Friday, February 28, 2014

UN report sees global warming cost at $1.45 trillion

DNA (India): Global warming will reduce the world's crop production by up to 2% every decade and wreak $1.45 trillion of economic damage by the end of this century, according to a draft UN report, Japanese media said on Friday.

The document is the second volume in a long-awaited trilogy by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a Nobel-winning group of scientists, which is set to be issued next month after a five-day meeting in Japan, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported. The trilogy is the IPCC's first great overview of the causes and effects of global warming, and options for dealing with it, since 2007.

According to the draft, if global temperatures rise by 2.5 degrees Celsius (4.5 Fahrenheit), the world's aggregated gross domestic production will fall by 0.2 to 2%, the mass circulation said. That would translate into $147 billion to $1.45 trillion in economic losses, calculated against the world's total GDP in 2012, it said.

The planet's crop production will decline by up to 2% every decade as rainfall patterns shift and droughts batter farmland, even as demand for food rises a projected 14%, it said.

Other effects from global warming include the loss of land to rising sea levels, forcing hundreds of millions of people to migrate from coastal areas, with the most vulnerable regions including East, South and Southeast Asia, it said.

The draft report, which will be reviewed in the March 25-29 meeting in Yokohama, calls for mitigation measures to reduce the vulnerability of environments to climate change such as flood protection projects and research on the prevention of infectious diseases, it said....

How Namibia can cope with drought

Axel Rothauge in via the Namibian: Decades of experience in the commercial livestock production sector of Namibia have shown that one of the surest ways to bankrupt a farming business quickly is to feed expensive emergency fodder during a drought. Many Namibian farmers are currently learning this painful lesson, again.

While there is little that can be done about it in retrospect, those farmers that survive this drought financially should start work immediately to cushion the impact of the next drought, which will certainly come within our lifetime, and again at a most inopportune time. The worst thing a farmer can do is to resume farming as usual after this drought and only start worrying about the next drought when it is there. Planning for a drought is best done when it is raining, when there is still time.

A drought is caused by inadequate rainfall or rainfall that is so poorly distributed over a rainy season that too little fodder grows on the veld; less than is needed to feed all the animals on the farm. Essentially, a drought is a period of extreme fodder deficiency. Often, a climatic drought is made worse by the poor condition of the rangeland before the drought. This "man-made" drought on top of a climatic drought has devastating impacts on farming.

During a drought, it's a struggle for survival. Any preparation has to be done before, while it still rains. What can be done? Produce extra fodder to stash some away and build a fodder bank in time. Home-produced fodder is nearly always considerably cheaper than bought-in fodder, which tends to run out just when it's needed most, sending prices sky-high. Surplus fodder can be sold as a cash crop or integrated into the regular feed flow of a farm. The main ways to grow extra fodder is to establish plantations of drought-tolerant fodder plants on a farm...

The Etosha Pan in Namibia, shot by Greg Willis , Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Island nation takes on the world’s polluters

Jaspreet Kindra in IRIN: A Russian film crew arrived in Palau at the end of 2013 to shoot the reality show ‘Octpob’ on one of the archipelago’s more than 500 islands. The show leaves contestants in isolated locales with limited water and food to test their survival skills. In 2004, the US version of the show, Survivor, was also shot in Palau.

Palauans welcomed the TV crew and its glittering cast of celebrities - it did, after all, bring in much-needed revenue. But the situation presented an uncomfortable irony: while Russian and American contestants have tested their survival abilities in Palau, Russia and the US have adopted strong positions at the UN Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) talks, which could threaten Palau’s own chances of surviving as sea levels rise.

The UNFCCC talks aim to come up with a treaty that assigns responsibility for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and for the provision financial and technical support to vulnerable countries, like Palau, that have not contributed to global warming. The talks have met resistance from the developed world and emerging economies like China and India, which say they are not responsible for past emissions and should not be held accountable for emissions in the future.

Time is running out for low-lying islands like Palau. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) said in a recent assessment, “if the world were to stay on the current fossil-fuel intensive growth model” dealing with the impact of changing climate in 14 of the Pacific Ocean islands, including Palau, could cost them 12.7 percent of their collective annual GDP equivalent by 2100....

NOAA image of shark silhouettes near Palau

Offshore wind farms can tame hurricanes, study finds

Wendy Koch in USA Today: Billions of dollars in U.S. damage from mega-storms Katrina and Sandy might have been avoided with a perhaps surprising device — wind turbines.

That's the finding of a ground-breaking study today that says mammoth offshore wind farms can tame hurricanes rather than be destroyed by them. It says a phalanx of tens of thousands of turbines can lower a hurricane's wind speed up to 92 mph and reduce its storm surge up to 79%.

Unlike sea walls, which protect cities from storm surges, wind farms pay for themselves by generating pollution-free electricity, says lead author Mark Jacobson, an engineering professor at Stanford University. "The additional hurricane (protection) benefit is free."

No offshore wind farms currently operate in the United States, although 11 are under development — mostly off the East and Texas coasts. Most of the world's offshore turbines are in northwestern Europe, but China is ramping up its capacity.

Jacobson says his study, published online in Nature Climate Change, is the first to look at how offshore turbines interact with hurricanes. He says the impact may seem surprising but makes sense: Turbines produce power by taking energy from wind and thus slowing it down....

Offshore wind turbines at Barrow Offshore Wind off Walney Island in the Irish Sea. Shot by Papa Lima Whiskey 2, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Experts to work on Montenegro’s health system strategy to adapt to climate change

A press release from the World Health Organization: A group of health experts from WHO, the Montenegrin Ministry of Health, Institute of Public Health and Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) have agreed to work on a joint project to develop for the first time in Montenegro a strategy for adapting the national health system to climate change and its impact on Montenegrins’ health.

At the national roundtable in Podgorica, held on 20 December 2013, public health experts discussed how to strengthen the capacity for understanding the health risks posed by climate change. Special emphasis was also given to responding to early warnings and having emergency plans in place.

