Tuesday, September 30, 2014

New report finds human-caused climate change increased severity of 2013 heat waves in Asia, Europe and Australia

A press release from NOAA: A report released today investigates the causes of a wide variety of extreme weather and climate events from around the world in 2013. Published by the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, "Explaining Extreme Events of 2013 from a Climate Perspective" addresses the causes of 16 individual extreme events that occurred on four continents in 2013. NOAA scientists served as three of the four lead editors on the report.

Of the five heat waves studied in the report, human-caused climate chan
ge-primarily through the burning of fossil fuels-was found to have clearly increased the severity and likelihood of those events. On the other hand, for other events examined like droughts, heavy rain events, and storms, fingerprinting the influence of human activity was more challenging. The influence of human-caused climate change on these kinds of events was sometimes evident, but often less clear, suggesting natural factors played a far more dominant role.

"This annual report contributes to a growing field of science which helps communities, businesses and nations alike understand the impacts of natural and human-caused climate change," said Thomas R. Karl, L.H.D., director of NOAA's National Climatic Data Center. "The science remains challenging, but the environmental intelligence the report yields to decision makers is invaluable and the demand is ever-growing."

Confidence in the role of climate change about any one event is increased when multiple groups using independent methods come to similar conclusions. For example, in this report, five independent research teams looked at specific factors related to the record heat in Australia in 2013. Each team consistently found that human-caused climate change increased the likelihood and severity of that event. However, for the California drought, which was investigated by three teams from the United States, human factors were found not to have influenced the lack of rainfall. One team found evidence that atmospheric pressure patterns increased due to human causes, but the influence on the California drought remains uncertain....

Monday, September 29, 2014

Get ready for hotter summers and more flooding in the UK

Roz Pidcock in the Carbon Brief: Weather-wise, the UK saw it all last year. The coldest spring for 50 years, a sweltering summer heat wave and the wettest winter since records began. Today, a new report examines whether climate change is upping the odds of these events occurring.

The collection of papers, published in a bumper edition of journal Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, looks at 16 weather events that took place last year across the world. From Colorado to Korea, the scientists examine heatwaves, droughts, heavy rain and storms.

Globally, there is evidence for changes in some types of extreme weather, and evidence for a human fingerprint in those changes. But different types of event are affected differently. Climate change is greatly increasing the odds of heatwaves worldwide, today's report concludes. For storms, rainfall and drought the picture is less clear, however. Big differences between regions, natural variability in the climate and limited data make detecting changes over time far more difficult.

The science of disentangling human and natural influences on our climate is known as attribution. Dr Peter Stott, head of the climate change detection and attribution team at the Met Office and an editor on the report, explained more in a recent guest blog  for us: "[The aim is] to compare what actually happened with what might have happened in a world without anthropogenic climate change."

Understanding how our activities are changing the risk of some types of extremes is important for making decisions about how we can prepare for the future.,,,

Beach volleyball at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, shot by cdephotos - DSC02805, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons 2.0 license

Central African Republic faces insecurity, logistics challenges as rains set in

UN News Centre: Due to the rainy season in the Central African Republic (CAR), the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has announced that it is facing a double challenge of insecurity and logistical constraints.

“Heightened insecurity in some areas of the country has resulted in postponed or halted distributions by the WFP and other organisations due to the volatility of the situation,” explained WFP spokesperson Elisabeth Byrs.

Recently, significant security-related events occurred in central parts of the country – particularly within the Bambari-Sibut-Dekoa area. Ms. Byrs elaborated, “There have been substantial movements of armed elements to and from Bambari and rumours of strategic attacks from one militia gro
up, triggering counter attacks from other elements in these areas. Insecurity also remains in Batangafo and Boda.”

In total, six primary and secondary at-risk axes were identified in the west, central and north of the country. “In the past three months, overall nationwide incidents related to access had increased by 38 per cent,” Ms. Byrs informed. Despite those challenges, WFP had distributed 4,800 metric tonnes for approximately 400,000 people in August, corresponding to 95 per cent of planned distributions for the month.

A consignment of 40 KAMAZ trucks – one of the world’s largest vehicles – were currently on their way to help deliver life-saving food to hundreds of thousands of hungry people in the Central African Republic. Russia donated the trucks, valued at $2.7 million, to WFP’s Afghanistan operation. In 2013, Russia contributed $50 million to support agency operations in 18 countries....

NASA image of Bangui in the Central African Republic

Time to ‘follow’ the floods in India

An opinion piece on the Climate & Development Knowledge Network: The scale of the devastation and damage in the recent floods in Jammu and Kashmir, the contested territory between India and Pakistan, has not been seen in this area for a hundred years. Flood damage, according to the chief minister, could go beyond ‘many thousands of crores’. Irreversible damage to key infrastructures such as roads, telecommunication, hospitals, and water supply systems and many small and medium enterprises in the Kashmir valley is likely to further escalate this cost.

Flood, as a natural hazard, has been a recurring phenomenon in many parts of India, and more so during the monsoon. States of Assam, Bihar, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, and Uttarakhand witnessed floods of various intensities during this year’s monsoon. Even semi-arid regions of Rajasthan witnessed flood-like situations because of unusual and heavy rainfalls in the region. At the same time, and perhaps ironically, these devastating flooding events took place amidst widespread speculations of a strong El-Nino for India this year and forecast of a deficit monsoon resulting in 1.75% decline in its GDP.

Such cases of extreme rainfall events have become frequent and intense in India. Of significant concern is the predicted and reported extreme fluctuations in the dry and wet spells of the South Asian summer monsoon. A statistically significant increase in the intensity of wet spells has already been reported.

As this extreme weather phenomena results in an increasing number of hydro-meteorological hazards, the consequent loss and damage involved is also increasing. The Uttarakhand flooding, triggered by unusually extreme rainfalls in the Himalayas, was the second deadliest hydro-meteorological disaster in 2013, after Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. The resulting economic and insured losses were to the tune of USD1.9 billion and USD 85 million respectively....

A flood in India, location unknown, shot by Rakesh, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license 

With few data, Arctic carbon models lack consensus

A press release from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory: As climate change grips the Arctic, how much carbon is leaving its thawing soil and adding to Earth's greenhouse effect? The question has long been debated by scientists. A new study conducted as part of NASA's Carbon in Arctic Reservoirs Vulnerability Experiment (CARVE) shows just how much work still needs to be done to reach a conclusion on this and other basic questions about the region where global warming is hitting hardest.

Lead author Josh Fisher of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, analyzed 40 computer models of the amounts and flows of carbon in the Alaskan Arctic and boreal ecosystems. His team found wide disagreement among the models, highlighting the urgent need for more measurements from the region.

