Monday, June 29, 2015

Scientists have discovered how dramatic climate change in the Southern Sahara reduced the largest freshwater lake on Earth to the desert dunes we see today in just a few hundred years

Alpha Galileo via Royal Halloway, University of London: Researchers from Royal Holloway, Birkbeck and Kings College, University of London used satellite images to map abandoned shore lines around Palaeolake Mega-Chad, and analysed sediments to calculate the age of these shore lines, producing a lake level history spanning the last 15,000 years.

At its peak around 6,000 years ago, Palaeolake Mega-Chad was the largest freshwater lake on Earth, with an area of 360,000 km2. Now today’s Lake Chad is reduced to a fraction of that size, at only 355 km2. The drying of Lake Mega-Chad reveals a story of dramatic climate change in the southern Sahara, with a rapid change from a giant lake to desert dunes and dust, due to changes in rainfall from the West African Monsoon. The research, published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America confirms earlier suggestions that the climate change was abrupt, with the southern Sahara drying in just a few hundred years.

Part of the Palaeolake Mega-Chad basin that has dried completely is the Bodélé depression, which lies in remote northern Chad. The Bodélé depression is the World’s single greatest source of atmospheric dust, with dust being blown across the Atlantic to South America, where it is believed to be helping to maintain the fertility of tropical rainforests. However, the University of London team’s research shows that a small lake persisted in the Bodélé depression until about 1,000 years ago. This lake covered the parts of the Bodélé depression which currently produce most dust, limiting the dust potential until recent times.

“The Amazon tropical forest is like a giant hanging basket” explains Dr Simon Armitage from the Department of Geography at Royal Holloway. “In a hanging basket, daily watering quickly washes soluble nutrients out of the soil, and these need to be replaced using fertiliser if the plants are to survive. Similarly, heavy washout of soluble minerals from the Amazon basin means that an external source of nutrients must be maintaining soil fertility. As the World’s most vigorous dust source, the Bodélé depression has often been cited as a likely source of these nutrients, but our findings indicate that this can only be true for the last 1,000 years,” he added.

NASA image of a dust storm near what's left of Lake Chad

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Asia-Pacific trains for disruptions in climate

Business World Online: The US government is setting up a course to train officials in the Asia-Pacific region in the basics of preparing and financing projects to help communities weather climate change, experts from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) said on Friday.

Private citizens and military personnel join hands as they volunteer to re-pack relief goods composed of food clothing and other basic necessities at the Department of Social Welfare and development headquarters in Pasay, Philippines November 18, 2013

Financing needs for climate change adaptation -- efforts to adjust to extreme weather and rising seas -- are estimated at tens of billions of dollars per year in developing countries. But in 2013, only $25 billion in public resources went to adaptation around the world. Rich countries have promised to mobilize an annual $100 billion by 2020 to help poor nations adapt to climate change and develop their economies on a low-carbon path.

The key challenge is channelling money from large donors to small, poor communities that are hardest hit by climate-related disasters, experts said in an online discussion supported by the Asia Pacific Adaptation Network.

Most international funders cannot lend directly to smaller communities, and have to go through national agencies, such as finance ministries, said Peter King who works on USAID’s Bangkok-based Adapt Asia-Pacific project. “Not only do (local authorities) have problems in implementing projects,” Mr. King said. “In our experience they have difficulty in designing projects too.”...

Typhoon Bolaven in Okinawa, 2012, US Marine Corps photo

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Jet contrails affect surface temperatures

Space Daily: High in the sky where the cirrus ice crystal clouds form, jet contrails draw their crisscross patterns. Now researchers have found that these elevated ice cloud trails can influence temperatures on the ground and affect local climate, according to a team of Penn State geographers.

"Research done regarding September 2001, during the three days following 9-11 when no commercial jets were in the sky, suggested that contrails had an effect," said Andrew M. Carleton, professor of geography. "But that was only three days. We needed to look longer, while jets were in the air, to determine the real impact of contrails on temperature and in terms of climate." "Certain regions of the U.S. have more favorable atmospheric conditions for contrails than others, " said Jase Bernhardt, graduate student in geography.

For contrails to form, the atmosphere at the level the jet is flying must be cold enough that the moisture from the jet exhaust freezes into ice crystals. There also must be enough moisture in the air that the clouds that form remain in the sky for at least a few hours as persisting contrails.

Bernhardt and Carleton looked at temperature observations made at weather station sites in two areas of the U.S., one in the South in January and the other in the Midwest in April. They paired daily temperature data at each contrail site with a non-contrail site that broadly matched in land use-land cover, soil moisture and air mass conditions. The contrail data, derived from satellite imagery, were of persisting contrail outbreaks. The researchers reported their results in a recent issue of the International Journal of Climatology.

They found that contrails depress the difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures, typically decreasing the maximum temperature and raising the minimum temperature. In this respect, the contrail clouds mimic the effect of ordinary clouds....

US Air Force photo

Ghana destroys hundreds of homes in capital in bid to prevent floods

Matthew Mpoke Bigg in Reuters: Bulldozers razed hundreds of homes and businesses in the poor Sodom and Gomorrah neighborhood of Ghana's capital on Saturday so the authorities can start widening a lagoon to prevent a repeat of this month's deadly floods.

Some residents said security forces sprayed them with tear gas after they threw stones to protect their livelihoods from the bulldozers. By evening, thousands were stranded in the rain amid rubble and household goods strewn for more than a mile.

"What they have done is not good for us because this is where some of us work and take care of our families," said scrap metal merchant Muhammed Abdul Karim as he surveyed the wreckage of his shack and the motorized tricycle he uses to haul iron.

Flood control has become an urgent problem for President John Mahama's government since more than 50 people drowned in torrents caused by blocked drains on June 3-4, a tragedy that exposed the country's creaking infrastructure.

The same night 96 people sheltering from the floods at a downtown gas station died when it exploded in the worst disaster in decades in the West African country.

The incidents add to the difficulties facing President Mahama 18 months before the government faces voters in what is likely to be a tight election in one of Africa's more stable democracies....

Jamestown in Accra, shot by Adotey Hoffman, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Risk of major sea level rise in Northern Europe

A press release from Niels Bohr Institute: Global warming leads to the ice sheets on land melting and flowing into the sea, which consequently rises. New calculations by researchers from the Niels Bohr Institute show that the sea level in Northern Europe may rise more than previously thought. There is a significant risk that the seas around Scandinavia, England, the Netherlands and northern Germany will rise by up to about 1½ meters in this century. The results are published in a special issue of the scientific journal Climate Research.

