Friday, May 31, 2013

Tornado, flood watches for mid-US after 9 injured by twisters

John Newland in NBC News: Severe thunderstorms packing high winds, heavy rains, large hail and possibly tornadoes threatened much of Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma on Friday, a day after tornadoes in the two states injured nine people.

Tornado watches were in effect Friday morning across much of Arkansas, extending into southern Missouri and eastern Oklahoma, according to the National Weather Service. Strong storms with potential to produce large hail were simultaneously forming to the north, in northeastern Kansas and northwestern Missouri, the weather service said.

A slight risk of severe thunderstorms extended from northern Texas to the Great Lakes in a 300,000-square-mile swath home to 42 million people and major cities including Chicago, Detroit, Kansas City, Milwaukee and Indianapolis, the service said.

On Thursday, two tornadoes were confirmed in Oklahoma and a third struck in Arkansas, with it and accompanying storms injuring nine people, according to weather.com, which said two people were injured in Rogers, Ark., from a lightning strike.

Because the storms mostly struck after dark, damage had not been fully assessed. Many more severe storms were reported, however. The weather service logged 16 reports of tornadoes in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Illinois and said a house was reported to have been destroyed, injuring two people, in Oden, Ark. Three people were reported injured in Pike County, Ark., where a mobile home was destroyed and at least three houses were damaged....

Category F5 tornado (upgraded from initial estimate of F4) viewed from the southeast as it approached Elie, Manitoba on Friday, June 22nd, 2007. Shot by Justin Hobson (Justin1569 at en.wikipedia), Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Disaster risk reduction science urged to show its worth

Jan Piotrowski in SciDev.net: Scientists must develop an interdisciplinary approach to disaster risk reduction (DRR) research and show how their work can inform policy creation and delivery, a report says.  Policymakers require evidence that science can provide comprehensive solutions to specific problems and aid all levels of the decision-making process, says Virginia Murray, head of extreme events and health protection at Public Health England, United Kingdom, and an author of the report.

"We are not making enough of an impact. Not all policymakers are using scientific evidence," she tells SciDev.Net.

The report by the Scientific and Technical Advisory Group of the UN's Office for Disaster Risk Reduction was unveiled last week (22 May) during the UN-organised Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction meeting in Geneva, Switzerland.

It draws on ten case studies, such as developing tsunami-warning systems for the Indian Ocean region and rain-monitoring technology in the Sahel, to illustrate how science can contribute to DRR.

The report says that there are four critical stages of tackling an issue: defining the problem, understanding the problem, driving policy and application, and producing benefits — with science potentially playing a major role in each....

Enhancing the resilience of tourism-reliant communities to climate change risks

E-Travel Blackboard: On Wednesday, 29th May 2013, the Honorable Prime Minister, the Ministries of Finance, and Natural Resources and Environment together with the United Nations Development Programme in Samoa held a joint event to sign the project “Enhancing the resilience of tourism-reliant communities to Climate Change risks”.

The programme is funded through the Global Environment Facility with a total of US$ 1.950.000 and implemented through the Samoa Tourism Authority with its partner stakeholders in close collaboration with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment who is the Operational Focal Point for the Global Environment Facility and administered by the United Nations Development Programme Multi-Country Office of Samoa. Furthermore, this project will be implemented with all relevant partner stakeholders as well as Samoa’s bi-lateral development partners which will be providing co – financing.

The main objective of the project is to increase the resilience of the tourism sector of Samoa through mainstreaming climate change risks into tourism-related policy processes and adaptation actions in coastal communities and tourism operations.

The communites have critical concerns about the effects of climate change which range from fluctuating food production, impacts of drought, coastal erosion, coastal and river flooding as well as water quality and availability, more vector-borne and water-borne diseases, higher risk of forest fires, damage to low-lying infrastructure, and land loss....

A meeting house on Manono Island, Samoa, shot by Sonja Pieper, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license 

Equity takes center stage

Jaspreet Kindra in IRIN: As aid officials haggle over ways to reduce developing countries’ disasters risks, they are increasingly looking to target the inequalities that make some communities more vulnerable than others.

These inequalities fell under the spotlight at the recently concluded Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in Geneva, a meeting that considered a successor to the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA), the global plan to make the world safer from natural hazards, which concludes in 2015. The new action plan, the Hyogo Framework for Action 2 (HFA2), is still under negotiation, and a key part of these talks has explored how to address inequality and discrimination.

There is “growing consensus” among NGO and UN agencies that tackling “common root causes - discrimination (social exclusion) on all sorts of bases (religion, caste, ethnicity, national origin, gender, age, etc.) - and unequal access to many kinds of resources, especially land grabs” has to be the core issue addressed by the post-2015 development agenda, noted disaster expert Ben Wisner told IRIN via email.

But Tom Mitchell, head of the climate change programme at the UK’s Overseas Development Institute (ODI), says addressing inequalities is not new; it was on the agenda when the HFA was being discussed in 2004. He says the fact that the issue is still alive reflects the failure of development strategies, such as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), to eradicate these inequalities.

NGOs like Oxfam and ActionAid, which have advocated for these issues to take centre stage, have raised the topic again at the Global Platform.  “Countries with higher income inequality have populations that are more vulnerable to climate change, natural hazards and conflict,” Debbie Hillier, Oxfam’s humanitarian aid advisor, told IRIN. The poorest communities often live in fragile environments like river banks, and in housing constructed with cheap building materials. They lack insurance to cover losses....

An aerial view of a Nairobi slum, shot by John Storr, public domain

US discovery of rogue GMO wheat raises concerns over controls

Carey Gillam and Julie Ingwersen in Reuters: For global consumers now on high alert over a rogue strain of genetically modified wheat found in Oregon, the question is simple: How could this happen? For a cadre of critics of biotech crops, the question is different: How could it not?

The questions arose after the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Wednesday that it was investigating the mysterious appearance of experimental, unapproved genetically engineered wheat plants on a farm in Oregon. The wheat was developed years ago by Monsanto Co to tolerate its Roundup herbicide, but the world's largest seed company scrapped the project and ended all field trials in 2004.

The incident joins a score of episodes in which biotech crops have eluded efforts to segregate them from conventional varieties. But it marks the first time that a test strain of wheat, which has no genetically modified varieties on the market, has escaped the protocols set up by U.S. regulators to control it.

"These requirements are leaky and there is just no doubt about that. There is a fundamental problem with the system," said Doug Gurian-Sherman, a scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists who served on a biotech advisory subcommittee for the Food and Drug Administration from 2002 to 2005.

The discovery instantly roiled export markets, with Japan canceling a major shipment of wheat, a quick reminder of what is at stake - an $8 billion U.S. wheat export business....

Wheat image by Aalang, Wikimedia Commons,  under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Small dams on Chinese river harm environment more than expected

Space Daily via SPX: A fresh look at the environmental impacts of dams on an ecologically diverse and partially protected river in China found that small dams can pose a greater threat to ecosystems and natural landscapes than large dams.

