Tuesday, January 31, 2012

China's largest freshwater lake dries up

Harold Thibault in the Guardian (UK): For visitors expecting to see China's largest freshwater lake, Poyang is a desolate spectacle. Under normal circumstances it covers 3,500 sq km, but last month only 200 sq km were underwater. A dried-out plain stretches as far as the eye can see, leaving a pagoda perched on top of a hillock that is usually a little island. Wrapped in the mist characteristic of the lower reaches of the Yangtze river, the barges are moored close to the quayside beside a pitiful trickle of water. There is no work for the fisheries.

According to the state news agency Xinhua, the drought – the worst for 60 years – is due to the lack of rainfall in the area round Poyang and its tributaries. Poor weather conditions this year are partly responsible. But putting the blame on them overlooks the role played by the colossal Three Gorges reservoir, 500km upstream. The cause and effect is still not officially recognised, even if the government did admit last May that the planet's biggest dam had given rise to "problems that need to be solved very urgently".

"Every year, when the Three Gorges reservoir stores water – to power the dam's turbines during the winter – the flow rate in the Yangtze drops. This in turn increases the rate at which the level of Poyang lake falls, and the period of low water comes sooner," said Ye Xuchun, a researcher at China's Southwest University. In partnership with scientists at the Lake Science and Environment laboratory at Nanking University, he has published a comparative analysis of water levels in the Three Gorges basin and at the lake's northern extremity, near the city of Hukou, where the outflow from Poyang joins the Yangtze.

The authors conclude that the artificial regulation of the reservoir, which must be kept full to optimise electricity output, reduces the water level in the lower reaches of the Yangtze. This means that the big river no longer "plugs" the lake's northern outlet, so the other rivers feeding into Poyang simply pass through the dwindling lake and run on downstream...

Lake Poyang, seen from a NASA satellite

Ancient DNA holds clues to climate change adaptation

University of Adelaide News: Thirty-thousand-year-old bison bones discovered in permafrost at a Canadian goldmine are helping scientists unravel the mystery about how animals adapt to rapid environmental change.

The bones play a key role in a world-first study, led by University of Adelaide researchers, which analyses special genetic modifications that turn genes on and off, without altering the DNA sequence itself. These 'epigenetic' changes can occur rapidly between generations - without requiring the time for standard evolutionary processes. Such epigenetic modifications could explain how animal species are able to respond to rapid climate change.

In a collaboration between the University of Adelaide's Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD) and Sydney's Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute, researchers have shown that it is possible to accurately measure epigenetic modifications in extinct animals and populations.

The team of researchers measured epigenetic modifications in 30,000-year-old permafrost bones from the Yukon region in Canada, and compared them to those in modern-day cattle, and a 30-year-old mummified cow from New Zealand.

Project leader Professor Alan Cooper, Director of ACAD, says: "Epigenetics is challenging some of our standard views of evolutionary adaptation, and the way we think about how animals use and inherit their DNA. In theory, such systems would be invaluable for a wide range of rapid evolutionary adaptation but it has not been possible to measure how or whether they are used in nature, or over evolutionary timescales."...

An American bison, copyrighted by Ted Lee Eubanks, Jr./FERMATA Inc., http://www.byways.org, found on Wikimedia Commons

Predatory pythons shift Everglades ecology

Janet Raloff in Science News: Giant snakes are eating their way through the Everglades, leaving a drastically changed ecosystem in their wake, a new study shows.

The snakes, many of which measure 10 to 16 feet, are called Burmese pythons. But make no mistake: Virtually all of the roughly 30,000 living in southern Florida were born in the Everglades. Ecologists now report that populations of mammals have begun plummeting throughout the pythons’ expanding range. And the timing of these mammal losses matches the geographic spread of the snakes, which federal officials believe were initially released into the wild by snake fanciers, probably 15 to 30 years ago.

Raccoons, opossums, deer and other mammals, along with birds and gators, have all turned up in the stomachs of captured pythons, testifying to the snakes’ varied appetite, notes ecologist Michael Dorcas of Davidson College in North Carolina. “But until now, there hadn’t been any indication that the snakes were altering the ecosystem,” says Dorcas, who led the study.

The new data “make a persuasive case for cause and effect,” says herpetologist J. Whitfield Gibbons of the Savannah River Ecology Lab in Aiken, S.C., who was not affiliated with the new analysis. “The investigators take a convincing position that introduced predatory pythons are responsible for the decline in numbers of large- and medium-size mammals in the Everglades.”...

University of Florida scientists show off a 15-foot Burmese python, weighing more than 160 pounds, that was captured in the Everglades. Its stomach contained a 6-foot gator. Credit: Michael R. Rochford, University of Florida

Injecting sulfate particles into stratosphere won’t fully offset climate change

Vince Stricherz in the University of Washington Today: As the reality and the impact of climate warming have become clearer in the last decade, researchers have looked for possible engineering solutions – such as removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or directing the sun’s heat away from Earth – to help offset rising temperatures.

New University of Washington research demonstrates that one suggested method, injecting sulfate particles into the stratosphere, would likely achieve only part of the desired effect, and could carry serious, if unintended, consequences.

The lower atmosphere already contains tiny sulfate and sea salt particles, called aerosols, that reflect energy from the sun into space. Some have suggested injecting sulfate particles directly into the stratosphere to enhance the effect, and also to reduce the rate of future warming that would result from continued increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide.

But a UW modeling study shows that sulfate particles in the stratosphere will not necessarily offset all the effects of future increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide. Additionally, there still is likely to be significant warming in regions where climate change impacts originally prompted a desire for geoengineered solutions, said Kelly McCusker, a UW doctoral student in atmospheric sciences.

The modeling study shows that significant changes would still occur because even increased aerosol levels cannot balance changes in atmospheric and oceanic circulation brought on by higher levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide. “There is no way to keep the climate the way it is now. Later this century, you would not be able to recreate present-day Earth just by adding sulfate aerosols to the atmosphere,” McCusker said...

An aerosol spray can, shot by PiccoloNamek, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License

Flood insurance argument could leave millions high and dry

Mark King in the Guardian (UK): Up to 200,000 homes in England and Wales have been warned they will struggle to obtain adequate flood insurance after June 2013, when the insurance industry's voluntary flood agreement with the government ends. In 92 constituencies there are 1,000 or more homes at high flood risk, the Association of British Insurers (ABI) said after analysing the latest Environment Agency flood data.

Boston and Skegness in Lincolnshire is the constituency with the most homes at significant risk of flooding, with 7,550 properties under threat, followed by the Vale of Clwyd (7,339 homes), Folkestone and Hythe (7,196), and Windsor (7,125). A property is defined as being at risk if it has a one in 75 chance of flooding in any given year.