Sea level rise is a significant threat to the world’s coastal areas, but the threat is not the same everywhere on Earth – it depends on many regional factors. “Even though the oceans are rising, they do not rise evenly across the globe. This is partly due to regional changes in the gravitational field and land uplift,” explains Aslak Grinsted, associate professor at the Centre for Ice and Climate at the Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen.

He explains that gravity over the surface of the land and sea varies due to differences in the subsurface and surroundings – the greater the mass, the greater the gravity. The enormous ice sheet on Greenland attracts the sea, which consequently becomes higher around Greenland. When the ice sheet melts and flows out to sea as water, this attraction is reduced and even though more water has entered the sea, the sea level around Greenland would fall.

...Another very important effect for Northern Europe is that during the ice age we had a thick ice sheet that weighted down the land. When the weight disappears, then the land rises and even though it has been more than 10,000 years since the ice disappeared, the land is still rising. The calculations show that in the Gulf of Bothnia the land is still rising faster than the expected sea level rise....

...“Based on the UN climate panel’s report on sea level rise, supplemented with an expert elicitation about the melting of the ice sheets, for example,how fast the ice on Greenland and Antarctica will melt while considering the regional changes in the gravitational field and land uplift, we have calculated how much the sea will rise in Northern Europe,” explains Aslak Grinsted.

,,,The calculations show that there is a real risk that what have been regarded as high scenarios in the Netherlands and England will be surpassed....

Lemvig on the Danish coast, shot by Anigif, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license

Thursday, June 18, 2015

'Once in generation' chance to reform climate insurance

Mark KInver at BBC: Policymakers have a "once in a generation" chance to reform insurance to help those most at risk from climate change impacts, say researchers.

A Cambridge University team is calling for insurance reforms to be explicitly mentioned in the UN's forthcoming Sustainable Development Goals. They outlined their proposals at an insurance summit at the UN, New York.

G7 leaders recently pledged to help 400 million people have access to insurance cover against extreme weather events. The researchers produced a policy brief that was presented to the global gathering at the UN headquarters.

"My role was to highlight the policy implications of having insurance at the centre of requirements to protect exposed populations," explained policy-brief author Ana Gonzalez Peleaz, a fellow from the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership.

"The lack of effective insurance regulation is a problem for accessing insurance across all parts of society." For example, she told BBC News, there were a number of nations that did not allow mutual insurance companies - these are companies that are wholly owned by policyholders, with the sole purpose of providing cover for its members and policyholders.

"The lack of regulation can have devastating consequences for customer protection and also insurers cannot really grow if the regulatory environment is not supportive."...

NOAA image of a tropical cyclone's eyewall 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Groundwater resources draining fast, NASA data show

Timothy Cama in the Hill: Humans are depleting a large portion of the world’s groundwater resources, and they are not being naturally refilled, researchers said. The scientists at the University of California Irvine used data from National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) satellites to determine drainage of the world’s largest groundwater aquifers in recent years.

They found that a third of the 37 major aquifers were either worse off in 2013 than in 2003 or were highly stressed. “Available physical and chemical measurements are simply insufficient,” Jay Famiglietti, the principal researcher on the project, said in a Tuesday statement. Famiglietti is both a UC Irvine professor and the top water scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

“Given how quickly we are consuming the world’s groundwater reserves, we need a coordinated global effort to determine how much is left,” he said.

The paper was published Tuesday in the journal Water Resources Research. It is the first to use data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment, or GRACE, satellite system, which detects changes in Earth’s gravity that can show groundwater levels.

It found that the most stressed aquifers were in extreme dry areas, whose residents and businesses have leaned most heavily on groundwater....

A bore well pump in India, shot by ABHIJEET, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Monday, June 15, 2015

Drought may hit rural Indian economy, aggravating poverty

Mayank Bhardwaj in Reuters: India's farm economy could contract this fiscal year for the first time in over a decade because of drought, threatening Prime Minister Narendra Modi's drive to lift millions in the countryside out of poverty and bolster his party's support.

Roughly half of India's farmland lacks irrigation and relies on monsoon rain, but this year's rainfall is officially forecast to be only 88 percent of the long-term average and, for the first time in nearly three decades, farmers face a second straight year of drought or drought-like conditions.

That comes on top of a crash in commodity prices, unseasonable rain earlier this year and delayed sowing late last year because of scanty monsoon rain.

"Farmers are already reeling under heavy losses ... and now they don't have money to irrigate their fields or use an optimum level of inputs like fertiliser," said Ashok Gulati, an agricultural economist who formerly advised the government on crop support prices...

A 2012 drought in Karnataka, shot by Pushkarv, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Flash flood risks increase as storm peak downpours intensify

EurekAlert via the University of New South Wales: Patterns of peak rainfall during storms will intensify as the climate changes and temperatures warm, leading to increased flash flood risks in Australia's urban catchments, new UNSW Australia research suggests.

Civil engineers from the UNSW Water Research Centre have analysed close to 40,000 storms across Australia spanning 30 years and have found warming temperatures are dramatically disrupting rainfall patterns, even within storm events.

Essentially, the most intense downpours are getting more extreme at warmer temperatures, dumping larger volumes of water over less time, while the least intense periods of precipitation are getting weaker. If this trend continues with future warming, the risk of flooding due to short-term extreme bursts of rainfall could increase even if the overall volume of rain during storms remains the same. The findings were published today in the journal Nature Geoscience.

"These more intense patterns are leading to more destructive storms, which can significantly influence the severity of flood flows," says lead author and PhD candidate Conrad Wasko, from the UNSW School of Civil and Environmental Engineering. "The climate zones we studied in Australia are representative of most global climates, so it's very likely these same trends will be observed around the world."

Previous studies have looked at rainfall volumes over the total duration of storms, but this latest UNSW study is the first to look at temporal rainfall patterns within storms. Australian Bureau of Meteorology data from 79 locations across the country were used instead of computer simulations....

Photo by Shootthedevgru,Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Rising global temperatures will have little effect on boreal peatlands

Jeff Sternsland at the University of South Carolina:
To some scientists studying climate change, boreal peatlands are considered a potential ticking time bomb. With huge stores of carbon in peat, the fear is that rising global temperatures could cause the release of massive amounts of CO2 from the peatlands into the atmosphere—essentially creating a greenhouse gas feedback loop.

A new study by researchers at the University of South Carolina and University of California Los Angeles challenges that notion, and demonstrates that the effect of temperature increases on peat storage could be minor. Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and published in “Global Biogeochemical Cycles,” the study instead points to the length of time peat is exposed to oxygen as a much more important factor in how it releases carbon into the atmosphere.

