Thursday, December 31, 2009

The stupefying pace of glacier melt in the 1940s

ETH (Switzerland): In Switzerland, the increase in snow in wintertime and the glacier melt in summertime have been measured at measurement points at around 3,000 metres above sea level – on the Clariden Firn, the Great Aletsch glacier and the Silvretta glacier – without interruption for almost 100 years. As part of his doctoral work, Matthias Huss used this unique range of measurements to examine how climate change in the last century affected the glaciers.

In its work, the research team took into account the solar radiation measured on the Earth’s surface in Davos since 1934. Studies over the past two decades have shown that solar radiation varies substantially due to aerosols and clouds, and this is assumed to influence climate fluctuations. Recent years have seen the emergence of the terms ‘global dimming’ and ‘global brightening’ to describe these phenomena of reduced and increased solar radiation respectively. These two effects are currently the subject of more and more scientific research, in particular by ETH Zurich, as experts feel that they should be taken into account in the climate models (see ETH Life dated July 9, 2009)

The new study, published in the journal ‘Geophysical Research Letters’, confirms this requirement. This is because, taking into account the data recorded for the level of solar radiation, the scientists made a surprising discovery: in the 1940s and in the summer of 1947 especially, the glaciers lost the most ice since measurements commenced in 1914. This is in spite of the fact that temperatures were lower than in the past two decades. “The surprising thing is that this paradox can be explained relatively easily with radiation”, says Huss, who was recently appointed to the post of senior lecturer at the Department of Geosciences at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland.

On the basis of their calculations, the researchers have concluded that the high level of short-wave radiation in the summer months is responsible for the fast pace of glacier melt. In the 1940s, the level was 8% higher than the long-term average and 18 Watts per square metres above the levels of the past ten years. Calculated over the entire decade of the 1940s, this resulted in 4% more snow and ice melt compared with the past ten years. Furthermore, the below-average melt rates at the measurement points during periods in which the glacier snouts were even advancing correlate with a phase of global dimming, between the 1950s and the 1980s.

…Huss points out that the strong glacier melt in the 1940s puts into question the assumption that the rate of glacier decline in recent years “has never been seen before”. “Nevertheless”, says the glaciologist, “this should not lead people to conclude that the current period of global warming is not really as big of a problem for the glaciers as previously assumed”. This is because it is not only the pace at which the Alpine glaciers are currently melting that is unusual, but the fact that this sharp decline has been unabated for 25 years now…..

Grosser Aletschgletscher (Bernese Alps), view from Eggishorn (2.927 m), in the background Jungfrau (4.158 m), Jungfraujoch (3.454 m), Mönch (4.099 m), Trugberg and Eiger (3.970 m). Shot by Dirk Beyer, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License

Fisheries, aquaculture face multiple risks from climate change

The Daily Independent (Lagos): A new report, published by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations, predicts "an ocean of change" for fishers and fish farmers. It warned that urgent adaptation measures are required in response to opportunities and threats to food and livelihood provision due to climatic variations.

The study, 'Climate change implications for fisheries and aquaculture', is one of the most comprehensive surveys to date of existing scientific knowledge on the impacts of climate change on fisheries and aquaculture. Covering some 500 scientific papers, the picture the FAO review paints is one of an already-vulnerable sector facing widespread and often profound changes.

The report includes contributions from experts from around the world, including Dr Tim Daw and Prof Katrina Brown of the School of International Development and Prof Neil Adger of the School of Environmental Sciences at UEA. Other contributors come from the World Fish Center, Globec, Network of Aquaculture Centres in Asia-Pacific, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

Dr. Daw and Profs. Adger and Brown co-authored the chapter 'Climate change and capture fisheries: potential impacts, adaptation and mitigation', which looks at the social vulnerability of fisherfolk to climate change. "Marine and freshwater ecosystems will be profoundly affected by processes like ocean acidification, coral bleaching and altered river flows with obvious impacts on fisherfolk, but it is not just about what happens to the fish," said Daw. "Fishing communities are vulnerable to sea level rise and their livelihoods are threatened by storms and extreme weather. Meanwhile, the social and economic context of fisheries will be disrupted by impacts on security, migration, transport and markets."…

Fishing boats on the Ghana coast, shot by hiyori13, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 License

How plants respond to water shortages

European Molecular Biology Laboratory (Grenoble): Much as adrenaline coursing through our veins drives our body’s reactions to stress, the plant hormone abscisic acid (ABA) is behind plants’ responses to stressful situations such as drought, but how it does so has been a mystery for years. Scientists at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Grenoble, France, and the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas (CSIC) in Valencia, Spain discovered that the key lies in the structure of a protein called PYR1 and how it interacts with the hormone. Their study, published online today in Nature, could open up new approaches to increasing crops’ resistance to water shortage.

Under normal conditions, proteins called PP2Cs inhibit the ABA pathway, but when a plant is subjected to drought, the concentration of ABA in its cells increases. This removes the brake from the pathway, allowing the signal for drought response to be carried through the plant’s cells. This turns specific genes on or off, triggering mechanisms for increasing water uptake and storage, and decreasing water loss. But ABA does not interact directly with PP2Cs, so how does it cause them to be inhibited? Recent studies had indicated that the members of a family of 14 proteins might each act as middle-men, but how those proteins detected ABA and inhibited PP2Cs remained a mystery – until now.

A group of scientists headed by José Antonio Márquez from EMBL Grenoble and Pedro Luis Rodriguez from CSIC looked at one member of this family, a protein called PYR1. When they used X-ray crystallography to determine its 3-dimensional structure, the scientists found that the protein looks like a hand. In the absence of ABA, the hand remains open, but when ABA is present it nestles in the palm of the PYR1 hand, which closes over the hormone as if holding a ball, thereby enabling a PP2C molecule to sit on top of the folded fingers. As these features seem to be conserved across most members of this protein family, these findings confirm the family as the main ABA receptors. Moreover, they elucidate how the whole process of stress response starts: by binding to PYR1, ABA causes it to hijack PP2C molecules, which are therefore not available to block the stress response.

“If you treat plants with ABA before a drought occurs, they take all their water-saving measures before the drought actually hits, so they are more prepared, and more likely to survive that water shortage – they become more tolerant to drought”, Rodriguez explains. “The problem so far”, Márquez adds, “has been that ABA is very difficult – and expensive – to produce. But thanks to this structural biology approach, we now know what ABA interacts with and how, and this can help to find other molecules with the same effect but which can be feasibly produced and applied."

To determine the structure of PYR1, the scientists made use of the infrastructure of the Partnership for Structural Biology, including EMBL Grenoble’s high-throughput crystallisation facilities and the beamlines at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, located in the same campus as EMBL Grenoble….