Models represent scientists' integrated understanding of Earth processes and systems. They are used both to test that understanding, by comparing their results with real-world observations, and to gain insight into how current trends may affect our planet's future.

"We all knew there were big uncertainties in our understanding, and we wanted to quantify their extent," said Fisher. That extent proved to be greater than almost anyone expected. "The results were shocking to most people," he said.

However, pinpointing the extent and areas of uncertainty is the first step toward reducing them. Fisher noted that he has shared preliminary results with the modelers who participated in the study, and some have already used the results as an opportunity to rethink how they are representing Arctic processes in global models. Moreover, the uncertainty maps that the study produced, showing the specific Arctic regions where the disagreement is greatest, highlight key locations for field campaigns to collect data.

The study, which involved 30 co-authors from around the world, examined how well the models agreed on various factors, such as the rate of plant growth and the amount of carbon exchanged between living things and the atmosphere. They also evaluated the performance of the models against measurements of carbon at monitoring sites along the tundra of the Alaskan North Slope.

"If all the models agree with the observations, uncertainty is probably pretty low. If they wildly disagree, uncertainty is pretty high," Fisher said. "The models were all over the board."....

Tundra in the Russian Arctic on Bolshaya Muksalma Island, shot by Aleksander Kaasik, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons 3.0 license 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

While the Arctic is melting the Gulf Stream remains

A press release from the University of Bergen (Norway): The melting Arctic is not the source for less saline Nordic Seas. It is the Gulf Stream that has provided less salt. A new study published Sunday in Nature Geoscience documents that the source of fresher Nordic Seas since 1950 is rooted in the saline Atlantic as opposed to Arctic freshwater that is the common inference.

This is an important finding as it shows that the Gulf Stream is not about to short circuit. A halting Gulf Stream has been a concern with ongoing climate change; its collapse was taken to the extreme in the Hollywood blockbuster “The Day After Tomorrow”, says Tor Elde
vik, professor in oceanography at the University of Bergen and the Bjerknes Centre.

The Nordic Seas have freshened substantially since 1950. This has happened at the same time as there has been observed increased river runoff and net ice melting in the Arctic. The concurrence of a less saline ocean and Arctic freshwater input has given the climate research community reason for concern.

 It has been a concern that a layer of Arctic freshwater could impede the Gulf Stream’s Arctic branch. Going back in time – into and through ice ages – such a freshwater lid has been understood to reduce ocean circulation and thus the Gulf Stream’s poleward heat transport, says Tor Eldevik.

Eldevik is co-author of the study where Mirjam Glessmer and colleagues at the Bjerknes Centre in Bergen, Norway, show that change in the Nordic Seas is at the receiving end of change in the more global climate system. The Nordic Seas are in this case not a precursor in a real world parallel to “The Day After Tomorrow”....

Because the story is from Norway: a fjord. Shot by Karamell, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons 3.0 license

A new breed of muni bond is financing climate change adaptation

Cassie Owens in Next City: Scott Stringer has his way, New York will soon be the nation’s largest municipal player in the burgeoning green bond market. On Wednesday, Stringer, the city comptroller, proposed a new program for issuing municipal bonds specifically dedicated to financing climate-friendly projects. Announced during UN Climate Week, Stringer’s proposal came a few days after Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled a plan to cut the city’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050.

Internationally, interest has grown in green bonds as cities like New York embark on record numbers of big-ticket infrastructure projects aimed at boosting resilience to climate change. In New York alone, the tab on the planned projects will exceed $27 billion over the coming years. In 2014, worldwide green bonds issuance is expected to nearly quadruple last year’s total, and in another Climate Week announcement, several major investment banks such as Zurich, Barclays and Aviva made promises to invest in the bonds and help strengthen the market.

New York isn’t the first city to see opportunity in green bonds. In July, the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority issued a $350 million, 100-year certified green bond. The $2.6 billion project will all but rid the city of combined sewer overflows, or treat wastewater from multiple pipes and tunnels that would have otherwise flowed altogether into the city’s rivers. Investors placed orders for about $1.1 billion worth of bonds, with about $100 million coming from those specifically focused on green bonds, the Wall Street Journal reported. George Hawkins, general manager of the water authority, told the Journal that the robust reception from Wall Street was unusual; the green bond “brought more investors to the table” than a regular bond might have.

D.C. Water and Sewer CFO Mark Kim believes that green bonds could be great for other utilities. D.C. Water and Sewer will certainly be issuing more. “Our intent is to finance all remaining capital expenditures for the Clean Rivers Project with a green bond,” Kim says.

Green bonds have been slow to catch on. The World Bank sold the first green bonds in 2008 as part of its efforts to encourage climate change adaptation and mitigation, but the bonds didn’t pick up steam in America until 2013. Experts say total bond issuance is on track to reach $40 billion by year’s end, a pool of money that will in large part go to strengthening infrastructure, including water systems, electrical grids and transportation networks.

What green bonds bring to the table is a not a new order, but rather a new label for reaching investors interested in climate-friendly projects. Matt Fabian, a managing director of Municipal Market Advisors, points out the processes for a muni green bond and any other muni bond are identical....

Driving on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, shot by Bob Jagendorf, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons 2.0 license

Chile becomes first South American country to tax carbon

The Thomson Reuters Foundation via Reuters: President Michelle Bachelet of Chile enacted new environmental tax legislation on Friday making the country the first in South America to tax carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Part of a broad tax reform, Chile's carbon tax will target the power sector, particularly generators operating thermal plants with installed capacity equal or larger than 50 megawatts (MW).

These installations will be charged $5 per tonne of carbon dioxide (CO2) released. Thermal plants fueled by biomass and smaller installations will be exempt. The new tax is meant to force power producers to gradually move to cleaner sources to help reduce the country's greenhouse gas emissions and meet its voluntary target of cutting these gases 20 percent from 2007 levels by 2020.

Earlier this year, Mexico imposed a tax on the sale of several fossil fuels, based on their carbon content, averaging $3 per tonne of CO2. In Mexico, companies are able to use carbon credits to reduce their tax bills, a provision not considered in Chile.

Central-American country Costa Rica also has an environmental tax, but it targets gasoline sales. Around 80 percent of Chile's energy is based on fossil fuels, mostly imported oil and coal....

Santiago's skyline, shot by 3BRBS, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license 

Resilience planning – some do’s and don’ts

IRIN: Among the topics being discussed at the 2014 World Climate Week in New York City (22-26 September), are financing resilient cities, corporate actions for resilience, the ways data can support resilience moves, and women’s leadership in resilience planning.

