21 days after infection, even after receiving the treatment 5 days after infection. They also showed that ZMAPP inhibits replication of the Ebola virus in cell culture....

Thailand totters towards waste crisis

Bangkok Post via AFP: A blaze at a vast rubbish dump home to six million tonnes of putrefying trash and toxic effluent has kindled fears that poor planning and lax law enforcement are tipping Thailand towards a waste crisis.

Locals had long pressed for the closure of the foul-smelling Praeksa landfill site, which is wedged between a cluster of industrial estates on the fringes of Bangkok. But a ferocious eight-day fire that cloaked the eastern suburbs of the capital in poisonous smoke earlier this year thrust Praeksa to the heart of a national debate over rubbish.

Bangkok produces around 10,000 tonnes of waste a day, a substantial portion of the 27 million tonnes generated each year across the kingdom. The ruling military regime has put waste disposal high on its to-do list, recognising that poorly regulated pits are filling quickly and prone to disaster.

Experts warn that dumps are time bombs for the environment and the increasing number of communities forced to live cheek-by-jowl with them. Open dumping "offers a quick and easy solution in the short run," the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific said in a study, warning of severe environmental problems and long-term health issues caused by contaminated water and land.

Of Thailand's 2,500 open rubbish pits, just a fifth are properly managed, according to the kingdom's Pollution Control Department. The rest are at the mercy of illegal dumping - including of hazardous waste - fires and seepage into nearby land and water systems....

A recycler buying trash door to door in Thailand, shot by Mattes, Wikimedia Commons, public domain 

Climate change adaptation can help promote sub-Saharan African livelihoods

UN News Centre: Investing in ways to adapt to climate change will promote the livelihood of 65 per cent of Africans, the United Nations environmental agency reported, warning also that failing to address the phenomenon could reverse decades of development progress on the continent.

Africa’s population is set to double to 2 billion by 2050, the majority of whom will continue to depend on agriculture to make a living, according to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). “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 said. “Such a scenario, if unaddressed, could have grave implications for Africa’s most vulnerable states,” he added.

In a new graphical report, Keeping Track of Adaptation Actions in Africa (KTAA) - Targeted Fiscal Stimulus Actions Making a Difference, UNEP details the implications of climate change, and provides examples of adaptation projects that range from forest ecosystem management to aquatics and agriculture.

The report describes sustainable examples of how countries in sub-Saharan Africa enhanced environmental and ecosystem resilience through the use of native plants and natural infrastructure, land plans and rainwater harvesting, among other examples.

The projects are integrated into national development policies which can strengthen and enhance the resilience communities against the impacts of climate change, while also contributing to the realization of the anti-poverty targets known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), according to the report authors....

Sunday, August 31, 2014

No more pause: Warming will be non-stop from now on

Michael Slezak in New Scientist: Enjoy the pause in global warming while it lasts, because it's probably the last one we will get this century. Once temperatures start rising again, it looks like they will keep going up without a break for the rest of the century, unless we cut our greenhouse gas emissions.

The slowdown in global warming since 1997 seems to be driven by unusually powerful winds over the Pacific Ocean, which are burying heat in the water. But even if that happens again, or a volcanic eruption spews cooling particles into the air, we are unlikely to see a similar hiatus, according to two independent studies.

Masahiro Watanabe of the University of Tokyo in Japan and his colleagues have found that, over the past three decades, the natural ups and downs in temperature have had less influence on the planet's overall warmth. In the 1980s, natural variability accounted for almost half of the temperature changes seen. That fell to 38 per cent in the 1990s and just 27 per cent in the 2000s.

Instead, human-induced warming is accounting for more and more of the changes from year to year, says Watanabe. With ever-faster warming, small natural variations have less impact and are unlikely to override the human-induced warming.

"The implication is that we will get fewer hiatus periods, or hiatus periods that last for a shorter period," says Wenju Cai at the CSIRO in Melbourne, Australia, who wasn't involved in the work...

Hokusai's "The Wave"

Museum specimens, modern cities show how an insect pest will respond to climate change

A press release from North Carolina State University: Researchers from North Carolina State University have found that century-old museum specimens hold clues to how global climate change will affect a common insect pest that can weaken and kill trees – and the news is not good. “Recent studies found that scale insect populations increase on oak and maple trees in warmer urban areas, which raises the possibility that these pests may also increase with global warming,” says Dr. Elsa Youngsteadt, a research associate at NC State and lead author of a paper on the work.

“More scale insects would be a problem, since scales can weaken or kill the trees they live on,” Youngsteadt says. “But cities are unique, so we wanted to know whether warming causes scale insect population explosions in rural forests, the way it does in cities.”

To address that question, Youngsteadt examined more than 300 museum specimens of red maple branches collected between 1895 and 2011 in rural areas of North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. By evaluating the scale insect remains attached to each specimen, Youngsteadt estimated scale population density and compared it to the average August temperature for the year and place where the specimen was collected. Youngsteadt then compared the findings from the historical specimens with more recent data from urban Raleigh, North Carolina.

“Scale insect density in rural areas was not as high as it was in the city, but there was a common pattern,” Youngsteadt says. “Scale insects were most likely to be present on specimens collected during warm historical time periods, and scales were most abundant when temperatures were similar to modern, urban Raleigh.”

Given the shared urban and historical pattern, the researchers also predicted that scale insects would be more abundant in rural forests today than in the past, as a result of recent climate warming. To test this prediction, Youngsteadt went to 20 sites where historical specimens were collected from 1970 to 1997 and sampled their modern scale insect populations.

“Sure enough, scale abundance had increased at 16 of the 20 sites,” Youngsteadt says. “Overall, we found a total of about five times more scale insects in 2013 than on the historical specimens from the same locations. The urban and historical data are so well-aligned that we can view scale insect populations in cities as a preview of what to expect elsewhere,” Youngsteadt adds. “It also suggests that we should begin looking at cities for clues to how other insect species will respond to higher global temperatures.”...

A red maple museum sample of evaluated as part of the study. Image credit: North Carolina State University Herbarium. 

New planting technique in Laos adapts to climate change

The Nation (Laos) via the Vientiane Times: Thousands of tonnes of rice each year are damaged in Laos by drought and flooding as a result of climate change. To overcome this problem the Lao government, in cooperation with relevant sectors and different international organisations, is looking at ways to adapt to these challenging conditions.

Dry-direct seeding using drum seeders is one of the new options to reduce loss from natural disasters, particularly floods and drought. Lao researchers studied the technique for over three years in Savannakhet province.

The study came under a project carried out by the National Agriculture and Forestry Research Institute in cooperation with the Department of Agriculture Promotion and Cooperatives, the Department of Meteorology and Hydrology and the Faculty of Agriculture at the National University of Laos for developing improved farming and marketing systems in Laos.

Farmers who use this method should be able to achieve two harvests during the rainy season as they can plant the first crop at the end of April or beginning of May when the early, light rains have fallen. They don't have to wait for the heavy rains in the middle of the year and, after harvesting this crop, should be able to plant again soon after, the Agriculture and Forestry Research Centre director, Dr Thavone Inthavong said....

Planting rice the traditional way in Laos, shot by Stuart Ling, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

UNICEF distributes half a million mosquito nets amid heavy rains and violence in CAR

A press release from UNICEF: Amid heavy rains and violence UNICEF and partners have distributed more than half a million mosquito bed nets reaching every home in Bangui to protect families from malaria - the leading killer of children under 5 in Central African Republic.

With the current heavy rains the risk of malaria significantly increases. To ensure children are protected UNICEF and the National Red Cross with support from the Ministry of Health mobilized more than 7,000 volunteers who went door-to-door distributing more than 530,000 mosquito nets in a single month.

“Rains are pouring down every day here", says UNICEF CAR Representative Souleymane Diabaté. “Courageous volunteers have been working every day in a volatile environment to provide families the protection they need from this deadly disease.”

Every year nearly 460,000 people in Central African Republic suffer from malaria, and there has been an increase in the number of malaria deaths since 2010. In the north-west of the country, malaria accounted for 70 percent of all child deaths from May to July last year. When used correctly, bed nets can reduce malaria by half and can reduce all causes of child mortality on average by 20 percent....

Saturday, August 30, 2014

China landslide kills seven

Terra Daily via AFP: Seven people died and another 20 were left missing by a landslide in China, state media reported Thursday. The landslide engulfed a village near Fuquan city in the southwestern province of Guizhou, the Xinhua news agency said.

Torrential rain complicated the rescue work, it said. Pictures showed emergency personnel levering up slabs of tiled wall. A total of 77 houses collapsed or were buried in the disaster, Xinhua said, with seven people confirmed dead and another 20 missing.

Guizhou is one of the poorest provinces in China, and renowned for its hilly topography and wet weather. Mining is one of its key industries but soil erosion is among the worst in China, with around 42 percent of the province affected, according to an official national survey in 2009....

Southwestern US may face 'megadrought' within century

Blaine Friedlander in the Cornell Chronicle: Due to global warming, scientists say, the chances of the southwestern United States experiencing a decadelong drought is at least 50 percent, and the chances of a “megadrought” – one that lasts up to 35 years – ranges from 20 to 50 percent over the next century.

... “For the southwestern U.S., I’m not optimistic about avoiding real megadroughts,” said Toby Ault, Cornell assistant professor of earth and atmospheric sciences and lead author of the paper. “As we add greenhouse gases into the atmosphere – and we haven’t put the brakes on stopping this – we are weighting the dice for megadrought.”

As of Aug. 12, most of California sits in a D4 “exceptional drought,” which is in the most severe category. Oregon, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas loiter in a substantially less severe D1 moderate drought. Ault says climatologists don’t know whether the severe western and southwestern drought will continue, but “with ongoing climate change, this is a glimpse of things to come. It’s a preview of our future,” he said.

While the 1930s Dust Bowl in the Midwest lasted four to eight years, depending upon location, a megadrought can last more than three decades, which could lead to mass population migration on a scale never before seen in this country.

Ault said that the West and Southwest must look for mitigation strategies to cope with looming long-drought scenarios. “This will be worse than anything seen during the last 2,000 years and would pose unprecedented challenges to water resources in the region,” he said....

Dried mud, shot by Frank Vincentz, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons 3.0 license 

Silver lining in Ebola gloom

IRIN: Amid the horror of Ebola in West Africa, where more than 1,400 people have died of the disease, a few have found reason to celebrate after recovering from the virulent infection which has no known cure.

Current Ebola treatment is mainly palliative: easing the headache, fever and muscle pain triggered by the virus, which also causes vomiting and diarrhoea, and in some cases internal and external haemorrhage. It killed up to 90 percent of patients in the early days of the outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“We can’t do anything else because there is no treatment for the virus. The only thing we can do is help the body fight the virus and develop immunity,” said Julie Damond, spokeswoman for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in West Africa.

If the symptomatic treatment works, the body rebuilds its defences and health is restored. In the ongoing outbreak in West Africa - the worst known so far - 47 percent of patients have been able to recover, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). MSF says it has seen recovery rates of 25-75 percent in its isolation centres in Guinea and Sierra Leone.

The medical aid group reported that since the outbreak started, 95 out of 177 patients confirmed to have been infected with Ebola in its treatment centres in Guinea recovered, and 52 out of 204 survived in Sierra Leone. Liberia is yet to report such figures as the MSF centre there opened just recently...

Ebola virus particles, Thomas W. Geisbert, Boston University School of Medicine - PLoS Pathogens, November 2008 direct link to the image description page doi:10.1371/journal.ppat.1000225, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons 2.5 license

Abandoned landfills polluting UK rivers

Alex Peel in the Guardian (UK) via the Natural Environment Research Council: Abandoned landfill sites throughout the UK routinely leach polluting chemicals into rivers, say scientists. At Port Meadow, on the outskirts of Oxford, about 27.5 tonnes of ammonium a year find way from landfill into the River Thames. The researchers say it could be happening at thousands of sites around the UK.

In water, ammonium breaks down into nitrogen. The extra nitrogen can trigger excessive plant growth and decay, damaging water quality and starving fish and other aquatic organisms of the oxygen they need to survive.

Scientists are most worried about so-called blue-green algal blooms, which can produce toxins capable of killing wild animals, livestock and domestic pets. In people, they can cause skin rashes, nausea, stomach pains, headaches and fever.

