Sunday, November 30, 2008

Check your flood insurance

Consumer (US): It's time to reexamine your risk for flood damage and the need for flood insurance. With a warmer planet facing more incidents of larger storms, this winter could be a wet one that opens the floodgates, especially in the West North Central U.S. where precipitation levels are already above normal.

Flood insurance is only mandated for properties in high-risk flood zones, but even if you live in a low- or moderate-risk area, you should bone up on the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). That's because floods are the most common natural disaster in the U.S. If you live in a flood plain, your home has a 26 percent chance (more than one in four) of being damaged by a flood during the course of a 30-year mortgage, compared to a 9 percent chance (less than one in ten) for fire damage.

To help get you started, here's a quick primer on floods and flood insurance to help you determine if you need the coverage when it's not mandated:

…• If you aren't required to have flood insurance and choose not to buy it, it's a good idea to have as much as $20,000 socked away for self-insurance. For just one inch of water in your home, expect an estimated $8,000 in damages, according to the NFIP's "Cost of Flooding" estimator. A foot of water -12 inches -- will cost you nearly $19,000.

• Your regular homeowners insurance policy typically does not provide benefits for losses caused by a flood, yet the NFIP says one in four flood insurance claims come from areas with low-to-moderate flood risk. That means too few homeowners carry the coverage.

…Flooding can be caused by heavy rains, melting snow, inadequate drainage systems, failed flood control structures and tropical storms and hurricanes. Even if you have a hillside home and you think you are above harm's way, there's a risk of mudslide or debris flow. Both are covered by flood insurance….

Isaak Ilich Levitan, "Spring Flood," scanned by Fanghong, Wikimedia Commons

Climate refugees — the hidden cost of climate change

Green Left Weekly (Australia) has a long, comprehensive worthwhile piece on Pacific climate refugees: “If these people can spend millions and millions on sending troops to fight other countries, why can’t they spend maybe a couple of billions just to save people, like ourselves; the marginalised, poorest of the poor. Why? Because we are taking the brunt, we are the victims of these green[house] gas emissions, the pollution made by industrialised countries.”

These words were spoken by a Carteret Islander in an unfinished documentary, The First Wave, the evacuation of the Carteret Islands. For the inhabitants of Pacific and Indian Ocean island nations, such as the Carteret Islands, climate change is already a devastating reality.

Contrary to the climate denials of the likes of Czech Republic President Vaclav Klaus, the president of Kiribati, Anote Tong has pointed out, “Some industrialised countries might be arguing that climate change would hurt their economic development. Sadly, I say no. Climate change is not an issue of economic growth. It is an issue of human survival.”

…The culturally diverse 7 million Pacific Islanders live in 22 nations. They only contribute 0.06% to global greenhouse gas emissions but are three times more vulnerable to climate change than countries of the global North, according to the IPCC. Most of the nations are low-lying atolls, with limited land space, small populations and little financial resources. More than 50% of Pacific Islander people live within 1.5 kilometres of the shore….

NASA astronaut image of Kilinailau (also known as Tulun or Carteret Islands), Papua New Guinea

Accelerated melting of continental icepacks is major reason for rise in sea level between 2003 and 2008

Science Daily: Researchers at the Laboratoire d'Etudes en Géophysique et Océanographie Spatiales (1) (CNRS/Université Toulouse 3/CNES/IRD) and at a subsidiary of CNES (CLS) (2) have discovered that the accelerated melting of continental icepacks is the major reason for the rise in sea level over the 2003 to 2008 period, something which has minimized the effect of thermal expansion of seawater. This question was resolved thanks to data from the French-American Satellite Jason-1, from two satellites of the GRACE space gravimetry mission and from the buoys of the Argo system. These results have been published online on the website of the journal Global and Planetary Change.

Between 1993 and 2003, the global mean sea level, measured very accurately by the French-American Topex/Poséidon satellites and their successor Jason-1, showed a relatively constant progression of 3 mm/yr. The last GIEC report, published in 2007, showed that more than half of this rise (approximately 1.5 mm/yr) was due to sea water expansion as it warmed up (steric contribution), while 1.2 mm/yr resulted from the reduction in mass of polar ice sheets and mountain glaciers. Since 2003 however, the situation has changed; a quite rapid rise (2.5 mm/yr) in sea water levels is still observed but, over the same period, the warming of the oceans is showing a plateau, only accounting for a rise of 0.4 mm/yr…..

NASA rendering of the JASON-2 satellite

Things to watch for in Poznan

It’s Getting Hot in Here: It’s an exciting time as the annual UN Climate Change conflab (aka COP 14, MOP 4, SBSTA a zillion and twelve, etc. etc.) is about to begin, this time in Poznan, a university town in Western Poland. Here’s a run-down of some of the key issues and players:

…Forests: Back in 1992, the Rio summit was originally supposed to develop a forests treaty in addition to the two well-known agreements which came out of the meeting: The U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Convention on Biological Diversity. The forests issue is now coming back in the climate talks in the form of REDD - reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation. The UN does have a way with acronyms, doesn’t it?

Key challenges under REDD are the definition of a ‘managed forest’ for the purposes of carbon credits, what to do about reforestation, and whether or not developing countries should be paid not to cut down their forests. If you’re interested, Friends of the Earth has just released a major report on REDD ahead of the talks.

….Money – for adaptation and technology transfer: Moving our great big resource-munching world to a low-carbon lifestyle isn’t just about political will (although that’s a big part of it). It’s about money. In this case, the money is specifically needed for two things: adaptation, to help poorer countries cope with the effects of global warming, and technology transfer, to help other countries grow their economies in a clean, green, lean sort of way. The UNFCCC has already established an Adaptation Fund, but it’s yet to be seen whether this fund will get the money it needs. The U.S. has tried to block proposals for technology transfer in previous negotiations, but this may change under an Obama administration - remember during the debates when he repeatedly mentioned exporting clean technologies to China?

Poznań's coat of arms

Climate change gathers steam, say scientists

Agence France-Presse: Earth's climate appears to be changing more quickly and deeply than a benchmark UN report for policymakers predicted, top scientists said ahead of international climate talks starting Monday in Poland. Evidence published since the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change's (IPCC) February 2007 report suggests that future global warming may be driven not just by things over which humans have a degree of control, such as burning fossil fuels or destroying forest, a half-dozen climate experts told AFP.

Even without additional drivers, the IPCC has warned that current rates of greenhouse gas emissions, if unchecked, would unleash devastating droughts, floods and huge increases in human misery by century's end. But the new studies, they say, indicate that human activity may be triggering powerful natural forces that would be nearly impossible to reverse and that could push temperatures up even further.

At the top of the list for virtually all of the scientists canvassed was the rapid melting of the Arctic ice cap. "In the last couple of years, Arctic Sea ice is at an all-time low in summer, which has got a lot of people very, very concerned," commented Robert Watson, Chief Scientific Advisor for Britain's department for environmental affairs and chairman of the IPCC's previous assessment in 2001.

..."The most recent IPCC report was prior to ... the measurements of increasing mass loss from Greenland and Antarctica, which are disintegrating much faster than IPCC estimates," said climatologist James Hansen, head of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York.

…[F]or coastal dwellers, even a relatively small loss of their ice could prove devastating. IPCC estimates of an 18-to-59 centimetre (7.2-to-23.2 inches) rise by 2100 has been supplanted among specialists by an informal consensus of one metre (39 inches), said Serreze…..

Ice floe photo by Jerzy Strzelecki, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative CommonsAttribution ShareAlike 3.0 License

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Changes in sea level will affect the salinity of estuaries

Entertainment and Showbiz: A new research has suggested that the changes in sea level will affect the salinity of estuaries, which influences aquatic life, fishing and recreation. The research was done by researchers from Penn State University and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, who are studying the Chesapeake Bay to see how changes in sea level may have affected the salinity of various parts of the estuary.

“Many have hypothesized that sea-level rise will lead to an increase in estuarine salinity, but the hypothesis has never been evaluated using observations or 3-D models of estuarine flow and salinity,” said Timothy W. Hilton, a student in meteorology at Penn State University.

“The Chesapeake is very large, the largest estuary in the U.S. and it is very productive,” said Raymond Najjar, associate professor of meteorology. “It has been the site of many large fisheries and supported many fishermen. A lot of money has gone into cleaning up the bay and reducing nutrient and sediment inputs. Climate change might make this work easier, or it could make it harder,” he added.

…The researchers, who also included Ming Li and Liejun Zhong of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, studied the Chesapeake Bay, using two complementary approaches, one based on a statistical analysis of historical data and one based on a computer model of the bay’s flow and salinity.

They looked at historical data for the Susquehanna River as it flows into the Chesapeake Bay from 1949 to 2006. The flow of this fresh water into the bay naturally changes salinity. After accounting for the change in salinity due to rivers, the researchers found an increasing trend in salinity. The team then ran a hydrodynamic model of the Bay using present-day and reduced sea level conditions.

The salinity change they found was consistent with the trend determined from the statistical analysis, supporting the hypothesis that sea-level rise has significantly increased salinity in the Bay….

Chesapeake Bay Bridges from Sandy Point

Climate battle will fail unless poor helped: EU president

ABS-CBN News: Efforts to tackle global climate change will fail unless poorer countries are helped to adapt to the environmental and technological challenges, EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso was set to say in Doha on Saturday. "Climate change is going to be crucial for developing countries," Barroso was to tell the UN conference on Financing for Development, according to prepared remarks.

He was referring to a conference next month in Poznan, Germany and a summit in Copenhagen next year, both aiming to grapple with climate change. "Doha and Poznan have to move forward together, hand in hand. Indeed, Copenhagen will not succeed without a serious solution on adaptation," he said.

…Barroso told AFP on Friday that projects to deal with climate change and provide energy security can contribute to growth, while renewable energy projects such as solar power "can be a great source of revenue" in developing countries. For those countries, the challenges of climate change comes on top of threats to food and energy security and an uncertain impact from the recession in major economies, "while hundreds of millions of people cannot afford basic foodstuffs and risk falling deeper into poverty," according to his Saturday remarks…

This photograph (shot in Poland in 2007), according to a legal notice on the official website of the President of the Republic of Poland (an unofficial English translation is also available), is released under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 published by the Free Software Foundation because it originally comes from the Archive of the Chancellery of the President of the Republic of Poland – A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU Free Documentation License".

Influence of climate warming on the increase in tick-borne diseases

Science Daily: Rises in the ambient temperature modify the behavior of dog ticks and increase their affinity for humans. There is thus a risk that episodes of global warming may be associated with epidemics of tick-borne diseases. This work, carried out by the Unité de recherche sur les maladies infectieuses et tropicales émergentes (CNRS/ IRD/ Université de la Méditerranée) is headed by Didier Raoult.

…The team led by Raoult in the Unité de recherche sur les maladies infectieuses et tropicales émergentes, has recently demonstrated the role of climate warming in the increase in tick-borne diseases. Their study showed that rickettsioses were more common and more severe during the very hot summers of 2003 and 2005, and that a minor epidemic developed in the spring of 2007, which was the warmest in 50 years.

The researchers thus developed an experimental model. One group of ticks was incubated for 24 hours at 40°C and another group at 25°C. Both groups were then put in contact with humans. The results were unquestionable: the affinity of dog ticks for humans was much greater after the parasites had been kept at a temperature of 40°. Thus the affinity of this group of ticks for humans was disturbed by the rise in temperature. Under the effect of warmth, it was as if the ticks had gone mad and started to bite humans.

These findings may explain the seasonal incidence of bites in high summer, and the increasing number of cases that occur during excessively hot periods. Episodes of global warming may therefore be associated with epidemics of diseases vectored by ticks whose behavior has been affected by the ambient temperature.

"Dejeuner sur l'herbe," painted by Edouard Manet in 1863 -- a highly imprudent thing to do in tick infested areas

Climate change opens new avenue for spread of invasive plants

University of Florida: Plants that range northward because of climate change may be better at defending themselves against local enemies than native plants. So concludes a team of scientists including a University of Florida geneticist. The team’s findings, reported in today’s online edition of Nature, suggest that certain plants could become invasive if they spread to places that were previously too cold for them.

“This paper is the first to suggest that the mechanisms that aid invasive species when they move from one continent to the next may actually work within continents when climate change gradually extends the distributional range of a species,” said Koen J.F. Verhoeven, an evolutionary biologist at The Netherlands Institute of Ecology. “Plants may be able to outrun, so to speak, their enemies from the southern range.”

Often, exotic plants and animals are introduced to new continents or geographic regions by travelers and commerce. Separation from their natural enemies can drive their invasive success in the new range. But, increasingly, the distribution of many species is shifting because of climate change and changes in land use.

…Scientists grew six exotic and nine native plant species in pots with field-collected soil from the Millingerwaard area, allowing natural soil pathogenic microbes to accumulate in the pots. Then they removed the plants and replanted the soils with the same plant species. The growth of native plants was reduced far more than the growth of exotic species, indicating natives were more vulnerable to natural soil-borne microbes…..

A field in Port Gibson, Mississippi, engulfed by kudzu. Shot by Gsmith, Wikimedia Commons, under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2

Scientists study Yangtze delta monsoons to understand human impact on climate

Xinhua: Chinese scientists are for the first time to start tracking monsoons in the eastern Yangtze River Delta in an attempt to reveal how human activities have impacted on climate change. Fu Congbin, chairman of the Scientific Steering Committee (SSC) of Monsoon Asia Integrated Regional Study (MAIRS), told Xinhua Saturday, he and his colleagues had found out that the most serious dry area in China was the semi-arid area in the northwest, also the northern boundary of summer monsoons, indicating a correlation.

Scientists under MAIRS, the first project on climate change initiated by Chinese scientists, had been following monsoon activities in the semi-arid areas of northwestern China for about a year to find out how the Asian monsoon system copes with changes in land coverage, water resources and air quality resulted from industrialization.

Under guidance of the SSC, which consists of 15 leading scientists from different Asian countries, MAIRS would start tracking monsoons in the eastern Yangtze River Delta soon.

The exact date of start depends on when MAIRS could persuade existing observation stations to join the program, said Fu, also academician at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). The overall project is studying changes in monsoons in Asia, the most active monsoon region in the world, to find out how human activity has affected climate change….

The Yangtze River delta, shot from the Space Shuttle

Friday, November 28, 2008

Brazil floods are early sign of global warming, expert warns

Earth Times, via Deutsche Agentur: The rains that devastated 30 towns in the southern Brazilian state of Santa Catarina could be an early consequence of global warming, a climatologist from the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research (INPE) said Friday. At least 99 people died and 80,000 had to be evacuated because of the rains and subsequent flooding. Santa Catarina was hit by a hurricane in 2004 and is frequently affected by tornadoes.

Climatologist Carlos Nobre told Globo TV that heavy, persistent rains in southern Brazil usually coincide with the climate phenomenon known as El Nino, which warms up the Pacific Ocean. However, this was not the case this year.

"In the years when the El Nino phenomenon does not happen, like now, and there are very intense rains, their causes still remain mysterious for meteorology. It is already possible to start to identify some relationship with global warming, both in the increase of intense rain and in the drought in the south," he said.

According to Nobre, southern Brazil is more vulnerable to climatic problems, as it is here that warm, humid air coming from the north converges with cold, dry masses from the south. Some experts noted that problems in southern Brazil could also be linked to deforestation in Amazonia….

The city of Itajaí, Santa Catarina, shot by emarquetti from Brazil, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License

Trees to fight warming? Insurers ponder risks

Reuters: Paying landowners to let forests grow is promoted by the United Nations as a viable way to fight global warming, but experts first have to puzzle out how to insure trees against going up in smoke. Under U.N. plans, owners will get carbon credits to slow the destruction of tropical forests. But fires caused by lightning -- along with other hazards such as storms, insects and illegal logging -- are a big risk for insurers and investors.

A new U.N. climate treaty to include granting forest owners tradeable carbon credits will be discussed by about 190 nations in Poznan, Poland, from December 1-12. The credits could be worth billions of dollars for those agreeing not to cut down trees. Burning forests to clear land for farming releases about a fifth of all the greenhouse gases blamed for causing climate change. If trees die, the carbon stored as they grew would be released, rendering carbon credits worthless.

"From a formal point of view insurance shouldn't be a problem," said Wojciech Galinsky, who works on U.N. projects to promote green investment in developing countries. … But there is wide disagreement on how to assess the risks under the new U.N. treaty, due to be agreed by end-2009.

…Demand for insurance to cover such forestry projects is not currently very high, said Joachim Herbold, senior underwriter at Munich Re's department for agricultural insurance: "We expect a rising demand in future," he added. The market could be huge. About 7.3 million hectares (18.04 million acres) of forest -- an area the size of Panama -- vanishes every year, according to U.N. data.

…Risks that forests will not be standing in a few decades mean that forest carbn credits trade for just $2 to $3 a tonne on voluntary markets, said to Phil Cottle, head of London-based ForestRe which specializes in forestry insurance.

…Insurance companies have long offered forestry cover -- more easily calculated than carbon insurance because it is based on the value of wood, for instance as a building material, rather than the value of trees left to grow.

In Hangzhou, China, Mywood took this photo labeled "Nine Greeks Meandering Through a Misty Forest"(九溪烟树), Wikimedia Commons

Jordan grapples with water crisis

Agence France-Presse: Gasping for water and fearful that climate change will amplify its problems, Jordan is pinning its hopes for liquid salvation on a scheme with no parallel: hauling water from the Red Sea to replenish the Dead Sea. The 3.5-billion-euro (4.5-billion-dollar) "Peace Canal" is the heart of the government's vision of slaking thirst in a country that is mostly bone-dry desert and one of the 10 driest places in the world.

At present, the country's main conduit is the 110-kilometre (68-mile) King Abdullah Canal, which brings "blue gold" down the valley of the River Jordan from a range of small rivers in the north of the country.…But five successive years of below-average rainfall have added significantly to the country's water stress, fuelling fears that worse is to come when man-made climate change really bites.

…"We are one of the poorest countries in the world in water resources. I am worried for the future that we will receive less quantity of water than we have now because of climate change," said Shafig Habash, managing director of the King Abdullah Canal's control centre in Deir Alla. "The climate is really changing," he told AFP. "We see it and we feel it. I remember, 15 to 20 years ago, the rain was more heavy and the temperatures were less."

…The World Bank is carrying out a feasibility study into the scheme. But even before it clears the technical hurdles and seeks to assemble a mountain of funds, the project faces enormous diplomatic problems. It has to be approved by Israel and the Palestinian territories as well as Jordan, and thus becomes a card in the poker game of Middle East peace. Environmentalists, too, have their doubts, fearing that an influx of seawater could have a bad impact on the Dead Sea's strange yet fragile ecosystem….

A sinkhole in the Dead Sea, shot by Hoshana, Wikimedia Commons, under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2

Drought deepens strain on a dwindling Colorado River

Salt Lake Tribune: The drought gripping Utah, Southern California and the rest of the Southwest this century shows no sign of ending. Scientists see it as a permanent condition that, despite year-to-year weather variations, will deepen as temperatures rise, snows dwindle, soils bake and fires burn. That's grim news for all of us in the West, perhaps most especially for the 10 million residents along the northern stretch of the Colorado River -- Utah, New Mexico, Wyoming and Colorado -- whose water rights are newer, and therefore junior, to those in Southern California, Nevada and Arizona.

Making matters worse, the Colorado -- the 1,450-mile-long lifeline that sustains more than 30 million souls and 3.5 million acres of farmland in seven states, 34 tribal nations and Mexico -- is in decline, scientists warn.

Even so, demand for the Colorado's water echoes from city leaders, industry giants, oil drillers, farmers, fishers, ranchers, boaters, bikers and hikers -- along with silent pleas from wildlife and the ecosystem. Trend analyses by federal scientists, probably conservative, predict the population dependent on the river will reach at least 38 million during the coming decade.

Right now, California, with the most senior rights and the largest share of the Colorado under a 1922 law, is struggling with a statewide water shortage. Not enough rain has fallen in the southland, as weathercasters like to call it, home to 18 million people, roughly half the state's population.

…Demand is up. Flows are down. Something has to give. And when it does, Utah could be in trouble if it doesn't change its wasteful ways -- just as 19th-century explorer Maj. John Wesley Powell predicted….

Colorado River near Page, Arizona, shot by Adrille, Wikimedia Commons, under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2

Insurers call on governments to deliver clearer climate adaptation plans

BusinessGreen: The insurance industry is calling on nation states to develop clear global warming adaptation strategies so that it can accurately price insurance cover to help spread the cost of dealing with the effects of climate change.

The costs of counteracting climate change-related risks, such as the increased frequency of floods and extreme weather events, are likely to run to trillions of dollars, but insurers are arguing they will struggle to offer long-term cover against such threats because they still have very little insight into how economies plan to adapt to changing climate patterns.

Andrew Torrance, chairman of insurance industry coalition ClimateWise, is to tell next week's UN climate conference in Poznan, Poland that clearer adaptation plans are needed from political leaders if the insurance industry is to serve its purpose and help spread risks.

"ClimateWise members are ready to explore how best to extend the benefits of their expertise to those affected by climate risk, and governments must create the framework in which this can take place," he said ahead of the talks. "Insurance cannot be an alternative to adaptation, rather robust adaptation is a necessary condition for insurers to play a full role."

The group claims that in markets with an existing natural hazard insurance market, insurers' may struggle to continue to offer cover that is both affordable and widely-available unless clear and effective adaptation strategies are delivered. It also warns that the problem is likely to be even more pronounced in emerging markets with greater risk of extreme weather events where insurers already struggle to operate…

House on fire in Oregon, 1953, shot by Jack Rottier, US Forest Service database

Thursday, November 27, 2008

A satellite for examining clouds and climate change moves toward launch

NASA: NASA’s Langley Research Center’s Clouds and the Earth's Radiant Energy System (CERES) instruments have been observing clouds and the radiation budget for nearly a decade now. Key questions remain about how a warming climate will affect clouds, which play an important role in what scientists call the planet's "radiation budget."

…A new sensor, the CERES Flight Model (FM) 5, that will continue the 30-year climate data record of the Earth's radiant energy, has been delivered ahead of schedule and on budget, by Northrop Grumman Space Technologies. The CERES FM 5 instrument will fly as part of the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) Preparatory Project (NPP) in 2010. Four CERES sensors currently operate on NASA's Terra and Aqua Earth Observing System spacecraft.

….The CERES instruments detect the amount of outgoing heat and reflected sunlight leaving the planet. An example of CERES data from CERES Aqua show measurements over the United States from June 22, 2002. CERES detects the amount of outgoing heat and reflected sunlight leaving the planet.

Clouds play a significant, but still not completely understood, role in the Earth's radiation budget. Low, thick clouds can reflect the sun's energy back into space before solar radiation reaches the surface, while high clouds trap the radiation emitted by the Earth from escaping into space. The total effect of high and low clouds determines the amount of greenhouse warming.

…"The Earth's radiation balance is in many ways the most critical part of the climate system and is directly influenced by changes in atmospheric composition, such as greenhouse gases and aerosols, cloud properties, and surface and atmospheric temperature," said Loeb. CERES co-Principal Investigator Bruce Wielicki noted "The long climate record from CERES will ultimately answer a longstanding question in science concerning the role of clouds in amplifying or damping the sensitivity of the Earth's climate system."…

The CERES FM 5 instrument was delivered to Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp. by Northrop Grumman for integration into the NPP satellite. Credit: Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp.

Light pollution offers new global measure of coral reef health

Science Daily: We've all seen the satellite images of Earth at night--the bright blobs and shining webs that tell the story of humanity's endless sprawl. These pictures are no longer just symbols of human impact, however, but can be used to objectively measure it, according to a study in the December 2008 issue of Geocarto International, a peer-reviewed journal on geoscience and remote sensing.

Travis Longcore, a USC geographer and expert in light pollution, collaborated with an international team, led by Christoph Aubrecht of the Austrian Research Centers, to develop the index. "Coral reefs are incredibly important—but unfortunately they're also incredibly fragile," Longcore said. "Using night light proximity, we were able to identify the most threatened and most pristine spots in an objective and easily repeatable way."

The researchers did this by first classifying the light into three separate sources: urban areas, gas flares and fishing boat activity. Each of these sources puts stress on reefs: urban areas cause sewage and polluted runoff, oil platforms cause leakages and spills, and commercial fishing boats deplete marine life and impair the ecological balance. The closer a reef is to one or more of these sources, the higher the index number and the greater the stress on the reefs.

…"As a first-pass global assessment, light pretty much correlates with human impact on the oceans," he explained. In this way the index uses light as an indirect measure of coral reef health, which could help inform conservation policy….

NASA shot of the earth at night, showing light pollution

Modelling civilization as 'heat engine' could improve climate predictions

Environmental Research Web has a fascinating article by science journalist Edwin Cartlidge: The extremely complex process of projecting future emissions of carbon dioxide could be simplified dramatically by modelling civilization as a heat engine. That is the conclusion of an atmospheric physicist in the US, who has shown that changes in global population and standard of living correlate to variations in energy efficiency. This discovery halves the number of variables needed to make emissions forecasts and therefore should considerably improve climate predictions, he claims.

Computer models used to predict how the Earth’s climate will change over the next century take as their input projections of future manmade emissions of carbon dioxide. These projections rely on the evolution of four variables: population; standard of living; energy productivity (or efficiency); and the “carbonization” of energy sources.

When multiplied together, these tell us how much carbon dioxide will be produced at a given point in the future for a certain global population. However, the ranges of values for each of the four variables combined leads to an extremely broad spectrum of carbon dioxide-emission scenarios, which is a major source of uncertainty in climate models.

Timothy Garrett of the University of Utah in the US believes that much of this uncertainty can be eliminated by considering humanity as if it were a heat engine (arXiv:0811.1855). Garrett’s model heat engine consists of an entity and its environment, with the two separated by a step in potential energy that enables energy to be transferred between the two. Some fraction of this transferred energy is converted into work, with the rest released beyond the environment in the form of waste heat, as required by the second law of thermodynamics….

A desktop Stirling engine. The working fluid in this engine is en:air. The hot heat exchange happens in the glass cylinder on the right, and the cold heat exchanger is the finned cylinder on the top. This engine uses analcohol burner (bottom right) as a heat source. Photo by Richard Wheeler (Zephyris), Wikimedia Commons, under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2

Global warming changing organic matter in soil, and atmosphere could change as a result

University of Toronto News: New research shows that we should be looking to the ground, not the sky, to see where climate change could have its most perilous impact on life on Earth. Scientists at the University of Toronto Scarborough have published research findings in the prestigious journal, Nature Geoscience, that show global warming actually changes the molecular structure of organic matter in soil.

"Soil contains more than twice the amount of carbon than does the atmosphere, yet, until now, scientists haven't examined this significant carbon pool closely," said Professor Myrna Simpson of environmental chemistry at UTSC, principal investigator of the study. "Through our research, we've sought to determine what soils are made up of at the molecular level and whether this composition will change in a warmer world."

…"From the perspective of agriculture, we can't afford to lose carbon from the soil because it will change soil fertility and enhance erosion" Simpson said. "Alternatively, consider all the carbon locked up in permafrost in the Arctic. We also need to understand what will happen to the stored carbon when microbes become more active under warmer temperatures."…

Nothing says Thanksgiving more than a Soviet agricultural propaganda poster.

Terra Daily, via UPI: Storm watchers say this year's U.S. hurricane season was typical with one exception: Hurricane Ike, which showed how misleading labeling hurricanes can be. A Category 2 storm, Hurricane Ike bombarded the Texas Gulf Coast in September, causing $11.4 billion in damage, which Texas A&M atmospheric sciences Professor John Nielsen-Gammon says makes it the most expensive storm in Lone Star history.

"We learned from Ike that a storm surge even from a Category 2 storm can be devastating," said Nielsen-Gammon, who also is the state climatologist. "Texas had three storms that hit the coast -- Ike, Dolly and Eduard. Dolly was also a Category 2 and Eduard never exceeded tropical storm strength. Ike will be the one everyone remembers from the 2008 season."….

Infrared view of Hurricane Ike, September 8, 2008, NOAA

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Hilary Benn: UK governmentt and Environment Agency must team up on flood prevention Government and the Environment Agency will have to work together to solve the problems posed by flooding and coastal erosion - and the likelihood that they will get worse as a result of climate change. That was the message from the Environment Secretary as he addressed the Environment Agency's annual conference in London, on Monday.

Hilary Benn reiterated plans announced earlier this year for a Floods and Water Bill to implement some of the recommendations of the Pitt Review. Describing the 2007 floods, Mr Benn said: "If that happened tomorrow would we do better? Would we be ready? I believe we would, thanks to your efforts and to the work of Sir Michael Pitt. But we must continue to prepare." He added: "We're in this together and we're going to have to deal with it together. The same is true of climate change as a whole."

Asked about how the measures in the Floods and Water Bill would be financed, Mr Benn said: "I have kept some money aside to implement the recommendations of Michael Pitt's outstanding report and I will announce shortly we are going to do that. "But when you read his report and look at what he has said, some of it is just how we need to work in a different way - it's not going to cost a lot of money."…

"Shipwreck of the Minotaur," J.M.W. Turner

2008 Atlantic hurricane season blows away records

Houston Chronicle, via AP: The 2008 Atlantic hurricane season, which ends Sunday, appears to have attained Olympian heights, setting at least five weather records in the United States and Cuba. "It was pretty relentless in a large number of big strikes," said Georgia Tech atmospheric sciences professor Judith Curry. "We just didn't have the huge monster where a lot of people lost their lives, but we had a lot of damage, a lot of damage." Data on death and damage are still being calculated.

Three records showed the hurricane season's relentlessness. Six consecutive named storms — Dolly, Edouard, Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike — struck the U.S. mainland, something that had not been seen in recorded history. It's also the first time a major hurricane, those with winds of at least 111 mph, formed in five consecutive months, July through November. And Bertha spun about for 17 days, making it the longest lived storm in July.

Two records involve storms hitting the same places repeatedly. Rain-heavy Fay was the only storm to hit the same state — Florida — four times, leaving heavy flood damage in its wake. A record three major hurricanes smacked Cuba: Gustav, Ike and Paloma.

Upper air currents helped storms get bigger and focused them into a few places — Cuba and the U.S. Gulf Coast — said Gerry Bell, the top hurricane forecaster at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center. Five of the six storms that hit the United States this season struck the Gulf Coast. And that repeat-tracking of storms to the same place — and with it increased likelihood of landfall — is typical of years when the hurricane season is on overdrive, like this year, Bell said.,,,

Hurricane Hanna over the Bahamas, September 1, 2008

Tuna fishing to be cut by 30 percent over two years: EU

Terra Daily via Agence France-Presse: Bluefin tuna fishing will have to be cut by 30 percent over two years in the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean under an international accord reached in Marrakesh, the European Commission said Tuesday. The total allowable haul of the increasingly endangered species was slashed from 28,500 tonnes in 2008 to 22,000 tonnes in 2009 and 19,950 tonnes in 2010, the European Union's executive arm said. A further quota cut to 18,500 tonnes in 2011 could also be possible depending on a review of stock levels in 2010.

The agreement was struck on Monday at a meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), whose members -- the main fishing nations -- had been negotiating quotas since November 17. While the organisation had not given details of the accord, the European Commission's figures confirmed numbers given by conservation group WWF.

While groups such as the WWF have attacked the agreement for not going far enough, the commission -- which negotiated on the European Union's behalf -- voiced satisfaction. "It is a sign of the seriousness of the situation, and the maturity of all the participants, that it has been possible to achieve a consensus," said EU Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg in a statement….

Charles Frederick Holder with his then record 183 lb. bluefin Tuna, 1898, caught in the waters off California, not in the Mediterranean

Carbon market could pay poor farmers to adopt sustainable cultivation techniques

Mongabay: The emerging market for forest carbon could support agroforestry programs that alleviate rural poverty and promote sustainable development, states a new report issued by the World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF).

The report — which will be presented at the upcoming UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Poznán, Poland — suggests that proceeds from the carbon market could be used to reward farmers who adopt cultivation techniques that reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. Such methods include growing crops under a canopy of fruit or timber trees, planting fodder trees for livestock, and curtailing the use of slash-and-burn agriculture.

"If we want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as quickly and effectively as possible, we need to do everything we can to encourage the people living in and around the world's tropical forests to adopt carbon-saving and carbon-enhancing approaches to development," said Dennis Garrity, Director General of the World Agroforestry Center, one of 15 centers supported by the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). "One crucial way to do that is to give them the same opportunities to sell their carbon as a commodity in the global market as is encouraged in other sectors."

"Rewarding poor farmers for planting more trees would put money in their pockets while also helping to protect our environment and fight climate change," added Dr. Wangari Maathai, the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and founder of the Green Belt Movement International, an ICRAF partner. "These long-term investments would truly benefit the entire global community."…

Shennong, the Farmer God, with his plow. Inscription reads: 'The Farmer God taught agriculture based on land use; he opened up the land and planted millet to encourage the myriad people (Birrell, Chinese Mythology, ISBN 0-8018-6183-7, p.48). A mural from the Han Dynasty

Insurers urged to offer cover for carbon markets

BusinessGreen: Insurance companies should be doing more to exploit the opportunities presented by climate change through the development of new products such as cover for carbon markets and rainforests. This is the conclusion of a new report on the environmental credentials of the UK insurance industry published today, which claims that the sector should be doing more to support climate change mitigation efforts.

Alice Chapple, report author and director of sustainable financial markets at Forum for the Future, said insurers have a key role to play in ensuring new clean technologies and carbon emission reduction initiatives are successful. "Many schemes set up to tackle climate change are vulnerable, especially in developing countries, and firms should be offering products to spread that risk, " she explained.

The report assessed the 41 insurance firms who have signed up to the ClimateWise initiative, a coalition designed to help co-ordinate the sector's response to climate change. It found that fewer than half the members of the group had reported on the progress they are making with incorporating climate change into their investment strategies or how they assess its impacts on company performance and shareholder value.

Moreover, despite widespread acceptance that climate change risks, such as the increased frequency of severe weather events and rising sea levels, will pose a major threat to property and businesses, many insurers are still not considering climate change risks when developing corporate insurance policies. "Insurance companies should ask for evidence of corporate strategies to assess and manage climate change risk [from corporate clients] when writing and pricing liability policies," says the report….

Giotto's "Expulsion of Money Changers from the Temple"

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Climate change is a battle for existence in the Maldives

Agence France-Presse: Among the many grim predictions of climate change experts, the future fate of The Maldives stands out as a genuine doomsday scenario with the island chain nation facing nothing short of extinction. A one-metre (3.3-foot) rise in sea level would almost totally submerge the country's 1,192 coral islands scattered off the southern tip of India. Experts predict a rise of at least 18 centimetres is likely by the end of the century.

So pressing has the danger become that the new Maldivian President Mohamed Anni Nasheed has said his government will begin saving now to buy a new homeland for his people to flee to in the future. "We are talking about taking insurance -- if the islands are sinking we must find high land some place close by. We should do that before we sink," Nasheed said following his recent election victory. "I don't want Maldivians to end up as environmental refugees in some camp," he said.

The new Maldivian government says it has already broached the subject of new land with a number of countries and found them to be "receptive". India and Sri Lanka are targets because they have similar cultures and climates, while Australia has also been mooted as an option. The fate of the pristine white beaches of the Maldives, South Asia's most expensive tourist destination, is set to be one of the features in discussions at a UN climate conference in the Polish city of Poznan from December 1-12….

Photo of a beach in the Maldives by Nevit Dilmen, Wikimedia Commons, under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2

Plans to protect forests could do the opposite, warns Friends of the Earth

Guardian (UK): International proposals to protect forests as a way of tackling climate change could displace millions of indigenous people and fail to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, environmentalists warn.

In a report to be published on Thursday, Friends of the Earth International (FOE) will argue that current plans to slow the decline of forests by making rich countries pay for the protection of forests in tropical regions are not fit for purpose, as they are open to abuse by corrupt politicians or illegal logging companies in the parts of the world where the money will end up.

Forests lock up a significant amount of carbon and cutting them down is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, currently accounting for around 20% of the world's total. Deforestation also threatens biodiversity and the livelihoods of more than 60 million indigenous people who are entirely dependent upon forests.

Working out a way to protect forests will be one of the key issues for next week's UN climate change summit in Poznan, Poland, which marks the start of global negotiations to replace the Kyoto protocol after 2012. Government representatives at the meeting will consider adopting the "Redd" mechanism to reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation in developing countries, which is based on the idea that richer countries could offset their emissions by paying to maintain forests in tropical regions….

Dead tree in a river, rainforest Vancouver Island, BC, Canada. Shot by Superbass, Wikimedia Commons, under the "Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Licence"

Water firms in the UK given 40% efficiency target Water companies will be expected to increase water efficiency savings by 40% from 2010 under targets announced by the industry watchdog. Ofwat said the demanding targets to save at least 23m litres of water a day - about one litre per household per day - were a response to "lacklustre performance" by some water suppliers to help customers cut water usage.

The regulator wants the water industry to provide household and business customers with more information on using water wisely, and to dish out more water-saving devices. It said enough water to fill more than 3,300 Olympic swimming pools a year could be saved under the targets, alongside the savings that will be made from leakage targets and increasing water metering.

"Some companies need to do more to help customers cut waste and use water efficiently," Regina Finn, chief executive of Ofwat said. "This is good customer service and helps customers on meters control their bills."…

Desertification affects 35 million Nigerians, says government

This Day (Lagos, Nigeria): No fewer than 35 million people located in about 10 states in northern Nigeria are facing threats of hunger and extreme weather conditions due to desert encroachment on arable lands and grazing fields. This is because the Sahara desert is said to be moving southwards at the rate of 0.6 kilometres per annum, just as the rate of deforestation has been about 350,000 hectares per annum.

This was part of a report presented to the House of Representatives Committee on Environment when it received a joint delegation of officials from the Agricultural Development Company Limited, Israel and the Federal Ministry of Environment. The Isreali firm and the Nigerian government are collaborating under the Desert-to-Food Programme to eradicate the menace of desertification.

Chairman, House Committee on Environment, Honourable Duro Faseyi, who while receiving progress report on the Green Wall Project / World Bank project on Tree Planting and Green Wall Sahara, said the House was worried about the devastating effect of desertification in northern Nigeria and was prepared to collaborate with relevant organisations and institutions working in that area to stop desert encroachment….

Sand and dust from the Sahara, blown by the harmattan, envelopes the Abuja National Mosque in Abuja, Nigeria. Shot by Kipp Jones from Atlanta, US, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, nder Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 License

More than health damaged by agricultural nutrients in drinking water

Environment News Service: The pollution of fresh water by agricultural nutrients costs government agencies, drinking water facilities and individual Americans at least $4.3 billion a year in total, finds new research from Kansas State University. Biology professor Walter Dodds, who led the study, says the researchers calculated that $44 million a year is spent just protecting aquatic species from nutrient pollution.

Dodds and the K-State researchers based their conclusions on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data on nitrogen and phosphorous levels in bodies of water throughout the country. The damaging chemicals - phosphorous and nitrogen - enter the environment from nonpoint sources rather than flowing into a lake or stream from one pipe.

…The researchers calculated the money lost from that pollution by looking at factors like decreasing lakefront property values, the cost of treating drinking water and the revenue lost when fewer people take part in recreational activities like fishing or boating. "We are providing underestimates," Dodds said. "Although our accounting of the degree of nutrient pollution in the nation is fairly accurate, the true costs of pollution are probably much greater than $4.3 billion."

…Contributors to nitrogen and phosphorus pollution include:

  • Overusing fertilizer - both residential and agricultural usage
  • Rainfall flowing over cropland, Animal Feeding Operations and pastures, picking up animal waste and depositing it in water bodies
  • Rainfall flowing over urban and suburban areas where stormwater management is not required, such as parking lots, lawns, rooftops, roads
  • Discharge of nitrogen and phosphorus from wastewater treatment plants
  • Overflow from septic systems
Constable, "The Cornfield," 1826

Monday, November 24, 2008

Two-year milestones set to speed Chesapeake Bay restoration

Environment News Service: To accelerate progress toward cleaning up the nation's largest estuary, the Chesapeake Executive Council agreed at its annual meeting on Thursday to set restoration milestones every two years. These milestones will focus the partnership on achieving the Chesapeake Bay Program's science-based goals to reduce excess levels of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment that degrade water quality and damage habitats.

The specific milestones will be calculated in spring 2009, once the most current scientific data becomes available, and will be announced at the next Executive Council meeting, which will also be held in spring 2009. The decision to set short-term goals comes after the Executive Council confirmed at its 2007 meeting that the Bay Program partnership would not meet its Chesapeake 2000 commitment to clean up the Bay by 2010.

"Setting goals that are a decade out, for example, do not create pressure to produce results," said Virginia Governor Timothy Kaine, the incoming Executive Council chairman. "We're going to change the way goals are set."

…Outside, about 200 activists in black shirts chanted "Don't Delay! Save the Bay!" as they slowly marched through the train station in black caps with pictures of skeletal fish. Their shirts read: "The Bay is Slowly Dying." The event was organized by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, which on October 29 joined with allies in filing a notice of intent to sue the EPA for its failure to enforce the federal Clean Water Act and clean up the Bay by 2010 as it promised in a 2000 agreement.

"This is going to be the biggest fight for clean water that this nation has ever seen," Will Baker, president of the foundation, told a cheering crowd outside Union Station. "We are going to stop the politics of postponement," Baker insisted. "Clean water is a right, not a luxury. And it's a right that we have to fight for."

Satellite view of Chesapeake Bay, NASA

Climate clues in southern ocean: ocean currents versus intensifying winds

Science Daily: The Antarctic Circumpolar Current is the current system with the largest volume transport in the world ocean. Between 40° and 60°S strong westerlies move about 140 million cubic meters of water per second around the Antarctic continent (this is about five times the transport of the Gulf Stream). Vertical motions associated with this current have been responsible for transporting a substantial fraction of the anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions from the atmosphere to the deep ocean, thereby effectively damping the rate of global warming.

Investigations in this key region of the world ocean have been hampered by a sparse database due to the logistical challenges for ship based expeditions in the high-latitude Southern Ocean.

“In our study we used data obtained by the international Argo Programme”, explains Prof. Claus Böning from the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences (IFM-GEOMAR) in Kiel, Germany. Argo is a system of currently 3000 autonomous free-floating robotic systems which are surveying the world ocean. Every 10 days these buoys measure temperature and salinity profiles over the upper 2000 meters. These measurements are transmitted to land stations via satellite. “For this study about 52,000 profiles of more than 600 Argo-drifters in the Southern Ocean were used and compared with historic ship measurements”, explains oceanographer Astrid Dispert from IFM-GEOMAR. For this analysis the extensive archives of the Australian marine research centre in Hobart, Tasmania were also used.

As expected, the observations in the subpolar ocean demonstrate an increase of water temperature and a decrease in salinity at the same time. Nevertheless, in contradiction to the simulations of various climate models the data show no significant changes in water transport. “Our results point to one important thing: Eddies which are currently not resolved in climate models might be the key process in controlling the transport of the ACC”, Prof. Böning explains.

…Further investigations have to show whether the results are robust. If confirmed, this would in one way be good news: Until now the Southern Ocean is the biggest oceanic sink for anthropogenic carbon dioxide and therefore a crucial regulator for the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration. Climate models predicted a severe reduction in the southern ocean carbon dioxide uptake due to wind-forced changes in the current fields. Now high-resolution models are needed to assess the role of the hitherto unresolved ocean eddies in the Southern Ocean’s response to the progressive changes in the atmospheric conditions.

Schematic diagram of the circulation in the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC). The ACC (red) is surrounding the Antarctic continent in eastern direction while the current shows intensive meanders and eddies (yellow). Crossways at the northern rim of the ACC large-scale downwelling of surface water to depth of app. 1000 meters takes place whereas at the south rim water is upwelled from greater depths. (Credit: Image courtesy of Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences (IFM-GEOMAR))

California builds a second line of defense

All Headline News: California is going beyond the traditional methods taken by states to minimize the effects of climate change such as setting limits on tailpipe emissions and coming up with renewable energy standards. This is keeping in line with the leadership role California has maintained in climate-change among the American states, bolstered by Los Angeles' hosting last week of the two-day Global Climate Summit.

Among the extra measures being pushed by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger are a proposal from the state Transportation Department to move a 3-mile stretch of Highway 1 in Big Sur, which hugs the ocean, up to 475 feet inland to be ahead of the tidal rise. It also includes a triage among state wildlife officials to decide species to be saved from global warming and a plan by the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission to hold an international contest to create designs for edifices that are flood resilient.

The state will ask the National Academy of Sciences to gather an independent panel of experts to come up with a forecast of likely scenarios along the costs through the end of the century and recommend ways to cut damage along the coastal roads, beaches, sewage and water treatment plans, wetlands and marine life to a minimum….

Highway 1, Big Sur, California. Shot by Peter Heeling, who has generously released the image into the public domain on Wikimedia Commons

Insurers warn brittle buildings crumble under climate change

Courier Mail (Australia): Insurers have warned of constructing "increasingly brittle" buildings that will be more difficult to insure given the risk of extreme weather. It says existing building codes say nothing about the effect of hail on roofs and windows, and buildings only need to be constructed to a standard that prevents collapse under high winds rather than severe damage.

The Insurance Council has mounted a campaign to improve home building standards across the country, saying current laws fail to take into account the influence of climate change. The council has called on the Rudd Government to produce a "national construction code" to incorporate all building regulatory and compliance issues.

In a submission to the Government's review of the operations of building codes, the council insists there is no minimum requirement for the resilience of homes to natural hazards. It says the Government should introduce "uniform and formal regulation for a minimum level of property resilience to hazards".

Without such change "Australia will continue to produce increasingly brittle buildings that will be progressively more difficult for consumers to insure in an environment where the everyday risks of extreme hail, wind, fire and flood have increased", the submission states….

Hail storm damage, shot by quinn norton, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License

Brazil floods kill at least 59, uproot thousands

Reuters: Rescue workers rushed to help stricken residents in southern Brazil Monday after landslides and floods caused by heavy rain killed at least 59 people and forced more than 43,000 from their homes. The state of Santa Catarina declared an emergency as rescuers used helicopters and motorboats to reach those displaced or stranded by the floods after days of torrential rain.

"Santa Catarina is facing its worst weather tragedy," state Gov. Luis Henrique Silveira told reporters. Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva called Silveira and told him the federal government stood ready to provide medicine and other supplies, the state said on its Web site.

The state government said the floods and mudslides had affected 1.5 million people, leaving about 150,000 people without electricity and eight towns out of the 60 affected completely cut off by flood waters and landslides. The death toll was likely to rise as several people were missing, state officials said….

Location of Brazil's Santa Catarina state, created by Raphael Lorenzeto de Abreu,
Wikimedia Commons, under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The lightning flash before the flood

Science Daily: Flash floods are the most common natural disaster in the United States, and because of their unpredictability they’re the leading weather-related cause of death for Americans. They usually arrive with little or no warning, but a Tel Aviv University researcher is trying to predict where and when they will occur ― using lightning.

Prof. Colin Price, coordinator of the international “Flash Project” and head of the Geophysics and Planetary Physics Department at Tel Aviv University, is studying the link between lightning and subsequent flash floods. The three-year study includes scientists from five European countries, and its results are expected to be adopted by weather forecasting agencies around the world.

The goal is to develop an early warning system for people in the path of a flood. “Flash floods are different from normal floods, which are often the product of melting snow. Flash floods are short-lived and dump a lot of rain,” says Prof. Price, a climate change specialist. “Using the radiation emitted from lightning flashes, we’ve developed a system that can give adequate warning to the public ― and save lives.”

Eventually, the Flash system may be used to send messages to cell phones, RSS feeds, GPS units and other devices to warn people in the path of a flash flood and avert disaster. “Unlike normal floods which arrive slowly and with more warning, flash floods are particularly dangerous because they happen so quickly, developing from thunderstorms that form in a matter of hours. By measuring the radiation emitted by lightning, researchers can pinpoint the most intense thunderstorms, and the resulting rainfall can be located and tracked.

This data has been used to predict both the path of a storm and where heavy rainfall will appear ― crucial predictions, since the impact of flash floods depends on ground topography, slope and vegetation cover. “Nowcasting,” which predicts what conditions will be in the next few hours, versus “forecasting” a day or two in advance of expected weather conditions, is critical.

Photo from NOAA