Although large dams are generally considered more harmful than their smaller counterparts, the research team's surveys of habitat loss and damage at several dam sites on the Nu River and its tributaries in Yunnan Province revealed that, watt- for-watt, the environmental harm from small dams was often greater -- sometimes by several orders of magnitude -- than from large dams.

Because of undesirable social, environmental, and political implications, the construction of large dams often stirs controversy. Current policies in China and many other nations encourage the growth of the small hydropower sector.

But, "small dams have hidden detrimental effects, particularly when effects accumulate" through multiple dam sites, said Kelly Kibler, a water resources engineer who led this study as part of her PhD research while at Oregon State University in Corvallis.

That is one of the main outcomes of this paper, to demonstrate that the perceived absence of negative effects from small hydropower is not always correct."...

Tiger Leaping Gorge in Yunnan, shot by Tdxiang, public domain

Experts push ethical case for climate adaptation policies

David Dickson in SciDev.net: The strong ethical case for governments and individuals to help communities adapt to the threats of climate change — on top of purely practical or political factors — is emphasised in a report by the top UN committee responsible for monitoring science ethics.

Climate adaptation policies need to acknowledge and express ethical principles already enshrined in international agreements, according to the report approved yesterday (29 May) by the World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology (COMEST) at a meeting in Bratislava, Slovakia.

Such principles include the need to avoid causing unnecessary harm, to treat all individuals fairly and to provide equitable access to a decent standard of living, says the commission, which operates under the auspices of UNESCO (the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).

The principles also include the need to recognise the right to access and benefit from scientific information, which could strengthen poorer developing countries' demands for access to climate data obtained by richer nations using complex or expensive monitoring equipment.

"The report sets out what anyone who is involved in policymaking on climate change adaptation should be responsible for," said Rainier Iban[ez], chair of the philosophy department of the Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines, as well as of the COMEST working group on environmental ethics, which produced the report....

A photo of Edward Onslow Ford's statue of Justice, part of a monument to the Maharajah of Mysore

Forest and soil carbon is important but does not offset fossil fuel emissions

EurekAlert via Griffith University: Leading world climate change experts have thrown cold water on the idea that planting trees can offset carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels. Professor Brendan Mackey of Griffith University Climate Change Response Program is the lead author of an international study involving researchers from Australia and the U.K. Their findings are reported in "Untangling the confusion around land carbon science and climate change mitigation policy", published in the scientific journal Nature Climate Change.

"While protecting and restoring natural forests is part of the solution, the reality is that for all practical purposes fossil fuel CO2 emissions are irreversible," Professor Mackey said. The findings highlight the urgent need for policy-makers worldwide to re-think the issue as many decision-makers, national and internationally, assume that fossil fuel emissions can be offset through sequestering carbon by planting trees and other land management practices.

"There is a danger in believing that land carbon sinks can solve the problem of atmospheric carbon emissions because this legitimises the ongoing use of fossil fuels", Professor Mackey said. The study found that protecting natural forests avoids emissions that would otherwise result from logging and land clearing while also conserving biodiversity. Restoring degraded ecosystems or planting new forests helps store some of the carbon dioxide that was emitted from past land use activities.

"These land management actions should be rewarded as they are an important part of the solution," Professor Mackay said. "However, no amount of reafforestation or growing of new trees will ultimately off-set continuing CO2 emissions due to environmental constraints on plant growth and the large amounts of remaining fossil fuel reserves.

"Unfortunately there is no option but to cut fossil fuel emissions deeply as about a third of the CO2 stays in the atmosphere for 2 to 20 millennia."...

Winter forest near Budapest, shot by Takkk, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Fast-sinking jellyfish could boost the oceans’ uptake of carbon dioxide

The Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research (Kiel):  How much more carbon dioxide (CO2) will the oceans be able to take up? To find out more about the efficiency of this service, scientists estimate the sinking velocities of organisms involved in the biological pump. Increasing numbers of gelatinous plankton might help in mitigating the CO2 problem. In field and laboratory experiments scientists from GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel have shown that dead jellyfish and pelagic tunicates sink much faster than phytoplankton and marine snow remains. Jellies are especially important because they rapidly consume plankton and particles and quickly export biomass and carbon to the ocean interior.

...To assess the efficiency of the biological carbon pump, data on sinking velocities of the different species are necessary. Together with colleagues from Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States, Dr. Mario Lebrato, Biological Oceanographer in Prof. Andreas Oschlies’ group at GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, conducted field and laboratory experiments with gelatinous plankton remains. Their latest article in the international magazine “Limnology and Oceanography” describes for the first time the sinking speed of organic remains from jellyfish and pelagic tunicates. Together with a previous article in the same journal that calculated biomass export efficiency for these organisms for the first time, these new data allow robust estimates of global carbon export associated with gelatinous plankton.

...“Our dataset provides an initial overview and comparison for modelers and experimentalists to use in subsequent studies examining the role of jellies in carbon export and the efficiency of the biological pump”, Lebrato says. “We are continuously asked, how much organic carbon and CO2 do gelatinous plankton sink worldwide, whether their export capacities are similar to phytoplankton and marine snow. And if an increase of jellyfish in the future will enhance organic carbon export and CO2 sequestration. Until recently, few people believed that jelly organisms could play any major role in the carbon cycle, thus they have been excluded from large biogeochemical research programs. In consequence, the data available up to now are scarce and we are just starting to comprehend the fundamental properties that will allow us to better understand the role of jellyfish and pelagic tunicates in the global carbon cycle.”

Accumulation of pelagic jellies. New experiments indicates that fast-sinking jellyfish could boost the oceans’ uptake of carbon dioxide. Photo: Veronica Fuentes, found on the GEOMAR website

New report reveals the ten US areas facing the highest climate-related risk of water shortages

Growing Blue: A new report from the Columbia University Water Center, in conjunction with Veolia Water and Growing Blue, reveals that businesses and cities in some of America’s most iconic regions are now under even greater risk of water scarcity.

“All cities and all businesses require water, yet in many regions, they need more water than is actually available – and that demand is growing,” said Upmanu Lall, director, Columbia Water Center. “In response, many tools have been developed to help businesses assess their water risk. But these tools actually understate the risk of climate variations. The new study reveals that certain areas face exposure to drought, which will magnify existing problems of water supply and demand.”

By utilizing a new water research metric called the Normalized Deficit Cumulated (NDC) index in the America’s Water Risk: Water Stress and Climate Variability study, Columbia was able to estimate measures of water risk to the nation’s major cities and agricultural regions.

Columbia developed the NDC as a risk metric for evaluating historical periods of drought, using more than 60 years of precipitation and the current water use pattern for U.S. counties. As a result, the NDC measurement tool reveals a more accurate depiction of the discrepancy between water use and water availability.

“Research already proves that the demands on our water systems, both urban and rural, have never been greater,” said Ed Pinero, chief sustainability officer for Veolia Water. “And in some very populated areas, this new research shows that the risk of water shortages has never been higher.”

