Thursday, April 30, 2009

Seaglider monitors climate-related ocean circulation in the Arctic during record-breaking journey under ice

National Science Foundation: An intelligent, ocean-going glider has spent six months on a record-breaking deployment to sample the icy waters off western Greenland. The samples will contribute to the longest continuous measurement of Arctic currents that help to drive ocean circulation and regulate global seawater temperatures.

The 49-kilogram (110-pound) seaglider, developed and deployed by researchers at the University of Washington, measured fresh water leaving the Arctic Ocean through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago and Davis Strait and entering the Labrador Sea.

Scientists are concerned that Arctic climate change and increased fresh-water runoff are affecting the formation of very dense water in the Labrador Sea. That dense, cold water is a critical component driving the circulation of the world's oceans, according to Craig Lee, a principal oceanographer with the University of Washington's Applied Physics Laboratory (APL).

…The seaglider is one of more than 35 projects that are part of NSF's Arctic Observing Network (AON), which is meant to track and understand Arctic environmental change using an integrated suite of tools ranging from ocean buoys to satellites. Under-ice gliders might one day be among a suite of devices under the ice-covered high Arctic.

AON was one of NSF's primary research thrusts for the International Polar Year (IPY), which ended in late March. IPY was a 24-month deployment by scientists from 60 countries around the world to better understand the physical characteristics of the Polar Regions, their role as regulators of global climate and the nature of the changes occurring their as global temperatures rise. In the Arctic, scientists and Native communities also worked together not only to understand the changes themselves, but also the effects of change on subsistence lifestyles.

A seaglider is prepared for deployment in Davis Strait by Avery Snyder and Adam Huxtable, field engineers with the University of Washington's Applied Physics Laboratory. Credit: Applied Physics Laboratory / University of Washington

Population trends are linked to climate change says report

People and Strong evidence exists showing that demographic change is closely associated with greenhouse gas emissions, and that population dynamics will play a key role in attempts to mitigate and adapt to the effects of changes in the climate system in the future, a new study has found.

Population Action Internationalk (PAI) - an independent US-based policy advocacy group - says it is clear that analyzing changes in the composition of various populations is very important for understanding future needs and potential for mitigating carbon emissions and climate change. These population changes include age composition, the distribution of people in urban and rural areas, and household size.

The analysis presented by PAI argues that by including only population size as the demographic variable in climate models, the contribution of "population" to climate change has been underestimated. Similarly, understanding demographic trends, including fertility, population growth, urbanization, migration from environmentally depleted areas, and growing population density in marginal and vulnerable areas, is also crucial for the world to adapt to and cope with the adverse impacts of current and projected climate change.

…"A range of development policies are urgently needed to address this situation, including renewed commitment to meeting the globally agreed Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Investments in family planning and reproductive health, girls education, economic opportunities and empowering of women, and in youth could help least developed and developing countries to speed up their demographic transition, enabling them to achieve demographic windows of opportunity which may contribute to economic growth and a greater capacity to cope with climate change impacts.

"Population dynamics should not continue to be ignored in climate change adaptation strategies, and effective measures must meet the needs of the world's most vulnerable citizens, including the needs of women.

… "Population policies and programmes that promote universal access to voluntary contraception, when linked with broader efforts to address a range of demographic factors and meet development and poverty reduction objectives, such as the MDGs, will help lead to a more sustainable demographic future that will play a crucial role in climate change mitigation and adaptation."

Image from the People and Planet web site

Five challenges on climate change

Manila Bulletin (Philippines): The International Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction and Gender in Beijing last April 20 had Philippine Senator Loren Legarda giving the opening address, a rare honor to the country. She has been a long-time advocate for environmental enhancement in the international arena. The United Nations designated her regional champion for Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation for Asia-pacific.

Such credentials, as well as her involvement in shaping disaster risk reduction measures as a legislator, made her the perfect choice to give that opening speech. In the Beijing assembly, Senator Loren identified five challenges that must be met worldwide if climate change is to be tamed. These are:

1. “The understanding that our social vulnerability depends much on the choices we make and the actions we take as leaders and decision makers, as planners and builders, and as members of a society and a community”;

2. “We need to revisit and rethink our current frameworks and strategies for socio-economic development. Our development approaches and practices in the past decades have allowed disaster vulnerabilities to grow, to spread, and to prevail until today”;

3. “We must adopt an innovative, out-of-the box approach, to tackle effectively this most complex human development problem of the 21st century. We need a more integrated, holistic, and proactive approach of reducing vulnerabilities and of building the resilience of nations and communities to disasters; an approach that builds on partnerships, collaboration and cooperation of all stakeholders”;

4. “To facilitate proactive action, we need to change our way of thinking and doing --- we need a paradigm shift, an overhaul of policies that have become irrelevant and unresponsive to today’s complex problems of risk, poverty, gender and climate change”;

5. “We need to invest today for a safer tomorrow. We need to make disaster risk reduction our primary strategy for adapting to climate change”….