The researchers used the biochemical composition of a peat core collected from the James Bay Lowland in Canada to assess the historical relationship between climate and the extent of peat decomposition. The core is a record of peat accumulation over the last 7,500 years and contains two intervals (the Medieval Climate Anomaly and the Holocene Thermal Maximum) when temperatures were about 2°C warmer than normal, providing a natural analogue for modern warming.

However, peat formed during these warm intervals was not extensively decomposed compared to peat formed during cooler periods. Instead, the most extensive decomposition coincided with drier conditions and longer oxygen exposure time during peat formation. This indicates oxygen exposure time was the primary control on peat decomposition, while temperature was of secondary importance. This was supported by comparing the extent of decomposition along a climate transect in the West Siberian Lowland, Russia. Cores from the northern end of the transect, which experienced longer oxygen exposure times, were more decomposed than cores from the south, which formed under warmer temperatures...

Sunset on the tundra, shot by Paul Gierszewski, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Even longer and stronger heat waves predicted for India

Max Martin in the New Indian Express: With more than 2,300 dead in extremely hot weather across India, a recent Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay (IIT-B) study predicts more intense and longer heat waves, more often and earlier in the year in future. In a changing climate, newer areas, including large swathes of southern India and both coasts will be severely hit, resulting in more heat stress and deaths, said the study, published in the journal Regional Environmental Change.

“From climate model projections, we have pointed out that there is a possibility of high occurrences of heat waves in South India in future,” says Subimal Ghosh, associate professor at the Department of Civil Engineering, IIT-B, and one of the paper’s authors.

Such a forecast is in line with global and Indian studies. Other recent assessments have predicted that intense heat waves will grow with rising global temperatures, up by 0.9 degrees Celsius since the start of the 20th century.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) records that from 1906 to 2005, the mean annual global surface-air temperature increased by about 0.74 degrees (land-surface air temperature increases more than sea-surface temperature). As a result, there will be significant changes in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, including heat waves, as IPCC’s 2014 report warns.

“It is difficult to directly link this present single-year high heat-wave occurrence to climate change,” says  Ghosh. “However, there is a good possibility that such heat waves may indicate the adverse impacts of global warming.” A rise in the frequency and intensity of heat waves would increase the risk of heat stroke and heat exhaustion, and even deaths from hot weather, the IIT-B team predicts, echoing concerns raised by IPCC....

Sunset on the Ganges, shot by ptwo, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Food waste costs North America $162 billion

Waste Management World: Food waste in America amounts to $162 billion and between 31% to 40% of American food supply goes to waste, primarily in homes, stores and restaurants, according to a new study. The findings, from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF) at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, were published in a report in the journal PLOS ONE.

Top food wasted, by weight, include fruit and vegetables yet nearly 75% of Americans believe that they waste less food than the national average, according to the findings.

Furthermore, as a result the food waste places a huge drain on the environment when approximately 30% of the fertiliser, 35% of the fresh water and 31% of the cropland in the US was used to grow food that was eventually wasted.

The first nationally representative consumer survey focused on wasted food sheds some light on factors affecting consumers’ waste. The survey, administered to 1,010 American consumers in April 2014, covered awareness, knowledge, attitudes and behaviors related to wasted food.

Despite the large environmental impacts related to wasted food, most survey respondents listed environmental concerns last when ranking reasons to reduce food waste, with just 10% calling them “very important.” Instead, respondents said that saving money and setting a positive example for children were the top motivators for wanting to throw out less food....

Wasted food, shot by Assianir, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Typhoons a growing threat because of climate change

Peter Hannam in Stuff (New Zealand): A warming planet is already stoking the intensity of tropical cyclones in the north-west Pacific and their ferocity will continue to increase even with moderate climate change over this century, an international research team has found.

A study covering 850 typhoons in the region found the intensity of the damaging storms has increased by about 10 per cent since the 1970s, said Wei Mei, a climate scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, and a co-author of the study published in the journal Science Advances.

Using 20 models and a mid-range projection of carbon dioxide emissions, the researchers found the peak intensity of storms such as super Typhoon Haiyan, which tore through the Philippines in November 2013, will become even stronger and more common. Such storms will be 14 per cent stronger by 2100, equivalent to adding another category to the current top severity rating of 5, the study found.

Research on tropical cyclones – known as hurricanes in the Atlantic basin – has sought to identify whether factors contributing to more powerful events such as warmer sea surface temperatures might be countered by changes to ocean or atmospheric circulation that may hinder the storms' genesis or force. Warming in the top 75 metres of the oceans will dominate other influences, the researchers found.

"This projected increase in typhoon intensity is largely due to [sea surface temperatures] warming," the study found, adding that the findings are "at the high end" of previous projections....

Typhoon Haiyan, November 7, 2013

Water security vital to unlocking African prosperity says SAB Miller

Business Day Online: With coordinated action, better water provision in Africa will strengthen economic growth and unlock the path to prosperity for millions, according to SABMiller’s Chief Executive Alan Clark.

Speaking today at the W
orld Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa in Cape Town, Alan Clark highlighted that water security and resource efficiency have become and will remain a priority for SABMiller in Africa as climate change exarcebates competition for resources. This year’s WEF Global Risks Report ranked water scarcity as the biggest single risk to societies and economies.

While growing production volumes, SABMiller has cut its global carbon emissions by 35 percent since 2008, reducing absolute emissions by nearly one million tonnes. Over the same period it cut water use per litre of beer by 28 percent, now using 3.3 litres of water to make one litre of beer, exceeding its 2015 target. In the last year alone, the company reduced its water use by 29 million hectolitres – the equivalent to the water used by over 116,000 Africans each yeari.

This has translated into tangible gains for the company –  SABMiller saved US$117million in the last financial year compared with 2010 through water and energy related initiatives as a key part of its overall cost reduction plans.

Leading a panel discussion on the Future of Water, Alan Clark said: “The business case for conserving water both within our own operations and in the communities where we work is clear and compelling. Companies from all sectors are facing up to the risks that water scarcity poses to their business – even more so with the impact of climate change. Now is the time to step up and make clear commitments to reduce overall water use and improve efficiency.”...

An oasis in Libya, shot by Sfivat

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Thirteen corporations control up to 40 per cent of world’s most valuable fisheries

A press release from Stockholm University: Just thirteen corporations control 19-40% of the largest and most valuable stocks and 11-16 % of the global marine catch, according to new research. These “keystone” corporations of the global seafood industry critically shape the future of marine ecosystems, but have yet to assume this responsibility at the global scale.

The new study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, makes an analogy between the largest companies in seafood industry and keystone species in ecological communities. Keystone species in nature have a profound effect on the structure and function of the ecosystem and disproportionately determine the prevalence and activities of other species. For example just a small number of sea otters can determine urchin numbers, or a few grey wolves determine the size of bison, deer or elk populations.

