Friday, April 30, 2010

Water-related conflicts set to escalate

Science Daily: Population growth, urbanisation, increasing pollution, soil erosion and climate variations are all reflected in the management and adequacy of the world's waters. The situation is particularly difficult in many developing countries, where there are growing concerns over escalating water crises and even outright water conflicts between countries and regions.

"The current rate of population growth and urbanisation are already impacting food production. We need to improve the efficiency of agricultural output, as it's unlikely that the acreage under cultivation can be much increased. Improved efficiency requires the efficient use of water resources," says Professor Olli Varis from the Water and Development Research Group at Aalto University. The Group's main research interests include integrated approaches to the management and planning of water resources as well as international water issues.

Professor Varis points out that the utility of existing water resources is adversely affected by increasing industrial pollution and the breakdown of natural material circulation. The utilisation of water resources, and groundwater in particular, already exceeds the renewal capacity. "Up to 60-90 per cent of the world's population live in countries that suffer from water shortages, and that figure will rise sharply in the future."

Water-related conflicts are particularly clearly visible in the Mekong River Basin in Southeast Asia. At an estimated length of almost 5,000 kilometres, the Mekong is one of the world's largest free-flowing river systems. However, China, Laos and other countries in the region are now driving to harness these water resources, particularly for hydropower production. The Academy of Finland has contributed to finance the studies undertaken by the Water and Development Research Group on the water use situation in the Mekong River Basin.

…."The economic value of fisheries in the Mekong is roughly the same as that of hydroelectric power generation. The annual value of the fish catch is estimated at up to three billion US dollars," says Marko Keskinen, whose recent doctoral thesis deals with the management of the Mekong River's water resources. "The current plans tie in with wider issues about development and power relations. Centralised dam projects will fundamentally change the distribution of benefits derived from the river."

"Many integrated approaches neglect to take into account broader philosophical and conceptual dimensions. As water management involves a number of interacting actors, it's also always about political and personal processes. For this reason, it is also important to look at how different groups cooperate and interact, both with each other and internally."

The Mekong Delta from space

US fights to defend fragile coast from big oil spill

Matthew Bigg in Reuters: The U.S. government scrambled on Friday to ward off an environmental disaster that could cost billions of dollars as a huge oil spill reached coastal Louisiana, imperiling shrimp fishing grounds, oyster beds and fragile wetlands with a rich variety of wildlife.

With oil gushing unchecked from a ruptured deepwater well in the Gulf of Mexico off Louisiana, President Barack Obama's administration heaped pressure on London-based energy giant BP, the majority owner of the blown-out well, to do more to shut off the flow and contain the spreading slick.

Obama, mindful of public criticism of President George W. Bush's handling of the 2005 Hurricane Katrina disaster, sent several top officials to Louisiana to assess preparations for the cleanup effort. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said he had told BP to "work harder and faster and smarter to get the job done." "We cannot rest and we will not rest until BP permanently seals the wellhead and cleans up every drop of oil," Salazar said in Louisiana.

Crude oil is pouring out at a rate of up to 5,000 barrels a day,liters according to government estimates, but experts said the quantity of crude escaping was difficult to measure. Forecasters predict the spill will soon invade the coastlines of Mississippi as well as Alabama and Florida, which both declared states of emergency.

So far, efforts to plug the oil leak have failed. If unchecked, it will take about 50 days to eclipse the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, the worst U.S. oil spill, which sent 10.8 million gallons (49 million liters) of crude oil into Alaska's pristine Prince William Sound….

NASA image of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico

Link discovered between carbon, nitrogen may provide new ways to mitigate pollution problems

University of Colorado at Boulder: A new study exploring the growing worldwide problem of nitrogen pollution from soils to the sea shows that global ratios of nitrogen and carbon in the environment are inexorably linked, a finding that may lead to new strategies to help mitigate regional problems ranging from contaminated waterways to human health.

The University of Colorado at Boulder study found the ratio between nitrates -- a naturally occurring form of nitrogen found in soils, streams, lakes and oceans -- and organic carbon is closely governed by ongoing microbial processes that occur in virtually all ecosystems. The team combed exhaustive databases containing millions of sample points from tropical, temperate, boreal and polar sites, including well-known, nitrogen-polluted areas like Chesapeake Bay, the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Mexico.

"We have developed a new framework to explain how and why carbon and nitrogen appear to be so tightly linked," said CU-Boulder doctoral student Philip Taylor, lead author on the new study. "The findings are helping us to explain why nitrate can become so high in some water bodies but remain low in others."

…While the vast majority of nitrogen gas is abundant in the atmosphere, it is nonreactive and unavailable to most life, said Townsend. But in 1909 a process was developed to transform the nonreactive gas into ammonia, the active ingredient of synthetic fertilizer. Humans now manufacture more than 400 billion pounds of fertilizer each year -- much of which migrates from croplands into the atmosphere, waterways and oceans -- creating a suite of environmental problems ranging from coastal "dead zones" and toxic algal blooms to ozone pollution and human health issues.

…"The bottom line is that if there is sufficient organic carbon present, it keeps the nitrates at a low level," said Townsend. "By using available data, we can now make more accurate evaluations of when and where nitrate pollution may pop up." In the February 2010 issue of Scientific American, Townsend and co-author Robert Howarth of Cornell University wrote that "a single new atom of reactive nitrogen can bounce its way around these widespread environments, like a felon on a crime spree."

…Taylor said the new study showed that "downscaling" from a global analysis of the carbon-nitrogen link to system-specific scenarios indicates the relationship between the elements typically becomes even stronger. "Analyzing the problem using these methods at smaller scales could allow ecosystem management teams to better predict and influence the fate of nitrates in the environment," Taylor said....

Stream in fields between Treave and Rissick. Looking north west. Still largely cattle farming in the small hamlets around St Buryan. Camp site and pottery at Treave in the distance. Shot by Sheila Russell, Wikimedia Commons via Geograph, under the Creative CommonsAttribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Wringing hope from crashing biodiversity

Susan Milius in Science News: Not to get insanely perky — but let’s not overlook the glimmers of hope among stark new stories about continuing failures to protect living things on Earth. News is indeed dire. A Science paper released online April 29 showed that Earth’s biodiversity, basically its vast variety of living things, continues to dwindle despite goals set in an international treaty called the Convention on Biological Diversity.

The paper’s 45 authors use 31 indicators of biodiversity — extinctions, fish stocks, vertebrate populations and so on — to conclude that “the rate of biodiversity does not appear to be slowing.” In fact, pressures on biodiversity seem to be intensifying, including resource consumption and climate change.

On the sunny side, though, there are signs that nations are starting to address the problem. The paper notes that 87 percent of countries now have “outlined coherent plans” for tracking biodiversity. And the same percentage of eligible countries has joined international agreements to prevent the spread of invasive species. Forest area certified for sustainable management has increased, as has protection of areas important for bird life.

