Sunday, February 28, 2010

Death toll hits 53 as storms lash Europe

Terra Daily via Agence France-Presse: Hurricane-force winds, surging seas and driving rain lashed western Europe on Sunday, leaving at least 53 people dead and more than a million households without power. Dubbed "Xynthia", the Atlantic storm crashed against the western coasts of France and Spain overnight, bringing with it a band of foul weather stretching from Portugal to the Netherlands and inland as far as Germany.

The bulk of the casualties were in France, where gusts of 150 kilometres per hour (93 mph) and eight metre (26 foot) waves battered the west coast, flooding inland and sending residents scurrying onto rooftops. Prime Minister Francois Fillon said France would formally declare the storm a natural disaster, freeing up funds to help communities rebuild, as Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux put the national death toll at "between 45 and 50".

"We were warned, but I didn't think it could do this," said 62-year-old retiree Jean-Francois Dikczyk, who saw the sea surge several hundred metres (yards) inland and smash though the windows of his house…..

Milo Winter's "North wind," from Aesop for Children

Global crisis of water scarcity

Martin Khor in the Star (Malaysia): …In recent years, climate change seems to have elbowed out other environmental issues to become the No. 1 global problem. But the alarming worldwide water scarcity is an equally important issue, and an even more immediate threat. A decade ago, it was predicted that a third of the world’s population would be facing water scarcity by 2025. But this threshold has already been reached. Two billion people live in countries that are water-stressed and by 2025, two-thirds of the world population may suffer water stress, unless current trends alter.

Even more dramatic, wars will be fought over water this century, just as wars were and are still being fought over control of oil these past decades. “The global population tripled in the 20th century but water consumption went up sevenfold,” noted Maudhe Barlow of the Council of Canadians and an expert on the global water crisis in her book Blue Covenant.

…Water supply is affected by the loss of watersheds due to deforestation and soil erosion in hills and mountains. There is also a severe depletion of valuable groundwater resources as water is taken up for agriculture and industry, and is being dug from deeper and deeper sources. Mining of groundwater has caused the water-table to drop in parts of many countries including India and China, West Asia, Russia and the United States.

Agriculture uses 70% of water because industrial agriculture requires large amounts of water. It takes 3 cubic metres of water to produce a kilo of cereals, and 15 cubic metres of water to produce a kilo of beef because of the grain fed to the cows. A lot of surface water is also polluted and thus not available for human use, or if it is used, the polluted water causes health problems. Five million people die from water-borne diseases annually.

…Another issue is the fight over the systems for owning and distributing the scarce water resources. In her book, Maudhe Barlow describes the recent policies to privatise water, which until recently was under direct control of government authorities. Privatisation was first carried out in Western countries and then spread to developing countries through World Bank loans and projects….

Shot by Bernd in Japan, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license

Slovak ecologists slam oil pipe plan in unique water reservoir

Energy Daily via Agence France-Press: Plans for an oil pipeline through central Europe's largest drinking water reservoir in southwestern Slovakia have sparked outrage among Slovak environmentalists and water companies alike. Slovak state-owned downstream oil company Transpetrol is planning to connect Austria to the Druzhba pipeline -- pumping Russian oil to central Europe -- via a connector passing through the Zitny ostrov (Rye Island) protected area.

But the 1,900-square-kilometre island on the Danube river contains some 10 billion cubic metres of high-quality drinking water reserves. "An oil pipeline leading through Zitny ostrov would endanger a unique and irreplaceable drinking-water resource for Bratislava and surrounding regions," Zenon Mikle, spokesman for a company supplying water to the Slovak capital, told AFP.

Transpetrol and Austrian downstream oil giant OMV expect to start building the 62-kilometre (39-mile) pipeline connecting Druzhba and the Trans-Alpine pipeline in 2012. Slovakia, which depends on Russia for 98 percent of its oil supplies, accounting for about 5.5 million tonnes per year, is betting on the pipeline as an alternative source in case Russia decides to halt supplies through Druzhba.

The country has been trying to diversify its energy sources after it was left without oil supplies for three days in January 2007 when Russia interrupted deliveries following an energy dispute between Moscow and Belarussian authorities in Minsk….

Preparing for forest fires

An editorial in the Morung Express (India): Last year many incidents of forest fires occurred around the world causing alarm to helpless people caught in the inferno… That climate change is indeed a grim reality is evidenced by the record dry wave that is being witnessed across many parts of Indian including in Nagaland. And in fact the State’s department of Forest, Ecology, Environment and Wildlife has come out with some pointer based on interactions with local farmers suggesting a marked change in the climatic patterns that have come to affect our local farmers agricultural calendar.

Coming back to the bush fire disaster in Australia, there have been similar incidents in Nagaland. Dzukuo valley was partially ravaged by fire in the year 2006. Most recently another fire struck Dzukou valley but luckily the damage was contained and there was no casualty. But it was not so fortunate for the four persons, including a minor who were charred to death in a forest fire at Noklak in Tuensang district of Nagaland. The fire started by the villagers to clear jungle for jhum cultivation spread towards the human populated areas due to dry spell accompanied by wind.

The latest fire accident at Noklak has several lessons for all concerned in Nagaland and more so because we have large tracts of forest land and where jhum cultivation is the main agricultural practice prevailing among the farmers. It is not that the State government is doing nothing but whether it is doing enough and effectively dealing with the problem is the question.

….To avert such kind of accidents in the State, the government should take appropriate measures besides creating awareness at the village levels especially during the prevailing dry season. This should include disseminating information capsule (in the respective local dialects) on safe farming methodology so that Naga farmers who are closest to nature are able to live in harmony with nature while enjoying the benefits therein. One is made to wonder about the State government’s level of preparedness to deal with such incidents in future.

A map showing the location of Nagaland and other Indian states, by Jeroenvrp, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Netherlands license

Unpredictable weather hurting farmers in Zambia

Judith Hara in via the Times of Zambia: "Farming has now become completely different and difficult," laments Dickson Siangoma. Mr Siangoma is a headman at Malundu Village in Lusitu area of Siavonga and is struck by the changing weather patterns and conditions that have made farming a little less predictable and a high risk venture.

…Climate change is an issue that has affected many farmers' livelihoods world over. It has been established that agriculture is particularly vulnerable to climate variability. Small-scale farmers have been hit the most because of their limited capacity to adapt.

But at the same time, unsustainable farming practises are said to contribute to climate change, posing a great challenge to environmental sustainability, particularly through deforestation as they continue to search for productive agriculture farmlands.

