Monday, June 30, 2008

EPA climate change study to target Delaware Estuary The Delaware Estuary is one of six estuaries across the country included in the Environmental Protection Agency's "Climate Ready Estuaries" list, a pilot study designed to prepare these estuaries for the potential effects of global climate change. The EPA plans to provide funding to find out how these sites are vulnerable to climate change and create an adaptation plan that accounts for issues such as sea- level rise, increased salinity z`and hazards to local wetlands.

"I think (these estuaries) are going to see some of the most severe impacts," said Amie Howell, the EPA's Delaware Estuary program coordinator for the mid-Atlantic region. Estuaries are freshwater sources - such as rivers and streams - that flow into open saltwater sources.

While the EPA's study means to determine where more attention is needed, researchers have already studied the effect of climate change on the estuary.

"We weren't starting completely from scratch," said Jennifer Adkins, executive director of the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary. "We had an idea of what impacts we wanted to look at."…David Velinsky, senior scientist at the Patrick Center for Environmental Research, which is part of the Academy, presented some of these potential impacts, including affected water quality and natural chemical processes.

One possible problem is increased salinity. If the global sea level rises, salt water from the ocean can migrate farther inland, affecting everything from the local drinking supply to farmers that use ground water to irrigate their crops. "This isn't going to happen overnight," Velinsky said. "But it's not the kind of thing you can easily treat."

NASA image of Cape Henlopen, at the mouth of the Delaware Estuary, Wikimedia Commons

The cracks are showing

The Economist: …For the past few years it has been hard to ignore America’s crumbling infrastructure, from the devastating breach of New Orleans’s levees after Hurricane Katrina to the collapse of a big bridge in Minneapolis last summer. In 2005 the American Society of Civil Engineers estimated that $1.6 trillion was needed over five years to bring just the existing infrastructure into good repair. This does not account for future needs. By 2020 freight volumes are projected to be 70% greater than in 1998. By 2050 America’s population is expected to reach 420m, 50% more than in 2000. Much of this growth will take place in metropolitan areas, where the infrastructure is already run down.

If America does not act, says Robert Yaro of the Regional Plan Association (RPA), a body that plans for the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut region, it will have the infrastructure of a third-world country within a few decades. Economic growth will be constricted, and the quality of life will be diminished.

….How can all this be fixed? In January a national commission on transport policy recommended that the government should invest at least $225 billion each year for the next 50 years. The country is spending less than 40% of that amount today. Yet more important than spending lots of money is spending it in better ways.

The Brookings Institution, a think-tank, recommends that America focus on metropolitan areas, or “metros”, the top 100 of which account for 65% of population and 75% of economic output. “America 2050”, led by the RPA and a committee of scholars and civic leaders, has a similar scheme for “megaregions”, or networks of metros. The federal government should do what it can to ensure that these areas, first of all, have the infrastructure they need to thrive….

The I-35 bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, Minnesota, taken in August, 2007. Photographed by Mike Wills, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under Creative CommonsAttribution ShareAlike 2.0 License

Foreign governments help China map out plans for climate change

Xinhua (China): A joint initiative by foreign governments and international agencies was launched here on Monday to assist China's ecologically fragile provinces to map out plans to cope with the climate change. The "Provincial Programs for Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation in China" are a joint initiative of the Chinese and foreign governments and international agencies, including the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the Government of Norway and the European Union (EU).

Aimed at translating China's National Climate Change Program into local action in priority provinces, the program is being funded with a contribution of 2 million U.S. dollars from Norway and 400,000 U.S. dollars from UNDP China, while the European Union is considering a further 2 million U.S. dollars in contributions.

…Fourteen provinces will be supported for development of local climate change strategies and policies to both reduce emissions and take adaptation measures, according to the NDRC…. The programme, which will last till the end of 2010, will also help develop plans for crop adaptation and increase water efficiency to mitigate the effects of warming on agriculture in Ningxia and Gansu, where climate change and water shortages threaten to undermine food security….

Midwest US flooding -- a selection of stories

The Southern Ledger
Midwest Flood Damage Report Due Out Today
WSAV-TV, GA - 7 hours ago
The Department of Agriculture says the report will be the first look at crop damage caused by recent flooding in the midwest, where the bulk of the nation's ...
Corn, soy firm on US rains, crop damage fears
US corn firm on fears of crop damage from floods Reuters
Iowa Hit With Half Of US Crop Damage Wallace's Farmer
Aurora Beacon News - Boston Globe
all 754 news articles »
Storm Exchange: Midwest Flood to Impact 12% of US GDP; 14% of ...
Business Wire (press release), CA - 6 hours ago
“Current estimates on the total impact that the Midwest flooding will have on the economy fall short because they have focused too narrowly on farm ...
Tom Petty helps out Midwest flood victims - 38 minutes ago
... tickets ] and the Heartbreakers will auction off front row tickets at some of their upcoming shows to benefit victims of the recent Midwestern floods. ...