“We’ve been getting rid of waste for an awful long time,” says Dr Daren Gooddy, of NERC’s British Geological Survey, who led the study. “Since Victorian times, we’ve been putting it into landfill and ad-hoc waste dumps on the edge of our towns and cities, often on the fringes of floodplains.”

‘There are 11 landfill sites at Port Meadow alone. If you scale that up for the whole of the UK, then you’re probably talking about thousands of them.’...

A Port Meadow sunset, shot by OxOx, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Friday, August 29, 2014

‘State of the World’s Rivers’ project documents decline in rivers from dams

A press release from International Rivers: ....International Rivers launched “The State of the World's Rivers,” a first-of-its-kind interactive online database that illustrates the role that dams have played in impoverishing the health of the world's river basins. The database shows how river fragmentation due to decades of dam-building is highly correlated with poor water quality and low biodiversity. Many of the world’s great river basins have been dammed to the point of serious decline, including the Mississippi, Yangtze, Paraná and Danube.

“The evidence we’ve compiled of planetary-scale impacts from river change is strong enough to warrant a major international focus on understanding the thresholds for ‘river change’ in the world’s major basins, and for the planet as a whole system,” said Jason Rainey, Executive Director of International Rivers.

For example, in the Middle East, decades of dam building in the Tigris-Euphrates basin have made it one of the most fragmented basins in the world. As a result, the basin's flooded grassland marshes have significantly decreased, leading to the disappearance of salt-tolerant vegetation that helped protect coastal areas, and a reduction in the plankton-rich waters that fertilize surrounding soils. Habitat has decreased for 52 native fish species, migratory bird species, and mammals such as the water buffalo, antelopes and gazelles, and the jerboa.

Meanwhile, some of the lesser-dammed basins, which are still relatively healthy at this point, are being targeted for major damming. For example, the most biodiverse basin in the world, the Amazon, still provides habitat for roughly 14,000 species of mammals, 2,200 fish species, 1,500 bird species, and more than 1,000 amphibian species, like the Amazon River Dolphin, the Amazonian Manatee, and the Giant Otter.

When all dam sizes are counted, an astonishing 412 dams are planned or under construction in the Paraná basin, and 254 in the Amazon basin. In Asia, China plans to continue to dam the Yangtze basin with at least another 94 planned large dams, while an additional 73 are under construction. At least 153 more dams are planned or already being built in the Mekong basin....

Gordon Dam in Tasmania, Australia, shot by  JJ Harrison, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons 3.0 license

"Third wave" of malaria resistance lurks on Thai-Cambodia border

IRIN: Public health experts and scientists warn history's third major bout of drug-resistant malaria could spread across Asia to Africa unless "radical action" is taken. Artemisinin-resistant strains on the Thailand-Cambodia border threaten the treatment's efficacy and pose containment challenges.

"The bad news is that drug-resistant parasites are actually found in a wider area than we previously thought," said Nicholas White, professor of Tropical Medicine at the University of Oxford, and author of a July 2014 study that revealed drug-resistant malaria parasites have spread to critical border regions of Southeast Asia (including the Cambodia-Thailand and Myanmar-Thailand borders), and that resistance to Artemisinin, the world's most effective anti-malarial drug, is now widespread in the region.

Artemisinin is effective against malaria, but it must be used in a combination of several drugs. In 2007, the World Health Assembly (WHA) issued a resolution calling for the end of monotherapies (or using a single drug) to treat malaria as this practice was causing resistance. A full dose of Artemisinin Combination Therapy (ACT) is now prescribed to prevent the development of drug resistance.

According to White, who also chairs the Worldwide Antimalarial Resistance Network, despite the new evidence of resistance along the Thailand-Cambodia border, not all hope for effective interventions is lost. He told IRIN: "The good news is that we can still treat it using longer ACT courses and we can map its spread using a molecular marker."...

Faster, more accurate flood warnings through EU research

A press release from the European Commission: Timely flood alerts and real-time monitoring of flood emergencies can save lives and prevent damage to property, infrastructure and the environment. Imprints, WeSenseIt and UrbanFlood are just three examples of EU-funded projects that have developed unique forecasting and alert systems to warn communities of impending floods.

Flood management and prevention is at the heart of the Imprints project which has developed an early warning platform to cut responses to flash floods down to about two hours, and even less – potentially giving people more time to get out of harm’s way. The platform is based on better rainfall predictions, using meteorological models and weather radar networks. The software is able to predict water flows on the ground and provide a full early warning system for flash floods, the amount of debris they might carry and any potential damage to local infrastructure.

Water services and hydro-meteorological operations in Spain, Switzerland and France are using these project’s innovations to refine their own real-time forecasting systems. Furthermore, flash flood indicators, developed within this project, are used now in the operational European Flood Awareness System.

Meanwhile, WeSenseIt, a project which ends in September 2016, makes good use of the power of human observation as an essential part of an early warning system. People contribute by taking measurements using new apps currently being developed by the project, and sending information and images by mobile phone. The new technologies and approaches are being tested in Italy, the Netherlands and the UK.

“We have developed mobile apps so that flood wardens in the UK can walk along river banks, and take tagged pictures if they think there is something of concern,” says project coordinator Fabio Ciravegna from the University of Sheffield. In Italy, an evaluation involving some 500 volunteers simulating a flood in the city of Vicenza was completed at the end of March 2014....

A 2005 flood in Thun, Switzerland, uploaded by Zumbo, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons 3.0 license

Managing coasts under threat from climate change and sea-level rise

EurekAlert via University of Southampton: Coastal regions under threat from climate change and sea-level rise need to tackle the more immediate threats of human-led and other non-climatic changes, according to a team of international scientists.

The team of 27 scientists from five continents, led by Dr Sally Brown at the University of Southampton, reviewed 24 years of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessments (the fifth and latest set being published in 2013 and 2014). They focused on climate change and sea-level rise impacts in the coastal zone, and examined ways of how to better manage and cope with climate change.

They found that to better understand climate change and its impacts, scientists need to adopt an integrated approach into how coasts are changing. This involves recognising other causes of change, such as population growth, economic development and changes in biodiversity. Dr Brown emphasised that: "Over the last two and half decades, our scientific understanding of climate change and sea-level rise, and how it will affect coastal zones has greatly increased. We now recognise that we need to analyse all parts of our human and natural environments to understand how climate change will affect the world."