New evidence from a study from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) indicates that on-going extreme changes and variability in Zambia's climate could bring losses of more than US$4 billion in agricultural income in the next 10 years, driving hundreds of thousands into poverty and food insecurity.

….[A]n organisation called Participatory Ecological Land and Use Management (PELUM) is presently working with farming communities to help them make informed choices towards an improved quality of life. PELUM is a regional network comprising a consortium of more than 200 farmer organisations and is available in 10 countries in Eastern, Central and southern Africa with branches in Zambia....

Plowing with oxen in southern Zambia, shot by Amanita Phalloides, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License

Saturday, February 27, 2010

'We need a strategy for El Niño'

Dulce Sanchez in the The Philippine Star: The head of an international crop research institute is calling on the Philippines and other countries affected by drought to “go on a war footing” to cope with the El Niño weather phenomenon and climate change. Dr. William Dar, director general of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), said several crises – aside from drought – confront global agriculture today.

“Warming temperatures, floods, increasing land degradation, rising food prices, zooming energy demand and population explosion are creating extreme challenges to feed the world. We can avert this potential ‘climaggedon’ through a strong political will and collective action by the global community,” he said. Dar said there is a need for a long-term strategy to deal with climate change and El Niño rather than simply taking reactive measures.

He said there is a need for institutional mechanisms to develop and implement a strategy of “adaptation and mitigation for our farmers to surmount climate change and the continuing onslaught of El Niño.” Dar said the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pag-asa) estimates that there would be a 40 to 60 percent reduction in rainfall that will last until June, and the Department of Agriculture projects that this could cut rice production by 816,372 tons worth P12.24 billion.

He also said the areas hardest hit by the drought are Cagayan and Isabela which are major producers of rice. He added that the production of other crops like corn, sugar cane, vegetables and other agricultural products will also be severely affected....

Banaue rice terraces in the Philippines, where traditional landraces have been grown for thousands of years. From McCouch S: Diversifying Selection in Plant Breeding. PLoS Biol 2/10/2004: e347. This image was published in a Public Library of Science journal. Their website states that the content of all PLoS journals is published under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 license.

Giant Antarctic iceberg could affect global ocean circulation

James Sturcke in the Guardian (UK): An iceberg the size of Luxembourg that contains enough fresh water to supply a third of the world's population for a year has broken off in the Antarctic continent, with possible implications for global ocean circulation, scientists said today.

The iceberg, measuring about 50 miles by 25, broke away from the Mertz glacier around 2,000 miles south of Australia after being rammed by another giant iceberg known as B-9B three weeks ago, satellite images reveal. The two icebergs, which both weigh more than 700m tons, are now drifting close together about 100 miles north of Antarctica.

Rob Massom, a senior scientist at the Australian Antarctic Division and the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre in Hobart, Tasmania, said the location of the icebergs could affect global ocean circulation and had important implications for marine biology in the region.

The concern is that the massive displacement of ice would transform the composition of sea water in the area and impair the normal circulation of cold, dense water that normally supplies deep ocean currents with oxygen.

"Removal of this tongue of floating ice would reduce the size of that area of open water, which would slow down the rate of salinity input into the ocean and it could slow down this rate of Antarctic bottom water formation," Massom told Reuters.

Mario Hoppema, chemical oceanographer at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Germany, said that as a result "there may be regions of the world's oceans that lose oxygen, and then of course most of the life there will die"….

Photo of the Mertz Glacier calving by from the Australia Antarctic Division website. Photo by Neal Young © Commonwealth of Australia

Flood-protection innovations discussed at New Orleans conference

Molly Reid in the Times-Picayune (New Orleans): Engineers and politicians should be more open to new technologies and integrated systems of flood prevention and mitigation, German engineer Erik Pasche said Friday at a conference on water management and urban planning in risk-prone communities that was held at the old U.S. Mint in New Orleans.

Pasche's lecture on "cascading," or compartmentalized, levee systems was a keystone of the two-day conference titled "Building Resilience," in which planners, architects, engineers and environmental advocates discussed challenges and opportunities in marrying traditional, levee-based flood protection with newer, innovative water-management systems.

Americans and Europeans are both apt to feel that once levees are built, "now we are safe," said Pasche, who is based in Hamburg and is the director of the Institute of River and Coastal Engineering. "But we know nowadays that this is not correct, because of the uncertainty which came with climate change. "…

As an example of such a system, Pasche talked about efforts to implement a cascading levee system protecting the flood-prone island of Wilhelmsburg, which sits between two branches of the Elbe River in Hamburg. The cascading levee plan uses a tiered system in which the outer dikes are built resistant to breaches and weatherization, allowing for controlled overtopping. Buildings in those areas have to be "amphibious" or raised to meet the expected flood level, he said. Inner levees decrease in height, according to risk, and again allow for overtopping, he said….

The island of Wilhelmsburg, from German Wikipedia, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License

Malawi adds more drought relief

Charles Mpaka in via IPS: Maize farmer Anita Yunus has lived near the Mulanje Mountain in southern Malawi for over 30 years. And she does not remember there ever being a drought in the area. While there have been four severe droughts in Malawi in the past 25 years, the Mulanje region was not affected by these. So this year's drought is the first Yunus has experienced and she is deeply worried. "I don't know what punishment this is," the 53-year-old tells IPS. "We have always enjoyed very good rains, maybe because of the mountain, but now I don't know how to explain what we have this time."

According to government records, last year the southern region produced a third of Malawi's total annual maize harvest of 3.5 million tonnes. Mulanje is one of the major maize-producing districts in Malawi. Here 81 percent of the 530,000 people survive on subsistence farming. During harvest, residents from Blantyre rush to Mulanje to buy cheap maize.

Apart from Mulanje, the dry spell has hit six other districts in the southern and central region. In Malawi, the rainy season often starts in early December and runs up to March. But in these districts rainfall has either not fallen or has been irregular since December. Unofficial figures estimate that over 30,000 hectares of crop fields have been affected and that up to 120,000 families (an average of 720,000 people) could need food assistance in the region…..

A corn field in Malawi, shot by Joachim Huber, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Global warming hits coffee as meeting examines crisis

Seed Daily: Delegates representing coffee producers and consumers met here Friday to discuss global warming's effect on coffee growing, as producers warned climate change has forced them to find new growing grounds. Some 1,000 delegates from 77 countries are meeting for three days to examine how changing weather patterns will affect production over the next five years, organizers said.

Coffee producers say they are getting hammered by global warming, with higher temperatures forcing growers to move to higher, cooler, and more prized ground, putting their cash crop at risk. "There is already evidence of important changes" said Nestor Osorio, head of the International Coffee Organization (ICO), which represents countries that export or import the beans. "In the last 25 years the temperature has risen half a degree in coffee producing countries, five times more than in the 25 years before," he said.

