Monday, May 31, 2010

Climate change will make El Nino worse

Matt Cawood in Stock & Land (Australia): The severity of the El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle can be expected to increase as the planet warms - but greater warmth will also boost other weather phenomena that may check that severity. That’s the nil-all finding of a review looking at how ENSO, one of the planet’s most important climate cycles, could develop under climate change.

The international science review, which involved scientists from CSIRO and the Bureau of Meterology and was recently published in Nature Geoscience, found that future ENSO cycles would be governed by countervailing influences. On one hand, warming could change ocean currents and winds in ways that could deliver El Nino conditions to eastern Australia far more often than in the past. But on the other hand, increased cloud formation could dampen tropical warming and shift the climatic balance in other directions.

Dr Wenju Cai of CSIRO’s Wealth from Oceans Flagship said that greater humidity is one phenomena certain to occur if the tropics continue to warm.

…In the tropics, observations from the past 50 years and modelling of a warmer future over the next century suggest that the winds most affected will be the east-to-west tropical trade winds. The trade winds push warmer waters to the western Pacific, off the coast of Australia and New Guinea. If the winds quieten, Dr Cai said, those warm waters are likely to disperse back to the east.

That’s not encouraging for Australia. Warm Pacific waters generate upwelling convection currents that suck in moist ocean air. When those warm waters are in the Pacific’s west, they drive what eastern Australian agriculture recognises as wet La Nina years….

Nothing says El Nino like a dismasted ship in a rough sea, by Bonaventura Peeters, from the mid-17th century

Algal blooms hit the poor of India hard

Science Daily: The problem of toxic algae is not just confined to northern countries. In India algal blooms are threatening poor people's access to food and their livelihoods, a problem that has been exacerbated by global warming. With funding from the Swedish Research Council for Environment, Agricultural Sciences and Spatial Planning and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, researchers from the University of Gothenburg are to attempt to reduce the effects of algal blooms.

As in many other developing countries near the equator, millions of people in India depend on the sea as a source of income and food. Exports of farmed tiger prawns and other aquatic organisms are an important part of the Indian economy, and mussels and oysters are often the main source of protein for many poor people.

But marine farming in India is beset with problems. When pathogenic bacteria, viruses and toxic algae attack, the farmed prawns are treated with antibiotics, which results in resistance. It is also common for the water in the aquaculture ponds to be treated with environmentally harmful chemicals.

Global warming is predicted to make harmful algal blooms larger and more numerous, as higher temperatures lead to more precipitation and a greater run-off of nutrient salts into the marine environment. The south-west coast of India is particularly exposed in this respect, and it is here that a research project from the University of Gothenburg is to monitor the impact of climate change on algal blooms, with funding from the Swedish Research Council for Environment, Agricultural Sciences and Spatial Planning.

The background is that the Indian authorities are investing heavily in developing mussel and oyster farms in the hope that they will be able to increase export revenue and produce an environmentally friendly, protein-rich food for the country's sizeable population. Systematic monitoring that can predict when and where algal blooms will occur is needed if the investment is to pay off….

The Dutch port of Tuticoran in 1752, now the Coromandel Coast in India

Forest fires flare north of Montreal

Terra Daily via Agence France-Presse: Some 800 firefighters were dispatched on Thursday to Quebec's outback to combat more than a dozen forest fires raging north of Montreal, a provincial agency announced Most went to the Haute-Mauricie region 400 kilometers (250 miles) north of the Quebec metropolis to douse a dozen of the blazes.

Thick smoke swept over the Wemotaci native reservation, forcing more than 1,300 to evacuate their homes overnight. The village, however, was not threatened by flames and no one was injured.

…Four of the fires, some of them sparked by lightning, were out of control in exceptionally dry forests after a record heat wave in recent days, Marie-Louise Harvey, spokeswoman for Quebec's forest fire fighting agency, Sopfeu, earlier told public broadcaster Radio-Canada….

Egypt warns that new Nile agreement could prove a 'death sentence'

Daniel Howden in the Independent (UK): … Two treaties signed more than half a century ago gave Egypt the lion's share of the water from the Nile. But those deals, so crucial to one country, also set up an epic imbalance of resources that has led analysts to look to this river system as the likely theatre for the first of the long-heralded water wars. Now a fresh crisis has emerged to threaten Cairo's hegemony of this most political of rivers as five of the 10 Nile basin countries have signed up to a new agreement that would give them a greater share of the waters and has been greeted in the Egyptian press as a "death sentence".

…Countries like Ethiopia, which accounts for 85 per cent of the river's flow, never recognised the "colonial relic" treaties and are now seeking to right what they see as a historical wrong. "Some people in Egypt have old-fashioned ideas based on the assumption that the Nile water belongs to Egypt," Ethiopia's premier Meles Zenawi said recently. "But the circumstances have changed and changed forever."

Under pressure from upstream countries, Egypt agreed to take part in the Nile Basin initiative set up in Uganda's Entebbe on the shore of Lake Victoria in 1999. While Cairo saw it as a talking shop with a mandate to share scientific data, the other states saw it as an opportunity to renegotiate the use of the Nile.

…Behind the heated rhetoric of death sentences and lifeblood most observers believe that the current crisis will be resolved politically rather than militarily. The era in which Egyptian foreign policy was based on backing insurgencies and destabilising its southern neighbours may have past. David Grey, a visiting professor at Oxford University and senior water advisor to the World Bank, says the Nile Basin initiative for all its failures suggests a future in which shared water resources could yoke together former adversaries rather than divide them.

…The bigger question is not whether a more equitable sharing of the Nile can avert a war, but whether the overexploited river can continue to meet the growing demands placed on it…..

Papyrus growing wild along the banks of the Nile River in Uganda, taken by Michael Shade in the fall of 2006

Asia most at risk from natural disasters

IRIN: Bangladesh, Indonesia, Iran and Pakistan top a new ranking of countries at "extreme risk" of experiencing natural disasters compiled by a global risk assessment company. The Natural Disaster Risk Index (NDRI), released on 27 May by Maplecroft, ranks 229 countries according to the human impact of natural disasters in terms of deaths per annum and per million of population, plus the frequency of events as well as the likelihood of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, storms, flooding, droughts, landslides, extreme temperatures and epidemics. Asia accounts for most of the disaster-related deaths since 1980.

Ranking countries most vulnerable to natural disasters over the past 30 years could enable businesses and investors to identify risks to international assets while supporting humanitarian efforts to push governments into investing in disaster risk reduction initiatives.

African countries at extreme risk are Ethiopia, Sudan and Mozambique, with 95 percent of casualties due to drought. Since 1980 drought has caused 9,800 deaths in Ethiopia, 5,300 in Sudan (ranked fifth) and over 3,400 in Mozambique (ninth). According to experts, unlike earthquakes and storms, drought damage is more difficult to detect, both in terms of human lives and economic loss because it is a slow onset disaster.