Mississippi flooding closes St. Louis to barges
Reuters UK, UK - 7 hours ago
The worst US Midwest flooding in 15 years has begun to ebb, but floods have destroyed millions of acres of corn and soybeans, sending corn prices to record ...
Midwest floodwaters falling, costs rising Reuters
How river engineering is tied to US floods New Scientist (subscription)
Midwest floodwaters falling but costs rising
GulfNews - United Press International
all 343 news articles »

Talks on British coastal flooding risk

The Lowestoft Journal: Climate change and the vulnerability of the coast to a rise in sea level will be the greatest challenges facing Suffolk's landscape over the next 20 years, it has been warned. In a document published on Monday environment chiefs behind the 150 square mile Suffolk Coast and Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) have outlined their vision of the future.

They warn that coastal management and flood defence in the face of a predicted sea level rise are the most important issues currently troubling local communities. The plan also calls for more studies to understand the implications of climate change for the landscape and wildlife of Suffolk's coast and the drawing up of integrated proposals for “sustainable” management of the shoreline.

Other issues addressed include land use, possible water shortages, access and the need to strike a balance between accommodating visitors and protecting the landscape and tranquillity they come to experience….

"On the Suffolk Coast" (1885) by Willard Leroy Metcalfe, Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Bay Area air improving, but another smoke advisory issued for Sunday

San Jose Mercury News, via the Contra Costa Times: The blanket of wildfire smoke hanging over the Bay Area is lifting gradually, but it is still dense enough that a health advisory urging the public to limit outdoor exercise has been issued for today in the Santa Clara Valley.

Soot concentrations declined across the Bay Area on Saturday, and they may continue to drop today and Monday as forecasters predict westerly winds to become more dominant and sweep pollution out of the region.

"There is an overall but gradual improvement," said Jim Smith, a spokesman for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. "We hope it continues to get better, but this is subject to a number of considerations, including the state of the wildfires and the wind direction."…

Wrong date, wrong location -- but an evocative picture. Photo of the 2007 wildfire in Southern California by Alex Miroshnichenko from Orange County, California, USA. Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License

Elevated carbon dioxide boosts invasive nutsedge plants

Science Daily: Elevated levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) could promote the growth of purple and yellow nutsedge—quick-growing invasive weeds that plague farmers and gardeners in many states. That's the conclusion of plant physiologist Hugo Rogers and his colleagues at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) National Soil Dynamics Laboratory (NSDL) in Auburn, Ala.

With ARS and Auburn University colleagues, Rogers grew purple nutsedge (Cyperus rotundus L.) and yellow nutsedge (C. esculentus L.) in chambers designed to mimic the atmospheric CO2 levels predicted to occur within the next century—about twice existing levels. They found that both species benefited from elevated CO2, particularly purple nutsedge.

Although neither species is native to the United States, purple and yellow nutsedge can be found all over the country. Purple nutsedge can tolerate extremely high temperatures and is a major problem in the southern United States, whereas yellow nutsedge is better suited to more temperate climates. Both species displace native plants and reduce yields in a variety of important agricultural crops, including corn, cotton and rice. Purple and yellow nutsedge spread via rhizomes and underground tubers, and are extremely difficult to control.

Yellow nutsedge, photographed by "Blahedo," Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 License

Floodplain danger warning in South Africa (South Africa): The flooding that hit the South Coast earlier this month should serve as a wake-up call for home owners who have been complacently living on or near floodplains. Independent environment specialist Simon Bundy has pointed out that riverine systems are dynamic and changing forces. With climate change factored in, homes which might once have been secure, could in the future fall foul of nature.

This is also the view of environment specialist Alan Smith, who said inappropriate development on the South Coast had been one of the reasons so much damage had been done to property during last week's floods. "People have moved into areas that they should not have, such as on the banks of rivers," said Smith. "Unfortunately many of them are really poor people."

Smith believes that apart from the inordinately high seas which had in recent years caused much devastation on the coastline, things had been comparatively quiet, lulling people into a sense of security. As a result many had been unprepared for last week's flooding rivers. Smith said while that downpour had not been as devastating as the floods of 1959, it had been unusual.

It was impossible to say if it had been the result of global warming, he said. Given climate change, Bundy said the velocity and volume of water being dispersed by rivers could in future change radically. Pointing to the Mbanga River near Port Shepstone, Bundy said a lot of infrastructure had been built in its floodplain. "They are already repairing the sewage line and starting to put a new line in place," he said….

Satellite image of Capetown, perspective view, by NASA. The captioning says, "This Landsat and SRTM perspective view uses a 2-times vertical exaggeration to enhance topographic expression. The back edges of the data sets form a false horizon and a false sky was added. Colors of the scene were enhanced by image processing but are the natural color band combination from the Landsat satellite." Wikimedia Commons

India ready with climate action plan

The Times of India: The National Action Plan on Climate Change has been finalised and would in all probability released by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday. After two rounds of to and fro between different lobbies in the climate change council and within the government, the plan finally weds India's international negotiating stance with a domestic agenda on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

As reported by TOI, the plan contains a canvas for eight missions on climate mitigation and adaptation. Once the plan is officially released, the relevant ministries would be asked to draw up detailed plans and present them before the PM's Climate Change Council by September. The plan, though a roadmap for action on the domestic front, is bound to back up the Indian position at the special session on climate change at the G8+5 talks in Japan in the first week of July.

India has been feeling the heat from several key countries in the past couple of months over its international stance. The document will help bolster the country's argument that it is ready to take an array of 'no-regret' actions — steps towards a low carbon economy that don't come at the cost of its poverty alleviation and growth targets. This is bound to help India, as it has China, that with action being taken on a national level, despite relatively very low level of GHG emissions at present, India should not be expected to take on commitments under an international compact.

June saw developed countries try hard at several fora to corner India and China to principally agree with such an international compact. Earlier in June during the G8+3 (India, China and South Korea) meet, host country Japan tried to force international sectoral efficiency standards. These would force India's key manufacturing sectors to adhere to international energy efficiency norms with the playing field naturally tilted against Indian industry.

…"The developed countries seem to be intransigent on their demand that India and China commit to emission cuts," said one of the negotiators. While the domestic plan is expected to take some of the edge off the arguments of rich countries that India is not doing enough back home, the battle cries are going to only get shriller as Copenhagen appears on the horizon. By 2009, the UN convention on climate change is expected to finalise the new compact for emission reductions at its meet in Copenhagen.

The national emblem of India, rendered by "Nichalp" (apparently), Wikimedia Commons, under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License

Will global warming create new 'hot zones'? Maybe … Will a warmer world also lead to more infectious diseases? Yes and no. Politicians and reporters hate an answer like that, but it really depends on what disease, and where, and sometimes who you ask.

For example, there was a recent surge in the number of cases of tick-borne encephalitis in the former Soviet states of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. The first impulse was to blame a warming climate for the increase in ticks, which led to more tick bites and more disease. But the real reason seems to have been the fall of communism.

…In Africa, a warming climate may accelerate the spread of deserts. The dry dusty air may, in turn, lead to the expansion of the Meningitis Belt, which is a vast area of sub-Saharan Africa known for annual epidemics of infectious meningitis. The dusty air carries the bacteria from infected patients to the cracked and dried mucus membranes of other people. More than 50,000 meningitis cases were reported during the 2006-2007 season.

…Recently, African dust blowing north into Europe - and Europe's own warming weather - may have combined to spread a virus-carrying insect (midge) into new parts of the continent. The result has been outbreaks of Blue Tongue Disease among sheep and other ruminant animals. According to European scientists, higher temperatures increased the overall range of the infected midges, the virus development in the midges, the number of virus-infected midges and the ability to transmit the virus to other midge species.

….In January of this year, two infectious disease experts wrote an article suggesting global warming may allow a tropical disease called dengue to become established in the U.S. Dengue is a viral infection that can be carried and transmitted by the Asian Tiger mosquito. The Asia Tiger arrived in the U.S. in 1983 in shipments of used tires. Since then it has spread to 36 states without the help of global warming and without spreading dengue among U.S. citizens. Why?

….Predictions about climate change sparking epidemics around the world are just that: predictions. Many of those predictions have been made with "soft data" and derided by many disease experts as "simplistic thinking" and "gloom and doom speculation."

Still, the planet is warming up and it is difficult to know what all of the consequences of that warming will be for us. There will be surprises. In April, some Dutch infectious disease experts wrote, "it is difficult to foresee which arthropod-borne diseases will appear in the Netherlands due to climate change … but continued vigilance is necessary…" That's good advice for the Netherlands, the U.S. and other evolving "Hot Zones."

This virus causes dengue fever, Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Wildfires rage in Big Sur

To the The more than 1,000 wildfires sparked by a lightening storm in California, which have spread from the Central Coast to the Oregon state line, are now threatening historic Big Sur at the peak of tourist season, reports the Associated Press.

As of Friday, the blazes have destroyed 42 square miles of Los Padres National Forest along with 16 homes in the Big Sur area. Firefighters reported that only three percent of the wildfire is contained as they focus on protecting more than 500 homes, allowing the fire to rage unchecked in remote mountain areas.

The fire in Los Padres National Forest, south of Big Sur, was started three weeks ago, burning 92 square miles and destroying 16 structures. Seventy-one percent of that fire is reported as contained.

….The wildfires have polluted the air in the Central Valley into the San Francisco Bay area, with air quality readings ranging from two to ten times the federal standard for clean air, prompting people to remain indoors as much as possible.

Highway 1 in Big Sur, during a less incendiary time (2005). Photo by Peter Heeling, who has generously released it into the public domain via Wikimedia Commons. Thank you, Peter

Canadia scientists make climate plea to Harper

Canwest News Service (Canada): More than 100 leading climate scientists have launched a new offensive challenging the federal government's climate change plan and urging Prime Minister Stephen Harper along with other Canadian politicians to accelerate efforts to crack down on human activity linked to global warming.

In an open letter sent to the prime minister, opposition leaders and Canadian premiers on Tuesday afternoon, the scientists warned that the existing national climate change policies would fail to address the dangerous impacts of global warming. They also warned that new research suggests human-caused greenhouse gas emissions could do more damage to the earth than was previously predicted in the last international assessment of climate change science from 2007.

"New analyses show that global greenhouse gas concentrations are increasing, sea level(s) rising and Arctic sea ice decreasing faster than projected only a few years ago," said the letter, signed by 130 Canadian climate science leaders from the academic, public and private sectors. "Water shortages are predicted in the western Prairies, the Okanagan and in the Great Lakes basin. Earlier targets to avoid human interference with the climate system are now seen to be inadequate."

Many scientists believe that putting a price on the release of greenhouse gas emissions should be an essential part of a climate change strategy, says Dr. Gordon McBean, a climatologist from the University of Western Ontario who organized the letter campaign.

Many scientists believe that putting a price on the release of greenhouse gas emissions should be an essential part of a climate change strategy, says Dr. Gordon McBean, a climatologist from the University of Western Ontario who organized the letter campaign.

… Last week, Harper described a carbon tax proposal from the Green party and the federal Liberals as an "insane" approach that would "screw everybody." But McBean, who was honoured on Tuesday by his university and the city of London, Ontario, for his contribution to the Nobel Prize-winning report, said he was disappointed about the reaction....

Canada maple leaf extracted from the Canadian flag by "Dbenbenn," who has released it into the public domain via Wikimedia Commons. Thank you, Debenbenn

McKinsey on the carbon productivity challenge

A new report by the McKinsey Global Institute – worth a look: Any successful program of action on climate change must support two objectives—stabilizing atmospheric greenhouse gases (GHGs) and maintaining economic growth. Research by the McKinsey Global Institute and McKinsey's Climate Change Initiative finds that reconciling these two objectives means that "carbon productivity," the amount of GDP produced per unit of carbon equivalents (CO2e) emitted, must increase dramatically.

To meet commonly discussed abatement paths, carbon productivity must increase from approximately $740 GDP per ton of CO2e today to $7,300 GDP per ton of CO2e by 2050—a tenfold increase. This is comparable in magnitude to the labor productivity increases of the Industrial Revolution. However, the "carbon revolution" must be achieved in one-third of the time that economic transformation took in the Industrial Revolution if we are to maintain current growth levels while keeping CO2e levels below 500 parts per million by volume (ppmv), a level that many experts believe is the maximum that can be allowed without significant risks to the climate.

…If we do not increase our carbon productivity, the consequences will be stark, the report suggests. Meeting commonly discussed abatement target would require a per-person carbon budget of 6 kilograms of CO2e per day.…

The microeconomic changes needed to increase carbon productivity at the levels required will not occur without the active leadership and collaboration of governments and businesses globally. We need new policies, regulatory frameworks, and institutions focused on four areas: creating market-based incentives to innovate and raise carbon productivity; addressing market failures that prevent abatement opportunities from being captured profitably; resolving issues of allocation and fairness, in particular between the developed and developing worlds and between industry sectors; and accelerating progress to avoid missing critical emissions targets….

Image of a coal scuttle by Pearson Scott Foresman, donated to the Wikimedia Foundation, Wikimedia Commons.

Holland and Florida team up …[The governments of Florida and the Netherlands] are about to become partners in a unique technology exchange that offers the promise of cost-effective management of water and land use challenges — a partnership that could become a model for international cooperation on climate-change issues designed to be replicated by the United Nations for application around the globe.

Though far apart in climate, language and distance, Florida and Holland have a great deal in common. Each has vast stretches of low-lying seashore vulnerable to Mother Nature. Each has huge populations living close to those vulnerable shores. Each worries about adequate freshwater resources to sustain its cities and farms. Each has erred in managing its water resources in the past — draining, dredging, damming and polluting as if water were a friend of limitless forgiveness.

….In April, a 16-member delegation of Florida engineers, attorneys, academics and private citizens attended a five-day water course at UNESCO IHE in Delft, a visit organized by the Florida Earth Foundation of West Palm Beach.

The five days were crammed with presentations by Dutch academics and engineers on the strategies and expertise the Dutch have developed for dealing with natural events that are every bit as catastrophic as Florida's hurricanes. The week also included field trips to some of Holland's most impressive hydraulic projects, including the massive Maeslant storm surge barrier on the Rhine downriver from Rotterdam and the equally mind-boggling Oosterschelde storm surge barrier to the south. The enormity of those public works projects — the Dutch claim the Maeslant barrier is the largest movable structure on Earth — had most of the Florida delegates shaking their heads in disbelief. From the country whose ingenuity and commitment put humans on the moon almost 40 years ago, that awestruck reaction is particularly relevant.

…. The new Dutch approach is called "Ruimte voor de Rivier" — Space for the Rivers. It's a 10-year, multinational program started in 2006 to enhance flood protection and environmental improvement of the Delta, initially budgeted at 2.1-billion euros ($3.4-billion). The name is descriptive of the effort. Instead of simply raising the dikes higher, as the Dutch have done for centuries as their country continues to sink below sea level, this plan focuses on giving the rivers more space to expand and thus to handle greater volumes of water in flooding periods….

The Maelsantkering storm barrier, photographed by Svdmolen at nl.wikipedia, Wikimedia Commons, under what appears to be a Creative Commons license

Chinese president urges enhanced efforts to cope with climate change

Xinhua: Chinese President Hu Jintao is urging the country to contribute further efforts to the global fight against climate change. Hu, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, made the remarks here on Friday at a group study for the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee. The study focused on global climate change and the country's ability to tackle the issue.

“How we cope with climate change is related to the country's economic development and people's practical benefits. It's in line with the country's basic interests," he said. He stressed, as a developing country, China should stick to the responsibilities and principles listed in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and its Kyoto Protocol. He hoped developed countries could step up efforts on emission reduction and provide financial and technical support for developing countries.

….He stressed to enhance the country's abilities to monitor, forecast and withstand extreme natural disasters as a result of abnormal weather…..

Hu Jintao in a 2005 photograph, taken by a US sailor, Wikimedia Commons

Friday, June 27, 2008

Thursday, June 26, 2008

"Real Climate" clarifies recent stories about climate models

Let me stand aside while I'm schooled by the experts. Real Climate does their usual valuable work in clarifying a study that was the subject of confusing commentary in the press (including this blog, I'm afraid), with headlines like "Study highlights need to adjust climate models": ....Why is this confusing? Because the term 'climate models' is interpreted very differently in the public sphere than it is in the field. For most of the public, it is 'climate models' that are used to project global warming into the future, or to estimate the planet's sensitivity to CO2.

Thus a statement like the one above, and the headline that came from it are interpreted to mean that the estimates of sensitivity or of future warming are now in question. Yet this is completely misleading since neither climate sensitivity nor CO2 driven future warming will be at all affected by any revisions in ozone chemistry - mainly for the reason that most climate models don't consider ozone chemistry at all. Precisely zero of the IPCC AR4 model simulations (discussed here for instance) used an interactive ozone module in doing the projections into the future.

What the paper is discussing, and what was glossed over in the release, is that it is the next generation of models, often called "Earth System Models" (ESMs), that are starting to include atmospheric chemistry, aerosols, ozone and the like….

....Thus while in theory, a revision in ozone chemistry, or soil respiration or aerosol properties might impact the full ESM, it won't affect the more basic stuff (like the sensitivity to CO2). But it seems that the "climate models will have to be adjusted" meme is just too good not to use - regardless of the context.

Library of Congress portrait of a befuddled blogger, found on Wikimedia Commons

US intelligence agencies fret that warming may cause instability

US News and World Report: U.S. intelligence agencies usually work hard to stay outside the political fray [what a novel statement!], but this week they waded firmly into the debate over climate change by producing an unsettling assessment of the national security implications of changing weather patterns.

"We assess that no country will be immune to the effects of climate change, but some will be able to cope more effectively than others," says Thomas Fingar, who heads the National Intelligence Council, which drafted the assessment, adding that sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and Central and Southeast Asia would be the hardest-hit regions. "However, the spillover—from potentially increased migration and water-related disputes—could have a harmful global impact."

The full report, issued as a National Intelligence Assessment, is classified, and officials say they are not planning to release it. The NIA is distinct from the better-known National Intelligence Estimates by being more speculative and relying more heavily on public sources. Both represent the consensus judgment of the nation's 16 intelligence agencies and carry great analytic weight in Washington.

Appearing before a congressional panel, Fingar discussed the report's findings, which focused heavily on the potential impact of climate change in the next two decades on agricultural production, severe weather effects, water resources, and the possibility of refugee flows from newly drought-ridden areas….