The Deputy Minister of Health, Dr Mira Dasic, spoke about how the effects of heat stress and extreme weather directly caused by hazardous weather conditions can result in increased morbidity or mortality. “Indirectly, we are also affected by diseases transmitted by water, food and allergens from the air," said Dr Dasic.

The Head of the WHO Country Office in Montenegro, Ms Mina Brajović, also stressed that climate change is a very serious and complex challenge when it comes to dealing with sustainable development, the environment and public health. "Adaptation to climate change is imperative. Otherwise, we will be faced with increased pressure on our health systems,” she added.

Professor Vladimir Kendrovski, Technical Officer for  the WHO European Centre for Environment and Health, said that experts predict almost 90 000 people will die worldwide as a consequence of heat-waves alone if we do not take action before 2100. “If there is no change, there will be an increase in water shortages, droughts, fires, heat-waves and extremely high temperatures,” he warned....

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Antarctic Circumpolar Current carries 20 percent more water than previous estimates

A press release from the University of Rhode Island: The Antarctic Circumpolar Current transports water around Antarctica and into the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, transferring heat and energy around the globe. Quantifying how much water it carries is an important step in understanding climate change and validating the accuracy of climate and oceanographic models.

By analyzing four years of continuous measurements of the current at Drake Passage, the narrowest point in the Southern Ocean, three University of Rhode Island oceanographers have concluded that the current carries 20 percent more water than previous estimates. They also found that the current remains strong all the way to the seafloor.

“It’s important to understand the dynamics of the current so we can understand the impacts of our changing climate,” said Kathleen Donohue, associate professor at the URI Graduate School of Oceanography. “We want to know how the current will respond to changing conditions, so quantifying the transport gives important guidance to the climate models that are trying to predict the future.”

...The Southern Ocean is warming faster than other oceans, and the easterly winds that drive the current have increased significantly in the last 30 years. How the current will respond to these changes is not fully understood. Eddies, or ocean storms, are essential for transferring momentum from the circumpolar winds that drive the current to the sea floor.

To study the dynamics of the current, Donohue, Watts and Teresa Chereskin of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography deployed 35 current and pressure recording inverted echo sounders, which measure oceanic fronts and currents, across Drake Passage in 2007. They retrieved them in 2011. Another more closely spaced array of instruments was also deployed to map circulation and eddy patterns. The instruments collected higher resolution data over a longer period of time than the only other similar study of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, which was conducted in the 1970s....

A Lambert azimuthal projection of the Drake Passage, by :Geo Swan, public domain 

Who will pay for climate change consequences?

Gary Lawrence in Environmental Leader: A number of initiatives, including the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Recovery and the University of Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index, have been developing models to assess climate risk at various scales.  The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development has been trying to put numbers on the cost of adaptation. The journal Nature Climate Change recently published a paper entitled “Future Flood Losses in Major Coastal Cities” full of some very sobering numbers. The World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Climate Change has developed recommendations on financing mechanisms for adaptation. These are just some of the initiatives underway to price the risks of climate-driven weather variations.

It is likely, however, that the extraordinarily complicated questions of what is at risk, what should be done about it and how much should be spent will be easier to address than the political question, who should pay and what’s their share. This is a question our clients, public and private, grapple with all the time as they consider their own risk attenuation.

 All but the most optimistic agree that substantial new revenue from existing sources dedicated to climate adaptation will not be forthcoming.  There is hope that financial markets can develop instruments for investors that produce positive returns for adaptation investments.  Without new funding sources, the best we can do is incorporate adaptation benefits into exist ing spending.  But, how much do we spend on probabilities and what is the opportunity cost for that spend compared to existing needs? This is a very contentious political question.

In politics, do we see the future considered as a constituent of decisions about the future? Sustainability demands the answer should be yes. For many, quite reasonably given the inability to know the future, the answer is largely no.

But, there are future-minded companies out there that have risen above the political hubbub and recognized that protecting their assets from an uncertain, unknowable future is simply good business sense. I reached out to a few of my colleagues to get their thoughts and received some excellent examples of companies and organizations that have redefined this question in terms of sound business strategy.

...The best mitigation and adaptation strategies are not stand-alone investments but part of a broader consideration of cumulative benefits....

Global warming slowdown 'does not invalidate climate change'

Adam Vaughan in the Guardian (UK): The slowdown in rising global surface temperatures is not a sign that climate change is no longer happening, the national science academies of the US and the UK have said. Publishing a guide on the state of climate change science, the National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society said the short-term slowdown this century did not "invalidate" the long-term trend of rising temperatures caused by man-made climate change.

"Despite the decadal slowdown in the rise of average surface temperature, a longer-term warming trend is still evident. Each of the last three decades was warmer than any other decade since widespread thermometer measurements were introduced in the 1850s," the publication, Climate Change Evidence and Causes, said.

Scientists have been investigating reasons for the slowdown in temperature rises. Peer-reviewed papers over the last year have suggested 17 sun-dimming volcanic eruptions since 2000, "unusual" trade winds in the Pacific Ocean burying surface heat deep underwater and the world's oceans absorbing greater amounts of heat in recent years may have contributed.

Thomas Stocker, the co-chair of working group one of the UN's climate science panel, said at the launch of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's landmark report last September that the recent slowdown in surface temperature rises was not significant because it was over too short a period of time. "Climate relevant trends should not be calculated for periods of less than 30 years," he said.....

A painting by Lazlo Mednyanszky (1852-1919), "Snow Landscape with Boats"

The race to save the Caribbean's banana industry

Desmond Brown in IPS: When Dean, the first storm of the 2007 Atlantic hurricane season, lashed Dominica on Aug. 16, it left behind a trail of destruction, claimed the lives of a mother and son, and decimated the island’s vital banana industry.

Seven years later, Dominica’s agricultural sector remains painfully vulnerable to natural disasters and climate variability. Every year, farmers lose a signific
ant portion of their crops and livestock during the six-month hurricane season.

 “Our first major hurricane was Hurricane David in 1979, which ravaged the entire country. Everything went down,” former prime minister Edison James, himself a farmer, told IPS. “Since then we’ve had storms and hurricanes from time to time which have caused damage of varying extent. “Sometimes we have 90 percent crop damage, particularly bananas and avocados and tree crops generally.”