And in an upward trend for aquatic life, Asia’s water quality index has improved by 7.4 percent since 1970. Some individual species are doing better, showing that conservation efforts can work.

….Still, the world’s goal was to significantly slow down the loss rate by 2010, and we’re missing that goal by a margin big enough for planet’s whole remaining population of endangered elephants to tramp through….

Hanging on Conservation efforts have prevented the extinction of New Zealand’s black stilt, shot by Glen Fergus, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Water plans could leave Utah dry if nature balks

Tom Wharton in the Salt Lake Tribune: The water projects affecting Utah and the Colorado River Basin and the price tags to build them keep piling up. Washington, Iron and Kane counties want to spend $1 billion on a pipeline to bring 100,000 acre-feet of water from Lake Powell to southwestern Utah.

Kane County hopes to then join San Juan County in selling off 50,000 acre-feet of water rights to facilitate a nuclear power plant near Green River, Utah. That's as much as East Canyon Reservoir holds. In an average year, the power plant would reduce river flows by 2 percent. That could increase to up to 10 percent in a drought.

….What really frightens me, though, is what happens if a major, sustained drought hits the Western United States and there simply isn't enough water available to meet urban, industrial and agricultural needs? Climate change could make such droughts even more severe than they have been historically. Are we setting ourselves up for an ecological and environmental disaster?

….Do the water planners, dam builders, power-plant proponents, farmers who rely on water to feed us, home developers and government officials really know if what they are proposing is ultimately sustainable?…

Lower Ribbon Falls, the Grand Canyon (in Arizona, actually), shot by Kkaufman11

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Study gives green light to plants’ role in global warming

Science Daily: Plants remain an effective way of tackling global warming despite emitting small amounts of an important greenhouse gas, a study has shown. Research led by the University of Edinburgh suggests that plant leaves account for less than one per cent of the Earth's emissions of methane -which is considered to be about 25 times more effective than carbon dioxide at global warming.

The results contrast with a previous scientific study which had suggested that plants were responsible for producing large amounts of the greenhouse gas. The findings confirm that trees are a useful way of offsetting greenhouse gas emissions, as their output of small amounts of methane is far outweighed by their capacity to store carbon from the atmosphere in their leaves, wood and bark.

To reach their conclusions, scientists created artificial leaves made from plant pectin and measured the methane produced when the leaves were exposed to sunlight. They combined their results with satellite data on the leaf coverage of the Earth's surface, ozone in the atmosphere, cloud cover, temperature, and information on sunshine levels to help work out the amount of methane produced by all plants on Earth.

Their results refine previous studies that had indicated that the quantity of methane produced by plants might have been much higher. Future research will examine methane production from parts of plants other than leaves, and the amount of methane given off by different species of plants in different regions of the Earth.

Dr Andy McLeod, of the University of Edinburgh's School of GeoSciences, said: "Our results show that plant leaves do give rise to some methane, but only a very small amount -- this is a welcome result as it allays fears that forestry and agriculture were contributing unduly to global warming."…

A lush green field, shot by Jugni, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative CommonsAttribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Wet regions in the tropics get even wetter

Richard P. Allan in Environmental Research Web: Satellite measurements indicate that wet regions in the tropics are becoming progressively wetter, at the expense of dry regions. Observed changes in tropical rainfall are at the upper limit of simulations obtained using detailed computer climate models, something that will have implications for future climate change predictions made by these same models.

Some of the most important consequences of a warming climate are linked to the global water cycle, which includes evaporation at the Earth's surface, transport of vapour by winds, condensation of droplets as clouds and eventual precipitation (rain and snow). Runoff through river systems at the surface is also included.

Climate models – detailed mathematical representation of the Earth's atmosphere, oceans and land surface – have long predicted increases in the amount and intensity of precipitation in a warming climate, relating to subtle changes in energy flows between the atmosphere and surface and to well understood increases in the amount of water vapour that a warmer atmosphere can carry. An increase in rainfall in some regions is in stark contrast to decreases in the frequency in rain in other regions, leading to projections of more flooding but also more droughts in the future.

These projections depend on the physics incorporated within climate models. Careful comparisons with observations are vital in assessing how realistic these projections are and also for confirming current changes….

Heavy tropical thunderstorm approaching, near Koh Samui Island, Thailand, shot by Tatjana8047

World tribunal would police climate 'crimes'

Laura Guachalla in SciDev.net: Demands for a world tribunal with the power to punish climate 'crimes' were presented to the United Nations on Monday (26 April). The Climate and Environmental Justice Tribunal emerged as a key proposal of the summit — the World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth — held in Bolivia last week (19-22 April), said to have been attended by more than 31, 000 people (see Bolivian alternative climate conference begins).

The tribunal would have the legal capacity to prevent, prosecute, and punish states, companies and individuals who — by act or omission — are causing environmental contamination and climate change.

"I think this court is completely feasible. Not only that, it is urgent and indispensable," said Miguel D'Escoto, former president of the UN General Assembly, one of the higher-profile participants at the summit, which was organised for developing countries, NGOs and grassroots organisations after dissatisfaction with the outcome of the UN Copenhagen Climate Change Conference last year (November).

"This is a court at the same level as the international court of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide," said the Belgian sociologist, François Houtart, arguing that polluting and causing climate change were also crimes against humanity….

Logo of the International Court of Justice, principal judicial organ of the United Nations

'Tornado Alley' actually four regions?

John Cox on MSNBC via Discovery News: It may come as little surprise and no comfort to survivors of the weekend tragedy in Mississippi, but recent research confirms that they are living in the most dangerous region in the most dangerous tornado country in the world. "Tornado Alley" is an unofficial term traditionally used to describe a vaguely outlined swath of countryside from the deep south, through the southern plains and into the upper Midwest, but the label really doesn't tell you very much.

New research on display recently at the annual meeting of the American Association of Geographers in Washington, D.C., adds new levels of detail and potential usefulness to the term. The analysis identifies four distinct regions in the eastern half of the U.S. as worthy of the tornado alley label.

Michael Frates, a graduate assistant at the University of Akron in Ohio, devised the new boundaries and a more nuanced set of "Tornado Alleys" by analyzing the spatial distribution of F3 to F5 tornadoes with tracks greater than 20 miles in the Central and Eastern U.S. from 1950 to 2006. The output of that work is spread across a grid of more than 3,000 cells across the region.

Each cell was then given a different "frequency value" depending on the frequency of tornadoes with intersected the unit, and out of this process came "major spatial patterns, which served as the basis for delineating new tornado alleys," as shown on his map, above.

"Results from this analysis indicate that Dixie Alley has the highest frequency of long-track F3 to F5 tornadoes, making it the most active region in the United States," Frates concluded. Dixie Alley had a frequency value of 2.92, followed by Tornado Alley (2.59), Hoosier Alley (2.37) and Carolina Alley (2.00)….