The U.S. metropolitan areas of Washington, D.C.; New York City; Los Angeles and San Diego are of greatest concern, which could impact approximately 40 million Americans. Numerous counties in 46 states are also facing the same challenge of experiencing drought-induced shortages. Joining the metro areas on the list are the breadbasket regions of Nebraska, Illinois and Minnesota, which produce almost 40 percent of the nation’s corn, a key ingredient in many of our foods and an essential feed source for livestock...

The Croton Reservoir supplies New York City, shot by Daniel Case, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Sea level could rise five feet in New York City by 2100

Mark Fischetti in Scientific American: By 2100 devastating flooding of the sort that Superstorm Sandy unleashed on New York City could happen every two years all along the valuable and densely populated U.S. east coast—anywhere from Boston to Miami. And unless extreme protection measures are implemented, people could again die.

Hyperbole? Hardly. Even though Sandy’s storm surge was exceptionally high, if sea level rises as much as scientists agree is likely, even routine storms could cause similar destruction. Old, conservative estimates put the increase at two feet (0.6 meter) higher than the 2000 level by 2100. That number did not include any increase in ice melting from Greenland or Antarctica—yet in December new data showed that temperatures in Antarctica are rising three times faster than the rate used in the conservative models. Accelerated melting has also been reported in Greenland. Under what scientists call the rapid ice-melt scenario, global sea level would rise four feet (1.2 meters by the 2080s, according to Klaus Jacob, a research scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont–Doherty Earth Observatory. In New York City by 2100 “it will be five feet, plus or minus one foot,” Jacob says.

Skeptics doubt that number, but the science is solid. The projection comes in part from the realization that the ocean does not rise equally around the planet. The coast from Cape Cod near Boston to Cape Hatteras in North Carolina is a hot spot—figuratively and literally. In 2012 Asbury Sallenger, a coastal hazards expert at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), reported that for the prior 60 years sea level along that section of the Atlantic coast had increased three to four times faster than the global average. Looking ahead to 2100, Sallenger indicated that the region would experience 12 to 24 centimeters—4.7 to 9.4 inches—of sea level rise above and beyond the average global increase.

Sallenger (who died in February) was careful to point out that the surplus was related only to ocean changes—such as expansion of water due to higher temperature as well as adjustments to the Gulf Stream running up along the coast brought about by melting Arctic ice—not changes to the land. Unfortunately, that land is also subsiding....

The Brooklyn Battery Tunnel after Hurricane Sandy, October 30, 2012. Photo by Metropolitan Transportation Authority of the State of New York, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Tracking the earth’s mantle -- and sea level rise

Rob Enslin in Syracuse University News: From Virginia to Florida, there is a prehistoric shoreline that, in some parts, rests more than 280 feet above modern sea level. The shoreline was carved by waves more than 3 million years ago—possible evidence of a once higher sea level, triggered by ice-sheet melting. But new findings by a team of researchers, including Robert Moucha, assistant professor of Earth Sciences in The College of Arts and Sciences, reveal that the shoreline has been uplifted by more than 210 feet, meaning less ice melted than expected.

Equally compelling is the fact that the shoreline is not flat, as it should be, but is distorted, reflecting the pushing motion of the Earth’s mantle. This is big news, says Moucha, for scientists who use the coastline to predict future sea-level rise. It’s also a cautionary tale for those who rely almost exclusively on cycles of glacial advance and retreat to study sea-level changes.

“Three million years ago, the average global temperature was two to three degrees Celsius higher, while the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was comparable to that of today,” says Moucha, who contributed to a paper on the subject in the May 15 issue of Science Express. “If we can estimate the height of the sea from 3 million years ago, we can then relate it to the amount of ice sheets that melted. This period also serves as a window into what we may expect in the future.”

Moucha and his colleagues—led by David Rowley, professor of geophysical sciences at the University of Chicago—have been using computer modeling to pinpoint exactly what melted during this interglacial period, some 3 million years ago. So far, evidenced is stacked in favor of Greenland, West Antarctica and the sprawling East Antarctica ice sheet, but the new shoreline uplift implies that East Antarctica may have melted some or not at all. “It’s less than previous estimates had implied,” says Rowley, the article’s lead author.

Moucha’s findings show that the jagged shoreline may have been caused by the interplay between the Earth’s surface and its mantle—a process known as dynamic topography. Advanced modeling suggests that the shoreline, referred to as the Orangeburg Scarp, may have shifted as much as 196 feet. Modeling also accounts for other effects, such as the buildup of offshore sediments and glacial retreats.

“Dynamic topography is a very important contributor to Earth’s surface evolution,” says Rowley. “With this work, we can demonstrate that even small-scale features, long considered outside the realm of mantle influence, are reflective of mantle contributions.”...

The East Coast shoreline, also known as the Orangeburg Scarp, as it may have appeared 3 million years ago. From the Syracuse University website

Poland dumps old garbage system for greener setup

Terra Daily via AFP: With too many people chucking their garbage into neighbours' bins -- or worse, the woods -- to avoid paying for disposal, Poland has taken on a massive overhaul of its laissez-faire waste management system. The new greener setup, which enters into force in July, will lower the incentive to litter by requiring everyone to pay a municipal disposal tax for a service that up to now has been left up to each household to coordinate.

While Poland has a long way to go to catch up to green superstars like Austria or Germany -- which recycle or compost over 60 percent of their rubbish -- the new system should help bring Warsaw into line with EU norms. "It will be revolutionary," says Tadeusz Arkit, head of a parliamentary commission in charge of waste management for the EU member of 38 million people.

Present laws leave it up to each household and business to sign a contract with one of the many garbage collection companies, but the model has proven difficult to implement and oversee. The system is "fair in theory" because everyone pays for his own share, Arkit told AFP. "But it's not effective since there are many people who, to avoid paying, dump their trash into others' garbage bins or toss it outdoors."

Last year, the European Commission rapped Poland and 11 other eastern and southern EU members for lagging on the environmental front....

A garbabe can in Brynow, Poland, shot by Piotrus, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license 

In Gambia, FAO trains farmers on DRR, climate change

Samba Jawo in AllAfrica.com via the Daily Observer (Banjul, Gambia): The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) recently held a two-day capacity building for farmers on Disaster Risk Reduction and adaptation to climate change at Somita Mixed Farming Centre in Foni, West Coast Region.

Representing the FAO country representative in Banjul, the assistant representative of FAO, Mariatou Faal-Njie, said climate change is a threat to food security. She therefore noted the importance of building the capacities of farmers on how to combat, prevent and mitigate climate change at community level.

Madam Faal-Njie said the focus of the training is to ensure that they build the capacity of communities and targeted vulnerable households and people, as a fundamental mechanism to address their low resilience to hazards such as drought and floods.