The scientists also acknowledged that long-term adaptation to climate change can greatly reduce impacts, but further research and evaluation is required to realise the potential of adaptation. "Many parts of the coast can, with forward planning, adapt to sea-level rise, but we need to better understand environments that will struggle to adapt, such as developing countries with large low-lying river deltas sensitive to salinisation, or coral reefs and particularly small, remote islands or poorer communities," said Dr Brown.

...Dr Jochen Hinkel from Global Climate Forum in Germany, who is a co-author of this paper and a Lead Author of the coastal chapter for the 2014 IPCC Assessment Report added: "The IPCC has done a great job in bringing together knowledge on climate change, sea-level rise and is potential impacts but now needs to complement this work with a solution-oriented perspective focusing on overcoming barriers to adaptation, mobilising resources, empowering people and discovering opportunities for strengthening coastal resilience in the context of both climate change as well as existing coastal challenges and other issues."...

A 2011 winter storm battering Inverclyde, Scotland, shot by easylocum, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Big snowstorms will still occur in the Northern Hemisphere following global warming

Jennifer Chu at the MIT News Office:  If ever there were a silver lining to global warming, it might be the prospect of milder winters. After all, it stands to reason that a warmer climate would generate less snow. But a new MIT study suggests that you shouldn’t put your shovels away just yet. While most areas in the Northern Hemisphere will likely experience less snowfall throughout a season, the study concludes that extreme snow events will still occur, even in a future with significant warming. That means that, for example, places like Boston may see less snowy winters overall, punctuated in some years by blizzards that drop a foot or two of snow.

“Many studies have looked at average snowfall over a season in climate models, but there’s less known about these very heavy snowfalls,” says study author Paul O’Gorman, an associate professor in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. “In some regions, it is possible for average snowfall to decrease, but the snowfall extremes actually intensify.”

O’Gorman studied daily snowfall across the Northern Hemisphere using 20 different climate models, each of which projected climate change over a 100-year period, given certain levels of greenhouse gas emissions. He looked at both average seasonal snowfall and extreme snowfall events under current climate conditions, and also following projected future warming.

Not surprisingly, O’Gorman found that under relatively high warming scenarios, low-elevation regions with winter temperatures initially just below freezing experienced about a 65 percent reduction in average winter snowfall. However, in these same regions, the heaviest snowstorms became only 8 percent less intense. In some higher-latitude regions, extreme snow events became more intense, depositing 10 percent more snow, even under scenarios of relatively high global warming.

“You might expect with a warmer climate there should be major changes in snowfall in general,” O’Gorman says. “But that seems to be true to a greater extent for average snowfall than for the intensities of the heaviest snowfall events.”

Over this 100-year period, O’Gorman found that average snowfall decreased substantially in many Northern Hemisphere regions in warm-climate scenarios compared with the milder control climates, but that snowfall amounts in the largest snowstorms did not decrease to the same extent....

A snowfall, shot by Landskronadino, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons 3.0 license

Ebola management lessons from 14th century Venice

Catherine Paddock in Medical News Today: Lessons from the past can help us deal with today's emerging threats like drug- resistance, infectious disease outbreaks, climate change and even terrorism, say experts who studied the response of Italy's city, Venice, when it was visited by the plague in the 14th century.

The approach the Venetians took is an example of resilience management, write the authors of a study on the subject published in the journal Environment Systems and Decisions. Lead author Igor Linkov, of the US Army Engineer Research and Development Center and a visiting professor at the Ca Foscari University in Italy, says: "Resilience management can be a guide to dealing with the current Ebola outbreak in Africa, and others."

Venice was an important maritime power and commercial hub for trade into central Europe, when it was struck by the deadly plague in 1347. At first, the Venetians responded by intensifying prayers and rituals, but when that did not work, their efforts took the form of what experts today call resilience management.

The authorities did not focus on the disease itself, which they did not understand, but on what they could manage: the movements of people, social interactions and surveillance. For example, they instituted a system of inspection, set up quarantine perio
ds with isolation stations on nearby islands, and issued protective clothing.

...Drawing parallels with the current Ebola outbreak, Prof. Linkov points to economic and cultural factors that impede risk management in West Africa. It will take time to overcome the deeply rooted traditions that are helping the spread of the virus and the local people's mistrust in what the authorities are trying to do to contain it.

But there are things that health experts and national leaders can do to bolster other parts of the system to be more resilient to re-emergence of the disease. To apply the principles of resilience management, you have to view the city or community as a complex system so it can prepare, absorb, recover and adapt to unexpected threats, says Prof. Linkov, who adds: "Similar to what the officials of Venice did centuries ago, approaching resilience at the system level provides a way to deal with the unknown and unquantifiable threats we are facing at an increasing frequency."...

Punta della Dogana, in Venice, shot by Ggonnell/Fav, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons 2.0 license 

Just right' plant growth may make river deltas resilient

A press release from Indiana University: Research by Indiana University geologists suggests that an intermediate amount of vegetation -- not too little and not too much -- is most effective at stabilizing freshwater river deltas. The study, "Optimum vegetation height and density for inorganic sedimentation in deltaic marshes," was published online Aug. 24 by Nature Geoscience. The findings may help guide restoration of river deltas, such as those near the mouth of the Mississippi River, which are under threat as sea levels rise.

Authors are William Nardin, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Geological Sciences in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences; and Douglas A. Edmonds, who holds the Robert R. Shrock Professorship in Sedimentary Geology and is an assistant professor of geological sciences.

Vegetation on marsh surfaces in river deltas can slow the flow of water and cause more sediment to be deposited, helping prevent sea-level rise from drowning sensitive marshlands. But the study finds that, if the vegetation is too tall or dense, it diverts water into the river channel, resulting in less sediment being deposited on the marsh.

“In river deltas the effect of vegetation on sedimentation seems to follow the Goldilocks principle,” Edmonds said. “You want the amount of vegetation that is just right -- not too much, but also not too little.”

The world’s river deltas are rich and productive and are home to about 10 percent of the world’s population. But they are threatened by an array of forces, including population growth, pollution, development and erosion, as well as sea-level rise associated with climate change.

