Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Warning as study finds South Africa's water dwindles

Craig McKune in IOL.com (South Africa): Scientists have warned that the country, with 98 percent of its surface water allocated for use, faces tough decisions as it becomes hotter and drier. But the Water Resources of South Africa 2005 study, the fifth of its kind, found 4 percent less surface water than had been estimated in 1995.

"With each of the national water studies carried out since the 1950s, our estimate of the country's total natural water resources has declined," project director Brian Middleton said. "If we were allocating water according to the higher estimates made in previous studies, we would find that there is simply not enough water to meet our needs."

The study, completed late last year, with its findings now being released, was commissioned in 2004 by South Africa's Water Research Commission (WRC) "after significant consultation in the water industry". It was carried out by a consortium of scientific and engineering consulting firms, producing a detailed survey of surface and groundwater and water quality.

…What made the new data particularly valuable was that it integrated surface and groundwater information, Middleton said. The study found that about 10 000 million cubic metres of groundwater was available for use every year, but that this would be 25 percent less during droughts.

…Another study, reported in the SA Journal of Science this year, found that while 98 percent of surface water was allocated for use, 41 percent of the usable groundwater was also allocated. Also, the country had become 2 percent hotter and 6 percent drier since the 1970s and this would affect food security and hit poor people hardest….

Blyde River Canyon in South Africa, shot by Dr. Thomas Wagner, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License

Philippines urges rich nations to act on climate change

Space Daily, via Agence France-Presse: The Philippines strongly urged developed countries Wednesday to cut greenhouse gas emissions to stem the impact of climate change in the wake of its worst flooding in decades. Tropical storm Ketsana dumped the heaviest rain in more than 40 years on Manila and its neighbouring areas over the weekend, killing 246 people and affecting more than two million.

It continued to leave a trail of destruction across Southeast Asia Wednesday, killing at least 49 people in Vietnam and Cambodia and smashing into Laos. At talks in Bangkok over a global climate treaty, the Philippines' chief negotiator Secretary Heherson Alvarez said he hoped "the sense of urgency, the sense of need for safe protection" was conveyed to rich countries.

"Tropical storm Ketsana is clearly a manifestation of the consequences of global inaction in addressing the immediate impacts of creeping climate change," he said. Rich countries must act "to moderate these storms and spare the whole world from the impoverishing and devastating impacts of climate change, especially to low-lying archipelagic island-nations like the Philippines," he added.

The Philippines is calling for developed countries to make "deep and early cuts of emissions" of more than 30 percent from 2013 to 2017 and more than 50 percent from 2018 to 2022, pegged to 1990 levels….

Typhoon Ketsana on September 28, 2009, shot by NASA

Floods may sweep away Kenya's gains

Wachira Kang’aru in AllAfrica.com via the Daily Nation (Kenya): The expected heavy rainfall has the potential to wipe out at least 11 per cent of Kenya's wealth unless proper preventative measures are put in place. Among the key areas to be affected are roads, water supply systems and health due to a possible outbreak of water borne and related ailments.

The 11 per cent damage on the economy is the same as that which the 1997/98 El Nino rains caused to the country as contained in a World Bank Report titled Toward a Water-Secure Kenya. With the current Gross Domestic Product (GDP) estimated at ($34,507 million) Sh2.6 trillion - 2008 World Bank Estimate - the loss could translate to at least Sh284.7 billion over and above what the government plans to spend on development expenditure this year.

"The immediate effect of the rain will be to suppress economic activities," economic analyst Robert Shaw says adding that the full effect on the economy will depend on how much rainfall will be received. "We are quite vulnerable even if we do not get as much rain as El Nino."

Poor people and those on the lower side of the middle class will be the worst hit with the report indicating that effects of the 1997 floods resulted in the number of those living below the poverty line increasing from 48 per cent in 1994 to 52 per cent in 2000 and worsening to 56 per cent by 2001. "The poor and marginal communities, both rural and urban are particularly vulnerable to floods and droughts due to their limited options and consequent habitation in marginal and vulnerable areas," the report says…

Catfish ponds in Kenya, USAID

Increase in sea levels due to global warming could lead to 'ghost states'

David Adam in the Guardian (UK): Global warming could create "ghost states" with governments in exile ruling over scattered citizens and land that has been abandoned to rising seas, an expert said yesterday. Francois Gemenne, of the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations in Paris, said the likely loss of small island states such as Tuvalu and the Maldives raised profound questions over nationality and territory.

"What would happen if a state was to physically disappear but people want to keep their nationalities? It could continue as a virtual state even though it is a rock under the ocean and its people no longer live on that piece of land."

Gemenne said there was more at stake than cultural and sentimental attachments to swamped countries. Tuvalu makes millions of pounds each year from the sale of its assigned internet suffix .tv to television companies. As a nation state, the Polynesian island also has a vote on the international stage through the UN.

"As independent nations they receive certain rights and privileges that they will not want to lose. Instead they could become like ghost states," he said. "This is a pressing issue for small island states, but in the case of physical disappearance there is a void in international law."…

Fictional map of Atlantis by Patroclus Kampanakis. Originally drawn in 1891, first published in his book "The procataclysm Communication of the Two Worlds via Atlantis", Constantinople 1893.

Action taken against US fertiliser firm

Edie.net: US environmental authorities have ordered a fertiliser manufacturer to clean up its act after 'many' spills of hazardous materials which could endanger human life. The Mississippi Phosphates Corporation (MPC) in Pascagoula, was issued with an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) order forcing it to clean up its facility last Friday (25 September).

The EPA issued the order under Section 7003 of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), which states an 'imminent and substantial endangerment' to human health and the environment exists at the facility. MPC manufactures sulphuric acid and phosphoric acid at the site and produces phosphate-based fertilizer.

An EPA spokesman said: "We believe that an imminent and substantial endangerment to human health and the environment exists at the facility due to improper storage, inadequate worker safety equipment and many leaks and spills of solid and liquid hazardous wastes.

"Some of the work required of MPC in the 7003 Order includes immediate treatment and containment of releases of hazardous waste - submittal of plans and timetables for rapid remediation of contaminated media…

Locator map of Jackson County, Mississippi, rendered by Arkyan, Wikimedia Commons, under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Storm killers: Earth scan lab tracks cold water upwellings in Gulf of Mexico

Science Daily: Complex interactions between the ocean and overlying atmosphere cause hurricanes to form, and also have a tremendous amount of influence on the path, intensity and duration of a hurricane or tropical weather event. As researchers develop new ways to better understand and predict the nature of individual storms, a largely unstudied phenomenon has caught the attention of scientists at LSU’s Earth Scan Laboratory, or ESL. Cool water upwellings occurring within ocean cyclones following alongside and behind hurricanes are sometimes strong enough to reduce the strength of hurricanes as they cross paths.

“Ocean cyclones are areas of upwelling, meaning that cold water is not far from the surface as compared to the water surrounding it,” said Nan Walker, ESL director. “The Gulf of Mexico is full of ocean cyclones, or cold water eddies, many of which move rapidly around the margin of Gulf’s Loop Current, which is the main source of water for the Gulf Stream.”

