Monday, January 31, 2011

Metamaterials approach makes better satellite antennas

Penn State Live: Cheaper, lighter and more energy-efficient broadband devices on communications satellites may be possible using metamaterials to modify horn antennas, according to engineers from Penn State and Lockheed Martin Corp.

"Existing horn antennas have adequate performance, but have undergone little change over several decades except for advances in more accurate modeling techniques," said Erik Lier, technical Fellow, Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co. "Modifications enabled by metamaterials can either enhance performance, or they can lower the mass and thus lower the cost of putting the antenna in space."

Lighter antennas cost less to boost into space and more energy-efficient antennas can reduce the size of storage batteries and solar cells, which also reduces the mass. Metamaterials derive their unusual properties from structure rather than composition and possess exotic properties not usually found in nature.

"Working with Penn State, we decided that the first year we were going to focus on applications for radio frequency antennas, where we thought we had a reasonable chance to succeed," said Lier. According to Douglas H. Werner, professor of electrical engineering, Penn State, this is one of the first practical implementations of electromagnetic metamaterials that makes a real world device better.

"These results also help lay to rest the widely held viewpoint that metamaterials are primarily an academic curiosity and, due to their narrow bandwidth and relatively high loss, will never find their way into real-world devices," the researchers report in the current issue of Nature Materials.
They specifically designed their electromagnetic metamaterials to avoid previous limitations of narrow bandwidth and high intrinsic material loss, which results in signal loss. Their aim was not to design theoretical metamaterial-enhanced antennas, but to build a working prototype….

A three-dimentional rendering of metamaterial lined feed horn antenna with low loss, low weight, and over an octave bandwidth for satellite communications shown with satellite. From the Penn State website

San Joaquin River delta's biggest enemy hard to pinpoint

Alex Breitler in (Stockton, California): There are more than 40 potential causes for the [San Joaquin River] Delta's decline, scientists said Friday, but ranking them in order is just too difficult "We're not in a position now - we may be in a position later - to say it's these three stressors that are causing 90 percent of the problem, or one stressor causing 45 percent of the problem," said Richard Norgaard, chair of the Delta Independent Science Board, a panel of 10 experts established by California's sweeping water reform in 2009.

"At the present state of knowledge, we just think there's a lot of interacting stressors," Norgaard told the Delta Stewardship Council on Friday. Scientists say many causes may be contributing to the decline of the Delta:

Global causes: Climate change (sea level rise, changes in water flows, higher temperatures and changes in ocean conditions); earthquakes; population growth; state economy.

Historic causes: Habitat loss; mercury from the Gold Rush accumulating in fish; toxic selenium runoff from farms; sinking Delta islands; artificial levees that may break, causing flooding; upstream dams that cut off breeding areas for salmon; agricultural subsidies; development, zoning and building codes; invasive species.

Current causes: Water withdrawals upstream of the Delta, in the Delta and outside of the Delta; fish sucked into export pumps; nutrients from farm runoff and city wastewater treatment plants; pesticides; metals that enter the water from farms, cities and industry; channel dredging; illegal harvest of threatened species; hatcheries that alter the genetic makeup of fish.

Anticipated causes: Landscape changes; urban expansion; land use along streams feeding the Delta; people's lifestyle decisions on where and how they live….

The San Francisco Bay Area, home to the San Joaquin River Delta, via NASA

Risk management in the era of unpredictability

Leon Gettier in the Sydney Morning Herald: The floods that ravaged Queensland and Victoria are a warning for businesses to overhaul their risk-management strategies. They are events that tell us we are now in a very different world.

How different? Erwann Michel-Kerjan, managing director of the Wharton Business School's Risk Centre in the US and chairman of the OECD secretary-general's advisory board on financial management of catastrophes, says that in the 21st century there has not been a six-month period without a major crisis that simultaneously affected several countries or industry sectors. We are seeing more and bigger catastrophes created by increasing urbanisation, climate change and globalisation. The world has become an interdependent village.

…It's fair to say that the floods did not figure highly in risk-management strategies. Woolworths has cut its net profit growth guidance to a range of 5-8 per cent, from 8-11 per cent, partly due to uncertainties presented by the floods. Virgin Blue announced a $40 million hit because of floods and fragile consumer sentiment. Treasurer Wayne Swan says the floods will have a ''dramatic'' effect on the budget and IBISWorld has downgraded Australia's GDP forecast from 2.9 per cent to 2.6 per cent.

We now see forecasts of a worldwide impact on the supply and prices of commodities such as cotton, wheat, sugar and other foodstuffs, and coal, which will in turn put pressure on utilities reliant on coal-based energy generation. Climate specialists say global warming has contributed to the disaster, with record ocean temperatures around Australia and, from July to October, record rainfall and humidity.

…Some commentators describe the floods and La Nina as a ''black swan'', the kind of low-probability event like natural disasters, pandemics and terrorists slamming planes into buildings, described by Nicholas Taleb, events that no one predicted. That is not strictly true, though. In Australia, floods, droughts and bushfires are hardly unpredictable. They are part of the natural system….

A pair of black swans, shot by Sannse or perhaps Pixel ;-), Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Sand storms in Mideast 'damaging people's health'

Trade Arabia Business News Information: Dust and sand storms in Bahrain and the region risk damaging people's health and could lead to climate change, an expert has warned. Dust and sand particles hanging in the air for long periods of time prevent the sun's rays from reaching the ground, leading to colder than usual weather, said Geneva-based World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) research department scientific officer Slobodan Nickovic.

'Gradually, this can lead to the weather patterns changing,' he told our sister newspaper Gulf Daily News (GDN). Speaking on the sidelines of an international symposium on sand and dust storms in the Arab region, he said while it is impossible to prevent such conditions given the huge desert areas in the region, one could predict them better and manage the situation in advance.

'Though climate change is an important side effect, people's health being affected is a major issue if these dust storms are not managed properly,' said Nickovic. He said a number of studies on climate change found ground temperatures can drop up to 6C if dust blankets the atmosphere….

A sand storm over Erfoud, Morocco, shot by Galilea for German Wikipedia, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

J$474.58 million set for Jamaican climate change adaptation project

Jamaica Information Service: Approximately J$474.58 million has been allocated for the implementation of a Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction project. Funding has been provided through grant resources from the European Union. It will be officially launched by the Prime Minister, the Hon. Bruce Golding on Wednesday, February 2, 2011 at the Office of the Prime Minister, Banquet Hall.

The project is being co-managed by the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ) through the Project Management Unit in the Sustainable Development and Regional Planning Division and the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP). Overall objectives are geared towards assisting with the adaptation of climate change and contributing to the sustainable development of Jamaica by increasing resilience of vulnerable areas and reducing risks associated with natural hazards. The project will involve watershed and coastal rehabilitation as well as climate change awareness.

