Sunday, October 31, 2010

Albay to host LGU+3i climate change national conference on November 4-6

Philippine Information Agency: Local chief executives, planning managers, scientists and academe sector, civic society and community leaders, legislators, and development partners from across the country are set to meet here on November 4-6, this year, for the LGU Summit+3i in pursuit of mainstreaming the climate change adaptation program in the country [La Piazza, Legazpi City, Albay, Philippines].

Albay Gov. Joey Salceda told PIA News Service that the summit intends to to provide a venue for critical actors to agree that adaptation is a critical developmental concern that needs to be addressed to pursue and meet country's commitment towards Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) 2015.

Salceda furthered that local government units, as front liners in meeting the commitment towards achieving MDGs, must recognize that "development as usual" approach without considering climate variability and extremes, may pose as threat in meeting these development goals. "LGUs across the country must have a concerted effort to fast track achievement of MDGs, especially at the local level, to meet the 2015 target and share experiences in tracking their MDGs' progress," he said.

The governor, acclaimed "Senior Global Champion of Climate Change and Disaster Risk Reduction" by the United Nations (UN), also stressed that the powerful role of LGUs to trail blaze an aggressive and proactive climate and disaster resilient development plans/programs is enshrined in the Local Government Code of 1991.

The summit, according to Salceda, is designed to demonstrate and translate effective and efficient implementation of science-based analyses for climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction measures and build consensus towards a way forward for climate change adaptation action….

Locator map of Albay by seav, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative CommonsAttribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Speed installation of system to monitor global ocean, scientists urge

Science Daily: The ocean surface is 30 percent more acidic today than it was in 1800, much of that increase occurring in the last 50 years -- a rising trend that could both harm coral reefs and profoundly impact tiny shelled plankton at the base of the ocean food web, scientists warn.

Despite the seriousness of such changes to the ocean, however, the world has yet to deploy a complete suite of available tools to monitor rising acidification and other ocean conditions that have a fundamental impact on life throughout the planet.

Marine life patterns, water temperature, sea level, and polar ice cover join acidity and other variables in a list of ocean characteristics that can and should be tracked continuously through the expanded deployment of existing technologies in a permanent, integrated global monitoring system, scientists say.

The Partnership for Observation of the Global Oceans (POGO), representing 38 major oceanographic institutions from 21 countries and leading a global consortium called Oceans United, will urge government officials and ministers meeting in Beijing Nov. 3-5 to help complete an integrated global ocean observation system by target date 2015. It would be the marine component of a Global Earth Observation System of Systems under discussion in Beijing by some 71 member nations of the intergovernmental Group on Earth Observations.

The cost to create an adequate monitoring system has been estimated at $10 billion to $15 billion in assets, with $5 billion in annual operating costs. Some 600 scientists with expertise in all facets of the oceans developed an authoritative vision of characteristics to monitor at a 2009 conference on ocean observations….

Melbourne dams reach half capacity

ABC News (Australia): Melbourne's dams are half-full for the first time in four years as a result of the weekend's heavy rain. Melbourne Water says more than 40 millimetres of rain has fallen in the Upper Yarra catchment since yesterday morning, and 10 millimetres in the Thomson.

But spokesman Andrew McGuinnes says the gains need to be kept in perspective. "Obviously we're glad that the dams have reached the 50 per cent milestone, it's been a long-time coming, but we do have to keep it in perspective," he said. "Five years ago, dams were at 60 per cent, 15 years ago, they were virtually full.

"So you could argue that the amount of drought and climate change that we've been through in the past 15 years really has changed our perception of how much 50 per cent represents." Mr McGuinnes says the dams are still prone to dry spells….

Chaffey Dam in 2004, NSW, Australia (upstream from Tamworth on Peel River, a tributary of Namoi River). Shot by Felix Andrews (Floybix), Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Russia's hungry bears dig up graves for food

Associated Press: Famished bears in northern Russia have resorted to digging up graves in cemeteries - and reportedly eating at least one body - after a scorching summer destroyed their natural food sources of forest berries and mushrooms, officials said Thursday. The brown bears' grisly habit is forcing locals in the Arctic Circle region of Komi to mount 24-hour patrols, protecting their families and livestock with the concern that the bears might get a taste for fresher human flesh, said Pyotr Lobanov, a regional spokesman for the Emergencies Ministry.

Last summer was Russia's hottest on record, with raging forest fires and droughts wiping out woodland and crops, forcing the bears to forage closer and closer to human settlements as the winter hibernation period approaches. A top-selling daily newspaper, Moskovsky Komsomolets, reported that one body was devoured in the village of Verkhnyaya Chova over the weekend. Two visitors to the cemetery shrieked at the shocking sight of the animal tearing into half-decomposed flesh, scaring the bear away, the paper reported.

Domestic pets, goats and cattle have all fallen prey to the bears since the summer, prompting unsightly fences to go up around farmland and more thoughtful disposal of garbage. And the signs are that locals are right to be more diligent: A man in his 20s barely escaped with his life when he was mauled by an aggressive bear in early September on the fringes of the regional capital city, Syktyvkar, the main local news channel reported….

Sleeping Russian bear, shot by Julie R, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

More resources urgently needed for Pakistan flood relief

Associated Press of Pakistan: UN humanitarian agencies Friday called for urgent additional resources for the flood relief efforts in Pakistan, warning that millions are at risk of not having enough food, shelter and warm clothing as winter approaches. Martin Mogwanja, UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Pakistan, has cautioned that emergency food supplies for flood-affected people will run out in December unless additional resources are received, according to a press release issued at UN Headquarters in New York.

With winter on the way, seven million people still do not have adequate shelter or quilts, blankets and warm clothing, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). The $2 billion appeal for aid for Pakistani flood victims, the largest-ever launched by the UN and its partners for a natural disaster, is currently 39 per cent funded.

OCHA spokesperson Elisabeth Byrs underscored the need for more contributions to the appeal, noting that some key sectors such as food security, health and camp coordination and management were “seriously underfunded.” Humanitarian assistance, notably in Sindh province, where 7.2 million people remained affected by the floods, was vital ahead of the winter, she told reporters in Geneva. The water has receded in some places, but it might take more than six months before other areas dried up.

She added that one million people are living in temporary shelters or in camps in Sindh, but the humanitarian aid pipeline is being restricted due to a lack of contributions, notably in the food sector. “The humanitarian response in Sindh must be stepped up,” she urged, while noting that this is very difficult to do given the lack of funding.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) believes tens and possibly hundreds of thousands of people will have to remain in camps throughout the winter, due to persistent standing waters in parts of Sindh and Balochistan….

A US Marine helicopter flyng over a flooded area of Sindh, in Pakistan.

Adaptation 'one of most critical reforms' ahead for Australia

Sid Maher in the Australian: Climate change could put at risk buildings with a replacement value of $63 billion as sea levels rise and storm surges batter coasts. The Climate Change Department, in its "red book" briefing to new minister Greg Combet, says adapting to the effects of climate change on Australia's coastal communities, infrastructure and agricultural industries represented "one of the most critical micro-economic reforms for Australia over coming decades".

"For example, improving coastal planning today could decrease the cost of a one-in-100-year storm surge in southeast Queensland in 2030 by $0.9 billion." The department also told the minister the private sector would have to bear a share of the costs of the effects of climate change. "It is neither affordable nor consistent with sound risk management for governments (commonwealth or state) to bear all the costs of adaptation." it says.

Most of the assets and activities at risk belonged to the states, local government or the private sector, but as climate change impacts increased, so would demands on the federal government to assist with the costs of adaptation….

Under the Sydney Harbour Bridge, shot by Corey Leopold, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Tropical Storm Tomas buffets Barbados and heads west

Robert Edison Sandiford in Reuters: Tropical Storm Tomas, nearly a hurricane, battered Barbados on Saturday, damaging homes and downing power lines as it headed toward the northern Windward Islands in the eastern Caribbean, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

Packing top sustained winds of 70 miles per hour, Tomas swept over the Caribbean's easternmost island of Barbados, blowing roofs off some houses, causing widespread power outages and blocking some roads with debris, residents said.

…At 8 a.m. EDT, Tomas was located about 70 miles southeast of St. Lucia, heading westwards, and it was expected to strengthen into a hurricane later on Saturday as it moved into the eastern Caribbean sea, the hurricane center said. Tomas is the 19th named storm of what has been a very active 2010 Atlantic Hurricane season….

NOAA's projected track for Tropical Storm Tomas

NASA to help Ethiopia prevent climate change

Walta Info: The Ethiopian Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) said the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) will help Ethiopia in the establishment of an integrated program approach to prevent climate change risks through weather forecast activities.

EPA Director, Desalegn Mesfin said on Friday that the authority would sign cooperation agreement providing for capacity building and information exchange with various research institutions including NASA.

He said the agreement enables to forecast weather for 15 years. There would also be transfer of technology and knowledge among the authority, the Addis Ababa University (AAU) and the Johns Hopkins University Group of NASA. The Africa Adaptation Program-Ethiopia (AAP-E) will help install systems, institutions, and processes to scale up climate change adaptation initiatives as future sources of funding become available….

Friday, October 29, 2010

NASA work helps better predict world's smoggiest days

Terra Daily: A research team led by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), both in Pasadena, Calif., has fully characterized a key chemical reaction that affects the formation of pollutants in smoggy air in the world's urban areas. When applied to Los Angeles, the laboratory results suggest that, on the most polluted days and in the most polluted parts of L.A., current models are underestimating ozone levels by 5 to 10 percent.

The results-published this week in the journal Science-are likely to have "a small but significant impact on the predictions of computer models used to assess air quality, regulate emissions and estimate the health impact of air pollution," said Mitchio Okumura, professor of chemical physics at Caltech and one of the principal investigators on the research. "This work demonstrates how important accurate laboratory measurements are to our understanding of the atmosphere," said JPL senior research scientist Stanley P. Sander, who led the JPL team's effort. "This is the first time this crucial chemical reaction has been studied by two teams using complementary methods that allow its details to be understood."

The key reaction in question in this research is between nitrogen dioxide and the hydroxyl radical. In the presence of sunlight, these two compounds, along with volatile organic compounds, play important roles in the chemical reactions that form ozone, which at ground-level is an air pollutant harmful to plants and animals, including humans.