Songda, a mammoth typhoon in 2004, seen from space

An instance in Australia where controlled burns actually increase fire risk

Geelong Advertiser (Australia): Professor David Karoly and Dr Kevin Tolhurst last week held a bushfire seminar attended by Apollo Bay resident Simon Pockley. Dr Pockley chairs the Southern Otway Landcare Network and co-chairs the Otway Ranges Climate Action group. He told the echo that while fuel reduction was effective in other areas of Victoria, it would put the Otways at risk.

"The wet rainforest gullies are what protect the Otways," Dr Pockley said. "Over time any burning starts to change the ecology of those gullies so that they cease to be wet rainforest gullies and become effective fuel and no longer protect us. "Increased fuel-reduction burning, as advocated by some sectors of the forest industry and associated lobby groups, will further exacerbate the situation."

Prior to the seminar, Dr Pockley thought burn-offs were necessary. "What the experts are saying is on these extreme days it doesn't matter, it doesn't make any difference," he said. Dr Tolhurst said extreme weather, caused by global warming, was a greater threat than fuel. "Fuel load is not as important a factor as weather," Dr Tolhurst said.

"For example the Lara bushfire on the Geelong Rd crossed open grass paddocks on January 8, 1969 and killed 17 people trapped in their cars." Dr Pockley said experts predicted an increased number of fires in the Otways. "Climate change science is giving us a clear warning that we should expect major fires in the Otway Ranges," he said. "CSIRO predicts that the current rate of climate change will result in four times as many extreme fire danger days like Black Saturday each year by 2050."…

NASA view of 2005 fires in Australia

From swine flu to dengue fever: Infectious diseases on the rise

Emory University News: Emory University environmental studies professor Uriel Kitron was in Australia last week, assisting health authorities in an outbreak of dengue fever in the state of Queensland, when news broke about the swine flu epidemic in Mexico.

Global travel and human alterations to the environment, such as rapid urbanization, are helping to fuel some infectious diseases outbreaks, says Kitron, also chair of the environmental studies department at Emory and an internationally known researcher of the eco-epidemiology of infectious diseases. Kitron's research focuses on vector-borne diseases carried by insects and ticks and the zoonoses – diseases shared by humans and animals.

"In many developing countries, people are moving from rural areas to mega-cities, where they continue to practice subsistence agriculture," Kitron says. "Whenever you have large concentrations of people, domestic animals and poor sanitation and water supply, you have many opportunities for disease transmission."

Deforestation and other human changes to the landscape are other drivers of emerging infectious diseases, he added. "For example, when you bring agriculture into formerly forested areas, you change the migration patterns of animals and expose people and their livestock to more contact with wildlife," he explains.

…Unusually hot, wet weather, a rapidly developing strain of the dengue virus, and a human traveler created "a perfect storm" for dengue fever in Queensland, Australia – which is experiencing its worst outbreak in two decades. About 1,000 people have become ill with the mosquito-borne illness. Dengue fever causes severe headaches and joint pain, and exposure to a second strain can result in hemorrhagic fever and death.

…The Queensland government is now considering investing in spatial analysis software. Kitron plans to return for a workshop on using the technology to aid in the response for future outbreaks. "Use of GIS and spatial statistics can help health authorities determine which cases are more likely to lead to other cases, so that they can better target which houses should be sprayed for mosquitoes immediately, and which ones can wait," Kitron explains.

Color print of the yellow fever or dengue mosquito Aedes aegypti (then called Stegomyia fasciata, today also Stegomyia aegypti). To the left, the male, in the middle and on the right, the female. Above left, a flying pair in copula.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Ice sheets much more volatile and dynamic than previously thought, Tahiti corals show

Science Daily: Fossilised corals from tropical Tahiti show that the behaviour of ice sheets is much more volatile and dynamic than previously thought, a team led by Oxford University scientists has found. Analysis of the corals suggests that ice sheets can change rapidly over just hundreds of years – events associated with sea level rises of several metres over the same period. It also shows that a natural warming mechanism thought to be responsible for ending ice ages does not fit the timing of the end of the penultimate ice age, around 137,000 years ago.

…"It’s amazing just how rapidly these ‘melting’ – or ‘deglaciation’ – events occurred and how enormous the volumes of ice involved were," said Dr Alex Thomas, from the Department of Earth Sciences at Oxford University, lead author of the paper. "In the case of deglaciation after the penultimate ice age, before 137,000 years ago, we’re talking about ice sheets – that covered most of the USA and Canada and were up to five kilometres thick – simply vanishing."

The tropical paradise of Tahiti is an ideal place to study the sea level rises associated with deglaciation. This is because not only is it home to different species of corals that like to live at different depths but it is sinking at a constant rate which can be adjusted for when dating these corals, and it is far enough away from the ice sheets not to be affected by displacement or gravitational effects.

"Getting to these ancient fossilised corals without damaging the reef and local ocean life is far from easy," said Dr Thomas. "A robot submersible was sent to survey the ocean floor and placed a target which was used to guide down a drill from a shallow-draft drilling vessel with great precision and extract our cores. We only left a tiny hole behind that soon disappeared – something that was only possible because of the expertise of the Integrated Ocean Drilling Programme."…

Resolution and Adventure with fishing craft in Matavai Bay, painted by William Hodges in 1776, shows the two ships of Commander James Cook's second voyage of exploration in the Pacific at anchor in Tahiti.

