Wednesday, March 31, 2010

New mathematical model helps biologists understand how coral dies in warming waters

Terra Daily: Cornell University researchers have found a new tool to help marine biologists better grasp the processes under the sea: They have created mathematical models to unveil the bacterial community dynamics behind afflictions that bleach and kill coral. (Public Library of Science - Biology, March 30, 2010.)

Warming waters are triggering coral bleaching and disease in the Caribbean, Indian Ocean and Great Barrier Reef off the Australian coast. Now new mathematical models explain for the first time how beneficial bacteria on coral suddenly give way to pathogens when waters warm.

"Before this study, we just had observations but little understanding of the mechanism" for what causes coral disease and bleaching, said Laura Jones, Cornell senior research associate in ecology and evolutionary biology. Justin Mao-Jones '08, conducted the research as an undergraduate in the School of Operations Research and Information Engineering, is the paper's lead author.

The model reveals how a healthy normal microbial community in the coral surface mucus layer protects corals from disease by preventing invasion and overgrowth by pathogenic bacteria. But when corals are stressed, for example by elevated temperatures (a heat spell), the community of microbes suddenly switches. Species associated with a healthy coral organism - "resident species" - decline as pathogens associated with coral disease take their place.

The researchers used models to simulate bacterial community dynamics within the surface coral mucus, under normal conditions, and under the warming conditions that lead to a sudden shift from beneficial bacteria to pathogens on the coral's surface. "There's a critical threshold where the system jumps to a pathogen-dominated state," said Jones….

Coral reef in Florida, US Fish and Wildlife Service

Ethiopia dam will not displace 200,000, the builder claims

Barry Malone in Reuters: The Italian firm building Africa's biggest hydropower dam in Ethiopia on Tuesday denied allegations that the dam would deprive 200,000 self-sufficient people of a living and make them dependent on aid. The ethnic rights group Survival International said last week that the dam would disrupt fishing and farming and displace more than 200,000 people, among them the Kwegu and Hamar tribes.

"The project will not cause drought: the dam will not block the flow of water to the river indefinitely, but merely redistribute it during the course of the year," Salini Costruttori said in a statement. "Activities connected to the local fishing trade will not be destroyed. Agriculture will be able to benefit from a constant supply of water through the year."

The Gibe 111 dam, costing 1.4 billion euros and expected to generate 1,800 megawatts, is one of five Ethiopia is building in a drive to beat power shortages and export electricity. It will almost double current Ethiopian capacity of just under 2,000 MW.

Survival International director Stephen Corry said last week that no respectable body should fund "this atrocious project. An SI representative who did not wish to be named said then that the dam would ruin the economy of those living near it. "It will end the annual flooding some rely on to make the land they farm fertile, and for tribes who rely on fishing, it will deplete stocks. They will need aid."

The Ethiopian government has said that people affected by hydropower dams will be compensated or relocated…..

Monitoring the Arctic ozone hole from aircraft

Max Planck Institute for Chemistry: An international team of researchers is investigating ozone depletion in the polar stratosphere using data gathered during flights over the Arctic region at elevations of up to 20 kilometers. The team of atmosphere researchers - among them Stephan Borrmann, Professor at the Institute of Atmospheric Physics of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz and one of the directors of the Max Planck Institute of Chemistry in Mainz - hopes to discover how long the processes that result in the formation of the hibernal holes in the ozone layer at the polar caps actually take.

It is also expected that the data collected during the flights undertaken with the high-altitude aircraft "M55 Geophysica" will provide insight into what effect climate change is having on the physical and chemical processes that influence the ozone layer. This would make it possible to extrapolate the future development of the ozone layer under the conditions obtained during on-going changes.

The chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) released by humans on the surface of the earth are gradually transported into the stratosphere. Here the CFCs are exposed to powerful ultraviolet radiation which decomposes the chlorofluorocarbons to finally release chlorine. This chlorine usually reacts with other chemicals and is bound in substances such as hydrogen chloride vapor and chlorine nitrate, which are not detrimental to ozone. However, in the stratospheric clouds located over the poles, the clorine from CFCs can form aggressive ozone-destroying chlorine monoxide radicals (CIO).

Analysis of these clouds is thus essential to the research being conducted by the Mainz team under Stephan Borrmann. And it is these extraordinary but natural clouds that are formed only in the stratosphere over the Arctic and Antarctic regions during the cold of the polar winters that are implicated in the formation of the holes in the ozone layer.

"As the warming of the atmosphere attributable to climate change also has a direct effect on the physical and chemical processes associated with the ozone layer, we urgently need to conduct new research into this aspect," explains Professor Borrmann….

The M55 Geophysica taking off, photo by Stephan Borrmann, from the Max-Planck University website

Study paints bleak picture of British Columbia's water supply

Kristi Patton in the Penticton Western News (British Columbia): With the lowest per person water supply in Canada and a growing population, there is reason for concern that the Okanagan is running dry. That fact was one of the drivers behind three years of intense research to complete the Okanagan Water Supply and Demand Study. The research supports a finding that water shortages are expected to occur more widely and frequently in the future.

….The Okanagan Basin Water Board and B.C. Ministry of Environment unveiled the results of the study which provides a comprehensive look at water availability in the Okanagan Valley. It also provides a glimpse of how the water supply will be affected by climate change.

The study shows on average, Okanagan residents use 675 litres of water per person, per day — year round, on their residential properties. This is more than twice the Canadian average (329 litres) and much higher than that of other countries. Most of this water is used for outdoor landscaping during the summer months. Only agricultural users record a higher usage of water (55 per cent) in the valley.

Wells said communities also should be building drought plans to be proactive. He warned that if people don’t start thinking ahead about how they use their water, “a drought will certainly get people’s attention, that is for sure.”

…While the Okanagan naturally fluctuates between dry and wet years, changing climate patterns increase the growing season and the demand for irrigation water. A decreasing snowpack — an essential form of water storage — takes a toll on the reservoir and spring runoff…..

The Similkameen River near Keremeos, BC. Shot by doviende, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license

Jamaican drought 'burns' farmers

Luke Douglas in the Jamaica Observer: …[C]limate change is resulting in lower yields, more diseases and more problems for farmers throughout Jamaica and the Caribbean. And the long-term outlook is no better.

"In Jamaica going up to 2050, it progressively gets warmer. It does not matter which scenario you take, it puts us as hotter, anywhere between one and five degrees by the end of the century," head of the department of physics at the University of the West Indies, and director of the Climate Change Group, Dr Michael Taylor told participants at [a recent] workshop, held at the Altamont Court Hotel in Kingston.