Until about the last decade, scientists thought these two compounds only combined to form nitric acid, a fairly stable molecule with a long atmospheric life that slows ozone formation.

Chemists suspected a second reaction might also occur, creating peroxynitrous acid, a less stable compound that falls apart quickly once created, releasing the hydroxyl radical and nitrogen dioxide to resume ozone creation.

But until now they weren't sure how quickly these reactions occur and how much nitric acid they create relative to peroxynitrous acid. The JPL team measured this rate using a high-accuracy, JPL-built, advanced chemical reactor. The Caltech team then determined the ratio of the rates of the two separate processes….

Smog masks in Los Angeles

Vietnam wants UN assistance to cope with climate change

VOV News (Vietnam): State President Nguyen Minh Triet has proposed the United Nations provide information and financial assistance to help Vietnam cope with climate change as Vietnam is among countries suffering the worst consequences of climate change. The Vietnamese State leader made the proposal while receiving UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon following an official welcoming ceremony in Hanoi on October 28.

…President Triet took the occasion to thank the UN for its assistance and support to Vietnam in its international integration and implementation of MDGs. He highlighted UN agencies’ activities in Vietnam and said he hopes the UN will continue helping Vietnam in its hunger eradication and poverty reduction programmes and in socio-economic development….

Wildfire letdowns and wake-up calls

Science Centric: With damage estimates at more than $1 billion following recent October wildfires in the state of California, an important question comes into view: how will residents, business owners, insurance companies and community leaders respond? Will people incorporate learning from the fires into decisions about whether, where and how to prepare for future fires?

Risk perception researchers funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) say some people will experience 'post-exposure letdown,' while others experience a 'post exposure wake-up call.' They say some people will not prepare for future fire events and some will not. Social scientists concede the finding is not surprising. They say the surprising thing is why - why do people who experience the same event perceive it differently and respond with contrasting tendencies?

An NSF-supported risk perception research team examined the phenomenon after a 2003 wildfire in Canada. Robin Gregory, senior researcher at the Decision Research office in British Columbia, Canada and Joseph Arvai, a professor of Judgment and Decision Making at Michigan State University, East Lansing, Mich. led the team.

They surveyed two sets of homeowners who survived a series of devastating wildfires in Kelowna, British Columbia. The fires caused the evacuation of more than 45,000 Kelowna residents, destroyed more than 300 homes and many businesses, and resulted in three deaths.

One group of surveyed homeowners from Kelowna did not lose their homes but were at risk of future wildfires because they lived in or near highly wooded areas similar to places where fires recently occurred. This group experienced what researchers call a post-exposure letdown.

These residents actually felt safer after the fires because they perceived themselves to have been the victims of an unfortunate low-probability event, and that the worst was over. As a result, people experiencing a letdown were unlikely to invest in costly and/or time-consuming measures to lower their future risks or to consider response strategies for future wildfires.

Contrasting sharply with the 'post-exposure letdown' was the feeling reported by the residents of Vernon, a community 32 miles north of Kelowna that was not affected by the fires but is situated in a similar urban-wildland interface area….

Fire crossing a California hill in 2007, shot by Richard Smith, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Climate extremes to challenge UK agriculture

Fresh Plaza: As climate change threatens to unevenly affect the water availability in the UK in the coming decades, the agricultural sector will need to adapt to new farming practices and more variable weather conditions. Researchers at the University of Reading released a report last week which details challenges faced by farmers.

The report is entitled Water for Agriculture - Implications for future policy and practice and was commissioned by the Royal Agricultural Society of England (RASE). Conducted by scientists at the University of Reading, the study shows that climate extremes such as drought and flooding are likely to reduce the amount of water for agriculture and horticulture. This will provide a major challenge to farmers, researchers, plant breeders and policy makers across the UK.

According to the report, while climate change is expected to produce higher temperatures, drier summers and wetter winters across much of England, the effects on water availability will vary throughout the country and even, from year to year, in the same areas.

Direct abstractions are likely to become less reliable during the summer and more seasonal; meanwhile, the higher-intensity rainfall in certain periods of the year will produce high runoff, and thus less water will be able to percolate into aquifers, the report says.

Different crop types will be affected in different ways, requiring farmers to change their farming practices or even move their crops to other locations. Crops that need irrigation, such as vegetables and sugar beet in particular, may be forced to shift from the drier east of England to the wetter west of the country….

Wold House Farm north east of Garton on the Wold, East Riding of Yorkshire, shot by Stephen Horncastle, Wikimedia Commons via Geograph UK, under the Creative CommonsAttribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Is the ice at the South Pole melting?

GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences: The change in the ice mass covering Antarctica is a critical factor in global climate events. Scientists at the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences have now found that the year by year mass variations in the western Antarctic are mainly attributable to fluctuations in precipitation, which are controlled significantly by the climate phenomenon El Niño. They examined the GFZ data of the German-American satellite mission GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment). The investigation showed significant regional differences in the western coastal area of the South Pole area.

Two areas in Antarctica are of particular interest because of their potential sensitivity to global climate change: the Antarctic Peninsula, which is currently experiencing a warming exceeding the global mean and the disappearance of large ice shelf areas, and the Amundsen Sector of West Antarctica, where currently the largest flow rates and mass loss of the Antarctic Ice Sheet is occurring. For some glaciers the ice thickness is decreasing rapidly, and glaciers and ice streams are notably retreating back into the interior. With 0.3 millimeters per year, both regions are currently contributing considerably to the global sea level change of about three millimeters per year.

In the study, the mass balance of both regions is reevaluated from gravity data of the satellite mission GRACE. As a result, the estimates were lower than those of conventional mass balance methods. "With the GRACE time series, it was for the first time possible to observe how the large-scale ice mass varies in the two areas due to fluctuations in rainfall from year to year," said the GFZ scientists Ingo Sasgen. It has long been known that the Pacific El Niño climate phenomenon and the snowfall in Antarctica are linked. The complementary piece to the warm phase El Niño, the cold phase known as La Niña, also affects the Antarctic climate: "The cooler La Niña years lead to a strong low pressure area over the Amundsen Sea, which favors heavy rainfall along the Antarctic Peninsula - the ice mass is increasing there. In contrast, the Amundsen area is dominated by dry air from the interior during this time. El Niño years with their warm phase lead to precisely the opposite pattern: reduced rainfall and mass loss in the Antarctic Peninsula, and an increase in the Amundsen Sectorfield, respectively" explains Professor Maik Thomas, head of the section "Earth System Modelling" at the German Research Centre for Geosciences (Helmholtz Association).

The recording of the entire ice mass of the South Pole and its variations is a central task in climate research and still raises many unanswered questions. In principle, the study could show that the continuous gravity data of the GRACE satellite mission contain another important medium-term climate signal….

The earth's gravity field, vertically enhanced

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Storm hits US Midwest to the east coast

Emma Graves Fitzsimmons in the New York Times: Amajor storm that slammed the Midwest continued to cause problems on Wednesday as thunderstorms and strong winds reached the East Coast. After leaving a path of destruction in several states on Tuesday, the storm took snow to North Dakota on Wednesday and led to tornado warnings in Maryland and North Carolina. Hundreds of flights were canceled or delayed in Atlanta, Chicago and Minneapolis Wednesday.

The storm produced strong winds with some gusts up to 77 miles per hour, according to the National Weather Service. At least 28 tornados were reported in several states, officials said.

…Several schools were closed in Minnesota on Wednesday because of storm-related power failures. In Duluth, Minn., all public and private schools were closed after the city received 7.4 inches of snow, officials said.

The storm was expected to weaken by Thursday as it continued to move northeast into Canada. At least 200 flights were canceled at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago on Wednesday after more than 500 flights were canceled there on Tuesday. As a cold front moved east, it brought storms to the Southeast. Tornado watches were issued on Wednesday in Alabama, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia...

The tower at O'Hare Airport in Chicago, which was closed during the storm. Photo by Ad Meskens, found on Wikimedia Commons

Warning on animal-borne diseases

PR Newswire: In a speech presented today at the TEDMED 2010 Conference in San Diego, Calif., Peter Daszak, a leading disease ecologist and president of EcoHealth Alliance (formerly Wildlife Trust), cautioned attendees about the rise in the number and severity of animal-borne diseases that jump to humans. In fact, approximately 75 percent of emerging infectious diseases affecting humans today is of zoonotic origin (a disease that jumps from wild or domestic animals and spreads to humans).

"Around the world a rising number of diseases like SARS, monkeypox, and HIV are spread due to trade in wildlife, and these diseases have serious public health, economic, and conservation consequences," Dr. Daszak said. "Using EcoHealth Alliance's unparalleled experience in the field, the organization is working to identify, predict and mitigate disease outbreaks."

As the leading cause of human fatalities worldwide, infectious diseases lead to the deaths of 13 million people per year, and over three-quarters of emerging infectious diseases (EIDs) originate from wild or domestic animals and spread to humans. According to Daszak, biological impoverishment, habitat fragmentation, climate change, increasing toxification, and the rapid global movement of people and other living organisms have diminished ecosystem function, which results in unprecedented levels of disease. These factors pose a threat to the survival and health of all species.

To provide a real-world living example of this very serious situation, Daszak introduced the TEDMED audience to what he calls, "the cutest, scariest animal on the planet" -- the sugar glider, which is a small gliding marsupial with huge round eyes and a long tail. "I'm most afraid of this particular little animal, because the people are going into the forests of Indonesia to catch them, bring them into captivity, and ship them around the world – straight into our homes, where we hold them, kiss them, and cuddle up to them," he said. "What easier way could there be for any one of this species' 100 new viruses to spread to humans?"….

Let me infect you! A sugar glider, shot by Alessandro Di Grazia, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Five-year roadmap to cope with weather-related hazards in Asia

Prevention Web: Fifty Asian and Pacific region governments have agreed to make risk reduction part of their national climate change adaptation policies to cope with the increase in more frequent and severe weather-related events. The calls come just as Indonesia was hit by a double disaster, a tsunami and volcanic eruption, which together have killed hundreds of people and caused thousands to flee their homes and as cyclone Giri caused heavy flooding in Myanmar and Thailand.

Officials meeting at the Fourth Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction have approved a five-year regional roadmap to establish climate resilient disaster risk management systems by 2015 that will contribute to sustainable development at the regional, national and community levels.

“This is the first time that governments agree at a regional level to recognize disaster risk reduction as a main tool to adapt to climate change and adopt a common regional climate risk management approach to reduce weather-related disaster impacts,” said Margareta Wahlström, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction.

The roadmap, known as Incheon REMAP, focuses on three main themes: raising awareness and building capacities of communities so they can better cope with more weather-related hazards; sharing information through new technologies and sound practices in climate and disaster risk management so decision-makers can be better informed; and promoting integration of disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation as part of sustainable development policies.

“I believe that the REMAP can become a guideline for all nations in the region and beyond to follow as a way to contribute to effective disaster reduction and climate change adaptation,” said M. Park Yeon-soo, Administrator of Korea’s National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), which hosted the Fourth Ministerial Conference….

Lightning in Australia, shot by Bidgee, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative CommonsAttribution 3.0 Unported license

The ‘A-Train’ satellites reveal earth's changing climate

Science Daily: … a convoy of "A-Train" satellites has emerged as one of the most powerful tools scientists have for understanding our planet's changing climate. The formation of satellites -- which currently includes Aqua, CloudSat, Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observations (CALIPSO) and Aura satellites -- barrels across the equator each day at around 1:30 p.m. local time each afternoon, giving the constellation its name; the "A" stands for "afternoon."

Together, these four satellites contain 15 separate scientific instruments that observe the same path of Earth's atmosphere and surface at a broad swath of wavelengths. At the front of the train, Aqua carries instruments that produce measurements of temperature, water vapor, and rainfall. Next in line, CloudSat, a cooperative effort between NASA and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), and CALIPSO, a joint effort of the French space agency Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (CNES) and NASA, have high-tech laser and radar instruments that offer three-dimensional views of clouds and airborne particles called aerosols. And the caboose, Aura, has a suite of instruments that produce high-resolution vertical maps of greenhouse gases, among many other atmospheric constituents.

In coming months, the A-Train will expand with the launch of NASA's aerosol-sensing Glory satellite and the carbon-tracking Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2 (OCO-2) satellite. In 2010, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) plans to launch the Global Change Observation Mission-Water (GCOM-W1), which will monitor ocean circulation. Meanwhile, a fifth satellite, France's Polarization and Anistropy of Reflectances for Atmospheric Science coupled with Observations from a Lidar (PARASOL), which studies aerosols, is easing out of an A-Train orbit as its fuel supplies dwindles….

Artist's conception of the A-Train, from NASA

Move Indonesia's capital?

Veby Mega in Reuters AlertNet: Sea level rise, worsening flooding and land subsidence in and around Jakarta have prompted Indonesian officials to resurrect plans to move the country's capital - but local residents and experts say Jakarta itself will not survive unless it adapts to cope with climate change.

Plans to relocate Indonesia's central government, parliament and public offices to another province on the island of Java or to another island in the Indonesian archipelago have been proposed on and off since the 1930s because of problems in Jakarta including overcrowding and rising sea level, which has led to worsening flooding. But environmental experts now say a move is urgent to allow officials to soften the impact of climate change on the congested city of 9.6 million people.

"Moving the capital will reduce the city's burden to provide infrastructure and services to its people so that authorities can start re-planning city development," said Sonny Keraf, Indonesia's environment minister between 1999 and 2001, and now a university professor and environmental expert. Still, "in terms of climate change adaptation, it won't be easy," he added.

While a number of locations for a new capital have been considered over the years, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, parliamentarians and other officials now believe the island of Kalimantan, formerly known as Borneo, is the best choice….

From the Tropenmuseum Collection, available at Wikimedia Commons, a scene from a 1949 flood in Jakarta

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Study says climate change could make Yosemite National Park hotter than Sacramento

Kurt Repanshek in National Parks Traveler (US): By the end of the century, climate change could drive typical temperatures in Yosemite, Sequoia, Kings Canyon, Death Valley and other national parks in California more than 7 degrees hotter than they were in the later half of the 20th century, according to a new study.

The 34-page report from the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization and the Natural Resources Defense Council, which earlier this year released similar studies on how climate change could impact Glacier National Park and Shenandoah National Park, warns of not only biological change driven by these higher temperatures, but also of economic fallout.

“The natural and cultural resources of California’s national parks are directly linked to over one billion dollars in economic activity and 19,000 jobs," said Theo Spencer, a senior advocate in NRDC's Climate Center. "By acting now to reduce the pollution that causes global warming we will preserve these jobs and create new ones while continuing America's long-standing position of technological leadership.”

Part of the hit on California's economy could be waning tourism to these park icons. While hotter temperatures might initially see more people head into the High Sierra parks of Yosemite, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon, or to coastal parks such as Point Reyes National Seashore and Redwood National Park, "... as temperatures get too hot, outdoor recreation even in the mountains becomes less pleasant, and people may find other ways to get a break from the heat," the report notes…..

Great shot of Yosemite Falls by Reinhard Jahn, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Germany license

Use drought to promote long-term water saving

An astute letter in the Weekend Post (South Africa): Both Andrew Muir (“Drought may be part of region’s permanent climate pattern”, The Herald, September 21) and Lee-Anne Butler (“East Cape needs to tighten drought belt”, The Herald, September 22) have written excellent articles that bring the drought issue into the bigger picture of climate change.

…This is also a perfect opportunity to launch a widespread promotion and local production of water harvesting systems that could be subsidised for individual houses. This investment would be critical not only for increasing our water supply, but also and very importantly for bringing back the reality and the value of water that many take for granted.

Disaster funds should not only try to overcome short-term issues such as lack of water. They should also be used for longer term purposes by, for instance, teaching individuals about climate change and peak oil (the time when maximum extraction of oil is reached).

…Individual mobilisation and preparedness are important ways to mitigate and adapt to climate change and peak oil threats. Water demand management and saving should therefore be priorities (before any expensive investment to secure a water supply increase) in order to foster individual understanding, pragmatism and resilience. Reduction of unaccounted for water use, use of prepaid meters and sewage recycling should therefore be entertained before the desalinisation plant is considered….

Thai flood death toll rises to 59; Bangkok escapes damage as defenses hold

Supunnabul Suwannakij in Bloomberg News: Thailand said the death toll from weeks of flooding across 36 provinces rose to 59, as Bangkok escaped major damage after bolstering the city’s defenses. Floods have affected at least 3.2 million people and damaged 3.5 million rai (1.4 million acres) of agricultural land, the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation said today. Heavy rain may cause flash floods and landslides in 15 southern provinces before the end of the month, the agency said.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who called the floods the worst in 50 years, pledged to give 5,000 baht ($167) to families in the worst-hit areas as part of a 2.9 billion baht special budget. The finance ministry today cut its forecast for economic growth this year to 7.4 percent from 7.6 percent, and said the disaster may cause as much as 20.2 billion baht of damage.

Floodwaters receded in 11 provinces, leaving 25 still inundated, the disaster prevention department said. The death toll since Oct. 10 rose to 59, according to the Emergency Medical Institution of Thailand.

Bangkok experienced only minor flooding along the Chao Phraya river as the city’s 77-kilometer-long flood-protection system held, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration said. Authorities are looking at ways to drain water away from the capital before a period of high tides starts on Nov. 8….

The Chao Phraya River in Bangkok, shot by Swaminathan, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Adapting UK buildings to cope with climate change

Process and Control Today: The Technology Strategy Board is to invest £2.4 million to help building design teams develop strategies for buildings in the UK so that they are better able to adapt to the changing climate. As part of its work supporting innovations that will help to address some of society’s key sustainability challenges, the Technology Strategy Board is to award contracts to twenty six companies to develop climate adaptation strategies for their buildings.

The adaptation strategies to be developed will cover both planned buildings that are now at the design stage and large non-domestic buildings that are about to be refurbished. Iain Gray, Chief Executive of the Technology Strategy Board, said: “This investment is a fine example of the Technology Strategy Board supporting innovation that develops sustainable solutions for society while at the same time creating new markets for the UK economy. Innovation is crucial to British businesses and through investments such as this we are working to help businesses take advantage of future market opportunities.

“We are already designing and constructing buildings that use less energy and reduce CO2 emissions. The challenge now is to make sure our buildings are resilient and adaptable to the climate change that we will see over the coming decades.”…

Tower and moat of Caerlaverock Castle, shot by Damnonii, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Heat rises, fishing falls in the Venezuelan Caribbean

Humberto Márquez in IPS via Tierramérica: In the Southern Caribbean, along the Venezuelan coast, fishing is on the decline, surface waters are warming, rivers discharge tonnes of waste into the sea -- the waves seem to be licking the wounds left by these phenomena and devastating fishing practices like bottom trawling.

"Fish catches have already been reduced. The rivers that flow here pollute the sea and the waters are warming, so the fish are following other routes. What we used to catch 15 miles from the coast and six metres deep now we have to seek at 50 to 60 miles out and more than 20 metres deep -- and with inadequate boats," fisherman Daniel Córdoba, from Carenero, 80 kilometres east of Caracas, told Tierramérica.

Venezuela, a nation of 28 million people, produces about 400,000 tonnes of fish annually, according to the Socialist Institute of Fishing and Aquaculture, and has some 30,000 fishers working along its coasts, mostly in small-scale operations.

"A few years ago, along this strip of coastline, on any given day you saw a few dozen boats out fishing. I go out every day, and I think now, at times, there could be as many as a thousand," Cedrick McGregor, a veteran fisherman of Jamaican origin, told Tierramérica. Luis Acuña, an expert with the harpoon, agrees with Córdoba and McGregor that "what we used to catch on one or two days of fishing now takes four or five."….

Venezuelan fishing ships at anchor, shot by Wilfredo R Rodriguez H, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Disaster-prone Asia-Pacific lacks preparedness

Associated Press of Pakistan: Countries in Asia and the Pacific are four times more prone to natural disasters than those in Africa and 25 times more vulnerable than Europeans or North Americans, a United Nations report released Tuesday finds. Future disaster risk reduction strategies in the region should be considered within broader development frameworks and multisectoral budgetary processes that address economic inequities and social and environmental imbalances, according to the study, which was unveiled at the 4th Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Incheon, South Korea.

The first of its kind, the Asia-Pacific Disaster Report 2010 - prepared by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR)notes that natural disasters had disproportionate impacts on human development in the region.

The region lacked comprehensive natural disasters assessment capacity, the reports notes, adding that while it generated one quarter of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP), it accounted for 85 per cent of deaths and 42 per cent of global economic losses due to natural disasters. The report considers the socio-economic impact of disasters, and suggests ways of reducing vulnerability to disasters to protect development gains.

It emphasizes that disaster losses are linked to and exacerbated by poverty, and that the vulnerability of the poor stems from multifaceted socio-economic and environmental imbalances. “Unless these imbalances are addressed, people who are constantly exposed to disaster risk are more likely to remain poor and more vulnerable to disasters, perpetuating a vicious cycle from which it is extremely difficult to break free,” said Noeleen Heyzer, the Executive Secretary of ESCAP, in a joint statement with Margareta Wahlstrom, the UN Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction…

Crowds of local residents affected by Tropical Cyclone Sidr await the delivery of fresh water. US Navy photograph

Study sees changing intensity of storms from warming

Morgan Bettex in the MIT News Office: Weather systems in the Southern and Northern hemispheres will respond differently to global warming, according to an MIT atmospheric scientist’s analysis that suggests the warming of the planet will affect the availability of energy to fuel extratropical storms, or large-scale weather systems that occur at Earth’s middle latitudes. The resulting changes will depend on the hemisphere and season, the study found.
More intense storms will occur in the Southern Hemisphere throughout the year, whereas in the Northern Hemisphere, the change in storminess will depend on the season — with more intense storms occurring in the winter and weaker storms in the summer. The responses are different because even though the atmosphere will get warmer and more humid due to global warming, not all of the increased energy of the atmosphere will be available to power extratropical storms. It turns out that the changes in available energy depend on the hemisphere and season, according to the study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Fewer extratropical storms during the summer in the Northern Hemisphere could lead to increased air pollution, as “there would be less movement of air to prevent the buildup of pollutants in the atmosphere,” says author Paul O’Gorman, the Victor P. Starr Career Development Assistant Professor of Atmospheric Science in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. Likewise, stronger storms year-round in the Southern Hemisphere would lead to stronger winds over the Antarctic Ocean, which would impact ocean circulation. Because the ocean circulation redistributes heat throughout the world’s oceans, any change could impact the global climate.
…Although the analysis suggests that global warming will result in weaker Northern Hemisphere storms during the summer, O’Gorman says that it’s difficult to determine the degree to which those storms will weaken. That depends on the interaction between the atmosphere and the oceans, and for the Northern Hemisphere, this interaction is linked to how quickly the Arctic Ocean ice disappears. Unfortunately, climate scientists don’t yet know the long-term rate of melting…

Storm approaching Anna Bay in New South Wales, Australia, shot by Warrenlead69, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Water scarcity in US west gets serious

David A. Gabel in Environmental News Network: Water scarcity has always been a problem in the southwestern desert, with practically everyone relying on one river, the Colorado, to quench their thirst and the thirst of their crops. Increased water demands coupled with a long protracted drought in the Upper Colorado River Basin has created a potentially dire situation. The effects can be seen in Lake Mead, the giant lake along the border of Arizona and Nevada. Lake Mead has reached its lowest levels since 1937, the year the Hoover Dam was completed.

…The fastest growing region in the US is the southwest.. Unfortunately, it is the region that can least afford massive population increases. Places like the Las Vegas metropolitan area in Nevada and the Valley of the Sun in Arizona have grown by leaps and bounds in past few decades. Phoenix is now the nation's fifth largest city. Recent economic turbulence may have put a damper on that growth, but the higher water demand is still there.

Increased demand is a key factor, but perhaps not as important as the lack of rainfall across the southwest which feeds Lake Mead. According to the US Department of the Interior's Bureau of Reclamation, the Upper Colorado River Basin has had only 89 percent of its average precipitation for 2010. They predict that this autumn, the temperature will remain above average and precipitation below average, leading to worsening conditions.

The current drought began way back in October 1999. At that point, Lake Powell, the second largest reservoir in the US located along the Arizona-Utah border, was near full capacity. Over the next five years, inflow into the lake was about half of the average. It has increased somewhat since then, but remains low.

At this point, nobody is able to predict when the drought will end. Normally, droughts occur as a natural climate variation, and the pendulum always swings back towards a wetter climate. However, the current drought has lasted much longer than normal, and local residents have become concerned with possible consequences….

Lake Powell with the "bathtub ring" from receding water visible. Shot by Davejenk1ns, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Drought brings Amazon tributary to lowest level in a century

Tom Phillips in the Guardian (UK): One of the most important tributaries of the Amazon river has fallen to its lowest level in over a century, following a fierce drought that has isolated tens of thousands of rainforest inhabitants and raised concerns about the possible impact of climate change on the region.