The banana industry is a valuable source of foreign exchange for several Caribbean countries, including Dominica. The island produces approximately 30,000 tonnes of the fruit annually, earning an estimated 55 million dollars. The neighbouring islands of St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, which together market their fruit under the Windward Islands Banana brand, earn an average of 68 million dollars.

The banana industry is also the second largest employer on the island after the government, providing work for 6,000 farmers and many others within the sector. Research has found that even slight temperature increases can damage banana production or even eliminate it altogether....

Banana picture by Thamizhpparithi Maari, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license 

Mozambique floods destroyed over 1,300 homes Last week's flooding in Namacurra and Maganja da Costa districts in the central Mozambican province of Zambezia destroyed 1,340 houses, the spokesperson for the Mozambican government, Deputy Foreign Minister Henrique Banze, told reporters on Tuesday.

Torrential rains caused the Licungo river to burst its banks, submerging over 7,000 hectares of crops, 6,500 of which are regarded as lost. The floods had inundated 5,000 houses, 450 classrooms and seven health units. Roads in the two districts had become impassable.

Taking the country as a whole, Banze said said that 5,000 families had been affected by heavy rains and flooding since the rainy season began in October.

He said the government is seriously concerned at outbreaks of cholera reported in Zambezia and the neighbouring province of Nampula. 43 cases had been diagnosed, but so far there were no deaths. “Civic education and water purification measures are being taken so that other people are not affected by the disease”, said Banze.

The government is continuing to monitor the situation, he added, and will take measures to ensure that the food and health needs of flood victims are met. The weather forecast for the next few days is continued rainfall throughout the country, but particularly in the central and northern provinces....

NASA image of 2010 flooding in Mozambique

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Malaysia, Singapore grapple with prolonged dry spell

Reuters: Singapore and Malaysia are grappling with some of the driest weather they have ever seen, forcing the tiny city-state to ramp up supplies of recycled water while its neighbor rations reserves amid disruptions to farming and fisheries.

Singapore, which experiences tropical downpours on most days, suffered its longest dry spell on record between January 13 and February 8 and has had little rain since.

Shares in Hyflux Ltd, which operates desalination and water recycling operations in Singapore, have risen 3.5 pct over the past month.

In peninsular Malaysia, 15 areas have not had rainfall in more than 20 days, with some of them dry for more than a month, according to the Malaysian Meteorological Department. The dry weather is expected to run for another two weeks.

The Indonesian province of Riau has also been hit, with parts of the region wreathed in smog, usually caused by farmers setting fires to illegally clear land. Poor visibility has disrupted flights to and from the airport in Pekanbaru...

South Africa at increased risk from tropical cyclones

Money Web (South Africa): Wits University scientists have debunked two big myths around climate change by proving firstly, that despite predictions, tropical storms are not increasing in number. However, they are shifting, and South Africa could be at increased risk of being directly impacted by tropical cyclones within the next 40 years.

Secondly, while global warming is causing frost to be less severe, late season frost is not receding as quickly as flowering is advancing, resulting in increased frost risk which will likely begin to threaten food security.

According to Jennifer Fitchett, a PhD student in the Wits School of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental Studies (GAES), there has been an assumption that increasing sea surface temperatures caused by global warming is causing an increase in the number of tropical cyclones. But looking at data for the south-west Indian Ocean over the past 161 years,

....The big surprise came when Fitchett and Grab looked at where storms have been happening. As the oceans have warmed and the minimum sea surface temperature necessary for a cyclone to occur (26.5 degrees Celsius) has been moving further south, storms in the south-west Indian Ocean have been moving further south too.

Most cyclones hit Madagascar and do not continue to Mozambique, and those which hit Mozambique develop to the North of Madagascar, but in the past 66 years there have been seven storms which have developed south of Madagascar and hit Mozambique head-on. More notable is that four of them occurred in the past 20 years. "This definitely looks like the start of a trend," says Fitchett.

South Africa is already feeling the effects of this shift. The cyclones that hit southern Mozambique cause heavy rain and flooding in Limpopo. But according to Fitchett, the trend becomes even more concerning when one considers that the 26.5 degrees Celsius temperature line (isotherm) has been moving south at a rate of 0.6 degrees latitude per decade since 1850. "At current rates we could see frequent serious damage in South Africa by 2050," she says....

Tropical cyclone Feling near Madagascar in 2013, from the International Space Station

Drought, fires affect the ability of Amazon to hold carbon dioxide

PhysOrg: Fires in the Amazon could jeopardize the forest's ability to soak up carbon dioxide emissions even as deforestation there slows down, according to a Penn State geographer.

In an invited commentary in the Feb. 6 edition of Nature, Jennifer Balch, assistant professor of geography, noted that dry weather conditions, coupled with fires, may mean that over time the Amazon forest will lose its ability to take in more carbon dioxide than it releases—going from being a carbon sink to a source.

"Aircraft have just recently captured the 'breath' of the entire Amazon forest," Balch said. "This is really important work that represents the first time that carbon fluxes from the Amazon basin have been obtained in this way."

Her commentary follows the work of researchers (whose findings are published in that edition of Nature) who used aircraft to profile how much carbon the forests are releasing. During drought conditions, the forests took up less of the carbon dioxide that comes with fires. That, coupled with a slowdown in photosynthesis, saw an upswing in carbon dioxide emissions from the forest dome.

An important next step, Balch wrote, is determining what types of fires—wildfires or those used for agriculture, for example—are behind the large amount of land that is burned every year. That information could help direct fire prevention and management in the future. Since the year 2000, 85,000 square kilometers of understory forests burned in the Amazon....

Viewed from space, fires and deforestation near Rondonia, Brazil. Image from NASA

Turkish businesses should take heed of climate change

Hurryet Daily News (Istanbul): Climate change is an increasing concern for businesses worldwide, and especially in Turkey, where water scarcity is a growing challenge. But knowing what to do about it can be daunting, especially for small and medium-sized firms, according to research funded by the European Bank for Research and Development (EBRD) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC).

