Monday, February 28, 2011

Top bodies in the Philippines join forces to combat disasters and climate change

Prevention Web: The Climate Change Commission, the Philippines’ top body for climate change, and the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), the country’s top body for disaster risk reduction and management, today signed a Memorandum of Understanding (M.O.U.) to jointly improve community resilience in the Philippines in the face of the looming problems presented by climate change.

The agreement comes on the heels of unusual heavy rains in the Philippines in early 2011, which caused landslides, flash floods, and storm surges that have already affected two million people and damaged approximately 5,400 houses. More extreme weather events in the future are likely to increase the number and scale of disasters.

Under the M.O.U., the two organizations will jointly support the formulation and implementation of disaster risk reduction and climate change action strategies by local government units and improve the provision of climate risk information to local authorities. They will also work to encourage local governments to coordinate the review and monitoring of their disaster risk reduction and climate change action plans.

…Voltaire T. Gazmin, Secretary of National Defence and Chairperson of the NDRRMC, and Commissioner Lucille Sering, Vice-Chair of the Climate Change Commission, signed the M.O.U. at an event titled “One Against Risks.” “Local governments are asking for a structured and well-coordinated approach to action plans stipulated by law. The NDRRMC and Climate Change Commission have therefore agreed to. With the M.O.U. in place, the organizational capacities and mechanisms of NDRRMC can be leveraged and existing resources can be better directed to link and implement action plans for disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation,” explained Mr. Gazmin.

“The mission of the Climate Change Commission can never be achieved without integrating disaster risks. Expectation can never be managed properly without addressing both impacts of climate change and risks of disasters. At the most basic level, the CCC and the NDRRMC need to cooperate with each other if communities are truly going to adapt and be resilient,” said Ms. Sering….

Super Typhoon Cimaron struck the northernmost large island in the Philippines, Luzon, on October 29, 2006. From NASA

Water managers in western US brace for more dry times

Susan Montoya Bryan Tri-State Online (Arizona, Nevada, California): …The restoration work along Sandia Pueblo’s section of the Rio Grande is just the latest effort by tribal, state and federal water managers as they grapple with persistent drought across the West, the uncertainties of climate change, endangered species concerns and growing demand for a limited resource.

With the exception of New Mexico’s two major river basins — the Rio Grande and the Pecos — [Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Michael] Connor said the West so far this year is in “pretty good shape.” However, it’s not even March and he expects the rest of the year and beyond to be more challenging if the region fails to get more rain.

“We’re just looking at every conceivable option to manage the systems more efficiently and supplement water supplies where we can and save storage where we can. My priority right now is to build in enough efficiency and good water management operations,” he said, while acknowledging the possibility of water shortages.

In New Mexico, winter storms have brought little more than record freezing temperatures. January marked the lowest precipitation totals for the state as a whole since record-keeping began more than a century ago. State Engineer John D’Antonio described it as a dire situation.

Farther west, more than a decade of drought has hammered the Colorado River Basin, which delivers water to millions of people spread throughout seven states. Resources in the basin have dropped by about half from nearly full levels in 2000, and federal officials have said states like Arizona, California and Nevada could be subject to shortages as early as 2012 if drought conditions persist. Southern California industry and farms in the San Joaquin Valley have already felt the effects of limited supplies caused by drought and regulatory restrictions.

Despite the grim predictions, Connor said he’s hopeful because water managers over the last decade have started to focus less on the crisis of limited supplies and more on finding solutions for providing drinking water and habitat for endangered species as well as meeting interstate and international water delivery compacts….

An Arizona view of Lake Powell, shot by Wolfgang Staudt, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

China's drought-hit areas shrink after rain, snow

Xinhua: The size of drought-stricken areas in China is significantly smaller after rain and snow since Friday, the country's drought relief authority said Monday. As of Sunday, the total acreage of drought-hit farmlands in eight wheat-producing provinces was 37.82 million mu (2.52 million hectares), down 73.69 mu from 20 days ago when the drought was at its worst, said the Office of State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters (SFDH) in a statement on its website.

The statement said most of these areas had seen rain or snow since Feb. 25. The eight provinces include Shanxi, Shaanxi, Jiangsu, Gansu, Anhui, while the other three provinces of Shandong, Hebei and Henan are the worst affected with total drought-hit crop areas exceeding 24 millon mu.

The statement said that since the start of this month, local governments had focused efforts on irrigating 117.5 million mu of crops, more than 40 percent of the total in the eight provinces. Since the autumn, local governments in these regions had mobilized more than 14 million people to help irrigate 190 million mu of farmland….

Winter view of the Great Wall of China from space, via NASA

Water demand will 'outstrip supply by 40% within 20 years'

Daily Mail (UK): Water demand in many countries will exceed supply by 40 per cent within 20 years due to the combined threat of climate change and population growth, scientists have warned. A new way of thinking about water is needed as looming shortages threaten communities, agriculture and industry, experts said.

In the next two decades, a third of humanity will have only half the water required to meet basic needs, said researchers. Agriculture, which soaks up 71 per cent of water supplies, is also likely to suffer, affecting food production.

Filling the global water gap by supply measures alone would cost an estimated £124billion per year, a meeting in Canada was told. But this could be cut to between £31billion and £37billion by an approach which both raised supply and lowered demand, according to leading water economist Dr Margaret Catley-Carlson.

Around 300 scientists, policy makers, and economists attended the international meeting in Ottawa hosted by the Canadian Water Network (CWN) in the run-up to U.S. World Water Day on March 22. Dr Catley-Carlson, a director of the CWN, which co-ordinates water research and policy in Canada, and vice-chair of the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Water Security, said: 'We need to brace for what could easily be humanity's greatest short-term challenges.'

The vast amount of 'virtual water' used in farming and industry was highlighted by Nicholas Parker, chairman of international environmental technology consultants Cleantech Group. …'What people don't often realise is how much water there is in everything we make and buy, from T-shirts to wine,' Mr Parker added….

The main spillway for the Rivière des Prairies dam in the north end of Montreal, shot by Blanchardb at en.wikipedia, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license

Adapting to global warming the key to Vietnam's sustainable development

VietNam Net Bridge: Urban development must develop in a manner that takes climate change into account, including more green building, experts said at an international conference held in HCM City yesterday, Feb 27. Speaking at the conference, Olavo Rasquinho, secretary of the Typhoon Committee, an intergovernmental body based in Macau, said ineffective land-use planning, waste management and infrastructure construction would make cities more vulnerable to climate change.

If governments do not take climate-change adaptation seriously, flooding in particular would increase in frequency and intensity, causing damage to property, livelihoods, human health and economies. Rasquinho pointed to the example of downtown Beijing, where more rain is falling compared to suburban areas because of the number of tall buildings affecting the formation of clouds.

