Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Flooding persists as US east coast reels from Irene

John Curran in the Associated Press: As emergency airlift operations brought ready-to-eat meals and water to Vermont residents left isolated and desperate, states along the Eastern Seaboard continued to be battered by the after effects of Irene, the destructive hurricane turned tropical storm. Dangerously damaged infrastructure, 2.5 million people without power and thousands of water-logged homes and businesses continued to overshadow the lives of residents and officials from North Carolina through New England, where the storm has been blamed for at least 44 deaths in 13 states.

Raging floodwaters continued to ravage parts of northern New Jersey on Wednesday morning, even after the state's rain-swollen rivers crested and slowly receded. The Passaic River crested Tuesday night, causing extensive flooding and forcing a round of evacuations and rescues in Paterson, the state's third-largest city.

"Been in Paterson all my life, I'm 62 years old, and I've never seen anything like this," said resident Gloria Moses as she gathered with others at the edge of what used to be a network of streets, now covered by a lake. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, after touring Wayne, through which the Passaic also flows, said Tuesday night he saw "just extraordinary despair."

In Connecticut, the Connecticut River at Hartford crested Tuesday evening at 24.8 feet, the highest level since 1987, according to Nicole Belk, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service, in Taunton, Mass. But she said levees helped minimize flooding in riverside communities.

She said the river could still rise slightly farther south, in Middletown, where some streets and neighborhoods were already experiencing minor flooding. Denise Ruzicka, director of inland water resources for Connecticut's Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said flood control dams and basins that New England states installed after 1955 floods helped prevent a catastrophe in the lower Connecticut River basin....

Sunset after Irene passed in Union City, New Jersey, shot by Luigi Novi (or Nightscream), Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license

Nitrogen pollution's little-known environmental and human health threats

Seed Daily: Billions of people owe their lives to nitrogen fertilizers - a pillar of the fabled Green Revolution in agriculture that averted global famine in the 20th century - but few are aware that nitrogen pollution from fertilizers and other sources has become a major environmental problem that threatens human health and welfare in multiple ways.

"It's been said that nitrogen pollution is the biggest environmental disaster that nobody has heard of," Alan Townsend, Ph.D., observed at the 242nd National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), being held here this week.

Townsend, an authority on how human activity has changed the natural cycling of nitrogen to create a friend-turned-foe dilemma, called for greater public awareness of nitrogen pollution and concerted global action to control it. He spoke at a symposium on the topic, which included almost a dozen reports (abstracts of each presentation appear below) by other experts.

"Awareness has grown, but nitrogen pollution remains such a little-recognized environmental problem because it lacks the visibility of other kinds of pollution," Townsend explained. "People can see an oil slick on the ocean, but hundreds of tons of nitrogen spill invisibly into the soil, water and air every day from farms, smokestacks and automobile tailpipes. But the impact is there - unhealthy air, unsafe drinking water, dead zones in the ocean, degraded ecosystems and implications for climate change. But people don't see the nitrogen spilling out, so it is difficult to connect the problems to their source."

Townsend described the scope and the intensification of the nitrogen pollution problem as "startling." He noted that nitrogen inputs to the terrestrial environment have doubled worldwide during the past century. This increase is due largely to the invention and widespread use of synthetic fertilizer, which has revolutionized agriculture and boosted the food supply....

A satellite image of the Black Sea (thank you, NASA) shows phytoplankton blooms partly due to fertilizer run-off from Europe

Extreme 2010 Russian fires and Pakistan floods linked meteorologically

NASA: Two of the most destructive natural disasters of 2010 were closely linked by a single meteorological event, even though they occurred 1,500 miles (2,414 km) apart and were of completely different natures, a new NASA study suggests.

The research finds that the same large-scale meteorological event — an abnormal Rossby wave — sparked extreme heat and persistent wildfires in Russia as well as unusual downstream wind patterns that shifted rainfall in the Indian monsoon region and fueled heavy flooding in Pakistan. Although the heat wave started before the floods, both events attained maximum strength at approximately the same time, the researchers found by analyzing satellite data generated by NASA instruments capable of measuring the land surface temperature, precipitation intensity and wildfire activity.

...The atmosphere, gaseous and transparent, may not seem like a fluid, but that’s precisely how the thin layer of air encasing the planet behaves. As Earth spins on its axis, huge rivers of air — scientists call them Rossby waves — meander around the globe in a westerly direction. Currents in the center of these waves form the jet streams, fast-moving columns of air that push weather systems from west to east.

Rossby waves aren’t uniform. They tend to undulate and have troughs and ridges. Areas of low-pressure typically develop in the troughs of the waves, while high-pressure areas form in their ridges. Parcels of warm air from the tropics and cool air from the poles swirl around the low- and high-pressure parts of the waves creating a complex tapestry of warm and cool fronts that meet and interact constantly. Collisions between warm and cool fronts produce storms and precipitation.

Under normal summertime conditions, the jet stream pushes weather fronts through Eurasia in four or five days, but something unusual happened in July of 2010. A large-scale, stagnant weather pattern — known as an Omega blocking event — developed over a high-pressure ridge above western Russia. This blocking event, which divided the jet stream, had the effect of slowing the Rossby wave and prevented the normal progression of weather systems from west to east.

As a result, a large region of high pressure formed over Russia and trapped a hot, dry air mass. As the high lingered, the land surface dried and the normal transfer of moisture from the soil to the atmosphere slowed. Precipitation ceased, vegetation dried out, and the region became a taiga tinderbox....

This map shows temperature anomalies from July 20—27, 2010, compared to temperatures for the same dates from 2000 to 2008. The anomalies are based on land surface temperatures observed by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite. Areas with above-average temperatures appear in red and orange, and areas with below-average temperatures appear in shades of blue. Oceans and lakes appear in gray. For more about this image, please visit this NASA Earth Observatory page Credit: NASA/Earth Observatory

Scientists collect water quality and climate change data from Hurricane Irene

National Science Foundation: While Hurricane Irene had officials along the East Coast preparing for mass evacuations, scientists at the Stroud Water Research Center and the University of Delaware were grabbing their best data collection tools and heading straight for the storm's path. It was a rare opportunity for the scientists to learn more about climate change and water quality, as Irene threatened to be the biggest hurricane to hit the Northeastern United States since 1985.

Center scientist Anthony Aufdenkampe explains, "It rains on average once per week, or 15 percent of the year, but streams and rivers move most of their annual loads on those days. "The bigger the storm, the greater the disproportionate load, so you might have a single 100-year storm event move 25 percent of the material for an entire decade," says Aufdenkampe.

"This is important because fresh waters and the carbon they transport play a major role in the global cycling of greenhouse gases." Irene could reveal much about how soil erosion into rivers might eventually bury carbon and sequester it from acting as a greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.