The symbol of the Roman empire, as rendered by Piotr Michał Jaworski (PioM EN DE PL), who has generously released it into the public domain via Wikimedia Commons. Thank you, Piotr

Warming causing plant migration in Europe: study

Agence France-Presse: Global warming has caused numerous European plant species to migrate to higher elevations over the decades, according to new research published Thursday. The research appears in the June 27 edition of the journal Science, and has potentially "important ecological and evolutionary consequences," the study's authors wrote.

A team of international scientists working in mountainous regions of Western Europe compared the natural elevation range of 171 forest plant species between 1905 and 1985, and again between 1986 and 2005. "Along the entire elevation range, 0 to 2,600 meters (8,500 feet) above sea level ... we show that climate warming has resulted in a significant upward shift in species optimum elevation averaging 29 meters (95 feet) per decade," the researchers wrote….

A view in the Dolomites, shot by William Domenichini, Wikimedia Commons, under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation license, Version 1.2

Disasters rising, but don't just blame climate change

Ruth Gidley at Reuters: Natural catastrophes are on the rise, a new report by disaster experts confirms, with the number of recorded floods, storms and other weather emergencies increasing by 7.4 percent a year on average. But 2007 bucked the general trend, seeing a slight fall in disasters and the lowest death toll in a decade.

Many scientists predict climate change will trigger more floods and droughts, but the report's researchers say global warming is only partly to blame for the general rise. "Climate change is probably an actor in this increase but not the major one," the report from the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) School of Public Health in Belgium says.

The fact that information about natural disasters is more accurate than it used to be is another reason behind the rise, according to the researchers who are based at the Catholic University of Louvain. Last year the number of natural disasters dropped to 405 from 423 in 2006. The death toll was around 17,000 and 211 million people were affected. The lower numbers were partly because there were fewer earthquakes and volcano eruptions than usual…..

The eyewall of Hurricane Katrina, NOAA, Wikimedia Commons

Rethink our heavy reliance on levees

Mary Kelly, with the Environmental Defense Fund, in guest column in the Des Moines Register: … We have spent billions of dollars on levees and flood-control infrastructure in the Midwest to protect and encourage development of river flood plains and low-lying wetlands, but it clearly is not working.…

We also know that the federal government recently assessed the integrity and protection level of thousands of miles of levees from coast to coast and found many of them seriously deficient. In extreme storm conditions, the kinds of flooding and damages we saw in Iowa, Missouri and other states in recent weeks will be seen in many other parts of the country.

Our heavy reliance on levees, which are hugely expensive to build and maintain, is sorely misplaced. It leads people to think that living in a flood plain is risk-free, behind levees that their builders touted as offering protection against a "100-year" or "500-year" storm. Nothing could be further from the truth. As the time-worn refrain goes, there are only two kinds of levees - those that have already failed and those that will fail….

An Iowa National Guardsman wrangles a sandbag as part of a new levee protecting an Ottumwa power sub-station. (Iowa National Guard photo by Sgt. Chad D. Nelson). This was taken during the Great Iowa Flood of 2008, and posted sometime after June 13, 2008. Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Flood report: Insurers back calls for action

Guardian (UK): Insurers have called on the government to act in response to today's review into last year's devastating floods. The independent report, carried out by Sir Michael Pitt, called for fundamental changes to the way in which the UK responds to the increased risk of flooding due to climate change.

Following the events last summer, insurers dealt with 180,000 claims and paid out £3m to flood victims. Nick Starling, head of general insurance and health at the Association of British Insurers, said: "The government must act now to develop a long-term flood strategy. This must focus on better co-ordination, a thorough reassessment of the flood risk from rivers, drainage and the sea, adequate investment, and better public information on flooding." He added: "All this is crucial to ensure that flood insurance remains widely available and competitively priced."

Insurers have followed a voluntary statement of principles on flood insurance since 2002, under which they offer flood insurance as standard for properties where the risk of flooding is no greater than once every 75 years. Where the risk is greater insurers will continue to offer cover if adequate defences are planned within five years. If they are not, insurers say they will "work with homeowners to see what can be done to reduce the flood threat".

However, Peter Gerrard, head of insurance research at comparison site, warned: "Looking forward, insurers may be reluctant to insure homes in flood risk areas, especially for properties where a claim for flooding has already been made….

The syndicates at work inside Lloyd's of London, where the basement does not flood.... or does it? Photo by "phogel," Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 License

Forest loss 'threatening humans' (Austrlia): About 15 million hectares of tropical rainforest are being lost across the world every year, posing a direct threat to human life, according to University of Adelaide research. Corey Bradshaw, from the university's school of earth and environmental sciences, says the world is losing the battle over tropical habitat loss.

He said tropical forests supported more than 60 per cent of all known species but those species were now being lost at a rate 10,000 times greater than would randomly occur without the impact of humans. "This is not just a tragedy for tropical biodiversity, this is a crisis that will directly affect human livelihoods," Professor Bradshaw said as the lead author in a study published online today by the Ecological Society of America.

"This is not just about losing tiny species found at the base of big trees in a rainforest few people will ever see, this is about a complete change in ecosystem services that directly benefit human life. The majority of the world's population live in the tropics and what is at stake is the survival of species that pollinate most of the world's food crops, purify our water systems, attenuate severe flood risk, sequester carbon and modify climate."…

The Amazon River passing through the rainforest, near Salinopolis in Brazil. Photo by Cesar Paes Barreto, Wikimedia Commons

Dwindling snow in Scotland

The Scotsman (Scotland): Snowfall could reduce by up to 90 per cent in some parts of Scotland over the next 70 years, according to a consultation released yesterday. Climate change minister Stewart Stevenson said the country must adapt.

"Some degree of climate change is unavoidable, as the impacts over the next 30 to 40 years have been determined by our past and present emissions," he said. "We cannot prevent these, but we can adapt."

The consultation, entitled Adapting Our Ways: Managing Scotland's Climate Risk, says winter snowfall may reduce by 50 per cent or more across Scotland by the 2080s. It adds: "The most obvious changes are over eastern Scotland, with a possible reduction of over 90 per cent of snowfall by the 2080s."…

Borthwick Castle in North Middleton, Scotland. This image was taken from the Geograph project collection. See this photograph's page on the Geograph website for the photographer's contact details. The copyright on this image is owned by Nick Watts and is licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license. Watts says, "I got married here - what a fab place!"

Study highlights need to adjust climate models

Reuters: Sea spray and microscopic plants from the tropical Atlantic are destroying greenhouse gases in the lower atmosphere at a faster pace than scientists had thought, British researchers said on Wednesday. The findings published in the journal Nature mean current climate models may need adjusting and they underscore the difficulties in trying to predict future temperature changes, the researchers said.

"One of the key things we need to do in the future is reduce uncertainty around the natural processes that destroy greenhouse gases," said Alastair Lewis of Britain's National Centre for Atmospheric Science, who helped lead the study. "This is one of the first times we have been able to go and see how those models were doing at predicting the rate of destruction of some greenhouse gases."

Year-round measurements from an observatory on the Cape Verde island of Sao Vicente allowed the team to measure how fast the chemicals bromine and iodine oxide -- produced from sea spray and phytoplankton -- attack and break down ozone. They found that the chemicals were gobbling up 50 percent more ozone in the part of the lower atmosphere -- about 1 kilometer above the Earth's surface -- than current climate models suggest….

I hear the words "sea spray," and my mind turns to Hokusai. Wikimedia Commons

Extreme weather events can unleash a 'perfect storm' of infectious diseases, research study says

Science Daily: An international research team, including University of Minnesota researcher Craig Packer, has found the first clear example of how climate extremes, such as the increased frequency of droughts and floods expected with global warming, can create conditions in which diseases that are tolerated individually may converge and cause mass die-offs of livestock or wildlife.

The study, published June 25 by PloS (Public Library of Science) One, an online peer-reviewed research journal, suggests that extreme climatic conditions are capable of altering normal host-pathogen relationships and causing a "perfect storm" of multiple infectious outbreaks that could trigger epidemics with catastrophic mortality.

Led by scientists at the University of California, Davis, the University of Illinois and the University of Minnesota, the research team examined outbreaks of canine distemper virus (CDV) in 1994 and 2001 that resulted in unusually high mortality of lions in Tanzania's Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater. CDV periodically strikes these ecosystems, and most epidemics have caused little or no harm to the lions.

…"The study illustrates how ecological factors can produce unprecedented mortality events and suggests that co-infections may lie at the heart of many of the most serious die-offs in nature," said Packer…

The Serengeti, seen from Kenya. Shot by Joseph L. Hartman, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 License

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

GAO report reveals continuing problems with NPOESS

Space Mart: Today, the House Committee on Science and Technology's Energy and Environment Subcommittee continued its oversight of the National Polar-Orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS). "This program is vital to our daily lives," said Subcommittee Chairman Nick Lampson (D-TX). "When launched, NPOESS will be the primary source of information the National Weather Service uses to make its long-range forecasts, and the military will need NPOESS data to plan operations around the globe."

However, the program continues to experience management and technical problems. Mr. Dave Powner of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) testified on the latest report concerning the troubled weather satellite program, and the Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Conrad Lautenbacher, responded.

Recent events have once more raised questions about the stability of the program, including a new threat to the most critical instrument. Key documents have still not been finalized and approved by the Executive Committee, the tri-agency body that oversees the NPOESS program. GAO testified that this is unacceptable. This continued delay in decision-making may create new management risks, and Mr. Lampson expressed concern that such delays stored up more trouble for the future….

Illustration of a satellite of the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS), NOAA, Wikimedia Commons

Singapore's PM says water security may spark conflicts

Reuters: Singapore's prime minister said on Tuesday that water security may be a source of conflicts, while launching an institute in the city-state to research Asia's water problems. Lee Hsien Loong told water industry players at the start of a one-week water summit in Singapore that the provision of safe and cheap water was becoming harder because cities were growing bigger and global warming was having an effect.

The Asian Development Bank said in November that developing countries in Asia could face an unprecedented water crisis within a decade due to a mismanagement of resources. "More and more cities and countries see access to water as a security concern and a potential trigger of conflict," Lee said….

Washing utensils and vegetables in Bangladesh, photo by Anwar Huq, Wikimedia Commons via Public Library of Science (PLoS), under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License

More stories on the California fires

Turkish Press
Lightning sparks California fires
The Press Association - 7 hours ago
More than 840 wildfires sparked by an "unprecedented" lightning storm are burning in Northern California, Fire crews from Nevada and Oregon have been ...
Santa Cruz fire nears containment Los Angeles Times
Lightning sparks 800-plus fires in California The Associated Press
Lightning sparks 800-plus fires in California USA Today
San Francisco Chronicle - New York Times
all 3,411 news articles »

Cause of inferno in rolling hills yet to be determined, CA - 7 hours ago
California's fire season began in mid-May, following the state's driest two-month period on record. The Wild Horse Fire is just one of more than 840 ongoing ...
Lake County fire threatens homes; hundreds of blazes burning in state San Francisco Chronicle
'Wild Fire' in Solano County now 80 percent contained San Jose Mercury News
Napa wildfire races over 2000 acres Santa Rosa Press Democrat - Imperial Valley News
all 69 news articles »

US midwest floodwaters could linger for weeks

Agence France-Presse: The worst of the flooding that has ravaged the midwestern United States is nearly over, but it will be weeks before the murky water recedes in many areas, the National Weather service warned Monday. Tens of thousands of people were evacuated from their homes in Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri and Indiana due to the heavy rains and deadly storms which swept through the region in recent weeks.

Early estimates place the damage in the billions as roads were washed out, rail and barge traffic shut down and millions of acres of crops were swamped. Scores of levees collapsed or were overtopped by the rushing waters which swallowed entire towns….

NOAA's map of the flooding as of June 14, 2008, Wikimedia Commons

Annan: Rich countries must take lead in tackling climate change

Xinhua: Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said [in Geneva] Tuesday that industrialized countries must take the lead in dealing with the threat of climate change. "Looking at global emissions from a per capita perspective, it is obvious that the richest countries must take the lead," Annan told the first annual meeting of his new humanitarian forum.

"We must have climate justice," Annan said. "We must recognize that the polluters must pay, not the poor and vulnerable." Annan created the Global Humanitarian Forum after his retirement from the top UN post at the end of 2006.

The two-day meeting focuses on the humanitarian threat of climate change. It brings together senior government officials, leaders of international agencies, CEOs of major corporations as well as global financiers. Annan stressed that the world should measure and weigh the impact of climate change not just in scientific terms, but by its social, economic and humanitarian implications.

"From jobs to health to food security and peace ... we must consider it the single most destructive force actively confronting humankind today," Annan said.

Photo of Kofi Annan by Ricardo Stuckert/Agência Brasil, a public Brazilian news agency, Wikimedia Commons, under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Brazil License

Monday, June 23, 2008

Doubt is their product

A worthy legislative agenda, from James Hansen's testimony, which is plastered all over the internet today (though I picked this from the Huffington Post): ...Special interests have blocked transition to our renewable energy future. Instead of moving heavily into renewable energies, fossil companies choose to spread doubt about global warming, as tobacco companies discredited the smoking-cancer link. Methods are sophisticated, including disguised funding to shape school textbook discussions.

CEOs of fossil energy companies know what they are doing and are aware of long-term consequences of continued business as usual. In my opinion, these CEOs should be tried for high crimes against humanity and nature. If their campaigns continue and "succeed" in confusing the public, I anticipate testifying against relevant CEOs in future public trials

Conviction of ExxonMobil and Peabody Coal CEOs will be no consolation, if we pass on a runaway climate to our children. Humanity would be impoverished by ravages of continually shifting shorelines and intensification of regional climate extremes. Loss of countless species would leave a more desolate planet....

"The Last Judgement," from the Sistine Chapel. I'm just sayin'.... Wikimedia Commons

New NASA website on climate change

The popping sound you hear are denialist and delayer heads exploding: the A new website from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory aims to educate the public about Earth's changing climate. The Global Climate Change website provides information about the causes and effects of climate change and how NASA studies it. A quick glance by your exhausted blogger looks promising -- informative graphics and a wide range of topics. The new Global Climate Change website may be found at...