Saturday, July 31, 2010

Autonomous underwater vehicle dives under the Arctic ice

Science Daily: The Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in the Helmholtz Association for the first time sent its Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) on an under-ice mission at about 79° North. The four-metre-long, torpedo shaped underwater vehicle was deployed from the research icebreaker Polarstern under heavy pack ice. The vehicle was subsequently recovered by helicopter.

"We are one of the world's first working groups to have successfully carried out such an under-ice mission, a goal we have been working hard to achieve," says Dr. Thomas Soltwedel, the chief scientist of the expedition. "The samples and data obtained will shed a new light on phytoplankton production in the transition area between the permanently ice-covered Arctic Ocean and its ice-free marginal zone. Autonomous underwater vehicles are opening up new possibilities to investigate the ice-covered polar seas -- areas that are of pivotal importance in climate research."

The underwater vehicle reaches a maximum depth of 3000 metres. It can travel a total distance of 70 kilometres at an average speed of five to six kilometres per hour. The planned course, desired depth and surfacing position are all entered into the AUV's computer before deployment. The vehicle then carries out its mission independently, with no connection to the research vessel.

The autonomous submersible of the Alfred Wegener Institute was equipped with various measuring instruments, which continuously recorded and stored temperature and salinity data during the hour-long dive. A light sensor captured the photosynthetically active radiation in the surface layer of the ocean. A so-called fluorometer continuously recorded the distribution of micro-algae along the vehicle's track. A newly developed sampling system collected 22 water samples at discrete time intervals, for later analysis….

The Polarstern cuts through the ice

Fire situation grows worse in 17 Russian regions: minister

Xinhua: Russian Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu on Saturday warned that currently fire situations in 17 Russian regions may further aggravate, and urged continuous supervision on some strategic targets. "The situation is serious in Vladimir and Moscow regions, that were struck by peat fires," the minister told reporters, adding that crown fires may occur in all 17 affected Russian regions.

In fact, crown fires have already started in the Nizhny Novgorod region, he said, with a flame speed at 100 meters per minute. "In six hours the fire ravaged 86,000 hectares of the area. The fire uprooted some trees. The flame crossed the lake as a pool," said the minister.

Meanwhile, in order to protect the city of Sarov, which is 400 km southeast of Moscow and equipped with nuclear facilities, four airplanes are working day and night, said Shoigu. Additionally, the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry has planned to acquire seven fire-fighting planes and helicopters, namely two Be-200 amphibious aircraft and five Mi-26 helicopters, to help extinguish the fires.

The ministry earlier said in a website statement that some 238, 000 people, 25,000 vehicles and 16 aircraft are involved in the effort to extinguish the fires that have destroyed some 1,200 homes. The wildfires reportedly were caused by the unprecedented heat wave and human negligence, and were fanned by tornados in the central and western parts of Russia, which is suffering its hottest summer since record-keeping began 130 years ago….

A 2004 fire in Moscow, shot by shakko, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative CommonsAttribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

EPA rejects challenge to climate change finding

OMB Watch: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on July 29 denied 10 petitions challenging its 2009 finding that climate change caused by greenhouse gases poses a threat to human health and the environment. EPA made the endangerment finding in response to a 2007 Supreme Court case that held that greenhouse gases are air pollutants under the Clean Air Act, and are therefore subject to regulation by EPA.

The petitions, filed by GOP attorneys general from Texas and Virginia, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other conservative groups, alleged that the endangerment finding was based on faulty science, and that attempts to regulate greenhouse gases would be harmful to the economy. The petitions were in large part focused on the groups’ claim that stolen emails from climate scientists revealed a conspiracy to cover up evidence that could call into question the science behind climate change.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson shot back at these allegations in a strongly worded statement announcing EPA’s decision. “The endangerment finding is based on years of science from the U.S. and around the world. These petitions -- based as they are on selectively edited, out-of-context data and a manufactured controversy -- provide no evidence to undermine our determination. Excess greenhouse gases are a threat to our health and welfare,” said Jackson. “Defenders of the status quo will try to slow our efforts to get America running on clean energy. A better solution would be to join the vast majority of the American people who want to see more green jobs, more clean energy innovation and an end to the oil addiction that pollutes our planet and jeopardizes our national security.”…

Unaccounted feedbacks from climate-induced ecosystem changes may increase future climate warming

RedOrbit summarizes a Nature Geoscience article: The terrestrial biosphere regulates atmospheric composition, and hence climate. Projections of future climate changes already account for "carbon-climate feedbacks", which means that more CO2 is released from soils in a warming climate than is taken up by plants due to photosynthesis. Climate changes will also lead to increases in the emission of CO2 and methane from wetlands, nitrous oxides from soils, volatile organic compounds from forests, and trace gases and soot from fires. All these emissions affect atmospheric chemistry, including the amount of ozone in the lower atmosphere, where it acts as a powerful greenhouse gas as well as a pollutant toxic to people and plants.

Although our understanding of other feedbacks associated with climate-induced ecosystem changes is improving, the impact of these changes is not yet accounted for in climate-change modelling. An international consortium of scientists, led by Almut Arneth from Lund University, has estimated the importance of these unaccounted "biogeochemical feedbacks" in an article that appears as Advance Online Publication on Nature Geoscience's website on 25 July at 1800 London time. They estimate a total additional radiative forcing by the end of the 21st century that is large enough to offset a significant proportion of the cooling due to carbon uptake by the biosphere as a result of fertilization of plant growth.

There are large uncertainties associated in these feedbacks, especially in how changes in one biogeochemical cycle will affect the other cycles, for example how changes in nitrogen cycling will affect carbon uptake. Nevertheless, as the authors point out, palaeo-environmental records show that ecosystems and trace gas emissions have responded to past climate change within decades. Contemporary observations also show that ecosystem processes respond rapidly to changes in climate and the atmospheric environment.

Thus, in addition to the carbon cycle-climate interactions that have been a major focus of modelling work in recent years, other biogeochemistry feedbacks could be at least equally important for future climate change. The authors of the Nature Geoscience article argue that it is important to include these feedbacks in the next generation of Earth system models….

A model of a feedback loop

Disastrous floods in Pakistan

An editorial in Dawn.com (Pakistan): The recent torrential rains have resulted in a truly alarming situation. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, already reeling from escalating terrorism, has in particular been hit hard. Extensive flooding has affected over 400,000 people and killed well over 400….