IRIN looks at some of the successes, failures and pitfalls in resilience planning. Hazard-resilient investments can range from enforced building codes, to early warning systems, to community-level waste management - all crucial for buffering societies against disasters.

“It can be as easy as painting lines on trees to gauge water levels [so] you can see when it is time to pack up and leave, before it is too late,” Richard Yates, the director of the US Agency for International Development’s (USAID) regional mission for Asia, told IRIN, pointing to a USAID-supported project in the Philippines.

But resilience planning which does not include a range of actors - from vulnerable communities to big companies - can fail to accomplish anything new, warned a critique by the Humanitarian Policy Group at the London-based Overseas Development
Institute (ODI).

“There is a danger that we go on and think we are building resilience when really we are ignoring the most vulnerable,” said Paul Levine, a livelihoods and vulnerability specialist with ODI. “In coming up with a whole new language and framework, we forget the basics.”...

2012 flood damage in Manila, shot by Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Flood ravages Ogun communities in Nigeria

Kehinde Akinyemi in All-Africa.com via the Daily Trust (Nigeria): A three-hour rainfall on Tuesday wrecked havoc in some communities in Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital, Daily Trust gathered. The affected areas include Ijaiye, Ago Ika, Olomore, Abule Otun, among others.

Residents of Abule Otun in Abeokuta-South Local Government Area, were mostly hit as they lost property worth millions of naira. Meanwhile, the state government has vowed to demolish all structures on waterways in the area.

Governor Ibikunle Amosun, during a visit to the area, said the flood was as a result of blockage of the waterways. He said his administration would embark on proper channelization to free the water, and that the exercise would involve demolition of some houses.

He assured the affected residents that staff of Ministry of Physical Planning, National Emergency Management Agency and State Emergency...

Saturday, September 27, 2014

California’s fire season has been going nonstop for 18 months, and there’s no end in sight

Reid Wilson in the Washington Post: An unprecedented drought that has parched Northern California has led to one of the most active fire seasons on record, and there is little hope of a wet and cool end in sight, the state’s top fire fighting official said Monday.

In an interview, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Director Ken Pimlott said his agency has fought almost 5,000 fires this year, a thousand more than the five-year average. Over the last five years, CalFire has battled an average of 3,951 fires between Jan. 1 and Sept. 20. This year, the agency has fought 4,974 fires throughout the state.

In truth, the dry conditions mean fire season never stops. State fire fighters started the year fighting a 330-acre fire in Humboldt County, one of the wettest counties in the continental United States.

“We’ve been in year-round fire season conditions since April or so of 2013. We haven’t been out of fire season for a year and a half and quite honestly don’t anticipate going out of fire season this year unless we see a significant change in the weather,” Pimlott said.

This week, Pimlott’s agency, better known as CalFire, is battling an 89,000-acre blaze known as the King Fire, east of Sacramento and southwest of Lake Tahoe. The King Fire began 10 days ago; high winds and parched conditions allowed the fire to grow by a stunning 50,000 acres in a single afternoon. Pimlott said it was the fastest single-day growth of a fire in memory. As of Tuesday morning, the fire was 35 percent contained.

...“With little rain or precipitation in three years, we are seeing again just explosive conditions. The vegetation is so dry,” Pimlott said. “There is no end in sight. While we’ve had moderate weather conditions this week, we anticipate getting into the Santa Ana Winds season in Southern California, which happens traditionally in the summer months.”

Meadow Fire erupted in the Little Yosemite Valley area of Yosemite National Park, Sept 7, 2014, growing to over 2,500 acres in one day. The peaks of Half Dome, Clouds Rest, Mount Broderick, and Liberty Cap ring the northern and western edges of the region, which includes the Merced River. Shot by Pbjamesphoto,Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons 4.0 license

Experts call for widening the debate on climate change

A press release from the University of Manchester (UK): Environmental scientists are being urged to broaden the advice they give on global climate change, say experts who are also frustrated that decision makers are not taking enough action. Writing in the journal Nature Climate Change, The University of Manchester researchers argue that scientists are expressing a strong desire to fix the problems highlighted by their studies into human-induced climate change.

The authors suggest there are problems with environmental scientists offering practical solutions that can help societies adapt to a fast-changing Earth - one where climatic zones will shift and sea levels will rise significantly. Professor Noel Castree, the lead author of the paper, said: “We are grateful that environmental scientists alert us to the impact that people are having on our planet like shifting climatic zones and rising sea levels. “But knowing how to respond to these impacts requires a broader skill-set than natural science alone provides.. It requires honest recognition of, and mature discussion about, the different values that can guide humans towards a different, better future.”

Today, say the authors, few people doubt that man-made climate change is real. And few of us doubt that climate scientists lack integrity. The problem, they believe, is the lack of action on the part of decision makers and the societies they represent.

Castree, a professor of Geography, and co-author Dan Brockington, a professor of Conservation and Development, ask whether climate change scientists risk over-stepping the mark and trying to shape the political agenda while pretending to r
emain non-political. They argue that the scientists often view the world as presenting problems that, like mechanics, they believe they can fix. They say that recent scientific discussions about 'geoengineering' technologies reflect this view.

“Global environmental change raises profound questions - such as whether humans lack humility and wisdom,” said Castree. “But we are concerned that environmental scientists risk using their authority to convince others that future Earth surface change is no more than a fiendishly complicated alteration to fairly well understood physical systems.”

Castree said: “What is needed is a deeper appreciation that such change will cause fundamental disagreements about responsibilities, rights and duties - among humans and towards nature. We think social scientists and humanists could significantly enrich public debates about how to respond to environmental change.”

Pakistan's agricultural economy facing climate change risks

The Daily Times (Pakistan):
Senior Environmental experts said on Wednesday that national agricultural economy was being affected by five major risks related to climate change.  Talking to APP senior researcher, Kashif Salik working with Sustainable Policy Development Institute (SDPI) said that being a predominantly agricultural economy, climate change is estimated to decrease crop yields in Pakistan not only as a result of flooding, but also as a result of changing temperatures, which in turn will affect livelihoods and food production.

He said that deterioration of climate is irreversibly harming Pakistan, as glacier melting in the Himalayas is projected to increase flooding and affect water resources within the next two to three decades. Deforestation is the second leading contributor of carbon emissions worldwide after the burning of fossil fuels, and after seas, forests are the second largest storehouse of the carbon, he added.

“Being a predominantly agricultural economy, climate change is estimated to decrease crop yields in Pakistan not only as a result of flooding, but also as a result of changing temperatures, which in turn will affect livelihoods and food production” he further said. “The glacial melt will affect fresh water flows with dramatic adverse effects on biodiversity and livelihood with possible long-term implications on regional food security” he informed.

Kashif Salik further said that scientific studies showed that average global temperature has risen by about 1 degree Centigrade during the past century. He said that this increase was mostly due to fossil fuel burning and deforestation. Global temperatures are projected to increase further between 1.4 degree Centigrade and 5.8 degree Centigrade by 2100 and to continue to rise long after. “Climate change is a global issue which is of concern for the entire international community”....

Rice terraces in Karakoram, shot by Ziegler175, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons 3.0 license

'Crazy' climate forces Colombian farmers to adapt

News24: Once upon a time, farming was a blissfully low-tech business on Colombia's northern plains. The lush tropical climate allowed rice farmers to harvest two or three times a year and protect their crops using little more than scarecrows and slingshots to fend off hungry birds. But recently, climate change has been sowing chaos in their fields.

...In less than a decade, the average minimum temperature for the region has risen 3°C, average relative humidity has shot up to a steamy 85% and rains have become increasingly erratic, alternating between deluge and drought. All that has taken a heavy toll on farmers.

Rice yields in Colombia have fallen from six tonnes per hectare to
five over the past five years because of climate fluctuations, according to national rice-growers' federation Fedearroz, which has 12 000 members. Decreasing yields is a country-wide problem for Colombia, which has 450 000Ha of rice fields and more than 200 towns and villages where growing rice is the main economic activity.

The slide in harvests comes at a delicate time. Under a trade deal with the United States, rice tariffs will be removed in five years in Colombia, a net rice importer. That means the country is likely to be flooded by cheap rice grown in the United States, where production costs are nearly half as much as they are in Colombia.

...Alarmed, two years ago the local office of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, which sponsors research to improve farming practices worldwide, began analyzing crop-related data in Colombia on an unprecedented scale.

From weather forecasts to soil studies to solar radiation measurements, the group churned through numbers with cutting-edge software in a project dubbed "Big Data". It came up with a list of highly localized recommendations for farmers, particularly on the ideal windows for planting.

"Farmers can be reluctant to change the way they traditionally do things, especially when someone from the city comes and tells them what to do. But with climate change they've lost their bearings so they're in distress", said Sylvian Delerce, a French researcher who developed the project....

Flooded Colombian sugar cane fields, shot by CIAT, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons license 2.0

Sierra Leone quarantines one million ahead of UN Ebola talks

Terra Daily via AFP: Sierra Leone began a quarantine of more than one million people Thursday in the largest open-ended lockdown in the Ebola outbreak, as world leaders met to discuss the crisis at the United Nations. The northern districts of Port Loko and Bombali have been closed off indefinitely along with the southern district of Moyamba -- effectively sealing in around 1.2 million people.

With the eastern districts of Kenema and Kailahun already under quarantine, more than a third of the population of six million -- in five of the nation's 14 districts -- now finds itself unable to move freely.

The president said 12 of the county's 149 tribal chiefdoms -- much smaller administrative areas than districts -- were also to be placed in quarantine, although the total population in these areas was not immediately clear.

"The isolation of districts and chiefdoms will definitely pose great difficulty but the lives of everyone and the survival of our country takes precedence over these difficulties," President Ernest Bai Koroma told the nation in a televised address late Wednesday....

Friday, September 26, 2014

Study tracks global sea-levels over the last five ice ages

A press release from the University of Southampton: Land-ice decay at the end of the last five ice-ages caused global sea-levels to rise at rates of up to 5.5 metres per century, according to a new study. An international team of researchers developed a 500,000-year record of sea-level variability, to provide the first account of how quickly sea-level changed during the last five ice-age cycles.

The results, published in the latest issue of Nature Communications, also found that more than 100 smaller events of sea-level rise took place in between the five major events.

Dr Katharine Grant, from the Australian National University (ANU), Canberra, who led the study, says: “The really fast rates of sea-level rise typically seem to have happened at the end of periods with exceptionally large ice sheets, when there was two or more times more ice on the Earth than today.

“Time periods with less than twice the modern global ice volume show almost no indications of sea-level rise faster than about 2 metres per century. Those with close to the modern amount of ice on Earth, show rates of up to 1 to 1.5 metres per century.”

Co-author Professor Eelco Rohling, of both the University of Southampton and ANU, explains that the study also sheds light on the timescales of change. He says: “For the first time, we have data from a sufficiently large set of events to systematically study the timescale over which ice-sheet responses developed from initial change to maximum retreat.”

“This happened within 400 years for 68 per cent of all 120 cases considered, and within 1100 years for 95 per cent. In other words, once triggered, ice-sheet reduction (and therefore sea-level rise) kept accelerating relentlessly over periods of many centuries.”

Professor Rohling speculates that there may be an important lesson for our future: “Man-made warming spans 150 years already and studies have documented clear increases in mass-loss from the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets. Once under way, this response may be irreversible for many centuries to come.”

NASA image of an iceberg calving from the Petermann Glacier in Greenland, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Water-quality trading can reduce river pollution

EurekAlert via Duke University: Allowing polluters to buy, sell or trade water-quality credits could significantly reduce pollution in river basins and estuaries faster and at lower cost than requiring the facilities to meet compliance costs on their own, a new Duke University-led study finds.

The scale and type of the trading programs, though critical, may matter less than just getting them started. "Our analysis shows that water-quality trading of any kind can s
ignificantly lower the costs of achieving Clean Water Act goals," said Martin W. Doyle, professor of river science and policy at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment.

"All other things being equal, regulators should allow trading to occur at the river basin scale as an appropriate first step. Larger spatial scales may be needed later if abatement costs increase," said Doyle, who also serves as director of the water policy program at Duke's Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

The new study was published this month in the journal Water Resources Research. It comes at a time when regulators are debating the optimal scales and types of trading programs to reduce water pollution in some of the nation's largest and most troubled watershed systems, including the Chesapeake Bay watershed, which spans 64,000 square miles in parts of six states.

In water-quality trading programs, facilities facing higher pollution control costs are allowed to meet their regulatory obligations by purchasing pollution reduction credits from other polluters in their trading market. The end result -- improved water quality -- is the same, but the time and money needed to achieve it is less.

New programs are often delayed because regulators want to get as many things right up front as they can. Concerns include how big or small a trading market should be, whether it should include interstate trading, and whether it should be based on one-for-one trades or trading ratios....

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Arctic sea ice helps remove CO2 from the atmosphere

A press release from the University of Southern Denmark: Due to global warming, larger and larger areas of sea ice melt in the summer and when sea ice  freezes over in the winter it is thinner and more reduced. As the Arctic summers are getting warmer we may see an acceleration of global warming, because reduced sea ice in the Arctic will remove less CO2 from the atmosphere, Danish scientists report. "If our results are representative, then sea ice plays a greater role than expected, and we should take this into account in future global CO2 budgets", says Dorte Haubjerg Søgaard, PhD Fellow, Nordic Center for Earth Evolution, University of Southern Denmark and the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources, Nuuk.

Only recently scientists have realized that sea ice has an impact on the planet's CO2 balance.

"We have long known that the Earth's oceans are able to absorb huge amounts of CO2. But we also thought that this did not apply to ocean areas covered by ice, because the ice was considered impenetrable. However, this is not true: New research shows that sea ice in the Arctic draws large amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere into the ocean", says Dorte Haubjerg Søgaard.

Dorte Haubjerg Søgaard has just completed her studies of sea ice in Greenland. The studies show that sea ice may have a major impact on the global carbon cycle, and that chemical processes have a much greater impact on the sea ice's ability to remove CO2 than biological processes. The research is published as a series of articles in scientific journals.

"The chemical removal of CO2 in sea ice occurs in two phases. First crystals of calcium carbonate are formed in sea ice in winter. During this formation CO2 splits off and is dissolved in a heavy cold brine, which gets squeezed out of the ice and sinks into the deeper parts of the ocean. Calcium carbonate cannot move as freely as CO2 and therefore it stays in the sea ice. In summer, when the sea ice melts, calcium carbonate dissolves, and CO2 is needed for this process. Thus, CO2 gets drawn from the atmosphere into the ocean - and therefore CO2 gets removed from the atmosphere", explains Dorte Haubjerg Søgaard….

Dorte Haubjerg Søgaard from University of Denmark/Grønlands Naturinstitut studies how sea ice removes CO2 from the atmosphere. Photo: Søren Rysgaard, from the University's website 

More land, fewer harvests

A press release from Ludwig Maximilian University (Munich): According to a simulation of the impact of climate change on agricultural production over the course of the 21st century, carried out by researchers led by Professor Wolfram Mauser at LMU’s Department of Geography, some two-thirds of all land potentially suitable for agricultural use is already under cultivation. The study indicates that climate change will expand the supply of cropland in the high latitudes of the Northern hemisphere (Canada, Russia, China) over the next 100 years. However, in the absence of adaptation measures such as increased irrigation, the simulation projects a significant loss of suitable agricultural land in Mediterranean regions and in parts of Sub-Saharan Africa. The results of the study appear in the online journal PLOS ONE.

Ecological factors such as climate, soil quality, water supply and topography determine the suitability of land for agriculture. In the new study the LMU team focused on the probable impact of climate change on the supply of land suitable for the cultivation of the 16 major food and energy crops worldwide, including staples such as maize, rice, soybeans and wheat. “Based on the environmental requirements for growth of these plants, in terms of climate, soil and terrain, one can determine whether or not a given location on Earth provides conditions required by specific crops,” says Dr. Florian Zabel, one of the authors of the new study.

...“In the context of current projections, which predict that the demand for food will double by the year 2050 as the result of population increase, our results are quite alarming. In addition, one must consider the prospect of increased pressure on land resources for the cultivation of forage crops and animal feed owing to rising demand for meat, and the expansion of land use for the production of bioenergy,” says Zabel….

This map summarizes the projected impact of climate change on the worldwide distribution of land suitable for agriculture in the year 2100. While new cropland is predicted to become available in the Northern hemisphere(green), conditions are expected to deteriorate in other areas, including the Mediterranean region (brown). (Source: Dr. Florian Zabel, LMU)

Indonesia faces challenging problems to quell ongoing forest fires

Terra Daily via Xinhua: Indonesia is facing challenging problems in dealing with the annual forest fire issue as it is related to perilous attitude of people living around the forest and plantations.

A senior official said 99 percent of fires in the forest were incited by intentional torching, conducted both in rain and dry seasons.

"During February to July, the hotspots were even higher than in the previous years. It means that the torching was also conducted in rainy season," Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, the spokesperson of National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) said in his office here on Wednesday, explaining the ongoing forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan provinces whose haze has disrupted activities in several cities, spreading to neighboring countries of Singapore and Malaysia.

Sutopo added that while the nation's largest forest fire in 1997 was ultimately contributed by the El Nino natural phenomenon, "now 99 percent of forest fires were caused by intentional torching, (which)makes the fire razes on and hard to be controlled. This nightmare may continue until peak of dry season estimated in October."…
Citing satellite monitor data, Sutopo added that the hotspots in Sumatra and Kalimantan has been sprawling high, as in Sept. 13 they were detected at 351 locations, but two days later the hotspots in two islands have expanded high to 1,644 locations….

NASA image of 2009 fires in Borneo

Can fossils reveal how to reverse biodiversity loss?

Environmental News Network via Click Green: Many native species have vanished from tropical islands because of human impact, but University of Florida scientists have discovered how fossils can be used to restore lost biodiversity.

The key lies in organic materials found in fossil bones, which contain evidence for how ancient ecosystems functioned, according to a new study published in the September issue of the Journal of Herpetology.

Pre-human island ecosystems provide vital clues for saving endangered island species and re-establishing native species, said lead author Alex Hastings, who conducted work for the study as graduate student at the Florida Museum of Natural History and UF department of geological sciences.

"Our work is particularly relevant to endangered species that are currently living in marginal environments," said Hastings, currently a postdoctoral researcher at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg. "A better understanding of species’ natural roles in ecosystems untouched by people might improve their prospects for survival."…

Barracudasauroides panxianensis Stage : Anisian from 247.2 million years ago until ~242 million years ago. Shot by Didier Descouens, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons 3.0 license

Nile River monitoring influences North-East Africa’s future

A press release from Curtin University (Australia): Curtin University research that monitors the volume of water in the Nile River Basin will help to level the playing field for more than 200 million North-East Africans who rely on the river’s water supply.

Despite being arguably the longest river in the world, winding through nine different countries, the Nile River is shallow and has a low volume, making its water precious, particularly to those countries located downstream.

Curtin Associate Professor Joseph Awange, Department of Spatial Sciences, has been monitoring extractions or additions of water to the Nile River, and reporting the results to affected countries to allow them to plan for sustainable use of its resources in the future.

“Water levels can be affected by both man-made and natural causes, and our research separates the effects of rain downpours, drought and environmental degradation, so that we can learn about the effects of human uses,” Associate Professor Awange said.

“The difficulty is that human uses – including increased population and domestic water consumption, hydroelectric power and increased agriculture – are all tied to the economic growth of the country implementing it.

“Our project, which was undertaken with Associate Professor Michael Kuhn, also from Curtin’s Department of Spatial Sciences, in conjunction with German researchers, has provided independent, factual understandings which the countries involved can then use to make better decisions, and hopefully plan for sustainable use of the river’s resources for the whole region.”

The project uses data from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite mission, which uses two satellites to detect spatio-temporal changes in the Earth’s gravity field, combined with mathematic techniques to isolate the total water storage (surface, groundwater, and soil moisture) of specific areas....

Aerial view of the Nile at Luxor

Monday, September 22, 2014

Dwindling chances to stay below 2°C warming

AlphaGalileo via the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research-Oslo: Carbon dioxide emissions continue to track the high end of emission scenarios, eroding the chances to keep global warming below 2°C, and placing increased pressure on world leaders ahead of the United Nations Climate Summit on the 23rd September.

Global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion and cement production grew 2.3 per cent to a record high of 36.1 billion tonnes CO2 in 2013. In 2014 emissions are set to increase a further 2.5%, 65 per cent above the level of 1990.

In its annual analysis of trends in global carbon dioxide emissions, the Global Carbon Project (GCP) published three peer-reviewed articles identifying the challenges for society to keep global average warming less than 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

The top-four emitters of CO2 have a critical role in global emissions growth:

  • Chinese emissions grew at 4.2%, due to slower economic growth and faster improvements in carbon intensity of the economy compared to the previous decade
  • USA emissions increased 2.9%, due to a rebound in coal consumption potentially reversing the downward trend since the start of the shale-gas boom in 2007
  • Indian emissions grew at 5.1%, due to robust economic growth and a continued increase in the carbon intensity of the economy
  • EU28 emissions decreased 1.8%, due to a weak economy and emission decreases in some countries offsetting a return to coal led by Poland, Germany, Finland

“China now emits more than the US and EU combined and has CO2 emissions per person 45% higher than the global average, exceeding even the EU average”, said Robbie Andrew, a co-author of the studies based at the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research – Oslo (CICERO) in Norway.

“China continues to reshape the global distribution of emissions, and as politics impedes significant progress in the US and other key countries, observers increasingly look to China to provide a breakthrough in climate negotiations”, said Glen Peters, another CICERO-based co-author....

A coal bike in China, shot by Brian Kelley, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

The most vulnerable populations to climate change: floods, droughts and extreme weather

Catherine Griffin in Science World Report: While climate change can benefit some locations, other areas are more at risk. Now, scientists have taken a look at which sections of the world's population are left most at risk to food shortages and extreme weather events.

Extreme weather events can leave populations with not enough food both in the short- and long-term. That's why scientists decided to take a look at which populations could be most affected by these events. More specifically, they tracked the effects on four countries, including Russia, East Africa, Pakistan and the Philippines, which all experienced extreme weather events that ranged from drought to flooding.

Climate change is expected to increase the intensity and frequency of heatwaves and floods. Although there's no scientific evidence to show that a specific weather event would not have happened without climate change, the risk of the event does indeed increase. In fact, the new findings show that the heat wave that occurred in Russia and the drought that occurred in East Africa were most likely caused by climate change.

"Weather has always affected flood security, particularly for many of the world's poorest people," said John Ingram, one of the lead authors of the new study, in a news release. "Perhaps we think of farmers or fishermen first, but extreme weather will affect many more people in other ways too. While direct measures such as emergency preparedness and the strengthening of response-related institutions is helpful, this study has identified the need for a wider cultural shift to ensure the poorest and most vulnerable are properly protected."...

US Army photo of 2010 flooding in Pakistan

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Study finds Great Barrier Reef is an effective wave absorber

University of Southampton News Release: New research has found that the Great Barrier Reef, as a whole, is a remarkably effective wave absorber, despite large gaps between the reefs. This means that landward of the reefs, waves are mostly related to local winds rather than offshore wave conditions.

As waves break and reduce in height over reefs, this drives currents that are very important for the transport of nutrients and larvae. This reduction in wave height also has implications for shoreline stability. Transition

The Great Barrier Reef in Australia is the largest coral reef system in the world, extending 2,300 km alongshore. The reef matrix is a porous structure consisting of thousands of individual reefs, with gaps in between. The porosity varies in that is it much lower in the north where the continental shelf is narrow and there is extensive reef flats; and is greater in the south where the shelf reaches up to 300 km wide and there are extensive lagoons.

Previously, there have been several studies investigating how individual reefs in the Great Barrier Reef influence ocean waves. However, this was the first, comprehensive, large-scale study of the influence of an entire offshore reef system on ocean wave transmission. The researchers used a 16-year record of satellite altimeter measurements of wave heights.

The team was led by Dr Shari Gallop, Research Fellow in Geology and Geophysics at the University of Southampton, and included Dr Ivan Haigh, also from the University of Southampton; Professor Ian Young, Vice-Chancellor of the Australian National University (ANU); Professor Roshanka Ranasinghe, Professor of Climate Change Impacts and Coastal Risk (UNESCO-IHE, Deltares, ANU), and Dr Tom Durrant (Bureau of Meteorology, Australia).

The aim was to see how wave height reduction is influenced by the porosity of the reef matrix, sea level and wind speed. Dr Gallop says: “There was no evidence that in less porous areas wave heights are lessened. This is because individual reefs, like islands, cast a ‘wave shadow’ over a large area, so that a matrix of individual reefs is remarkably efficient at reducing waves.” ....

The Great Barrier Reef, shot by Sarah Ackerman, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons 2.0 license

Monday, September 15, 2014

Hundreds flee 2 California wildfires; homes burn

Seattle PI via AP: Two raging wildfires in California forced hundreds of people to evacuate their homes, including one near a lakeside resort town that burned nearly two dozen structures, many of them homes.

The blaze, sparked Sunday afternoon near a foothill community south of the entrance to Yosemite National Park in central California, prompted authorities to evacuate about 1,000 residents out of about 400 homes, Madera County Sheriff's spokeswoman Erica Stuart said.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said flames damaged or destroyed 21 structures. The Fresno Bee reports one neighborhood was hit especially hard, with several homes turned to ash and smoldering embers. "This is gut-wrenching," CalFire Battalion Chief Chris Christopherson told the newspaper. "It makes you sick."

...The fire started off a road outside of Oakhurst, near Yosemite National Park, and made a run to Bass Lake. Stoked by winds, it quickly charred at least 320 acres, CalFire spokesman Daniel Berlant said. The lakeside area is a popular destination throughout the year. There were no reports of the blaze, which is 20 percent contained, affecting the park.

The destructive fire led Gov. Jerry Brown to secure a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to cover 75 percent of the costof fighting the fire, state officials said.