Their new report, “Pilot Climate Change Adaptation Study: Turkey,” lays out a series of prio
rity actions for Turkish businesses. The study aims to help companies manage the risks and opportunities associated with climate change, making it possible for them to identify measures that make business sense and to prepare for the changes ahead.

“The private sector in Turkey will need to be more climate-resilient, and with this research, it can prepare for climate change in ways that also make good business sense,” said Stephanie Miller, director of Climate Business at IFC, a member of the World Bank Group.

“There are significant opportunities for Turkish businesses to invest in climate-resilient technologies and practices, which can also generate a good return on investment,” said Craig Davies, senior manager for Climate Change Adaptation at the EBRD. “We are also engaging with other international agencies and financial institutions in Turkey to further strengthen the country’s climate resilience frameworks and develop new financing mechanisms.”

The report, undertaken in conjunction with the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey (TOBB) and the Environment and Urbanization Ministry, describes water scarcity as an increasing risk for Turkey due to climate change and its impact on precipitation, including more frequent droughts and hot spells....

The Grand Bazaar in Instanbul, shot by Giovanni Dall'Orto, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Italy license

Early-warning system for health risks

A press release from Fraunhofer: That environmental factors affect health is neither unknown nor new. But how are the two actually connected? How can predictions be better used to avoid, for example epidemics by initiating countermeasures on time? In the EU project EO2HEAVEN researchers aimed to answer exactly those questions. The IT architecture for evaluating and correlating data was provided by Dr. Kym Watson and his team at the Fraunhofer Institute of Optronics, System Technologies and Image Exploitation IOSB in Karlsruhe. The scientists will present the system concept at CeBIT at the Fraunhofer stand in Hall 9.

In the future, sensors, data and risk analysis should provide hospitals and health authorities with timely decision support in the event of an impending health threat. Graphics: Stefan Riel; photo: Jerzy Sawluk | pixelio.

Within this project three case studies were examined: In Dresden the relationship between air quality – measured in terms of temperature, particulate matter and ozone – and cardiovascular disease; in the South African city of Durban the relationship between air pollution in an industrial area and asthma; and in Uganda the influence of various environmental factors on cholera outbreaks. To this end the researchers at the IOSB developed a software architecture for early warning systems that correlates the environmental and health data and represents it in graphical form. “This allowed us for the first time to visualize the relationships between these factors on risk maps to create a better understanding of the complex environment-health nexus,” explains project coordinator Dr. Kym Watson.

...In the long term it is conceivable, for example, that asthmatics could create their own personal profile in an app. Kym Watson explains the principle: “Users can define the thresholds above which they haven an allergic reaction to pollen or poor air quality. The user can view his / her personal risk map that relates these thresholds to measured or forecasted environmental data. The app could even warn the user when a limit value is or is likely to be exceeded. ”....

Sometimes I'm stumped for an illustration. That's when a green dragon comes in handy. Image by  Bastianow. Version without border of coat of arms: Bedwyr., public domain

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Experts share opinions on climate change, erosion in New Jersey

Carley Ens in the Daily Targum (Rutgers University): Concerns about climate change are increasing with the rising sea level, while erosion is becoming a serious problem on N.J. shores. Director and producer Ben Kalina screened his climate change documentary “Shored Up” at the Cook Campus Center yesterday with a panel of experts in marine sciences and climatology.

The Rutgers Climate Institute and Cook Campus Dean Barbara Turpin, among five others, coordinated to sponsor the event.  “Shored Up” discussed the impacts and risks of sea-level change on coastal communities from New Jersey to North Carolina.

Marjorie Kaplan, associate director of Rutgers Climate Institute, said the organization aims to educate and inform society about the causes and consequences of climate change. According to the film, about six inches of N.J. shoreline are lost every year to erosion. If sea levels continue to rise, changes could happen around the planet.

 “Thinking about ways in which we can address or adapt to sea-level rise in our own backyard is a dialogue that we thought would be important to the Rutgers community,” Kaplan said.

...Tim Dillingham, executive director of the American Littoral Society, said the “danger zone” caused by rising sea levels is bound to get larger and more intense over time. According to the film, the Coastal Research Center at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey predicted a 39-inch sea-level rise in North Carolina by 2100, which could have serious economic consequences.

Humanity is in constant conflict between their desire to control nature and their inability to control it, Dillingham said....

A postcard from between 1930 and 1945 of the concrete ship Atlantus off the coast of Cape May, New Jersey

UK floods: raise roads and redesign houses, engineers say

Jessica Aldred in the Guardian (UK): Houses should be redesigned, roads raised and tidal lagoons built that generate energy to reduce the impact of flooding in the UK, according to a panel of senior engineers and academics. Recent flooding has affected large parts of southern England in the UK's wettest winter on record – particularly the Somerset Levels and Thames valley, resulting in more than 5,000 homes and businesses being flooded, major road and rail networks disrupted, and a political row over who is to blame.

"In some senses we're still in a mode of 'discovery by disaster'," said Prof Jim Hall, professor of climate and environmental risks and director of the Environmental Change Institute at Oxford University, said at a briefing held in London by the Science Media Centre and Royal Academy of Engineering. "With the exception of rail infrastructure, critical national infrastructure has come through this latest set of floods pretty well, but adapting to changing climate risk is still very much a work in progress."

David Rooke, executive director of flood and coastal risk management at the Environment Agency, said the organisation was still in "operational mode" with high tides and more rain forecast for this weekend, and still-rising groundwater levels. "No government across the world can protect all people, in all property from all flooding – but we will do all we can to minimise impact."

Prof Roger Falconer, professor of water management and director of the hydro-environmental research centre at Cardiff University, said the UK should be following the examples of other countries in designing houses that could cope with increased flooding.

"In this country we talk about putting houses on stilts and following the Netherlands. But I think it would be better if we turned and looked at the United States and countries with high tropical storms like Malaysia," he said, describing houses that have a garage and playroom in the basement and living areas on the upper floors....