This image shows the structure of PYR1 (coloured ribbons) in its open, unbound state (light green loops) and how it folds around ABA (white rods) when it binds to this hormone (turquoise and purple loops). Image credit: Márquez/EMBL

The Netherlands respond to flooding with swimming homes

Deutsche Welle: Dutch architect Koen Olthuis says it's better for a country that's threatened by water to learn how to live with it than fight against it - an approach that is central to his work. The Netherlands are one of the most densely populated yet also flattest countries in Europe. The offices of Olthuis' firm are beneath sea-level, as is about a third of the terrain in the Netherlands. Water must constantly be pumped back into the sea.

"We pump away about as much water daily as Tokyo and its surroundings use in a year - an incredible amount," said Olthuis, who decided to specialize in water architecture. The architect and his team have developed a concept for their country's future: If the Dutch eventually have to allow water to take over some of the nation's coastal land surface, the wet area should be used for houses and apartments.

Areas threatened by flooding account for about five percent of the Netherlands' surface. Currently, they are protected from being overtaken by the sea through the use of dams. Keeping this land dry costs the nation billions annually.

Near The Hague, a joint public and private project called "Het Nieuwe Water" is underway, which foresees building 1,200 new buildings within the next eight to ten years. Some of these are to be floating luxury apartments. At present, though, there is little to be seen in the area - just a 2.5-kilometer (1.5-mile) slushy field occupied by a few homes, greenhouses and a pond.

"First we will build, then we will allow the area to be flooded," explained Paul van Zundert, an engineer, who will ensure that the residents do not encounter any problems once building begins. "That will be the biggest challenge that arises from this new dual approach to using the water."…

The vulnerability of Bangladesh

IRIN: Low-lying Bangladesh with its 230 rivers and dense population of over 150 million has long been prone to flooding, soil erosion and saltwater intrusion, but climate change could aggravate the situation, experts and government officials warn. In a report entitled A Global Report: Reducing Disaster Risk: A Challenge for Development, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) has identified Bangladesh as the country most vulnerable to tropical cyclones and sixth most vulnerable to floods.

According to data from the government’s Centre for Environmental and Geographic Information Systems (CEGIS), two-thirds of the country is only five metres above sea level, rendering it particularly vulnerable to sea level rises and tidal waves. Melting Himalayan glaciers and an encroaching Bay of Bengal in the south, further increase the risk of flooding, experts say.

The fourth assessment report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that an increase in monsoon rainfall across South East Asia and melting Himalayan glaciers will result in increased water volumes in rivers that flow into Bangladesh from India, Nepal, Bhutan and China.

Low-lying southern coastal regions are the most vulnerable, despite being protected by a 5,107km-long network of flood embankments. Almost half of this embankment network was damaged by recent cyclones (Sidr and Aila), leaving the whole region vulnerable to the tides, according to Bangladesh’s Comprehensive Disaster Management Programme…

Kaptai in Chittagong, Bangladesh, shot by Ziaul Hoque, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Indonesia to relax forest protection on key projects

Reuters: Indonesia will allow some infrastructure projects deemed in the public interest such as toll roads and geothermal energy plants to operate in protected forests, the chief economics minister said on Wednesday. Under Indonesian law it is currently forbidden to undertake any kind of activity that could impact on a forest conservation area.

But chief economics minister Hatta Rajasa told reporters that the government would issue a new rule to allow some development in forests after discussions between relevant ministers. "For the public interest such infrastructure projects and geothermal projects can use protected forests," Rajasa said.

The users of protected forests would have to compensate by setting aside twice as much land within another part of the province for use as forested land, he added. The minister said the regulation would give investors certainty and denied it would disturb forest conservation.

"We know that there are many geothermal projects located in protected areas. That's why this regulation is part of the government's 100-day programme," he said. The administration of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who started a second term in October, has set 100-day programmes focused on removing bottlenecks that have stalled investment and infrastructure development in Southeast Asia's biggest economy….

An 1870 photo of an Indonesia forest, near what was then called Buitenzorg. From the vast haul of images from the Tropenmuseum that have recently found their way to Wikimedia Commons

Arctic melt top weather story of decade, if not century, says expert

Pat Hewitt in the Canadian Press: The big Arctic melt of 2007 which shocked scientists and served as an environmental wake-up call for the planet is the top weather story of the decade, if not the past 100 years, says one of Canada's leading climatologists. The Canadian Press asked Environment Canada senior climatologist David Phillips to comb through his 100 top weather news stories since 2000 and rank the country's Top 10.

While Western Canada dominated the list with floods, fires, drought, record temperatures and a deadly tornado it was the dramatic melting of the polar ice cap that captured the top spot. "Certainly for me it may be the story of the century, as opposed to just the story of the decade, because the implications of that particular kind of event are unknown," Phillips said.

Satellite images revealed Arctic sea ice had shrunk to 4.28 million square km in 2007. That was 39 per cent below the long-term average from 1979 to 2000 - a minimum not seen for possibly more than a century, he said. "When you look at that event, in many ways, it was absolutely shocking to scientists," said Phillips. "It was almost like an environmental surprise, the fact that the ice just disappeared. It seemed overnight."

While the ice had been thinning for decades, the big loss "raised a consciousness around the world that this dramatic event was happening," he added….

Ground moraine of a former glacier on Bylot Island (Sirmilik National Park, Canada). Photo by the great Arctic photographer Ansgar Walk, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 License

Australian residents urged to flee 'house-high' wildfires

Terra Daily via Agence France-Presse: Australian officials urged residents to evacuate a wheat farming district in the west of the country Tuesday as towering wildfires with flames higher than rooftops threatened homes. People in the Dandaragan area north of Perth were told to flee immediately as the fast-moving and out-of-control blaze, fanned by "catastrophic" conditions in Western Australia, showered embers.

"Homes will be impacted by fire. People in this area need to relocate now," the state's Fire and Emergency Services Authority (FESA) warned in a statement. "The bushfire is moving fast in a southeast direction. It is out of control. Embers are likely to be blown around your home. Flames are higher than rooftops," it added.

Residents in nearby Toodyay were also evacuated as an intense fire broke out there, threatening at least seven homes in the town of about 400 people, FESA said. "It is out of control, unpredictable and fast moving," it said. "Spot fires are starting ahead of the fire. Flames are one to two metres high."