While the upwelling is important to Gulf fisheries because it delivers nutrients into the surface waters, causing algal blooms and attracting marine life to the areas, oceanographers have recently begun to realize that these cyclones intensify currents near the surface and along the bottom of the ocean in areas of gas and oil exploration.

“Now,” Walker added, “our research has shown that ocean cyclones also provide temperatures cold enough to reduce the intensity of large Gulf of Mexico hurricanes.”…“Cool wakes are most beneficial when the storm occurs later in the season because the Gulf doesn’t warm as rapidly in fall and may not have time to warm back up,” said Walker….

Ivan (2004) in the Gulf of Mexico. At this point it was a tropical storm

A bleg about varieties of unscientific experience

A query to readers of Carbon Based: Has anyone studied the overlap among climate change denialists and those who deny evolution? My guess is that the two groups blend together to a certain extent, but if any of you know of some eager social scientist who’s covered this topic, please let me know.

Climate change will 'prompt refugee influx'

Perth Now: Poverty caused by climate change will increase the number of refugees into Europe from neighbouring regions, Hungarian President Laszlo Solyom says. Dr Solyom outlined the challenges facing his republic in a speech on climate change and sustainable development delivered in Sydney today.

"It has been recognised recently ... that climate change is indeed a security risk," he said. "I think that this will become increasingly important and this aspect will also bring or force countries that have neglected these issues ... to look at the issue of security and be alert to this.
"For Europe it poses a increasing problem with the huge flock of refugees from Africa. This makes the internal relations of certain countries extremely difficult.

"These refugees flee because of poverty, but climate change will just increase the level of poverty, that's quite obvious." His comments did not include whether Australia can expect a similar increase in refugees, but he said a combined effort was needed to address climate change and different parts of the world would experience different effects.

He called for fairness and cohesion in "achieving a change in etiquette" in the face of climate change. "Everyone accepts that we are rebuilding a ship while sailing in the middle of the ocean," Dr Solyom said…

Vegetable market on Hamburg's Hopfenmarkt, circa 1900

Poorer states need 'billions' for global warning: World Bank

Agence France-Presse: Developing countries will need up to 100 billion dollars (80 billion euros) a year for 40 years to combat the effects of global warming, said a World Bank report released in The Hague on Tuesday. Assuming the planet is two degrees Celsius warmer by 2050, "the study puts the cost of adapting ... at 75 billion to 100 billion dollars a year" from 2010, according to an investigation commissioned by Britain, the Netherlands and Switzerland.

"What we try to show with this report is the urgency of ensuring that there are sufficient funds for adaptation" for poor countries, Dutch Development Minister Bert Koenders said on receiving the report. "It is for many countries a question of life and death," he added. "There will be no climate deal in Copenhagen if there is no financing for adaptation" -- referring to the UN climate summit to be held there in December.

East Asia, South Asia, Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa are those most affected by global warming, the report said. The European Union, Japan and the United States "realise" that money had to be found, Koenders said, adding however that funding "does not necessarily have to come from national budgets".

…Koenders said developing countries would require additional aid on top of traditional development assistance to deal with climate change. World Bank economist Sergio Margulis, who headed the study, said the costs of global warming will rise. "Development is the most powerful form of adaptation," the report said….

The interior of the Crystal Palace in London during the Great Exhibition of 1851

Food deficit in Tanzania

James Mwakisyala in AllAfrica.com via East African Business Week: Tanzania has a food deficit of one million tonnes of cereals which must be covered quickly to avert food shortages. A total of 65 districts have been hit by drought and are experiencing serious food shortage. Food stocks in the national food reserve has dwindled to about 10 per cent of the deficit.

The Minister for Agriculture, Food Security and Co-operatives, Mr Stephen Wassira, said in Dar es Salaam last week that while the country of 40 million requires about six million tonnes of cereals per year, it only had just over five million, leaving a deficit of one million to be imported.

Some 970,000 people are in dire need of food so far, but the government said it has set aside some 50,000 tonnes to be supplied soon to areas severely hit by drought. He appealed to traders to work closely with the Government to ensure that food from some areas with abundant stocks can be distributed fairly to cushion the food shortage effects as more measures are taken to import food stuffs….

Monday, September 28, 2009

Drought pushes 23 milllion East Africans toward severe hunger: Oxfam

Xinhua (China): A global charity, Oxfam International, has launched a 9.5-million-British pound (about 15.2 million U.S. dollars) emergency appeal to reach 750,000 in need of food assistance, warning that drought has pushed millions of East Africans to severe hunger due to failed rains. The agency said more than 23 million people are being pushed towards severe hunger and destitution across East Africa.

"This is the worst humanitarian crisis Oxfam has seen in East Africa for over ten years. Failed and unpredictable rains are ever more regular across East Africa as raining seasons shorten due to the growing influence of climate change,” Paul Smith Lomas, Oxfam's East Africa Director said. He said droughts have increased from once a decade to every two or three years. In Wajir, northern Kenya, Oxfam said almost 200 dead animals were recently found around one dried-up water source.

“People are surviving on two liters of water a day in some places -- less water than a toilet flush. The conditions have never been so harsh or so inhospitable, and people desperately need our help to survive,” said Lomas.

The agency said a severe and persistent five-year drought, deepened by climate change, is now stretching across seven countries in the region and exacting a heavy human toll, made worse by high food prices and violent conflict.

According to Oxfam, the worst affected countries are Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia and Uganda. Other countries hit are Sudan, Djibouti and Tanzania. Malnutrition is now above emergency levels in some areas and hundreds of thousands of cattle -- people's key source of income -- are dying….

A formation near the town of Kibish, location of the archaeology dig where human bones believed to be 195,000 years old were discovered along the Omo River in southern Ethiopia, shot by John Fleagle, Wikimedia Commons

Major disasters tax surgical staff but may reduce costs for routine operations

Science Daily: New research published in the September issue of the Journal of the American College of Surgeons offers important insights into the long-term impact of a major disaster on routine surgical services in a hospital. In the study, researchers at Ochsner Health System, New Orleans, LA, showed that although Hurricane Katrina resulted in a significant loss of surgical staff and an increase in the number of uninsured patients undergoing operations, greater cost efficiencies were achieved.

Hurricane Katrina forced 11 major hospitals in the New Orleans metropolitan area to close. Ochsner Health System was one of the three hospitals that remained functional during the storm. The ripple effects of Hurricane Katrina, which hit New Orleans on August 29, 2005, continue to be experienced today in the hospitals currently serving the area.

"Hurricane Katrina placed enormous burdens on our institution but forced us to learn how to run an operating room with fewer full-time employees, which required staff to cover and share more duties," said William S. Richardson, MD, FACS, department of surgery, Ochsner Health System. "While geographic location is a major determinant of post-disaster success, a sound disaster preparedness plan and the ability to adapt quickly can allow a hospital to function effectively during and after circumstances as extreme as Hurricane Katrina."

