Sunday, September 30, 2007

Thailand: Scientists link toxic seaweed with climate

Climate Ark, via Bangkok Post: Doctors and biologists are investigating a link between global warming and a poisonous seaweed that is harmful to human health. Studies were launched after five people were hospitalised in the past three months after eating sea bass. Doctors suspected the fish was contaminated with a toxic substance found in some seaweed species....

Poisonous seaweed grows rapidly when sea water warms up. Fish eat the poisonous seaweed and later the contaminated fish are served on the table. The toxins are passed on to people eating them...

Hurricane Lorenzo kills three in Mexico

Environment News Network, via Reuters: Hurricane Lorenzo crashed into Mexico's Gulf coast on Friday, killing three people in a mudslide and knocking out power to 85,000 homes....

Island nations tell UN powerful states must show leadership on climate change

UN News: The greatest burden in the global fight against climate change should be borne by the world’s powerful countries, which are also often the leading producers of greenhouse gas emissions, the leaders of several island nations told the General Assembly today.

Addressing the Assembly’s annual high-level debate, the representatives also called on affluent nations to increase their level of spending towards an adaptation fund to help the most vulnerable States adjust their economies and infrastructure to cope with the impact of global warming….

Winston Baldwin Spencer, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, said the collective response to climate change “represents a monumental test of the political will and courage of humanity in general, but especially of the political leaders of the most powerful countries.” He also urged greater spending on the adaptation fund, noting that small island States were among the most vulnerable in the world – to natural disasters as much as climate change. “Because of our size and the nature of our primary economic activity, the infrastructure of an entire country can be destroyed by, for example, the passage of a single hurricane,” he said.

…Jose Maria Pereria Neves, the Prime Minister of Cape Verde, said climate change has its greatest impact on small island developing States, which are ill-equipped to cope. “If the projections of sea-level rise prove to be true, we will be facing a disaster of unimaginable proportions,” he warned. Cape Verde, a small archipelago, has been confronted with drought, desertification and “almost uninterrupted dramatic water shortages” for three decades, he said….

A poker player's guide to environmental risk assessment

One of my favorite bloggers is Sam Smith at Undernews, the online outpost of the Progressive Review. Today he called attention to an old gem from his site: "...When confronted with conflicting odds, ask what happens if each projection is wrong. Temporary job loss because of environmental restrictions may come and go, but the loss of the ozone layer is something you can have forever...."

Melissa weakens to tropical depression over Atlantic

Reuters: … The 13th named Atlantic storm this year poses no threat to land and is not expected to strengthen in the next 24 hours, the hurricane center said.

At 11 a.m. (1500 GMT) Melissa was 570 miles west of the Cape Verde islands and was moving west northwest at 13 mph (20 kph). "The intensity forecast maintains Melissa as a Tropical Depression during the next day or so. However, if the circulation center continues to become less defined and the depression does not generate enough organized convection ... it could become a remnant low much sooner," the hurricane center said in a statement. A tropical storm has sustained winds of 39 to 73 miles per hour (63-118 kph).

The 2007 Atlantic storm season, which runs through November 30, has produced four hurricanes, including Lorenzo, which crashed into Mexico's Gulf coast on Friday and killed three people.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Pollyanna of global warming: Bjorn Lomborg

Alanna Mitchell in the Toronto Globe & Mail administers a spanking to the denialists favorite Dane: "...It would be possible to go point by point through the many similar flaws in each of Lomborg's arguments, but frankly, the book is too pitiful to merit it. It's not that his analysis is controversial - that would be fun - but that it is deeply dissatisfying, ignorant and shallow. I remember wondering, after I interviewed Lomborg, whether he was intellectually dishonest or just not very bright. Cool It has convinced me that it doesn't matter. Lomborg has now proved beyond a doubt that he is incapable of contributing anything of merit to scientific discourse."

UK valley flood risk debated

Since Carbon-Based is also America-based, we tend to think of debates on flood control in the framework laid down by the dreaded Army Corps of Engineers. So it's a bleak comfort to see the same debate play out in another country. Do you armor and increase flood defenses, or allow an estuary to return to the water? From the BBC.

Landscapes lacking a fractal vegetation pattern may be vulnerable to desertification

Science Daily: ....Two new studies have discovered a fractal pattern in this seeming randomness, and they offer a novel explanation of how it comes about. One study suggests that areas without such a pattern are on the edge of collapse, and that further pressure could tip them into becoming barren deserts.....

Coral reef conservation grants of $3.5 million awarded

Environment News Service: A Hawaii coral reef conservation project that encourages community involvement; reef fish protection research in Florida's Dry Tortugas; and protection of the Bastimentos National Marine Park in Panama are just three of 29 coral reef conservation grants totaling more than $3.5 million that received U.S. government funding today…

"Healthy coral reefs provide the United States and thousands of communities around the world with food, jobs, shoreline protection, recreation and income worth billions of dollars each year. However, many reefs are now seriously degraded," said NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher. "These grants will help communities from the Caribbean to Micronesia protect and restore valuable coral reefs and the economies that depend on them," he said….

Adaptation to expensive oil -- Cuba

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1990, Cuba faced a future of unsubsidized oil. They adapted. Treehugger links to a video in which the "filmmakers approach Cuba as a living model for how the rest of the world can respond to the coming world oil production peak. More info here and here."

Friday, September 28, 2007

North America's northernmost lake affected by global warming

Terra Daily: ... In an article to be published in the September 28 edition of Geophysical Research Letters, the international research team led by Universite Laval scientists Warwick Vincent and Reinhard Pienitz reports that aquatic life in Ward Hunt Lake, a body of water located on a small island north of Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic, has undergone major transformations within the last two centuries.

The speed and range of these transformations-unprecedented in the lake's last 8,000 years-suggest that climate change related to human activity could be at the source of this phenomenon.

"This is of course an extreme environment for living organisms, but our data indicate that current conditions make the lake a more favorable location for algae growth than it was in the past," points out [lead author and Center for Northern Studies researcher Dermot] Antoniades. "We cannot claim with certainty that these changes were brought on by human activity, but natural variations observed over the last millennia were never so abrupt and extensive," concludes the researcher.

Red Cross/Red Crescents says Africa flooding will worsen

International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies: ... Our response to these smaller scale incidents is key. In situations like this, national Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are often the only organisations on hand to help. Because our volunteers live in the heart of communities worldwide, no matter how remote, they are uniquely placed to help in times of crisis. These “neglected” disasters do not hit the headlines. But the suffering of those affected - people who have lost not only their homes and belongings, but their crops and livestock as well – is just as real.

While it is not unusual for Africa to experience heavy rains at this time of the year, 2007 has brought particularly intense rainfall over a wider geographic area than normal. As a result, in 20 countries in the region, the flooding can be described as “exceptional”. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) believes that the torrential rains stretching across Africa, and the flooding that has followed, is consistent with to the "La Niña" weather pattern thousands of miles away in the Pacific.

No one can say that these specific floods are directly related to climate change. However, they are consistent with the predictions of climate change analysts. The experts at our Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre in The Hague believe that the phenomenon will raise flood risks in Africa, especially in west, central and east Africa, which is suffering the worst of the present flooding. Climate change will also increase the risk of drought in some areas, while others may experience both floods and droughts, as was recently the case in Kenya, Ethiopia and Mozambique.

The significant rise in the number of climate related emergencies Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies have responded to over the past three years confirms this analysis. There is a new trend developing and we must take it seriously.

Not fooled by bogus climate meetings

The BBC reports on the wholly merited skepticism provoked by the Bush administration's meetings of the top 16 polluting nations.

Amazing hurricane visualization from NASA Goddard

From Terra Daily, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center's Scientific Visualization Studio comes up with a cool way of viewing hurricanes. They won a prize, too.

More heat-related deaths by 2050

Science Daily cites a Columbia University study: ..."These new results indicate that climate change will put additional stress on the health of New York residents in the absence of concerted efforts to reduce vulnerability to heat waves," says Patrick Kinney ScD, associate professor of Environmental Health Sciences at the Mailman School of Public Health, who designed and directed the study. The research findings also indicate that urban counties will experience greater numbers of deaths than less-urbanized counties.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Irish engineers issue stark warning about climate change

Belfast Telegraph: The Irish Academy of Engineers has issued a stark warning to the Government about the impact of climate change on Ireland. In a report out today, the organisation says Ireland's infrastructure and planning system will be unable to cope with imminent changes in the weather.

It is calling for a major overhaul of the Irish water supply, the establishment of a flood-warning system and a long-term plan to improve infrastructure. The academy also says a body should be set up to oversee climate change strategy on an all-island basis.

Maryland., Virginia officials: Chesapeake Bay dies, states die To highlight the potential impact of global warming, a Senate panel zeroed in yesterday on the Chesapeake Bay. Govs. Timothy M. Kaine of Virginia and Martin O'Malley of Maryland joined in labeling climate change a serious threat to the Chesapeake Bay and appealed for new policy from Congress.

"Each day that legislative action is delayed will have negative consequences for the Chesapeake Bay," Kaine told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. "In Maryland, climate change and sea-level rise are at our doorstep," O'Malley testified.

Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, the Democrat who chairs the panel, emphasized her view that global warming isn't a problem solely in remote Greenland -- where some members of her committee have traveled -- but also closer to home.

"We do not have to travel as far as Greenland to see the impacts of global warming," she said, "we only have to travel a few miles to the Chesapeake Bay."

Kaine outlined potential threats to the bay and its neighboring region from climate change, including increasing "dead zones" from more polluted runoff, harm for oysters and striped bass, increased shoreline erosion from sea-level rise and storms, and increased pest threats to area forests.

"To be sure, we can adapt to a few of the impacts of climate change, but others will be devastating," he warned, after noting the high vulnerability of the Hampton Roads region to sea-level rise. Kaine listed steps that Virginia has taken on related fronts and asked for Congress to step in with national climate change policy.

"Fifty governors acting in good will to do their own thing is going to lead to gaps and redundancies and problems that a lot of the private sector will complain about, because they will want to have a uniform set of rules that they can follow," he told reporters after delivering his testimony.

"That's why a uniform national policy is so critical." The governor said he supports the national "cap-and-trade" idea that is part of a bill being shaped by Sens. John W. Warner, R-Va., and Joseph I. Lieberman, I-Conn. Such legislation would cut greenhouse-gas emissions by creating a new market in which permits for emitting the gases would be traded and sold….

The climate peril that insurers see

Washington Post, by John Morrison (state auditor of Montana) and Alex Sink (chief financial officer of Florida): …Increasingly destructive weather -- including heat waves, hurricanes, typhoons, tornadoes, floods, wildfires, hailstorms and drought -- accounted for 88 percent of all property losses paid by insurers from 1980 through 2005. Seven of the 10 most expensive catastrophes for the U.S. property and casualty industry happened between 2001 and 2005.

…. Lloyds [of London] predicts that the United States will be hit by a hurricane causing $100 billion worth of damage, more than double that of Katrina. Industry analysts estimate that such an event would bankrupt as many as 40 insurers. Lloyd's has warned: "The insurance industry must start actively adjusting in response to greenhouse gas trends if it is to survive." The Association of British Insurers has called on governments to "stem ominous weather related trends" by cutting carbon emissions. U.S.-based companies AIG and Marsh -- respectively, the largest insurer and broker -- have joined with other corporate leaders to urge Congress to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions 60 to 80 percent by mid-century. AIG's policy statement on climate change "recognizes the scientific consensus that climate change is a reality and is likely in large part the result of human activities that have led to increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the earth's atmosphere."

Marsh issued a similar statement, as did European insurance giants Swiss Re, Munich Re and Allianz. The chief research officer of Risk Management Solutions, an industry risk forecaster, responded to an April report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change by announcing that climate change is already increasing "financial losses from extreme weather catastrophes." A.M. Best, the historical voice of insurance, began a series in the August edition of Best's Review on the risks, regulatory issues and economic impact of climate change.

Nervous investors have begun asking insurers to disclose their strategies for dealing with global warming. At a meeting of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, Andrew Logan, insurance director of the Ceres investor coalition, representing $4 trillion in market capital, warned that "insurance as we know it is threatened by a perfect storm of rising weather losses, rising global temperatures and more Americans living in harm's way." Ceres cites estimates that losses related to catastrophic weather have increased 15-fold in the U.S. property casualty industry in the past three decades.

Insurance companies are reacting. Some have simply abandoned catastrophe-prone markets or are jacking up rates. Other insurers have taken steps in the battle against climate change by offering premium incentives for "green" construction and hybrid cars, investing in companies that cut carbon emissions or develop clean energy, and offering "pay per mile" car insurance. Still others are reducing their own carbon footprints, promoting markets for carbon-credit trading and even moving to protect carbon-consuming forests.

Insurance companies make money by accurately assessing risk. For decades environmentalists have been sounding the alarm about global warming. Now major insurers are becoming engaged as they look after their own assets and those that they cover. Federal reluctance to commit to international agreements on climate change, or otherwise cap total carbon emissions, appears to be driven by influential businesses that fear the limitations will hurt their bottom lines. But the risk perceived by the insurance industry -- the world's largest economic sector -- may shift that political balance. At the least, it should tell us something.

Arctic heat wave stuns climate researchers

Terra Daily: Unprecedented warm temperatures in the High Arctic this past summer were so extreme that researchers with a Queen's University-led climate change project have begun revising their forecasts. "Everything has changed dramatically in the watershed we observed," reports Geography professor Scott Lamoureux, the leader of an International Polar Year project announced yesterday in Nunavut by Indian and Northern Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl. "It's something we'd envisioned for the future - but to see it happening now is quite remarkable."

One of 44 Canadian research initiatives to receive a total of $100 million (IPY) research funding from the federal government, Dr. Lamoureux's new four-year project on remote Melville Island in the northwest Arctic brings together scientists and educators from three Canadian universities and the territory of Nunavut. They are studying how the amount of water will vary as climate changes, and how that affects the water quality and ecosystem sustainability of plants and animals that depend on it.

The information will be key to improving models for predicting future climate change in the High Arctic, which is critical to the everyday living conditions of people living there, especially through the lakes and rivers where they obtain their drinking water.

…From their camp on Melville Island last July, where they recorded air temperatures over 20C (in an area with July temperatures that average 5C), the team watched in amazement as water from melting permafrost a metre below ground lubricated the topsoil, causing it to slide down slopes, clearing everything in its path and thrusting up ridges at the valley bottom "that piled up like a rug," says Dr. Lamoureux, an expert in hydro-climatic variability and landscape processes. "The landscape was being torn to pieces, literally before our eyes. A major river was dammed by a slide along a 200-metre length of the channel. River flow will be changed for years, if not decades to come."

Comparing this summer's observations against aerial photos dating back to the 1950s, and the team's monitoring of the area for the past five years, the research leader calls the present conditions "unprecedented" in scope and activity. What's most interesting, he says, is that their findings represent the impact of just one exceptional summer.

"A considerable amount of vegetation has been disturbed and we observed a sharp rise in erosion and a change in sediment load in the river," Dr. Lamoureux notes. "With warmer conditions and greater thaw depth predicted, the cumulative effect of this happening year after year could create huge problems for both the aquatic and land populations. This kind of disturbance also has important consequences for existing and future infrastructure in the region, like roads, pipelines and air strips."

If this were to occur in more inhabited parts of Canada, it would be "catastrophic" in terms of land use and resources, he continues. "It would be like taking an area the size of Kingston and having 15 per cent of it disappear into Lake Ontario."

…International Polar Year (IPY) is the largest-ever international program of coordinated scientific research focused on the Arctic and Antarctic regions and the first in 50 years.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Foresters take fast action to mitigate future fire seasons: US Senate testimony The nation's worsening fire seasons are, in part, a consequence of global warming and are likely to get more severe unless forest managers step up tree removal efforts and prescribed fire programs, a group of scientists testified Monday before a congressional panel.

A series of deadly and destructive Inland fire seasons, demonstrated recently by the 14,000-acre Butler 2 Fire near Big Bear, had been attributed to, among other things, a drought cycle expected to eventually pass. But the findings presented Monday to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources suggest a lasting trend in the region, and across the nation.

The link between climate change and wildfires is easily apparent on a global and national scale, according to Susan Conard, national program leader for the U.S. Forest Service's Fire Ecology Research division. "Annual burned areas have exceeded 7 million acres only seven times since 1960," Conard testified. "Six of those have been in the past 20 years."

…Wildfires thrive in hot, dry weather. But the conditions also contribute to the die-off of trees, which must compete for water in forests that have become unnaturally dense because of a century of misguided fire suppression. Once dead and brittle, the trees become more fuel for catastrophic fires.

The panelists testified that more resources are needed to keep up with necessary tree thinning and removal campaigns. One witness, University of Arizona Professor Thomas Swetnam, said even that won't be enough to reverse the trend. "I don't think we can thin our way out of this," Swetnam said.

He said more prominent use of intentionally set fires to mimic naturally occurring blazes has certain risks, but is less costly than mechanical thinning with hand crews and chainsaws.

Ann Bartuska, deputy chief of research and development for the Forest Service, said the agency has been authorized to spend roughly $20 million a year to study the best way to modify forest management plans to adapt to the science linking climate change to worsening fire seasons.

On a local level, the impact of global warming is less apparent because of other factors that have led to increasingly destructive fire seasons, Swetnam said following the hearing. "It gets quite murky in Southern California," Swetnam said, pointing to a population explosion in mountain and rural areas. The development, fire officials say, makes fires more dangerous because people are in the paths of the flames and more difficult to extinguish because firefighters must often focus on protecting lives and homes.

Latest storms pose no risk to U.S. oil rigs in Gulf: National Hurricane Center

Reuters: Despite a tropical storm and a tropical depression spinning in the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, nothing currently threatens the U.S. oil and natural gas production in the northern Gulf of Mexico, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said Wednesday.

In the Atlantic, Tropical Storm Karen continued to strengthen and was currently packing maximum sustained winds of nearly 50 miles per hour. The NHC, however, does not expect Karen to strengthen into a hurricane with winds over 74 mph over the next five days.

The center of Karen was located about 1,285 miles east of the Windward Islands (Dominica, Martinique, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent, the Grenadines and Grenada) at 5 a.m. EDT (0900 GMT), the NHC said in a report. Karen will not pose any danger to land over the next five days or so, according to the weather models.

Tropical Depression 13 remained weak with winds near 30 mph but will likely strengthen into a tropical storm (winds 39-73 mph) over the next 24 hours. The NHC will name the next tropical storm Lorenzo. It did not expect TD-13 to strengthen into a hurricane before moving inland over central Mexico and dissipating over the next 96 hours…

Kufuor of Ghana on adaptation and resilience, at the UN

Address by John Kufuor, President of Ghana at the UN, from Accra Daily Mail: …. [I]ncreasingly the consequences of climate change are impossible to ignore by humanity. This heightened awareness should galvanize a global response for immediate, sustained individual and collective action among all the nations.

In Africa and other poor developing countries, climate-change is already making it difficult to guarantee the necessities of life. These countries, including my own Ghana, are already feeling the impact of change resulting from our oft misinformed handling of our environments and also from effluence caused by the industrialized nations. Erratic rainfall patterns, droughts and desertification, floods and other weather-related disasters are directly endangering human life and affecting agricultural productivity, food and water security.

These conditions exacerbate the already gravely handicapped existence of these nations. They retard national efforts to reduce poverty and undermine progress in development as a whole. For example, over the past two years, till last July Ghana’s only hydro-energy suffered from an unprecedented drought causing four of its turbines to be shut down and thereby putting the nation under a virtual blackout.

…Unfortunately, the ability of Africa and other developing countries to respond to this challenge is very limited. General poverty, over reliance on nature, especially in agriculture, little or no access to technology with capacity to adapt to, or mitigate the impact of the change all combine to make these countries highly vulnerable.

…A global vision with global resolve to plan and mobilize resources on an equally global scale for sustained solutions is imperative. This must be the background for our search for adaptability and resilience from vulnerability, which is the theme for today’s colloquium.

…The psychological basis of the facilities must be broadened to include not only assistance for relief and adaptability, but also proactive and efficaciousness for achieving and establishing the integrated long term solutions that the world must achieve for its survival….

Desalination plant in South Australia

The Age (Australia): A federal Labor government would partner South Australia in building a desalination plant but leader Kevin Rudd has refused to commit to helping other states pay for plants. Mr Rudd said it was too early to talk about how much a federal Labor government would contribute to the project, which Premier Mike Rann has forecast will cost about $1.4 billion.

Mr Rudd, who was in Adelaide on Wednesday to pledge Labor's support for a water recycling project in the city's northern suburbs, said he had a two hour meeting with Mr Rann on Tuesday night about water resources. He would not comment on criticisms the state government had failed to act on securing Adelaide's water supply, but said a desalination plant was a long term option.

"Whoever is the government of South Australia in the future this is the sort of project that we want to be a financial partner in to make sure it happens," Mr Rudd told reporters. "I would say that this approach is necessary when you are looking at the long term challenge of climate change and water."

…."In each state it will be different but we believe a national response is necessary," Mr Rudd told reporters. "Climate change is a national challenge, it is a national crisis. It is bringing about a real problem for Australian water and we need a national response and after 11 years in office Mr Howard's government has been asleep at the wheel."

…Greens MP Mark Parnell said it would be cheaper and better for the environment to use the desalination technology to treat effluent rather than sea water. "The beauty is it uses much less energy to turn waste water into drinking water than it does to turn sea water into fresh and we stop environmental damage at the same time," Mr Parnell said….

China warns of "catastrophe" from Three Gorges Dam

Reuters: China's huge Three Gorges Dam hydropower project could spark environmental catastrophe unless accumulating threats are quickly defused, senior officials and experts have warned.

The dam in southwest China, the world's biggest hydropower project, has begun generating electricity and serving as a barrier against seasonal flooding threatening lower reaches of the Yangtze River, Xinhua news agency reported late on Tuesday, citing a forum of experts and officials. But even senior dam officials who have often defended the project as an engineering wonder and ecological boon now warn that areas around the dam are paying a heavy, potentially calamitous environmental cost.

….The $25 billion dam, whose construction flooded 116 towns and hundreds of cultural sites, is still a work in progress, but state media have said it could be completed by the end of 2008, just after the Beijing Olympic Games.

Wang Xiaofeng, director of the administrative office in charge of building the dam, told the forum that it was time to face up to the environmental consequences of constructing the massive concrete wall across the country's biggest river. "We absolutely cannot relax our guard against ecological and environmental security problems sparked by the Three Gorges Project," Wang told the meeting, according to Xinhua. "We cannot win passing economic prosperity at the cost of the environment."

Wang cited a litany of threats, especially erosion and landslides on steep hills around the dam, conflicts over land shortages and "ecological deterioration caused by irrational development". The strikingly frank acknowledgement of problems comes weeks before a congress of the ruling Communist Party that is set to consolidate policies giving more attention to environmental worries after decades of unfettered industrial growth.

…Tensions over residents resettled to steep hills where good farmland is scarce had been reduced and water quality in the dam was "generally stable", Xinhua said. But the officials and experts were worried about the landslides threatening densely populated hill country. "Regular geological disasters are a severe threat to the lives of residents around the dam," senior engineer Huang Xuebin told the forum. Huang described landslides into the dam waters making waves dozens of meters high that crashed into surrounding shores, creating even more damage.

The dam has displaced 1.4 million people and is retaining huge amounts of sediment and nutrients, damaging fish stocks and the fertility of farmland downstream, researchers say.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Japan weather seen warmer in Oct to Dec: forecaster

Reuters: Japan will see mostly warmer weather from October to December, after having had higher-than-average temperatures since August, the official forecaster said on Tuesday.

Japan's four regions each stand a 40 percent chance of having warmer-than-average weather in the last quarter of the year, the Japan Meteorological Agency said in its monthly three-month outlook.

A mild start to the winter season usually slashes kerosene demand. Demand for kerosene usually peaks around January. The forecaster's data showed that the 30-year average of peak temperatures in the capital Tokyo was 26.8 Celsius (80 Fahrenheit) in September, 21.6 C in October, 16.7 C in November and 12.3 C in December.

Japan has seen mostly hotter temperatures since early August, boosting electricity demand at several utilities to record-high levels amid a heat wave and high humidity. Japan's 10 electric utilities generated a record-high 96.2 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) in August, surpassing the previous high of 93.41 billion kWh hit a year earlier, industry data showed.

Women turn up gender-equity heat at climate talks

WOMENS-E-NEWS: Women's perspectives and experiences must be included in international negotiations over climate change if efforts to curb global warming are to succeed, participants said at a roundtable last week on the effects of climate change on women.

Sixty government, United Nations and civil society representatives attended the meeting on Sept. 21, which aimed to influence discussions during Monday's gathering on climate change at the U.N. headquarters as part of the annual meeting of the general assembly.

"Climate change will increase existing inequalities," said Irene Dankelman, vice-chair of the Women's Environment and Development Organization, in her opening remarks at the roundtable. "Not only are women adversely impacted by climate change, they also contribute differently from men to its causes and its solutions."

The group highlighted women's disproportionate vulnerability to the types of natural disasters that climate change is expected to cause as well as women's often overlooked capacity to join mitigation efforts.

In the Indonesian villages that were worst hit by the 2004 tsunami, up to 80 percent of the victims were female, according to Oxfam International, based in Oxford, England. And during the 2003 heat wave in Europe women accounted for 70 percent of the deaths in France, which totaled almost 15,000, according to official statistics from the French government.

"During emergencies women are less likely to have access to information about assistance than men," said Lorena Aguilar, a senior gender advisor for the World Conservation Union, based in Gland, Switzerland.

But neither the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012 and aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by that date through legally binding measures, nor the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change--the first international treaty to address global warming, which entered into force in 1994--mention women or gender.

In order to reduce the high levels of female mortality during natural disasters the roundtable organizers urged governments to analyze and identify the specific risks such events pose to women, as well as gender-specific protection measures. "Climate change policy-making has failed to adopt a gender-sensitive strategy," said Aguilar.

The U.N. meeting is meant to build momentum for the annual U.N. climate change conference, taking place this year in Bali, Indonesia, from Dec. 3 to 14. During that conference, governments are expected to begin negotiating for a new international climate change agreement that will replace the Kyoto agreement….

The policy recommendations also propose that governments tap women's specific knowledge and skills when developing mitigation and adaptation strategies. Some climate change experts, for example, have argued that women's experience with domesticating plant seeds and breeding food crops can help communities find new food sources and adapt to changes in climate. The group also wants carbon-curbing technologies made more accessible to women…

Climate change hurting Pakistan’s environment: Environment Minister Faisal Saleh

Associated Press of Pakistan: Pakistan reaffirmed its deep commitment to global efforts to mitigate the adverse effects climate change at the largest-ever gathering of world leaders on the phenomenon at the UN Headquarters in New York on Monday. “Climate change is causing irrevocable damage to Pakistan, with tremendous social, environment and economic impacts,” Environment Minister Mukhdoom Syed Faisal Hayat told the participants, top officials from over 150 nations, including 80 heads of State or Government.

The minister, who was representing President Pervez Musharraf, said agricultural productivity in Pakistan was being effected due to changes in land and water regimes. Dry lands areas in arid and semi-arid regions were most vulnerable and negatively affected agriculture productivity, puttting the country’s food security at risk.

“Even glaciers in Himalayas are receding faster than in any other part of the world,” Hayat said, adding: “There are fears that many may disappear.”

To cope with the situation, he said the government has constituted a high-level committee, established a study centre as also a mechanism to ensure quick action. A mega forestry project worth $240 million was being launched for carbon sequestration. The minister also said that Pakistan intended to develop efficient water management systems, create mass awareness campaign and change cropping patterns.

These measures, he said, needed additional financial resources that Pakistan would obtain through regional and international cooperration as the worst-hit country, he said.

The minister also urged the international community to support Pakistan’s eneavours to meet its increasing energy needs in the backdrop of the country’s sound economic performance and high growth rates…

Africa flooding spreads, 22 countries hit: UN

Terra Daily, via Agence France-Presse: Flooding across a swathe of Africa now affects 22 countries, including Ethiopia, Niger and Sudan where the situation has worsened in recent days, the United Nations said Monday. More than 800,000 people are now affected by torrential rains in those three countries alone, compared to around 700,000 recorded last week, according to data from the UN humanitarian coordination office.

OCHA said last Friday that an estimated 1.5 million people in 18 countries had been affected since the worst downpours in 30 years started sweeping the continent in August. The most severe flooding has struck Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Sudan, Togo and Uganda, OCHA spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs said.

Fresh rain in western Ethiopia has brought renewed flooding to the town of Gambela as well as villages and crops in the region, Byrs told AFP, raising the total number of people affected in the country to 226,000. About 70,800 people were forced to flee their homes. "The river Washibelle is overflowing and its level is continuing to increase every day," she added.

In Niger, 48,500 people have been affected by ongoing floods, compared to 16,700 recorded by the government there just days ago, Byrs said. OCHA said another 100,000 people were recently affected in Sudan, where the total stood at 550,000 late last week. The South Kordofan region in eastern Darfur, where 20 people have died, is among the hardest hit, with about 30,000 homeless, Byrs said.

She said donors had so far only contributed one million dollars (700,000 euros) to a 20-million-dollar appeal for relief aid for Sudanese flood victims launched at the end of August.

Russia: Siberia feels the heat, and that's bad news

Climate Ark, via Russia Today: In the Siberian Republic of Yakutia, melting ice means solid land is turning to mud. And this softer ground is causing trees to topple and roads to sink.

“This is a catastrophe for Northern Siberia," says Sergei Zimov, who's been studying Siberian frost for more than 25 years. He says this changing landscape will have disastrous effects: "All the towns and roads will be destroyed here. It will also lead to further warming of the globe which will be impossible to stop.”

But the biggest problem may lie below the surface. The thawing of frozen soil, known as permafrost, could trigger the release of billions of tonnes of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide and methane. Researchers say this could have a serious effect on the climate and increase the rate of global warming.

Some of the effects are already plain to see. In just ten years a main road in a remote Siberian town has collapsed to become a bumpy canyon, seven metres deep in places. Many houses have been demolished or abandoned after the ancient ice under their foundations melted. Locals are also complaining that the thaw is disturbing their food supply due to swelling rivers. And these sorts of problems aren’t unique to Siberia. If temperatures continue to rise, it will have implications for the whole planet.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Multi-peril insurance scheme urged for Australian farmers

ABC News (Australia): The former president of the South Australian Farmers Federation, John Lush, wants a drought insurance scheme similar to ones in the US and Canada. The so-called multi-peril insurance allows farmers to contribute in good years and claim payments in hard times.

Mr Lush says the drought and the possibility of long-term climate change make it imperative that farming moves with the times. "Given the situation we find ourselves in now and climate change looking quite variable, we need to re-investigate multi-peril crop insurance for Australia," he said.

"If we're going to be competitive with the rest of the world and can keep farmers in business then we need to manage the risk better and we're not managing the risk very well in Australia."

Downpours prevent Africa flood aid

Al Torrential rain across Africa has hampered efforts to get aid to hundreds of thousands of people desperate for food and shelter after the worst floods on the continent in three decades. About 1.5 million people in 18 countries have been lost their homes and livelihoods, while almost 300 people have been killed.

"The short dry period we experienced for three days was broken yesterday and it has been raining for the past 24 hours, making all roads inaccessible," Musa Ecweru, state minister for disaster preparedness in the northeast of Uganda, said on Sunday. "If the rains continue for the next four days, we do not know what will happen. The routes have been destroyed," he told the AFP news agency from Soroti, the northeastern town where much of the relief effort is being co-ordinated.

An estimated 500,000 people in Uganda have already been affected by the floods. Neighbouring regions in southern Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya have also been badly hit. With displaced people dying of water-borne diseases and electrocution in remote areas, casualty figures are still being compiled.

…The crisis prompted Uganda's government to declare a state of emergency on Wednesday, the first time Yoweri Museveni, the president, has done so during his 21 years in power.

…On Wednesday, the World Food Programme called for $65 million to feed 1.7 million people - many of them already displaced by the war in the north of Uganda. On Friday, other UN agencies in Uganda launched a $43 million floods appeal.

West Africa has also seen terrible flooding, with countries such as Ghana, Togo and Nigeria heavy affected. Forecasts predict more rain in many parts of the continent over the coming days. Louis Michel, the European commissioner for development and humanitarian aid, said on Friday that the current disaster highlighted the threat posed by climate change in the world's poorest nations.

"This year's floods and droughts across much of Africa, as well as in Europe and other parts of the world, are a wake-up call," he said in a statement. "Every new disaster highlights the danger that the world, and more particularly less developed countries and small insular states, faces from climate change."

Amazon forest shows unexpected resiliency during drought

Terra Daily: Drought-stricken regions of the Amazon forest grew particularly vigorously during the 2005 drought, according to new research. The counterintuitive finding contradicts a prominent global climate model that predicts the Amazon forest would begin to "brown down" after just a month of drought and eventually collapse as the drought progressed. "Instead of 'hunkering down' during a drought as you might expect, the forest responded positively to drought, at least in the short term," said study author Scott R. Saleska of The University of Arizona. "It's a very interesting and surprising response." UA co-author Kamel Didan added, "The forest showed signs of being more productive. That's the big news."

The 2005 drought reached its peak at the start of the Amazon's annual dry season, from July through September. Although the double whammy of the parched conditions might be expected to slow growth of the forest's leafy canopy, for many of the areas hit by drought, the canopy of the undisturbed forest became significantly greener -- indicating increased photosynthetic activity.

Saleska, a UA assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, and his colleagues at the UA and at the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil used data from two NASA satellites to figure out that undisturbed Amazon forest flourished as rainfall levels plummeted…."A big chunk of the Amazon forest, the southwest region where the drought was severest, reacted positively," said Didan, a NASA-EOS MODIS associate science team member.

The study, "Amazon Forests Green-up during 2005 drought," is online in the current issue of Science Express, the early-online version of the journal Science. The paper will be published in the October 26, 2007, issue of Science.

…Global climate models predict the Amazon forest will cut back photosynthesis quickly when a drought starts. That slowdown in plant growth would create a positive feedback loop -- as the forest shuts down more and more, it removes less and less carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The CO2 ordinarily sequestered by growing trees would remain in the atmosphere, increasing global warming and further accelerating the forest's decline and additional CO2-fueled warming.

By contrast, the UA-led team's findings suggest the opposite happens, at least in the short-term. The drought-induced flush of forest growth would dampen global warming, not accelerate it. During the 2005 drought, Amazon forest trees flourished in the sunnier-than-average weather, most likely by tapping water deep in the forest soil. To grow, trees must take up carbon dioxide, thus drawing down the levels of atmospheric CO2. That negative feedback loop would slow warming from greenhouse gases.

Evolutionarily, the forest's resilience in the face of a single drought year makes sense, Saleska said. During El Nino, which occurs about every four to eight years, the Amazon forest receives significantly less rain than average. The limit of the forest's resiliency is unknown, Saleska said, adding, "But if you take away enough water for long enough, the trees will die."

Dwindling farm water threatens Turkish disaster

Independent (UK): An environmental catastrophe is threatening central Turkey, once the country's breadbasket, where farmers are depleting the water table after the hottest summer in living memory.

A shepherd since his childhood, 60-year-old Kamil Gurel reckoned he knew the terrain on the southern edge of Turkey's vast Konya plain as well as anyone. Until one moonless night recently, when walking his flocks back home, he fell at least 40 metres down a sink-hole that hadn't been there the week before. Luckily, he survived. But like the dozens of other sink-holes to have formed in recent decades, the chasm Mr Gurel fell into is "a warning sign of an impending catastrophe", according to Tahir Nalbantcilar, the head of the Chamber of Geological Engineers in the regional capital of Konya.

On the Konya plain – an area more than twice the size of Wales that stretches south from Ankara almost all the way to the Mediterranean – water is the region's biggest problem. Mr Nalbantcilar described it as a matter of simple arithmetic. Devoid of rivers, hemmed in by mountains on all sides, the plain has no source of water other than groundwater. For the past 40 years, farmers have sucked it up faster than rain can replenish it. The result is a water table that is sinking fast.

…The drop in water table levels – averaging 27 metres across the plateau in the last 25 years – has had disastrous effects. Dozens of lakes have disappeared, taking their wildfowl with them. Others, including the 1,500sq km salt lake that lies in the centre of the plain, are shrinking fast. "If things go on as they are now," Mr Nalbantcilar said, "the whole plain will be a desert within 30 years."

Climate change is part of the problem. Always low, rainfall over the plateau now appears to be decreasing. A recent UN report described the region as acutely sensitive to global warming. But the real source of the depletion is to be found the length of the road connecting Konya to Mr Gurel's home district of Karapinar: field after field of sugar beet and maize, glistening with water under a burning sun.

This area used to be known as Turkey's granary. But with subsidies on wheat whittled down to nothing, local farmers have increasingly turned to thirstier crops to earn a living. Beet – state-subsidised as it is in Europe and the US – needs five times more water than wheat, and its spread has sparked well-digging across the plateau. Many farmers are aware that what they are doing isn't sustainable, but believe they have no choice…

Scientists hopeful despite climate signs

Environment News Network: Climate scientist Michael Mann runs down the list of bad global warming news: The world is spewing greenhouse gases at a faster rate. Summer Arctic sea ice is at record lows. The ice sheets in Greenland and West Antarctica are melting quicker than expected.

Is he the doomsayer global warming skeptics have called him? Mann laughs. This Penn State University professor — and many other climate scientists — are sunny optimists. Hope blooms in the hottest of greenhouses.

Climate scientists say mankind is on the path for soaring temperatures that will melt polar ice sheets, raise seas to dangerous levels, and trigger mass extinctions. But they say the most catastrophic of consequences can and will be avoided. They have hope. So should you, Mann said.

"Sometimes we fear that we are delivering too morose a message and not conveying enough that there is reason for optimism," Mann said. Mann is not alone in laughing, even though the news he delivers could make people cry.

"It's hard at times," said University of Victoria climate scientist Andrew Weaver. "You can't give up hope because what else is there in life if you give up hope? When you give up hope, that's quitting and scientists don't like to quit." That optimism is based on science and faith.

The science, Mann said, is because climate researchers are sure of one thing that the public isn't: The numbers show that there is still time to avert the worst. NASA's James Hansen, who forecasts some of the bleakest outlooks on global warming, said in an e-mail: "I am always surprised when people get depressed rather than energized to do something. It's not too late to stabilize climate."

"I am not about to give up," Hansen wrote. He has hope, he says, because he has grandchildren. The scientists say the public now understands how bad the problem is. So these researchers have faith that society will rally in time.

Bob Corell, an American Meteorological Society climate scientist, is hopeful because even industry is pushing for change — and will make money in the deal. Mann points to an international agreement 20 years ago this month that stopped the worsening global problem of ozone depletion. The same can be done for global warming, he said.

If the world spews greenhouse gases at its current ever rising rate, expect a 7-degree rise by the end of the century. If those gases are curbed, then warming can be kept to about 1 degree, an international panel of experts said earlier this year.

How about Al Gore? Does he lose hope? "No, because we can't afford to," said the former vice president, who has helped bring global warming to center stage. "It's a genuine planetary emergency."

Optimism in the face of gloomy data isn't surprising, said psychologist David Myers of Hope College in Holland, Mich. "Human beings are remarkably resilient," said Myers, who studies the psychology of happiness. "To do what climate researchers are doing takes enough optimism to sustain their hope and enough realism to create their concern."..

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Greeks get space-based help in wake of deadly wildfires

Science Daily: Cleanup and rebuilding teams responding to the devastation across Greece caused by this summer’s deadly fires are getting help from space. A series of crisis map products based on satellite acquisitions of affected areas are being provided to aid damage assessment efforts following the activation of the International Charter on Space and Major Disasters.

More than 60 people were killed and thousands left homeless in the worst forest fires to hit Greece in decades. According to data from ESA’s ERS-2 and Envisat satellites, which continuously survey fires burning across the Earth’s surface with onboard sensors, Greece experienced more wildfire activity this August than other European countries experienced over the last decade.

In an effort to aid authorities responding to disasters such as this, ESA and other national space agencies established the International Charter on Space and Major Disasters in 2000 to provide rush access to a broad range of satellite data.

…These maps were used for fighting active fires across Greece, particularly those in the region of the Parnonas Mountains, which rise to almost 2000 metres on the eastern side of the Peloponnese peninsula that makes up southern Greece.

"These map products proved to be very helpful for managing the severe fires that Greece suffered," Fivos Theodorou, Director for Emergency Planning and Response of the General Secretariat for Civil Protection, said. "The General Secretariat for Civil Protection intends to use these maps for post-fire management purposes, such as burnt area mapping, reforestation and the construction of flood prevention projects and supply them to the Greek authorities, such as the Greek Forest Service, responsible for consequence management."…

Carbon Disclosure Project's latest report is being launched

Reuters: Climate change is spurring a "worldwide economic and industrial restructuring" as more and more of the world's largest companies seek to confront global warming, an investor survey said on Monday. Even so, some big firms were still doing far too little to identify risks and opportunities from climate change, according to the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), representing 315 institutional investors managing $41 trillion in assets.

A record 77 percent of the world's top 500 firms, rated by market capitalization in the FT500, answered a request for information about their responses to global warming, up from 72 percent in 2006, it said. "One trend above all is becoming increasingly clear: climate change and the various regulatory, policy and business responses to it are driving what amounts to a worldwide economic and industrial restructuring," a 92-page survey said. "That restructuring has already begun to redefine the very basis of competitive advantage and financial performance for both companies and their investors," it said.

The project, in its fifth year, seeks to guide investors by getting companies to give details of their greenhouse gases and strategies for everything from energy efficiency to recycling. "Seventy-six percent of responding companies reported implementing a greenhouse gas emissions reduction initiative," up from 48 percent in the previous FT500 survey, it said.

…"Investors are looking for the next big thing. If the company is part of the problem on climate change it hasn't a clear run at the markets of the 21st century," Paul Dickinson, chief executive officer of the CDP, told Reuters. The CDP sent requests in total to 2,400 companies around the world and got 1,300 responses. In the FT500, Europe-based companies led in response rates. U.S.-based firms lagged and none of seven Chinese companies replied.

The CDP also published a first index of firms with what it said were best carbon disclosure practices, including mining group Rio Tinto, energy firm Iberdrola, computer firm Hewlett Packard or Westpac Banking. Still, it said too many firms failed to reply, such as Apple Computer, Bank of China, Berkshire Hathaway, Gazprom or Philips Electronics.

"We find it absolutely incomprehensible why a company will fail to respond to a legitimate request from its shareholders," said Dickinson. "Have they got something to hide? Do they think they operate in a complete vacuum?" In a linked survey of top U.S. companies in the SP500, response rates were 56 percent -- a majority for a first time and up from 47 percent a year earlier. The United States is outside the U.N.'s Kyoto Protocol for curbing emissions.

Rising seas likely to flood US history

AP: Ultimately, rising seas will likely swamp the first American settlement in Jamestown, Va., as well as the Florida launch pad that sent the first American into orbit, many climate scientists are predicting. In about a century, some of the places that make America what it is may be slowly erased.

Global warming — through a combination of melting glaciers, disappearing ice sheets and warmer waters expanding — is expected to cause oceans to rise by one meter, or about 39 inches. It will happen regardless of any future actions to curb greenhouse gases, several leading scientists say. And it will reshape the nation….

That's the troubling outlook projected by coastal maps reviewed by The Associated Press. The maps, created by scientists at the University of Arizona, are based on data from the U.S. Geological Survey.

…Experts say that protecting America's coastlines would run well into the billions and not all spots could be saved.

And it's not just a rising ocean that is the problem. With it comes an even greater danger of storm surge, from hurricanes, winter storms and regular coastal storms, Boesch said. Sea level rise means higher and more frequent flooding from these extreme events, he said.

All told, one meter of sea level rise in just the lower 48 states would put about 25,000 square miles under water, according to Jonathan Overpeck, director of the Institute for the Study of Planet Earth at the University of Arizona. That's an area the size of West Virginia. The amount of lost land is even greater when Hawaii and Alaska are included, Overpeck said.

The Environmental Protection Agency's calculation projects a land loss of about 22,000 square miles. The EPA, which studied only the Eastern and Gulf coasts, found that Louisiana, Florida, North Carolina, Texas and South Carolina would lose the most land. But even inland areas like Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia also have slivers of at-risk land, according to the EPA.

…"Sea level rise is going to have more general impact to the population and the infrastructure than almost anything else that I can think of," said S. Jeffress Williams, a U.S. Geological Survey coastal geologist in Woods Hole, Mass.

Even John Christy at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, a scientist often quoted by global warming skeptics, said he figures the seas will rise at least 16 inches by the end of the century. But he tells people to prepare for a rise of about three feet just in case. Williams says it's "not unreasonable at all" to expect that much in 100 years. "We've had a third of a meter in the last century."

The change will be a gradual process, one that is so slow it will be easy to ignore for a while. "It's like sticking your finger in a pot of water on a burner and you turn the heat on, Williams said. "You kind of get used to it."

Air pollution triggers blood clots: study

Reuters: Tiny particles of air pollution -- less than one tenth the width of a human hair -- can trigger clotting in the blood, U.S. researchers said on Thursday in a finding that helps explain how air pollution causes heart attacks and strokes.

Large population studies have shown pollution from the exhaust of trucks, buses and coal-burning factories increases the risk of fatal heart attacks and strokes. But researchers have not understood how these microscopic particles actually kill people. "We now know how the inflammation in the lungs caused by air pollutants leads to death from cardiovascular disease," said Dr. Gokhan Mutlu of Northwestern University in Chicago, who studied the effects of air pollution in mice.

Lungs inflamed by pollution secrete interleukin-6, an immune system compound that sparks inflammation and has been shown to make blood more likely to clot. The research appears in the Journal of Clinical Investigation. It follows a study last week in the New England Journal of Medicine that found breathing diesel fumes interfered with heart attack survivors' ability to break down blood clots.

Mutlu got a clue about the clotting issue two years ago when he was studying the effects of air pollution on heart failure in mice. Mice who had been exposed to pollution bled significantly less. "They were forming blood clots," he said in a telephone interview.

In the latest study, he and colleagues exposed mice to particles of air pollution collected by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. These were mixed with a saline solution and injected into the lungs of mice.

Mice exposed to pollution showed a 15-fold increase in interleukin-6 just 24 hours later. That time frame is important because some studies have shown a spike in air pollution can boost heart attacks with 24 hours…He said most people understand that high levels of air pollution can make lung diseases such as asthma worse. "The same thing is not known for patients with coronary artery disease or congestive heart failure," Mutlu said. "I think we need to increase the awareness of this link among those individuals."

The researchers now plan to study whether aspirin can counteract the clotting effect in mice. Low-dose aspirin helps thin the blood and is already recommended for people with heart problems.

NOAA, Indonesia launch more tsunami, climate buoys

Environment News Network: Representatives of the governments and scientific communities of the United States and Indonesia marked a historic moment today in Jakarta, Indonesia, as the two countries jointly launched tsunami and climate-monitoring ocean buoys in the region. The ship embarked from Jakarta today to launch the second buoy to warn of approaching tsunamis and four buoys to monitor climate.

The buoys are the latest additions to the expanding Global Earth Observation System of Systems, an international effort to monitor and predict changes in the Earth to benefit the environment, human health and the economy.

“The recent strong earthquakes in Indonesia highlight the importance of effective tsunami warning and mitigation systems. We have been working in partnership with Indonesia to provide research, development and operational capacity through technical exchange in one of the most tsunami-prone countries in the world,” said Richard W. Spinrad, NOAA director of ocean and atmospheric research. “Today, we were all gratified to see the efforts of that collaboration as the Indonesian Research Vessel Baruna Jaya III headed out to sea with U.S. technology aboard.”

Spinrad noted that the deployment of the buoys, expected to be completed by the first week in October, represents a joint U.S.-Indonesia contribution to the Indian Ocean region.

…The array is a major component of the El Niño/Southern Oscillation Observing System, the Global Climate Observing System and the Global Ocean Observing System.

More than 100 Bangladesh fishermen missing in storm

Environment News Network, via Reuters: More than 100 Bangladeshi fishermen were missing after at least 15 fishing boats sank in a storm in the Bay of Bengal, witnesses and officials said on Sunday. The Chittagong port authority issued an international maritime alert advising all ships and fishing boats to remain in shelters until further notice, said Syed Farhad Uddin, the secretary of Chittagong port.

Bangladesh's meteorological department said in a special weather bulletin that the monsoonal deep depression, which hit the Bay of Bengal on Thursday night, was moving north-north-west and had reached India's eastern coastal state of Orissa. "Maritime ports of Chittagong, Cox's Bazar and Mongla have been advised to keep the local warning signal hoisted," the bulletin said.

The latest bulletin said the monsoonal low had crossed the Indian coast near Paradeep on Sunday and the weather system was now over Orissa and adjoining areas. "It is likely to move in a north-north-westerly direction further inland and weaken gradually by giving precipitation," the bulletin said…

Hundreds of Bangladeshi fishermen die and many go missing in storms in the Bay of Bengal every year.

Must-read climate report from Lehman Brothers

Gristmill: Lehman Brothers has just released a terrific report, "The Business of Climate Change II." The theme is, "Policy is accelerating, with major implications for companies and investors"; but the piece has a lot of breadth, with cogent comments on everything from the social/damage cost of carbon, to auctioning vs. grandfathering, to the Stern Report....

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Deal reached on cutting ozone-damaging emissions

Reuters: Delegates from almost 200 countries agreed late on Friday to eliminate ozone-depleting substances faster than originally planned, the United Nations said. The agreement was reached at a conference in Montreal to mark the 20th anniversary of the Montreal protocol, which was designed to cut chemicals found to harm the ozone layer. The layer protects the Earth from ultraviolet radiation.

The United States -- backed by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) -- had urged delegates to move the deadline for phasing out production and use of hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFC) for developed countries to 2020 from 2030 and to 2030 from 2040 for developing nations.

"A deal which UNEP believes is historic has been reached on the accelerated freezing and phase-out of HCFCs," said UNEP spokesman Nick Nuttall. He said details of the deal would be unveiled at a news conference in Montreal at 10 a.m. (1400 GMT) on Saturday. HCFCs are used in air conditioners and refrigerators. Holes in the ozone layer are blamed for increased risk of cancer and cataracts in humans.

Nuttall said the deal still had to be approved by a plenary session of the conference, adding that he did not expect there to be any problems or delays. Washington says the faster phase-out of HCFCs would be twice as effective as the Kyoto protocol in fighting climate change.

Climate change could wreak havoc on local rivers in Colorado

Aspen Daily News: Global warming could mean both more droughts and more flooding to the Roaring Fork and other Western rivers, and in just decades it could bring dramatic consequences to local farmers, anglers and fish, a University of Colorado climate researcher said.

….Strzepek discussed the predictions at the Given Institute on Thursday in a presentation organized by the Roaring Fork Conservancy. He dubbed the presentation a “sequel” to one he delivered in Aspen 15 years earlier. Since then, he said, scientists’ models on the impact on the world’s water systems have improved greatly.

Arid climates are expected to become even drier, Strzepek said, and areas that flood may see worse flooding, sometimes with devastating consequences, particularly in the developing world. “The poor will suffer the most, who have the least capability of adapting and dealing with that,” he said.

…Similar heavy flooding is likely for the Roaring Fork, he said, and bridges aren’t built to handle it. It’s not clear how warming temperatures will affect Colorado precipitation, Strzepek said. The Southwestern United States is expected to become drier, meaning more demands on the Colorado River. But northern states could see more precipitation, and Colorado is caught in the middle. But models show snowmelt coming sooner, runoff peaking earlier and river levels dropping faster.

That’s bad for trout, which could see dangerously low water levels and temperatures reaching fatal levels, Strzepek said. It’s also bad for rafting companies that could see shorter seasons, and for ranchers who will likely need more irrigation water. By 2070, he said, runoff could peak a month early, putting water levels out of synch with growing seasons. That could leave even some senior water rights holders out of luck if their rights are timed, he said.

Low water levels could also affect ski areas’ ability to use water for snowmaking, he said. Prior to his presentation, Strzepek said, he went on a Roaring Fork “field trip,” catching an 18-inch trout in its famous waters, but he worried about the impact on river habitat under global warming. “What I want to be able to do is have my grandkids catch a fish like that,” he said.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Summer floods to cost £3bn The insurance industry needs to improve its risk assessment after taking a £3bn hit following the summer floods while business must take responsibility for its contribution to climate change, according to industry experts. The Association of British Insurers (ABI) has estimated that claims from this year's extreme weather could cost double the amount usually budgeted for by the industry. Floods devastated a number of regions in England during the summer, including Yorkshire, in June, and Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire, which were hit in July.

Speaking on Thursday at a conference organized by environmental charity Global Action Plan, Jane Milne, head of the property and creditor team at ABI, said the costs represent two-thirds of what the industry expects to pay out in a "bad" year. She said: "We claim to be the risk experts, and we will invest much more in understanding what the future risks will be. It is clear that the old industry practice of taking the last 50 to 100 years of data and using that to underwrite insurance will not be effective anymore." She criticised the Government's pledge to increase spending on flood defences by just £200million and called for changes to future housing development to place more emphasis on flood risks.

Delegates at the conference, entitled The Wave of Change for London Business were warned that they would also need to adapt to a changing climate and to the predicted flooding of the Thames if sea levels rise in the future. Business leaders were urged to do their bit to reduce their contribution to the problem. Trewin Restorick, director of Global Action Plan, told delegates: "There are some companies I see who really get this issue and some who don't. But I think, increasingly, there are companies who do get it." He told businesses to look at their practices, the behaviour of their staff, and even their products and identify ways to make positive changes.

Australia: Opposition leader Rudd discusses climate change with farmers

ABC Rural (Australia): Opposition leader Kevin Rudd is in western New South Wales to meet farmers and to put a dollar figure on the Labor Party's climate change policy. Drought and climate change were the issues for Opposition Leader and birthday boy Kevin Rudd as he made a whistle-stop tour of drought-stricken properties near Walgett, in the National Party-held seat of Parkes in western New South Wales this morning.

The main issues for the farmers are ongoing drought, lack of infrastructure, hospitals and telecommunications as well as the impact of high grain prices on farmers who have forward-sold their crop but have no crop to deliver.

Kevin Rudd is expected to announce $60 million over three years to help ameliorate the impact of climate change. Turning 50 today, the farmers baked a special chocolate cake for Mr Rudd.

Weather forecasting needs huge boost to tackle climate change: WMO

Terra Daily, via Agence France-Presse: The UN's meteorological agency on Friday called for a multibillion dollar boost for weather forecasting, warning that about 30 percent of economic wealth was directly exposed to the impact of global warming.

The World Meteorological Organisation urged the international community to pay greater attention to helping countries, especially poor nations, adapt to the extreme weather conditions associated with climate change.

"We estimate that today up to 30 percent of the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of a developed country shows a significant sensitivity to weather, climate and water conditions, and the share can be proportionally even bigger in developing countries," said WMO Secretary General Michel Jarraud.

He urged countries to extend and make better use of the technology available in order to cope with an increase in floods, drought or storms and to better protect lives, health, food supplies and the wider economy.

An estimated five to 10 billion dollars is spent every year around the world on weather forecasting but the amount needs to increase sharply according to the WMO. "In developing countries it's definitely much more than doubling. In developed countries it's more subtle than that," Jarraud told journalists. "In developing countries it's fundamental, it's not just strengthening, it's even rebuilding (weather) infrastructure," he added.

The appeal was made ahead of a meeting of world leaders at the United Nations in New York on Monday to help strengthen action against accelerating climate change. Jarraud pointed to gaps in prevention, such as long term weather forecasting, as well as shortcomings in the use of weather information in different economic or social sectors such as farming, water supplies or health.

"It's one thing to issue good warnings, but we have to do something with the warnings," he added. Most international efforts to deal with climate change have focused so far on mitigation -- attempts to cut pollution or carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming -- more than adaptation.

Methodology predicts effects of hurricanes on coastal roadways

Terra Daily: More than 60,000 miles of United States roadways are in the 100-year coastal floodplain, making them vulnerable to attacks from water surges and storm waves generated by hurricanes. A new study, in the latest issue of the Journal of Coastal Research, introduces methodology that integrates state-of-the-art models as effective tools for engineering design and hurricane emergency management.

According to U.S. census data, more than 50 percent of the population lives within 50 miles of the shoreline, and that coastal population continues to grow. In the last three decades, more than 37 million people, 19 million homes, and countless businesses have been added to coastal areas. These areas are under severe stress owing to increased human activities and climate change.

With the rapid development of computer technology, significant advances in modeling storm surges and surface waves have been made in coastal engineering over the last decade. The simulation and prediction of storm surges and waves are intrinsically complex.

In the study, the advanced surge model (ADCIRC), coupled with the wave model (SWAN), was used to construct the prediction and effects of Hurricane Georges on the Mobile Bay estuary in 1998. Agreement between the model and data of the poststorm survey was found, demonstrating the effectiveness of the wave and surge prediction on coastal roadways around shallow estuaries. The coupled wave and surge modeling system has also been used to simulate the storm surge and wind waves during Hurricane Katrina that caused the collapse of several coastal bridges.

As if climate change alone weren't bad enough: Russia says tests back claim to Arctic ridge

Guardian (Environment): Russia yesterday intensified the international scramble for control of the Arctic as scientists said that samples from a vast mountain range under the ocean show that it is part of Russia's continental shelf.

The natural resources ministry said that more geological tests would be done on the samples gathered by a Russian research ship earlier this year, but early results showed that the 1,240-mile Lomonosov ridge is part of Russia. "Results of an analysis of the Earth's crust show that the structure of the underwater Lomonosov mountain chain is similar to the world's other continental shelves, and the ridge is therefore part of Russia's land mass," the ministry said. The ministry said the samples came from an expedition that took place in May and June, and an expedition two years ago to another undersea formation, the Mendeleev ridge.

The rush to map out and stake claims to the Arctic has been fuelled by scientific estimates that suggest as much as 25% of the world's undiscovered oil and gas could be hidden in the Arctic seabed. Growing evidence that global warming is shrinking the polar ice - opening up resources and new shipping lanes - has also added to the urgency.

Last month two Russian submarines planted a flag on the seabed, making a symbolic claim to a vast swath of undersea territory. Other Arctic Circle nations responded swiftly and angrily. Canada's prime minister vowed to increase the country's icebreaker fleet and build two new military facilities in the Arctic.

Denmark sent a team of scientists to find evidence that the Lomonosov ridge was attached to its territory of Greenland. A US Coast Guard icebreaker also set off last month for a research expedition.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Georgia shoreline vulnerable to rising water

Daily Report (Georgia): … Georgia hasn’t had a direct hurricane hit since before 1900, but [Judith A. Curry, chairwoman of the Georgia Tech School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences] points out that the annual average number of North Atlantic tropical cyclones during the past decade is almost 50 percent greater than during the 1950s, the prior peak of hurricane activity. She also says the current active storm phase is likely to last another 20 years. In other words, it’s only a matter of time.

…More intense hurricanes, coupled with rising seas, could spell disaster for low-lying areas. The National Environmental Trust, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group, on its Web site proffers a scientifically based simulation of what could happen to Tybee Island in 40 to 90 years if a Category 2 storm hits, and if seas already have risen three feet—a scenario postulated by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In the simulation, Tybee is completely submerged.

Tybee has an average elevation of 10 feet to 12 feet above sea level, and according to the most recent storm surge map, about 25 percent of its land—mostly along the north end, on the beach—is vulnerable even to a Category 1 storm. Phillip M. Webber, director of the Chatham Emergency Management Agency, which handles Tybee’s emergency preparedness, acknowledges that a Category 5 storm—when coupled with wave action and rainfall—could submerge the island, at least for a while. Curry, who has seen the Tybee simulation, calls it a reasonable view of what could happen, but she points out that it is a “100-year issue.”

In the near term, however, Georgia’s coastline and islands already are feeling the effects of rising seas. According to Clark R. Alexander—a sedimentary geologist with the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography in Savannah—the state has an instrumental record of changes in sea level dating back to about 1935, thanks to a tide gate installed at Fort Pulaski on Cockspur Island, which shows that seas are rising about one foot per century.

“There is climate change. It is getting warmer. Sea levels are starting to rise as rapidly as they have during this whole interglacial time period that we’re in right now,” he says. “But to take that and attribute it to man’s efforts is difficult right now because of the short time span.” Alexander does attribute coastal erosion—which is affected by rising seas—to human activity.

Much development on Georgia’s barrier islands is taking place in risky areas, Alexander says. Development and revetments accelerate erosion, and erosion costs money. Erosion means Georgia’s islands must be “renourished”—in other words, sand must be shipped in to build up the shoreline. Tybee is renourished every seven years, says Alexander. Next year’s renourishment is slated to cost $10 million….