The fire authority said evacuation offered the best option for survival, warning that "relocating at the last minute is deadly". It was uncertain how many homes were in the evacuation zones, FESA said. "It would mainly be farmhouses," a spokesman told AFP. "Pretty sparse and mainly farming communities…

A bushfire in Berrimah, Australia from 2003, shot by kenhodge13, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License

Flooding taskforce calls for action on lowering levels of Lough Erne

Michael Breslin in the Fermanagh Herald (Northern Ireland): In the week that the Fermanagh flooding taskforce met for the first time, in the Townhall, Enniskillen, a local assembly member, Tom Elliott, has called for increased spilling of water levels in Lough Erne.

Mr Elliott, who is the UUP's spokesman on agriculture, said that he recently received figures from DARD which confirmed that water spilling at Ballyshannon only took place when they are 6" on the Lower Lough and 1" on the Upper Lough below the highest statutory level.

"These levels must be lowered, and I feel that following the recent flooding, the case for doing so has become even stronger. A number of farmers and businesses found their land or access roads badly flooded last month resulting in the loss of market trading, and action is absolutely vital if such a scenario is to be prevented from happening again."

The high-powered taskforce meeting involved ministers from four government departments together with staff members. The taskforce has been charged with investigating the factors that contributed to the flooding here and come up with ways of dealing with the aftermath. For instance, it will examine the lessons that have been learned, identify longer-term planning issues and prepare measures to minimise the impact of further flooding….

The Upper Lough Erne near Fermanagh, shot by Stephen McKay, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 License

Tanzania urged to move quickly in response to floods via the Citizen (Dar es Salaam): Some parts of the country have started receiving rains after a long spell of severe drought. However, the rains have been unusually heavy in some areas to the extent of causing suffering and widespread damage.

A few days ago, rains that pounded Kilimanjaro and Arusha regions destroyed roads and bridges. As a result, people travelling to those regions for Christmas holidays were stranded after flash floods swept away several culverts and bridges on the Babati-Arusha road.

As if this was not bad enough, heavy rains lashed Dodoma and Morogoro regions on Christmas and Boxing days, sweeping away or flooding dozens of houses. In Kongwa District, at least one person was killed and 14 houses destroyed. Dozens of homeless families had to be sheltered elsewhere.

It's good news that the district disaster committee in collaboration with the Tanzania Red Cross Society swung into action almost immediately. They provided flood victims with food, mosquito nets, water treatment chemicals and medicine to ward off an outbreak of malaria and water-borne diseases.
Relevant Links

In Kilosa District, it is reported that at least 10 houses were swept away and 500 others were flooded after the swollen River Mkondoa passing through the middle of the town burst its banks. This was caused by heavy rains in catchment areas in Dodoma Region.

River Mkondoa is notorious for flooding. On several occasions in the past it has swept the railway line with which it runs parallel for long distances. This paralysed railway services on the Central Line, from Dar es Salaam to Kigoma/Mwanza….

An orb of the Tanzanian flag, from, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Sea level rise quickening along US east coast

Sandy Bowers in the Philadelphia Inquirer: Looking deep into the geologic past, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have learned that along the Atlantic Coast, including New Jersey, sea level rose three times faster during the 20th century than it did during the previous 4,000 years.

At one location in North Carolina, they fixed the date of the rapid acceleration to between 1879 and 1915, after the Industrial Revolution had taken deep hold, lending credence to the connection between the rising temperatures that occurred then and rising sea levels.

"If that happened in the past, it gives you strong confidence that the predictions of increased sea-level rise in the 21st century are true," said lead researcher Benjamin P. Horton, a professor in Penn's sea-level research laboratory.

Scientists predict sea levels will rise as a result of global warming, "but by how much, when, and where it will have the most effect is unclear," Horton said. "Lots of people are looking at the future," he said. "The problem is, they've been looking at the future without having the information to understand the past."

Horton also can't predict the rise in particular Jersey Shore towns. Still, he and others said the studies suggested a strong acceleration in overall sea-level rise along the U.S. Atlantic Coast, including in New Jersey and Delaware. Levels there are rising not only because of higher water - due to melting polar ice and expansion of a warmer ocean - but because the land is sinking.

…The rate in New Jersey is about one inch every 10 years, faster than anywhere along the coast from Maine to South Carolina and double the rate in Boston or Charleston, S.C., Horton says. "The important thing to realize," Horton said, "is that sea level is going up due to two factors." Not just because the ocean is rising, but also because the land is subsiding…

A 1944 aerial view of New Jersey from Cape May to Normandy Beach. Approx geographic coverage: South: 38.93 deg. N, 74.98 deg. W North: 39.98 deg. N, 74.07 deg. W Aerial flight service: Flight A, 16th Photo Squadron, US Army.

Arctic could face warmer and ice-free conditions

US Geological Survey: There is increased evidence that the Arctic could face seasonally ice-free conditions and much warmer temperatures in the future. Scientists documented evidence that the Arctic Ocean and Nordic Seas were too warm to support summer sea ice during the mid-Pliocene warm period (3.3 to 3 million years ago). This period is characterized by warm temperatures similar to those projected for the end of this century, and is used as an analog to understand future conditions.

The U.S. Geological Survey found that summer sea-surface temperatures in the Arctic were between 10 to 18°C (50 to 64°F) during the mid-Pliocene, while current temperatures are around or below 0°C (32°F). Examining past climate conditions allows for a true understanding of how Earth’s climate system really functions. USGS research on the mid-Pliocene is the most comprehensive global reconstruction for any warm period. This will help refine climate models, which currently underestimate the rate of sea ice loss in the Arctic.

Loss of sea ice could have varied and extensive consequences, such as contributions to continued Arctic warming, accelerated coastal erosion due to increased wave activity, impacts to large predators (polar bears and seals) that depend on sea ice cover, intensified mid-latitude storm tracks and increased winter precipitation in western and southern Europe, and less rainfall in the American west.

“In looking back 3 million years, we see a very different pattern of heat distribution than today with much warmer waters in the high latitudes,” said USGS scientist Marci Robinson. “The lack of summer sea ice during the mid-Pliocene suggests that the record-setting melting of Arctic sea ice over the past few years could be an early warning of more significant changes to come.”

Global average surface temperatures during the mid-Pliocene were about 3°C (5.5°F) greater than today and within the range projected for the 21st century by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Climate Wizard makes large databases of climate information visual, accessible

University of Washington News: A Web tool that generates color maps of projected temperature and precipitation changes using 16 of the world's most prominent climate-change models is being used to consider such things as habitat shifts that will affect endangered species, places around the world where crops could be at risk because of drought and temperatures that could cripple fruit and nut production in California's Great Central Valley.

Climate Wizard, a tool meant for scientists and non-scientists alike, is being demonstrated by The Nature Conservancy in Copenhagen, Denmark, in conjunction with the climate summit underway there. It also is the subject of a presentation Tuesday, Dec. 15, at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco and a paper just released online by the Public Library of Science's PLoS ONE with Evan Girvetz as lead presenter and lead author. Girvetz worked on Climate Wizard during postdoctoral work at the University of Washington's School of Forest Resources and just accepted a job with The Nature Conservancy.

