Thursday, September 30, 2010

Pakistan flood victims struggle to rebuild alone

Dawn via AFP (Pakistan): As a donkeycart owner who lost everything in Pakistan's devastating floods, Jan Pervez is broke but says he has borrowed heavily to rebuild his home. Fed up waiting for government cash, the 44-year-old is sourcing bricks and cement to knock up a one-room shelter to protect the seven members of his family from the onset of winter and diseased refugee camps.

Barefoot and in rags, the family last saw their home on July 29, when they fled heavy monsoon rain and rising floodwaters with only the clothes on their backs, swapping their independence for a life of misery. When they returned a month later, practically nothing was left in the village of Hassan Abad. On the outskirts of the northwestern city of Nowshehra, the area is one of the worst affected in Pakistan's worst natural disaster.

The United Nations has issued a record two-billion-dollar appeal for funds to deal with the aftermath of the disaster, which UN agencies say affected 21 million people and left 12 million in need of emergency food aid. Floodwaters have receded but left small children, women and the elderly battling to survive on food handouts in refugee camps on roadsides, increasingly angry at a government they say has failed them.

…Amal Masud, spokeswoman for Pakistan's National Disaster Management Authority, told AFP that the organisation had started handing out the first installments of government cash payments in the northwest this week. “This is the first installment. The government will provide a total of 100,000 rupees to all the flood victims,” she said.

While people were welcome to use the money towards rebuilding their homes, the NDMA was still concentrating on emergency aid. “At the moment we are in the rehabilitation and relief phase. The reconstruction phase will start from January next year,” she said….

By mid-August, the extreme monsoon floods that had overwhelmed northwestern Pakistan had traveled downstream into southern Pakistan. The top image, acquired by the Landsat 5 satellite on August 12, 2010, shows flooding near Kashmor, Pakistan, just before the second wave of the flood hit. The lower image, provided for context, shows the region on August 9, 2009.

In search of lasting farming solutions to climate change

Isaiah Esipisu in IPS: In the semi-arid Laikipia district of Kenya’s Rift Valley province, research scientist Sarah Ogalleh Ayeri travels from one village to another, documenting methods used by peasant farmers as they attempt to adapt to changing climatic conditions.

...She is a research scientist at the Centre for Training and Integrated Research for Arid and Semi-Arid Lands Development and her study is titled "Lessons from Farmers: localised adaptations in agriculture as building blocks to climate change adaptation in Laikipia district." She said it was important that new adaptation methods be localised, then evaluated and tested before they are released for use by local farmers. In many cases farmers were introduced to new technologies that they failed to sustain in the long run.

… "It becomes very difficult for the farmers to adapt to completely new adaptation technologies. They might look lucrative at the time of introduction, but evidence has shown that most of them cannot easily be sustained locally," said Ayeri. She said that before introducing any climate change adaptation measures to any community of smallholder farmers, some key issues must be considered.

"We must first understand the preferred local adaptation strategies. But most importantly, we must know how farmers perceive climate change, how they link their existent adaptations to the phenomenon, and how these existent adaptations can be improved to be more effective, efficient and sustainable," explained Ayeri.

Examples of such methods include the introduction of high-yielding hybrid maize varieties, which have failed to survive without adequate farm inputs like fertilisers, and genetically improved dairy cattle that have been proven to be highly susceptible to harsh climatic conditions and diseases.

…The May 2010 United Nations’ conference in Nairobi, which aimed to provide advice relating to the implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity, acknowledged the importance of reverting to the indigenous knowledge in African farming as an appropriate adaptation measure. "At the moment climate change is the most important phenomenon to watch because studies have shown that it perpetuates nearly all the other challenges," she said….

Laikipia's Mount Kenya flag

Landslides in Mexico take deadly toll

Terra Daily via AFP: A new mudslide killed 16 people and left four missing in Chiapas state, near water-logged Mexico's Oaxaca state where 11 others were missing following a landslide, authorities said Wednesday. The 16 were killed in the village of Reforma in Mexico's southernmost Chiapas state, said a state official, who added that four others were missing in the disaster.

"Sixteen people have died and their bodies have been recovered. There are eight children and eight adults," state public works chief Guillermo Castellanos said. Civil protection workers and state governor Juan Sabines were on scene as the search for the missing continued, Castellanos addedd.

Another mudslide in Chiapas was reported earlier in the village of Nueva Colombia. A woman and two children were missing there, officials said….

Locator map for Oaxaca, by Ek Balam

New homes site in Bath at risk of flooding

This Is Bath (UK): New strategies are needed to tackle the risk of flooding at key development sites in Bath, according to a council report. Bath and North East Somerset Council has published a Strategic Flood Risk Assessment document, which looks at what possible defences could be used along the River Avon.

It says development sites across the city, including the proposed Western Riverside zone, are among those where flooding fears need to be addressed. It says assessments show "a number of potential regeneration and development areas are at risk of flooding, or are likely to become at risk in the future if climate change increases the severity and frequency of storms and causes a rise in sea levels. Bath is at risk of flooding from rivers, sewers, surface water, artificial sources and, to a lesser degree, from groundwater (springs)".

…In the central area there is potential cause for concern, but the report concludes it would be too expensive to build extensive defences and instead recommends measures at key points. No decisions have been made so far about what action the council will be taking but a spokesman said the information would help councillors make decisions over planning permission. Concern from the Environment Agency was one of the factors behind the abandonment of plans for a new school funded by Sir James Dyson's educational charity in the city….

Bath from Beechen Cliff, circa 1900

Global river crisis erodes freshwater security

Environment News Service: The world's rivers are in a crisis of "ominous" proportions, according to a new global analysis, published today in the journal "Nature." Rivers in the developed world, including those in much of the United States and Western Europe, are under severe threat despite decades of attention to pollution control and investments in environmental protection, the study shows. Rivers of the world least at risk are those where human populations are smallest. Rivers in arctic regions and inaccessible areas of the tropics appear to be in the best health.

This research is the first to assess both human water security and biodiversity in parallel and is the first to simultaneously account for the effects of pollution, dam building, agricultural runoff, the conversion of wetlands and the introduction of exotic species on the health of the world's rivers. The report by an international team co-led by Charles Vorosmarty of the City University of New York, an expert on global water resources, and Peter McIntyre, an expert on freshwater biodiversity, presents a grim picture.

"Rivers around the world really are in a crisis state," says Peter McIntyre, a senior author of the new study and a professor of zoology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Center for Limnology.

The analysis reveals that nearly 80 percent of the world's human population lives in areas where river waters are highly threatened posing a major threat to human water security and resulting in aquatic environments where thousands of species of plants and animals are at risk of extinction.