Sipped daily by hundreds of millions of people worldwide, coffee is one of the globe's most important commodities, and a major mainstay of exports for countries from Brazil to Indonesia….

Coffee beans shot by Jeff Kubina, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Friday, February 26, 2010

How will global warming affect regional climates?

Scientific Blogging: While much attention has been given to the potential global impact of climate change, less has been paid to how a warmer planet would affect regional climates. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projects that the global average temperature will rise about 1°C by the middle of the century, but the global average does not tell us anything about what will happen to regional climates,….

Analyzing warming projections in models used by the IPCC, a team of scientists claim that ocean temperature patterns in the tropics and subtropics will change in ways that will lead to significant changes in rainfall patterns. The study will be published in the Journal of Climate this month.

Most experts have assumed that the surfaces of Earth's oceans will warm rather evenly in the tropics. This assumption has led to "wetter-gets-wetter" and "drier-gets-drier" regional rainfall projections. But authors of the new study have gathered evidence that, although ocean surface temperatures can be expected to increase mostly everywhere by the middle of the century, the increase may differ by up to 1.5°C depending upon the region.

…Two patterns stand out. First, the maximum temperature rise in the Pacific is along a broad band at the equator. Already today the equatorial Pacific sets the rhythm of a global climate oscillation as shown by the world-wide impact of El Niño. This broad band of peak temperature on the equator changes the atmospheric heating in the models. By anchoring a rainband similar to that during an El Nino, it influences climate around the world through atmospheric teleconnections.

A second ocean warming pattern with major impact on rainfall noted by the researchers occurs in the Indian Ocean and would affect the lives of billions of people. Overlayed on Indian Ocean warming for part of the year is what scientists call the Indian Ocean Dipole that occasionally occurs today once every decade or so. Thus, the models show that warming in the western Indian Ocean is amplified, reaching 1.5°C, while the eastern Indian Ocean it is dampened to around 0.5°C.

"Should this pattern come about," Xie predicts, "it can be expected to dramatically shift rainfall over eastern Africa, India, and Southeast Asia. Droughts could then beset Indonesia and Australia, whereas regions of India and regions of Africa bordering the Arabian Sea could get more rain than today."….

Woodcut by Ambrosius Holbein for the 1518 edition of Thomas More's Utopia

Climate change task force says early warning is key to adaptation

Voice of America: A high level task force aimed at helping poor, vulnerable countries adapt to climate change has kicked off in Geneva. The 14-member task force, which was set up during the September 2009 World Climate Conference, says information is power and can help countries better overcome climate change related hazards.

…. They say hundreds of millions of people are at risk of losing their lives and livelihoods from natural disasters….. But, they note advances in science and technology, advances in long-range seasonal forecasting can blunt these dangers and allow communities to prepare and adapt to changing weather patterns. Statistics presented at the meeting here in Geneva show that fewer people now are dying from natural climate-caused disasters than before. This is because of better disaster preparedness and prevention.

Former U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator and Co-Chair of the task force, Jan Egeland says these gains are mainly occurring in rich countries. "However, tens of millions of livelihoods are lost because of the information not reaching those who need it most," he said. "

….If the nomads had had this information, Egeland says they would have been able to sell their cattle beforehand. And, this would have given them the means to restock when the crisis was over. He says it is crucial to provide people in poor countries with the scientific know-how and information they need to help their communities to adapt to climate change.

He says the task force will be working on how to provide small island States, African countries and other vulnerable communities with the information they need to help them survive future disasters. "Our report should come with a number of recommendations, which are the gaps, where do we need to invest, what kind of information and observations do we need that we do not have. And, how can this be tailor made so that there will be the best possible predictions for those who need it the most," he said…..

UK's environment Agency calls for flood protection products

BBC: UK businesses should spend more effort on developing innovative devices to help protect homes from flooding, the Environment Agency's chairman says. Lord Chris Smith called for more action as climate change meant flooding would become more "commonplace". He said one in six properties in England and Wales was already at risk.

He is due to address the National Flood Forum, where members will urge the main political parties to give guaranteed commitments on flood defence spending. Members of the forum, which represents people who live in more than 200 areas affected by flooding, are expected to air their concerns at the meeting in Birmingham.

They want assurances that major new flood defence work will go ahead despite the squeeze on public spending. Lord Smith said that although many households already had certain defensive products in place, including air brick covers and door barriers, this was not enough. He said up to 5.5m homes and businesses in the UK were at risk of flooding but with the right amount of investment, the country could become a "market leader" in technologies…

The River Ouse flooding in November, 2009, shot by Kevin Bailey, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Massive iceberg calves from Antarctica's Mertz Glacier

Australian Antarctic Division: A massive iceberg, measuring 78 kilometres long and 39 kilometres wide, has calved from the Mertz Glacier in the Australian Antarctic Territory. The iceberg has a surface area of 2,500 square kilometres and broke off the glacier after another 97 kilometre-long iceberg (B9B) collided with the tongue of the glacier.

The calving event was detected recently by Australian and French researchers who have been studying the Mertz Glacier since 2007. The tongue has had major rift in it from opposite sides for many years and the piece that has broken off is about half the length of the tongue.

The tongue of the Mertz Glacier, from the Australian Antarctic Division's website. Photo by Barbara Weinecke© Commonwealth of Australia

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Idea of restoring 'natural systems' misses mark as response to climate change challenges

EurekAlert: The adage says that to discover the right solutions to a problem you first have to ask the right questions. As Arizona State University engineering professor Brad Allenby sees it, our search for technological solutions to large-scale environmental problems sometimes gets off on the wrong track largely because we're posing the wrong questions.

Particularly in the debates about how to respond to atmospheric greenhouse gas buildup, climate change and humankind's impact on the global environment, Allenby says, "We are often framing the discussion from narrow and overly simplistic perspectives, but what we are dealing with are systems that are highly complex. As a result, the policy solutions we come up with don't match the challenges we are trying to respond to."

Allenby will offer his recommendations for reframing the approach to such challenges in his Feb. 19 presentation, "Technological Change and Earth Systems: A Critique of Geoengineering," at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

…Geoengineering focuses on designs for large-scale environmental engineering to influence or counteract such things as climate or atmospheric changes. One misstep in such endeavors is that we are searching for solutions that will restore natural systems. But Allenby contends "the planet no longer has purely natural systems. What we have is an integrated natural-human environment, one shaped over centuries by a combination of natural factors and technological evolution."

The questions in which we must frame discussion of potential geoengineering solutions should be grounded in awareness of this reality, he says. "Responding to something like climate change is not just a scientific and technical matter," he says. "Whatever attempted solutions we chose, or reject, will have significant cultural and ethical implications."…

I searched for "complexity" on Wikimedia Commons, and this photo by Steve Jurvetson is what came up. Via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Geoengineering takes a ride in shipping lanes

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory: Ships blowing off steam are helping researchers understand how manmade particles might be useful against global warming. New results from modeling clouds like those seen in shipping lanes reveal the complex interplay between aerosols, the prevailing weather and even the time of day the aerosol particles hit the air, according to research presented today at the American Association for the Advancement of Science's annual meeting.

"We've seen ship tracks affect the reflectivity of clouds," said Phil Rasch, chief climate scientist at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash. "We want to know if we can do the same thing when we want to, on purpose, and how that might be helpful in countering some of the effects of global warming. "We decided to see how the reflectivity of clouds is influenced by particles in a very detailed model that treats clouds much more realistically than we are able to do in a typical climate model."

Reflecting sunlight back into space prevents that energy from hitting Earth's surface. So brighter clouds could have an overall cooling effect compared to darker ones. A handful of research groups in the US are exploring geoengineering, or the intentional modification of Earth's climate, in hopes of developing tools that might be used to lower global temperatures if atmospheric greenhouse gases reach levels that might produce disastrous climate change.

…"Do the brighter and darker parts cancel each other out?" asked Rasch. To find out, the group performed some exploratory computer simulations to determine the net effect of increased aerosols. His team simulated three ships chugging along in a 93-mile by 37-mile block of the Pacific Ocean a few hundred miles southwest of Los Angeles.

The team showed that introducing additional particles into the model near the surface — as proposed for geoengineering — would make the clouds significantly more reflective than they would otherwise be, in certain situations. They found that if the clouds were already drizzling then the new particles would not brighten them very effectively….

A tanker (Abqaiq) takes on oil from Iraq's Mini-Al Basrah offshore terminal. Shot by an employee of the US government

More tropical cyclones in past could play role in warmer future

Science Daily: More frequent tropical cyclones in Earth's ancient past contributed to persistent El Niño-like conditions, according to a team of climate scientists led by Yale University. Their findings, which appear in the Feb. 25 issue of the journal Nature, could have implications for the planet's future as global temperatures continue to rise due to climate change.

The team used both cyclone and climate models to study the frequency and distribution of tropical cyclones (also known as hurricanes or typhoons) during the Pliocene epoch, a period three to five million years ago when temperatures were up to four degrees Celsius warmer than today. The team found that there were twice as many tropical cyclones during this period, that they lasted two to three days longer on average than they do now, and that, unlike today, they occurred across the entire tropical Pacific Ocean.

"The Pliocene is the best analog we have in the past for what could happen in our future," said Christopher Brierley, a Yale postdoctoral associate and an author of the study. "We wondered whether all these storms could have contributed to the warmer climate." In fact, the team discovered a positive feedback cycle between tropical cyclones and upper-ocean circulation in the Pacific that explains the increase in storms and appears to have led to permanent El Niño-like conditions.

Today, cold water originating off the coasts of California and Chile skirts around the region of tropical cyclone activity on its way to the Equator, where it results in a "cold tongue" that stretches west off the coast of South America. During the Pliocene, however, the team found that this cold water could not avoid being hit by one of the many tropical cyclones, which would churn up and mix warmer water into it. This warming at the Equator led to changes in the atmosphere that in turn created more tropical storms -- and the cycle would repeat.

…Fedorov cautioned that there is not necessarily a direct link between what happened during the Pliocene and what might happen in the future, as the team's results for this epoch differed in many respects from current projections for future global warming. For example, the existing consensus is that, while the number of intense hurricanes will increase, the overall number will actually decrease.

"However, unless we understand the causes of these differences, we will not be sure whether our projections are correct," Fedorov said. "Changes in the frequency and distribution of these storms could be a significant component of future climate conditions."…

Typhoon Jangmi just reaching typhoon intensity in September, 2008, shot by Agarjoshua, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Lusaka flood victims relocated via the Times of Zambia: MORE than 100 families in areas affected by floods in Lusaka have registered for the relocation process starting tomorrow, District Commissioner Christa Kalulu has said. Ms Kalulu said the response from the families in the affected areas was good because they had understood that it was for their own protection.

She said in an interview in Lusaka yesterday that the water levels in some parts of the city were high and that the Government would do everything in its means to lessen the suffering of the people. The townships worst hit by the floods are Chawama and Kanyama. Other affected areas are Mandevu, Mtendere, Kaunda Square, Kalikiliki and some parts of the light industrial area.

A Times check yesterday showed that many houses were submerged in water, forcing the residents to wade in filthy water ponds when leaving their homes. The Government would remain supportive to the affected families and had secured land for the victims where they would be safe.

Ms Kalulu said the District Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit (DMMU), through district disaster management unit, had enough resources and had already put up tents, lavatories, and security, among other things.

Ms Kalulu said the DMMU was working closely with Lusaka City Council, Members of Parliament in the affected areas, and the ward development councillors where the registration was taking place, to make the exercise a success. The shifting of the residents was the only option the Government had at the moment to prevent people from contracting diseases….

El Niño throws a tantrum in Peru

Milagros Salazar in IPS via Tierramérica, from Lima: Peru's lack of disaster prevention policies and measures, combined with climate imbalances in South America, have led to the loss of dozens of lives and thousands of homes in this Andean country in the last few months. Excessive rains have caused damages in northern Peru, but the worst precipitation occurred in Cuzco, in the south, where a month's worth of rain fell in just three days.

…The changes in the climate are affecting the entire Andean region of South America…The region is seeing the effects of El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO), a cyclical phenomenon in which the surface temperatures of the equatorial Pacific rise and have repercussions on weather around the world as the currents flow west to east. Most experts agree that the presence of ENSO triggers rainfall along the northern coast of Peru, and drought in the country's southern highlands area.

But, judging from El Niño's previous cycles, such as 1997-1998, it can also cause intense rains over short periods in Peru's southern Andean mountains, an area that otherwise tends toward drought, disaster prevention expert Pedro Ferradas, of the international technical aid group Practical Solutions ITDG, told Tierramérica.

The authorities have taken action on the north coast, but did not do enough for the southern highlands area, according to Ferradas. Although the rainy season in the Andes runs from December to April, what was surprising was the "ferocity" of the rain in just a few days, he said.

…Cuzco has experienced major urban sprawl in recent years, "and people have built homes in high-risk areas," a problem compounded by lack of urban planning and disaster mitigation work, Oxfam expert Cano told Tierramérica. As a result of decentralisation, local and regional governments are responsible for natural disaster prevention measures and emergency services….

The Rio Apurimac in a valley, shot by Bryan Dougherty, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

New NASA web page sheds light on science of warming world

Science Daily: Will 2010 be the warmest year on record? How do the recent U.S. "Snowmageddon" winter storms and record low temperatures in Europe fit into the bigger picture of long-term global warming? NASA has launched a new Web page to help people better understand the causes and effects of Earth's changing climate.

The new "A Warming World" page hosts a series of new articles, videos, data visualizations, space-based imagery and interactive visuals that provide unique NASA perspectives on this topic of global importance.

The page includes feature articles that explore the recent Arctic winter weather that has gripped the United States, Europe and Asia, and how El Nino and other longer-term ocean-atmosphere phenomena may affect global temperatures this year and in the future. A new video, "Piecing Together the Temperature Puzzle," illustrates how NASA satellites monitor climate change and help scientists better understand how our complex planet works.

The new Web page is available on NASA's Global Climate Change Web site at: .

This graph, based on the comparison of atmospheric samples contained in ice cores and more recent direct measurements, provides evidence that atmospheric CO2 has increased since the Industrial Revolution. (NASA's site got the image from NOAA)

Floods in Uganda paralyze business

Zaharah Abigaba in, via the Monitor (Uganda): On Monday, business was paralysed after hours of rain in Kampala and some other parts of the country. The rains that started at around 4am stretched up 5pm, making it hard for city dwellers to report to work on time and hundreds of students were left stranded.

Floods left several people stranded in the flood prone areas of Kawempe, Bwaise, Katwe, Kalerwe and Bugolobi. Most schools in Bukasa and Kamalimali zones of Kalerwe registered a low turn up, partly because the children could not wade through the flooded roads. Many areas in Salaama- Munyonyo were flooded too.

…According to the Department of Meteorology, rains are expected to continue up to May "but they will not be disastrous." "The ongoing rains are expected to continue up to May and we shall give a detailed forecast about the rains next week that will reflect other regions of the country," said Mr Jackson Rwakishaija, the senior communications officer at the Meteorology Department….

Climate migration in Latin America: A future ‘flood of refugees’ to the North?

Alexandra Deprez in New American Media: Latin America bears a combination of factors that may converge to give rise to “hot spots” for mass population movements. Not only is it host to a number of environmental events, but it also possesses conditions such as poverty and an unequal geographical distribution of the population that heighten their vulnerability to these effects.

With well-established migration channels between most Latin American countries and the United States, the manifestations of climate change may have an increasingly stronger impact on South-North human flows in the Western hemisphere. Developed nations such as the United States hold a responsibility for the anthropogenic climate change their industrial activities helped engender….

…Northern Mexico, where 60 percent of arid or semi-arid land suffers from erosion, has over the past few decades seen a decrease in precipitation that has been projected to steadily worsen. A June 2009 report by the United Nations University stated, “Based on Mexican government’s data, approximately 900,000 people left arid and semi-arid areas every year [since the mid 1990s] in part because of their inability to make a living from the land due to excessively dry conditions and soil erosion.”

…Another environmental process that will be intensified by anthropogenic climate change is sea level rise; different analysts have predicted a change of 50 cm to 1.5 meters by the end of the 21st century. It has been widely assumed to be the “climate-process” with the strongest and most direct push effect on migration. Although drawing practically no press coverage, several Caribbean islands are at risk of being partially or completely submerged.

The melting of glaciers is a third process that has been taking place since the industrial revolution, and due to the ever increasing concentration of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, it will continue to occur at an accelerated pace….

Circa 1980, a boat crowded with Cuban refugees arrives in Key West, Florida, during the 1980 Mariel Boatlift.

In Texas, drought officially over, though northern drought continues

Environment News Service: One of the worst droughts in Texas history has officially ended, according to figures from Texas State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon, who also serves as a professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University. Nielsen-Gammon says that the latest U.S. Drought Monitor, released Friday, shows none of the state in drought. Only a few small patches of the state, near the Coastal Bend and along the Texas-Mexico border, are still depicted as abnormally dry.

"The drought began in fall 2007, as an unusually wet year for Texas suddenly turned dry," he said. "The lack of rainfall led to the first drought impacts in late fall and winter of 2007-2008. In the summer of 2008 much of the state experienced drought relief with two tropical cyclones, Dolly and Ike, but core areas of the drought in south-central and southern Texas missed out on much of the tropical rainfall," Nielsen-Gammon recounted.

"A second straight dry winter followed, and while spring rains shrunk the area of drought in Texas considerably, core areas of the drought continued to degrade."

…Texans can thank El Nino conditions that warmed the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, said Nielsen-Gammon. "In an El Nino, with warm east Pacific sea surface temperatures, winters tend to be wet, while the opposite happens during a La Nina," he explained. "Two consecutive La Nina winters helped make this drought particularly severe, while the current El Nino conditions have helped to end the drought."….

Some west Texas scenery, shot by Geoemrick, Wikimedia Commons

Experts will be studying conflicts caused by climate change in Europe and Africa

EurekAlert: The European research project CLICO -Climate Change, Water Conflict and Human Security- devoted to the study of climate change and its social dimensions will begin in February with conferences that will take place from 25 to 27 February in Bellaterra. During the next three years, researchers from 14 institutes, under the direction of the Institute of Environmental Science and Technology (ICTA) at Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB), will be analysing the effects hydro-climatic phenomena -drought, flooding and rise of sea levels- have on the intensification of social tension and conflicts in eleven regions of the Mediterranean, Maghreb, Middle East and Sahel, and will propose specific actions to guarantee the peace and security of the population in each area.

24 February 2010.- The unprecedented speed at which changes in the climate are taking place all over the planet represents a threat to human security, especially in regions greatly affected by droughts, flooding or rise of sea levels which can cause or worsen violent conflicts and humanitarian disasters such as hunger or hordes of climate refugees.

The European Union has voiced its concern over the social and political consequences of water conflicts caused by climate change, both those originating in member states -between towns and cities of the same state- and those occurring in nearby countries, such as in the Middle East. The project CLICO was born as a means to find solutions to these problems and is financed by the EU Seventh Framework Programme. The project will be financed with 3.8 million euros and will last three years. It is the only European project dedicated to research in the field of social sciences and humanities coordinated by a university and research institutes in Spain.

…The CLICO project aims to fill a gap currently existing in the study on cause and effect relations between climate change, hydrology, social conflicts and the security of affected populations, and will carry out an exhaustive statistical analysis -the first of its kind- of the climatic, hydrologic, and socio-economic variables of each region. The research will focus particularly on the impact climate change has on the mode of subsistence of the most vulnerable populations and will provide a critical analysis of the role played by public institutions in protecting these populations.

Researchers will be working in a cross-disciplinary manner on the analysis of eleven cases of conflicts related to water resources in the island of Cyprus, the Andalusian-Moroccan biosphere, Niger, Alexandria, Sudan, the desert of Sinai, Egypt, the Ebre Delta and the basins of the rivers Sarno, Italy; Seyhan, Turkey; Jordan, Israel-Palestine-Jordan; and Nile, Egypt-Sudan-Ethiopia….

Sahara Desert, shot by rossella piccinno, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Ice shelves disappearing on the Antarctic Peninsula

US Geological Survey: Ice shelves are retreating in the southern section of the Antarctic Peninsula due to climate change. This could result in glacier retreat and sea-level rise if warming continues, threatening coastal communities and low-lying islands worldwide.

Research by the U.S. Geological Survey is the first to document that every ice front in the southern part of the Antarctic Peninsula has been retreating overall from 1947 to 2009, with the most dramatic changes occurring since 1990. The USGS previously documented that the majority of ice fronts on the entire Peninsula have also retreated during the late 20th century and into the early 21st century.

The ice shelves are attached to the continent and already floating, holding in place the Antarctic ice sheet that covers about 98 percent of the Antarctic continent. As the ice shelves break off, it is easier for outlet glaciers and ice streams from the ice sheet to flow into the sea. The transition of that ice from land to the ocean is what raises sea level.

“This research is part of a larger ongoing USGS project that is for the first time studying the entire Antarctic coastline in detail, and this is important because the Antarctic ice sheet contains 91 percent of Earth’s glacier ice,” said USGS scientist Jane Ferrigno. “The loss of ice shelves is evidence of the effects of global warming. We need to be alert and continually understand and observe how our climate system is changing.”

The Peninsula is one of Antarctica’s most rapidly changing areas because it is farthest away from the South Pole, and its ice shelf loss may be a forecast of changes in other parts of Antarctica and the world if warming continues.

The Antarctic Peninsula’s southern section as described in this study contains five major ice shelves: Wilkins, George VI, Bach, Stange and the southern portion of Larsen Ice Shelf. The ice lost since 1998 from the Wilkins Ice Shelf alone totals more than 4,000 square kilometers, an area larger than the state of Rhode Island….

This image shows ice-front retreat in part of the southern Antarctic Peninsula from 1947 to 2009. USGS scientists are studying coastal and glacier change along the entire Antarctic coastline. The southern portion of the Antarctic Peninsula is one area studied as part of this project, and is summarized in the USGS report, “Coastal-Change and Glaciological Map of the Palmer Land Area, Antarctica: 1947—2009” (map I—2600—C). From the US Geological Survey

Flood fears in new Queensland plan

Tony Moore in the Brisbane Times: A private car parking station for Buranda and eight storey residential and office blocks next to flood-prone Norman Creek at Stones Corner would be allowed under plans to go before Brisbane City Council today.

The draft Eastern Suburbs Neighbourhood Plan, which will guide the future growth of Stones Corner, Buranda and Coorparoo near the new busway, will be debated this afternoon and is expected to be passed along party lines. Local Labor councillor Helen Abrahams said higher density buildings did not fit into the problematic Norman Creek area.

"Everyone knows how notorious Norman Creek is for flooding," she said. "With climate change impacts leading to more severe local storms, the Renewal strategy should be providing more parkland to manage flooding." Cr Abrahams questioned if the extra run-off from the extra rooftops and roadways would add to the storm flow through the area….

[One interesting comment on the story:]
…. I am a Stones Corner resident and my concern is more that the sewerage systems cannot support the current density and has not been able to for many years. Look at the manhole cover outside my home to see piles of toilet paper and look under my house where it comes up through the drainage traps. The council told me some years ago the problem is that the sewerage system is original and old so before the council spends big bucks on prettying up the surface perhaps they could spend some on renewing or update the infrastructure before Stones Corner residents drown in their own effluent.

Aerial view of the Brisbane River, Queensland, Australia, with Norman Creek in the lower left quadrant. Shot by Greg O'Beirne, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative CommonsAttribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license

Coral reefs may start dissolving when atmospheric CO2 doubles

Carnegie Institution for Science: Rising carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the resulting effects on ocean water are making it increasingly difficult for coral reefs to grow, say scientists. A study to be published online March 13, 2009, in Geophysical Research Letters by researchers at the Carnegie Institution and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem warns that if carbon dioxide reaches double pre-industrial levels, coral reefs can be expected to not just stop growing, but also to begin dissolving all over the world.

The impact on reefs is a consequence of both ocean acidification caused by the absorption of carbon dioxide into seawater and rising water temperatures. Previous studies have shown that rising carbon dioxide will slow coral growth, but this is the first study to show that coral reefs can be expected to start dissolving just about everywhere in just a few decades, unless carbon dioxide emissions are cut deeply and soon.

…The study was designed determine the impact of this acidification on coral reefs. The research team, consisting of Jacob Silverman, Caldeira, and Long Cao of the Carnegie Institution as well as Boaz Lazar and Jonathan Erez from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, used field data from coral reefs to determine the effects of temperature and water chemistry on coral calcification rates. Armed with this information, they plugged the data into a computer model that calculated global seawater temperature and chemistry at different atmospheric levels of CO2 ranging from the pre-industrial value of 280 ppm (parts per million) to 750 ppm. The current atmospheric concentration is over 380 ppm, and is rapidly rising due to human-caused emissions, primarily through the burning of fossil fuels.

Based on the model results for more than 9,000 reef locations, the researchers determined that at the highest concentration studied, 750 ppm, acidification of seawater would reduce calcification rates of three quarters of the world’s reefs to less than 20% of pre-industrial rates. Field studies suggest that at such low rates, coral growth would not be able to keep up with dissolution and other natural as well as manmade destructive processes attacking reefs.

Prospects for reefs are even gloomier when the effects of coral bleaching are included in the model. Coral bleaching refers to the loss of symbiotic algae that are essential for healthy growth of coral colonies. …“Our fossil-fueled lifestyle is killing off coral reefs,” says Caldeira. “If we don't change our ways soon, in the next few decades we will destroy what took millions of years to create."…

Hammer coral, shot by Jenny, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, he Creative CommonsAttribution 2.0 Generic license.

China's soil deterioration may become growing food crisis, adviser claims

Jonathan Watts in the Guardian (UK): The quality of China's overworked, polluted and artificially fertilised soil needs to be protected or the country could struggle to grow enough crops for the 300 million to 400 million people who will move from the countryside to the city over the next 30 years, a senior government adviser warned today.

Han Jun, an expert on rural policy at the Development Research Centre, said maintaining food security was a major challenge in the process of urbanisation as farmers moved off their fields and into cities, where the consumption of meat, grain and diary products was higher. In the next three decades, he predicted the share of urban residents in China's population would rise from 47% to 75%, which would require the clearance of land for residences, roads and other infrastructure.

Noting that China feeds 22% of the world population with only 10% of the planet's arable land, he said the pressure was growing. "The deterioration in soil quality is now a very important problem," Han told reporters in Beijing. "I believe improving the quality [of soil] is of equal importance to protecting the amount of arable land."

The main causes of the decline are inappropriate farming techniques and industrial pollution. Han, who has helped to draw up the cabinet's rural policies over more than seven years, said more than twice as much nitrogen fertiliser is used on the average hectare of Chinese farmland as the global average.

Factory waste, including heavy metals and other toxins, has contaminated more than a tenth of the country's farmland, he said. The government said earlier this monthn that it would draw up countermeasures, when the country's first pollution census revealed farm fertiliser was a bigger source of water contamination than factory effluent.

The risks of inaction are well known. Han, who comes from a rural background, said farmers do not use pesticide, fertiliser and other chemicals on crops they grow for their personal consumption. But he warned that it was unrealistic to expect a population of 1.3 billion people to maintain food self-sufficiency without artificial boosts for production….

A lotus field in southern Hubei province, near Wuhan. Shot by Politizer, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license

Adapt now to climate change, panel warns

Tanya Talaga in the Toronto Star: Ontario needs to construct flood-proof roads, improve building guidelines and enact local emergency response plans to cope with extreme weather threats, warns a blue-ribbon report on combatting climate change. That grim news comes from Ontario's 11-person expert panel on climate-change adaptation, which includes Dr. Ian Burton and Dr. Barry Smit, who shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former U.S. vice-president Al Gore.

They are urging Premier Dalton McGuinty's government to use their 96-page report, the culmination of two years of work, as the province's template for coping with the changing climate.

Temperatures are steadily on the rise and flooding, droughts and severe weather scenarios need to be considered in most infrastructure planning, they say. The latest projected climate scenarios for Ontario in 2050 show an increase in the annual average temperature of 2.5 C to 3.7 C compared to what was seen from 1961 to 1990. The Far North will be hit the hardest by climate change, experiencing more snow and greater flooding, affecting roads, bridges and First Nations communities.

While Ontario can play a part in limiting greenhouse gas emissions, especially carbon dioxide, what actually happens to the broader climate depends on the actions of other countries, the report noted. "Adaptation, however, is much more within our control," it says. "Adapt, we can and must."

By this spring Ontario should produce a "climate change adaptation action plan," able to guide policy creation in everything from physical infrastructure – such as building better roads and bridges – to agriculture, water, at-risk species and human health, the report said….

Attention, heraldry lovers, that's Ontario's coat of arms, rendered by Necronaut

Monday, February 22, 2010

Drought, climate change jeopardize and complicate hydropower policies around the world

Circle of Blue: On Tuesday Venezuela’s Energy Minister, Ali Rodriguez, said the government would consider purchasing electricity from Colombia, contradicting a statement from the country’s Vice President Elias Jaua given earlier this week.

…These conflicting statements reflect the already confused and poorly managed policies officials have attempted to implement against the country’s worst drought in nearly a century. In January, electricity rationing in Caracas was suspended after one day because of the chaos created by the power cuts to traffic signals and protests. As a result, energy consumption decreased by only two percent compared to last year–-far short of the goal of a 20 percent reduction, Bloomberg reports.

The source of 70 percent of Venezuela’s electricity is the Guri dam. Low reservoir levels have forced power generation to be curtailed. At its current rate, the water level will drop to critical lows by the summer, in which case all power generation would stop. Critics argue that if the government had invested more money in the energy sector, Venezuela would have other sources available during the crisis.

The country’s energy struggles mirror problems in the rest of the hydro-reliant world. Many countries, especially in Africa, use hydroelectric dams to produce nearly all their electricity. The threat of more extreme drought from climate change is an uncertain variable for many hydroelectric producers. Climate models predict an overall decrease in precipitation and river runoff for the mid-latitude, sub-tropic and dry-tropic areas-–where hydropower is currently the primary source of electricity.

Persistent low water levels in rivers and reservoir cause power cuts, which hinder economic growth and reduce revenue from electricity sales, limiting the ability of an electric utility to maintain the dam. Some countries have recognized the risk and are already moving toward a more diversified energy future….

The Guri Dam in Venezuela, shot by Davidusb

Tropical cyclones and climate change

An abstract from Nature Geoscience by Thomas R. Knutson, John L. McBbride, Johnny Chan, Kerry Emanuel, Greg Holland, Chris Landsea, Isaac Held, James P. Kossin, A. K. Srivastava & Masato Sugi: Whether the characteristics of tropical cyclones have changed or will change in a warming climate — and if so, how — has been the subject of considerable investigation, often with conflicting results. Large amplitude fluctuations in the frequency and intensity of tropical cyclones greatly complicate both the detection of long-term trends and their attribution to rising levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases.

Trend detection is further impeded by substantial limitations in the availability and quality of global historical records of tropical cyclones. Therefore, it remains uncertain whether past changes in tropical cyclone activity have exceeded the variability expected from natural causes.

However, future projections based on theory and high-resolution dynamical models consistently indicate that greenhouse warming will cause the globally averaged intensity of tropical cyclones to shift towards stronger storms, with intensity increases of 2–11% by 2100. Existing modelling studies also consistently project decreases in the globally averaged frequency of tropical cyclones, by 6–34%. Balanced against this, higher resolution modelling studies typically project substantial increases in the frequency of the most intense cyclones, and increases of the order of 20% in the precipitation rate within 100 km of the storm centre. For all cyclone parameters, projected changes for individual basins show large variations between different modelling studies….

Before the year 2004, only two tropical cyclones had ever been noted in the South Atlantic Basin, and no hurricane. The crew of the International Space Station was notified of the cyclone and acquired excellent photographs of the storm just as it made landfall on the southern Brazilian state of Santa Catarina (the storm has been unofficially dubbed “Cyclone Catarina”). Note the clockwise circulation of Southern Hemisphere cyclones, the well-defined banding features, and the eyewall of at least a Category 1 system. The coastline is visible under the clouds in the upper left corner of the image.