Using a prospectively collected database, researchers compared patients undergoing laparoscopic cholecystectomy (LC) – surgical removal of the gallbladder through a tiny incision in the abdomen – before and after Hurricane Katrina at Ochsner Health System. Because there was little operative activity due to low population in the area initially after the storm, researchers compared patients undergoing LC during the seven months preceding the storm with patients undergoing LC in the seven months after the first three months post-storm, when operative volume was closer to pre-storm level. The researchers said that the establishment of clear lines of communication to displaced employees and providing transportation and housing for evacuated employees were key factors to achieving pre-storm levels of operative volume in a relatively short period of time…..

New Orleans, September 5, 2005 - A doctor (right) and nurse (left) attached to a Disaster Medical Assistance Team at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center pickup site, helping an evacuee. Photo by Win Henderson / FEMA photo.

Calls for massive financing kick off climate change talks in Thailand

Ron Corben in IPS: The need for adequate financing to assist developing countries in meeting the challenges of climate change was highlighted on Monday’s opening of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations in Thailand’s capital.

Noeleen Heyzer, executive secretary for the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP), called for new efforts to meet the challenge of finance at the opening of the Bangkok talks. "We were able to find the money to prevent the meltdown of our financial system. We need to find the same commitment and resources to prevent a meltdown of the planet," Heyzer said.

The climate change conference that kicked off Sep. 28 in Bangkok is one of the final rounds of negotiations ahead of the Copenhagen summit in December, which is aimed at sealing a 'comprehensive, fair and effective deal' on climate change. Fears over meeting the massive financial burden to stem climate change come amid a sea change in the global economy and the present recession since the Bali conference on climate change in December 2007.

Billions of dollars have been poured into the global economy over the past year to thwart the worst of the global financial crisis triggered by the collapse of major financial institutions in the United States in 2008. The UNFCCC has estimated that the world needs to spend an additional 36 billion to 135 billion U.S. dollars each year by 2030 to address the wider impact of climate change.

In a strident address, Connie Hedagaard, the Minister on Climate and Energy in Denmark, due to host the December meeting, called on developed countries to "urgently commit to deliver fast-track finance." "Fast-track finance is necessary to respond to the urgent adaptation needs identified already to kickstart mitigation actions and capacity-building activities," she said….

Jordan to go solo with Red Sea to Dead Sea pipeline

Terra Daily via Agence France-Presse: Jordan has decided to go it alone and build a two-billion-dollar pipeline from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea without help from proposed partners Israel and the Palestinian Authority, an official told AFP. "Jordan is thirsty and cannot wait any longer," said Fayez Batayneh, the country's chief representative in the mega-project to provide drinking water and begin refilling the Dead Sea, which is on course to dry out by 2050.

"Israel and the Palestinians have raised no objection to Jordan starting on the first phase by itself," Batayneh said. "The first stage, at an estimated cost of two billion dollars, will begin in 2010 and should be completed in 2014 on a BOT (build, operate, transfer) basis," he said.

The plan is for the pipeline to draw off 310 million cubic metres (10.5 billion cubic feet) of water each year, of which 240 million will be fed into the desalination plant at the Jordanian Red Sea port of Aqaba, enabling an annual production of 120 million cubic metres of drinking water. Batayneh said the remaining 190 million cubic metres will be channelled towards the Dead Sea, the saltiest natural lake on the planet and the lowest point on the earth's surface….

Salt-covered stones at the Dead Sea, shot by xta11, Wikimedia Commons

Over 100 killed and almost 340,000 affected by 'Ondoy'

Sophia M. Dedace in GMANews.tv: Over 100 have died from the effects of tropical storm Ondoy, but the figure is climbing as more flooded areas are reached by rescuers and relatives. In Brgy. Silangan in Quezon City alone, near the Batasang Pambansa, 36 people died, while 15 bodies have so far been recovered in Provident Village in Marikina, where flood waters reached rooftops. The government has reported 23 missing, but unofficial reports put that number much higher as family members cannot contact each other with cell phone services and power still down in many areas.

Many senior citizens interviewed by the media say that this is the worst disaster they have experienced in Metro Manila in their lifetimes. According to the National Disaster Coordinating Council's Situation Report No. 7, 44 people died in Region IV-A: one in Calaca, Batangas; one in Calauag, Quezon; and 23 in Tanay, 10 in Angono, five in Baras, three in Montalban, and one in Theresa, all in Rizal province.

Among those killed was Tony Chua, team manager of professional basketball team Barako Bull and former chair of the PBA Board of Governors, who was reportedly hanging on to a tree along Marcos Highway when he was swept away by rampaging flood waters. Basketball coach Koy Banal was hanging on to a nearby tree and survived.

….In a phone interview with GMANews.TV, PPC chairperson Blessy Agsawa said the fatalities were from informal settler communities in the barangay, which is near the Batasan Pambansa complex that contains the House of Representatives. The bodies were brought to Funeraria Tajuana along Commonwealth Avenue. [See: 3 drop-off areas designated for Ondoy victims' donations]

…The number of affected families across Luzon has swelled to 69,513 (about 337,216 people). The partial total number of evacuees has also reached 11,967 families (about 59,920 people) who are staying in 118 evacuation centers, NDCC data showed....

Flood after Ondoy, September 27, 2009, shot by ,Philippinepresidency, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The UK Met Office: Catastrophic climate change could happen with 50 years

CLouise Gray in the Telegraph (UK): An average global temperature rise of 7.2F (4C), considered a dangerous tipping point, could happen by 2060, causing droughts around the world, sea level rises and the collapse of important ecosystems, it warns. The Arctic could see an increase in temperatures of 28.8F (16C), while parts of sub Saharan Africa and North America would be devastated by an increase in temperature of up to 18F (10C).

Britain's temperature would rise by the average 7.2F (4C) which would mean Mediterranean summers and an extended growing season for new crops like olives, vines and apricots. However deaths from heat waves will increase, droughts and floods would become more common, diseases like malaria may spread to Britain and climate change refugees from across the world are likely to head to the country.

The Government-funded study, which has been sent to the Department for Energy and Climate Change, included new figures on increased emissions from fossil fuels and considered the effect global warming will have on the ability of the oceans and rainforests to absorb carbon dioxide. … Dr Richard Betts, Head of Climate Impacts at the Met Office Hadley Centre, said the new study showed how important it was to try and reduce emissions.

