Tuesday, July 31, 2007

“Chalcogels”: New aerogels for water decontamination, hydrogen purification

Green Car Congress: Researchers at the US Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory have created new aerogels that could cleanse contaminated water and potentially purify hydrogen for use in fuel cells.

Argonne materials scientists Peter Chupas and Mercouri Kanatzidis, along with colleagues at Northwestern and Michigan State universities, created and characterized six different types of the porous semiconducting aerogels at Argonne’s Advanced Photon Source (APS).

The researchers formed the gels from various sulfide and selenide clusters with platinum as the linking metal ion. Because the gels formed are based on all-chalcogenide species (molecules centered on the elements found directly under oxygen in the periodic table), they termed the new gels “chalcogels”. A report on the work appears in 27 July issue of Science.

The researchers submerged a fraction of a gram of the aerogel in a solution of mercury-contaminated water and found that the gel removed more than 99.99% of the heavy metal. The researchers believe that these gels can be used not only for this kind of environmental cleanup but also to remove impurities from hydrogen gas that could damage the catalysts in potential hydrogen fuel cells.

…The chalcogels are expected to be able to separate out the impurities from hydrogen gas much as they did the mercury from the water, by acting as a kind of sieve or selectively permeable membrane. The unique chemical and physical structure of the gels will allow researchers to tune their pore sizes or composition in order to separate particular poisons from the hydrogen stream.

…Kanatzidis and his co-workers recognized that aerogels offered one remarkable advantage over powders: because the material maintained its cohesion, it possessed an enormous surface area. One cubic centimeter of the aerogel could have a surface area as large as a football field, according to Kanatzidis. The bigger the surface area of the material, the more efficiently it can bind other molecules, he said….

Pakistan: Uncontrolled population blamed for climate change

IPS (Pakistan): When it comes to climate change population matters, particularly for countries in South Asia, Africa and some Arab countries, says Prof. Khalid Rashid. A mathematician and physicist in Pakistan, he has long been studying the phenomenon of global warming and views the uncontrolled population explosion with much trepidation.

But there are climate scientists like Dr Shaheen Rafi Khan, a researcher with an Islamabad-based policy-oriented research institute, the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), who insist it is how we live and use resources that matters not the number of people.

"Because," insists Dr Khan, "the focus remains on emissions in the North and adaptation to climate change in the South. The South is the victim of climate change not the agent." He however, adds: "Population growth impact is likely to be incremental and the country that will contribute substantively to it will be India, with its large and growing population and surging economic growth."…

The reality is that even where women want fewer children or practice birth spacing they face difficulty in accessing the family planning services. They meet with a non-supportive environment at home, and encounter misconceptions and misinformation about the use of family planning.

…Khan appeals to Pakistan's leaders to tackle the population growth issue, also "because of its climate change implications. Urban emissions pose huge health hazards in southern cities. They are directly related to burgeoning urban populations thanks to high fertility and rural-urban drift."

Unfortunately green lobbyists everywhere have shied away from the issue, according to Khan. They are more concerned about the impact on biodiversity, he points out.

…Dr Khan, however does not subscribe to the theory that massive growth in population has had more impact on biodiversity than any other single factor. "No, recent research shows a tenuous population-poverty-degradation nexus. The problem lies in management and giving people their resource rights," he insists.

Seawater intrusion is the first cause of contamination of coastal aquifers

Science Daily, from a press release Universidad de Granada: Seawater intrusion is often the consequence of freshwater aquifers overexploitation. This is a very common and serious phenomenon all over the Mediterranean basin, as well as in other areas with similar weather conditions and population.

In Spain, the most severely affected areas by seawater intrusion are the Mediterranean and South-Atlantic coastlines. Given that Spain is located on a peninsula, seawater intrusion is currently one of the main causes of groundwater pollution. In fact, “about 60% of Spanish coastal aquifers are contaminated by seawater intrusion, a generalised phenomenon in 20% of cases”, points out Prof. José Benavente Herrera, a researcher from the Water Institute of the University of Granada, Spain, and senior lecturer at the department of Geodynamics….

…Prof. Benavente states that solutions to prevent salinisation should start by studying every aquifer individually. Therefore, reducing freshwater pumping should be followed by other measures, such as analysing the aquifer’s situation before building reservoirs upstream, as this will account for a serious minimisation of its natural recharge and, possibly, for salinisation if the return flow is not guaranteed. In fact, “ironic as it may be, building up an artificial reservoir could render useless the natural groundwater reservoir downstream.”

Also, says Benavente, in very localised seawater intrusion areas, reducing pumping or extracting water from either smaller or greater depths become indispensable measures. According to Benavente, artificial recharge of aquifers is another efficient measure to prevent salinisation, as it stops seawater intrusion and increases freshwater levels. In this sense, for instance, clean water obtained from urban sewage purification can be used for irrigation of crops and golf fields as well as to create a hydraulic barrier against seawater intrusion.

Some regions in the world – including Spain – are already implementing these measures. Prof. Benavente highlights Los Angeles, USA, and river Llobregat delta, Spain, where sewage water injection as mentioned above has proven to be useful to solve salinisation problems.

Adaptation in agriculture: Opinion from India

Business Standard (India): India's agriculture will be badly affected by global warming, but timely action could help mitigate the impact considerably.

Climate change is bound to affect almost all walks of life. But its impact on agriculture will be direct and relatively more pronounced. The production of not only food, vegetables and fruit crops, but also that of livestock and fish can come under severe strain. The wheat crop has already been the victim of temperature rise in recent years. Other crops and sectors could begin displaying the impact in the near future if measures are not put in place to cope with the menace that has already begun unfolding itself.

…A study by the Delhi-based Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) has indicated that the overall wheat production could drop by 4 to 5 million tonnes with every increase of 1 degree Celsius in temperature throughout the growing season of this crop. The output of other crops, too, would be adversely hit by changes in the climate.

Even minor variations in temperature and rainfall, for instance, could have a significant bearing on the quality of fruits and vegetables, besides that of tea leaves, coffee and aromatic and medicinal produce. This could, in turn, impact the prices and trade of these products.

Recent reports released by the United Nations Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have reckoned that India could witness a 10 to 40 per cent loss in crop production due to the rise in atmospheric temperature by 2080-2100. Some other global bodies have also come to similar, albeit scarier, conclusions.

…However, the silver lining to this dismal scenario is that it is not impossible to mitigate the impact by suitably adapting to the impending changes. As the official note points out, small changes in climatic parameters can be managed reasonably well by altering the dates of planting, plant density in the fields and input management. Even the projected wheat production loss of 4 to 5 million tonnes could be contained to mere 1 to 2 million tonnes by planting the crop on time and using appropriate varieties.

… New technologies, including energy and natural resource conservation techniques, can help improve the efficiency of applied inputs like water and fertilisers without sacrificing the yields.

…what is needed urgently is to ensure adequate funding for research and the development of strategies to change agriculture systems in tandem with the changing climatic conditions. The government will also have to come out with policies to help farmers switch over to new farming systems capable of yielding high returns under changed circumstances.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Norman Borlaug: Continuing the green revolution

Wall Street Journal: Persistent poverty and environmental degradation in developing countries, changing global climatic patterns, and the use of food crops to produce biofuels, all pose new and unprecedented risks and opportunities for global agriculture in the years ahead.

Agricultural science and technology, including the indispensable tools of biotechnology, will be critical to meeting the growing demands for food, feed, fiber and biofuels. Plant breeders will be challenged to produce seeds that are equipped to better handle saline conditions, resist disease and insects, droughts and waterlogging, and that can protect or increase yields, whether in distressed climates or the breadbaskets of the world. This flourishing new branch of science extends to food crops, fuels, fibers, livestock and even forest products.

…Early crossbreeding experiments to select desirable characteristics took years to reach the desired developmental state of a plant or animal. Today, with the tools of biotechnology, such as molecular and marker-assisted selection, the ends are reached in a more organized and accelerated way. The result has been the advent of a "Gene" Revolution that stands to equal, if not exceed, the Green Revolution of the 20th century.

…However, science and technology should not be viewed as a panacea that can solve all of our resource problems. Biofuels can reduce dependence on fossil fuels, but are not a substitute for greater fuel efficiency and energy conservation. Whether we like it or not, gas-guzzling SUVs will have to go the way of the dinosaurs.

…The debate about the suitability of biotech agricultural products goes beyond issues of food safety. Access to biotech seeds by poor farmers is a dilemma that will require interventions by governments and the private sector. Seed companies can help improve access by offering preferential pricing for small quantities of biotech seeds to smallholder farmers. Beyond that, public-private partnerships are needed to share research and development costs for "pro-poor" biotechnology.

Finally, I should point out that there is nothing magic in an improved variety alone. Unless that variety is nourished with fertilizers--chemical or organic--and grown with good crop management, it will not achieve much of its genetic yield potential.

Mr. Borlaug, the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, last week was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, America's highest civilian honor.

Pine beetles contributing to global warming?

Vancouver Sun: Could B.C.'s ever-expanding sea of red-tinged forests caused by pine beetle infestation be contributing to global warming? Researchers at the University of Northern B.C. think it's possible, with one professor now leading a study on whether beetle activity - long suspected as being caused by global warming because warmer winters can no longer contain their spread - is creating additional warming in its own right.

"By taking measurements at the same site over a number of years, we're able to track how a pine beetle-infected forest evolves from a sink for carbon to a source," said Art Fredeen, a UNBC professor of ecosystem science and management.

…Fredeen said that carbon dioxide is one of the main greenhouse gases, and that forests are known to store tremendous amounts of carbon acquired through photosynthesis. If the trees are cut down or are killed by the beetle, they can't absorb carbon anymore, and climate change may result.

"Clear-cutting can release enormous amounts of carbon to the atmosphere for 10 years or more after harvesting," said Fredeen in a statement. "The pine beetle infestation has led to very high levels of logging activity and we're interested in finding out what this activity will mean to levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere."

He is working with researchers from the University of B.C. and the ministry of forests to conduct studies at two sites north of Prince George: one near Crooked River Provincial Park and the other at Kennedy Siding east of Mackenzie. It's funded by the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Science and the B.C. Forest Sciences Program.

…Fredeen noted that during the past 150 years the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have risen considerably, with the burning of fossil fuels believed to be the main culprit. However, 25 per cent of the increase is due to deforestation, he added.

"The sheer scale of the pine beetle infestation means that salvage logging could have a real impact on the link between forests, harvesting and climate change," Fredeen said….

Drought as nature’s revenge

Manila Times: Suddenly, climate change is no longer a lofty scientific concept. It has become a reality and we are suffering from its effects.

Last week the government alerted the public to the possibility of a drought parching Luzon unless long-overdue rains started falling within the next few days. The concern was raised after unscheduled power outages blacked out large sections of Metro Manila and neighboring provinces. The reason: a number of hydroelectric plants had stopped running because there was not enough water to drive their turbines. The dams supplying water to the plants were drying up, not having been replenished because of below-average rainfall. The authorities had to admit that the afternoon showers offering some relief to the metropolis were induced by cloud seeding, and that power and electricity may have to be rationed.

The consequences of a severe water shortage go beyond rotating blackouts. An extended dry spell could play havoc on Luzon’s rice and corn harvest and drive up grain prices. Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap was quick to explain that grain prices would remain stable for the rest of the year. However, the secretary added rather ominously, a prolonged dry season could impact on next year’s crop.

What looms even darker on the horizon is the fact that man, not nature, is largely responsible for the unusual and potentially damaging weather gripping the country. For years environmental scientists had warned that pollution and forest denudation were raising temperatures all over the world. Unless drastic steps were taken soon, Earth would get warmer, triggering such catastrophic events as crop failures and even the extinction of many animal and plant species.

Global warming has since been recognized as a menace that requires international action. In the Philippines, it took longer to sink in because its effects had not been readily apparent or dramatic. The farmers attributed the lateness of the rains or the viciousness of supertyphoons to the fickleness of nature. The smog that enveloped the city was nothing more than a minor inconvenience for commuters. The laundrywoman saw nothing wrong with leaving the tap running while the water overflowed from washbasin.

It’s time we recognize that we are responsible for what is happening to our climate. It’s time we do something about the weather, not just talk about it.

…A senior climate scientist at the International Rice Research Institute in Los Baños said it would be harder for the Philippines to cope with climate change because it has different climatic zones that need a specific response strategy. “Regions of the Philippines differ in terms of land use practices and landscape characteristics, so they will be affected to varying degrees by climate change,” the scientist said.

The government must look at the aberrant weather as a consequence of global warming and not just a seasonal phenomenon, and adjust its response accordingly.

Firefighters struggle to contain blazes in South Europe

Terra Daily, via Agence France-Presse: Firefighters backed by helicopters struggled Sunday to douse major forest fires across southern Europe as special prayers were held in Romania for an end to a deadly heatwave searing the continent. Firefighters staged an uphill battle to extinguish the flames which have ravaged forests in Bulgaria, Macedonia, Greece, as well as Spain's Canary Islands off the western coast of Africa. In Bulgaria, where 23,000 hectares (nearly 57,000 acres) of woodland have been burned in the scorching temperatures of the past week, fires continued to rage in the south and centre.

…On mainland Spain, a fire which broke out on a military firing range in Andalusia had scorched about 3,500 hectares as well.

In Greece, five fires were burning Sunday in the northwestern areas of Ioannina, Florina, Kozani, Pieria and Thesprotia, where some 300 firefighters were deployed to control them.

…Parts of Italy remained on high alert, but firefighters said the level of threat had gone down slightly.

Tropical storms stepping up with climate change

New Scientist news service: Climate change has triggered three major shifts in the number of tropical storms that rise up in the North Atlantic, according to a new analysis of 20th century records. The first change came in 1905, starting a 25-year period with an average of 6.0 tropical storms or hurricanes per year. In 1931, the number jumped to 9.4 per year, and stayed at that level until 1994. The last big shift came in 1995, starting a period through to 2005 with an average of 14.8 storms per year.

With only nine storms, 2006 was comparatively quiet, but Greg Holland of the US National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, says it would have been an average year just a couple of decades ago.

The series of jumps is clear in the data, says Holland, with almost no long-term variation from 1931 to 1994, then a rapid increase. In his study, he reports that rises in sea-surface temperatures occur at the same time as storm frequencies shift. He concludes that global warming is behind most of both changes.

Some earlier studies had found that storm counts rose and fell periodically, with 30 to 40 quiet years followed by 30 to 40 busy years, but no long-term change. "But that was always a very, very weak case," says Kerry Emanuel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Holland does see a small periodic variation in North Atlantic sea-surface temperature, but says it is much smaller than the long-term increase caused by greenhouse warming. The proportion of storms that go on to become major hurricanes does vary cyclically, and has shown no marked trend over the past century. The bad news, says Holland, is that this cycle is now driving an increase in the proportion of major hurricanes at the same time as the numbers of storms is rising due to global warming.

With the storm frequency climbing above those in historical records dating back more than 150 years, he warns "we are moving into territory that we don't understand." Concern about the problem is spreading. Bills have been introduced in the US House and Senate to create a National Hurricane Research Initiative, as recommended in a recent National Science Board report (pdf).

What the peak part of the 2007 season, from mid-August to mid-October, will bring remains uncertain. The mild El Niño that dampened the formation of North Atlantic hurricanes in 2006 has faded away, but sea-surface temperatures remain below the peak that contributed to the onslaught of storms in 2004 and 2005.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Rise in cases of West Nile virus may portend an epidemic

New York Times: The number of West Nile virus cases in the United States is nearly four times what it was a year ago, meaning that a large epidemic may be in store, government researchers are reporting. “It’s certainly a warning sign that we need to be extremely vigilant,” Dr. Lyle Petersen, the director of the division of vector-borne infections at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said yesterday. “The worst is yet to come.”

The virus, carried by mosquitoes, causes a mild, flu-like illness in 20 percent of those infected, and no symptoms in about 80 percent. In about 1 percent of cases, the illness progresses to a brain infection that can be fatal. Last year, 4,269 cases were reported in the United States, including 1,495 brain infections, and 177 people died. The risk of severe illnesses increases with age. So far this year, 122 cases have been reported, with the most in California and the Dakotas. At this time last year, there had been only 33.

The reported cases are just the tip of the iceberg, researchers say. Many infections are never diagnosed because they were mild and the patient did not see a doctor, or was not tested for the virus.

This year, there have already been 42 brain infections and 3 deaths. This is early in the season, since 90 percent of the cases usually occur in August and early September. It is impossible to predict whether the trend will continue, Dr. Petersen said, adding that it may be related to “a lot of weird weather events,” including both the heat waves in the West and unusual storm patterns in the Midwest. If people keep getting infected at the current rate, he said, “we could see the largest epidemic ever.”

The first known case of the disease in the United States occurred in New York City in 1999, and since then the virus has spread to every state. In cases in the past, the virus was transmitted by transfusions and organ transplants, but tests are now done to protect the blood supply. This year, the tests have found 23 potential blood donors who were infected.

Climate change will increase pest attacks on soybeans

Scitizen: Elevated [CO2] increased the susceptibility of soybean to invasive insects by down-regulating the expression of genes related with hormonal defense, which down-regulate important antidigestive defenses against beetles.

During the last annual meeting of the American Society of Plant Biologists in Chicago (July 7-11, 2007), scientists Jorge A. Zavala, Clare L. Casteel, May R. Berenbaum and Evan H. De Lucia from the University of Illinois, USA have shown that elevated CO2 may negatively impact the relationship between some plants and insects. CO2 is one of the most important gases involved in global warming, the greenhouse effect. However, not only temperature, but also CO2 concentrations itself can affect ecosystem functions, including plant-insect interactions.

By 2050, soybean (Glycine max) the world’s most widely grown seed legume will grow in an atmosphere with a 50% higher carbon dioxide concentration ([CO2]) and could affect plant-insect interactions. Insect’s attack produces high economic costs to field crops. Soybeans respond to insect attack by producing defense compounds that inhibit digestive enzymes (proteinases) in the gut of insects, reducing their performance and crop damage. The production of this antidigestive compounds are regulated in plants by the hormone jasmonic acid (JA). However, elevated [CO2] levels disrupt this equilibrium in plant-insect interactions and benefit the herbivore.

This study, supported by the Department of Energy, Office of Science, found that when soybeans were exposed to elevated [CO2] the crop became more susceptible to Japanese beetle (Popillia japonica) colonization, producing more leaf damage. …

“Our results suggest that elevated [CO2] increased the susceptibility of soybean to invasive insects by down-regulating the expression of hormones related with defense, which down-regulate important defense compunds against beetles,” Zavala said.

Zavala also explained, “Under natural field conditions, elevated [CO2] not only increased susceptibility of soybean to herbivory by the invasive species Japanese beetle, but also enhanced the performance of these beetles.”…

Climate change drains water from China's two longest rivers

Terra Daily, via Xinhua News Agency: Climate change linked to the contraction of wetlands at the source of China's two longest rivers, the Yangtze and the Yellow River, has reduced the volume of water flowing in the rivers, said Chinese scientists. Scientists from the Institute of Mountain Hazards and Environment under the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) studied changes over the past 40 years to the wetlands on the cold Qinghai-Tibet Plateau in west China where the two rivers have their source.

Analyzing aerial photos and satellite remote sensing figures, they found that the wetlands on the plateau have shrunk more than 10 percent over the past four decades. The wetlands at the origin of the Yangtze River suffered the most, contracting by 29 percent. In addition, about 17.5 percent of the small lakes at the source of the Yangtze River have dried up, said the scientists.

"The wetlands plays a key role in containing water and adjusting the water volume of the rivers," said Wang Xugen, a researcher with the Institute of Mountain Hazards and Environment.

"The shrinking of the wetland on the plateau is closely connected with global warming," Wang said, adding that -- even though rainfall has increased in the region -- the contraction of the wetland has reduced the flow of the Yangtze and Yellow rivers.

Figures provided by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) weather station at the head of the Yangtze River showed that annual rainfall at the source of the Yangtze River increased from 260 mm during 1991-2000 to 323 mm in the period 2001-2006.

"But the increased rainfall didn't lead to more water flow in the rivers because the evaporation was so fast as a result of global warming," said Li Shijie, a researcher with the Nanjing Institute of Geography and Limnology under the CAS.

…The scientists called for more support for ecological research on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and better protection of the unique and vulnerable environment.

Mozambique: Climate change linked to natural disasters

AllAfrica.com: Mozambique's Environment minister, Luciano de Castro, on Wednesday suggested that the natural disasters that have struck Mozambique in recent years are in fact not entirely natural, but are linked to man-made climate change.

Speaking at a dialogue on climate change organised by his ministry, Castro suggested that the cyclical droughts in southern Mozambique, flooding in the major river valleys, and the occasional devastating cyclone hitting the Mozambican coast are associated with the global warming caused by human interference in the climate...

"Climate change and its effects know no borders", said Castro, "and do not discriminate between those who have contributed most to global warming and those who have contributed least".

Poor countries like Mozambique, he added, were more likely than rich countries to be severely hit by extreme climate events, "worsening still further the precarious conditions in which their people live".

Antonio Queface, a physics lecturer from Maputo's Eduardo Mondlane University, said Mozambique should take adaptation measures to face climate change. Such measures would include investing in drought resistant crops and water retention technologies, in order to deal with the likelihood of lower rainfall in the future.

And although it was true that the Mozambican contribution to global warning is insignificant, Queface thought that serious efforts should be made to reduce the number of bush fires set at the start of every agricultural season. Uncontrolled bush fires had taken on alarming proportions in some parts of the country, notably the southern province of Gaza.

"We have to make a greater effort to control these fires, since they too send polluting gases into the atmosphere", said Queface. "The level of uncontrolled bush fires in Mozambique is very high, and deserves serious attention".

Friday, July 27, 2007

Parched, burning southern Europe; flooded north: Is it climate change?

International Herald Tribune, via Associated Press: It's been a season of extremes for Europe. Greece has seen its hottest temperatures ever recorded; Britain, its wettest summer. Are the two linked by climate change?

Experts say that while the globe's changing climate could be contributing to extremes — and that more record-setting weather can be expected — it can't be blamed for individual events.

"We can't talk about this summer in terms of climate change," Dimitris Kaskaoutis, an atmospheric physics researcher in Athens, said Friday. "Everything must be examined over a long period of time and on a global scale."

Southern Europe has been struck by two heat waves in as many months, with soaring temperatures blamed for hundreds of deaths. In Hungary alone, government officials said this week that up to 500 people may have died because of the heat. The dry conditions have left forests vulnerable, and vast swathes across the Balkans and Italy have been ravaged by massive wildfires.

…"The latest study cannot make the link between climate change and what we have experienced so far this summer," said Met Office climate scientist Peter Stott. "However, with a warmer climate there could be an increase in extreme rainfall events despite the expected general trend toward drier summers."

Mihalis Petrakis, head of the Institute of Environmental Research and Sustainable Development in Athens, said there was no doubt that global warming has affected the world's climate.

"But one cannot attribute anything that happens, anything extreme, to climate change," Petrakis said. "Climate change is the base from which these phenomena occur." The frequency of this summer's heat waves in southern Europe — two in as many months — is "worrying," he added.

"But at the moment, we can't take that and say, 'That's climate change.' What we can do is wait for the next 10 years, to see whether the frequency continues, so we can come to a logical conclusion. But science doesn't work according to one sample."…

Ozone has 'strong climate effect'

BBC: Ozone could be a much more important driver of climate change than scientists had previously predicted, according to a study in Nature journal. The authors say the effects of this greenhouse gas - known by the formula O3 - have been largely overlooked.

Ozone near the ground damages plants, reducing their ability to mop up carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere. As a consequence, more CO2 will build up in the atmosphere instead of being taken up by plants.

Arguably, we have been looking in the wrong place for the key impacts of ozone

Peter Cox, University of Exeter This in turn will speed up climate change, say the Nature authors.

"Ozone could be twice as important as we previously thought as a driver of climate change," co-author Peter Cox, from the University of Exeter, UK, told the BBC News website.

Scientists already knew that ozone higher up in the atmosphere acted as a "direct" greenhouse gas, trapping infrared heat energy that would otherwise escape into space. Ozone closer to the ground is formed in a reaction between sunlight and other greenhouse gases such as nitrogen oxides, methane and carbon monoxide. Greenhouse emissions stemming from human activities have led to elevated ozone levels across large tracts of the Earth's surface.

This study is described as significant because it shows that O3 also has a large, indirect effect in the lower part of the atmosphere. Research into ground-level ozone has tended to concentrate on its harmful effects on human lungs. But the gas also damages plants, reducing their effectiveness as a "carbon sink" to soak up excess CO2 from the atmosphere.

Co-author Stephen Sitch, from the Met Office's Hadley Centre, said: "Calculations of the efficiency of land ecosystems to take up carbon would be less efficient than we thought previously."

Furthermore, Peter Cox said: "The indirect effect is of a similar magnitude, or even larger, than the direct effect." There are uncertainties, Professor Cox admits; but he added: "Arguably, we have been looking in the wrong place for the key impacts of ozone."

…The results may have implications for global food production, particularly in vulnerable areas.

Global warming threatens survival of cold-blooded Antarctic marine animals

Daily India: A limpet no bigger than a coin could reveal the possible fate of cold-blooded Antarctic marine animals, according to new research published this week in The Journal of Experimental Biology.

Compared to their temperate and tropical cousins, cold-blooded polar marine animals are incapable of fast growth. Until now scientists had assumed that a lack of food in winter was the major limiting factor.

But now, studies of the protein-making abilities of limpets in both the sea around the British Antarctic Survey's (BAS) Rothera Research Station and in the laboratory aquarium has shown that these animals cannot make proteins - the building blocks of growth - efficiently.

Growth in animals occurs primarily by making and retaining proteins. But, while the tropical water limpets typically retain 70 percent of the proteins they make, those in the Antarctic appear only to retain about 20 percent. According to lead author Dr Keiron Fraser from BAS, the findings are an important step in understanding the complex biodiversity of Antarctica's unique ecosystem.

"Sea temperature is predicted to increase by around 2 degree C in the next 100 years. If cold-blooded Antarctic animals can't grow efficiently, or increase their growth rates, they are unlikely to be able to cope in warmer water, or compete with species that will inevitably move into the region as temperatures rise," said Dr Keiron.

Think before you build

Guardian (Comment is Free): By definition, flood plains flood. Which is why it has never been a particularly good idea to build houses on them. But, when push comes to tidal shove, we do know how to build on or above water, or on land that at certain times of year is transformed into lakes by heavy rain.

…we know that building too many new homes on great tracts of land in an ever-increasing sprawl is a silly thing to do. And yet it seems we simply cannot stop ourselves, despite all the warnings from Yorkshire and Gloucestershire. Build, build, build is the mind-numbing political mantra of today. Three million new homes must be built by 2020, many of them in floodplains along the Thames and elsewhere in low-lying parts of southern England. Call them "eco-homes" (stick a wind turbine on the roof) designed for "eco-towns" (all traditional settlements used to be "eco-towns" without having to crow about the fact), trust that technology will keep floods at bay, and we will all sleep sound and dry.

I would, however, firmly advise anyone unfortunate enough to live in any of these new homes to invest in buckets, boats and thigh-high waders. Why? Because the evidence of our eyes alone tells us that new housing is being raced along contrary to every concern raised about long-term changes in our weather.

…In any case, sprawling new estates are a part of the very problem of global warming. Most are dormitory suburbs, offering few jobs within walking distance. Few are served with schools, nurseries, clinics or proper shops. Here the car is king. These gormless, supermarket-bound developments are gas guzzlers, contributors to global warming, yet useless when the floods invade their artless cul-de-sacs.

What we need to build are true eco-towns, in other words, modern versions of traditional settlements. Instead of seemingly inevitable sprawl, we could yet build just a very few new towns, preferably on high ground, each a compact and delightful cluster of homes, businesses, places of worship, areas to relax.

And, if we insist on building on flood plains, because these offer cheap land, then we must use our imagination to design new towns - just a few - that could stand happily with their foundations in water, but with homes well above it. We need to think before we build, build, build. More of the same sprawling junk that we have become accustomed to will lead only to floods. And tears.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Humans have shifted global precipitation patterns

Environment News Service: For the first time, climate scientists have clearly detected the human fingerprint on changing global precipitation patterns over the past century.

Their study to be published in tomorrow's issue of the journal "Nature" demonstrates that "human activities have contributed significantly to shifts in global precipitation patterns over the past century," including increased rain and snowfall in northern regions, drier conditions in tropical areas north of the equator, and increased rainfall in the southern tropics.

Human-induced changes have not previously been detected in global studies of precipitation, partly because drying in some regions cancels moistening in others, reducing the global signal. Here the scientists used the patterns of the changes in different latitude bands instead of the global average.

...According to the study, over the past century, climate records indicate there have been sizable shifts in precipitation patterns around the globe as a result of the emission of greenhouse gases and sulphate aerosols..

Looking at average conditions over broad regions of the globe, and comparing them to changes anticipated due to human influence on climate, scientists have determined that human-induced climate change has caused most of the observed increase in precipitation north of 50° latitude, a region that includes Canada, Russia and Europe, as well as in the southern hemisphere.

Human-induced climate change has also made important contributions to the drying observed in a broad region north of the equator that includes Mexico, Central America and northern Africa.

These shifts may have already had significant effects on ecosystems, agriculture and human health, especially in regions that are sensitive to changes in precipitation, such as the Sahel region in northern Africa.

The evidence suggests that natural factors, such as volcanic activity, have also contributed to the changes in global precipitation patterns over the past century, although to a much smaller extent than human activity.

The study compared observed precipitation changes with those produced by complex computer climate models that were used to estimate the effects of human activities over the past century.

In recent years, scientists have become increasingly sophisticated in combining different global climate models to increase the accuracy of their results. In this study, 14 different models were used. As a result, the scientists have considerable confidence in the findings of this study.

This study has also given scientists increased confidence in their ability to predict future changes in global climate. By using computer models to simulate climate change that has already occurred, the researchers have demonstrated the reliability of these models.

Recent scientific papers on altered rainfall patterns

Climate Feedback (Olive Heffernan):… While these single events cannot be attributed to climate change, many are questioning if the flash flooding is a sign of what is in store for the future. And scientists have some of the answers.

In a paper coming out in Nature this Thursday, Francis Zwiers of the Canadian Centre for Climate Modelling and Analysis in Toronto and colleagues present the first evidence that human-generated greenhouse gas emissions have altered rainfall patterns in the 20th Century. In the region between 40 and 70 degrees North, covering northern Europe, Russia and parts of North America, rainfall increased by 62 millimetres per century between 1925 and 1999. Zwiers and colleagues say that 50-85% of this increase can be attributed to human activity…

And a recent paper published in Science in June suggests that global warming may result in even more rainfall worldwide than is currently evident in climate model simulations. Frank J. Wentz of Remote Sensing Systems in Santa Rosa, California and co-workers compared global satellite data from 1987 to 2006 and found that rainfall increased at the same rate as atmospheric water vapour per degree Celsius of surface warming. Climate models had projected a dampened response of rainfall to global warming owing to a decrease in surface winds, but Wentz and colleagues found that surface winds have in fact become stronger, leading to heavier rainfall.

British response to flooding: opinion piece

Times Online: … I hate to intrude on the British love of a disaster, but haven’t the emergency services done brilliantly? Far from the “1m victims of the deluge” promised in a Daily Mail headline yesterday morning, there are 350,000 people without tapwater, but not without drinking water, 50,000 were without power for 24 hours, and 10,000 have been moved out of their homes. As I write, we do not know of anybody who has died as a direct result of the floods. Strenuous work overnight by the military and the fire service saved the power station from flooding.

… [W]ithout in any way demeaning the nuisance and misery caused to hundreds of thousands of people in Central England; if this is a disaster, I am a tomato.

The Government has proved itself calmly competent. Those of us (myself included) who feared that Gordon Brown might lack the necessary “feel your pain” contortions of Tony Blair in an emergency have been proved wrong: the pragmatic, unhysterical approach of the new Prime Minister has suited the country well. No soundbites; no grimaces; no posturing.

Perhaps it is trite to point out that people around the world are not so lucky. I hope not. Hundreds of people have died in flooding in Asia in the past few weeks: 750 in India, 150 in China, 350 in Pakistan.

Millions are homeless. Flooding in Bangladesh kills hundreds every year and displaces millions more. No insurance company is going to rebuild their homes. And we in the UK do not generally care very much.

According to the World Health Organisation, 1.8 million people die every year from diarrhoeal diseases; 90 per cent are children under 5, mostly in developing countries. Nearly nine in ten of those are attributed to unsafe water supply, inadequate sanitation and hygiene.

I say again, with apologies to those flood victims to whom it might sound flippant: how very lucky we are.

Hurricane preparedness: One-third on high risk coast will refuse evacuation order, according to survey

Science Daily, via Harvard School of Public Health: According to a new survey of people in high-risk hurricane areas conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health Project on the Public and Biological Security, one-third (31%) of residents said if government officials said they had to evacuate due to a major hurricane this season, they would not leave. This is an increase from 2006 when 23% said they would not evacuate.

The survey was conducted in eight states--Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas--and only included residents of counties within 20 miles of the coast. The poll included a special sample of the New Orleans metropolitan area.

The top reasons people give for not evacuating involve issues of safety and security. Three-quarters (75%) say their home is well-built and they would be safe there. Over half (56%) feel that roads would be too crowded, and slightly more than one in three (36%) feels that evacuating would be dangerous. One-third (33%) worry that their possessions would be stolen or damaged while one in four (27%) say they would not evacuate because they do not want to leave their pets.

"Public officials need to be concerned that the further we get from the severe hurricanes of 2005, the less willing people are to evacuate," said Robert J. Blendon, Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis at the Harvard School of Public Health. "Officials need to remind people that many homes are vulnerable to major storms. They also need to ensure safe evacuation routes are available and the public is aware of them."….

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Flooding in England: What can be done?

New Scientist environment blog: ...There's a clear irony about the floods, given that in the summer of 2006 in England, all the talk was of droughts and hosepipe bans.
What is significant and thought provoking is that a year ago we were seeking ways to retain water. Now we are desperate for it to go out to the sea. What we need is a more holistic approach that recognises the role of catchments in terms of flood storage.

Justin Taberham, Director of Policy, Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management
Here's a picture of that holistic approach:
You cannot design flooding out of urban spaces. Therefore it is vital that planners and developers move away from trying to resist seasonal influxes of water [which are increasing in volume] and move towards designing for flooding and absorbing excess water safely. This can be aided by taking some simple steps such as: incorporating green roofs, creating recreational areas within cities, and providing storage areas such as wetland habitats and water bodies upstream. In fact, planners could take this as a golden opportunity to make properties safer, but also improve our environment with green spaces and create richer habitats for wildlife

Bob Sargent, President, Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management
It's either that or building houses on stilts, I'd say.

Wikipedia on adaptation to global warming

Wikipedia has an entry about adaptation issues, and it contains a quick thumbnail of the issues associated with adaptation. Worth a look.

Hungarian heat wave death toll rising

UPI: About 500 people may have died across Hungary from heat-related health problems in the past eight days, health officials estimate.

Anna Paldy, deputy director of the National Institute of Environmental Health, said the deaths were due to heatstrokes, cardiovascular problems and similar illnesses worsened by high temperatures topping 104 degrees Fahrenheit, the BBC reported Tuesday.

Paldy said the death toll estimate was determined by researchers who took reports from hospitals and doctors in the Budapest metropolitan area and then worked out approximate calculations for the whole of Hungary.

She said the death rate caused by heat was the highest in Hungary in recent years, the BBC said.

How to destroy an African-American city in 33 steps -- lessons from Katrina

A sad, enraging, all-too-accurate post from the Black Commentator about racism's effect on adapting to climate catastrophes: Step One. Delay. If there is one word that sums up the way to destroy an African-American city after a disaster, that word is DELAY. If you are in doubt about any of the following steps – just remember to delay and you will probably be doing the right thing….

Step Two. When a disaster is coming, do not arrange a public evacuation. Rely only on individual resources. People with cars and money for hotels will leave. The elderly, the disabled and the poor will not be able to leave. Most of those without cars – 25% of households of New Orleans, overwhelmingly African-Americans – will not be able to leave…

... Step Five. Make certain the local, state, and national governments do not respond in a coordinated, effective way. This will create more chaos on the ground....

Read all 33.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Trenberth on possible cyclones in Mediterranean

Noted climatologist Kevin Trenberth has a post at Climate Feedback: A recent paper published by Gaertner et al. in Geophysical Research Letters (GRL) (in press as of 12 July 2007) explores the possibility for tropical cyclones to occur in the Mediterranean area in the future with global warming. It has been featured in the Times. The paper correctly points out that tropical cyclones have recently ventured into some unusual places with Catarina on the east coast of Brazil in March 2004 and Vince making landfall in Spain in 2005. Gaertner et al. use an ensemble of regional climate models to assess new locations of tropical cyclone occurrence. They find an increase in extremes of cyclone intensity over the Mediterranean Sea in regional model climate change scenario simulations. This increase, they claim, is clearly related to tropical cyclone formation, revealing for the first time a risk of tropical cyclone development over the Mediterranean Sea under future climate change conditions.

The regional model framework for this study is one limitation as it may not create the correct large-scale atmospheric circulation across the region. In particular, the Mediterranean climate in summer is one of clear skies and sunny days associated with the overall global monsoon circulation, such that the upward motion and rains in southern Asia are linked to the subsiding air over the Mediterranean that makes for a very stable environment unfavorable for storms. Unless that link is properly simulated (and it may not be, especially in a regional model) the vertical atmospheric temperature and wind structure are unlikely to be right.

The authors are aware of the summer difficulties and so they choose September as the time for the simulations. This has the advantage that the sea surface temperatures (SSTs) are highest then. The sun has been beating down all summer, but it tends to form a shallow layer of warm water and whether there is adequate heat below the surface is also a critical question. As cyclones form they churn up the ocean, bringing cold waters up from below and cool the ocean, creating a cold wake. In this work the SSTs were specified and fixed and this was not allowed to happen.

Moreover, by September, the mid-latitude westerlies have set in and the winds in the upper troposphere are typically over 20 m/s, so the wind shear environment is generally unfavorable for such storms. It is possible that the weather could change enough to relax the winds for just long enough to open a window for tropical cyclones but the odds are not high. This is the extratropics, after all.

All these questions remain. Nonetheless, with higher SSTs it does seem likely that cyclones would be more vigorous. But whether they are truly tropical or not is a key issue. The paper does not comment on water vapor: the Mediterranean Sea is surrounded by land where the air is drier and this can cause storms to run out of moisture and peter out. Nor does it mention rainfalls and flooding: a chief characteristic of tropical cyclones is the heavy rainfalls of several mm per hour. Nonetheless, warm core storms have been noted in the Mediterranean and are colloquially referred to as “Medicanes”.

For further discussion of tropical cyclones and climate change, see my recent article in Scientific American here.

U.S. seasonal drought outlook from NOAA

The latest seasonal update is available from NOAA's website: Short and long range forecasts favor improvement across much of the South and the East. Showers and thunderstorms are expected in the short range while the seasonal forecast favors above normal rainfall during the August-October period.

Drought conditions are expected to gradually improve across the Tennessee and southern Ohio valleys. However, substantial moisture deficits will likely persist. Year-to-date rainfall deficits range from 10 to 20+ inches in this region. Although these deficits are expected to slowly decrease, the chances of these deficits and their impacts being eliminated are small.

The forecast period covers the height of the hurricane season. The remnants of a tropical system can reduce drought conditions very quickly. However, the occurrence of such events can not be accurately forecast more than a few days in advance. Over the Upper Midwest, moderate to locally severe drought has developed. In the short range, little if any improvement is expected. Drought conditions will likely worsen during the rest of July into early August. This may have a negative impact on agriculture.

As September and October progress, opportunities for significant rainfall and drought improvement will increase. Over the western states, record low precipitation totals for the 2006-07 water year in some areas has resulted in the development of severe drought across the Southwest.

In the northern Rockies, recent heat and dry weather have resulted in drought development. Drought conditions will persist through the period, with possible expansion into northwestern California, Washington, Oregon and central Montana.

In Hawaii, drought is expected to persist across the leeward side of the island chain through October. On the Big Island, Tropical Storm Cosme may generate some significant rainfall during the first few days of the period. The best rains will likely be on the eastern side of the island.

Extreme weather monitoring boosted by space sensor

Science Daily: The first soil moisture maps with a spatial resolution of one km are available online for the entire southern African subcontinent. As soil moisture plays an important role in the global water cycle, these maps, based on data from ESA’s Envisat satellite, will lead to better weather and extreme-event forecasting, such as floods and droughts…

"Predicting when and where floods are likely to happen is becoming more and more important," Geoff Pegram of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, said. "Although we cannot prevent floods, we can anticipate them and hopefully get people out of the way. This brings hydrology into the 21st century and makes life better for people."

…Despite its importance for agricultural planning and weather forecasting, there has been a lack of soil moisture information in Africa because of the high costs of in-situ measurement networks. In addition, unlike satellite observations, point-based measurements are often not sufficient to provide an overall picture over large areas that may be effectively used in models.

"Once-in-a-century" rains displace millions in China

Environment News Service: Each summer, flooding rains sweep down China's river basins, forcing people from their homes, destroying businesses, and carrying crops away. This year has brought "once-in-a-century" rains and floods, Chinese President Hu Jintao said Sunday.

After a month of heavy rains, flood warnings are being issued in many parts of China as more heavy rain is forecast for the southwestern, central and eastern regions over the next few days.

The Central Meteorological Station forecast today that heavy rain would hit Sichuan, Yunnan, Guizhou, Hubei, Henan and Anhui provinces overnight and on Tuesday…

Since mid-June, more than 100 million Chinese have been affected by the rains and flooding. Officials say 425 people have died, while 110 are missing. An estimated 3.6 million people have been forced from their homes….

Director of the National Meteorological Center, Jiao Meiyan blames climate change for the torrential rains in Sichan and the city of Chongqing, which both experienced drought last summer.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Rising sea levels to endanger nuclear power future

From Market Oracle, which is pro-nuke: One of the primary reasons for the building of more nuclear power plants today is to combat global warming and climate change, as nuclear power is relatively free of carbon emissions. However if this is to be used as a reason for building more plants, then this implies that the theory of global warming and its effects, such as sea levels rising are to be believed.

The most dramatic aspects that must be examined is the that fact the majority of nuclear power plants need a constant supply of large volumes of water and therefore many are next to large river, lakes and the biggest water source on earth, right next to the sea. And what's supposed to be happening to sea levels with global warming?

… [Many] nuclear power plants are situated near rivers, canals and a great majority are on the coast. Scientists predict that sea levels could rise over 20 feet, about 7m worldwide as the polar ice caps melt in the Arctic and Antarctica as well as glaciers melting such as the massive glaciers in Greenland . So if this hypothesis comes true, what will happen to all those nuclear plants on the coast?

… [It] is not just the British nuclear installations that are going to suffer if sea levels rise. If we take a look across the Atlantic to the United States of America we also notice some damage to nuclear sites by sea level rises. The USA has the advantage that a fair number of its nuclear sites are many miles inland, on rivers, lakes and canals and as they are so far from the sea they escape the brunt of the damage…

What politician would want to back the options for dealing with sea-level rise?

StarNewsOnline (North Carolina): The recent update to the Wilmington-New Hanover Joint Coastal Area Management plan considered a number of factors in laying out long-term development goals and patterns for our area, including strategies to promote smart, sustainable growth while protecting the environment. Nowhere does it mention sea-level rise. Local officials aren’t pushing for guidance from Washington or Raleigh either.

…“There’s very little effort right now to do anything proactive to prepare for the inevitable impacts of the climate change we’re going to get,” said Jonathan Overpeck, director of the Institute for the Study of Planet Earth at the University of Arizona and a member of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

…Talk has yet to begin about major decisions that have teeth, such as planning to relocate or protect important infrastructure such as roads and sewer treatment plants in low-lying coastal areas or actively working to limit development in vulnerable areas. "There's too much money involved right now for people to take a deep breath,' Riggs said. 'No one wants to stop and talk about it."

….After Onslow County's revaluation in 2006, North Topsail Beach's property values jumped from $349 million to $1.48 billion – increasing from 7 percent to 16 percent of the county's overall tax base.

…While governments might be slow to react to the problems posed by sea-level rise, one segment of the private sector is leading the way in assessing the potential risk to coastal areas.

…State Insurance Commissioner Jim Long said he expects sea-level rise, more people crowding the coast and the rising value of coastal property to continue to put pressure on premiums. "They have to take it into account because they're risk averse," he said of the insurance companies. "They realize they can get cleaned out pretty easily."

During the most recent rate filing, the industry asked Long's office for a 125 percent increase in homeowner premiums for Pender, New Hanover and Brunswick counties. It ended up getting a 25 percent rate increase….

La Nina pattern likely to disrupt global weather: WMO

World Meteorological Organization: A La Niña event could, more likely than not, develop in the second half of 2007. The last WMO El Niño/La Niña Update in March 2007 also noted an enhanced likelihood of La Niña development, and conditions were moving quite rapidly in that direction until a reversal occurred during May and early June. There remains considerable uncertainty over the timing and magnitude of further cooling in the central and eastern Equatorial Pacific, and indeed there is a possibility that basin-wide conditions, despite some cooling, will on balance remain neutral through the remainder of 2007. Development of El Niño during the period is considered very unlikely….

  • In general, neutral or weak La Niña conditions have prevailed in the tropical Pacific during the first half of 2007;
  • Movement toward a typical La Niña condition has been very unsteady during the March-June period. A strong break in the pathway toward La Niña occurred during May and early June, increasing uncertainty over whether a La Niña event would develop in 2007;
  • Nonetheless, cool waters continue to be found beneath the central Equatorial Pacific, and forecast models continue to predict at least some surface cooling in the central and eastern Equatorial Pacific, with most dynamical models continuing to strongly favour La Niña development;
  • While the fluctuating conditions in the Equatorial Pacific over the last few months tend to imply a possibility of neutral conditions continuing through the remainder of 2007, a La Niña event is considered, albeit slightly, more likely. Development of El Niño in 2007 is considered very unlikely;
  • While it is possible that La Niña conditions may develop in the next 1 3 months, the timing and magnitude of such an event in 2007 continues to be uncertain, with no indications at this time of a particularly strong event in terms of sea-surface temperatures;
  • In light of the above assessment, regions typically impacted by La Niña events are advised to take note of the continued enhanced risk of such an event this year…

Death and disruption from floods in China

Terra Daily, via Agence France-Presse: Another 74 people have died in floods across China bringing the death toll for the week to at least 156 in one of the deadliest rainy seasons in years, state media reported Sunday. The latest reported deaths from heavy rains that have spread misery across much of the country included dozens killed in recent days in the mountainous southwestern province of Yunnan, the Xinhua news agency said.

Torrential downpours in the region triggered mudslides, landslides and heavy flooding that also destroyed more than 4,000 homes and ravaged crops, it said. The Yunnan death toll rose to 65 with reports Sunday of six more deaths.

…Mud and rockslides also closed the 176-kilometre (109-mile) Tengchong-Myitkyina highway linking China and Burma. In far-western Xinjiang province, nine people have been confirmed killed by floods, with two more missing, Xinhua said.

Weeks of torrential rains in several provinces have made this year's summer rainy season one of the deadliest in years….

Dykes along the river have soaked for three weeks in the highest water levels since 1991, putting them at increased risk of breaching with more rain expected, Xinhua quoted officials as saying….

China's death toll from natural disasters this year topped 700 by mid-July, with about half the fatalities coming this month, and at least 129 missing, Xinhua said on Friday. Millions have been evacuated or seen their homes flooded or destroyed.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Climate change redraws the map for gardeners

Washington Post: If you live in the southern part of Northern Virginia, I've got news for you: You're now in North Carolina. If you live in Maryland, you're now in Virginia. No, your state boundaries haven't been redrawn. But something else has -- a map of plant hardiness zones in the United States.

As a gardener, you know that plants grow best in their comfort zone -- not too hot or too cold. For decades, landscape professionals, gardeners, foresters, and nursery and garden-center staff have relied on the Agriculture Department's hardiness zone map to determine which plants are appropriate for a given area. The map, developed by the National Arboretum, the American Horticultural Society and plant scientists across the country, was designed to help expand the range of plant materials that could be cultivated by predicting which flora would survive in specific locations.

However, many horticultural professionals think the map is out of date. The USDA last revised it in 1990, based on data from 1974 to 1986. But the climate has changed since the mid-1980s. The agency rejected a proposed update in 2003 and plans to release a new map as soon as this year.

Enter the National Arbor Day Foundation, whose members include arborists, urban and rural foresters, and homeowners who care about trees.

"The USDA map just doesn't seem right anymore," said Woody Nelson, vice president of communications for the foundation. "So we took it upon ourselves to do our own map." For an updated take on which plants are hardy in your region, look at the foundation's map online at http://www.arborday.org/media/zones.cfm.

…The changes were startling. Many areas jumped one or two zones higher. "The climate has changed," Nelson said. "It has warmed."

...While the new map reflects recent reality, it's not a predictor of future climate conditions, and not everyone welcomes creeping heat. The Union of Concerned Scientists recently predicted that much warmer temperatures in the Northeast would kill the ski industry, lead to longer and more severe droughts, change the coastline and wipe out some fishing. But the report noted that recent efforts to reduce greenhouse gases in the area are a step toward maintaining a stable climate.

Glaciers and ice caps to dominate sea level rise in this century

Terra Daily: Ice loss from glaciers and ice caps is expected to cause more global sea rise during this century than the massive Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, according to a new University of Colorado at Boulder study. The researchers concluded that glaciers and ice caps are currently contributing about 60 percent of the world's ice to the oceans and the rate has been markedly accelerating in the past decade, said Emeritus Professor Mark Meier of CU-Boulder's Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, lead study author.

The contribution is presently about 100 cubic miles of ice annually -- a volume nearly equal to the water in Lake Erie -- and is rising by about three cubic miles per year.

In contrast, the CU-Boulder team estimated Greenland is now contributing about 28 percent of the total global sea rise from ice loss and Antarctica is contributing about 12 percent. Greenland is not expected to catch up to glaciers and ice caps in terms of sea level rise contributions until the end of the century, according to the study.

A paper on the subject appears in the July 19 issue of Science Express, the online edition of Science magazine. Co-authors include CU-Boulder INSTAAR researchers Mark Dyurgerov, Ursula Rick, Shad O'Neel, Tad Pfeffer, Robert Anderson and Suzanne Anderson, as well as Russian Academy of Sciences scientist Andrey Glazovsky.

"One reason for this study is the widely held view that the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets will be the principal causes of sea-level rise," said Meier, former INSTAAR director and professor in geological sciences. "But we show that it is the glaciers and ice caps, not the two large ice sheets, that will be the big players in sea rise for at least the next few generations."…

…"At the very least, our projections indicate that future sea-level rise may be larger than anticipated, and that the component due to glaciers and ice caps will continue to be substantial," wrote the researchers in Science Express….

…Anderson also said that although the volume of ice locked up in Greenland is equal to roughly 23 feet in sea rise, only a small fraction is likely to be "pulled out" during the next century, most of it through outlet glaciers….

Adapting in India: policy discussion

Daily News and Analysis (India): Waking up to the multi-pronged impact of climate change on agriculture, scientists in the country have started working on ways to tackle the challenge. In a discussion on 'Climate Change and Agriculture' at a Parliamentary Consultative Committee meeting on Thursday, Union minister for agriculture Sharad Pawar said the task includes weighing technological, agronomic and other options and evolving appropriate strategies…

“Irrespective of the outcome of international negotiations on climatic change, agriculture has to become more competitive, efficient, profitable, and develop mechanisms to reduce its vulnerability,” said Pawar.

Pawar said farmers, scientists and policy makers should address these issues in totality and develop strategies to increase adaptive capacity. He said the country had addressed climatic extremes such as drought by establishing buffer food stocks, strengthening irrigation infrastructure, and developing agricultural insurance schemes.

Now, he said, there was a need to put more emphasis on “anticipatory adaptation measures, especially ‘no-regret’ adaptation strategies” to attain development goals even if there is no climatic change or its magnitude is different from current projections.

Floods cause more misery across Britain

Sky News: The emergency services are taking the strain tonight as many parts of Britain remain under water. It is more than 24 hours since storms swept across the country, dumping huge amounts of rain on already saturated ground, leading to widespread flooding in dozens of towns. Oxfordshire, Worcestershire, Warwickshire and Gloucestershire have been worst hit counties. But other areas have also suffered.

The Prime Minister has praised the emergency services, and insisted no one could have predicted the extent of the deluge…

…Baroness Young, chief executive of the Environment Agency, told Sky News: "These are the sorts of rain falls we experience in the past every 100 years, every 150 years, sometimes every 200 years - they're very extreme."

…There are severe delays on the transport network with rail and roads suffering as well as many airports….The Environment Agency has issued dozens of flood warnings…

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Action needed on climate change: business group

ABC News, via Reuters: A major U.S. industry body said on Tuesday that human activity is changing the Earth's climate and urged Washington to take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions nationwide.

But the Business Roundtable, representing 160 of the largest U.S. companies with $4.5 trillion in combined revenue, stopped short of advocating a specific policy to accomplish that, saying its members did not yet agree on methods.

"The thinking of U.S. CEOs on climate change is evolving significantly," said Charles Holliday, chairman and chief executive of U.S. chemicals group DuPont, and a Roundtable member. "A growing number of CEOs view it as a major issue for their companies."

In recent years, corporate America has dropped arguments that there is no proof human activity causes warmer patterns across the world, putting some business executives at odds with the Bush administration which rejected the Kyoto Protocol, the main U.N. plan until 2012 for curbing greenhouse gases.

…"Some of our members like the idea of a cap-and-trade," said John Castellani, president of the Washington-based organization, referring to programs in which companies could buy and sell the right to emit carbon dioxide.

"Some members like a tax approach, we don't know which works best. So at this point we're calling for flexibility," Castellani said in a telephone interview.

The Roundtable's members include some of the biggest names in U.S. business, such as General Electric Co., Exxon Mobil Corp. and General Motors Corp..

…Environmental group the Sierra Club dismissed the Roundtable's statement as an attempt to appear environmentally sensitive while actually seeking to ensure any new regulations accommodate its members.

Worldwide floods show lessons still need learning

Reuters: As communities around the world battle the worst floods in living memory, experts warn such events may become more frequent due to climate change and that lessons still need to be learnt to limit losses.

Floods may result in lower death tolls than earthquakes, wars or tsunamis -- and therefore gain less international attention -- but they can cause similar devastation. Recent weeks have seen a string of such disasters.

…Climate change could make the problem worse, he warned. Many scientists say the world is warming because of carbon emissions from human activity, making weather more unpredictable. "You can't attribute particular events to climate change," Thorne said. "But on the other hand, the conditions that promote serious flooding will become much more frequent than they are now so the probability is we will have more extreme events."

Huge strides have been made in coping with the consequences. A couple of decades ago, floods in Bangladesh used to kill thousands, almost all from disease. Now, cholera outbreaks after floods have been almost eradicated, mainly through better access to sanitation and public education.

When floods hit Mozambique earlier this year, aid workers say the government was swift to broadcast radio warnings and evacuate people from vulnerable areas. Some 45 people died, compared to 700 in 2000-2001.

But experts say many lessons still need to be learned and warn that flood defences have sometimes created a false sense of security, particularly in the most developed countries.

...Failings in the response to 2005's Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans showed that even a developed country like the United States could fall short in the face of widespread flooding if it is not fully prepared.

"Flood plains are not bad places to live 99 per cent of the time," said Nottingham University's Thorne. "Most of the world's great civilisations grew up along rivers -- people are always going to live there. But you have to have plans for flooding."

Hurricanes brewing in the Mediterranean?

Discovery News: Climate change models tailored to investigate some strange storms in the Mediterranean suggest that global warming could lead to hurricanes forming in that sea. If so, countries around the Mediterranean could be in for the most violent weather in centuries.

Most hurricanes form in the tropical Atlantic, rarely reaching Europe. But warming oceans could encourage them in the relatively landlocked Mediterranean, say the authors of a new study.

"It should be a matter of concern," said Miguel Gaertner, a researcher at the University of Castilla-La Mancha in Toledo, Spain. "The consequences could be quite dangerous." Not only would European countries face more powerful storms, but much poorer countries in coastal northern Africa could be hit hard, he told Discovery News.

The idea of hurricanes hitting Europe and northern Africa is not completely farfetched, Gaertner points out, since in 2005 Hurricane Vince made an unprecedented landfall in Spain. What's more, there was a remarkably hurricane-like storm with an eye in the Mediterranean in January 1995, which has been the subject of considerable study by climate and weather scientists.

…Two 30-year runs for each model were done for the years 2071 to 2100. For a reality check, they ran the same tests on the years 1961 to 1990 to make sure the models were able to approximately reproduce history.

The team also used just one of many possible future greenhouse gas scenarios — that in which the release of greenhouse gases continues to increase. The models all included such factors as sea surface temperatures, humidity and wind shear, all of which can make or break a tropical cyclone.

"This is a very new study," said Gaertner. "We used several regional climate models where others have used only one." Their results appear in the latest issue of the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

What they discovered is that in most sensitive of their models there was, indeed, an increase in the formation of tropical cyclones in the Mediterranean. While Gaertner is concerned about the potential for hurricanes, he also stressed the preliminary nature of his study…

Monitoring the seas

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution hosts an informative page on ocean monitoring systems.

Friday, July 20, 2007

U.S. wildfires stretch resources to the max

Environment News Service: The West is ablaze with major fires which have the potential to exhaust all agency fire resources, prompting the National Interagency Fire Center today to declare its highest alert level.

Level 5 preparedness is declared only when large fires occur in many areas at once, requiring a heavy commitment of crews, aircraft, and equipment, along with a forecast for continued hot, dry, windy conditions. Initial fire attack was heavy across the nation with 412 new fires yesterday. Since Monday, more than 1,000 new fires have been reported.

Idaho's 48,000 acre Tongue Complex fire is in steep and inaccessible terrain with poor access. (Photo courtesy South Central Sierra Interagency Incident Manangemt)

Currently, Idaho and Nevada have 43 large fires with more than 511,000 acres burned.

With hundreds of thousands of acres burning in Nevada, Governor Jim Gibbons declared a state of emergency, mobilizing resources to battle the blazes and facilitating financial assistance after they are out.

…Lack of resources to fight a complex of seven fires 20 miles north of Carlin, Nevada, has resulted in today's spread of the lightning-sparked blaze to 24,000 acres of grass and sage. Only 58 firefighters are doing battle, while unpredictable wind and weather are forecast.

Fire broke out Wednesday night at the edge of the Department of Energy's Idaho National Laboratory, INL, a 890 square mile nuclear energy research site in southeastern Idaho. The Materials and Fuels Complex, where most of the radioactive materials are located, was closed today. Lab officials said, "No INL facilities are threatened by the fire."

...Rain brought relief to firefighters on several large fires in Oregon and Montana today, while rain dampened northern Nevada Monday, dousing numerous lightning strikes. Cooler weather with higher humidity is forecast for the Pacific Northwest and Northern California.

New software product based on Sandia-developed RAMPART

Terra Daily: Regina Hunter, retired Sandia National Laboratories employee, is launching a new software product, Safe at Home, based on Sandia-developed RAMPART. Safe at Home allows homeowners to assess risks arising from accidents, fire, crime inside or outside the house, hurricane, flood, earthquakes, tornados and winter storms. The software analyzes the risks of death, injury, property and content loss, loss of use of the home, and first-responder delays.

"Safe at Home does not require the user to have any expertise in risk analysis," Hunter says. "It asks about 200 questions and takes about half an hour to get results. Users can change their answers and get revised results in real time, allowing them to determine what changes might lessen their risks."

Sandia is a National Nuclear Security Administration laboratory. Hunter led the development of the parent software, RAMPART, while still working at Sandia. RAMPART software is the first risk-based approach to building management. It is used by the General Services Administration (GSA) to assess the risks of terrorism, natural disasters and crime to the nearly 8,000 federal buildings it manages nationwide.

Hunter is president of Ducks in a Row, Inc., the company launching the new Safe at Home software. Ducks, which has been part of the Sandia RAMPART team since 2004, helped develop version 3.0 of RAMPART and is currently working on version 4.0, together with Susan Carson (6766), the Sandia principal investigator, and Robert Browitt of Architrave Software, Inc. Sandia awarded a licensing agreement to Ducks in a Row when Regina retired three years ago. She has been developing Safe at Home ever since…

"We ask people 'What have you got to lose?'" Hunter says. "Usually they don't know. They have little knowledge of the relative probabilities or consequences of manmade or natural hazards, so they tend to worry about the wrong things and invest inappropriately in home safety."