….It is not clear how comforting the words of Elaine Emmanuel of the Planning Institute of Jamaica would be to the farmers … eking out a living on parched lands in rural Jamaica. Emmanuel outlined aspects of Vision 2030 -- the ambitious development plan to make Jamaica the place to live, work and raise families by the year 2030 -- and the fact that efforts to tackle climate change and develop sustainable agriculture were themes deeply embedded in the document. The 21-year plan, further broken down into seven three-year "bite size" implementation pieces incorporating all Government ministries and agencies includes, among other things:
* plans to strengthen the ability to reduce hazards;
* adaptation of the agricultural sector to climate change;
* developing measures to reduce global climate change;
* undertaking research and communication to educate the public; as well as
* reforestation and promoting the use of cleaner technologies.

But despite all the plans, farmers say they are not feeling the effect of the Government action. "Mocho is an agricultural area and they send only one extension officer here. There needs to be better deployment of resources from areas which are not as dependent on agriculture to areas where it is people's main source of livelihood," Horace Fisher of the Mocho Community Development Association told Environment Watch….

Milking a cow at Denbigh Agricultural in Jamaica, shot by Ryftcode, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

New studies of impacts on US wildlife

A number of worthy new studies are being launched by US Geological Survey: ...“The U.S. Geological Survey has funded 17 new projects through the National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center,” said USGS Associate Director for Biology Susan Haseltine. “Our future holds new climate conditions and new habitat responses, and managers need projections based on sound science to assess how our landscapes may change and to develop effective response strategies for species survival.” Several projects are summarized below, and descriptions of all projects can be found on the National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center Web site.

…. USGS scientists are … creating Florida-specific models regarding which species and habitats will increase or decline based on potential rainfall and temperature change as well as impacts of human-induced land use and land cover change.

… USGS scientists and collaborators are updating models to predict 50 to 100 years in the future how water level, water temperatures and ice cover will change in the Great Lakes…..

San Francisco Bay marshes are at risk from sea-level rise, storms, altered salinities, changes in sediment loads and more. ….USGS scientists are developing models for this area to predict sea-level rise, effects on species and habitats, and whether marshes can grow at sustainable rates.

… USGS scientists … are creating climate models for North America and smaller scaled models for the contiguous United States and Alaska. Data will be incorporated into an online Web interface where managers can download information and produce maps of future climate conditions.

….As the climate changes and glaciers melt, the flow of freshwater in the Gulf of Alaska is altered, and impacts are felt across coastal ecosystems. …Scientists are studying these processes and impacts, with particular focus on the Copper River, which relies on nearby mountain glaciers and is the Gulf’s largest freshwater source.

….USGS scientists are studying how climate change will influence fish habitats and providing data to managers to help them assess extinction risks and develop appropriate response strategies.

As the climate continues to change, sea-level rise may inundate coastal and low elevation Pacific islands. … USGS scientists are mapping current species distribution and identifying the areas and species that are most vulnerable to sea-level rise.

A warmer climate can bring dryer conditions, threatening plant species in the arid southwestern United States as well as the wildlife that depend on these plants for habitat and food. USGS scientists will expand on existing models that outline climate change impacts to plant populations and include up to 30 plant species…..

A "Canyon de Chelly," panorama of valley from mountain. By Ansel Adams

Sudden revolt by insurance regulators scales back climate rule on industry

Evan Lehmann in the New York Times via Climate Wire chronicles a blow against transparency in climate reporting by insurers: A surprise rebellion by a majority of insurance regulators Sunday reversed key elements of a landmark regulation requiring the nation's largest industry to publicly disclose its efforts to address climate change. Companies can now submit their answers confidentially in most states.

The upheaval rolls back the nation's maiden climate rule on corporations, casting environmentalists and investor advocates into confusion weeks before the 12-question survey was supposed to be enacted. The change, passed by a vote of 27-22 among state insurance commissioners, promises to make it more difficult for activists to pressure the sprawling industry to act more aggressively on global warming.

It also underscores the depth of concern that commissioners around the country have with a survey that asks about insurers' actions to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and safeguard billions in investments from climatic impacts, and about efforts to spark activism among their customers.

…"It was becoming a litmus test of whether you're a green state or not a green state, or a green commissioner or not a green commissioner," he said. "To me, that was very dangerous. If somebody wants to know whether an individual insurance company has environmental issues that they're doing, then why don't you call them up and ask them? You don't need this survey to do it."

….It was that certainty with which some regulators spoke of inevitable impacts from climate change that grated on some industry officials and regulators from states with conservative governors and a heavy reliance on fossil fuels. The survey, they say, was a tool pursued by groups like Ceres, an environmentally minded group of institutional investors pressing for more action by insurers…

Thomas Nast's depiction of Boss Tweed. Somehow this felt appropriate

Muslims pray for rain in drought-hit Guyana

Reuters: Muslims across Guyana prayed for rain on Saturday to end a drought that has battered the tiny South American nation's rice and sugar exports and caused food shortages in indigenous communities. The government of the former British colony of about 750,000 people is struggling to irrigate farmland, with water at storage points reaching dangerously low levels.

The Central Islamic Organization of Guyana (CIOG), which represents Muslims in 145 mosques across the multiethnic nation, organized a day of prayers for rain. … Muslims make up about 7 percent of Guyana's population, with Hindus at 28 percent and Christians making up most of the rest across various denominations.

Guyana is one of several countries in the region, including neighboring Venezuela, that have been parched by drought since the end of last year. "The Amerindian communities are really badly hit," President Bharrat Jagdeo said on Friday of the indigenous people who make up nearly a 10th of Guyana's population. "We have been supplying food to some communities but I need to increase that significantly."…

This is what's missing -- a rain cloud in Guyana, from 2007, shot by J Evans Jodybwiki, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License

Pakistani official argues for mutual cooperation on trans-boundary water issues

Official Spin has a press release from Pakistan: Federal Minister for Environment Hameed Ullah Jan Afridi has said that cooperation is the most logical response to trans-boundary water management issues. The need of the hour is to think in global terms to address cross border water scarcity issues caused by Climate Change. He expressed these views while addressing in regional workshop for journalists on “Sharing our Resources: A vision for addressing cross border water scarcity caused by climate change” organized by LEAD, Pakistan here today.

Journalists from India and Pakistan, representatives of partner organizations LEAD Pakistan, DFID, One UN Joint Program on Environment and Commonwealth Foundation and other high officials of Ministry of Environment participated in this workshop.

Environment Minister further said in his address that Water is at the centre of everything. From climate change to decreasing energy and food supplies to economic meltdowns, water remains at the heart of it all. It is a vicious cycle that warns of local water crisis going global if relevant links are not addressed and resolved. …. He also told that the picture is bleaker for countries like Pakistan and India, where economy is based on agriculture.

…Federal Minister said that There is not much evidence of due attention being paid to awareness raising or focusing on the need to adopt climate change coping mechanisms. Conservation of water and land resources is vital. He emphasized that it is our common responsibility to put in place effective measures with the active participation of all stakeholders…..

Delta state in Nigeria tackles climate change with the UNDP

Barry Agbanigbi in AllAfrica.com via the Daily Champion (Nigeria): Obviously determined to mitigate and adapt to its devastating effects, Delta State Government in conjunction with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has swung into Territorial Approach to Climate Change (TACC).