"What made our jaws drop is that some of the highest threat levels in the world are in the United States and Europe," says McIntyre, who began work on the project as a Smith Fellow at the University of Michigan. "Americans tend to think water pollution problems are pretty well under control, but we still face enormous challenges."…

The Milner Dam on the Snake River in Washington State, shot by Brent Smith, National Park Service

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Tropical depression over Miami

Curtis Morgan and Trenton Daniel in the Miami Herald: South Floridians slogged to work and school through a wet and heavy blanket delivered by a massive tropical depression moving on a path that would take it pretty much right up Interstate 95 later Wednesday. There was standing water in the region but no early reports of widespread flooding. Public schools in Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe counties opened as planned.

At 8 a.m., the National Hurricane Center said the system, tropical depression No. 16, remained disorganized but could still become Tropical Storm Nicole before it crosses the Florida Straits and makes landfall in the Upper Keys, then somewhere in south Miami-Dade County. Around 7 a.m., wind gusts there had reached 40 mph.

But the window for strengthening was brief, forecasters said, and the chief concern remained rain, not wind -- particularly for commuters navigating slick and in some cases, already flooded roads. Forecasters expected four to eight inches overall, steady for much of the day but coming down in two-inches-an-hour torrents when the system's strongest cells roll through….

Tropical Depression 16 shortly after it formed, September 28, 2010

Low water in Lake Mead

Environmental Expert via WaterLink International: In August 2010, Lake Mead reached its lowest level since 1956. Two images from the Thematic Mapper on the Landsat 5 satellite show some of the stark changes on the eastern end of the lake since 1985. The largest reservoir in the United States was straining from persistent drought and increasing human demand.

…Located on the Colorado River, east of Las Vegas and west of the Grand Canyon, Lake Mead provides power and water for human activities in Nevada, Arizona, southern California, and northern Mexico. The reservoir grew up behind the Hoover Dam when it was built in the 1930s, and it can hold the equivalent of the entire flow of the Colorado River for two years.

The maximum capacity of Lake Mead is 28.5 million acre-feet (35 cubic kilometres) of water, with an acre-foot equalling the amount required to cover one acre to a depth of one foot. According to records from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the lake held roughly 27.8 million acre-feet of water at its high point in 1941, and levels have fluctuated through drought in the 1950s and the filling of another upstream reservoir, Lake Powell, in the 1960s.

Lake levels rose steadily through the 1980s, reaching 24.8 million acre-feet in August 1985, when the left image was taken. But as of August 2010 (right image), Lake Mead held 10.35 million acre-feet, just 37 percent of the lake's capacity.

Lake Mead reached its August 2010 low after decades of population growth in the American Southwest and twelve years of persistent drought. According to the U.S. National Park Service, the amount of water flowing out of and evaporating from Lake Mead has consistently exceeded the amount of incoming water in recent years….

Lake Mead and Hoover Dam water intake towers, as seen from the Arizona side of Hoover Dam in July 2009. Note the "bathtub ring," showing where the water level used to reach. Shot by Cmpxchg8b, who has released the image into the public domain

Phosphate fertilizer warning for China

Jane Qiu in Nature News: Researchers are warning that inappropriate management of phosphate fertilizer and animal manure in China has resulted in serious water pollution and substantial waste of phosphorus, a non-renewable inorganic chemical. Soils in many parts of the world are deficient in the chemical, which is required for plant growth. In its phosphate form, phosphorus is a vital part of the cell's genetic material, and is also found in adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the main energy carrier in cells.

…Zhang Fusuo, a plant nutritionist at the China Agricultural University in Beijing, says China has 9% of the world's arable land and has to feed 21% of the world's population, yet its soils are not particularly fertile. An unpublished study by Zhang and colleagues, presented at the symposium, traced how the country has steadily boosted its use of phosphate over three decades.

In 1980, Zhang says, close to 80% of cropland in China contained less than 10 milligrams of phosphate available to plants per kilogram of soil — indicating a phosphate deficiency. Since then, the Chinese government has created a series of policies to encourage the production and use of phosphate fertilizer. But with phosphate use increasing at a rate of 5% per year, 85 million tonnes has accumulated in the soil. "The average phosphate content in the soil has nearly tripled and only a quarter of cropland is deficient in this nutrient now," says Zhang. "This has greatly increased crop production."

Such heavy fertilizer use has made China one of the biggest consumers of phosphate fertilizer. Last year, it used 11 million tonnes, or about 35% of global consumption, according to Zhang. With ever-increasing food demand, there is no sign that phosphate use in China will dwindle….

A longji rice terrace in Longsheng county, Guilin, China. Public domain photo by the suspiciously named Anna Frodesiak

Skeptics discount science by casting doubts on scientist expertise♠

John Timmer in Ars Technica: Most surveys of the US public indicate that scientists are popular, trusted figures. The same, however, cannot be said about some of their conclusions, as topics like climate change and evolution remain controversial with many segments of the population. A recent Pew survey gives an indication of why: even though the scientific community's opinion is largely unified on these topics, the public thinks that there is significant dispute among the researchers. A study published by the Journal of Risk Research attempts to explain why this might be the case.

The people behind the new study start by asking a pretty obvious question: "Why do members of the public disagree—sharply and persistently—about facts on which expert scientists largely agree?" (Elsewhere, they refer to the "intense political contestation over empirical issues on which technical experts largely agree.") In this regard, the numbers from the Pew survey are pretty informative. Ninety-seven percent of the members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science accept the evidence for evolution, but at least 40 percent of the public thinks that major differences remain in scientific opinion on this topic. Clearly, the scientific community isn't succeeding in making the public aware of its opinion.

According to the new study, this isn't necessarily the fault of the scientists, though. The authors favor a model, called the cultural cognition of risk, which "refers to the tendency of individuals to form risk perceptions that are congenial to their values." This wouldn't apply directly to evolution, but would to climate change: if your cultural values make you less likely to accept the policy implications of our current scientific understanding, then you'll be less likely to accept the science….

Graphic by latvian, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Egypt threatened by climate change

Linda S. Heard in the Online Journal: … There is real concern in Egypt’s second largest city due to recent media reports based on scientific studies warning that a mere 25 centimetre rise in sea levels would force 60 percent of Alexandria’s population to relocate while a 50 centimetre rise would be even more devastating.

…Unfortunately, it seems that Alexandrians are right to be concerned. Climate change experts attending a conference hosted last week by the National Water Research Council in association with the Arab League and the United Nations Development Programme are taking the threat very seriously. They warned that large parts of the Delta risk being submerged, when seawater will merge with underground fresh water, affecting the productivity of soil. Also anticipated are sandstorms, drought and epidemics.

Similar gloomy predictions are found in a 2004 report issued by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which urges the government to take such measures as depositing sand on open beaches, creating artificial dunes as storm buffers and constructing breakwaters and dikes. The problem is such measures are too costly for Egypt to implement without financial assistance from the international community. There is also little sense of urgency within government because experts cannot agree upon a timescale for the danger, with estimates ranging from 10 years to 90 years.

…Unfortunately, flooding isn’t the only potential catastrophe that is looming over the most populous Arab nation due to climate change. Thanks to major ice thaws, an Arctic Ocean sea route has opened up to cargo vessels sailing between Europe and Asia. The new route is being operated by Russia, which is billing it as an inexpensive shortcut that will slash fuel costs and obviate the need for ships to pass through the Suez Canal, thus eliminating hefty fees….

Map of ancient Egypt created by James Rennell as an insert for his book "The geographical system of Herodotus examined and explained" (published 1800 and 1830). This map shows Rennell's understanding of the geography of Egypt's Nile delta during the Greek Classical period (510 BC - 323 BC) based on the writings of Herodotus (484 BC - 425 BC).

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Sharing the pain of climate change in the Caribbean

Peter Richards in IPS: With a recent study warning that the Caribbean could lose six percent of its Gross Domestic Product annually to the ravages of climate change, some experts say that a combination of adaptation funding and risk pooling is the region's best hope for the future. "Climate risk insurance is already considered a critical tool in any comprehensive framework aimed at effectively adapting to the changing, and more changeable, climate," Milo Pearson, chair of the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility (CCRIF), told IPS.

"As the regional impacts of climate change become more apparent in the future - with expectations of an increase in extremes in weather patterns such as drought, extreme rainfall events and an increase in greater magnitude hurricanes - climate insurance will become even more critical in addressing the enhanced risks associated with these changes," he said.

The Caymans-based CCRIF is owned and operated by 16 Caribbean governments, and is the world's first and, to date, only regional fund to provide earthquake and hurricane coverage in the form of a set payment when disaster strikes. A similar model is currently under discussion by Pacific Island states, Pearson said.

The facility's recent study, 'The Economics of Climate Change Adaptation in the Caribbean', focused on eight countries - Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, Dominica, Jamaica and St. Lucia. It found that annual expected losses from wind, storm surge and inland flooding already amount to up to six percent of GDP in some countries and that, in a worst case scenario, losses could reach as high as nine percent, with wind the single largest damage contributor. This is equivalent to the impact of a serious economic recession – one that never ends, the study said…..

A lightning storm over the Caribbean, near Cancun, shot by Keith Pomakis, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license

Climate change threatens Peru’s farmers

Naomi Mapstone in beyondbrics, a blog at the Financial Times: Rising investment in Peruvian agriculture is increasing tensions over one of the Andean country’s most precious resources: water. Peru is home to 70 per cent of the world’s tropical ice fields; but they are shrinking: 22 per cent of its glaciers - equivalent to 10 years’ water supply for Lima, the world’s second driest city - have been lost over the past 30 years.

That is a symbol of Peru’s vulnerability to climate change, a phenomenon that is challenging farmers in several emerging markets, just as the world food system is being challenged by rising food demand from those very same countries.

…Major irrigation projects to divert water to Peru’s arid Pacific coastline for agroindustry have successfully transformed several coastal valleys into plantations of citrus, table grapes and avocados that Peru exports overseas. But they have also drawn heated objections by communities that farm potatoes, asparagus and artichokes and fear being left high and dry.

In the past two weeks, protests over the newly approved Majes-Siguas II irrigation project for the southern department of Arequipa have killed one person and closed down the airport in Cusco, a tourist hub close to the Machu Picchu ruins. Communities who fear losing their water to big mines have also protested, putting a spoke (or several) in the works of projects such as Southern Copper’s Tía María mine and Zijin’s Rio Blanco.

“It is of the essence to discuss matters of water, especially in countries as dry as Peru,” Roque Benavides, chief executive officer of Buenaventura, Peru’s biggest listed precious metals company, told beyondbrics. Buenaventura’s Zanja gold mine, a joint venture with Newmont, will pour its first gold bars this month, but only after a painstaking community consultation that saw one person killed during protests back in 2004….

A view in Arequipa City, in the same department as the irrigation project mentioned above, shot by MapachitoMD, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license

LA bakes in record heatwave

Terra Daily via AFP: Los Angeles baked in record temperatures on Monday, bringing sweltering scenes to the West Coast metropolis nearly a month after the end of the main August heat. As firefighters remained on alert in tinderbox conditions around the outskirts of the city, temperatures hit 113 degrees Fahrenheit (45 degrees Celsius) in downtown, the highest since records began in 1877.

Streets remained unusually empty, as Angelinos sought the shelter of air-conditioned shops, offices and homes. But in the city center the heatwave, which began at the weekend and is set to last days more, sent some locals frolicking in a walk-through fountain just next to Hollywood's famous Kodak theatre, home of the Oscars.

"There was a spike around noon that bumped temperatures up," said Stuart Seto of the National Weather Service, after the old record of 112 degrees, set on June 26, 1990, was beaten shortly after midday. Los Angeles firefighters have been on high alert for days for wildfires which can take hold rapidly in the brush and dry woodlands which surround the city….

Smog and air pollution in Pasadena Highway, downtown Los Angeles, shot by Aliazimi, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Multiple factors contribute to flooding

PhyOrg: Extreme events, such as floods or droughts, are caused by multiple factors - and must therefore be studied from many different perspectives. This is what international experts on water and climate research call for in the current issue of a renowned scientific journal. The Doctoral Program "Water Resource Systems", which is funded by the Austrian Science Fund FWF, is considered a precursor for interdisciplinary approach in this field. Thanks to the interactive education it offers, graduates from the program are able to solve complex problems facing water research.

Torrential rains, floods and record flood tides in some places; catastrophic droughts in others - one water-related disaster seems to follow the next in rapid succession. Many attribute the increasing occurrence of such extreme events to climate change. However, if indeed, and in that case, to what extent, global warming is actually the cause, has not been exhaustively investigated. One thing is nevertheless clear: if at all involved, global warming is only one of many causes of water-related natural phenomena, as such crises stem from several different factors. Which is why extensive research can only be conducted using an interdisciplinary approach - something that experts on hydrology and climate research call for in a recent publication in an internationally-renowned academic journal.

…Professor Blöschl of the Institute of Hydraulic Engineering and Water Resources Management at the Vienna University of Technology explains the necessity of interdisciplinary research: "Water-related problems, such as floods, stem from a wide range of factors: rapidly increasing water demands due to demographic growth and changing lifestyles, the depletion of freshwater resources due to environmental pollution, and the poor distribution of freshwater in relation to needs and demand. Land use planning and hydrological constructions also have a great impact. Due to this complexity, it is not useful to investigate climate, water and people in their isolated disciplines." ….

Flood protection against the Danube in Novi Sad, Serbia, by Goran.Smith2.

Flood-hit Pakistan seeks priority access to climate change aid

Rina Saeed Khan in Reuters AlertNet: As Pakistan struggles to recover from recent devastating floods, it is pushing for recognition in U.N. climate negotiations as one of those nations judged to be most vulnerable to climate change and in need of funding to cope. This summer's flooding, caused by unprecedented monsoon rainfall, has drawn international attention to the damaging effects of climate change in the region, with the United Nations describing it as the world's worst humanitarian disaster in recent years.

"Climate change, with all its severity and unpredictability, has become a reality for 170 million Pakistanis. The present situation in Pakistan reconfirms our extreme vulnerability to the adverse impacts of climate change," Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureishi told the U.N. General Assembly in September. He said the crisis strengthened the case for "a fair and equitable outcome" from talks on a new deal to tackle global warming, inching along under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Within that process, pressure is growing for a wider definition of countries that are regarded as "particularly vulnerable" to climate change - currently confined to the world's least developed nations, small island developing states threatened by rising sea levels, and African countries affected by floods and droughts….

Monday, September 27, 2010

2010 catastrophes cause insured losses of $18 billion

P&C National Underwriter: A total of 725 weather events between January and September this year have caused insured losses of $18 billion and indicate a probable link between the increasing weather extremes and climate change, Munich Re said. The global reinsurer said weather-related natural catastrophes from January to September have caused total losses of more than $65 billion and have taken around 21,000 lives.

Munich Re said its natural catastrophe database shows a “marked increase” in the number of weather-related events. “For instance, globally there has been a more than threefold increase in loss-related floods since 1980 and more than double the number of windstorm natural catastrophes, with particularly heavy losses as a result of Atlantic hurricanes,” Munich Re said.

Last month, a report by Laurens M. Bouwer, from the Institute for Environmental Studies at Vrije University, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, indicated that increases in economic and insured losses in recent decades can be tied to increasing exposures and value of capital at risk, rather than climate change.

Munich Re acknowledged as much in its statement, noting that the rise in natural catastrophe losses “is primarily due to socio-economic factors.” The reinsurer said that populations are rising, more people are moving to exposed areas, and greater prosperity is leading to higher property values.

“Nevertheless,” Munich Re said, “it would seem that the only plausible explanation for the rise in weather-related catastrophes is climate change. The view that weather extremes are more frequent and intense due to global warming coincides with the current state of scientific knowledge as set out in the Fourth IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] Assessment Report.”

While Munich Re said there is, at present, insufficient data on many weather risks and regions to allow “statistically backed assertions” regarding the link with climate change, the reinsurer said “there is evidence that, as a result of warming, events associated with severe windstorms—such as thunderstorms, hail and cloudbursts—have become more frequent in parts of the USA, southwest Germany and other regions.”…

Typhoon Fanapi on September 17, 2010, from NASA

Devastating Pakistan floods confirm climate crisis The flooding of Pakistan, affecting 20 million people, is linked to climate change and a sign of more calamities to come. It has cost the country tens of billions of dollars and set back development many years. The recent floods in Pakistan which started at the end of July and continued the whole month of Augustn and into September have been simply devastating. They also illustrate not only that climate change is a real problem, but can have a catastrophic effect on developing countries.

Up to 20 million people had been affected and almost a million homes destroyed or damaged, 10 million were made homeless and many millions inn need of water, food and medicines. There has been widespread damage to agriculture and related livelihoods.

…The Pakistan floods are partly blamed on such domestic factors as the chopping of forests and the mismanagement of land and rivers. However, the Pakistan government has mainly attributed the catastrophe to climate change. The Foreign Minister, speaking at the United Nations, stressed that climate change has become a reality for 170 million Pakistanis and that the present situation confirms the country's “always extreme vulnerability” to the adverse impacts of climate change.

…The economic loss to Pakistan is immense. A Reuter press report (21 Sept 2010) carried an estimate of $43 billion damage caused by the floods. It also quoted US Richard Holbrooke as saying that “the international community is not going to be able to pick up the bill for $20 billion or $30 billion or more”, although it would pick up some, but Pakistan has to raise its own revenue base….

A flood-destroyed bridge in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Pakistan, Aug. 13, 2010. Photo by the US Army

Uganda wildlife soared over past decade

Terra Daily via AFP: Wildlife populations at Uganda's major national parks have boomed over the past 10 years with the expulsion of rebels contributing to a fall in poaching, the authority told AFP Saturday. New statistics from data collected in 2009 and 2010 show that among several major species population sizes more than doubled since 1999, when the previous census was conducted.

"We've been able to reduce poaching by offering increased benefits to the local communities, more ways for them to share in money that comes from wildlife," Uganda Wildlife Authority spokeswoman Lillian Nsubuga said.

While the increases are evident nationwide, Nsubuga said the expulsion of Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebels from northern Uganda largely led to animal population surges in Murchison Falls National Park….

An elephant in Murchison Falls National Park, shot by Daryona, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Ohio farms more at risk as world warms

Steve Bennish in the Dayton Daily News (Ohio): Ohio should start preparing now for a hotter planet that puts a top industry, agriculture, at risk, according to the state’s climatologist. Ohio State University geography professor and State Climatologist Jeffrey Rogers said weather extremes that already have hit Ohio are leading indicators of climate change. The state climatologist, an unpaid position, is designated by the federal government as the person to keep track of the state’s climate data. Agriculture is estimated to be worth $93 billion of Ohio’s economic output.

“Ohio needs to plan for the future in which these extremes become even more deleterious to the economy and agriculture,” he said. “The typical person doesn’t notice it, but we are witnessing longer periods with no rain and a few days of heavy rainfall.”

Weather preparation doesn’t fall under the regulatory authority of the Ohio Department of Agriculture, said spokeswoman Megumi Robinson, adding she’s unable to comment on the issue.

Rogers said that Ohio is being buffeted by historic weather extremes. The summer of 2010 is the fourth warmest summer since 1895. Three of the warmest six summers since 1895 have occurred in 2002, 2005 and 2010. Ohio rainfall has become more extreme with long dry spells in the warm season punctuated by very heavy rains. With regard to agriculture and in terms of water supplies, Ohio is being hit with long periods of near drought followed by potential flooding and excessive rain that may not help the crops, he said…..

Dr. Tiedjens doing yield work in a corn field. Erie County, Ohio, in 1956 or '57. Shot by Calnut, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license

Proper storage of grain needed for Indian food security

Times of India: Popularly known as father of green revolution in India, M S Swaminathan, felt India has to provide at least 50 grain storages across the country of one million tonne capacity each for the successful implementation of the Right to Food Security Act.

"We require at least 50 grain storages across India that can contain one million tonne of grains each. For the success of this project, by whatever name it is called, it is important to have enough food in the neighbourhood so that we make food a legal right, just like education and information," the Rajya Sabha member said while speaking at the CSIR foundation day programme at the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) at Dona Paula on Sunday.

The Padmavibhushan awardee - speaking on 'Safeguarding National Food Security in an Era of Climate Change' - said the Right to Food Security Act envisaged by the government of India can only be implemented if there is enough food.

"There are 16 million tonnes of rice and wheat available with the government. India also has the world's largest public distribution system with a network of over two lakh fair price shops across the country, but storage of grains needs to be improved for it to reach all the people," Swaminathan said…

Emmer spikelets Triticum turgidum subsp. dicoccum (Schrank ex Schubl.) Thell. POACEAE or Triticum dicoccon Cultivar name: KHAPLI. Collected in: Madhya Pradesh, India, 1926 Maintained by the National Small Grains Collection. Accession number: CItr 4013 Source: USDA Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

A year after Ondoy, many still in danger zones

Pia Faustino in GMANews.TV: One year ago, Mega Manila became Water World. Tropical storm Ondoy’s record rain produced an epic flood, submerging places in the metropolis that never saw water before in its streets, or at least not that high. The devastation, public trauma, and government’s slow and anemic response prompted the usual finger pointing and vows of change.

One year later, how much has really changed? How prepared for the next Ondoy are the 15 million or so people in the affected areas? The experts agree that while there have been some technical improvements and fresh hope with a new national law on disaster reduction, the biggest risk factor remains: Over 150,000 households in the most hazardous locations are still there. [Do you live in a flood-prone area? Use an interactive map produced by GMANews.TV to find out.]

"The key to disaster risk reduction is simply relocation and engineering intervention," said Governor Joey Salceda of Albay Province. Under Salceda's leadership, Albay has been recognized in recent years as a "global model" of disaster management in local governance.

Yet in urban centers throughout the nation, so-called “informal settlers" consider relocation an even greater threat than disasters. They are willing to risk living in the potential path of destruction just to be near their sources of livelihood. As a result, relocation efforts have been slow at best.

"Of the 120,000 lakeshore and 45,000 riverbank households in NCR and Calabarzon, at best only 2,000 have been relocated," lamented Salceda. As former President Arroyo's economic adviser during the Ondoy and Pepeng calamities, Salceda had initiated the creation of a Philippine Reconstruction Commission to oversee the rehabilitation of areas devastated by the two storms…

A flood after Typhoon Ondoy, September 2009, shot by Philippinepresidency, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Tropical depression Matthew drenches Guatemala

Sarah Grainger in Reuters: Tropical Depression Matthew churned over Guatemala on Saturday, soaking already waterlogged sugar and coffee farms, and the government warned that mudslides could occur in the coming days. Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom told people to stay home and urged communities in mountains and near rivers to take shelter inland as fast-moving Matthew looked set to slow and hang over Guatemala and Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.

The storm lost force as it came in from the Gulf of Honduras and its maximum sustained winds decreased to near 35 mph late on Saturday. The U.S. National Hurricane Center said the danger had not yet passed. "We must emphasize that despite the expected weakening of Matthew, torrential rains will continue over most of Central America during the next several days," the center said.

Although it was expected to weaken, Matthew still had the potential to bring 6 to 10 inches to Guatemala and southern Mexico and as much as 15 inches to some areas. The storm was moving west-northwest and could become almost stationary by Sunday night. The hurricane center warned Matthew's rains could set off mudslides and flash floods….

Matthew as a tropical storm, September 23, 2010

Staying afloat with submarine rice

Ranjit Devraj in IPS: South Asian rice farmers are switching to flood-tolerant strains of rice as insurance against inundations. ''Submergence-tolerant rice varieties are classic examples of adaptation to climate change,'' says Uma Shankar Singh, a rice scientist with the Philippines-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

Singh, who is currently in India, told IPS that the IRRI plans to transfer its highly successful SUB1 (short for submergence1) flood-tolerant gene to popular rice varieties across Asia to confer ability to withstand total submersion for more than two weeks. ''IRRI will transfer the SUB1 gene to most rice varieties with help from national research systems since rice crops may, thanks to climate change, increasingly encounter floods,'' Singh said.

Singh said that where IRRI only provided field-tested rice lines tolerant to flooding it has now begun to proactively assist government agencies and private seed companies to propagate and distribute seeds to farmers. Field testing a new rice variety may take four to five years before release and another two to three years before it reaches farmers.

After modifying the popular Indian rice 'Swarna' with the 'SUB1' gene to produce the 'Swarna-Sub1', IRRI scientists had the new variety released in August 2009 and are gratified to see it spread so fast that it may completely replace the original variety in flood-prone areas. … Mackill and other IRRI scientists argue in favour of rapid release of the Swarna Sub1 and vow that rice varieties into which the Sub1 gene has been inserted will not have problems -- such as susceptibility to diseases or insects -- that the originals do not suffer from….

That's US long grain rice in the photo

Intense storm blasts Haiti

Disaster News Network: Months after a powerful earthquake devastated the Haitian capital, a sudden rainstorm on Friday killed at least 5 people and affected thousands of people more in the region. The powerful storm brought strong winds to the capital and came as sudden as a powerful earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince in January. It left as many as 5,000 tents destroyed, according to the United Nations.

Authorities in the capital said five people were killed in the storm that only lasted several minutes. Hundreds more were said to be injured, although exact numbers were not immediately available. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was saddened by the loss of life and damage and extended his 'deepest condolences' to the families of the victims, said Martin Nesirky, Ban's spokesman.

….Forces from the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti were deployed throughout the city in the aftermath of the storm and are helping people who have been trapped or are in need of medical assistance. "The aid community has adequate supplies in place to respond, including tarpaulins, hygiene hits, blankets and food," Nesirky added….

Saturday, September 25, 2010

ICG Report on Pakistan floods

Tariq Osman Hyder in the Nation (Pakistan): The Brussels based International Crisis Group’s (ICG) recent report, Pakistan: The Worsening IDP Crisis, makes the following points:

(1) Pakistan’s government and international actors must ensure those in flood-devastated conflict zones are urgently granted the needed assistance without the military dictating rehabilitation and reconstruction.

(2) Pakistan not only faces an unprecedented natural disaster, but also confronts challenges of stabilising a fragile democratic transition and countering violent extremism. The civilian government, already tackling an insurgency, and its institutions, neglected during nine years of military rule, lack the capacity and means to respond without international assistance.

…(5) Following massive displacement in Malakand and Swat, due to militancy and military operations in 2009, the military led the return process, leading to a discriminatory response, the precipitous return of displaced persons to unstabilised areas, and collective punishment of families allegedly sympathetic to the militants. Similar policies in FATA caused 1.4 million to flee, most of whom are unwilling to go back that is leading to anger and alienation - fertile ground for the extremists.

(6) There are very clear concerns that if the Pakistani military were to lead the humanitarian response, beyond rescue operations and emergency needs, it would again subordinate humanitarian concerns to military objectives, with the same security risks emerging.

…This latest study from the ICG which has been generally critical of Pakistan raises three questions. First of all, where is the ICG coming from and what are its biases? Secondly, is the substance of this concern justified? Thirdly, is the ICG interested in refining the process whereby it prepares its reports?

Tool to aid companies with adaptation

EDP24 (UK): A free computer-based tool developed in Norfolk to help companies and organisations around the country adapt to the effects of climate change was launched yesterday. Thought to be the first of its kind in the country, the Climate Adaptation Tool (Cat) is designed to guide organisations through the process of adapting to the effects of inevitable climate change.

It has been put through its paces by infrastructure support company May Gurney during a trial and is also being used by Norfolk County Council. Rob Bellamy, climate adaptation officer for the Norfolk Climate Change Partnership and lead author of Cat, said: “Finding practical and positive solutions to climate change is very important if we are to effectively engage people. We are talking about adaptation rather than the causes of climate change and this tool basically sets out the business case for adaptation.

“For example, Norfolk has miles of roads which, in summer, could crack because of increasingly extreme heat. To help consider the best way to adapt to that, the options - for example different road dressings - can be put into the tool and it considers what is best using a range of factors.”

The Cat challenges the temptation to wait for risks to impact and then only react afterwards by providing a framework for long term sustainable decision making. Prof Douglas Crawford-Brown, adviser on climate change to Barack Obama, said: “Adaptation to climate change will require significant investments in the built environment of communities. These must be wise investments, which in turn require spending the money where it will reduce risks most significantly. “This adaptation toolkit provides the means for organisations to do just that, helping them focus limited investment resources where they will be needed most.”

…The tool is available via the website.

A signpost in Ringstead, Norfolk, shot by Uksignpix, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Another 'Ondoy' unlikely

Ellalyn B. De Vera in the Manila Bulletin (Philippines): A repeat of the devastation brought about by tropical storm “Ondoy” a year ago this Sunday is most unlikely to happen, despite the onset of rain-inducing La Niña, an official of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) said on Saturday.

Dr. Susan Espinueva, chief of the PAGASA's Hydrometeorology Division, said there is “a minimal possibility” of another “Ondoy” occurring in Metro Manila, because the onset of northeast monsoon or “hangingamihan” is expected to begin in a few weeks from now or as early as October. The northeast monsoon is the period when cold wind moves from Siberia and felt in the Philippines, which is also characterized by a generally drier condition from November to February.

“When ‘Ondoy’ struck the country, the storm was enhanced by the southwest monsoon (hanging habagat) and modified by the topography, that’s why the effect was intense. Those were the ingredients to massive rains,” Espinueva explained in an interview.

“However, today, we don’t have the southwest monsoon as the northeast monsoon, which is generally drier, is setting in the country. The southwest monsoon usually has a tail that enhances a storm, but the northeast monsoon only affects the path of the storm,” she said.

…“During La Niña conditions, major parts of the country experience near normal to above normal rainfall conditions, particularly over the eastern sections of the country. La Niña conditions also favor tropical cyclone formation over the western Pacific, which tend to increase the number of tropical cyclones,” PAGASA said….

People of Los Baños in the Laguna de Bay area, south of Manila, were affected in the aftermath of Typhoon Ketsana. Part of the image collection of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI)], Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Goa beach erosion 'could be linked to climate change'

Times of India: The extent of erosion on the state's beaches may be a result of wind speeds driving sea waves to hit the coast harder than in the past, National Centre Antartic and Ocean Research (NCAOR), scientist, Alvarino Luis said. He was speaking at a workshop on 'National green corps: Eco clubs, the gateway to green campus' organized by the Goa state council for science and technology, ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) and education department in association with CPR environmental education centre, Chennai, at the state museum in Panaji on Friday.

…"In Goa, summers have been warmer during the last few years and the minimum temperatures are also on the higher side," Luis said. Similarly, the sea-level rise may inundate more areas, but may not cause so much erosion, though it is a natural phenomenon during the monsoon, he said.

Explaining, he said a sea-level rise of 2 mm per year is negligible but it is likely that increase in wind energy may be the cause of beaches being hit by waves of more amplitude. Stating that more data is needed to explore this aspect, he said, "We have to measure the wind speeds at different locations." Rainer Lohmann, a scientist at the School of Oceanography, University of Rhode Island, USA, said heat waves and droughts have increased due to climate change, leading to disaster-like wildfires and crop failures. Baban Ingole, an NIO fisheries scientist, said the impact of climate change will be adverse on fisheries. "Jellyfish are now seen more often on beaches. They can tolerate higher temperatures and they feed on abundantly available food such as zooplankton and fish larvae, which are also food for bigger fishes," said Ingole….

Vagator Beach in Goa, shot by Zerohund (Dominik Hundhammer), Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Canada sends in military to clean up after Igor

Terra Daily via AFP: Canada's prime minister ordered the military on Friday to help Newfoundland clean up what he described as the worst devastation he has ever seen in the country, after Hurricane Igor struck. After touring areas affected by the hurricane when it battered eastern Newfoundland on Tuesday with sustained winds of up to 140 kilometers per hours (87 miles per hour) and waves up to six meters (18 feet). "I have never seen damage like that," Prime Minister Stephen Harper told a local paper after visiting Trouty and Britannia, two of the hardest hit towns coping with flooding, washed out roads and bridges, and downed power lines. "I have seen flooding, but I have never seen anything like this," he was quoted as saying by the Grand Falls-Windsor Advertiser.

In a statement, the prime minister added: "We will be dispatching Canadian Forces personnel immediately to the hardest hit areas to provide emergency supplies and to assist local authorities with medical evacuations and the rebuilding of critical infrastructure." Igor forced evacuations of flooded coastal towns in Canada's island Newfoundland province and reportedly swept one man out to sea, before being downgraded to a tropical storm and moving offshore. Parts of the province were on high alert for most of Tuesday as the hurricane approached from the Atlantic Ocean, unleashing fierce winds and torrential rains than dumped 240 millimeters (9.5 inches) on the region. An elderly man was washed out to sea, according to public broadcaster CBC, after falling into a brook leading to the Atlantic Ocean when a roadway crumbled beneath his feet.

Search and rescue efforts were hampered by widespread flooding and washed out roads. On Friday, more than 80 coastal communities remained isolated and were running low on essential supplies with access severely hampered by damaged roads and bridges, authorities said....

Hurricane Igor on September 20, 2010, leaving Bermuda and heading toward Canada

Friday, September 24, 2010

Experts urge nimbler global response to crises

William Maclean in Reuters: …Specialists in disaster response say that nations are almost completely unprepared for the likely emergence of so-called convergent crises with the potential to plunge markets and regions into prolonged turmoil. In these multi-faceted disasters, strains like a shrinking Arctic ice cap, theft of nuclear materials, oil or water shortages or cyber crime would worsen tensions among nations over traditional issues such as trade, territory and resources.

"Old" and "new" tensions would feed off each other, spurring nationalistic stances in world capitals. Losing faith in collective action, nations could blunder towards conflict. "Diplomatic practice has not kept up with these complex threats," said Pauline Baker, president of the Fund for Peace, a non-profit group that seeks to prevent conflict. "We need a new international architecture of crisis prevention and response."

…In a news-driven era where local crises can spread globally in minutes or hours, world leaders are still too parochial in their security planning and must be ready to act much more nimbly and closely to coordinate a response, analysts say. Yet with the exception of progress in tracking pandemics and tsunamis, global crisis management is inadequate "everywhere", said Greg Austin, Vice President for Programme Development and Rapid Response at the EastWest Institute think tank.

...With larger, more complex crises in prospect, hurried Cold War-style "hotline" consultations between a handful big powers will be inadequate, experts say. But few would relish the prospect of handling the cacophony of a G20 conference call….

An illustration by Eugene Chaperon, date unknown, Wikimedia Commons

The impacts of too much communication

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute: Individuals within a networked system coordinate their activities by communicating to each other information such as their position, speed, or intention. At first glance, it seems that more of this communication will increase the harmony and efficiency of the network. However, scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have found that this is only true if the communication and its subsequent action are immediate.

Using statistical physics and network science, the researchers were able to find something very fundamental about synchronization and coordination: if there are sustained delays in communication between just two or three parts of a system, performance of the entire system will eventually collapse. The findings apply to any network system where individuals interact with each other to collectively create a better outcome. This ranges from a flock of birds suddenly dodging to the right in one unified movement to avoid a predator to balancing load in large-scale computer networks to the spread of a rumor throughout an online social network.

….“When there are no delays, the more you communicate with your neighbor, the better global performance becomes,” said corresponding author for the paper and Associate Professor of Physics, Applied Physics, and Astronomy Gyorgy Korniss. “If there are delays, for a while performance will increase, but even if you work harder to better communicate with your neighbors, eventually performance will decrease until it reaches zero. Understanding the impact of delays can enable network operators to know when less communication effort can actually be more efficient for overall performance.”

…The work … could be extended to real-life cases such a social or economic network. An example could be predicting the response of global markets to the trading of specific stocks, according to the researchers. The equations could someday help network operators to get the biggest pay off from each communication and develop an even stronger understanding of the power of the individual in mass communication.

From the RPI website, a visual representation of the mathematics in this paper

New tropical storm could threaten Florida

Disaster News Network: Tropical Storm Matthew formed over the south-central Caribbean Sea on late Thursday afternoon and is expected to strengthen further, forecasters said. As of 5 p.m. EDT, Matthew was located about 700 kilometers (435 miles) east of Puerto Cabezas in Nicaragua. It was moving toward the west near 26 kilometers (16 miles) per hour. "This general motion is expected to continue for the next 48 hours," said forecaster Stacy Stewart at the Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC).

Stewart said the center of Matthew is expected to be near the Nicaragua-Honduras border by late Friday or early Saturday morning, and may strengthen into a category one hurricane around that time. On Sunday, forecasters are suggesting the hurricane may move northeast and that has some remembering Hurricane Wilma which took a similar track in October 2005, crossing into Florida near Naples and causing nearly $17 billion in damage in the southeastern part of the state.

But according to Dennis Feltgen of the NHC, it is way too early to know where or if Matthew will go. "Folks in Florida need to be paying attention to it. But there’s a lot of uncertainty in the forecast now."…

Tropical storm Matthew on September 23, 2010, from NASA

Adaptation Fund starts delivering

IRIN: In what is being hailed as a breakthrough for a "collective effort" by developed and developing countries, the Adaptation Fund set up by the UN to help poor countries cope with the unfolding impact of climate change has finally become operational. Last week, the Fund's board approved two adaptation projects, one in Senegal - threatened by sea-level rise, less rainfall and high temperatures - and the other in Honduras, which faces increasing water shortages.

The two projects worth a total of about US$14 million are not only the first to be approved by the board but also the first to get money directly from the Fund. Developing countries had been lobbying for direct access, and have now been granted control over how to spend the funds. The decision is good news ahead of more UN climate change talks slated for December in Mexico.

The money for the Senegal project will be used to implement the country's National Adaptation Plan for Action in the areas of Rufisque, Saly and Joal, along the country's west coast, and will cover actions to protect houses from flooding, erosion and sea-level rise. The project also aims to help rice growers and the fishing community in the region adapt to increased salinization.

Honduras will use the funds to improve water management in its capital region of Tegucigalpa. At least 13,000 households stand to benefit….

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

Is 2010 the year of the floods?

Tom Freyberg in Water World: Victoria. Pakistan. Rio de Janeiro. Madeira. All of these states, countries, cities and islands have one thing in common; they have been hit badly by floods in 2010. The finger of blame should not be pointed solely at the common scapegoat of global warming, as an enquiry from the UN suggests.

…However, we have to remember that Pakistan has been prone to flooding long before this latest episode. Its topography and the monsoon season means the country has suffered serious floods in the past, albeit on a smaller scale. But this time the heavy rains were even more devastating.

The fingers of blame have also been pointed in the direction of human behaviour. A report from Reuters showed that scientists have accused poor land management, outdated irrigation systems and logging as being as much to blame as global warming. Experts said that a major factor that led to the massive flooding was illegal logging in the northwest province of Kyhber-Pakhtunkhwa. As tree roots help bind soil, naturally retaining water, a sudden lack of trees can lead to soil erosion and exhaustion.

Asad Jarwan Qureshi of the International Water Management Institute was quoted as saying: "Over-grazing by livestock - common in rural Pakistan - can also remove layers of topsoil and stunt plant growth, reducing the soil’s ability to hold water."

Furthermore, rich landowners in the region have since been accused of diverting water into unprotected villages during the floods to save their own crops. The UN ambassador for Pakistan, Abdullah Hussain Haroon, called for an enquiry into claims that embankments have been allowed to burst to protect commercial crops….

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Elevated nitrogen, phosphorus still widespread in US streams, groundwater

US Geological Survey: Elevated concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus, nutrients that can negatively impact aquatic ecosystems and human health, have remained the same or increased in many streams and aquifers across the Nation since the early 1990’s, according to a new national study by the U.S. Geological Survey.

“This USGS report provides the most comprehensive national-scale assessment to date of nitrogen and phosphorus in our streams and groundwater,” said Marcia McNutt, USGS Director. “For years we have known that these same nutrients in high concentrations have resulted in ‘dead zones’ when they reach our estuaries, such as during the spring at the mouth of the Mississippi, and now we have improved science-based explanations of when, where, and how elevated concentrations reach our streams and aquifers and affect aquatic life and the quality of our drinking water.”

“Despite major Federal, State and local efforts and expenditures to control sources and movement of nutrients within our Nation’s watersheds, national-scale progress was not evident in this assessment, which is based on thousands of measurements and hundreds of studies across the country from the 1990’s and early 2000’s,” said Matthew C. Larsen, USGS Associate Director for Water.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, nutrient pollution has consistently ranked as one of the top three causes of degradation in U.S. streams and rivers for decades.

USGS findings show that widespread concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus remain two to ten times greater than levels recommended by the EPA to protect aquatic life. Most often, these elevated levels were found in agricultural and urban streams. These findings show that continued reductions in nutrient sources and implementation of land-management strategies for reducing nutrient delivery to streams are needed to meet EPA recommended levels in most regions….

Rushing water in Cub Run, Virginia, shot by Kenneth Hawes, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

New map of global air pollution

NASA/Goddard: In many developing countries, the absence of surface-based air pollution sensors makes it difficult, and in some cases impossible, to get even a rough estimate of the abundance of a subcategory of airborne particles that epidemiologists suspect contributes to millions of premature deaths each year. The problematic particles, called fine particulate matter (PM2.5), are 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter, about a tenth the fraction of human hair. These small particles can get past the body’s normal defenses and penetrate deep into the lungs.

To fill in these gaps in surface-based PM2.5 measurements, experts look toward satellites to provide a global perspective. Yet, satellite instruments have generally struggled to achieve accurate measurements of the particles in near-surface air. The problem: Most satellite instruments can't distinguish particles close to the ground from those high in the atmosphere. In addition, clouds tend to obscure the view. And bright land surfaces, such as snow, desert sand, and those found in certain urban areas can mar measurements.

However, the view got a bit clearer this summer with the publication of the first long-term global map of PM2.5 in a recent issue of Environmental Health Perspectives. Canadian researchers Aaron van Donkelaar and Randall Martin at Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, created the map by blending total-column aerosol amount measurements from two NASA satellite instruments with information about the vertical distribution of aerosols from a computer model.

…The map shows very high levels of PM2.5 in a broad swath stretching from the Saharan Desert in Northern Africa to Eastern Asia. When compared with maps of population density, it suggests more than 80 percent of the world's population breathe polluted air that exceeds the World Health Organization's recommended level of 10 micrograms per cubic meter. Levels of PM2.5 are comparatively low in the United States, though noticeable pockets are clearly visible over urban areas in the Midwest and East…..

Global satellite-derived map of PM2.5 averaged over 2001-2006. Credit: Dalhousie University, Aaron van Donkelaar

Flood-ravaged Mexico hit from Pacific

Terra Daily via AFP: A new storm compounded Mexico's misery Tuesday, drenching the Baja California peninsula as the country tallied its dead and struggled to care for one million people affected by Hurricane Karl and historic flooding. Pacific Tropical Storm Georgette drenched the resort town of Cabo San Lucas at Baja California's southern tip, lashing the region with strong winds before being downgraded to a tropical depression.

"We have already evacuated around 1,000 families" from areas vulnerable to flooding and storm surges, said Jose Gajon, director of Civil Defense for Baja California Sur state.

Across the country to the east, the toll from the powerful hurricane that struck last Friday, mainly in Veracruz state along the Gulf of Mexico coast, rose to 22 dead as emergency crews searched many of the hundreds of towns and villages inundated by heavy rains and flooding and struggled to reach remote communities….

Tough fighting on Australian beaches

Andrew Clennell in the Daily Telegraph (Australia): Homeowners who sandbag coastal areas to protect their properties during storms could face fines up to $247,000 under tough new coastal protection laws. Councils will also be given the power to impose levies on coastal property owners to build sea walls.

Environment Minister Frank Sartor is in negotiations with the Greens to get his Coastal Protection Bill through Parliament, with the Opposition opposing it and organisations such as the Property Council lobbying to have it defeated. The Bill includes provisions for $495,000 fines for corporations and $247,000 fines for residents who install illegal measures to protect their homes from sea level rises. Residents who do not gain approval for sandbagging would also pay up to $22,000 a day in fines if they continue.

Mr Sartor's laws - which he introduced into Parliament this week - have raised the ire of NSW coastal residents. The laws apply to properties within 1km of coastal rivers and estuaries as well as seafront properties….

Aerial view of bathers on a Gold Coast beach in Queensland, Australia, shot by S B, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Glacial retreat in Ecuador

John Vidal in the Guardian’s “Poverty Matters Blog” (UK): The Cayambe volcano lies dead on the equator line in Ecuador and is the third-highest mountain in all the Americas at 17,159 ft (5,230m). It is really only climbed by serious "Andenistas" - as opposed to Alpinists - because of its crevasses and icecap, so the great Guardian/Oxfam climate expedition stopped at a modest 4,675m (14,250ft), which is nearly the height of Mont Blanc.

Okay, we went nearly all the way by Toyota pickup on a perilous track, but the wind was bitter and the snow lay deep on the glaciers. Or what was left of them.

Where, just 25 years ago, there had been a three-kilometre long, 60-metre thick avalanche of ice, tumbling off the peak, we gazed down on bare, black rock. A whole valley once filled with ice was mostly empty. The snout of the glacier was 1,800 ft higher than it had been.

…For the next few years, glacier retreat may not be a great problem around Cayambe, because the extra melt water from the icecap makes up for the lack of rain that is being experienced. But this cannot last. Soon, the melting of the Andean cryosphere - or iceworld - will impact heavily on urban water supplies and therefore on some of the poorest people in the world, who depend on the rivers, which in turn depend on the melt water off mountains like Cayambe….

Cayambe volcano, shot by Martin Iturbide, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license