Agriculture: the missing word in the climate change conversation

Gerald C. Nelson of the International Food Research Policy Institute, in Science Alert (Australia): …Climate change will have dramatic consequences for agriculture. Broad impacts are clear: some water supplies will become more variable, temperatures will increase, droughts and floods will stress agricultural systems, and food production will fall in some places. Developing economies and the poorest of the poor likely will be hardest hit, in part because they do not have the resources to cope with the changes.

…A pro-growth, pro-poor development agenda that supports agricultural sustainability is the first step to climate change adaptation. Individuals with higher incomes and more resources can respond faster to changes. Thus, a policy environment that enhances opportunities for smallholder farmers will also be good for climate change adaptation. Such an environment would include more investment in agricultural research and extension, rural infrastructure, and access to markets for farmers. Funding should support these policy reforms.

Improvements in water productivity are critical. Climate change, by making rainfall more variable and changing its geographic distribution, will exacerbate the existing need for better water harvesting, storage, and management. Equally important is supporting innovative institutional mechanisms that give agricultural water users incentives to conserve.

Investments in rural infrastructure, both physical (such as roads, market buildings, and storage facilities) and institutional (such as extension programs, credit and input markets, and reduced barriers to internal trade) are needed to enhance the resilience of agriculture. The development of high-yielding drought- and pest-tolerant crops is needed for adaptation to new climatic conditions. Good data collection efforts are critical, especially high-resolution data that provide location-specific information. These data must be distributed freely and without restrictions.

…Many changes to management systems that make them more resilient to climate change also increase carbon sequestration. Conservation tillage increases soil water retention in the face of drought while also sequestering carbon below ground. Small-scale irrigation facilities not only conserve water in the face of greater variability, but also increase crop productivity and soil carbon. Agroforestry systems increase above- and below-ground carbon storage while also increasing water storage below ground, even in the face of extreme climate events. These synergies should receive explicit support in the final Copenhagen agreement….

Rice transplanting. Tuy Hòa province, Central Vietnam

Biodiversity comes with a price tag The price we pay for goods and services needs to take into account the potential impact their delivery has on wildlife, according to the European Environment Agency. European industry and agriculture could not function without clearing forests, ploughing fields, draining wetlands and building cities and roads but this often comes at the expense of natural ecosystems.

The agency is now calling for the extent of environmental damage associated with particular goods and services to be more accurately reflected in the price tag. It also says that external pressures on biodiversity vary from place to place and we should act to secure healthy ecosystems across the board, rather than concentrating on pockets of habitat.

Despite significant progress in certain aspects of biodiversity, the agency's latest statistics indicate that Europe will miss its target of halting biodiversity loss by 2010. The EEA is calling for better ecosystem accounting to reflect the 'natural capital' which we deplete through economic activity….

Red fox pup in a forest of Haute-Normandie

Climate change threatens Florida coast

Editorial in the Ledger (Lakeland, Florida): Changing climatic conditions pose an unprecedented threat to U.S. coastlines, where the majority of Florida's residents live and many of our economic activity occurs. Sea-level rise, temperature increases, changes in the severity and strengthening of storms and other climate-related changes are expected to occur over the coming decades. The need to adapt to these climate-driven changes and to better manage existing coastal risks is obvious and immediate.

According to the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, insured property values along the gulf and Atlantic coasts have roughly doubled every decade. By the end of 2007, the gulf and Atlantic coasts had more than $9 trillion of insured coastal property. Florida's share of that is certain to exceed many billions of dollars. We need to have Florida property insurance prices reflect the real risk of hurricanes. If we don't do this then insurance will be subsidizing coastal development.

As coastal development is intensifying, so are coastal property losses. The higher wind speeds, storm surge, flooding and erosion hazards intrinsic to coastal regions increase the likelihood of property damage, degradation of coastal ecosystems and subsequent social costs….

An AC-130H gunship from the 16th Special Operations Squadron flies over the Destin, Florida coastline on Aug. 24, 2007, during multi-gunship formation egress training. Whatever that is. Shot by SrA Julianne Showalter, US Air Force

Arctic communities challenged when temperature rises

Silge Pileberg for the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research – Oslo: A wide range of challenges are facing people in the Arctic regions as the climate warms up twice as fast as the global average. People in some communities in Northern Norway see wind patterns changing and fish moving towards the North. People in Tuktoyaktuk in Northern Canada, who have seen their coastlines eroding for a long time, may see erosion happen faster due to warming temperatures and stronger storms.

The International Polar Year research project «Community Adaptation and Vulnerability in the Arctic Regions» (CAVIAR) aims to compare case studies across all eight Arctic countries and expand knowledge about adaptation and vulnerability to climatic and other changes. “What makes this project unique is that it involves local stakeholders from the start and throughout the research project. They are defining the research”, says project leader Grete K. Hovelsrud, a senior research fellow at CICERO Center for Climate and Environmental Research - Oslo.

As an anthropologist, she and her colleagues present the project for communities, and if they are interested in joining, a dialogue between the researchers and the stakeholders begins. “They tell us what the most important questions are in their communities, whether they are societal, political or environmental”, Hovelsrud explains.