The risk of households being unable to obtain cover is heightened by an ongoing row over who pays for the flood defences needed to maintain protection for the 5m homes at risk across the UK.

Adrian Webb of esure said there had been a "gentlemen's agreement" between insurers and the government since 1961. "The government of the time said government would be responsible for flood defences, and in turn the insurance industry would include flood cover as standard. At the end of the 1990s it was becoming clear that the government's side of the equation was not being met – and will not be met in future," he said...

Monday, January 30, 2012

Climate change a 'fundamental' health risk

Julian Drape in the Sydney Morning Herald via AAP: A leading Australian disease expert says prompt action on climate change is paramount to our survival on earth. Epidemiologist Tony McMichael has conducted an historical study that suggests natural climate change over thousands of years has destabilised civilisations via food shortages, disease and unrest.

"We haven't really grasped the fact that a change in climate presents a quite fundamental threat to the foundations of population health," Prof McMichael, from the Australian National University told AAP. "These things have happened before in response to fairly modest changes to climate. Let's be aware that we really must take early action if we are going to maintain this planet as a liveable habitat for humans."

In a paper published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Prof McMichael argues the world faces extreme climate change "without precedent" over the past 10,000 years. "With the exception of a few downward spikes of acute cooling due to massive volcanic eruptions, most of the changes have been within a band of about plus or minus three-quarters of a degree centigrade," he said on Monday.

"Yet we are talking about the likelihood this century of going beyond two degrees centigrade and quite probably, on current trajectory, reaching a global average increase of three to four degrees." Prof McMichael's paper states that the greatest recurring health risk over past millennia has been from food shortages mostly caused by drying and drought.

Warming also leads to an increase in infectious diseases as a result of better growth conditions for bacteria and the proliferation of mosquitoes....

This 1921 Soviet poster by I.V. Simakov says, "Remember the starving!"

Indonesian storm death toll rises to 14

Terra Daily via AFP: The death toll from heavy rains and strong winds in Indonesia has risen to 14, an official said Sunday, with the victims of a tropical cyclone crushed by falling trees. "In total, 14 people died, 60 people were injured," National Disaster Management Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said in a text message to AFP. "The 14 killed were crushed by falling trees," he added.

More than 2,300 houses in 35 districts and cities across the central island of Java and resort destination of Bali were also damaged due to heavy rains in the last four days, Nugroho said. The "massive" rainstorms were brought about by Tropical Cyclone Iggy in the Indian Ocean, south of Bali and the nearby Nusa Tenggara islands, he added.

"But now the Tropical cyclone Iggy has weakened and it's moving away from Indonesia," the official added.

Last week, the Jakarta Globe newspaper reported a ferry carrying more than 200 people, including five Australians, heading to the Gili islands off Bali nearly capsized after being caught in waves up to three metres (10 feet) high, but there were no casualties...

The great northern migration -- of US cattle

P.J. Huffstutter and Theopolis Waters in Reuters: For more than a century, through a dozen dry spells when lakes disappeared and the land died, thousands of cows from the Swenson Land & Cattle Co have roamed the fields of Texas. Yet the drought currently ravaging the southern Plains has done what the Dust Bowl could not: chased them off this land and driven them more than 600 miles north to Nebraska.

Now, as the worst drought in a century stretches into its second year, these ranchers and many of their peers are herding their animals in record numbers to the Cornhusker State and other points north, in search of grazing land that is not parched - a shift that is fueling a dramatic economic and cultural reshaping of the U.S. livestock industry.

...While some Texas ranchers hang on, selling off their stock at an unprecedented pace that has reduced America's cattle herd to the smallest in 60 years, many are carving new homesteads out of some of the richest grassland in North America, a bid for survival that falls somewhere between surrender and hope.

In cattle-car convoys that wind along routes cowboys used in the 1800s, this migration is also a stark illustration of the myriad threats facing the world's future food supply: intense competition for land; increasing demands on limited water resources; and the growing threat of volatile weather.

...While Nebraska offered solace for a first wave of bovine refugees, space is running out, forcing some even further north or west to less hospitable climes; virulent diseases could, if left unchecked, devastate local stock, a threat that has prompted officials to quarantine dozens of herds....

A cattle drive, photographed by the US Enivironmental Protection Agency

Floods close 71 schools in Namibia

Oswald Shivute in AllAfrica.com via the Namibian: At least 71 schools have been closed and children sent home after recent rains pushed up water levels in the North. The acting director of education in the Omusati Region, Loide Shatiwa, says 64 Omusati schools, mainly in Okalongo and Anamulenge circuits, were closed because children and teachers cannot cross the deep water in the oshanas.

Initially 70 schools were closed in Omusati, but four have reopened. They are the Eengwena, Sheetekela, Elondo and John Shekudja primary schools.

Ohangwena senior education planner Elifas Nakale says only two schools have so far been closed in that region while his counterpart in Oshana, Paulinus Enkono, says they have closed five schools. In the Ompundja and Uuvudhiya constituencies of Oshana, tents have been pitched at three schools for pupils to stay in.

Enkono says the tent schools - Chief Ankama, Omulunga and Engombe - are in dire need of food. The Oshikoto Region is the only one where flood problems have not occurred at schools. Shatiwa says the education authorities in Omusati have not yet considered tent hostels at schools. They expect the floodwater to subside soon. Shatiwa says they already have plans for weekend classes to make up for the days lost during the closure.

Addressing an Oshana Regional Disaster Risk Management Committee meeting on Wednesday, the region's governor, Klemens Kashuupulw, rallied key players for a coordinated response to problems caused by floods....

2010-like flood likely in several Pakistan provinces

The Nation (Pakistan): The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has cautioned about 2010-like floods situation in the Ravi and Satluj rivers this year, saying that the situation might deter with the start of pre-monsoon season.

"Punjab Chief Minister has been suggested to keep Rs5 billion budget specially for the areas adjacent to River and Sutlej to deal with expected situation," NDMA Chairman Zafar Qadar shared with TheNation here on Sunday.

The adjacent areas of Sutlej including Pakpatan, Sahiwal, Bhawalnagar, Okara, Nankana Sahib, Sheikupura and others could be under threat of heavy and proper arrangements are now need of hour to deal with it, he warned. The same kind of situation might be at the neighbouring of Ravi River where Kasur and Lahore could be at top of areas prone to floods, Zafar Qadir maintained.

"We have couple of months for preparation as pre-monsoon winds are likely to start by the mid of this year," he said adding that National Disaster Risk Reduction Policy (NDRRP) if prepared in time would be much beneficial....

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Water rights shift in Florida could foreshadow debates to come

Jim Malewitz in the Bellingham Herald (Florida): Is reclaimed water a basic public resource or a privately manufactured product? That's the question before the Florida legislature this session, as it decides how to classify the state's large supply of wastewater that's treated and used again, often for lawn irrigation or recharging aquifers.

Environmentalists are nervous as lawmakers prepare to enact the largest overhaul to state water law in 40 years, changing the state's very definition of water. Current Florida law subjects all state waters to permitting based upon "beneficial use" in the public interest. But the bill up for debate would exclude reclaimed water from "waters of the state," granting sole ownership of the resources to the utilities that produce it. Many of these utilities are public entities, but some are privately owned.

Under the bill, state water management districts could not dictate how reclaimed water is used, even during an emergency shortage. Backed by several powerful interest groups, the bill appears destined to become law. Supporters say the overhaul would protect Florida's dwindling water supply by incentivizing production and use of reclaimed water through eased restrictions.

"Local governments need the certainty," says state Rep. Dana Young, a Tampa Republican who teamed up with city representatives to write the bill. "If they build the system, they need guarantees that they can use the water as they see fit." But environmentalists describe the shift as a business-friendly legislature's attempt to erode state water protections, placing much of the resource in the hands of private interests....

Blue Hole in National Key Deer Refuge, Big Pine Key, Florida. Shot by Thierry Caro, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Low snowpack signals water crisis at Lake Mead

Henry Brean in the Las Vegas Review-Journal: Mother Nature is a fickle mistress. One year removed from near-record snow levels that sent 4 trillion gallons of much-needed meltwater into Lake Mead, winter has gotten off to a terrible start in the mountains that feed the Colorado River. Conditions are so dry that water supply forecasters have slashed their projections for Lake Mead by a whopping 2.45 million acre-feet in the past month alone.

That's 24 vertical feet of water gone -- poof! -- from what had been a promising forecast for the valley's primary source of water. In December, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation was predicting a roughly 11-foot rise in Lake Mead over the next year. Now the bureau expects the nation's largest man-made reservoir to shed about 13 feet by January 2013.

One acre-foot equals about 326,000 gallons, which is enough water to supply two average valley homes for one year. At current consumption levels, the 2.45 million acre-foot reduction in Lake Mead's forecast since last month represents enough water to supply the entire Las Vegas Valley for a decade.

Randy Julander summed up this year's snowpack in two words: "It stinks."...

Lake Mead, seen from a NASA satellite

Farmers in Mozambique trying to adapt farming to climate change

Public Radio International: As the rain and water in Mozambique becomes less predictable and less suited to subsistence farming, aid groups and the local government are trying to help some change the way they farm so they're not so paralyzed by a flood or a drought. But there's a lot of work to do.

Over the past two decades, Mozambique has suffered more than its fair share of weather disasters. The east African nation has seen more devastating cyclones, droughts and floods than any country on the continent. Farmers in Mozambique have been particularly hard hit. This year alone, torrential rains in the mountains sent flood waters onto fields below, submerging tens of thousands of acres of crops.

And now, farmers are in the midst of another rainy season, which started in December. Officials at Mozambique’s National Institute for Disaster Management have to prepare for rescue operations this time of year. Figueredo de Araujo, the institute's information manager, said the emergency operations center is equipped with rescue boats as well as warehouses with various goods for humanitarian assistance: maize flour, tents, tarps, boots and rain coats among them.

Caia, where Mozambique’s main highway crosses the Zambezi river, sits in the middle of a vast, flat, floodplain that is home to nearly a million people. In 2000, the area was hit by the worst flooding in memory. The floods killed 700 people, displaced 100,000, and cost Mozambique a 1.5 percent loss in GDP through destruction of crops....

Climate-driven heat peaks may shrink wheat crops

PhysOrg: More intense heat waves due to global warming could diminish wheat crop yields around the world through premature ageing, according to a study published Sunday in Nature Climate Change. Current projections based on computer models underestimate the extent to which hotter weather in the future will accelerate this process, the researchers warned.

Wheat is harvested in temperate zones on more than 220 million hectares (545 million acres), making it the most widely grown crop on Earth. In some nations, the grain accounts for up to 50 percent of calorie intake and 20 percent of protein nutrition, according to the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), near Mexico City.

In 2010, drought and wildfires in wheat-exporting Russia pushed world prices of the grain to two-year highs, underscoring the vulnerability of global supplies to weather- and climate-related disruptions. Greenhouse experiments have shown that unseasonably warm temperatures -- especially at the end of the growing season -- can cause senescence, the scientific term for accelerated ageing.

More intense heat waves due to global warming could diminish wheat crop yields around the world through premature ageing, according to a study published in Nature Climate Change. Excess heat beyond the plant's tolerance zone damages photosynthetic cells. Fluctuations in wheat yields in India have also been attributed by farmers to temperature, most recently a heat wave in 2010 blamed for stunting plant productivity...

A wheat field shot by 3268zauber, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Risks of floods from glacial lakes highlighted

Dawn.com (Pakistan): Natural scientists and environmentalists here on Saturday said that communities’ involvement could mitigate the negative effects of glacial lake outburst floods in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s higher regions, preventing loss of lives and properties.

...The project “Reducing Risks and Vulnerabilities from Glacier Lake Outburst Floods in Northern Pakistan”, funded by the UNDP, has been launched to minimise risks of natural disaster as a result of floods caused by a glacial lake outburst.

The minister said that the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government had made it as its top priority to protect people’s lives from natural disasters by taking appropriate measures.

“Few avalanches, massive landslides, floods, and cloudbursts during the last one decade wreaked havoc in Pakistan and now the glacial lakes have been posing an imminent threat of floods,” said the minister. He said that the problem of climate change needed to be dealt with effectively on the part of provincial government, taking measures to minimise the risks of losses to human life, property, livestock and infrastructure....

A view of Dudipatsar Lake in Pakistan, shot by Chumer , Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Saturday, January 28, 2012

West Australia waits for Cyclone Iggy

Samantha Healy and Emily Moulton in news.com.au (Australia): Residents in parts of the North-West Australia are on high alert last night as Tropical Cyclone Iggy edged closer to the coast On the other side of the nation, Queenslanders battered by heavy rainfall have been told to be on high alert for flooding.

Iggy formed early on Thursday and has been slowly moving southeast towards Mardie, Coral Bay, Exmouth and Onslow. Heavy rains and gales up to 125km/h are expected to hit the region as the category-two cyclone heads south.

The Fire and Emergency Services Authority has warned locals to review their family cyclone plan, prepare an emergency kit with a portable radio, torch and first-aid kit, as well as check the community alerts system.

An alert has also been issued for people living between Whim Creek and Mardie, Coral Bay to Cape Cuvier and adjacent inland parts of the west Pilbara. David Hall, whose Exmouth Diving Centre was badly damaged during tropical cyclone Vance in 1999, said locals were well prepared for Iggy, which is expected to intensify over the next 24 hours.

"You go to the shop there is not much milk or bread left. Everyone is stocking up on all the goods they need and they are just sort of hunkering down . . . the locals are used to it," he said.

Meanwhile,Central Queensland will remain on flood alert as a monsoonal low continues to march south across the state. Bureau of Meteorology senior forecaster Gavin Holcombe said the low was expected to move into NSW today and continue to decay...

Tropical Cyclone Iggy on January 26, 2012, from NASA

Women farmers in India adapt to climate change

Aditi Kapoor in the the Deccan Herald (India): ...Innovative measures by women farmers across India are helping several poor families adapt better to climate change and keep hunger at bay. As Sursati from village Janakpur, district Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh, explains, “Earlier, we could not produce enough food for a year because our village would get water-logged by the flood waters. Now, using early maturing paddy varieties and organic manure to revive soil fertility, we can at least eat for all 12 months from the same piece of land.”

Sursati is one of the many women being helped by a local NGO, Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (GEAG), in the flood-prone areas of eastern Uttar Pradesh (UP), where climate vagaries have been impacting agricultural production for some years now. Many farmers in Gorakhpur district, for instance, have stopped growing pulses because “winters are so late and so short these days.” Yet, there are some women farmers like Kamlavati, from village Janakpur, who now train other women in adaptation techniques. “I go as a trainer to the government’s Agriculture Technology Management Agency (ATMA) farmer field school,” she reveals.

...There is an urgent need to focus on sound adaptation measures, especially those that benefit women directly. With gram panchayats now made responsible for village development plans, they can, in the wake of climate change, make ‘Local Action Plans on Adaptation’, or LAPAs, to climate-proof their development plans, much like poor, developing countries are today making NAPAs — National Action Plans on Adaptation — as part of the UN climate agreements.

Some women-friendly adaptation measures that can be promoted as part of LAPAs include village-level grain banks, which have proved popular in disaster-prone villages across states, including in Bengal and Odisha. Dakshin, a tribal woman farmer in the Kerandimal tribal area in Ganjam district, Odisha, puts it this way, “Grain banks mean our men will not migrate when the crops fail and that we will have enough to eat, too. We women have often starved because we preferred giving the available food to our husbands and our children.”...

Farm workers sorting eggplants in Sejwat, in Gujarat, shot by Arne Hückelheim, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Activists want climate change on TV weather reports

Eric Berger in the Houston Chronicle: The fight for hearts and minds when it comes to climate change has moved to a new battleground: your television set. Climate change activists have launched a campaign, dubbed Forecast the Facts, that outs television meteorologists who are "deniers" of mainstream climate change science.

Led by several groups, including 350.org, the League of Conservation Voters, and the Citizen Engagement Lab, the campaign was spurred by recent surveys finding that half or more of TV forecasters hold contrarian climate change views. "TV meteorologists have as much, if not more, opportunity to talk to the American public about climate change than anyone," said Daniel Souweine, director of the Forecast the Facts drive.

"Ultimately, our goal is to change how the entire profession of meteorology reports on climate change," Souweine said. Specifically, he suggested, when a region is in the midst of a drought or heat wave, it is important to discuss the role climate change plays in amplifying such an event.

None of Houston's television forecasters made the campaign's list of "deniers," but it has nevertheless turned up the volume on the issue of climate change and tele­vision meteorology. Local forecaster Gene Norman of KHOU (Channel 11) said he doesn't welcome being dragged into what he calls the politicization of climate science.

"I'm concerned about this 'Forecast The Facts' campaign and the underlying assumption that TV meteorologists are somehow misleading the public and are espousing some kind of scientific heresy," Norman said....

Weatherman from the US Forest Service website

A climate change risk assessment and adaptation plan

EGov Monitor via Natural England (UK): Differences in the speed with which species are adapting to climate change are an increasing threat to the functioning of ecosystems. This is just one of the findings of Natural England’s Climate Change Risk Assessment and Adaptation Plan published today.

...The Climate Change Act 2008 introduced a new power for the Secretary of State at Defra to direct providers of public services to prepare reports on how they are assessing and acting on the risks and opportunities arising from a changing climate. Natural England is voluntarily reporting under this framework.

....An important conclusion is that the threats will not be uniform and there are some areas in which multiple risks appear likely and my interact. These include coastal areas with soft coastlines such as dunes, and coastal wetlands; freshwater ecosystems such as rivers, lakes and wetlands; upland and lowland peatland; historic parklands and other woodland areas, and high upland areas. This finding reinforces the view that wetland, montane and coastal systems appear particularly vulnerable in the short term.

To address the threats we have identified, a five year Adaptation Plan has been developed, with specific commitments for different areas of our work. The plan is based on three principles;
  • An adaptive management approach - measures will be regularly reviewed and lessons learnt for future work;
  • An ecosystem approach - we will consider the full range of ecosystem services a healthy natural environment provides to people
  • Broad delivery partnerships to safeguard and enhance environmental benefits, involving government agencies, local authorities, non-government organisations, land managers and local community groups...
A view of the English countryside--Seave Green viewed from the descent of Cold Moor, shot by Scott Rimmer, Wikimedia Commons via Geograph UK, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Geoengineering not a climate cure

UPI: Geoengineering to combat global warming by injecting sulfate particles into the atmosphere can't fully offset human-caused climate change, U.S. scientists say. Researchers at the University of Washington say that suggested method would likely achieve only part of the desired effect and could carry serious, if unintended, consequences.

Tiny sulfate and sea salt particles, called aerosols, are naturally present in the lower atmosphere and reflect energy from the sun into space. Some researchers have suggested injecting sulfate particles directly into the stratosphere to enhance the effect.

However, a UW modeling study shows sulfate particles in the stratosphere will not necessarily offset all the effects of future increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide. Significant changes would still occur because even increased aerosol levels cannot balance changes in atmospheric and oceanic circulation brought on by higher levels of atmospheric CO2, researchers said....

An 1860 painting by Carl Spitzweg, "The Alchemist"

Friday, January 27, 2012

Big storms require big government

In the indispensable Tom Dispatch, Christian Parenti makes a rousing call for strong regulation and vigorous government intervention in climate matters: ...Without constant government planning and subsidies, American capitalism simply could not have developed as it did, making ours the world’s largest economy....

...And here’s a curious thing: everybody more or less knows all this and yet it is almost never acknowledged. If one were to write the secret history of free enterprise in the United States, one would have to acknowledge that it has always been and remains at least a little bit socialist. However, it’s not considered proper to discuss government planning in open, realistic, and mature terms, so we fail to talk about what government could -- or rather, must -- do to help us meet the future of climate change.

The onset of ever more extreme and repeated weather events is likely to change how we think about the role of the state. But attitudes toward the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which stands behind state and local disaster responses, suggest that we’re hardly at that moment yet. In late 2011, with Americans beleaguered by weather disasters, FEMA came under attack from congressional Republicans, eager to starve it of funds. One look at FEMA explains why.
..The intensification of climate change means that we need to acknowledge the chaotic future we face and start planning for it. Think of what’s coming, if you will, as a kind of storm socialism. ...In the face of an unraveling climate system, there is no way that private enterprise alone will meet the threat. And though small “d” democracy and “community” may be key parts of a strong, functional, and fair society, volunteerism and “self-organization” alone will prove as incapable as private enterprise in responding to the massive challenges now beginning to unfold....

Holly Beach, Louisiana, October 3, 2005 - Ten miles west of Cameron, La., this Gulfside community once alled home by 300 residents now lies in shambles. Hurricane Rita destroyed numerous structures and severely damaged power and utility systems along a long stretch of Highway 27 in lower Cameron Parish. Win Henderson / FEMA

Pakistan's prime minister addresses climate risk

The Nation (Pakistan): Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani Thursday called for a global approach to respond to climate risks in view of vulnerability and inability of developing nation to cope with the challenge.

Participating in an interactive Session on “Adapting to Climate Risk” that focused on how the communities, companies and countries were adapting to the risks posed by climate change, here at the annual 2012 World Economic Forum, Gilani told the participants “We strongly feel that the world must come together with renewed vigour.”

In his address, Gilani said Pakistan has been hit by ‘horrible’ droughts and floods last year and sought a ‘global fund’ to tackle the climate risk issues. He suggested that an important step in this regard would be channelling of finance to the Green Climate Fund, established in Durban last year. The United Nations proposed $100 billion Green Climate Fund was central to agreements reached in 2010 by UN treaty negotiators in Cancun, Mexico.

“It (climate change) is quite visible in my country. We have suffered both drought and heavy rains in past one year. It was horrible, not just by our estimates but also as per the estimates of World Bank and Asian Development Bank,” Gilani said. “There has to be global solution to these problems. The first step we can take is establishing a global fund to tackle the climate risk issues and Pakistan would be happy to partner,” Gilani said. “If the glaciers in Himalayas melt, there will be huge floods in Pakistan.“

...Stressing that developing countries were particularly vulnerable and unable to cope, at their own, with the natural calamities in terms of massive losses to lives and property, the prime minister urged the international community to cooperate in transfer of green technologies and capacity building, besides provision of financial assistance for adaptation projects....

Indus river Flood in Alipur, District Muzaffar Garh, Pakistan- The 2010 Pakistan floods began in late July 2010, resulting from heavy monsoon rains in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh, Punjab and Balochistan regions of Pakistan and affected the Indus River basin. Shot by Aamir Shahzad, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

NASA infrared satellite instrument sees Tropical Storm Iggy growing in strength

Science Daily: The AIRS infrared instrument that flies on NASA's Aqua satellite has been providing forecasters with the cloud top temperatures in the Southern Indian Ocean's ninth tropical cyclone, which has officially been renamed Iggy. AIRS data showed that the area of strong thunderstorms around Iggy's center has expanded in area over the last day.

The Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) instrument provided an infrared snapshot of Iggy's cloud top temperatures on January 26, 2012 at 0611 UTC (1:11 a.m. EST). The AIRS image showed a large and rounded area of high, cold clouds, around the entire center of circulation. The data also showed that strongest convection (rapidly rising air that condenses and forms the thunderstorms that make up the cyclone) is located slightly to the west of the center, because of easterly wind shear. The temperatures of those high cloud tops were colder than -63 Fahrenheit (-51.7 Celsius), which is a threshold scientists use to identify strong thunderstorms with heavy rainfall. This is an indication that Iggy will continue to strengthen.

The AIRS image also showed clouds to the southeast of Iggy that are associated with another low pressure area. That area of disturbed weather is over land and located south-southwest of Darwin.

Iggy is currently located in the Southern Indian Ocean, northwest of Western Australia. At 1500 UTC (10 a.m. EST), Tropical Cyclone Iggy was about 430 nautical miles (~495 miles/~796 km) northwest of Learmonth, Australia, near 16.8 South and 109.0 East. It was moving slowly to the southeast at 5 knots (~6 mph/~9 kph). Iggy's maximum sustained winds are near 45 knots (~52 mph/~83 kph) and it is classified as a tropical storm. Those tropical-storm-force winds extend out to 110 miles (177 km) from the center....

When NASA's Aqua satellite passed over Cyclone Iggy (left) on January 26 at 611 UTC (1:11 a.m. EST) the AIRS instrument measured the cloud (purple) top temperatures. Thunderstorm cloud tops around the entire center of circulation were colder than -63 Fahrenheit (-52.7 Celsius) indicating strong storms. The purple area to the far right is from clouds and showers associated with a low pressure area south-southwest of Darwin, Australia. Credit: NASA/JPL, Ed Olsen

Will West Africa’s drought be a repeat disaster?

Geoffrey York in the Globe and Mail (Toronto): After thousands died needlessly because of the slow response to the Somalia famine last year, the world’s donor nations now face another crisis: a drought in West Africa where up to 500,000 could die if no help arrives.

Failed harvests and lack of rain are affecting millions of people in the Sahel region of eight countries in West Africa. The crisis is made worse by rising food prices and the exodus of 200,000 migrant workers from Libya and Ivory Coast after the wars there.

The United Nations children’s agency, UNICEF, says it needs $100-million this year to save the lives of 500,000 children in the Sahel. It wants to provide food to a million people in the region, and so far it only has the resources to feed half of them.

“We’re buying food as quickly as we can,” said David Gressly, the regional director of UNICEF in West Africa. “Everyone has learned a lesson from the Horn of Africa famine. We’re acting much more quickly this time. We’re going to react in time and save a large number of lives.”...

Singapore raises sea defences against tide of climate change

David Fogarty in Reuters: A 15-km (10 mile) stretch of crisp white beach is one of the key battlegrounds in Singapore's campaign to defend its hard-won territory against rising sea levels linked to climate change.

Stone breakwaters are being enlarged on the low-lying island state's man-made east coast and their heights raised. Barges carrying imported sand top up the beach, which is regularly breached by high tides.

Singapore, the world's second most densely populated country after Monaco, covers 715 square km (276 sq miles). It has already reclaimed large areas to expand its economy and population -- boosting its land area by more than 20 percent since 1960.

But the new land is now the frontline in a long-term battle against the sea. Every square metre is precious in Singapore....

A night view of Bishan in Singapore, shot by Eustaquio Santimano, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Extreme droughts in Spain could increase 15% by 2050

Environmental Protection Online: A team at the Polytechnic University of Cartagena has designed a new method for calculating drought trends. Initial results suggest that by the year 2050 there could be a 15 percent increase compared to the droughts seen in 1990 in the Segura river basin.

At the beginning of 2011, water levels in Spain's reservoirs reached an average of 77.83% of total capacity. However, the lack of rain last year has now reduced the average to 62.01 percent. The droughts that Spain experiences year on year are one of the main concerns of agricultural workers who use up to 80 percent of a reservoir's water for their crops.

A new study at the Polytechnic University of Cartagena (UPCT) has combined recorded data with the results from state-of-the-art regional climate change models to calculate the maximum length of droughts in detail. The results, which have been applied to the Segura river basin, show how "drought periods since the 1980's onwards have notably intensified," according to Sandra García Galiano, one of the authors of the study.

For García Galiano and her team from the UPCT's Water Resources R&D&i group, "semiarid basins, like that of the Segura river, are vulnerable to changes in rainfall. This creates uncertainty for agriculture." The purpose of the study is to "deepen knowledge of plausible draught trends so that this information can then be used to strike a better balance between adaptation and mitigation measures."...

The Bardenas desert, in Navarre. Spain. Shot by Flipao, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Disaster aid faces value-for-money test

Katie Nguyen and Megan Rowling in AlertNet: Picture this: a terrible drought forces you to abandon your meagre plot of farmland, so you migrate to a city where the jobs are, only to end up living in a slum regularly submerged by floods. It's a scenario that's going to become more and more familiar in coming years as climate change and rapid urbanisation play an ever-greater role in shaping humanitarian crises, according to an AlertNet poll of the world's biggest aid organisations.

To adapt to the new reality, aid agencies will need to invest more in disaster prevention and learn a trick or two from the private sector about how to make more efficient use of limited resources, the survey of 41 relief organisations shows. "The rising trend in the number of disasters over the past five years shows no sign of slowing down," said Gareth Owen, humanitarian director at Save the Children UK.

"Year on year, we are responding more frequently and on a larger scale to increasing numbers of disasters." Asked to rank the factors most likely to intensify humanitarian needs, 28 of 41 aid agencies put the risk of more frequent and destructive climate-related floods, droughts and storms at the top.

This was followed by mass displacement due to climate change and environmental damage, urbanisation, high and volatile food prices, and the expectation of more failing states. With needs expected to grow and national budgets squeezed by the global financial crisis, some rich donor states are pressing the charities they fund to boost value for money in relief efforts.

...More than half the agencies said focusing more on disaster risk reduction (DRR) -- everything from building more durable houses and schools in safer places to teaching children to swim -- would help the sector cope better in the long run....

A woman in Sri Lanka rescued during 2008 flooding, shot by trokilinochchi, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Flooding rated as worst climate change threat facing UK

Juliette Jowitt in the Guardian (UK): Flooding is the greatest threat to the UK posed by climate change, with up to 3.6 million people at risk by the middle of the century, according to a report published on Thursday by the environment department.

The first comprehensive climate change risk assessment for the UK identifies hundreds of ways rising global temperatures will have an impact if no action is taken. They include the financial damage caused by flooding, which would increase to £2bn-£10bn a year by 2080, more deaths in heatwaves, and large-scale water shortages by mid-century.

Unusually for such documents, it also highlighted ways in which the country could benefit from milder winters and drier summers, such as fewer cold-related deaths, better wheat crops and a more attractive climate for tourists. "If you had to pick one particular issue I think the flooding issue is the most dominant," said Sir Bob Watson, chief scientist at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Lord John Krebs, chairman of the adaptation committee of the independent advisory group Committee on Climate Change, said that without planning and investment to deal with the threats the UK would "sleepwalk into disaster". ... Scientists and other experts, led by Defra, identified 700 impacts of climate change in the UK, including the possibility of refugees arriving from wars over dwindling water and food....

A flooded oast house in Littlebourne, in the UK floods of 2000, shot by Nick Smith, Wikimedia Commons via Geograph UK, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Drought threatens Argentina

Marcela Valente in IPS: The low humidity in Argentina's most agriculturally productive region has already caused a decline in grain yield - in particular corn and soybean - with ensuing losses for producers and the government.

So far, this austral summer's drought has been less intense than the one that affected the 2008-2009 harvest. That drought, which was the worst in the last 100 years, caused a more than 37-percent drop in agricultural production and resulted in livestock losses. However, and even with the respite afforded by the rains that finally fell in recent days, grain production, exports and revenue collection are expected to fall.

Cereals account for 38 percent of all foreign sales in Argentina, not counting agricultural processed goods. "A record production of 111 million tonnes of grain had been projected for this year, but with the current lack of rainfall, estimates are down to 97 million for now," analyst Gustavo López, of the consultancy firm Agritrend Argentina, told IPS.

López said that right now the "most compromised" grain was corn, with marked losses that could not be reversed even if heavy rains came, and he could not rule out the possibility that the 2008-2009 losses would be repeated. Argentina is the second largest corn exporter in the world after the United States. In 2011, 23 million tonnes of corn were harvested, and 29 million were initially projected for this year, but López said a more accurate estimate now would be 22 million, at best....

Corn growing in Argentina, shot by Maggilautaro, Wikimedia Commons, nder the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Even worse Thai flood crisis this year unless government is decisive

Asia One: Water experts yesterday urged the government to be decisive about flood-prevention measures in order to prevent a repeat of last year's severe flooding, as the La Nina phenomenon is expected to bring early rains and more storms this year. They expressed concern that a lack of clear decisions from the government would leave the flood-prevention efforts in disarray.

Seree Supharatid, director of Rangsit University's Centre on Climate Change and Disaster, warned that due to the La Nina climatic phenomenon, early rainfalls were expected between March and May, which would force dams to release water from their reservoirs. He said major dams such as Bhumibol and Sirikit were holding water at 90 per cent of their capacity.

Although there would be fewer rains between September and November, storms were likely towards the latter part of the year, given the statistics over the past five decades. "There will also be many storms this year," Seree said.

"If this year's water volume is as much as last year's, I believe floods will be inevitable. We cannot implement flood-prevention measures in the short term. The negotiation over floodways has hit snags," he said, referring to opposition to a plan to designate certain farming areas as floodways....

In October, 2011, volunteers and members of the Royal Thai Army, military police, fill and place sandbags to redirect flooding in the northern Sai Mai district.U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Robert J. Maurer

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Unprecedented, man-made trends in oceans acidity

The Hawaii Reporter: Nearly one-third of CO2 emissions due to human activities enters the world’s oceans. By reacting with seawater, CO2 increases the water’s acidity, which may significantly reduce the calcification rate of such marine organisms as corals and mollusks, resulting in the potential loss of ecosystems. The extent to which human activities have raised the surface level of acidity, however, has been difficult to detect on regional scales because it varies naturally from one season and one year to the next, and between regions, and direct observations go back only 30 years.

By combining computer modeling with observations, an international team of scientists concluded that anthropogenic CO2 emissions, resulting from the influence of human beings, over the last 100 to 200 years have already raised ocean acidity far beyond the range of natural variations. The study is published in the January 22, 2012 online issue of Nature Climate Change.

The team of climate modelers, marine conservationists, ocean chemists, biologists and ecologists, led by Tobias Friedrich and Axel Timmermann at the International Pacific Research Center at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, came to their conclusions by using Earth system models that simulate climate and ocean conditions 21,000 years back in time, to the Last Glacial Maximum, and forward in time to the end of the 21st century. In their models, they studied changes in the saturation level of aragonite (a form of calcium carbonate) typically used to measure ocean acidification.

As acidity of seawater rises, the saturation level of aragonite drops. Their models captured the current observed seasonal and annual variations in this quantity in several key coral reef regions.

Today’s levels of aragonite saturation in these locations have already dropped five times below the pre-industrial range of natural variability. For example, if the yearly cycle in aragonite saturation varied between 4.7 and 4.8, it varies now between 4.2 and 4.3, which – based on another recent study – may translate into a decrease in overall calcification rates of corals and other aragonite shell-forming organisms by 15%. Given the continued human use of fossil fuels, the saturation levels will drop further, potentially reducing calcification rates of some marine organisms by more than 40% of their pre-industrial values within the next 90 years.

“Any significant drop below the minimum level of aragonite to which the organisms have been exposed to for thousands of years and have successfully adapted will very likely stress them and their associated ecosystems,” said lead author Friedrich...

An illustration of some coral from the Austrian National Library, Kommentar von Otto Mazal (S. 47 und 52) in: Pedanius Dioscorides – Der Wiener Dioskurides, Codex medicus Graecus 1 der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek, Graz: Akademische Druck- und Verlagsanstalt 1998 (Band 2). ISBN 3-201-01725-6

Restored wetlands rarely equal condition of original wetlands

Science Daily: Wetland restoration is a billion-dollar-a-year industry in the United States that aims to create ecosystems similar to those that disappeared over the past century. But a new analysis of restoration projects shows that restored wetlands seldom reach the quality of a natural wetland.

"Once you degrade a wetland, it doesn't recover its normal assemblage of plants or its rich stores of organic soil carbon, which both affect natural cycles of water and nutrients, for many years," said David Moreno-Mateos, a University of California, Berkeley, postdoctoral fellow. "Even after 100 years, the restored wetland is still different from what was there before, and it may never recover."

Moreno-Mateos's analysis calls into question a common mitigation strategy exploited by land developers: create a new wetland to replace a wetland that will be destroyed and the land put to other uses. At a time of accelerated climate change caused by increased carbon entering the atmosphere, carbon storage in wetlands is increasingly important, he said.

"Wetlands accumulate a lot of carbon, so when you dry up a wetland for agricultural use or to build houses, you are just pouring this carbon into the atmosphere," he said. "If we keep degrading or destroying wetlands, for example through the use of mitigation banks, it is going to take centuries to recover the carbon we are losing."

...Wetlands provide many societal benefits, Moreno-Mateos noted, such as biodiversity conservation, fish production, water purification, erosion control and carbon storage...

A wetlands in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany, shot by Graph Geo, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Advancing agricultural adaptation and mitigation

SciDev.net: [A] policy brief, published by Science, examines how agricultural science can help improve policies for climate change adaptation and mitigation. Global food production must rise to meet global food needs, but predicted increases in extreme weather events — combined with stresses such as poverty, conflict and weak governance — threaten food security. At the same time, agricultural practices such as inappropriate fertiliser use and land clearing release greenhouse gases and exacerbate climate change.

Agricultural practices that can reduce emissions and improve yields under extreme weather conditions exist — but progress on national and global policies to support them has been sluggish, say the authors, led by John Beddington. ...Looking ahead, the brief suggests six areas where science can contribute to policy progress along the lines of priorities identified by the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change.

First, it calls for common definitions on widely used terms such as "climate-smart agriculture" and "sustainable intensification", to contribute to a common understanding of how they help achieve adaptation and mitigation goals. And as agriculture is considered a driver of deforestation, scientists must be clearer when describing strategies involving both agriculture and forestry.

Global monitoring and new information systems will be needed to provide location-specific estimates of the risks and benefits of proposed policies, say the authors. ... Scientists will also need to document how farmers, industry, consumers and governments can scale up the benefits they receive from sustainable farming practices — and this will need integrated research and a better understanding of what works in different regions.

Finally, science can help develop processes that allow climate funds to be invested into agricultural adaptation and mitigation, steering investments towards "climate-smart" agriculture at a national level....

A plowed field in Poland, shot by Krzysztof T. miw, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Nigeria's eroding coast

Jude Njoku in AllAfrica.com via the Vanguard (Nigeria): Mr. Azuka Ezemakam lived in Alpha Beach Estate in the highbrow Lekki Peninsula area of Lagos until June last year, when coastal erosion in the once serene neighbourhood forced him to relocate from the estate he had lived in for eight years.

..."It happened at the time the first phase of Eko Atlantic City project was being commissioned. I left for my safety because the surge was too much. All the access roads to the estate have vanished; electricity poles were taken away and you must drive through people's houses to get access to your own building. It came to a point that I wasn't sure of my safety any more.

...Mr. Ezemakam spoke at a one-day Roundtable on Climate Change Adaptation in Lagos: Eko Atlantic City- Dream for Few or Nightmare for Many? organised by Heinrich Boll Stiftung in Nigeria. Mr. Gbenga Okunsanyo of the Ocean Surge Committee, Goshen Beach Estate also painted a similar picture of the plight of residents of the estate, allegedly due to the ongoing reclamation of land for the building of highbrow multi-billion dollar Eko Atlantic City.

But a climatologist, Prof. Emmanuel Oladipo stated that it would be wrong to attribute the plight of residents of both estates to the ongoing reclamation of land for the Eko Atlantic City project, because coastal erosion had started in both estates prior to the commencement of work at Eko Atlantic. He however agreed that when one area is eroded, another area is bound to benefit as sand is deposited in the new area....

