Sunday, January 31, 2010

Mt. Rainier's melting glaciers create hazard

Sandi Doughton in the Los Angeles Times: The fallout from Mt. Rainier's shrinking glaciers is beginning to roll downhill, and nowhere is the impact more striking than on the volcano's west side. "This is it in spades," U.S. Park Service geologist Paul Kennard said recently, scrambling up a 10-foot-high mass of dirt and boulders bulldozed back just enough to clear the road.

As receding glaciers expose crumbly slopes, vast amounts of gravel and sediment are being sluiced into the rivers that flow from the region's tallest peak. Much of the material sweeps down in rain-driven slurries. "The rivers are filling up with stuff," Kennard said from his vantage point atop the pile. He pointed out ancient stands of fir and cedar now standing in water.

Inside Mt. Rainier National Park, gravel-choked rivers threaten to spill across roads, overtake bridges and flood the historic park complex at Longmire. Downstream, communities in King and Pierce counties cast a wary eye at the volcano. As glaciers continue to pull back, the result could be increased flood danger across the Puget Sound lowlands for decades.

"There is significant evidence that things are changing dramatically at Mt. Rainier," environmental consultant Tim Abbe said. "We need to start planning for it now."

Similar dynamics are playing out at all of the region's major glaciated peaks, according to research hydrologist Gordon Grant of the U.S. Forest Service. Climate experts blame global warming, triggered by emissions from industries and cars, for much of the ongoing retreat of glaciers worldwide. North Cascades National Park has lost half of its ice area in the last century. Mt. Rainier's glaciers have shrunk by more than a quarter….

Emmons Glacier at Mt Rainier (2007).jEmmons Glacier at Mt. Rainier in Washington, shot by Vayu, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License

Climate change predictions may harm UK regeneration plans

BBC: Concerns have arisen over climate change predictions which could result in coastal regeneration projects in the south west being scuppered. The Government has issued councils with planning guidance designed to ensure new buildings can cope with increased flood levels over the next century.

…Steve Maddison, from the Environment Agency, added: "We need to ensure that people are going to be safe, that buildings are going to be resilient and that public funds are not going to be spent in the future on protecting these new developments. "However, the main priority is that people's lives are not at risk for the future lifetime of these developments."

But Mr Jones, who chairs Devon and Cornwall Business Council, claims that the plans could have a negative impact on the local economy. "The costs of compliance, mitigation and flood protection are enormous and the knock-on effect is that a lot of essential regeneration sites will not be brought forward," he said….

The West Penwith coast of Cornwall. Photo by Tom Corser Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 England & Wales (UK) Licence:"

Dry December, warm January could mean summer drought for Oregon

Cheryl Hatch in the Corvallis Gazette-Times (Oregon): …The bare peaks in the Coast Range are indicative of the scant snowpack in the Oregon mountains, particularly in the lower elevations of The Cascades. Jon Lea, state snow survey supervisor, conducted the latest snow survey on Thursday; the snowpack was 73 inches deep with 29 inches of water in the snow pack at the Mount Hood test site.

“Our snow pack is 66 percent of average,” Lea said. “We’re worse off than Washington. The storms just didn’t come and didn’t deposit much snow. It’s shaping up to be a below average snow year.” What snow there was has been melting early due to a warmer-than-average January.

El Nino, an ocean warming phenomenon in the Pacific that disrupts normal climatic conditions in the West, has sent much of the colder air and snow south this winter. For example, Arizona has a snowpack that is 244 percent of the annual average. In the mountains of New Mexico, the snowpack is 136 percent. It’s 108 percent in California, Lea said. In Oregon, the cold, dry December was in marked contrast to the pre-Christmas snows at the end of 2008, when blizzards snarled holiday travel on snow-slickened freeways and canceled scores of flights in Portland and Seattle.

The first three weeks of January have been unseasonably warm. Lea said that’s “pleasant from a people standpoint but not from a water supply standpoint. Lea works with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. “Typically, by Feb.1, (we see) 60 to 70 percent of our max snow water on the ground,” Lea said. “It’s not like it’s a sky-is-falling time yet,” Lea said. “It’s time to be making some contingency plans.”…

Northern Oregon Coast Range blanketed in fog. From Gales Creek Road looking west near Balm Grove, Oregon. Shot by M.O. Stevens, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Asia-Pacific region can cut risks with better coordination

MaximsNewsNetwork: With typhoon-related damage accounting for more than half of the economic losses from natural disaster, countries in the Asia-Pacific region have agreed at a United Nations meeting to work closely together and coordinate their efforts after the 42nd Session of ESCAP/WMO Typhoon Committee, convened by the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific (ESCAP) in cooperation with the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and hosted by the National Environment Agency of Singapore. The five-day meeting closed yesterday in Singapore.

This year’s session focused on the effect of climate change on tropical cyclones in the Typhoon Committee region. Results of an initial assessment show either a decreasing trend or no trend in the annual number of tropical cyclones and typhoons in the Western North Pacific and the South China Sea. Participants pointed out that climate models project fewer but more intense tropical cyclones in this basin in a warmer climate.

Typhoons continue to cause havoc in many countries of the region. In 2009, 22 tropical cyclones formed over the Western North Pacific and the South China Sea, 13 of which reached typhoon intensity. Three of them – Ketsana, Parma and Morakot – caused severe damage and losses in the Philippines, Cambodia, Viet Nam, and Taiwan, Province of China.

The Committee identified urban flood risk management as a key area for future work, given that high damage caused by tropical cyclones usually happens in populous cities when they bring heavy rainfall.

…The Committee works on reducing the damage caused by typhoons and floods in the region by coordinating the efforts of its members as well as recommending ways to increase community preparedness, improve meteorological and hydrological facilities. The Committee also promotes the establishment of programmes for training personnel in forecasting typhoons and other disasters.

Typhoon Parma in 2009

IMF chief proposes $100 billion annual fund to tackle climate change

Environment News Service: The head of the International Monetary Fund today proposed to create a multi-billion dollar Green Fund that would provide the financing that countries need to cope with climate change and move to a low-carbon growth model. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn said the funding needed could amount to $100 billion a year within a few years.

"We are going to provide some ideas built around a Green Fund devoted to finance the $100 billion a year, which is the figure which is commonly accepted that is needed for addressing the problem, based on a capitalization of this fund coming from central banks, backed by special drawing rights issued by the Fund, said Strauss-Kahn.

…During a panel discussion on the future of the world economy chaired by Martin Wolf of the "Financial Times," Strauss-Kahn said it is obvious that developing countries do not have the cash to finance the measures needed to tackle climate change, while developed countries are burdened with enormous debts from combating the global economic crisis.
Dominique Strauss-Kahn (Photos by Sebastian Derungs courtesy World Economic Forum)

Strauss-Kahn said alternative solutions are needed and announced that the IMF will release a paper in a few weeks setting out ideas on how the proposal can be financed. He said the world must adopt a low-carbon model for growth as it rebuilds from the global economic crisis. "I can't believe we don't have the solution to this huge problem," he told the audience in Davos….