…The response of disaster management cells and authorities has been slow to say the least, and officialdom has in many areas been conspicuous by its absence in bringing relief. That said, however, it is clear that the scale of the disaster is such that it has inevitably overwhelmed whatever resources are available to bodies such as the National Disaster Management Authority. The thousands of people affected by the rains and floods need help, and need it fast. The stranded need rescuing while those in risk zones need to be evacuated; it is essential that the government divert every possible resource towards this end. Meanwhile, shelter, food, drinking water, medicines and clothing must be distributed without delay. Efforts made in this regard by the government, as well as civil society, could prove invaluable and save lives. The country must mobilise itself to meet the challenges posed by the worst monsoonal disaster seen in decades.

After the initial crisis is weathered, policymakers should turn their attention to the long-term measures required to mitigate the effects of natural disasters….

Friday, July 30, 2010

NOAA supercomputer tapped for climate change research

Elizabeth Montalbano in InformationWeek: A new supercomputer operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) -- the most powerful one the agency has -- will soon be used exclusively for climate research.

The computer is housed at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) at the University of Tennessee alongside the most powerful super computers from two other federal agencies -- the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation, he said. ORNL is the Department of Energy's largest science and energy lab.

Currently, Climate is the smallest of the agency supercomputers housed at ORNL. It will gain more power next summer with the addition of 22 XE6 cabinets with 721 teraflops of compute power, Bland said. Some of Climate's cabinets also will get an upgrade in late 2011 or early 2012, he said. Climate is part of a five-year, $215 million agreement between ORNL and NOAA.

ORNL has been the site of some of the earliest and most powerful supercomputers. In the mid-1990s, the INTEL Paragon -- one of the fastest, non-classified computers at the time -- was located there. NOAA's supercomputer work has focused traditionally on complex computational modeling to do weather forecasting, but the agency has been shifting its focus to use supercomputers to predicting climate change.

Recently, the agency's use of supercomputers to general 3D models garnered attention when it was used to predict the trajectory of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico….

A photo of ORNL's CrayXT5 Jaguar supercomputer

A new website offers way forward for climate change adaptation

EurekAlert: While pundits write obituaries for the 2010 climate bill, the repercussions of climate changes are already being felt across the world. We are losing species and ecosystems are unraveling in ways that managers have never before seen.

We need new tools and strategies to deal with these changes. In that effort, Island Press and EcoAdapt are proud to announce the launch of their new Climate Adaptation Knowledge Exchange (CAKE) at www.cakex.org. It is an innovative and comprehensive website to enable practitioners to manage the natural environment in the face of climate change.

"Despite the attention now focused on mitigating global warming, the reality is that some level of it is inevitable," said Island Press President, Charles Savitt. "Unfortunately, the field of climate adaptation is still in its infancy. That's where CAKE plays a critical role."

By providing foundational knowledge on adaptation, as well as new research and innovative work from the field, CAKE enables scientists and practitioners to define and build the field of adaptation. With five core resources that include case studies, a virtual library, directory, a community section, and data tools, CAKE aims to arm conservation professionals, scientists, policymakers, and others with a new, multidisciplinary approach for managing systems in the face of rapid change.

…CAKE offers a way forward in dealing with the impacts of climate change and is an invaluable tool for learning about and sharing ideas and experiences. It will allow everyone from the conservation biologist or a resource manager, an environmental advocate or a planner to network and discuss ideas in a community with common goals, learn new information, and receive access to new tools and sources of information….

Earth from Space: Smoke over Moscow

European Space Agency: Central Russia and the Moscow region are experiencing their hottest July in history, with record temperatures reaching over 35ºC posing a high fire risk. Several large smoke plumes originating from burning peat fields and forest fires are visible in this Envisat image covering the area east of Moscow.

The city itself is seen in the bottom left corner of the image. The smoke plumes are stretching over several hundred kilometres and, combined with the normal air pollution in the city, can cause pollution levels ten times the normal levels for the capital. Envisat’s Medium Resolution Imaging Spectrometer acquired this image on 29 July 2010 at a resolution of 300 m….

Social and cultural limits to adaptation

Megan Rowling in Reuters AlertNet: Long-established customs, traditional beliefs and behaviour dictated by gender, ethnicity, caste and age - all these can stop people getting to grips with the challenges of climate change. But this has yet to be well recognised or investigated, says a paper released this month by the London-based Overseas Development Institute (ODI).

…What tends to be ignored are the social and cultural rules that limit peoples' ability to protect themselves from weather and climate hazards, and to exploit opportunities that may arise as temperatures, sea levels and rainfall patterns change, says Lindsey Jones, the author of the ODI briefing.

"There has been a focus on the technological, economic and natural barriers to climate change adaptation. Overcoming these has been seen as the solution because they are fairly easy to identify and quantify," the think-tank researcher told AlertNet. "Social barriers are very hard to identify, and incredibly hard to quantify ... they are very context-specific."

To help understand the problem, Jones collaborated on a 12-week project looking at how caste and gender shape the way rural communities in western Nepal are dealing with a shifting climate, which is expected to have negative impacts in the impoverished, mountainous country where many depend on rain-fed farming. The study throws up some interesting findings. It shows that, even though the country's caste system was formally outlawed in the 1960s, it still dominates social behaviour and influences the way people respond to hazards like floods.

For example, in one flood-prone area, members of lower castes said they were frequently excluded from using "safe spots" identified by their communities, and ordered to find shelter in more vulnerable places. They were told to move or "you will make this place dirty".

How lower-caste Hindu women react to climate stresses is further restricted by the burden of their household duties, their lower level of education than men, their exclusion from village meetings and politics, and their duty to abide by their religious belief system….

Old man in a resthouse Bridshram in Kathmandu (Nepal), shot by Oudeschool, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Black carbon implicated in global warming

Science Daily: Increasing the ratio of black carbon to sulphate in the atmosphere increases climate warming, suggests a study conducted by a University of Iowa professor and his colleagues and published in the July 25 issue of the journal Nature Geoscience.

Black carbons -- arising from such sources as diesel engine exhaust and cooking fires -- are widely considered a factor in global warming and are an important component of air pollution around the world, according to Greg Carmichael, Karl Kammermeyer Professor of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering in the UI College of Engineering and co-director of the UI's Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research. Sulfates occur in the atmosphere largely as a result of various industrial processes.

…In order to conduct their study, the researchers made ground-level studies of air samples at Cheju Island, South Korea, and then sampled the air at altitudes between 100 and 15,000 feet above the ground using unmanned aircrafts (UAVs).

They found that the amount of solar radiation absorbed increased as the black carbon to sulphate ratio rose. Also, black carbon plumes derived from fossil fuels were 100 percent more efficient at warming than were plumes arising from biomass burning.