"Climate Wizard is meant to make it easier to explore climate data in an interactive way," Girvetz says. "It makes the data accessible in ways that are more intuitive, even for people who are not climate scientists."

For example, data used by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the science organization evaluating the risks of climate change, is made visual and more readily understandable through Climate Wizard. Politicians, resource managers and citizens are all potential users, Girvetz says. Find Climate Wizard at

Climate Wizard, a joint effort among the UW, University of Southern Mississippi and The Nature Conservancy, lets users focus on states, countries or regions around the world and apply different scenarios to generate color-coded maps of changes in temperature and precipitation that can, in turn, be used to consider such things as moisture stress in vegetation and freshwater supplies….

Image by Sean McGrath, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License

Few major natural catastrophe losses in 2009, but substantial economic losses

Munich Re: Natural catastrophe losses were far lower in 2009 than in 2008 due to the absence on the whole of major catastrophes and a very benign North Atlantic hurricane season. However, the total number of destructive natural hazard events was above the long-term average, 850 being recorded in all. Consequently, despite the lack of really disastrous events, there were substantial economic losses of US$ 50bn and insured losses amounted to US$ 22bn compared with economic losses of US$ 200bn and insured losses of US$ 50bn in the previous year.

By way of further comparison, the average number of natural hazard events with relevant losses over the past ten years was approximately 770 per annum. Economic losses came to around US$ 115bn on average and insured losses US$ 36bn. There were some 75,000 deaths per year due to natural catastrophes on average. Not only were the losses but also the death toll from natural catastrophes in 2009 – around 10,000 – was well below average.

"However, we should make no mistake: despite the lack of severe hurricanes and other megacatastrophes, there was a large number of moderately severe natural catastrophes. In particular, the trend towards an increase in weather-related catastrophes continues, whilst there has fundamentally been no change in the risk of geophysical events such as earthquakes", said Prof. Peter Höppe, Head of Munich Re’s Geo Risks Research.

What is noticeable about the 2009 loss statistics is the high level of individual severe-weather losses in the USA, three events alone each causing insured losses of over US$ 1bn. In all, severe weather events accounted for 45% of global insured losses. In the USA, losses due to heavy thunderstorms accompanied by hail, torrential rain or tornados rose in the decades between 1980 and the present from US$ 4bn to US$ 10bn a year on average, taking inflation into account. "Initial analyses indicate that, apart from socio-economic factors, this is already due in part to climate change", Prof. Höppe reported.

Winter Storm Klaus, which hit northern Spain and southwest France between 23 and 25 January with winds of up to 195 km/h, ranked as the costliest single event of 2009. It produced metre-high waves on the Atlantic coast and caused loss and damage to numerous buildings and vehicles. Over a million people suffered power cuts. In Spain, a large number of photovoltaic systems were damaged. Although the area affected was relatively small by winter-storm standards, insured losses nevertheless came to US$ 3bn (€2.4bn) and economic losses to US$ 5.1bn (€4bn)….

Overcast skies from Tropical Storm Danny in August, 2009, shot by mistagregory, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License

Northern Uganda region to go green on Danish grant

Esther Opade in via the East African: Conservation efforts in northern Uganda have received a $902,255 boost in a climate adaptation move that will benefit an estimated one million people. The Danish government grant will see over 4.4 million trees planted in northern Uganda and parts of the Sudan-Uganda border, particularly in the West Nile region.

Karina Hedemark, Danish programme co-ordinator at the embassy in Kampala, said the region was picked because it suffered 19 years of neglect during the Lord's Resistance Army rebellion. She added that by engaging local communities in tree planting, the project, dubbed Tree Talk Plus - Greening Uganda, will also empower them economically.

"By building on the strong infrastructure and network of the project so far in these areas, the initiative will change knowledge, attitudes and practices surrounding tree growing," said Ms Hedemark. That the grant came when the world was meeting in the Danish capital, Copenhagen for the United Nation's Climate Summit, reinforces Denmark's concern on global warming. Country representatives attended the climate conference that ended last week, to accept payment of reparation by developed countries to poor nations.

"Climate change awareness and action should reach people whose livelihoods are at risk of facing the worst effects of a changing climate...I am proud to support this project that combines mass media base awareness with concrete activities as tree planting, for the benefit of people living in northern Uganda, where nature conservation suffered during the conflict," said Danish Ambassador to Uganda, Nathalia Feinberg….

Monday, December 28, 2009

Yield loss eyed as snow covers U.S. corn crop

Reuters: As much as 100 million bushels of U.S. corn could be lost after heavy snowstorms in recent days likely delayed until spring the final stages of an already historically slow harvest, analysts and meteorologists said on Monday. The harvest delays helped to push up corn futures more than 1 percent to a six-month high on Monday at the Chicago Board of Trade.

"There are 620 million bushels left in the field and we could lose 10 percent of that," said Joe Victor, analyst for Illinois-based research and consulting firm Allendale Inc. The U.S. Agriculture Department last week in its final harvest update of the year said 5 percent of the corn crop was still in the fields.

And after much of the U.S. Midwest and Plains regions were pounded by heavy winter storms in past several days, it's likely to stay there until next year. As much as 25 inches of snow fell in parts of the Dakotas -- two states where the corn harvest was furthest behind….

Snow covered corn, shot by Biol, Wikimedia Commons

European Commission confirms 6.5 million Euros climate change assistance for the Maldives

ISRIA: The European Commission have confirmed that a Climate Change Trust Fund of 6.5 million Euros will be provided to the Government of the Maldives to assist with mitigation and adaptation projects and technical support on climate change.

The Fund will be administered by the World Bank and will be executed by the Government of the Maldives. The decision comes after a meeting President Mohamed Nasheed had with World Bank President Robert B. Zoellick on 15th December as part of his visit to Copenhagen for the COP 15 climate change summit. The Fund will be sourced from contributions from the European Commission primarily under its Global Climate Change Alliance initiative.

The Government and the Maldives Mission to the EU have pressed hard for Maldivian inclusion within this initiative and indeed the Maldives was one of the first countries chosen to benefit from assistance….

'Back to nature' cuts flood risks

Mark Kinver in the BBC News: A study by US researchers said allowing these areas to be submerged during storms would reduce the risk of flood damage in nearby urban areas. Pressure to build new homes has led to many flood-prone areas being developed.

Writing in Science, they said the risks of flooding were likely to increase in the future as a result of climate change and shifts in land use. "We are advocating very large-scale shifts in land use, "said co-author Jeffrey Opperman, a member of The Nature Conservancy's Global Freshwater Team.