IMF headquarters in Washington

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Stratospheric water vapor is a global warming wild card

NOAA: A 10 percent drop in water vapor ten miles above Earth’s surface has had a big impact on global warming, say researchers in a study published online January 28 in the journal Science. The findings might help explain why global surface temperatures have not risen as fast in the last ten years as they did in the 1980s and 1990s.

Observations from satellites and balloons show that stratospheric water vapor has had its ups and downs lately, increasing in the 1980s and 1990s, and then dropping after 2000. The authors show that these changes occurred precisely in a narrow altitude region of the stratosphere where they would have the biggest effects on climate.

Water vapor is a highly variable gas and has long been recognized as an important player in the cocktail of greenhouse gases—carbon dioxide, methane, halocarbons, nitrous oxide, and others—that affect climate.

“Current climate models do a remarkable job on water vapor near the surface. But this is different — it’s a thin wedge of the upper atmosphere that packs a wallop from one decade to the next in a way we didn’t expect,” says Susan Solomon, NOAA senior scientist and first author of the study.

Since 2000, water vapor in the stratosphere decreased by about 10 percent. The reason for the recent decline in water vapor is unknown. The new study used calculations and models to show that the cooling from this change caused surface temperatures to increase about 25 percent more slowly than they would have otherwise, due only to the increases in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

An increase in stratospheric water vapor in the 1990s likely had the opposite effect of increasing the rate of warming observed during that time by about 30 percent, the authors found.

The stratosphere is a region of the atmosphere from about eight to 30 miles above the Earth’s surface. Water vapor enters the stratosphere mainly as air rises in the tropics. Previous studies suggested that stratospheric water vapor might contribute significantly to climate change. The new study is the first to relate water vapor in the stratosphere to the specific variations in warming of the past few decades.

Authors of the study are Susan Solomon, Karen Rosenlof, Robert Portmann, and John Daniel, all of the NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL) in Boulder, Colo.; Sean Davis and Todd Sanford, NOAA/ESRL and the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado; and Gian-Kasper Plattner, University of Bern, Switzerland….

Diagram from NOAA's website

Pentagon review to address climate change for the first time

Roxana Tiron in the Hill: The Pentagon is addressing climate change for the first time in its sweeping review of military strategy. The Pentagon is set to release the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) on Monday, along with the 2011 budget request. In the review, Pentagon officials conclude that climate change will act as an “accelerant of instability and conflict,” ultimately placing a burden on civilian institutions and militaries around the world.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.), a key architect of Senate climate plans, was the first to draw attention to the significance of climate change in the QDR. Kerry said last week that the QDR will list climate change as a security problem that could claim U.S. lives.

“I will tell you that the defense review of the United States Pentagon next week is going to come out and list climate change for the first time as an instability factor that affects our troops and may in fact wind up costing us lives down the road,” Kerry said at a forum hosted by labor, business, veteran and other groups backing climate legislation.

…The Defense Department also acknowledges in the draft QDR that climate change will affect the military’s operating environment, roles and missions. Climate-related changes include heavy downpours; rising temperature and sea level; rapidly retreating glaciers; thawing permafrost; and lengthening ice-free seasons in oceans, lakes or rivers.

Assessments conducted by the intelligence community indicate that climate change will have significant geopolitical impacts around the world, contributing to poverty, environmental degradation and weakening of fragile governments, according to the draft QDR document….

The Arctic Thunder Air Show 2004 poster, featured nationally in Flyers Magazine, designed at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, on Feb. 18, 2005. (U.S. Air Force Graphic Illustration by Senior Airman Miguel Lara III)

Study revises forest fire carbon estimate

Susan Palmer in the Register-Guard (Oregon): Pacific Northwest forest fires may play a minor role in climate change compared with fossil fuel use, according to a new analysis by Oregon State University researchers. In a study conducted in the area of the B&B Complex fire that ravaged 92,000 highly visible acres along Highway 20 over Santiam Pass in 2003, scientists concluded that previous estimates suggesting the fire produced six times more carbon emissions than all other sources of greenhouse gas emissions in Oregon during that period were grossly off the mark.

Beverly Law, a professor of forest ecosystems and society at OSU, and her fellow researchers concluded that carbon emissions from four fires that burned in the Metolius River area in 2002 and 2003 produced just 2.5 percent of the state's annual carbon emissions in both those years.

The research, published in the December 2009 issue of the journal Ecosystems, also said that most of the carbon released during the wildfires came from burning on the forest floor rather than the trees themselves, and that quick regrowth of brush and grasses, which absorb more carbon than they release, helps mitigate the greenhouse-gas effects of fire.

Law and others have been studying the impacts of forests on greenhouse gases for well over a decade to understand the role of people and nature on climate change. Their conclusion: Even though a forest fire, with is towering plumes of smoke, may look like it is giving off vast amounts of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, the people of Oregon give off far more of the gases as they drive and do other activities that burn fossil fuels…..

Smoke from a wildfire near Devil's Backbone, Oregon, shot by Wing-Chi Poon, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license

Transparency and climate change risk

Sonal Mahida in Climate Biz:…The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has provided greater clarification on the reporting of material risk associated with climate change driven by regulation at national and international levels, physical impact on business, and the indirect consequences of regulation on business trends, such as changes in the demands for goods.

At the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), we see this as an important step in helping U.S. companies better report material climate change impacts to their investors. Thousands of global companies, including many S&P 500 firms, have disclosed climate-related business risks to their major shareholders since 2003 using the CDP process. Where these risks are material, companies are required to disclose them to the SEC. However, companies have not all interpreted this requirement in the same way and disclosure to SEC has been varied, so we welcome SEC guidance that will bring greater clarity to companies and ensure full disclosure of material risk to shareholders.

The risks and opportunities associated with climate change are multifaceted with diverse aspects ranging from strengthening consumer relationships and enhancing brand image to compliance costs driven by regulation or legislation.

…This is all about ensuring that investors get the right information. The mandate of the SEC is to protect investors, institutional and individuals alike, and ensure they receive information crucial to sound investing in capital markets. The SEC interpretative guidance acknowledges that climate change has the potential to create material risk, takes a balanced approach and steers clear of making political statements….

Kasimir Malevich, "The Veil," 1908

Inuit must adapt to climate change: study

Geoff Nixon on CTV News: James Ford has spent eight years researching the effects of climate change on the lifestyles of Inuit people living in the Far North. He's seen evidence that local temperatures are rising and there's a lot less sea ice floating around, for a much shorter time period each year. Along the Northern Foxe Basin, for example, the ice is taking as much as four weeks as long to freeze than it did 40 years ago, said Ford.