University of Akron researcher Michael Frates came up with four areas with high twister activity. The busiest was "Dixie Alley"

Climate change and insurance, or, hope is not a strategy

Ken Wolslegel in Environmental Leader: ….The insurance industry is a good lens to view the effects of climate change: first, because it is the largest industry on earth and thus, is truly global, and second, because central to the industry’s profitability is recognizing loss trends within the marketplace and adjusting rates, deductibles or coverage accordingly. The art and science of understanding loss trends is known as “attribution.”

…In the case of climate change however, attribution of a storm event, a drought, or the proliferation of a new invasive species is less clear. Attribution of individual events to a global phenomenon like climate change is inherently onerous and fraught with opportunities for obfuscation. Put another way, the scale and complexity of climate change is such that its current effects like the worldwide disappearance (melting) of glaciers or the Pine Beetle superinfestation decimating Canadian forests is easily obscured by opponents of action or by current economic woes.

The difficult attribution of singular events to the broad specter of climate change is perhaps the biggest barrier the insurance industry faces in making adjustments. For better or for worse, we live in a world where empirical proof is usually required before we act. Given the stakes presented in the majority of climate models’ “most likely” outcomes, it seems ridiculous to operate in the business-as-usual mentality.

…[T]he US insurance industry has hardly begun its nascent efforts at preparing for a new reality and insurance products which respond to climate change are slow in coming. The failure to prepare leaves the US insurance industry vulnerable, and some who study the problem predict mounting losses, the failure of weaker carriers, and a shrinking of the industry. Contraction in the US insurance industry will spell opportunity for European markets who have been preparing for decades. An old boss of mine used to say: “‘hope’ is not a strategy.” However, continuing the wait for empirical proof is just that. It is time for the US insurance industry to make a reasonable attribution of climate change data and prepare, before it pays an even bigger price than it already has.

Bird Island, FL, August 21, 2008 -- Houses on Sea Gate Circle in the North Brevard County community are locked in by the flooding from Tropical Storm Fay. State and Federal teams have started assessing the extent of damage caused by the slow storm throughout the Central Coastal and North Central regions of Florida. Barry Bahler/FEMA

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Global floating ice in "constant retreat"

Reuters: The world's floating ice is in "constant retreat," showing an instability which will increase global sea levels, according to a report published in Geophysical Research Letters on Wednesday. Floating ice had disappeared at a steady rate over the past 10 years, according to the first measurement of its kind.

"It's a large number," said Professor Andrew Shepherd of the University of Leeds, lead author of the paper, estimating the net loss of floating sea ice and ice shelves in the last decade at 7,420 cubic kilometers. That is greater than the loss of ice over land from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets over the same time period, highlighting the impact of warming oceans on floating ice.

…The study did not shed new light on how soon the North Pole may be ice-free in summer, which many climate experts say could happen by 2050, perhaps even earlier. Melting of floating sea ice and ice shelves adds little to sea level rise, because their entire mass is already in the water. By contrast, ice on land which melts into the sea will add to levels according to the equivalent of its entire weight.

If all the world's floating ice melted it would add about 4 centimeters to sea levels. But this could have a bigger effect by unblocking glaciers over land, which could then slide faster into the sea, and also because open water reflects less sunlight than ice, warming the local area…

Isfjord, Ilulissat, Diskobay, West Greenland. Huge icebergs (up to 600 ft. high) and calv ice moving out of the Isfjord (Kangia) to the sea. In summer this movement is reaching a speed of 30 m. per day. July 1999. Shot by Michael Haferkamp, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License

Scientists study 'glaciovolcanoes,' mountains of fire and ice, in Iceland, British Columbia, US

Science Daily: Glaciovolcanoes, they're called, these rumbling mountains where the orange-red fire of magma meets the frozen blue of glaciers. Iceland's Eyjafjallajökull volcano, which erupted recently, is but one of these volcanoes. Others, such as Katla, Hekla and Askja in Iceland; Edziza in British Columbia, Canada; and Mount Rainier and Mount Redoubt in the U.S., are also glaciovolcanoes: volcanoes covered by ice.

"When an ice-covered volcano erupts, the interplay among molten magma, ice and meltwater can have catastrophic results," says Sonia Esperanca, program director in the National Science Foundation (NSF)'s Division of Earth Sciences, which funds research on glaciovolcanoes.

In Iceland last week, scientists were well prepared for the floods, called "jökulhlaups," that can happen after a glaciovolcano blows and melts its glacial covering. The floods were followed by tons of ash ejected into the atmosphere. Most of the rest of the world, however, was unaware that an eruption from a small, northern island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean could freeze air transportation and stop global commerce in its tracks.

That, say NSF-funded scientists Ben Edwards at Dickinson College and Ian Skilling at the University of Pittsburgh, is the nature of glaciovolcanoes. Understanding volcano-ice interactions occupies much of Edwards' and Skilling's daily lives. They're working at Mt. Edziza in British Columbia, Canada, and in Iceland to find out how glaciovolcanic deposits--rock fragments strewn for miles after an ice-covered volcano erupts--are formed….

This image shows both the eruption plume and the heat signature of lava at the volcano’s summit and at nearby Fimmvörduháls, the site of a precursor eruption. The heat signature shows a rough estimate of temperature, with yellow being hottest and red coolest. The signature at Eyjafjallajökull is a concentrated circle without a river of lava, supporting the Icelandic Coast Guard’s observation that lava had not started to flow from the volcano. Image from NASA

Ignored flood control law is test case for Philippine Supreme Court

Dona Pazzibugan in Inquirer.net (Philippines): The Supreme Court's newly promulgated rules on the writ of kalikasan (environment) has its first test case. Invoking the new court rules on environmental suits, a group of environmental lawyers led by Ramon Magsaysay awardee Antonio Oposa Jr. asked the Supreme Court to order the government to implement a 21-year-old law on flood control measures.

…In a petition filed last April 23, the group called the Global Legal Action on Climate Change asked that concerned government agencies implement a 1989 law that called for the construction of rainwater collectors, water wells and springs in all the 42,000 barangay (villages). They dug up Republic Act 6716 or the Rainwater Collector and Springs Development Law whose implementation became the responsibility of local government units when the Local Government Code of 1991 or Republic Act 7160 was passed.

The landmark writ of kalikasan, which will take effect on April 29, is part of the Supreme Court's new rules of procedures for environmental cases. The rules also include provisions on citizen suits to force government to protect the environment, consent decree, environmental protection order, writ of continuing mandamus, strategic lawsuits against public participation and the precautionary principle.

…In their petition, the Global Legal Action on Climate Change took to task Malacañang, the Department of Public Works and Highways, the Department of Interior and Local Governments and the local government units for “gross negligence.” They said the DPWH only started constructing rainwater catchments in 2009 and has so far only completed four out of the 100,000 required by law.