That's a primary goal of the Christina River Basin Critical Zone Observatory (CRB-CZO), funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The Stroud Water Research Center and University of Delaware scientists are affiliated with the CRB-CZO....

Flooding in Newark, New Jersey, after Irene, shot by Behnam Esfahbod, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Facing up to the global water crisis

Jae So in the PovertyMatters blog of the Guardian (UK): With rising population growth and changes in the earth's climate putting stress on the consumable 1% of the planet's water, the global water crisis risks becoming a source of cross-border conflict.

Sub-Saharan Africa is especially vulnerable given its dry climate, which is exacerbated by underdevelopment and mismanagement of water resources. In 2000, countries in Africa and in other regions set targets to halve by 2015 the number of people without access to these basic services. Some of them may meet these targets. In rural Rwanda, where nearly 4 million people gained access to improved sanitation between 1990 and 2008, household access to sanitation facilities has increased faster than in any other country in the region.

In fact, according to a report by the World Bank's water and sanitation programme released on the occasion of Stockholm's annual World Water Week gathering of experts, sub-Saharan Africa has made significant progress. Across the 32 participating countries, coverage of improved water supply has risen by 13 percentage points between 1990 and 2008 to 58% of the total population. Improved sanitation coverage rose by 11 percentage points to 36%.

... Accelerating progress in providing sustainable, equitable access to water and sanitation requires two things. First, the mechanisms that convert funding into giving more people access to safer water and sanitation services need to be strengthened. Second, funding needs to be increased by at least $6bn a year to tackle a projected annual shortfall of capital investment.

Aerial view of an irrigated area in the a small settlement just north of the border between Egypt and Sudan, via NASA

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Katia expected to become hurricane

Brian K. Sullivan in Bloomberg News: Tropical Storm Katia may grow into a hurricane in the next two days as it moves west-northwest through the mid-Atlantic Ocean, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

The storm’s winds increased to 45 miles (72 kilometers) per hour from 40 mph earlier today as it churned across the Atlantic about 630 miles west-southwest of Cape Verde, according to a center advisory issued at about 11 a.m. New York time.

“Continued gradual strengthening is forecast and Katia is expected to become a hurricane by late Wednesday or early Thursday,” the center said. Its current track and intensity forecasts have the storm growing into a Category 3 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson five-step scale.

Computer forecast models suggest Katia will turn into the Northern Atlantic, a maneuver meteorologists refer to as recurving. The move would mean Katia would miss the U.S., which was struck last weekend by Hurricane Irene, a storm that killed at least 40, cut power to 8 million homes and businesses and caused an estimated $2.6 billion in damage.

...Katia is the 11th named storm of this Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to Nov. 30. The average hurricane season usually produces that total, according to the hurricane center....

A predicted track for Tropical Storm Katia from the National Hurricane Center, as of August 30, 2011, at 5:00 pm EST

Irene 'just devastating' in Vermont, governor says

CNN: Floodwaters brought by Tropical Storm Irene began to recede Monday in parts of Vermont, but the governor warned that further flooding and loss of life are likely ahead for the small, rural state. "It's just devastating," Gov. Peter Shumlin said Monday. "Whole communities under water, businesses, homes, obviously roads and bridges, rail transportation infrastructure. We've lost farmers' crops," he said. "We're tough folks up here but Irene ... really hit us hard."

Hundreds of people remained trapped Monday in communities cut off by raging floodwaters that washed out or otherwise damaged 263 roads and bridges, Shumlin said. Exactly how many were stranded remained unclear, he said. "It's hard for us to know, frankly, because it's hard for us to get into the communities we need to get to," he said.

Highlighting the transportation problems, the Vermont National Guard had to travel through neighboring Massachusetts to get rescue crews to the small, cut-off town of Wilmington, the governor said.

Three deaths had been confirmed as a result of the storm. A woman who was standing near the Deerfield River in Wilmington died after she was swept away by floodwaters. Her body was recovered, according to authorities...

A Nigerian Irene comparison

Oka Obono writes an editorial in Business Day (Nigeria): According to the African Centre of Meteorological Application for Development (ACMAD), Nigeria has the highest flood-related mortality rate on the continent. Heavy rainfall is accompanied by the fall of heavy tears as people mourn friends and family members who needlessly perish in her raging floodwaters. It is a governance challenge.

Over the weekend, world scientists and politicians watched carefully as Hurricane Irene made a beeline for the United States. Obama cut short his vacation to lend presidential weight to evacuation plans that were more or less standard protocol. He encouraged New Yorkers and people in the two Carolinas to take Irene seriously, to stay out of harm’s way. The situation demonstrated the use of empirical meteorological data in official planning; a conjunction in which one community generates early warning of impending disaster while another provides an effective early response to it.

...In New Jersey, where the last deadly storm hit in 1903, Governor Christie reported the evacuation of more than a million people and deployment of 1,500 members of the National Guard. Princeton University made contingency plans for staying open and possibly closing. In New York, Mayor Bloomberg shut down the subway and related city services. People stayed indoors.

In Nigeria, by contrast, an untenable complacency was the response to warnings of Irene. This routine attitude, which is the leading cause of the nation’s security predicament, was on full show. When it mattered most, there seemed to be no coordination between the meteorological services and political leadership....

Oil trumps biodiversity in Ecuador

Rainforest News: In 2007, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa presented the Yasuní ITT Initiative to the United Nations General Assembly, declaring the country’s willingness to forego the exploitation of an estimated 846 million barrels of oil in order to preserve a large swath of the Ecuadorean Amazon. It is a bold and unprecedented plan but, unfortunately, its future is looking bleak.

Although the international community has been generally supportive of the plan, Germany, which had tentatively pledged over 50 million dollars in contribution to the initiative for the next ten years, withdrew its support — putting the entire plan to protect the incredibly biodiverse rainforest in Ecuador’s Yasuní National Park in jeopardy.

Yasuní National Park is a 17,000-kilometer section of the Amazon Basin that was designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1989 due to its unique biodiversity. However, this patch of pristine rainforest also has the misfortune of sitting on top of the country’s second largest supply of oil.

The Yasuní ITT proposal would protect the area from oil exploitation indefinitely by asking the international community for a financial contribution of $3.6 billion, or half the market value of the oil beneath the forest floor, over the next 10 years. The funds would be administered by the United Nations Development Programme under an international trust fund and used by the Ecuadorean government for the development of sustainable energy, preservation of ecosystems and protected areas, reforestation, social development, and job creation....