When the research questions are defined, other relevant scientific experts are contacted for the most recent results. In addition, downscaled climate scenarios are prepared for the localities. “For example, if local stakeholders define precipitation patterns and temperature as important for their livelihoods, we bring them downscaled scenarios. Together we discuss which challenges these scenarios may bring and how these may be met”.

…“One difference between Canada and the Nordic countries is the connection to the outside world. While in Norway, Sweden and Iceland the livelihoods of people are more directly connected to the external market, subsistence livelihoods are still important in Arctic communities in Canada”, he says.

…“Climate change is not at the top of the agenda for many people in the North. Other problems, like unemployment, are more immediate, but more and more people are realizing that climate change may make some things worse. It represents one more thing to worry about”, says Robin Sydneysmith....

Iron frame of 1920s supply ship Qulaittuq (“boat without roof“), rusting on the beach near Arviat, Nunavut, Canada. Shot by Angsar Walk, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 License

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Levees cannot fully eliminate risk of flooding in New Orleans, study says

Science Daily: Levees and floodwalls surrounding New Orleans -- no matter how large or sturdy -- cannot provide absolute protection against overtopping or failure in extreme events, says a new report by the National Academy of Engineering and the National Research Council. The voluntary relocation of people and neighborhoods from areas that are vulnerable to flooding should be considered as a viable public policy option, the report says. If relocation is not feasible, an alternative would be to elevate the first floor of buildings to at least the 100-year flood level.

…Although some of the report's recommendations to enhance hurricane preparedness have been widely acknowledged for years, many have not been adequately implemented, said the committee that wrote the report. For instance, levees and floodwalls should be viewed as a way to reduce risks from hurricanes and storm surges, not as measures that completely eliminate risk. As with any structure built to protect against flooding, the New Orleans hurricane-protection system promoted a false sense of security that areas behind the structures were absolutely safe for habitation and development, the report says. Unfortunately, there are substantial risks that never were adequately communicated to the public and undue optimism that the 350-mile structure network could provide reliable flood protection, the committee noted.

Comprehensive flood planning and risk management should be based on a combination of structural and nonstructural measures, including the option of voluntary relocations, floodproofing and elevation of structures, and evacuation, the committee urged. Rebuilding the New Orleans area and its hurricane-protection system to its pre-Katrina state would leave the city and its inhabitants vulnerable to similar

….For structures in hazardous areas and residents who do not relocate, the committee recommended major floodproofing measures -- such as elevating the first floor of buildings to at least the 100-year flood level and strengthening electric power, water, gas, and telecommunication supplies.

…Furthermore, the 100-year flood level -- which is a crucial flood insurance standard -- is inadequate for flood protection structures in heavily populated areas such as New Orleans, where the failure of the system would be catastrophic. Use of this standard in the New Orleans area has escalated the costs of protection, encouraged settlement in areas behind levees, and resulted in losses of life and vast federal expenditures following numerous flood and hurricane disasters, the committee said….

Commander Mark Moran, of the NOAA Aviation Weather Center, and Lt. Phil Eastman and Lt. Dave Demers, of the NOAA Aircraft Operations Center, all commissioned officers of the NOAA Corps, flew more than 100 hours surveying Katrina’s devastation. All three men took dozens of aerial photos from an altitude of several feet to 500 feet.

Heatwaves and flash floods to be norm in Ireland by 2050

Irish Examiner: Flash floods, prolonged heatwaves, severe droughts and warmer winters — that’s what climate change experts have forecast for Ireland in the coming decades. The north and west will experience record rainfall, with longer heatwaves and droughts in the south and east. The report by the Environment Protection Agency found:
  • Average temperatures will rise by 1.4C-1.8C by 2050. 
  • By the same year winters will be about 10% wetter while summers will have between 12%-17% less rain. 
  • Summer reductions of rainfall between 20%-28% are projected for the southern and eastern coasts, increasing to 30%-40% by the 2080s. 
  • There will be a substantial drop in the number of frost days. 
Soils will begin to dry out and catchment areas more dependent on groundwater — such as the Blackwater, Suir and Barrow rivers — appear most vulnerable to the shifting rainfall patterns.

Most worrying is the pace with which floods begin to hit the country. The EPA said 10-year floods could become three to seven-year events on most catchments by the 2050s, and the 50-year flood becomes a six to 35-year event almost everywhere. The report, Climate Changes in Ireland: Refining the Impacts for Ireland, predicts that summer rainfall in the south and east will fall by up to 28% by 2050 and by up to 40% by 2080…

Howth Harbor in Dublin, shot by Andrius Burlega, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License

Australia's food bowl on brink of $5 billion catastrophe

Adelaide Now (Australia): nation's key food bowl, the Murray Darling Basin, is on the verge of economic collapse as the value of production plunges by at least $5 billion, experts say. Drought and declining irrigation water have plunged inland Australia's heartland into crisis with the loss of at least one third of the basin's $15 billion annual income. Worse is predicted for the coming financial year if the drought continues.

The demise of the economic powerhouse has pushed towns throughout the basin, particularly along the River Murray, into a severe downturn and population decline. An ABS report last week showed the population throughout the basin is declining, or static at best, with the District Council of Berri and Barmera suffering the largest and fastest recent drop in SA with 130 people moving out between 2007 and 2008.