“The anxiety of always alternating between flooding and water scarcity is too much to bear for us ordinary citizens. It must stop,” they said, citing the successful implementation of rainwater collection projects in Singapore and India...

Organisations should invest in assessing climate vulnerability: researcher

University of Queensland (Australia): Organisations that apply a “wait and see” approach to thinking about the impacts of climate change on their business might reach a point where it is too late to adapt, according to a UQ Business School expert. PhD researcher Martina Linnenluecke examined the relationship between business activities and expected changes in climate and weather conditions due to climate change in her thesis.

Ms Linnenluecke said those organisations and sectors that had large-scale infrastructure in disaster-prone regions or were reliant on stable climatic conditions should invest resources in assessing their own vulnerability to climate change and extreme weather events, and looking at what flow-on effects might exist.

“There's a general awareness that climate change has emerged as a strategic issue but overall, organisations haven't yet built up the capability to systematically consider the organisational implications of climate change and changes in trends of weather extremes,” she said. “What organisations can do initially is to use the expertise and information that is already out there to try to identify hot spots and regions likely to be affected by climate change and to see if these regions in any way coincide with any organisational activity.”

Ms Linnenluecke said an organisation's vulnerabilities might also extend to vulnerabilities in the organisation's supplier base or value chain. She said business needed to start thinking beyond climate change adaptation towards building up resilience…

Tajikistan dam project hit by controversy

Terra Daily via UPI: Tajikistan's plan to ease its chronic electricity and water shortages by building a gigantic dam has run into problems mainly because of the government's unusual fundraising approach. After an unsuccessful attempt at partnership with Russia, the country's colonizer in the former Soviet Union, the government embarked on a program of encouraging -- critics say pressuring -- every Tajik to buy shares in the undertaking.

The prospect of share ownership won't at all be unwelcome in a country on the cusp of experimental capitalism but for the huge cost and the meager average earnings of the citizenry. By last count the dam would cost $1.4 billion -- about $200 million more than Tajikistan's annual budget and a vast sum when split, evenly or not, among the country's 7.3 million people. Industry estimates have described that official cost estimate as conservative and cited an alternative figure of $2.2 billion….

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Climate change indicators in the United States

US Environmental Protection Agency: Collecting and interpreting environmental indicators play a critical role in our understanding of climate change and its causes. An indicator represents the state of certain environmental conditions over a given area and a specified period of time. Examples of climate change indicators include temperature, precipitation, sea level, and greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere.

EPA's Climate Change Indicators in the United States (PDF) (80 pp, 13.2MB) report will help readers interpret a set of important indicators to better understand climate change. The report presents 24 indicators, each describing trends related to the causes and effects of climate change. It focuses primarily on the United States, but in some cases global trends are presented to provide context or a basis for comparison. EPA will use these indicators to collect data and generate analyses to:
  • Monitor the effects/impacts of climate change in the United States
  • Assist decision–makers on how to best use policymaking and program resources to respond to climate change
  • Assist EPA and its constituents in evaluating the success of their climate change efforts

Egypt spat fuels water tension in Nile Basin

Dina Zayed in AlertNet via Reuters: In arid Egypt, officials have long angered fellow Nile Basin countries by clinging to colonial-era water treaties giving it rights to the lion's share of water flowing down the world's longest river. But upstream nations desperate for development are hoping to break with the past, threatening to shut regional heavyweight Egypt out of a new pact and potentially deepening an already bitter struggle for water resources across this parched region.

"This is a crisis in Egypt's relations with Nile Basin countries," said Gamal Soltan, head of the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies. The feud could also upset the balance between poor upstream nations and Egypt, the Arab world's most populous nation, where climate change threatens a fragile farm sector and population growth may outstrip water resources as early as 2017.

The latest chapter in the long-running feud over waters from the Nile, worshipped as a deity in ancient Egypt, came when upstream countries declared after a water meeting in Sharm El-Sheikh this month that they would launch separate talks since Egypt and Sudan refused to revise water pacts dating to 1929.

"Egypt's historic rights to Nile waters are a matter of life and death. We will not compromise them," Moufid Shehab, minister of legal and assembly affairs, told parliament after the talks. The 1929 deal, brokered on one side by British colonial powers in Africa, gives Egypt 55.5 billion cubic metres a year, the biggest share of a flow of some 84 billion cubic meters.

It also gives Cairo the power to veto dams and other water projects in upstream countries that include six of the world's poorest nations. "We willhttp://www.blogger.com/post-create.g?blogID=6144103746452920529 not sign on to any agreement that does not clearly state and acknowledge our historical rights," Egyptian Water Minister Mohamed Nasreddin Allam said after the meeting….

Aswan Dam, shot by Olaf Tausch, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative CommonsAttribution 3.0 Unported license

Preparing New England for climate change

PR Web: A symposium on preparing New England for climate change impacts will be held on Thursday, May 13th, in New London, New Hampshire. The keynote address will be given by Joel B. Smith, international authority on climate change adaptation and Lead Author of the Third and Fourth Assessment Reports of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Mr. Smith, of Stratus Consulting, Inc, will assess the status of national and international adaptation programs, and the role of state and local action. Additional presentations will review two recent and ongoing projects to adapt watersheds in New Hampshire, and a discussion period will follow. The symposium is free and open to the public.

Extreme February and March storms in New England continue an unusual and persistent change from historical patterns. In addition, numerous studies demonstrate that climate change is already occurring in the region. To prevent further loss of life and damage, civil infrastructures must be adapted, for which the IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report called for decision-support information that manages uncertainty in climate change projections. The evening's program will present a local-scale process that manages uncertainty so that communities can adapt stormwater management systems, and will place this in the context of the national adaptation program.

The symposium is organized by Syntectic International LLC, Antioch University New England, and the Lake Sunapee Protective Association (LSPA). Funding is provided by a grant from the Climate Program Office of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA), through the Sectoral Applications Research Program.…

A flooded stream in Methuen, Massachussetts,in 2006, from the FEMA photo library

Is climate change South Asia's deadliest threat?

Navin Singh Khadka on the BBC: The issue of climate change is the main item on the agenda of the summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) summit under way in the Bhutanese capital Thimpu. But given the poor track record of co-operation achieved by the regional grouping over other sensitive issues in the past, will the thorny issue of climate change become bogged down in rhetoric and recriminations?

Experts say the vulnerability of the region to climate change means that there is an urgent need for concrete action. "South Asian countries have started to face the effects of climate change and are particularly at risk," says the United Nations Environment Programme's (Unep) 2009 outlook.

"Intense floods, droughts and cyclones have impacted on the economic performances of South Asian countries and the lives of millions of poor, it also puts at risk infrastructure, agriculture, human health, water resources and the environment," it says.