"Urban flooding is not an isolated issue and it should be integrated with urban system or planning," he said, suggesting that cities should engage in international cooperation to increase the managerial capacity of urban planners.

Melissa Susan Merryweather, coordinator of Viet Nam Green Building Council, told the conference attendees that architectural models should be chosen according to the kind of climate zone. "Western architectural prototypes are suitable for northern climates, but are less appropriate in a hot tropical climate," she said. She urged builders and investors to follow Viet Nam's new LOTUS system, somewhat similar to the LEED standard in the US, which awards points to green construction…

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Quake pushes reinsurance prices up after Australia flood

Noah Buhayar in Bloomberg News writes about an issue that puts pressure on adaptation to climate impacts: New Zealand’s deadliest earthquake in eight decades, which toppled buildings and trapped workers in Christchurch, the country’s second-largest city, may lead to higher prices for reinsurance in the Asia-Pacific region. Rates may climb as companies including Munich Re and Swiss Reinsurance Co. take losses, compounding costs from last month’s flooding in Queensland, Australia, Credit Suisse Group AG wrote in a note to clients on Feb. 22. Reinsurance rates in other regions probably won’t be affected, Credit Suisse said.

“Losses are building in the reinsurance industry in the first quarter,” Credit Suisse wrote in the note. “With continued high levels of excess capital in the global reinsurance industry, the losses suffered to date are unlikely to be sufficient to cause a turn in global pricing, although we would expect pricing in the Asia-Pacific region to increase.”

…Reinsurers sell coverage to providers of primary insurance such as Allianz SE and American International Group Inc. to help protect against the cost of major claims. Reinsurance prices on policies renewed Jan. 1 worldwide declined 7.5 percent, according to the Guy Carpenter Global Property Catastrophe Rate on Line Index. Rates fell 6 percent a year earlier….

St Andrews College, Papanui Road. Liquefaction, causing water and silt to squirt up from underground. Shot by Tim, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative CommonsAttribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Healthy snowpack bodes well for Arizona

Tony Davis in the Arizona Star: The northern Rockies have been slammed with enough snow this year that it might be possible to delay shortages of Colorado River water for Arizona water users for two to five years, officials say. After years of drought and below-normal snowpack in the Colorado's Upper Basin, primarily in Utah, Colorado and Wyoming, this year's snowpack there is now about 120 percent of normal, said a U.S. government forecasting agency.

The Colorado River Basin Forecasting Center predicts that April-July runoff into Lake Powell, which straddles the Arizona-Utah border, will be about 113 percent of normal. That's about 9 million acre-feet of water. An acre-foot is about 325,850 gallons.

Last year's April-June runoff was only 73 percent of average, or 5.79 million acre-feet, said Brenda Alcorn, a forecaster for the center in Salt Lake City. For the decade of 2000-2009, the Colorado's average annual flow into Lee's Ferry, just below Lake Powell, was the lowest for any decade since authorities started keeping records on the river more than a century ago.

Last year's low snowpack and runoff sent Lake Mead at the Arizona-Nevada border to its lowest level since 1937, about 1,082 feet above sea level. That prompted predictions that the Central Arizona Project might start seeing shortages affecting farmers, mines and other users of excess CAP water as early as 2012. Excess CAP is water that a local government, tribe or other user has a contract for but isn't buying or using.

But now, if the snowpack stays strong into the spring and the river runoff continues to flow as predicted, a shortage could be delayed for two to three years past 2012, said Dan Bunk, a Bureau of Reclamation hydrologist in Boulder City, Nevada…

Cascade Geyser, Upper Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. National Park Service

Climate change just one worry in struggling Haiti

Robert Shaw in AlertNet: A month before a massive earthquake derailed pretty much everything in Haiti, the government set up a climate change division within its environment ministry, building on a “National Adaptation Plan of Action” (NAPA) the government announced in 2006. But in the aftermath of the devastation, climate change has been all but forgotten in Haiti as the country struggles to deal with pressing rebuilding priorities.

“We have seen very little concrete action in terms of climate change,” admits Jean Pierre Moise, Haiti’s climate chief. Still, promises by rich nations to provide $100 billion a year in funding by 2020 to help vulnerable countries deal with climate change may present opportunities for Haiti to address its problems and vulnerabilities, particularly if it can overcome longstanding political paralysis, experts say.

“Over the last number of years it is true that there has been a void of leadership in Haiti, and with no budget, no authority and no capacity, very little can be achieved,” said Ross Gartley, a disaster risk specialist at the World Bank. But Haiti now has a “unique opportunity to position itself to get big financing further down the line … and to build solid capacity,” he said.

Many Haitians live in urban areas that are vulnerable to landslides and floods, a point not lost on the Ministry of the Environment. About a year before the devastating January 2010 earthquake, which claimed more than 50,000 lives, the ministry appointed 26 Haitian artists, actors, comedians and journalists as environment and disaster risk reduction ambassadors.

Haitian mayors are also beginning to understand the need to act on climate concerns, international experts say. "We have already begun work with the mayor of Port-au-Prince, Muscadin Jean-Yves Jason, to bring together local leaders from around the country and the world in raising political commitment to disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation,” said Ricardo Mena, head of the Americas office of the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction…

An aerial view of the UN headquarters in Haiti shows the devastation caused by an earthquake measuring 7 plus on the Richter scale rocked Port au Prince Haiti just before 5 pm, January 12, 2010. Shot by UN Photo/Logan Abassi UNDP Global, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Flood warning over UK government spending cuts

Kent News (UK): Research which proves global warming contributed to the Kentish floods of 2000 should serve as a warning about the consequences of government spending cuts. That is the view of Kent Green Party spokesman Steve Dawe, who claims the Coalition is failing to adequately prepare for climate change by slashing the amount it spends on flood protection schemes.

His comments are in response to a ground-breaking study by Oxford University scholar Myles Allen, who found that global warming made the autumn 2000 floods – which hit Maidstone and Tonbridge in particular when the River Medway burst its banks – between two and three times more likely to happen. Mr Dawe said the research confirms predictions made 20 years ago that climate change would make naturally occurring events more frequent and damaging in the future.

He added: "Under the previous government the Environment Agency wanted £1 billion a year for flood defence projects in view of the various floods going back to 2000 in particular. "The Government agreed to raise the funding to £800 million a year, but now the Coalition is cutting this (by eight per cent to £540m a year). The justification for these cuts should now be challenged because if they don’t reverse the policy and recognise the needs of the Environment Agency then we will all end up paying for the consequences of further floods."