According to the PIOJ, there has been an increase in storm intensity and incidence of floods and drought which has resulted in significant social dislocation and monumental economic loss and damage. In 2004 for instance, Hurricanes Ivan and Dean resulted in damage and losses totalling J$35 billion and J$23 billion respectively….

A rogue storm system caused Pakistan's floods

Terra Daily: Last summer's disastrous Pakistan floods that killed more than 2,000 people and left more than 20 million injured or homeless were caused by a rogue weather system that wandered hundreds of miles farther west than is normal for such systems, new research shows.

Storm systems that bring widespread, long-lasting rain over eastern India and Bangladesh form over the Bay of Bengal, at the east edge of India, said Robert Houze, a University of Washington atmospheric sciences professor. But Pakistan, on the Arabian Sea west of India, is substantially more arid and its storms typically produce only locally heavy rainfall.

The flooding began in July and at one point it was estimated that 20 percent of Pakistan's total land area was under water. Structural damage was estimated at more than $4 billion, and the World Health Organization estimated that as many as 10 million people had to drink unsafe water.

Houze and colleagues examined radar data from the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission satellite and were able to see that the rainfall that caused the Indus River in Pakistan to overflow was triggered over the Himalayas, within a storm system that had formed over the Bay of Bengal in late July and moved unusually far to the west. Because the rain clouds were within the moisture-laden storm from the east, they were able to pour abnormal amounts of rain on the barren mountainsides, which then ran into the Indus….

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Alaska seeing impact of climate change in its infrastructure, villages

Molly Rettig in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner (Alaska): Climate change has already begun to make life difficult for state transportation managers. And they expect it to become a bigger and more expensive challenge if warming trends continue as predicted.

“With over 6,600 miles of coastline and 80 percent of the state underlaid by ice-rich permafrost, you can certainly imagine we are at the forefront of climate change impacts,” said Mike Coffey, maintenance and operations chief for the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

Coffey discussed the impact of climate change on transportation in a webinar last week, hosted by the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. New challenges include warming permafrost, coastal erosion and the potential for more dramatic storms and flooding, he said. These could lead to more highways and facilities cracking, icing up or even washing away. The hardest-hit areas are northern, western and Interior Alaska, where roads and structures are built over permafrost and near the coast.

…Melting permafrost is the biggest challenge for roads and infrastructure, Coffey said. “Permafrost is essentially a function of average annual temperature. If average annual temperature goes above the freezing point, eventually you’ll see changes,” said Nancy Fresco, coordinator at Scenarios Network for Alaska Planning…

An undated view of wagons carrying Alaska Road Commission employees, in front of Camp Comfort Roadhouse, Valdez-Fairbanks Trail, Alaska. Photographer's number J354. n.d. Photographer: P.S. Hunt.

Pakistan flood crisis as bad as African famines, UN says

Declan Walsh in the Guardian (UK): A "humanitarian crisis of epic proportions" is unfolding in flood-hit areas of southern Pakistan where malnutrition rates rival those of African countries affected by famine, according to the United Nations.

In Sindh province, where some villages are still under water six months after the floods, almost one quarter of children under five are malnourished while 6% are severely underfed, a Floods Assessment Needs survey has found. "I haven't seen malnutrition this bad since the worst of the famine in Ethiopia, Darfur and Chad. It's shockingly bad," said Karen Allen, deputy head of Unicef in Pakistan.

The survey reflects the continuing impact of the massive August floods, which affected 20 million people across an area the size of England, sweeping away 2.2m hectares of farmland. The figures were alarming, Neva Khan, of Oxfam, said. "Emergency aid right after the floods saved many lives, but, as these figures show, millions are at serious risk," she said.

…But the figures highlight a broader truth: that Sindh, a ragged province where poor peasants toil under powerful landlords, has long had some of the worst poverty levels in South Asia. "This sort of thing doesn't happen overnight. It indicates deep, slow-grinding poverty," said Dorothy Blane, of Concern.

The most recent nutrition survey across Pakistan in 2002 found a national malnutrition rate of 13.2%. The survey of 786 households, jointly carried out by the UN, aid agencies and the government, recorded global malnutrition rates of 23.1% in northern Sindh and 21.2% in the southern part of the province….

The Indus River delta seen from space, via NASA

Flood ravaged Queensland braces for storms

ABC Radio (Australia): Summer in Australia has been anything but relaxing, with record flooding to blame for 35 deaths, and nearly 30,000 homes and businesses destroyed by the brutal weather. On Sunday, separate regions of the country were bracing for cyclones that could bring as much as 11 inches of rain.

In the northwest Queensland region, which was recently devastated by floods for over a month and suffered billions of dollars in damage, Cyclone Anthony is expected to bring 80 mph winds. On Sunday, it was upgraded to a Category 2 storm, and weather reports from the Bureau of Meteorology predicted it would bring destructive winds and more flooding when it made landfall on Monday…

Drying of West brings new era of water wars

The Press Democrat via the Economist: …The main reason why Lake Mead, currently only 40 percent full, has been getting emptier is a decade-long drought. Whether this is a cyclical and normal event, or an early sign of climate change, is unclear. But even if the drought ends, most scientists think global warming will cause flows on the Colorado River to decrease by 10 percent to 30 percent in the next half-century, says Douglas Kenney, the director of a water policy program at the University of Colorado Law School.

The other reason, says Kenney, is the rapidly increasing demand for the river's water. The Colorado provides much or most of the water for many cities and farms in seven states — Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona and California — before it peters out in the sands of Mexico.

…That is why Las Vegas is a canary in the mine shaft, as Pat Mulroy, the boss of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, puts it. The Las Vegas valley gets its water through two long channels drilled through the rock. The first taps the lake at 1,050 feet above sea level, the second at 1,000 feet. Lake Mead's water level is now near its record low, at 1,086 feet. Within a few years, it could leave Las Vegas' first intake, or even both, dry.

The threat to Sin City is a good example of the four dimensions — physical, legal, political and cultural — of water in the West. For the physical, the standard response is to summon the engineers. Mulroy already has them digging a third intake at 890 feet. Given the weight of the water on top, this is fiendishly difficult, and it will not be ready until 2014. Mulroy also wants to pipe ground water from the rural and wetter northern counties of Nevada to Las Vegas, but that has caused a vicious row.

Another response is to call in the lawyers. This was the preferred approach a century ago, in the era of the “water wars.” Starting with the Colorado River Compact of 1922 and continuing with statutes, a treaty with Mexico and case law until the 1960s, a truce was achieved. Called the Law of the River, the resulting regime determines who along the river has what right to how much water....

Lake Mead, bathtub ring, this time by Cmpxchg8b, who has released the image into the public domain

Farmers are key to climate change but poor policy is locking them out

Scola Kamau in the East African (Kenya): According to the Worldwatch Institute, a New York-based environment research organisation, there is an urgent need for sweeping policy changes on the continent to combat worsening weather patterns. Africa’s major focus is on adaptation, ignoring other factors, hence the sluggish progress in combating climate change.

Tree planting is a preferred initiative with the recent heads of state proposal to plant a Great Green Wall 7,100 kilometres long and 15km wide through the Sahara from Senegal to Djibouti and the World Wide Billion Tree Planting Initiative, facilitated by the United Nations Environment Programme. Launched in 2006, the latter saw more than 7.4 billion trees planted towards a target of 12 billion trees.

According to the 2011 State of the World Report by Worldwatch Institute, such initiatives only solve part of the problem. “Tree planting is important but the reality is that only 10 to 20 per cent of planted trees survive more than two to three years, particularly in dry conditions,” says the report.

According to the report, the continent needs substantial financial resources, information systems, technical capacity, the right policies and institutions to successfully address the challenges of adaptation to climate change.

These adaptation policies should also address gender, equity, capacity building and distribution issues and build on local knowledge and emerging research and technologies while supporting farmers to diversify and build resilience under institutional and climate uncertainty….

Members of Nyawadhogwe community group planting vetiver grass in Kenya, shot by treesftf (, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Climate change and tourism in Cyprus

Theodore Panayotou in the Cyprus Mail: Global tourism profoundly affects, and is being affected by climate change and hence the tourism industry is a major stakeholder in global mitigation and adaptation efforts. Cyprus tourism is no exception. On the contrary, the mutually detrimental impacts are likely to be more pronounced in Cyprus than in many other parts of the world.

The over-reliance on fossil fuels for electricity and on the private car for transportation results in high carbon emissions per tourist. Cyprus being an island with an already hot and semi-arid climate is likely to experience more pronounced impacts from climate change than, say, other parts of Europe.

With higher temperatures the demand for energy and water will increase while low-lying areas of the coast might be lost to sea level rise along with coastal tourism infrastructure. Extreme weather events such as heat waves, droughts, storms and hurricanes may also increase in frequency and severity and the range of tropical disease vectors may expand north to the sub-tropical zone of the Mediterranean.

…How should the industry respond? First of all, not all types of tourism have the same environmental footprint nor are they equally vulnerable to climate change. Mass tourism of the sun-sand-and-sea variety has the greatest environmental footprint per euro of income earned. It is also the most vulnerable to climate change and the consequent sea-level rise, extreme weather events, carbon taxes, rising energy costs, and water scarcity. Not only is the resource-base of the mass (coastal) tourism, such as beaches and coastal infrastructure, more vulnerable than other types of tourism, such as experiential and special purpose tourism, but mass tourism tends also to be more price sensitive and less able to absorb the rising costs of travel, energy, insurance and adaptation brought about by climate change….

Southeast side of the Ancient Roman theatre in Kourion, Cyprus. Shot by Wknight94 talk, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Arctic current warmer than for 2,000 years

Alister Doyle in Reuters: A North Atlantic current flowing into the Arctic Ocean is warmer than for at least 2,000 years in a sign that global warming is likely to bring ice-free seas around the North Pole in summers, a study showed.

Scientists said that waters at the northern end of the Gulf Stream, between Greenland and the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, averaged 6 degrees Celsius (42.80F) in recent summers, warmer than at natural peaks during Roman or Medieval times.

"The temperature is unprecedented in the past 2,000 years," lead author Robert Spielhagen of the Academy of Sciences, Humanities and Literature in Mainz, Germany, told Reuters of the study in Friday's edition of the journal Science…

Heleysundet Svalbard, seen from southwest, shot by Hermanhi, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Permanent drought in the US southwest

\David Funkhouser in Columbia University News: The American Southwest has seen naturally induced dry spells throughout the past, but now human-induced global warming could push the region into a permanent drought in the coming decades, according to Lamont-Doherty scientist Richard Seager and others who have been studying the area’s climate.

Seager, who focuses on climate variability and climate change, began his work studying droughts by looking into the past using sea surface temperature records gathered by ships plying the oceans in the 19th century. He and colleagues used computer models to recreate a climate history that showed periodic droughts. Focusing on North America, they also used tree rings to look back as far as the Middle Ages, when the Southwest experienced a drought lasting hundreds of years.

“You begin to see that there’s a natural cycle of droughts, large and small,” says Seager, the Palisades Geophysical Institute/Lamont research professor at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “But when you add in the human effects from rising greenhouse gases, we could be pushing subtropical regions like the American Southwest into a permanent state of aridity. There are signs it’s already underway.”

In a 2007 paper, Seager and colleagues used computer models to show the Southwest is on the verge of a transition to a more arid climate. And in the December 2010 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Seager and Gabriel Vecchi of NOAA pinned the drying to a drop in winter precipitation and showed how this is caused by changes in atmospheric circulation and water vapor transports induced by warming temperatures.

The warming also shortens the snow season, reduces the snow mass that serves as natural storage for water, and forces an earlier spring melt, disrupting the supply system that waters much of the Southwest—the region from the western Great Plains to the Pacific, and the Oregon border to southern Mexico.

That is ominous news for a region that has seen explosive growth in population, land use and water demands in recent decades. A reduction in the flow of important water resources such as the Colorado River will have serious consequences….

Lake Powell with the bathtub ring caused by low water, shot by PRA, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Flood risk in Wales

Graham Henry in the South Wales Echo: Cardiff could suffer annual flooding later this century if defences are not improved, a report has warned. The Environment Agency Wales has warned that without flood-defence improvements, rising seas could cause damaging floods to towns along the Severn Estuary by 2060, including Cardiff, Penarth and Newport.

Plans identified Lavernock Point in the Vale of Glamorgan at particular risk, while there are risk points identified all along the estuary to Gloucestershire, which includes around 250,000 homes. The report said that, in Penarth, there was a 20% chance each year that waves could rise above the sea wall and cause damage to buildings.

It also identifies increased risk of storms in both Penarth and Cardiff – with the Agency warning that Cardiff could face catastrophic annual flooding within 100 years if defences were not improved. Even with proposed raising of embankments in Cardiff by 0.8m, there would still be a one-in-200 risk of flooding to around 10,000 homes.

The report said: “Flood risk will increase as sea levels rise and storms become worse. Even if the existing defence structures were maintained at their current height, by 2060 the risk of tidal flooding will increase to a one-in-50 chance of flooding in any year.”…

Lavernock Point in the Vale of Glamorgan, shot by Penny Mayes, Wikimedia Commons via Geograph UK, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Unported license

Friday, January 28, 2011

Large hurricane losses are not evidence for man-made climate change

Nadya Anscombe in Enivronmental Research Web: Conclusions about the effect of man-made climate change cannot be drawn from data relating to the amount of economic loss caused by cyclones, according to researchers in Australia and the US.

Ryan Crompton and colleagues from Risk Frontiers, Australia and the University of Colorado, Boulder, US, used a previous study of Atlantic storm projections and analysed the impact of these projections on US tropical cyclone economic losses. They found that it would take between 120 and 550 years of analysing loss data before any conclusions could be drawn about the effect of anthropogenic climate change on this data.