This is not the first time that Saarc summit has discussed the issue. The declaration of the 14th summit in Delhi in 2007, for instance, said leaders had agreed "to commission a team of regional experts to identify collective actions in sharing of knowledge on the consequences of climate change". A year later, the 15th Saarc summit adopted the Dhaka Declaration on climate change. But, experts say, hardly any of these words have been matched by actions....

A dwelling in Jakarta, shot by Jonathan McIntosh, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Beach house brouhaha

Josh Harkinson in Mother Jones: … In the name of disaster relief, the federal government routinely subsidizes some of the country's wealthiest and most irresponsible property owners. In Texas alone this year, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is spending $100 million to buy and demolish more than 750 flood-prone buildings insured by the National Flood Insurance Program, many of them expensive waterfront homes. The land will be permanently set aside as open space.

FEMA argues that the buyout program will easily pay for itself. After all, the NFIP is already on the hook to repair many of the properties, most of which private insurers have long been too smart to cover. In 1993, FEMA realized that repairing similarly flood-prone homes along the Mississippi River was costing more than they were worth. Over the next eight years, a buyout program that targeted some of the swampiest properties achieved a 200 percent return on investment, FEMA says, preventing millions in insurance claims across the Midwest.

But along the Gulf Coast, FEMA's buyouts make much less sense. Here's the problem: FEMA is still insuring new homes that are all but certain to be underwater by the end of the century, submerged by a three-foot rise in sea level caused by climate change. Until FEMA starts accounting for climate change, its buyout program provides homeowners with a strong incentive to ignore the problem. Why worry about sea level rise when you know that, in the worst case scenario, the government will pick up the tab?…

Damage from 2008's Hurricane Ike in Crystal Beach, Texas, via FEMA

Monday, April 26, 2010

New climate change report rates political and regulatory environments as top concerns by corporate risk managers

Ceres.org: A survey of risk managers on how climate change risk is perceived and dealt with by their businesses, released this morning, reveals the political and regulatory environments are top concerns among risk managers, survey sponsor Zurich Financial Services Group announced today. The survey, analyzed and reported by the Boston-based investor and environmental sustainability network Ceres and administered jointly with the Professional Risk Managers International Association (PRMIA), sheds light on how 200 risk managers view climate change and its potential impact on their industries.

The findings were announced today at a news conference held during the 2010 Risk & Insurance Management Society (RIMS) Conference and Expo in Boston and are detailed in the report, “Climate Change Risk Perception and Management: A Survey of Risk Managers.”…Some key findings include:
  • Thirty percent of risk managers surveyed said climate change regulation was one of the top five risks facing their company
  • Risk managers are aware of climate risk
  • Strategies regarding how best to mitigate climate risks are uneven
“It’s clear that risk managers are conscious of risks posed to ‘business as usual’ by climate change. Now it is time to convert that knowledge to risk management action,” said Lindene Patton, chief climate product officer for Zurich Financial Services Group and participant in today’s news conference. “It is fitting that we are announcing the results of this informative survey at the RIMS conference, where industry professionals are gaining awareness around emerging risks like climate change. Zurich is redoubling its efforts to make certain risk managers understand the potential impacts to their businesses, and working to offer solutions to help them mitigate such risks associated with climate change.”….

Strong downburst winds associated with a severe thunderstorm flip a several ton cargo shipping container up the side of a hill. Shot by Theonlysilentbob - Tom Stefanac - Vaughan Weather (www.vaughanweather.com), Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License

Wildfires increase in size, expense

Staci Matlock in Fire Engineering: Last July, people in Los Alamos and Santa Fe looked toward Bandelier National Monument and saw smoke in the air. Rather than stomp the lightning-caused San Miguel Fire out quickly, Bandelier National Monument let it burn, a counterintuitive move for an agency that only nine years prior had set the blaze destined to became one of the most destructive fires in recent memory. But it was an example of just how much fire management has changed in the last few decades.

Bandelier's superintendent, Jason Lott, let the San Miguel Fire burn because the weather conditions were right. Fire resources were available if the park's fire staff needed help, and the fire occurred in an area park staff had already mapped out as needing treatment to reduce flammable forest material. The San Miguel Wildland Fire burned 1,635 acres in the park and Santa Fe National Forest. It left behind patches of burned and unburned vegetation, exactly what forest ecologists like to see. Bandelier's fire staff only tamped down the fire when it threatened cultural resources or entered risky areas. "Our goal is to allow lightning-ignited fires to burn naturally within fire-adapted ecosystems when we can do so safely, effectively and efficiently," said Lott at the time.

… [A]fter the 1871 fire in Peshtigo, Wis., that killed more than 1,000 people, and the Great Fire of 1910 that burned more than 3 million acres in Washington, Montana and Idaho and killed 78 firefighters, wildfire became an enemy to be stopped. From the early to mid-1900s, fire suppression, grazing and logging interrupted the cycle. Western forests became dense and overgrown. "We've changed the landscape so that it doesn't necessarily function as it traditionally did," said Richard Bahr, lead fire ecologist for the National Park Service in Boise, Idaho.

Bahr said land managers began letting fires burn out naturally again after the 1960s. They were easier to control because the climate was moister and cooler through the 1980s. Then three factors combined to make forest fires more complicated and more expensive to fight, Bahr said: millions of acres of overgrown forests, more people living in them and a drier, warmer climate. Tom Nichols, chief of fire and aviation for the National Park Service in Boise, said there are three parts to forest fire management -- prescribed burns, suppression of fires and letting the fire burn out on its own as in the case of San Miguel….

Aircraft dropping fire retardant on McGruder Fire, Cedaredge, Colorado, in 2004, shot by Prong hunter, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Ask the locals

Alison Hawkes in Terra Daily via astrobio.net: …The Inuit have been saying for years - way before climate change models could sufficiently back them up - that the weather was getting weird in the Arctic. "Unpredictable," was the way they put it. Somewhat vague but meaningful to a people whose life depended on reading the weather tea leaves to know when the next storm would hit, or where and when the ice would thin.

… [R]esearchers led by Elizabeth Weatherhead at the University of Colorado at Boulder's Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences have turned to the Inuit to help them fill in their knowledge gaps. Scientist Shari Gearheard lives among the Inuit of Baffin Island and for a decade has been documenting local knowledge of environmental change.

"Inuit and their ancestors have lived in the Arctic for thousands of years," says Gearheard in an interview on arcticwarming.net. "Inuit and scientists can help each other in the quest to understand how the Arctic is changing. They use different knowledge and different tools, but both contribute very important information."

For example, she says that scientists using satellite data often have the perspective of large scale snow and ice patterns, while the Inuit have a boots on the ground resolution of Arctic change. Already, the new perspective has improved the science. By looking at day-to-day temperatures, the researchers saw that their data matched Inuit reports from the field on less persistence in temperature in the May and June springtime.