...In tidal saltwater marshes, research has shown that vegetation enhances sedimentation. But scientists know less about how vegetation affects sedimentation in freshwater marshes that are common in river deltas. Nardin and Edmonds used sophisticated computer modeling to study how marsh vegetation influences the transport and deposition of sediment in river deltas. They conducted 75 simulations involving varying scenarios of vegetation height and density and rates of water flow.

They found that vegetation of intermediate height and density results in the greatest deposition of sand and mud. However, if the plants are too tall or densely packed, sediment tends to remain in the river channel, bypassing marshes and being carried directly to the sea....

From the IU website: This image shows freshwater marsh vegetation in Wax Lake Delta, La. Aquatic vegetation on low-elevation marshes is pictured in the foreground, while woody vegetation occupies a levee on the left. The open water in the distance is a deltaic distributary channel. Photo by Elizabeth Olliver

Brazil arrests eight in Amazon deforestation swoop

Yahoo News via AFP: Brazilian police said Thursday they had made eight arrests in raids to smash a gang considered the worst perpetrators of deforestation in the Amazon region. "Eight arrests have been made so far. Police are searching for a further six (suspects) considered to be on the run," a police spokesman in the Amazonian state of Para told AFP.

The gang would invade public land in northern Para state, burn down forest, divided the land into parcels and sell them, raking in millions of dollars in the process, according to federal police who moved in on the gang Wednesday.

According to the Brazilian Environmental Institute, the group has carried out environmental crimes valued at $230 million, making them "the greatest destroyers of the Brazilian Amazon currently active."

Para authorities say the state has suffered some 15,500 hectares (38,300 acres) of deforestation, with the state prosecutor's office estimating that the area where the gang was operating accounts for about 10 percent of the total.

The institute said Wednesday the gang members should be charged with invading public land, environmental crimes, forgery, criminal association and money laundering.

Police say they have also issued warrants for further arrests in the states of Sao Paulo, Parana and Mato Grosso...

Deforestation in Brazil, NASA photo

Warming aids Arctic economies but far short of 'cold rush'

Alister Doyle in Reuters: Climate change is aiding shipping, fisheries and tourism in the Arctic but the economic gains fall short of a "cold rush" for an icy region where temperatures are rising twice as fast as the world average.

A first cruise ship will travel the icy Northwest Passage north of Canada in 2016, Iceland has unilaterally set itself mackerel quotas as stocks shift north and Greenland is experimenting with crops such as tomatoes.

Yet businesses, including oil and gas companies or mining firms looking north, face risks including that permafrost will thaw and ruin ice roads, buildings and pipelines. A melt could also cause huge damage by unlocking frozen greenhouse gases.

"There are those who think that growing strawberries in Greenland and drilling for oil in the Arctic are the new economic frontiers," said Achim Steiner, head of the U.N. Environment Program. "I would caution against the hypothetical bonanza that some people see," he told Reuters of Arctic regions in Russia, Nordic nations, Alaska and Canada. U.N. studies say global warming will be harmful overall with heatwaves, floods and rising seas....

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Drop in disaster payouts strengthens case for reinsurance price cut

Josh Franklin and David Goodman in Reuters: Payouts by insurers for disaster claims in the first six months of the year were below the average for the past 10 years, a study showed on Wednesday, which is likely to bolster insurers' calls for cheaper reinsurance.

The global insurance industry covered $21 billion in losses from natural catastrophes and man-made disasters in the first half of the year, prelimi
nary estimates from a study by reinsurer Swiss Re showed. This was 22 percent below the $27 billion first-half average for the previous 10 years.

The findings come as reinsurance executives prepare for their annual get-together in Monte Carlo next month and at a time when they are facing calls from insurance company clients to lower prices. Reinsurers such as Hannover and Swiss Re help their clients to cover claims from events such as earthquakes or floods in exchange for part of the premium.

Second-quarter figures showed that lower claims from natural disasters boosted reinsures' earnings. But this, coupled with signs of growing competition, has raised pressure on such companies to reduce prices. The Swiss Re study showed that insurers covered nearly half of the $44 billion in estimated economic losses from natural catastrophes and man-made disasters in the first half of 2014....

An entrance to one of Swiss Re's buildings in Zurich, shot by Alex Schröder, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

UN conference set to bypass climate change refugees

Thalif Deen in IPS: An international conference on small island developing states (SIDS), scheduled to take place in Samoa next week, will bypass a politically sensitive issue: a proposal to create a new category of “environmental refugees” fleeing tiny island nations threatened by rising seas. “It’s not on the final declaration called the outcome document,” a SIDS diplomat told IPS.

The rich countries that neighbour small island states are not in favour of a flood of refugees inundating them, he added. Such a proposal also involves an amendment to the 1951 U.N. Convention on the Status of Refugees, making it even more divisive.

The outcome document, already agreed upon at a U.N. Preparatory Committee meeting last month, will be adopted at the Sep. 1-4 meeting in the Samoan capital of Apia.

Sara Shaw, climate justice and energy coordinator at Friends of the Earth International (FoEI), told IPS, “We believe that climate refugees have a legitimate claim for asylum and should be recognised under the U.N. refugee convention and offered international protection.”

Unfortunately, she said, the very developed nations responsible for the vast majority of the climate-changing gases present in the atmosphere today are those refusing to extend the refugee convention to include climate refugees. “Worse still, they are trying to weaken existing international protection for refugees,” Shaw added....

A NASA image of Aneityum, Vanuatu

UK’s winter floods strengthen belief humans causing climate change – poll

Guardian (UK) via Press Association: More than a quarter of people say UK’s winter floods strengthened their belief in human-induced climate change, a survey has found. Half the people polled for the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) said widespread flooding in early 2014 made them more convinced the climate was changing, and 27% said the floods had also increased their belief humans were the main cause.

But the polling by ComRes of 2,021 people also revealed misconceptions about climate science, despite a majority of people claiming to be very or fairly well informed on climate change. Only one in nine people (11%) said that almost all climate scientists believe that human activities, such as burning fossil fuels, are mainly responsible for rising temperatures.

More than two-fifths (43%) think that a majority of climate scientists believe in human-induced climate change, but 35% think experts are split half and half, and 11% believe either a minority or almost none of the scientific community accept the theory. The finding, which is contradicted by studies showing
more than 90% of climate scientists believe humans are the main cause of global warming, has “uncomfortable echoes” of the MMR controversy 15 years ago, the ECIU said.

...There are also misconceptions on how popular clean energy is in the UK. Most people do not realise how high the support for renewable power sources such as wind farms and solar panels is, with just 5% estimating support from the British public as between 75% and 100%, and two-thirds thinking it is below 50%. Research for the government earlier this year found support for renewables was at 80%....

Flooding near Arundel Castle in February 2014, shot by hehaden, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

WHO urges action on climate change to protect health

Megan Darby in Responding to Climate Change: Leading health experts are urging stronger action on climate change, as the first ever global conference to link the two fields kicks off in Geneva. Bringing together meteorologists, diplomats and medics – not to mention the Prince of Wales – the gathering will highlight health threats from climate change, and joint solutions.

The World Health Organization (WHO), hosting the three-day conference, said green energy and transport policies could save millions of lives each year, by cutting air pollution. It also called for initiatives to help communities prepare for heat, extreme weather, infectious diseases and food insecurity caused by climate change.

“The evidence is overwhelming: climate change endangers human health,” said Dr Margaret Chan, WHO director general. “Solutions exist and we need to act decisively to change this trajectory.”

The rallying cry builds momentum for action ahead of a climate summit to be hosted by UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon next month. At that summit, world leaders will be invited to make commitments to climate action. The idea is to engage heads of state with the issue before a global treaty is signed in Paris, December 2015.

Christiana Figueres, the UN’s climate chief, encouraged delegates to push for a strong agreement. This will “chart a course towards a world with clean air and water, abundant natural resources and happy, health populations,” she said. “Seen in this light, the climate agreement is actually a public health agreement.”...

Black carbon ups risk of cardiovascular diseases in women

Benita Matilda in Science World Report: Black carbon is found worldwide and is often produced from biomass burning, cooking with solid fuels and diesel exhausts. Since black carbon is the leading cause of respiratory illness and premature mortality, researchers at the McGill University investigated the effects of black carbon pollutant on the health of women cooking with traditional wood stoves.

Highlighting the detrimental effects of black carbon, the researchers claim that this pollutant elevates the risk of cardiovascular disease in women. They based their finding on the daily exposure to various types of air pollutants, including black carbon, in 280 women residing in China's rural Yunnan province.

The team basically focused on the health consequences of these air pollutants that are emitted from sources common in developingcountries.

"China's unprecedented economic growth is fuelling massive increases in industrial and motor vehicle pollution, and 700 million Chinese homes still cook with wood and coal fuels. The Chinese government is setting new targets to improve its air quality. We wanted to identify the pollution sources that most impact human health to help inform these pollution control efforts." said study lead McGill Professor Jill Baumgartner....

A chulla cookstove in Tamil Nadu, shot by mckaysavage, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Cutting emissions pays for itself

Audrey Resutek in MIT News: Lower rates of asthma and other health problems are frequently cited as benefits of policies aimed at cutting carbon emissions from sources like power plants and vehicles, because these policies also lead to reductions in other harmful types of air pollution.

But just how large are the health benefits of cleaner air in comparison to the costs of reducing carbon emissions? MIT researchers looked at three policies achieving the same reductions in the United States, and found that the savings on health care spending and other costs related to illness can be big — in some cases, more than 10 times the cost of policy implementation.

“Carbon-reduction policies significantly improve air quality,” says Noelle Selin, the Esther and Harold E. Edgerton Career Development Professor of engineering systems and atmospheric chemistry at MIT, and co-author of a study published today in Nature Climate Change. “In fact, policies aimed at cutting carbon emissions improve air quality by a similar amount as policies specifically targeting air pollution.”

Selin and colleagues compared the health benefits to the economic costs of three climate policies: a clean-energy standard, a transportation policy, and a cap-and-trade program. The three were designed to resemble proposed U.S. climate policies, with the clean-energy standard requiring emissions reductions from power plants similar to those proposed in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan.

The researchers found that savings from avoided health problems could recoup 26 percent of the cost to implement a transportation policy, but up to to 10.5 times the cost of implementing a cap-and-trade program. The difference depended largely on the costs of the policies, as the savings — in the form of avoided medical care and saved sick days — remained roughly constant: Policies aimed at specific sources of air pollution, such as power plants and vehicles, did not lead to substantially larger benefits than cheaper policies, such as a cap-and-trade approach....

Illustration by Christine Daniloff/MIT

The 'most endangered' river in the US

Tim Palmer in EcoWatch: ... The San Joaquin is repeatedly impounded for hydropower as it plunges toward grassy foothills, diverted for irrigation in the Central Valley, finally ending in the Delta as a conduit of agricultural runoff and the second-longest river system in California.

The San Joaquin can claim to be the hardest working river in America; not only did diversions completely dry up a 63-mile middle reach for fifty years, but then the lower river’s polluted return-flows are pumped back upstream to be used yet again. The Water Education Foundation called this the “most impaired major river in the state.”....

When the Federal Bureau of Reclamation acted to extend the San Joaquin’s overdrawn plight by rubber-stamping another 40-year extension of irrigation supply contracts, the Natural Resources Defense Council and other conservation groups appealed, and prevailed in court. With hard-earned consensus of all major parties in 2006, a legal agreement set new rules, contracts and appropriations to serve irrigation needs but also to re-nourish nominal flows in the desiccated reaches, to upgrade water quality, and to restore self-sustaining runs of salmon. With great fanfare, initial flows freshening the San Joaquin’s long-parched mid-section bubbled northward in 2009. Salmon—eager to return home for spawning even after the species’ half-century of absence—migrated upriver once again in 2012 and 2013. Restoration flows were recaptured downstream for farmers. Fishing derbies, salmon festivals and summer camps sprang to life in communities along the way as the newly formulated San Joaquin gained stature as America’s preeminent river to be reborn.

A panic-stricken response to the drought could put these gains in jeopardy. Earlier this year a bill passed the House of Representatives to undercut the San Joaquin’s negotiated settlement of two decades in the making. The Senate will not likely approve this edict, but the future of the restored lifeline remains vulnerable and depends on continuing support for the fish and wildlife gains of recent years....