…Depending on the global climate model(s) underpinning the projection, emergence timescales range between 120 and 550 years, reflecting a large uncertainty. "Our results confirm the general agreement that it is far more efficient to seek to detect anthropogenic signals in geophysical data directly rather than in loss data," says Crompton.

"This is because there is a large amount of variability in loss data," explains Crompton. "Two events of the same strength can hit different areas of the US and generate very different losses depending on a number of factors such as the strength of buildings and the economic wealth in those areas."….

NASA astronaut Ed Lu took this image of the eye of Hurricane Isabel from the International Space Station at 11:18 UTC on September 13, 2003. At the time of the image, Isabel had weakened to a Category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale, from its peak as a Category 5. The storm was located about 450 miles northeast of Puerto Rico

More frequent drought likely in eastern Africa

US Geological Survey: The increased frequency of drought observed in eastern Africa over the last 20 years is likely to continue as long as global temperatures continue to rise, according to new research published in Climate Dynamics. This poses increased risk to the estimated 17.5 million people in the Greater Horn of Africa who currently face potential food shortages.

Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of California, Santa Barbara, determined that warming of the Indian Ocean, which causes decreased rainfall in eastern Africa, is linked to global warming. These new projections of continued drought contradict previous scenarios by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicting increased rainfall in eastern Africa.

This new research supports efforts by the USGS and the U.S. Agency for International Development to identify areas of potential drought and famine in order to target food aid and help inform agricultural development, environmental conservation, and water resources planning.

“Global temperatures are predicted to continue increasing, and we anticipate that average precipitation totals in Kenya and Ethiopia will continue decreasing or remain below the historical average,” said USGS scientist Chris Funk. “The decreased rainfall in eastern Africa is most pronounced in the March to June season, when substantial rainfall usually occurs. Although drought is one reason for food shortages, it is exacerbated by stagnating agricultural development and continued population growth.”

As the globe has warmed over the last century, the Indian Ocean has warmed especially fast. The resulting warmer air and increased humidity over the Indian Ocean produce more frequent rainfall in that region. The air then rises, loses its moisture during rainfall, and then flows westward and descends over Africa, causing drought conditions in Ethiopia and Kenya….

A donkey trolley in the Ethiopian desert near Lake Langano, shot by Niklas Schiffler (Grmpf), under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic licenseWikimedia Commons,

Defra's UK climate-proofing plans unveiled

David Shukman in BBC News: Roads built to the same standards as the scorching south of France; fish moved from the overheated Lake District to cooler waters in Scotland; lighthouses threatened by rising seas. From measures in use already to seemingly far-fetched scenarios for the future, these are some of the findings in the first batch of climate adaptation plans submitted to the environment ministry Defra.

Under the Climate Change Act, 91 major organisations responsible for key aspects of national infrastructure have to explain how they will cope if the climate alters as forecast. The latest projections suggest the potential for major change - for example that it is "very likely" that southern England will on average be 2.2-6.8C warmer by the 2080s.

…Many of the ideas for adaptation have been aired before but this is the first time they have been brought together in a formal set of strategies. In its plan, the Highways Agency recognises the risk of roads deteriorating more rapidly in higher temperatures and more frequent extreme weather. One solution, adopted in 2008, is to copy the specifications for road foundations used in southern France.

The Environment Agency warns that rising temperatures will be stressful for wildlife - with fish at the greatest risk. It raises the radical option of relocating some fish species from the Lake District to habitats further north where the waters will be cooler.

…Network Rail raises concerns about keeping passengers cool in heatwaves, ensuring that rail lines do not buckle in high temperatures and preventing embankments collapsing as a result of flooding. One of its most vulnerable stretches of track is on the south Devon coast between Dawlish and Teignmouth where storms have often seen waves break over the line.

…National Grid has submitted two reports - for gas and electricity. On gas, it warns that pipes could become exposed through subsidence or erosion and it is working to replace old metal pipes with ones made of polyethylene. On electricity, it identifies 13 substations - unnamed - that are vulnerable to a one-in-a-century flood - a relatively high risk for such important assets. The 2007 floods had provided a wake-up for the industry when a vital substation at Walham in Gloucester - serving tens of thousands of households - was almost overwhelmed….

The Beachy Head lighthouse in Eastbourne, UK, shot by Teddy Sipaseuth, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Warming North Atlantic water tied to heating Arctic

University of Colorado at Boulder news: The temperatures of North Atlantic Ocean water flowing north into the Arctic Ocean adjacent to Greenland -- the warmest water in at least 2,000 years -- are likely related to the amplification of global warming in the Arctic, says a new international study involving the University of Colorado Boulder.

Led by Robert Spielhagen of the Academy of Sciences, Humanities and Literature in Mainz, Germany, the study showed that water from the Fram Strait that runs between Greenland and Svalbard -- an archipelago constituting the northernmost part of Norway -- has warmed roughly 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit in the past century. The Fram Strait water temperatures today are about 2.5 degrees F warmer than during the Medieval Warm Period, which heated the North Atlantic from roughly 900 to 1300 and affected the climate in Northern Europe and northern North America.

The team believes that the rapid warming of the Arctic and recent decrease in Arctic sea ice extent are tied to the enhanced heat transfer from the North Atlantic Ocean, said Spielhagen. According to CU-Boulder's National Snow and Ice Data Center, the total loss of Arctic sea ice extent from 1979 to 2009 was an area larger than the state of Alaska, and some scientists there believe the Arctic will become ice-free during the summers within the next several decades.

"Such a warming of the Atlantic water in the Fram Strait is significantly different from all climate variations in the last 2,000 years," said Spielhagen, also of the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences in Keil, Germany.

According to study co-author Thomas Marchitto, a fellow at CU-Boulder's Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, the new observations are crucial for putting the current warming trend of the North Atlantic in the proper context. "We know that the Arctic is the most sensitive region on the Earth when it comes to warming, but there has been some question about how unusual the current Arctic warming is compared to the natural variability of the last thousand years," said Marchitto, also an associate professor in CU-Boulder's geological sciences department. "We found that modern Fram Strait water temperatures are well outside the natural bounds."

…"Cold seawater is critical for the formation of sea ice, which helps to cool the planet by reflecting sunlight back to space," said Marchitto. "Sea ice also allows Arctic air temperatures to be very cold by forming an insulating blanket over the ocean. Warmer waters could lead to major sea ice loss and drastic changes for the Arctic."…

Photo of the German research vessel Maria S. Merian moving through sea ice in Fram Strait northwest of Svalbard. The research team discovered the water there was the warmest in at least 2,000 years, which has implications for a warming and melting Arctic Credit: Nicolas van Nieuwenhove (IFM-GEOMAR, Kiel)

First large-scale, physics-based space weather model transitions into operation

National Science Foundation (US): The first large-scale, physics-based space weather prediction model is transitioning from research into operation. Scientists affiliated with the National Science Foundation (NSF) Center for Integrated Space Weather Modeling (CISM) and the National Weather Service reported the news today at the annual American Meteorological Society (AMS) meeting in Seattle, Wash.

The model will provide forecasters with a one-to-four day advance warning of high speed streams of solar plasma and Earth-directed coronal mass ejections (CMEs). These streams from the Sun may severely disrupt or damage space- and ground-based communications systems, and pose hazards to satellite operations.

CISM is an NSF Science and Technology Center (STC) made up of 11 member institutions. Established in 2002, CISM researchers address the emerging system-science of Sun-to-Earth space weather. The research-to-operations transition has been enabled by an unprecedented partnership between the Boston University-led CISM and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)'s Space Weather Prediction Center.

"It's very exciting to pioneer a path from research to operations in space weather," says scientist Jeffrey Hughes of Boston University, CISM's director. "The science is having a real impact on the practical problem of predicting when 'solar storms' will affect us here on Earth."

The development comes in response to the growing critical need to protect the global communications infrastructure and other sensitive technologies from severe space weather disruptions. This transition culminates several years of close cooperation between CISM and its partner organizations to integrate, improve and validate a model for operational forecast use.

"This milestone represents important scientific progress, and underscores the effectiveness of NSF's Science and Technology Centers in applying research results to real-world problems," says Robert Robinson of NSF's Division of Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences, which funds CISM…

A coronal mass ejection (CME) in a model; the CME is the gray cloud toward the lower right. Credit: Dusan Odstrcil, George Mason University

Thursday, January 27, 2011

This green and private land: 637,000 acres of UK woodland up for sale

Michael McCarthy in the Independent about the Sheriff of Nottingham’s swell plan: England's public forests are to be sold off to the private sector for up to £250m, the Government announced yesterday in one of its most contentious policy decisions. In a move squarely driven by the ideology of the Conservative "Big Society" agenda, most of the 637,000 acres of state-owned woodland in England, owned and maintained by the Forestry Commission, is to be sold off over the next decade, despite an angry campaign of opposition and a recent poll showing 84 per cent of the public are firmly against the idea.

However, the announcement, made by the Environment Secretary, Caroline Spelman, showed signs of alarm in Whitehall at the antagonism which has been aroused. The Government appeared to be bending over backwards to appease its critics by stressing that a series of safeguards would be built into the process, to ensure continued free public access, good management and wildlife protection in woodlands that were privatised.

Under proposals put out for public consultation, commercially valuable forests would not be sold freehold, but would be leased under 150-year contracts, which would allow the Government to impose stricter conditions on timber companies taking them over. Communities, civil society and even local authorities would also be given the right to buy or lease forests.

In the biggest olive branch of all, a new category of "heritage forests" – specifically, the New Forest in Hampshire and the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire – would not be sold off, but would be handed to a conservation charity, if one can be found to take them, or a new charity set up for the purpose, which the Government would fund, if no existing body is willing to step in…

From the Frank Godwin-illustrated novel "Robin Hood" by Henry Gilbert. Published by David McKay, 604-608 Washington Square, Philadelphia. No publication date. Preface dated 1912

UN urges quick disbursement of funds to help Pakistan recover from floods

UN News Centre: Six months since the onset of last year's devastating floods in Pakistan, the humanitarian community there is urging adequate and timely resources to respond to early recovery needs, the United Nations said today. Of the more than 450 projects included in the Floods Relief and Early Recovery Response Plan for Pakistan, 252 are early recovery programmes, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

“As these well-designed projects are essential for the country to get back on its feet, we need more funding to put them into practice,” said Rauf Engin Soysal, the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Assistance to Pakistan. The early recovery projects have so far received 39 per cent of the required funding, and despite the fact that emergency relief is still required, the needs for rehabilitation activities are growing.

“Providing early recovery assistance in the current humanitarian environment is complex and requires a well-coordinated effort by the humanitarian community and the authorities at federal, provincial and district levels,” added Mr. Soysal.

Timo Pakkala, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Pakistan said: “Six months on, I am proud and honoured to be part of a commendable effort – led by the Government of Pakistan and supported by the international and national humanitarian community.” Since the beginning of the emergency, almost 10 million people have received essential medical assistance, about 7 million are receiving monthly food rations, and more than 800,000 households have been provided with emergency shelter. An estimated 3.5 million people have access to safe drinking water through rehabilitated water supply systems.

Longer-term recovery entails reviving agriculture providing shelter, education facilities and employment opportunities and continuing medical assistance to prevent disease outbreaks…

An aerial view of flooding in Pakistan taken from a an CH-46E Sea Knight helicopter assigned to the White Knights of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron (HMM-165) Reinforced. The squadron is embarked aboard the U.S. Navy amphibious assault ship USS Peleliu (LHA 5). Peleliu and embarked U.S. Navy and Marine Corps units are conducting humanitarian assistance missions in flooded areas of Pakistan. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Capt. Paul Duncan/Released)

No hydropower from Iraq's Mosul dam

Terra Daily: Record low water levels at Iraq's largest hydroelectric dam have ground turbines there to a halt, amplifying a power shortage that led to riots last summer, a top official said on Thursday. Adel Mahdi, advisor to the electricity minister, said water levels at the Mosul dam on the Tigris River had fallen to 298 metres (977 feet) above sea level. "It is the first time since 1984 when the dam was built that water levels have fallen this low," Mahdi told AFP.

"The installed power generation capacity of Mosul's hydroelectric plant is 1,175 megawatts, but the current production is zero, because the turbines need a minimum water level of 307 metres (1,007 feet) to operate," he added. He said half of the water to the dam was coming from Turkey, and the rest from Iran and the mountains of Iraq.

The Tigris and Euphrates which gave Iraq its ancient name of Mesopotamia, meaning "land of two rivers," reach Iraq through Turkey. The Tigris flows directly from Turkey, and the Euphrates goes from Turkey through Syria, then flows to Iraq. Water projects in the two countries have had a severe impact on Iraq.

Mahdi said Iraq also was eyeing with extreme worry Turkey's controversial Aliso dam on the Tigris, work on which began in 2006. "If Aliso is completed, it will finish with the Tigris in Iraq completely," Mahdi said…

Water rushing out one of the chute spillways at the Mosul Dam, shot by US Army Corps of Engineers

Scientists postulate association between climatic fluctuations of the last 2,500 years and social upheaval

Johannes Gutenberg University (Mainz): It would seem that there are striking chronological parallels between significant variations of climate and major historical epochs, such as the Migration Period and the heyday of the Middle Ages. This is the conclusion reached following a study undertaken by researchers from Switzerland, Germany, Austria, and the USA, in which they were able to reconstruct the summer climate in Europe over the last 2,500 years from the information provided by annual tree rings. For example, the summers at the times when both the Roman Empire and the Middle Ages were at their zenith were relatively humid and warm.

…The team, consisting of climatologists and archeologists, managed for the first time to put together a complete history of rainfall and temperature over the past two and a half millennia in Central Europe. In order to do this, they analyzed the annual growth rings of some 9,000 samples of subfossil, archeological-historical and living wood originating from Germany, France, Italy, and Austria. The width of these tree rings was measured using dendrochronological techniques. The results were compared with weather data compiled by Central European meteorological stations in order to collate the findings with actual information on precipitation and temperature variations.

This enabled the scientists to consider major historical events and epochs in the context of the fluctuations of the European summer climate in the period from the late Iron Age 2,500 years ago right up to the 21st century. "During the Roman era, the climate was predominantly humid and warm, and also relatively stable," explains the first author of the publication, Ulf Büntgen of Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape (WSL) in Zurich. The decline of the Western Roman Empire coincided with a period after 250 AD in which it became much colder and climatically changeable. This phase of more marked climatic variation persisted for 300 years, accompanying the age of Migration and the associated socio-economic destabilization. The cultural revival of the early Middle Ages occurred as both temperatures and rainfall began to increase with the dawn of the 7th century. It is also possible that climatic factors may have contributed towards the spread and virulence of the Black Death after 1347. In addition, the new findings suggest that a cold period during the Thirty Years' War in the first half of the 17th century could have exacerbated the contemporary widespread famines.

…However, the team of authors explicitly draws attention to the complexity of the relationship between climatic change and historical events, and warns of the dangers of drawing overly simplistic conclusions with regard to cause and effect.

Codex Manesse, fol. 11v, Herzog Heinrich von Breslau (probably Heinrich IV of Schlesien)

Australia imposes new tax to fund flood recovery

James Grubel and Rob Taylor in Reuters: Australia imposed a temporary new tax on Thursday to help fund a multi-billion-dollar rebuilding program after floods devastated infrastructure and ruined thousands of homes and businesses across the eastern seaboard over the past month.

The floods shut coal mines, ruined crops, washed away roads and rail lines, damaged bridges and destroyed thousands of buildings across three major states, killing 35 people and causing damage estimated at up to $10 billion or more.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced a new income tax to raise A$1.8 billion, at a rate of 0.5 percent on annual income exceeding A$50,000 ($49,900) and 1 percent on income over A$100,000. Flood-stricken households are exempt.

…Gillard said the national government would also curb spending on other areas to help patch up its budget, which faced flood costs of around A$5.6 billion. The governments of flood-affected states will also contribute flood recovery funds…

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Climate threats in South Africa

Dwa in Defence Web in South Africa has a statement by the country’s Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs in response to a parliamentary question: …The research which has been conducted in South Africa in an attempt to quantify the climatic trend and the nature, likelihood and potential consequences’ impact thereof has confirmed the impact to various sectors as a result of climate change. Sectors such as agriculture, water and forestry are the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, as a result of decreases in rainfall and the increased frequency of extreme weather events such as flooding, drought and heat waves. Besides these, climate change also threatens major sectors such as health and tourism. … Poor communities, children, women and small scale farmers are likely to be the most affected by the effects of climate change because they are unlikely to respond to the direct and indirect effects of climate change because of limited financial, human and institutional capacity.

…South Africa is, overall, a water stressed country with the mean annual rainfall of about 490 mm compared with the global average of about 876 mm. Climate change is one of several drivers currently influencing water resources in South Africa’s rivers as a result of high temperature…. A reduction in rainfall amount or variability, or an increase in evaporation (due to higher temperatures) would further strain the already limited amount of water resources and water quality.

…There are various initiatives being undertaken by the department and other government departments which include: climate change capacity building to National departments, Provincials, District and local municipalities in the country, coordinating climate change adaptation sector plan with sector departments such as Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Tourism, Water, Health, Social Development, Rural Development, and SALGA. The Department facilitates the establishment of South African adaptation network/forum an NGO’s initiative aimed at promoting adaptation issues, capacity building, sharing of experience and coordinates inputs to the policy process.

Various risk-sharing approaches are being implemented to strengthen climate change adaptation strategies, including disaster management, co-operative water resource management, and poverty alleviation, trans boundary co-operation by sectors such as Health, Agriculture, Water, Energy and Security. South Africa is still vulnerable to climate change and variability because of its limited adaptive capacity as a result of, among others, widespread poverty, and dependence on rain fed-agriculture, recurrent drought, inequitable land distribution and HIV/AIDS. Second National Communication published in November provides the latest scientific understanding of climate impacts and vulnerability whilst the green paper on climate change presents policy options including adaptation.

An aerial view of greater Cape Town, shot by Simisa, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Time machine for climate scientists: earth's extreme weather events since 1871 reanalyzed

Science Daily: From the hurricane that smashed into New York in 1938 to the impact of the Krakatoa eruption of 1883, the late 19th and 20th centuries are rich with examples of extreme weather. Now an international team of climatologists have created a comprehensive reanalysis of all global weather events from 1871 to the present day, and from the earth's surface to the jet stream level.

The 20th Century Reanalysis Project, outlined in the Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society, not only allows researchers to understand the long-term impact of extreme weather, but provides key historical comparisons for our own changing climate.

"Producing this huge dataset required an international effort to collate historical observations and recordings from sources as diverse as 19th century sea captains, turn of the century explorers and medical doctors, all pieced together using some of the world's most powerful supercomputers at the US Department Energy's National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center in California and the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility in Tennessee," said lead author Dr Gil Compo.

"The resulting weather maps, called reanalyses, provide a much longer record of past weather variability than is currently available to compare present and projected weather variability in a warming climate. They also provide a valuable insight into extreme weather and climate events that were historically important, such as the 1930's Dust Bowl."

…By using historical climate data to understand current weather patterns the 20CR team, which includes 27 international scientists, are building on the work of their meteorological forebears such as the U.S. Historical Weather Map Series produced by the U.S. Weather Bureau to better understand weather events preceding World War II. However, the 20CR is the first project of its kind to span a full century.

..."This reanalysis data will enable climate scientists to rigorously evaluate past climate variations compared to climate model simulations, which is critical for building confidence in model projections of regional changes and high-impact, extreme events," concluded Compo. "We hope that this 138 year reanalysis data will enable climate researchers to better address issues such as the range of natural variability of extreme events, including floods, droughts, extratropical cyclones, and cold waves."...

A 1935 dust storm approaches Stratford, Texas

Australian water torture

Paul Gilding in the Business Spectator (Australia): … No matter how desperate the forecasts now look, it is hard to imagine a crisis we can’t ultimately deal with, though not without cost. Human society has shown itself to be extraordinarily adaptable and capable of responding to new circumstances. Our resilience and capacity for innovation appears to be boundless once we put our minds to the task. WWII is perhaps the most dramatic example, and one from which we can learn many lessons and take great heart.

While many of us have days when we despair at the lack of action in response to the climate science, history shows this ongoing denial is a consistent pattern. Fortunately, also consistent is our capacity to then suddenly wake up and achieve extraordinary change, amazingly quickly.

The good news is that, in a technical and economic sense, eliminating CO2 emissions from the global economy is quite viable, and surprisingly so, as Jorgen Randers and I detailed in our One Degree War Plan. These conclusions have been replicated in a number of other studies. So all we need is the decision to act.

This will be little comfort for the families of the 30 dead in the Queensland floods since November, or those of the more than 800 now confirmed dead in Brazil’s worst ever natural disaster, with that country also gripped by floods and mudslides.

But like water torture, each new catastrophic climate event slowly breaks down our resistance. Every flood drips on our collective denial, wearing it down until it will be paper-thin. Then one day, the denial will be gone and we’ll get to work. The more we get ready for that day, the less torture we will have to endure.

NASA image of 2011 flooding in Brisbane

China's demand for desalination lags

Terra Daily: China's major desalination project in Tianjin, while seen as necessary to ease water shortages, hasn't generated the expected demand for the desalinated water since operations started there last April, The Guardian newspaper reports. The main drawback is the high cost of the water. Desalinated water costs $1.22 a cubic meter, compared with $0.75 for normal Tianjin water.

Even though cheaper water sources in China -- pumped from rivers, lakes and aquifers -- are rapidly depleting from decades of over-utilization, companies are reluctant to make the transition to desalinated water.

But experts also say that utilities are concerned that once they make the switch to desalinated water, they can no longer use traditional sources. "They don't want to give up the old resources because they know they won't get permission to use them again," said Wang Shichang, head of the desalination research center at Tianjin University, The Guardian reports. "But the delay won't last long. China is working on plans to further develop desalination because we face scarce water resources and rising demand."

The coastal port city of Tianjin, about 90 miles from Beijing, faces one of the most acute water shortages in China, with its per capita quota of water resources at 370 cubic meters, far lower than the internationally recognized warning level of 1,000 cubic meters per capita…

Railway station on Russian Street in Tianjin, 1900

Dam removal in New Jersey

Environment News Service: New Jersey has negotiated removal of three dams on the Raritan River as compensation to the public for harm to natural resources from pollution at a refinery and three polymer plants operated by or affiliated with the Houston-based El Paso Corporation. Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin announced today that El Paso will finance and carry out removal of the dams under a settlement agreement between the state and the company.

The dam removals will open a 10-mile stretch of the river to fish migrations for the first time in more than a century and expand recreational opportunities along the river. None of the dams were built for flood control. "This unique and unprecedented settlement will make valuable habitat in the Raritan River available for fish spawning while improving overall environmental conditions in the river system," Commissioner Martin said.

"In addition, dam removal will make it easier for kayakers, canoeists, and other lovers of the outdoors to enjoy a river system that has been undergoing a steady and impressive ecological comeback over the years," Martin said.

Dam removal will open up a stretch of the river that winds through a diverse residential, commercial and agricultural portion of Somerset County that includes Bridgewater, Bound Brook, Somerville and Manville. It will also open up about 17 miles of Raritan tributaries to spawning….

The Raritan River in Clinton, New Jersey. It's unclear whether the dam in this photo is one of those slated for removal. Shot by Ekem, who released it into the public domain

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Scientists find that debris on certain Himalayan glaciers may prevent melting

UC Santa Barbara Office of Public Affairs: A new scientific study shows that debris coverage –– pebbles, rocks, and debris from surrounding mountains –– may be a missing link in the understanding of the decline of glaciers. Debris is distinct from soot and dust, according to the scientists. Melting of glaciers in the Himalayan Mountains affects water supplies for hundreds of millions of people living in South and Central Asia. Experts have stated that global warming is a key element in the melting of glaciers worldwide.

Bodo Bookhagen, assistant professor in the Department of Geography at UC Santa Barbara, co-authored a paper on this topic in Nature Geoscience, published this week. The first author is Dirk Scherler, Bookhagen's graduate student from Germany, who performed part of this research while studying at UCSB.

"With the aid of new remote-sensing methods and satellite images, we identified debris coverage to be an important contributor to glacial advance and retreat behaviors," said Bookhagen. "This parameter has been almost completely neglected in previous Himalayan and other mountainous region studies, although its impact has been known for some time."

The finding is one more element in a worldwide political controversy involving global warming. "Controversy about the current state and future evolution of Himalayan glaciers has been stirred up by erroneous reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)," according to the paper. "There is no ‘stereotypical' Himalayan glacier," said Bookhagen. "This is in clear contrast to the IPCC reports that lumps all Himalayan glaciers together."

Bookhagen noted that glaciers in the Karakoram region of Northwestern Himalaya are mostly stagnating. However, glaciers in the Western, Central, and Eastern Himalaya are retreating, with the highest retreat rates –– approximately 8 meters per year –– in the Western Himalayan Mountains. The authors found that half of the studied glaciers in the Karakoram region are stable or advancing, whereas about two-thirds are in retreat elsewhere throughout High Asia. This is in contrast to the prevailing notion that all glaciers in the tropics are retreating.

Bookhagen explained the difference between debris and coverage by soot and dust on glaciers: "The debris cover has the opposite effect of soot and dust on glaciers. Debris coverage thickness above 2 centimeters, or about a half an inch, ‘shields' the glacier and prevents melting. This is the case for many Himalayan glaciers that are surrounded by towering mountains that almost continuously shed pebbles, debris, and rocks onto the glacier."

Thus, glaciers in the steep Himalaya are not only affected by temperature and precipitation, but also by debris coverage, and have no uniform and less predictable response, explained the authors. The debris coverage may be one of the missing links to creating a more coherent picture of glacial behavior throughout all mountains. The scientists contrast this Himalayan glacial study with glaciers from the gently dipping, low-relief Tibetan Plateau that have no debris coverage. Those glaciers behave in a different way, and their frontal changes can be explained by temperature and precipitation changes....

Gaumukh (Cow's mouth), the end of Gangotri glacier, start of Bhagirathi River in Uttarakhand, India, shot by Atarax42, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Aging and failed satellites jeopardize efforts to collect data on climate change

Emmarie Huetteman in the Washington Post: Shortly after it lifted off in February 2009, NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory crashed into the Pacific Ocean near Antarctica. With that, a $250 million investment became scrap metal on the ocean floor and an effort to begin using satellites to measure atmospheric carbon dioxide and trace emission-reduction actions was dealt a huge setback.

Scientists say the information the OCO was intended to collect is a crucial piece of the data needed not only by those monitoring the Earth's environment but also by federal officials struggling to understand possible national security implications of those climate changes.

But the OCO's failure highlighted an even broader problem: Understanding climate change requires a breadth of information on variables from atmospheric carbon dioxide to the condition of Arctic ice, and scientists say that satellites are vital for this. Yet at a time where the massive Larsen B Ice Shelf in Antarctica seems intact one day and then collapses into the sea the next, the system of continuous, reliable satellite observation of Earth is at risk, with some aging satellites in dire need of replacement.

The OCO was "the only satellite in the world that will do the kind of global collection we need," said James Lewis, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and one of the authors of a 2010 report on satellite monitoring of climate change. "And we haven't thought about how to replace it."

Berrien Moore III, an earth scientist who co-chaired a National Research Council committee several years ago on space-based observation of Earth, said climate change predictions based on mathematical models have failed to capture how quickly sea ice would decline. "Thank God for the [satellite] observations, because otherwise we wouldn't have known this is going on," said Moore, vice president for weather and climate programs at the University of Oklahoma…

NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory never made it into orbit. The craft crashed into the ocean near Antarctica moments after its launch almost two years ago

Battling superweeds with a lower volume of chemicals

Seed Daily: They pop up in farm fields across 22 states, and they've been called the single largest threat to production agriculture that farmers have ever seen. They are "superweeds" - undesirable plants that can tolerate multiple herbicides, including the popular gylphosate, also known as RoundUp - and they cost time and money because the only real solution is for farmers to plow them out of the field before they suffocate corn, soybeans or cotton.

Now, thanks to the work of researchers at Dow AgroSciences, LLC, who have been collaborating with a University of Missouri researcher, a new weapon may be on the horizon to eliminate superweeds. Zhanyuan Zhang, a research associate professor of plant sciences and director of the MU Plant Transformation Core facility, partnered with research scientists at Dow AgroSciences, LLC, to engineer soybean plants that can tolerate an alternative herbicide that may help slow the spread of superweeds, such as tall waterhemp.

According to an article in the New York Times, farmers considered RoundUp a "miracle chemical" when it was introduced because it killed a wide variety of weeds, is safe to work with, and broke down quickly, reducing environmental impact. However, weeds quickly evolved to survive gylphosate, and that threatened to reverse an agricultural advance known as minimum-till farming.

…Using a massive genetic database and a bioinformatic approach, Dow AgroSciences researchers identified two bacterial enzymes that, when transformed into plants, conferred resistance to an herbicide called "2,4-D," commonly used in controlling dandelions.…"Unlike glyphosate, which targets amino acid synthesis, 2,4-D is a hormone regulator. Because it has a different mode of action, 2,4-D is an ideal herbicide to deal with glyphosate-resistant weeds," said Zhang, who managed the soybean transformation portion of the study and contributed to some data analysis....

Conyza canadensis on the sidewalk in in Bonn-Beuel. Shot by Michael Becker, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Disaster risk reduction necessary after deadliest year in decades

Environment News Service: Recognizing "increasing disaster risks due to climate change and rapid urban development," the World Bank and South Korea's National Emergency Management Agency on Friday signed an agreement to strengthen cooperation, and facilitate international partnership for disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation. "We embark on a longer term partnership for reducing natural disaster risks faced by disaster prone countries in Asia and Pacific," said Dr. Yeon-Soo Park, NEMA's administrator.

Park said a Centre of Excellence will be created in Korea "for supporting countries on disaster risk reduction." The partners also will create a web-based regional platform for disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation.

…The Asia Pacific region is extremely vulnerable to the impacts of natural disasters. In East Asia and Pacific alone, over the past two decades, floods, typhoons and earthquakes have affected two million people, killing nearly 90,000 and causing damages of more than US$151 billion.

This kind of action is needed urgently in view of the fact that last year the world experienced the highest number of disaster-related casualties in at least two decades, the United Nations' top disaster reduction official said today at UN headquarters in New York.

"Unless we act now, we will see more and more disasters due to unplanned urbanization and environmental degradation. And weather-related disasters are sure to rise in the future, due to factors that include climate change," said Margareta Wahlstrom, who heads the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, the UN body that coordinates efforts to achieve reduction in disaster losses and build resilient nations and communities….

Typhoon Kompasu, August 31, 2010. This storm wrought costly damage in Korea

Humans kick-started climate change at least 8,000 years ago

Zeenews: A new study has found that climate change is not a recent phenomena – in fact, humans began influencing climate at least 8000 years ago. “Humans didn’t wait for the industrial revolution to provoke environment and climate change. They have been having an influence for at least 8000 years,” said Jed Kaplan at Ecole polytechnique federale de Lausanne.

Kaplan and his colleague Kristen Krumhardt have developed a model that demonstrates the link between population increase and deforestation.

The story of climate change starts with farmers, who didn’t have the prevailing technology to allow them an optimal use of the soil at first. With time, irrigation, better tools, seeds and fertilizer became more efficient, counterbalancing the increase in population, and contain the impact of human pressure on the natural environment.

The results of this research show a first major boom in carbon emissions already 2000 years before our era, corresponding to the expansion of civilizations in China and around the Mediterranean. Lastly, a significant decrease in emissions began in the 16th century – the one that would bring in the ice age.

“Thanks to the reports of the early explorers, we know that the forests were less abundant on the American continent. Then the settlers gradually eliminated the indigenous population,” said Kaplan. “Of course, it’s only a hypothesis”, he concluded, “but given the data we have gathered, it’s entirely plausible”….

Pieter Breughel the Younger (1564-1638), "Proverbs"

Monday, January 24, 2011

Iowa must change with the climate

An editorial in the Des Moines Register: Experts from all three state universities and several state agencies spent a year and a half examining climate data for Iowa going back to the 1870s. They submitted a report to the Legislature this month that makes this simple point: Climate change has already happened in Iowa. It's not a matter of computer models predicting climate change in the future. It's a matter of real measurements showing real change already.

So the question isn't whether climate change is happening. The question is, what are Iowans going to do about it? The facile answer is: nothing. Iowa can't put its climate back the way it was. But while Iowans can't change the climate, they can try to adapt intelligently to the new climate.

That's where the Legislature comes in. Bound up in tough fiscal and ideological issues, lawmakers this year might not be inclined to come to grips with adapting to climate change. But for the long-term well-being of the state, there is probably nothing more important.

In particular, the state must begin shaping policies around the reality of increased flooding, soil erosion, pollution and stream degradation. Unless the process of adaptation begins soon, Iowa faces a future in which its cities are perpetually recovering from floods and its farms are annually losing topsoil faster than it can be restored. That's a future of decline and chronic disaster.

The report, "Climate Change Impacts on Iowa 2010," documents that Iowa is, on average, slightly warmer than it used to be. The growing season is a few days longer, and winter heating-degree days are less numerous…

Cedar Falls, Iowa, June 11, 2008 -- This stairway goes down into the Cedar River which rose to a record high of 102 feet, endangering the town. Photo by Patsy Lynch/FEMA