"There is simply no way economically or politically that this could be accomplished by turning large areas of flood-plains into parks," he told the Science podcast. "What we are proposing in this paper is a way that this strategy can be compatible, and even supportive, with vibrant agricultural economies and private land ownership."

..."Control infrastructure prevents high flows from entering flood-plains, thus diminishing both natural flood storage capacity and the processes that sustain healthy riverside forests and wetlands," they observed. "As a result, flood-plains are among the planet's most threatened ecosystems."

The reconnection programmes would deliver three benefits, they added:
• Reduce the risk of flooding
• Increase in flood-plain goods and services
• Greater resilience to potential climate change impacts…

A village in the eastern Caprivi floodplains in Namibia

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Florida's water supply: Stakes are rising as our resources dwindle

From an editorial by Leslie Lilly , president and CEO of the Community Foundation for Palm Beach and Martin Counties, in the Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Florida): Andy Reid's excellent article ("South Florida water fights resurface with dry weather," Dec. 12) on the arguments that continue over our water management is a sobering reminder that broad strategies are urgently needed to confront looming climate change, not tactical responses to immediate issues. If board members of the water district feel unjustly treated by accusations that they don't know what they are doing, clearly their reputation as water managers is not being enhanced by reactive short-term, week-to-week decisions to release water from Lake Okeechobee. These actions appear to ignore the critical, longer-term effects of water releases.

No one could characterize this kind of administration as long-term thinking. Unfortunately, incremental adjustments to our region's water predicament are by their very nature already proven insufficient, and the likely effects of climate changes ahead mean that basing critical judgments on past history may prove dangerously inadequate to protecting and sustaining precious water resources.

..A major shift in strategy is needed for dealing with chronic droughts and impending climate change. In a recent poll by the Pew Foundation, climate change ranked last among 20 topics important to voters. Because of the magnitude of revolutionary shifts promised by climate change, it should instead be a major topic of discussion.

…Despite the large rainfall we experience during hurricane season, the study notes that one of our central challenges is a chronic lack of water. There's the seeming paradox: Facing an unpredictable climate, will we be hit by drought or by flood? And will those tasked with managing our area's water be thinking imaginatively enough to protect us?

Lake Okeechobee from space. Those vigilant lenses at NASA again.

Philippine agencies collaborate on adaptation

Mick M. Basa in the Manila Bulletin (Philippines): The National Economic and Development Authority and three campuses of the University of the Philippines recently signed an agreement to organize series of programs with an earmarked budget of P11 million for climate change adaptation. The agreement signed by both government-run entities will muster experts from the state university to deliver outputs on their assessment on the impacts of global warming in the country.

They would also be tasked to put together strategies on how to adapt with the critical change in the climate of the earth. Since natural resources are at great stake, the series of adaptation programs would cover sectors in agriculture, forestry, health and water.

The health sector will be handled by UP Manila, the water sector by UP Diliman, and the agriculture and forestry sectors by UP Los Baños. “We are taking deliberate actions to cope with the effects of climate change,” NEDA Deputy Director-General Rolando Tungpalan said during the signing of the MoA.

The multimillion-peso project is contained in the Joint Program on Strengthening the Philippine’s Institutional Capacity to Adapt to Climate Change which is funded by the Spanish government’s Millennium Development Goal Achievement Fund (MDG-F). The agreement would tap government agencies to adapt and manage vulnerabilities coming from the risks of climate change such as extended droughts and floods…

A Philippine palm forest

Climate change: Zambia’s doomsday scenario

Jack Zimba in the Sunday Post (Zambia) imagines one possible future for Zambia: It’s August 2070 and Zambia is just reeling from the most devastating drought ever; this, after two successive droughts that have already brought untold suffering on the country’s 48 million inhabitants.

The drought has had such devastating effects as never seen before, with total crop failure. Several hundred thousand head of cattle and other livestock also die of starvation and thirst. Water levels in the rivers drop drastically - so much so that they resemble streams of murky water. Fish stocks are reduced to almost zero.

The Savannah has never been this dry and hot, with temperatures soaring to 44 degrees Celsius. Unaccustomed to such dry and blistering conditions, the hippopotamus goes the way of the Dodo. The Victoria Falls, which has attracted millions of tourists with its thundering waters, is reduced to a bare rock with a measly trickle of water. Tourist numbers plummet, so does the country's revenue. By mid-October, the situation reaches an apocalyptic magnitude, with heat waves in some low-lying areas like Siavonga claiming scores of souls.

Panic spreads across the nation as the country is plunged into darkness for hours every day, as power generation falls, owing to insufficient water to drive the huge turbines at Kariba. In the cities and major towns, there are chaotic scenes as thousands of people queue up for scarce mealie-meal and bread. These, however, break into widespread rioting, causing political instability.

…By 2070, most of us living today will have crossed to the other side, escaping the consequences of our actions today. Consequences that scientists now warn have already begun manifesting in various parts of the globe with increasing ferocity. But living in a region where there are no melting glaciers and rising sea levels to indicate a warming Earth may still deceive some to think that Zambia is not affected.

Oversease Mwangase has been working as a meteorologist for for 31 years and is now deputy director of the Meteorological Department. "What I can say confidently is that there is evidence of climate change in Zambia," he says….

Tighter, costlier water shifting focus to curbing demand

Shaun McKinnon in the Arizona Republic: About 25 miles west of Yuma, across the Colorado River in California's sand-dunes country, construction crews work day and night on two gaping basins that will, inside of a year, add another piece to Arizona's increasingly complex water future.

The Drop 2 Reservoir, a name befitting the project's utilitarian purpose, will collect the dregs of the Colorado, billions of gallons of water that seep through the cracks of an imperfect system. The water now flows south into Mexico if it can't be used immediately, written off as a loss for U.S. users.

For its $28.6 million investment in Drop 2, about 16 percent of the total cost, Arizona will receive a small share of the water saved, to be taken in even smaller increments over 20-some years. California and Nevada will split the rest based on their contributions.

The water saved - up to 70,000 acre-feet each year - will amount to barely one-half of 1 percent of the river's annual flow. Arizona's share, 100,000 acre-feet by 2036, is a few drops in the bucket for a state that in a year uses 7 million acre-feet. (An acre-foot is 325,851 gallons, enough to serve two average households for one year.)

But as demand for water creeps steadily past the supply available, no drop is too small, even if capturing it requires a giant hole in the desert. The question is whether that solution - spending millions of dollars to squeeze more water from a finite resource - is still the right one…

Yuma, Arizona from space, courtesy of NASA. That green surrounded by brown illustrates the problem

Kathmandu, a vulnerable city

Ramesh Prasad Bhushal in the Himalayan: Kathmandu has been listed among the 15 most vulnerable cities of the world due to the impact of climate change. The International Institute for Environment and Development based in London, recently published a report — Climate Change and the Urban Poor — listing the capital among the most vulnerable cities of the world. The list includes 12 cities from Africa and three from south Asia.

Kathmandu of Nepal, Thimphu of Bhutan, Harare of Zimbabwe, Kampala of Uganda, Lusaka of Zambia and Blantyre of Malawi are the high altitude and inland vulnerable cities, according to the report. It adds that the most vulnerable coastal cities are Khulna of Bangladesh, Maputo of Mozambique, Dar es Salam of Tanzania, Mombassa of Kenya and Cotonou of Benin. The vulnerable dry land cities are Nouakchott of Mauritania, Diourbel of Senegal, Bamako of Mali and Khartoum of Sudan.

The report adds, “There are 64 squatter settlements in Kathmandu and the total population of squatters has been estimated at 14,500, most of who live along riverbanks or on steep slopes.” Only two per cent of the world’s land is in the low elevation coastal zone, the area adjacent to the coast that is less than ten metres above the mean sea level. But this zone is home to 10 per cent of the world’s population, adds the report….

A street in Kathmandu, shot by Pavel Novak, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 License

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Experts calculating the cost of climate change

Tony Henderson in the Journal (UK): The hard financial costs of climate change have been calculated by North East experts. The price of climate change-related losses from events such as storms and “small” disasters is running at around $125bn a year worldwide, they estimate. And the bill for adaptation measures in the face of climate change is another $120bn.

The figures emerge from a new book by Northumbria University’s Phil O’Keefe, professor of environmental management and economic development, and Dr Geoff O’Brien, senior lecturer in environmental management and sustainable development.

“They are huge figures but the cost of doing nothing will be even greater, with the costs of repairing and recovering from climate damage,” said Dr O’Brien. “In our world nothing, apparently, is really taken seriously until we know the costs. Climate change is no different. “

Reducing the risk of climate change has two different, but related, aspects. “The first, mitigation, is about finding ways of reducing greenhouse gas production to prevent future catastrophe or, at least reduce the severity of impacts,” said Prof O’Keefe. “The second, adaptation, is about protecting us from current adverse events and adjusting to changing realities. This is about building a new world or human adaptation to new climate conditions.“…

Global warming will cause plants and animals to migrate

Peter N. Spotts in the Christian Science Monitor: …Enter Scott Loarie. a researcher at the Carnegie Institution's department of global ecology in Stanford, Calif. He and five colleagues have unveiled a new approach to assessing how changing climate will affect various habitats. They dub the measure "climate velocity."

The measure takes into account changing temperatures as broad climate zones migrate north and south away from the equator, and hike their way up the sides of mountains. And it looks at the geographic setting in which the habitats appear -- whether on a broad flat landscape or in mountains, for instance.

One broad observation from the data: plants and animals that live in broad, relatively flat areas – the Great Plains, regions containing mangrove forests, or the African Veldt – are likely to have the toughest time dealing with global warming.

Organisms living there must migrate or have their seeds dispersed over long distances to keep up with climate belts that are moving more rapidly than many species can match. This is especially true for plants and animals that live in patchy, geographically small protected areas. Habitats are fragmented, often with no "corridors" connecting them to allow for easy migration.

Plants and animals in mountain regions, on the other hand, appear to face a lower risk of being overtaken by global warming, because mountains exhibit large temperature swings with altitude; it's a fairly short walk or flight up-slope to reach a more hospitable climate zone. The exception: organisms that live on mountain summits and have nowhere else to go.

…For years, researchers have been trying to figure out how plants and animals would respond to global warming. But Loarie and his colleagues decided to ask the question from a different perspective: "What is the landscape's potential to buffer these changes?"

"It's really going from sounding the alarm over climate change to really trying to say: Look, some change is going to happen. How do we adapt to that change?" he explains. The key, he says, is the speed of change….

From 1865: "HERD OF BUFFALOES DRIVEN TO THE EDGE OF THE CHASM, Opposite Garden Island." Victoria Falls with buffalo hunt.

Lake Chad about to disappear

Paul Virgo in IPS: Lake Chad was bigger than Israel less than 50 years ago. Today its surface area is les than a tenth of its earlier size, amid forecasts the lake could disappear altogether within 20 years. Climate change and overuse have put one of Africa's mightiest lakes in mortal danger, and the livelihoods of the 30 million people who depend on its waters is hanging by a thread as a result.

An unprecedented crisis is looming that would create fresh hunger in a region already suffering grave food insecurity, and pose a massive threat to peace and stability, experts say. "If Lake Chad dries up, 30 million people will have no means of a livelihood, and that is a big security problem because of growing competition for smaller quantities of water," Dr Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, executive secretary of the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) tells IPS in Rome.

"Poverty and hunger will increase. When there is no food to eat, there is bound to be violence." The lake, which shrank 90 percent between 1963 and 2001 from 25,000 square kilometres to under 1,500, is bordered by Chad, Niger, Cameroon and Nigeria. Four more countries, the Central African Republic, Algeria, Sudan and Libya, share the lake's hydrological basin and are therefore affected by its fortunes.

"Lake Chad has experienced shrinkage," Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi said at November's World Food Security Summit at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Rome. "If it dries up, it will be a real disaster. I want to warn the world about this imminent disaster."…

A town in Cameroon on the shores of Lake Chad, in 1989 -- in the middle of drying up. Shot by US Geological Survey

York looks at organising defences against floods

Mark Branagan in the Yorkshire Post (UK): Nearly 3,000 residents of central York whose homes are at risk of flooding will benefit from a new study designed to help the city council to take the lead in organising defences. York Council is to seek £100,000 Government funding for the project targeting flash flooding, which is expected to be a growing problem in the heart of the city as the climate changes.

At present there are a number of threats to property in the central area and a variety of agencies dealing with them. The aim is to produced a Surface Water Management Plan for York which will show where the areas of responsibility lie to produce a co-ordinated response led by York Council.

Within the central area there are 2,800 properties at risk from flooding. Many are protected from river flooding by defences built in the 1980/90s, designed to withstand a one in 100-year event. The flooding in 2000 came within 50 mm of overtopping the barriers and subsequently it was assessed the chance of it happening again had grown to a one in 80-year event.

Ray Chaplin, York's Head of Engineering Consultancy, said: "Clearly the advent of climate change has modified the perceived protection level of the defences."

…During November 2000 and summer of 2007 many properties and gardens were flooded, although it is suspected some householders kept quiet about the problems because they were worried about not being able to sell their houses….

The River Ouse makes York more duck-friendly in November, 2009, shot by Kevin Bailey, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License

Flooding in 2009: The Philippines feels climate change

Helen Flores in via the Philippine Star: A total of 22 cyclones entered the Philippines this year, two of which killed hundreds and destroyed nearly P40 billion in property and agricultural assets. The weather bureau described 2009 as “one of the worst years in terms of (typhoon) devastation.”

Nathaniel Cruz, deputy administrator of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa), said three of the 22 tropical cyclones that entered the country this year displayed “unusual characteristics” caused by climate change.

Typhoons “Ondoy” (Ketsana), “Pepeng”(Parma), and “Santi” (Mirinae) killed hundreds, affected millions, and destroyed billions worth of property and agricultural assets. On Sept. 26, Ondoy dumped 410.6 millimeters of rain in Metro Manila and nearby provinces in just nine hours, breaking the single-day record of 334 millimeters in July 1967. Ondoy killed 464 people, affected some 4.9 million families and damaged P11.1 billion in property and agriculture.

Pepeng, the strongest tropical cyclone to enter the country this year, battered central and northern Luzon for 11 days. It entered the Philippine area of responsibility on Sept. 30 and exited on Oct. 10. Pepeng, which entered the country barely a week after Ondoy crippled the metropolis, killed 465 people and damaged P27.2 billion in infrastructure and agriculture.

…In just two months, eight tropical cyclones entered the county, an “abnormal” occurrence, according to Cruz. The country is usually visited by four to six tropical cyclones from September to October. Tropical cyclones that visited the country this year were rain-producing and had unusual tracks….

Cyclone Ketsana earlier this year

Friday, December 25, 2009

Philippine group finalizes selection of priority areas for climate change interventions

Mike U. Crismundo in the Manila Bulletin: The Climate Change Adaptation (CCA) Project: Climate Resilient Farming Communities (CRFC) in Agusan del Norte through the Innovative Risk Transfer Mechanisms (IRTM) is now finalizing the selection of priority areas for specific interventions, it was learned Friday.

International Labor Organization (ILO) project manager Lurrine Baybay- Villacorta said the selection will be done as soon as the technical workshop group and subsequently the project’s advisory committee (PAC) is done with the final review of the baseline study which was commissioned some two months back, as well as the selection criteria in special meeting on Tuesday. The ILO-Sustainable Development for Indigenous People (IP) Phase 1 has a $30 million budget.

…The draft baseline study was earlier subjected to a provincial validating workshop last December 3, with and provincial and municipal officials, representatives from farmer groups, people’s organizations, financing institutions and government line agencies. Agusan del Norte is one of only five demonstration sites in the country for the climate change project under the Millennium Development Goals Fund (MDGF).

The demonstration projects are under the so-called Outcome 3 of a bigger project dubbed Strengthening the Philippines, Institutional Capacity to Adapt to Climate Change…

Map of Agusan del Norte showing the location of Kitcharao, by Mike Gonzalez (TheCoffee), Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License.

Experts agree on a universal drought index to combat climate risks

High Plains/Midwest Ag Journal (US): In the "Lincoln Declaration on Drought Indices," 54 experts from all regions of the world agreed this month on the use of a universal meteorological drought index for more effective drought monitoring and climate risk management. A World Meteorological Organization official presented the declaration Dec. 15 at the climate change summit in Copenhagen, because scientists predict that more drought will be one of the results of climate change.

The experts considered the three main types of drought: meteorological, agricultural and hydrological. Standard ways of measuring drought will provide the basis for global communication about drought and will contribute to early warning systems so policymakers and the international aid community can deliver more timely relief.

Experts participating in the Inter-Regional Workshop on Indices and Early Warning Systems for Drought, held in Lincoln, Neb., Dec. 8 to 11, made a significant step in agreeing that all National Meteorological and Hydrological Services around the world should use the Standardized Precipitation Index to characterize meteorological droughts.

"Given the complexity in defining drought historically, the selection of a primary index or measure of meteorological drought is an important step forward," said Donald A. Wilhite, director of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's School of Natural Resources. "This is a step toward developing early warning systems to improve drought preparedness world-wide."

…The SPI is an index that calculates the probability of precipitation for any selected time scale, based on the long-term precipitation record. SPI values range from more than 2 (extremely wet) to less than -2 (extremely dry), with .99 to -.99 considered the near-normal range. Maps normally depict SPI values as colors, with reds and yellows meaning dry and greens and blues meaning wet….

Dunes in Death Valley, California. Photo taken by User:Urban, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License

$4.3m for Jordan's adaptation to climate change

Jordan Times: The Ministry of Environment has launched a $4.3 million programme to develop the Kingdom's adaptation to climate change and sustain its Millennium Development Goal (MDG) achievements. The programme, financed by the UNDP-Spain MDG Achievement Fund, seeks to identify loopholes in the country's climate change adaptation process and assess the phenomenon's direct and indirect effects on health, nutrition and human security, according to ministry officials.

In 2000, the UN adopted eight goals to be met by all the world's countries by 2015. They include eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combating diseases such as HIV/AIDS, ensuring environmental sustainability and creating global partnerships for development.

…The Kingdom has progressed in achieving the MDGs, but some of these achievements are being jeopardised in light of the country's water shortage, which could threaten public health, food security, productivity and human security, the programme's coordinator, Munjed Sharif, said recently.

…The programme will assist Jordan in addressing strategic issues, including health and water, by ensuring a sustainable and improved water supply in light of a water shortage blamed on climate change. So far, climate change has caused a 30 per cent reduction in the Kingdom's surface water resources, as well as a decrease in the volume of rainfall and agricultural production, both of which the country and the Arab world rely on heavily….

Dated to the Roman period at the end of the 2nd century AD, the South Tetrapylon in Jordan is the intersection of Jerash's Cardo with the first cross street. Shot by David Bjorgen, Wikimedia Commons, under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2

Provincial government in Australia won't help homeowners on eroding beachfronts

Lauren Novak in Adelaide Now (Australia): Property owners in areas predicted to be affected by a rising sea level are unlikely to receive much help from the State Government if water threatens their homes. South Australia does not have a "retire and retreat" policy to deal with existing buildings in areas where water levels are expected to rise through global warming.

Following calls for more details, a spokesman for Planning Minister Paul Holloway said the Government was defending existing developments with rock walls, flood mitigation strategies and sand replenishment. "Owners of houses also should be aware of the potential for sea-level rise and should take necessary measures," he said.