"These results had been indicated by theory but not verified by observations before this work," Carmichael said. "There is currently great interest in developing strategies to reduce black carbon as it offers the opportunity to reduce air pollution and global warming at the same time."…

A cooking fire in Khyrghizstan, shot by Firespeaker, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Past decade warmest on record according to scientists in 48 countries, says 'State of the Climate' report

NOAA: The 2009 State of the Climate report released today draws on data for 10 key climate indicators that all point to the same finding: the scientific evidence that our world is warming is unmistakable. More than 300 scientists from 160 research groups in 48 countries contributed to the report, which confirms that the past decade was the warmest on record and that the Earth has been growing warmer over the last 50 years.

Based on comprehensive data from multiple sources, the report defines 10 measurable planet-wide features used to gauge global temperature changes. The relative movement of each of these indicators proves consistent with a warming world. Seven indicators are rising: air temperature over land, sea-surface temperature, air temperature over oceans, sea level, ocean heat, humidity and tropospheric temperature in the “active-weather” layer of the atmosphere closest to the Earth’s surface. Three indicators are declining: Arctic sea ice, glaciers and spring snow cover in the Northern hemisphere.

“For the first time, and in a single compelling comparison, the analysis brings together multiple observational records from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the ocean,” said Jane Lubchenco, Ph.D., under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. “The records come from many institutions worldwide. They use data collected from diverse sources, including satellites, weather balloons, weather stations, ships, buoys and field surveys. These independently produced lines of evidence all point to the same conclusion: our planet is warming,”

The report emphasizes that human society has developed for thousands of years under one climatic state, and now a new set of climatic conditions are taking shape. These conditions are consistently warmer, and some areas are likely to see more extreme events like severe drought, torrential rain and violent storms….

More frequent, more intense heat waves in store for New York City

City College of New York: Heat waves like those that baked the Northeast in July are likely to be more frequent and more intense in the future, with their effects amplified in densely built urban environments like Manhattan, according to climate scientists at The City College of New York (CCNY).

“Manhattan is subject to an urban heat island effect because its physical landscape is significantly different from the surrounding suburbs,” said Dr. Jorge Gonzalez, NOAA-CREST Professor of Mechanical Engineering in CCNY’s Grove School of Engineering. “This makes heat waves here more intense because Manhattan cannot cool off as readily as outlying areas.” Factors that contribute to the urban heat island effect include energy demand, air quality, asphalt surfaces and exhaust fumes.

Data collected by City College’s New York City Meteorological Network (NYCMetNet), indicate that during the first July heat wave overnight low temperatures ran 10 to 15 degrees (Fahrenheit) higher in Manhattan than in Long Island or in western New Jersey, while daytime highs were roughly the same. NYCMetNet is a networked system of several hundred ground-based sensors throughout metropolitan New York that gather weather and climate data.

High temperatures do not dissipate as quickly in Manhattan as in other areas because of the large amount of stored energy contained in its massive buildings, Professor Gonzalez explained. “While surrounding suburban and green areas may perceive the same maximum temperatures, the built regions will perceive them for longer periods of time.”

Part of NYCMetNet’s mission is to study and better describe urban climate and weather by using New York City as an outdoor laboratory to observe environmental processes in complex urban environments. “Our goal is to produce the next generation of physical models to describe climate and weather,” he continued. “Our vision is to show how cities modify climate and weather to scales that are relevant to people’s lives.”…

Temperatures in midtown Manhattan and the Upper West and Upper East Sides were hotter than those reported in Central Park, Washington Heights and Inwood. Map from CUNY website

Climate extremes fuel hunger in Guatemala

Danilo Valladares in IPS: …[Tropical Storm] Agatha departed from Guatemala May 30, leaving behind 165 people dead and over 100,000 affected by destruction of their homes, crops or livelihoods. One month later, Alex added two more to the death toll and 2,000 to the number of material victims, according to the National Disaster Reduction Coordination agency (CONRED).

The storms also hit El Salvador and Honduras, where at least 29 people died and thousands were left homeless, according to disaster relief agencies. But the worst hit by the double whammy of the storms was Guatemala, one of the poorest countries in Latin America, where half the population live on incomes below the poverty line and 17 percent are extremely poor, according to United Nations statistics.

"Climate change is exacerbating the conditions of poverty and extreme poverty in the country, and above all is complicating the lives of the most vulnerable," Carlos Mancilla, head of the Climate Change Unit at the Environment and Natural Resources Ministry (MARN), told IPS.

Flooding is not the only concern. Paradoxically, one of the main chronic problems in Guatemala is drought, in the "dry corridor" in the north and east of the country. "Adapting to drought is not as easy as coping with floods. How can the social fabric destroyed by a drought be repaired? What happens when the head of a family has to migrate?....”

...Sucely Girón, coordinator of the non-governmental Observatory on the Right to Food Security (ODSAN), told IPS that the country "is not investing in prevention," in spite of having passed a law on food and nutrition security….

Patchwork of cultivated fields on mountain slope in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, shot by the Pink Slip, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Global warming blamed for 40 per cent decline in the ocean's phytoplankton

Steve Connor in the Independent (UK): The microscopic plants that support all life in the oceans are dying off at a dramatic rate, according to a study that has documented for the first time a disturbing and unprecedented change at the base of the marine food web. Scientists have discovered that the phytoplankton of the oceans has declined by about 40 per cent over the past century, with much of the loss occurring since the 1950s. They believe the change is linked with rising sea temperatures and global warming.

If the findings are confirmed by further studies it will represent the single biggest change to the global biosphere in modern times, even bigger than the destruction of the tropical rainforests and coral reefs, the scientists said yesterday.
Related articles

Phytoplankton are microscopic marine organisms capable of photosynthesis, just like terrestrial plants. They float in the upper layers of the oceans, provide much of the oxygen we breathe and account for about half of the total organic matter on Earth. A 40 per cent decline would represent a massive change to the global biosphere.

"If this holds up, something really serious is underway and has been underway for decades. I've been trying to think of a biological change that's bigger than this and I can't think of one," said marine biologist Boris Worm of Canada's Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He said: "If real, it means that the marine ecosystem today looks very different to what it was a few decades ago and a lot of this change is happening way out in the open, blue ocean where we cannot see it. I'm concerned about this finding."…

A phytoplankton bloom in the Bay of Biscay, via NASA

Biofuels could increase food production, says report

Busani Bafana in SciDev.net: Planting biofuel crops in Africa need not damage capacity to grow food and could even enhance food security, according to a controversial review prepared for the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA). The report, with case studies on six countries in East, West and southern Africa, concludes that bioenergy production can expand across the continent and provide income and energy to farmers without displacing food crops.

Potential conflicts between bioenergy and food needs can be addressed with the right approaches, said Rocio Diaz-Chavez, a researcher at Imperial College, London, and lead author of 'Mapping Food and Bioenergy in Africa', launched at the 5th African Agricultural Science Week in Burkina Faso last week (23 July).