The drought currently affecting swaths of north and west Amazonia has been described as the one of the worst in the last 40 years, with the Rio Negro or Black river, which flows into the world-famous Rio Amazonas, reportedly hitting its lowest levels since records began in 1902 on Sunday. In 24 hours the level of the Rio Negro near Manaus in Brazil dropped 6cm to 13.63 metres, a historic low.

The Solimoes and Amazonas rivers have also seen their waters plunge since early August, stranding village dwellers who rely on the Amazon's waterways for transport and food and marooning wooden boats on brown sand banks.

According to local authorities nearly half of Amazonas state's 62 municipalities have declared states of emergency, among them Manaquiri, one of the worst hit areas during the last major drought in the region in 2005. That year thousands of families were forced to abandon their homes and schools closed for lack of students.

Authorities say around 62,000 families have been affected by this year's receding rivers and on Friday the federal government announced $13.5m (£8.5m) in aid for the region….

A sunset over Brazil's Rio Negro in wetter times, shot by P199, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Norway says more aid needed to save Indonesian forest

Sunanda Creagh in Reuters: Indonesia could match Brazil's success in slowing deforestation but needs far more aid from rich nations such as the United States, Japan and the European Union, Norway's environment minister said on Monday. Norway has signed a $1 billion climate deal with Indonesia, under which Jakarta has agreed to impose a two-year ban on new permits to clear natural forests.

Norway has already released $30 million of the funds, with the bulk to be paid out later after Indonesia proves greenhouse gas emissions have gone down and an independent audit is done. But more aid is needed to save Indonesia's forests, said Norwegian environment minister Erik Solheim.

"$1 billion is a huge amount of money but Indonesia needs quite substantially more to be able to conserve and sustainably manage its forests," Solheim told Reuters in an interview in Jakarta, where he is meeting Indonesian officials. "The United States should come in, Japan, other European nations could come into this scheme to make it robust enough."…

A forest on Java in 1915 or 1916, from the Tropenmuseum Collection, Wikimedia Commons

Monday, October 25, 2010

Wildlife health reporting tools may help prevent human illness

A very cool idea from the US Geological survey: Two new tools that enable the public to report sick or dead wild animals could also lead to the detection and containment of wildlife disease outbreaks that may pose a health risk to people. The Wildlife Health Event Reporter (WHER) is a new website that enables anyone with an Internet connection to report sightings of sick or dead wildlife. has enhanced its mobile phone application “Outbreaks Near Me” to accept and relay wildlife health reports to the WHER site. The application continues to accept reports of human illness. Researchers in the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the U.S. Geological Survey National Wildlife Health Center in Madison created the WHER so that people around the world can easily share information about possible health threats to wildlife and humans.

“Avian influenza, SARS, West Nile virus, and rabies are just a few of the rogues’ gallery of human diseases in which wildlife play a role. Seventy-five percent of recent emerging infectious diseases in humans began as animal infections, and most of these have involved wildlife,” explains USGS scientist Joshua Dein, one of the WHER’s developers. “If these tools had been available 10 years ago, we might have had an earlier identification of West Nile virus by people reporting that they were seeing dead crows in their backyards,” said Dein. “We don’t know what the next emerging disease outbreak will be, but given recent history, it will likely be preceded by wildlife health events.”

Users of the WHER create accounts online to register sightings of sick or dead wildlife. Anyone can visit the site to see what others have reported and can subscribe to an RSS feed to receive new reports via e-mail. Reports can be limited to specific states, and data can be readily exported or sent through special feeds to other websites. Local wildlife officials who wish to be notified of observations also can subscribe and, when available, their contact information will be given to those who submit reports.

...Dein notes that the WHER is experimental and will require high participation rates over a considerable period of time to provide useful data. He adds that despite the connections between human and animal diseases, people should not view wildlife as a threat to human health. “A more accurate vision is that we all share risks from these disease threats,” said Dein. “These new tools can help researchers use wildlife as sentinels to alert us to diseases in the environment.”...

Jan Weenix in 1692, "Der weiße Pfau" (the white peacock)

UN aid for flood-stricken Benin via UN News: The United Nations is mobilizing aid to Benin, where nearly 700,000 people have been affected by severe flooding, with the world body and its partners shortly set to launch a humanitarian appeal to help the flood-stricken in the West African nation. According to latest assessments, some 680,000 people in 55 of Benin's 77 municipalities have been affected by the flooding.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported today that water, food and emergency shelter are among the priority needs in flooded areas. Cholera cases have been reported in some areas, with fears that the epidemic will spread.

OCHAwater, food and emergency shelter are among the priority needs in flooded areas. noted that food is being distributed in flood-hit parts of Benin and that several new emergency shelter sites have been identified. The Office has also allocated an emergency cash grant for tents and to support logistics operations, with a humanitarian appeal for funds to help flood victims under way.

For its part, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) will airlift supplies, including tents, from its emergency stockpiles in Copenhagen to Benin in the coming days. The agency focuses on helping the 7,300 refugees and asylum-seekers in the country, but "we have been called upon to help with the emergency shelter needs of some of the homeless people in the southern parts of the country where we have a presence," agency spokesperson Adrian Edwards told reporters in Geneva today….

A river and flood plain in Benin, shot by ~Pyb, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license