Likewise, the study found that the average annual revenues of the 160 largest companies in 2012 exhibit a distinct keystone pattern, where the top 10% account for 38 % of total revenues. The identified thirteen companies (box) shape very large marine ecosystems around the world and are involved in both wild capture fisheries and aquaculture, including whitefish, tuna, salmon, shellfish, fishmeal, fish oil, and aqua feeds. Their combined annual revenues correspond to 18% of the global value of seafood production in 2012 (US$ 252 billion).

This handful of corporations (representing 0.5% of 2250 registered fishing and aquaculture companies worldwide) dominate all parts of seafood
production, operate through an extensive global network of subsidiaries and are profoundly involved in fisheries and aquaculture decision-making. Such omnipotence represents both a challenge and an opportunity for the governance of global fisheries.

“The phenomenon of keystone actors is an increasingly important feature of our human-dominated world. Active leadership in sustainability initiatives by these corporations could result in a cascade through the entire seafood industry towards improved management of marine living resources and ecosystems,” says lead author Henrik Österblom, Deputy Science Director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre.

“Increasing demand for seafood has contributed to a global fisheries crisis, with consequences for marine ecosystems around the world,” Österblom adds. Existing analyses of global fisheries operations have, however, so far largely focused on the role of countries, rather than industry corporations....

A fishing vessel off the coast of Scotland in 1963, shot by Phillip Capper, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Moscow airports delay or cancel more than 100 flights in storm

NDTV: Moscow international airports on Friday delayed or cancelled more than 100 flights due to stormy weather.

A weather warning issued by the emergencies ministry in Moscow predicted storms and strong winds of more than 50 miles per hour that could topple trees and bring down power lines.

At around 10 pm (1900 GMT), 73 flights were delayed and eight cancelled at Domodedovo airport to the south of the city, according to Yandex search engine's timetable service.

A further 40 flights were delayed and eight cancelled at the northern Sheremetyevo airport while eight were delayed at Vnukovo airport to the west, Yandex said.

Aeroflot carrier, based at Sheremetyevo, on Twitter warned passengers that "currently at Sheremetyevo due to complex weather conditions, flights are being delayed on arrival and departure."...

The control tower at Moscow's Domodedovo Airport, shot by DME Airport, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

NOAA's GOES-R satellite begins environmental testing

NOAA: The GOES-R satellite, slated to launch in 2016, is ready for environmental testing. Environmental testing simulates the harsh conditions of launch and the space environment once the satellite is in orbit. The GOES-R satellite and its instruments will undergo a variety of rigorous tests which includes subjecting the satellite to vibration, acoustics and temperature testing as part of this process.

The environmental testing will take place at Lockheed Martin Corporation’s Littleton, Colorado, facility where the spacecraft is being built. The satellite will be placed inside a large (29’ x 65’) vacuum chamber, where it will remain through late summer. During the thermal vacuum test, the satellite is exposed to the extreme hot and cold temperatures it will experience in space as it orbits the Earth with temperatures ranging from -15 degrees Celsius to 50 degrees Celsius. The satellite will also undergo vibration testing to simulate the experience of launching into space aboard a rocket, and electromagnetic testing to ensure it is properly protected from electromagnetic phenomena in space, like solar flares.

“The start of the environmental testing period is a critically important time for the spacecraft,” said GOES-R Series Program Director, Greg Mandt. “This milestone marks the shift from the development and integration of the satellite to the final testing phases that will prepare the satellite for the rigors of space before its delivery to the launch location later this year.”

...GOES-R represents a significant improvement over current GOES satellite observations and will provide higher-resolution images of weather patterns and severe storms five times faster than today, which will contribute to more accurate and reliable weather forecasts and severe weather outlooks. GOES-R’s environmental data products will support short-term weather forecasts and severe storm watches and warnings, maritime forecasts, seasonal predictions, drought outlooks and space weather predictions. GOES-R products will improve hurricane tracking and intensity forecasts, increase thunderstorm and tornado warning lead time, improve aviation flight route planning, provide data for long-term climate variability studies, improve solar flare warnings for communications and navigation disruptions and enhance space weather monitoring....

Image from NOAA

Heat wave continues along northern India as Delhi witnesses change in weather

ANI: No relief was in sight for people in northern India as they continued to reel under intense heat wave, with the death toll crossing 1,700 in the last 10 days.

In Amritsar, people on the streets had their faces covered to save themselves from the scorching sun. Free water was also being distributed to the travelers to keep them hydrated. With the threat of more frequent heat waves as a result of climate change, experts say India must recognise rising temperatures as a natural disaster, just like floods or earthquakes, and have a strategy to protect vulnerable people.

People in Surat city were mostly seen near shops selling cold drinks. With summer vacations going on, families were shopping even in harsh weather conditions. However, many were spending their time in malls to beat the sizzling heat.

An indoor ice skating ring was also set-up for people to have fun during vacation time. Meanwhile residents of the national capital New Delhi witnessed a sudden change in weather with light showers of rainfall...

Malabar Hill in Mumbai, shot by Umesh Nair, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license 

Drought-hit North Korea seen able to avoid food crisis

Jack Kim and James Pearson in Reuters: North Korea has updated farming methods and switched crops that could help soften the blow of drought and avert a disastrous food shortage, an aid worker and an analyst said on Sunday, after a U.N. official warned of another "huge food deficit".

Impoverished North Korea, which suffered a deadly famine in the 1990s, has seen international food aid fall sharply because of its restrictions on humanitarian workers and reluctance to allow monitoring of food distribution.

Food supplies had since improved and production has been at the highest levels, resulting in the lowest shortfall last year since the mid-2000s, according to independent South Korean studies. "Supply this year will be even more stable and any shortfall is likely to be met sufficiently by imports," said Kwon Tae-jin of the GSnJ Institute in Seoul, an expert on North Korean agriculture.

"Improvement in the supply of food isn't likely by chance or a temporary situation," he said, crediting an increased allocation of resources in agriculture. Linda Lewis, of the American Friends Service Committee, an NGO running farm projects in North Korea, said she had heard the new farm management system was helping....

A farm in North Korea, shot by Nicor, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Monday, May 25, 2015

Texas governor declares states of emergency, more severe weather expected

Ellen Wulfhorst in Reuters: The governor of Texas on Monday declared states of disaster in 24 counties, citing the severe weather and flash flooding that have killed at least two people. The state has been pounded by tornadoes, heavy rainfall, thunderstorms and flooding that forced evacuations and rooftop rescues and left thousands of residents without electrical power.

In declaring the states of disaster in 24 counties, Texas Governor Greg Abbott said: “The State of Texas has taken brisk action in dispatching all available resources to aid those affected by this severe weather system.

“My thoughts and prayers are with all the communities that are suffering as a result of this weather disaster, and I am grateful for the first responders who have worked tirelessly to provide shelter, care and resources to all impacted areas," he said.

Widespread severe thunderstorms were forecast for Monday in north-central and northeast Texas and southern Oklahoma, likely bringing destructive winds, tornadoes and hail, the National Weather Service said.

The Weather Service issued severe thunderstorm and flash-flood warnings as well as tornado watches throughout the region....

A supercell thunderstorm near Teague, Texas, in 2011. Shot by Runningonbrains, public domain

Laser technology to level farm land saves water and energy

Dharini Parthasarathy at the Thomson Reuters Foundation: Life in rural India evokes an image of a farmer levelling the land with an ox-drawn scraper. It’s one of the most basic preparations before sowing, as uneven land does not bode well for water absorption and farm productivity.

But for many farmers, animal power is being replaced by machines. A laser land leveller - a machine equipped with a laser-operated drag bucket - is much more effective and quicker at ensuring a flat, even surface. A flat surface means irrigation water reaches every part of the field with minimal waste from run-off or water-logging.

Mechanisation is good news for farmers, as climate change and variability pose unprecedented challenges to agriculture. The need of the hour is climate-smart agriculture practices and technologies that save on scarce resources like water and energy but increase yields and incomes.

A portfolio of climate-smart practices can equip farmers to adapt to changing weather patterns amid depleting natural resources. For instance, groundwater in north-western India has been declining at alarming rates due to the overuse of electric pumps, largely thanks to subsidised electricity, and inadequate recharge from erratic rainfall....

The Bhakra Main Channel in the Punjab, shot by Zerit, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Climate change blamed for severe drought hitting Vietnam's coffee crops

Mark Scialla in the Guardian (UK): The last time Nguyen Van Viet saw water in his well was almost four months ago. The 44-year-old has farmed coffee in central Vietnam for two decades and says that’s never happened before. “This is the worst drought I’ve seen in over a decade,” Viet, told the Guardian. “Some people don’t have enough water to drink.”

For Viet and millions of other coffee farmers, this season has been disastrous. A prolonged drought has affected all five provinces in Vietnam’s Central Highlands – a region that produces 60% of the country’s coffee. “Normally, in March or April, it should start rain, but this year it hasn’t rained until now,” Viet said. “Over the years I’ve realised it’s getting harder to grow coffee mostly because lack of water. The temperatures are getting higher and higher and the rainfall is less.”

Viet says he’s lost almost 4,000 sq meters of coffee crops on his five-acre farm in Dak Lak, a province responsible for 30% of total coffee harvests last year. At least 7,000 acres of coffee plants have died there since March, according to the provincial Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs. And in neighbouring Lam Dong Province, the drought has stressed another 150,000 acres of coffee.

The result has been a five-year low in coffee exports, 40% down on the same period in 2014. The economic costs have yet to be tallied.

Vietnam is the world’s largest producer of Robusta, a tougher, more bitter bean often used in instant coffee and espresso. The French introduced the plant in the 19th century and in the post-war years it helped pull millions of Vietnamese from poverty. The industry grew rapidly in the 1990s, making Vietnam the world’s second-largest exporter of coffee and supplying around a quarter of the UK’s coffee. But success came at a cost. Deforestation, monocropping and intensive pesticide use that helped create the boom now leaves coffee farms more vulnerable to climate change....

Coffee fields in Vietnam, shot by kangotraveler, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Dutch sea level rise expert: Miami will be "the new Atlantis," a city in the sea

Jessica Weiss in Miami New Times: A few months after Hurricane Sandy bared down on New York, killing over 150 people and wreaking $65 billion in damage, federal leaders cried for help to make the Northeast more flood-proof. Dutch expert Henk Ovink answered. Ovink had helped make his homeland, where 55 percent of the country is extremely flood-prone, a world pioneer in preparing for sea level rise. ... So there's good cause to be worried when the Dutch expert says there’s no place in worse shape today than Miami. He’s begun calling the city “the new Atlantis,” after the legendary and beautiful island subcontinent that was submerged by the sea in one night.

“If we look around the world and take into account sea level rise and the increase of water related disasters, among the places in the world that have the most assets and investments at risk, Miami is leading that list,” Ovink tells New Times. “Miami will no longer be a land city, but a city in the sea.”

In recent years, scientists have repeatedly warned that South Florida’s coastal communities and barrier islands could be completely underwater in 100 years. Earlier this year, National Geographic published research on the projected cost of an extreme weather event in 2050. With so many buildings, roads and other infrastructure so close to sea level, Miami was number one on the list, with a projected loss of $278 billion dollars, followed by Guangzhou, China ($268 billion), and New York-Newark ($209 billion).

A first step is for leaders to recognize and talk about climate change.  “It’s scary that the state of Florida briefed staff not to talk about climate change,” Ovink says. “When you think about future risks and how to deal with them, that is not right approach. You have to address those issues and come up with a strategy. It's an opportunity.”

The problem, Ovink says, is that dozens of individual cities, like Miami Beach, are pursuing their own balkanized strategies rather than making a unified effort to find creative solutions. Government, businesses, NGOs and residents should plan together, Ovink says, and do more than just stop-gap efforts. In the very short term, ideas might include raising buildings, preventing ocean water from flooding freshwater aquifers, and installing pumps to stop city flooding. But long term efforts need to be more comprehensive....

Medieval manuscript of Calcidius' Latin translation of Plato's Timaeus, one of the main sources for the Atlantis legend. In the late sixteenth century, this manuscript belonged to Leiden University professor Daniel Heinsius who gave it to his son Nicholas. Nicholas, whose signature appears on the manuscript, was the librarian of Queen Christina of Sweden, whose collection came to the Vatican Library after her death.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Expert warns fire season in northern British Columbia getting worse

Mike Hager in the Globe and Mail: A massive wildfire in northern B.C. shows that the province’s forests are increasingly primed for such blazes because of climate change and the El Nino weather pattern, an expert says. The 240-square-kilometre fire, first reported late Friday on May 8 near Little Bobtail Lake southwest of Prince George, is only 15-per-cent contained, according to a Monday update from the B.C. Wildfire Branch.

Since Saturday, heavy winds almost doubled the size of the blaze and halted the progress of 270 firefighters, according to the branch.

Lori Daniels, an associate professor in the University of B.C.’s forestry faculty, said Monday that the Little Bobtail Lake fire is symptomatic of more intense and longer fire seasons the province is now experiencing. Global warming has driven this change, Prof. Daniels said.

She added, however, that it has also been fuelled by debris that has built up after decades of firefighters stopping smaller, more frequent fires that once rejuvenated forests with low-intensity burns. “I hope this is a cautionary message to anybody working in, living in and using our forests, that we have to be careful,” Prof. Daniels said. “Even the forests in what we consider a wetter, cooler forest type within the province currently are burning at a higher intensity, which also shows other parts of the province are hot and dry.”

B.C. could continue to warm over the next 100 years, according to some global climate-change models, exacerbating the forest-fire threat....

A 2003 fire in British Columbia, via NASA 

Don’t put irrigation above drinking water

Joe Turner in Water policies and technologies aiming to help meet sustainable development goals (SDGs) must rebalance the attention given to agriculture over drinking water, a UN report issued last week (15 May) has found.

The Water for Food Security and Nutrition report comes from the Committee for World Food Security, a UN body based in Rome. It makes eight recommendations, saying that better access to technologies could make water use in farming more efficient, as well as improving access to drinking water for disadvantaged people.

The report warns that population growth and climate change will put more strain on freshwater supplies, particularly in low-rainfall areas like Central Asia, the Middle East and North Africa. Much of the available groundwater in these regions has already been extracted, with 80–90 per cent being used for irrigation in agriculture, leaving lakes and groundwater at historically low levels.  Using techniques such as rain-fed agriculture, and introducing better technologies to harvest and store water, and reduce losses through evaporation, could go some way towards ensuring enough drinking water remains, the report says.

Toby Bruce, a crop scientist at Rothamsted Research, an agricultural research institute in the United Kingdom, says water-efficient crop varieties and agricultural systems will form part of the solution. “Agriculture uses 70 per cent of the world's freshwater extraction, which means improvements in efficiency could make a big difference,” Bruce says.

However, conflict between using water for agriculture or for drinking would remain, according to Raul Pacheco-Vega, a geographer at the Centre for Economic Research and Education in Mexico. He says that the concept of water for food security and nutrition needs to be extended beyond agriculture, as the existing focus on farming could leave urban communities without enough....

Clearly identify risks Africa faces

Rowena Hay in Business Day (South Africa): It is time for Africans to speak coherently about the environmental and social threats they face, building on and adapting established global risk models. Individual efforts in disaster risk reduction do make a difference and can eventually secure political will and public support.

It is about how we manage the risks to the environment, taking into account social and economic demands — if we don’t take them into account, they will trigger worse environmental risks.

There is a view of the world that risk can be quantified once-off, but this does not factor in compound disasters and cascading risks. We have been living in a world of uncertainty and constant change since the financial crisis of 2008. So we need to talk about adaptation. Coping capacity is based on the recognition that some communities cope better than others, and recognise the need to adapt to change. You look not only at vulnerability, but also people’s strengths.

...The 2014 World Economic Forum global risk report was released and the third UN World Conference on disaster risk reduction led to the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-30. The Hyogo framework was developed by a small group of scientists, sociologists and disaster management practitioners and was a practical, useful document. It was far-sighted in its approach to civil society and using ordinary people as volunteers.

Preparation for the post-2015 process started in 2011, with conversations about setting new goals. However, African representatives argued that many priority areas were only starting to be addressed in certain parts of the continent and the agenda should not be changed.

This was a triumph for the African voice, showing that the regional nature of some environmental issues should be further addressed. The growing nexus of environment, government and instability is often glossed over and that is a factor in Africa we simply can’t afford to ignore....

Photo of a 2006 flood in Algeria, shot by Astonar, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Balkans still recovering one year after catastrophic floods

International Orthodox Christian Charities: It's been a difficult year since record rainfall drenched the Balkans last spring, unleashing the worst flooding in more than 100 years and leaving a trail of destruction across Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. More than 70 people lost their lives, while hundreds of thousands of survivors had to evacuate as family homes and farms, roads and utilities were damaged or destroyed. Relentless summer and fall rains renewed flooding, which slowed recovery and threatened to keep many families from having warm and dry shelter in time for winter.

...From its offices in Serbia and Bosnia, International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) responded on the heels of the disaster, ensuring the delivery of relief to vulnerable families in the region's hardest hit communities. Through the financial support of church and private donors in the US, Australia and New Zealand, and close cooperation with local partners, the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Red Cross, IOCC's ongoing assistance has helped thousands of survivors like Ljubica and Mladen return to their homes and resume their lives. More than 800 families have received support from IOCC with cleanup, home repair kits filled with construction materials, or replacement stoves and refrigerators.

The raging waters not only damaged homes and businesses, but also swept away desks, books, computers and lab equipment from school classrooms. Schooling came to a standstill for the 950 students of Šamac. Through your support, IOCC has helped restore the learning environment for the community's schoolchildren.

...More than 1,400 schoolchildren from the Serbian towns of Kladovo and Obrenovac suffered similar losses in their communities. The only primary school in the village of Tekija near Kladovo was so badly damaged by waves of mud and debris that the entire student body has had to be bussed daily to a school in Kladovo. IOCC is taking action with the installation of a new roof and heating system to be completed in time for Tekija's children to return to their own school next fall...

NASA image of 2014 flooding in Bosnia and Serbia

Saturday, May 16, 2015

NASA study shows Antarctica’s Larsen B ice shelf nearing its final act

NASA: A new NASA study finds the last remaining section of Antarctica's Larsen B Ice Shelf, which partially collapsed in 2002, is quickly weakening and likely to disintegrate completely before the end of the decade.

A team led by Ala Khazendar of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, found the remnant of the Larsen B Ice Shelf is flowing faster, becoming increasingly fragmented and developing large cracks. Two of its tributary glaciers also are flowing faster and thinning rapidly.

"These are warning signs that the remnant is disintegrating," Khazendar said. "Although it’s fascinating scientifically to have a front-row seat to watch the ice shelf becoming unstable and breaking up, it’s bad news for our planet. This ice shelf has existed for at least 10,000 years, and soon it will be gone."

Ice shelves are the gatekeepers for glaciers flowing from Antarctica toward the ocean. Without them, glacial ice enters the ocean faster and accelerates the pace of global sea level rise. This study, the first to look comprehensively at the health of the Larsen B remnant and the glaciers that flow into it, has been published online in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters.

...NASA research has found that the last section of Antarctica's Larsen B Ice Shelf is likely to disintegrate before the end of the decade. Khazendar noted his estimate of the remnant's remaining life span was based on the likely scenario th
at a huge, widening rift that has formed near the ice shelf's grounding line will eventually crack all the way across. The free-floating remnant will shatter into hundreds of icebergs that will drift away, and the glaciers will rev up for their unhindered move to the sea.

Located on the coast of the Antarctic Peninsula, the Larsen B remnant is about 625 square miles (1,600 square kilometers) in area and about 1,640 feet (500 meters) thick at its thickest point. Its three major tributary glaciers are fed by their own tributaries farther inland. "What is really surprising about Larsen B is how quickly the changes are taking place," Khazendar said. "Change has been relentless." ...

The polar research ship Nathaniel B. Palmer in Barilari Bay, Antarctic Peninsula being a part of the U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP). The icebreaker was on a two-month science expedition to the Larsen B. Embayment, which was occupied for 10,000 years until 2002 by an ice shelf, 23 January 2010.

Satellite mapping reveals agricultural slowdown in Latin America

University of British Columbia News: For the first time, satellite mapping of Latin America shows that the continent’s agricultural expansion has waned in the wake of the global economic downturn, according to UBC research.

“Nearly every agricultural region across Latin America slowed down in expansion from 2007 to 2013, compared to the previous six years,” says Jordan Graesser, the study’s lead author. Graesser is a visiting international student at UBC’s Liu Institute for Global Issues and the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability.

The study, recently published in Environmental Research Letters, involved the first large-scale mapping of changes in cropland and pastureland over more than a decade at the continental scale, using satellite imagery.

The slowdown is notable, given that agriculture in Latin America expanded faster over the past few decades compared to any other region on earth. The growth was fuelled by the continent’s “Green Revolution” in the 1960s, where agricultural innovations, such as the development of new seeds, increased crop yields.

But the agricultural decline revealed by the study may not last. “Agriculture in Latin America is tied to global commodity prices,” says Graesser, also a PhD student at McGill University’s Department of Geography. “So if the global economy continues to recover, and if crop prices increase, there’s likely going to be more expansion – which could impact biodiversity and boost carbon emissions.”

Soy production is the key driver of cropland expansion in South America. Much of the soy grown there is used to feed poultry and pigs in China, where the consumption of meat has surged as the population gains affluence. Pasture expansion is driven by the growth of beef cattle production, fueled by exports to Europe and increasing domestic consumption. Biofuels are another driver of cropland expansion in some Latin American countries....

Image (by Jordan Graesser) from the UBC website

Focus on Poverty: Coffee farmers on climate front line

Roger Williamson in There is a coffee crisis brewing, SciDev.Net recently reported in a story about the effects of climate change on the crop, primarily the highly prized Arabica coffee beans. A major study modelled 21 scenarios of climate change up to 2050 on a band of 60 tropical countries either side of the equator where Arabica coffee is grown.

Although 2050 sounds far ahead, it takes three to five years to get a first crop. And coffee planted now should be productive for much of the 2020-50 period.

The common-sense view is to say: “Big food companies will be able to get coffee from somewhere — after all, Vietnam developed a coffee industry quickly.” Or: “Even if there is a couple of degrees of warming, farmers can just grow the coffee higher up the mountains.”

But it is not as easy as that. Peter Läderach of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, and a coauthor of the study, points out that smallholders, or farmers in major coffee producing countries such as Brazil, cannot simply move production to higher altitudes for many reasons including land tenure, terrain and to avoid further deforestation.

Indeed, most of the possible solutions — such as irrigation, extensive pest control, new or alternative crop varieties, shade systems or cultivation of new areas — are either costly or have other negative consequences. One of the few promising approaches seems to be the intercropping of bananas and coffee — with the banana plants providing an additional cash crop and shade for the coffee plants.

The economic impact will be significant, both for exporters and smallholders. Coffee is an important export for tropical countries, even though Mark Pendergrast, author of an economic history of coffee Uncommon grounds, picks apart the ‘rural myth’ that it is second only to oil in value as a traded commodity....

Coffee beans shot by Sten Porse, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Bringing drones down to earth

Caterina Pino and Obinna Anyadike in IRIN: Disaster coverage now seems incomplete without amazing drone footage of the damage, accompanied by effusive media reports on the technological wizardry of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and their humanitarian application. But is that really the story? Here’s a look at the evolution needed for them to better fulfill their potential.

The advantage of UAVs is that they are a fraction of the cost of manned aircraft and the smallest can fit into the hand luggage of a humanitarian response team. They provide very high resolution imagery and can carry an array of sensors. “They provide extra information in the phase where you need a quick overview,” explained Arjan Stam, overall leader of international Urban Search-and-Rescue units in Nepal.

...Commonly used micro-UAVs, like the quadcopter DJI Phantom, has a flight time of under 25 minutes and doesn’t fly in high winds and bad weather. There are larger, more capable UAVs, but drones are far from always the answer. In many circumstances old-fashioned helicopters, manned aircraft and people doing assessments on foot are better options.

“If we prioritise using the cool new toys instead of choosing the collection platform that meets needs and constraints, we risk being less useful than we could be and probably slower,” said John Crowley, an affiliated researcher at Harvard Humanitarian Initiative. “[UAVs] can be amazing assets when they fit into a larger system that makes it safe, secure and legal to use them – [that requires] trained people, clear policies, and established protocols.”...

A fan copter, shot by WilliWiki, Wikimedia Commons,  under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license

Kenyan floods cut off 300 people in Ongata Rongai

Judie Kaberia in via Capital FM (Kenya): More than three hundred people were Thursday morning stranded in Ongata Rongai in Lower Olootepesi, Kajiado East Constituency since 4.30am after a major connecting bridge was submerged in an overflowing river.

According to motorists who spoke to Capital FM News, a connecting bridge on Kiserian River was sub-merged making the road impassable at Ongata Rongau.

"We have been stuck here from 4.30am, even our kids could not go to school. I am with my daughter and I brought her to see why she is not going to school because she was asking me why the school bus had not come to pick her up," one of the drivers plying the route said.

"The road is passable the only problem is that the bridge is submerged, we cannot see it completely so we cannot risk crossing through what you cannot see," the motorist added....

Monday, May 11, 2015

Ten missing in possible Texas tornado

ABC News: At least 10 adults are unaccounted for after a possible tornado hit the East Texas town of Van, injuring more than two dozen people. Van Zandt County Fire Marshal Chuck Allen said Monday that 26 people were transported to hospitals by emergency personnel. Allen says an unknown number of others went by private vehicle for care after Sunday night's storm.

He had no further details on the 10 missing people in Van, a town of about 2,600 located 70 miles southeast of Dallas. Allen says 30 percent of Van has damage and about 50 people were in a shelter at a church.

The National Weather Service believes at least one tornado hit Van, with damage to be surveyed Monday.

Oncor (ON'-kor) reported nearly 11,000 customers without electricity Monday, including the Van area. Officials say two groups of people in North Texas had to be rescued by helicopters after rising floodwaters left them stranded.