The headwaters of the San Joaquin, shot by Hike395, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license

Bangladesh floods leave thousands homeless, damage crops

Reuters: Heavy flooding across Bangladesh has forced thousands of people from their homes and caused severe damage to crops, with officials on Tuesday warning the situation could worsen as floodwaters poured into the capital, Dhaka.

Heavy monsoon rain in recent days has aggravated the situation in the low-lying and densely populated country, with the wet season due to run into September. "Over the next couple of days the flood situation around Dhaka ... might further deteriorate," said Sazzad Hussain, an engineer at the Flood Forecasting and Warning Center in the capital.

People in low-lying areas next to the rivers in Dhaka would likely be affected, he added. An official at the disaster management control room said the floods have affected more than 74,000 people and the number of homeless ran into several thousands, but she gave no official figure....

Monday, August 25, 2014

NASA scientists watching, studying Arctic changes this summer

A press release from NASA: As we near the final month of summer in the Northern Hemisphere, NASA scientists are watching the annual seasonal melting of the Arctic sea ice cover. The floating, frozen cap that stretches across the Arctic Ocean shrinks throughout summer until beginning to regrow, typically around mid-September.

As of Aug. 19, Arctic sea ice covered about 2.31 million square miles. While this is on track to be larger than the record-breaking low year in 2012, the sea ice extent is still well below average for the past 30 years, and continues a trend of sea ice loss in the Arctic. From 1981 to 2010, the average sea ice extent on Aug. 19 was 2.72 million square miles – 18 percent larger than on that same date this year.

"While this year is not heading toward a record low minimum extent in the Arctic, sea ice is well below normal and continues an overall pattern of decreasing sea ice during summer in the Arctic,” said sea ice scientist Walt Meier, based at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

With the launch of five Earth-observing missions in 2014, NASA will be able to deliver even more crucial data to scientists trying to understand our changing planet.

While NASA scientists have used satellites to document sea ice changes for more than 40 years, this summer the agency is also flying three airborne research campaigns to observe different aspects of climate-driven change in the Arctic.

The ARISE (Arctic Radiation-IceBridge Sea and Ice Experiment) campaign will begin flights later this week from Greenland to measure how changing land and sea ice conditions in the region are affecting the formation of clouds and the exchange of heat from Earth’s surface to space.

For some time scientists at NASA and elsewhere have been concerned about how the retreat of sea ice in summer could affect the climate of the Arctic. This campaign is one of the first to study the interaction between sea ice loss and the Arctic atmosphere....

Arctic ice, shot by Pink floyd88 a, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Twelve dead, 36,000 homeless in Niger flooding

Reuters: At least 12 people have been killed and more than 36,000 made homeless in Niger due to flooding caused by heavy seasonal rainfall, the government said.

Floods are an annually recurring problem in the West African country during the rainy season when overflowing streams and rivers sweep away homes and destroy crops, leaving victims without shelter and creating food shortages later on.

"Heavy precipitation recorded in six regions caused flooding and serious damage," the office of Niger's prime minister said in a statement late on Friday. "Evaluations by the civil protection services uncovered 12 deaths."

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), citing government figures, said that 36,441 people had lost their homes in the floods as of Aug. 21.

"The rains are continuing and the damage could require the deployment of more means in terms of emergency food and non-food assistance and tents," OCHA said in a statement...

Locator map of Niger by Rei-artur, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons 3.0 license

Marie remains powerful hurricane south of California

Brian Lada in AccuWeather: Hurricane Marie rapidly intensified into a major hurricane on Saturday night, becoming the third major hurricane of the 2014 Eastern Pacific Hurricane Season. While the storm will not have any direct impacts on Mexico or the United States, indirect impacts, such as rough surf and enhanced monsoonal rainfall, could be rather significant.

During Saturday morning, local time, Marie intensified into a Category 1 hurricane. By Sunday afternoon, Marie had undergone explosive intensification to become a Category 5 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 160 mph. Since then, the hurricane intensity slipped slightly a powerful Category 4 with sustained winds of 150 mph.

Marie is expected to remain a major hurricane during the start of the week before gradually weakening around midweek. After being classified as a Category 5 hurricane, Marie has become the strongest hurricane over the eastern Pacific since Hurricane Celia in 2010.

"Marie is a very large hurricane, and as its moisture gets drawn to the northeast into the region, very heavy rainfall is possible, along with localized flooding," said AccuWeather.com Meteorologist Anthony Sagliani.

Sagliani continued by saying, "Some of the most likely cities to see locally heavy rainfall include La Paz, Cabo San Lucas and Hermosillo in Mexico, and Phoenix, Tucson and Albuquerque in the southwestern United States."...

NOAA image of Hurricane Marie on August 24, 2014

Climate change: adapt now or perish

Bindu Lohani in Live Mint: Climate change will sow confusion and concern as it unfolds across South Asia in coming decades. Home to a quarter of the world’s population, this vast region will be hit harder than just about anywhere else. Sudden flooding, storms, droughts and other hazards will upend lives, livelihoods, and economies.

As this grim future takes shape, the price of global inaction is rising each year. Up to 9% will have been stripped annually from South Asia’s economy on average by 2100 if no further action is taken globally on climate change, says a new report by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), Assessing the Costs of Climate Change and Adaptation in South Asia. There’s an outside chance of those losses blowing out to 24% given the uncertainty surrounding climate change’s future impacts.

What can be done? The region’s countries have taken steps to cushion the impact of a warming world, but bolder action is needed. Given the slow pace of global mitigation efforts, the worst-case scenario of huge economic losses might end up being South Asia’s future by default. While only global action will halt climate change, countries should not wait on it before taking adaptive measures. They can be as straightforward as placing sand-filled geotextile bags along riverbanks to stall erosion as happened recently in low-lying Bangladesh, where an area up to twice the size of Shimla city is swallowed annually. Or they can be more wide-ranging, such as a recent initiative of the UK government, the Rockefeller Foundation and ADB to boost climate resilience at 25 cities in Asia by helping to integrate climate risks into city plans and develop resilient infrastructure.