Essa Khan, FAO disaster risk reduction consultant, recalled that Gambia government, represented by the Ministry of Agriculture, signed a Technical Cooperation Programme (TCP) with FAO in response to 2011 crop failure and 2012 severe whether condition in The Gambia.

This TCP, he said, enabled FAO to provide emergency assistance to households in the forms of seeds and fertilizer in order to restore their productive capacity. "However, given the phenomenon of successive droughts and floods such emergency assistance is important and relevant but their sustainability in the face of environmental risk factors cannot be guaranteed," he stated. Khan went on to outline the risk factors, which he said include soil erosion, salt intrusion, land degradation, potential sea level rise, and low soil nutrient levels. He therefore noted that the need to change the way they respond to crisis in the wake of aforementioned challenges to flood security should to be given due attention....

A street scene in Banjul, shot by Atamari, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Panama’s forest tribes want UN carbon projects scrapped

Alex Kirby in Responding to Climate change:  Indigenous people in Panama are asking the United Nations to close down its global forestry programme, REDD, in their country. REDD – Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation – is designed to slow climate change by preventing the destruction of the world’s most vulnerable forests.

It is a key part of the UN’s attempts to tackle a warming climate, and failure in Panama will have impacts much further afield.

The demand, by the National Coordinating Body of Indigenous Peoples in Panama (Coonapip), will test a provision of the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which says they have the right to refuse projects and investments which affect their natural resources.

“When it comes to the forests of Panama, we are not mere stakeholders to be consulted,” said Betanio Chiquidama, president of Coonapip and cacique (chief) of a reserve that is home to more than 33,000 people in the east of the country. “More than half the country’s forests are on the lands of indigenous people. How can an effective plan to save these forests be negotiated if the indigenous leaders are not at the table?..."

Satellite image (NASA) of Panama

Monday, May 27, 2013

New avian flu readily transmits in key animal model

Declan Butler in Nature: A study on the novel H7N9 avian influenza that has killed 36 people in China finds that the virus is transmissible between ferrets. According to the authors, the findings suggest that H7N9 could become capable of passing from person to person — although thus far the virus has not shown any signs of doing so.

The researchers, from China, Canada and the United States, inoculated six ferrets and four pigs with H7N9 isolated from a fatal human case in Shanghai. All the animals became infected. Counting humans, that makes three mammalian species that can be infected with H7N9. Tests on other species, including companion animals such as cats and dogs, could give a better idea of the host range of the virus.

The H7N9 virus carries mutations that enable it to infect mammals, including humans, more easily than the related H5N1 avian flu can. There has been an unexplained lull in new cases since 7 May, but experts fear that it is only temporary.

Infections in other mammal species could provide the virus with opportunities to mutate and to adapt further. Pigs can be co-infected with avian and human flu, allowing the viruses to swap genes to create new strains, although extensive sampling in China has found no pigs harbouring H7N9....

An electron micrograph of H7N9 from the Centers for Disease Control

Sussex County in Delaware delays decision on proposed sea-level rise responses

Jeff Montgomery in Delmarva Now (Delaware): In a symbolic blow to state climate change adaption efforts, the Delaware county with most at stake in future sea-level rise forecasts abruptly declined to take any stand on the issue as a state panel approved dozens of recommendations for dealing with the threat.

Jeff Shockley, Sussex County delegate to the state’s Sea Level Rise Advisory Committee, said last week local officials instructed him to abstain from voting on any of the roughly 60 options developed by the group throughout a2½-year period. That move followed a skeptical response to the state effort by some County Council members during a briefing in Georgetown this month.

Despite the county abstentions, committee members completed recommendations that will go to Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Secretary Collin P. O’Mara after a final report-signing meeting in August.

The options range from broad directions to improve coordination among federal, state, county and local agencies and include sea-level rise in growth plans to a call for expanded public education and better collection of data on climate change indicators and sea-level changes.

Hours later, Delaware’s congressional delegation announced $20 million in National Science Foundation grants for science education and research at four Delaware higher education centers, emphasizing the effect of sea-level rise and soil contamination consequences. “This is another good step in understanding how the changing climate and human impacts on the land affect our environment now and for many years to come,” Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., said in a statement.

Renewable energy technologies, such as offshore wind and workforce development, will also be targeted in the research, along with the development of new sensors for environmental monitoring. The grants will support collaborations involving the University of Delaware, Delaware State University, Wesley College and Delaware Technical Community College....

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Philadelphia District recently completed repairs to the Harbor of Refuge breakwater. The breakwater and the historic lighthouse that sit on top are listed in the National Register of Historic Place. The $2.6 million repair project involved placing 91 capstones, filling voids and pouring concrete. Reilly Construction Inc. and R.E. Pierson Construction Co. served as the contractors. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers photo)

US equipped to grow serious amounts of pond scum for fuel

Environmental Research Web: A new analysis shows that the nation's land and water resources could likely support the growth of enough algae to produce up to 25 billion gallons of algae-based fuel a year in the United States, one-twelfth of the country's yearly needs.

The findings come from an in-depth look at the water resources that would be needed to grow significant amounts of algae in large, specially built shallow ponds. The results were published in the May 7 issue of Environmental Science and Technology, published by the American Chemical Society.

"While there are many details still to be worked out, we don't see water issues as a deal breaker for the development of an algae biofuels industry in many areas of the country," said first author Erik Venteris of the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

For the best places to produce algae for fuel, think hot, humid and wet. Especially promising are the Gulf Coast and the Southeastern seaboard. "The Gulf Coast offers a good combination of warm temperatures, low evaporation, access to an abundance of water, and plenty of fuel-processing facilities," said hydrologist Mark Wigmosta, the leader of the team that did the analysis.

Algae, it turns out, are plump with oil, and several research teams and companies are pursuing ways to improve the creation of biofuels based on algae — growing algae composed of more oil, creating algae that live longer and thrive in cooler temperatures, or devising new ways to separate out the useful oil from the rest of the algae....

Spirogyra shot by Bob Blaylock, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Decline in biodiversity of farmed plants, animals gathering pace

Alister Doyle in Reuters: A decline in the diversity of farmed plants and livestock breeds is gathering pace, threatening future food supplies for the world's growing population, the head of a new United Nations panel on biodiversity said on Monday.

Preserving neglected animal breeds and plants was necessary as they could have genes resistant to future diseases or to shifts in the climate to warmer temperatures, more droughts or downpours, Zakri Abdul Hamid said.

"The loss of biodiversity is happening faster and everywhere, even among farm animals," Zakri told a conference of 450 experts in Trondheim, central Norway, in his first speech as founding chair of the U.N. biodiversity panel.

Many traditional breeds of cows, sheep or goats have fallen out of favor, often because they yield less meat or milk than new breeds. Globalization also means that people's food preferences narrow down to fewer plants.

Zakri said there were 30,000 edible plants but that just 30 crops accounted for 95 percent of the energy in human food that is dominated by rice, wheat, maize, millet and sorghum.