Whereas France and Italy, respectively ranked 17 and 18, are the most vulnerable countries in Europe because of the 40,000 people who died in heat waves in 2003 and 2006, the US, with more than 8,000 lives lost over 30 years, is highly susceptible to hurricanes and storms and ranked 37th.

Haiti and China are respectively at numbers eight and 12 among the countries at highest risk. The earthquake in Qinghai Province on 13 April 2010, of almost the same magnitude as the one that hit Haiti on 12 January, cost the lives of 2,187 people, against 230,000 who died in Haiti….

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Be prepared for worse disasters

Nadia Fazlulhaq in the Sunday Times (Sri Lanka): Sri Lanka’s chief meteorologist is advising authorities to be prepared to face more natural disasters which are worse than the recent floods. Meteorology Department Director General G. B. Samarasinghe in an interview with the Sunday Times says tropical countries are becoming more and more vulnerable to weather-related natural disasters because of the climate change.

…Apart from greater coordination among them, ministries in charge of subjects such as health and disaster management and statutory bodies such as the Ceylon Electricity Board should have rapid deployment teams to act immediately ahead of a disaster situation, the Met Chief says.

“With an alarming increase in natural disasters throughout the world, all attempts should be made to minimise the loss of human lives and damage to economy. These measures should include early warning systems and training on first aid, rescue and rapid evacuation,” he says.

Investing in disaster preparedness is more advisable than spending on emergency relief, Dr. Samarasinghe reasons. “There should be infrastructure facilities. For instance, we must build cyclone-resistant buildings where evacuated people can be temporarily sheltered before a cyclone hits an area or torrential rains bring devastating floods and cause landslides,” the Met Chief says recommending that authorities should conduct risk assessments and identify risk areas as an urgent measure before the next disaster strikes….

A tea plantation near Kandy, Sri Lanka, shot by Colby Otero, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Clock is ticking on California's Central Valley flood-control plan

Matt Weiser in the Sacramento Bee: State officials have about 18 months to complete a first-ever comprehensive flood-control plan for the Central Valley, and they're seeking public input to help finish the job. The California Department of Water Resources is required by 2007 state legislation to complete the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan by Jan. 1, 2012. It must be adopted six months later by the Central Valley Flood Protection Board.

The plan aims to identify weaknesses in the Valley's network of levees, weirs and bypasses, and suggest ways to fix those problems. It's a tall order.

Generations of California flood experts have been foiled by the challenge of simply understanding flood risk in one of the world's most complex watersheds, much less building effective improvements. There are also huge legal and financial risks to consider.

"That's the stuff that's really the bread and butter of these issues, and they only have a year and a half to come up with something," said Ronald Stork, a flood policy expert at Friends of the River in Sacramento. "And I don't know if they can."

…One of the most pressing environmental issues is managing trees and other vegetation on levees. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which sets national standards for levee safety, recently began to impose a new policy that forbids trees on levees. The agency believes trees weaken levees, but has granted California a temporary reprieve due to its unique circumstances….

Yuba County, CA, January 4, 1997 -- A levee break caused the flood-swollen Feather River to pour into the Oliverhurst area in Yuba County, California. Photo by Robert C. Eplett, Wikimedia Commons via the FEMA photo library

Pakistan lake disaster triggers new displacements

Zofeen Ebrahim in IPS: Up until Saturday the Attabad Lake in northern Pakistan had been rising one metre every day and was thus on the verge of breaking its banks, observed Lieutenant General Nadeem Ahmed, chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA). In the last four months, the water level had been rising in the lake due to glacial melting, swelling it to 18.5 kilometres long and 107 metres deep, he explained.

Then what he had feared all along happened over the weekend when the Attabad Lake in the Hunza Valley in northern Pakistan broke its banks, which were overtopped with water flowing into the spillway. The water pressure is low but the artificial lake could burst in the next 12 hours, resulting in massive floods in the region, said Ahmed. If that happens, he said, another major disaster could be in the offing.

On Jan. 4, following a snowstorm, a massive landslide hit the village of Attabad, in Pakistan-controlled Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B), an autonomous territory in the northern part of the South Asian country with an estimated population of one million. Initially, it forced some 1,200 people to evacuate their homes. The resulting debris blocked Hunza River, located in the G-B region, creating a lake now known as Attabad Lake. As the lake swelled, another village, Sarat, was also submerged while two others were inundated by floodwaters.

"As a result of the formation of the lake, four bridges that linked 16 villages upstream and the 22-kilometre Karakoram Highway linking Pakistan to China have been submerged in water," said Asif Hussain, spokesperson of the Pakistan Red Crescent Society (PRCS) in G-B.

…Landslides and flash floods are a seasonal occurrence in the G-B region, which is surrounded by the Himalayas and the Hindu Kush and Karakoram mountain ranges….

Dark rock covers the river in the upper left corner of the image, and the turquoise V-shaped lake stretches out behind the slide. Near the temporary lake, the Karakoram Highway is a faint meandering line of pale brown. A bridge across the Hunza River has been submerged by the rising waters. NASA Earth Observatory

Nigeria's agony dwarfs the Gulf oil spill. The US and Europe ignore it

John Vidal in the Guardian (UK): ….[M]ore oil is spilled from the [Nigerian] delta's network of terminals, pipes, pumping stations and oil platforms every year than has been lost in the Gulf of Mexico, the site of a major ecological catastrophe caused by oil that has poured from a leak triggered by the explosion that wrecked BP's Deepwater Horizon rig last month.

That disaster, which claimed the lives of 11 rig workers, has made headlines round the world. By contrast, little information has emerged about the damage inflicted on the Niger delta. Yet the destruction there provides us with a far more accurate picture of the price we have to pay for drilling oil today.

On 1 May this year a ruptured ExxonMobil pipeline in the state of Akwa Ibom spilled more than a million gallons into the delta over seven days before the leak was stopped. Local people demonstrated against the company but say they were attacked by security guards. Community leaders are now demanding $1bn in compensation for the illness and loss of livelihood they suffered. Few expect they will succeed. In the meantime, thick balls of tar are being washed up along the coast.

Within days of the Ibeno spill, thousands of barrels of oil were spilled when the nearby Shell Trans Niger pipeline was attacked by rebels. A few days after that, a large oil slick was found floating on Lake Adibawa in Bayelsa state and another in Ogoniland. "We are faced with incessant oil spills from rusty pipes, some of which are 40 years old," said Bonny Otavie, a Bayelsa MP.

This point was backed by Williams Mkpa, a community leader in Ibeno: "Oil companies do not value our life; they want us to all die. In the past two years, we have experienced 10 oil spills and fishermen can no longer sustain their families. It is not tolerable."…

Ethiopia’s harsh climate

Patrick Nicholson in ReliefWeb: "There used to be droughts every ten years," said Suliman Aden, a herder in Ethiopia's Eastern Shinile zone. "Now they're every year or every two years." He lost 11 of his 15 cattle in a drought earlier this year. He works with a vetinirary clinic supported by the Haraghe Catholic Secretariat, a diocescan member of the Ethiopian Catholic Secretariat (the national Caritas in Ethiopia). The clinic tries to spot diseased animals and treat them.