Those efforts must now be mainstreamed into national development plans, with governments, the private sector and civil society working together. Moreover, as climate change ignores national borders, South Asia’s countries must respond cooperatively through a regional framework to promote technology transfer, dialogue, and sharing of best practices....

US Department of Defense photo of flooding in suburban Bangkok in 2011

'Widespread methane leakage' from ocean floor off US coast

Matt McGrath n BBC News: Researchers say they have found more than 500 bubbling methane vents on the seafloor off the US east coast. The unexpected discovery indicates there are large volumes of the gas contained in a type of sludgy ice called methane hydrate.

There are concerns that these new seeps could be making a hitherto unnoticed contribution to global warming. The scientists say there could be about 30,000 of these hidden methane vents worldwide. Previous surveys along the Atlantic seaboard have shown only three seep areas beyond the edge of the US continental shelf.

The team behind the new findings studied what is termed the continental margin, the region of the ocean floor that stands between the coast and the deep ocean. In an area between North Carolina and Massachusetts, they have now found at least 570 seeps at varying depths between 50m and 1,700m.

Their findings came as a bit of a surprise. "It is the first time we have seen this level of seepage outside the Arctic that is not associated with features like oil or gas reservoirs or active tectonic margins," said Prof Adam Skarke from Mississippi State University, who led the study....

From 1992: mapping conducted by the USGS off North Carolina and South Carolina shows large accumulations of methane hydrates.Dr. William Dillon, U.S. Geological Survey, public domain

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Drought, blight threaten to press up olive oil price

Terra Daily via AFP: Shoppers risk paying more for their olive oil this year as a drought in Spain and a blight in Italy wither trees in the two top producers, driving up prices. Months of dry weather have struck Andalusia in the south of Spain, the world's biggest producer of the "yellow gold".

In the second-biggest grower Italy, the bacteria xylella fastidiosa has shrivelled olive branches in the southern Puglia region. "Prices will rise by 30 to 40 percent because there will be fewer olives and therefore less oil produced," said one olive farmer in Puglia, Raffaele Piano.

"But quality will not be affected," he told AFP. "There is no cure. The only solution is to burn the infected trees to stop the bacteria spreading quickly."

Producers in parched Spain say they expect their prices to rise too over the coming months as the October harvest approaches, but hesitate to forecast by how much....

An amphora depicting olive gatherers, from the British Museum, public domain

Tropical depression upgraded to Tropical Storm Cristobel, headed for Bahamas

CTV News via AP: A strengthening tropical depression that dumped heavy rains on parts of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic was upgraded early Sunday to Tropical Storm Cristobal as it passed closer to the Bahamas, the U.S. Hurricane Center said.

Cristobal originally formed as depression over the Turks and Caicos Islands on Saturday. It was the fourth depression of the Atlantic hurricane season.

Sunday morning, the depression had sustained winds of35 mph (55 kph) and was located about 40 miles (160kilometres) north northwest of Mayaguana island, the hurricane centre said in a tropical advisory. The storm was moving northwest at about 9 mph (15 kph).

A tropical storm warning has been issued for the Turks and Caicos and for the southeast and central Bahamas, with forecasters saying it could bring up to 8 inches (20 centimetres) of rain.

The storm was upgraded to a tropical depression on Saturday afternoon, and it had previously downed several trees and power lines in Puerto Rico, leaving more than 17,000 people without power and nearly 5,600 without water...

Serengeti wildlife to access Lake Victoria's water as climate change looms large

Adam Ihucha in ETN Global Travel Industry News: Chief Ecologist with Serengeti National Park, Emilian Kihwele says that the revival of the wildlife corridor linking the vital Serengeti-Maasai Mara ecosystem with Lake Victoria is imperative.

Mr. Kihwele says that the basin, which straddles the Kenya-Tanzania border, is adversely affected by climate change and human activities not compatible with conservation interests, putting the world’s greatest annual wildlife migration across east Africa's plains – under threat.

Planet’s largest wildlife migration – the annual loop of two million wildebeest and other mammals across the Tanzania’s legendary national park of Serengeti and Kenya’s renowned Maasai Mara reserve – is a key tourist lure, generating multi-million-dollars annually.

A leading TANAPA ecologist, Dr. James Wakibara says that ripple effects of climate change as well as large-scale irrigation and industrial activity such as mining along the sprawling basin have led to higher rates of water abstraction.

Increased clearance of the forest and cultivation, respectively, in the upper catchment of Mau escarpments in Kenya has progressively led to excessive sediment loads and altered hydrograph of the Mara River, the only source of drinking water for Serengeti-Mara ecosystem wildlife during the dry months of August-September.

Consequently, both seasonal floods and droughts have become more frequent and extreme, leading to Mara River water flow becoming unpredictable in the past few years, scientists say....

An acacia tree in Serengeti National Park, shot by Kev Moses, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons 2.0 license 

Lebanon skeptical of 'save water' effort

Sophie Cousins in Al-Jazeera.com:  Plastered across billboards, flashing across television screens, and splashed on pamphlets and stickers, a new message is suddenly everywhere you look in Lebanon: "If you love me, save me some water."

This year, in an attempt to mitigate a growing water crisis, the Ministry of Energy and Water has encouraged people to turn off their taps and conserve precious drops. But according to Lebanon’s National Water Sector Strategy (NWSS), which was adopted by the government in 2012, only approximately 10 percent of water connections in Lebanon are metered, meaning that the overwhelming majority of people pay the same rate, regardless of how much water they use.

So as people in Beirut continue to hose down sidewalks, wash their cars, take long showers, and flush their stairwells instead of mopping, the awareness campaign has left many wondering: What’s the incentive?

"A lot of the time we don’t have any water at my [vegetable] shop anyway, so why would I save water when I pay the same rate per year?" said Fadi Hammoud, a shopkeeper in the affluent neighbourhood of Achrafieh in east Beirut. "This all comes down to government mismanagement and, really, without a proper government, what are we meant to do? Water and electricity issues have long been a problem for us."

The lack of metering also gives no incentive for "water establishments to increase water supply or spend more on operation and maintenance... as water deliveries generate no extra revenue", according to the Water Sector Assistance Strategy for 2012-2016, published by the World Bank...

Qaraoun Lake in Lebanon, public domain photo by Fouad Awada