He said it was "more important than ever to have a large genetic pool to enable organisms to withstand and adapt to new conditions." That would help to ensure food for a global population set to reach 9 billion by 2050 from 7 billion now....

Artwork of a bull on an antique steam-powered tractor at the Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm. Image from Gary Halvorson, Oregon State Archives, Wikimedia Commons

Sea level rise: Drowning in numbers

Michael Le Page in New Scientist: Imagine your job is to protect London from surging seas...The stakes are enormous. Building new defences will cost tens of billions and involve decades of planning and controversy before construction even begins. Get it wrong, and storm surges could kill thousands and displace millions. So all around the world, planners are clamouring to know how fast the seas will rise as the planet warms.

Until recently, scientists could not give them any reliable numbers. There were no computer models capable of simulating the melting of the world's ice sheets and glaciers.

The 2007 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) handled this uncertainty really badly. It acknowledged that we don't know how fast all the ice will melt, but then gave some numbers anyway – between 18 and 59 centimetres of sea level rise by 2100 – based on highly dubious assumptions such as glaciers continuing to flow at the same rate and the Antarctic ice sheet growing larger. The numbers also assumed a maximum warming of 5.4 °C, even though the report's highest projection was 6.4 °C. Unsurprisingly, many people wrongly took 59 cm of sea level rise to be the worst case.

Now we have some more numbers. A European-funded project called ice2sea has developed computer models of glaciers and ice sheets. Earlier this month it announced that melting ice would contribute between 4 and 37 cm to global sea level by 2100. Adding this to the other causes of sea level rise – the main one being the expansion of the oceans as they warm – gives figures of between 16 and 69 cm by 2100.

...Yet actual emissions today are much closer to the worst-case scenario, which some recent studies predict could lead to warming of 6 °C or more. And far from falling, annual global emissions are rising ever faster. With hundreds more coal-fired power stations being built and new sources of fossil fuels like tar sands being exploited, there is good reason to think emissions will continue to soar for many decades to come....

The London Eye and the Sea Life London Aquarium at night, shot by Ralf Roletschek (talk) - Fahrradtechnik auf fahrradmonteur.de, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons ‘Attribution-NonCommercial-NonDerivative 3.0 (US)’

Saudi researchers say drones could warn of desert flash floods

UPI: Researchers in Saudi Arabia say they're working on a drone system that could track potentially deadly floods in real time to sound an alarm before they hit.

Flash floods are a risk in the country; at least 13 people died when floods hit parts of Saudi Arabia earlier this month, and two years ago more than a hundred died when thunderstorms saturated land to the east of the Red Sea port of Jeddah and a flash flood hit the city without warning.

Christian Claudel at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology says a drone system could warn such cities of an impending flood and also predict the flood's path, NewScientist.com reported Wednesday...

A "flying eye" drone, shot by Flying Eye, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Cracking ice floe forces Russia to pack up Arctic ice station

Will Englund in the Washington Post: Russia is evacuating a drifting Arctic research station that was supposed to last until September, because the ice it is built on is starting to break up. The cracks are another indication of the rapid decline of the Arctic ice sheet — especially so because the encampment is on the Canadian side of the Arctic Sea, where the ice is oldest and most durable.

“It’s a huge loss for us, and for science,” Vladimir Sokolov, director of the expedition, said in a telephone interview from his office in St. Petersburg. “For us, it is very important to get information about the climate system in the high-latitude Arctic.”

The station — the 40th in a string of North Pole drift stations that began in 1937 — went into operation Oct. 1, later than usual because the leaders of the project had a difficult time finding a sufficiently robust floe to base the camp on. In fact, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the extent of sea ice in September was the lowest on record, 18 percent lower than the previous minimum, in 2007.

Last year’s ice conditions, Sokolov said, forced the Russian researchers to look for a base floe closer to Canada than to their own country.

In years past, drift stations have remained in operation for 12 months or longer, with the exception of 2010, when an early breakup also caused a premature evacuation....

Photo by Patrick Kelley, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr,  under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Tanzania's Kagasheki vows to revisit Forest Act to protect trees

AllAfrica.com via the Tanzania Daily News: Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism on Friday vowed to revisit the Forest Act with a view to protect the 55 per cent of wood forest from total extinction and desertification. Addressing reporters in Dar es Salaam on Friday, the Minister, Ambassador Khamis Kagasheki, said majority of people in the country were wantonly harvesting trees without permits from the concerned authorities.

Ambassador Kagasheki said the situation on the ground calls for immediate government attention to address the matter by revisiting the Forest Act in order to serve forests in the country from total extinction.

"We have been working for years on environment conservation but the information on the worsening situation does not reach the populace and most of the tree users are still ignorant of the forest Act and thus more sensitisation campaign on forest conservation is required to be carried on," said the minister.

He said through the just ended phase one of National Forest Resources Monitoring and Assessment (NAFORMA), the ministry would be able to monitor the changes taking place and evaluate the impact of policies and strategies on the management and utilisation of forests.

Furthermore, the minister told reporters that the ministry was strategising to make concerted efforts on disseminating vital information to the people on the importance of forest conservation and better use of it without environment destruction....

NASA image of the lake created by Tanzania's Nyumba ya Mungu dam

Flood threat persists in San Antonio after 2 killed

Katharine Lackey and William Cummings in USA Today: Two women died after being swept away by floodwaters after weekend rains deluged numerous roads in San Antonio, forcing more than 235 rescues by emergency workers who aided stranded motorists and homeowners at times using inflatable boats.

At least one teenage boy also was reported missing after Saturday's torrential rains, carried away while trying to cross the swollen Cibolo Creek in the San Antonio suburb of Schertz, authorities said.

The National Weather Service said the flash flood threat would persist until late Sunday morning though mostly cloudy weather with occasional thunderstorms and showers was expected to give way to partly sunny skies later in the day.

The rains left more than 200 residents of the Texas city stranded in cars and homes when water rose unexpectedly up to 4 feet in some spots. Traffic also was snarled, making driving difficult....

Image of a 1998 flood near San Antonio, US Geological Survey

Sri Lankan aquifer depleting from overuse

Dilrukshi Handunnetti in SciDev.net: The single limestone aquifer, which is the main source of freshwater in Sri Lanka's northern Jaffna peninsula, is gradually depleting through overuse, researchers say.

"The area suffers from severe groundwater imbalance which might reach crisis proportions in the future," Shanti de Silva, one of two scientists who carried out the research for the agricultural department of the University of Jaffna, told SciDev.Net.

 At a presentation of the research results last month (18 April), de Silva called for a regulatory framework to optimise groundwater use in Jaffna peninsula — which was captured by the Sri Lankan army from separatist rebels in May 2009, ending decades of civil strife.

Originally published in Tropical Agricultural Research (in December 2012), the results showed that  the potential recharge of the aquifer in the dry season was approximately 14 per cent of that in the wet season — showing up a serious contrast between the two main seasons.