… The study is being presented today (Monday) at a conference at Oxford University, which consider problems for Britain, such as water shortages in the South East, die back of tree species like beech in the south of the country and the need to build coastal defence around counties like Norfolk. Dr Mark New, of the Oxford University School of Geography and the Environment, said scientists now have a better understanding of the recent increase in carbon emissions because of developing countries like China and India building coal fired power stations.
…He said: "The eventual temperature we reach is a result of the carbon we put in the atmosphere so if we do not reduce emissions faster, the timing is much sooner. The faster the rate of change in getting to four degrees, the less time we have to adapt. Four degrees by the 2050s compared to four degrees by 2100 gives us half as much time to adapt to a new climate and that must have massive implications." …

From a site in Pompei, Cassandra (in the middle) drawing lots with her right hand predicts the downfall of Troy in front of Priam (seated, on the left), Paris (holding the apple of discord) and a warrior leaning on a spear, presumably Hector. Fresco on plaster, 20–30 CE. Shot by Jastrow, who has released the image into the public domain

Heavier rainstorms ahead due to global climate change, study predicts

Science Daily: Heavier rainstorms lie in our future. That's the clear conclusion of a new MIT and Caltech study on the impact that global climate change will have on precipitation patterns. But the increase in extreme downpours is not uniformly spread around the world, the analysis shows. While the pattern is clear and consistent outside of the tropics, climate models give conflicting results within the tropics and more research will be needed to determine the likely outcomes in tropical regions.

Overall, previous studies have shown that average annual precipitation will increase in both the deep tropics and in temperate zones, but will decrease in the subtropics. However, it's important to know how the frequency and magnitude of extreme precipitation events will be affected, as these heavy downpours can lead to increased flooding and soil erosion.

…Model simulations used in the study suggest that precipitation in extreme events will go up by about 6 percent for every one degree Celsius increase in temperature. Separate projections published earlier this year by MIT's Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change indicate that without rapid and massive policy changes, there is a median probability of global surface warming of 5.2 degrees Celsius by 2100, with a 90 percent probability range of 3.5 to 7.4 degrees…

A heavy tropical thunderstorm near Koh Samui Island, Thailand, shot by Tatjana8047, who has generously released the image into the public domain

Death toll from Philippine storm rises to 86

Agence France-Presse: At least 86 people are confirmed dead and 32 remain missing two days after massive flooding in the Philippines, Defence Secretary Gilberto Teodoro said Monday. More than 435,000 people were displaced after tropical storm Ketsana dumped the heaviest rains in more than 40 years on the Philippine capital, Manila, and surrounding areas on Saturday, Teodoro told reporters.

However, the death toll was expected to climb. Radio station DZBB quoted local officials as saying that 58 more bodies had been recovered from a flooded area in the Manila suburb of Marikina, but had not yet been included in the official tally. Teodoro, who is also head of civil defence operations, said the government was looking into those reports….

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Egypt: Climate change sees dark future

Bikya Masr: Egypt could be heading for disaster. Although numerous scenarios are being espoused, two things are certain in all of them: Alexandria, Egypt’s second largest city will disappear and the North African is in for some troublesome years ahead.

“Many of the towns and urban areas in the north of the Delta will suffer from the rise in the level of the Mediterranean with effect from 2020 and about 15 percent of Delta land is under threat from the rising sea level and the seepage into the ground water,” Environment Minister George Maged told a parliamentary committee earlier this year. He said joint studies by his ministry and the United Nations have assessed the situation to be urgent, adding that Egypt is planning to start an international campaign for solutions.

Is he being too hasty with predictions that in less than 15 years portions of the Delta region in northern Egypt will be submerged? Analysts tend to think just that.

“Of course this is exaggerated. I think it’s a gross misunderstanding,” Mostapha Saleh, head of Environment Quality International in Egypt, said. He says the minister was over stating the realities in order to create international awareness of the situation facing the country, which he says could become “critical.” Saleh believes the situation facing Egypt is in need of attention, but according to the data he has seen “if sea levels rise by one meter that would bring water inland 60 to 70 kilometers (35 miles), so it is not necessarily a large portion of the Delta.”
According to Mohamed Al Raey of Alexandria University, the threat to the Delta region – an alluvial plain that sits only a few meters (about 8 feet) above sea level – needs to be watched. He says in an article in Al Ahram Weekly that climate change could lead “to an increase in the frequency and severity of sandstorms, and longer periods of drought followed by more intense flooding. This is expected to lead to public health problems, including the spread of epidemics, especially in poorer regions.”…

The fortifications of Alexandria, from Coureurs des mers, Poivre d'Arvor.

Epic flood in Metro Manila caused by record rainfall

Andreo Calonzo in GMA News: The rainfall brought by tropical storm "Ondoy" to Metro Manila and nearby areas in a span of six hours on Saturday was the most in recorded history, surpassing the previous record for the metropolis in 1967, a weather bureau official said.

Nathaniel Cruz, weather services bureau head of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa), told GMANews.TV that the total rainfall from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday surpassed the highest 24-hour rainfall that the weather bureau recorded 42 years ago.

Cruz said the total rainfall from "Ondoy" in the first six hours of the storm, which measured 341 millimeters, broke the record for the highest 24-hour rainfall of 334 millimeters in metropolitan Manila recorded by Pagasa in June 1967. It was still raining at the time of this posting, as flood waters brought large portions of a mega city of over ten million to a virtual standstill. [See: Storm 'Ondoy' makes landfall, causes widespread flooding]

“We were able to break that record in a span of six hours. Today, we really experienced an extreme weather event," he said. Cruz also said the amount of rain caused by "Ondoy" in six hours is almost equal to the average monthly rainfall in Metro Manila, which he pegged at 392 millimeters. “This means our rainfall for six hours today is nearly equal to our average monthly rainfall," he explained. Cruz attributed the extreme rainfall caused by "Ondoy" to climate change…

Devastated rice fields of Iriga City, Camarines Sur, in 2008, shot by Sir Mervs, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License.

Dust storms spread deadly diseases worldwide

John Vidal in the Guardian (UK): Huge dust storms, like the ones that blanketed Sydney twice last week, hit Queensland yesterday and turned the air red across much of eastern Australia, are spreading lethal epidemics around the world. However, they can also absorb climate change emissions, say researchers studying the little understood but growing phenomenon.

The Sydney storm, which left millions of people choking on some of the worst air pollution in 70 years, was a consequence of the 10-year drought that has turned parts of Australia's interior into a giant dust bowl, providing perfect conditions for high winds to whip loose soil into the air and carry it thousands of miles across the continent.

It followed major dust storms this year in northern China, Iraq and Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, east Africa, Arizona and other arid areas. Most of the storms are also linked to droughts, but are believed to have been exacerbated by deforestation, overgrazing of pastures and climate change.

As diplomats prepare to meet in Bangkok tomorrow for the next round of climate talks, meteorologists predict that more major dust storms can be expected, carrying minute particles of beneficial soil and nutrients as well as potentially harmful bacteria, viruses and fungal spores.