Climate insurance

What do you know, an entirely sensible editorial in the Washington Post, which has a mixed record in its articles on climate change: Tthe earth is warming. A chief cause is the increase in greenhouse gases accumulating in the atmosphere. Humans are at least in part responsible, because the oil, gas and coal that we burn releases these gases. If current trends persist, it's likely that in coming decades the globe's climate will change with potentially devastating effects for billions of people.

Contrary to what you may have read lately, there are few reputable scientists who would disagree with anything in that first paragraph. Yet suddenly we're hearing that climate change is in doubt and that action to combat it is unlikely. What's going on?

…Politicians nonetheless have seized on both the trivial mistakes and the complexity of the science to cast doubt on the underlying and unrefuted truth of human-caused greenhouse gas accumulation. In many cases, it is hard to know whether they are being obtuse or dishonest, and hard to know which would be worse. To see Virginia's newly elected attorney general join in this know-nothingism is an embarrassment to the state.

What's the right response? It seems to us there are two key arguments that can provide some shelter for politicians who want to do the right thing. The first is to acknowledge a level of uncertainty in the predictions and make the case for taking out an insurance policy, as would any prudent homeowner. It's true that we don't know for sure how many degrees warmer the Earth will be, on average, by 2050 or what effect this will have on the ferocity of storms or coastal flooding or starvation-inducing drought. But it's also true that, as the science has progressed, the predictions have become more dire, not less -- and that they are still as likely to be too optimistic as the reverse. If there is action that can be taken, now, to begin to reduce the dangers, why would we not do so?

… [T]his is the second key point -- the action that would have the most beneficial effect with regard to climate change is in the national interest anyway. A gradually rising carbon tax made sense even before "global warming" entered most people's vocabulary. Almost as useful would be a simple cap-and-rebate system that required industry to pay for greenhouse-gas emissions. …

The Allegory of Wisdom and Strength, by Veronese, c. 1580. Because some topics are just plain hard to illustrate

Mud torrent kills 42 on Portuguese tourist island

Agence France-Presse: Troops and rescuers dug through mud-filled houses and streets on Portugal's tourist island of Madeira Sunday after flash floods unleashed brown torrents that killed at least 42 people. The government in Lisbon rushed medical teams, rescuers, divers and relief supplies to the Atlantic island. But morgue pathologists also sent a grim warning that more bodies would be found in the mud that swept people off their feet as they tried to escape.

The heavy rains ended Sunday, revealing scenes of devastation in the capital, Funchal, with cars overturned and roofs ripped off buildings. Power and telephone lines were torn down but flights to the international airport restarted from the Portuguese mainland, 900 kilometres (560 miles) to the northeast.

The regional government gave a new toll of at least 42 dead and more than 120 people injured, including "a small number" of Britons on the "island of flowers" that is a popular destination for 850,000 tourists each year….

A waterfall on Madeira, shot by Cookaa, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative CommonsAttribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Damage to threatened Gulf of California habitats can be reversed

Science Daily: Once described by Jacques Cousteau as the "world's aquarium," the marine ecosystems of the Gulf of California are under threat. Destructive new fishing methods are depleting the sea's habitats, creating areas that are ghosts of their former existences (see Scripps explorations story "Threatened Gulf." But, as Octavio Aburto-Oropeza of Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego described during a presentation at the 2010 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in San Diego, habitat conservation can revitalize once-depleted marine ecosystems.

One recently emerging threat is a highly destructive fishing method called "hookah" diving in which fishermen use crude oxygen piping to walk along the seafloor for long periods. The technique is typically conducted at night when fish are resting, allowing the hookah fishermen to spear or grab large numbers of vulnerable fish and invertebrates.

Aburto-Oropeza's findings on reversing the effects of such threats are part of a series of research studies headed by the newly launched Gulf of California Program based at Scripps Oceanography. "In these studies, whether reefs or mangroves, we are trying to show that the destruction on the coast and overexploitation in other areas are diminishing the biomass (the amount of organisms in an ecosystem) in several areas," said Aburto-Oropeza. "With lower biomass, the large predators, the keys to a robust marine ecosystem, are missing and that causes disruption down the marine food web."

But there is hope to counteract such damage, says Aburto-Oropeza. One successful example is Cabo Pulmo, a little-known protected area near the southern tip of the Baja peninsula that is thriving and a living example of the benefits of protected marine areas. Restricted of fishing since 1995, Cabo Pulmo features a robust mix of sea life and flourishing fish populations. Other successes include Coronado Island inside the Loreto marine park and Los Islotes inside Espiritu Santo marine park.

"Different sites recover in different ways, but they all have increased in biomass, especially top predators," said Aburto-Oropeza. "The common thing is that they have reduced or eliminated fishing activity."

Beyond simply shielding certain locations, Aburto-Oropeza's presentation will cover new research that reveals the strategic importance of protecting areas that are key for fish species populations. In particular, these include important sites such as fish "spawning aggregation" areas, where fish converge in large numbers to reproduce at select times of the year, and sensitive nursery habitats that are vital to ensuring healthy ecosystems….

Baja California and the Gulf of California, viewed by satellite

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Senator suggests truce in California's water fight

Reuters: Senator Dianne Feinstein, who angered environmentalists, fishing groups and other Democratic lawmakers by proposing to divert more water to California's farmers, said on Friday she was working to avoid controversial legislation. Feinstein's plan would ease Endangered Species Act restrictions to allow more water to be pumped out of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta for growers in the state's Central Valley.

Dramatic cutbacks in irrigation supplies this year alone from both California and federal water projects have idled about 23,000 farm workers and 300,000 acres of cropland in America's No. 1 Farm state. Feinstein's proposal has quickly become a flashpoint in the state's epic and long-running water wars as opponents say it could ultimately lead to the extinction of Sacramento River salmon and eliminate up to 23,000 jobs in the Pacific coast fishing industry.

…California's Central Valley is one of the country's most important agricultural regions. The state's farmers produce more than half the fruit, vegetables and nuts grown in the United States. … Irrigation districts contract with the state and federal governments to deliver a certain amount of water to them each year. But shortages have recently kept them from getting their full allotments. Most farmers got just 10 percent of their contracted allocations in 2009 and could get less this year.

The cutbacks were forced by water shortages stemming from a three-year statewide drought and delta pumping restrictions imposed to protect imperiled salmon and smelt populations. A string of Pacific storms this winter has dumped several feet of snow on the mountain ranges that feed California's reservoirs, but officials have not declared the drought over…..

A dry riverbed in California, shot by NOAA