"Water resources of the basin remain almost constant while the demand for water continues to increase. Moreover, due to uneven distribution of rainfall, water resources lack replenishment," the report said.

...The researchers recommend extraction of 50 per cent of the annual recharge to prevent a severe imbalance developing in the aquifer, the main resource for agriculture, domestic use and water supply on the Jaffna peninsula....

Dried up in Jaffna, Sri Lanka, shot by Gerald Pereira, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

'The Sumatran rainforest will mostly disappear within 20 years'

John Vidal in the globaldevelopment blog in the Guardian (UK): The end is in sight for the great forests of Sumatra and Borneo and the animals and people who depend on them. Thirty years ago the world's third- and sixth-largest islands were full of tigers, elephants, rhinos, orangutan and exotic birds and plants but in a frenzy of development they have been trashed in a single generation by global agribusiness and pulp and paper industries.

Their plantations supply Britain and the world with toilet paper, biofuels and vegetable oil to make everyday foods such as margarine, cream cheese and chocolate, but distraught scientists and environmental groups this week warn that one of the 21st century's greatest ecological disasters is rapidly unfolding.

Official figures show more than half of Indonesia's rainforest, the third-largest swath in the world, has been felled in a few years and permission has been granted to convert up to 70% of what remains into palm or acacia plantations. The government last week renewed a moratorium on the felling of rainforest, but nearly a million hectares are still being cut each year and the last pristine areas, in provinces such as Ache and Papua, are now prime targets for giant logging, palm and mining companies.

The toll on wildlife across an area nearly the size of Europe is vast, say scientists who warn that many of Indonesia's species could be extinct in the wild within 20-30 years. Orangutan numbers are in precipitous decline, only 250-400 tigers remain and fewer than 100 rhino are left in the forests, said the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Millions of hectares are nominally protected, but the forest is fragmented, national parks are surrounded by plantations, illegal loggers work with impunity and corruption is rife in government....

A 1915 shot of a bridge in the Sumatran forest, from the Tropenmuseum Collection, Wikimedia Commons, public domain

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Deforestation dries up dams threatening hydropower

Maria Elena Hurtado in SciDev.net: Deforestation may lead to electricity shortages in tropical rainforest regions that rely heavily on hydropower, as fewer trees mean less rainfall for hydropower generation, a study shows.

For example, if deforestation continues, one of the world's largest dam projects in Brazil will deliver around a third less energy than is currently estimated, according to the research, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) last week (13 May).

Researchers had presumed that cutting down trees near dams increases the flow of water and hence energy production. This is because crops and pastures that replace trees take less water from the ground and lose less moisture by evaporation.

But trees also release water vapour into the atmosphere, which turns into rain and feeds hydroelectric power stations, and this new research suggests that wider deforestation can reduce overall rainfall and therefore energy production. This should be taken into account when planning hydropower developments in tropical regions, say the authors.

Lead author Claudia Stickler and colleagues looked at the link between trees and power generation at Brazil's Belo Monte hydropower complex, which is being built on the Xingu River, a tributary of the Amazon. It is set to be the third largest hydropower project in the world when it is completed in 2015 and is expected to supply 40 per cent of Brazil's energy needs by 2020.

They found that because of current levels of deforestation in the Amazon region, rainfall is already six to seven per cent lower than it would be with full forest cover....

Fires along the Rio Xingu in Brazil, a NASA shot from the International Space Station

Water debt and leaks plague Cape Town residents

Brendon Bosworth in IPS: Nokuzola Bulana has a problem with leaks. The water that drips from the pipes of the toilet outside her home in Khayelitsha, a large semi-informal township on the fringes of Cape Town, South Africa goes to waste and drives up her water bill.

Bulana, a water activist, says she fixed the leaks in January but water on the floor at the base of the toilet, which is inside a stall painted with pink, yellow and purple stripes, and pooled on the ground outside the stall, shows that seepages persist.

In March, her eight-person home used over seven times the amount of water the city of Cape Town gives indigent households for free in a month. Bulana blames the leaks for this.  “We don’t mind to pay for the water we drink or cook with but now the water goes down the drain,” Bulana tells IPS when interviewed at her home. “I love the environment. I want to look after the water.”

Bulana is one of many South Africans whose wasted water contributes to the country’s yearly loss of more than a third of its water – a shortfall driven chiefly by leaks, according to a 2012 report from the South African Water Research Commission. These losses cost municipalities more than 731 million dollars annually and drive poor citizens into debt they often cannot afford to pay.

South Africa is also the 30th driest country in the world and could hit water shortages as early as 2025. It can scarcely afford to squander this resource...

Khayelitsha Township in Cape Town, shot by Chell Hill, Wikimedia Commons,  under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

UK's climate change adaptation team cut from 38 officials to just six

Fiona Harvey in the Guardian (UK): The number of people employed by the government to work on the UK's response to the effects of climate change has been cut from 38 officials to just six, triggering accusations that David Cameron's promise to be the greenest government has been abandoned.

The UK is facing a multi-billion pound bill over the next few years for the costs of adapting to the effects of climate change – including flooding, much fiercer storms, droughts, heatwaves and more extreme weather. The government's advisers, the Committee on Climate Change, have warned that the measures needed to prepare the UK's infrastructure will include defences for power stations, transport and communication networks, changes to how buildings are constructed, and new ways of trying to prevent flooding, such as an upgrade to the Thames Barrier.

But the number of officials charged with dealing with the issue within the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has been dramatically reduced. A freedom of information response to a question by Friends of the Earth confirmed the reduction from 38 to six posts.

Defra insisted that the changes were the result of a restructuring. A spokesman said: "How we adapt to any impacts of climate change has been embedded into every policy team in Defra. Staff numbers on the adaptation team will therefore be reduced and the expertise moved to other parts of the department. A larger team will then come together to deliver the next climate change risk assessment in 2017."

But the staff reduction was condemned by one of the former most senior Whitehall officials on climate change. John Ashton was charged with leading the UK's diplomatic efforts to forge a new international agreement on cutting greenhouse gas emissions at the United Nations...

Scientists explore roots of future tropical rainfall

Space Daily via SPX: How will rainfall patterns across the tropical Indian and Pacific regions change in a future warming world? Climate models generally suggest that the tropics as a whole will get wetter, but the models don't always agree on where rainfall patterns will shift in particular regions within the tropics.

...Pedro DiNezio of the University of Hawaii and Jessica Tierney of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution investigated preserved geological clues (called "proxies") of rainfall patterns during a time when the planet went into opposite gear and cooled dramatically in the last ice age. Land clues included charcoal from fires, and evidence of more sand dune activity and desiccated lakes, all indicating drier conditions, and evidence for higher lake levels and more pollen, indicating wetter conditions.

They also looked at records of seafloor sediments containing preserved shells of dead marine organisms; the shells contain higher or lower levels of a heavier isotope of oxygen, depending on the relative salinity of surface waters when the organisms were alive (less salty waters indicate more rainfall over the ocean).