The state recently in Asaba said its stance on climate change was prompted by the negative effect it might unleash on the state in future if not properly checked. Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan who spoke through his deputy, Prof. Amos Utuama (SAN) on the issue during a brain storming session with UNDP team maintained that Climate change was a cross border phenomenon.

He said "Delta State because of its natural endowments of oil and gas has become a victim of mining and exploration with the very incidence of pollution and environmental degradation, all the fishes have disappeared from the rivers because of oil pollution. It is against this backdrop that the governor who has been witnessing this dramatic change had become a strong apostle of climate change.

"It is all our responsibility to address the adverse effects of climate change. Climate change is causing poverty as a result of dr[o]ught and even over flooding had devastated farm lands, harvest are destroyed. In fact climate change is causing havoc and if not addressed it can consume all of us at one level or the other and at one time or the other."

Bello Orubebe, state's Commissioner for Environment, also observed that the state was the first in the sub-Saharan region to develop a programme on climate change….

The state known as Delta, in Nigeria, created by Himalayan Explorer, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Monday, March 29, 2010

Science alone not enough to boost world farm output

Laurie Goering in Reuters: Feeding a fast-growing global population in the face of climate change and stagnant funding for food aid and farm research will require a fundamental revamp of agriculture, agricultural experts said. But unlike the "Green Revolution" that dramatically hiked agricultural output in Latin America and Asia from the 1950s, a new agricultural restructuring will need to focus as much on new seed varieties as on good governance, women's empowerment and things like curbing commodities speculation, they added.

"We cannot address world food security risks effectively only through a science and technology agenda," Joachim von Braun, former director general of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), told a conference Sunday. "We need to get appropriate market regulations to prevent excessive speculation," he added on the opening day of the conference held in southern France to discuss a roadmap to reform agricultural research to meet development goals.

Speculation in food markets contributes to fuelling price swings that can undercut the ability of farmers to plan, often leading them to over or under-produce. The lack of political support and financial resources for agricultural research are also among the biggest problems holding back efforts to boost farm output and feed more than a billion hungry people in the world, said Jacques Diouf, director general of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

"We have the programs, we have the projects, we have the knowledge... We have everything we need but political will," he said, adding there were signs things were changing. "We have realized the problem of food security is not only a technical, economic, ethical problem. It's a problem of peace and security in the world."…

Cottages with Haystack by a Muddy Track, Residenzgalerie, Salzburg, by Jan van Goyen, 1632

Even soil feels the heat

Seed Daily: Twenty years of field studies reveal that as the Earth has gotten warmer, plants and microbes in the soil have given off more carbon dioxide. So-called soil respiration has increased about one-tenth of 1 percent per year since 1989, according to an analysis of past studies in Nature.

The scientists also calculated the total amount of carbon dioxide flowing from soils, which is about 10-15 percent higher than previous measurements. That number - about 98 petagrams of carbon a year (or 98 billion metric tons) - will help scientists build a better overall model of how carbon in its many forms cycles throughout the Earth. Understanding soil respiration is central to understanding how the global carbon cycle affects climate.

"There's a big pulse of carbon dioxide coming off of the surface of the soil everywhere in the world," said ecologist Ben Bond-Lamberty of the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. "We weren't sure if we'd be able to measure it going into this analysis, but we did find a response to temperature."

The increase in carbon dioxide given off by soils - about 0.1 petagram (100 million metric tons) per year since 1989 - won't contribute to the greenhouse effect unless it comes from carbon that had been locked away out of the system for a long time, such as in Arctic tundra.

This analysis could not distinguish whether the carbon was coming from old stores or from vegetation growing faster due to a warmer climate. But other lines of evidence suggest warming is unlocking old carbon, said Bond-Lamberty, so it will be important to determine the sources of extra carbon.

…Previous climate change research shows that Arctic zones have a lot more carbon locked away than other regions. Using the complete set of data collected from the studies, the team estimated that the carbon released in northern - also called boreal - and Arctic regions rose by about 7 percent; in temperate regions by about 2 percent; and in tropical regions by about 3 percent, showing a trend consistent with other work….

Tundra in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge

Russians rally to save Lake Baikal

Terra Daily via Agence France-Presse: Russians on Saturday protested at the reopening of a paper mill on the shore of Lake Baikal which environmentalists say endangers one of the world's largest freshwater reserves. Nearly 200 people turned out in central Saint Petersburg, Russia's former imperial capital, as environmental organisations including Greenpeace warned of turning the scenic Siberian lake into a sewer.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in January gave the go-ahead for the reopening of the Baikalsk Pulp and Paper Mill which has been shut since 2008 and is owned by billionaire oligarch Oleg Deripaska.

Demonstrators were planning to send a collection of toilet paper to Putin whose decision they argue would lead to discharging tonnes of sewage into the lake and incinerating waste on the lakefront. "If authorities are in dire need of paper and need to destroy the Baikal, we're giving them paper," said Dmitry Artamonov, the local Greenpeace chief.

Lake Baikal, the world's deepest freshwater lake and a UN World Heritage site, is renowned for its unique flora and fauna and contains about 20 percent of the planet's freshwater reserves….

Lake Baikal in Siberia/Russia 7/06 at Bolshoi Koty, facing north. Shot by InvictaHOG

Climate change fears must inform planning

Isabel Hardman in Inside Housing (UK): The government must make adaptation to climate change central to the planning system to ensure new homes can cope with increased risk of flooding, an influential group of MPs has said. In a report from the Environmental Audit Committee, MPs say adapting to climate change needs to become as much of a priority for the government as cutting emissions. They also call for a comprehensive retrofitting programme to make existing homes ready for the effects of climate change through increased energy and water efficiency adaptations.

Spending on flood defences to protect homes must rise from its current level of around £600 million each year to around £1 billion in 2035, the reports states. The committee said new homes currently being planned and built must be designed to cope with climate change, and planners should refuse developments which are not suited to future climate conditions. It also said the government needs to do more to raise awareness of the importance of preparing for a changing climate.

Committee chair Tim Yeo said: ‘For a long time the climate change debate has focused on reducing carbon emissions, but adapting to the inevitable impacts of rising global temperatures is equally critical. We must act now to protect people, property and prosperity and safeguard the natural environment. Delay will only impose greater costs on future generations. The government must be imaginative and establish new and sustainable sources of funding and support for adaptation.’

Always in the market for a snug, dry treehouse. Shot by Waldir, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Report reveals alarming climate change prospects for Bermuda

The Royal Gazette (Bermuda): Climate change is as much a threat to Bermuda as to the rest of the world and a report recently tabled in the House of Assembly details the devastation the Island could experience. Here Amanda Dale looks at what 'The Impact of Climate Change on Bermuda' says.