Extremely flooded River Stour at Ilford Bridge, Bournemouth, in Dorset, shot by Tazbo123, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

A proposal to alter crop patterns in Kerala

K. Santhosh in the Hindu: Kerala should think of changing its cropping patterns and systems to combat the effects of climate change, Kadambote Siddique, Director, Institute of Agriculture, University of Western Australia, has said.

On a visit to Kerala Agricultural University, his alma mater, Dr. Siddique told The Hindu that crop simulation models indicated that the area under rice and wheat was l
ikely to decline globally in the coming decades and food grain production was under threat from rise in temperature and rainfall uncertainties associated with global warming.

“Agriculture had been seriously affected by the heat wave of 2003 in the European Union, drought of 2004 in southern African countries, drought in Australia and other wheat growing countries in 2006, and droughts in 2002 and 2009 in India,’’ he said.

He observed that climate in Kerala was fast changing with rainfall during southwest monsoon declining and a rise in temperature being projected in relation to global warming. ‘‘It is predicted that a third of Kerala's biodiversity would vanish or would be close to extinction by 2030. A decline in wetlands is causing floods, droughts, and groundwater depletion. Sand-mining should be checked. There is also an urgent need for an action plan for afforestation and protection of natural forests,’’ he said. He called for new agronomic practices and development of new varieties and breeds. “Despite several biotic and abiotic constraints, agricultural production in Australia increased on account of improved agronomic practices, new varieties, and diversification of farming systems. India too can do it,” he said....

A banana farm in Kerala, shot by Ramesh NG, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Philippines recovering from typhoon

Kendra Nichols in ABC27 WHTM: Walking by makeshift homes on the coast of Tacloban City in the Philippines, it is still very clear that something very horrible happened. There are still empty spaces where homes used to be, debris still litters the ground and water, and every once in a while you can smell a trace of death.

Three months ago Super Typhoon Haiyan, or Yolanda as it's known in the Philippines, slammed into the coastal city, forcing a 13-foot wall of water a half a mile inland. Hundreds of homes were washed away, and in a matter of minutes and thousands were killed.

"There was so much death in so little time, and the signs of the death can only be smelled. You cannot see them anymore," said Bernie Lopez, a World Surgical Foundation documenter.

Lopez visited Tacloban City one month after the storm to document the damage for the World Surgical Foundation. He returned with abc27 News to take another look and act as a guide. "I see very little difference. People are working, there are more houses to live in, but basically it looks the same to me," said Lopez.

When the storm surge hit the city, the water slammed several tanker ships into the town. Three months later, nine of them are still in the city. Locals are asking the government to have them removed, saying they are a constant reminder of the devastation. They also believe there are still bodies under the ships. "The recovery of bodies is still going on 100 days after the typhoon," said Lopez....

Locator map of Tacloban by Mike Gonzalez (TheCoffee), Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license 

Pastoralist aspirations versus policy in the Horn of Africa

IRIN: Since the Horn of Africa drought of 2011 aid agencies have been working to understand the changes taking place in the drylands, hoping to better anticipate people’s needs. Recent research shows these changes go beyond climate and environment to encompass social and economic factors. The findings have important policy implications.

“The predominant narrative of what these people want to do with their lives is a traditional, pastoral one, where their lives focus on raising animals and continuing in a tradition of pastoral transhumance little changed over centuries,” notes Changes in the arid lands: the expanding rangeland, a joint report by the Red Cross, Oxfam and Save the Children.

External factors, such as drought, have been used to explain pastoralists’ movement from nomadic livestock keeping to living in settlements and peri-urban areas. But this explanation ignores the rapidly changing socio-economic circumstances in these communities, the report says.

“The predominant narrative did not take into consideration vast increases in population (approximately six times greater than 50 years ago), growing materialism and commercialization, and increasing connectedness to the world outside their community… The narrative needed to be updated.”

Researchers asked communities in Shinile and Jijiga in Ethiopia, Togdheer in the self-declared republic of Somaliland, and Turkana, Kenya, what they want for the future. “Across the board, education was listed as the number one method to reach one’s aspirations; either for the interviewees themselves or for their children and grandchildren. Parents - no matter where they live - hope for their children to be educated and to get jobs,” stated the report....

Cattle being watered in Ethiopia's Ghibe Valley, shot by  ILRI/Stevie Mann, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license 

Monday, February 24, 2014

Costs of natural disasters in China surge to $69 billion

Reuters: Natural disasters including droughts, floods and earthquakes cost China 421 billion yuan ($69 bln) in 2013, official data showed on Monday, nearly double the total in the previous year.
China has always been prone to natural disasters but a changing climate is causing more extreme weather, which hits food production, threatens scarce water resources and damages energy security, according to the government.

Data released by the National Statistics Bureau showed flooding and mudslides cost China 188 billion yuan in 2013, 20 billion more than in the previous year. Damage from droughts rose nearly fourfold to 90 billion yuan, while snowfall, freezes and ocean-related costs totalled more than 42 billion yuan.

Earthquakes, primarily one in Sichuan province in April that killed 186 people, added nearly 100 billion yuan to the costs.

"In recent years, China has seen a combination of floods and droughts simultaneously, with the rain belt moving north past the Yangtze River," Zhu Congwen, a researcher with the China Academy of Meteorological Sciences told Reuters, speaking in a personal capacity. Northern China is seeing more droughts while typhoons are arriving earlier, wetlands drying up and sea levels rising, the government said in a report last year.

‘Misguided’ nations lock up valuable geospatial data

Jan Piotrowski in Many governments, particularly those in low-income countries, are “shooting themselves in the foot” by failing to give research and development communities open access to their caches of geospatial data, experts have warned.

The potential of such data that incudes geographic positioning information, including satellite imagery, to aid fields such as disaster response, agriculture, conservation and city planning far outweighs any potential value from selling the information, they say.

Some examples of the beneficial sharing and opening up geospatial data were highlighted at a meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, this week (13-17 January) of the Group on Earth Observations, a voluntary partnership of governments and international organizations.

But the misguided belief that government data represent a lucrative revenue stream is still stifling countries’ development potential, says Paul Uhlir, the director of the board on research data and information at the US National Academy of Sciences.