…Laurence Barrie is chief researcher at the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) in Geneva, which is working with 40 countries to develop a dust storm warning system. He said: "I think the droughts [and dust storms] in Australia are a harbinger. Dust storms are a natural phenomenon, but are influenced by human activities and are now just as serious as traffic and industrial air pollution. The minute particles act like urban smog or acid rain. They can penetrate deep into the human body."…

A 1998 dust plume off the Sahara desert over the northeast Atlantic Ocean, from NASA

Liberian forests surrendered despite pledges and warnings

Festus Poquie in AllAfrica.com via the New Democrat (Monrovia, Liberia): International partners, worried about the climatic effects of depleting one of Africa's last remaining tracks of rain forest, pledged to pay millions to the Government to reserve and preserve its forests. They campaigned to stop the Legislature from passing 4 forests bills they have determined are not in the country's interests. But behind closed doors, the Legislators did their thing, with the House Speaker, Alex Tyler, describing internationals concerns as "a joke" because, he added, jobs are needed.

This means that Legislators have surrendered the country's forest to various foreign companies, ignoring concerns and pleads from environmental groups to preserve one of Africa's valuable rain forests in order to prevent carbon emission.

The forestry contracts awarded to various foreign and local companies have been highly controversial, with Global Witness, the international environmental rights campaigners, citing illegality in the bidding process and hinting legislators that a notorious Malaysian logging company (Samling) is involved with the contracts.

Global Witness, in a letter addressed to legislators Thursday, revealed that the country's international partners have offered financial compensation to encourage it not to log its forest because of its "value in mitigating global climate change". "Liberia can preserve its forest and receive funding equivalent to potential logging revenues that the government could use to boost Liberia's economy, invest in infrastructure, and in so doing to create jobs….

Rainforest at edge of logging road near Konimbo, Liberia (West Africa), shot by John Atherton, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 License

Federal disaster help extended to saturated Georgia

Environment News Service: The heavy rains have stopped, but across northern Georgia much damage has been done. President Barack Obama Thursday declared a major disaster exists in Georgia and ordered federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts in the area struck by severe storms and flooding beginning on September 18.

…The portion of Governor Sonny Perdue’s request covering 12 other counties and aid to governments that sustained damage to buildings and public costs due to the storms is still pending. The disaster declaration does not cover the city of Atlanta, which is located in Fulton County.

Vice President Joe Biden will travel today to Georgia to survey the flood damage by helicopter and then visit with families affected by the floods. Then, he is expected to make an announcement about further federal disaster relief.

On Tuesday, state Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine estimated the cost of damage caused by the flooding across north Georgia including metro Atlanta at $250 million. "I spent some time surveying damage in affected areas of our state this afternoon, and I believe the damage total will easily reach $250 million," Oxendine said. "Many of the homeowners afflicted by this event don’t have flood insurance."

But Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin was quoted in the "Atlanta Journal Constitution" as telling members of the Obama administration that the damage is soaring beyond $1 billion….

Friday, September 25, 2009

Major dust storm blankets eastern Australia

Terra Daily via Agence France-Presse: The worst dust storm in decades swept across eastern Australia on Wednesday, blanketing Sydney and snarling transport as freak conditions also brought earthquakes, giant hailstones and even a tornado. Gale-force winds dumped thousands of tonnes of red desert dust on Australia's biggest city, shrouding it in an eerie orange haze and coating the iconic Sydney Opera House in a fine layer of powder.

The storm, reportedly the most serious since the 1940s, then spread 600 kilometres (375 miles) up the coast to Queensland and could even hit New Zealand, some 4,000 kilometres away, experts said. Dust covered most of New South Wales, Australia's most populous state, pushing air pollution to record levels and depositing about 75,000 tonnes of powder in the Tasman Sea every hour.

"Dust storms like this occur quite regularly but they rarely travel this far east and come through Sydney," said John Leys, principal research scientist with New South Wales' Department of Climate Change and Water.

Sydney residents wore face masks and covered their mouths with scarves as they travelled to work under hazy skies. Traffic was bumper-to-bumper on major highways. Air transport was severely disrupted with passengers facing long delays at Sydney airport and many international flights diverted to Melbourne and Brisbane….

The (unphotoshopped ) view of Belmore Bridge, Maitland, NSW, Australia on September 23, 2009, shot by Nomad Tales, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 License.

New agriculture computing tool created

Seed Daily: British scientists say they have developed a new computing tool that can predict how plants will react to various environmental conditions. Imperial College London researchers say their new computer program could lead to better crops, such as tastier and longer lasting tomatoes, as well as more effective pesticides.

The tool will form part of a new $2.7 million Syngenta Center at the university. The center will develop new strains of crops, such as drought resistant wheat and new pesticides that are more environmentally friendly. But to produce such results, scientists need to predict how the genes inside plants will react when they are subjected to different chemicals or environmental conditions.

"We believe our computing tool will revolutionize agricultural research by making the process much faster than is currently possible using conventional techniques," said Professor Stephen Muggleton, director of the new center.

The researchers said their newly developed program can analyze in a matter of minutes, instead of months, which genes are responsible for different processes inside a plant, and how different genes work together…

A no-till cornfield in Hardin County, Iowa, USDA

Flash floods in Turkey signals global warming is rearing head in Middle East region

Maurice Picow in Green Prophet: World climate change issues are being felt closer to home with recent disastrous flash flooding occurring in parts of Greece and Western Turkey. Some of these floods have been so bad that many are saying that they are the worst in years, with the heaviest rains in more than eight decades falling in and near Turkey’s largest city, Istanbul.

So far, property damage alone in areas near Istanbul is estimated to be more than $ 100 million, and several people have been killed, including seven women who were in a minibus that was swept way during a flash flood. Is global warming to blame?

The downpours come after some of Turkey’s worst drought conditions in years, as we have noted in a previous Green Prophet piece on Turkey which explores how Turkey’s water reserves have been seriously depleted due to lack of adequate rainfall –– believed to be partially been attributed to climate change.

Now, in the country’s western provinces, the exact opposite is true with too much water causing serious property and crop damage; not to mention displacement of people and even loss of life. Even the capital, Ankara, is not immune to this problem, with many low-lying areas in danger of flooding. The current opening of the UN General Assembly in New York has also been an opportunity for leaders of the more developed nations to meet each other and discuss some of the problems dealing with climate change….

A 2006 flood in Side, Turkey, shot by Erik1980, Wikimedia Commons, under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2

New Mekong species at risk from climate change: WWF

Agence France-Presse: Scientists discovered 163 new species in Southeast Asia's Greater Mekong region last year, but all are at risk of extinction due to climate change, the WWF said in a report released Friday. The newly discovered creatures include a bird-eating frog with fangs, a bird that would rather walk than fly and a gecko whose alien appearance inspired the report's title of "Close Encounters", the conservation group said.

The report was released ahead of major UN talks on climate change in Bangkok next week, which are being held before a make-or-break summit in Copenhagen this December. "Some species will be able to adapt to climate change, many will not, potentially resulting in massive extinctions," Stuart Chapman, director of the WWF Greater Mekong Programme, said in the report.

"Rare, endangered and endemic species like those newly discovered are especially vulnerable because climate change will further shrink their already restricted habitats," he said.

