Thursday, June 30, 2011

Tropical Storm Arlene drenches eastern Mexico

AFP: Strong wind and heavy rain lashed much of eastern Mexico Thursday as Tropical Storm Arlene made landfall at near hurricane strength, whipping up Gulf waves large enough to force area ports to shut down. Ports in Veracruz state were closed due to waves reaching six meters (20 feet) in height, the local Civil Protection office reported.

The US National Hurricane Center said at 1500 GMT that Arlene, the first named Atlantic storm of the season, barreled ashore at Cabo Rojo, a cape just off the mainland in Veracruz state, packing sustained winds of 100 kilometers (65 miles) per hour, with higher gusts.

With the storm pushing inland, "weakening is forecast during the next 24 to 36 hours, and Arlene is expected to dissipate over the mountains of central Mexico by Friday," said the Miami-based NHC, which monitors cyclone activity.

Arlene was forecast to dump between four and eight inches (10-20 centimeters) of rain over eastern Mexico, with isolated maximum amounts of 15 inches (38 centimeters) over mountainous terrain. The NHC warned in a bulletin that the rain "could cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides."

Mexico's navy and army opened 398 shelters Thursday and were monitoring area rivers for possible flooding, officials said. In the central state of Puebla, the heavy rain triggered landslides that damaged homes and blocked highways, local officials reported....

Tropical Storm Arlene on June 29, from NASA

La Niña's exit leaves climate forecasts in limbo

NASA/JPL: It's what Bill Patzert, a climatologist and oceanographer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., likes to call a "La Nada" – that puzzling period between cycles of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation climate pattern in the Pacific Ocean when sea surface heights in the equatorial Pacific are near average.

The comings and goings of El Niño and La Niña are part of a long-term, evolving state of global climate, for which measurements of sea surface height are a key indicator. For the past three months, since last year's strong La Niña event dissipated, data collected by the U.S.-French Ocean Surface Topography Mission (OSTM)/Jason-2 oceanography satellite have shown that the equatorial Pacific sea surface heights have been stable and near average. Elsewhere, however, the northeastern Pacific Ocean remains quite cool, with sea levels much lower than normal. The presence of cool ocean waters off the U.S. West Coast has also been a factor in this year's cool and foggy spring there.

The current state of the Pacific is shown in this OSTM/Jason-2 image, based on the average of 10 days of data centered on June 18, 2011. The image depicts places where Pacific sea surface height is higher (warmer) than normal as yellow and red, while places where the sea surface is lower (cooler) than normal are shown in blue and purple. Green indicates near-normal conditions. Sea surface height is an indicator of how much of the sun's heat is stored in the upper ocean.

For oceanographers and climate scientists like Patzert, "La Nada" conditions can bring with them a high degree of uncertainty. While some forecasters (targeting the next couple of seasons) have suggested La Nada will bring about "normal" weather conditions, Patzert cautions previous protracted La Nadas have often delivered unruly jet stream patterns and wild weather swings.

In addition, some climatologists are pondering whether a warm El Niño pattern (which often follows La Niña) may be lurking over the horizon. Patzert says that would be perfectly fine for the United States. "For the United States, there would be some positives to the appearance of El Niño this summer," Patzert said. "The parched and fire-ravaged southern tier of the country would certainly benefit from a good El Niño soaking. Looking ahead to late August and September, El Niño would also tend to dampen the 2011 hurricane season in the United States. We've had enough wild and punishing weather this year. Relief from the drought across the southern United States and a mild hurricane season would be very welcome."...

The latest satellite data of Pacific Ocean sea surface heights from the NASA/European Ocean Surface Topography Mission/Jason-2 satellite show near-normal conditions in the equatorial Pacific. The image is based on the average of 10 days of data centered on June 18, 2011. Higher (warmer) than normal sea surface heights are indicated by yellows and reds, while lower (cooler) than normal sea surface heights are depicted in blues and purples. Green indicates near-normal conditions. Image credit: NASA/JPL Ocean Surface Topography Team

Unprecedented disasters are threatening economic recovery and need regional response

The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia the Pacific: An increase in extreme weather events and unprecedented natural calamities have set back Asia-Pacific economic recovery and development gains and require a joint regional response, the United Nations told a meeting of 31 countries here today.

Ministers and senior officials and 22 international organizations working in one of the world’s most disaster-prone regions are meeting in Bangkok from 29 June to 1 July at the Second Session of the Committee on Disaster Risk Reduction to discuss a regional strategy to minimize the human, environmental and economic impact of disasters.

“This session takes place at a time when the region is yet to fully recover from the external shocks from the global financial crisis, and disasters contribute to aggravation of the situation and undermine the region’s efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals,” Acting Deputy Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), Mr. Nagesh Kumar told the Committee.

The spate of disasters in many countries over the past year have affected the food security situation, further aggravating the rising food prices, he added. Inaugurating the Session, Thailand’s Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Suangsan Jamornchan noted that the meeting was “very timely” as the Asia-Pacific region “continues to suffer disproportionately from natural disasters”. “The impact of natural disasters upon social and economic development in the region cannot be left out of our agenda,” the minister said.

...According to the report, the region has suffered 85 per cent of deaths and 38 per cent of global economic losses due to disasters during 1980-2009. Nearly 90 per cent of all people affected by disasters in 2010 were living in Asia. ...

German Gunboat Adler wrecked by an 1889 typhoon in Samoa, overturned on the reef, on the western side of Apia Harbor, Upolu, Samoa, during salvage work after the storm.

AAAS board defends climate scientists

Janet Raloff in Science News reports on a recent response by a major scientific body fighting back against the virulent bullying and intimidation that marks this phase of climate controversies: “AAAS vigorously opposes attacks on researchers that question their personal and professional integrity or threaten their safety based on displeasure with their scientific conclusions.” This declaration was contained in a 400-word denunciation of attacks on climate scientists and the politicization of climate science that was issued June 29 by the board of directors of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The board is not objecting to people voicing opinions about climate data, explains AAAS board member Raymond L. Orbach, director of the University of Texas at Austin’s Energy Institute. “This is about an attack on people. And that’s an important distinction,” the physicist emphasizes. The concern, he says, is that these attacks can have “a chilling effect on scientists’ ability to present facts.”

Attacking the messenger can discourage researchers from publishing data they fear might lead to intimidating phone calls — even death threats, he says. And that would jeopardize public access to important data on which public decisionmaking should be based, he argues, “which is just pernicious.”

...Together with marine scientist Nancy Knowlton of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, in Washington D.C., Orbach introduced a resolution at the May board meeting of the AAAS asking for a formal condemnation of the public intimidation of climate researchers. When I asked him what had triggered the move, he pointed to a succession of events in recent years, including:
  • a campaign by Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli to obtain access to research data by former University of Virginia climate scientist Michael Mann (now at Penn State). Cuccinelli said he wanted to prosecute Mann or his university under the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act for misuse of state funds
  • a petition by the American Tradition Institute (ATI) — a “free-market”-based think tank — demanding that the University of Virginia turn over thousands of e-mails and documents written by Mann
  • ATI’s January 19, 2011, filing of a Freedom of Information Act request for NASA to hand over documents detailing “whether and how ‘global warming’ activist Dr. James Hansen of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) has complied with applicable federal ethics and financial disclosure laws and regulations, and NASA Rules of Behavior”
  • and news accounts of climate researchers receiving death threats in response to reports of their findings.
Mary Pickford in the 1917 version of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm

Arctic melting will affect the migratory strategies of seabirds

University of Barcelona: A study of kittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla) in the arctic region provides the first data on the migratory patterns of this seabird species and analyses its capacity to respond to environmental changes. The kittiwake is one of the most emblematic marine species of the arctic area, and evidence suggests that rising temperatures at the north pole over the coming decades will have a dramatic impact on populations of this bird. To understand the responses of arctic species to climate change, an international team led by Thierry Boulinier (Centre for Functional and Evolutionary Ecology, CNRS, France), contributed to by the lecturer Jacob González-Solís, from the UB's Department of Animal Biology and the Institute for Research on Biodiversity (IRBio), has fitted tracking devices to individuals from several kittiwake populations in northern Norway.

The project is funded by the French Polar Institute (IPEV), the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA) and the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation. During the research, the expert Víctor García, from the Ministry of the Environment and Rural and Marine Affairs, was involved in installing the satellite transmitters for tracking the tagged individuals.

The kittewake, which hibernates along the Cantabrian and Atlantic coasts of Spain, was considered until recently a dispersive species. For the first time, the use of geolocators and satellite transmitters has revealed that these birds have multiple migratory strategies and that ice affects their movements. The results show that after the breeding season, the entire population migrated to the Svalbard archipelago and to the eastern part of the Bering Sea to moult and recover from breeding effort. After two months, the birds took only nine days to migrate to the Labrador Sea, to the east of Greenland. Half of the population spent the winter in this area, but the other half moved towards the north-east Atlantic and even to the Iberian coast, before returning to the breeding grounds in February.

By comparing the data provided by the geolocators and satellite telemetry images of the Arctic ice, the experts found that the population studied migrated away from ice-covered areas. “Kittiwakes gather in areas where there is no ice,” explains González-Solís. “If we consider that the volume of ice in the Arctic will decrease drastically over the coming decades, we are likely to see a general movement of hibernation areas northwards.”...

A kittiwake, shot by Hanno in 1996 on the island of Hornøya (Northern Norway), Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Experts warn epic weather ravaging US could worsen

Mira Oberman in AFP: Epic floods, massive wildfires, drought and the deadliest tornado season in 60 years are ravaging the United States, with scientists warning that climate change will bring even more extreme weather. The human and economic toll over just the past few months has been staggering: hundreds of people have died, and thousands of homes and millions of acres have been lost at a cost estimated at more than $20 billion. And the United States has not even entered peak hurricane season.

"This spring was one of the most extreme springs that we've seen in the last century since we've had good records," said Deke Arndt, chief of climate monitoring for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). While it's not possible to tie a specific weather event or pattern to climate change, Arndt said this spring's extreme weather is in line with what is forecast for the future.

"In general, but not everywhere, it is expected that the wetter places will get wetter and the drier places will tend to see more prolonged dry periods," he told AFP. "We are seeing an increase in the amount (of rain and snow) that comes at once, and the ramifications are that it's a lot more water to deal with at a time, so you see things like flooding."

More than 6.8 million acres in the central United States have been swamped after record spring rainfall overwhelmed rivers already swollen from the melting of a heavy winter snow pack. Some levees burst under the pressure as the mighty Mississippi River swelled to more than three miles (nearly five kilometers) in width. Others were intentionally breached in order to ease pressure and protect cities downstream....

An old train depot lies flooded along the Mississippi River in Vicksburg, Miss., May 13, 2011. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Photo by Patrick Moes

Farm animal disease to increase with climate change

Science Daily: Researchers looked at changes in the behaviour of bluetongue -- a viral disease of cattle and sheep -- from the 1960s to the present day, as well as what could happen to the transmission of the virus 40 years into the future. They found, for the first time, that an outbreak of a disease could be explained by changes to the climate.

In Europe, more than 80,000 outbreaks of bluetongue were reported to the World Animal Health Organisation between 1998 and 2010, and millions of animals died as a result of the disease. Bluetongue was previously restricted to Africa and Asia, but its emergence in Europe is thought to be linked to increased temperatures, which allows the insects that carry the virus to spread to new regions and transmit the virus more effectively.

Researchers produced a mathematical model that explains how the risk of an outbreak of bluetongue virus in Europe changes under different climate conditions. The team examined the effect of past climate on the risk of the virus over the past 50 years to understand the specific triggers for disease outbreak over time and throughout geographical regions. This model was then driven forwards in time, using predictive climate models, to the year 2050, to show how the disease may react to future climate change.

Using these future projections, researchers found that in northern Europe there could be a 17% increase in incidence of the bluetongue virus, compared to 7% in southern regions, where it is already much warmer...

A female sheep with bluetongue disease, shot by Fourrure (, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Mauritania could lose its capital to the sea

Med Abderrahmane in IPS: For the past five years, water has been seeping out of the ground beneath parts of Nouakchott, undermining foundations and transforming some areas of the Mauritanian capital into uninhabitable marshes. Tabara Gaye, a widow living in the Socogim PS neighbourhood of this coastal city, told IPS that her neighbours' house collapsed on Jun. 20. She is demanding urgent help from the government before this year's rainy season to pay for pumps and the cost of building embankments against the rising waters.

In 2007, limited flooding was observed in several places during the rainy season. But in January 2011, residents were forced to flee their homes when water began invading several neighbourhoods, including Socogim, Bagdad, Sebkha and Las Palmas. Murmurs of discontent gained strength until the clamour for compensation from the government and private developers who laid out the now-flooded sites spurred the government to act.

Mauritanian president Mohamed Abdelaziz personally visited the sites in April and set up an inter-ministerial committee to look into the problem, but the committee is yet to report back. Retiree Moktar Kane, a victim of the flooding, says, "I spent 35 millions ouguiyas (around 138,000 dollars), to purchase a flood-prone plot. My neighbours and I, a total of 476 families, need a drain to drain waste water and runoff… or we want substantial compensation."

Compensation for Kane and his neighbours is out of the question, according to the developers, Iskan (the name means housing in Arabic). "The lots were allocated in 1982, and the water table then was at two metres," says Iskan's technical director, Med Ali. "All of Nouakchott finds itself below the water table. Only the government can settle this."

Recent studies by the government suggest that nearly 80 percent of the overall surface area of Nouakchott could be submerged in less than a decade – in 20 years at most. One scenario predicts the disappearance of the city by around 2050. The director of environmental services, Ould Lefdal, explains it simply, "Nouakchott is located in a depression 50 centimetres below sea level. The sea is advancing towards the city at a rate of 25 metres per year."...

The fishing port in Nouakchott, shot by Hugues, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

'Seasons changing in Bangladesh'

The Daily Star (Bangladesh): Lengths of winter, summer and rainy seasons in Bangladesh have increased, while spring has decreased, changes that are likely to have an adverse impact on agriculture, said a study based on farmers' perceptions.

Winter, traditionally around two-and-a-half months long, now prevails for three-and-three-quarters, while summer takes five months, almost double the past usual length. On the other hand, rainy season, normally two-and-three-quarters, prevails for around three-and-a-half months, while spring is now one-and-a-half months, nearly half a month less than before. Autumn and late autumn continue to remain the same, it says. “It is expected that an increase in the length of summer season will adversely influence crop plantation and an increase in the rainy season will adversely impact ripening and harvesting,” it said.

The study “A perception study: Climate change and food security in South Asia” was conducted from October to November in 2010 on 1,200 farmers -- 300 each from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The farmers revealed their experience on climate change during the past 11 to 20 years.

Practical Action, Bangladesh; Sustainable Development Policy Institute, Pakistan; Centre for Community Economics and Development Consultants Society, India; and Afghan Development Association, Afghanistan; conducted the study....

Insurance protection for farmers in Ghana

PEACE FM Online (Ghana): Climate change is currently widely accepted as a reality, and adaptation to it is one of the biggest challenges facing the vast majority of the people in the developing world particularly countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Its effects higher temperatures, increased frequency and intensity of droughts and floods, as well as other weather-related perils pose risks for the very poor and vulnerable whose source of livelihood depends mainly on subsistence agriculture.

Research has shown that by 2100, mean daily temperatures in Ghana will rise by three degrees Celsius and rainfall frequency will decline by between 9% and 27% -- with increasing seasonal and spatial variations.

Against this background, a German International Cooperation (GIZ)-supported project - “Innovative Insurance Products for Adaptation to Climate Change” (IIPACC) - has been initiated to support the country in tackling the socio-economic costs and risks associated with climate change.

The aim of the project is to facilitate the development and introduction of agricultural insurance solutions for farmers. These are in the form of innovative, demand-oriented agricultural insurance products and are intended to protect farmers, agro-processors, rural and financial institutions, input dealers among others, in the event of crop-failure due to extreme weather events such as drought, excessive rainfall and flood.

The project is jointly implemented by the National Insurance Commission (NIC) and GIZ-IIPACC in collaboration with the Ghana Insurers Association (GIZ), and is funded by the German Federal Ministry of the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety...

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A new way of thinking as sea levels rise

Darryl Fears in the Washington Post: …Within 50 years, a big part of Virginia Beach’s identity — its beach — could be lost if nothing is done, said [Clay] Bernick, the city’s environment and sustainability administrator. Large pieces of land could also be lost to the ocean in Norfolk within a few generations. In fact, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warns that, outside of greater New Orleans, Hampton Roads is at the greatest risk from sea-level rise for any area its size.

“It’s a significant threat,” Bernick said. “At this point, I wouldn’t put it in the category of fear, because it’s a long way off.” But he added: “You’ve got multiple factors with flashing lights saying, ‘Okay, guys, what are you going to do?’ ”

To help answer that question in the past, municipalities turned to a manual published by the Army Corps of Engineers since 1954 on how to protect shores by holding back the sea. But earlier this month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency published the first manual on how not to hold it back, arguing that costly seawalls and dikes eventually fail because sea-level rise is unstoppable. The federal Global Change Research Program estimates that the sea level will rise 14 to 17 inches in the next century around Hampton Roads.

The analysis, “Rolling Easements,” published on the EPA’s Web site, hopes “to get people on the path of not expecting to hold back the sea” as the warming climate is expected to melt ice around the globe, EPA researcher James G. Titus said.

Titus said state and local governments should start crafting laws and ordinances to limit development on vulnerable lands and encourage people living there to move inland. Reflecting the scale of the problem, the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission issued a report this month warning that 1 million residents would now be threatened by a Category 4 hurricane….

Virginia Beach from space. The raw satellite imagery shown in these images was obtained from NASA and/or the US Geological Survey. Post-processing and production by Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license

Microfinance can help rural communities adapt to climate change

Kristin Palitza in IPS: Projects to fight climate change are being designed all around the world. But only five percent of them can be financed with the current international funds available, which means resources have to be used more wisely. Microfinance could be one solution. Climate change is one of the greatest challenges to development that the world has ever faced.

According to the World Bank, mitigation of its effects in developing countries could cost 140 to 175 billion dollars per year by 2030, while adaptation costs are expected to reach between 75 and 100 billion dollars per year between 2010 and 2050.

"The low-income masses will be most affected by climate change in their daily lives. We need solutions for mainstreaming adaptation projects to also include these people," said African Development Bank director for energy, environment and climate change development Hela Cheikhrouhou. She spoke at the Climate Investment Funds (CIF) 2011 Partnership Forum, held from Jun. 24-25 in Cape Town, South Africa.

The CIF, established by the World Bank and regional multilateral development banks, provide funding to support developing countries’ climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts. Even though more than a third of CIF money have so far gone to 15 African countries, few people in rural and poverty-stricken areas – who struggle most to access financing – have been able to benefit from the schemes, largely due to administrative barriers.

"We need to make sure that funds can be accessed by rural populations because there is urgency in making climate change projects happen on the ground," said Victor Kabengele, project coordinator at the ministry of environment of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)….

Climbing beans growing in the province of North Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo. Shot by Neil Palmer (CIAT), Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Water use in China and the Middle East is an environmental Ponzi scheme

Damian Carrington in the Guardian (UK): Find water and you find life. This simple maxim guides scientists searching distant planets for aliens. But if the astrobiologists were to reverse their telescopes and look at our own globe, they would find a conundrum: billions of people living in places with little or no water.

That unsustainable paradox is now unravelling before our eyes in the Middle East and north Africa. The 16 most water-stressed states on Earth are all in that troubled region, with Bahrain at the top of the ranking from risk analysts Maplecroft. Libya, Yemen, Egypt, Tunisia and Syria follow not far behind.

All are built on an environmental Ponzi scheme, using more water than they receive: 700 times more in Libya's case. The unrest of the Arab spring of course has many causes, but arguably the most fundamental is the crumbling of a social contract that offered cheap water – and hence food – in return for subservience to dictators.

The region's population is rocketing – there are 10,000 new mouths to feed each day – just as grain production plummets. The deep, ancient aquifers that enabled crops to green the deserts are almost exhausted, and the oil that fires the desalination plants to make up the loss is dwindling too.

It's a perfect storm of water, food and energy crises and has arrived two decades sooner than even the most sober analysts expected. And while the Middle East is the first region to feel the wrath of that storm, across the world warning signs are flashing – from the sinking of Mexico City as its aquifers are sucked dry to the docking of freshwater tankers in Barcelona…

A ship in what used to be the Aral Sea, long since dried up. Shot by Staecker, who has released it into the public domain

Philippines boosts disaster preparedness as latest storm subsides

IRIN: As yet another tropical storm has been battering parts of the Philippine island of Luzon over the past few days, leaving thousands displaced, the government has set up a Technical Working Group (TWG) with the aim of improving preparedness for natural disasters and manmade calamities, including conflict.

“This will be the national focal point for all natural disasters from now on,” a senior disaster risk reduction official and executive director of the country’s National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Centre (NDRRMC), Benito Ramos, told IRIN.

Thousands of people are returning to their homes after Tropical Storm Meari resulted in extensive flooding in dozens of towns and cities on Luzon island, including Metro Manila, on 25-26 June. Of the more than one million people affected, nearly 40,000 were still in 126 evacuation centres as of 27 June, the NDRRMC reported.

Comprised of the NDRRMC and the Humanitarian Country Team (HCT), TWG’s focus will be on typhoons, about 20 of which hit the country each year. Most typhoons strike from June to December. In 2009, the country was hit by some big ones, including Ketsana, Parma and Mirinae. Scientists believe the storms have strengthened in recent years due to the effects of La Niña.

“The establishment of this group is a real breakthrough,” said David Carden, head of office for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), who will co-chair TWG with Ramos. “It demonstrates yet again that the new administration of President Benigno Aquino is fully committed to addressing the country’s disaster preparedness needs.”…

Tropical Storm Meari on June 23, 2011, via either the US Navy or NASA

Important new book on water: "The Ripple Effect"

Alex Prud’homme is a steadfast friend of this blog, and he’s just published a new book about water. With the relentless objectivity that characterizes everything we do, Carbon Based urges everyone to read our friend’s book. Meanwhile, Alex Prud'homme writes: Experts call it “the next oil,” and predict water will be the focus of increased tension and great innovation in coming decades. In response, I set out in 2007 to discover how people across the U.S. and around the world are using and abusing water today – and how they are preparing for what the UN has deemed “the looming water crisis.”

The result is THE RIPPLE EFFECT. The book’s title comes from my observation that every time we use water – even for something as mundane as washing our hands, spraying the lawn, or generating power for light – it sets off deep and wide hydrologic ripple effects, with consequences that most of us are unaware of. But today we no longer have the luxury of ignorance: we must understand how our actions impact the earth’s limited supply of fresh water, and learn to value H2O more highly. After all, we can live without oil, but not without water.

I think of this book as an intellectual adventure story. In the course of reporting, I traveled from inside New York City’s new Water Tunnel No. 3 (the $6 billion water tunnel being drilled 600 feet beneath Manhattan) to the disputed aquifers of Poland Springs, ME, the “intersex” fish and Dead Zone of the Chesapeake Bay, poisoned wells and flooding rivers in the Midwest, the “water-energy nexus” in oil and gas fields, the failed levees of Katrina-wracked New Orleans, drought-threatened Las Vegas, California’s vulnerable San Francisco Delta, and up to the resource wars of the Alaskan Peninsula.

Each of these stories features compelling characters who grapple with crucial water issues, and is written in a narrative style for a broad audience. Water is a vast subject, and while THE RIPPLE EFFECT is inclusive it is not encyclopedic. The book is divided into four parts: water quality (what’s in our water?); drought; flood; and water in the twenty-first century….

Monday, June 27, 2011

Fires near Los Alamos

Los Alamos National Laboratory News Center: Los Alamos National Laboratory emergency officials are closely watching wind directions this morning as the Las Conchas fire continues to burn southwest of the Lab. Winds generally from the northwest overnight have helped keep the fire from entering Lab property, but forecasts call for a change by mid-day. LANL’s Emergency Operations Center remains operational.

Observation aircraft are currently conducting aerial surveys to gauge the fire’s growth and current size. Overnight, as a precaution, the Lab cut natural gas to technical areas in LANL’s remote southwest area. All hazardous and radioactive materials remain accounted for and are appropriately protected, as are key Lab facilities such as its proton accelerator and supercomputing centers. Environmental specialists are mobilized and monitoring air quality, but say the principal concern is smoke. The Lab last night announced it would be closed Monday. “It’s been a very long night for the fire crews,” said Lab Director Charles McMillan. “There has been an outpouring of support from the region, the state, and the federal government and for that we are profoundly grateful.”

New Mexico Governor Susanna Martinez came to the Los Alamos National Laboratory Emergency Operations Center just before midnight, June 26. “Our top priority is the safety of the people of our communities and property. I’m grateful to the state and local crews who are working so hard to keep damage to a minimum,” the governor said. Los Alamos County Councilor Sharon Stover also arrived, noting “We’ve got a good team here, with folks who were here for the Cerro Grande fire, so I feel very confident about their being able to manage this. In addition, we’re getting a lot of support from neighboring communities.” “We’d just like to thank the Governor and the leadership from surrounding areas who have been so quick to offer their support,” said Laboratory Director Charles McMillan….

An aerial nonincendiary view of the Dual Axis Radiographic Hydrodynamic Test (DARHT) Facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory shows the facility’s two accelerators set at right angles to one another. (Image courtesy of LANL)

UK drought remains despite a wet June

Alison Brown in Despite the wet weather with many regions receiving more than their average June rainfall, parts of England are still officially in drought. Central and eastern England have had 75% and 83% respectively of their average monthly rainfall but Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire, parts of Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire and western Norfolk remain in drought.

Some areas have had more than the average monthly rain. South West England has had 32 mm of rain falling, 130% of its monthly average rainfall for June. South east England and Wales have now received 118% and 101% respectively of the monthly average so far.

Many rivers are recovering but there are still a number that have below normal flows for the time of year, including: the rivers Dove and Derwent in central England, Ely Ouse in east Anglia, Malmesbury Avon in south west England and the Kennet and Coln in the Thames Valley. Most water companies are still saying that water restrictions are unlikely despite reservoir stocks being below normal for this time of year and hosepipe bans have not been initiated in England or Wales….

Gender indicators for global climate funds still an afterthought

Kristin Palitza in via IPS: Of the millions of dollars spent on climate change projects in developing countries, little has been allocated in a way that will benefit women. Yet, in Africa, it is women who will be most affected by climate change. According to United Nations data, about 80 percent of the continent's smallholder farmers are women. While they are responsible for the food security of millions of people, agriculture is one of the sectors hardest hit by climate change.

"There is a lot of international talk about climate change funding for local communities and especially for women, but not much is actually happening," says Ange Bukasa, who runs investment facilitation organisation Chezange Connect in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Bukasa was one of the delegates at the Climate Investment Funds (CIF) 2011 Partnership Forum, which was held from Jun. 24-25 in Cape Town, South Africa.

The Climate Investment Funds (CIF), established by the World Bank in cooperation with regional multilateral development banks, provide funding for developing countries' climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts. Since their launch in 2008, CIF has allocated 6,5 billion dollars to climate change projects in 45 developing countries. More than a third of the money went to 15 African states.

But most of the money - more than 70 percent - is financing large-scale clean technology energy and transportation projects. These are traditionally male-dominated sectors of the formal economy. Only 30 percent is being spent on small-scale projects that directly benefit poor, rural communities and thereby potentially improve women's livelihoods….

A peanut vendor in Ouagadougu, shot by Roman Bonnefoy (OldManonPhotoshop1850.jpg  Romanceor, Wikimedia Commons,under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license.

Scientists warn of energy drain of water technology

Jessica Shankleman in BusinessGreen: Governments and businesses have been urged to accelerate efforts to reduce the energy intensity of water processes, such as waste water treatment and transportation, in order to address the water industry's sizeable carbon footprint.

Researchers at the University of East Anglia yesterday published a study online in Nature Climate Change, arguing that energy use and greenhouse gas emissions arising from water management processes are poorly understood, but are likely to become increasingly important over the coming decades.

Water related energy use, through processes such as treating fresh and waste water, accounts for five per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions in the US, and the proportion is even higher in the UK, according to the report's authors Professor Declan Conway and Sabrina Rothausen. Estimates for India suggest that emissions from lifting water for irrigation could account for as much as six per cent of total national emissions.

The study argues that the water industry has invested heavily in developing more sustainable resource management policies and techniques, but less attention has been paid to tackling growing energy use and associated emissions….

A water tower in Darmstadt, Germany, shot by Heidas, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Climate funding unprecedented opportunity for corruption

Minivan News (the Maldives): Climate funding present unprecedented opportunities for corruption as large sums of money flow through new channels from donor nations, Transparency Maldives (TM) has warned. Over US$130 billion in funding for climate change adaption and mitigation projects is predicted to flow into the highly complex aid sector, said TM Project Coordinator Maurifa Hassan, during the local launch of Transparency International’s Global Corruption Report focusing on climate change.

“Those most affected by climate change are those most marginalised,” said Hassan during the launch at Traders Hotel. “Rules of engagement” set by donor nations were “diverse and complicated”, and directing funding to where it was needed most would require strengthening transparency and governance practices. Already, she said, “where carbon markets have been introduced, the rules tend to be set by the market leaders.”

Speaking at the launch, Finance Minister Ahmed Inaz emphasised the importance of ensuring aid investment and expenditure was transparent. “Many islands require immediate and expensive engineering,” he said. “Adaption is costly, and sea walls do not come cheap. Male’s sea wall cost US$17 million, and without the support of Japan we would not have been able to build it.”…

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Are inaccurate climate models making us feel too secure?

Science 2.0 raises an issue that doesn't get enough attention -- critiques of models often assume that the modelers are overstating risks, when they might well be downplaying them: The common refrain when climate science detractors point out the flaws in numerical models is that, if no one is sure of the accuracy, the risks are being exaggerated. It could be the opposite. Numerical models could be giving us a false sense of security, a belief that we have plenty of time to fix pollution issues.

Writing in Nature Geoscience, Paul Valdes from the University of Bristol School of Geographical Sciences, discusses four examples of abrupt climate change 'tipping points' over the last 55.8 million years that have been reconstructed from palaeoclimate data and states that the level of inaccuracy could be too comforting.

Two complex climate models used in the assessments of future climate change did not adequately simulate the climate configuration conditions before the onset of change while two other models needed an unrealistically strong push (10X) to produce a change similar to that observed in records of past climate, meaning the models were overestimating the real-world conditions needed to make the historical effects appear - it could actually be much easier.

…What is the solution? It takes a lot of processing horsepower to do huge simulations, so often we have to rely on boundary conditions and, as he puts it, " we need to challenge the palaeodata and continue to improve our knowledge of past forcing factors and the ensuing climate response….

A diorama of one of the Battles of Pydna (in ancient Macedon), shot by Spads, who has released it into the public domain

Sahara Desert greening due to climate change?

James Owen in the National Geographic News: Desertification, drought, and despair—that's what global warming has in store for much of Africa. Or so we hear. Emerging evidence is painting a very different scenario, one in which rising temperatures could benefit millions of Africans in the driest parts of the continent.

Scientists are now seeing signals that the Sahara desert and surrounding regions are greening due to increasing rainfall. If sustained, these rains could revitalize drought-ravaged regions, reclaiming them for farming communities. This desert-shrinking trend is supported by climate models, which predict a return to conditions that turned the Sahara into a lush savanna some 12,000 years ago.

The green shoots of recovery are showing up on satellite images of regions including the Sahel, a semi-desert zone bordering the Sahara to the south that stretches some 2,400 miles (3,860 kilometers). Images taken between 1982 and 2002 revealed extensive regreening throughout the Sahel, according to a new study in the journal Biogeosciences.

The study suggests huge increases in vegetation in areas including central Chad and western Sudan. The transition may be occurring because hotter air has more capacity to hold moisture, which in turn creates more rain…

Aerial view of a gapped bush plateau in the Nigerian part of W regional park. Average distance between two successive gaps in the vegetation is 50 meters. Shot by Nicolas Barbier, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Highest glacier monitoring station established in Pakistan

Dawn via AFP (Pakistan): Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) has established the highest Glacier Monitoring Station in the country, at an elevation of 4500 meters above the sea level, to study weather conditions in the glacier environment. “The station established on Passu Glacier in Hunza Basin would help in measuring snowfall, solar radiation intensity, humidity precipitation, wind speeds, wind directions and the sub-zero tempeatures in that zone,” Chief Metereologist of PMD, Dr. Ghulam Rasul said.

Talking to APP here he said Passu Glacier is a valley type 26 km long glacier, covering an area of 63 square kilometre and its estimated ice volume is about 10.89 cubic kilometre. PMD started studying the Passu Glacier last year by establishing a Glacier Monitoring Station at an elevation of 3200 meters above sea level, through financial assistance of International Centre of Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), he added.

PMD had installed a station at the lake, formed due to the melting of the Passu Glacier at its lower end, he said. This helped in monitoring the snow and ice melt process in the ‘ablation zone,’ the lower area of the glacier which is melting fast due to global warming.

It was envisaged at the time that a monitoring station must be established in the ‘accumulation zone,’ the upper area of the glacier where snow continues to accumulate and converts into ice to understand the glacial dynamics, Dr. Ghulam Rasul said. “Now these two monitoring stations together will help in computing the gradient flow of glacier mass, surface velocity and the rate at which glacier accumulates and loses its mass,” he said….

Suspension bridge over the Hunza river with Passu. A great shot by Gert Wrigge & Anton Öttl, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Blaming our ancestors for the Missouri floods

An editorial in the Des Moines Register: Everyone is looking for a place to lay blame for the flooding caused by unprecedented amounts of water barreling down the Missouri River, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is the favored scapegoat. That is fair only to the extent that the Corps manages water moving through the dams and levees along the 2,300 miles of the Missouri. Blame must also be shared by a host of others who over the past 75 years decided to tame this once meandering river.

Re-engineering the Missouri River represented one of the nation's largest single public works projects. It was initiated during the Great Depression as a massive economic-development program, and to this day it affects the landscape, the environment, wildlife and lives of people in 10 states and beyond.

The project achieved its mission of straightening the river for shipping and navigation, striking a balance between routine floods and droughts, and creating hydroelectric power and recreational opportunities. But all this has come with enormous human and environmental costs, including eliminating wildlife habitat and starving downstream floodplains of nourishing sediment that has had serious consequences as far south as the Gulf of Mexico.

Critics have long argued the man-made changes to the Missouri exacerbate the flood risk, and some go so far as to say they could yet cause a catastrophe if even one of the dams fails, causing a succession of failures in a domino effect that would send several years' worth of snowmelt and rainwater all the way downstream to the Mississippi, wiping out cities, infrastructure and farms.

If that were to happen -- and the experts insist it won't -- it would be the result of decisions made to build this massive water-management system in the first place, not just decisions made by the engineers at the floodgates controls today….

Water flows from the Missouri River over levee L-550, located north of Highway 136 in Atchison County, Missouri, June 19, 2011. It was constructed by the Corps in the late 1940s. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers photo by Carlos J. Lazo)

Protect bayside property, or prepare to have it flooded

Mike Reagan in the Reporter (Vacaville, California): As a Solano County Supervisor, I've been fielding criticism about the board's recent unanimous decision to plan for climate change and sea-level rise. Residents should be aware that there are two reasons we need to do this.

The first is that the state has required it. The California Climate Action Team looked at reputable studies by climate scientists around the world and concluded that sea levels in and around California's coasts and bays could rise (relative to sea level in 2000) from 11 to 18 inches by mid-century and by 23 to 55 inches in 100 years.

The potential inundation of water could affect up to 270,000 people in the San Francisco Bay and Delta communities, flooding 213,000 acres of property, $62 billion worth of structures at the shoreline alone, and billions of dollars in critical transportation, public health and educational assets. That's why the state has required its agencies and local governments to plan how to handle a 16-inch sea-level rise by mid-century and a 55-inch rise by 2100.

While the probability of that magnitude of rise is actually very small -- on the order of between 1 in 10,000 to 1 in 100,000 -- it is nevertheless responsible to plan a defense against a potential threat that could be devastating to bayside communities. Besides, we already have seen increases in 100-year and 200-year floods. These infrastructure investments will address those concerns, too.

The other reason we need to develop our own plan is that, if we don't, a more radical one will be forced upon us….

Locator map of Solano County, California

Saturday, June 25, 2011

‘Water issues could sweep away Indo-Pak peace process’ (Pakistan) pores through a recent Wikileaks release: American diplomats were not very hopeful about the long-term prospects of Pakistan and India easily resolving their disagreements about the “emotional issue” of water, especially given “Pakistani anxiety over access to water”, according to a number of previously unpublished secret US diplomatic cables accessed by Dawn through WikiLeaks. They feared the water-related disputes would cast a long shadow over the ‘Composite Dialogue’ process, the latest round of which begins in Islamabad on Thursday.

“Even if India and Pakistan could resolve the Baglihar and Kishanganga projects,” wrote US Ambassador to New Delhi David Mulford in a confidential cable dated February 25, 2005, “there are several more hydroelectric dams planned for Indian Kashmir that might be questioned under the IWT (Indus Water Treaty).” Both Baglihar and Kishanganga projects are on the Chenab River, one of the three ‘western rivers’ to whose waters Pakistan has exclusive ‘consumptive’ rights under the IWT and which have been the source of long festering disagreement between the two neighbours.

The American ambassador also expressed guarded optimism that matters in “this politically charged impasse” would not spiral into “Islamabad’s worst case scenario, that India’s dams in J&K (Jammu and Kashmir) have the potential to destroy the peace process or even to lead to war”.

Mr Mulford wrote his cable at the height of the Baglihar Dam construction controversy and was quoting the opinion of an unnamed World Bank “contact” with regard to the upcoming dams. The bank official in particular referenced the (then under-construction, now completed, 450 MW) Dul Hasti Dam and the proposed Burser, Pakul Dul and Sawalkote projects on the Indian side which were “all on the order of 1000 MW” and which were “significant undertakings in varying stages of planning that might be questioned as to their IWT compliance”…

The Swat River in Pakistan, shot by Alakazou1978, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

US announces Caribbean climate change adaptation initiative

RTTNews: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, currently on a visit to Jamaica, announced progress on existing programs and new initiatives between the United States and the Caribbean as part of the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas (ECPA). Delivering remarks at the high-level Caribbean-U.S. Conference in the Jamaican city of Montego Bay, Clinton announced a new Caribbean Climate Change Adaptation Initiative.

She invited all Caribbean countries to join the new ECPA initiative to build permanent, regional capacity in the area of climate change adaptation. The initiative will focus on acquiring and modeling Caribbean-specific data for use in planning and policy decisions.

The University of the West Indies has agreed to partner with American universities to expand research on problems and solutions specific to the Caribbean and to serve as a hub to connect scientists from across the Caribbean and from the United States with policy-makers.