"We don't have any solutions for drought though," he said. "Cattle need water and grass, and if there are neither, they will die." Learning to cope with the region's harsh climate is a way of life for the nomadic Somali communities who live here. Only 500 to 700 mm of rain fall annually and extreme heat topping 40 C can kill man and beast. They have developed strategies to survive the hostile climate. But those strategies are failing to deal with the increasing frequency of drought.

"The resilence of the community is very poor," said Yusuf Ahmed, a local teacher in Harrawa, a small town of 100 percent food aid, mud huts and poverty that clings to the side of the Dire Dawa-Dijibouti rail line. "People have been worn down by drought. They cannot cope any longer."

Drought is nothing new to Ethiopia. But according to the UNDP Climate Change Profile of Ethiopia, the mean average temperature has increased 1.3 C between 1960 and 2006.

Recent analysis of rainfall and food security indicators suggest that Southern and Eastern Ethiopia have been experiencing recent reductions in rainfall since 1996. This means there will be increasing requirements for food aid above the 7.5 million already who depend on the Government's Safety-Net programme (plus an additional 4.9 million who required food assistance last year)….

A view of the Semien Mountains in Ethiopia, shot by Martino's doodles, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Friday, May 28, 2010

Global warming influence on El Nino still unknown

Terra Daily: The climate of the Pacific region will undergo significant changes as atmospheric temperatures rise but scientists can not yet identify the influence it will have on the El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) weather phenomenon. This is a central finding of an international science review by the World Climate Research Program's Climate Variability and Predictability Pacific Panel, published in Nature Geoscience.

The Panel convened in Australia at the Greenhouse 2009 climate change conference to consider new research that could build an understanding of changes in the behaviour of ENSO. ENSO is a naturally occurring phenomenon causing climate variability that originates in the tropical Pacific region and influences ecosystems, agriculture, freshwater supplies, hurricanes and other severe weather events worldwide.

"There is an increasing body of evidence pointing to significant changes in Pacific Ocean climate as a consequence of global warming," says co-author, Dr Wenju Cai from CSIRO's Wealth from Oceans Flagship. "What we are attempting to clarify is how those changes will enhance or moderate ENSO and, in Australia's case, deliver stronger or weaker El Nino events which would have vastly different implications," he says.

…Dr Power says ENSO will continue to have a profound influence on climate around the world over the coming century " This report shows, however, that determining how ENSO will change in response to further global warming and what this means for Australia and our Pacific neighbours is a real challenge."….

This image of the Pacific Ocean shows sea surface height relative to normal ocean conditions on Dec. 1, 1997. In this image, the white and red areas indicate unusual patterns of heat storage; in the white areas, the sea surface is between 14 and 32 centimeters (6 to 13 inches) above normal; in the red areas, it's about 10 centimeters (4 inches) above normal. The green areas indicate normal conditions, while purple (the western Pacific) means at least 18 centimeters (7 inches) below normal sea level.

Persian Gulf states face food crisis

Seed Daily via UPI: The scramble by Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf states to secure strategic food supplies by buying up vast tracts of farmland in Africa and Asia won't be enough to stave off a surge of food imports over the next decade, a Saudi bank report says. "The era of cheap food is over," NCB Capital, the investment arm of Saudi Arabia's National Commercial Bank, declared in the report issued several weeks ago.

The wholesale investment in arable land in Sudan, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia and other African states won't prevent the level of food imports of the six Gulf Cooperation Council states -- Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates -- from rising sharply over the next decade. The NCBC report urged the GCC states to boost domestic food production through sustainable agriculture to head off an eventual crisis caused by a dramatic surge in the global demand for food that will push prices ever upward.

It said that the Saudis at least are providing financial incentives to expand the use of new crop technologies, water management and new types of seeds that require less water. Riyadh's 2010 budget allocates $12.3 billion to the agriculture and water sectors, a 31 percent increase over 2009. New desalination plants are also planned. Even so, NCBC noted, "food inflation … represents a potentially considerable social-economic risk which the authorities are poorly equipped to deal with."…

Rub' al Khali, or the Empty Quarter, is the largest sand desert on earth. Shot by Nepenthes, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

NOAA expects busy Atlantic hurricane season

NOAA: An “active to extremely active” hurricane season is expected for the Atlantic Basin this year according to the seasonal outlook issued today by NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center – a division of the National Weather Service. As with every hurricane season, this outlook underscores the importance of having a hurricane preparedness plan in place. Across the entire Atlantic Basin for the six-month season, which begins June 1, NOAA is projecting a 70 percent probability of the following ranges:
  • 14 to 23 Named Storms (top winds of 39 mph or higher), including:
  • 8 to 14 Hurricanes (top winds of 74 mph or higher), of which:
  • 3 to 7 could be Major Hurricanes (Category 3, 4 or 5; winds of at least 111 mph)
“If this outlook holds true, this season could be one of the more active on record,” said Jane Lubchenco, Ph.D., under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. “The greater likelihood of storms brings an increased risk of a landfall. In short, we urge everyone to be prepared.”

The outlook ranges exceed the seasonal average of 11 named storms, six hurricanes and two major hurricanes. Expected factors supporting this outlook are:
  • Upper atmospheric winds conducive for storms. Wind shear, which can tear apart storms, will be weaker since El Niño in the eastern Pacific has dissipated. Strong wind shear helped suppress storm development during the 2009 hurricane season.
  • Warm Atlantic Ocean water. Sea surface temperatures are expected to remain above average where storms often develop and move across the Atlantic. Record warm temperatures – up to four degrees Fahrenheit above average – are now present in this region.
  • High activity era continues. Since 1995, the tropical multi-decadal signal has brought favorable ocean and atmospheric conditions in sync, leading to more active hurricane seasons. Eight of the last 15 seasons rank in the top ten for the most named storms with 2005 in first place with 28 named storms.
Hurricane Ike roistering around the Gulf of Mexico as a category 2 storm, September 12, 2008

Better water science needed in Canada

John Pomeroy in the StarPhoenix (Saskatchewan): Given Saskatchewan's wet spring, it may seem like odd timing to be raising alarm bells about the potential for long-term water scarcity on the Prairies due to climate change. But even record rainfalls have a negligible impact on the South Saskatchewan River that sustains our cities, towns and industry. What affects our long-term water supply and regional water use is the snowpack of the Canadian Rockies.

As a scientist monitoring that snowpack and the ensuing water flows so critical for our economy and ecosystem, I see several troubling signs. The Rockies have experienced a three- to four-degree increase in warming since the early 1960s. As a result, about a quarter of the glacier areas have disappeared in the same period of time.