The Atlantic coastline in Lagos, shot by Contimm, Wikimedia Commons, public domain

Coping with climate change, through resilience

IRIN: In the past five years, “resilience” (the ability to absorb shocks and recover) has become quite a buzzword in the aid community. Discussions on adapting to a changing climate are increasingly peppered with the “need to build resilience” of people, infrastructure and governments in the face of shocks such as soaring temperatures, rising sea levels, severe storms and flooding.

...What does resilience mean in the aid world? Some call it just another addition to the growing aid jargon. But mostly people call it a new approach, a “lens”, which has given new meaning to “sustainable development”.

Maarten van Aalst, director of the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre and co-ordinating lead author of the summary of the special report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change (SREX) produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2011 explains it thus: Under the conventional sustainable development approach, if a road had to be constructed in a rural area, benefits - such as the impact on the lives of the communities living alongside, creation of job opportunities from the maintenance of the road and development of markets for the farming community - would have been taken into consideration.

This is what Peter Walker, a leading aid expert, calls the “linear” approach. The old development models “made projections into the future from recent trends and assumed that, all other things being equal, life would get better”.

But with a resilience lens on, the government or aid agency responsible for the road will consider the possibility of external shocks or unexpected developments that might affect the road and people’s lives. “What if the area becomes prone to floods or if there is an earthquake, what if food prices increase because the contractors are better off than the local population? [These] would be some of the factors that the project would now consider,” explains Van Aalst....

Two ducks, shot by Gilbert Liu, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Major study of ocean acidification helps scientists evaluate effects of atmospheric carbon dioxide on marine life

UC Santa Barbara Office of Public Affairs: Might a penguin's next meal be affected by the exhaust from your tailpipe? The answer may be yes, when you add your exhaust fumes to the total amount of carbon dioxide lofted into the atmosphere by humans since the industrial revolution. One-third of that carbon dioxide is absorbed by the world's oceans, making them more acidic and affecting marine life.

A UC Santa Barbara marine scientist and a team of 18 other researchers have reported results of the broadest worldwide study of ocean acidification to date. Acidification is known to be a direct result of the increasing amount of greenhouse gas emissions. The scientists used sensors developed at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego to measure the acidity of 15 ocean locations, including seawater in the Antarctic, and in temperate and tropical waters.

As oceans become more acidic, with a lower pH, marine organisms are stressed and entire ecosystems are affected, according to the scientists. Gretchen E. Hofmann, an eco-physiologist and professor in UCSB's Department of Ecology, Evolution & Marine Biology, is lead author of the recent article in PLoS ONE that describes the research.

..."The emerging pH data from sensors allows us to design lab experiments that have a present-day environmental context," said Hofmann. "The experiments will allow us to see how organisms are adapted now, and how they might respond to climate change in the future."

....The researchers found that, in some places such as Antarctica and the Line Islands of the South Pacific, the range of pH variance is much more limited than in areas of the California coast that are subject to large vertical movements of water, known as upwellings. In some of the study areas, the researchers found that the decrease in seawater pH being caused by greenhouse gas emissions is still within the bounds of natural pH fluctuation. Other areas already experience daily acidity levels that scientists had expected would only be reached at the end of this century.....

UCSB graduate student Emily Rivest positions a SeaFET pH sensor in a coral reef off the island of Moorea, in French Polynesia. TThe reefs surrounding the island of Moorea are home to UCSB's Coral Reef Long-Term Ecological Research site (MCR LTER). Credit: Anderson Mayfield

Definite trend of underinsurance in South African agriculture

Janine Noble in ITINews via CIB Insurance Administrators (South Africa): Severe weather conditions recently recorded throughout South Africa, such as the heat wave and fires in the Western Cape and erratic rainfall in the Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces, has highlighted the urgent need for farmers to reassess their risk management processes.

This is according to Jonjon Smit, Director at CIB Insurance Administrators, who says that climate change and unpredictable weather patterns will continue to threaten the financial survival of farmers who do not have effective risk management policies in place in 2012.

...He says that underestimating the replacement value of farming equipment, combined with a failure to regularly review their policies, means that the percentage of South Africa's farmers who are underinsured could be as high as 70%.

"There is a definite trend of underinsurance in the agriculture industry," says Smit. "Based on our claims experience, we estimate that between 60% and 70% of farmers are underinsuring their key assets. The result is that many farmers could face financial ruin if they are unable to afford to replace these assets."...

A pumpkin harvest in South Africa, shot by NJR ZA, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Agriculture in a changing environment

IRIN: Agriculture has been seen either as a cause or victim of global warming at the UN climate change talks over the past few years - something that has thwarted efforts to attract the investment it needs, say scientists.

Some at the talks see a more dominant role for agriculture - an emitter of major greenhouses gases such as nitrous oxide and methane - in reducing global warming. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates agricultural emissions account for 13.5 percent of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions.

At the same time, poor countries want more money and better technology to help farmers adapt to the impact of climate change such as frequent droughts, flooding and increased salinity. “It is really a bad split for agriculture,” said John Beddington, the UK’s chief scientific adviser, and one of the authors of a paper calling for a more integrated approach, combining mitigation and adaptation efforts.

The paper, published in the current edition of Science with contributions from several scientists, calls for a better understanding of agricultural practices with the aim of delivering multiple benefits - reducing emissions, helping agriculture to adapt, and using limited resources (like water) efficiently.

One model to emulate could be Denmark, where one of the world’s strictest agriculture control systems is in place - including, for example, the use of environmentally friendly practices such as substituting pig slurry (pig waste and water) for artificial fertilizers. The country has managed not only to reduce emissions from agriculture by 28 percent but also increase productivity. This kind of win-win agriculture would attract more funding from a wider range of sources, said Beddington....

A 1948 photo of a Danish farm

New study predicts declining range land in California

David Gabel in Environmental News Network: Duke University researchers have predicted that climate change in California will result in a declining percentage of rangeland. Such a change will have widespread impact on the state's large cattle industry of California's Central Valley. No matter if climate change will cause wetter or drier weather, available pasture will decline. Forage areas, known as one of nature's free services, may no longer be so free. The grasses will either wither as arid conditions creep north, or be pushed out as inedible shrubs and brush take over.

The study has been published in the journal, Climatic Change, by Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment in conjunction with the Environmental Defense Fund. The change in the rangeland ecosystem is expected to occur gradually over the coming century. Total costs expected to hit California ranchers over the next sixty years may be as high as $209 million a year if the ecosystem dries up.

Less grazing land will mean smaller herds, and less productive herds. Movement of cattle will also be much more difficult because of highways and suburban sprawl....

A black cow in Fremont, California, shot by Mark J Sebastian, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license