“They see it as a valuable commodity that they can make some money from, but, quite frankly, open [data] policies are much more economically generative than closed ones,” he tells SciDev.Net. “By hoarding the data they’re minimising massively its value for other uses and shooting themselves in the foot.”...

An ornate locked gate of the Spital am Pyhrn in Austria, shot by Isiwal, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Austria license

European scientists descend on Africa to promote GM crops

John Vidal in the Guardian's "global development" blog (UK): Africa is expected to be the next target of GM food companies, as European scientists and policymakers travel to Ethiopia to boost the prospect of growing more of the controversial crops on the continent.

Anne Glover, the chief scientific adviser to the European commission, and other prominent pro-GM researchers and policymakers from European countries including Germany, Hungary, Italy and Sweden will this week meet Ethiopian, Kenyan, Ghanaian and Nigerian farm ministers as well as officials from the African Union.

The British environment secretary, Owen Paterson, who said last year that the UK would be acting immorally if it did not make GM crop technologies available to poor countries, pull
ed out of the conference in Addis Ababa, organised by the European Academies Science Advisory Council (Easac).

According to an Easac spokeswoman, the meeting is intended to help EU and African scientists collaborate to allow the crops to be grown more easily on the continent. "EU policy on GM crops is massively important for Africa," she said. "A lot of countries are scared to do any research. They fear they will be punished by EU restrictions. They depend on the EU for their exports."

Critics, however, said the meeting was a thinly disguised attempt to promote GM farming at a governmental level, whether or not it was good for local farmers. "The meeting has the appearance of giving the European stamp of approval on GM crops, even though the majority of EU citizens oppose GM in food," said a spokeswoman for GM Watch, a UK-based NGO....

Image of DNA by JFantasy, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license

British storms 'have changed coastline forever'

Space Daily via AFP: The huge storms and powerful winds that have battered the coast of Britain in recent weeks have caused years' worth of erosion and damage, authorities said on Friday.

On some stretches of coast, the extreme weather has stripped away sand from stretches of beaches to reveal ancient forests, leaving the stumps of 6,000-year-old oaks protruding.

The National Trust, the body which manages much of Britain's most scenic coastline, said the storms have caused problems that it did not expect to have to deal with for years.

Cliffs have crumbled, beaches and sand dunes have been eroded, heavy seas have breached defences and shorelines and harbours have been damaged.

At Birling Gap on the Sussex coast, a popular tourist spot in southeast England, the speed of erosion has been "breathtaking", according to Jane Cecil, the National Trust general manager for the area....

Birling Gap, shot by Ben Gamble in 2002, Wikimedia Commons via Geograph UK, nder the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license 

Volcanoes contribute to recent warming ‘hiatus’

Alli Gold Roberts in MIT News: By the late 1990s, scientists had observed more than two decades of rapid global warming, and expected the warming trend to continue. Instead, despite continuing increases in greenhouse gas emissions, the Earth’s surface temperatures have remained nearly flat for the last 15 years. The International Panel on Climate Change verified this recent warming “hiatus” in its latest report.

Researchers around the globe have been working to understand this puzzle — looking at heat going into the oceans, changes in wind patterns, and other factors to explain why temperatures have stayed nearly stable, while greenhouse gas concentrations have continued to rise. In a study published today in Nature Geoscience, a team of scientists from MIT and elsewhere around the U.S. report that volcanic eruptions have contributed to this recent cooling, and that most climate models have not accurately accounted for the effects of volcanic activity.

“This is the most comprehensive observational evaluation of the role of volcanic activity on climate in the early part of the 21st century,” says co-author Susan Solomon, the Ellen Swallow Richards Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry and Climate Science at MIT. “We assess the contributions of volcanoes on temperatures in the troposphere — the lowest layer of the atmosphere — and find they’ve certainly played some role in keeping the Earth cooler.”

There are many components of the Earth’s climate system that can increase or decrease the temperature of the globe. For example, while greenhouse gases cause warming, some types of small particles, known as aerosols, cause cooling. When volcanoes erupt explosively enough, they enhance these aerosols — a phenomenon referred to as “volcanic forcing.”...

A 2002 eruption of Mt. Etna viewed from the International Space Station

Sunday, February 23, 2014

NASA satellites see Arctic surface darkening faster

NASA: The retreat of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean is diminishing Earth's albedo, or reflectivity, by an amount considerably larger than previously estimated, according to a new study that uses data from instruments that fly aboard several NASA satellites.

The study, conducted by researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, at the University of California, San Diego, uses data from the Clouds and Earth's Radiant Energy System, or CERES, instrument. There are CERES instruments aboard NASA's Tropical Rainfall Measurement Mission, or TRMM, satellite, Terra, Aqua and NASA-NOAA's Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (Suomi NPP) satellites. The first CERES instrument was launched in December of 1997 aboard TRMM.

As the sea ice melts, its white reflective surface is replaced by a relatively dark ocean surface. This diminishes the amount of sunlight being reflected back to space, causing Earth to abso
rb an increasing amount of solar energy.

The Arctic has warmed by 3.6 F (2 C) since the 1970s. The summer minimum Arctic sea ice extent has decreased by 40 percent during the same time period. These factors have decreased the region's albedo, or the fraction of incoming light that Earth reflects back into space – a change that the CERES instruments are able to measure.

..."Scientists have talked about Arctic melting and albedo decrease for nearly 50 years," said Ramanathan, a distinguished professor of climate and atmospheric sciences at Scripps who has previously conducted similar research on the global dimming effects of aerosols. "This is the first time this darkening effect has been documented on the scale of the entire Arctic."

Eisenman, an assistant professor of climate dynamics, said that the results of the study show that the heating resulting from albedo changes caused by Arctic sea ice retreat is "quite large." Averaged over the entire globe, it's one-fourth as large as the heating caused by increasing atmospheric CO2 concentrations during the same period....

This image shows a visualization of Arctic sea ice cover on Sept. 12, 2013, with a yellow line showing the 30-year average minimum extent. A new study shows that the magnitude of surface darkening in the Arctic (due to the retreat of sea ice) is twice as large as that found in previous studies. Image Credit: NASA Goddard's Scientific Visualization Studio/Cindy Starr

UN puts its weight behind human migration research

Puneet Kollipara in The United Nations University (UNU) has launched a collaborative research platform on human migration, an issue that it says is “a major phenomenon of the 21st century, with impact at local and global levels”. The UNU Migration Network is a response to what its coordinator, research fellow Valeria Bello, says is heightened awareness about migration at the United Nations.

Last October the UN held high-level talks on migration where member states unanimously adopted a declaration that recognises migration as a “multidimensional reality” and calls for members to act “in a coherent, comprehensive and balanced manner, integrating development with due regard for social, economic and environmental dimensions and respecting human rights”.

UNU, a group of 15 institutes and programmes in 13 countries, and headquartered in Japan, says the Migration Network will share knowledge and research practices, find links between “supposedly different approaches to the study of migration, such as those between environmental causes for migration and economic consequences”, and inform policy on matters related to human security.

Migration is a complex and often involuntary phenomenon that is expected to increase as development advances and climate change takes hold. But researchers do not fully understand exactly how it is driven by economic, social, cultural and political factors. The network will help address migration knowledge gaps, particularly where various factors overlap, Bello says.

“We want to reply to this complex phenomenon by addressing those issues in an interdisciplinary way,” says Bello. The network, she says, will encourage more cross-disciplinary research, and it has set up a portal as a resource for policymakers and the public....

Painted in 1890 by Edvard Petersen, "Emigrants at Larsen's Plad" shows a scene of Danish emigrants at the port of Copenhagen leaving for America together with their relatives saying goodbye. 

Recent decades likely wettest in four millennia in Tibet

A press release from the University of East Anglia: Recent decades may have been the wettest in 3,500 years in North East Tibet – according to climate researchers at the University of East Anglia (UK) and the Chinese Academy of Sciences (Lanzhou, China). Researchers looked at 3,500-year-long tree ring records from North East Tibet to estimate annual precipitation. They found that recent decades have likely been the wettest on record in this semi-arid region.

The precipitation records have been reconstructed using sub-fossil, archaeological and living juniper tree samples from the north-eastern Tibetan Plateau. They reveal a trend towards wider growth rings, implying moister growing conditions – with the last 50 years seeing increasing amounts of rainfall. Notable historical dry periods occurred in the 4th Century BC and in the second half of the 15th Century AD.

Dr Tim Osborn from UEA’s Climatic Research Unit said: “Our collaboration with scientists from China has been very fruitful, leading to what is currently the longest tree-ring-width record in the cold and arid north-eastern Tibetan Plateau. Not only is the record very long, it is based on samples from more than 1000 trees, some of which have an individual lifespan of more than 2000 years. These are among the longest-lived trees in the world.”

Not only are these trees long-lived, but they are useful for understanding how climate has changed. The widths of the tree rings show a close correspondence with observations from rain gauges over the last 55 years, such that tree rings in wetter years tend to be wider than tree rings in drier years.

Dr Osborn said: “The most recent few decades have, on average, the widest rings in the 3,500-year record which suggests that this may have been the wettest period, perhaps associated with global warming during the last century. Indeed, over the last two thousand years when the Northern Hemisphere is warm it appears to be wetter in the Mountains of North East Tibet. This suggests that any further large-scale warming might be associated with even greater rainfall in this region – though we note that other factors could also have contributed to the increased ring widths.”....

Flooding near an airport in Tibet, shot by ignat, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Nitrogen-tracking tools for better crops and less pollution

The Carnegie Institution for Science: As every gardener knows, nitrogen is crucial for a plant’s growth. But nitrogen absorption is inefficient. This means that on the scale of food crops, adding significant levels of nitrogen to the soil through fertilizer presents a number of problems, particularly river and groundwater pollution. As a result, finding a way to improve nitrogen uptake in agricultural products could improve yields and decrease risks to environmental and human health.

Nitrogen is primarily taken up from the soil by the roots and assimilated by the plant to become part of DNA, proteins, and many other compounds. Uptake is controlled by a number of factors, including availability, demand, and the plant's energy status. But there is much about the transport proteins involved in the process that isn't understood.

New work from Carnegie's Cheng-Hsun Ho and Wolf Frommer developed tools that could help scientists observe the nitrogen-uptake process in real time and could lead to developments that improve agriculture and the environment. It will be published by eLife on March 11 and is already available online.

Frommer had previously developed technology to spy on transport protein activity by using fluorescent tags in a cell's DNA to monitor the structural rearrangements that a transporter undergoes as it moves its target molecule. They tailored this technology to five nitrogen transport targets to monitor the nitrogen uptake and assimilation process.

"We engineered these sensors to monitor the activity and regulation of suspected nitrogen transporters in living plant roots, which otherwise are impossible to study," Frommer said. "This suite of tools will vastly improve our understanding of the nitrogen-uptake process and will help to develop increased crop yields and decrease fertilizer-caused pollution."

Their method is applicable to any transporter from any organism, thereby enabling the otherwise exceptionally difficult analysis of transport processes in the tissues of plants and animals....

Image from the Carnegie Institution's website

Agricultural productivity loss as a result of soil and crop damage from flooding

Debra Levey Larson at the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois: The Cache River Basin, which once drained more than 614,100 acres across six southern Illinois counties, has changed substantively since the ancient Ohio River receded. The basin contains a slow-moving, meandering river; fertile soils and productive farmlands; deep sand and gravel deposits; sloughs and uplands; and one of the most unique and diverse natural habitats in Illinois and the nation.

According to a recent University of Illinois study, the region’s agricultural lands dodged a bullet due to the timing of the great flood of April 2011 when the Ohio River approached the record high of 332.2 feet above sea level.

“The floodwaters eventually drained back into the Ohio River and upper Mississippi River ultimately leaving approximately 1,000 acres of agricultural land flooded from a backup in the middle and lower Cache River Valley, which flooded the adjacent forest-covered alluvial soils and the slightly higher cultivated soils,” said U of I researcher Ken Olson.

According to Olson, who has studied the effects of that particular flood extensively, these cultivated soils drained by the middle of June 2011 and were planted to soybeans. The floodwaters left a thin silt and clay deposition on the agricultural lands and crop residue when they receded. These coatings included significant amounts of soil organic carbon, microbes, and pathogens. After the coatings dried, they were incorporated into the topsoil layer of the alluvial soils using tillage equipment.

“Because the flooding occurred during the non-growing season for corn and soybeans, the mixing in of sediment into the topsoil prior to planting resulted in little significant loss of soil productivity, little soybean damage, or yield reduction on lands outside the levees along the Mississippi, Cache, and Ohio rivers,” Olson said....

Fly fishing in 1938 on Bay Creek in Illinois

Saturday, February 22, 2014

To adapt to climate change in Texas, no ‘one size fits all’ solution

Shawna Reding in StateImpact: Texas is a state so huge that it experiences several different climate conditions, from the subtropical Eastern half (think swamps and hurricanes) to the semiarid West (desert and snow in the winter). As such, the state must wear a variety of hats as it navigates a changing climate.

A new study from Arizona State University says that because every region has a different climate, every region experiences climate change differently. So in combating climate change, each region must come up with a different strategy.

Matei Georgescu, one of the scientists who worked on the study, says that “local decisions can play a role” in decreasing effects of urban expansion to make conditions more livable. And Texas is no exception.

As cities burst at the seams from surges in population, those cities become pollution hubs that Georgescu says will “result in about one to two degrees Celcius warming” that will spread beyond city limits.

A number of Texas cities – including Austin, El Paso and Houston — already hold climate change mitigation meetings or acknowledge that they need to happen. Austin has a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, for instance, but only recently started to look at how the city will adapt to climate change. Georgescu says “cities are the focal points of adaptation because that’s where the greatest concentration of people are.”

Katharine Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist and professor from Texas Tech University,  says those localized meetings are crucial to meet varying regional needs. She says climate change exacerbates conditions already present in any given area in Texas. “What’s happening in Lubbock is different from Austin, which is different from Houston,” Hayhoe says....

A water tower in Marfa, Texas, shot by John Cummings, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

What is El Nino Taimasa?

EurekAlert via the University of Hawaii: During very strong El Niño events, sea level drops abruptly in the tropical western Pacific and tides remain below normal for up to a year in the South Pacific, especially around Samoa. The Samoans call the wet stench of coral die-offs arising from the low sea levels "taimasa" (pronounced [kai' ma'sa]). Studying the climate effects of this particular variation of El Niño and how it may change in the future is a team of scientists at the International Pacific Research Center, University of Hawai'i at Mānoa and at the University of New South Wales, Australia.

Two El Niño Taimasa events have occurred in recent history: 1982/83 and 1997/98. El Niño Taimasa differs from other strong El Niño events, such as those in 1986/87 and 2009/10, according to Matthew Widlansky, postdoctoral fellow at the International Pacific Research Center, who spearheaded the study.

"We noticed from tide gauge measurements that toward the end of these very strong El Niño events, when sea levels around Guam quickly returned to normal, that tide gauges near Samoa actually continued to drop," recalls Widlansky.

During such strong El Niño, moreover, the summer rain band over Samoa, called the South Pacific Convergence Zone, collapses toward the equator. These shifts in rainfall cause droughts south of Samoa and sometimes trigger more tropical cyclones to the east near Tahiti.

Using statistical procedures to tease apart the causes of the sea-level seesaw between the North and South Pacific, the scientists found that it is associated with the well-known southward shift of weak trade winds during the termination of El Niño, which in turn is associated with the development of the summer rain band.

Looking into the future with the help of computer climate models, the scientists are now studying how El Niño Taimasa will change with further warming of the planet. Their analyses show, moreover, that sea-level drops could be predictable seasons ahead, which may help island communities prepare for the next El Niño Taimasa...

This shows flat-top Porites coral on a shallow reef near American Samoa. Coral heads are fully submerged under normal conditions. During El Niño Taimasa, tops of large flat coral on the reef are exposed to air at low tide. Credit: Image courtesy of the National Park of American Samoa

Unstable Atlantic deep ocean circulation under future climate conditions

AlphaGalileo via University of Bergen: A new study looking at past climate change, asks if these changes in the future will be spasmodic and abrupt rather than a more gradual increase in the temperature.

Today, deep waters formed in the northern North Atlantic fill approximately half of the deep ocean globally. In the process, this impacts on the circum-Atlantic climate, regional sea level, and soak up much of the excess atmospheric carbon dioxide from industrialisation — helping to moderate the effects of global warming. Changes in this circulation mode are considered a potential tipping point in future climate change that could have widespread and long-lasting impacts including on regional sea level, the intensity and pacing of Sahel droughts, and the pattern and rate of ocean acidification and CO2 sequestration.

Until now, this pattern of circulation has been considered relatively stable during warm climate states such as those projected for the end of the century. A new study led by researchers from the Bjerknes Centre of Climate Research at the University of Bergen (UiB) and Uni Research in Norway, suggests that Atlantic deep water formation may be much more fragile than previously realised.

...“Our study demonstrates that deep water formation can be disrupted by the freshening of the regional surface water, which might happen due to enhanced precipitation and glacier melting under future climate change scenarios,” says Yair Rosenthal, a co-author on the paper.

...Many models have actually predicted a slow and gradual decline in North Atlantic circulation over the next century. However, different models offer widely different scenarios for what will happen in the future. While the climate of the last interglacial is not exactly what will be the case in a future greenhouse world, it does share some features, including being fresher and warmer by a few degrees Celsius in the northern Atlantic....

Ocean Circulation Conveyor Belt. The ocean plays a major role in the distribution of the planet's heat through deep sea circulation. This simplified illustration shows this "conveyor belt" circulation which is driven by the difference in heat and salinity. Records of past climate suggest that there is some chance that this circulation could be altered by the changes projected in many climate models.  US federal government image