An organization called the Exchange for Local Observations and Knowledge of the Arctic has been set up to help facilitate studies and communication between international researchers and the Sanikiluaq community in southeastern Hudson Bay. They even publish their sea ice data online for everyone to use….

The welcome sign at Barrow, Alaska, flanked by two whale jawbones. The body of the sign is written in Inupiat, shot by Bob Johnston, Wikmedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Hundreds of Mississippi homes damaged

Jim Skillington in Disaster News Network: Food and shelter are being provided as survivors pick up the pieces of their lives following the strongest wave of tornadoes to hit the U.S. in two years. The damage in Mississippi was so severe that Gov. Haley Barbour compared it to Hurricane Katrina.

The severe weather outbreak began Friday night, with the most significant damage reported in MS Saturday afternoon where at least 12 people were killed. Hundreds of homes were damaged or destroyed. At least 10 people were killed in MS alone, with storm damage reported from Louisiana.

Yazoo City, in Yazoo County, was particularly hard hit and garnered the most national media attention, but 16 other counties also tallied damage. Approximately 60 percent of the congregation of Millsprings Baptist Church in Choctaw County lost their homes. Just one wall of the church was still standing Sunday.

Volunteers from Presbyterian Churches in the region worked into the evening Sunday covering damaged homes with tarps and using chainsaws to clear access to others. United Methodists also reported volunteers had been active in the region. The Salvation Army deployed mobile feeding units and a communications trailer in Yazoo County and is exploring other locations….

Generic tornado shot, from NOAA. This storm was in Oklahoma in 1981

Rainboots in the dry season for Cameroon's capital, as climate change takes hold

Ntungwe Elias Ngalame in AlertNet: When visitors arrived in Yaounde [in Cameroon] recently for the 8th annual meeting of the African Road Maintenance Funds Association, they got an odd greeting from a Cameroon host delegate.

"Yaounde, a city flanked by seven hills, is an environmentally friendly place with a traditional charming cold climate in the early mornings and late evenings. We are, however experiencing strange persistent rains over the past months that require our visitors to arm themselves with the necessary equipment - raincoats, warm clothes, umbrellas - to cope with the changes," warned Tsimi Evouna, a government delegate to the meeting.

Residents of Cameroon's capital are suffering through a climate nightmare this year as heavy rains that have fallen since January flood streets and homes in what is normally a dry period of the year. "Formerly there were at least four months of dry season with rains in April to November and the dry season characterized by persistent sunshine from December to March. Strangely, however, we have had rains throughout this year," said Elvis Mbong, a worker with the Ministry of Agriculture in Yaounde.

While most city inhabitants have not heard of or do not clearly understand the concept of climate change, Mbong said, "they are all witnessing the effects as they try to cope with the changes."…

Sunday, April 25, 2010

An oceanic 'fast-lane' for climate change

Richard A. Love in Nature News: Work in Japan and Australia has revealed that a deep-ocean current is carrying frigid water rapidly northward from Antarctica along the edge of a giant underwater plateau.

Other research teams had previously identified a deep current along the eastern edge of the Kerguelen Plateau, a more than 2,200-kilometre-long rise some 3,000 kilometres south-west of Australia. But estimates of its speed, taken as "snapshots" by instruments deployed from research vessels, had been "all over the place", says Steve Rintoul, a physical oceanographer at the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystem Cooperative Research Centre in Hobart, Australia, and a co-author of the new study.

Yasushi Fukamachi, an ocean scientist at Hokkaido University in Sapporo, Japan, led a team effort to determine the exact nature of the current. The researchers moored over 30 current and temperature recorders across its probable path and left these in place for two years. When they retrieved their instruments, the scientists discovered that the current, which flows at depths well below 3,000 metres, sometimes hit speeds greater than 700 metres per hour, carrying volumes as high as 30 million cubic metres per second. No other deep current in the Southern Hemisphere is known to move that quickly.

...This is significant because it represents a "fast lane" by which climatic and environmental changes affecting the Southern Ocean can propagate northward, says Alejandro Orsi, a physical oceanographer at Texas A & M University in College Station, who was not involved in the study. Proof that this is already occurring, he adds, can be seen from the fact that the deep waters near the Kerguelen Plateau already show "clear signs" of reduced salinity relating to changes in the rate of melting of Antarctic ice sheets….

Location of the Kerguelen Plateau, National Geophysical Data Center

Climate change to top South Asian summit agenda

Akanshya Shah on the upcoming meeting of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, in Republica.com: Issues governing the impact of climate change will be the main agenda of discussion in the upcoming 16th SAARC Summit scheduled to be held in Thimpu, the Bhutanese capital, on April 28-29. The Standing Committee Meeting which kicked off in Thimpu on Sunday comprising foreign secretaries of the member states will endorse the theme of the SAARC Summit. It will then be endorsed by the foreign ministers´ meeting and finally by the meeting of the head of states.

Significantly, a regional consensus that SAARC should strengthen and represent unified regional voice to combat climate change at global level has been reached at New Delhi on Saturday by the People´s SAARC, a regional network of civil society organizations. "Climate change is the theme of the SAARC Summit," Rajan Bhattarai, the prime minister´s foreign policy advisor, said, adding, "In SAARC, Nepal will highlight its effort in bringing to the fore the common concerns of mountainous countries concerning impact of climate change."

Bhattarai informed that the initiative taken by PM Madhav Kumar Nepal Nepal during the COP-16 Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December for formation of an Alliance of Mountainous Countries to fight challenges of climate change will be discussed in SAARC as well. "We want to go to next COP-17 with an international network of mountainous countries and we will therefore go to Thimpu for a strong regional lobby in this regard," Bhattarai added.

…The issue of glacier melting was for the first time brought before the international community in COP-16 after the historic cabinet meeting held in Kalapatthar drew the attention of the world at the issue and the effect of global warming on the lives of those living in the mountainous region….

Mount Jomolhari viewed from just below Neleyla pass (on the Bhutan side of the border with Tibet), shot by Christopher Fynn, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Climate change challenges US military

Kevin Furey in the Billings Gazette (Montana): As a veteran of the Iraq war, I make an effort to keep track of national-security news. That’s why I read with interest the stories about the Department of Defense’s recently released Quadrennial Defense Review, a congressionally mandated assessment of the strategic threats facing the U.S. now and in the future.

One of the conclusions in the QDR was both groundbreaking and sobering: Climate change will play a “significant role in shaping the future security environment,” and it will be an “accelerant of instability or conflict.” This is the first time the DOD has officially recognized climate change as a serious national security issue.

…Scientists predict that many natural disasters, such as hurricanes, floods and droughts, will be stronger, more common and pervasive because of climate change. A report by the U.N. Environment Program states that global warming will lead to “major changes in precipitation patterns on the (African) continent, which could lead to food shortages and increased desertification.” Another study identified India, Bangladesh, China, Vietnam and Indonesia as countries with large populations in low-lying coastal areas that are vulnerable to sea-level rise caused by global warming.

We will also face an increased risk of armed conflict. As retired Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni has put it, “It’s not hard to make the connection between climate change and instability, or climate change and terrorism.” “We ignore these facts at the peril of our national security and at great risk to those in uniform who serve this nation,” said former U.S. Sen. John Warner, who now works with the Pew Project on National Security, Energy and Climate….

A US soldier from the Nemesis troop conceals himself with a smoke screen after an improvised explosive device hits one of his regiment's vehicles, October 2007, Baghdad, Iraq. Photo by Luke Thornberry

Making drinkable water a cleaner way

Terra Daily via UPI: Most water treatment plants use chlorine to keep water free of bacteria but Israeli scientists say ultraviolet light might be a better method. Tel Aviv University postdoctoral researcher Hadas Mamane, doctoral student Anat Lakretz, Professor Eliora Ron and their team said although chlorine keeps water free of micro-organisms, it also produces carcinogenic byproducts.

The scientists say they recently determined the optimal UV wavelength water treatment plants and large-scale desalination facilities could use to destroy health-threatening micro-organisms, as well as make the facilities more efficient.

"UV light irradiation is being increasingly applied as a primary process for water disinfection," Lakretz said. "In our recent study, we've shown how this treatment can be optimized to kill free-swimming bacteria in the water -- the kinds that also stick inside water distribution pipes and clog filters in desalination plants by producing bacterial biofilms."…

Image of UV light by Tatoute, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Tornado kills 10 in Mississippi: officials

Reuters: A tornado nearly a mile wide ripped through central Mississippi on Saturday, killing 10 people, including three children, and injuring dozens of others, state authorities said. The tornado struck at least 13 counties, destroying scores of homes and trapping people inside, damaging businesses, blocking highways and knocking out power to thousands, said the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.

Five people died in Choctaw County, four in Yazoo County and one in Holmes County, said Greg Flynn, spokesman at the agency. Governor Haley Barbour declared a state of emergency after the first major U.S. tornado of the year. "It has done huge damage around Yazoo City," Barbour, who grew up in the city, told CBS television….

The Standard Life Building, Jackson-Yazoo City, Mississippi, shot by Ken Lund, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Bolivian village wants compensation for climate change adaptation

Brett Walton in Circle of Blue Waternews: Bolivian villagers, with government encouragement, are proposing an international court to adjudicate claims for compensation from communities whose lives have been affected by climate change, but do not have the money to adapt, the BBC reports. Their announcement comes as the country kicks off the People’s Summit on Climate Change this week.

Approximately 18,000 people will attend the conference in Cochabamba, which addresses social issues that were ignored by world powers during the United Nations climate conference in Copenhagen last December. Delegates will consolidate ideas from the meeting for submission to the next U.N. climate conference in Mexico in December. Indigenous populations in Bolivia are using this conference to ensure the upcoming talks will include their concerns.

Adaptation to climate change is a pressing issue for the 40 or so Aymara who live in Khapi village in the Bolivian Andes. Two million Aymara inhabit the Andean region, and are scattered across Bolivia, Peru and Chile. In the Khapi village, they depend on the run-off from the Illimani glacier to sustain their agricultural way of life, but scientists predict the glacier will disappear in seven to 10 years. “We want those countries to compensate us for all the damage they have done to nature,” said Alivio Aruquipa, the group’s leader, to the BBC.

…Aruquipa attended the Copenhagen climate summit to raise awareness about the fate of the Khapi community if the Illimani glacier disappears. “We don’t know where we are going to go. Like the ice, the source of our lives will be disappearing too. Where are we going to go?”…

Illimani, shot by Titico, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Asthma, cancer among climate change health concerns

Muncie Free Press: The vulnerability of people to the health effects of climate change is the focus of a report released today by an NIH-led federal interagency group that includes NOAA. The report, “A Human Health Perspective on Climate Change,” calls for coordinating federal research to better understand climate’s impact on human health and identifying how these impacts can be most effectively addressed. The report was published by Environmental Health Perspectives and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

The report indicates what is known and the significant knowledge gaps in our understanding of the consequences of climate change on 11 major illness categories, including cancer, cardiovascular disease and stroke, asthma and other respiratory disorders, food-borne diseases and nutrition, weather and heat-related fatalities, and water and vector-borne infectious diseases.

… Research recommendations include examining how diseases in marine mammals might be linked to human health; investigating how climate change might contaminate seafood, beaches and drinking water; and understanding the impact of atmospheric changes on heat waves and air-borne diseases. There are questions about the effects of increased rainfall and extreme weather events on sewage discharges and run-off and what this will mean to human health. Integrating human, terrestrial and aquatic animal health surveillance with environmental monitoring is recommended to better understand emerging health risks like Lyme disease, West Nile virus, malaria, and toxins from marine algae.

… The report also identifies the need for more effective early warning systems providing, for example, an alert to those with cardiovascular disease on extreme heat days or when air pollution is high. Other issues include susceptible and displaced populations; public health and health care infrastructure; essential capacities and skills, particularly for modeling and prediction; the integration of climate observation networks with health impact and surveillance tools, and communication and education....

Ernest Hébert's 1848 painting, "Malaria"

Canada's Atlantic provinces get climate change money

CBC (Canada): Atlantic Canada's provinces are joining forces with the federal government to fund projects aimed at helping communities adapt to climate change. Atlantic Canadian communities will receive a combined $8.2 million. The money will fund an initiative called the Atlantic Climate Adaptation Solutions Project and will target issues such as coastal erosion, flooding and ground water resource management.

The initiative will involve 64 partners across the Atlantic region in local projects. The partners include federal, provincial and municipal governments, industry, academia and aboriginal and non-governmental organizations. The federal minister for the Atlantic Gateway, Keith Ashfield, joined provincial environment ministers at Cape Jourimain, N.B., on Friday to make the announcement, with the Confederation Bridge as the backdrop.

Ashfield said Ottawa is kicking in $3.5 million of the funding to help communities deal with a number of issues. "The project will advance adaptation, planning, decision making in the areas of reduction of risk to coastal and inland waters, revision of infrastructure standards protection of ground water resources and enhancement of community planning," said Ashfield, the member of Parliament for Fredericton.

P.E.I. Environment Minister Richard Brown said climate change is one of the most critical environmental issues facing his province. He said P.E.I. is particularly vulnerable when it comes to coastal erosion.

"Over the last 11 years, Prince Edward Island has applied to the federal government for $24 million worth of disaster assistance claims submitted as a result of storm events and related to flooding erosion and wind damage and wash out, " said Brown….

Rustico Beach on Prince Edward Island, around 1916

Disappeared South Talpatti, what next?

