Friday, December 31, 2010

Improving nitrogen use efficiency lessens environmental impact of crops

Science Daily: Most agricultural crops require large quantities of nitrate-rich fertilizer to realize optimal yields. The dilemma for growers is finding ways to balance the amount of nitrogen needed for production while minimizing potentially harmful nitrates that can leach into ground and surface waters. Increased interest in environmentally beneficial "low-input" approaches is challenging researchers to identify genotypes that have a characteristic called "high nutrient use efficiency," or NUE.

Using vegetable types with high NUE could help growers lessen environmental impacts while maintaining high crop yields. A new study reported on improved NUE traits that resulted from grafting melon plants onto commercial rootstocks.

Scientist Giuseppe Colla from the University of Tuscia and colleagues published the research in HortScience. The researchers evaluated a "rapid and economical" methodology for screening melon rootstocks for NUE using two experiments. In the first experiment melon plants, either ungrafted or grafted onto four commercial rootstocks grown in hydroponics, were compared. The second experiment was designed to confirm whether the use of a selected rootstock with high NUE could improve crop performance and NUE of grafted melon plants under field conditions….

Australian floodwaters rise as bushfire threat looms

The Guardian (UK) via Reuters: Floodwaters have risen across a vast area of north-east Australia, affecting 22 towns, forcing 200,000 residents out of their homes and closing an important sugar export port. Flooding has already shut coal mines and the biggest coal export port in Queensland, forcing companies such as Anglo American and Rio Tinto to slow or halt operations.

The worst flooding in about 50 years has been caused by a "La Niña" weather pattern, which cools water in the eastern Pacific and has produced torrential rain in the past two weeks across north-east Australia. In the southern states of Victoria and South Australia, meanwhile, soaring temperatures and tinder dry conditions have sparked bushfires.

Authorities warned of possible "catastrophic" fires if conditions worsened, and holiday travellers were asked to prepare evacuation plans. South Australia rural fire chief Andrew Lawson said: "We're asking people to have a plan, how they're going to get to where they're going ... a plan to get away ... if a bushfire happens to threaten."…

A flooded street in Toowomba, Australia, from 1906

Indonesia picks Borneo for forest preservation scheme

Terra Daily via AFP: Indonesia has chosen its Borneo island to conduct a pilot project aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation, as part of a deal with Norway, an official said Thursday. Norway agreed in May to contribute up to a billion dollars to help preserve Indonesia's forests, in part through a two-year moratorium on the clearing of natural forests and peatlands from 2011.

"Central Kalimantan (Borneo) is a province with large forest cover and peat land and has faced a real threat of deforestation," the country's Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) head Kuntoro Mangkusubroto said in a statement.

Mangkusubroto said the provincial authorities are expected to manage the project properly, ensure its transparency, tackle any corruption and enforce the law against illegal loggers…

A huge log being placed on a railroad car at Batottan, British North Borneo, in 1926, shot by Lieutenant (j.g.) Leonard Johnson; United States Coast and Geodetic Survey

Successive calamities in Andhra Pradesh leave trail of despair

Deccan Chronicle (India): For the first time the state was hit by four major calamities in a single year. In 2010, two successive cyclones, Laila and Jal, a depression and subsequent heavy rainfall left a trail of death and destruction of property and crops.

A total of 171 persons died — 22 during Cyclone Laila, 65 during the Southwest monsoon, 63 during Cyclone Jal and 21 due to the depression, heavy rainfall and floods from May to December this year. After the rains, an unprecedented cold wave swept across the state, plummeting night temperatures down to 4-5°C at some places. In 2010, the total loss to crops, horticulture, animals, property, handloom industry, roads, irrigation, power, health, and other sectors has been estimated at a staggering Rs 9373.12 crore. If one adds last year’s Kurnool flood damage of Rs 11,707.85 crore, the total damage comes to a whopping Rs 21,080.97 crore in just two years.

On the positive side, however, all major irrigation projects, tanks and other water resources are full. Ground water levels have gone up and the state many not face a water crisis next summer. “The weather condition in the state has been quite abnormal in 2010. The state has passed through one of the most difficult times. For the first time, we faced two major cyclones — Laila and Jal — one depression and one heavy downpour during the Southwest monsoons,” Mr K. Surendra Mohan, special commissioner of the State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA), Revenue Department told this newspaper.

He added, “This devastation is attributed to climate change, which has not only affected environment in India, but also the world.” According to the SDMA estimates, total funds required for rescue, relief, temporary and permanent restoration for the destruction after the Kurnool floods in September/October 2009 is Rs 11,707.85 crore, for Laila in May 2010 it’s Rs 1,357.42 crore, for the heavy rains/floods during the Southwest monsoon from June to September 2010 it’s Rs 5,222.44 crore, for the heavy rains, floods and Jal cyclone from October 29 to November 8 `1,585 crore is required and for the heavy rains and floods due to depression in December 2010, Rs 1,207.72 crore is needed….

Tropical Cyclone Laila (01B) over India in May, 2010

Climate change, or why we are like slave owners

Jean-Francois Mouhot has a great piece in the Ecologist, working out an analogy that has crossed my mind: Why does climate change science generate so much heat and controversy? In a recent article in the journal Climatic Change, I argue that we have a vested interest not to cut carbon emissions, similar to that of slave-owners in the 19th century who opposed the abolition of slavery.

First, slaves and fossil-fuelled machines play(ed) similar economic and social roles: ‘energy slaves' (machines powered by fossil fuels) now do the work in our homes, fields and factories, which used to be carried out by slaves and servants in the past. Both slave societies and developed countries externalise(d) labour (labour came from slaves in the former case and 'work' is provided by machines in the latter), and both slaves and modern machines free(d) their owners from daily chores.

Before the advent of fossil fuel powered appliances, 'slavery was the most efficient means by which the ambitious and powerful could become richer and more powerful. It was the answer to energy shortage', writes historian John McNeill. This was well understood by educated men and women from the antiquity onwards. As the leading historian of slavery David Brion Davis has noted, 'what made slavery so appealing and seductive, especially in the long era before self-powered appliances, engines, and other labor-saving devices, was the freedom it brought for slaveholders'. As a consequence, economically and socially, we are today as dependent on fossil fuels as slave societies were dependent on bonded labour.

Second, in differing ways, suffering resulting (directly) from slavery and (indirectly, through Climate Change) from the excessive burning of fossil fuels are now morally comparable. When we burn oil or gas at a rate that exceeds what the ecosystem can absorb, we contribute to global warming, which in turn contributes to droughts, floods or hurricanes. These climatic events cause suffering to other human beings, today and in the future. They contribute to crop failures and put some people at risk of falling into debt bondage, a condition similar to traditional slavery. Other people are driven away from their land because of poverty, and become refugees, stationed in camps, where they may have to work for unscrupulous employers or in prostitution rings (a form of slavery in which refugees are over-represented).

Similarly, cheap fossil fuels facilitate imports of goods from countries without (or with grossly inadequate) legislation to protect economical and social rights of employees and workers. Indeed, our global economy rests on Ricardo's famous comparative advantage concept, which is based on the assumption of negligible transport costs. The availability of cheap energy is a required condition for the transportation of foreign goods on a massive scale over large distances, otherwise it would become uneconomical. Fossil fuels hence help externalise labour and perpetuate oppression….

"Black Conscience Day" by Carlos Latuff

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Water projects on top agenda of Beijing in 2011

People’s Daily (China): As extreme weather becomes more frequent in China due to the effects of climate change, the country's weak water projects are facing unexpected challenges, a senior official said. Chen Lei, minister of water resources, told China Daily that the flooding and drought that affected millions of people this year has exposed many problems. He said about 130 million people across the country are living in potential flood zones with an area of nearly 1 million square kilometers.

A catastrophic mudslide, triggered by mountain torrents in Zhouqu county in Gansu province on Aug 8 left 1,472 dead, 294 missing and more than 15,000 homeless, according to the Office of State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters. More than 66 percent of the country's small- and medium-sized rivers do not meet national flood control standards and more than 32,000 small water reservoirs are flawed, according to the ministry. More than 70 percent of flooding disasters happen in small- and medium-sized rivers, the ministry said.

Besides flood season when water projects are challenged, the lack of anti-drought water projects and the limited capacity of small reservoirs aggravate the drought season that runs from spring to summer every year, Chen said. At the peak of the severe drought in Southwest China early this year, nearly 21 million people from the worst-hit areas such as Guangxi, Yunnan, Guizhou, Chongqing and Sichuan lacked drinking water, according to statistics from the ministry. "We are facing the fact that large populations and limited water resources are unevenly located," Chen said….

The Taklamakan desert near Yarkand in the Autonomous Region of Xinjiang, China. Shot by Colegota, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Spain license

Philippines expects 'extremely wet' weather in 2011

Manila Bulletin: The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) Thursday warned of “extremely wet” weather conditions in 2011, mainly due to climate change. Science and Technology Undersecretary Dr. Graciano Yumul, also PAGASA’s officer-in-charge, said the effects of climate change have been evident in the country causing sea level rise and excessive moisture and rain.

“The normal event now is not anymore normal. Based on historical record, the eastern seaboard is usually hit hard by cyclones. But we see drastic change in storm tracks through time,” Yumul said. “We only have northeast monsoon, which is normal at this time, but it had already caused landslides and flashfloods in the Bicol Region,” he added.

He further noted that, “if we look at this year’s number of cyclones, we only recorded 11, as against the usual 20 to 23 cyclones annually. Where are the remaining 12 storms? We expect that there’ll be a rebound next year.”…

US Navy photo of a 2007 flood in the Philippines

Decades of neglect led to this Northern Ireland water crisis

Ruth Collins comments in the Guardian (UK): Witnessing thousands queue in the cold and dark over the past two nights to collect water from depots across Northern Ireland, I've found it hard to understand how things could have gone this far. One member of the public described it as "scandalous", a second as "unacceptable", while others are speechless as to how to describe the current water crisis that has left about 80 towns and 36,000 homes without running water. Understandably, the public are angry and want somebody to blame. However, the crisis reveals more than just a lack of a foresight, but also longstanding neglect.

Northern Ireland Water is the government-owned organisation at the centre of this "unprecedented" crisis. As the thaw descended, water pipes burst, reservoirs ran dry and water supplies were cut off as engineers battled to repair pipes.

…Scotland has now donated up to 160,000 litres of bottled water. Yet, when questioned in an interview why Scotland – which has, after all, also been affected by heavy snow and arctic temperatures in recent weeks – had not experienced similar problems, Liam Mulholland, the head of customer services at NI Water, claimed that "Scotland has had investment, whereas we haven't". It may sound obvious, but Mulholland's statement points to long-term neglect by direct-rule administrations in looking after Northern Ireland's water system and the infrastructure that supports it….

A water tower in Northern Ireland, shot by Kenneth Allen, Wikimedia Commons via Geograph UK, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Australian downpour spreads south, cuts off towns

Reuters: Heavy rain across much of eastern Australia left towns cut off by floods on Monday as the storms spread southwards and threatened agriculture and mining, forecasters said. The deluge over the Christmas weekend has gradually moved south from northeastern Queensland to hit agricultural areas of New South Wales, with further rainfall forecast for coming days.

Up to 250 mm of rain was recorded in the 24 hours to 6 p.m. EST Sunday in parts of Queensland, as the remains of a tropical cyclone that hit the coast on Saturday moved across inland areas, Australia's Bureau of Meteorology said.

Sugar planters, wheat growers and coal miners in the affected states are among those likely to be hardest hit. Several towns had been cut off in both states by rising floodwaters, while emergency services have evacuated families in the worst-hit areas. Gale warnings were issued for some coastal areas….

Desertification causes flooding in northern Nigeria

Mustapha Suleiman in AllAfrica.com via the Daily Trust (Nigeria): Desertification has been described as one of the major causes of the perennial flooding in some Northern states which lead to loss of farmlands and crops. It also causes sand dunes to occupy productive land resulting in high cost of food items such as maize, yams, beans, millet, sorghum, potatoes, tomatoes and pepper grown in Northern Nigeria.

This assertion was contained in a lead paper presentation by Professor Olanrewaju Fagbohun entitled, "Climate change and desertification: Threat to food security in Nigeria, " during the international climate change and desertification summit held recently at Usmanu Danfodio University, Sokoto.

Prof. Faghohun further stated that the high cost of cattle is also the fallout of desertification which has led to mass extinction of cattle heads denied grazing lands, adding that desertification also diminishes biological diversity. "Climate change will also affect the ability of individuals to use food effectively by altering the conditions for food safety….”

Satellite image of a dust storm near Lake Chad in Nigeria

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

How will sea level rise affect local communities?

Dan Wiessner in Scarsdale Patch: Larchmont is practically underwater. Not the upscale Sound Shore community; this Larchmont is a middle-class neighborhood in Norfolk, VA that's surrounded by the Chesapeake Bay and the mouths of several rivers.

Much of the area is under constant threat of inundation, as the surrounding waters have risen by 14.5 inches since 1930—the highest relative increase in sea level of anywhere on the East Coast. A recent New York Times article called Larchmont "the front line" in the battle against rising waters and detailed the tribulations of local residents and the multi-million dollar projects that may or may not produce a solution.

But how far off is this headache for Westchester's Larchmont and other communities along the Sound and the Hudson River? What does it mean for residents? The potential consequences could affect local utilities, regional commuters, waterfront businesses and local property owners.

"It could happen next summer," said Kristin Marcell, a member of the State Department of Environmental Conservation's (DEC) Hudson River Estuary program, referring specifically to a once-in-a-generation storm that, coupled with rising waters, could wreak havoc on waterfront developments, including homes, roads, train tracks and recreation areas.

…New York Harbor has seen a 15-inch increase since 1860 and a 6-inch rise since 1960, according to the DEC, and the story is the same for the Long Island Sound, where consequences could be grave for the low-lying communities that make up the Sound's 600 miles of coastline.

A new report from the DEC's Sea Level Rise Task Force says the increase in the lower Hudson Valley could be as much as five inches in the next decade and 23 inches by 2100; but, in the case of a scenario called rapid ice melt, in which polar ice caps recede at an alarming rate, area waters could rise by as much as five feet by century's end….

New York harbor, downstream from one of the Larchmonts

Scottish flood scheme could cut home insurance claims

Ruth Bradshaw in USwitch.com: The Scottish town of Elgin is to benefit from a new flood protection scheme that could help residents avoid making home insurance claims in the future. Moray Council has given the go ahead for the new Elgin Flood Protection Scheme, which will be used to actively reduce the risk of flooding to homes and businesses when heavy rainfall causes the River Lossie to swell.

Roseanna Cunningham, minister for environment and climate change, said that the scheme has been modified following a public inquiry into flood risks in the town. "Over the years, the town has been blighted by flooding, the most severe events occurring in 1997, 2002 and September 2009," she said

"This scheme will provide a high level of protection for local people and businesses in the area and is part of the Scottish government's approach to sustainable flood risk management," Cunningham added….

Elgin (Highland) Station, with train, near to Elgin, Moray, Great Britain. View westward, towards Forres and Inverness; ex-Highland Inverness - Forres - Elgin line, connecting just to the east here at Elgin (GNofS) Station into the ex-Great North of Scotland main line to Aberdeen. This is a stopping train from Forres to Keith, headed by ex-Caledonian Pickergill 3P 4-4-0 No. 54471. Shot by Ben Brooksbank, Wikimedia Commons via Geograph UK, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Threats churn in the San Juan River

José Adán Silva in IPS via Tierramérica: The San Juan River, centre of discord and diplomatic conflicts between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, is seeing its riverbanks fill up with economic projects that scientists and environmentalists say will irreversibly alter its course. According to biologist Salvador Montenegro, director of Nicaragua's Centre for Aquatic Resource Investigation, a hydroelectric project agreed between the governments of Brazil and Nicaragua in 2007 would seriously harm the biodiversity of the San Juan and the nature reserves in the surrounding areas.

Montenegro said the planned Brito Hydroelectric project (Hidrobrito SA) would require a dam 10 metres high and 400 metres wide to achieve the water level necessary, and would reverse the natural draining of Lake Cocibolca (also known as Lake Nicaragua) to the Caribbean, sending it instead towards the Pacific Ocean.

The project is still going through studies, but would be built in 2015, has a price tag of more than 900 million dollars and, according to Nicaragua's ministries of Energy and Environment, would generate 250 megawatts of electricity.

In Montenegro's view, the damage to the plant and animal species of the San Juan would be "catastrophic." The dam would affect the biodiversity of the lake and the rivers, as well as the land, aquatic and marine ecosystems, and the livelihoods of fishers and farmers living in low-lying areas.

With the flow of freshwater to the Pacific, the coastal zone would lose salinity, potentially harming thousands of marine and coral reef species. It would likely affect the migration of endangered sea turtles, which arrive there each year to lay their eggs on the beach refuges of Chacocente and La Flor, in the southern Nicaraguan department of Rivas.

The company in charge of the project, Brazil's Andrade Gutiérrez Construction, acknowledged to the Nicaraguan authorities that there would be environmental damage, and proposed alternatives that the government is now studying….

The San Juan River in Nicaragua, shot by Rodrigo Castillo

Storms signal effects of climate change on Atlantic coast

Chronicle Herald via Canadian Press: Weather experts say New Brunswick is already experiencing the punishing realities of climate change, particularly rising sea levels and damaging storm surges. Recent storms have caused more than $50 million in damage and untold grief for home and cottage owners and coastal expect Robert Capozi warns floods and surges are a fact of life under the new ``coastal realities'' dictated by the earth's changing climate.

Capozi, coastal and marine planner for the provincial Department of Environment, says a sea level rise is occurring and it's projected to reach as high as 20 centimetres along the province's eastern coast over the next 100 years.

He says the problem of a rising sea level is compounded by the impact of more severe and more frequent storms and a sinking coast line. Vicious wind, rain and snowstorms this month caused flooding in southern New Brunswick from the Bay of Fundy and streams, rivers and lakes….

The Bay of Fundy at high tide, shot by Samuel Wantman, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Sand from Bangladesh may boost Maldives

UPI: Sand from Bangladesh may help to keep the Maldives above water under a proposed agreement between the two countries, an official said. "We have received a proposal from the Maldives government regarding this. They want to import soil from our country in defense against rising sea levels," said Bangladesh Commerce Minister Muhammad Faruk Khan, the Business Standard newspaper of India reports.

The two countries are investigating the possibility and may sign an agreement within three or four months, Khan said. Dredging Bangladesh's rivers has become necessary because of huge amounts of sediment -- totaling around 264 billion gallons -- that is naturally deposited from the Himalayas. As a result, the country's rivers are becoming increasingly difficult for vessels to navigate, Khan said.

Dredging would start with Mongla Port on the Posur River and isn't likely to have an impact on Bangladesh's environment, Khan said. "We are more than happy if the deal works out because it will be beneficial for a brotherly nation," Khan said.

The Maldives' 1,200 low-lying islands and coral atolls, about 500 miles from the tip of India, are in danger of disappearing if the current pace of global climate change continues. In 2007, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted that rising sea levels of up to nearly 2 feet would swamp many of the country's islands, which average 4.9 feet above sea level…

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Why we owe Africa for climate-change costs

Graham Thomson in the Edmonton Journal: Imagine that you live in a small town on a river downstream from an affluent, yet polluting, city. For decades, the city grows richer and richer while it continues to spew out pollutants into your drinking water.

You're not happy about this and demand the city stop polluting and pay you compensation. After years of dragging their feet, city officials finally acknowledge a problem but say everyone along the river should be responsible for cleaning it up, whether they contributed to the pollution or not. Not very fair, is it?

Now you know how Third World countries feel in the political battle over climate change. They are becoming as much the victims of human-induced global warming as coral reefs and polar bears. They didn't create the problem, but they will be hit harder by the effects of climate change -- particularly in areas such as arid regions of Africa -- and they don't have the resources to adapt.

…As simple as the physics is the moral responsibility we have to poor nations struggling with the effects of climate change. Yes, it is a transfer of wealth from rich countries to poor countries. But it is not a misdirected form of charity. Or a plot. Think of it as restitution or compensation. We in the industrialized countries have been happily burning fossil fuels, warming the climate and getting rich doing so. Third World countries have been left to suck on our exhaust pipes.

…Geoff Strong, an atmospheric science professor at the University of Alberta, has studied the effects of a changing climate on subsistence farmers in sub-Saharan Africa, in an area called the Sahel that includes Senegal, Chad and the Sudan.

"One impact of global warming has been the intensification of subtropical high pressure systems that maintain the great deserts of Earth, and the subsequent southward expansion of the Sahara Desert, squeezing the Sahel against the immovable rainforests of central Africa," says Strong. "Severe, long-lasting drought has become the rule in recent decades, along with frequent famine and starvation of the population."

The people of the Sahel might be a world away from Canada and other western industrialized nations, but they are our neighbours nonetheless. They're the folks downstream dealing with the effluence of our affluence. We shouldn't begrudge them financial aid to deal with a problem we helped create.

The Sahara Desert in Mauritania, shot by Annabel Symington, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Warning over burst pipes and flooding

Rory Reynolds in the Scotsman: Homes in the Lothians are being warned to prepare for flooding as the big thaw leads to burst pipes misery and hundreds of emergency call-outs to plumbers. Plumbing firms in the Capital have warned residents to be ready to shut off their own water if pipes burst as they may have to wait hours before an engineer can reach them.

As the snow and ice continues to melt the Scottish Envionmental Protection Agency said it was monitoring rivers and lochs, including the Water of Leith and the River Almond for potential flashpoints. Forecasters predict a thaw throughout the week.

Plumbers in the Capital said they had received hundreds of calls from residents. Garry Gilmour, 26, one of six heating and plumbing engineers at the city's C&C Services, said he would usually take three or four calls per day over Christmas, but has taken up to 160 each day. He said: "We've had pipes in lofts just bursting and coming through, and a lot of outdoor taps have been going, causing a skating rink effect in back gardens….”

A burst main on 129th Street, city unknown, between 1910 and 1915. It's not Scotland, it's not winter, and it's not even this century

Three-dimensional imaging satellite TanDEM-X ready for routine operations in 2011

Space Mart: On 14 December 2010, TanDEM-X passed another important milestone: the radar mission's test phase has concluded in less than six months according to plan, paving the way for routine operations - the collection of elevation data - in 2011. The TanDEM-X mission was developed by the German Aerospace Center in collaboration with Astrium, and is operated from DLR Oberpfaffenhofen. The objective of the mission is to create a highly accurate three-dimensional elevation model of Earth's entire surface.

Immediately after it was launched to its 514-kilometre high orbit on 21 June 2010, the satellite was operating nominally, and sent back its first high resolution images after just three and a half days. TanDEM-X was thoroughly tested and calibrated over the following months.

This included the first close formation flight with TerraSAR-X, launched in 2007, during which the two radar satellites flew at a distance of just a few hundred metres from each other. This formation flight made it possible to take simultaneous images of Earth's surface from two different points of view - crucial to the three-dimensional mapping of the entire globe.

"The next step towards our global three-dimensional map was commissioning the control and processing chains and confirming the predicted quality of the first digital three-dimensional models," says Dr. Manfred Zink, TanDEM-X Project Manager for the ground segment at DLR. Completion of this phase means that now nothing stands in the way of full operation in early 2011….

TerraSAR-X and TanDEM-X satellites orbiting together, image from Astrium GMBH

Resurgent disease, climate change threaten wheat

Charles J. Hanley in the Chronicle Herald via AP (Nova Scotia): …The future of wheat — in many ways the future of food — was the subject of an emergency meeting of agricultural officials who flew to Rome from around the world in late September, concerned over skyrocketing prices. … Since 2005, the FAO’s cereals price index has doubled. Meanwhile, the number of chronically undernourished in the world has swelled, standing today at an FAO-estimated 925 million — one-seventh of humanity.

…In the face of leapfrogging prices, stagnating yields and shifting climate zones, wheat cannot be counted on to fill mankind’s stomach in the future as it has since at least 7000 BC. And affordable substitutes are often unavailable in places like India and Egypt. "Humanity faces tremendous challenges to food security," the world’s top wheat researchers conclude in a blueprint for a stepped-up strategy to produce more of the grain.

Across the 4,100-metre-high Tlaloc sierra from Taboada’s farm — the mountain where Aztec farmers prayed to their rain god — these researchers search for more scientific ways to boost crop yields at CIMMYT, Spanish-language acronym for the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, whose $60-million budget and global staff of 700 are supported by governments and foundations worldwide. The most urgent task facing CIMMYT is to stop the spread of the virulent wheat stem rust, first identified in Uganda in 1999 and dubbed Ug99.

…The biggest challenges may come from climate change. Although wheat might first flourish, it would eventually suffer in a warmer world. … "The evolution of pests and diseases is very much a function of climate," said Matthew Reynolds, CIMMYT’s chief of wheat physiology. "If the climate is changing, then new races can spring up in a very unpredictable fashion. It could be seen as the greatest threat of climate change to agriculture."

…They have big plans: A year-old global research consortium has set a goal of boosting wheat yields by 50 per cent in 20 to 25 years. It will mean "redesigning" the plant. They’re consulting structural engineers, for example, about how a stem can support a fatter head of grain.

Getting that fatter head may require genetic modification, the engineering of life forms that still arouses public opposition. Such opposition is "self-delusion," said Thomas A. Lumpkin, CIMMYT’s director-general. "GM is necessary."…

Photograph of a wheat field taken by Tarquin, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Water conservation in Zimbabwe

Peter Makwanya in News Day (Zimbabwe): …Besides the issue of our desperate attempt to control emissions or imagining controlling them, another scourge is looming and is coming fast. It is the issue of water. The African continent, especially in the North and southern Africa, the scarcity of water will send shock waves in the spines of inhabitants of these regions.

…The focus of this discussion is Africa especially southern Africa. It is also the continent with one of the best water managing country, Egypt. For centuries, Egypt has managed water resources using simple traditional methods, from the Shaduf to modern day irrigation methods.

…In light of the devastating effects of global warming, Zimbabwe and southern Africa can do much better by cooperating in managing shared river basins. The Zambezi River is shared by about six countries, namely Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana and Angola. South Africa and Lesotho are currently engaged in the Lesotho High Water Project (LHWP). This appears to be a welcome form of cooperation needed in interstate water management.

… Local small scale farmers need to construct small water collection and storage facilities that they would use to supplement their gardening and domestic requirements. Although this is happening in many parts of Zimbabwe, those who are not seriously engaged in small scale farming may think it’s not for them.

Rural communities need to be provided with subsidised plastic water storage tanks which they can use to harvest water from rooftops, store and treat it for future use. How many mega-litres are lost through run-off? In their gardens they need to improve on the capacity of their shallow wells so that they harness as much water as possible….

The Bubye River, Zimbabwe, from the A1 highway. Shot by Babakathy, Wikimedia Commons

Monday, December 27, 2010

Managing Pacific coral resources against climate change

Solomon Times Online (Solomon Islands): The Asian Development Bank (ADB), the Global Environment Facility (GEF), and the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) are helping five Pacific countries manage their marine resources in the Coral Triangle. The project is part of ADB's commitment to the Coral Triangle Initiative (CTI) - a regional effort to preserve and manage Asia-Pacific's marine resources. ADB is coordinating the mobilization of financial support for the CTI plan of action, in consultation with development partners.

Often referred to as "the Amazon of the Seas," the Coral Triangle contains vast marine resources critical for the economic and food security of an estimated 120 million people. These resources are at immediate risk from a range of factors, including the impacts of climate change, over-fishing, and unsustainable fishing methods.

The ADB Board of Directors has approved a technical assistance of $1.15 million for Fiji Islands, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, and Vanuatu as part of the Strengthening Coastal and Marine Resources Management in the Coral Triangle of the Pacific (Phase 2) regional technical assistance project.

Aside from the technical assistance, ADB will also provide $800,000 in grant to be sourced from the Regional Cooperation and Integration Fund under the Regional Cooperation and Financing Partnership Facility….

A coral reef in Papua New Guinea, shot by the estimable Mila Zinkova, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

More unreason about water in California

John Gibler in Solve Climate News via Earth Island Journal: The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta used to be the region where the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers would meet, pool for hundreds of square miles, and slowly drain into the San Francisco Bay and out to sea through the Golden Gate. Not anymore. The San Joaquin River is mostly diverted for irrigation before it can reach the Delta and the Sacramento is largely lifted out of the southern tip of the Delta and pumped down the San Joaquin Valley for irrigation.

Today, the Delta is a work of human engineering built over 150 years that consists of thousands of miles of levees, emaciated river flows, immense pumps, bromide and mercury contamination, endangered species, and below sea level “islands” housing communities and farms that would most likely be under water within hours of a major earthquake.

The Delta is the hub of California’s water engineering system and the current focal point of the state’s infamous water wars. Environmentalists and Delta communities want to reduce water exports. Irrigators in the San Joaquin and their strange bedfellows in the powerful Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which draws water pumped through the Delta, want to increase water exports. There is one thing all sides agree on: The Delta is a disaster waiting to explode.

…“We have a system where we try to deliver more water than can be reliably delivered. All the signals tell us that we have been exceeding the capacities of the system,” said Tina Swanson, executive director and chief scientist at the Bay Institute. “It is incontrovertible that we have to expect to export less water from the Delta than we have in the past; it is unsustainable. We’re going to have to learn to make do with less.”…

The Suisun Marsh Salinity Control Gates span the Montezuma Slough at the Roaring River intake detail. They operate like a heart valve, allowing flow in only one direction. In this picture, the three gates are open to allow the freshwater ebb tide from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to push the more saline Grizzly Bay water out of the slough. Photo by the Army Corps of Engineers

Broken glass yields clues to climate change

Jasper Kok in the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research News: Clues to future climate may be found in the way that an ordinary drinking glass shatters. A study appearing this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds that microscopic particles of dust, emitted into the atmosphere when dirt breaks apart, follow similar fragment patterns to broken glass and other brittle objects. The research, by National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) scientist Jasper Kok, suggests there are several times more dust particles in the atmosphere than previously thought, since shattered dirt appears to produce an unexpectedly high number of large dust fragments.

The finding has implications for understanding future climate change because dust plays a significant role in controlling the amount of solar energy in the atmosphere. Depending on their size and other characteristics, some dust particles reflect solar energy and cool the planet, while others trap energy as heat. “As small as they are, conglomerates of dust particles in soils behave the same way on impact as a glass dropped on a kitchen floor,” Kok says. “Knowing this pattern can help us put together a clearer picture of what our future climate will look like.”

…Kok’s research indicates that the ratio of silt particles to clay particles is two to eight times greater than represented in climate models. Since climate scientists carefully calibrate the models to simulate the actual number of clay particles in the atmosphere, the paper suggests that models most likely err when it comes to the number of silt particles. Most of these larger particles swirl in the atmosphere within about 1,000 miles of desert regions, so adjusting their quantity in computer models should generate better projections of future climate in desert regions, such as the southwestern United States and northern Africa.

…The study results also suggest that marine ecosystems, which draw down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, may receive substantially more iron from airborne particles than previously estimated. The iron enhances biological activity, benefiting ocean food chains, including plants that take up carbon during photosynthesis….

Dust particles in the atmosphere range from about 0.1 microns to 50 microns in diameter (microns are also known as micrometers, abbreviated as µm). The size of dust particles determines how they affect climate and weather, influencing the amount of solar energy in the global atmosphere as well as the formation of clouds and precipitation in more dust-prone regions. The NASA satellite image in this illustration shows a 1992 dust storm over the Red Sea and Saudi Arabia. (Composite illustration ©UCAR. This image is freely available for media use. Please credit the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research

Ghana's Muslim leaders organise workshop on climate change

Ghana News Agency: The Education Trust Fund of Sheikh Dr Osmanu Nuhu Sharabutu in collaboration with the British Council on Monday organised a workshop for Muslim leaders to create awareness on the significance of climate change. The programme was on the theme: "The emerging threats of climate change; the role of Muslim leaders in combating the menace."

Mr Chris Gordon, Acting Director of the Institute of Environment and Sanitation Studies, University of Ghana, Legon said noted that human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels and the destruction of forests for farming were increasing the levels of carbon dioxide and heat, which trapped gases into the atmosphere.

He said climate change affected rainfall, temperature and water availability for agricultural production in vulnerable areas, which resulted to extreme floods, droughts, tropical storms, erosion, saltwater intrusion and loss of land….

Water scarcity grave in Barind area of Bangladesh

Financial Express (Bangladesh): Water shortage is gradually becoming grave in the drought-prone Barind area due to scanty rainfall and excessive extraction of groundwater for irrigation as well as adverse impacts of the climate change caused by the global warming.

Simultaneously, the unprecedented fall of water level in the River Padma and its tributaries and other wetlands has created an adverse impact on livelihood of people especially the farmers and other marginal groups.

"Capital dredging of the Padma River has become indispensable to ensure surface water resources for protecting the northern region of the country from environmental degradation," said Agriculturist Rabiul Alam, Executive Director of Agriculture Sustainable and Socio-economic Development Organisation (ASSESO), while sharing views with the newsmen at his office here Sunday.

Jonouddyog, a network of different likeminded development organisations, organised the views-sharing session aimed at depicting the grim pictures of abnormal lowering of groundwater table together with its consequences.

"We have no alternative but to save the mighty Padma and other small rivers and tributaries from the continuous siltation to conserve the vast tract of the Barind area from desertification," he said, adding, "Adequate fund allocation is needed for the work"….

The Padma River, approaching Chittagong, shot by Shahnoor Habib Munmun, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Namibia: When every drop counts

Servaas van den Bosch in Worldandmedia.com: …The Omusati Region of northern Namibia is on the margins of what any farmer would consider arable land, with temperatures routinely hitting 40 degrees Celsius or more and rainfall seldom exceeding a pitiful 270 millimeters per year. To make matters worse 83 per cent of the little rain that does fall evaporates as soon as it hits the ground.

The people living here have no alternative to subsistence farming. Skills and opportunities are scarce, so whoever doesn’t leave scrapes a living herding goats or planting crops such as millet. In a report to the United Framework Convention on Climate Change, the government of Namibia has predicted global warming will cause a temperature rise of between 2 to 6 degrees Celsius in Namibia, while annual rainfall could diminish up to a further staggering 200mm. In a country where 70 per cent of the population practices some form of agriculture this is a problem.

…In mid-November the rains that normally fall from October to May were already more than a month late. All over the region farmers tell the same story: the growing season is getting shorter and shorter and the rains more and more unpredictable, putting stress on animals and people alike.

…As an experiment to help families adapt to ever drier conditions, the Country Pilot Partnership (CPP), supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF), distributed 70 water tanks ranging from 2,500 to 5,000 litres to households, schools and hospitals….

Climate change leaves Assam tea growers in hot water

Amarjyoti Borah in the Guardian (UK): Climate change is affecting the cultivation of Assam tea, with rising temperatures reducing yields and altering the distinctive flavour of India's most popular drink, researchers say. High hills and abundant rainfall make the north-eastern state of Assam an ideal place to grow tea, with 850 gardens over 320,000 hectares (593,000 acres) producing the majority of the country's harvest. But in the last 60 years, rainfall has fallen by more than a fifth and minimum temperature has risen by a degree to 19.5C.

"This is clearly climate change, and it is bound to have major impact on the tea industry," said Debakanta Handique, a climate scientist in Assam. The Tea Board of India said it had recorded a steady decline in tea production in recent years. In 2007, Assam produced 512,000 tonnes of tea. By 2008 this had declined to 487,000 tonnes, with estimated production in 2009 down again to 445,000. A further decrease is expected this year.

Mridul Hazarika, director of Tocklai Tea Research, the oldest tea research station in the world, said rainfall and minimum temperature were two of the most important factors affecting both quality and quantity of harvests.

"The decline has been taking place although there has been an increase in the area of tea cultivation as new gardens have come up, and many gardens have added new areas for tea plantation. This is an indication of the seriousness of the threat," said Hazarika. Efficient rainwater harvesting and new breeds of tea plants were needed to reverse the trend….

Assam green tea, shot by Badagnani, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative CommonsAttribution 3.0 Unported license

New global search to save endangered crop wild relatives

Science Daily: The Global Crop Diversity Trust has announced a major global search to systematically find, gather, catalogue, use, and save the wild relatives of wheat, rice, beans, potato, barley, lentils, chickpea, and other essential food crops, in order to help protect global food supplies against the imminent threat of climate change, and strengthen future food security.

The initiative, led by the Global Crop Diversity Trust, working in partnership with national agricultural research institutes, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), is the largest one ever undertaken with the tough wild relatives of today's main food crops. These wild plants contain essential traits that could be bred into crops to make them more hardy and versatile in the face of dramatically different climates expected in the coming years. Norway is providing US$50 million towards this important contribution to food security.

"All our crops were originally developed from wild species -- that's how farming began," explained Cary Fowler, Executive Director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust. "But they were adapted from the plants best suited to the climates of the past. Climate change means we need to go back to the wild to find those relatives of our crops that can thrive in the climates of the future. We need to glean from them the traits that will enable modern crops to adapt to new, harsher and more demanding situations. And we need to do it while those plants can still be found."

Crop wild relatives make up only a few percent of the world's genebank holdings, yet their contribution to commercial agriculture alone is estimated at more than US$100 billion per year. One example dates back to the 1970s, when an outbreak of grassy stunt virus, which prevents the rice plant from flowering and producing grain, decimated rice harvests across Asia. Scientists from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) screened more than 10,000 samples of wild and locally-cultivated rice plants for resistance to the disease and found it in a wild relative, Oryza nivara, growing in India. The gene has been incorporated into most new varieties since the discovery….

Three kinds of lentils, shot by Justinc, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative CommonsAttribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Rain may disappear from Latin America's breadbasket

Mario Osava in IPS: South America still has vast extensions of land available for growing crops to help meet the global demand for food and biofuels. But the areas of greatest potential agricultural production -- central-southern Brazil, northern Argentina, and Paraguay -- could be left without the necessary rains.

Every deforested hectare in the Amazon -- a jungle biome extending across the northern half of South America -- weakens the system that has been protecting the region from the desert fate of the Sahara, a third of Australia, and other lands located approximately 30 degrees latitude north and south, warns scientist Antonio Nobre, of the Brazil's national space research institute, INPE.

Halting deforestation in the Amazon needed to be done "by yesterday" and Brazil's official goal to reduce it 80 percent by 2020 is like "quitting smoking when you have advanced lung cancer; when you're already dying," Nobre told IPS. We should already be rebuilding the destroyed forests in order to restore equilibrium, he said, adding that monoculture of eucalyptus and African palm trees is not the answer.

"We don't know where the point of no return is," when forest degradation will become irreversible, and lands that benefited from the rains generated in the Amazon turn to desert, said the agronomist who lived 22 years in that region as a researcher, before joining INPE, in São José dos Campos, 100 kilometres from São Paulo.

The Amazon forest and the barrier created by the Andes Mountains, which run north-to-south through South America, channel the humid winds, now known as "flying rivers." Those winds ensure rainfall for a region that is the continental leader in meat, grain and fruit exports, and a world leader in sugar, soybeans and orange juice. The flying-river phenomenon, as established by climate researchers, led Nobre and other scientists around the globe to a new theory, the "biotic pump," which explains climate phenomena, equilibrium and disequilibrium in the Earth's natural systems -- and in which forest biomes play an essential role….

The Amazon River flowing through the rainforest, from NASA

Rain may disappear from Latin America

Mario Osava in IPS: South America still has vast extensions of land available for growing crops to help meet the global demand for food and biofuels. But the areas of greatest potential agricultural production -- central-southern Brazil, northern Argentina, and Paraguay -- could be left without the necessary rains.

Every deforested hectare in the Amazon -- a jungle biome extending across the northern half of South America -- weakens the system that has been protecting the region from the desert fate of the Sahara, a third of Australia, and other lands located approximately 30 degrees latitude north and south, warns scientist Antonio Nobre, of the Brazil's national space research institute, INPE.

Halting deforestation in the Amazon needed to be done "by yesterday" and Brazil's official goal to reduce it 80 percent by 2020 is like "quitting smoking when you have advanced lung cancer; when you're already dying," Nobre told IPS. We should already be rebuilding the destroyed forests in order to restore equilibrium, he said, adding that monoculture of eucalyptus and African palm trees is not the answer.

"We don't know where the point of no return is," when forest degradation will become irreversible, and lands that benefited from the rains generated in the Amazon turn to desert, said the agronomist who lived 22 years in that region as a researcher, before joining INPE, in São José dos Campos, 100 kilometres from São Paulo.

The Amazon forest and the barrier created by the Andes Mountains, which run north-to-south through South America, channel the humid winds, now known as "flying rivers." Those winds ensure rainfall for a region that is the continental leader in meat, grain and fruit exports, and a world leader in sugar, soybeans and orange juice. The flying-river phenomenon, as established by climate researchers, led Nobre and other scientists around the globe to a new theory, the "biotic pump," which explains climate phenomena, equilibrium and disequilibrium in the Earth's natural systems -- and in which forest biomes play an essential role….

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Facing reality on dam development, according to a dam developer

Jia Jingsheng, head of an international dam organization, speaks out in favor of dams in International Water Power and Dam Construction: In 2001 the International Commission on Large Dams (ICOLD) issued its final comments about the World Commission on Dams’ report. In fact, the goals of dam construction that ICOLD insist upon aim to achieve the maximum possible benefits by minimising negative effects on social, environmental and ecological aspects, including cultural relics, through the full and rational utilisation of natural resources. The different kinds of schemes have to be carefully and thoroughly studied and screened by current regulations in order to attain a harmonious co-existence of mankind and nature. This idea can be viewed in various ICOLD bulletins and publications, and is something which is not significantly different from the goals mentioned in the WCD report.

However, the WCD report overlooked the huge benefits and improvements made on society and the environment by dam construction. And in many aspects, the 26 guidelines proposed in the report for the planning and implementation of future dams, don’t fully take into account the special conditions and the specific development phase of different countries. They are somewhat too idealistic. Therefore, it is inappropriate to require all countries and all international banking organisations to follow the same guidelines.

…Today, sustainable development and sustainability of the life in many parts of the world continue to be threatened by the scarcity of supplies of water, food and energy: 1.1B people are still lacking access to safe drinking water; 2.4B people are without the service of sanitation; and 2B people are waiting for electricity supply. We need more water and energy on one the hand; we need blue sky and clean water on the other. Multi-purpose dams and reservoirs are vital for human development.

…More and more people are recognising that water resources development is essential to achieve sustainable development. Insufficient water storage facilities will delay our ability to respond to global changes and to meet the Millennium Development Goals. In this context, a developing country has more urgent need for water storage facility development as the construction of water storage facilities is not only a crucial matter relating to economic development but also to survival and the alleviation of poverty….

Water intake tubes at Itaipu Dam in Brazil and Paraguay, shot by Wutzofant, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

California water supply off to good start in new year

Dave Marquis in News 10 (California): After three years of drought, California is off to a banner year for precipitation. "(We) might well be in in the upper 10 percent of the historical record, so we're off to a good start," said Department of Water Resources Chief Hydrologist Maurice Roos. "December, with the storm we had, is about one and a half times the average for the month," said Roos.

Many of the state's reservoirs are operating in the flood control mode, according to Roos. "Keeping enough space empty just in case we get another big storm or a flood," he added. The rain and runoff is good for area rivers and streams and especially for the health of the Sacramento Delta, according to DWR Senior Engineeer Boone Lek. "The flow would definitely benefit the Delta by providing more flows than it has seen in probably the last five years or so."

But experts caution that one great year, or even several, won't change concerns over a drier future predicted by computer models of climate change. "If the snow level is higher, which it would be in a warmer world, there wouldn't be as much snowpack to work with and so we lose a lot of natural storage," Roos said. The likelihood of less rain and snow means the state should focus on more and better ways to store water….

The Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, shot by Samuel Wong (wongsamuel), Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license

China's ability to feed its people questioned by UN expert

Jonathan Watts in the Guardian (UK): China's ability to feed a fifth of the world's population will become tougher because of land degradation, urbanisation and over-reliance on fossil-fuels and fertiliser, a United Nations envoy warned today as grain and meat prices surged on global markets.

With memories still fresh of the famines that killed tens of millions of people in the early 1960s, the Chinese government has gone to great lengths to ensure the world's biggest population has enough to eat, but its long-term self-sufficiency was questioned by UN special rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter.

"The shrinking of arable land and the massive land degradation threatens the ability of the country to maintain current levels of agricultural production, while the widening gap between rural and urban is an important challenge to the right to food of the Chinese population," said De Schutter at the end of a trip to China.

He told the Guardian his main concern was the decline of soil quality in China because of excessive use of fertilisers, pollution and drought. He noted that 37% of the nation's territory was degraded and 8.2m hectares (20.7m acres) of arable land has been lost since 1997 to cities, industrial parks, natural disasters and forestry programmes. Further pressure has come from an increasingly carnivorous diet, which has meant more grain is needed to feed livestock. The combination of these factors is driving up food inflation. In the past year, rice has gone up by 13%, wheat by 9%, chicken by 17%, pork by 13% and eggs by 30%.

"This is not a one-off event. The causes are structural," said the envoy. "The recent food price hikes in the country are a harbinger of what may be lying ahead."…

Yuanyang rice terraces, shot by prat, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative CommonsAttribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Singapore braces for climate change

Evelyn Choo in Channel News Asia: In 2010, climate change made its presence clearly known in Singapore. Flash floods in particular spared no mercy on the island, leaving Orchard Road as one of the worst-hit areas. But a massive operation is underway to protect the shopping belt, which is set to go full steam in January.

Flash floods hit Orchard Road not once but twice, resulting in million-dollar losses at the shopping belt. The public and private sectors then embarked on a slew of preventive measures. National water agency PUB is spending S$26 million to raise certain stretches of Orchard Road by 30 centimetres.

Work has since got off to a slow but tactical start due to the recent festive period. Steven Goh, executive director of Orchard Road Business Association, said: "You don't see much progress because PUB has agreed to delay the road-raising works till mid-January. "We cross our fingers, as major works will only be carried out in mid-January.....the relocation of the bus stop, jacking up of the ERP gantries, and raising of the lamp posts on the road, these are major works."

…A Risk Map Study of Singapore's coastlines will also commence soon. The project will map out areas being threatened by rising sea levels, which could lead to a high risk of land loss and flooding. The project, which could take three years to complete, will find out how climate change impacts Singapore's biodiversity and public health….

Christmas decorations along Orchard Road in Singapore, shot by Benjamint444, Wikimedia Commons, under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 only as published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled GNU Free Documentation License

Scientists train software to keep track of climate change

Sify News via ANI: An international team of researchers say that a computer program, which automatically analyzes mounds of satellite images and other data, could help climate scientists keep track of complex, constantly changing environmental conditions.

The program uses probability to analyze and extract environmental information from satellite images and sensor data about ocean structures like wakes, upwellings and cold and warm eddies, according to the researchers.

Researchers first built a database of ocean structures and then used the knowledge of human experts to train the program to recognize and identify changes in the ocean. Researchers tested the technology on satellite images provided by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer of sections of oceans in the Iberian Atlantic, the Mediterranean coast and near the Canary Islands.

The tests included 1,000 cases of real ocean features, including 472 upwellings, 119 cloudy upwellings, 180 wakes, 10 anticyclonic eddies, 40 cyclonic eddies and 180 misclassified regions….

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Deadly La Niña goes global

Aubrey Ann Parker and Steve Kellman in Circle of Blue Waternews: The weather phenomenon known as La Niña is having wide-ranging impacts around the Pacific basin, as Colombia copes with record rains and New Zealand swelters through a heat wave. The El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) climate pattern is a coupled ocean-atmosphere phenomenon consisting of El Niño and La Niña cycles. This year is being classified as a moderate-to-strong La Niña, following 2009’s especially intense El Niño year.

La Niña causes colder than usual water currents along the Pacific coast of the Western Hemisphere, which has caused a severe rainy season from May through November in Mexico, Central America, and the northern part of South America. According to the United Nations Environmental Programme, although ENSO is naturally occurring, a warming climate may contribute to an increase in frequency and intensity of El Niño cycle. La Niña events double the likelihood of intense weather events, such as hurricanes and tropical storms, for much of the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico.

In November, rainfall in the Caribbean was five times the average of 2 inches and in the central highlands of Colombia, rainfall was more than double the average of 3.5 inches. In Colombia, this year’s rainy season—the worst in 42 years—has been exceedingly severe, with close to 300 deaths and more than 2 million people affected over the last two months, according to the BBC.

…With close to 2.5 million acres of farmland and over 600 schools under water, the damage in Colombia is estimated at $5 billion. The United States, the European Union, North Korea, and Switzerland have pledged more than $20 million in aid. After visiting neighbor Venezuela, which has also had particularly severe flooding this winter, the Ecuadorian visited Colombia and vowed to help, thus restoring diplomatic relations, which have been strained since Colombia’s 2008 military raid on a clandestine Colombian guerrilla camp just inside Ecuadorian territory.

…La Niña tends to result in dryer and warmer conditions across much of the southern tier of the United States and wetter weather across the Midwest, Pacific Northwest, and the Northern Rockies, according to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The flip side of the weather pattern, El Niño, occurs when water temperatures in the equatorial Pacific are warmer than average and results in nearly the opposite effects….

Roelant Savery's 1620 painting of Noah's Ark, shot by Dorota Folga-Januszewska (2005). Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie : arcydzieła malarstwa. Arkady. ISBN 83-21343-31-7

Ocean acidification changes nitrogen cycling in world seas

Terra Daily: Increasing acidity in the sea's waters may fundamentally change how nitrogen is cycled in them, say marine scientists who published their findings in this week's issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Nitrogen is one of the most important nutrients in the oceans. All organisms, from tiny microbes to blue whales, use nitrogen to make proteins and other important compounds.

… "Ocean acidification will have widespread effects on marine ecosystems, but most of those effects are still unknown," says David Garrison, director of the National Science Foundation (NSF)'s Biological Oceanography Program, which funded the research along with NSF's Chemical Oceanography Program.

"This report that ocean acidification decreases nitrification (the amount of nitrogen) is extremely important," says Garrison, "because of the crucial role of the nitrogen cycle in biogeochemical processes-processes that take place throughout the oceans." Very little is known about how ocean acidification may affect critical microbial groups like the ammonia oxidizers, "key players in the ocean's nitrogen cycle," says Michael Beman of the University of Hawaii and lead author of the PNAS paper.

…Oceanic nitrification is a major natural component of production of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide. From the seas, nitrous oxide then enters the atmosphere, says Beman. "All else being equal, decreases in nitrification rates therefore have the potential to reduce nitrous oxide emissions to the atmosphere."…

The Sargasso Sea, shot by NOAA

UK flood defence cuts leave 5 million vulnerable homes 'at risk'

Damian Carrington in the Guardian (UK): The government's cuts to the UK's flood defence budgets risk leaving the country's 5m at-risk homes less protected and the poorest communities losing out to richer areas, according to a critical report by MPs. "Urgent action is needed to ensure that our communities are adequately and effectively protected from flooding," said Anne McIntosh, a Conservative MP and chair of the Environment, Food and Rural affairs select committee.

The increased risk of flooding, such as the floods that swamped homes in Cornwall last month, is due to climate change. Under the last government, spending on flood defences rose 33% in the four years to 2010/1. But the coalition government cut flood-defence spending in the comprehensive spending review.

"Simply to maintain the current level of protection in the face of increasing flood risks requires increased investment and the significant CSR cuts will increase concerns that funding on flood defences remains inadequate," the committee's report concluded, noting the cuts could be a "classic example" of a false economy.

McIntosh said the biggest challenge was whether local authorities would have sufficient money to protect their communities from flooding when the responsibility is passed to them on 1 April next year. Defra and the Department for Communities and Local Government suffered the largest budget cuts in Whitehall. "It's all very well for the government to say we're not ringfencing [local spending], but how do we know they are going to have the money for flood defences," said McIntosh….

Flooding in Hull, 2007, shot by walnut whippet, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license