Further north, a wildfire about 60 miles east of Sacramento forced the evacuation of 133 homes. El Dorado County sheriff's officials said residents of an additional 406 homes were being told to prepare to flee. Berlant said the blaze started in a remote area Saturday but exploded on Sunday when it reached a canyon full of thick, dry brush. It has blackened 4.7 square miles and was 10 percent contained.

Meanwhile in Southern California, evacuation orders for 200 homes in Orange County's Silverado Canyon were lifted late Sunday as firefighters contained 50 percent of a wildfire....

An Alora Manley photo of a 2007 wildfire in California, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons 2.0 license

Shift in Arabian Sea plankton may threaten fisheries

A press release from the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (part of the Earth Institute at Columbia University): A growing “dead zone” in the middle of the Arabian Sea has allowed plankton uniquely suited to low- oxygen water to take over the base of the food chain. Their rise to dominance over the last decade could be disastrous for the predator fish that sustain 120 million people living on the sea’s edge.

Scientists at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and their colleagues are the first to document the rapid rise of green Noctiluca scintillans, an unusual dinoflagellate that eats other plankton and draws energy from the sun via microscopic algae living within its cells. Noctiluca’s thick blooms color the Arabian Sea an emerald green each winter, from the shores of Oman on the west, to India and Pakistan on the east.

In a study published this week in Nature Communications, the researchers show how the millions of green algae living within Noctiluca’s cells allow it to exploit an oxygen-starved dead zone the size of Texas. They hypothesize that a tide of nutrient-rich sewage flowing from booming cities on the Arabian Sea is expanding the dead zone and feeding Noctiluca’s growth.
“These blooms are massive, appear year after year, and could be devastating to the Arabian Sea ecosystem over the long-term,” said the study’s lead author, Helga do Rosario Gomes, a biogeochemist at Lamont-Doherty....

A NASA image of a phytoplankton bloom in the Arabian Sea

'Dangerous' hurricane eyes Mexico Pacific resorts

Terra Daily via AFP: Hurricane Odile swirled menacingly toward Mexico's Los Cabos resorts on Sunday, forcing authorities to evacuate high-risk areas and open shelters as the powerful storm threatened to thrash the Pacific coast.

The "dangerous" category three storm in the five-level Saffir-Simpson scale packed 205 kilometer (125 mile) per hour winds as it approached the Baja California peninsula, according to the US National Hurricane Center.

"All preparedness actions to protect life and property should be rushed to completion," the Miami-based center said, warning that the hurricane could produce life-threatening floods and mudslides.

The core of Odile will pass close to, or over, the southern tip of the peninsula late Sunday and Monday, it added.

Four-meter (13-foot) waves crashed on the beaches and intense rains lashed Los Cabos, which is known for its high-end hotels. Some 26,000 foreign tourists and another 4,000 Mexicans were staying in 18 hotels converted into temporary shelters, officials said....

NASA image of Odile on September 13, 2014

Thirsty Serengeti wildlife to get new water hole: Lake Victoria

Kizito Makoye in Reuters via the Thomson Reuters Foundation: After decades of struggling to help the wildlife of Serengeti National Park cope with Tanzania's increasingly intense droughts, the government is implementing a controversial plan to use Lake Victoria as an alternative water source for animals.

The project aims to ensure the survival of millions of animals, including the wildebeests and zebras that take part in the Great Migration every year, and involves reviving a 36 sq km (14 sq mile) wildlife corridor by extending the border of the park to Lake Victoria's Gulf of Speke.

But guaranteeing animals safe passage to the second-largest freshwater lake in the world will mean evicting hundreds of families living on the land. Government officials say moving about 8,000 people out of the Speke Game Controlled Area in Bunda district is essential to conserve the Serengeti's ecosystem as it faces worsening drought.

"This process is unavoidable due to the importance of the area to the Serengeti-Maasai Mara ecosystem," said a report from the Mara Regional Consultative Committee (RCC), a government body. "The cost to implement these decisions now is much smaller than [it would be after] waiting for more years."

A member of the RCC told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that the project's budget is an estimated $33 million....

A sunset in the eastern Serengeti, shot by Harvey Barrison, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons 2.0 license 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Drought bites as Amazon’s ‘flying rivers’ dry up

Jan Rocha in Climate News Network: The unprecedented drought now affecting São Paulo, South America’s giant metropolis, is believed to be caused by the absence of the “flying rivers” − the vapour clouds from the Amazon that normally bring rain to the centre and south of Brazil.

Some Brazilian scientists say the absence of rain that has dried up rivers and reservoirs in central and southeast Brazil is not just a quirk of nature, but a change brought about by a combination of the continuing deforestation of the Amazon and global warming. This combination, they say, is reducing the role of the Amazon rainforest as a giant “water pump”, releasing billions of litres of humidity from the trees into the air in the form of vapour.

Meteorologist Jose Marengo, a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, first coined the phrase “flying rivers” to describe these massive volumes of vapour that rise from the rainforest, travel west, and then − blocked by the Andes − turn south.

Satellite images from the Centre for Weather Forecasts and Climate Research of Brazil’s National Space Research Institute (INPE) clearly show that, during January and February this year, the flying rivers failed to arrive, unlike the previous five years.

Deforestation all over Brazil has reached alarming proportions: 22% of the Amazon rainforest (an area larger than Portugal, Italy and Germany combined), 47% of the Cerrado in central Brazil, and 91.5% of the Atlantic forest that used to cover the entire length of the coastal area....

The Amazon River delta from a NASA satellite

Adapting to climate change can’t be left to the wild west of the markets

Razmig Keucheyan in the Guardian (UK): ......This fiscal crisis of the state will weigh not only on reaction and adaptation to climate events, but on mitigation policies. Cutting greenhouse gas emissions implies an energetic transition on a massive scale towards clean energies. This requires investments by the state, which will be difficult given the already overstretched public finances. Rising debt levels inflicted on societies by neoliberal tax cuts for the rich gravely compromise our capacity to adapt to climate change.

So far, so good. But then the IPCC report takes a final step – in the wrong direction. To bridge the gap in public finances caused by recurrent extreme weather events, it recommends appealing to private investors. More precisely, it advocates the implementation of financial instruments such as catastrophe bonds or microinsurance as a means to lighten the burden on the state in the face of a changing climate. Where the state does not have the resources to act, financial markets should take charge.

This financialisation of adaptation was already encouraged, in the years preceding the release of the IPCC report, by organisations such as the World Bank and the OECD. Thus, a 2012 working paper published by the OECD spoke of the need to “immunise public finances” from the effects of climate change, by issuing so-called “sovereign” catastrophe bonds, ie catastrophe bonds issued by states.