…."If serious sea-level rise occurs, it's going to be astronomically expensive to keep the seas at bay," he said. "Eventually, we're going to have to make some hard decisions about what areas we might need to let go." Mr Parnell called on the Government to consider compensation, insurance, property acquisition and relocation.

"Rather than wait until coastal properties become uninsurable, the Government needs to set out its policy," he said. "Will taxpayers' funds be used to defend private property from sea-level rise? If so, for how long?"…

End of Point Grey and the section bank mudflats separating Barker Inlet and Port River, Adelaide, South Australia. Port River in the foreground. Point Grey. Shot by Peripitus,under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 Wikimedia Commons,

Local communities combat desertification in Mali's Lake Faguibine region

Allyn Gaestel in via MediaGlobal: The Lake Faguibine region in Northern Mali was once a thriving water system. Communities were built around the source, with agricultural and pastoral lifestyles dependent on the natural resource. However in the past hundred years the lake has experienced fluctuations of drought, completely drying up in 1914, 1924 and 1944, and remaining at drastically low levels since the 1970s.

In the past 40 years droughts have led to hundreds of thousands of human deaths and the loss of millions of livestock. Climate change has already had a visibly disastrous impact on this area and without local and global mitigation efforts the situation can only worsen.

"Before the complete drying up of the Lakes, this area was the hearth of economic development for Mali and surrounding neighboring countries (Burkina Faso and Mauritania)," Dr. Birguy M. Lamizana-Diallo, told MediaGlobal. "Thus, if effort is put into the restoration of this ecosystem, its services and functions, it will again play a leading role for food security (agriculture, fisheries, and livestock) and economic growth for Mali." Lamizana-Diallo is technical advisor for a UNEP/Mali ecosystem management project for Lake Faguibine.

The lake has long played a central role in local livelihoods. But with the changing climate and the advance of the Sahara, people in the region have abandoned their original economic activities. According to Lamizana-Diallo, "Nomadic groups lost most of their livestock and became sedentary in order to benefit from emergency relief programs or migrated into cities."

Now surviving communities are fighting back and working to restore the ecosystem so they can return to their normal, fruitful lives. Since 2002, villages have mobilized to clear channels and enable the lake to fill again. In 2006 the Malian government created l'Office pour la Mise en Valeur du Faguibine (OMVF) to support the local response in addressing desertification in the region…

Seen from a NASA satellite: Lake Faguibine, Lake Komango, Lake Tele, Lake Oro, Lake Fati, Mali - April 1991

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Warming has already boosted insect breeding

Susan Milius in Science News: Summertime and the insect breeding is easy. That old song rings especially true for 44 species of moths and butterflies in Central Europe, according to an analysis by ecologist Florian Altermatt of the University of California, Davis. As the region has warmed since the 1980s, some of these species have added an extra generation during the summer for the first time on record in that location.

Among the 263 species already known to have a second or third generation there during toasty times, 190 have grown more likely to do so since 1980, Altermatt reports online December 22 in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Only a rough third or so of all the species Altermatt reviewed show the capacity to breed more than once a year. What warming is probably doing for them, he speculates, is jolting the insects’ overwintering form into action early and also speeding up insect development. These head starts may allow time for a bonus generation before a non-temperature cue, atumnal day length, plays its role in shutting down insects for winter.

“From a pest perspective it’s an important issue,” says population ecologist Patrick Tobin based in Morgantown, W.Va., for the Forest Service Northern Research Station. Tobin has studied a warmth-related extra generation in a North American pest, the grape berry moth. He points out that an extra surge of attacking pests in the growing season means yet another headache, expense and round of damage for farmers….

A monarch butterfly, shot by Inzilbeth, Wikimedia Commons, under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2

Conservation areas threatened nationally by housing developments

Science Daily: Conservationists have long known that lines on a map are not sufficient to protect nature because what happens outside those boundaries can affect what happens within. Now, a study by two University of Wisconsin-Madison scientists in the department of forest and wildlife ecology measures the threat of housing development around protected areas in the United States.

In a study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Volker Radeloff, an associate professor, and Anna Pidgeon, an assistant professor, looked at housing around every national park, national forest and federal wilderness area in the 48 contiguous states. Using data from the U.S. Census and local sources, they counted housing units built within 1 to 50 kilometers of these reserves, and produced maps and statistics that document the change since 1940 and project forward to 2030.

In 2000, 38 million housing units were within 50 kilometers of these conserved lands, compared to 9.8 million in 1940, and housing was growing faster inside that 50-kilometer range than outside it. A house's sphere of influence extends beyond its own lot, because housing can encourage the spread of invasive species, alter drainage patterns and foster increased recreational use of the conserved land, which can, ironically, harm wildlife.

Ground-nesting birds are particularly vulnerable to houses and the dogs and cats they contain, as well as to the raccoons, opossum and skunks that are attracted to residential areas, says Pidgeon. The affected species in Wisconsin's northern forest include the ovenbird and black and white warbler.

…Another area of concern is light pollution, Radeloff adds. "People don't always think about this, but a lot of wildlife species base their way-finding on the stars or the moon, and a lot of outside light can be confusing and harmful."...

A mountain lion, shot by Malcolm, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 License

Venice underwater

Focus Information Agency: More than half of Venice was under water Wednesday as two days of driving rain helped push the acqua alta (high water) to 143 cm above sea level, a record for the year and the 11th-biggest since records began, Rai Radio 1 reported.

Venetians were getting about on pontoon walkways in the estimated 56% of the city that was flooded, including St Mark's Square and the historic centre. "As well as the rain, which played a big part, strong sirocco winds swelled the flood tide, combining to bring one of the biggest recent events", experts said. The first big tide of the year was on November 30 when the water rose 131cm above normal. When the waters get that high some 43% of the city surface is under water.

Next month, experts say, forecast bouts of more heavy rain could push the sea level to 150cm above normal, the highest acqua alta since 156cm last December, 158cm in December 1986 and 166cm in December 1979. The record acqua alta was in the great flood of 1966, at 194cm, when flood waters caused huge damage. Levels of 120-140 cm above sea level are quite common in the lagoon city, which is well-equipped to cope with its rafts of pontoon walkways.

But anything much higher than 150cm risks swamping the city and washing the walkways away. The high-water threat has been increasing in recent years as heavier rains have hit northern Italy due to climate change, weather experts say. Scientists have conceived various ways of warding off the waters since the catastrophic 1966 flood and a system of moveable flood barriers called MOSE is being installed after years of polemics. Experts say there are three main reasons for high water in the city: the rising floor in the lagoon caused by incoming silt; the undermining of the islands by the extraction of methane gas in the sea off Venice; and the overall increase in sea levels caused by global warming….

High tide in Venice, shot by Paolo da Reggio, who has generously released the image into the public domain