Authorities warn the problem has become the biggest crisis Australian agriculture has experienced, threatening the nation's food supply. Murray Darling Association general manager Ray Najar said the basin's plight will worsen substantially next financial year if the long-running drought continues and there is no water available for irrigation.

Mr Najar said the $5 billion loss of production is very conservative and the actual loss may be nearer to $7 billion…..

Dust storm in Wagga Wagga, April 2009, shot by Bidgee, Wikimedia Commons,  under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License

Southeast Asia faces soaring economic costs if climate change action delayed - new study

Asian Development Bank: Southeast Asia, one of the most vulnerable regions in the world to climate change, faces a poorer future unless global warming is controlled, says a new Asian Development Bank (ADB) study, titled The Economics of Climate Change in Southeast Asia: A Regional Review.

Using reviews of previous studies, impact assessment models and extensive consultations with national and regional climate change experts, the study examines climate change challenges facing Southeast Asian nations, both now and in the future. The study finds that the benefits to the region of taking early action against climate change far outweigh the costs.

If the world continues with business as usual, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam could experience combined damages equivalent to more than 6% of their countries' gross domestic products every year by the end of this century, dwarfing the costs of the current financial crisis.

Rice production will dramatically decline because of climate change, threatening food security. Rising sea levels will force the relocation of millions living in coastal communities and islands, and more people will die from thermal stress, malaria, dengue and other diseases.

“Climate change seriously threatens Southeast Asia's families, food supplies and financial prosperity, and regrettably the worst is yet to come,” says Ursula Schaefer-Preuss, Vice-President for Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development.

…There are a series of cost-effective measures that can help countries protect themselves from the worst effects of climate change, including improving water management, enhancing irrigation systems, introducing new crop varieties, safeguarding forests and supporting the construction of protective sea walls....

Diarrhoea near epidemic in Bangladesh heatwave: clinic

Terra Daily via Agence France-Presse: Cases of diarrhoea in Dhaka are reaching epidemic levels, a health expert warned Monday, as the Bangladeshi capital faced record temperatures, a severe water shortage and power cuts.

Azharul Islam Khan, a doctor at Bangladesh's biggest diarrhoea hospital, said the clinic was seeing around 800 new patients a day. "We're treating the highest number of patients in the pre-monsoon season during our 45 years in existence," Khan, of the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, said. "The situation is very grim and reaching epidemic levels in Dhaka and its outskirts. An acute crisis of water and unusually prolonged heat wave are to blame for such a severe outbreak."

…Temperatures in Dhaka reached 42.2 degrees Celsius (108 degrees Fahrenheit) on Sunday, the highest in 14 years, according to weather officials, with no rain forecast for the next week.

Entrance to Bangladesh's International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, in Dhaka, shot by Mak, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 and Attribution ShareAlike 1.0 License.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Climate change: Indigenous peoples outraged

eGovMonitor, via Global Justice Ecology: At the first global gathering of Indigenous Peoples on climate change, participants were outraged at the intensifying rate of destruction the climate crisis is having on the Earth and all peoples.

Participants reaffirmed that Indigenous Peoples are most impacted by climate change and called for support and funding for Indigenous Peoples to create adaptation and mitigation plans for themselves, based on their own Traditional Knowledge and practices. Indigenous Peoples also took a strong position on emission reduction targets of industrialized countries and against false solutions.

The majority of those attending looked towards addressing the root problem - the burning of fossil fuels - and demanded an immediate moratorium on new fossil fuel development and called for a swift and just transition away from fossil fuels.

"While the arctic is melting, Africa is suffering from drought and many Pacific Islands are in danger of disappearing. Indigenous Peoples are locked out of national and international negotiations," stated Jihan Gearon, Native energy and climate campaigner of the Indigenous Environmental Network. "We're sending a strong message to the next UN Framework Convention on Climate Change this December in Copenhagen, Denmark that business as usual must end, because business as usual is killing us. Participants at the summit stood united on sending a message to the world leaders in Copenhagen calling for a binding emission reduction target for developed countries of at least 45% below 1990 levels by 2020 and at least 95% by 2050."

…Tom Goldtooth, Indigenous Environmental Network's Executive Director, commented, "We want real solutions to climate chaos and not the false solutions like forest carbon offsets and other market based mechanisms that will benefit only those who are making money on those outrageous schemes " He added, "For example one the solutions to mitigate climate change is an initiative by the World Bank to protect forests in developing countries through a carbon market regime called Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation or REDD." He concluded, "Don't be fooled, REDD does nothing to address the underlying drivers of deforestation."

Painting by Herman Heyenbrock, circa 1890

Insurers gear up for climate disclosure law

Compliance Week: The insurance industry seems to be first out of the gate with new rules for disclosure of climate change risks. Insurance companies themselves, however, may be off to a slow start in complying with the new rules.

As Compliance Week previously reported, in March the National Association of Insurance Commissioners adopted a mandatory requirement that large insurance businesses must complete an eight-part “Insurer Climate Risk Disclosure Survey” every year. The initial reporting deadline is May 1, 2010.