Financialising adaptation is a bad idea for numerous reasons. Here are two. Firstly, finance is prone to crisis, as the subprime market’s collapse demonstrated in 2007. Thus, financialising adaptation would put adaptation policies – parts of them at least – at the mercy of the erratic behaviour of financial markets. Adding financial instability to environmental instability will only increase the scale of disasters. What is needed, on the contrary, is less reliance on the logic of markets, and more environmental long-term planning.

Secondly, finance is in its essence undemocratic, ie out of the control of democratic deliberation. It is a form not only of economic dispossession, but of political dispossession, where the few choose for the many.

Adaptation to climate change, however, will require the involvement of the people, the deepening of the democratic process, and even the invention of new democratic institutions. Without their active commitment, their knowledge and knowhow, it is doomed to fail. The reason for this is that adaptation will in a good part be a matter of reorganising the daily lives of the people, and that this will obviously not be done without them. Adaptation to climate change, from this perspective, may well be our chance to revitalise democracy “from below”...

Panic at the New York Stock Exchange in 1893

View on Private Sector: Insuring against climate change

Aamna Modhin in SciDev.net: A recent UN report said that global warming will cause trillions of dollars of damage to coral reefs in the Caribbean. It also warned that small island states will be disproportionally affected by the impact of climate change: their coral reefs, which their economies depend on, are under significant environmental stress.

One news report on the document noted that the insurance industry could play a role in safeguarding such nations’ economies by providing stronger theoretical frameworks in which to understand risks to reefs.

I asked Mike Maran, chief science officer at insurance firm Catlin Group, what such efforts might look like. He tells me the firm is sponsoring a global scientific survey of coral reefs, including some in the Caribbean, with the aim of monitoring their health over the coming years.

Why would an insurance company do such a thing? Maran explains that scientific evidence helps insurers understand what might happen to reefs in the future, and how fast. Although firms do not insure the reefs directly, Maran says they have a broad obligation to study the risks society will face in the future so as to understand and manage those risks. The collection of robust scient
ific information gives insurers a good understanding of how the planet is changing and the impact these changes will have on policyholders.

Many of the risks involved in policies firms do provide — for example insurance for homes, other properties and businesses — could be linked to climate change, and so understanding changes to reefs as a proxy measure of that will help quantify those risks. For example, reef degradation could have an impact on fishing or tourism industries and so indirectly change the value of insured assets....

A coral reef in Biscayne National Park in Florida, shot by a Park Service employee

Indian Kashmir city 'in ruins' after floods

Space Daily via AFP: The main city in Indian Kashmir has "drowned completely" under floodwaters, a senior official said Friday, with the deadly inundation now affecting about two million people in neighbouring Pakistan and threatening its all-important cotton industry.

The floods began in Kashmir after heavy monsoon rains and are now progressing downstream through Pakistan, inundating thousands of villages and large areas of important farmland in the country's breadbasket.

More than 450 people have been killed and Pakistan's Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) said just shy of two million people have been affected by the floodwaters -- a figure that includes both those stranded at home and those who fled after the floods hit.

More than 140,000 people have been evacuated from towns and villages around Punjab, Pakistan's richest and most populous province.

Authorities have made plans to blast holes in strategic dykes to divert the turbid brown floodwaters away from Multan, a city of two million inhabitants and the nerve centre of Pakistan's cotton and textiles industry, a vital export earner...

A flood zone map of India, map created by PlaneMad, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The good and bad climate news from permafrost melt

John Upton in Climate Central: Carbon inside now-melting permafrost is oozing out, leaving scientists scrambling to figure out just how much of it is ending up in the atmosphere. Whether recent findings from research that attempted to help answer this question are good or bad climate news might depend on whether you see an Arctic river basin as half full of mud — or half empty.

...Frozen soils known as permafrosts can be found across the planet, and they’re concentrated heavily in the Arctic, which has been warming since the 1980s at twice the global rate. Taken together, permafrosts contain more carbon than is already in the atmosphere. Their warming-induced breakdown is helping to fill the atmosphere with greenhouse gases. In a self-feeding cycle, that's fueling the very climatic changes that are causing permafrost to waste away.

“What everyone’s really concerned about is how all this permafrost carbon is going to decompose,” said aquatic geochemist Rose Cory, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan. “If all of that gets turned into carbon dioxide, then we’ll more than double the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.”

A team of U.S. scientists led by Cory studied Arctic waterways and found that nearly half of the carbon that’s eroding from melting Arctic permafrost is flowing through rivers and lakes and ending up in the seas. Eventually, that sea-bound carbon is likely to be gobbled into aquatic food chains or to settle on ocean floors. The rest is being oxidized in waterways into carbon dioxide, floating into the skies instead of out to sea....

Polar photo ace Brocken Inaglory shot this great image of patterns in permafrost, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons 3.0 license

Ahoy, offshore wind: Advanced buoys bring vital data to untapped energy resource

Frances White in a press release at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory: Two massive, 20,000-pound buoys decked out with the latest in meteorological and oceanographic equipment will enable more accurate predictions of the power-producing potential of winds that blow off U.S. shores.

The bright yellow buoys — each worth $1.3 million — are being commissioned by the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Washington state's Sequim Bay. Starting in November, they will be deployed for up to a year at two offshore wind demonstration projects: one near Coos Bay, Oregon, and another near Virginia Beach, Virginia.

"We know offshore winds are powerful, but these buoys will allow us to better understand exactly how strong they really are at the heights of wind turbines," said PNNL atmospheric scientist Will Shaw. "Data provided by the buoys will give us a much clearer picture of how much power can be generated at specific sites along the American coastline — and enable us to generate that clean, renewable power sooner."

Offshore wind is a new frontier for U.S. renewable energy developers. There's tremendous power-producing potential, but limited information is available about ocean-based wind resources. DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy purchased the buoys to improve offshore turbine performance in the near term and reduce barriers to private investment in large-scale offshore wind energy development in the long term. The buoys were manufactured by AXYS Technologies, Inc., in Sidney, British Columbia.

A recent report estimated the U.S. could power nearly 17 million homes by generating more than 54 gigawatts of offshore wind energy, but more information is needed. Instruments have long been sent out to sea to measure winds on the ocean's surface, but the blade tips of offshore wind turbines can reach up to 600 feet above the surface, where winds can behave very differently....

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is commissioning two of these large buoys, which are decked out with advanced scientific instruments to more accurately predict offshore wind’s power-producing potential. Terms of Use: Our images are freely and publicly available for use with the credit line, "Courtesy of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory."