Sunday, July 31, 2011

Somali famine victims lose homes as torrential rain hits refugee camps

The Guardian (UK) via AP on the famine underway in East Africa: Tens of thousands of famine-stricken Somali refugees were left cold and drenched after torrential rains pounded their makeshift structures in the capital, Mogadishu, on Sunday, leading to renewed appeals for aid. Rain is needed to alleviate the drought but it wrecked many of the makeshift homes made of sticks and scraps of cloth.

Suffering refugees said more aid was vital but agencies have limited reach in Somalia where Islamist militants, including the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab, are waging an insurgency against the country's weak UN-backed government. "We are living in plight, we left our homes, lost our animals and farms so we ask everyone to help us to survive," Abdi Muse Abshir said....

A child in the streets of Mogadishu in 1992, photo by Terry Mitchell, US Department of Defense employee

Sea level rise less from Greenland, more from Antarctica, than expected during last interglacial

Jill Sakai in the University of Wisconsin-Madison News: During the last prolonged warm spell on Earth, the oceans were at least four meters — and possibly as much as 6.5 meters, or about 20 feet — higher than they are now. Where did all that extra water come from? Mainly from melting ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica, and many scientists, including UW-Madison geoscience assistant professor Anders Carlson, have expected that Greenland was the main culprit.

But Carlson's new results, published July 29 in Science, are challenging that assertion, revealing surprising patterns of melting during the last interglacial period that suggest that Greenland's ice may be more stable — and Antarctica's less stable — than many thought. "The Greenland Ice Sheet is melting faster and faster," says Carlson, who is also a member of the Center for Climatic Research in the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. But despite clear observations of that fact, estimates of just how much the ice will melt and contribute to sea level rise by the end of this century are highly varied, ranging from a few centimeters to meters. "There's a clear need to understand how it has behaved in the past, and how it has responded to warmer-than-present summers in the past."

The ice-estimation business is rife with unknown variables and has few known physical constraints, Carlson explains, making ice sheet behavior — where they melt, how much, how quickly — the largest source of uncertainty in predicting sea level rises due to climate change. His research team sought a way to constrain where ice remained on Greenland during the last interglacial period, around 125,000 years ago, to better define past ice sheet behavior and improve future projections.

...The team used their results to evaluate several existing models of Greenland ice sheet melting during the last interglacial period. The models consistent with the new findings indicate that melting Greenland ice was responsible for a sea level rise of 1.6 to 2.2 meters — at most, roughly half of the minimum four-meter total increase. Even after accounting for other Arctic ice and the thermal expansion of warmer water, most of the difference must have come from a melting Antarctic ice sheet, Carlson says.

"The implication of our results is that West Antarctica likely was much smaller than it is today," and responsible for much more of the sea level rise than many scientists have thought, he says. "If West Antarctica collapsed, that means it's more unstable than we expected, which is quite scary."...

Anders Carlson, a UW–Madison geologist, surveys an outlet glacier in southwest Greenland. Carlson and colleagues from UW–Madison and Oregon State University have shown that melting ice from Greenland may have raised ocean levels less than expected during the most-recent prolonged warm spell on Earth. The surprising patterns of ice melt found by new research suggest that Greenland’s ice sheet may be more stable — and Antarctica’s less stable — than previously thought. Photo: courtesy Robert Hatfield, Oregon State University

The adaptation challenge in Nepal

Lal Deosa Rai in the Himalayan (Nepal) described how local media are conveying climate change information, particularly about adaptation. How the word gets out in rural, mountainous areas is often a vexed question: As there are hundreds of community broadcasting stations in Nepal‚ it is a matter of public concern how effective they have been in creating community awareness about climate-change adaptation‚ through participation in planning‚ in production and consumption of climate change media content

...The rural communities are becoming more aware of what they are doing to ward off the effects of the global industrial cause for which they are not responsible. The localized meaning of this happenings are communicated to the developing rural community through inter-personal as well as mass media channels, which are structured as integral parts of the larger social system. We view these channels as the social structure functioning as sub-systems within the larger social systems to perform the task of making essential contribution to facilitating innovations, adaptation, empowerment and progress towards behavioural and cultural change, besides providing information about climate change events and conditions...

Namche Bazar (Khumbu, Nepal), shot by Kogo, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 1.0 Generic license

Russia may lose 30% of permafrost by 2050

From Terra Daily via AFP, a story about loss of permafrost in Russia. No mention of the terrifying surge in methane released into the atmosphere, but that would also be involved. This is a good example of a negative effect that's almost unthinkable. According to the EPA in the United States, methane (CH4) remains in the atmosphere for approximately 9-15 years and it's over 20 times more effective in trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide over a 100-year period and is emitted from a variety of natural and human-influenced sources. Human-influenced sources include landfills, natural gas and petroleum systems, agricultural activities, coal mining, stationary and mobile combustion, wastewater treatment, and certain industrial process. Now we add vanishing permafrost to the mix: Russia's vast permafrost areas may shrink by a third by the middle of the century due to global warming, endangering infrastructure in the Arctic zone, an emergencies ministry official said Friday.

"In the next 25 to 30 years, the area of permafrost in Russia may shrink by 10-18 percent," the head of the ministry's disaster monitoring department Andrei Bolov told the RIA Novosti news agency. "By the middle of the century, it can shrink by 15-30 percent, and the boundary of the permafrost may shift to the north-east by 150-200 kilometres," he said....

Permafrost in the high Arctic, shot by Mila Zinkova, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Cracked sewers bleed fecal germs

Over at Science News, Janet Raloff writes about an issue that wins the ew! gross! award for the day, and probably the week. This story raises the question of how pervasive this issue might be, especially since infrastructure in the US is chronically neglected: New studies in California and Wisconsin reveal a dirty little secret: Out of sight, many urban sewer pipes are failing and germ-ridden filth is bleeding out.

The studies tracked material hemorrhaging into storm drains. These pipes, which channel their contents into streams and coastal waters, are designed to collect fairly clean rainwater and runoff from watered lawns. Yet raw sewage at times constituted nearly 20 percent of one local storm drain’s flow, reports Patricia Ann Holden of the University of California, Santa Barbara and her colleagues.

“We found the same thing,” says Sandra McLellan of the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. In the August Water Research, her group reports finding a bacterial indicator of human feces — Bacteroides — in samples from all 45 storm water outflows in the Milwaukee area that it monitored over four years. The data show that sewage contamination “is nearly ubiquitous in the urban environment,” McLellan says....

A splendid example of a cast iron sewer vent pipe in Curzon Park North (in the UK). An arrow topped by a "divers helmet" topped by a crown, orb and a pickelhaupt. Shot by Sue Adair, Wikimedia Commons via Geograph UK, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Water crisis offers chance for unity over strife

Kanya D'Almeida in IPS has a ray of optimism about water conflicts and the potential for cooperation among neighbors: As record-breaking temperature highs and rapidly melting ice caps fuel fears about impending "water wars", some experts in Washington say that the threat of full-blown conflict is exaggerated, adding that robust institutions and solid treaties could transform water crises into international cooperation.

The planet is currently home to 276 international river basins, which cover almost a half of the earth's land surface and are home to 40 percent of the global population. Many of these basins cross boundaries with no regard for the incendiary politics that divide nations, religions and peoples. In fact, a full 80 percent of the world's fresh water originates in basins shared by two or more countries.

However, while the risk of water wars has long made headlines, new research suggests that possible cooperation over shared resources would be a better, and more accurate, message. "Those of us who work on issues of international water management see only the boundaries of watersheds themselves, we see the things that unite us, that bring us together," Aaron Wolf, a professor of geography at the University of Oregon, told a panel at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington on Thursday.

...The Transboundary Freshwater Dispute Database (TFDD), a project of Oregon State University's Department of Geosciences in partnership with the Northwest Alliance for Computation Science, carried out extensive research into the history of water-related conflict, referencing over 3,600 international treaties signed between the years 805-1997.

Rating water-related events between the years 1948-2008, the database found only 21 cases of "extensive military acts" compared to 682 instances of "mild verbal support" for treaties. The same period also witnessed the signing of 145 treaties on shared water resources....

The Cumbe Mayo Aqueduct (1500 B.C.E.) near Cajamarca, Peru. Photographer Gsd97jks has released it to the public domain

Prediction: Florida Keys underwater by 2100

Jeff Burnside in NBC Miami: he Florida Keys disappearing by the year 2100? That's the pronouncement from a national environmental group this week, warning that South Florida is among the most vulnerable areas of the country to climate change and sea level rise.

The sea is rising, but it’s rising slowly enough so that too few people get alarmed, say climate scientists. It’s a slow march upward 5-10 feet, says all the science, that will happen over the next 100 years or so. "And so we would be utter fools not to attempt to arrest this while we have a fighting chance,” said University of Miami scientist John Van Leer, who has been researching climate change since the 1980’s, before almost all his colleagues.

So this new warning from the Natural Resources Defense Council, which is a review of more than 75 scientific studies warning us about the future of South Florida, is the same warning he and his colleagues have been raising for years. So what are the impacts that many scientists have found are already happening in South Florida, in part, because of climate change?
  • An increase in diseases like dengue fever is already underway
  • Seafood is becoming less plentiful
  • Our valuable coral reefs are already dying at alarming rates
  • Our drinking water supply is becoming infused with seawater intruding on the underground aquifer
  • We’re seeing more frequent extreme weather events, like heavy rains or wildfires caused by drought, consistent with climate change
  • Our coastline is eroding at a greater and greater pace especially during storms
  • Agriculture harvests are more challenged, often leading to increased prices
  • Stronger hurricanes
Two bridges on the Overseas Highway in the Florida Keys. On the left is the modern highway bridge, while on the right is the original bridge built by the Florida East Coast Railway, adapted for automobile traffic after 1935, and later closed. Shot by Elkman, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Rising sea, killing heat... study gives a scary picture for India's Gujarat state

KapilDave in Indian Express: An alarming rise in sea level coupled with rise in average temperature, erratic rains and floods, droughts, a change in crop pattern in large parts of the state are some of the dire warnings contained in a report prepared by Gujarat State Disaster Management Authority (GSDMA) after mapping climate change hazards in major districts of Gujarat.

The report, which is likely to be placed before the Chief Minister soon, is to be used in drafting a climate change mitigation plan for the state. The report titled, “Climate Variability and Climate Change: District-Level Scoping Study for Gujarat”, has been prepared with the assistance of Union Ministry of Forest and Environment.

It says the temperature will rise by 2-4 degree Celsius in Ahmedabad, Vadodara and Valsad while in other districts, it will shoot up by 2-3 degrees Celsius. The report says Ahmedabad will face exceptional rise in energy consumption due to increased temperature and will be hit by floods and vector-borne diseases. Coastal districts like Surat, Bharuch, Bhavnagar, Jamnagar, Kheda, Anand, Rajkot and Valsad will face sea coast erosion, ecological damage, loss of saltpans, frequent crop failures etc.

Kutch will face more frequent cyclones and floods while Mehsana and Patan will face serious changes in crop pattern, the report warns. It says the number of days when temperature will cross 45 degree Celsius will increase in the coming decades. The report says the government will need to reconsider the present industrial setup, ports and urban planning in coastal areas....

The beach at Valsad Tithal in Gujarat, shot by Ibhaviik, Wikimedia Commons

Warming climate could give exotic grasses edge over California natives

Robert Sanders in the UC Berkeley News Center: California’s native grasses, already under pressure from invasive exotic grasses, are likely to be pushed aside even more as the climate warms, according to a new analysis from the University of California, Berkeley.

In the study, which has been accepted for publication in the journal Global Change Biology and is now available online, UC Berkeley biologists catalogued the ranges of all 258 native grasses and 177 exotic grasses in the state and estimated how climate change – in particular, increased temperature and decreased rainfall – would change them. They concluded that many of the traits that now make exotic grasses more successful than many natives also would allow them to adapt better to increased temperature and likely expand their ranges.

“When we looked at current patterns, we found that warmer temperatures favor certain traits, and these are the traits possessed by exotic species,” said coauthor Emily Dangremond, a graduate student in the UC Berkeley Department of Integrative Biology. “This led us to predict that, if the mean temperature increases in all zones in California, there is an increased likelihood of finding exotic species, and an increase in the proportion of species in a zone that are exotic.”

...“The ‘trait-based’ approach lets us test hypotheses about plant distributions in relation to climate without tying them to the identity of particular species,” Ackerly wrote in an email from South Africa, where he is on sabbatical. “As a consequence, the analyses can be generalized beyond California to other grassland areas.”...

From the UC Berkeley website: At Tom's Point in Marin Co., Calif., the exotic grass Holcus lanatus is common. (Credit Brody Sandel)

Averting bridge disasters with new technology that could save hundreds of lives

University of Maryland News Desk: Millions of U.S. drivers cross faulty or obsolete bridges every day, highway statistics show, but it's too costly to fix all these spans or adequately monitor their safety, says a University of Maryland researcher who's developed a new, affordable early warning system. This wireless technology could avert the kind of bridge collapse that killed 13 and injured 145 along Minneapolis' I-35W on Aug. 1, 2007, he says - and do so at one-one-hundredth the cost of current wired systems.

"Potentially hundreds of lives could be saved," says University of Maryland electrical engineering researcher Mehdi Kalantari. "One of every four U.S. highway bridges has known structural problems or exceeded its intended life-span. Most only get inspected once every one or two years. That's a bad mix."

Kalantari has created tiny wireless sensors that monitor and transmit minute-by-minute data on a bridge's structural integrity. A central computer analyzes the data and instantly warns officials of possible trouble. He plans to scale-up manufacture in the fall.

More than one-in-four U.S. highway bridges are either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete, according to a 2009 estimate by the U.S. Society of Civil Engineers. Kalantari's sensors measure indicators of a bridge's structural health, such as strain, vibration, flexibility, and development of metal cracks. The sensors are small, wireless, rugged, and require practically no maintenance, he says.

...Newer "smart" bridges, including the I-35W replacement in Minneapolis, have embedded wired networks of sensors. But Kalantari says the cost is too high for use on older spans. "A wired network approach will cost at least 100 times more than a wireless alternative, and that's simply unaffordable given the strain on local, state, and federal budgets," Kalantari estimates....

...For almost a year, Kalantari has been testing his device in conjunction with the Maryland Department of Transportation, measuring the structural parameters of highway bridges in a real setting. This has enabled him to optimize the device's performance and energy consumption. His updated model is smaller and ten times more energy efficient than its predecessor....

Photo of the 2007 Minnesota bridge collapse from the University of Maryland website

Friday, July 29, 2011

A record disaster year in 2011

Molly O'Toole in Reuters: The United States is on a pace in 2011 to set a record for the cost of weather-related disasters and the trend is expected to worsen due to climate change, officials and scientists said on Thursday. "The economic impact of severe weather events is only projected to grow," Democratic Senator Dick Durbin told a hearing. "We are not prepared. Our weather events are getting worse, catastrophic in fact."

The United States has seen eight weather disasters this year exceeding $1 billion each in damage, and the annual hurricane season has hardly begun, said Kathryn Sullivan, deputy administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The record is nine in a single year, in 2008. But April alone saw separate tornado, wildfire, flood and drought disasters.

...The cost of weather-disaster damages has climbed past $32 billion for 2011, according to NOAA estimates. The agency also projects that water flowing into the Gulf of Mexico from record flooding will create the largest-ever "dead zone" from pollutants led by run-off from agricultural chemicals, threatening the $2.8 billion commercial and recreational fishing industries.

"Every weather event that happens nowadays takes place in the context of the changes in the background climate system," University of Illinois scientist Donald Wuebbles, who worked on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, told the panel. "So nothing is entirely 'natural' anymore," he said...

Smoke from the Encino#2 wildfire near San Angelo, Texas, just one of the wildfires that scorched the southwestern United States in 2011. Taken from the Texas Bank Sports Complex by DCBS18, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Tropical storm Don aims for Texas coast

I'm on the lookout for stories about how accurate this season's hurricane predictions have been, an important topic in climate circles. The latest big blow, from Terra Daily via AFP, doesn't seem so terrible: Tropical storm Don strengthened slightly on Thursday as it churned through the Gulf of Mexico toward the southeast coast of Texas, the National Hurricane Center said. At 18h00 GMT on Thursday, Don was 475 miles (765 kilometers) from Corpus Christi and 430 miles from Brownsville, both on the Gulf coast. The storm was expected to make landfall Friday or Saturday.

Maximum sustained winds had reached 45 miles per hour, and Don was moving northwest at a speed of 15 mph, the Miami-based NHC said on its website. "On this track, the center of Don should... approach the Texas coast on Friday and reach the Texas coast Friday night or Saturday," it said, adding that the storm could gather strength in the next 36 hours....

Tropical Storm Don north of the Yucatan Peninsula, July 28, 2011. Shot by NASA

Ignored tundra fires could have impact on global warming

International Business Times: The amount of soil-bound carbon released to atmosphere in the 2007 Anaktuvuk River fire was enough to impact the global climate, according to UF ecologist Michelle Mack and other scientists. "The 2007 fire was the canary in the coal mine," Mack said. "In this wilderness, hundreds of miles away from the nearest city or source of pollution, we're seeing the effects of a warming atmosphere. It's a wakeup call that the Arctic carbon cycle could change rapidly, and we need to know what the consequences will be."

The fire covered more than 400 square miles on the North Slope of Alaska's Brooks Range and 2.1 million metric tons of carbon was released in the fire. It was twice the size the amount of greenhouse gases generated by Miami in one year. The fire not only inserted greenhouse gases into the atmosphere but it also consumed 30 percent up of the insulating layer of the organic matter that protects moss covered landscape. Arctic tundra stores large amounts of carbon in cool, wet soils insulated by permafrost, a layer of permanently frozen ground.

"When the permafrost warms, microbes will begin to decompose that organic matter and could release even more carbon that's been stored in the permafrost for hundreds or thousands of years into the atmosphere," Mack said. "If that huge stock of carbon is released, it could increase atmospheric carbon dioxide drastically."

The study revealed how isolated fires can have massive impact, said University of Alaska biology professor Terry Chapin. "When you think about the massive carbon stocks and massive area of tundra throughout the world, and its increasing vulnerability to fire as climate warms, it suggests that fire may become the dominant factor that governs the future carbon balance of this biome," Chapin said....

The village of Anaktuvuk Pass in 1969

South Korean ministry orders upgrade of flood control measures

Bae Ji-Sook in the Korea Herald: The Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs on Friday announced a set of guidelines calling for provincial administrations to accept the reality of climate change and upgrade anti-disaster measures accordingly. Experts say that weather on the Korean peninsula has turned subtropical due to global warming and climate changes.

The guidelines are focused on the improvement of water drainage and embankments across the country, among others measures. The ministry will strengthen assessment of environmental impact from development projects in the planning stage. “We will put the brakes on reckless development projects on mountains and hills,” said Yoo Byeong-kwon, a ministry official. “Mountains and hills should be kept as a kind of wall to ward off possible landslides and other disasters.”

The plan came two days after more than 700 milliliters of rainfall caused a deadly landslide at Mount Umyeon in southern Seoul, which claimed 16 lives and sparked criticism of the government over its anti-disaster preparations. An ecological theme park was under construction on the mountain. The mountain has fewer trees than other mountains, and a minor landslide took place last summer, too. “Excessive digging and construction works in recent days to build the park have destroyed trees and weakened the soil ground,” Prof. Park Chang-geun of Kwangdong University said.

However, fearful that the news would cause the real estate price of the area to plummet, local residents looked the other way from the problematic park construction. The local administration, Seocho District Office, has reportedly been hesitant in its recovery and prevention of further disaster after the first landslide. Other landslides that occurred across the nation including one in Chuncheon, Gangwon Province, also indicate that prevention measures need to be refined and upgraded, the ministry stated....

Food insecurity caused by climate change affects family planning in Kenya

Dorah Nesoba in Global Press Institute: It is early evening, and one of the fast food outlets in the South C Shopping Center in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, is bustling with activity as hungry souls troop in one after the other. But Paul Mwangi, a taxi operator, says that no matter what he orders on the menu, he can’t spend less than 100 shillings, $1.10 USD, on a simple snack.

Mwangi says that food prices have risen dramatically because of environmental degradation and changes in the climate, which have led to weaker crop yields across Kenya. “I did not know that it would affect us this way,” he says. “I went home to Laikipia in March thinking I would be able to plant. The land was dry. I made two return visits in April. Still, there are no rains, and those who had planted have just watched their crops die under the scorching sun.”

Mwangi says that rising costs across society – combined with ailing crops, which his family depends on for food and his wife sells in order to supplement his earnings as a taxi driver – make it hard to support a large family...

....Health officials here say climate change has hurt crop yields, and, in turn, the health of pregnant women and their children, who need proper nutrition during crucial developmental years. Kenyans say that dwindling natural resources here can’t support the growing population, leading some to opt for smaller families. Nongovernmental organizations, NGOs, are promoting short-term and long-term solutions, such as planting drought-resistant crops and engaging in family planning. Meanwhile, the government aims to tackle climate change at local and national levels.

If certain changes are made, it is possible for Kenya to meet targets to ensure environmental sustainability, goal seven of the Millennium Development Goals, MDGs, a U.N. initiative agreed to by countries worldwide to achieve by 2015, according to the MDG Monitor. But it is off track to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, goal one.

Nearly half of Kenyans live in poverty, according to the World Bank. Meanwhile, the rate of inflation in Kenya has soared from 3.5 percent between June 2009 and June 2010 to 14.5 percent between June 2010 and June 2011, according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics....

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Palestinians fear for ancient West Bank water source

Tom Perry in Reuters: Hewn from rock, the cavernous cisterns which dot the desert beyond Bethlehem have for centuries harvested winter rain to provide shepherds and their flocks with water through summer.

Under a baking sun, an elderly Bedouin explains how cisterns he remembers from childhood, many of them restored to full working order in the last few years, are once again helping his goat-herding community to survive. That, he concludes, is why the Israeli authorities who control the West Bank have demolished at least three in the area since November. "Maybe they are doing this to make us leave. We will not leave," said Falah Hedawa, 64, sitting on cushions in his tent home pitched in the hills that slope down to the Dead Sea.

Out into the desert, a stagnant pool marked the spot where one of the cisterns, chiseled out of a hillside, had stood until its recent demolition. A mud trail on the otherwise dry ground indicated where the water inside had drained away toward a wadi, a valley which becomes a river when the rain falls.

Israel has demolished 20 rainwater collection cisterns in the West Bank in the first half of this year, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which monitors conditions in the Palestinian territories. Their razing is part of a marked acceleration in demolitions of Palestinian structures in "Area C" -- the 60 percent of the West Bank where Israel exercises total control....

Drawing wheat from cistern, Isdud, Palestine, around 1908, March 12

Ongoing global biodiversity loss unstoppable with protected areas alone

Science Daily: Continued reliance on a strategy of setting aside land and marine territories as "protected areas" is insufficient to stem global biodiversity loss, according to a comprehensive assessment published July 28 in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series. Despite impressively rapid growth of protected land and marine areas worldwide -- today totalling over 100,000 in number and covering 17 million square kilometers of land and 2 million square kilometers of oceans -- biodiversity is in steep decline.

Expected scenarios of human population growth and consumption levels indicate that cumulative human demands will impose an unsustainable toll on Earth's ecological resources and services accelerating the rate at which biodiversity is being loss. Current and future human requirements will also exacerbate the challenge of effectively implementing protected areas while suggesting that effective biodiversity conservation requires new approaches that address underlying causes of biodiversity loss -- including the growth of both human population and resource consumption.

Says lead author Camilo Mora of University of Hawaii at Manoa: "Biodiversity is humanity's life-support system, delivering everything from food, to clean water and air, to recreation and tourism, to novel chemicals that drive our advanced civilization. Yet there is an increasingly well-documented global trend in biodiversity loss, triggered by a host of human activities."

"Ongoing biodiversity loss and its consequences for humanity's welfare are of great concern and have prompted strong calls for expanding the use of protected areas as a remedy," says fellow author Peter F. Sale, Assistant Director of the United Nations University's Canadian-based Institute for Water, Environment and Health. "While many protected areas have helped preserve some species at local scales, promotion of this strategy as a global solution to biodiversity loss, and the advocacy of protection for specific proportions of habitats, have occurred without adequate assessment of their potential effectiveness in achieving the goal."

Drs. Mora and Sale warn that long-term failure of the protected areas strategy could erode public and political support for biodiversity conservation and that the disproportionate allocation of available resources and human capital into this strategy precludes the development of more effective approaches....

New anti-disaster system needed in Korea

Kim Rahn in the Korea Times: The landslide that killed 18 and injured a dozen others in southern Seoul has produced calls for the government to come up with a new disaster management system to more effectively counter torrential rain. While experts say reckless development projects were behind multiple landslides in and around Seoul, the death toll from these and floods caused by record rainfall rose to 59 nationwide with 12 others reported missing, according to the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) Thursday.

Engineering experts and civic groups claimed that Seocho-gu Office’s park construction on Mt. Umyeon contributed to the disaster, as it carved into mountain slopes to build wooden trekking routes, an artificial lake and a valley on the steep slopes for “residents’ welfare.” “There have been signs of deterioration on the mountain, with some trees being pulled up by typhoon Kompasu last year. But Seoul City and the ward office didn’t set up any preventive measures. The death of 18 people was man-made,” a researcher at the Korea Research Institute on Human Settlements said.

He pointed out not only Umyeon but also other mountains are in a similar situation, with local authorities developing them recklessly under populist welfare policies. It was found that since May the city government has monitored 71 parks and hillside locations considered vulnerable to landslides, but Mt. Umyeon was not included.

Besides measures against thoughtless development, experts call for a paradigm shift in flood control and city planning following recent unusual weather patterns including the largest downpour in a century, which started Tuesday and inundated roads in Gangnam and Gwanghwamun in Seoul....

NASA image of Seoul

Adaptation, justice and morality in a warming world

Jeremy Hance of Mongabay interviews your faithful blogger today. I'm basking in the fame!: If last year was the first in which climate change impacts became apparent worldwide—unprecedented drought and fires in Russia, megaflood in Pakistan, record drought in the Amazon, deadly floods in South America, plus record highs all over the place—this may be the year in which the American public sees climate change as no longer distant and abstract, but happening at home. With burning across the southwest, record drought in Texas, majors flooding in the Midwest, heatwaves everywhere, its becoming harder and harder to ignore the obvious. Climate change consultant and blogger, Brian Thomas, says these patterns are pushing 'prominent scientists' to state "more explicitly that the pattern we're seeing today shows a definite climate change link," but that it may not yet change the public perception in the US.

Thomas, who writes frequently about climate adaptation and justice, says that some governments—local and national—are beginning to act on adapting to a new, warmer, and more unpredictable world. However, many are not moving quickly enough.

"A great many coastal towns and cities are acting as if they have centuries to do with sea level rise. Because the impacts feel like they are a long way off, most people are procrastinating. It's a cognitive problem we face because of the very long-term nature of climate change impacts. The risks are grave, the impacts are here, but the problem doesn't feel urgent," he told mongabay.com in an interview....

Photo of Brian Thomas by Catherine Noren

Namibia's satellite centre to warn of disaster threats

Servaas van den Bosch in SciDev.net: A new satellite data centre in Namibia will help farmers prepare for droughts, floods, bushfires and pests.

The Earth Observation and Satellite Applications Research and Training Centre (EOSA-RTC), was launched this month (6 July) in collaboration with the African Monitoring of the Environment for Sustainable Development programme (AMESD). It is located at the Polytechnic of Namibia and comprises a satellite data receiving station and data centre, which will provide data useful for agriculture.

The data, which will be provided free to farmers' associations and government departments, will include water indices, rainfall estimates, and maps of soil moisture content.

Reliable data is essential to preparing for natural disasters. Earlier this year Namibia was hit by record floods, although rainfall is generally scarce. Wildfires are expected to wreak havoc in the current dry season...

From NASA, a satellite picture of the city of Rundu, Namibia. the city center is visible in the upper center of the image

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

More wildfires will transform Yellowstone

AFP describes some fiery predictions for an iconic US national park: Climate change is likely to cause more frequent wildfires and may transform the forests and ecosystem of the iconic Yellowstone national park in the coming decades, a US study said Monday. Dense forests dominated by narrow lodgepole pines trees are currently a dominant feature of the picturesque tourist destination which straddles Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

But more open spaces, grasslands and forests populated by different kinds of fir trees and shrubs could characterize it in the future, said the study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Years when no wildfires break out will become rare by 2050, and fires like the historic one in 1988 that ravaged 1,200 square miles (311,000 hectares), affecting more than one third of the park, will become the norm by 2075.

US university researchers made the forecasts by examining climate data from 1972 to 1999 and creating statistical patterns by combining those data with figures on the size and frequency of Rocky Mountain fires in the same period.

The study authors then projected how climate change of up to one degree Celsius annually, combined with the snowmelt which is arriving earlier each spring, would affect fires in Yellowstone through 2099.
"What surprised us about our results was the speed and scale of the projected changes in fire in Greater Yellowstone," said professor Anthony Westerling of the University of California, Merced.

"We expected fire to increase with increased temperatures, but we did not expect it to increase so much or so quickly. We were also surprised by how consistent the changes were across different climate projections."...

A bison crosses the road between two fire engines during 1988 Yellowstone fire, image taken by Jeff Henry, 1988 and retrieved from the following page [1] of the Yellowstone Digital Slide Files archives which are all in the public domain [2]

Environmental pollutants lurk long after they 'disappear'

Terra Daily presents some intriguing research on pharmaceutical pollution: The health implications of polluting the environment weigh increasingly on our public consciousness, and pharmaceutical wastes continue to be a main culprit. Now a Tel Aviv University researcher says that current testing for these dangerous contaminants isn't going far enough.

Dr. Dror Avisar, head of the Hydro-Chemistry Laboratory at TAU's Department of Geography and the Human Environment, says that, when our environment doesn't test positive for the presence of a specific drug, we assume it's not there. But through biological or chemical processes such as sun exposure or oxidization, drugs break down, or degrade, into different forms - and could still be lurking in our water or soil.

In his lab, Dr. Avisar is doing extensive testing to determine how drugs degrade and identify the many forms they take in the environment. He has published his findings in Environmental Chemistry and the Journal of Environmental Science and Health.

Drug products have been in our environment for years, whether they derive from domestic wastewater, hospitals, industry or agriculture. But those who are searching for these drugs in the environment are typically looking for known compounds - parent drugs - such as antibiotics, pain killers, lipid controllers, anti-psychotic medications and many more.

"If we don't find a particular compound, we don't see contamination - but that's not true," Dr. Avisar explains. "We may have several degradation products with even higher levels of bioactivity." Not only do environmental scientists need to identify the degraded products, but they must also understand the biological-chemical processes that produce them in natural environments. When they degrade, compounds form new chemicals entirely, he cautions…

Where are they going? Phot0 by RayNata, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Study urged for London on climate change risks

Norman de Bono in IFP Press: Washed-out roads, crumbled bridges, flooded homes — lives at risk. Those are the types of threats London city council will discuss Monday, asking staff to look hard at the possible effects of climate change on public works, to avoid disasters which have cost other centres millions in damages.

“There are a number of areas where we are vulnerable, where there is risk to property and lives,” Coun. Joni Baechler, who sits on council’s planning, environmental and engineering committee, said Sunday. The committee has a report detailing what the city needs to do to improve its infrastructure to cope with global warming.

The committee is recommending to full council today further study of the threat to city facilities, such as sewers, by rising water levels. The report also calls for the city to develop a green infrastructure plan and long-term climate change adaptation strategy….

Landslide hits South Korea mountain resort, 13 dead

Yonghak Jo in Reuters: A landslide caused by torrential rain crashed into a South Korean mountain resort east of Seoul Wednesday, destroying three small hotels and killing at least 13 people, the emergency services said.

Wild weather has battered the central region of the country since late Tuesday, causing widespread flooding and travel chaos. The share price of insurers fell on fears that damage costs would run into millions of dollars.

At Chuncheon, about 100 km (60 miles) east of Seoul, emergency workers, aided by soldiers, were clearing away mud and rubble from buildings after rescuing dozens of holidaymakers.

"We were asleep and suddenly I heard a big sound, and then the ceiling fell down," Lee Beon-seok, a student, told a television station. A resident reported hearing what sounded like a train. "Then I heard someone shouting 'help me'. So I went out to see, and I saw a landslide had swept all over the area," she said….

A cityscape in Chuncheon, South Korea, shot by Mark Zastrow, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

'Africa can feed the world'

Mark Tran in PovertyMatters, a blog at the Guardian (UK): Africa can feed not just itself but the world is a bold assertion to make at a time when famine stalks part of the continent.

But this is precisely the claim made by Kanayo Nwanze, the president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (Ifad), a specialised agency of the UN. Nwanze gave a forceful intervention at Monday's emergency meeting in Rome to discuss the crisis in east Africa, where, according to the UN, an estimated 11.6 million people need humanitarian assistance in Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti.

Nwanze drew a sharp contrast between Gansu province, in northwest China, and parts of Africa that cannot feed itself. He said like many parts of the world, Gansu suffers from frequent drought, limited water for irrigation and severe soil erosion. Yet despite the weather and the harsh environment, the farmers in the Gansu programme area are feeding themselves and increasing their incomes.

…"So when asked why this could be done in China but not Africa, Nwanze said the vital difference was government policy. "What I saw in Gansu was the result of government policy to invest in rural areas and to reduce the gap between the rural and the urban and stem migration," he said in a telephone interview….

NASA satellite picture of the Bayuda Desert in Sudan

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Detailed picture of ice loss following the collapse of Antarctic ice shelves

Science Daily: An international team of researchers has combined data from multiple sources to provide the clearest account yet of how much glacial ice surges into the sea following the collapse of Antarctic ice shelves. The work by researchers at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), the Laboratoire d'Etudes en Géophysique et Océanographie Spatiales, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique at the University of Toulouse, France, and the University of Colorado's National Snow and Ice Data Center, Boulder, Colo., details recent ice losses while promising to sharpen future predictions of further ice loss and sea level rise likely to result from ongoing changes along the Antarctic Peninsula.

"Not only do you get an initial loss of glacial ice when adjacent ice shelves collapse, but you get continued ice losses for many years -- even decades -- to come," says Christopher Shuman, a researcher at UMBC's Joint Center for Earth Systems Technology (JCET) at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. Shuman is lead author of the study published online July 25 in the Journal of Glaciology. "This further demonstrates how important ice shelves are to Antarctic glaciers."

An ice shelf is a thick floating tongue of ice, fed by a tributary glacier, extending into the sea off a land mass. Previous research showed that the recent collapse of several ice shelves in Antarctica led to acceleration of the glaciers that feed into them. Combining satellite data from NASA and the French space agency CNES, along with measurements collected during aircraft missions similar to ongoing NASA IceBridge flights, Shuman, Etienne Berthier, of the University of Toulouse, and Ted Scambos, of the University of Colorado, produced detailed ice loss maps from 2001 to 2009 for the main tributary glaciers of the Larsen A and B ice shelves, which collapsed in 1995 and 2002, respectively.

"The approach we took drew on the strengths of each data source to produce the most complete picture yet of how these glaciers are changing," Berthier said, noting that the study relied on easy access to remote sensing information provided by NASA and CNES. The team used data from NASA sources including the MODerate Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instruments and the Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite (ICESat).

The analysis reveals rapid elevation decreases of more than 500 feet for some glaciers, and it puts the total ice loss from 2001 to 2006 squarely between the widely varying and less certain estimates produced using an approach that relies on assumptions about a glacier's mass budget....

NASA map of the Larsen B ice shelf collapse

Fungi could protect rice against climate change

Ma. Theresa V. Ilano in SciDev.net: Inoculating rice seeds with fungi makes the plants more tolerant of salt, drought and cold — all of which may become more common as the climate changes, according to researchers. The researchers obtained two types of endophytic fungi, which have symbiotic (mutually beneficial) relationships with plants. One was from coastal dunegrass, and the other from a variety of wild strawberry that thrives in geothermal soils even in below-freezing winter temperatures.

When seeds of two commercial rice varieties were inoculated with the fungi, the resulting plants, grown in greenhouses, had increased growth and grain production, and were more tolerant of drought. In addition, plants inoculated with fungi from coastal plants thrived under saline conditions, and those receiving fungi from wild strawberries grew well in low temperatures, according to the research published this month (5 July) in PLoS One.

"The fungus pretty much does all the work," said Russell J. Rodriguez, co-author of the research and a microbiologist with the US Geological Survey. "Within 24 hours, we saw the benefits. [Inoculated] plants were growing up to five times faster."

The technique does not change the rice plant's genetic material — its DNA — he said. "But the expression [switching on and off] of genes is modified and the plant now has the ability to resist environmental stress," he told SciDev.Net. The researchers do not understand the mechanism but suggest that the fungi could be producing a substance that regulates plant growth....

Drying rice after harvest. Kurihara, Miyagi prefecture, Japan, shot by Kinori

Nigerian disaster agency warns of floods in the south

Clement Nwoji in AllAfrica.com via the Daily Champion (Nigeria): National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) has advised governors of South-South states to take proactive measures against floods and thunderstorm that could wreak havoc in their communities during the rainy season after the devastating effect so far witnessed in other regions of the country.

Director General of NEMA, Muhammad Sani-Sidi who gave the warning at a special regional workshop on climate change in Asaba, Delta State said the state governments should initiate policies that could help in reducing the impacts of climate change and include disaster management in their various developmental programmes to minimize avoidable losses of lives and property.

Sani-Sidi said though climate change was a global challenge, it comes with peculiar hazards and risks thereby exposing communities to devastating consequences. He therefore urged the states that were yet established their own functional Emergency Management Agencies (SEMAs) and Local Government Emergency Committees (LEMCs) to do so.

The NEMA Director-General in a release by the NEMA Head of Public Relations, Yushau Shuiab said these were necessary to provide the suitable platform for dealing with disaster issues at the grassroots to promote community resilience and spontaneous responses.

"We must do everything possible at national, states and community levels to adapt and take proactive measures needed to ensure that individuals and communities are capable of dealing with the detrimental impacts of climate change" he said, adding that collective efforts were necessary to either prevent disasters or mitigate their effects....

Storm batters Philippines

Manny Mogato in Reuters: Ten people died and five fishermen were missing in the central Philippines as storm Nock-Ten battered the main island of Luzon, suspending schools and grounding domestic flights and ferries, local officials said on Tuesday The weather bureau raised storm alert levels in nearly 30 provinces in northern Philippines as Nock-Ten gained strength and speed, bringing heavy rains, and was spotted about 50 km (31 miles) northeast of Daet, Camarines Norte on Luzon.

Many areas in the coconut-growing Albay and Camarines Sur provinces in the central Bicol region were inundated, with some areas submerged in chest-deep flood waters, said Joey Salceda, governor of Albay province in the central Philippines. No damage to rice fields has been reported but the storm is expected to pass through a major rice production province on Wednesday.

Packing center winds of 75 kph (47 mph) and gustiness of up to 90 kph, Nock-Ten is moving west-northwest at 15 kph and is expected to make landfall early on Wednesday, said Graciano Yumul of the weather bureau, warning of floods and landslides....

Preparing for the water-related impacts of climate change in American cities

Natural Resources Defense Council: Cities across the United States should anticipate significant water-related vulnerabilities based on current carbon emission trends because of climate change, ranging from water shortages to more intense storms and floods to sea level rise. To help cities become more resilient to the rising threats of climate change, NRDC reviewed more than 75 scientific studies and other reports to summarize the water-related vulnerabilities in 12 cities across the United States.

Although there may still be some uncertainty about what particular impacts threaten cities and how quickly or severely they might occur, action at the local level is the most effective method of reducing, mitigating, and preventing the negative effects of water-related climate change outlined in this fact sheet. NRDC urges cities to prepare for coming challenges relating to water resources. Fortunately, there are steps cities are already taking to become more resilient....

The caption on the NRDC website says: NRDC compiled local and regional research on the water-related impacts facing 12 U.S. cities due to climate change. Here is a snapshot of some of those threats. More information about each figure is available in each corresponding chapter. Note: if a particular impact is not included in our summary chart, it does not necessarily mean that city is not vulnerable to that impact. Rather, it means that we did not find well-documented local research or data studying or making a determination about that change or impact.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Climate change could affect Lake Superior economy

Katey Rusch in WDIO.com: Over the years data has indicated that the temperature of Lake Superior is rising and water levels are lowering. Now a new study shows this could be a trend that negatively affects the area economy. "If you can't get to an ocean you have to get to a great lake," said Kim Colburn-Lidell, who was visiting the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore Sunday.

Lake Superior is home to state and national parks as well as vacations. But according to a new study, due to pollution the lake's climate is warming for the worse. "We can't put this off any longer the time is now," said Bayfield Mayor, Larry MacDonald.

The study called the "Great Lakes National Parks in Peril the Threats of Climate Disription" was conducted by two environmental organizations, the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization and the National Resources Defense Council. The study indicates that Lake Superior's temperature has risen by 4.5 degrees since the 1976. The study predicts this temperature could rise 14 degrees in this century. This is a scary thought to the Mayor of Bayfield, Wisconsin, whose city tourism depends on lake destinations.

"Our tourism economy is based on the Apostle Islands and the clear water and the clean air," said MacDonald. "If any of that is affected negatively so are we." The other concern about this study for Mayor MacDonald is lowering Lake Superior water levels which according to the study could drop by two feet in the next fifty years.

...The study is based on the impact climate change will have on the Great Lakes National Parks but Mayor MacDonald said the findings of this study should concern all who live on the big lakes, including those affected by the shipping industry. "For every inch the lake goes down the shipping industry is greatly affected," said MacDonald. "Everything is going to cost more to ship."...

The entrance to the harbor at Grand Marais, Cook County, Minnesota, USA, on the north shore of Lake Superior. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers constructed the breakwater at the harbor. US Army Corps of Engineers photo

Sceptics told they'd be 'foolish' to ignore potential of geoengineering

Eifion Rees in the Ecologist writes about a dubious semi-endorsement of geoengineering. Color me skeptical: As global climate talks stall, calls for more trials of ideas to alter the world's climate known as 'geoengineering' are likely to grow. Green groups reacted with astonished anger earlier this month to news that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had convened a geoengineering expert group meeting in Lima to propose radical solutions to the climate crisis.

More than 160 environmental groups wrote an open letter to the IPCC decrying what appeared to be a tacit acceptance that manipulation of the natural environment had some part to play in dealing with runaway climate change. Geoengineering schemes include dumping iron filings into oceans to foster growth of carbon-sequestering algae, blasting mirrors or sulphur dioxide particles into space to deflect sunlight and genetically modifying crops to be whiter and so reflect more heat.

And yet with global carbon emissions increasing, political consensus on mitigation more intractable an issue than ever and unregulated forays into climate manipulation already underway (Richard Branson has endorsed atmospheric carbon-stripping, Bill Gates cloud-whitening), many now concede that environmentalists too will have to come to some accommodation with geoengineering.

Critics counter that no quick-fix solution to climate change exists and may never exist. Meddling further with the environment, they say, will have manifold unforeseen, far-reaching and possibly catastrophic effects. The geoengineering cure, in short, may end up killing the patient. The most authoritative paper on the subject, a 2009 report by the Royal Society, concluded that emissions reduction should be the priority of government. Geoengineering was still plan b...

Terraforming on Mars, by D Mitriy, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Swat rebuilds in vulnerable areas year after Pakistan floods

Terra Daily via AFP: A year after floods swept away homes and livelihoods, Pakistani survivors of a Taliban uprising are courting fresh disaster in the picturesque Swat valley by refusing to leave for higher ground.

...There were 45 houses in Ariana before Pakistan's worst floods left 20 percent of the country underwater last summer, affecting 21 million people. But in less than 24 hours, only two remained, at the back of the village furthest from the water, those owned by [Shujat] Ali and his family.

Officials say 150 people died in the Swat valley with 3,000 homes destroyed and 200,000 residents displaced in a mountainous area already struggling to rebuild after a two-year Taliban insurgency. District commissioner Kamran Rehman Khan is upbeat, telling AFP from the comfort of his office in Mingora, 250 kilometres (156 miles) northwest of Islamabad, that reconstruction work is on track. "Except in the (northern) Kalam area, where we have to rebuild a solid road and put back city power, there are no more big problems. All the work should be finished in six months or a year," he said.

...The 51-year-old [Mohammad Siddiq] knows the authorities warned him to build further away from the river but, like other survivors, he is ignoring the advice. "I know it's dangerous, but I don't have any other alternative," said the father-of-seven. Pakistanis in Swat said they preferred to stay put, protected by the army and with tourists returning, rather than live an uncertain exile in the suburbs of big cities, congested and crime ridden....

In August 2010, an aerial view showing flood waters have washed away all ground means to reach the people stranded in the northern areas of the Swat Valley, Pakistan

A long-term plan for climate change in Vietnam

Vietnamnet Bridge: Truong Hong Tien, Deputy Director General of the Viet Nam National Mekong Committee, said that global warming and its impacts were inevitable and very much in evidence. "Although the negotiations at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change is crucial to our efforts in tackling climate change, we are aware that whatever limits are imposed on greenhouse gas emissions today, some level of warming of the earth will take place."

He said the ongoing global warming process would lead to an increase in weather extremes, causing severe droughts and excessive rain. These events have become more frequent and intense in many parts of the world, and the Lower Mekong Basin was particularly vulnerable to these hazards, Tien said.

Over the past few years, an increase in damage caused by extreme weather events was witnessed in the lower Mekong Basin, he said. "From the mountainous areas of northern Laos to the low-lying Mekong Delta of Viet Nam, the impacts of climate change are being felt thoroughly," Tien said.

"We can hear news more often about floods, droughts and storms which affect the well-being and livelihoods of weather-dependent communities." Tien said people in the lower Mekong River basin have been adapting themselves to the surroundings for centuries.

For instance, raised houses were typical in areas that used to be flood-prone, Tien [said.]" "You can also look around and see that various agencies, civil society organisations, international, inter-governmental organisation and even the private sector in the region are making efforts to alleviate the crisis and minimise damage caused by climate change at the local level," ....

An old house in Hoi An, Vietnam, shot by Khương Việt Hà

Taking on floods in Nigeria

Abdulkadir Badsha Mukhtar in AllAfrica.com via the Daily Trust (Nigeria): The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) has advised governors of the South-South states in Nigeria to take proactive measures against floods by initiating policy on climate change. NEMA Director General, Muhammad Sani-Sidi, who gave the advice at a regional workshop on climate change in Asaba, Delta State, said state governments should initiate policies that could help in reducing the impact of climate change to avoid loss of lives and property from possible floods in the area.

According to a statement signed by the agency's spokesman, Yusha'u Shuaibu, the NEMA DG was quoted as saying, "We must do everything possible at national, states and community levels to adapt and take proactive measures needed to ensure that individuals and communities are capable of dealing with the detrimental impacts of climate change."

He added that collective efforts were necessary to either prevent disasters or mitigate their effects. He said attention must also be given to addressing the problems of floods, erosions, sea-level rise, and salt water intrusions which contaminate fresh water among others....

The Lekki Peninsula coastline in Nigeria, shot by Contimm

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Missouri River flooding hurts barge industry

Anthony Schick in the Missourian: The Missouri River gave the shipping industry too much of what it needed this summer. After a lasting drought in the river basin decimated the corridor's barge industry for the past decade, this summer's flooding has washed away hopes for a bounce-back year. Long-haul shipping on the Missouri River fell from 1.3 million tons in 2000 to 269,000 tons in 2009. Water levels too low for heavy barge traffic drove away most of the existing shipping on the 675-mile stretch from Sioux City, Iowa, to St. Louis.

When the drought ended at the decade's turn and 2010 estimates neared 333,000 tons, the industry grew optimistic of an upward trend. Rising river levels sparked hope for a longer, healthier shipping season. The Missouri Department of Transportation projected increases of 15 percent to 20 percent this year, Freight Development Administrator Ernie Perry said.

That's not going to happen. The U.S. Coast Guard extended a closure of the Missouri River between Gavins Point Dam and Glasgow last week. That stretch of nearly 600 miles is the longest piece of the river ever closed. Some stretches of the river were too high to navigate even before the closure, Army Corps of Engineers Navigation Manager John LaRandeau said.

"You can imagine the frustration of the people who make their living on the river," LaRandeau said. "River shippers eking by, just trying to get through the drought years, then business comes back and they're ready to enjoy the good years, and the river puts a stop on that."...

Coal hauling barges on the Missouri River in January 2011, shot by Paul Sableman, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Melting Arctic ice releasing banned toxins

Damian Carrington in the Guardian (UK): The warming of the Arctic is releasing a new wave of toxic chemicals that had been trapped in the ice and cold water, scientists have discovered. The researchers warn that the amount of the poisons stockpiled in the polar region is unknown and their release could "undermine global efforts to reduce environmental and human exposure to them".

The chemicals seeping out as temperatures rise include the pesticides DDT, lindane and chlordane, made infamous in Rachel Carson's 1962 book Silent Spring, as well as the industrial chemicals PCBs and the fungicide hexachlorobenzene (HCB). All of these are know as persistent organics pollutants (Pops), and are banned under the 2004 Stockholm convention.

Pops can cause cancers and birth defects and take a very long time to degrade, meaning they can be transported for long distances and accumulate over time. Over past decades, the low temperatures in the Arctic trapped volatile Pops in ice and cold water.

But scientists in Canada and Norway have discovered that global warming is freeing the Pops once again. They examined measurements of Pops in the air between 1993 and 2009 at the Zeppelin research station in Svalbaard and Alert weather station in northern Canada....

The sea ice atop the Arctic Ocean can—as shown in this photograph from July 12, 2011—look more like swiss cheese or a bright coastal wetland. As ice melts, the liquid water collects in depressions on the surface and deepens them, forming melt ponds. These fresh water ponds are separated from the salty sea below and around it, until breaks in the ice merge the two. Shot by the NASA-funded ICESCAPE mission—Impacts of Climate on Ecosystems and Chemistry of the Arctic Pacific Environment.

Northwest US forest plan has unintended benefit – carbon sequestration

Science Daily: The Northwest Forest Plan enacted in 1993 was designed to conserve old-growth forests and protect species such as the northern spotted owl, but researchers conclude in a new study that it had another powerful and unintended consequence -- increased carbon sequestration on public lands.

When forest harvest levels fell 82 percent on public forest lands in the years after passage of this act, they became a significant carbon "sink" for the first time in decades, absorbing much more carbon from the atmosphere than they released. At the same time, private forest lands became close to carbon neutral. Carbon emission or sequestration is a key factor in global warming, and a concept now gaining wider interest is the role of forest lands in helping to address concerns about the greenhouse effect.

Researchers at Oregon State University and the Pacific Northwest Research Station of the USDA Forest Service created these assessments with a new system that incorporates satellite remote sensing and more accurately simulates ecological processes over broad areas. It considers such factors as the growth of trees, decomposition, fire emissions, climate variation and wood harvest.

"The original goals of the Northwest Forest Plan had nothing to do with the issue of carbon emissions, but now carbon sequestration is seen as an important ecosystem service," said David Turner, a professor in the OSU Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society.

"Forests provide many services, such as habitat protection, recreation, water purification, and wood production," he said. "Carbon sequestration has now been added to that list. And our approach can provide the kind of spatially and temporally explicit data that will help evaluate the potential trade-offs associated with management activities."...

Clearcut areas in the Northern Oregon Coast Range on the border of Washington and Yamhill counties. Shot by M.O. Stevens, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Drought plagues parts of South China's Guangxi

China Daily: Some 50,000 people are suffering from a severe drought that has plagued parts of South China's Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, local flood control and drought relief authorities said Sunday. Several counties in the cities of Baise and Hezhou have received little precipitation recently, the Guangxi Flood Control and Drought Relief Command Center said.

In Baise, nearly 180,000 mu (12,000 hectares) of cropland, or 41.3 percent of the city's total farmland, has been parched as a result of the drought, while about half of Hezhou's 290,000 mu of cropland was hit by the drought. About 50,000 people have had difficulties obtaining drinking water because of the drought, according to the command center.

A continuous drought has also dried up rivers and reservoirs in the county of Longlin, with water reserves decreasing by 65 percent from previous years.

A lush-looking rice terrace in Guangxi in 2009, from http://www.flickr.com/photos/dawvon/3672468896/, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license