The new discoveries in 2008 include 100 plants, 28 fish, 18 reptiles, 14 amphibians, two mammals and a bird, the WWF report said. The area spans Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and China's Yunnan province. Among the new species is the bird-eating fanged frog, which remained hidden in a protected area of Thailand despite the fact that scientists were studying there for 40 years, the report said….

A leopard gecko, not the same species just discovered, shot by Jerome66, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License

US needs nearly $200 million more on climate-related health research

Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News: A recent commentary suggests that the U.S. should spend roughly $197 million more than it currently does to research the impact of climate change on public health. The analysis found that the U.S. spends about $3 million in federal funds on research related to the health impacts of climate change, says Marie S. O'Neill, one of the commentary co-authors. This isn't nearly enough to adequately address the public health issues related to global warming, the group concluded.

The commentary's lead author was Kristie Ebi, a University of Michigan-trained epidemiologist and expert on climate change and public health, who is an adjunct professor of Environmental Health Sciences. The article was inspired by another study, mandated by Congress, that assesses the importance of global climate change on health, also led by Ebi. During their research and in preparing testimony for Congressional hearings on the topic, the team realized that the U.S. is woefully underfunding climate change health-related research.

Climate change is expected to exacerbate a number of current public health problems in the United States and elsewhere, including heat-related deaths, diarrheal diseases, and diseases associated with exposure to allergens and ozone. In addition, our aging population is more vulnerable to thermal extremes, as are certain demographic and geographic areas, the commentary said.

"Even disease distributions are likely to change," said Mark Wilson, another coauthor and professor of epidemiology. "Certain areas of the world could become more favorable for transmission of various infectious diseases that are associated with water, insect vectors, or non-human animal reservoirs. The challenge is to identify the critical research questions that will help inform improvements to the public health infrastructure and prepare for changing environments."…

Fred Ott's sneeze, by W.K.-L. Dickson

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Temperatures go to extremes

Liz Kalaugher in Environmental Research Web: The average severity, length and number of heat waves are set to increase this century, according to analysis by US researchers. What's more, temperatures, uncertainty and geographic variability will all be higher than predicted by climate models.

"Over the current decade (specifically, for eight years from 2000 to 2007), the globally-averaged intensity of heat waves calculated from observations is higher and shows a more increasing trend compared to even the worst case projections from climate models," said Auroop Ganguly of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, US. "Increased trends point to the urgency of international and domestic policy negotiations for reducing emissions."

Ganguly and colleagues at Oak Ridge, the University of Notre Dame, and the US National Center for Atmospheric Research used ensemble simulations from a global earth systems model to analyse bias and uncertainty. They compared this data with observations for 2000–2007.

"The larger uncertainties, both at global and regional scales, suggest that policymakers and stakeholders may face a more complex task to decide the various societal cost-benefit trade-offs during decisions on climate related mitigation and adaptation related spending," said Ganguly. "Uncertainty is not an excuse for inaction, but an opportunity for more cautious and risk-informed decisions."

On the one hand, says Ganguly, increased uncertainty may imply a worst-case where temperature extremes are much more severe and frequent that even the most dire projections. "This implies a need to plan accordingly for a much higher worst-case, for example where human lives may be involved (e.g. consider the human mortality from the Paris and Chicago heat waves)," he said. "On the other hand, the larger uncertainty may also imply that the temperature extremes may not be as severe or frequent as we thought from the mean projections."…

Cracked asphalt, shot by Bidgee, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License

UN 'inaction' in Nepal climate struggle

Navin Singh Khadka on BBC News: A crucial plan to help Nepal cope with the impact of climate change is at risk because of the alleged failure of the UN to recruit the necessary staff … As Nepal witnesses the rapid retreat of its glaciers, erratic rainfall and an increasingly unreliable monsoon, a question of recruitment is delaying efforts to battle the ravages of climate change.

The issue is causing considerable unrest among Nepal's official classes. The failure to hire a climate change consultant by a major donor has seriously delayed work crucial for a country many fear is particularly vulnerable to climate change, government officials told the BBC.

They argue that the absence of a climate specialist in the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Nepal means that it cannot help the government prepare the much awaited National Adaptation Programme of Action (Napa) within the required deadline. The UNDP stands accused of not hiring any staff in relation to the project for the last eight months….

Record flooding across Georgia claims nine lives

Environment News Service: Swollen by five days of torrential rainfall, many Georgia rivers and streams have overtopped their banks, and at least nine people have lost their lives to the flood waters. More than 30,000 homes in metro Atlanta are without power and more than 1,000 residences are estimated to be seriously flooded as indicated by aerial surveillance and 911 calls for help.

Governor Sonny Perdue Monday declared a state of emergency that includes 17 counties. On Tuesday, the governor asked President Barack Obama for an emergency declaration to assist the 17 counties with recovery efforts due to flooding and severe weather. If approved, this declaration will provide federal funds for emergency response measures and aid for losses.

"I am confident President Obama will recognize the extensive damage these floods have caused on such a large metro area," said Governor Perdue. "This request for disaster funding is essential for the recovery and rebuilding process to begin for these Georgians, local governments and businesses." The Yellow River reached historic flood levels September 21-22, 2009. Residents of Rockdale County, 20 miles east of Atlanta, try to retrieve belongings from their flooded home. (Photo by David Henderson)

…The heavy rainfall caused significant runoff into area streams and rivers, resulting in major to record flooding across the metropolitan area. Numerous street and homes have been flooded, with portions of the downtown connector closed due to water over the road….

From NOAA, a map showing the record rainfall over the state of Georgia for a one-week period ending September 23, 2009. This includes the events causing the flooding in the state.

El Nino shift could boost hurricanes, droughts: study

Agence France-Presse: Global warming periodically shifts El Nino thousands of miles to the west, potentially intensifying Asian droughts and weakening its dampening effect on Atlantic hurricanes, reports a study published Thursday. Up to now, the tropical weather phenomenon, which strikes on average every four or five years, has generally occurred along a wide stretch of the equator in the eastern Pacific.

…But climate change has apparently given rise to an alternate form of El Nino that is likely to become more frequent over the coming decades, according to the new research, published in Nature. "There are two El Ninos," said Ben Kirtman, a professor at the University of Miami and a co-author of the study. "In addition to the eastern Pacific El Nino ... a second El Nino in the central Pacific is on the increase," he said in a communique. The two do not occur at the same time, he added.

…In Asia, it could intensify droughts that have already wreaked havoc in recent decades. And in the Atlantic, it could weaken the positive effect it has had up to now in mitigating the intensity of hurricanes that strike the Caribbean and the US east coast….

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Lasers from space show thinning of Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets

British Antarctic Survey: The most comprehensive picture of the rapidly thinning glaciers along the coastline of both the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets has been created using satellite lasers. The findings are an important step forward in the quest to make more accurate predictions for future sea level rise.

Reporting this week in the journal Nature researchers from British Antarctic Survey and the University of Bristol describe how analysis of millions of NASA satellite measurements* from both of these vast ice sheets shows that the most profound ice loss is a result of glaciers speeding up where they flow into the sea.