Dr. Md. Mizanur Rahman in the Daily Star (Bangladesh): The South Talpatti measuring 81 square miles in the Sunderbans has disappeared due to sea level rise and soil erosion. Its disappearance was confirmed by satellite image and sea patrols. Sugata Hazra, a professor from the School of Oceanographic Studies at Jadavpur University in Calcutta, told reporters, “There's no trace of the island any more,'' He noted that temperatures in the region had been rising at an annual rate of 0.4C. Until 2000, the sea level rose about 3mm a year, but over the last decade it had been rising about 5mm annually, he said. He warned that another ten islands could be at risk.

Another study showed that at Sundarbans island chain, where South Talpatti was situated; sea level has been rising by about 3.14 centimetres a year. A nearby island, Lohachara, was submerged in 1996, forcing its inhabitants to move to the mainland, while almost half of another island, called Ghoramara, is now under water. South Talpatti is the fifth island in the Sundarbans to sink into the sea preceded by Bedford, Lohachara, Kabasgadi, and Suparibhanga (Rice 2010). Another five inhabited islands in this delta region, where South Talpatti is located, could disappear in the next 10 years (Hazra 2010). The Namkhana island about 8 square kilometers while Sagar island has lost about 12 square kilometers. The study says that about 15% area of Sagar Island will be lost in the next 14 years (ITN 2009).

Bangladesh, a low-lying delta country will be highly affected by global warming. It is assumed that 18% of its coastal area will be submerged and 20 million people will be displaced if sea levels rises 1 metre by 2050 as projected by some climate models. 84% of the Sundarbans, the world's largest mangrove swamp, located between Bangladesh and India, would be inundated by 2050 even at conservative estimates such as a 32cm rise (IPCC reports 2009)…

The former location of South Talpatti island, Wikimedia Commons

Friday, April 23, 2010

Constant flooding forces out Pacific Northwest tribe

CNN: For the Hoh, life centers on the silver waters just off their reservation. Throughout the tiny Native American tribe's history they have lived and fished on the westernmost point of Washington state where the river that shares their name meets the Pacific Ocean.

According to the tribe's legends, the Hoh were created on the river by K'wati or the "Changer" in what the tribe refers to as the "Time of the Beginnings." In Hoh lore the tribe were "upside down people," who walked on their hands and struggled to throw fishing nets with their feet. K'wati, the legend goes, righted them and taught the tribe to live from fishing the river and ocean.

Those same waters now threaten the tribe's future. For tribe member and treasurer Amy Benally, the danger can be seen on the doorstep of her family's home that has stood at the mouth of the river for nearly a century.

Benally grew up there with 12 members of her family. Now the home is a gutted wreck from repeated flooding. At first the waters took out the garage and the small building Benally's grandfather used to smoke fish. Then the family had to flee upstairs. "We'd see the waves and the logs coming," Benally said standing in the musty ruin of the home. "We'd stand out here on the porch, and my grandfather would get mad at us and tell us to come back into the house. It was pretty scary."…

A forest on the Hoh River Trail, shot by Ellermeyer, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License

Predicting and mapping malaria under climate change scenarios: the potential redistribution of malaria vectors in Africa

“Henri TonnangRichard KangalawePius Yanda” in 7th Space Interactive: Malaria is rampant in Africa and causes untold mortality and morbidity. Vector-borne diseases are climate sensitive and this has raised considerable concern over the implications of climate change on future disease risk. The problem of malaria vectors (Anopheles mosquitoes) shifting from their traditional locations to invade new zones is an important concern.

The vision of this study was to exploit the sets of information previously generated by entomologists, e.g. on geographical range of vectors and malaria distribution, to build models that will enable prediction and mapping the potential redistribution of Anopheles mosquitoes in Africa.

...Results: These results have shown that shifts in these species boundaries southward and eastward of Africa may occur rather than jumps into quite different climatic environments. In the absence of adequate control, these predictions are crucial in understanding the possible future geographical range of the vectors and the disease, which could facilitate planning for various adaptation options.

Conclusion: Thus, the outputs from this study will be helpful at various levels of decision making, for example, in setting up of an early warning and sustainable strategies for climate change and climate change adaptation for malaria vectors control programmes in Africa….

Malaria plasmodium, image by mage Ute Frevert; false color by Margaret Shear, Wikimedia Commons via PLOS, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license

Acidifying oceans dramatically stunt growth of already threatened shellfish, research finds

Science Daily: New research shows that global warming and its effects -- in particular, ocean acidification -- have descended upon shellfish reefs, particularly those formed by the Olympia oyster. More than one-third of the world's human-caused carbon dioxide emissions have entered the oceans, according to Brian Gaylord, a biological oceanographer at the Bodega Marine Laboratory of the University of California at Davis.

"Similar to what happens in carbonated soda," says Gaylord, "increasing carbon dioxide in seawater makes it more acidic." Even with small changes in acidity, seawater becomes corrosive to the shells of aquatic organisms. That's not good news for most marine life, especially for oysters.

Gaylord is investigating the consequences of this increasing ocean acidity on the growth of larval and juvenile Olympia oysters native to the U.S. West Coast. "Such early life stages can be extremely sensitive to environmental stresses like ocean acidification," says Gaylord.

"These stages operate as bottlenecks that drive overall population numbers. If larval and juvenile Olympia oysters decline as a result of an acidifying ocean, what does that mean for the species as a whole?" Likely nothing good, he and colleagues say.

"Changes now happening in the ocean's chemistry are expected to continue far into the foreseeable future," says David Garrison, director of the National Science Foundation (NSF)'s biological oceanography program, which funds Gaylord's research. "They may have myriad effects on marine animals."….

Oyster anatomy, from NOAA

Climate change increasing disasters in China

Insurance News Net.com: …Earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, droughts - China's economic growth means the cost of such disasters has also risen. According to Peter Höppe, director of geo risk research at Munich Re, the world's largest reinsurer, "just about each and every region in China is affected by some natural disaster or another."

…Contrary to earthquakes, other natural disasters, like storms and floods, are caused by movements in the atmosphere. Climate change is making such disasters more likely, says Peter Höppe. "You can say that climate change is causing the extremes to become more extreme; for example, that relatively dry places, especially subtropical areas, are going to see even less rain and in places where it rains a lot, there will be more rain. This is happening in some regions in China already, especially where there was an extreme drought."

While the north, southwest and central China have seen an increasing number of droughts, the coasts are worried about what will happen if sea levels continue to rise. Recent studies are predicting levels will rise from 50 to 140 centimeters. That would greatly affect China's metropolis Shanghai and especially Pudong, Shanghai's open economic development zone, whose colorful skylines represent China's economic growth.

Peter Höppe is not optimistic about Pudong's future "because in relation to the relative sea level, Pudong and the rest of Shanghai is sinking. Two things are happening: the sea level is rising and, at the same time, the land is sinking. This is going to make it seem that the sea is rising faster." But he does not see any catastrophic scenarios happening in Pudong in this century….

Shanghai skyline, shot by Michel_r, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative CommonsAttribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license