Through a grant to Higher Education for Development, the ECPA Caribbean Adaptation Initiative will partner U.S. higher education institutions with the University of the West Indies to enhance research, expand higher education programs, and promote outreach to policy-makers.

Clinton announced that six Caribbean governments will receive technical assistance grants to accelerate renewable energy development. The Organization of American States (OAS) invited all Caribbean governments to submit proposals, and selected the top six -- Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Jamaica, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines -- based on technical merit….

This 1824 rendering of Montego Bay by James Hakewill was done from Reading Hill, over which the King's Road to Westmoreland passes.

Study finds creatures not adapting to environmental changes in Antarctic

European Commission Cordis News: Organisms found in the Antarctic region are not quick to adapt to changes in the environment, new international research shows. The study, carried out by 200 scientists from 15 countries, is the culmination of a 7-month expedition on board the Polarstern vessel of the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) for Polar and Marine Research in the German-based Helmholtz Association.

The Polarstern research vessels returned to the Bremerhaven port in late May 2011. During their journey, the researchers measured the temperature of the Weddell Sea, discovering that while the warming of the deep water continues, the organisms found undersea are not adapting quickly to these changes.

Polar researchers from Germany favour in particular the Weddell Sea as locations for their studies. Oceanographers, for example, use sophisticated sensors, along with a network of moorings and floats, to measure temperature, sea ice thickness and salt concentration. They use floats and satellites to transmit their information. Extending their network of measurement was one of the objectives of this latest expedition, led by Dr Eberhard Fahrbach from AWI's Climate Sciences / Observational Oceanography Division.

'An initial evaluation of the measurement data shows that the temperature down to great depths of the Weddell Sea continues to rise,' explains Dr Fahrbach, who was in Antarctica on the Polarstern from November 2010 to February 2011.

…Concerning temperature and salt concentration distribution, the global conditions in the deep area of the Weddell Sea are influenced in such a way that cold, saline water sinks (thermohaline circulation). So changes in the properties of these cold water masses in the Antarctic will have global impacts, the researchers say….

The crew of the Polarstern drilling cores on an ice floe. Photo by Frank Rödel, found on the website of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research

New tool predicts drought six months out

Natalie Muller in Australian Geographic: A new drought forecasting model could help water authorities prepare for droughts up to six months before they happen. Dr Shishutosh Barua, a water engineer from Victoria University, developed the drought-prediction tool for his PhD thesis, and hopes an early warning will lessen the impact of the next inevitable dry spell on communities.

Droughts are a common occurrence in Australia, leaving the land parched and often wreaking havoc on communities and their water supplies. Shishutosh says the recently ended 13-year drought showed how vulnerable people were to water shortages in Australia. He believes six months could buy governments some time to implement water management policies early.

"If they can predict there will be a drought, they can set the water restriction levels and save water by not releasing it from storage beforehand," he says. Shishutosh also used his model to accurately detect past major historical droughts in Victoria. While there is plenty of information about past droughts, there is a gap in forecasting data, and predicting when they will happen is fraught with difficulty.

Shishutosh's drought index measures several water and climatic variables (water storage, stream flow, water in the soil, evaporation and rainfall), as well as past drought data, to assess the dryness of an area.
He believes his drought-forecasting model is far more conclusive in predicting up-coming droughts than traditional models, which usually only analyse rainfall….

Great Sandy Scars. In a small corner of the vast Great Sandy Desert in Western Australia, large sand dunes -the only sand in this desert of scrub and rock- appear as lines stretching from left to right. The light-colored fan shapes are scars from wildfires. USGS satellite photo

Worse flooding to come in Minot, North Dakota

CBS News: With a threat of still more rain looming, Minot [North Dakota] was bracing Saturday for the Souris River to cascade past its already unprecedented level and widen a path of destruction that had severely damaged thousands of homes and threatened many others. The only thing stopping water from rising in parts of Minot this morning are man-made dikes.

"Nobody has even seen water levels at this dimension," said Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D. The Souris - known locally as the Mouse River - surged past record level set in 1881, and kept going. The water has risen more than 4 feet in the past 24 hours, reports CBS Station WCCO correspondent Jamie Yuccas - and it's not over yet.

City officials were expecting the river to peak as early as Saturday evening at some 8 1/2 feet beyond major flood stage and remain there for several days, straining the city's levees to the limit and overwhelming some of them. Forecasters said there was at least an even chance of additional storms in coming days. "A rain event right now would change everything. That's the scariest," Mayor Curt Zimbelman said….

The Souris River swells above the temporary levees here, June 23, 2011. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Paul District’s number one priority is protecting human life and they continue to provide technical assistance to communities affected by historic flooding along the Souris River. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers photo by Patrick Moes)

Friday, June 24, 2011

Northern Eurasian snowpack could be a predictor of winter weather in US

Science Daily: Every winter, weather forecasters talk about the snow cover in the northern U.S. and into Canada as a factor in how deep the deep-freeze will be in the states. A new study by researchers at the University of Georgia indicates they may be looking, at least partially, in the wrong place. It turns out that snow piling up over a band of frozen tundra from Siberia to far-northern Europe may have as much effect on the climate of the U.S. as the much-better-known El Niño and La Niña.

The new work, just published in the International Journal of Climatology, reports that to understand how cold (or warm) the winter season will be in the U.S., researchers and weather forecasters should also take a closer look at snowpack in northern Eurasia laid down the previous October and November.

"To date, there had been no thorough examination of how snow cover from various regions of Eurasia influences North American winter temperatures," said climatologist Thomas Mote of UGA's department of geography and leader of the research. "The goal of this research was to determine whether there is a significant relationship between autumn snow extent in specific regions of Eurasia and temperatures across North America during the subsequent winter."

…While other scientists have postulated that snow cover on the Eurasian landmass has a strong effect on winters in North America, the new study is the first to narrow down the location of the area that causes the most direct effect on U.S. winters -- an area in northwest Eurasia that includes part of Siberia -- though the entire effective area extends as far west as northern Scandinavia….

View of a pond in Chernoistochinsk Bila, shot by Ляпцев Павел Сергеевич (Pavel Sergeievich Lyapshev), Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Black carbon is the latest environmental battleground

Patti Epler in the Alaska Dispatch: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is being threatened with legal action by environmentalists again, this time over its failure to reduce black carbon that’s ends up on sea ice and glaciers. The Center for Biological Diversity on Wednesday notified EPA of its intent to sue if the agency doesn't start taking some action within 60 days.

Participants at the recent Arctic Council meeting, a gathering of eight Arctic nations in Nuuk, Greenland, identified black carbon emissions in the far North as coming from old diesel engines and woodstoves. The black particles absorb heat and warm the atmosphere while in the air, and then spread over the ice and snow, absorbing heat and increasing melting.