Second, the winter snow period is shorter by one to two months in the Rockies, compared with the early '60s. Predictions are that the trend toward a shorter snow period will continue and that by the late 21st century mountain snowpacks will be less than half of what they are now.

This will provide greatly reduced and much earlier runoff to the headwaters of the South Saskatchewan River. At the same time, due to warming on the Prairies there will be complete mid-winter melting of our snowcover and greatly reduced spring runoff to small prairie streams and sloughs.

The record dry winter just experienced in Alberta is perhaps a harbinger of what is to come in the latter part of this century. Parts of the Rockies are very dry. This is occurring when consumption of South Saskatchewan River water has grown such that no new water use licenses are available in Alberta.

The lower half of the Otter Rapids, viewed from the Churchill River Bridge, by Fremte, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license

Yemen’s agrobiodiversity and climate adaptation

Kansas City Infozine: The Agro-biodiversity and Climate Adaptation project will be implemented in Yemen with over US$5.0 million extending over four years, including a US$4.0 million grant from the Global Environment Facility (GEF), which will be administered by the World Bank.

The project aims to enhance capacity and awareness at key national agencies and at local levels, to respond to climate variability and change and to better equip local communities to cope with climate change through the conservation and use of agro-biodiversity.

The project will encourage water harvesting and increasing irrigation efficiency as part of a climate-resilient “win-win strategy”. It will also include climate considerations in the identification and improvement of some select landraces to test for drought and heat tolerance.

The main components of the Project will be to build on traditional knowledge of farmers and develop an inventory of local agro-biodiversity; to raise awareness on climatic changes and develop initial local predictive capacity of weather patterns and long-term climate change scenarios for the country, to develop climate resilient rain-fed agriculture strategy, and put in place project management, coordination, monitoring and evaluation systems.

…The Government's rural development and agricultural development strategies not only stress the importance of agriculture as the driving force for development in the rainfed highlands of Yemen, but also the need to take advantage of local agro-biodiversity and local knowledge to prevent further land degradation and to help farmers adapt to climate change….

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Bacteria help to clean up Deepwater Horizon spill

Debora MacKenzie in New Scientist: Zoom in on the Deepwater Horizon oil slick and you will find a motley community of critters hard at work breaking down the oil: bacteria. At the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in San Diego, California, this week, Jay Grimes of the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg reported that over the past few years, researchers have found that dozens of different kinds of marine bacteria have a healthy appetite for oil.

He said that water samples from the Gulf of Mexico are showing signs that marine bacteria are already pitching in to help with clean-up efforts, and that populations of these bacteria in this area are likely to boom as they feast on the oil from the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Among these are members of the Vibrio family, which includes the species that causes cholera. Grimes cautions that there is no evidence that this species is one of those that breaks down oil, although other Vibrios that cause human infections do. "The Vibrios use breakdown products of oil," says Rita Colwell of the University of Maryland in College Park. "When [the oil from Deepwater Horizon] reaches the estuary, Vibrios very likely will increase."

…"Now we plan to see how the microbial community evolves when you give it oil," says Grimes. He hopes to screen bacteria from oil-affected water for the DNA of oil-eating enzymes, and use this to determine their species.

"This blowout could permanently reshuffle the microbial community in the Gulf," Grimes says. In previous research he found that Vibrio became the dominant type of marine bacteria off the south-eastern US as oil tanker traffic increased after the 1970s.
Long-term threat

For now the oil mainly threatens larval fish clinging to the underside of mats of seaweed. "I hope most of the oil will stay out to sea," says Grimes. "It may kill a year's production of fish, but if it hits the coastal marshes, it could be there for a decade." At particular risk are coastal salt marshes….

Clouds of smoke billow up from controlled burns taking place in the Gulf of Mexico May 19, 2010. The controlled burns were set to reduce the amount of oil in the water following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Image from the US Coast Guard

Stanford scientists confirm that polluted groundwater flows from coastal septic systems to the sea

Daniel Strain in the Stanford University News: Faulty septic systems have long been blamed for polluting some of California's most popular beaches. Yet few scientific studies have established a direct link between septic systems and coastal contamination.

Now, in the first study of its kind, Stanford University researchers have tracked a plume of polluted groundwater from a septic system to one of Northern California's top recreational beaches. The researchers say their findings could be an important step toward improving wastewater management in coastal communities throughout the United States.

… Since 2008, Boehm and her Stanford colleagues have been studying the flow of groundwater from a large septic system at Stinson Beach, a favorite destination of swimmers and surfers about 20 miles north of San Francisco that's managed by the National Park Service. The study is supported by an Environmental Venture Projects grant from Stanford's Woods Institute for the Environment.

…Prior to this study, scientists had never observed in detail a plume of contaminated groundwater flowing from a septic system to the sea. To track groundwater pollution at Stinson Beach, the research team obtained a permit from the National Park Service to install a network of 120 monitoring wells near a large septic system close to a beach parking lot that collects wastewater from nearby homes and public toilets.

…"Our results will provide valuable insight into the fate and transport of contaminants from septic systems along the California coastline and elsewhere," Boehm said. "Predicting where, when and what magnitude of environmental pollution can be expected will help guide regulators in deciding which coastal settings are appropriate for septic systems."…

Bolinas Bay (left) and Stinson Beach (right) as seen from California State Route 1 looking northwest. Shot by Stepheng3, who has released the image into the public domain

Poland counts losses caused by flooding

Polish Market Online: Poland is experiencing the worst floods for a century. As flood waters move north toward the Baltic sea, the Polish government estimates losses caused by catastrophic flooding to be in excess of 2.5 billion euros. The two main rivers the Vistula and the Odra burst their banks in numerous places inundating huge swathes of land in southern and central regions. Thousands of residents were moved to higher ground.

…The authorities moved swiftly to organize a relief effort. In his capacity as acting president, parliamentary speaker Bronislaw Komorowski has called for quick changes to Poland’s flood relief legislation to introduce streamlined administrative procedures that will allow individual communities to more efficiently get aid to those who need it. Opposition leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski promised to champion a more effective flood prevention programme in the future.

But serious questions are being asked whether enough has been done since the last flooding in 1997 and 2001. Hydrologist Zbigniew Kundzewicz of the Polish Academy of Sciences says that spatial planning leaves a lot to be desired, both on the local and national level, what with new houses being built on floodplains that suffered flooding twice in the past 13 years: ‘Why has the flood damage grown? There are a number of reasons: due to changes in socio economic system, like land use change increasing exposure and damage potential, flood plain development, growing wealth in flood prone areas. Land use change results in land cover change. elimination of natural inundation areas: wetlands, flood plains and so on.’…

A scene after the 2009 flooding in Poland, from the Chancellery of the President of the Republic of Poland, Wikimedia Commons, terms of the GNU Free Documentation License

Undersea forces from hurricanes may threaten Gulf pipelines

Science Daily: Hurricanes could snap offshore oil pipelines in the Gulf of Mexico and other hurricane-prone areas, since the storms whip up strong underwater currents, a new study suggests. These pipelines could crack or rupture unless they are buried or their supporting foundations are built to withstand these hurricane-induced currents. "Major oil leaks from damaged pipelines could have irreversible impacts on the ocean environment," the researchers warn in their study, to be published on 10 June in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union (AGU).