"If approached with the proper policies and processes and with the inclusion of all the various stakeholders, bioenergy is not only compatible with food production but can greatly benefit agriculture in Africa," said Diaz-Chavez, citing the benefits of investment in land, infrastructure and human resources.

The report's conclusions were drawn from a review of existing research and case studies of biofuel production and policies in Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, Senegal, Tanzania and Zambia. It found there is enough land to allow a significant increase in the cultivation of sugar cane, sorghum and jatropha for biofuels without decreasing food production.

But the report has triggered mixed responses from farmer groups and research institutions. Monty Jones, executive director of FARA, cautioned that Africa should not trade food security for biofuel production….

Corn field in South Africa, shot by Lotus Head , Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Deadly rainstorms swell Chinese rivers, force evacuations

Environment News Service: At least 333 people have been killed in rainstorms and floods across China since July 14 while 300 others are still missing, the Ministry of Civil Affairs said Tuesday, and more monsoon rainstorms are on the way. Between now and Thursday, a new round of downpours is expected to hit parts of southern China, with a maximum rainfall of 150 mm (six inches), the China Meteorological Administration forecast.

Ships' passage through the Yangtze River's Three Gorges Dam was suspended Tuesday for the second time this month as engineers at the dam dealt with another surge of flood waters This morning continuous heavy rains caused flood flows caused the swollen river to peak at 56,000 cubic meters per second, the second greatest peak flood this year, engineers with the dam told the state news service Xinhua.

More than 100 vessels are waiting either side of the dam. Shipping services were first suspended on July 19 for the first peak flow of the year on July 20, when water flow rates reached 70,000 cubic meters per second. That flow rate was more than that of the 1998 floods that killed 4,150 people. It was also the highest flow rate since the dam became fully operational in 2009. The dam reopened to vessel traffic on July 22, two days after the peak flow.

Some of the country's other major rivers are also flowing above their warning levels, including the Jialing River, Hanjiang River and Huaihe River, the Yangtze River Flood Control Office said in a statement…

Air conditioning -- threat or menace?

Britt Harvey in the Winnipeg Free Press: It’s become the wonder drug for heat waves. Ice cubes, Super Soakers, Popsicles and pools -- whatever method you're using to keep cool these hot summer days just can't compete with the antidote of central air.

A new book by American scientist Stan Cox called Losing Our Cool: Uncomfortable Truths About Our Air-conditioned World (and Finding New Ways to Get Through the Summer), covers the health risks and political consequences of a society of air-conditioner addicts.

Everything from the election of George W. Bush to our sexual habits has been affected by air conditioners, Cox argues. For instance, he says the population boom of the southern U.S. states was made possible by air conditioning. And without that vote-rich electoral base in Florida, and Texas, Bush might have lost the 2000 election. As for our sexual proclivities, Cox argues that as the heat turns up outside, it goes down in the bedroom. But turning on air conditioners has led to more summer loving.

But much like any drug, there are side-effects to cranking up the air conditioner, and Winnipeg environmentalists say we need to kick this habit cold turkey. "We have to realize there is a greenhouse gas outcome to our consumption," said Curtis Hull, Manitoba's Climate Change Connection project manager. "The more electricity we use, the less we export to places that use dirtier forms of energy like coal."…

Industrial air conditioning unit outside Durham Regional Hospital in Durham, North Carolina, shot by Ildar Sagdejev (Specious), Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons3.0 Unported Attribution-Share Alike

Nepal's adaptation action plan finalized

Himalayan Times (Nepal): Officials at the Ministry of Environment today said the National Adaptation Programme of Action had been finalised and that it would be submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change by the end of August. The ministry had received US$ 1.3 million grant assistance from donors for the preparation of the document and it took a year for the ministry to complete it.

“This will pave the way for Nepal to receive US$ 6 million — from the funds allocated for the least developed countries — for the implementation of the plan,” said Gyanendra Karki, Technical officer at NAPA under the Ministry of Environment.

Out of 49 countries, 44 have already submitted the adaptation plan. “This is the key document prepared after rigorous homework and it specifies the programmes that should be implemented to adapt in the changing climate and all other concerned ministries were also involved in the preparation of the document,” added Karki.

The seventh session of the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC (COP7) held at Marrakech in 2001 established new funds relevant for adaptation, including the Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF) under the Convention to support 49 Least Developed Countries (LDCs) to adapt to climate change….

UK house insurance premiums to rise dramatically as climate change increases flood risk

Julia Kollewe in the Guardian (UK): Climate change will increase the risk of flooding in the UK, which could lead to dramatic rises in insurance premiums for homeowners and businesses and make some areas of the country uninsurable, the Association of British Insurers has warned. "Flood risk is the main catastrophic risk in the UK and we know that climate change will bring increased flood risk to the UK," said Nick Starling, director of general insurance and health at the ABI.

He said the pattern and nature of floods in recent years suggested that global warming was starting to have an impact: the severe floods in the summer of 2007 and the Cumbrian floods last year were caused by heavy downpours that did not dissipate.

"What our members are concerned about is the increase in areas of flood risk so that some areas may become impossible to insure," he added. He pointed to some "frankly daft planning decisions" where new homes were being built on flood plains.

The insurance industry has already warned that it may not insure new developments in flood plains if the properties were granted planning approval against Environment Agency advice….

Great shot by Peter Cooper of two mellow guys in a 2007 flood, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Higher temperature, less precipitation predicted in Spain

Xinhua: Spain woke up with alerts on Wednesday that temperatures would be over 40 Celsius degree in 12 of the country's provinces. In addition, forecasters said, high temperatures are going to be increasingly common in the future.

The Spanish State Meteorological Agency (AEMET) predicted in a report that maximum temperatures over the period 2071-2100 will rise between 3 and 6 degrees compared with those between 1961-1991. The findings also show that minimum temperatures will increase by between 2 and 5 degrees.

Spain can also expect a decrease in rainfall. The first half of this century will not see any significant changes, but there will be less rain in Spain between 2050 and 2100, with a decrease of between 15 to 30 percent in the last decade of the century.

The tendency for temperatures to rise in Spain began in the 1980s. Secretary of State of Climate Change Teresa Ribera warned that the country has to act now to prepare for the climate change. "We have to start from global climactic models adapted for the individual characteristics of our country," she said….

El Puente del Diablo on the Spanish coast north of Santander (in Cantabria), shot by Jumacuca

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Vietnam's Danang starts small to adapt to climate change

Thin Lei Win in Reuters AlertNet: …[A]t the tip of a beach on the beautiful Son Tra peninsula, just a 15-minute drive from the centre of Vietnam's booming city of Danang, people are used to natural disasters.In September, typhoon Ketsana brought the biggest floods in decades with people saying ships appeared to be simply tossed onshore. In 2006 another powerful typhoon, Xangsane, devastated the area.

So when the Rockefeller Foundation, one of America's oldest private charities, was looking to fund small-scale projects as part of its $50 million climate change adaptation work in Asian cities, the fishermen knew what to ask for.

They wanted the winch to make it easier to drag their boats safely ashore on the wheeled trolleys when a storm strikes, said Nguyen Tri Dzung of Challenge to Change, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) working with communities facing problems from climate change.

Rockefeller funded half of the $50,000 cost which includes training the community, said the Foundation's managing director in Asia, Ashvin Dayal. The rest came from city authorities and local people. …Another pilot project, also costing around $50,000, involves restoring coastal forests and setting up a disaster warning system for 450 fishing boats, which were equipped with radios to receive weather forecasts and notify each other of incoming storms….

A street in Danang, Vietnam, shot by Webber

Mexican 'climate migrants' to US predicted to increase

Zoë Corbyn in Nature News: A wave of up to 6.7 million migrants from Mexico could head to the United States to escape the ravages of climate change on crops, say the authors of a new study. The findings are claimed to be the first to thoroughly quantify how shifts in global climate might affect human migration from one region to another.

The study's authors, from Princeton University in New Jersey, say the United States should prepare for the arrival of up to 10% of Mexico's adult population over the next 70 years as a result of falling agricultural productivity due to climate change. According to the Pew Hispanic Centre in Washington D.C., there were 12.7 million Mexican immigrants in the United States in 2008.

But the study has also provoked ire from immigrant-rights advocates, who say the findings could be used to advance anti-immigration causes. In the United States, Mexican immigration is a contentious issue, and tough new immigration laws in Arizona, which borders Mexico, have sparked national debate in recent months.

The latest study is likely to fan the flames, as it warns of exacerbated environmental, economic and social problems that unmanaged and unexpected climate-related migration could bring to both the United States and Mexico. "It would behoove them as scientists to shift their focus," says Lorenzo Cano, associate director of the Center for Mexican American Studies at the University of Houston in Texas, who is an activist for immigrants' rights. "[This is] research that will contribute to the xenophobia that is already running amok in our country today."
Down on the farm

Publishing in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,1 environmental scientist Michael Oppenheimer and economist colleagues set out to develop a model that quantitatively predicts the potential size of the problem of mass human migration spurred by climate change. The team focused on cross-border migration from Mexico to the United States as an example….

A pineapple field in Veracruz, Mexico, shot by Jacob Rus, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Flood barrier construction underway in Gloucestershire

Water World via New Civil Engineer: Work is getting underway on a permanent flood barrier to protect a water treatment works in Gloucestershire, in the event of future extreme weather. In 2007, unprecedented flooding swamped the Mythe water treatment works (WTW) in Tewkesbury, leaving some 350,000 people in the region without clean water supplies for 17 days.

With climate change likely to make weather patterns more unpredictable, Costain has been called in by Severn Trent Water to help safeguard the Mythe plant. The £5.5M permanent flood barrier project involves the installation of a combination of above - and below - ground sheet pile walls, a concrete gravity wall, earth embankments, drainage ditches and dewatering boreholes.

The work itself is relatively straightforward, but Costain has to take account of nearby structures. Concerns were raised that vibrations for the sheet-piling could affect the nearby Grade II-listed Thomas Telford Bridge and its toll booth.…The improved defences are calculated to protect the WTW against a 1 in 1000-year flooding event...

Grafitti on a wall at Stroud, Gloucestershire, shot by Jongleur100

Climate pressures leading to rise in Sunderbans 'tiger widows'

Syful Islam in Reuters AlertNet: Climate change is driving a growing number of farmers in Bangladesh's southern Sunderbans region out of their fields and into the region's mangrove forests, leading to a rise in tiger attacks and 'tiger widows,' researchers say.

Finding no other jobs to earn livelihoods, people of the region are increasingly turning to the forests to catch fish and crabs or collect wood and honey for sale. But that has left them vulnerable to attacks by the dwindling number of Royal Bengal tigers that roam the Sunderbans, experts say.

…In a society where widows often have low social status and little chance to remarry, the tiger attacks are creating new suffering in a region already struggling with widespread loss of farmland to sea level rise and salt intrusion that has made it impossible for many farmers to continue growing crops.

"The tiger widows in that area are being treated as 'unwanted'. They are unwelcome at their in-laws' house and forced to return to their father's family," said Anwarul Islam, a geologist at the University of Dhaka and chief executive officer of the Wildlife Trust of Bangladesh (WTB).

Tiger-people interactions are age-old in the region, but are now on the rise as farmers who can no longer earn a living from their land venture in growing numbers into the Sunderbans mangrove forests in search of an alternative income....

Tiger, shot by Bas Lammers, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative CommonsAttribution 2.0 Generic license

NASA satellite improves pollution monitoring

Science Daily: NASA scientists improved watershed pollution monitoring models by incorporating satellite and ground-based observations of precipitation. The NASA data replaces weather station observations, and will allow states to monitor non-point pollution and improve water quality.

The research team, led by Joseph Nigro of Science Systems and Applications, Inc., incorporated two NASA products into a computer program in BASINS (Better Assessment Science Integrating Nonpoint Sources) that calculates streamflow rates and pollution concentrations.

The current model uses meteorological data from weather stations, which can miss precipitation events and cause errors in modeling water quality. With better precipitation data, scientists will be able to obtain better estimates of the amount of pollution a body of water can carry before it is determined to be "polluted."

The study revealed that both NASA products dramatically improved water quality model performance over the default weather stations. Both systems improved model performance but neither one was consistently better than the other. The NASA data systems were better able to capture the effects of water flow during storm periods that occur frequently in the summer months. This is due to the seamless coverage of the datasets as opposed to a single weather station that cannot represent all precipitation events in a given watershed….

Ansel, Adams The Tetons and the Snake River (1942) Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. National Archives and Records Administration, Records of the National Park Service

Monday, July 26, 2010

Iowa's governor asks feds for flood management reviews

Jason Pulliam in the Chicago Tribune via the Des Moines Register: Gov. Chet Culver has asked federal leaders to examine changes to flood management plans at Iowa's four reservoirs, reviews that could cost $8 million. Some of the operating plans for the reservoirs -- Saylorville, Coralville, Red Rock and Rathbun lakes -- have not seen major changes for decades.

…The reviews will include hydraulic, land-use, environmental and various other reviews to determine the impacts of possible changes. "You have to look at every single impact of what changes would cause -- socially, environmentally and economically," Fournier said.

"If the decision is made to either hold back or let out more water in a particular reservoir and flood more people, the government has to come up with the funding to be able to purchase those lands or those easements before you can actually implement those changes. That could be another long, drawn-out process. It all depends on how full-blown it goes."

Earlier this month, Corps officials said they wanted to examine Saylorville Lake's decades-old floodwater management plan. Des Moines officials said a review should include considering whether the reservoir should be enlarged.

The last major updates in the 33-year-old Saylorville reservoir's management plan came in the 1980s. The Corps' Rock Island district manages Saylorville, Coralville and Red Rock. Rathbun is managed by the Corps' Kansas City district. The Corps frequently faces public criticism for not releasing more water sooner from Saylorville….

Red Rock Dam and Lake, also known as Red Rock Reservoir, on the Des Moines River in Marion County, Iowa. Photo by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

More than one out of three US counties face water shortages due to climate change

Water Online: More than 1,100 U.S. counties — a full one-third of all counties in the lower 48 states — now face higher risks of water shortages by mid-century as the result of global warming, and more than 400 of these counties will be at extremely high risk for water shortages, based on estimates from a new report by Tetra Tech for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

The report uses publicly available water use data across the United States and climate projections from a set of models used in recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) work to evaluate withdrawals related to renewable water supply. The report finds that 14 states face an extreme or high risk to water sustainability, or are likely to see limitations on water availability as demand exceeds supply by 2050. These areas include parts of Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. In particular, in the Great Plains and Southwest United States, water sustainability is at extreme risk.

The more than 400 counties identified as being at greatest risk in the report reflects a 14-times increase from previous estimates. For a look at county- and state-specific maps detailing the report findings (including a Google Earth map), go to http://www.nrdc.org/globalWarming/watersustainability/ and http://rd.tetratech.com/climatechange/projects/nrdc_climate.asp.

While detailed modeling of climate change impacts on crop production was beyond the scope of the Tetra Tech analysis, the potential scale of disruption is reflected based on the value of the crops produced in the 1,100 at-risk counties. In 2007, the value of the crops produced in the at-risk counties identified in the report exceeded $105 billion. A separate study compared the Tetra Tech data with county-level crop production data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture; state-specific fact sheets outlining the potential agricultural impacts may be found at http://agcarbonmarkets.com/Science.htm....

US to spend $187 million on Lower Mekong Initiative

Media Newswire: The United States will spend approximately $187 million on projects to help four nations of the Lower Mekong River basin lessen the impact of climate change on water resources, food security and the health and livelihoods of nearly 60 million people.

During the annual Association of Southeast Asian Nations ( ASEAN ) meeting July 22 in Hanoi, Vietnam, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton described growing cooperation between the United States and the Lower Mekong countries — Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. The spending plan for 2010 covers environmental issues, health concerns, and education and training, with the largest share going to health programs.

“Managing this resource and defending it against threats like climate change and infectious disease is a transnational challenge,” Clinton told foreign ministers from the four countries at a private meeting on the sidelines of the ASEAN forum. “Regional cooperation is essential to meeting that challenge, to preserving the ecological diversity and fertility of the Mekong region,” she said. “We expect to continue similar levels of funding for the next two years.”

More than 60 million people in four countries live in the Lower Mekong basin, which is an area of approximately 606,000 square kilometers in Southeast Asia. The Mekong River Commission has reported that climate change most likely will increase flooding throughout the region, which will affect food production and food security….

Floating market of Cần Thơ, Mekong Delta, Vietnam. Shot by Doron, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Indonesian agriculture needs prompt adaptation

Teddy Lesmana in the Jakarta Post: Recently, we witnessed an outcry from households in our country due to prices on some agricultural commodities, especially peppers reaching up to Rp 50,000 (around US$5) per kilogram. The astronomical price increase was caused, among others, by reduced supply due to crop failure as looming climate change impacts are becoming more intense lately.

…Although the government has a National Action Plan for climate change impact adaptations published in 2007, concrete measures in the agricultural sector to adapt against climate change have not received serious attention. In reality, many farmers are confused in their field and perform adaptation efforts by trial and error due to the lack of clear information from relevant agencies.

In fact, adaptation efforts themselves are less pronounced than climate change mitigation efforts globally. Many parties still put more focus on mitigation efforts to anticipate climate change impacts in the form of reducing carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases than to adaptation endeavors.

The relationship between climate change and its impact on the agricultural sector has been much analyzed. For instance, a study conducted by FAO (2007) states that climate change could have positive impacts on the agricultural sector in developed countries. And it may also lead to harmful impacts on the agriculture sector productivity in developing countries in which the developing countries generally have low adaptive capacity due to technological constraints and the limited economic resources.

In fact, advanced technology and sufficient economic resources are two crucial aspects required in developing adaptive capacity against climate change.…These facts clearly show that we should pay serious attention to real measures in adaptation in order to avoid adverse impacts on the agricultural sector, which will eventually threaten food security in most developing countries. Accordingly, improving agriculture-related infrastructure, development of flood and drought tolerant crop varieties, and adaptive planting methods must be enhanced...

A farm on Bali in 1933, from the Tropenmuseum trove uploaded to Wikimedia Commons

Thick smog from heatwave fires covers Moscow

Reuters: Muscovites struggled to breathe on Monday and Red Square was blanketed in smoke as a record-setting heatwave that that has already ruined crops caused fires that set the area around the capital ablaze. The emergency ministry said 34 peat fires and 26 forest fires were blazing on Monday in the area surrounding Moscow, covering 59 hectares (145 acres). Experts warned the air had become dangerous.

State-run RIA news agency said airports serving Moscow, a city of 14 million, had been unaffected by the thick smoke, whose sharp, cinder-filled smell permeated the city and crept into offices, homes and restaurants via windows and doors. "This is awful. It is going to damage people's health," said telephone engineer Davit Manukov, 25, standing by the Kremlin where black clouds of smoke enveloped its golden onion domes….

Fire of Moscow in 15-18 September, 1812, after Napoleon takes the city. Painted in 1813 by A. Smirnov

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Antarctica traced from space

PhysOrg.com: Antarctica may not be the world's largest landmass -- it's the fifth-largest continent -- but resting on top of that land is the world's largest ice sheet. That ice holds more than 60 percent of Earth's fresh water and carries the potential to significantly raise sea level. The continent is losing ice to the sea, and scientists want to know how much.

Antarctica's ice generally flows from the middle of the continent toward the edge, dipping toward the sea before lifting back up and floating. The point where ice separates from land is called the "grounding line." For scientists, an accurate map of the grounding line is a first step toward a complete calculation of how much ice the continent is losing.

Such a map is a primary objective of the Antarctic Surface Accumulation and Ice Discharge (ASAID) project. Researchers from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., led a team that used high-resolution satellite images, along with newly developed computer software, to trace the most accurate Antarctic grounding line ever compiled.

"This project has been a major achievement to come from the International Polar Year," said Robert Bindschadler, a cryosphere scientist based at Goddard who presented his team's work in June at the International Polar Year Oslo Science Conference. "This project included young scientists, it was an international effort, and it produced freely available data -- all from satellites."

Much public attention has been focused on the Arctic, where ice loss is accelerating. Antarctica, however, is also steadily losing ice. NASA satellites have shown ice losses around the entire continent, with pronounced changes in the northern region around the Antarctic Peninsula. The most significant changes are likely to occur at the intersection of the ocean and the ice sheets….

Two massive icebergs drifted along the coast of East Antarctica in early March 2010. In mid-February 2010, the Rhode Island-sized Iceberg B-09B collided with the protruding Mertz Glacier Tongue along the George V Coast. The Mertz Glacier was already in the process of calving an iceberg when the arrival of the B-09B accelerated the process, leaving two icebergs the size of small states off this part of Antarctica’s coast.

No end in sight as Russia dries up in heat wave

RT.com: The unprecedented Russian heat wave continues to rage on, with July already the hottest month on record. While emergency teams deal with rising cases of heat stroke, forecasters say the hot weather is set to stay. With mercury hitting record highs in Moscow and office dress-codes eased all around, the city of 12-million is starting to look like a beach resort.

Fountains have become bathtubs with people taking every opportunity to escape from the searing heat of the capital. Other Muscovites have taken more risky dips in the river, the result of which has led to three hundred people drowning this week alone. According to forecasters, it doesn't look like Russians will have a break from this furnace anytime soon.

“This is a serious abnormality. The Russian weather service has never measured such temperatures in Moscow in July,” said Dmitry Kiktyov, Deputy Director of the Hydrometeorological Center of Russia. “According to our calculations, it hasn't even reached its peak yet.”…

Shukhov tower in Moscow, also known as Shabalovka, shot by Lite, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic

Subtributary of China's Yangtze River experiences biggest flood in nearly 60 years

Xinhua: A swollen subtributary of the Yangtze River has sent a deluge to Danjiangkou Reservoir, a major reservoir in central China's Henan and Hubei provinces, the state flood control agency said Sunday.

The water level of the Danjiang River, a tributary of the Hanjiang River, rose to 217.59 meters Saturday afternoon, with a water flow of 10,000 cubic meters per second, the highest since 1953, said a statement of the State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters. Hanjiang River is the second largest tributary of the Yangtze River, China's biggest river.

Flood gushed into the Danjiangkou Reservoir, at the confluence of the Danjiang and Hanjiang rivers, 34,100 cubic meters a second early Sunday, the second biggest deluge since the reservoir was built in 1968.

Liu Ning, vice minister of water resources and secretary general of the State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters, said Sunday that local authority should closely monitor the weather, and step up monitoring efforts against potential flood risks….

Image of Danjiangkou Reservoir by Doctoroftcm

Water and energy in the Philippines

Jorge Osit in the Manila Bulletin (Philippines): It looks like the twin problems of water and energy supply will get worse before they get any better. This is clearly illustrated by the advent of the rainy season with its concomitant flooding in many areas, and yet, the water level at the Angat dam in nearby Bulacan continues to dip and has already breached its historic low.

Ironically, there is rain falling everywhere but not much for the rain-starved Angat dam. As a direct consequence, government officials have now grudgingly acknowledged a worsening water shortage affecting Metro Manila and its environs.

The looming water crisis, to a certain extent, can be viewed against the backdrop of climate change, but essentially at its core, it is a question of management. Specifically, Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson put the blame for the shortage on National Power Corp. (Napocor) administrators who ordered last December the release of the three months’ water supply, thereby causing a sharp fall in water level from 210 meters down to 157 meters.

If, indeed, that is the case, then it can be said that the historic lowest water level at Angat dam was all man-made. Climate change impact could have played a bit role but, quite clearly, it was aggravated by mismanagement and poor judgment call.

In the case of recent typhoon Basyang, driven by gusty winds that brought down transmission lines, it caused widespread power outages that plunged Metro Manila into darkness for days, aside from leaving a wide swath of property damage and loss of lives in its wake….

Typhoon Conson (Basyang), before it made landfall in the Philippines earlier this month

Iowa dam collapses as flooding hits state

John Pape in Disaster News Network: After days of torrential rains and a record flood crest on the Maquoketa River, the Delhi Dam in eastern Iowa failed around midday on Saturday, sending water crashing into the nearby town of Hopkinton. Authorities immediately began evacuations and emergency flood control activities in communities downstream from the breach.

Iowa Gov. Chet Culver was in Monticello, one of the threatened communities, and immediately activated the Iowa National Guard to assist in evacuation and rescue operations. Jim Flansburg, Culver’s communications director, called the collapse “catastrophic,” saying the torrential rains experienced throughout northeast Iowa simply overwhelmed the dam.

“The rainfall has been massive; there’s been between 9 – 10 inches in the last 12 hours alone, and that was too much pressure on the dam,” Flansburg said. Delaware County authorities began monitoring the dam closely Saturday morning, warning residents to leave the area as early as daybreak.

At around 1 p.m., water eroded the earthen approach road on the south side of the dam’s center concrete spillway structure, sending water crashing 40 feet down into the downstream portion of the Maquoketa River…

A farm in the vicinity of Hopkinton, Iowa, near the collapsed Delhi Dam, shot by Ajasondunlap, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Glacier Park's future uncertain

Nicholas K. Geranios in Madison.com: Age has not been kind to Glacier National Park. The gorgeous million-acre park in northwestern Montana celebrates its 100th birthday this year. But many of its glaciers have melted, and scientists predict the rest may not last even another decade.

The forests are drier and disease-ridden, leading to bigger wildfires. Climate change is forcing animals that feed off plants to adapt. Many experts consider Glacier Park a harbinger of Earth's future, a laboratory where changes in the environment will likely show up first.

"What national parks all give us is, in effect, a controlled landscape where we can see the natural and climatic processes at work," said Steve Running, a University of Montana professor and co-recipient of the Nobel Prize in 2007 for his work on climate change.

Average temperatures have risen in the park 1.8 times faster than the global average, said Dan Fagre, a U.S. Geological Survey scientist. The change is visible to the naked eye, with vast moraines left behind as the giant glaciers melt away. Climate change is blamed for the increasing size and frequency of wildfires and for lower stream flows as summer progresses.

…"Glacier connects us to the very core of our nature," park superintendent Chas Cartwright said. Glacier remains perhaps the only place in the Lower 48 where all the big wild animals that Lewis and Clark saw in 1804 can still be seen, Running said. "Our landscapes are still wild and pristine and clean," he said. "When you start looking globally at how many clean, wild landscapes are still around, Glacier is doing pretty well."…

Garden Wall in Glacier National Park

African lake warmest in 1,500 years

Terra Daily via UPI: Africa's Lake Tanganyika, the second-oldest and second-deepest lake on Earth, is warmer now than it has been in 1,500 years, scientists say. Experiencing unprecedented warming during the last century, the lake's surface waters are the warmest on record, LiveScience.com reported Wednesday.

The warmer waters are linked to a decrease in the lake's productivity, affecting fish stocks depended upon by millions of people in the region, researchers say. Rift lakes like Tanganyika are created when two of Earth's continental plates move apart, expand and eventually become ocean basins over millions of years. Lake Tanganyika is 13 million years old and nearly a mile deep. The world's deepest lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia, at 5,387 feet deep.

A high average temperature in the lake of 78.8 degrees Fahrenheit, measured in 2003, is the warmest the lake has been in a millennium and a half, LiveScience reported. The high temperatures worry scientists looking at the estimated 10 million people who live near the lake and depend on fishing for their diet and livelihood.

"Our data show a consistent relationship between lake surface temperature and productivity (such as fish stocks)," said geologist Jessica Tierney of Brown University. "As the lake gets warmer we expect productivity to decline, and we expect that it will affect the fishing industry."…

Lake Tanganyika view from space, lying between Tanzania, Zaire and Zambia

Coral reefs doomed by climate change

Mongabay: The world's coral reefs are in great danger from dual threats of rising temperatures and ocean acidification, Charlie Veron, Former Chief Scientist of the Australian Institute of Marine Science, told scientists attending the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation meeting in Sanur, Bali.

Tracing the geological history of coral reefs over hundreds of millions of years, Veron said reefs lead a boom-and-bust existence, which appears to be correlated with atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. With CO2 emissions rising sharply from human activities, reefs—which are home to perhaps a quarter of marine species and provide critical protection for coastlines—are poised for a "bust" on a scale unlike anything seen in tens of millions of years….

Giant clam or Tridacna gigas. Photographed by Jan Derk in November 2002 on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Wildfire prevention pays big dividends in Florida, study finds

USDA Southern Research Station: A study by USDA Forest Service Southern Research Station (SRS) scientists and research partners suggests that wildfire prevention education in Florida pays for itself several times over by saving millions of dollars in fire-fighting costs and reducing damages from human-caused fires. Researchers published their findings in a recent issue of the journal Forest Science.

“This is the first study to document the effectiveness of wildfire prevention education targeted at human-caused fires such as debris-burning escapes, campfire escapes, children playing with fire, and cigarettes,” said Jeff Prestemon, SRS research forester and lead author of the paper. “We found that Florida’s investments pay for themselves multiple times over in terms of suppression spending avoided and fire damages avoided.”

…Researchers analyzed data from actual wildfire prevention efforts and fires between 2002 and 2007. They found that the benefits exceeded costs in Florida’s fire management regions by 10- to 99-fold, depending on assumptions about how wildfire prevention education spending is allocated to these regions. Overall, results show that statewide benefits of wildfire prevention education efforts significantly outweigh their costs, where every dollar of additional spending in wildfire education prevention efforts could reduce wildfire damages and firefighting costs by up to $35. To put this into perspective: a doubling of wildfire prevention efforts in Florida compared to average 2002-2007 levels costing a half million dollars annually would have potentially averted over 800 wildfires and an estimated $11 million in combined wildfire damages and firefighting costs each year….

The 2007 Bugaboo fire in Florida, shot by FEMA

Irish army lines up new trucks to tackle flooding

Michael Lavery in the Herald (Ireland): The Army is gearing up to deal with more apocalyptic style flooding this winter. Last November's floods were described by Environment Minister John Gormley as "a once in 800 years event," but new research shows that extreme weather leading to an increased risk of flooding will become more commonplace in Ireland as climate change takes hold.

The big flood -- and the New Year big freeze -- together cost the country over €540m. During that crisis the Defence Forces provided hundreds of troops, vehicles, flat bottomed boats, helicopters, and filled sandbags as the emergency services battled to contain the damage.

The main vehicles used were Scania 6x6 trucks and four-wheel drive Nissan Patrols and Mitsubishi Pajeros. The Defence Forces has Scorpion light tanks and BV-206 air defence vehicles which are amphibious but which are unsuitable for carrying cargo or people.

Now a new order for five all- terrain vehicles for the Army's Engineer Corps specifies that the trucks must be able to operate in a flood relief role in aid of the civil power. The new vehicles have to be self-draining to a minimum of 12 inches, and its air intake should be high enough to drive in 18 inches of flood waters. According to the documents the vehicles should provide a "basic amphibious capability"….

Some flooding in Drumenny Townland, shot by Kenneth Allen, Wikimedia Commons via Geograph UK, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Friday, July 23, 2010

Scientists to Thad Allen: Stop 'massive re-engineering' of Gulf Coast

Science: More than two dozen coastal scientists are asking Thad Allen, who heads the federal oil spill response, to halt coastal engineering projects that are intended to prevent damage from the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Calling the projects ill-conceived and poorly reviewed, the scientists argue in a letter sent this afternoon that the engineering will probably do more harm than good:

“Our concern is that the cumulative, long-term impacts of all these projects are not being examined in any scientific or thoughtful way. As individual projects, we believe that they would fail a reasonable scientific evaluation. As a cumulative re-engineering of the US Gulf coast, they become a major problem.”

In particular, the scientists are concerned about a project to build sand berms along the Louisiana coast, some of which have already suffered major erosion. Local and state officials have proposed "armoring" the berms to prevent erosion, but the scientists say that could harm habitat. The scientists, led by Robert Young of Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina, also criticize a project to fill in a gap on Dauphin Island as poorly designed and ephemeral.

All construction should cease and no new permits issued, the scientists write, until the cumulative impacts have been studied. This could happen quickly, they add. "There is still time to halt the berm project and refocus our energy on fighting the spill with traditional methods," they write. Otherwise, the projects could end up harming efforts to restore the long-term damage suffered by the coastal wetlands….

An oil containment boom deployed by U.S. Navy Supervisor of Salvage and Diving personnel surrounds New Harbor Island, La. to mitigate environmental damage from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill