Friday, May 30, 2014

Recent floods will hit Balkan economies

Reuters: Recent devastating floods in the Balkans could cost Bosnia and Serbia up to 10 percent of their economic output, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development said on Thursday. The lender gave a preliminary estimate for damages from floods in Serbia at between 1.5 and 2 billion euros ($2.72 billion), or about 7 percent of gross domestic product. It said the damage in Bosnia could amount to 1.3 billion euros, or 10 percent of GDP.

More than 65 people were killed by flooding in Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia earlier this month after the heaviest rainfall in more than a century caused rivers to burst their banks, sweeping away roads, bridges and homes.

The agricultural sector, which accounts for 1 percent of national output in Serbia and 6 percent of Bosnia's economy, had been hit hardest by the floods, the EBRD said, adding that lower yields could lead to higher food prices, fuelling inflation.

The bank said its growth forecasts for the two countries will need to be revised downwards. The bank currently forecasts 2014 growth of 1.8 percent for Bosnia and 1 percent in Serbia.

Serbia's Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic told parliament on Thursday the government plans to finish reconstruction of major roads affected by the flooding within five months. "For me the easiest thing would be to say we will fix every house, but I don't know where we can find the money," Vucic added. "The power sector is my biggest concern."...

Bosnian flood damage earlier in May 2014, shot by Dalibor Platenik - Dali, Wikimedia Commons,  under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license 

NASA 'bisects' Tropical Storm Amanda

Stephanie Pappas in Yahoo News via Live Science: NASA has sliced and diced the first named storm of the 2014 hurricane season, capturing a bisected view of Hurricane Amanda at its strongest. Amanda — now a tropical depression — formed over Memorial Day weekend and reached Category 4 hurricane strength, with winds reaching 155 mph (250 km/h).

Those wind speeds made the storm the strongest May hurricane ever seen. Fortunately, Amanda remained far out to sea in the eastern Pacific and never threatened land. After turning north over cooler waters this week, the storm weakened, its winds receding to tropical-storm level. As of today (May 29), Amanda is a mere tropical depression, with max
imum sustained winds of only about 35 mph (56 km/h), according to the National Hurricane Center.

NASA's CloudSat satellite caught a detailed glimpse of the storm when it was still a hurricane. On May 25, the storm's winds were blowing at around 150 mph (240 km/h) when the satellite passed over about 25 miles (40 km) from the center of the storm. [Hurricanes from Above: See Nature's Biggest Storms]

CloudSat uses ultrasensitive radar to measure clouds and their moisture. In Amanda's eastern half, the satellite detected moderate and heavy-moderate precipitation deep in the storm, below the altitude at which precipitation turns from solid into liquid. The profile of the storm revealed an expansive, anvil-shaped cloud extending northward, as well as smaller cumulus clouds underneath, NASA reported today (May 29)....

NASA image of Amanda on May 23, 2014

After 8,000 cholera deaths, Haiti faces new epidemic

Terra Daily via AFP: Hard-hit by a cholera epidemic that started in 2010, Haiti now faces a new threat in the expanding chikungunya virus, authorities said Wednesday. "We have had 8,561 deaths from cholera since its reappearance in Haiti in 2010, while 702,892 cases have been confirmed," said Health Minister Florence Duperval.

Now, the chikungunya virus that has been spreading in the Caribbean has emerged as another crisis in the poorest country in the Americas. Transmitted by mosquitoes, the virus causes high fever and severe joint pain, disproportionately striking poorer neighborhoods where homes often have no windows or screens.

"We are putting in place steps to fight the chikungunya outbreak which is being felt almost nationwide," Duperval added. The measures include fumigation and medications, she said.

There had been no cholera in Haiti for at least 150 years until it was allegedly introduced to the Caribbean nation by Nepalese UN peacekeepers sent there in the wake of the disastrous earthquake in January 2010....

Mosquito larvae in stagnant water, shot by Sreejithk2000, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons 3.0 license 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Search for three missing called off in Colorado muslide

Environment News Service: Colorado emergency authorities have called off a search for three men missing after an enormous mudslide in a remote part of western Colorado. Mesa County Sheriff Stan Hilkey said Tuesday that another slide could come down the mountainside, which is too unstable to continue the search.

A unified incident command was established Sunday between Plateau Valley Fire Department, Mesa County Road and Bridge, and the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office, to handle the large mudslide incident and search for the three missing men.

The first reports of the mudslide came into the Grand Junction Regional Communication Center about 6:15 pm on Saturday, along with reports of three local Collbran/Mesa area ranchers missing.

Plateau Valley Fire Department first responded to the area of Salt Creek Road, in the area of Vega Reservoir, on the Grand Mesa. This area is east and south of the small town of Collbran, about 11 miles, located in Mesa County.

The mudslide is estimated to be about four miles long, two miles wide and about 250 feet deep, in many places. It is described as very unstable by deputies on scene, and they estimate an entire ridge has been sliding for most of Sunday...

To reduce flood threats, Nepal builds climate risk into planning

Naresh Newar at the Thomson Reuters Foundation: It is nearly time for the monsoon, but there has not been even a drop of rain yet in this village on the fringes of Chitwan National Park, a deep worry for local farmers. Retired forest guard Potahariyu Chaudhary, 65, looks at his dry maize fields and says he doubts the monsoon will ever be normal again. “The climate is getting strange in this country. Either it is too dry or disastrous,” he said.

Chaudhary, like his neighbours, has endured plenty of droughts and severe floods over the last few decades in this flattest, most flood-prone district of Nepal. The worst flooding, in 1993, wiped out his crops and house, killed his livestock and nearly swept away his traumatized wife and children.

“Our eyes are constantly on the rivers and we all take turns every day to check the level of Narayani River,” said Chaudhary’s 29-year old son, Ranjan, who remembers being carried on his father’s shoulder to safety through a previous flood.

In neighboring Harnari village, the last big flood displaced 300 households for months. “It’s almost 10 years since the last big flood and we are all worried we might have another disaster,” 55-year old Kumar Chettri said. “That is where all the floods will attack from,” he said, pointing towards the north of the village, an area planned government-provided embankments and dikes have yet to reach.

The vulnerability of these villages also means grave danger for nearby Chitwan National Park, a key tourist attraction in Nepal and one of the last refuges for the endangered Bengal tiger and home to some of the largest populations of Asiatic one-horned rhinoceros....

A grounded boat in Chitwan National Park, shot by MMuzammils, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported2.5 Generic2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license

Melding science and tradition to tackle climate change

IRIN: In the latest of several partnerships between tradition and modern science aimed at improving resilience to climate change, pastoralists and meteorologists in Tanzania are working together to produce weather forecasts better suited to farmers. The hope is that by drawing from both indigenous knowledge and contemporary weather forecasting techniques, crop yields could be increased.

“We wanted to see if the two can complement or supplement each other,” Isaac Yonah, a senior officer coordinating community meetings employed by the Tanzania Meteorological Agency (TMA), told IRIN by phone. Using traditional indicators such as the movement of red ants, the flowering of mango and other trees, the migration of termites and patterns and colours in the sky, farmers in Sakala village of Ngorongoro District compare their two-weekly forecasts with those released by the TMA.

“This is done… to validate how accurate their forecast is and to come up with a consensus [forecast]. In the last three seasons, more than 80 percent accuracy in the findings has been witnessed,” said Yonah. The project is a partnership between TMA, Hakikazi Catalyst (a non-profit organization), and the UK-based International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).

“Strengthening such practices could enhance the resilience of communities which are most vulnerable to climate change. Upscaling the projects will see the knowledge gap between traditional and scientific bridged,” said Yonah....

Red ant shot by William Cho, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license 

European Space Agency's Sentinel-1 satellite aids Balkan flood relief

A press release from the European Space Agency: Although not yet operational, the new Sentinel-1A satellite has provided radar data for mapping the floods in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Heavy rainfall leading to widespread flooding and landslides has hit large parts of the Balkans, killing dozens of people and leaving hundreds of thousands displaced.

Jan Kucera of the Europan Commission’s Joint Research Centre is supervising the technical aspect of the Copernicus Emergency Management Service (EMS). While mapping the flooding in northeastern Bosnia and Herzegovina, ESA delivered a radar scan from Sentinel-1A: “I had a first look and discovered that we were missing an important flooded area visible in the middle of the image.”

Although the radar on Sentinel-1A is still being calibrated, the new information could be integrated into the Copernicus EMS flood maps of the Sava river in the Balatun area in Bosnia and Herzegovina. “In emergency situations like these, it is important that we optimise all the available data to produce better maps for disaster relief efforts.”

The radar on Sentinel-1 is able to ‘see’ through clouds, rain and in darkness, making it particularly useful for monitoring floods. Images acquired before and after a flood offer immediate information on the extent of inundation and support assessments of property and environmental damage.

Sentinel-1A was launched on 3 April, and is the first in a fleet of Sentinel satellites developed for Europe’s Copernicus environment monitoring programme....

Flood delineation map over the village of Balatun in northeastern Bosnia and Herzegovina based on Sentinel-1A data. Serbia lies to the north of the Sava river. Copyright held by ESA/European Commission

Global warming will open Arctic to invasive species

Smithsonian Science: For the first time in roughly 2 million years, melting Arctic sea ice is connecting the north Pacific and north Atlantic oceans. The newly opened passages leave both coasts and Arctic waters vulnerable to a large wave of invasive species, biologists from the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center assert in a commentary published May 28 in Nature Climate Change.

Two new shipping routes have opened in the Arctic: the Northwest Passage through Canada, and the Northern Sea Route, a 3000-mile stretch along the coasts of Russia and Norway connecting the Barents and Bering seas. While new opportunities for tapping Arctic natural resources and interoceanic trade are high, commercial ships often inadvertently carry invasive species. Organisms from previous ports can cling to the undersides of their hulls or be pumped in the enormous tanks of ballast water inside their hulls. Now that climate change has given ships a new, shorter way to cross between oceans, the risks of new invasions are escalating.

 “Trans-Arctic shipping is a game changer that will play out on a global scale,” said lead author Whitman Miller. “The economic draw of the Arctic is enormous. Whether it’s greater access to the region’s rich natural resource reserves or cheaper and faster inter-o
cean commercial trade, Arctic shipping will reshape world markets. If unchecked, these activities will vastly alter the exchange of invasive species, especially across the Arctic, north Atlantic and north Pacific oceans.”

The first commercial voyage through the Northwest Passage—a carrier from British Columbia loaded with coal bound for Finland—occurred in September 2013. Meanwhile, traffic through the Northern Sea Route has been rising rapidly since 2009. The scientists project that at the current rate, it could continue to rise 20 percent every year for the next quarter century, and this does not take into account ships sailing to the Arctic itself....

The Russian icebreaker, Captain Demidov

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Central California wildfire burns out of control, threatens 100 homes

Reuters: A wildfire burning west of Yosemite National Park in central California threatened more than 100 homes on Tuesday as it raged out of control in brush left bone dry by severe drought, state fire officials said. California’s fire season has been particularly severe this year, with one of the worst droughts in the state’s history playing a key role in the size and number of wildfire outbreaks.

The blaze that erupted on Monday afternoon has already charred more than 1,300 acres (526 hectares) and was burning on the southeastern shores of Lake McClure in Mariposa County, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Five firefighters have been injured battling the blaze, including one who suffered serious lacerations in a chainsaw accident, said Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant. That firefighter was taken to hospital, Berlant said, but his condition was not known. Injuries to the other four were minor, he added.

More than 100 homes were ordered evacuated ahead of the flames, which were only 20 percent contained as of Tuesday evening, Berlant said.  More than 670 firefighters were working to contain the blaze, including crews from Cal Fire, the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and dozens of local fire aids.

Six air tankers and several helicopters have been brought in to fight the fire from the air, besides crews on the ground building containment lines and putting out hot spots, Berlant said...

The 2013 Rim Fire in Yosemite National Park, shot by King of Hearts, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

China to scrap millions of cars to ease pollution

Jennifer Duggan in the Guardian (UK):  The Chinese government has announced plans to take up to 6 million vehicles that don’t meet emission standards off the roads by the end of the year, in a bid to reduce the country’s air pollution problems.

The move is part of a plan published by China’s cabinet, the State Council, which outlined emission targets for a number of industries over the next two years. The State Council said that some pollution targets are not being met for the 2011-2013 period and that action needs to be stepped up.

China is facing a “tough situation” in hitting its targets for energy and emissions for 2015, Xu Shaoshi, Chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission was quoted by state media.

One fifth of the vehicles to be scrapped will be in the northern regions of China, which have been the worst hit with air pollution. Hebei province, where seven of China’s smoggiest cities are located, has been ordered to scrap 660,000 cars that don’t meet emission standards. Up to 333,000 will be taken off the roads in the capital Beijing and 160,000 in Shanghai...

Traffic in Shanghai, shot by JakeLM, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons 2.5 Generic license 

US can learn from Florida climate change response

Insurance Journal via Bloomberg: Adapting to climate change is such a daunting task that it can be hard to know where, or how, to begin. Here’s one answer: in southeastern Florida, with yellow foam earplugs.

The plugs are needed to keep out the din of the South Florida Water Management District’s pumping station, with its 400-horsepower pumps submerged in the Miami River. They are capable of changing the direction of the river, ensuring that it always runs toward the ocean, as it’s supposed to, draining storm water. Gravity used to do the job, but with sea level rising — it’s up at least 8 inches (20 centimeters) from what it was a century ago — gravity doesn’t always do the trick.

Florida’s state and national politicians, including Governor Rick Scott and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, are free to question whether climate change exists. Local officials don’t have that luxury. When it floods, people call city hall.

The need for a practical response, requiring both pumping stations and political cooperation, makes South Florida ground zero (sea zero?) in the debate over climate change. Its public officials, elected and otherwise, are showing how adaptation is not only necessary but also possible.

Miami Beach, for example, is installing 80 underground pumps to deal with the increasingly frequent “sunny-day floods” that inundate the western side of the island city during high tides in the fall and spring. The Miami-Dade County is reseeding mangroves behind the beaches and preserving coastal wetlands to soak up intensifying storm surges. Engineers in Fort Lauderdale and Pompano Beach are experimenting with new designs for “backflow preventers” to keep seawater from rushing into public pipes but still allow freshwater to flow out.

Southeastern Florida is facing the symptoms of climate change sooner than most places. Other effects identified in this month’s National Climate Assessment — persistent drought in Kansas, say, or frequent wildfires in Alaska — could be decades off...

A 2012 flood in Doral, Florida, shot by Cyclonebiskit, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons 3.0 license

Vines choke a forest's ability to capture carbon

Terra Daily via SPX: Tropical forests are a sometimes-underappreciated asset in the battle against climate change. They cover seven percent of land surface yet hold more than 30 percent of Earth's terrestrial carbon.

As abandoned agricultural land in the tropics is taken over by forests, scientists expect these new forests to mop up industrial quantities of atmospheric carbon. New research by Smithsonian scientists shows increasingly abundant vines could hamper this potential and may even cause tropical forests to lose carbon.

In the first study to experimentally demonstrate that competition between plants can result in ecosystem-wide losses of forest carbon, scientists working in Panama showed that lianas, or woody vines, can reduce net forest biomass accumulation by nearly 20 percent. Researchers called this estimate "conservative" in findings published this month in Ecology.

"This paper represents the first experimental quantification of the effects of lianas on biomass," said lead author Stefan Schnitzer, a research associate at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. "As lianas increase in tropical forests, they will lower the capacity for tropical forests to accumulate carbon."

Previous research by Schnitzer and others demonstrated that lianas are increasing in tropical forests around the globe. No one knows why. Decreased rainfall is one suspect, but lianas, which are generally more drought-tolerant than trees, are increasing in abundance even in rainforests that have not experienced apparent changes in weather patterns....

Lianas in a forest in Kerala, India, shot by Shyamal, public domain 

Filipinos lack climate protection on the ground, despite laws

Imelda V. Abano at the Thomson Reuters Foundation: Progress in rebuilding the Philippine city of Tacloban and the lives of its residents devastated by Typhoon Haiyan last November has been painstakingly slow, according to the city’s mayor Alfred Romualdez.

And while driving forward recovery from the disaster, the local authorities must also work out how best to deal with extreme weather in the future – which is expected to get worse as the planet warms. "Climate change is a reality, and we are experiencing that already," Romualdez told a recent planning session with international aid agencies working on the post-typhoon rehabilitation effort.

Local governments urgently need to organise themselves so they can fund and put into practice measures to adapt to climate-linked hazards like storms, floods and droughts, the mayor added. “It will not be easy for a city that lost scores of lives, saw its infrastructure damaged, and was left with almost nothing,” Romualdez emphasised.

At national level, the Philippines does have policies, regulations and laws in place that mandate action to manage disaster risk and tackle climate change. But implementing these locally is proving harder, government officials and lawmakers agree.

Beyond helping communities shattered by Haiyan to rebuild their homes and livelihoods, Filipino lawmakers also face the task of reviewing and strengthening legislation in order to protect the country better if another super-typhoon strikes...

Tacloban's seaport before the storm, shot by JinJian, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons 3.0 license

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Flood warnings issued for England

The Guardian (UK): Heavy rain across the east of England could cause flooding over the coming days, forecasters have warned.  The Met Office issued a yellow weather warning of rain for the region, predicting localised flooding that could cause disruption to travel.

The wet weather would persist until Wednesday night, the Met said, with up to 70mm (2.76in) of rain expected in worst-hit areas including parts of Lincolnshire, South Yorkshire and the Humber.  The Environment Agency (EA) warned of a flood risk in the east, mainly from surface water and low-lying rivers.

It said: "There may be some flooding of low-lying land and roads, some disruption to travel and possibly flooding to individual properties."  Meteo Group forecaster Gareth Harvey said: "An area of prolonged rain is moving up over the eastern region and it's not going to shift until Wednesday night.

"The rain is not exclusive to the east region but that's where the persistent and largest rainfall totals of between 50 and 70mm will be.  Pretty much the whole of Great Britain will see rain at some point over the next 48 hours.  This means there could be some localised flooding."....

A rainy day in London, 2005, shot by Sharon, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons 2.0 license 

Satellite imagery shows drought-ridden Lake Powell at half capacity

Space Daily via UPI: Diminished by overzealous water withdrawals and a lengthy drought throughout the Southwest, Lake Powell, the meandering mass of water held by Glen Canyon dam, has slowly emptied in recent years. It now sits below half capacity.

NASA's Earth Observatory recently released satellite imagery showcasing the decade-plus drying-up of the reservoir that helps quench the thirst of more than 20 million Americans. The images above show Lake Powell, from 1999 to the present, as its water levels have slowly descended down the canyon walls. The photographs were captured by satellites from NASA's Landsat program.

Part of an astounding array of hydraulic engineering that's tamed the Colorado for use by states of the Southwest, Lake Powell -- which straddles the border between Utah and Arizona -- and Glen Canyon dam not only provide tap water for households and irrigation for regional farms, they also produce 4.5 billion kilowatt-hours of hydroelectricity each year.

But all that production comes at a cost. With year after year of reduced precipitation and snowmelt runoff -- Lake Powell has now suffered 14 straight years of drought -- the reservoir has less water to share....

Photo of Lake Powell at the Glen Canyon Dam by Brian Thomas. I release it into the public domain

At least 26 dead, 10 missing as storms batter China

Australia Network News: Storms in central and southern China have left at least 26 people dead, state media reports. China's Xinhua news agency says working teams and relief materials are being sent to the affected areas as part of an emergency response.

At least 10 people are believed to be missing. Fifteen people have died since Wednesday and five remain missing in Guangdong province due to the storms, Xinhua said, citing local flood control authorities.

Seven people died and three were missing in Hunan because of the downpours, it added. Pictures showed flooded streets in the city of Lining, and residents eating dinner sitting ankle-deep in brown water.

Storms also battered the southwestern province of Guizhou, where three people died on Saturday night and early Sunday....

Recurrent floods hit desert cities

Berta Acero at the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction: Recurrent flooding is becoming more of a threat in the Arab region, a part of the world usually associated with drought and desertification.  At least seven people were killed, schools were forced to close and vehicles were swept away in the latest flash flooding the Saudi Arabian province of Hail.

The Head of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) in the Arab States Region, Mr. Amjad Abbashar, said urban flooding is a growing challenge in the region as well as globally.  “It is becoming more dangerous and costly because of the increasing population exposed within urban settlements. It is very important that governments manage flood risk today for a safer future through better urban management and resilient infrastructures,” Mr. Abbashar said.

“There is an urgent need to move from relief operations to preparedness and risk reduction and mitigation measures. Flood risk is a reality in the Arab region and it is very important that governments invest in flood prevention measures and an adequate land use planning.”

Flash flooding triggered by heavy downpours has claimed dozens of lives in recent years in the region with Saudi Arabia and Jordan as well as Egypt among the worst affected. The international disaster database EM-DAT recorded at least 300 flooding events between 1981 and 2011 in the region.

Major floods have been hitting Saudi Arabia recurrently since 2009, when almost twice the yearly average of rain (90mm) fell in four hours. More than 100 people were killed and economic losses were estimated at US$270 million in and around of Jeddah....

2011 flooding in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, shot by Naif Abdullah, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons 2.0 license 

Forecasting temperature extremes with ozone

Jennifer Chu at MIT News: For the past two summers, Australians have sweated through record heat waves, with thermometers climbing as high as 118 degrees Fahrenheit in parts of the country. In January, officials were forced to halt tennis matches during the Australian Open due to extreme heat — a decision made following several days of sizzling temperatures.

Now MIT researchers have found that the intensity of summer temperatures in Australia and elsewhere in the Southern Hemisphere may be better predicted as early as the previous spring by an unlikely indicator: ozone.

From their study, published in the Journal of Climate, the scientists found that as the springtime ozone hole’s severity varies from year to year, the temperatures in Australia and southern regio
ns of Africa and South America reveal correlations: Years with higher springtime ozone experience hotter summers, and vice versa.

The results suggest that ozone levels may help meteorologists predict the severity of summertime temperatures months in advance.

“No one has actually looked at the variation of ozone as a way to forecast or predict the climate or the next summer’s temperature,” says lead author Justin Bandoro, a graduate student in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. “This could be especially important for farmers, and for areas like southeastern Australia, where most of that nation’s population resides.”...

Monday, May 26, 2014

Satellite boosts risk monitoring

Yuki Matsuoka in the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction: The launch of a new satellite to conduct ‘health checks’ on some of the earth’s most vulnerable and exposed regions marks a new era of disaster risk monitoring.

Japan’s DAICHI-2 will monitor disaster risks as well as the impact of disasters such as floods and landslides for disaster management activities. The satellite will also collect data related to deformation of the Earth's crust, tropical rain forests and snow and ice conditions in polar areas.

The launch of the satellite, the name of which means ‘The Earth’ or ‘The Vast Land’ in Japanese, comes as the role of space technology in the Post-2015 Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction is gaining more focus.  The President of The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), Mr. Naoki Okumura, said that satellite technology is an increasingly important part of international cooperation in disaster risk reduction.

“JAXA and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has signed a partnership agreement with the objective to promote collaboration to contribute to solving various development challenges, including disasters, for developing countries,” Mr Okumura said.

...DAICHI-2, which was launched from the Tanegashima Space Center, in Kagoshima Prefecture, can provide higher spatial resolution observation data (3 meters) and can observe up to 2,320km of the earth’s surface at any one time through night and day and in all weather conditions...

African Development Bank meeting calls for equity in water use

AllAfrica.com via the New Times (Rwanda): Experts from the just concluded African Development Bank (AfDB) annual meetings have said that even with declining rainfall and unpredictable climate, African governments can still effectively manage and provide clean water.

The observation was made during a session dubbed 'Building Water Resilience,' where experts and government officials reflected on water-related challenges that Africa faces today and how they can be dealt with. Key issues ranged from cooperation between countries that share same water bodies to water security.

"We can't ignore the fact that water contributes highly to national economy. There are many public goods embedded in water, but the question here is how effective can it be allocated? The answer to this is devising a way in which the public sector can work with the private sector in water resource management and exploitation," said Prof Mike Muller, the Infrastructure Advisor, Development Bank of Southern Africa.

Muller cited the construction of Rusumo hydro power plant as one of the few examples where the private sector has been involved in water management through involvement of local people in the construction of the plant.

The high rate of urbanization is another challenge. Latest reports indicate that over 400 million Africans live in urban areas - close to 40% of Africa's population. In 50 years, about 65% of Africans will be living in urban areas...

Lake Mhindi in Rwanda, shot by Abhishek Singh, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under Creative Commons 2.0 license 

Population growth, climate change link seen

Inquirer (Philippines): The Supreme Court decision declaring the reproductive health law constitutional came at the right moment, in light of evidence that managing the country’s population is vital in coping with the impact of climate change, speakers at a health and environment conference here said on Wednesday.

Super Typhoon Yolanda had provided policy makers a view of how seriously the poor suffer from extreme weather calamities, Dr. Juan Antonio Perez, executive director for the Commission on Population (Popcom), said in a speech during the 5th National Population, Health and Environment Conference here.

Perez, in a speech read for him by Popcom Deputy Executive Director Rosa Marcelino, said he helped document these experiences when he joined the inspection of isolated and poor areas in Coron town, Palawan province, where indigenous Filipinos live.

Yolanda exited the country through Coron in November 2013, after rampaging through the Visayas and leveling Tacloban City. “Environmental impacts, including climate change, affect the lives of all people,” said Perez, a member of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program national advisory committee.

“Yet the impacts of climate change are likely to be worse for the poor and the marginalized, who have contributed little to greenhouse gas emissions and at the same time lack the resources and societal support to adapt effectively to current and future changes,” he said...

Wondering about the state of the environment? Just eavesdrop on the bees

EurekAlert via Cell Press: Researchers have devised a simple way to monitor wide swaths of the landscape without breaking a sweat: by listening in on the "conversations" honeybees have with each other. The scientists' analyses of honeybee waggle dances reported in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on May 22 suggest that costly measures to set aside agricultural lands and let the wildflowers grow can be very beneficial to bees.

"In the past two decades, the European Union has spent €41 billion on agri-environment schemes, which aim to improve the rural landscape health and are required for all EU-member states," says Margaret Couvillon of the Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects at the University of Sussex. "However, there is little evidence evaluating these schemes. Our work uses a novel source of data—the honeybee, an organism that itself can benefit from a healthy rural landscape—to evaluate not only the environment, but also the schemes used to manage that environment."

Couvillon and her colleagues, led by Francis Ratnieks, recorded and decoded the waggle dances of bees in three hives over a two-year period. Bees dance to tell their fellow bees where to find the good stuff: the best nectar and pollen. The angle of their dances conveys information about the direction of resources while the duration conveys distance. Researchers can measure those dance characteristics in a matter of minutes with a protractor and timer.

...The researchers were surprised to find that Organic Entry Level agri-environment schemes were the least frequented by bees. According to Couvillon, it may be that the regular mowing required initially to discourage certain plants from growing in those plots might leave few wildflowers for bees.

The study shows that honeybees can serve as bioindicators to monitor large land areas and provide information relevant to better environmental management, the researchers say. It also gives new meaning to the term "worker bee."...

Shot of a honey bee by Rebhu, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons 3.0 license

Deep-buried carbon may pose climate risk

Terra Daily via AFP: Stocks of organic carbon buried deep underground could pose a global warming threat if disturbed by erosion, farming, deforestation, mining or road-building, a study warned Sunday Scientists from the United States and Germany discovered one such reserve in Nebraska, up to 6.5 metres (21 feet) under the surface, composed mainly of vast quantities of burnt plant material.

"We found almost comparable amounts of carbon stored in this deep soil layer than we would in the top one metre of soil under a grassland vegetation," study co-author Erika Marin-Spiotta of the University of Wisconsin-Madison told AFP. The find suggested "that we are potentially grossly underestimating how much carbon is stored belowground in our global inventories."

Such ancient fossil soils are found all over the world under river, volcano and other sediments, said Marin-Spiotta. Most will remain buried, but some will be exposed over time. Carbon in soil can be released as Earth-warming carbon dioxide into the atmosphere through microbial decomposition, which is more common closer to the Earth surface than deep down.

"Only recently have scientists become more concerned about deep soil carbon as we are finding it is more reactive than we ever imagined," said Marin-Spiotta. Most research is done in the top 30 centimetres of soil. "Our study shows that burial over time can lead to very high amounts of carbon in depths beyond those inventoried," she added....

Graphite, image by Jurii, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons 3.0 license

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Dryland ecosystems emerge as driver in global carbon cycle

University of Montana News Service: Dryland ecosystems, which include deserts to dry-shrublands, play a more important role in the global carbon cycle than previously thought. In fact, they have emerged as one of its drivers, says Montana State University faculty member Ben Poulter.

Surprised by the discovery, Poulter and his collaborators explained their findings in Nature. At the same time, they urged global ecologists to include the emerging role of dryland ecosystems in their research. Nature is a weekly international journal that publishes peer-reviewed research in all fields of science and technology.

"Our study found that natural events in Australia were largely responsible for this anomaly," Poulter said. "La Nina-driven rainfall during 2010 and 2011, as well as the 30-year greening up of its deserts and other drylands contributed to significant changes across the globe.”

...He realized ... that the world’s land carbon sink in 2011 seemed to be absorbing an unusually large amount of carbon, Poulter said. Carbon dioxide moves constantly between land, oceans, vegetation and the atmosphere. When one of those absorbs more carbon dioxide than it releases, it’s referred to as a carbon sink.

Poulter and his collaborators investigated the phenomena with a variety of data sets and modeling approaches. They eventually discovered surprising interactions between climate extremes and desert greening that increased in importance over the past 30 years.  Further study showed that the dryland systems in the Southern Hemisphere, specifically Australia, had particularly high productivity in response to increased La Nina-phase rainfall.

“What surprised us was that no analogous biosphere response to similar climatic extremes existed in the past 30 years, prompting us to explore whether documented dryland-greening trends were responsible for changes in the carbon cycle dynamics,” said Philippe Ciais, co-author and senior scientist at LSCE.

...“Dryland systems have high rates of carbon turnover compared to other biomes,” Ciais said. “We can expect the carbon to be quickly respired or consumed in wildfires, already partly reflected by the high atmospheric carbon dioxide growth rate in 2012.”...

A kangaroo warning sign on Stuart Highway in Northern Territory, Australia, shot by Jpp, Wikimedia Commons, under Creative Commons 3.0 license

Hidden Greenland canyons mean more sea level rise

NASA: Scientists at NASA and the University of California, Irvine (UCI), have found that canyons under Greenland's ocean-feeding glaciers are deeper and longer than previously thought, increasing the amount of Greenland's estimated contribution to future sea level rise.

"The glaciers of Greenland are likely to retreat faster and farther inland than anticipated, and for much longer, according to this very different topography we have discovered,” said Mathieu Morlighem, a UCI associate project scientist who is lead author of the new research paper. The results were published Sunday in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Ice loss from Greenland has accelerated during the last few decades. However, older ice sheet models predicted the speedup would be temporary because the glaciers would soon melt back onto higher ground and stabilize. The models projected that Greenland's contribution to global sea level rise would therefore be limited.

Morlighem's new topography shows southern Greenland's ragged, crumbling coastline is scored by more than 100 canyons beneath glaciers that empty into the ocean. Many canyons are well below sea level as far as 60 miles (100 kilometers) inland. Higher ground, where glaciers could stabilize, is much farther from the coastline than previously thought. The finding calls into question the idea that the recent accelerated ice loss will be short lived.

..."We have been able to make a quantum leap in our knowledge of bed topography beneath ice sheets in the last decade, thanks to the advent of missions like NASA's Operation IceBridge in combination with satellite data on the speed these ice sheets are flowing," said coauthor Eric Rignot of UCI and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, California.

The same research team reported new findings on glacial melt in West Antarctica last week. "Together the papers illustrate clearly the globe’s ice sheets will contribute far more to sea level rise than current projections show,” said Rignot...

Kejser Franz Josef Fjord near Stensjö Bjerg, Greenland Nationalpark. Shot by Erik Christensen, Wikimedia Commons, under Creative Commons 3.0 license

As mountain snow fails and glaciers melt, Pakistan faces water threats

Saleem Shaikh and Sughra Tunio at the Thomson Reuters Foundation: Farmers in the valleys of northern Pakistan fear for the survival of their summer crops after a short winter of low snowfall altered the flow patterns of mountain streams, potentially robbing the farmers of water they rely on to irrigate their fields.

Experts at the Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) and senior weather observers posted at stations in Pakistan's Upper Indus Basin (UIB) say last winter's snowfall in most of the valleys of the Gilgit-Balistan province was as much as 70 percent below that of previous years.

"Not only was snowfall abysmally low, but it also started late by over two months," said Mohammad Amin, meteorologist at PMD's observatory station in Skardu district, where the Shigar River joins the Indus River in the shadow of the Karakoram mountain range. "And it started to melt in March instead of late April in most of the valleys of Skardu."

The early thaw meant the swelling of mountain streams months earlier than usual, said Musa Khan, head of the weather observatory station in Gupis in the northern Gilgit-Baltistan province. That could be devastating for farmers, who usually only start readying their lands for summer crops in May.

"The farmers prepare for cultivating summer crops from late May to the end of June, when rising temperatures usually cause the glacial-fed channels and streams to start flowing and irrigate the ploughed terraced fields," Khan told Thomson Reuters Foundation....

A glacier in Pakistan's Swat Valley, shot by Isruma, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons 3.0 license

Kenya can lead on climate change adaptation

IRIN: Research on the effects of climate change on agricultural productivity and food security in Kenya shows that the country can be a leader in adaptation to a warmer climate.  ...The agriculture sector accounts for 75 percent of Kenya’s labour force, according to the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), and “uncertainty posted by climate change is affecting development and livelihood options,” NCCAP noted.

It also places a financial burden on the country’s resources. The government has already set aside Ksh600 million (US$6.8 million) in emergency funds for drought-stricken areas for the duration of this dry spell, according to Devolution Principal Secretary John Konchellah.

But IFPRI, in a report released in September 2013, said climate change could open up greater opportunities for agriculture and result in a shift in Kenya’s cereal production, with regions previously not viable for growing these crops becoming more conducive.

Experts say solutions exist, but government systems need to be mobilized into action, and farmers communicated with.  “Policymakers at both the national and county governments need to move with speed to harness the opportunity, while those that are likely to suffer, [need] to review their policies and strategies to accommodate the impending reality,” Evans Kituyi, senior programme specialist for climate change at the International Development Research Centre (IDRC - part of Canada’s foreign aid programme), told IRIN by phone.

“One option would be to help farmers migrate to new maize-friendly areas. And another one is to help farmers find better crops to grow in their current locations,” said Michael Waithaka, a co-author of the report and a leader in the Policy Analysis and Advocacy Program at (ASARECA).

Communicating vital information about the climate to farmers is also crucial. In pastoralist communities, where livestock have died during droughts, the government is providing information about grazing systems and livestock diversification. Farmers are holding lower stocks, and taking out insurance to mitigate against shocks...

Maize on Mount Kenya, shot by Steven Walling, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0 

World Bank sees climate change threat to development

Yahoo Philippines via the Manila Bulletin: Countries of the world should confront climate change squarely as part of the global efforts to end poverty and boost prosperity. It’s a challenge that needs collective action by national governments, development partners, private sector, civil society, and local communities.

This was the key message of Ms. Rachel Kyte, World Bank (WB) Group Vice President and Special Envoy on Climate Change, during her four-day visit in the Philippines from May 20-23 which included her participation at the World Economic Forum; meetings with government officials, civil society organizations, and a visit to several communities in Leyte hit hard by Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda).

“During my visit to several municipalities in Leyte, I have seen how communities – working with local and international NGOs, local governments, national government agencies, private sector and development partners – are beginning to rebuild their lives. The task of rebuilding, in fact seizing the opportunity to build back better, is enormous. If funds can move more smoothly to those accountable for development at the local level and with the support of partner
s, I believe the people in the Visayas affected by the typhoon will overcome this challenge,” said Ms. Kyte.

Time is of the essence and the World Bank Group will continue to find and fund creative ways to support Filipinos, she said....

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Devastating human impact on the Amazon rainforest revealed

A press release from Lancaster University: The human impact on the Amazon rainforest has been grossly underestimated according to an international team of researchers led by Lancaster University. They found that selective logging and surface wildfires can result in an annual loss of 54 billion tonnes of carbon from the Brazilian Amazon, increasing greenhouse gas emissions. This is equivalent to 40% of the yearly carbon loss from deforestation - when entire forests are chopped down.

This is the largest ever study estimating above and belowground carbon loss from selective logging and ground level forest fires in the tropics, based on data from 70,000 sampled trees and thousands of soil, litter and dead wood samples from 225 sites in the eastern Brazilian Amazon.

The forest degradation often starts with logging of prized trees such as mahogany and ipe. The felling and removal of these large trees often damages dozens of neighbouring trees. Once the forest has been logged, the many gaps in the canopy means it becomes much drier due to exposure to the wind and sun, increasing the risk of wildfires spreading inside the forest. The combination of selective logging and wildfires damages turns primary forests into a thick scrub full of smaller trees and vines, which stores 40% less carbon than undisturbed forests.

So far, climate change policies on the tropics have effectively been focusing on reducing carbon emissions from deforestation only, not accounting for emissions coming from forest degradation.

Lead researcher Dr Erika Berenguer from Lancaster University said: “The impacts of fire and logging in tropical forests have always been largely overlooked by both the scientific community and policy makers who are primarily concerned with deforestation. Yet our results show how these disturbances can severely degrade the forest, with huge amounts of carbon being transferred from plant matter straight into the atmosphere.”...

Logging in Amazonia, shot by Pediboi, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons 3.0 license

Australian environmentalists welcome bank wariness on reef port

PhysOrg: Environmentalists on Saturday welcomed Deutsche Bank's reluctance to invest in a major port expansion near Australia's Great Barrier Reef, saying it reflected global concern about the project. Australia gave the green light to the major coal port expansion for India's Adani Group at Abbot Point on the Great Barrier Reef coast last year subject to strict environmental conditions.

But conservationists slammed the approval, warning it would hasten the natural wonder's demise given it is under pressure from climate change, land-based pollution and crown-of-thorn starfish outbreaks. At its annual general meeting in Europe on Friday, Deutsche Bank said its policy for dealing with activities in or near World Heritage Sites ruled it out of investing in Abbot Point.

"Deutsche Bank does not support activities when the government and UNESCO do not agree that the planned activities do not place the exceptional universal value of the site at risk," the bank said. "As we have seen, there is currently no consensus between UNESCO and the Australian government regarding the expansion of Abbot Point in the vicinity of the Great Barrier Reef. Our policy requires such a consensus at the least. We therefore would not consider applications for the financing of an expansion any further."

UNESCO has stated concerns about coastal development proposed in the region including port and coal operations, with the body expected to discuss the issue at a meeting in June.

The Australian Marine Conservation Society, which is campaigning against the port expansion, welcomed Deutsche Bank's stance, which it said showed global concern about plans to "industrialise the coastline of the Great Barrier Reef"...

Helicopter view of the Great Barrier Reef, shot by Nickj, Wikimedia Commons, licenseed under Creative Commons 3.0 

California sees big drop in wintertime fog needed by fruit and nut crops

Sarah Yang at the UC Berkeley News Center: California’s winter tule fog – hated by drivers, but needed by fruit and nut trees – has declined dramatically over the past three decades, raising a red flag for the state’s multibillion dollar agricultural industry, according to researchers at UC Berkeley.

Crops such as almonds, pistachios, cherries, apricots and peaches go through a necessary winter dormant period brought on and maintained by colder temperatures. Tule fog, a thick ground fog that descends upon the state’s Central Valley between late fall and early spring, helps contribute to this winter chill.

“The trees need this dormant time to rest so that they can later develop buds, flowers and fruit during the growing season,” said biometeorologist and study lead author Dennis Baldocchi, whose father grew almonds and walnuts in Antioch and Oakley. “An insufficient rest period impairs the ability of farmers to achieve high quality fruit yields.”

The study was published May 15 in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, a publication of the American Geophysical Union. The findings have implications for the entire country since many of these California crops account for 95 percent of U.S. production, the authors noted.

...“The year-to-year variability we saw was likely infl
uenced by whether the season was relatively wet or dry,” said Baldocchi, professor of Environmental Science, Policy and Management. “Generally, when conditions are too dry or too wet, we get less fog. If we’re in a drought, there isn’t enough moisture to condense in the air. During wet years, we need the rain to stop so that the fog can form.”...

Fog in the Santa Cruz mountains, shot by Elinruby, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons 3.0 license

Stanford research shows importance of European farmers adapting to climate change

Laura Seaman at Stanford News: A new Stanford study finds that due to an average 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit of warming expected by 2040, yields of wheat and barley across Europe will drop more than 20 percent.  New Stanford research reveals that farmers in Europe will see crop yields affected as global temperatures rise, but that adaptation can help slow the decline for some crops.

For corn, the anticipated loss is roughly 10 percent, the research shows. Farmers of these crops have already seen yield growth slow down since 1980 as temperatures have risen, though other policy and economic factors have also played a role.

"The results clearly showed that modest amounts of climate change can have a big impact on yields of several crops in Europe," said Stanford doctoral student Frances Moore, who conducted the research with David Lobell, an associate professor of environmental Earth system science.

..."By adaptation, we mean a range of options based on existing technologies, such as switching varieties of a crop, installing irrigation or growing a different crop, one better suited to warmer temperatures," said Lobell, the associate director of the Center on Food Security and the Environment at Stanford. "These things have been talked about for a long time, but the novelty of this study was using past data to quantify the actual potential of adaptation to reduce climate change impacts. We find that in some cases adaptation could substantially reduce impacts, but in other cases the potential may be very limited with current technologies."

According to the analysis, corn has the highest adaptation potential. Moore and Lobell predict that corn farmers can reduce yield losses by as much as 87 percent through long-term adaptation. ...

A cornfield near Straelen, Germany, shot by flamenc, Wikimedia Commons,  under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license 

Balkan flood devastation 'exceeds war damage'

Al-Jazeera.com: The cost of the recovery operation following devastating floods in the Balkans may amount to billions of dollars. Both Bosnia and Serbia said they will need international help, as EU and NATO officials visited affected areas on Wednesday to estimate damage.

Officials in Bosnia said they fear the damage caused by heavy rains and landslides would exceed that caused by the entire Balkan conflict fought between Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats between 1992 and 1995.

As waters receded, Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said that the damage in his co
untry exceeded 0.64 percent of GDP, meaning that Serbia can apply for EU solidarity funds, the AP news agency reported.

The heavy rainfall, which began last week, was the highest ever recorded in the Balkans. Excess water led to rivers breaking their banks and landslides that left 49 people dead and half a million people displaced.

The number of people killed included, 27 in Serbia, 20 in Bosnia and two in Croatia. Some 100,000 homes and 230 schools were destroyed by the torrents and hundreds of landslides. In Serbia, 3,500km of roads have been destroyed or damaged and about 30 percent of railway lines still cannot be accessed...

NASA image of flooding in Croatia, Serbia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina on May 19, 2014

Friday, May 23, 2014

Public interest in climate unshaken by scandal, but unstirred by science

Terra Daily via SPX: The good news for any passionate supporter of climate-change science is that negative media reports seem to have only a passing effect on public opinion, according to Princeton University and University of Oxford researchers. The bad news is that positive stories don't appear to possess much staying power, either. This dynamic suggests that climate scientists should reexamine how to effectively and more regularly engage the public, the researchers write.

Measured by how often people worldwide scour the Internet for information related to climate change, overall public interest in the topic has steadily waned since 2007, according to a report in the journal Environmental Research Letters. Yet, the downturn in public interest does no
t seem tied to any particular negative publicity regarding climate-change science, which is what the researchers primarily wanted to gauge.

First author William Anderegg, a postdoctoral research associate in the Princeton Environmental Institute who studies communication and climate change, and Gregory Goldsmith, a postdoctoral researcher at Oxford's Environmental Change Institute, specifically looked into the effect on public interest and opinion of two widely reported, almost simultaneous events.

... A public with little interest in climate change is unlikely to push for policies that actually address the problem, Anderegg said. He and Goldsmith suggest communicating in terms familiar to the public rather than to scientists. For example, their findings suggest that most people still identify with the term "global warming" instead of "climate change," though the shift toward embracing the more scientific term is clear.

"If public interest in climate change is falling, it may be more difficult to muster public concern to address climate change," Anderegg said. "This long-term trend of declining interest is worrying and something I hope we can address soon."...

The King, Our Lord and master". An 1887 caricature of King Don Pedro of Brazil asleep in a chair with a newspaper on his lap and a pile of other newspapers on the table by his side. By Angelo Agostini

Climate change melting Chinese glaciers

Tim Mayr in Austrian Tribune: According to state-run media report on Wednesday, climate change has caused shrinkage of thousands of square kilometers over the past 30 years in Chinese glaciers. Glaciers in the Qinghai-Tibet plateau in western China have witnessed the shrinkage of 15%, or 8,000 square kilometers, said the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).

The researchers said climate change has played a big role in glacier melting in the region which includes the Chinese portion of the Himalayas. The rate of melt has accelerated since the 1990s. Ice on Mount Everest has experienced more and bigger cracks, which indicate a sign of rapidly melting glaciers, said Kang Shichang, a researcher with the Cold and Arid Regions Environmental and Engineering Research Institute of CAS.

A March report by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has claimed that the issue of climate change must not be trivialized as it does not only threat humanity by inducing extreme weather conditions, but by disrupting water security worldwide as well.

...
According to the IPCC, shrinkage of Himalayan glaciers will nearly be half if global average temperatures seek a rise by 1.8 degrees C by 2100. Glaciers in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau are known as home to several Himalayan rivers, like Brahamaputra. And these glaciers have shrunk 15% because of climate change.

Over a period of last 30 years, between 53,000 and 45,000 sq km shrinkage has been caused in glaciers. Climate change is highly likely to impact Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, the highest place in the world's mid-latitude regions. Shrinkage started in glaciers since the 20the century and accelerated since the 1990s, said Kang....

NASA image of Himalayan glaciers in Southern China

Lloyd’s US chief on board with climate change

Don Jergler in Insurance Journal: Despite risking offense to non-believers, Hank Watkins didn’t hesitate when he was asked if climate change was upon us. Watkins, president of Lloyd’s America, talked about an extensive report Lloyd’s of London just released, “Catastrophe Modeling and Climate Change.”

 “Everybody that produced this report on our behalf is in agreement that climate change is here,” he said. “I’d say the majority of them also suggested that man has certainly had a hand in that. We’re not suggesting that it’s happened over time, and there’s no cause and effect.”

The stance that the world’s oldest insurance firm is taking may not be too far out in the limb, because Lloyd’s headquarters is in the United Kingdom, a region of the world where the nation and its European neighbors seem have embraced the concept of climate change more so than other industrialized countries.

It’s one in a line of several reports and actions on climate change. Earlier this month the White House’s National Climate Assessment report was released as part of President Barack Obama’s effort to prepare the nation for the impacts of a changing climate now and in the future.

That report, which was guided by a 60-member federal advisory committee and was reviewed by experts, federal agencies and the National Academy of Sciences, was attacked by some as a political move timed so that Obama could renew his call for a national energy tax.

Farmers Insurance in April filed nine class actions against nearly 200 communities in the Chicago area arguing that local governments should have known rising global temperatures would lead to heavier rains and did not do enough to fortify their sewers and stormwater drains....

A storm drain in use, image by Robert Lawton, Wiukimedia Commons, Creative Commons 2.5 license

Warm Pacific may paradoxically cause US winter freeze, says a study

Reuters: Unusually warm western Pacific waters linked to global warming may be the paradoxical cause of a bone-chilling winter in parts of the United States this year, a scientific study said on Thursday. The theory contrasts with other experts' views, including that the freeze was simply a freak natural event or that it was linked to a thawing of the Arctic in recent years that sent a blast of cold air south.

"People's reaction when they sit under 10 feet of snow is to say 'this cannot be man-made climate change'," said Professor Tim Palmer of Oxford University, who published his research in the journal Science. "But there is a plausible link," he told Reuters.

He said a strengthening of trade winds had led to a build-up of warm water in the western tropical Pacific, aggravated in recent years by global warming from man-made emissions of greenhouse gases. Thunderstorms linked to the warmth in turn disrupted the jetstream, high altitude winds which flow in vast meandering loops around the northern hemisphere, and sucked cold air from the Arctic. Detroit, for instance, suffered record snows and the coldest January since 1977.

Pinpointing the causes of the U.S. chill, when climate change should make cold winters less likely, would help companies, farmers, city planners or even home owners wondering if they should invest in extra roof insulation. Two other experts were unconvinced by Palmer's study.

Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University, who wrote in 2011 that a melting of Arctic ice may cause cold snaps, said the Pacific had a similar pattern of heavy rainfall in 2011-12 but the winter was mild in the United States....

A winter storm in New York City, MTA of the state of New York, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Migrating cyclones pose new threat

Eco-Business via Climate Science News Network: Tropical cyclones – hurricanes in the Caribbean, typhoons in the South China Sea – are moving further north and south, threatening to create new havoc in unsuspecting coastal areas.

New research published in the journal Nature reveals that, on average, the storms have been migrating towards the poles at the rate of 53 kilometres a decade in the northern hemisphere, and 62 kilometres in the southern.

This means that landfalls that in the past that would not have expected violent storms will become increasingly at risk − “with obvious effects on coastal residents and infrastructure”, the paper says.

Jim Kossin, an atmospheric research scientist at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and colleagues looked at data for the last 30 years and measured the latitudes as which storms reached their peak intensity. They found an uneven but measurable shift of around half a degree of latitude every 10 years.

The news makes sense, as researchers have previously identified a steady “expansion” of the tropics as a result of global warming....

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Near-normal or below-normal 2014 Atlantic hurricane season predicted

Science Daily: In its 2014 Atlantic hurricane season outlook issued today, NOAA's Climate Prediction Center is forecasting a near-normal or below-normal season.

The main driver of this year's outlook is the anticipated development of El Niño this summer. El Niño causes stronger wind shear, which reduces the number and intensity of tropical storms and hurricanes. El Niño can also strengthen the trade winds and increase the atmospheric stability across the tropical Atlantic, making it more difficult for cloud systems coming off of Africa to intensify into tropical storms.

The outlook calls for a 50 percent chance of a below-normal season, a 40 percent chance of a near-normal season, and only a 10 percent chance of an above-normal season. For the six-month hurricane season, which begins June 1, NOAA predicts a 70 percent likelihood of 8 to 13 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), of which 3 to 6 could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including 1 to 2 major hurricanes (Category 3, 4 or 5; winds of 111 mph or higher).

These numbers are near or below the seasonal averages of 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes, based on the average from 1981 to 2010. The Atlantic hurricane region includes the North Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea and Gulfof Mexico.

"Thanks to the environmental intelligence from NOAA's network of earth observations, our scientists and meteorologists can provide life-saving products like our new storm surge threat map and our hurricane forecasts," said Kathryn Sullivan, Ph.D., NOAA administrator. "And even though we expect El Niño to suppress the number of storms this season, it's important to remember it takes only one land falling storm to cause a disaster."...

Image from NOAA