It's a report to set alarm bells ringing a significant loss of beaches and coastline, flooding inundating hundreds of acres of land, the prospect of food shortages, an impact on tourism and threats to the Island's airport and power supplies.

…The report includes an analysis of its effects on key elements of life, including: tourism; health; energy; freshwater resources; agriculture; fisheries; architectural heritage; coastline; plants, trees and wildlife; and coral reefs. And it shows that:
  • With a sea level rise of 0.59 metres the upper limit predicted by the International Panel for Climate Change for this century at least 31 percent of Bermuda's beach and dune habitats would be inundated and as much as 186 hectares of land could be inundated during high tides
  • If the ice sheets melt, the rise in sea levels could be as high as two metres which would "drown" L.F. Wade International Airport and flood up to 2,000 residential and commercial buildings. The main power plant at Belco would also be swamped.
  • Climate change will also trigger more intense hurricanes, droughts and flash floods, as rising temperatures make global rainfall patterns increasingly erratic. Annual rainfall is expected to increase by seven percent, with less frequent but heavier downpours.
  • …There will be a socio-economic impact of climate change including a loss of income and productivity, population displacement and social disruption, diminished quality of life, pyschological stress and increased costs to healthcare.
  • Tourism will be affected by possible greenhouse gas reduction policies. Aircraft and cruise ships are significant contributors to greenhouse gases

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Aid must double to respond to natural disasters, UN warned

Kim Sengupta in the Independent (UK): The global humanitarian network is not "fit for purpose" and will struggle to cope with the Haiti-style natural disasters that will hit some of the world's poorest people as a result of climate change, Britain's International Development minister has warned.

So big are the challenges that the British Government will shortly recommend a doubling of the United Nations' relief funds budget from the current $500m to $1bn (£671m) and a radical overhaul of the system, the minister, Gareth Thomas, told The Independent. He noted that the number of people needing urgent aid is expected to rise from 250 million to more than 375 million in the next five years.

…Calling on the UN to carry out a thorough review of its procedures, Mr Thomas pointed out that while Britain has pledged $120m to the UN's Central Emergency Relief Fund (Cerf) over the next three years, some other Western countries have failed to pull their weight. Although he did not identify countries, aid groups have complained that France's contribution to Cerf is negligible, and the amounts provided by Germany and the US are small – although the Obama administration has boosted funding since taking office.

Cerf, which was set up after the Asian tsunami, has received increased funding over the years. However, its budget remains minuscule compared, say the aid agencies, to the $23 trillion that European countries contributed to bailing out the banking sector....

A tent city in Port au Prince, Haiti, January 2010, after the earthquake. Shot by UN Photo/Logan Abassi , Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative CommonsAttribution 2.0 Generic license

The White House takes on climate change adaptation

Dipka Bhambhani on Cleanskies: The White House is planning to focus on climate change adaptation over mitigation and a special administration task force plans to send President Obama a list of recommendations that will lead to a national strategy on adaptation. "Our next step is to deliver a set of recommendations to the president in October 2010," Maria Blair, deputy associate director for climate change at the White House Council on Environmental Quality told the Georgetown Law Center and the Georgetown Climate Center Friday.

"In some cases those will be very specific near term recommendations. In other cases they will be recommendations on the approaches or processes by which a national strategy does get developed." Blair said the administration believes climate change mitigation is "critical," and the President is committed to greenhouse gas mitigation. But, the administration "is recognizing there are other things we have to do," she said. "We have to prioritize adaptation."

Last week, a special task force comprised of members of The White House Council, the Office of Science and Technology and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a progress report that outlines major gaps in the current approach and a path going forward.

The report says adaptation and building resilience are critical issues, and the federal government has a leading role. The government is just starting to identify that role. Blair says the report "really is laying groundwork by which we catalyze much broader action across the federal government and between the federal government and everyone else who's going to need to do a lot of this adaptation." "So it's a starting point," she said.

The report also showed gaps in the national strategy to deal with adaptation. Among them, a lack of a unified strategic vision and approach to climate change adaptation, Blair said.… In its report, the task force also outlines a set of key elements to a national adaptation strategy. Blair said good science behind climate change adaptation is essential. "Science needs to be much more integrated in a much better way in the decisions that we make and the policies that we sign," she said….

Book examines lessons learned from Iowa's ’08 floods

Alma Gaul in the Quad City Times (Iowa): In June 2008, the rivers of eastern Iowa rose above their banks to create floods of epic proportions, ruining farm fields and displacing thousands of residents and businesses. Many people still are struggling to recover; some never will.

A new book, “A Watershed year: Anatomy of the Iowa Floods of 2008,” edited by Cornelia F. Mutel, examines various facets of this flood, keying in on what lessons were, or might be, learned. The book’s 25 chapters are written by different people, from different viewpoints, including college professors, hydrologists and city public works directors.

An overriding point is that floods will inevitably happen in the future, perhaps with greater frequency because of our changing climate, and that we would be wise to take a somewhat different approach to mitigating them, an approach that takes into account a river’s entire watershed, not just the immediate flood plain.

…Restoring our land so it will absorb and hold water is a new beginning, she says. She doesn’t dismiss the flood-control approaches already in use. Valuable structures must still be flood-proofed or moved out of the flood plain.

Well-planned levees and other barriers also are part of the management puzzle, although there is a growing mind-shift among people involved in flood planning away from the idea that raging rivers can be contained with levees. Instead, there is growing understanding that rivers need to be managed with techniques that will mitigate flooding, such as creating more wetlands to hold runoff.

This will have added benefits: improving water quality by allowing water to filter, creating wildlife habitat and providing carbon sequestration. But a shift away from the levee mentality will require major re-thinking of our relationship with the landscape and could entail large-scale policy changes that need to, as she says, “surmount institutional and policy inertia, as well as challenge the power of special interests and lobbies.”…

Global warming 'will split South Uist in two' as rising sea surges inland

Jenny Fyall in the Scotsman: People living in low-lying South Uist have warned that their island could be split in two unless action is taken to tackle the impact of flooding and sea-level rise. The island in the Outer Hebrides is already dotted with large numbers of inland lochs, which locals believe will eventually join up.

Under climate change scenarios published by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa), the seas around South Uist will rise by at least 37cm by 2080. Warmer, wetter winters are also predicted. With a lack of coastal barriers to keep the sea at bay, there are fears that Loch Eynort, in central South Uist, could flood and join with nearby Loch Ollay, forming a continuous stretch of water from the east to west coast. Already, with heavy rainfall, some parts of South Uist become temporary islands, with houses cut off and surrounded by water, due to lochs joining with the sea.

On Sunday, concerned residents will give local MSP Alasdair Allan a tour of the island to highlight their fears for the future. They believe habitable areas will shrink, fishing will become more dangerous, and there will be less land to farm unless action is taken to keep the water at bay. They want better sea defences, drainage systems and early warning systems for dangerous areas liable to flood….