The surveys must be submitted in the state where the insurance company is based, at which point the responses will be made publicly available by the NAIC. In this first year of compliance, the rule applies only to insurers with annual premiums of $500 million or more. Starting next year, the threshold drops to $300 million.

“There are some companies that have really been upfront on climate change for some time, and this is really an opportunity for them to advertise their strengths in this area,” says Howard Mills, director of the insurance industry Group at Deloitte & Touche. Other companies, he diplomatically says, “will be developing their positions as they go along.”

NAIC spokesmen say they hope the new rule will prod insurers to achieve “a heightened appreciation for the risks that climate change poses,” says Joel Ario, insurance commissioner for the state of Pennsylvania and chair of the NAIC climate change task force….

Road with fog, shot by Greg berdet, Wikimedia Commons,  under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2

UK opens flood forecasting center A joint venture between Government, the Environment Agency and the Met Office should improve the accuracy and timeliness of flood warnings in the UK. The planned Flood Forecast Centre was one of the recommendations in the Pitt Review into the devastating summer flood of 2007.

"[It] will help provide the best possible information and support to existing flood warnings and weather warning services," said Environment Secretary Hilary Benn. "By combining the knowledge and experience of the Met Office and Environment Agency, we will see a big improvement in the ability to produce earlier flood alerts and more accurate, targeted information to our emergency services, local authorities and utility companies. This will give people in areas at risk of flooding more time to protect themselves and their homes and businesses from the effects of flooding."

The official launch of the centre coincided with the publication of the draft Flood and Water Management Bill, designed to improve preparation for and response to flooding as well as conserving water supplies during drought. Mr Benn said: " We can't stop rain falling from the sky, or make it rain during droughts, but we can be better prepared….

Musicians in wellies in Abingdon, UK, 2007, shot by Peter Cooper, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 License 

Call for 20-year fishing ban in a third of oceans

Guardian (UK): One third of the world's oceans must be closed to fishing for 20 years if depleted stocks are to recover, scientists and conservation groups have warned. Callum Roberts, professor of marine conservation at the University of York, has reviewed 100 scientific papers identifying the scale of closure needed. "All are leaning in a similar direction," he said, "which is that 20-40% of the sea should be protected."

Friends of the Earth, the Marine Conservation Society and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds all support the idea of a 30% closure. The proposal comes in the wake of a green paper calling for radical reform of the common fisheries policy, which EU ministers admit has failed. It reveals that 88% of European Union stocks are overfished (against a global average of 25%), while 30% are "outside safe biological limits", meaning they cannot reproduce as normal because the parenting population is too depleted.

The European Commission suggests a reduction in fleet size and a dramatic cut in fishing among its series of measures, but Roberts believes these will not work without the creation of marine protected areas (MPAs).

"If we are ever going to have sustainable fisheries, MPA networks are essential," he said. In Iceland, Canada and the US, MPAs have "brought real increases in fish populations and real recovery of seabed habitats", he added….

Commercial fisherman catching cod and halibut off the coast of Alaska, sometime before 1927

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Could climate change worsen Lyme disease?

Science Daily: In a finding that suggests how global warming could impact infectious disease, scientists from Yale University, in collaboration with other institutions, have determined that climate impacts the severity of Lyme Disease by influencing the feeding patterns of deer ticks that carry and transmit it.

Deer ticks live for two years and have three stages of life – larval, nymphal and adult. They obtain one blood meal during each stage in order to survive. If the source of the first meal (a mouse, bird or other small animal) is infected with the bacterium that causes Lyme Disease, the tick also becomes infected and passes it on to its next meal source – be it wildlife or human – in its second life stage as a nymph.

But, as the Yale team demonstrates, it’s the seasonal cycle of feeding for each stage of the tick’s life that determines the severity of infection in a given region. The researchers found that this cycle is heavily influenced by climate. In the moderate climate of the Northeastern United States, larval deer ticks feed in the late summer, long after the spring feeding of infected nymphs. This long gap between feeding times directly correlates to more cases of Lyme Disease reported in the Northeast, say the scientists.

“When there is a longer gap, the most persistent infections are more likely to survive,” explains Durland Fish, Professor of Epidemiology at Yale School of Public Health and corresponding author of the study. “These persistent bacterial strains cause more severe disease in humans, leading more people to seek medical attention and resulting in more case reports.”

But in the Midwest, where there are greater extremes of temperature, there is a shorter window of opportunity for tick feeding, and therefore a shorter gap between nymphal and larval feedings. Because of this, report the scientists, Midwestern wildlife and ticks are infected with less persistent strains, which correlates with fewer cases of Lyme Disease reported in the Midwest.

The clear implication of this research, say the researchers, is that, as the planet warms, the Upper Midwest could find itself in the same situation as the Northeast: longer gaps between nymphal and larval feeding, and therefore, stronger, more persistent strains of Lyme Disease….

Size comparison of a tick and the head of a match, shot by André Karwath aka Aka, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 License.

Rising seas threaten renowned French coast

Terra Daily via Agence France-Presse: France's Aquitaine coast stretches north from the Spanish border to the Gironde river estuary, encompassing rocky bluffs, giant lagoons, deltas, beaches and Europe's largest dune. Now climate change has laid siege to this natural oasis, dramatically speeding up the erosion of the 270 kilometre-long (168 miles) Atlantic coastline and threatening local communities.

A study published in 2006 by the European LIFE program identified 13 coastal communities as erosion "hotspots". "There is a lack of sand on the beaches, because of a period of warming -- climate change," confirmed Cyril Mallet, geological engineer and project manager for the French geology and mining research agency BRGM.

Climate change means rising sea levels, more violent storms and increasing rainfall in a region already suffering from its location on the Bay of Biscay, where ocean waves carry 500,000 cubic metres (17.6 million cubic feet) -- about 200 Olympic swimming pools -- of sand southward every year. Cliffs are sliding into the sea, beaches are disappearing, dunes that protect forests, towns and roads are in danger, and the tourism trade is in jeopardy, local experts said….

Edouard Manet's 1871 painting, "The harbor at Bordeaux"

Reduced flow signals death of the Ganga River

Times of India: A study of American scientists at the National Centre for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) suggests that there is a reduced flow in many rivers of the world and it is associated with climate change. The study is also applied on the Ganga, the lifeline of millions of people living in its plane. Not only NCAR scientists, but the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the global conservation organisation, also reports that the Ganga has been enlisted on the list of 10 most endangered rivers of the world.

…"The increasing sand bed, which defines the ecosystem, is an indicator of the gloomy future of the Ganga," predicted Uday Kant Chowdhary, a professor of civil engineering and coordinator of Ganga Research Laboratory, Institute of Technology, Banaras Hindu University (BHU). According to him, sand bed in the Ganga is increasing five-six metre in width and 8-10cm in height annually. "It means the width of the river is reducing in proportion to the increase in sand bed," Chowdhary told TOI.

According to him, factors like increasing pollution, over-extraction of water and reduced flow of the Ganga are causing slow death to the river. The unscientific extraction of river water through Bhimgauda Barrage to Western Ganga Canal is harming the river badly. The capacity of this barrage has been enhanced from 6,000 cubic feet per second to 9,000 cubic-ft per second, he said adding: "People in Delhi are drinking Gangajal (Ganga water) while the natives of the cities like Varanasi are using polluted water."

He said since the holy water was diverted towards Delhi in huge quantity, the velocity of the stream was reduced drastically on the Gangetic Plane. "The loss in quantity ultimately causes loss to the quality of the river water," he said. Besides, due to the increase in total dissolved solid (TDS) in water stored in reservoirs, the water loses its dissolved oxygen (DO) retention capacity. "The quantity and quality are interrelated," he pointed out….

Early morning on the Ganges, shot by John Hill, Wikimedia Commons, under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2

Climate change to hurt farmers the most

Business Mirror (Philippines): Category Four typhoons will do more than shut down schools and financial markets in the country. More extreme and unpredictable weather patterns are expected to hurt the country’s farmers the most, said University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) statistics professor Dr. Felino Lansigan.

Lansigan, also an associate professor at UPLB’s School of Environmental Science and Management, said data tracked in the last decade confirm a larger degree of variability in weather patterns as evidenced by pronounced storms and El Niño as well as La Niña events. He added that farmers, who are dependent on weather variables, are the first to feel these effects.

“Climate change affects the hydrology of an area. Weather patterns have changed. Now, farmers can no longer rely on suggested planting calendars,” said Lansigan in a phone interview with the Business Mirror. He also noted “significant” yield losses due to increasing temperatures and “extreme” climate variability from the effects of heightened El Niño and La Niña occurrences.

In his study, “Responding to Climate Change Impacts on Agriculture and Water Resources in the Philippines,” Lansigan said there is already evidence of climate change in the country. The study was presented during the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) Hugh Greenwood Environmental Science Award last week. Dr. Lansigan won the award for 2009.

Citing 2004 statistics from the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa), Lansigan said average annual temperatures have increased by 0.14 degrees Celsius from 1971 to 2000. Meanwhile, average annual rainfall has increased since the 1980s alongside a noted rise in the occurrence of landslides and floods. Likewise, cyclones entering the Philippines from 1990 to 2003 have increased four-fold….

Across the Benguet State University in La Trinidad are the famous Strawberry Fields, where Baguio City's strawberry fruits and jams and preserves are produced. Shot by Shubert Ciencia from Nueva Ecija, Philippines, Wikmimedia Commons via Flickr,under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License

High sea level discovery A breakthrough study of fluctuations in sea levels the last time Earth was between ice ages, as it is now, shows that oceans rose some three metres in only decades due to collapsing ice sheets. The findings suggest that such a scenario — which would redraw coastlines worldwide and unleash colossal human misery — is "now a distinct possibility within the next 100 years," said lead researcher Paul Blanchon, a geoscientist at Mexico's National University. The study was published by the science journal Nature.

Rising ocean water marks are seen by many scientists as the most serious likely consequence of global warming. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicted in 2007 that sea levels will rise by up to 59 centimetres before 2100 due simply to the expansion of warmer ocean waters.

This relatively modest increase is already enough to render several small island nations uninhabitable, and to disrupt the lives of tens of millions of people living in low-lying deltas, especially in Asia and Africa.

But more recent studies have sounded alarms about the potential impact of crumbling ice sheets in western Antarctica and Greenland, which together contain enough frozen water to boost average global sea levels by at least 13 metres. A rapid three-metre rise would devastate dozens of major cities around the globe, including Shanghai, Calcutta, New Orleans, Miami and Dhaka…..

A crashing wave, Atlantic ocean, "Pointe du Souffleur", cliffs at Guadeloupe. Shot by rachel_thecat, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 License

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Beautiful one year, flooded the next

Marian Wilkinson in the Bombala Times (Australia): The top government scientist advising on how to adapt the nation to climate change warns that Australia will be forced to abandon some coastal communities in a "planned retreat" because of rising sea levels caused by global warming.

Andrew Ash, who leads the CSIRO's Climate Adaptation Flagship program, told the Herald that while some vulnerable coastal places could be protected by sea walls and levees, "there are going to be areas where that is not physically possible or it's not cost-effective to introduce any engineering solution and planned retreat becomes the only option".

Warning that climate change was accelerating much more quickly than predicted, Dr Ash said state and local governments needed urgently to identify coastal land unsuitable for new residential development because rising sea levels and more frequent big storms would flood them with seawater.

Federal and state governments would also need to rule out putting costly new infrastructure such as airport runways and bridges in vulnerable low-lying coastal areas. "They need to be thinking now about what areas are vulnerable and what areas are likely to be unsuitable in the longer term for new residential developments because local governments are concerned about future liabilities," Dr Ash said.

Scientists at Sydney University have previously identified vulnerable areas in NSW, including Narrabeen, Dee Why and Curl Curl on Sydney's northern beaches. Batemans Bay to the south and parts of Byron Bay in the north are also seen as particularly vulnerable….

This mid bay barrier in Narrabeen, a suburb of Sydney (Australia), has blocked what used to be a bay to form a lagoon. Shot by Stephen Codrington, Wikimedia Commons, under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License

Experts probe links between urban growth and climate change in Africa

Voice of America: A new project has united researchers exploring the connection between rapid urban growth in Africa and climate related emergencies, in an effort to safeguard vulnerable urban populations from the effects of climate change. The Climate Change and Adaptation in Africa program, or CCAA, aims to increase the capacity of African people and organizations to cope with the effects of climate change.

Sponsored by Canada's International Development Research Center and the United Kingdom's Department for International Development, the project hopes to indentify strategies to help the urban poor in Africa's largest cities to adapt to challenges posed by the changing environment, says project manager Francois Gasengayire.

"The program supports research that helps reduce poverty by improving the environment. And the goal is to harness the capacity of the poor to reduce environmental degradation as it relates to natural disasters, and enhance the use of natural resources for food, water, and income generation," he said.

Gasengayire says program organizers sought out proposals from across Africa for research projects exploring the links between urban growth and climate change. The researchers, who have assembled in Dakar, represent a range of institutions working with the diverse climate-related issues facing urban areas throughout Africa.

Gasengayire said that an increase in disasters caused by climate change is likely to be felt most acutely in Africa's urban centers. "There is a kind of link, and at the same time a vicious cycle between poverty, urban poverty, and environmental burdens," he said…..

Soweto, South Africa, shot by Michael Toft Schmidt, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5Attribution ShareAlike 2.0

Indigenous people share climate adaptation strategies Indigenous people from around the world gathered this week to discuss the effects of climate change on their lands — the first time they have convened in such numbers on the topic.

The Andean region has suffered an increase in respiratory illness, a decrease in Alpaca farming and a shortened growing season, which may eventually be cut in half. In Kenya the Samburu people are losing their livestock to severe, extended droughts. And the Dayak in Borneo have documented climate variations including rising water levels and the loss of traditional medicinal plants.

More than 400 indigenous people presented their adaptation strategies to representatives from 80 nations at the Indigenous Peoples' Global Summit on Climate Change held in Anchorage, Alaska, this week (20–24 April) to both highlight their vulnerability and impact climate research. "We don't want to be seen as just the powerless victims of climate change," said Patricia Cochran, chair of the summit and an Inupiat native of Nome, Alaska, in a press release.

Sam Johnston — summit co-sponsor and a senior research fellow at the UN University — told SciDev.Net that there has been a growing recognition of the importance of incorporating climate variations at the local level into climate research….Johnston says that indigenous people and Western scientists have a lot to learn from one another. He says the conference presentations are "ground-truthing"; they confirm that climate change is happening in all areas.

Regarding the acceptance of these traditional offerings as serious research, Johnston says: "There are some serious methodological barriers to overcome in order for [the research] to be taken seriously by Western scientists … obviously a lot of this indigenous knowledge isn't documented or peer reviewed."

…Johnston wants for a similarly open-minded approach from scientists. "If mainstream scientists want to incorporate local knowledge and local impacts as they said they did, they have to move away from a strictly guided and formulated approach to what information is valid and what isn't … they have to meet some of these [indigenous] stakeholders halfway."

Shown is Rumah Ugat, in the Kapit Division of Sarawak, Borneo. Shot by Aron Paul 2005, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 License