San Rafael falls in Coca Cayambe National Park, 2008, shot by Bank Track, Wikimedia Commons

Rural poor in Cambodia at risk from climate change

IRIN: Building local resilience will prove key to better addressing the effects of climate change in Cambodia, this year's Cambodia Human Development Report (CHDR) states. "Local action and local solutions are what is needed most," Tin Ponlok, deputy director-general of climate change for the Cambodian Ministry of Environment, told IRIN. "This is where we can make the most difference."

Released on 30 August, the report, Building Resilience: The Future for Rural Livelihoods in the Face of Climate Change, identifies climate change as a threat to human development gains and a source of increasing vulnerability for Cambodia's poor. About 80 percent of Cambodia's 14 million people live in rural areas, where the vast majority depend on agriculture as their primary source of livelihood.

According to the UN Development Programme (UNDP), shorter and more intense rainy seasons, combined with longer and drier seasons, are expected to significantly alter the country's agricultural landscape. Predicted rises in temperature could have devastating effects on the rice crops on which many rural livelihoods rely. Studies in the region suggest rice production, a staple part of the Cambodian diet, could decline significantly with a one degree Celsius rise in temperature, making rice farming unviable for many, the CHDR report says.

"Seasonal practices are now changing and the growing cycle for rice is changing more and more," said Richard Friend, co-author of the report, noting the potential impact this could have on Cambodia's overall rice output....

Monday, August 29, 2011

Hurricane Irene leaves US trail of destruction 1,100 miles long

Dominic Rushe in the Guardian (UK): As the remnants of hurricane Irene began to dissipate over Canada, the death toll from the storm continued to rise and widespread flooding affected states across the US north-east. The huge, slow-moving storm travelled along 1,100 miles of US coastline leaving a trail of destruction reaching far inland. At least 28 deaths have so far been attributed to Irene with about 3 million people left without power along its path.

People have struggled to get back to work as officials tried to remove fallen trees from roads and train tracks and clear flooded tunnels. Airports across the region have started to operate again but had to deal with around 9,000 flights cancelled as Irene struck.

More than 250 roads were closed in Vermont as the state experienced its worst floods for 75 years. Governor Peter Shumlin declared the state a federal disaster area as hundreds were told to leave their homes.

"We prepared for the worst and we got the worst in central and southern Vermont," Shumlin said. "We have extraordinary infrastructure damage."

On Sunday, up to 13 inches (33cm) of rain fell on states across the east coast, with more than 10 inches falling in parts of North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and upstate New York. Irene followed record rainfalls earlier this month, bursting the banks of already swollen rivers in several states. On 14 August, nearly eight inches of rain fell in New York city, the most since the National Weather Service began keeping records 116 years ago….

Floodwaters from Tin Brook near downtown Walden, NY, USA following Hurricane Irene, shot by Daniel Case, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Gambia already suffers the negative impact of climate change

Africa Science News: Gambian National Environment Agency, NEA said recently that the country is already facing the worst ramifications of the climate change. NEA’s executive director, Momodou B. Sarr said in Banjul that already climate change impact on agriculture is attributed to 40 per cent drop in groundnut yields due to rising temperatures and the disappearance of freshwater swamps, and soil salinization in lowland areas resulting from sea level rise is likely to impact negatively on rice production and the lives of women farmers in these areas.

He said dominance of heat and drought-tolerant species could lead to further loss of agricultural biodiversity, increased food insecurity, rural poverty and hardship, among others.

On fisheries, the NEA boss said sea level rise may initially favour the mobilisation and export of nutrients from wetland sediments, but the same process could equally release pollutants into the aquatic ecosystem.

He added that loss of estuarine mangroves (important life cycle habitat, food and refuge for crustaceans, shellfish, oceanic nekton and marine mammals) could lead to the collapse of some pelagic fish populations, threaten food security for a significant proportion of Gambians and undermine the livelihood and traditional way of life of fisher-folk in the country....

From drought to floods in Indonesia

IRIN: Erratic weather has exacerbated food insecurity in one of Indonesia's driest regions, leaving farmers and families hoping for the best as October's planting season approaches. "I have a feeling this year we will be OK," Maria Talan, 63, an elder in the remote village of Noenoni, in the district of West Timor (TTS), told IRIN, already looking forward to next April's harvest.

Talan's optimism comes on the heels of severe and unexpected flooding in 2010 that washed out her village's one harvest and left people at times filling their plates with leaves and seeds. Although Nusa Tengarra Timor (NTT) province is notoriously dry, with only four months of rain a year, the government estimates 80 percent of the 4.5 million people toil away on often rocky, unfertile plots to survive, with little other industry to generate an income.

"The condition of the land is a problem, but last year we had extreme weather in October at planting time and the corn harvest, our main crop, failed," said Antonius Efi, an activist for Yakibu, a local organization promoting the rights of women and children in Kefamenanu, the capital of North Central Timor (TTU), the district neighbouring TTS.

According to the UN World Food Programme (WFP), ongoing deforestation, a leading cause of flooding, is largely to blame for the rainfall fluctuation that TTS and TTU residents describe. NTT province has one of the highest concentrations of deforestation in Indonesia, according to the report....

Water and soil in West Timor, 1937, from the Tropenmuseum Collection via Wikimedia Commons

Super-typhoon leaves 13 dead in Philippines

Terra Daily via AFP: Super-typhoon Nanmadol left at least 13 people dead after hitting the Philippines, and the toll is expected to rise as hopes of finding those missing fade, the civil defence chief said Monday. Over 61,000 people are still evacuated from their homes after Nanmadol, the strongest storm to hit the country this year, lashed the northern edge of the main island of Luzon on the weekend, causing landslides and floods.

The 13 killed were mostly buried in landslides, including two children in northern Baguio who were killed in an avalanche of garbage at the city dumpsite, said head of civil defence operations Benito Ramos. Eight other people are still missing across the country, feared washed away at sea, in raging rivers, or buried under garbage, he told AFP.

"The missing are most likely dead but we are still searching for them, it is unlikely they are still alive after two or three days," he said. Ramos said the dead and missing in garbage dumps were scavengers who made their living foraging for items to salvage, despite the risk that storms could cause the mountain of trash to cascade down upon them....

From NASA, Typhoon Nanmadol (Mina) (14W) making landfall over the Philippines on August 27, 2011.

Thriving microfinance sector strengthens Colombia’s economy

Andrew Berger in TriplePundit: Bakeries, food and clothing vendors, stalls, stands and restaurants, consumer electronics shops, barber and tailor shops, taxi and bus drivers, they’re all beneficiaries of a thriving micro-finance industry in Colombia, one of any number of nations where finding, or creating, employment is difficult at best, and obtaining steady, well-paid work even more so.

Nearly 50% of Colombia’s 46 million citizens live below the poverty line. Micro-finance organizations such as Colombians Supporting Colombians (CAC) are giving entrepreneurs a leg up by providing micro-loans and other banking services that conventional banks are unwilling to offer. Some $3.5 billion in micro-credit was disbursed in 2010 to more than 2 million borrowers.

There are more than 1.2 million so-called micro-enterprises doing business in Colombia, along with small businesses making up an astonishing 96% of all companies in the country and employing 50% of national employment, according to a Vision Economica report. ...

Micro- and small businesses “generally do not meet the requirements set by commercial banks, which do not lend money to people with limited economic resources either, due to the risk of default,” Jorge Varón, manager of the development credit fund of Colombians Supporting Colombians (CAC) program, told Helda Martinez of the InterPress News Service...

An open-air market in Tacueyo, Colomgia, shot by Juan Sebastián Ramírez Navas, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Betting the farm against climate change

Eugene Linden writes a do-not-miss piece in the Los Angeles Times: Leon Trotsky is reputed to have quipped, "You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you." Substitute the words "climate change" for "war" and the quote is perfectly suited for the governors of Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico, all of whom have ridiculed or dismissed the threat of climate change even as their states suffer record-breaking heat and drought.

In his book, "Fed Up!," Texas governor and presidential aspirant Rick Perry derided global warming as a "phony mess," a sentiment he has expanded on in recent campaign appearances. Susana Martinez, the governor of New Mexico, has gone on record as doubting that humans influence climate, and Mary Fallin of Oklahoma dismissed research on climate change as a waste of time. Her solution to the extraordinary drought: Pray for rain (an approach also endorsed by Perry).

Although they may dismiss climate change, a changing climate imposes costs on their states and the rest of us as well.

In Texas, the unremitting heat has been straining the capacity of the electric grid, killing crops and livestock, and threatening water supplies. As reported in the Wall Street Journal, the grid's governing body, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, bases its forecasts on the average demand over the previous 10 years. In a world without the threat of global warming, this is an entirely reasonable approach. But what if climate change makes the past an unreliable guide to the future? Then Texas is left with the present situation, in which the grid operator is forced to procure power in a tight market where wholesale prices have skyrocketed to 60 times normal.

Grid problems in Texas are but one pixel in a vast panorama of weather-related costs. In 2010, extreme drought in Russia and floods in Australia contributed to a doubling of grain prices. This year, floods from the Dakotas to Louisiana, and drought in the American Southwest and parts of Europe, have kept grain prices high.

…Politicians who dismiss the risk of climate change like to talk about the uncertainties of the science. And, at least in one sense, they're right. It's impossible to assert that global warming contributed X amount of damage to this year's floods, much less finger climate change as a precise component of the extraordinary violence of this spring's tornadoes. The best climate science can say is that a warming globe provides a nurturing context for more intense storms and weather extremes. Scientists can offer only scenarios, rather than a script, as to how that will play out….

In Texas, the Big Bend South Rim, shot by Adam Baker, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Irene downgraded from hurricane to tropical storm

Brad Knickerbocker in the Christian Science Monitor: Irene has been downgraded from a Category 1 hurricane to a tropical storm with sustained winds of 65 miles per hour gusting to 75 mph. But Irene’s weakening is no reason for complacency, meteorologists and government officials say.

Major flooding is expected well inland across the Northeast, with several large rivers likely to remain above flood stage for days, predicts meteorologist Bill Deger at Records could be approached on a few rivers, he says, rivaling those recorded during hurricane Floyd in 1999.

“Rainfall totals will continue to be excessive and impressive. Many areas from the mid-Atlantic into New England will get 3 to 6 inches of rain, with localized amounts above a foot,” he writes. “While flooding along streets and in low-lying areas will be worse in the interim, river flooding will worsen in the hours and days after the rain stops falling. The Schuylkill River in southeastern Pennsylvania, the Passaic River in northern New Jersey and the Winooski River in northern New England are among the waterways that will likely experience major flooding.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency says Irene’s change in storm designation shouldn’t change the way individuals and businesses prepare and respond. “Even though Irene is now a tropical storm, it is critical that residents and businesses continue to listen to the instructions of their local officials and closely follow news and weather reports,” FEMA says on its website. “Tropical storms still bring high sustained winds, heavy rains, and can cause dangerous conditions and flash flooding.”…

Preparing for Irene, MTA Police finished securing Grand Central Terminal after the last trains departed. Shot August 27, 2011, Marjorie Anders, Metropolitan Transportation Authority of the State of New York, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Tim Prentice update

At a town event yesterday, the rain had already started. Tim Prentice sidled over to me and said, "After we talked I took a few pieces in."

"All of them?" His grounds sport some pieces that are twenty feet high.

"No, just the ones that could be readily moved, and the more fragile ones.

"So in the act of reporting the story, I changed the story."


As a journalist, I was disturbed at having intruded on reality like that. But as someone who believes in prudent risk management, I was glad to see some beautiful kinetic sculpture protected, at least for a while.

Shown above, a piece of Tim's called "Flashdance," which installed in Jacksonville, Florida, which ordinarily is a lot more hurricane-prone than Cornwall, Connecticut. I filched the image from Tim's website

Maryland nuclear reactor knocked offline by hurricane debris

Baltimore Sun: A reactor at the Calvert Cliffs nuclear plant remained shut down this morning as officials assess the damage caused when a piece of debris tossed by heavy winds damaged a transformer. A spokesman said as of 8 a.m. this morning that “Unit 1 is safely off-line.”

A second reactor was working fine at 100 percent power, said Mark Sullivan, the spokesman for the Constellation Energy Nuclear Group. “All employees are said,” he added.

Sullivan said Saturday night that officials believe the damage was caused by a large piece of aluminum that was torn loose from a building. The “unusual event,” declared by for the plant's Unit 1 is the least serious of four emergency classifications by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The company has begun its response to what it describes as a low-level emergency, and says the plant remains stable. There is no threat to employees or neighbors, according to a statement released by communications director Mark Sullivan….

An aerial view of the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant, shot by Jbs666 (I think), Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License

Possible light posting today

Irene is a few hours south of us, and already our generator is thrumming away. The land-based broadband is severed. I'm posting this on a creaky netbook, so we'll see how well I adapt.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Subway closes in New York as hurricane nears

James Barron in the New York Times: New York became a city without one of its trademarks — the nation’s largest subway system — on Saturday as Hurricane Irene charged northward and the city prepared to face powerhouse winds that could drive a wall of water over the beaches in the Rockaways and between the skyscrapers in Lower Manhattan.

The city worked to complete its evacuation of about 370,000 residents in low-lying areas where officials expected flooding to follow the storm, and the transportation system — the subways, along with buses and commuter rail lines — shut down at noon. Police officers sounded the warning, strolling along subway platforms and telling people the next train would be the last. The conductor of a No. 4 train that pulled into the Borough Hall station in Brooklyn at 12:14 p.m. had the same message.

...Soon subway employees were stretching yellow tape across the entrances to stations to keep people from going down the steps and into an underground world that was suddenly off limits, but not deserted. Transit workers were charged with executing a huge, mostly underground ballet, moving 200 subway trains away from outdoor yards that could flood if the storm delivered the 6 to 12 inches of rain that forecasts called for. The trains were to be parked in underground tunnels across the city, making regular runs impossible.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said that mass transit was “unlikely to be back” in service on Monday. The mayor also said that electricity could be knocked out in Lower Manhattan if Consolidated Edison to shut off the power pre-empt the problems that flooding could cause for its cables...

New York City subway map, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Nigerian satellites are picture perfect

What a great achievement for Nigeria! From Jonathan Amos on the BBC: Nigeria's latest Earth observation satellites have returned their first pictures. The spacecraft, launched on 17 August, give the African nation a powerful new capability to map its own lands and other parts of the globe. NigeriaSat-2 and NigeriaSat-X will also assist the Disaster Monitoring Constellation.

This UK-managed fleet of spacecraft is used to picture regions of the Earth gripped by natural calamities. These might be catastrophic floods or a big earthquake. Images sent down from space will often be critical to organising an effective emergency response.

The first picture released from the Nigerian pair is of New Zealand's biggest city, Auckland. It was acquired by NigeriaSat-X, and reveals the buildings and the landscape surrounding this major urban centre. It is just possible to see the wakes of ships passing under the harbour bridge that joins downtown Auckland with North Shore City....

Heat goes on climate for Australasian disaster costs

Victoria Robinson in Stuff (New Zealand): Climate change is largely to blame for Australasia putting in almost a quarter of the world's natural disaster insurance claims last year. Data from major reinsurance provider Munich Re, shows that from 1980 to 2009, Australasia was responsible for 3% of natural disaster insurance claims in dollar terms. But after the Christchurch earthquake, floods in Queensland, and enormous hailstones in Melbourne and Perth, that skyrocketed to 22% last year.

Munich Re, in its own report on the deluge of natural disasters, said climate change "is real and continuing" and cited floods in Pakistan and wildfires caused by a heatwave in Russia. The Christchurch quake was not climate-change related. Munich Re said 2010 was one of the warmest years since 1850 and featured the second-highest number of loss-related weather catastrophes since 1980, when it started keeping data.

Niwa principal climate scientist Dr James Renwick agreed that weather events like heavy rain were linked to global warming. "It's possible part of the change since the 1980s is natural variation, but I'm sure there's a climate change component. We know the globe has warmed and it's well-documented that the occurrence of extreme rainfalls around the world has increased in a way that's consistent with the climate models," he says.

"It's just what you'd expect – you warm things up, more moisture, more energy, more rain falls. There's definitely a climate change component in extreme rainfalls around the world."...

Thomson River in flood at Jundah, Queensland, 1950

Our former headquarters rather vulnerable

This macho aircraft you see on the deck of the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum is McDonnell F3H Demon, a few blocks from the erstwhile Manhattan branch of Carbon Based, otherwise known as my apartment. We lived on the second floor.

With climate risk very much on my mind, I would tell my wife that a bad hurricane on a dangerous track could send a storm surge higher than our second floor window. We were in flood zone one (I'm not sure whether that's Zone A, the mandatory evacuation zone for Hurricane Irene). She would smile pleasantly at me and treat my dire warning with irony.

Now that we've let that apartment got and are living in the woods full time, she's absorbed in nonstop reports of Gotham inundation, storm surges, flying debris, and other cheery topics on the Weather Channel, which, as Jim Gaffigan insists, is clearly pro-hurricane.

Of course, the actual impact of Irene may turn out otherwise, a rain not even bad enough to disrupt the Falun Gong protests always underway, since our building was across the street from the Chinese consulate. The bad-tempered seagulls that roost on the hawser chains of the Intrepid may just crouch and ride out the wind. We'll see.

Colorado River...good to the last drop

Brandy Simmons in Yellowscene magazine: The Colorado River has not emptied into the ocean since 1998. Coloradans see it in the two-weeks-early runoff and their rapidly disappearing snowpack—the agonizingly slow death of Colorado’s primary water source.

As the state moves rapidly toward doubling its population to 10 million by 2050, it remains one of few western states without a water plan. Gov. John Hickenlooper insisted at How the West Was Warmed, a climate change conference, the state must move forward with a plan in the next five years. The general consensus? The solution must start with the people and politicians will just have to catch up.

Brad Udall, research scientist and director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration-funded Western Water Assessment, wrote Water in the Rockies, a 21st Century Zero-Sum Game. “Water is a vexing problem world wide,” Udall said. “Climate change is really water change. Solutions are almost always zero-sum. Colorado suffers from all of the above problems. Solutions need to involve the five rights: right people, right prices, right priorities, right flexibility and right morality.”

Beth Conover, author of How the West was Warmed, a collection of stories about how people have experienced climate change in the Rocky Mountain west. “Water issues in the (Colorado) basin are not new, but the increased urgency created by climate change might facilitate or require a more urgent look at how to balance some of the uses in our rivers,” Conover said.

She said the Colorado River is representative of all of the state’s rivers. “It’s sort of the grandaddy of them all,” she said. “It’s sort of an overdrawn checking account—there’s more demand than supply already and with persistent drought and unknowns related to climate change that becomes an even bigger threat.”...

An aerial view of the Colorado River, with Arizona on the left and California on the right. Shot by Doc Searls, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Friday, August 26, 2011

Don't blow me down! The sculptures of Tim Prentice menaced by the hurricane

On the Friday before Hurricane Irene reaches the northwest corner of Connecticut, I paid a call on Tim Prentice, a neighbor who is best known as a kinetic sculptor. Tim and his team create mobiles. These delicate structures of wire, Lexan and other materials hover in the air, or are attached to vertical surfaces, where they spin or wave in the breeze. Some move slowly, others are more intricate. Tim's house and shop are a compelling attraction, since his yard teems with startling mobiles unlike anything you'd expect to see on a road in rural Connecticut.

His work has been installed in hundreds of venues, from embassies to corporate headquarters in the United States and around the world. On his website he says, " I take it as an article of faith that the air around us moves in ways which are organic, whimsical, and unpredictable. I therefore assume that if I were to abdicate the design to the wind, the work would take on these same qualities. The engineer in me wants to minimize friction and inertia to make the air visible. The architect studies matters of scale and proportion. The navigator and sailor want to know the strength and direction of the wind. The artist wants to understand its changing shape...."

With nonstop hurricane porn blaring from the media, I thought, how are Tim's fragile-seeming sculptures going to fare in a high wind? I paid a call on him to find out. I found Tim in his barn wrapping a video shoot for a presentation. I asked him whether he was going to bring any of his pieces inside to protect them.

"I don't know," he said. "I'm curious to see how they perform in a high wind. I had one commission that was out in the open, and the client called me before a nor'easter wanting to know if it would hold up. I told them to leave it out so we could see how it would do. But they chickened out and brought it inside."

Tim noted that some of his pieces could handle a 70-mile-per-hour wind, but was dubious about anythng stronger. He never takes the outdoor sculptures inside. "Sometimes after a tough winter we find squares of Lexan lying on the ground, and we have to fix them back up a little bit." With a shrug, he added, "I don't have to decide today. We'll see what the weatherman is saying tomorrow."

As his wife Marie Prentice (a noted poet in her own right) pointed out, Tim was philosophical about the fate of his sculptures because his shop is right there, and he can fix anything that gets too badly chewed up.

The fate of art subjected to climate change impacts rarely comes up in your average climate discussion. But maybe it should, especially when the art exists to make use of the wind, the way Tim's art does.

All photographs by Brian Thomas, which you can use under the Creative Commons license of your choice

US northeast prepares for biggest hurricane threat since 1985

Esmé E. Deprez and Henry Goldman in Bloomberg News: ...New York City began evacuating the sick and elderly from low-lying areas as Hurricane Irene threatened to inflict the worst destruction in the Northeast since Hurricane Gloria in 1985. New York, New Jersey and Delaware prepared for the possibility of mass evacuations. The storm may affect more than 65 million people from North Carolina to Maine, or 1 in 5 Americans, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered hospital patients and people in nursing homes and senior housing in coastal areas moved to higher ground. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the busiest U.S. transit system, said bus and subway service may be suspended tomorrow as the storm nears.

“This is the day that people ought to be buying food, water and batteries,” Delaware Governor Jack Markell said yesterday on Bloomberg Television’s “InBusiness With Margaret Brennan.”

Markell declared a state of emergency, as did Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue and Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell. The declarations free up state resources to be spent on storm-related expenses....

This panoramic view of recently-formed Hurricane Irene was acquired by the crew of the International Space Station early Monday afternoon from a point over the coastal waters of Venezuela. At the time Irene was packing winds of 80mph and was just north of the Mona Passage between Hispaniola and Puerto Rico. Although no eye was visible at this time, the storm was strengthening and exhibited the size and structure of a classic "Cape Verde" hurricane as it tracked west-northwestward towards the southern Bahamas.

Flash floods kill at least 33 in northwest Pakistan

Augustine Anthony in Reuters: Flash floods triggered by monsoon rains wiped out a village in northwest Pakistan, killing at least 33 people, a government official said on Friday.

Rescue officials were looking for survivors after at least 63 people went missing when heavy rains on Wednesday night caused a river to burst its banks in the remote Kohistan district in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province.

"We have recovered 33 bodies and the search is on for the remaining missing persons," the area's top administrator Imtiaz Hussain Shah told Reuters.

"It is just one area in the whole district that has been hit by sudden strong torrents after heavy downpour lashed the area and swept away some 25 to 30 houses scattered over the village."...

Millions in China at risk from run-down dams

Terra Daily via AFP: More than a quarter of Chinese cities are at risk from tens of thousands of run-down reservoirs, prompting the government to speed up efforts to make repairs, state media said Friday. More than 40,000 reservoirs around the country have been in use longer than their design life and are poorly maintained due to a lack of funds over the past few decades, the state-run Global Times reported.

As a result, more than 25 percent of Chinese cities and vast rural areas are at threat from potential devastating floods if dams break, it said, citing the state-run China Economic Weekly magazine. "These reservoirs are running high risks, and will ruin farmland, railways, buildings and even cities when they collapse," said Xu Yuanming, an official in charge of reservoirs at the water resources ministry, according to the report.

The ministry was not immediately available for comment. Ecologists have long feared about the safety of China's 87,000 reservoirs, and the giant and controversial Three Gorges Dam project in central Hubei province has caused particular concern.

The government has long held up the world's largest hydroelectric project as a symbol of its engineering prowess, a solution to the frequent floods of China's long Yangtze river and a source of badly-needed electricity. But the dam has created a reservoir stretching up to 600 kilometres (370 miles) through a region criss-crossed by geological faultlines....

The Three Gorges Dam, shot by Tomasz Dunn, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Drought-hit Kenya turns to cloud seeding for rain

Gitonga Njeru in AlertNet: Kenyan scientists plan to use a technique known as cloud seeding to produce more rain from November, in an attempt to ease East Africa’s worst drought in several decades. Most parts of the country usually experience a period of long rains from September until early December. But Kenya’s Meteorological Department forecasts that the coming season’s rainfall will be patchy and below normal, and the drought could last until March.

Kenya has experienced frequent droughts since 2005, but weather analysts say this year’s dry spell is the worst of them, and some have linked the trend to climate change. With around 3.2 million Kenyans already in need of food and other humanitarian aid, the government has decided to try to increase precipitation through weather modification methods.

“We have a serious drought which has affected our food production. Food prices have gone up due to scarcity caused by the prevailing drought. There is great need for rain since most of the country depends on rain-fed agriculture,” said Peter Ambenje, the meteorological department’s deputy director.

“We have many unexploited clouds in the sky that need to be utilised. I believe cloud seeding is very vital at this desperate time,” he added. The meteorological department, a government agency, has a division that specialises in cloud harvesting and seeding, and a number of Kenyan scientists have experience in these techniques....

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Hurricane Irene churns towards US

BBC: Authorities on the east coast of the US, from North Carolina to New York City, are preparing for the arrival of Hurricane Irene this weekend. The first hurricane of the Atlantic season is a category three storm, packing winds of 115mph (185km/h), and expected to get stronger.

The US Navy is moving more than 60 of its ships out to sea, to protect them and their port from high waves. Irene, currently over the Bahamas, has already caused havoc in the Caribbean.

At 11:00 EDT (12:00 GMT) on Thursday, Irene was 75 miles north north-east of Nassau, the Bahamian capital and moving north north-west at 13mph, the US National Hurricane Center said. The hurricane is now 580 miles wide and growing larger; it is expected to reach category four as it barrels towards the US.

Already, US authorities are warning of dangerous storm-surge seas, high waves and rip-tide currents along the south-eastern coast. The US Navy ordered its Second Fleet to leave Norfolk Naval Station in Virginia on Thursday morning. "The forecasted destructive winds and tidal surge is too great to keep the ships in port," said Vice-Adm Daniel Holloway, the fleet's commander....

Hurricane Irene on August 24, 2011, with winds just below major hurricane status and a eye wall developing., from the NOAA-NASA GOES Project

Sandbag strategy leaves an Australian beach's future living on the edge

Kelsey Munro in the Sydney Morning Herald: Emergency work to prevent further coastal erosion at the northern NSW town of Kingscliff has been stalled by red tape, with council staff warning many more seaside communities will face the same problem unless the complex coastal protection laws are streamlined.

Kingscliff has lost an estimated 40 metres of beach to the sea in less than two months, leaving the surf club and cabins at a caravan park dangling at the edge of the water. But protection works must stop by Friday because NSW legislation requires the council to go through a public tender process to procure more sandbags.

The council-owned Kingscliff Beach Holiday Park has already spent $800,000 on temporary protection works, and is building a four metre-high sandbag wall along the most damaged sections of beach. Phase two, for which they have environmental approval, requires larger, more durable sandbags but the council must cease work for at least a week for the procurement process.

Richard Adams, who runs the park for Tweed Shire, said the situation was ''frustrating''. ''In an emergency event like this, where clearly there is an extenuating circumstance, it would be great if we could go to the government and say let's look at some way to relieve us from some of the more protracted planning consent and procurement issues,'' he said....

A view of the Cocked Hat Rocks at Broken Head (NSW, Australia)

Suriname addresses climate threat with new agency

Marvin A. Hokstam in AlertNet: Low-lying and heavily forested Suriname, which counts itself among the five nations most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, has created the country’s first climate-compatible development agency, aimed at bringing together the country’s ministries to deal with climate challenges. “We owe it to our children to prepare ourselves for the effects climate change will have on our country,” President Desi Bouterse said earlier this month at a ceremony marking the launch of the agency.

According to Suriname’s government, sea level rise is expected to bring worsening erosion, large-scale inundation, loss of farmland, a reduction in available freshwater, more drought and extreme rainfall and worsening health challenges to the coastal South American nation.

The new agency aims to coordinate the country’s policies on climate change mitigation and adaptation and forest conservation, and help Suriname win international funding to help it deal with climate impacts and adopt a lower carbon development strategy.

It will also lead the country’s Climate Change Fund, charged with managing funds secured for climate adaptation, and support a Climate Compatible Knowledge Institute, which will give scientific support to climate efforts....

Brokopondo reservoir in Suriname, shot by Mark Ahsmann, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Philippine agencies to map dengue outbreaks

GMA News (Philipppines): Can dengue fever outbreaks be predicted? Science officials in the Philippines think so. With the country in the grips of dengue fever, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and the state weather bureau have launched a study that will enable health authorities to predict dengue outbreaks in the future.

Science Undersecretary Graciano Yumul Jr. said there might be a correlation between changes in weather, temperature, rainfall, and the location of the dengue fever surges in the country. Yumul said the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), the government meteorological agency, is currently conducting a review of its past data on weather variations, rainfall amount, and temperature changes.

These data will be cross-checked with information on dengue outbreaks and other infectious diseases that plagued the country in the past years. Yumul said the above-average rainfall that the country is experiencing due to climate change may increase the number of infectious diseases carried by mosquitoes and worms, creatures that thrive in damp climates and dirty environments.

“We have a dengue project. We are looking at dengue and its possible correlation with temperature and precipitation," he said in a phone interview yesterday. With enough information on, “maybe it will be possible to forecast it," he added. Yumul said there was a Pagasa and Department of Health studies in the past that showed the relationship between tropical diseases and weather. The study is being updated and will include information on malaria, another fatal mosquito-borne infectious disease, and parasitic worm illnesses, which affect children and the urban poor population....

A TEM micrograph showing Dengue virus virions (the cluster of dark dots near the center). From the Centers for Disease Control

Climate cycles are driving wars

Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory News: In the first study of its kind, researchers have linked a natural global climate cycle to periodic increases in warfare. The arrival of El Niño, which every three to seven years boosts temperatures and cuts rainfall, doubles the risk of civil wars across 90 affected tropical countries, and may help account for a fifth of worldwide conflicts during the past half-century, say the authors. The paper, written by an interdisciplinary team at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, appears in the current issue of the leading scientific journal Nature.

In recent years, historians and climatologists have built evidence that past societies suffered and fell due in connection with heat or droughts that damaged agriculture and shook governments. This is the first study to make the case for such destabilization in the present day, using statistics to link global weather observations and well-documented outbreaks of violence. The study does not blame specific wars on El Niño, nor does it directly address the issue of long-term climate change. However, it raises potent questions, as many scientists think natural weather cycles will become more extreme with warming climate, and some suggest ongoing chaos in places like Somalia are already being stoked by warming climate.

...The scientists tracked ENSO from 1950 to 2004 and correlated it with onsets of civil conflicts that killed more than 25 people in a given year. The data included 175 countries and 234 conflicts, over half of which each caused more than 1,000 battle-related deaths. For nations whose weather is controlled by ENSO, they found that during La Niña, the chance of civil war breaking out was about 3 percent; during El Niño, the chance doubled, to 6 percent. Countries not affected by the cycle remained at 2 percent no matter what. Overall, the team calculated that El Niño may have played a role in 21 percent of civil wars worldwide—and nearly 30 percent in those countries affected by El Niño.

...The authors say they do not know exactly why climate feeds conflict. “But if you have social inequality, people are poor, and there are underlying tensions, it seems possible that climate can deliver the knockout punch,” said Hsiang. When crops fail, people may take up a gun simply to make a living, he said. Kyle C. Meng, a sustainable-development Ph.D. candidate and the study’s other author, pointed out that social scientists have shown that individuals often become more aggressive when temperatures rise, but he said that whether that applies to whole societies is only speculative....

Polish soldiers on maneuvers in 2008, Łukasz Golowanow & Maciek Hypś,, Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Hurricane Irene aims at New England, but its exact impact is still uncertain

Martin Finucane in the Boston Globe: The worst-case scenario sounds scary: Hurricane Irene could sweep ashore in New England this weekend, dousing the state with torrential rains, and lashing it with damaging wind gusts, while heavy surf pounds the coasts and water rises in streams.

But it’s still “highly uncertain” exactly where and how hard the storm will hit, NationalWeather Service forecasters said this morning. The key question, as the storm moves up the coast, is whether the storm will track more to the east or to the west, said weather service meteorologist Alan Dunham.

If the center of the storm tracks just east of Nantucket and the Cape, the Cape and islands could see some wind and storm surge and Central and Eastern Massachusetts could see 8 to 10 inches of rain, said Dunham....“A 30-mile difference in track is going to make a huge difference in what people experience,” he said....

This graphic from the National Hurricane Weather Center shows an approximate representation of coastal areas under a hurricane warning (red), hurricane watch (pink), tropical storm warning (blue) and tropical storm watch (yellow). The orange circle indicates the current position of the center of the tropical cyclone. The black line, when selected, and dots show the National Hurricane Center (NHC) forecast track of the center at the times indicated. The dot indicating the forecast center location will be black if the cyclone is forecast to be tropical and will be white with a black outline if the cyclone is forecast to be extratropical. If only an L is displayed, then the system is forecast to be a remnant low.

'Happy' Bhutan alarmed by Himalayan climate change

Terra Daily via AFP: Bhutan's prime minister has issued a dire warning about the impact of Himalayan climate change, saying it could wreck the tiny kingdom's ambitious plans to be a world leader in hydropower.

The isolated, mountainous nation sandwiched between India and China is famed for pursuing "happiness" for its citizens instead of orthodox economic growth, with environmental protection central to its development model.

Bhutan, home to 700,000 people, is already a carbon-neutral electricity producer, with almost all of its power generated at plants that capture energy from the cascading streams that criss-cross its spectacular landscape.

But Prime Minister Jigmi Thinley told AFP the country was powerless to prevent changes caused by shifting weather patterns which threaten regional water supplies and plans to harness the energy of the Himalayan snowmelt.

"The glaciers are retreating very rapidly, some are even disappearing. The flow of water in our river system is fluctuating in ways that are very worrying," he said in an interview in his office in the capital Thimphu....

View of Thimphu from the east, Yangchenphug district. Shot by Matt Dork, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Mexican fisherwomen organise against climate change

Emilio Godoy in IPS: Every night, Adlemi Marrufo goes out to catch bait crabs used to fish for octopus in this small seaside town and others along Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, as part of a women's cooperative that is working to adapt to and fight climate change. The longnose spider crab (Libinia dubia), known locally as the "maxquil" crab, is fished from August to December in San Felipe, where Marrufo, who everyone calls "Doña More", has been mayor since 2010.

"We haven't received support, and I think it would be difficult to get any. Even in our community, we have problems with the men, who wonder how we can do their work," Marrufo tells IPS as she gets her fishing gear ready on her boat, "Rebeca". In 1999, she was one of the founders of the Mujeres Trabajadoras del Mar cooperative, currently made up of 13 fisherwomen. The women's cooperative emerged as a collective effort to adapt to climate change, the effects of which are increasingly being felt on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, which bathes the shores of this fishing village at the top of the Yucatan Peninsula in southeast Mexico.

San Felipe, which has a population of 1,850, is one of the 25 coastal towns in Mexico most exposed to the effects of global warming, in the form of stronger hurricanes, heavier and more frequent flooding and increasing changes in the availability of seafood species, which has caused problems for fishing, the town's main economic activity.

...The women in the cooperative, who were trained in "mangrove ecology" a year after the hurricane, have played a key role in restoring the mangroves, which are vital to keeping water temperatures from climbing too high in the lagoon, an important breeding ground for species ranging from lobsters to the longnose spider crab....

A burst of colour lights the shallow waters of the Gulf of Mexico off the Yucatan Peninsula. The swirls of tan, green, blue, and white are most likely sediment in the water. From NASA

Newly discovered Icelandic current could change climate picture

Terra Daily: If you'd like to cool off fast in hot summer weather, take a dip in a newly discovered ocean current called the North Icelandic Jet (NIJ). You'd need to be far, far below the sea's surface near Iceland, however, to reach it. Scientists have confirmed the presence of the NIJ, a deep-ocean circulation system off Iceland. It could significantly influence the ocean's response to climate change.

The NIJ contributes to a key component of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), critically important for regulating Earth's climate. As part of the planet's reciprocal relationship between ocean circulation and climate, the AMOC transports warm surface water to high latitudes where the water warms the air, then cools, sinks and returns toward the equator as a deep flow.

Crucial to this warm-to-cold oceanographic choreography is the Denmark Strait Overflow Water (DSOW), the largest of the deep, overflow plumes that feed the lower limb of the AMOC and return the dense water south through gaps in the Greenland-Scotland Ridge.

For years it has been thought that the primary source of the Denmark Overflow was a current adjacent to Greenland known as the East Greenland Current. However, this view was recently called into question by two oceanographers from Iceland who discovered a deep current flowing southward along the continental slope of Iceland. They named the current the North Icelandic Jet and hypothesized that it formed a significant part of the overflow water....

Northern part of Denmark Strait showing the location of the newly discovered deep current in relation to the known existing pathway of dense water. (Graphic by Jack Cook, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

Investments in pastoralism offer best hope for combating droughts in Africa's drylands

EurekAlert: As hunger spreads among more than 12 million people in the Horn of Africa, a study by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) of the response to Kenya's last devastating drought, in 2008-2009, finds that investments aimed at increasing the mobility of livestock herders – a way of life often viewed as "backward" despite being the most economical and productive use of Kenya's drylands – could be the key to averting future food crises in arid lands.

The report, "An Assessment of the Response to the 2008-2009 Drought in Kenya," suggests that herding makes better economic sense than crop agriculture in many of the arid and semi-arid lands that constitute 80 percent of the Horn of Africa, and supporting mobile livestock herding communities in advance and with timely interventions can help people cope the next time drought threatens.

The authors say that encouraging livestock herders to switch to farming crops or to move to cities is simply unrealistic in this region's great drylands, which will not support row crops without extensive irrigation, which is scarce and often impractical. An estimated 70 million people live in these arid lands, and many of them are herders. In Kenya, the value of the pastoral livestock sector is estimated to be worth US$800 million. And the Intergovernmental Authority on Development in Eastern Africa, which takes a regional approach to combating drought in six countries of the Horn, estimates that over 90 percent of the meat consumed in East Africa comes from pastoral herds.

"Drylands in the Horn of Africa are too large to ignore," said Jan de Leeuw, an ecologist at ILRI and a lead author of the drought report. "With only 20 percent of Kenya's land suitable for arable crop production, and with an expanding population, the country cannot continue ignoring these dry areas without facing significant challenges in ensuring sufficient food production. Some of the worst impacts of the drought can be avoided if the region's dryland livestock systems are well regulated."

The best way to prevent famine in arid lands is to ensure herder access to critical dry-season grazing and watering areas. All the herders interviewed for the report said that obstacles to the movement of their herds – caused by lack of roads, land conflicts and demographic pressures – constituted the largest problem they had in protecting their animals and livelihoods....

An N'Dama cattle herd in West Africa, shot by ILRI, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license