Flowering machair, Hills of South Uist, Outer Hebrides, shot by Tim Niblett, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Global pace of deforestation slows: FAO

The Independent via Agence France-Presse: The worldwide pace of deforestation has slowed down for the first time on record, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said on Thursday. On a total forest area of four billion hectares, the world lost 13 million hectares of forests per year between 2000 and 2010 - down from around 16 million in the 1990-2000 period, it said in a report.

"For the first time, we are able to show that the rate of deforestation has decreased globally as a result of concerted efforts taken both at local and international level," said Eduardo Rojas, assistant director general of FAO's forestry department, in a statement.

"New forests are being created. Either through the expansion of forests or more rapidly through the planting of trees" said Mette Loyche Wilkie, the Coordinator of the Assessment, at a press conference, Planted forests now account for about 7.0 percent of global forests, said Wilkie.

Over the 10-year period, Asia which "registered a net gain of some 2.2 million hectares annually in the last decade, mainly because of large-scale afforestation programmes in China, India and Vietnam," Rojas said. But Rojas warned: "The rate of deforestation is still very high in many countries and the area of primary forest - forests undisturbed by human activity - continues to decrease"…

The diverse forest canopy on Barro Colorado Island, (Darien Jungle) Panama - Colombia, shot by Christian Ziegler, Wikimedia Commons via Public Library of Science, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Ice melt spreads to both coasts of Greenland

Futurity,org: Ice loss from the Greenland ice sheet, which has been increasing during the past decade over its southern region, is now making an upward climb on its northwest coast as well. An international team of scientists compared data from NASA’s Gravity and Recovery Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite system with continuous GPS measurements made from long-term sites on bedrock on the edges of the ice sheet.

The data from the GPS and GRACE provided the researchers with monthly averages of crustal uplift caused by ice-mass loss. The team combined the uplift measured by GRACE over United Kingdom-sized chunks of Greenland while the GPS receivers monitor crustal uplift on scales of just tens of miles.

“When we look at the monthly values from GRACE, the ice mass loss has been very dramatic along the northwest coast of Greenland,” says John Wahr, professor of physics at the University of Colorado, Boulder. “This is a phenomenon that was undocumented before this study. Our speculation is that some of the big glaciers in this region are sliding downhill faster and dumping more ice in the ocean.”

The team found that uplift rates near the Thule Air Base on Greenland’s northwest coast rose by roughly 1.5 inches, or about 4 centimeters, from October 2005 to August 2009. “Our results show that the ice loss, which has been well documented over southern portions of Greenland, is now spreading up along the northwest coast,” says Wahr’s colleague Shfaqat Abbas Khan, of Denmark’s Technical Institute’s National Space Institute in Copenhagen and lead author on a paper in Geophysical Research Letters.

Although the low resolution of GRACE—a swath of about 155 miles, or 250 kilometers across—is not precise enough to pinpoint the source of the ice loss, the fact that the ice sheet is losing mass nearer to the ice sheet margins suggests the flows of Greenland outlet glaciers there are increasing in velocity….

Cape York Greenland Photograped by Mila Zinkova in September of 2005, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License

Africa warned on climate change

Judith Akolo from the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation: Adaptation of African countries in the face of increasing climate variability has to be maintained in order to reduce suffering that arises from natural disasters. The International Research Institute for Climate and Society at the Earth Institute of Columbia University is urging for investments in enhancement of capacities for reduction of risk and socio-economic impacts related to climate variability.

Speaking Saturday at the launch of the Early Warning and Advisory Climate Services for African Countries -EWACS, Vigirisc project in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, an official of the IRI Simon Mason said African countries could make do with the development of vigilance products and services adapted to different sectors in order to prevent suffering through early warning.

He told the meeting dubbed the African Centre for Meteorological and Applications for Development - ACMAD that food security is at risk as agricultural productivity in much of Africa is rain-fed while pastoral migration also affects the pastoralist communities as they hunt for pasture for their animals.

Mason told the meeting that also kicked off the Vigirisc project for Africa that diseases like malaria and meningitis epidemics are a matter that should worry most governments since there is a relationship between the diseases and climate variability which is currently the main problem affecting the continent.

He noted that storm surges and waves that have been recently noticed in Mauritania require adequate monitoring and fast communication to communities in order to prevent loss of life and property. Mason said drought, floods, heavy rains and strong winds are meteorological happenings that need proper surveillance….

Vietnam's Red River drying out

Thanh Thu in VietnamNet: Just one look at the Red River told the whole story – the lifeline of the northern delta had reached its lowest level since records began in 1902. At some parts of the river, the water level stood at just 70cm.

An extended drought in Vietnam has also caused water levels in the Mekong Delta to drop to their lowest points in nearly 20 years. Tens of millions of people depend on the two river basins for farming, fishing and transportation. Needless to say this drought has alarm bells ringing loud and clear.

…According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD)’s Water Resources Department, this year, nearly 80,000 of the total 630,000 hectares of arable land in the north of Vietnam is at risk from this prolonged drought and more than 5,700 hectares will be forced to shift to other crops in need of less water.

Nguyen Lan Chau, vice director of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment’s National Center for Hydro-meteorological Forecasting (NCHF), ascribed the scarcity of rains since last September to a persistent decrease in the water levels of all rivers in northern Vietnam and to forest fires in provinces nationwide.

….According to the NCHF, the return of El Niño, the cyclical warming pattern, is the real culprit causing Vietnam’s long lasting drought, which will continue in the coming month. Even this summer, when rainfall often increases every year, rainfall will decrease.

….“Such a long-lasting drought is quite different from previous years,” says Do Thanh Hai, also from MARD’s Forest Protection Department. “Dry weather and high temperatures are coinciding with the time farmers burn their fields to prepare for cultivation, which has created a very high risk for forest fire.”…

Long Biên Bridge in Hanoi, Vietnam, looking towards the city centre from a rural island in the river. Shot by Kelisi, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License

Polynesia's coral reefs wiped out by Cyclone Oli

Science Daily: On 3-4 February 2010, tropical cyclone Oli hit western French Polynesia. From 7 February 2010, the Coral Observation Department at CNRS's National Institute of Earth Sciences and Astronomy (INSU), based at the Centre de recherches insulaires et observatoire de l'environnement (CRIOBE, CNRS/EPHE) in Moorea, rapidly undertook an inventory of the cyclone's effects after it had passed over two reference sites. The scientists were soon to discover the extent of the damage: the coral reef, which had already been made vulnerable by the invasion of a starfish that is a coral predator, had been almost completely destroyed.

…The results left no room for doubt: cyclone Oli had planed down the coral populations and finished off a reef which was already vulnerable. In fact, Acanthaster, a starfish that preys on coral, had already decimated the coral populations on the outer slopes of Moorea (2). Although this was a cause for deep concern, the physical structure of the reefs, and especially that of the outer slope (which is the most favorable area for reef growth due to the well-oxygenated water) had nevertheless been little affected, since the skeletons of the dead colonies were still in place, holding out the promise of a possible revival.

However, after the cyclone had passed, the physical structure of Moorea's outer slopes (especially on the northern side) were found to be seriously and lastingly affected. Comparison of data before and after the cyclone struck reveals a very significant reduction in the relief of the outer slope. The rugosity indices (linear distance of developed reef/ linear distance of flat reef) have fallen by 50% at all depths down to 30 meters, as shown by statistical tests carried out at the sites studied. A large number of colonies present, even if dead as a result of predation by Acanthaster, were torn off by wave action and broken up by boulders. This time, it was the three-dimensional structure of the reef which was affected. This determines the habitat of much of the fauna associated with the coral, including many species of fish….

Tropical Cyclone Oli swirled over the South Pacific in early February 2010, some 200 nautical mies (370 kilometers) west-northwest of Bora Bora

Friday, March 26, 2010

Climate change affecting Kenyan rainmakers' predictions

Kevin James Moore in AllAfrica.com via MediaGlobal: Indigenous people in western Kenya have relied on the mystical abilities of the Nganyi rainmakers to predict the weather for generations. However, the erratic weather caused by climate change has made the signs rainmakers need for their forecast opaque. The Nganyi rainmakers have begun collaborating with meteorologists, combining their indigenous knowledge with modern science, to help them make more accurate weather forecast for the communities that depend on their advice.

"The rainmakers' predictions are based on close observation of natural phenomena, like the budding or flowering of specific plant species and the behavior of local insects and animals, associated with seasonal changes," Mary O'Neill of Climate Change Adaptation in Africa (CCAA) told MediaGlobal. "As weather patterns have become erratic in their community in recent years, the Nganyi have been finding that these 'indicator' species are less and less reliable."

"Climate change has come so fast," said Obedi Osore, a traditional forecaster filmed in the CCAA's video Nganyi Indigenous Knowledge Adaptation Project. "People don't know how to adapt. Our traditional crops are disappearing because they can't handle the new conditions." Osore explained, "We need new strategies to handle the climate change issue."

The Kenya Meteorology Department is adding its scientific knowledge to the traditional knowledge of the Nganyi, in a project lead by the IGAD Climate Prediction and Applications Centre (ICPAC) to provide more reliable information for communities at risk from climate change. The CCAA is supporting the project and sees this as a "valuable opportunity to explore how climate information can be made more accessible and relevant to rural people whose livelihoods depend on it," said O'Neill. "People in many parts of rural Africa look to indigenous knowledge forecasters to tell them what the rains will bring, and how to prepare."…

Surrounding hills of Kapsowar with Mt. Kipkinurr in background, shot by Masai29

A new epoch of a human-changed globe, with mass extinctions

University of Leicester: Geologists from the University of Leicester are among four scientists- including a Nobel prize-winner – who suggest that the Earth has entered a new age of geological time. The Age of Aquarius? Not quite - It’s the Anthropocene Epoch, say the scientists writing in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. (web issue March 29; print issue April 1) And they add that the dawning of this new epoch may include the sixth largest mass extinction in the Earth’s history.

Jan Zalasiewicz and Mark Williams from the University of Leicester Department of Geology; Will Steffen, Director of the Australian National University’s Climate Change Institute and Paul Crutzen the Nobel Prize-winning atmospheric chemist of Mainz University provide evidence for the scale of global change in their commentary in the American Chemical Society’s’ bi-weekly journal Environmental Science & Technology.

The scientists propose that, in just two centuries, humans have wrought such vast and unprecedented changes to our world that we actually might be ushering in a new geological time interval, and alter the planet for millions of years.

Zalasiewicz, Williams, Steffen and Crutzen contend that recent human activity, including stunning population growth, sprawling megacities and increased use of fossil fuels, have changed the planet to such an extent that we are entering what they call the Anthropocene (New Man) Epoch.

First proposed by Crutzen more than a decade ago, the term Anthropocene has provoked controversy. However, as more potential consequences of human activity — such as global climate change and sharp increases in plant and animal extinctions — have emerged, Crutzen’s term has gained support. Currently, the worldwide geological community is formally considering whether the Anthropocene should join the Jurassic, Cambrian and other more familiar units on the Geological Time Scale.

The scientists note that getting that formal designation will likely be contentious. But they conclude, “However these debates will unfold, the Anthropocene represents a new phase in the history of both humankind and of the Earth, when natural forces and human forces became intertwined, so that the fate of one determines the fate of the other. Geologically, this is a remarkable episode in the history of this planet.”…

A crossing in Shibuya, Tokyo, shot by Angaurits, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Human health linked directly to forest health

WWF: Environmental degradation is causing serious detrimental health impacts for humans, but protecting natural habitats can reverse this and supply positive health benefits, according to a new WWF report. “Our research confirms what we know instinctively: Human health is inextricably linked to the health of the planet,” says Chris Elliot, WWF’s Executive Director of Conservation.

Vital Sites: The Contribution of Protected Areas to Human Health notes that the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates between 23 and 25 per cent of the global disease burden could be avoided by improved management of environmental conditions. The report, released in advance of World Forestry Day on March 21, singles out deforestation for its key impacts on human health.

“Deforestation is a double blow to human health,” says Elliot. “It increases the spread of certain diseases while destroying plants and animals that may hold the key to treating illnesses that plague millions of people.”

Protecting natural landscapes can contribute positively to human health through protecting future medicinal resources, reducing the impacts of pollution, toxins and weather extremes and providing recreational places that support physical and mental well-being.

…The report stresses that while people are good at cultivating plants whose value is known, we have a poor track record at conserving those seen as having little use for humans. The problem is, habitat destruction is eliminating potentially valuable species before they can even be discovered, let alone tested. This short-sighted use of forest resources has major economic implications as well; by the year 2000, plant-based pharmaceuticals were estimated to earn more than $30 billion per year….

Forest in Sai Yok National Park, Kanchanaburi, Thailand

CSIRO and Bayer to focus on sustainable crops

Seed Daily: CSIRO and Bayer CropScience are embarking on a new two-year research program designed to assess the sustainability of new generation crops. This collaboration will develop and apply models to assess the system-wide consequences of new-generation cereal crops in the face of global environmental and food security challenges.

The project will assess the full environmental impact of the crops, including their influence on the carbon footprint of cereal production. This program will build on a long-term cereal research agreement between the two organisations.

The Director of CSIRO´s Sustainable Agriculture Flagship, Dr Brian Keating, said new generation crops offer enormous potential to help Australia and the rest of the world deal with the future demand for food.

"Through reduced input requirements and improved efficiency in the use of water, energy and nutrients, they also have the potential to reduce pressure on the environment, including reduction of greenhouse emissions that contribute to climate change," Dr Keating said….

Putting in seed in Australia, 1915

Rising seas claim island at centre of 30-year dispute

Andrew Buncombe in the Independent (UK): A low-lying island in a sprawling mangrove delta which has been disputed by India and Bangladesh for almost 30 years will be squabbled over no more. It has disappeared beneath the waves.

In what experts say is an alarming indication of the danger posed by rising sea levels brought about by global warming, New Moore Island has become totally submerged. "It is definitely because of global warming," said Professor Sugata Hazra of Jadavpur University in Kolkata. "The sea level has been rising at twice the previous rate in the years between 2002 and 2009. The sea level is rising in accordance with rising temperatures."

Known as New Moore Island in India, and South Talpatti in Bangladesh, the uninhabited outcrop in the Sundarbans delta region measured barely two miles in length and one-and-a-half miles in width. Yet the island had been angrily disputed by the two countries, almost ever since Bangladesh secured independence from Pakistan in 1971.

….The problem in resolving the issue was that the flashpoint island was situated directly beneath the mouth of the river Hariabhanga, which marked the agreed international boundary between the two countries. Technically, possession of the island depends on which side of the island the main channel of the river flows. That has never been agreed by the two countries.

Yet such vagaries of ocean flow no longer matter. Mr Hazra said the island, first noticed in 1974 and possibly created by a massive cyclone that tore across Bangladesh, was no longer visible on satellite imagery….

Location of the now submerged South Talpatti Island (or New Moore Island) in the Bay of Bengal

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Rising Currents: Projects for New York’s Waterfront

The Museum of Modern Art in New York City has a new exhibit of keen interest to everyone in the adaptation business (March 24 through October 11): MoMA and P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center joined forces to address one of the most urgent challenges facing the nation’s largest city: sea-level rise resulting from global climate change. Though the national debate on infrastructure is currently focused on “shovel-ready” projects that will stimulate the economy, we now have an important opportunity to foster new research and fresh thinking about the use of New York City's harbor and coastline. As in past economic recessions, construction has slowed dramatically in New York, and much of the city’s remarkable pool of architectural talent is available to focus on innovation.

An architects-in-residence program at P.S.1 (November 16, 2009–January 8, 2010) brings together five interdisciplinary teams, including Architecture Research Office (ARO), to re-envision the coastlines of New York and New Jersey around New York Harbor and to imagine new ways to occupy the harbor itself with adaptive “soft” infrastructures that are sympathetic to the needs of a sound ecology. These creative solutions are intended to dramatically change our relationship to one of the city’s great open spaces.

This installation presents the proposals developed during the architects-in-residence program, including a wide array of models, drawings, and analytical materials.

Sunset over New York City. In "Flug und Wolken" (Flight and Clouds), Manfred Curry, Verlag F. Bruckmann, München (Munich), 1932. Image from United States Coast and Geodetic Survey

Traditional methods cited in softening climate change impact

Business World (Philippines): Experts have recognized the effectiveness of traditional forest management practices of indigenous peoples (IPs) in mitigating the impact of climate change. "IPs are most commonly referred to as victims of the adverse effects of climate change, but in real terms, IPs are actually the solution," Victoria Tauli-Corpuz chairman of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples said in a press briefing held yesterday in Manila.

"Through their traditional knowledge and practices in managing the environment, IPs had maintained the integrity and sustainability of their ecosystems," she added. Specifically citing practices in the Cordillera region, Ms. Tauli-Corpuz said "time-tested" practice could be replicated nationwide. …Practices cited were:
  • "Batangan" from Mt. Province which bans the cutting of trees without community permission;
  • "Manalum," also from Mt. Province, where water supply is equally distributed for irrigation
  • "Muyong" from Ifugao or a water-gathering system from the rain forest; and
  • "Lapat" from Apayao and Abra, which regulated the use of natural resources by requiring all community members and neighboring groups to refrain from excessive and abusive cutting trees, gathering rattan, hunting and fishing…
The Nagacandan rice terraces in Ifugao, a Unesco World Heritage Site. Shot by Shubert Ciencia, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

UK must help homes adapt to climate change, MPs say

The Guardian via Press Association (UK): A programme to "retrofit" homes with measures to make them more energy and water efficient and resilient to flooding is needed to help households cope with climate change, MPs said today. The environmental audit committee also warned that new housing developments should only get planning approval if they are designed to suit future changes in the climate, as part of efforts to make sure the UK adapts to rising temperatures.

And there needs to be greater focus on "green infrastructure" including water storage, more trees and more open spaces which can tackle flash flooding and hot city summers, the committee said. A report by the committee of MPs warned efforts to adapt to a changing climate needed to be as much of a priority as cutting the greenhouse gas emissions which cause global warming.

The UK is already locked in to a rise in temperature, and is expected to experience wetter winters, drier summers and a higher likelihood of heatwaves, storms and flooding. To maintain current levels of flood protection will require real terms spending on defences to increase from around £600m a year now to £1bn in 2035. And by the end of the century some £7bn may be needed to improve the Thames barrier and tidal defences.

The committee called on the government to ensure there was a coherent approach to adaptation that involves all Whitehall departments and helps local communities tackle the risks posed by climate change…

Temple Sowerby, Cumbria, Great Britain. A Cumbrian village between Penrith and Appleby on the A66 road. Shot by Simon Ledingham, Wikimedia Commons via the Geograph Project, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Potential dam removal in Massachussetts, and the flooding consequences

An editorial in the Andover Townsman (Massachussetts): They call them 100-year floods, historically heavy floods that supposedly have only a 1 percent chance of occurring in any given year. But the ferocious storms that cause these floods seem to be happening with much greater frequency. Whether that's because of global climate change, increased development, inadequate drainage, too many parking lots, chance - or some combination of all of the above - is a matter for the experts to determine quickly. Because communities like Andover need to know what solutions they can create to lessen future damage, whether the rules around development and wetlands protection are still appropriate, and whether it makes sense to continue to rebuild homes in the areas of town most prone to repeated flooding.

Then, there's the so-called Shawsheen Renaissance project. The project includes the idea of removing three dams along the Shawsheen River and opening it up to the type of pleasure boating that used to be more frequent on the river. The removal of dams is also expected to allow the return of certain type of aquatic life to the area. The three dams in the study are the Ballardvale dam near Andover Street, the Stevens Street dam near the Post Office and Marland Place and the Balmoral Street dam. The Stevens Street dam is owned by Atria Marland Place's parent company and the Balmoral dam is owned by the Balmoral Condo Association, while the Ballardvale dam is owned by two abutting companies. The dams, built during the 19th century era of mills and industry, are over 100 years old and no longer used. The Ballardvale and Stevens Street dams were built to harness water power. The Balmoral is an ornamental dam ordered by mill tycoon William Wood.

At a public meeting about the dam removal project in December 2008, discussion became heated with some residents in attendance concerned the dams' removal would cause flooding to their homes or reduce the river's flow to a trickle. Last year, Thomas Ardito, president of the Center for Ecosystem Restoration that has been studying the idea, said neither scenario would occur if the dams are removed. His engineering firm is expected to spend this year continuing to look at the river's history and working on the permitting and designing of the proposed dam removal. Before any dams are removed, residents are going to need considerable convincing that the science is accurate, and the town's flooding problems won't be exaccerbated. We hope experts can devise an appropriate solution and convincing plan.

Map of the Shawsheen River in Massachussetts

Future droughts probably serious threat to Taiwan

China Post: Taiwan will possibly follow the steps of mainland China and some Southeast Asia countries and face constant drought threats, said Liu Shaw-chen, distinguished research fellow and lab director of Academia Sinica Research Center for Environmental Changes.

Although Taiwan has already entered the wet season of spring, until March 22, the total rainfall of Tainan in March is only 0.3 mm. Tainan's average rainfall in March in previous years is 35.4mm. Kaohsiung records only one mm of rainfall in March till March 22. If there is no rain before the end of March, the two areas will have the lowest amount of rain in history, according to Central Weather Bureau (CWB).

…Liu said the decrease in rainfall in Taiwan is influenced by the global climate change. In the past century, the surface temperature of the earth had increased by 0.6 degree Celsius and that had changed the raining patterns. “The most pressing impact of climate change in Taiwan is the extreme rainfalls,” said Liu. “Central and southern districts of Taiwan had already suffered from draft for eight years in the last decade.”

According a research done by Liu and his team, in the last 45 years, the days with drizzles in Taiwan are halved. For central and southern districts in Taiwan, where the main water source is drizzles, would face drought much more often. And as the days with torrential rain are doubled that of 45 years ago, the risks of water hazard and landslides are also doubled.

In an interview with United Evening News, Liu said digging reservoirs could solve the extreme rainfall problem. “I really admire the wisdom of the Hakka ancestors,” Liu said. “They lived in mountain areas that cannot access water sources easily. So they dig lakes near their farmlands, which could store rainwater when there were downpours to avoid water hazards, and could provide water for irrigation in dry seasons.”…

Mount Yu, Taiwan, circa 1929

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The looming water disaster that could destroy California, and enrich its billionaire farmers

A fine, looooong muckraking piece by Yasha Levine in Alternet: …Imagine the devastating flooding of Hurricane Katrina multiplied by epic sandstorms, drought and economic collapse of the Dust Bowl. Now picture it happening an hour east of Apple's headquarters in Silicon Valley and spreading all the way down to the Mexican border. … California's politicians have known about this looming catastrophe for decades. They also have had the power to neutralize the threat. But no one has done anything to prevent it.

Just like the oligarchs who used the shock of Hurricane Katrina's destruction to tear down public housing, privatize public schools and pillage the city's poorest, California's most powerful business interests have positioned themselves to profit from this disaster. A handful of billionaire farmers and real estate developers are in line to pull off the most brazen water heist in American history, seizing control over much of Northern California's water supplies and do what they have always wanted: turn water, a shared public resource, into a private asset that can be traded on the open market.

At the center of this epic water grab is the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, a Yosemite-sized patchwork of waterways and farmland an hour east of Oakland that sits atop California's single largest water source. Formed by the confluence of state's two largest rivers as they flow out to the San Francisco Bay, more than half of all rainfall and snowmelt drains through the Delta, supplying two-thirds of California with water and irrigating most of the state's farmland. The Delta's agricultural, fishing and tourism industries produce up $5 billion in combined economic output a year and the region remains one of California's last holdouts of small and family farms. It is also home to the most dangerous flood control system in America.

"Now we realize it may be the single most at-risk piece of property in the United States," John Radke, a professor at UC Berkeley's Department of City and Regional Planning, told Emergency Management magazine. "If you had a catastrophic event there and you can't get things built, you won't just have people unable to go across a bridge, you'll have people without drinking water -- 22 million of them."

…Yet one group that might be anticipating this disaster is a tiny cabal of billionaire farmers from the Westlands Water District, an irrigated farming region spanning 1,000 square miles of some of the hottest, most arid land in the San Joaquin Valley between Fresno and Bakersfield. "With crops worth $1 billion a year, this one district produces more than some whole states," writes Mark Grossi of the Fresno Bee. The farmers in the district make up a secretive old boys' network that has used its wealth and power to divert rivers, empty lakes, plunder taxpayers' wealth, privatize water and defy California's constitution…

A broken levee along the Sacramento River, under repair by the US Army Corps of Engineers, which also took the photo. Date and location unknown

Authorities put death toll from Madagascar storm to 78

Sify News: A tropical storm that hit the Indian Ocean island nation of Madagascar this month killed at least 78 people and affected some 145,000, according to a new toll authorities released Tuesday. Madagascar's southeastern regions were the worst affected by tropical storm Hubert, which brought severe weather between March 8 and 12.

Thirty-four people remain missing, authorities said, while rains inundated more than 26,000 hectares of rice fields in an area of the southeast and killed 810 cows. The cyclone season began in November and extends until April.

In recent years, cyclones in the impoverished country have caused huge destruction and killed scores.

Lack of female presence on climate change panel draws criticism

Rebekah Mintzer in Media Global: Women, particularly in developing nations, have a lot to lose from a failure to combat climate change worldwide. Consequently UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s 4 March announcement of the members of a climate change panel—a group that initially contained zero female representatives—struck many as odd. The new High-level Advisory Group on Climate Change Financing, assembled to determine how to direct funds secured at Copenhagen and apply them to thwarting climate change in developing countries, was criticized for having no female representatives out of the 19 people selected when it was announced. One woman, Christine Lagarde, the French Finance Minister has since been added, and, according to the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, it is likely that there will be more confirmations in the future.

“While the Secretary-General places emphasis on gender representation in the constitution of UN entities, a multitude of factors, such as nominations by governments, geographical representation and balance between developed and developing countries, were brought into play in the decision-making,” Ari Gaitanis, Associate UN Spokesperson for the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General told MediaGlobal. “The time constraint for the establishment of the group was an additional factor. These factors precluded appropriate attention to the gender balance.”

Women bear a disproportionate amount of the burden when it comes to climate change and its deleterious effects. As the keepers of the home in many countries, they are often in charge of gathering food, water, and fuel, three commodities that climate change will render more difficult to obtain. Some estimates indicate that women in developing nations are responsible for 70 percent of agricultural productivity, and climate change is poised to pose threats to crops. Women, especially those in developing countries, are also more likely to be in the crosshairs of natural disasters and extreme weather conditions that could arise with climate change. They are often not granted as much mobility as men because of societal restrictions and are more isolated from aid and information about disasters. According to a recent report released by Women’s Environmental Network, about 10,000 women already die from weather disasters a year, compared to 4,500 men.

These harsh realities have prompted many groups to advocate for a more gendered perspective on dealing with climate change. Marion Rolle, of Gender CC- Women for Climate Justice, a network of advocacy groups, pointed out that participation in climate change talks has not reflected the true gender balance, and that there was even a decrease in female heads of delegations at COP 15 in December 2009….