With the official start of hurricane season approaching on June 1, news reports about the Deep Horizon oil spill that began fouling the Gulf last month have raised questions about how a hurricane might complicate the unfolding disaster.

A hurricane might also create its own spills, the new research indicates. The storms' powerful winds can raise waves 20 meters (66 feet) or more above the ocean surface. But their effects underwater are little known, although signs of seafloor damage have showed up after some hurricanes.

Based on unique measurements taken directly under a powerful hurricane, the new study's calculations are the first to show that hurricanes propel underwater currents with enough oomph to dig up the seabed, potentially creating underwater mudslides and damaging pipes or other equipment resting on the bottom.

At least 50,000 kilometers (31,000 miles) of pipelines reportedly snake across the seafloor of the Gulf of Mexico. Damage to these pipelines can be difficult to detect if it causes only smaller leaks, rather than a catastrophic break, the researchers say. Repairing underwater pipes can cost more than fixing the offshore oil drilling platforms themselves, making it all the more important to prevent damage to pipelines in the first place….

Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, Pumping Platform Complex, shot by Edibobb, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license

Collaborate on water, Himalayan scientists urged

Mićo Tatalović and Smriti Mallapaty in Himalayan countries must set aside their differences and collaborate on science in order to avoid a common water crisis, says a report. Environmental pressures, including those from climate change, could have unprecedented effects on the livelihoods of millions of people in the Hindu-Kush Himalaya region, according to the study, published by the UK-based Humanitarian Futures Programme, the Aon Benfield UCL Hazard Research Centre, and China Dialogue.

Yet scientific research is either non-existent or, where it exists, is not shared beyond a country's borders, said the report, 'The Waters of the Third Pole: Sources of Threat, Sources of Survival'. And scientists are failing to communicate what they do know to the public and policymakers, it added. The Hindu-Kush Himalaya region provides water for one fifth of the world's population including countries stretching from Pakistan to Myanmar.

"This region is a black hole for data," said Isabelle Hilton, editor of China Dialogue and a contributor to the report. "Managing this water requires knowledge and cooperation," she said at the launch of the report last week (19 May) in the United Kingdom. But the region "lacks the institutions and in some cases the political will to address issues cooperatively"…

The Hindu Kush seen by satellite

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Rainfall clumped into lengthier, intense periods across Europe

Phillip F. Schewe of the Inside Science News Service in …A new study of rainfall in Europe over the period 1950-2008 finds that although the yearly number of rainy days has not increased, the length of wet spells — periods in which rain falls on a number of consecutive days — has gone up by about 15-20 percent.

Many scientists believe that the side effects of human technology, especially the extra carbon dioxide it adds to the atmosphere, are driving climate change more than the natural fluctuations that occur all the time. A consequence of this change is an increase in average temperatures in many — but not all — places around the world. Another worrisome outcome of climate change is the increase in extreme weather seen in many places. Rainfall is an example.

Olga Zolina, who works at the University of Bonn in Germany, participated in the rainfall study that measured the increasing length of wet spells over Europe. She said that the more intense events seem to increasingly occur during the longer periods. The results from the study were published in Geophysical Research Letters in March.

If the current pattern continues, "we can hypothesize that the lengthening of wet spells will result in more intense and more frequently occurring floods,” Zolina said. She and her collaborators are now extending their study to include wetness and flooding….

Thunderstorm in front of Taunus, between Kronberg and Oberursel, "Hochtaunuskreis" in Hesse, shot by Dontworry, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative CommonsAttribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Small mammals – and the rest of the food chain – at greater risk from global warming than previously thought, say Stanford researchers

Louis Bergeron in Stanford University News: The balance of biodiversity within North American small-mammal communities is so out of whack from the last episode of global warming about 12,000 years ago that the current climate change could push them past a tipping point, with repercussions up and down the food chain, say Stanford biologists. The evidence lies in fossils spanning the last 20,000 years that the researchers excavated from a cave in Northern California.

What they found is that although the small mammals in the area suffered no extinctions as a result of the warming that occurred at the end of the Pleistocene epoch, populations of most species nonetheless experienced a significant loss of numbers while one highly adaptable species – the deer mouse – thrived on the disruptions to the environment triggered by the changing climate.

"If we only focus on extinction, we are not getting the whole story," said Jessica Blois, lead author of a paper detailing the study to be published online by Nature on May 23. "There was a 30 percent decline in biodiversity due to other types of changes in the small-mammal community."

The double whammy of late Pleistocene warming, coupled with the coinciding arrival of humans on the North American continent, took a well-documented heavy toll on the large animals. Almost a third of the big, so-called "charismatic" animals – the ones with the most popular appeal for humans, such as mammoths and mastodons, dire wolves and short-faced bears – went extinct. But until now, little had been done to explore the effects of that climate shift on smaller fauna.

…[A]ccording to Hadly, an extraordinarily rapid change is looming. "The temperature change over the next hundred years is expected to be greater than the temperature that most of the mammals that are on the landscape have yet witnessed as a species," she said. "The small-mammal community that we have is really resilient, but it is headed toward a perturbation that is bigger than anything it has seen in the last million years."

A deer mouse, the ultra-cute carrier of hantavirus. Shot by James Gathany, Wikimedia Commons via the Centers for Disease Control

Beavers blamed in deadly Poland floods: minister

Our old enemies, the beavers, are working their evil magic in Poland, according to this story in Terra Daily via Agence France-Presse: Beavers who tunnel through vital defences protecting Polish cities are partly to blame for devastating floods that have swept the country killing 15 people, Poland's interior minister said Tuesday. "The greatest enemy of the flood defences is an animal called the beaver. They live everywhere along the levees on the Vistula (river) and cause a lot of damage to them," Jerzy Miller told reporters.

An estimated 50,000 of the large, mostly nocturnal, semi-aquatic rodents live in Poland where they enjoy a degree of protection, animal welfare services say. But local authorities have upped hunting quotas for the animals in the wake of the floods. "Beavers dig tunnels in the flood defences, weakening them from inside. But they are not alone, there are also water voles," Pawel Fratczak, Poland's national fire brigade spokesman said.

Torrential rain in Poland's mountainous south have caused rivers, including the Vistula, Poland's largest, swell to levels unseen in more than a century. Flood defences have already given way near the southeastern town of Sandomierz and in Plock, central Poland, causing flooding in several locations in those regions….

"Nice flood plain you got there. It'd be a shame if anything happened to it." A yearling beaver, shot by Cheryl Reyndolds, courtesy of Worth a Dam, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Streamlining Lagos laws to address climate impacts

Michael Simire in, via the Daily Independent (Nigeria): Because of its susceptibility to climate change effects, Lagos should fashion relevant laws and policies which could find ready models in the 2008 Climate Change Act of the United Kingdom and the 2009 Climate Change Act of The Philippines. The laws must be sufficiently balanced in protecting the short term competitiveness while harnessing opportunities.

This call forms the fulcrum of a package of recommendations put forward by participants at a recent forum wherein officials of ministries, departments and agencies, as well as academics, representatives of civil society and media explored the status of policies, programmes and research on climate change in the state.

The event was organised by Lagos State Ministry of the Environment in collaboration with Policy Advocacy Project Partnership on Climate Change in Lagos State Participants described climate change as a major threat to the state's socio-economic stability, requiring concerted collaborations between governments and non-state actors with other stakeholders in the civil society.

It was observed that although Lagos State has been forthcoming in striving towards evolving mitigation and adaptation strategies, a lot still needed to be done by reviewing existing laws as well as reforming institutions to keep track with the challenges posed by mitigation and adaptation. In particular, inter-ministerial coordination is urgently required to make for optimum result, the gathering noted….

That's the Lagos flag, rendered by Lephilippe, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License

UN says case for saving species 'more powerful than climate change'

Juliette Jowit in the Guardian (UK): The economic case for global action to stop the destruction of the natural world is even more powerful than the argument for tackling climate change, a major report for the United Nations will declare this summer.

The Stern report on climate change, which was prepared for the UK Treasury and published in 2007, famously claimed that the cost of limiting climate change would be around 1%-2% of annual global wealth, but the longer-term economic benefits would be 5-20 times that figure.

The UN's biodiversity report – dubbed the Stern for Nature – is expected to say that the value of saving "natural goods and services", such as pollination, medicines, fertile soils, clean air and water, will be even higher – between 10 and 100 times the cost of saving the habitats and species which provide them.

To mark the UN's International Day for Biological Diversity tomorrow, hundreds of British companies, charities and other organisations have backed an open letter from the Natural History Museum's director Michael Dixon warning that "the diversity of life, so crucial to our security, health, wealth and wellbeing is being eroded"….

The brazil nut tree (known as castanheira) near Oriximina, Brazil, is protected, but logged all the same. Shot by Amit Kenny, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative CommonsAttribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

West Africa steps up flood response ahead of rainy season

Kate Thomas in VOA News: The International Federation of the Red Cross is leading the effort to prepare for this year's rainy season in West Africa, after extreme flooding in the region last year displaced hundreds of thousands. Devastating floods swept through West Africa in 2009, killing more than 100 people and displacing hundreds of thousands more in 16 countries.

As this year's rainy season draws closer, efforts are being stepped up to prepare for the worst. The International Federation of the Red Cross is leading the preparation effort. A Red Cross' spokesman, Moustapha Diallo, attended flood preparation talks earlier this month in Praia, the capital of Cape Verde.

He said this year's aim is to bring emergency aid to affected areas more quickly and save more lives. Last year, Senegal's government poured $4 million into the emergency response effort, re-housing flood victims on higher ground. But many of those affected said the government's response was not fast enough.

More than 264,000 people were displaced in Dakar and in the towns of Thies, Kaolack, Kaffrine, Kolda and Saint-Louis. Hundreds of thousands more were affected in Burkina Faso, Sierra Leone, Benin, Ghana, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.

Diallo said West and Central Africa is susceptible to the effects of climate change. Some experts predict low-lying parts of the region, including areas of the Senegalese capital Dakar, could be underwater within the next 100 years. He said 2.5 million people were affected by the floods last year….

A flood in Dakar, Senegal, in 2005, shot by MyriamLouviot, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license

US scientific body seeks national climate change strategy

The Royal Society of Chemistry: The US National Research Council (NRC) is urging its government to act immediately to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and develop a national strategy for adapting to the impacts of global warming. NRC, which is the operating arm of the US National Academies, made the plea on 19 May, when it released the first three of five reports requested by Congress more than two years ago to analyse the climate change situation.

The report suggests that a revolution is needed in how climate change research is supported, organised and conducted in the US. It recommends that a single federal interagency programme or other entity, like the US Global Change Research Program, should be given the authority and resources to coordinate and implement a comprehensive, integrated national climate change research effort.

The second report proposes that the US establish a measurable domestic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions budget in the range of 170 to 200 gigatons of CO2-equivalent for the period 2012 through 2050. NRC notes that there are several ongoing efforts to limit greenhouse gases across the US, but what is lacking is a framework of national goals and polices to help coordinate and expand these scattered initiatives.

The third report calls on the government to develop a national adaptation strategy that reduces vulnerabilities to the impacts of climate change. As part of this framework, NRC suggests that the federal government provide technical and scientific resources that are missing at the local or regional scale, and support scientific research to expand knowledge of impacts and adaptation.

Bob Peoples, a chemist who also heads the American Chemical Society's Green Chemistry Institute, agrees with the NRC that harmonisation of the US approach to climate change is urgently needed….

John Collier's 1942 shot of the Champion Number One Coal Cleaning Plant near Pittsburgh

Exploring the intersection of engineering, economics and green policy

Energy Daily: Engineers bring a critical perspective to the economic models and mathematical predictions that are used to influence public policy, says Iowa State mechanical engineer W. Ross Morrow. "With these quantitative models, people in policy and economics tend to take them at their word," said Morrow, an Iowa State University assistant professor of mechanical engineering with a courtesy appointment in economics. "Engineers bring a great skepticism about what the models say. They ask, 'What evidence is the model based on?'"

Morrow, who's finishing his first year at Iowa State, knows what he's talking about. He's building a research career on improving large-scale computer models of engineering and economic systems. He's focusing on energy and environmental issues that involve government, corporations, technology and consumers.

As a doctoral student at the University of Michigan, Morrow developed new theories and numerical methods to analyze the government policies regulating greenhouse gas emissions and their effects on the auto industry's design and pricing decisions….When their report was released in March, it made The New York Times' Dot Earth blog ("Fuel taxes must rise, Harvard researchers say"), Rush Limbaugh's radio show ("Will America stand for $7 a gallon?") and an interview on Bloomberg Television.

As an Iowa State faculty member, he's continuing to look at numerical methods for modeling engineering and economic systems. He's working to improve how models handle something as complex and uncertain as the energy industry. How do models, for example, account for uncertainties about the future of oil reserves and advances in vehicle technology? He also wants to develop new technical solutions to building large-scale, complex models that take into account engineering technology and market behavior….

A Georges Roux illustration for Jules Verne's The Mysterious Island, 1874

Saving rainforests may help reduce poverty

Georgia State University News: A new study shows that saving rainforests and protecting land in national parks and reserves reduced poverty in two developing countries, according to research by a Georgia State University professor. Paul J. Ferraro, associate professor of economics in GSU’s Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, with four co-authors, looked at the long term impacts of the poor living near parks and reserves established in 1985 or earlier in Costa Rica and Thailand.

The logic goes against the conventional wisdom that says taking away resources, such as farm land and forests, exacerbates poverty. “The results are surprising,” Ferraro said. “Most people might expect that if you restrict resources, people on average will be worse off.”

The research, entitled “Protected areas reduced poverty in Costa Rica and Thailand,” was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America journal.

The authors speculate that the conservation of biodiverse areas may have helped the poor because of tourism and infrastructure, such as new roadways, which may have provided new economic opportunities.

While Costa Rica and Thailand are not representative of all developing nations, Ferraro said the results are promising. He said the study can be replicated elsewhere in the world to look at the impacts of efforts to protect the environment and reduce poverty, two of the United Nations Millennium Development goals….

This picture was taken on August 14, 2005. Tapanti National Park, sometimes called Orosí National Park, is a National Park in the Pacific La Amistad Conservation Area of Costa Rica located on the edge of the Talamanca Range, near Cartago. It protects forests to the north of Chirripó National Park, and also contains part of the Orosí River. Great shot by Mardochaios

NASA satellites keep watch on Gulf current near spill

NASA/Jet Propulsion Lab: Scientists and agencies monitoring the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico are keeping a wary eye on changes in the nearby Loop Current, a warm ocean current that is part of the Gulf Stream. Beginning as a large flow of warm water from the Caribbean, the Loop Current heads up into the eastern part of the Gulf of Mexico and then turns south before finally moving out through the Straits of Florida and northward into the Gulf Stream. Deep and fast moving, the Loop Current often breaks off and forms strong, clockwise rotating eddies called anticyclones that travel westward into the Gulf. The currents along the outer edges of the Loop Current, as well as these eddies, have been clocked at speeds as high as three to four knots (three to five miles per hour), comparable to the fastest ocean currents ever observed.

Because the Loop Current and its eddies are warmer, and thus higher in surface elevation, than the surrounding waters, they are easily spotted by satellite altimeters, such as those aboard the NASA/French Space Agency Jason 1 and Ocean Surface Topography Mission/Jason 2 satellites. Scientists use the latest satellite measurements of sea-surface height from these and other satellite altimeters to create maps showing the location, direction and speed of currents in the Gulf of Mexico.

This image, created on May 23, 2010, using measurements of sea surface height from multiple satellites, including Jason-1 and OSTM/Jason-2, shows the speed and direction of surface currents in the Gulf. The northern portion of the Loop Current, shown in red, appears about to detach and form a separate eddy--a large, warm, clockwise-spinning vortex of water that is the ocean's version of a cyclone. The star shows the former location of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig that exploded and sank in April, and has been leaking oil since. Scientists believe a large eddy between the oil spill and the Loop Current could keep, at least temporarily, some of the spilling oil from reaching the Florida Straits and the Gulf Stream….

Monday, May 24, 2010

Tornadoes to touch down in the northern Plains again Following rounds of severe storms that spawned large tornadoes over South Dakota on Saturday and eastern New Mexico and western Kansas on Sunday, more severe storms are firing in the Plains. Severe storms will rumble from southwestern Minnesota to West Texas today, bringing threats of damaging wind gusts over 60 mph, large pounding hail and tornadoes.

The greatest threat for severe storms and tornadoes will lie from south-central South Dakota to northern Nebraska. The most violent storms capable of producing tornadoes will generally form during the later afternoon and evening hours.

Storms with quarter-sized hail and wind gusts over 65 mph developed over this zone early Monday morning, and there will be a second round of feisty thunderstorms during the afternoon and evening hours. Some of the tornadoes could be large like the ones that touched down near Bowdle, S.D., on Saturday. Remember, it only takes one tornado to tear through a community to destroy houses, businesses and claim lives.

Some of the cities and towns that may get hit by one or more rounds of nasty storms include: Bismarck, N.D., Jamestown, N.D., Aberdeen, S.D., Pierre, S.D., Huron, S.D. and Valentine, Neb. If you live in this area, you need to stay vigilant of severe storm and tornado warnings. Seek shelter immediately if a warning is issued for your area….

NOAA's archive supplied this shot of a 1984 tornado in Roff, Oklahoma

Poland battles rising flood waters

Deutsche Welle: Flooding in Poland has killed 12 people in the past week and continues to wreak havoc as the river running through the capitol burst through the riverbank on Monday. The Vistula River spewed over the riverbanks in a nonresidential area of Warsaw, flooding 18 Polish communities about 100 kilometers northwest of the Polish capitol. Emergency workers and residents erected sandbags and deposited debris to try to stop the flow of water.

The situation is worse than expected, said Polish Interior Minister Jerzy Miller. An area of 8,000 hectares was underwater, according to the PAP news agency, forcing the evacuation of 4,000 people and 5,000 animals. In the worst case scenario, the residents of neighboring Gabin and Slubice- about 10,000 people total-would have to be evacuated.

In Plock, a city in central Poland, water began seeping through some 50 meters of a flood barrier, forcing the evacuation of 160 residents. The nearby village of Swiniary was flooded, with water rising nearly to the rooftops, according to a report from broadcaster TVN 24. City officials have alerted those in high-risk areas that they should be ready to evacuate on a moment's notice; however, many people want to remain in their homes as long as possible, fearing robbers…..

Flood on the Vistula in 2004, near Warsaw, shot by pl:Wikipedysta:Flegi , Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License

Hundreds flock from Niger to Nigeria in search of food

Terra Daily via Agence France-Presse: Hundreds of Niger nationals, mostly women and children, have flooded into neighbouring Nigeria in search of food, officials and residents said on Friday. "We are aware of the recent influx of people from Niger into some parts of (southern) Katsina State," Sani Makana, the state agriculture commissioner told AFP by phone from the state capital Katsina.

The number of of Niger nationals in northern Katsina state, which shares a land border with Nigeria, has soared in the past two months, residents said. Makana said some were so desperate they had been forced to beg door-to-door.

"It is a pathetic sight. They just have nothing to live on and have to beg to eat," said Katsina resident, Abubakar Shehu. "When you ask them why they came here they tell you that they were starving in Niger... and would die if they stayed," Shehu said.

According to the United Nations around 7.8 million Nigeriens are in need of food, out of the around 10 million affected by a crisis in the Sahel region….

Pacific climate change could drive Australian droughts

ABC News (Australia): Climate scientists are concerned a rise in temperature in the Pacific region due to climate change, could increase droughts in Australia. New research, published today in Nature Geoscience, has found the region will have significant temperature changes, which will affect the natural El Nino - La Nina weather cycle.

One of the report's authors Scott Power says the cycle and temperatures in the Pacific have a direct link to drought conditions in Australia. But Dr Power says current modelling is not advanced enough to predict the extent of the impact.

"It's really important that we understand how global warming is going to impact that natural cycle," he said. "But also the impact that that natural cycle is going to have on place like Australia and our Pacific neighbours."…

Imperiled mangrove forests in Vietnam

Bernama: The impacts of climate change would severely affect the biodiversity of mangrove forests across the country, Vietnam News Agency (VNA) reported experts as saying. Addressing a forum on the impacts of climate change and biodiversity held on May 22, Dr Hoang Nghia Son, director of the Institute of Tropical Biology said that biodiversity was a crucial base for the existence and development of countries around the world but it had been severely affected by climate change.

"Sea levels are expected to rise 1m by the end of this century which will flood up to 12 percent of Vietnam," VNA quoted him as saying. "Coastal wetlands will be heavily affected, especially in Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta provinces of Tra Vinh, Soc Trang, Bac Lieu and Ca Mau, home to many important wetland areas. Eight national parks and 11 nature reserves will be flooded, killing many species of flora and fauna," Son warned.

Dr Le Anh Tuan of Can Tho University's Natural Resources and Environment Department said rising temperatures and sea levels as well as irregular rainfall and a large number of storms and whirlwinds damaged the biodiversity of wetland areas.

"An increase in temperature will cause hundreds of trees to die and increase the threat of forest fires and slow the growth of flora. Fluctuating rainfall will change the biological cycles of flora and fauna and alternate natural flows as well. In addition, rising sea levels will mess with the ecosystem and threaten flora through salination, erosion and high tides. "Storms and whirlwinds will devastate coastal zones, destroying forests, degrading water quality and killing species of flora and fauna," Tuan emphasised.

Mangrove in Can Gio forest, shot by Tho nau, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Season's first named storm could be in the Atlantic now

Neil Johnson in the Tampa Tribune: An area of low pressure in the Atlantic Ocean could become the hurricane season's first named storm, possibly a week before the season's official June 1 start. The area of disturbed weather has winds of about 35 mph and is several hundred miles east of the Bahamas, but its winds could push more oil from the leaking well off Louisiana into the Loop Current.

The storm's winds, circling counter-clockwise, would come from the north over the oil slick from the underwater gusher in the Gulf of Mexico starting Tuesday and possibly lasting into Thursday. The winds could push more oil into the Loop Current that runs south through the Gulf and eventually passes the Florida Keys and up the state's East Coast.

The storm's impact on the oil slick depends on how close it comes to the Carolinas. More oil could be pushed into the Loop Current if the storm gets closer to land than models now predict, said Florida State Meteorologist Amy Godsey.

….Forecast models also project the system traveling north, then northwest for the next few days with its closest approach to land near North Carolina on Wednesday before it veers east into the Atlantic Ocean later in the week without hitting land…..

This map shows the tracks of all Atlantic hurricanes which formed between 1851 and 2005. The points show the locations of the storms at six-hourly intervals and use the color scheme shown to the right from Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale.

Hurricane would put salt in Gulf's wound

Michael Bradford in Business Insurance: Folks in the communities along the U.S. Gulf Coast from Texas to Florida are getting ready for their yearly dose of dread. Hurricane season arrives June 1, and residents of coastal areas will switch on the evening news each night wondering if there will be a small swirl off the coast of Africa that could grow a few weeks later into their worst nightmare.

This year, Gulf Coast residents may want to skip the weather report and pray instead. If a hurricane batters the region in 2010, it could rip into some communities already hanging by a thread. The massive oil slick from the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig catastrophe is threatening the livelihood of shrimpers, fishermen and businesses along the hurricane-exposed coast in Louisiana and Alabama.

Many Gulf Coast communities have struggled to get back on their feet since Hurricane Katrina in 2005. A big storm in the oily Gulf would be a very cruel blow. A hurricane this year would pile misery upon misery. If it hits in the midst of the oil spill cleanup, who would blame the people in towns like Venice, La., from throwing up their hands and walking away? How many times can you get knocked down before conceding that enough is enough?...

From NASA: This image is oblique, meaning that it was taken from a sideways viewing angle from the International Space Station (ISS), rather than from a “straight down” (or nadir) view, which is typical of automated satellite sensors. The view in this image is towards the west; the ISS was located over the eastern edge of the Gulf of Mexico when the image was taken. The Mississippi River Delta and nearby Louisiana coast (image top) appear dark in the sun-glint that illuminates most of the image. Sun-glint is caused by sunlight reflecting off the water surface—much like a mirror—directly back towards the astronaut observer on the Space Station.

A recent climate change meeting in Lagos

Stella Odueme in via the Daily Independent (Nigeria): Between May 4 and 7, 2010, Eko Hotels and Suites, Lagos State was a beehive of activities as stakeholders converged to forge the way forward for Nigeria on climate change, a phenomenon whose devastating impacts like tsunami, hurricane and others have since gained world attention.

The four-day summit was hosted by Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola and co-hosted by Governors from the six geopolitical zones of the country. …In all, 12 technical sessions were held in which various papers were delivered by experts drawn from Nigeria, United States of America (USA), Mexico, Senegal and Australia on various aspects of climate change science, vulnerability, impacts, mitigation and adaptation.

The themes focused on adapting to climate change and sharing best practices; UNIDO/Lagos State study on vulnerability analysis; adaptation to climate change and best practices; mitigation strategies for low carbon economy; financing for climate change mitigation activities; partnerships and collaboration for combating climate change; shipwreck and coastal erosion; post-Copenhagen and Mexico 2010 and climate change, Lagos State/World Health Organisation (WHO) partnership.

… Various observations also emanated from the summit. These were that: in terms of climate change impacts and vulnerability, there are similarities between Mexico City, New York City and Lagos, thus there is a lot that Lagos could learn from the Climate Change Action Plans of the two cities; while there are still some scientific gaps in the knowledge about climate change, current evidence about the reality of the problem are enough for policymakers to take decisions….

Adapting to the impacts of climate change

America’s Climate Choices: Much of the nation's experience to date in managing and protecting its people, resources, and infrastructure is based on the historic record of climate variability during a period of relatively stable climate. This report from the America's Climate Choices suite of studies concludes that adaptation to climate change calls for a new paradigm--one that considers a range of possible future climate conditions and associated impacts, some well outside the realm of past experience. Adaptation is a process that requires actions from many decision-makers in federal, state, tribal, and local governments, the private sector, non-governmental organizations, and community groups. However, current adaptation efforts are hampered by a lack of solid information about the benefits, costs, and effectiveness of various adaptation options, by uncertainty about future climate impacts at a scale necessary for decision-making, and by a lack of coordination.

The report calls for a national adaptation strategy to support and coordinate decentralized efforts. As part of this strategy, the federal government should provide technical and scientific resources that are currently lacking at the local or regional scale, incentives for local and state authorities to begin adaptation planning, guidance across jurisdictions, shared lessons learned, and support of scientific research to expand knowledge of impacts and adaptation.