The environmental group called on EPA to take action to reduce and ultimately regulate the particulates in February 2010, but the agency never responded, according to the letter of intent to sue filed Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

Matt Vespa, a senior attorney with the center in San Francisco, said the EPA needs to first identify the problem through monitoring and measuring and then consider ways to reduce the pollutants. In Alaska, he said, local sources tend to be the older diesel engines and cook stoves that burn wood or coal. The problem could be stopped with filters, for instance, that reduce particulate emissions or requiring stoves that use natural gas instead of other fuels, he said…

A 1942 picture of a worker at a carbon black plant n Sunray, Texas

Climate changing US landscapes

NOAA: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the American Public Gardens Association (APGA) today announced an innovative pilot project at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pa., that links NOAA’s internationally recognized climate services and APGA’s public gardens, which receive more than 70 million visitors a year. This marks the beginning of a new partnership focused on educating gardeners and garden enthusiasts about the possible effects of climate change on America’s gardens, landscapes and green spaces.

“Climate change is happening now, and it’s beginning to affect the things we care about, such as our treasured gardens, parks and natural landscapes,” said Jane Lubchenco, Ph.D., under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. “This new partnership provides a special opportunity for NOAA to connect with gardeners and communities across the nation to help everyone better understand what changes in local climate mean for the plants, trees and landscaped areas around them.”

Using NOAA climate data, the project exhibits maps showing how changes in average annual minimum temperatures affect climate-related planting zones. This information can help gardeners, landscapers and farmers identify which plant species will best survive in certain conditions. The exhibit is augmented by a cell-phone recording that explains what the changing planting zones mean for local plants in Longwood Gardens, as well as for area gardeners.

“Millions of Americans visit public gardens annually as a place to relax and learn. America’s public gardens are starting to notice changes in temperature and precipitation patterns, earlier bloom or leaf-budding times, or that some plant species are able to grow in different areas,” said Daniel J. Stark, executive director of APGA. “Our partnership with NOAA allows us to better understand how some of those impacts are linked to climate change. It is clear we need to understand more about the effects of climate change so that we can educate the public about the impacts these changes will have, and share best practices on mitigating the effects. To do our best job as a trusted resource for the public, we need the best available information on current and future impacts so we can begin addressing these challenges now.”...

Asian air pollution not limited to urban areas

Voice of America News: Asia’s dramatic economic growth in recent years has come with environmental costs that can take a heavy toll on people’s health. While air pollution from busy factories and congested highways are part of the problem, there are also concerns about air quality in rural areas.

“...Air pollution in Asia is much more serious than anywhere else because of the economic growth and a lot of air pollution are produced in Asia....," said Professor CM Wong, of Hong Kong University’s School of Public Health. He says he has found a close correlation between air pollution and death rates in China’s industrial hub - Wuhan, Hong Kong and Shanghai - as well as in Thailand’s capital Bangkok. “…Our findings were consistent among the four cities,” he said.

In Hong Kong, the bad air is even starting to affect the city's reputation as an international financial hub. Businesses in the financial sector say it has become harder to attract talent from other countries because of the air quality.

Half of the territory’s dirty air comes from urban transport like buses and ferries that emit nitrogen dioxide - a pollutant that scientists say can trigger complications in children with asthma. The World Health Organization estimates safe levels of nitrogen dioxide, or NO2, should not exceed a yearly average of 40 micrograms per cubic meter. “We can show that in one day the NO2 level can be 130, 140 something,” Professor Wong said….

A smoggy day in Jiujiang, shot by Geoff Wong, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Businesses see climate change adaptation as an opportunity

UN Global Compact: Climate adaptation offers competitive advantages to businesses worldwide, according to the new report, Adapting for a Green Economy: Companies, Communities and Climate Change, jointly released today by the UN Global Compact, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Oxfam and the World Resources Institute. In response to a survey of global businesses, 86 percent described responding to climate risks or investing in adaptation as a business opportunity. “Business can only thrive in stable and enabling environments,” said Georg Kell, Executive Director of the UN Global Compact. “Climate adaptation offers a pathway to help communities that are already feeling the devastating impacts of climate change. At the same time, it creates a wealth of new opportunities for the private sector.”

Drawing on the results of a 2010 survey among companies engaged in Caring for Climate, the joint climate action platform of the UN Global Compact and UNEP, the study makes the business case for private sector adaptation to climate change in ways that build the resilience of vulnerable communities in developing countries. Already, businesses worldwide are beginning to see the risks and economic impacts of more frequent and intense storms, water scarcity, declining agricultural productivity and poor health.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, said: “We live in a world where extreme weather events on one day can move food and fuel prices the next, impacting vulnerable and poor communities and a company’s supply chain. We also live in a world where infrastructure established decades ago will become increasingly at risk to events such as storm surges and high winds, that in turn threaten the viability of the business-as-usual models of the past, and the profits or losses of firms for the future.”...

Oak in the mist, shot by Ian Capper, Wikimedia Commons via Geograph UK, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Rains send sewer overflows into Milwaukee-area waterways

Don Behm in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel brings some news about one of the most glamorous parts of adaptation to climate change -- combined sewer overflows!: The street flooding and backups of water and sewage into basements after heavy rainfalls of up to 5 inches this week have refocused public discussion in Milwaukee on improving public and private sewers. Overflows of combined sanitary and storm sewers to local rivers and Lake Michigan in central Milwaukee and east Shorewood were expected to end Wednesday evening, Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District officials said. Estimates of the volumes of those overflows were not available late Wednesday.

Earlier in the day, the Milwaukee Common Council's Public Works Committee discussed the findings of a task force - convened after catastrophic flooding in July 2010 - that extreme weather events, including torrential rains, are increasing in frequency in the upper Midwest because of climate change. Without sewer upgrades, basement backups will continue to be a problem, said Milwaukee Ald. Jim Bohl, who led the task force.

The task force recommended helping homeowners keep excessive flows of clear water from rain and melting snow out of residential sanitary sewer laterals. Laterals empty into municipal sanitary sewers, and the excess water quickly fills the pipes, causing wastewater to back up into homes along low portions of streets. Cracked or damaged laterals allow water to leak into the sewers, Bohl said. Clear water directly flows into laterals where foundation drains are connected to the pipes.

A demonstration project this summer in Bohl's west side district is focused on upgrading laterals and disconnecting foundation drains at up to 560 homes in the Cooper Park neighborhood. Basement backups have been reported in the area after heavy summer rainstorms in each of the last three years. A city official said more than 90 basement backups were reported across the city Monday and Tuesday. Completing the project, as recommended by the task force, should determine whether such work is cost effective, Bohl said….

A sewer overflow in Rhode Island, from an EPA photo