The authors conclude that this ‘dynamic thinning’ of glaciers now reaches all latitudes in Greenland, has intensified on key Antarctic coastlines, is penetrating far into the ice sheets’ interior and is spreading as ice shelves thin by ocean-driven melt. Ice shelf collapse has triggered particularly strong thinning that has endured for decades.

Lead author Dr Hamish Pritchard from British Antarctic Survey (BAS) says, “We were surprised to see such a strong pattern of thinning glaciers across such large areas of coastline — it’s widespread and in some cases thinning extends hundreds of kilometres inland. We think that warm ocean currents reaching the coast and melting the glacier front is the most likely cause of faster glacier flow. This kind of ice loss is so poorly understood that it remains the most unpredictable part of future sea level rise.”

The scientists compared the rates of change in elevation of both fast-flowing and slow-flowing ice. In Greenland for example they studied 111 fast-moving glaciers and found 81 thinning at rates twice that of slow-flowing ice at the same altitude. They found that ice loss from many glaciers in both Antarctica and Greenland is greater than the rate of snowfall further inland….

Glacier thinning is extensive in West Antarctica - copyright ICESat, NASA

Emotions an erratic guide in risk assessment

Scientfic Blogging: Global warming may not be a hot button topic these days because other threats, like unemployment, terrorist attacks or death panels, are getting the media attention, says University of Colorado at Boulder psychology Professor Leaf Van Boven.

… In one part of the study focusing on terrorist threats and using materials adapted from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Van Boven and his research colleagues presented two scenarios to people in a college laboratory depicting warnings about traveling abroad to two countries. Participants were then asked to report which country seemed to have greater terrorist threats. Many of them reported that the country they last read about was more dangerous.

"What our study has shown is that when people learn about risks, even in very rapid succession where the information is presented to them in a very clear and vivid way, they still respond more strongly to what is right in front of them," Van Boven said.

With that in mind, Van Boven says one of the take-home messages from the study is that when communicating to the public, people must be mindful of how and when they publicize threats, which is a tall task in the around-the-clock news cycle of today.

…"One of the things we know about how emotional reactions work is they are not very objective, so people can get outraged or become fearful of what might actually be a relatively minor threat," Van Boven said. "One worry is some people are aware of these kinds of effects and can use them to manipulate our actions in ways that we may prefer to avoid."

…"If you're interested in having an informed citizenry you tell people about all the relevant risks, but what our research shows is that is not sufficient because those things still happen in sequence and people will still respond immediately to whatever happens to be in front of them," he said. "In order to make good decisions and craft good policies we need to know how people are going to respond."

Image by Flanker, Wikimedia Commons

Dust, quakes and fire as Australia reels from wild weather

Terra Daily via Agence France-Presse: Australia's biggest city was shrouded in an eerie blanket of red dust on Wednesday as bushfires, earthquakes, wild winds and massive hail stones caused havoc in the country. Sydney's cars and buildings turned orange as strong winds blew desert dust across the city, snarling commuter and air transport and prompting a warning for children and the elderly to stay indoors.

Residents wore face masks and covered their mouths with scarves as they travelled to work under red skies, while long delays were expected at Sydney airport after several international flights were diverted.

Elsewhere in New South Wales, hail stones "the size of cricket balls" smashed windows as thunderstorms and gale-force winds lashed the state late on Tuesday. "We've had reports of cars with both their front and rear windscreens smashed," an official from the State Emergency Service said.

Further north, Queensland imposed fire bans across large parts of the state a day after a dozen bush blazes sprung up following a spell of unusually hot, dry weather. Victoria state was on alert for flash floods as heavy rains fell, following a pair of minor earthquakes late on Tuesday. The 3.0- and 2.6-magnitude tremors did not cause any damage, officials said….

This photo is not Australia, not this year, but it is a dust storm. From NOAA's archives

Hurricane frequency is up but not their strength, say researchers

Clemson University News: In a new study, Clemson University researchers have concluded that the number of hurricanes and tropical storms in the Atlantic Basin is increasing, but there is no evidence that their individual strengths are any greater than storms of the past or that the chances of a U.S. strike are up.

Robert Lund, professor of mathematical sciences at Clemson, along with colleagues Michael Robbins and Colin Gallagher of Clemson and QiQi Lu of Mississippi State University, studied changes in the tropical cycle record in the North Atlantic between 1851 and 2008.

“This is a hot button in the argument for global warming,” said Lund. “Climatologists reporting to the U.S. Senate as recently as this summer testified to the exact opposite of what we find. Many researchers have maintained that warming waters of the Atlantic are increasing the strengths of these storms. We do not see evidence for this at all, however we do find that the number of storms has recently increased.”

The study represents one of the first rigorous statistical assessments of the issue with uncertainty margins calculated in. For example, Lund says “there is less than a one in 100,000 chance of seeing this many storms occur since 1965 if in truth changes are not taking place.” He adds, “Hopefully such a rigorous assessment will clear up the controversy and the misinformation about what is truly happening with these storms.”

…While the study did conclude that more storms are being documented, researchers found no evidence of recent increases in U.S. landfall strike probability of the strongest of hurricanes. Lund notes that “because these types of storms are so uncommon, it will take many more years of data to reliably assess this issue."

This graph shows the number of tropical cyclones (hurricanes plus tropical storms) that have been observed since 1850. Image by Robert Lund, Clemson University

275,000 Mozambicans face food insecurity

AllAfrica.com via Agencia de Informacao de Mocambique:At least 275,000 people in southern and central Mozambique are facing food insecurity, according to Joao Ribeiro, general director of the country's relief agency, the National Disasters Management Institute (INGC).

Interviewed in Tuesday's issue of the independent daily "O Pais", Ribeiro said that these people are currently dependent on aid provided by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP). He also warned of chronic water shortages in parts of Magude and Namaacha districts in Maputo province. If nothing is done before the end of this month, the 2,000 people at risk will face a trek of over 50 kilometres to fetch water.

Nonetheless, Ribeiro said the situation is better than last year, when 100,000 people were facing severe water shortages. The INGC is trying to deal with the problem by drilling new boreholes, and by installing public and household cisterns where water can be stored over dry periods. INGC teams are working on the ground, to find solutions, and Ribeiro believed that, by the end of September, reserves of water can be placed at the critical points….

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Keeping an eye on the oceans

European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT): In the last ten years, scientists have set up a global observing system to monitor the world’s oceans. The observation system works by combining satellite observations with data from in-water recording devices such as buoys, tide gauges and an array of more than 3000 Argo robots.

….EUMETSAT's role in ocean observations is to establish, maintain and use European systems of operational meteorological satellites, contribute to the operational monitoring of the climate and the oceans - for instance monitoring sea level rise with the Jason 2 altimetry satellite - and establish new ocean-monitoring missions, such as Jason 3.

….All this data from the in-water samplers – so called in situ data - provides the detail on conditions in specific locations, but for the big picture of what is happening in the oceans, scientists are relying on satellites. One of the key tools in understanding issues such as global sea level rise is the [Internal link]Jason 2 satellite, operated by EUMETSAT, whose onboard altimeter scans the world’s oceans, recording global sea level to the nearest cm. When this information is combined with information from satellite-based gravity measurements, tide gauges, Argo floats and other devices, it gives scientists the ability to precisely monitor global sea levels. Satellites are also monitoring a host of other ocean variables - from sea surface temperature, to wind, ocean colour and sea ice cover.

...[T]he benefits that an operational ocean observing system will bring … are an extremely strong justification: the system is already providing data for the International Panel on Climate Change assessments, and it will also provide better data for maritime security, oil spill prevention, management of marine resources, marine meteorology, seasonal and long term weather forecasting, coastal activities, and monitoring of water quality.

The Jason 2 satellite, an important part of the EUMETSAT system

Southeast flood death toll rises to eight; roadways blocked, neighborhoods evacuated

Brian Kates in the New York Daily News: Raging floods killed at least eight people in Georgia, forced evacuations of entire neighborhoods and closed parts of four major interstate highways Tuesday as furious storms pounded the Southeast. The deluge turned placid creeks into roiling rivers, submerging entire neighborhoods and forcing evacuations across the region.

…Most of the Georgia fatalities involved motorists trying to drive through floodwater. A vehicle with one man in it was swept off a road in Douglas County, and a car carrying a woman was swept off a road in Lawrenceville in Gwinnett County, east of Atlanta, Brummer said.

Surging waters ripped apart a west Georgia trailer home about 2 a.m., tearing 2-year-old Preston Slade Crawford from his father's arms and sweeping him away. The boy's body wasn't found until hours later. His parents were rescued as another son, just one year old, clung to his mother's arms.

In Atlanta, stranded motorists scrambled to the tops of their car as waters rose on one of the city's busiest highways. To the northwest, crews in the tiny Georgia town of Trion worked to shore up a levee breached by the Chattooga River and in danger of failing….

A county map of Georgia

Drought and conflict aggravate hunger in East Africa, warns UN food agency

AllAfrica.com via UN News: The crop prospects in the Horn of Africa for this year are poor, on the heels of below-average rainfall, violence and displacement, will intensify hunger in the region, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) cautioned today. With almost 20 million people in East Africa dependent on food assistance, this number may increase as the hunger season gets under way, especially among marginal farmers, pastoralists and low-income people in urban areas.

Also compounding the problem is the El Nino meteorological phenomenon, which typically brings heavy rains to the area at the end of the year. This could result in floods and destroy crops, livestock, infrastructure, and homes, FAO said in a press release issued in Rome. Although prices have been on a downward trend recently, prices of maize, a major staple, are still higher than they were two years ago, with households having low purchasing power.

This year's harvest is predicted to be the fourth successive poor harvest in Uganda, with some regions possibly seeing food production well below 50 per cent average. Over one million people are estimated to be food insecure in the country, with more possibly becoming hungry. In neighbouring Kenya, this year's poor maize crop - combined with already low cereal stocks, export bans high cereal prices - has reduced access to food….

Google Earth application maps carbon's course

PhysOrg.com: Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words, particularly when the picture is used to illustrate science. Technology is giving us better pictures every day, and one of them is helping a NASA-funded scientist and her team to explain the behavior of a greenhouse gas.

Google Earth -- the digital globe on which computer users can fly around the planet and zoom in on key features -- is attracting attention in scientific communities and aiding public communication about carbon dioxide. Recently Google held a contest to present scientific results using KML, a data format used by Google Earth. "I tried to think of a complex data set that would have public relevance," said Tyler Erickson, a geospatial researcher at the Michigan Tech Research Institute in Ann Arbor.

He chose to work with data from NASA-funded researcher Anna Michalak of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, who develops complex computer models to trace carbon dioxide back in time to where it enters and leaves the atmosphere. "The datasets have three spatial dimensions and a temporal dimension," Erickson said. "Because the data is constantly changing in time makes it particularly difficult to visualize and analyze."

A better understanding of the carbon cycle has implications for energy and environmental policy and carbon management. In June 2009, Michalak described this research at the NASA Earth System Science at 20 symposium in Washington, D.C.

…The application is designed to educate the public and even scientists about how carbon dioxide emissions can be traced. A network of 1,000-foot towers across the United States is equipped with instruments by NOAA to measure the carbon dioxide content of parcels of air at single locations….

A Google Earth application reveals carbon dioxide in the lowest part of the atmosphere close to Earth's surface (green tracks) and carbon dioxide at higher altitudes that are immune from ground influences (red tracks). Credit: Tyler Erickson and Google Earth

Guatemala in worst drought in 30 years: UN

Terra Daily via Agence France-Presse: The United Nations warned Friday that Guatemala is facing its worst drought in three decades, and that at least 2.5 million people have been affected by the crisis. "The country is facing the worst drought in 30 years, which has triggered a food crisis," said Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

"The effects of El Nino have extended the dry spell, which has caused a reduction and loss of agricultural production affecting some 2.5 million people in 21 provinces," she added. The situation has claimed some 460 lives since the beginning of the year, according to Guatemalan officials, and the country's President Alvaro Colom has declared it a "public calamity."…

Volcán de Agua ("Volcano of Water"), Guatemala. Seen from road from Chimaltenango traveling towards Antigua Guatemala. Photo by Infrogmation, 1979, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License

Monday, September 21, 2009

Dutch help Bay Area plan for sea level rise

Julia Scott in the San Mateo County Times: How to plan for sea level rise, a still-abstract concept for many Californians, drew serious consideration from engineers, designers and urban planners from the Netherlands and the United States at a symposium Monday.

A group of government-sponsored Dutch experts presented a report with strategies to deal with sea level rise in San Francisco Bay and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta based on a year's worth of research in partnership with the Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission.

With 50 percent of the Netherlands below sea level, the Dutch have been perfecting flood protection for the past 600 years. The inevitable effects of climate change in California, and how cities can adapt to them, are starting to get more attention from Bay Area planners. While no one knows exactly how sea level rise will play out 100 or 200 years from now, analysts agree that more severe and frequent floods are going to be a part of it.

Avoiding sea level rise is by now impossible. The Bay has risen 8 inches since the start of the 20th century, and scientists worldwide agree that the Bay Area in particular can expect to experience sea level rise of as much as 16 inches by midcentury and as much as 55 inches by 2100.

Extreme storms will increase annual risk of flooding from 1 percent to 100 percent if no actions are taken to protect the Bay Area shoreline, potentially endangering 270,000 residents, according to the Pacific Institute. Development along the shoreline is currently valued at $62 billion.

How to plan for a future in which some of that real estate is threatened by storm surges — for a time beyond what today's urban planners will live to see — is the crucial question, said Will Travis, executive director of the Bay Conservation and Development Commission….

This photo by Wing (from Wikimedia Commons) really shows San Francisco's vulnerability.Used under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License