...They then compared this evidence with results from 12 different mathematical climate models that simulate Earth's climate, which incorporate basic laws of physics, chemistry, and fluid dynamics surrounding air-sea-land-ice interactions. ...Their results surprised them: Only one model, developed by the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research in the England, reproduced the rainfall patterns they found from the geological evidence....

..."The good news is, the Hadley model combined with the geological evidence show a pathway to improve our ability to simulate and predict tropical rainfall in the future," Tierney said....

Rainfall from Cyclone Gonu in 2005, via NASA

Impacts of climate change on Canadian mining industry studied

Sheila Bautz in the Leader-Post (Saskatchewan): Natural Resources Canada is funding a project to examine the impacts of climate change on mining in Saskatchewan. The goal is to distribute the results of the project's recommendation documents across Canada by compiling the information in a program called "Enhancing Competitiveness in a Changing Climate."

The federal government is funding the Saskatchewan project entitled, "Risk To Mining Companies Related to Extreme Climate Events: Case Studies of Adaptation Actions Focusing On The Qu'Appelle Water Sheds" for inclusion with their program.

Although federally funded, the Water Security Agency (previously Saskatchewan Watershed Authority) is leading the provincial project. The Water Security Agency leads management of the province's water resources to ensure safe drinking water sources and reliable water supplies for economic, environmental, and social benefits for the people of Saskatchewan. Ben Brodie has been contracted as the project manager by The Water Security Agency to deliver the project. Brodie is managing the extensive research team undertaking various areas of research and documenting case studies, as well as integrating input from different agencies involved with the mining industry in Saskatchewan.

"You don't have to go far to see the impact the extremes have had on the region, the prairies have always had an extreme climate which has been highlighted in recent years with widespread flooding having a major impact around the province. If you read the research that has been done on the impacts of climate change in the prairies, it looks like the extremes - the excessive droughts and flooding - may become more common," said Brodie....

The McArthur River Uranium Mine in Saskatchewan, shot by Turgan, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Friday, May 24, 2013

Wildland fire emissions, carbon, and climate: Wildfire–climate interactions

An abstract from Science Direct, an article published in Forest Ecology and Management: Increasing wildfire activity in recent decades, partially related to extended droughts, along with concern over potential impacts of future climate change on fire activity has resulted in increased attention on fire–climate interactions.

Findings from studies published in recent years have remarkably increased our understanding of fire–climate interactions and improved our capacity to delineate probable future climate change and impacts. Fires are projected to increase in many regions of the globe under a changing climate due to the greenhouse effect. Burned areas in the western US could increase by more than 50% by the middle of this century.

Increased fire activity is not simply an outcome of the changing climate, but also a participant in the change. Smoke particles reduce overall solar radiation absorbed by the Earth’s atmosphere during individual fire events and fire seasons, leading to regional climate effects including reduction in surface temperature, suppression of cloud and precipitation, and enhancement of climate anomalies such as droughts.

Black carbon (BC) in smoke particles displays some different radiation and climate effects by warming the middle and lower atmosphere, leading to a more stable atmosphere. BC also plays a key role in the smoke-snow feedback mechanism. Fire emissions of CO2, on the other hand, are an important atmospheric CO2 source and contribute substantially to the global greenhouse effect.

Future studies should generate a global picture of all aspects of radiative forcing by smoke particles. Better knowledge is needed in space and time variability of smoke particles, evolution of smoke optical properties, estimation of smoke plume height and vertical profiles and their impacts on locations of warming layers, stability structure, clouds and smoke transport, quantification of BC emission factors and optical properties from different forest fuels, and BC’s individual and combined roles with organic carbon.

Finally, understanding the short- and long-term greenhouse effect of fire CO2 emissions, increased capacity to project future fire trends (especially mega-fires), with consideration of climate–fuel–human interactions, and improved fire weather and climate prediction skills (including exploring the SST-fire relations) remain central knowledge needs...

Wildfire smoke at sunset from a 2004 fire in New Mexico, shot by Wnc101496, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Views from the Frontline finds lack of engagement with local communities in disaster risk reduction

Makereta Komai in Pina.com via PACNEWS (Fiji): Lack of engagement and co-ordination between local authorities and communities in the Pacific on disaster risk reduction, is among a number of findings from a survey conducted by the Foundation of the Peoples of the South Pacific International (FSPI). Titled, Views from the Frontline, the report gathers the views of stakeholders on the progress made by their countries on disaster risk reduction. It highlights where more action is needed and also build local level partnership to mobilise more effective action.

In the Pacific, FSPI carried out the survey in six Pacific Island Countries (Fiji, Kiribati, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu), gathering views from the frontline, targeting community and local government representatives.

 There were five main recommendations centred on lack of participation and inclusion of local communities in disaster risk reduction planning and implementation. There were strong suggestions for partnerships between local authorities, communities and the private sector to make decisions on disaster risk reduction.

FSPI Regional Disaster Office, Jiuta Korovulavula presented findings from the Pacific at one of the plenary sessions at the UN Global Platform on disaster reduction conference in Geneva this week. “The lack of community participation is the situation across all the six Pacific countries.  At the same time, the poorest in the community are the most vulnerable to impacts of disaster.

“There are a lot of consistencies across the board. It is national and local government’s responsibility to provide service delivery. However, very little seems to reaching people in the community.  It falls back on how national delivery is planned and how resources are allocated on those plans. 

“We need to take a step back and fix those operational issues because if not, when we come to the end result, there will not be much progress in terms of the inclusion of vulnerable groups and communities in processes for their own development, Korovulavula explained to PACNEWS....

Iririki Island on Vanuatu, shot by Nicky, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Reforestation study shows trade-offs between water, carbon and timber

EurekAlert: More than 13,000 ships per year, carrying more than 284 million tons of cargo, transit the Panama Canal each year, generating roughly $1.8 billion dollars in toll fees for the Panama Canal Authority. Each time a ship passes through, more than 55 million gallons of water are used from Gatun Lake, which is also a source of water for the 2 million people living in the isthmus.

However, the advent of very large "super" cargo ships, now more than 20 percent of the ships at sea, has demanded change. The Panama Canal is being expanded to create channels and locks three times larger than at present, leaving the authority to consider how best to meet the increased demand for water. One proposed measure is the reforestation of the watershed.

To help planners and policy makers understand the effects of reforestation, ASU scientists Silvio Simonit and Charles Perrings studied the effects of reforestation on a 'bundle' of ecosystem services: dry-season water flows, carbon sequestration, timber and livestock production.

Published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), their study – "Bundling ecosystem services in the Panama Canal Watershed" – examines precipitation, topography, vegetation, and soil characteristics to model on-site and off-site effects of several reforestation options.

"The Panama Canal watershed is currently being reforested to protect the dry-season flows needed for canal operations. We find however that reforestation does not necessarily increase water supply, but does increase carbon sequestration and timber production," said Simonit. "Our research provides an insight into the importance of understanding the spatial distribution of the costs and benefits of jointly produced services." Simonit, a member of ASU's Ecoservices Group co-directed by Perrings, is part of a collaborative research partnership between ASU and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI). He is also a post-doctoral fellow on the National Science Foundation-funded research coordination network: Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services Training Network (BESTNet)....

The Gatun Locks at the Panama Canal, shot by Stan Shebs, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Unesco: Malaysia on right track to attain developed-nation status

My Sinchew via Bernama: Malaysia's commitment and clear policy to drive science, technology and innovation has put the country on the right track to achieve developed-nation status, said the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) today.

Its director-general Dr Irina Bokova said Malaysia's commitment to developing science, technology and innovation as an enabler towards attaining developed- nation status was being recognised by Unesco. Citing the Vision 2020 and the National Education Blueprint 2013-2025, Bokova said that science, technology and innovation had been prominently outlined as a key enabler to achieve the goals.

"Malaysia is one of the countries in the Asian region that is highly investing in science, technology and scientific research. Over the years, there has been a growing number of science and technology research centres and universities in the country. This is not by chance but demostrates the serious efforts of the country to develop the sector.

"And this puts it in a very good position for further achievements," she told reporters after opening the International, Science, Technology and Innovation Centre for South-South Cooperation (ISTIC)'s 5th anniversary conference, here....

Nanoscavengers could usher in next generation water purification

Andrew Myers in Stanford Engineering News: Among its many talents, silver is an antibiotic. Titanium dioxide is known to glom on to certain heavy metals and pollutants. Other materials do the same for salt. In recent years, environmental engineers have sought to disinfect, depollute, and desalinate contaminated water using nanoscale particles of these active materials. Engineers call them nanoscavengers. The hitch from a technical standpoint is that it is nearly impossible to reclaim the nanoscavengers once in the water.

In a paper published online May 14 in the journal Nature Communications, an interdisciplinary team of engineers at Stanford University announces it has developed a new type of nanoscavenger with a synthetic core that is ultraresponsive to magnetism, allowing the easy and efficient recovery of virtually every one of the nanoscale purifiers.

“In contaminated water, nanoscavengers float around, randomly bumping into and killing bacteria or attaching themselves to the molecular pollutants they are after,” said Shan Wang, the study’s senior author and a professor of material science and engineering and jointly of electrical engineering. “When the contaminants are either stuck to the nanoscavenger or dead, the magnet is turned on and the particles vanish.”

...In their natural state, the new nanoscavengers are not magnetic and would not be attracted to another magnetic material. When the composite discs are exposed to a strong magnetic field, however, the magnetism of the two opposing fields turn into alignment, not just becoming magnetic but compounding the magnetic effect.

In doing so, the nanoscavengers become ultraresponsive to magnetism, far more so than the base iron oxide used in today’s technologies. The Stanford team has dubbed its advance with the oxymoronic name: “synthetic antiferromagnetic cores.” The prefix anti- in this case means in opposite direction, not non-magnetic....

The disc-like synthetic nanoscavengers collected magnetically. (Image: Mingliang Zhang, Stanford School of Engineering.)

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Mount Everest's glaciers shrinking at increasing rate, say researchers

Jason Burke in the Guardian (UK): Global warming is melting snow and ice on the world's highest mountain at an accelerating rate, researchers have claimed.

A study by a team led by a Nepali scientist at the University of Milan has found that glaciers on or around Mount Everest have shrunk by 13% in the last 50 years with the snow line 180 metres higher than it was 50 years ago. The glaciers are disappearing faster every year, it says.

The 60th anniversary of the first ascent of the 8,848 metre (29,028ft) peak by Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay will be celebrated next week.

The researchers say they suspect that the decline of snow and ice in the Everest region is a result of changes in global climate caused by human-generated greenhouse gases. However, they have not yet established a firm connection, Sudeep Thakuri, who led the team, said.

The landscape around Mount Everest has changed dramatically since the world's highest mountain was first climbed. Mountaineers now report more rock and less snow and ice on well known routes. The ends of glaciers around the peak have also retreated by an average of 400 meters since 1962, the new research found, and some smaller glaciers were now nearly half the size they were in the 1960s.

The researchers used satellite imagery of the peak and the 713-square-mile Sagarmatha national park around the mountain as well as long-term meteorological data....

The Drang-drung glacier in Ladakh, shot by Wildchild826, public domain

NOAA predicts active 2013 Atlantic hurricane season

NOAA: In its 2013 Atlantic hurricane season outlook issued today, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center is forecasting an active or extremely active season this year. For the six-month hurricane season, which begins June 1, NOAA’s Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook says there is a 70 percent likelihood of 13 to 20 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), of which 7 to 11 could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including 3 to 6 major hurricanes (Category 3, 4 or 5; winds of 111 mph or higher).

These ranges are well above the seasonal average of 12 named storms, 6 hurricanes and 3 major hurricanes.

“With the devastation of Sandy fresh in our minds, and another active season predicted, everyone at NOAA is committed to providing life-saving forecasts in the face of these storms and ensuring that Americans are prepared and ready ahead of time.” said Kathryn Sullivan, Ph.D., NOAA acting administrator. “As we saw first-hand with Sandy, it’s important to remember that tropical storm and hurricane impacts are not limited to the coastline. Strong winds, torrential rain, flooding, and tornadoes often threaten inland areas far from where the storm first makes landfall.”

Three climate factors that strongly control Atlantic hurricane activity are expected to come together to produce an active or extremely active 2013 hurricane season. These are:
  • A continuation of the atmospheric climate pattern, which includes a strong west African monsoon, that is responsible for the ongoing era of high activity for Atlantic hurricanes that began in 1995;
  • Warmer-than-average water temperatures in the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea; and
  • El NiƱo is not expected to develop and suppress hurricane formation.
Hurricane Sandy, October 28, 2012

Calls mount for disaster risk management for businesses

Rendi A. Witular in the Jakarta Post: Disasters are having a growing impact on businesses.  The 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and the Chao Phraya River floods in Thailand have focused attention on the growing impact of disasters on the private sector.

Businesses suffer direct losses when they have invested in locating factories, offices, plants, warehouses and other facilities in locations exposed to hazards such as floods, cyclones, earthquakes or tsunamis, without adequately investing to reduce the risks.

Aimed at making the world a safer place, policy makers and business leaders from around the world gathered in Geneva from May 19 to 23 for the Fourth Session of the Global Platform conference on disaster risk reduction held by the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR).

Attended by around 4,000 representatives of governments, businesses, NGOs, scientists and academics, the forum is expected to mobilize resources to create awareness and ways to reduce risks stemming from disasters.

“This gathering shows the cross-cutting nature of disaster risk reduction. The representatives are the keys to building resilience to disasters and making our communities safer. This is our collective and shared responsibility,” said United Nations deputy secretary-general Jan Eliasson on Tuesday. Eliasson explained that no country had a leading model of disaster risk reduction....

A 1916 train derailment in France