Between September and November, 2000, more than 500mm of rain fell in the UK – the wettest autumn since records began in 1766. More than 10,000 homes were flooded and £3.5bn of insurance claims were filed. The new research, which was compiled through, represents the first time scientists have quantified the role of human-induced climate change in increasing the risk of a serious flood…

Flooding at River Rother from Blackwall Bridge Sussex to the left and Kent to the right. Shot by Oast House Archive, Wikimedia Commons via Geograph UK, under the Creative CommonsAttribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Transgenic fungus 'could be powerful weapon against malaria'

Daniela Hirschfeld in Infecting mosquitoes with a transgenic fungus could drastically cut their ability to transmit malaria, according to research published today in Science (25 February). Existing efforts to develop fungal malaria control focus on slowly killing mosquitoes before they have the chance to pass on Plasmodium, the malaria parasite. But they rely on mosquitoes being inoculated with parasitic fungus soon after Plasmodium infection, which limits their use.

In this latest research, scientists have changed tactics and instead focused on reducing the infectiousness of the mosquitoes, so that fungus could be applied later in a mosquito's lifecycle but still cut malaria transmission.

The researchers genetically modified (GM) the fungus Metarhizium anisopliae, which infects mosquitoes on contact, to express molecules which impede the entrance of sporozoites — the cells that malaria parasites produce to infect new hosts — to the salivary gland of the mosquitoes, reducing the number that can be passed to humans through a bite.

The GM fungi reduced the number of sporozoites in mosquito salivary glands by up to 98 per cent compared to those infected with the non-GM fungi. Within just two days of infection 80 per cent of mosquitoes could not transmit malaria anymore compared to only 14 per cent of fungi-free mosquitoes and 32 per cent of those infected with non-GM fungi….

Ring-stage plasmodium in a smear of human blood, shot by Bobjgalindo, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Climate satellite grounded for at least a week

Janene Scully in the Santa Maria Times (California): With crews still troubleshooting an elusive problem that led them to scrub Wednesday’s liftoff attempt, the Taurus XL rocket launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base has been delayed for at least a week. Liftoff of the rocket carrying NASA’s climate-studying Glory satellite reportedly has slipped to early or mid-March. Crews have suspended launch preparations until they solve a problem with ground support equipment, officials said Thursday morning.

Just before 2 a.m. Wednesday, with less than 10 minutes before the rocket was scheduled to lift off, ground controllers spotted a glitch before transitioning the Taurus to internal power. A launch window of just 47 seconds — essentially just one shot a day — left no time for the launch team to troubleshoot the problem and proceed with blastoff.

“We had an indication that a ‘hold-fire’ command was sent when indeed it had not,” said Omar Baez, NASA launch director. The commands originated from the Vehicle Interface Control Console in the mobile launch support van stationed a few miles from the launch pad. The problem has not yet been isolated, and troubleshooting continues, officials said Thursday.

The cold winter storm headed to the Central Coast also has crews taking precautions to ensure that Taurus and the Glory satellite remain healthy…

NASA's Glory satellite, in a rendering from 2008

Avoiding Asian water waters

Mohammad Jamil the Pakistan Observer: The US Senate report released the other day warned that the Indus Water Treaty may fail to avert water wars between India and Pakistan, acknowledging that dams India is building in occupied Kashmir will limit supply of water to Pakistan at crucial moments. … Currently, the most controversial dam project is the proposed 330-megawatt dam on the Kishenganga River, a tributary of the Indus. The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee should have come out with the solution to the problem instead of giving an impression that Indus Water Treaty has become redundant. In fact, it is the responsibility of the international community to urge India to honour its commitment under the treaty. And this is the only way to avoid war.

With the climate change and as a consequence shrinking water availability across the Middle East, Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, violent conflict between states is increasingly likely. This matter was on the agenda of annul World Water Week forum in Stockholm held in 2006, but it could not answer the question raised in the meeting whether we are heading for an era of “hydrological warfare” in which rivers, lakes and aquifers become national security assets to be fought over, or controlled through proxy armies and client states? Or can water act as a force for peace and cooperation? It has been estimated by the experts that by 2025, more than two billion people are expected to live in countries that find it difficult or impossible to mobilize the water resources needed to meet the needs of agriculture, industry and households. Population growth, urbanization and the rapid development of manufacturing industries are relentlessly increasing demand for finite water resources. Symptoms of the resulting water stress are increasingly visible. In northern China, rivers now run dry in their lower reaches for much of the year. In parts of Pakistan and India, groundwater levels are falling so rapidly that from 10 percent to 20 percent of agricultural production is under threat.

In the past, there have been wars between the countries over religions, usurpation of territories and control of resources including oil, but in view of acute shortages of water in Africa, Middle East, Asia and elsewhere, the future wars could be fought over water.

In addition to Kashmir dispute, the Indus River Basin has been an area of conflict between India and Pakistan for about four decades. Spanning 1,800 miles, the river and its tributaries together make up one of the largest irrigation canals in the world. Dams and canals built in order to provide hydropower and irrigation have dried up stretches of the Indus River. The division of the river basin water has created friction among the countries of South Asia, and among their states and provinces. Accusations of overdrawing of share of water made by each province have resulted in the lack of water supplies to coastal regions of Pakistan. India and Bangladesh have also dispute over Ganges River water and India is resorting to water theft there as well. Nepal and Bangladesh are also victims of India’s water thievery. India had dispute with Bangladesh over Farrakha Barrage, with Nepal over Mahakali River and with Pakistan over 1960 Indus Water Treaty….

Baglihar Dam on river Chenab in Doda district, Jammu and Kashmir, shot by Vinayak.razdan at en.wikipedia, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license

California's water situation is bleak

Robert F. Service in Science Insider: If California hopes to prevent further extinctions of native species of endangered fish, the state should abandon efforts to take desperate measures to save individual species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and instead look to bolster entire aquatic ecosystems. That's among a long list of recommendations in a new book that was released last night from the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC). It was written by a team of scientists, engineers, economists, and legal experts from three University of California (UC) campuses and Stanford University.

"Our assessment of the current water situation [in California] is bleak," says Ellen Hanak, a PPIC economist, who co-authored the study. "California has essentially run out of cheap, new water sources," Hanak says. Water quality is deteriorating. Pollution from agricultural runoff and other "non-point" sources is increasing. And efforts to manage water and species recovery are fragmented, with hundreds of local and regional agencies responsible for water supply, water treatment, flood control, and land-use decisions. The upshot is that, despite decades of actions to save aquatic species under the ESA, the trend has been relentlessly downward. Seven of the state’s 129 native fish species are already extinct. Since 1989, the number of native fish species listed as threatened or endangered has more than doubled to 31. And over that same period, the number of species that were “reasonably secure” has dropped from 44% in 1989 to 38% in 1995 and 22% in 2010.

Even worse crises are looming. Most threatening is the vulnerability of the hub of the state’s fresh water system, the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta, which drains water from the northern Sierra mountains. Massive pumps in the southern end of the delta suck nearly 10 billion cubic meters of water per year from the delta and send it to farmers in the Central Valley and urban residents in Southern California. Over the past century, farmers have built a network of more than 1700 kilometers of levees to protect farmland in the delta from floodwaters. Those levees, most of which are simple earthen berms, are weak and vulnerable to earthquakes, seasonal floods, and rising waters expected as a result of climate change. The failure of even a fraction of the levees would draw massive amounts of saltwater in from San Francisco Bay, forcing the state to shut off the pumps, cutting off water supplies for many months, and costing the state’s economy billions of dollars, the report says. Risks from droughts, floods, climate change, and declining habitat for fish are also rising over time.

“Today’s system of water management, developed in previous times for past conditions, is leading the state down a path of environmental and economic deterioration. We’re waiting for the next drought, flood, or lawsuit to bring catastrophe,” Hanak says…

This photo was published opposite page 209 of "California Highways: A Descriptive Record of Road Development by the State and Such Counties as Have Paved Highways", 1920, written by Ben Blow. It is captioned as follows: The new highway. Picture made in 1919.

Land management change urgently needed in Australia

Colin Bettles in Stock & Land (Australia): An urgent imperative exists to change how the Australian landscape is managed, for food security and climate change reasons, especially farmland, according to former Governor General, Major General Michael Jeffery. But in that transition, farmers must be viewed not only as food growers but as the primary custodians of the Australian landscape and “rewarded accordingly”.

Major Jeffery outlined his thoughts on agriculture’s critical importance to climate change adaptation, during the opening address of a high level land use forum organised by Independent MP Rob Oakeshott, in Canberra last week. Major Jeffery said the challenges confronting Australia in dealing with a changing climate, land degradation, food and water security and the needs of increasing global populations were “unprecedented”.

In casting that warning, he said governments needed to take the issue far more seriously by handing the responsibility for managing the various interlocking tasks attached to a positive and sustainable outcome, to the Deputy Prime Minister and Deputy Premiers or their equivalents.

“Water is fundamental to life but it can only do its job properly through the aegis of healthy soils,” he said. “If we save our soil we save our planet. The common thread is carbon and its key role in building soil health and thus naturally regulating the water cycle through the photosynthetic and evapotranspiration action of trees, plants and a regenerated soil structure. But to do this, effective and coordinated change is essential now….”

George Elvery on a tractor in Toowoomba, around 1927

Drought rattles farmers in eastern China

Terra Daily: …China is the largest global producer and consumer of wheat. A bad harvest would not only devastate local farmers -- if China were to buy a large amount of wheat overseas due to a crop failure, world commodity prices would surge.

The government has allocated 13 billion yuan ($2 billion) to combat the drought, and the central bank announced this week it would provide 10 billion yuan in loans to farmers. But the aid injection cannot make the rains come...The central government is implementing a number of emergency measures such as diverting water to the worst-affected areas and building wells.

….According to Ma Wenfeng, an analyst who specialises in cereal markets at Orient Agribusiness Consultant in Beijing, China's winter wheat harvest should only diminish by around two percent if the situation does not deteriorate. But "anticipation of bad (wheat) harvests linked to droughts in China, India, East Africa, as well as a bad rice harvest in Southeast Asia" has put an upward pressure on prices on international markets, Ma adds.

Experts are calling on China to implement more long-term measures to fight drought, so that the dire situation in Shandong and other affected provinces does not recur.

Friday, February 25, 2011

How severe can climate change become?

National Science Foundation: How severe can climate change become in a warming world? Worse than anything we've seen in written history, according to results of a study appearing this week in the journal Science.

An international team of scientists led by Curt Stager of Paul Smith's College, New York, has compiled four dozen paleoclimate records from sediment cores in Lake Tanganyika and other locations in Africa. The records show that one of the most widespread and intense droughts of the last 50,000 years or more struck Africa and Southern Asia 17,000 to 16,000 years ago.

Between 18,000 and 15,000 years ago, large amounts of ice and meltwater entered the North Atlantic Ocean, causing regional cooling but also major drought in the tropics, says Paul Filmer, program director in the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Division of Earth Sciences, which funded the research along with NSF's Division of Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences and its Division of Ocean Sciences.

"The height of this time period coincided with one of the most extreme megadroughts of the last 50,000 years in the Afro-Asian monsoon region with potentially serious consequences for the Paleolithic humans that lived there at the time," says Filmer.

The "H1 megadrought," as it's known, was one of the most severe climate trials ever faced by anatomically modern humans. Africa's Lake Victoria, now the world's largest tropical lake, dried out, as did Lake Tana in Ethiopia, and Lake Van in Turkey. The Nile, Congo and other major rivers shriveled, and Asian summer monsoons weakened or failed from China to the Mediterranean, meaning the monsoon season carried little or no rainwater.

… The lack of a complete explanation opens the question of whether an extreme megadrought could strike again as the world warms and de-ices further. "There's much less ice left to collapse into the North Atlantic now," Stager says, "so I'd be surprised if it could all happen again--at least on such a huge scale."…

Lake Victoria seen from space, via NASA

Innovative micro-insurance program expands to protect Kenyan farmers from drought

EurekAlert: With Kenyan farmers increasingly fearing massive weather-related losses, UAP Insurance, Syngenta Foundation and mobile operator Safaricom announced today a major expansion of Kilimo Salama, an innovative and affordable crop insurance program that will now cover the expected value of farm harvests, more crops and many more farmers against drought and flooding, while also protecting against livestock losses.

The new program, called Kilimo Salama Plus, builds on the original Kilimo Salama—Kiswahili for "safe farming"—which was launched last year. It uses a low-cost mobile phone payment and data system that is linked to solar-powered weather stations to issue an insurance policy and rapidly compensate farmers for investments in seeds, fertilizer, and other inputs that are lost to either insufficient or excessive rains.

Kilimo Salama Plus retains this innovative approach while expanding from the initial focus to go beyond just inputs to give farmers the opportunity to insure the value of their harvest. In addition, due to high demand, farmers can now insure a wider array of crops including maize, wheat, beans, and sorghum.

…UAP Insurance Managing Director James Wambugu said that Kilimo Salama Plus had expanded the range of crops under cover due to rising popularity of its affordable and easily-dispensable nature. "It also follows our drive to simplify insurance and in the process expand access to more crop and livestock farmers," he explained.

…Expounding on the successes of the initial program, Marco Ferroni, Executive Director of the Syngenta Foundation, said, "We have seen 12,000 farmers in Kenya take advantage of the original Kilimo Salama and we should be able to reach 50,000 farmers with Kilimo Salama Plus this year and provide far more insurance options."

"We have quickly seen this initiative grow from a small pilot program in 2009 to become the largest agricultural insurance program in Africa and the first to use mobile phone technology to speed access and payouts to rural farmers," he added….

Global red imported fire ant invasions traced to southern US

University of Florida News: Red imported fire ant invasions around the globe in recent years can now be traced to the southern U.S., where the nuisance insect gained a foothold in the 1930s, new University of Florida research has found. Native to South America, the ant had been contained there and in the southeastern U.S. before turning up in faraway places in the last 20 years — including California, China, Taiwan, Australia and New Zealand.

The study in Friday’s edition of Science was co-authored by Marina Ascunce, a postdoctoral associate with the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus and Chin-Cheng Yang of National Taiwan University. The team’s findings could prove helpful in finding new ways to control the invasive species, Solenopsis invicta, Ascunce said. Americans spend more than $6 billion a year to control the ants and offset damage they cause, including medical expenses and $750 million in agricultural losses.

“Fire ants are very annoying pests, and they cause people to suffer,” Ascunce said. “People who are allergic can die (from ant stings).” Red imported fire ants are highly aggressive. They have a painful sting, often discovered by humans only after stepping on a mound.

The research team used several types of molecular genetic markers to trace the origins of ants in nine locations where recent invasions occurred. They traced all but one of the invasions to the southern U.S. The exception was an instance where the ants moved from the southeastern U.S. to California, then to Taiwan.

Ascunce said the scientists were surprised by the findings. “I thought that at least one of the populations in the newly invaded areas would have come from South America, but all of the genetic data suggest the most likely source in virtually every case was the southern U.S.,” she said. The study results show the problematic side of a robust global trade and travel network….

Photo of fire ants taken by Scott Bauer, from the US Department of Agriculture

Expert rejects shift of Australia's cyclone zone

Bill Hoffman in the Sunshine Coast Daily (Australia): The planned shift of the east coast cyclone zone south to cover the Sunshine Coast and Caboolture was a politically motivated exercise that had generated considerable cynicism from the engineering community. That is the opinion of Dr George Walker who wrote the post-Cyclone Tracy engineering report that reset Australian building codes.

He said current standards, where new Coast buildings were required to be able to withstand a category three cyclone, were reasonable The Australian Building Codes Board is considering a draft report that recommends the Cyclone Region C boundary, which starts near Cairns and ends south of Bundaberg, be changed to take in the Coast and Caboolture.

Builders fear that would add up to $15,000 to the cost of a new home although this estimate has been questioned by some engineering experts who say the actual component costs would be significantly less. Dr Walker, of Mapleton, who has studied tropical cyclones and their effects on building for the past 40 years, said the zone change appeared to be a purely political exercise by a government wanting to be seen to be doing something about global warming.

No climate-change sceptic – he is a peer science reviewer for the International Panel on Climate Change – Dr Walker remains highly sceptical of the cost-benefit of the zone shift which he says stops conveniently short of the state’s capital where it would have the greatest impact on disaster mitigation. He said too much emphasis was being applied to upper range impacts of climate change….

Torn shade sails in Townsville after Cyclone Yasi, shot by Rob and Stephanie Levy, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Models guiding climate policy are "dangerously optimistic"

Nadya Anscombe in Environmental Research Web: Integrated assessment models (IAMs) used by researchers today – where climate change data is integrated with economic data – are dangerously flawed because they are based on naïve assumptions, according to Kevin Anderson from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change at the University of Manchester, UK.

Anderson told environmentalresearchweb: "The vast majority of IAMs assume low emission growth rates; early emission peaks; annual reduction rates limited to between 2 and 4%; untested geoengineering; and a high penetration of nuclear power alongside untested 'carbon capture and storage' technologies. Because IAMs typically use similar and inappropriate sets of assumptions, they repeatedly come up with the same narrow and fundamentally flawed answers."

Anderson argues that actual emissions growth rates are much higher than those used by most IAMs, and that even ambitious emission peaks are much nearer 2020–2030 than the naïve estimates of 2010–2016 used by most models. His calculations have shown that, if we want to aim for a high chance of not exceeding a 2°C increase in global temperature by the end of the century, our energy emissions need to be cut by nearer 10% annually rather than the 2–4% that economists say is possible with a growing economy.

"The output from today's models is politically palatable," said Anderson. "The reality is far more depressing, but many scientists are too afraid to stand up and speak out for fear of being ridiculed. Our job is not to be liked but to give a raw and dispassionate assessment of the scale of the challenge faced by the global community." In a recent paper in Philosophical Transactions, Anderson and his colleague Alice Bows of the Sustainable Consumption Institute at the University of Manchester warn that "there is now little to no chance of maintaining the rise in global mean surface temperature at below 2°C, despite repeated high-level statements to the contrary".

This, they say, is because of a lack of contextual thinking. For example, Anderson and Bows found that several models assumed that fossil-fuel carbon-dioxide emissions from developing nations would exceed those from industrialised nations as late as 2013–2025, despite the actual date being around 2006…

Pococurante's library, from the 1759 edition of Voltaire's Candide

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Conditions for tornadoes ramping up across the southern US

Doyle Rice in USA Today: An outbreak of severe storms and tornadoes is likely across the South today, and torrential rain is forecast for other areas as the nasty weather heads east. The most dangerous storms will strike late afternoon into the evening as they move across Arkansas and spread into northern Mississippi and western Tennessee, according to the Storm Prediction Center (SPC) in Norman, Okla.

"Tornadoes, a few possibly strong, and particularly damaging winds will be possible," the SPC says. The big cities most at risk are Dallas, Little Rock, Memphis and Nashville, the Weather Channel reports.

The forecast calls for as much as 5 inches of rain to drench the lower Mississippi Valley and Ohio Valley regions. Flood watches are posted from Arkansas to Pennsylvania. This year, 11 tornadoes have struck across the USA, the SPC reports. Severe weather, which can include tornadoes or storms producing large hail or damaging winds, is running 60% below average this year, Weather Channel severe weather expert Greg Forbes says.

"The cold weather has suppressed the severe weather activity," he says. "We're now getting into the time of the year for the severe weather threat to ramp up." More severe storms that are potentially more powerful could form early next week, Weather Channel meteorologist Tom Moore says…

A powerful 2007 tornado in Manitoba, shot by Justin1569, Wikimedia Commons (where it has garnered plenty of recognition, since it's a great image), under the Creative CommonsAttribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Kenyan farmers adapt to climate change but investments needed

Africa Science News: Kenya’s smallholder farmers are taking steps to adapt to climate change but key investments could help reduce the threat to food security and economic development posed by increasingly variable and severe weather, new research led by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) says.

According to a survey carried out in 2009 and 2010 by IFPRI, KARI, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), and the University of Georgia with funding from the World Bank, almost half of all farm households listed irrigation as the most desired adaptive measure, followed by planting trees (39%). They identified the lack of money, credit, and access to water as major obstacles to improved adaptation.

Researchers surveyed 710 farm households in seven sites spanning temperate, humid, arid, and semi-arid agroecological zones. More than eight in ten farm households say they have been struck by drought at least once in the past five years. Drought is the key climate-related shock. Researchers expect the frequency to increase even more, possibly causing irreversible decreases in livestock numbers in some regions.

"Climate change has and will increasingly affect agricultural livelihoods and food security in Kenya, making adaptation essential," said Barrack Okoba, national research coordinator for soil and water management at KARI. "This research can support the development of better programs and policies to assist farmers in adapting to global warming."…

A 28-member farming group in Machakos, Kenya farms a 4-acre plot where they grow oranges, avocado, vegetables, maize. Shot by McKay Savage, Women from the Mbini Self-Help Group showing off the fields,Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Better mapping of human settlements supports disaster management

Terra Daily: When a major disaster strikes in remote parts of the world, knowing if the area is populated, and how densely, is crucial for the effective organisation of humanitarian operations. The Global Human Settlements Layer (GHSL), developed by the European Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC), will soon provide this detailed information for the first time on a global scale. The breakthrough is new advanced algorithms, developed by the JRC, that allow automatic analysis of medium resolution data provided by European satellites. The first test results confirm that the combined use of ICT technologies permit fast and precise mapping of built-up areas, anywhere in the world.

In addition, the algorithms allow massive datasets to be processed more efficiently and rapidly, making it possible to monitor the changes in human settlements regularly and equally importantly, to collect the same information from heterogeneous satellite data. This can help to reduce risks in areas that experience recurrent disasters and to focus post-disaster humanitarian interventions on the most likely populated places in disaster affected countries and regions.

The European Commission's Joint Research Centre, in collaboration with the European Space Agency's (ESA) Earth Observation Ground Segment Department (EOP-G) has produced the first prototype of a new Global Human Settlement Layer (GHSL) using European radar satellite (ENVISAT) capacity and advanced automatic pattern recognition algorithms.

One of the major problems in disaster-struck areas in less developed countries is the lack of relevant and up to date pre-disaster information that can help to quickly locate and assess the type and extent of damage, especially in populated places. The GHSL will help to focus damage analysis very quickly over populated places, leading to improvements in emergency rescue and humanitarian relief operations.

The GHSL will help to improve the quantification of the building stock which is valuable information both for risk assessment activities and for emergency rescue operations. As the building stock is an indicator of human presence, this critical piece of information on population (often lacking in remote areas) can help the first responder communities to focus their efforts in a particular area…

An 18th century map of an African village. From Antoine-François Prevost d'Exiles: Histoire generale des voyages ou nouvelle collection de toutes les relations de voyages par met et par terre..., Paris: Didot 1749–1758.

Low-cost filter to provide safe water in emergency

Sify News: McGill researchers have come up with a new and inexpensive way of filtering water using silver nanoparticles. Disasters such as floods, tsunamis, and earthquakes often result in the spread of diseases like gastroenteritis, giardiasis and even cholera because of an immediate shortage of clean drinking water.

Now, researchers at McGill University have taken a key step towards making a cheap, portable, paper-based filter coated with silver nanoparticles to be used in these emergency settings.

…Gray's team, which included graduate student Theresa Dankovich, coated thick (0.5mm) hand-sized sheets of an absorbent porous paper with silver nanoparticles and then poured live bacteria through it. The results were definitive. Even when the paper contains a small quantity of silver (5.9 mg of silver per dry gram of paper), the filter is able to kill nearly all the bacteria and produce water that meets the standards set by the American Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)….

Detail of sterling silver "Melrose" pattern bowl by Gorham Manufacturing Company. GFDL permission granted by: Stan Skwarek - Cobblestone Antiques - Arlington Heights, IL 60004 - via email Aug 11, 2006. Image originally taken by him for eBay auction. under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Chesapeake region leads in sea level rise

Sabri Ben-Achour in Communities across the globe are beginning to come to grips with climate change and sea level rise. One of the places where the water is rising especially quickly is right here in the Chesapeake Bay region. The Chesapeake Bay has areas which are experiencing among the highest rates of sea-level rise on the East Coast. This is because the ground in many areas is sinking.

Towns are starting to see the effects and they're bracing for it. But there's more than just climate change behind the rising tide. The beach in Ocean City is a major tourist draw, it stretches hundreds of feet from the board walk, with giant dunes studded with grasses a little farther south. This beach would probably not be here right now if it weren't for the fact that tons of sand are brought in every few years to replenish it, especially after major storms.

"Beach replenishment serves as storm protection for the town of Ocean City. It's the equivalent of the levees in New Orleans for us," says Terry McGean, the Ocean City beach engineer. "They dredge sand from a couple miles offshore, and we pump that material onto the beach and basically bring the beach back."

Storms and erosion aren't new, but there's something else going on here, that's making every storm a little more serious: Tidal gauges here have measured an increase in sea level. It's gone up seven inches over 30 years -- that's 5.5 millimeters per year, and almost two feet per century.

Dr. John Boon, a professor emeritus with the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, says the sea level is rising throughout this region, and some parts have it particularly bad. "We have relative sea-level rise rates that are the highest on the U.S. East Coast," he says…

Ocean City, Maryland, in a US Army Corps of Engineers photo

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Massive iceberg shears off New Zealand glacier after quake

Terra Daily via AFP: A 30 million tonne block of ice sheared off a New Zealand glacier just minutes after a violent earthquake devastated the city of Christchurch, officials said Wednesday. The huge iceberg crashed into a lake shortly after the 6.3 magnitude tremor rocked the South Island on Tuesday and created waves up to three metres high for 30 minutes which rocked two sightseeing boats on the lake at the time.

The enormous iceberg -- estimated to weigh 30 to 40 million tonnes -- began ripping off the Tasman Glacier at Aoraki Mount Cook National Park accompanied by a loud noise which sounded like a rifle shot, a local tourism official said. Aoraki Mount Cook Alpine Village tourism manager Denis Callesen said locals had been expecting a major iceberg to drop from the glacier for the past month, but the "curve ball" was that the event was caused by an earthquake.

"The earthquake that we felt here was a swaying motion for about a minute, then it stopped and then it swayed for about another minute," he told AFP. "Within about a minute of that happening, the staff at the lake heard from five kilometres away (from the glacier) a sound that sounded like a rifle shot and then over the next two minutes all the events started to unfold. "I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that the earthquake was the trigger."

The Department of Conservation confirmed that a "large chunk" of the glacier fell into the lake but was unable to say if this was caused by the earthquake, which was only felt lightly around Mt Cook some 150 kilometres (93 miles) from the epicentre. "You could argue whether the earthquake precipitated it or not -- the fact is that the terminal face was about due to carve anyway," area manager Richard McNamara told AFP....

The view across Tasman Lake to the rock-covered Tasman Glacier, New Zealand's longest glacier, with the Minarets (3040 m) visible in the distance. Icebergs float on the lake, and part of the lateral moraine projects into the lake on the left. The scour line left by the glacier in previous centuries marks the hillside to its right. Shot by Avenue, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Genetically modified crops on the rise

Seed Daily: The amount of the world's farmland utilized for growing genetically modified crops increase by about 10 percent last year, a biotechnology organization says. The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications says it calculates more than 2.5 billion acres have been cultivated with GM crops since their introduction in 1996, the BBC reported Tuesday.

ISAAA is an organization partly funded by industry that promotes biotechnology in agriculture. "We can recount a momentous year of progress in biotech crop adoption," said Clive James, ISAAA chairman and founder.

However, critics of GM crops say this is still just 10 percent of the world's arable land area as defined by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. Greenpeace, opposed to GM crop introduction, has presented a petition to the European Commission demanding it stop approving new GM varieties.

"Today's European data show that GM crops are failing in the field and on the market; farmers and consumers are not falling for biotech industry propaganda," Greenpeace EU agriculture policy adviser Stefanie Hundsdorfer said. "GM crops are not more productive and are less resistant to extreme climate conditions than normal crops," she said. "They do, however, present a serious risk for our environment."…

A field in Calumet County, Wisconsin, with corn stover in the foreground, with no indication whether the crop is transgenic. Shot by Royalbroil, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

From Zimbabwe, a drought and climate change adaptation game

Bulawayo 24 (Zimbabwe): When we visited the Research and Intellectual Expo at the University of Zimbabwe last week, we saw some very interesting displays. One such display was at the UZ Soil Science and Agriculture Engineering department where a senior lecturer, Dr Emmanuel Manzungu, is developing a computer-based game that helps farmers and their advisors to make strategic decisions about responding to drought and climate change.

The game was demonstrated by a graduate agricultural engineer, Tinashe Nyabako, who is providing the technical expertise in the development of the game. The display at the research expo was the first for the game. Dr. Manzungu says the Windows desktop based game helps farmers and their advisors to make informed choices about what crops and varieties to grow in a particular agricultural season.

This has two advantages. First, unnecessary risk is avoided by better matching what is grown with rainfall characteristics of the season. Second, maximum possible crop output can be obtained. For example a farmer who grows a short season crop variety that is drought tolerant in a normal rainfall looses out on crop yield since the available genetic potential is not fully exploited. Conversely a farmer who plants a long season variety in a season where there is less than normal rainfall will incur low to zero yields. This is made possible by the game‘s ability to run different scenarios through the use of rainfall and socio-economic data such as family size.

According to Dr Manzungu inspiration came from the threat to food and economic security posed by drought and climate change that Zimbabwe and southern Africa faces. He added that the game makes use of widely available technologies and that gaming is part of people's everyday life…

USDA study confirms links between longer ragweed season and climate change

Ann Perry in the USDA News: Studies by a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientist and cooperators have confirmed what many pollen-sensitive people already suspected: In some parts of North America, ragweed season now lasts longer and ends later. Ragweed pollen in some parts of the northern United States and Canada now lingers almost a month longer than it did in 1995, and these increases are correlated to seasonal warming shifts linked to climate change dynamics in the higher latitudes, according to a study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"One of the biggest challenges in studying climate change is finding out how the plant kingdom is adapting to increases in air temperature and other meteorological phenomena," said Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Administrator Edward B. Knipling. "Studies like this also show us that these ecological shifts don't stop at crop production. They can also have a significant impact on public health."

…Lewis Ziska, a plant physiologist with the ARS Crop Systems and Global Change Research Unit in Beltsville, Md., led a scientific team that identified 10 locations that had at least 15 years of data, from 1995 to 2009, on local ragweed pollen counts. These locations were along a north-south transect from Austin, Texas, to Saskatoon, Canada. The researchers compared the pollen data at each site to other site data, including latitude, the number of frost-free days, and delays in the onset of the first fall frost.

The researchers found that from 1995 to 2009, the number of frost-free days at higher-latitude study sites had increased, and so had the length of the ragweed pollen season. During that period, the pollen season lasted from 13 to 27 days longer than in 1995. They also found that a longer ragweed pollen season was strongly correlated with a delay in the onset of the first fall frost….

Common ragweed shot by Sue Sweeney, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative CommonsAttribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Feb. 23 NASA mission to tote $28 million CU-Boulder instrument and tiny student satellite

University of Colorado at Boulder News: A $28 million University of Colorado Boulder instrument developed to study changes in the sun's brightness and its impact on Earth's climate is one of two primary payloads on NASA's Glory mission set to launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Feb. 23.

Designed and built by a team from CU-Boulder's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, the instrument called the Total Irradiance Monitor, or TIM, will point directly toward the sun to measure both short- and long-term fluctuations in the sun's energy output as it reaches the top of Earth's atmosphere. Such measurements are important because variations in the sun's radiation can influence long-term climate change on Earth, said LASP researcher Greg Kopp, principal investigator on the TIM.

The Taurus XL rocket ferrying the Glory satellite also will be carrying a tiny CU-Boulder satellite designed and built by about 100 students, primarily undergraduates, who are participating in the Colorado Space Grant Consortium. The CubeSat satellite will be ejected from the rocket at about 400 miles in altitude to orbit the Earth and study new space communications techniques.

The CU-Boulder solar instrument on Glory is the most accurate instrument ever made to study the energy output from the sun and will continue a 32-year-long data record of solar radiation by NASA and other agencies, said Kopp. NASA's Solar Radiation and Climate Experiment, a $100 million satellite designed, built and operated by CU-Boulder's LASP and launched in 2003, is equipped with a first-generation TIM instrument as well as three other solar measuring instruments.

"We'd like to know how the sun's energy changes over both the short and long term," said Kopp. "This spacecraft is carrying extremely sensitive instruments for monitoring solar variability, which makes the mission especially relevant given climate change on Earth and the importance of determining the natural influence on those changes."

Glory will join five other NASA Earth-observing satellites as part of the Afternoon Constellation, or "A-Train," a tightly grouped series of spacecraft that circle the globe several times each day to gather information on Earth's biosphere and climate, including hurricane behavior and climate change. The A-Train spacecraft follow each other in close formation, flying mere minutes apart. The A-Train orbits Earth about once every 100 minutes….

Image of the Glory satellite from NASA

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Vulnerability to heatwaves and drought -- a new publication

Joseph Rowntree Foundation: Climate change will, among other impacts, bring increased risks to health and well-being from more frequent and intense heatwaves, as well as increased droughts threatening the security of affordable water supplies in the UK.

This report: introduces the concept of vulnerability to climate change within the context of social justice; examines two early case studies of adaptation in the south-west of England: the implementation of the national Heatwave Plan; and the trend towards differential water pricing based on usage (including the trial of a rising block tariff for water); and highlights the need for a more systematic consideration of current and future vulnerabilities in local, sectoral and national adaptation planning. Key points…
  • Assessments of who is 'vulnerable' to climate change are highly complex. Vulnerability is generally understood as a combination of someone’s exposure and sensitivity to climate hazards (e.g. heatwaves) as well as their ability to adapt.
  • Social vulnerability differs for heatwaves and drought: People who live in poorly constructed homes in 'urban heat islands' (where built environments retain heat), work in hot conditions, suffer ill health, are older or very young, receive low incomes and/or are disconnected from social networks are more likely to be vulnerable to high temperatures.
  • Low-income households unable to reduce their water use are more vulnerable to differential water charging, particularly those who do not qualify for support schemes. There are likely to be strong links between some existing forms of social disadvantage and vulnerability to climate change.
  • Water companies are moving away from flat rate fees to new charging models that bill customers according to water usage. This could create affordability problems for low-income households. Schemes to support vulnerable households may help to improve water efficiency while providing affordable water to all.
  • The Department of Health's Heatwave Plan details how the health and care sectors should respond to heatwaves. But it is difficult for local decision-makers to identify all who are vulnerable to high temperatures, which may limit the effectiveness of planned responses. A national cross-sectoral strategy is needed.
  • The authors conclude that decision-makers need to consider how vulnerability will change over time in order to prepare strategically and build resilience to climate change in advance, to achieve adaptation that is socially just.
Water Fountain, St Pancras Old Church, London On Sunday, July 28th 1968, in the midst of recording sessions for the White Album, The Beatles decided to spend a Mad Day Out being photographed at seemingly random locations all over London. One of the locations was this old drinking fountain at St Pancras Old Church. The fountain had originally been presented on 22 August 1877 by William Thornton. Shot by Christine Matthews, Wikimedia Commons via Geograph UK, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Biomes in Alaska shifting due to climate change

Woods Hole Research Center: A new study released today in the EarlyView of Ecology Letters addresses forest productivity trends in Alaska, highlighting a shift in biomes caused by a warming climate. The findings, conducted by scientists at the Woods Hole Research Center and three other institutions based in Alaska and France, linked satellite observations with an extensive and unique tree-ring data set. Patterns observed support current hypotheses regarding increased growth of evergreen forest at the margins of present tundra and declining productivity at the margins of temperate forest to the south. This study provides a regional picture of forest productivity which did not previously exist.

According to lead author Pieter Beck, a post-doctoral fellow at WHRC, “The results provide evidence for the initiation of a biome shift in response to climate change, and indicate that some ecosystem models may be missing fundamental changes taking place in the circumpolar region.” He adds that “while the findings contrast with some recent model predictions of increased high latitude vegetation productivity, they are consistent with longer-term projections of global vegetation models.”

Scott Goetz, a senior scientist at WHRC, proposed the study and co-authored the manuscript. He says, “Most people don’t think of high latitudes forests as being drought stressed - and they are not in the traditional sense of having soils dry up and blow away - but their growth is negatively impacted by hot dry air masses and those have increased in recent years. This paper shows those drought impacts are captured in both the satellite and the tree ring record. Of course the tree rings go back in time much further than the satellite observations, which only extend about 30 years, but the changes that we observe from satellites are clearly supported not only by the tree rings but also by carbon isotope analysis of the wood.”

Beck adds that climate driven changes in the disturbance regime, which can rapidly alter forest dynamics and the ability of boreal forests to migrate into current tundra areas, will most likely shape the biome shift in the future….

These maps show trends in remotely sensed gross productivity (Prs) between 1982 and 2008 and trends in spruce growth since 1982 in Alaska (left) and the area around Fairbanks (right). White shading indicates sparsely vegetated or human modified land cover. Light gray shading indicates the trend in Prs from 1982 to 2008 was non-deterministic based on a Vogelsang significance test (a = 0.05), and dark gray areas had wildfires anywhere between 1982 and 2007. Green and brown shading in the symbols indicate increasing and decreasing ring widths, respectively, in unburned stands from 1982 to the year of sampling which ranged from 1994 to 2008. Map from the Woods Hole Research Center website

Cold winters mean more pollution

University of Gothenburg (Sweden): Differences in air pressure over the North Atlantic have meant that the last two winters in Gothenburg have been extremely cold. This has led to the air in Gothenburg being more polluted with nitrogen oxides than ever before. A new study from the University of Gothenburg shows that there is a strong link between climate and air pollution.

The winter weather in Gothenburg and large parts of North-West Europe is partly down to the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), in other words the differences in air pressure over the North Atlantic. The NAO swings between positive and negative phases depending on the differences in air pressure between Iceland and the Azores. When the NAO is in a negative phase – as has been the case during the last two winters – the city has cold winters because the low pressure sits over southern Europe, while cold air from the polar region or Siberia sits over northern Europe.

In a study carried out in Gothenburg, a group of researchers from the University of Gothenburg investigated how the concentrations of nitrogen oxides (NO and NO2) in the air can be linked to the weather. Published in the scientific journal Atmospheric Environment, the study shows that the air quality standard has been exceeded more and more frequently during periods of a negative NAO even though emissions have fallen in the city centre since 2000 according to official measurements from the Environmental Administration.

“These extremely cold winters in Gothenburg, with high cold air, bring a clear deterioration in air quality,” says Maria Grundström from the University of Gothenburg’s Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences, one of the researchers behind the study. “With typical Gothenburg weather – low air pressure with precipitation and strong winds – the air pollution is dispersed more quickly on account of better air mixing.”…

Gothenburg in warmer weather, shot by Wigulf, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license

50 million 'environmental refugees' by 2020, experts say

Terra Daily via AFP: Fifty million "environmental refugees" will flood into the global north by 2020, fleeing food shortages sparked by climate change, experts warned at a major science conference that ended here Monday. "In 2020, the UN has projected that we will have 50 million environmental refugees," University of California, Los Angeles professor Cristina Tirado said at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

"When people are not living in sustainable conditions, they migrate," she continued, outlining with the other speakers how climate change is impacting both food security and food safety, or the amount of food available and the healthfulness of that food. Southern Europe is already seeing a sharp increase in what has long been a slow but steady flow of migrants from Africa, many of whom risk their lives to cross the Strait of Gibraltar into Spain from Morocco or sail in makeshift vessels to Italy from Libya and Tunisia.

The flow recently grew to a flood after a month of protests in Tunisia, set off by food shortages and widespread unemployment and poverty, brought down the government of longtime ruler Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, said Michigan State University professor Ewen Todd, who predicted there will be more of the same. "What we saw in Tunisia -- a change in government and suddenly there are a whole lot of people going to Italy -- this is going to be the pattern," Todd told AFP.

"Already, Africans are going in small droves up to Spain, Germany and wherever from different countries in the Mediterranean region, but we're going to see many, many more trying to go north when food stress comes in. And it was food shortages that put the people of Tunisia and Egypt over the top….

Vietnamese refugees in 1982, US Navy photo