Denton County Deputy Fire Marshal Marc Dodd says a Texas National Guard helicopter airlifted four adults and one infant on Sunday from the roof of their home near the city of Krum.

Dodd says another helicopter rescued two adults near the city of Sanger from the roof of their pickup truck, which video showed was surrounded by rushing water. He says 10 others in the county had to evacuate their homes....

A 2007 tornado in Texas, shot by Bruce Haynie of the National Weather Service

Pakistan improving sanitation way faster than India

The Economic Times: Pakistan has left India far behind in terms of improving water and sanitation access for their citizens, reveals a new performance index released on Friday.

While Pakistan was ranked five in the new index developed by The Water Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Gillings School of Global Public Health in the US, India occupied an unenviable 92nd position.

High-performing countries for 2015 are those that achieved significant improvement in recent years compared to their peers. Low-performing countries are those that showed stagnation or decline in recent years compared to their peers.

India's ranking as a bottom-performer predates the recent launch of the " Clean India Mission" by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Sub-Saharan Africa countries including Mali, South Africa, and Ethiopia are also among the top performers world-wide in spite of modest resources, according to the WaSH Performance Index that evaluates country performance in improving access to water and sanitation and in eroding inequalities in access.

Other high performers include China, El Salvador, Niger, Egypt, and Maldives. Conversely, Russia, the Philippines and Brazil were bottom performers .

The index compares countries of all sizes and income levels. Using this method, the report revealed that a country's gross domestic product did not determine performance in improving water and sanitation for its citizens...

Providing clean water in Pakistan. Image by the UK Department for International Development, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license 

Two dead as Typhoon Noul slams Philippines on way to Japan

M. Alex Johnson in NBC News: At least two people were killed and almost 4,000 others were forced to evacuate their homes as Typhoon Noul slammed into the northern Philippines, the national disaster agency said Monday.

Noul — called Typhoon Dodong locally — weakened slightly as it hovered about 137 miles northeast of the Batanes Islands at around 7:15 p.m. local time (7:15 a.m. ET) on Monday. The typhoon was packing winds of 87 mph and gusts of up to 106 mph.

Earlier, waves of 46 feet were recorded in the open ocean off the coast, according to the weather bureau. Noul was gathering speed and was expected to start heading for southern Japan by Tuesday.

NDRRMC, the national disaster agency, said Noul made a direct hit Sunday with buckets of rain and mammoth waves. Two men, ages 74 and 46, were electrocuted while trying to repair their damaged roof Sunday in Cagayan Province northeast of Luzon, the agency said. About 3,800 people remained in shelters Monday morning in Isabela and Cagayan provinces, where large areas were without power.

Despite the destruction wrought by Noul, it also brought much needed rains to rice and corn farms that had been hit by intense summer heat....

Typhoon Noul shot by NASA, May 8, 2015

Cash aid feeds business surge in northeast Kenya

Isaiah Esipisu in Thomson Reuters Foundation: When the government of Kenya began giving cash instead of food aid to poor people in Kenya's drought-stricken North Eastern region, the aim was to help them buy food more efficiently and conveniently.

But the cash-transfer programme has had an unexpected effect: Most of the recipients of the cash have used it to start small businesses, which they see as the best way of adapting to increasingly tough climatic conditions.

"We expected them to buy food, given the emergency situation. But investing the money into businesses shows how very little resources can be used to build resilience among very poor communities," said Evelyn Nadio, manager of the Hunger Safety Net Programme (HSNP), which provides the cash aid under Kenya's National Drought Management Authority.

The parched, acacia scrub regions receiving the help - including Kenya's Mandera, Turkana, Marsabit and Wajir counties - had seen huge losses of livestock as a result of drought. Many herders had lost nearly all their animals, which had been their main source of income. Today, however, eight years after the programme began, other businesses have sprung up.

At Katiko Market in Turkana Central, Akuom Idieya Katurong'ot, a widowed mother of seven, runs a retail shop and a goat slaughterhouse. She also rents a set of small kiosks built from iron sheeting. Money from the cash-transfer programme helped pay for all the new infrastructure.

Nearly 90 percent of the recipients of cash from the safety net programme have similarly opened retail businesses or used the money to restock their herds with drought-hardy goats, said Nadio....

A roadside market in Kenya, shot by Angela Sevin, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Human security at risk as depletion of soil accelerates

Sarah Yang at the UC Berkeley News Center: Steadily and alarmingly, humans have been depleting Earth’s soil resources faster than the nutrients can be replenished. If this trajectory does not change, soil erosion, combined with the effects of climate change, will present a huge risk to global food security over the next century, warns a review paper authored by some of the top soil scientists in the country.

The paper singles out farming, which accelerates erosion and nutrient removal, as the primary game changer in soil health. “Ever since humans developed agriculture, we’ve been transforming the planet and throwing the soil’s nutrient cycle out of balance,” said the paper’s lead author, Ronald Amundson, a UC Berkeley professor of environmental science, policy and management. “Because the changes happen slowly, often taking two to three generations to be noticed, people are not cognizant of the geological transformation taking place.”

In the paper, published [May 7] in the journal Science, the authors say that soil erosion has accelerated since the industrial revolution, and we’re now entering a period when the ability of soil, “the living epidermis of the planet,” to support the growth of our food supply is plateauing. The publication comes nearly two weeks ahead of the Global Soil Security Symposium at Texas A&M University, a meeting held as part of the declaration of 2015 as the International Year of Soils by the United Nations.

The authors identify the supply of fertilizer as one of the key threats to future soil security. Farmers use three essential nutrients to fertilize their crops: nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous. The paper credits the discovery of synthetic nitrogen production in the early 1900s for significantly increasing crop yields, which in turn supported dramatic growths in global population. Because the process of synthesizing nitrogen is energy-intensive, its supply is dependent on fossil fuels.

...Another threat to soil security relates to its role as a mass reservoir for carbon. Left unperturbed, soil can hold onto its stores of carbon for hundreds to thousands of years. The most recent estimates suggest that up to 2,300 gigatons of carbon are stored in the top three meters of the Earth’s soil – more carbon than in all the world’s plants and atmosphere combined. One gigaton is equal to a billion tons.

...One proposal is to stop discarding nutrients captured in waste treatment facilities. Currently, phosphorous and potassium are concentrated into solid waste rather than cycled back into the soil. Additionally, more efficient management is needed to curtail losses from soil. Excess nitrogen, for example, is considered a pollutant, with the runoff sapping oxygen from the nation’s waterways, suffocating aquatic life and creating dead zones in coastal margins...

A South Korean combine in 1976