That means it is harder for Inuit people to hunt, fish, and eke out a livable existence, according to their traditional ways. "Hunting is not just a hobby to Inuit, it's a way of life," the McGill University professor explained in a recent telephone interview from his Montreal office. In places like Igloolik, Nunavut, where a week's worth of groceries typically cost more than $550 for a small family, there simply aren't a lot of other options.

There are few jobs, many of Canada's 50,000 Inuit live well below the poverty line and there is little opportunity to change the available means of subsistence. Ford likens the current circumstances for many Inuit to a community where the grocery store moves five kilometers away from your home every year, making it more and more difficult for you to get access to food, as time goes by.

And after enough time passes by, the road starts to crumble away and you're not even sure how to get there with the use of a car -- or in the case of the Inuit, possibly an ATV or a snowmobile. For Inuit people, "their supermarket is the land," Ford said. The problem is that the supermarket is moving out of reach…..

Northeast coast of Baffin Island north of Community of Clyde River, Nunavut, Canada, from above (1000 m): Tongue of a glacier, shot by Ansgar Walk, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license

Friday, January 29, 2010

Is aid without climate adaptation a waste of time?

Tom Levitt in the Ecologist: Aid agencies are well resourced and quick to act, but not enough of them appear to be using their power to tackle the long term problems posed by climate change Aid agencies are first on the scene of many of the world's trouble spots, and often play a huge role in helping communities get back on their feet.

But many of these areas, notably West Africa and South-East Asia, are also on the front line of climate change, more vulnerable than most to climatic extremes. So when the aid agency boats, planes and trucks pull up at a disaster zone, shouldn't their staff also have a responsibility to think about the impact of climate change on the adaptations they hope to put in place?

Unfortunately, there seem to be plenty of examples of aid agencies undertaking humanitarian work which does not take climate impacts into account. International medical aid group, Medecins Sans Frontieres, admits to having no in-house climate experts or any organisation-wide plan on climate change, although one employee said that this may change with the recent Lancet publication on human health and climate change.

Save the Children, working in the Kroo Bay slum area of Freetown, Sierra Leone, has told members of the Atlantic Rising project researching sea-level rise in the area they did not want them to meet local participants in their project because it would add to their list of worries.

This, points out Tim Bromfield from the project, is despite flooding in Kroo Bay perennially destroying the slum as a result of factors related to climate change, including intensity of rainfall, storm surges and deforestation in the hills causing increased run-off.

‘Climate change is exacerbating problems that NGOs are already dealing with, and yet considerations of climate change are rarely built into projects,’ says Bromfield. ‘NGOs that seem to be best [in West Africa] already have an environmental focus'.

…However, some NGOs have been amending an existing emergency relief strategy, Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR), to integrate climate science into their work. DRR uses past events to help the community become more resilient to them in the future. Integrating climate science in DRR plans involves taking account of future predictions for a given area, such as flooding or sea level rises. ‘DRR enables humanitarian agencies to extend the time horizon and to mitigate rather than just respond,' says Dr. Mike Edwards, climate change programme development officer CAFOD....

A favela in Rio de Janeiro, shot by nickyd75, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Damage limitation: Lessons from Cumbria

Mark Hansford has a comprehensive piece in the New Civil Engineer (UK): Last November the Cumbrian towns of Cockermouth and Workington experienced the full force of Mother Nature, as record rainfall led to extreme flooding that destroyed homes, swept away bridges and severed local roads.

Two months on Workington remains virtually split in two. The only means of crossing the river Derwent, which divides the town, is by rail via a temporary railway station built by Network Rail or by foot on a temporary footbridge built by the Royal Engineers in the immediate aftermath of the floods. …Work is now starting on a temporary road bridge. Reconstruction of the two road bridges swept away or damaged irreparably in the floods will take much longer. The cost to the local community will be immense, even with government assistance as more than 1,300 homes were flooded.

…The North West Development Agency has opened a £1M flood recovery grant scheme and it is also investing a further £100,000 on pushing the message that Cumbria is ready to welcome visitors after the floods. The DCLG has also announced that funds from the Bellwin scheme for local authorities for emergency clear-up costs and temporary accommodation will be fully available. Department for Work and Pensions’ social fund community care grants are also being released for people on qualifying benefits to meet the cost of replacing essential household items. Crisis loans are also available.

But the costs will certainly go far beyond that, a report from the Environment Agency revealed last week … The summer 2007 floods cost the country a total of £3.2bn, including more than £2bn to homeowners and businesses and 400,000 in lost pupil days as a result of enforced school closures.

…Barlow is keen to use events in Cumbria as a means of reopening the debate on how the country as a whole handles the future impacts of climate change. Last summer, the Agency said that £20bn must be spent over the next 25 years, just to maintain the current level of protection to the one in six homes now at risk from flooding. “There is an issue for the nation as a whole to be aware of the impact of floods,” says Barlow….

Flooding on the A596 road at Workington, Cumbria, shot by David Trochos,Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license

Project to showcase Philippine best practices on climate change adaptation

Philippine Information Agency: Indigenous best practices of two provinces in the Cordillera region on the adaptation to climate change will be showcased as models of a foreign-funded program on climate change adaptation. The program dubbed, "Strengthening the Philippines' Institutional Capacity to Adapt to Climate Change (SPICACC)," is a joint undertaking of the United Nations, Spain and the Philippines.

One of the expected outputs of the program is to have improved climate change mechanisms and adaptation strategies in the Cordilleras and the whole country as well. The program component is entitled "Enhanced Climate change adaptation Capacity of Communities in Contiguous Fragile Ecosystems in the Cordilleras."

…Project Team Leader for Ifugao and Benguet Bess Lim said they will look into the indigenous practices and local practices for upscaling on climate change adaptation measures and if need be, introduce appropriate practices. She said consultants will go around and conduct vulnerability assessment.

The two provinces were identified primarily due to the existence of indigenous practices, their being disaster risk, commitment of local government unit, availability of state universities and colleges capable of conducting studies, and the presence of organizations to be potentially involved in the project….

Sleeping Beauty, Kalinga. Mountain viewed from Tinglayan, Kalinga, Philippines, shot by Gubernatoria, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Australia license.

Rains notwithstanding, California drought isn't over

Matt Weiner in the Sacramento Bee: The question now gurgles up from every storm drain and creek in California: Is the drought over? The simple answer is no. The reasons why are not so simple. Two weeks of heavy rain and snow – nice as it is – cannot entirely erase three years of drought statewide.

For starters, California's largest reservoirs are far from full. This includes Shasta, Oroville and Folsom, all vital storage points for state and federal water supply canals. These reservoirs likely won't fill completely with the snowpack on the ground now, especially if there is no more of it by April Fools' Day.

…Beyond that, and despite the state's economic woes, California keeps growing. That means ever-greater water demand, which each year pushes total salvation from drought further away. Nature gives California a finite water supply, whether it's snow in the mountains or groundwater deep beneath our feet. It is now widely recognized that all of our water supplies are overtapped.

…Climate change throws another wrench in the works. Global warming is expected to bring more rain and less snow. This will mean less water melting from the mountains to slake California's thirst through summer and fall.

Environmental protections are another limitation. To save salmon and protect water quality in the Delta, federal officials have ruled that we must divert less water.

For all these reasons, the state Department of Water Resources estimated in a draft report this week that it will be able to send State Water Project customers only 60 percent of contracted water amounts in average water years. Drought years would produce even less….

The Hetch Hetchy reservoir, shot by Edgy01

Floods prompt Bolivia emergency

BBC: Bolivian President Evo Morales has declared a state of emergency in areas of the country, as heavy rains and floods affect some 24,000 families. The worst-hit areas are La Paz, Santa Cruz, Cochabamba, Chuquisaca and Beni. The flooding is expected to get worse as more rain is forecast.

Rivers have broken their banks and overflowed. There have been mudslides. Meanwhile rescuers in Peru renewed efforts to evacuate tourists trapped near the Inca site of Machu Picchu. Rain and mudslides there have severed road and rail links in the region.

However, a break in the weather has now allowed the authorities to send in helicopters to ferry out several thousand tourists. The operation is expected to end by the weekend….The rains, which have swept away crops, livestock and communication lines, are blamed on the El Nino weather phenomenon which results in severe weather conditions across the Asia-Pacific region and beyond….

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Egypt's fertile Nile Delta falls prey to climate change

Fatma Ahmed in Agence France-Presse: The Nile Delta, Egypt's bread basket since antiquity, is being turned into a salty wasteland by rising seawaters, forcing some farmers off their lands and others to import sand in a desperate bid to turn back the tide. Experts warn that global warming will have a major impact in the delta on agriculture resources, tourism and human migration besides shaking the region's fragile ecosystems.

Over the last century, the Mediterranean Sea, which fronts the coast of the Nile Delta, has risen by 20 centimetres (six inches) and saltwater intrusion has created a major challenge, experts say. A recent government study on the coast of Alexandria, Egypt's second largest city, expects the sea to continue to rise and flood large swathes of land.

"A 30 centimetre rise in sea level is expected to occur by 2025, flooding approximately 200 square kilometres (77 square miles). "As a result, over half a million inhabitants may be displaced and approximately 70,000 jobs could be lost," the study said.

Environmental damage to the Nile Delta is not yet one of Egypt's priorities, but experts say if the situation continues to deteriorate, it will trigger massive food shortages which could turn seven million people into "climate refugees" by the end of the century.

The fertile Nile Delta provides around a third of the crops for Egypt's population of 80 million and a large part of these crops are exported providing the country with an important source of revenue. Climatic changes have forced some Delta farmers to abandon their land, while others are trying to adapt by covering their land with beds of sand to isolate it against seawater infiltrations, and grow crops….

The Nile Delta from orbit

Storms boost Sierra snowpack

Valerie Gibbons in the Visalia Times-Delta (California): The Valley's drought is far from over, but last week's spate of storms certainly helped. The water content for the southern Sierra's snowpack is at 126 percent of normal for this week, according to the state Department of Water Resources.

That's good news with three months to go for the Sierra's snow season, but the Valley has a lot of catching up to do. The snowpack for the southern third of the Sierra is only at 67 percent for the full year. Statewide, the total water content is also at 67 percent, according to the DWR. At the 9,500-foot elevation in Tulare County, snowpack water content was at 118 percent of normal to date.

The Valley's reservoirs will need plenty of water to recharge after three years of drought…. A total of 5.61 inches of rain has fallen in the Visalia-Tulare since last summer, representing just 51 percent of the average annual rainfall. The last spate of storms brought area rainfall up to 108 percent of normal for this date.

Bruce George, the water master for the Kaweah and St. Johns Rivers Association, said it was a good start. "We're certainly thankful for all of the rainfall to date," he said. "We just have to wait and see if it holds."

Elected leaders in Sacramento are waiting to see whether California will be able to climb out of its three-year drought this winter, as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger tries to sell an $11 billion water bond to the voters in November. The bond would build more storage and provide upgrades to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta's water system.

If California is unable to catch up, water supplies from the aqueduct to westside farmers could shrink as much as 40 percent during the next two decades because of climate change and sea-level rise, according to a new report by the DWR released this week…..

Snow at the lake in Whiskytown Nation Recreation Area, California.

Report suggests mining companies are failing to fully recognise risks posed by inevitable climate change

PR Newswire: According to an Acclimatise report, backed by IBM, over 80% of global mining companies surveyed claim their physical assets would be affected by extreme weather events, yet only 13% report taking action to protect their assets that are critical to business success, attracting financial investment and the safety of employees.

The report findings highlight the critical choices mining companies now face to help prepare their business for anticipated additional costs and challenges created by a changing climate. The challenges facing mining enterprises today are pushing leaders to adapt the traditional ways of thinking about their business to discover and explore new practices that will improve the business of mining.

Without building adaptation measures into their business plans, climatic risks could impact upon a company's financial and operational performance, potentially increasing operational and capital expenditure. This is particularly true for mining companies where long term investment decisions have to be made. However only 3% of companies surveyed provided evidence that they mainstream adaptation into decision making, highlighting the need for more mining companies to consider action.

…"The mining industry has been an essential contributor to society and the economy for many years and has continually adapted successfully to changes. IBM believes this rate of change is increasing and many within the industry realise that the modern miner will need to work differently and work smarter to succeed," said David Carter, Mining Industry Lead, Growth Markets, IBM Global Business Services. "Increasingly companies need to think about the potential impacts from inevitable climate change resulting from past greenhouse gas emissions. Whether this takes the form of adapting to reduce risks, complying with regulations aimed at increasing energy efficiency or reducing greenhouse gas emissions."….

Global warming to trigger more warming

Reuters: Climate change caused by mankind will release extra heat-trapping gases stored in nature into the atmosphere in a small spur to global warming, a study showed. But the knock-on effect of the additional carbon dioxide -- stored in soils, plants and the oceans -- on top of industrial emissions building up in the atmosphere will be less severe than suggested by some recent studies, they said.

"We are confirming that the feedback exists and is positive. That's bad news," lead author David Frank of the Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL said of the study in Thursday's edition of the journal Nature. "But if we compare our results with some recent estimates (showing a bigger feedback effect) then it's good news," Frank, an American citizen, told Reuters of the report with other experts in Switzerland and Germany.

The data, based on natural swings in temperatures from 1050-1800, indicated that a rise of one degree Celsius (1.6 degree Fahrenheit) would increase carbon dioxide concentrations by about 7.7 parts per million in the atmosphere. That is far below recent estimates of 40 ppm that would be a much stronger boost to feared climate changes such as floods, desertification, wildfires, rising sea levels and more powerful storm, they said.

Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have already risen to about 390 ppm from about 280 ppm before the Industrial Revolution. Only some models in the last major U.N. climate report, in 2007, included assessments of carbon cycle feedbacks. Frank said the new study marks an advance by quantifying feedback over the past 1,000 years and will help refine computer models for predicting future temperatures.

"In a warmer climate, we should not expect pleasant surprises in the form of more efficient uptake of carbon by oceans and land," Hugues Goosse of the Universite Catholique de Louvain, Belgium, wrote in a comment in Nature….

Climate change to triple Australia fire danger: report

Agence France-Presse: Climate change could more than triple the risk of catastrophic wildfires in parts of Australia, a top environmental group warned Thursday, almost a year since savage firestorms that killed 173 people. Greenpeace warned that, without a new climate treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol, the frequency of severe fire danger in drought-parched southeastern Australia would grow threefold by 2050.

"Catastrophic" conditions similar to those ahead of February's so-called "Black Saturday" wildfires which killed 173 people in towns around Melbourne would occur once every three years, instead of once in every 33. "The frequency of catastrophic fire danger could increase more than tenfold in Melbourne, and the number of total fire ban days could triple in Sydney, Adelaide and Canberra by 2050," according to a Greenpeace report entitled "Future Risk."

If targets for emission cuts proposed by world leaders at December's Copenhagen summit were adopted in a new global treaty, southeastern Australia would still face at least a doubling of severe fire risk, Greenpeace said. "If we do nothing to address climate change we are knowingly placing more lives and property at risk," said Greenpeace CEO Linda Selvey.

According to the report temperatures in Australia had warmed an average 0.9 degrees Celsius (33.6 F) since 1950, with the greatest intensification of heat in the country's east, which was accompanied by markedly declining rainfall…..

A house damaged by bushfires in the Kinglake complex, in Yarra Glen. Shot by Nick carson, who has released the image into the public domain

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

What is your water really worth?

William S. Brennan has a great post about water in Just a few snips: … So what is the real underlying value of water relative to the state of our infrastructure, the energy used to treat and move it and ultimately, is it priced correctly? The water that runs into our homes goes through a comprehensive treatment protocol that is governed by the EPA before it ever hits the transmission pipes. The cost of treatment alone when you add in the energy to move water through various membranes and filters is likely far more than the average person realizes. … Did you ever give a second though to just how much energy is needed to provide water services? Energy is required to lift water from significant depth in aquifers, pump water through canals and pipes, control water flow and treat waste water, and desalinate brackish or sea water. Globally, commercial energy consumed for delivering water is more than 7% of total world consumption. Energy consumption effects water use more than we realize with 50% of our fresh water being used by electrical power plants

What most fail to realize is that the water industry is a "rising-cost" industry, with prices rising faster than the rate of inflation. Most costs are associated with infrastructure replacement, regulatory compliance (treatment), and population growth (for some areas). Labor, energy, and chemicals are the three major operating expenses for many systems where rising costs are coupled with flat or declining demand (conservation), another source of price pressure. One of the first points we always make with investors in the water sector is that water demand is relatively price inelastic; however, large-volume and discretionary use may fall due to price response. Ultimately, water customers experience the combined and regressive effect of water, wastewater, and stormwater charges. So get ready for higher water rates.

From our view, full-cost water pricing is essential for sustainability, as well as economic efficiency; in the coming years, accurate pricing will signal and encourage efficient production and use and emerge as the catalyst for behavioral change among end users. In the absence of full-cost pricing, subsidies can flow to or from water systems and sustainability will become more questionable, especially in regions where water shortages are expected to persist. …..

Often overlooked by most people, politics has and will continue to play the leading role in setting the ultimate price of water globally, resulting in prices that short term, may remain artificially low in comparison to the intrinsic value of water in certain parts of the world; not enough water stress exists in those areas to move pricing that wakes up the end user. Shortsighted but prevalent. ...

A faucet shot by Nicole-Koehler, Wikimedia Commons, under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2

Kerry: Pentagon review to cite climate change risks

Ben German in the Hill: Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) said Wednesday that a major upcoming Pentagon report on defense strategy will list climate change as a security problem that could claim U.S. lives. The Obama administration is slated to submit the Quadrennial Defense Review to Congress next week.

“I will tell you that the defense review of the United States Pentagon next week is going to come out and list climate change for the first time as an instability factor that affects our troops and may in fact wind up costing us lives down the road,” Kerry said at a forum hosted by labor, business, veteran and other groups backing climate legislation.

Kerry, a key architect of Senate climate plans, emphasized national security in calling for activists to fight for legislation that reduces greenhouse gas emissions. He said requiring emissions cuts and boosting alternative energy would curb spending on oil imports that makes its way into unfriendly hands.

…Kerry is working with Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) on climate and energy legislation they hope can garner 60 votes. But imposing mandatory caps on heat-trapping emissions faces large hurdles in the Senate….

The Pentagon, circa 1967

Crop genetics, climate change and maize stability

American Society of Agronomy: Climate change is an ever-present threat to agriculture. Many experts predict sudden and unexpected changes in climatic conditions will bring new stresses to the environment. Ensuring the stability of crop varieties across environments and conditions is a critical breeding goal when dealing with the uncertainty of climate change.

Maize is one of three primary crops worldwide. Slight changes in climatic conditions may cause substantial yield losses, resulting in great food shortages and economic losses. Consequently, numerous breeding programs are currently evaluating maize stability under different climatic stress conditions. However, many breeders design yield improvement programs without first conducting preliminary studies to determine which environmental factors actually limit the crop and which genetic parameters are essentially affected.

Scientists in northwestern Spain, from the Spanish National Council (CSIC), have investigated the effects of multiple climatic stresses on maize grain yield. The study, which was funded by the Spanish Plan of Research and Development, evaluated 76 Spanish populations of maize, along with five commercial hybrids. Research was conducted at three distinct locations over three years, for a total of nine environments. Evaluations were made under multiple stress conditions, including a shortage of water, cold temperature, and low nutrient availability. No pesticide or herbicide treatments were applied during the growing cycle, and weeding was limited in order to allow competition. Data on several traits related to plant development and yield were collected on each plot. Environmental variables were also recorded to monitor variations in temperature and rainfall during the growth season.

The results of the study, which are published in the January/February 2010 issue of Crop Science, illuminate the effect of genotype and environment on yield stability, as well as the magnitude of genotype-environment interactions. Researchers determined that commercial hybrids had higher yield and stability than most populations, suggesting that breeding programs focusing on yield have released hybrids with high yield and stability under different stress conditions. Some non-hybrid populations also produced a reasonable compromise between yield and stability. If yield stability under stress conditions is a breeding goal, researchers recommended that several climatic variables, especially those related to high temperatures, and genotypic traits, such as kernel depth and ear length, be considered.

Although hybrids are more stable under diverse climatic conditions, it is important to remember that old populations are the reservoirs of genes from which these hybrids have been developed. In order to continue the development of improved hybrids, research with populations must also be emphasized. However, old populations need to be intensely improved for yield if they are going to be used for future breeding programs.

Multicolored corn cobs, shot by Waugsberg, Wiikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license version 2.0

The sea's ups and downs in the eastern Mediterranean

University of Haifa: The sea level in Israel has been rising and falling over the past 2,500 years, with a one-meter difference between the highest and lowest levels, most of the time below the present-day level. This has been shown in a new study supervised by Dr. Dorit Sivan, Head of the Department of Maritime Civilizations at the University of Haifa. “Rises and falls in sea level over relatively short periods do not testify to a long-term trend. It is early yet to conclude from the short-term increases in sea level that this is a set course that will not take a change in direction,” explains Dr. Sivan.

The rising sea level is one of the phenomena that have most influence on humankind: the rising sea not only floods the littoral regions but also causes underground water salinisation, flooded effluents, accelerated coastal destruction, and other damage.

According to Dr. Sivan, the changing sea level can be attributed to three main causes: the global cause - the volume of water in the ocean, which mirrors the mass of ice sheets and is related to global warming or cooling; the regional cause - vertical movement of the earth’s surface, which is usually related to the pressure placed on the surface by the ice; and the local cause - vertical tectonic activity. Seeing as Israel is not close to former ice caps and the tectonic activity along the Mediterranean coast is negligible over these periods, it can be concluded that drastic changes in Israel’s sea levels are mainly related to changes in the volume of water.

…“Over the past century, we have witnessed the sea level in Israel fluctuating with almost 19 centimeters between the highest and lowest levels. Over the past 50 years Israel’s mean sea level rise is 5.5 centimeters, but there have also been periods when it rose by 10 centimeters over 10 years. That said, even acute ups and downs over short periods do not testify to long-term trends. An observation of the sea levels over hundreds and thousands of years shows that what seems a phenomenon today is as a matter of fact “nothing new under the sun”, Dr. Sivan concludes.

A Templar tunnel in Acre, near one of the sites where this study was conducted, shot by Sambach, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license

Expecting droughts in Trinidad and Tobago

Juhel Browne in the Trinidad Express: Droughts can be experienced in Trinidad and Tobago due to climate change, says Prime Minister Patrick Manning as he noted his administration has already taken notice of the water shortages now facing several parts of the country.

Manning acknowledged the severity of the situation and revealed the Government’s planned response to it during a People’s National Movement (PNM) public meeting in Malabar on Tuesday night where residents there told the Express that water problems have been a regular feature in daily life there.

’As it now stands in 2010 the rainfall is already much lower than it is anticipated... and we believe it is El Nino, but it does not in any way negate our conclusion that as a result of climate change among other things we can experience droughts in Trinidad and Tobago,’ Manning said.

He reiterated the Government’s previous announcements that desalination plants are to be constructed in certain areas close to the sea at great expense to address the problem and provide more potable drinking water but added this would require new water distribution systems as some 50 per cent of the existing supply is now lost due to leaks….

Waterfall in Trinidad, shot by Manuel Dohman, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

WWF: Sunderbans tigers face extinction

New Tang Dynasty Television: According to the World Wildlife Fund, or WWF, the Sunderbans Royal Bengal tiger may only be found in zoos by the end of this century.

[Colby Loucks, World Wildlife Fund]: "If we don't do anything to limit the impact of climate change and in this case sea-level rise or protect the tigers from more immediate threats such as poaching and habitat loss, the Sunderbans and its tigers will go under water in the next 50 to 90 years is what our study found."

Through habitat loss and poaching, the tigers are already one of the world's most threatened species. The WWF estimates that the entire global tiger population totals only 3,200 in the wild. It says nowhere are they more vulnerable than in the Sunderbans.
The Sunderbans in Bangladesh is the world's largest mangrove forests and provides a habitat for about ten percent of the global Royal Bengal tiger population. A recent WWF study says that rising waters will submerge the area by the end of the century. The report says an 11 inch rise in sea level - a rate they describe as conservative - is likely by 2070. By then, Sunderban tiger populations are "unlikely to remain viable."…

Panthera tigris corbetti (seen here at the Houston Zoo) is from the Sundarbans, the largest single block of tidal halophytic mangrove forest in the world, which spread across areas of Bangladesh and West Bengal, India. Shot by Cburnett, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License

Indian glaciologist fires back at climate sceptics

Keya Acharya in IPS has a long, carefully weighed summary of a complex subject that the denialists are doing their utmost to confuse: "It is a fact that global warming is happening. If the Arctic Sea ice is melting, how can the Himalayan glaciers not be melting?" glaciologist Syed Iqbal Hasnain asked indignantly. Amid the brouhaha over last week’s retraction by a United Nations body of its 2007 report that the Himalayan glaciers would disappear by 2035, global warming sceptics quickly seized on the error, noting the rash of media reports on the issue, which they believed bolstered their position.

But Hasnain, who found himself at the centre of the Himalayan meltdown controversy, said it is "ridiculous" to assume that the glaciers are not melting. The scientist was reported as having given the year 2035 for the disappearance of Himalayan glaciers due to global warming in a 1999 interview with a British publication, ‘New Scientist’… In the IPCC report, the United Nations body said the phenomenon of climate change would melt most Himalayan glaciers by 2035, which was taken from the ‘New Scientist’ article published in 1999, according to the British broadsheet ‘Sunday Times’ in its Jan. 17 issue. The article was based on a telephone interview with Hasnain by the journal’s writer, Fred Pearce.

…Hasnain, who denied ever having given the 2035 time frame to the writer, said Pearce has gone on record in the same ‘Sunday Times’ article, saying a 1999 report prepared by the scientist "does not mention 2035 as a date by which any Himalayan glacier will melt."

…Hasnain gave IPS a synthesis of recent scientific studies on the Himalayan glaciers. Titled ‘Synthesis of Recent Studies on Himalayan Glaciers,’ his report sums up scientific research done in the last decade, proving that the Himalayan glaciers are receding.

Glaciers in eastern and central Himalayas are especially sensitive to present atmospheric warming due to their summer snow-accumulation system, said the glaciologist’s report, citing a 1984 study by Yasunari Ageta and K. Higuchi.

…Hasnain said vested interests are trying to denigrate scientists who are "diligently doing their best to research the issue." Collecting and collating scientific evidence on glacial retreat in the Himalayas has been both physically near impossible and technically difficult. According to the Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) there are still no systematic measurements of glacial mass balance in the Himalayan region."…

A valley in Ladakh, shot by Dalibor, Wikimedia Commons, nder the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License

Managing ecosystems in a changing climate

EurekAlert via the Ecological Society of America: Global warming may impair the ability of ecosystems to perform vital services—such as providing food, clean water and carbon sequestration—says the nation's largest organization of ecological scientists. In a statement released today, the Ecological Society of America (ESA) outlines strategies that focus on restoring and maintaining natural ecosystem functions to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

"Decision-makers cannot overlook the critical services ecosystems provide," says ESA President Mary Power. "If we are going to reduce the possibility of irreversible damage to the environment under climate change, we need to take swift but measured action to protect and manage our ecosystems."

ESA recommends four approaches to limiting adverse effects of climate change through ecosystem management:
  • Prioritize low-alteration strategies. …
  • Critically evaluate management-intensive strategies. ….
  • Acknowledge the ecological implications of geoengineering. …
  • Address long-term risks. …
In addition to mitigating climate change, steps should be taken to prepare ecosystems to withstand climate change impacts. Human activity has impaired the natural resilience of many ecosystems. ESA outlines four adaptation strategies to safeguard ecosystem services in the face of climate change:
  • Take additional steps to protect water quality and quantity. …
  • Enable natural species migration across human dominated landscapes.
  • Improve capacity to predict extreme events. ….
  • Manage collaboratively at the ecosystem level. ….
Wetlands alongside the Morava river (Gestütwiese), near Hohenau an der March, Lower Austria, shot by Stanislav Doronenko (nazdar!), Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license

World's glaciers continue to melt at historic rates

Juliette Jowit in the Guardian (UK): Glaciers across the globe are continuing to melt so fast that many will disappear by the middle of this century, the World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS) said today. The announcement of the latest annual results from monitoring in nine mountain ranges on four continents comes as doubts have been cast on how much climate scientists have exaggerated the problem of glacier melt, which is seen as a leading indicator of how much the planet is heating up.

Last week the head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) apologised for "a paragraph" in its four-volume 2007 report which warned there was a "very high" risk that the Himalayan glaciers, on which at least half a billion of the world's poorest people depend for water, would disappear by 2035. However the director of the WGMS, Professor Wilfried Haeberli, said the latest global results indicated most glaciers were continuing to melt at historically high rates.

"The melting goes on," said Haeberli. "It's less extreme than in years [immediately before] but what's really important is the trend of 10 years or so, and that shows an unbroken acceleration in melting."

Haeberli also repeated his warning that many glaciers are set to disappear in the next few decades, due to an expected continuation in the rise of global average temperatures. The most vulnerable glaciers were those in lower mountain ranges like the Alps and the Pyrenees in Europe, in Africa, parts of the Andes in South and Central America, and the Rockies in North America, said Haeberli.

"We are on the path of the highest scenario [of global warming] in reality, but if you take a medium scenario in the Alps about 70% will be gone by the middle of the century, and mountain ranges like the Pyrenees may be completely ice-free."…

The Rhone Glacier in 1900

Monday, January 25, 2010

More storms for Texas, researchers say

Phil Gusman in P&C Underwriter: Storm frequency and severity will likely increase in Texas in the coming years due to climate change, according to weather researchers. At a conference held at Southern Methodist University’s Cox School of Business, sponsored by the Willis Research Network, Harold Brooks of the National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) said straight-line winds—violent air currents that usually accompany thunderstorms and are produced when areas of low and high pressure collide—represent a growing threat to homes and businesses.

He said compared with hurricanes, tornadoes and, to a lesser extent, hail, such winds are a relatively small contributor to structural damage at present. But he added that as the climate changes, NSSL researchers believe these events will become more frequent and therefore contribute more significantly to overall damage.

“Based on what we know about the potential patterns of climate change, we expect severe storm activity to increase in Texas and the Midwest, including higher activity of straight-line winds with potentially damaging effects,” Mr. Brooks said.

One way to mitigate against storm damage is to build stronger buildings. Better building performance can be assured by spending a few percent more on construction that goes beyond the minimum building code requirements, according to the Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS). Tim Reinhold of IBHS advocated tougher building standards that will hold up in the face of increased storms….

Hildalgo County, Texas, July 30, 2008 -- Eight days following Hurricane Dolly's landfall, residents were still cut off by flood waters and had to wade through water to reach passable roads. Photo by Patricia Brach/FEMA

Singapore needs to build capabilities in understanding climate change

Hetty Musfirah in Channel NewsAsia: Environment and Water Resources Minister Yaacob Ibrahim on Monday said that Singapore needs to build up capabilities in understanding climate change. This will help the country and the region be better prepared for the impact of climate change and its effect on weather systems.

Dr Yaacob was speaking to experts who are meeting in Singapore for the first time to discuss the impact of typhoons in Asia. The Asia Pacific Region is one of the most vulnerable areas to natural disasters, and Singapore has been part of a 14-member UN-ESCAP/World Meteorological Organisation Typhoon Committee since 1997.

Last year, more than 300 people died in the path of Typhoon Ketsana when it struck Southeast Asia. From 1950 to 2005, more than half of the worldwide deaths caused by natural disasters occurred in this region, and many of the deaths were typhoon-related. Wind storms and floods associated with typhoons accounted for 57 per cent or some US$33 billion of the economic losses in this region in the same period.

Singapore is spared such devastation due to its location, but Dr Yaacob said that there is still a need to be prepared. Typhoon Vemai, which struck in 2001 for example, brought on heavy rainfall, flash floods and even caused disruption to flights in Singapore.

Dr Yaacob said: "Typhoons are powerful ... and their influence can extend to hundreds and thousands of kilometres beyond, bringing in dry weather in one part and wet weather in another. "They can significantly affect the regional rainfall patterns. Our climate scientists in MSD (Meteorological Services Division) will therefore collaborate with experts in the region to better understand the relationships between climate change and typhoons."….

A 1994 CIA map of Singapore

Climate aid for Bhutan

Brunei Times: Landlocked, mountainous Bhutan is getting support from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and Japan to counter the harmful impacts of climate change on its rivers – the lifeblood of the economy. The Japan Special Fund, financed by the Government of Japan and administered by ADB, is providing a $700,000 grant for building up the capacity of Bhutan?s National Environment Commission (NEC).

The NEC is the designated national authority for climate change issues and handles projects that are eligible to avail of carbon credits under the Kyoto Protocol. However, it currently lacks the staff and other capacity for developing mitigation and adaptation measures that can counter climate change.

Bhutan's rivers are the backbone of the economy, with exports of hydropower-generated electricity accounting for more than 40% of national revenue, while 70% of the population lives in rural areas and depends heavily on irrigated agriculture. Climate change threatens to have a serious impact on river flows as a result of changing patterns of rain and snowfall, flash floods exacerbated by melting glaciers, and acute droughts in the dry season. …

Bhutan's coat of arms, though it looks like a mandala to me

IPCC author downplays climate report errors

Samuel Cardwell in the Sydney Morning Herald, via AAP: A key author of the IPCC report on climate change has played down the significance of errors found in the 2007 report, saying they do not undermine the case for global warming. The report erroneously claimed Himalayan glaciers could melt by 2035 and exaggerated the link between climate change and extreme weather.

Professor Andy Pitman, co-director of the University of NSW climate change research centre and key author of the IPCC's 2001 and 2007 reports, says the discovery of the errors does not undermine the science. "As far as I understand it, there are two paragraphs that have been questioned in a 1600-page document," he told ABC radio. "We ought to be talking about the other 1599 pages that nobody has found any problems with."

The prediction that Himalayan glaciers could disappear by 2035 has now been shown to be unfounded but Prof Pitman says while the date may be wrong the outcome will be the same. "It doesn't say that the Himalayan glaciers are not vulnerable to climate change or are not melting or are not melting at an accelerated rate. It is the date of 2035 that is in error," he said.

What is more worrying to Prof Pitman is the revelation that the chairman of the IPCC, Rajendra Pachauri, may have benefited from the errors by receiving funding for his research institute. "I have to admit that it looks extremely bad," he said. "But looking bad and actually undermining the broad conclusions that are in the IPCC report are two very different things."

…Prof Pitman believes concerted efforts by sceptics to attack and misinform the community are working, likening them to the efforts of tobacco lobbyists who deny the health effects of smoking. "My personal view is that climate scientists are losing the fight with the sceptics," he said. "They're [the sceptics] doing a damn good job. I think they're doing a superb job of misinforming and miscommunicating (to) the general public, the state and the federal governments."…

A smoke ring, formed with a smoke chamber at Bonn University, used here to refer to climate change denialists' campaign against the IPCC (just so the literal-minded don't get confused). Image shot by Traitor, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License

A quiet 2009 helps property & casualty insurance recover

Insurance Although 2009 was relatively mild in terms of natural catastrophes -- hurricane-free in the United States and without a Haiti-style calamity elsewhere -- global terror and climate change have become ever more prominent on Munich Re's radar. Still, the economic forecast has improved for the property/casualty sector from theQuiet darkest days of last year's financial crisis, executives said at Munich Re's Catastrophe Year in Review webinar.
Robert Hartwig, president of the Insurance Information Institute, said the sector returned to profitability last year, with estimated net revenue after taxes of $16.1 billion and estimated return on equity of 4.5%. In 2008, the industry only mustered $2.3 billion net after taxes and ROE of 0.3%, Hartwig said.

Investment income seems to be growing as well, he said. Through the first three quarters of last year, the P/C sector's investment gains stood at $26.2 billion. By comparison, insurers' investment income for all of 2008 was $31.4 billion.

…Carl Hedde, head of Risk Accumulation at Munich Re America, noted that insured losses in the United States in 2009 totaled $11.1 billion, far less than the 1999-to-2008 average annual loss of $24.5 billion. These losses mostly stemmed from winter storms, severe thunderstorms, spring flooding in the nation's heartland and California wildfires, Hedde said.

…Ernst Rauch, head of Munich Re's Corporate Climate Center, said although 850 natural catastrophes occurred worldwide in 2009, "none of these events met the requirement in our database as a so-called great natural catastrophe," he said. However, the 10-year average worldwide for these events is only 770 annually, he noted.

More than 40% of last year's catastrophes, and 82% of total insured losses, resulted from storms, Rauch said, and 60% of these events occurred in North America. Another 28% happened in Europe. Insured losses were $22 billion worldwide in 2009, while the 10-year average has been $36 billion a year, he said.

A map of the 2009 Atlantic hurricane season. Created by Cyclonebiskit using Wikipedia:WikiProject Tropical cyclones/Tracks. The background image is from NASA. Tracking data from the National Hurricane Center[1] or the Joint Typhoon Warning Center.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Despite downpour, drought persists in San Francisco

Peter Fimrite in the San Francisco Chronicle: Ot might seem odd to talk about a drought after a weeklong series of thundering storms drenched the Bay Area and heaped snow on the Sierra, but California's water lords know the state's lingering thirst cannot be quenched by one showy display of wet weather.

The recent downpours have temporarily brought the state back from the dusty brink, but officials with the California Department of Water Resources claim much more rain and snow will have to fall if the Golden State is going to pull out of its drought. "It took three years to get this dry," said David Rizzardo, chief of the department's snow surveys section. "Barring an extraordinary year, it's going to take more than one year to get out of it."

The next two months will tell the tale, according to Rizzardo. The state could emerge from drought if the storms caused by that tempestuous weather maker known as El Niño keep coming, he said. But they would have to be particularly ferocious.

…Although rainfall is now above normal in the Bay Area, Lake Oroville, the State Water Project's primary source of drinking water, is only 31 percent of capacity. That's about 48 percent of average for this date.

Reservoirs statewide, including Hetch Hetchy, appear to be doing relatively well, hovering around 72 percent of average. But most of them are tiny compared with Lake Oroville, which has a capacity of 3.5 million acre-feet of water. An acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons, enough to cover an acre in a foot of water. Hetch Hetchy holds 360,400 acre-feet of water….

Lake Oroville shot from space, NASA

Water in Chile a matter of national security

Daniela Estrada in IPS via Tierramérica: In its proposed constitutional reform, the Chilean government recognises that the availability of freshwater is a matter of national security. Environmentalists applaud the initiative, but some business groups are worried it will hurt their bottom line. The paragraph that will be added to Article 19 of Chile's Constitution, if Parliament approves the bill sent by President Michelle Bachelet on Jan. 7, states that water is a national good for public use, regardless of the state where it is located or the course it follows, including glaciers.

The bill "opens a first step for resolving the crisis of access, contamination, concentration and overexploitation of water in Chile, and the degradation of watersheds," declared a group of environmental organisations and workers from private sanitation companies. The initiative made it over the first hurdle Jan. 13 when it was approved by the Chamber of Deputies agricultural committee.

The legal text recognises that freshwater, which is lacking in the Chilean north and abundant in the south, has become a "scarce good" and that its availability is "a matter of national security," much more than fossil fuels, which can be imported from other countries.

Around the globe, this vital resource is threatened by the effects of climate change, which is causing glaciers to melt as well as more intense droughts. Chile is a world leader when it comes to freshwater reserves in the form of glaciers. According to the latest inventory by the government's water agency, there are more than 3,500 glaciers, covering some 20,000 square kilometres.

According to the text, the constitutional reform aims to provide the authorities with the necessary tools so that, "in case it becomes indispensible," they can limit or restrict the exercise of private rights over water and reserve surface or underground waters to ensure availability, primarily for human consumption. As such, Chile is following the path of Ecuador and Uruguay, which constitutionally defined water as a public good in 2008 and 2004, respectively….

The volcanoes Incahuasi (most left) and El Fraile (right beside) behind the Laguna Verde. Shot by Daniel Weiss (Skaifyomonul), Wikmedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License