Thursday, July 31, 2008

Carbon Based on

To all who clicked here after seeing me on, welcome. Correspondent Tyler Suiters and I had a wide-ranging conversation about climate change adaptation.

California's fire record shattered, and we're just getting started

Mercury More acres have burned in California this year than in any other. And it's not even August. "There's a potential for a lot more fires and a lot more destruction," said Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the state fire department, CalFire.

A combination of a record dry spring and sparks — from a flurry of lightning strikes in late June to the bullet that is believed to have sparked the fire near Mariposa — get most of the blame.

But they come atop a pair of more persistent problems: the unnaturally dense buildup of scrub and forest left by decades of fire suppression and the inexorable incursion of people, with their ignition sources and property to be protected, into previously forested areas. Add that all up and you have a lot of charred ground.

About 1.1 million acres have burned in California already this year. The previous record was 900,000 acres, set last year when fires in Southern California raged into the fall, Berlant said. The number could increase significantly, depending largely on how much care Californians take to not start any fires. The fire season here, after all, can easily stretch into November. "Let's hope it's not one of those years," said Jason Kirschner, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service. "We really need people to be very conscious of the fire danger and be more careful than in the past."

Climate experts say some of the conditions that set the stage for this year's fires are likely to repeat more frequently as the climate continues to warm. The record dryness in March, April and May is consistent with predictions that from the central Sierra north — or from Yosemite to Mount Lassen — winter storms are expected to end earlier in the year. That's what happened this year when a series of powerful storms early in the winter gave way to a long dry spell.

"This year furnishes an example of what future years might tend to look like," said Kelly Redmond, regional climatologist at the Western Regional Climate Center in Reno. "It has aspects of what is being predicted for the future."….

An MH-60S Seahawk helicopter dumps water from a 420-gallon extinguishing trough October 23, 2007, onto of one of the many burning areas in California's San Diego County. Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Chris Fahey, U.S. Navy, Wikimedia Commons

Global warming means more raw sewage in Vancouver's water: report

Vancouver Sun: Public health and safety threats are escalating in Metro Vancouver because an aging sewage handling and treatment system will fail more often as a result of climate change, according to a federal report uncovered by The Vancouver Sun. The report says heavier rainstorms will frequently overwhelm portions of the region's sewage system and accelerate the spill of raw sewage into Burrard Inlet and the Strait of Georgia.

That means more raw sewage will be dumped into the ocean more often, in apparent violation of the Fisheries Act. Senior regional officials and politicians have in the past been threatened with prosecution under this act, although neither the federal nor the provincial government has to date shown any inclination to enforce it.

More raw sewage spills also mean more health risks to people using the inlet for recreation - swimming, windsurfing, sailing and fishing. Environmental groups, including the David Suzuki Foundation, were outraged to hear about the contents of the report. They are calling on regional and civic governments to act now to "avoid potential disasters including extreme impacts on human health caused by system failures."

A Metro Vancouver politician promised that the region is already developing plans to address the situation. But he warned that accelerating the schedule for new sewage treatment facilities would place an additional burden on the region's taxpayers.

…They were produced for Natural Resources Canada by a climate research committee of Engineers Canada, the organization representing 160,000 engineers nationwide. The reports, which deal with seven Canadian communities, look at a wide range of infrastructure, including roads, bridges, buildings, flood protection and water treatment facilities that may not function properly as a consequence of extreme weather events emerging as a result of climate change. The reports represent Canada's most detailed look to date at the physical consequences of climate change on critical public assets….

A view of False Creek bristling with boats, shot from the Granville St. Bridge by Jon Eben Field, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under Creative CommonsAttribution 2.0 License from Vancouver, BC, Canada

Threats to Jamaica's water resources

Jamaica Observer: Researchers said Tuesday that Jamaica's water resources could be adversely affected by climate change if the appropriate legislative measures were not put in place to protect the sector, and adequate financial resources provided for it. The Dr Anthony Chen-led Climate Studies Group Mona (CSGM), in a report released at Tuesday's National Water Sector Adaptation Strategy Workshop at the Terra Nova Hotel in Kingston, projected that the quantity of water the island now enjoys could be significantly reduced over the next 50 to 80 years.

At the same time, another research group said the water quality could be undermined by increased flooding associated with the changing climate and the attendant sewage run-off due to improper housing developments and a lack of proper waste water sewage disposal systems. "We are not dealing with a magic wand," said Eleanor Jones - managing director of Environmental Solutions Limited (ESL) - as she underscored the need to have existing legislation enforced, while at the same time attracting the resources necessary to ensuring their preservation over the long term.

Hydrologist and consultant, Dr Mark Futter, also pointed to the need for additional resources for the water sector, especially given the need to retain the expertise required to manage water resources, such as watersheds. He said, too, that there was need for continued research into the status of the island's water quantity and quality….

Mangroves on the Black River, the widest river in Jamaica, shot by "Stuffreak," Wikimedia Commons, nder the terms of the GNU Free Documentation license, Version 1.2

Climate change means more floods for a drying Thames basin

World Wildlife Fund: A drying Thames river basin in the UK would still face five times the current risk of flooding by 2080, a recent assessment of the effects of climate change has found. The Thames Vulnerability Assessment Report prepared by WWF-UK also found dire results for fish and wildlife, the lawns and flowerbeds of the traditional English garden and London’s antiquated sewers and drains.

The 14 million people in the internationally important basin – and the additional two million expected to join them by 2026 – also face a future of water shortages. “Climate change is likely to result in hotter, drier summers and warmer, wetter winters. Perversely, this means we will suffer from having both more water, and less, with greater risk from flooding and drought,” said WWF-UK freshwater policy advisor, Dr Tom Le Quesne….

The Thames River as seen from Westminster Bridge in London, October 2006, by Ville Miettinen from Helsinki, Finland, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License

My sediments exactly: Bangladesh gaining land, not losing, scientists say

Terra Daily via Agence France-Presse: New data shows that Bangladesh's landmass is increasing, contradicting forecasts that the South Asian nation will be under the waves by the end of the century, experts say. Scientists from the Dhaka-based Center for Environment and Geographic Information Services (CEGIS) have studied 32 years of satellite images and say Bangladesh's landmass has increased by 20 square kilometres (eight square miles) annually.

Maminul Haque Sarker, head of the department at the government-owned centre that looks at boundary changes, told AFP sediment which travelled down the big Himalayan rivers -- the Ganges and the Brahmaputra -- had caused the landmass to increase. The rivers, which meet in the centre of Bangladesh, carry more than a billion tonnes of sediment every year and most of it comes to rest on the southern coastline of the country in the Bay of Bengal where new territory is forming, he said in an interview on Tuesday.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has predicted that impoverished Bangladesh, criss-crossed by a network of more than 200 rivers, will lose 17 percent of its land by 2050 because of rising sea levels due to global warming. The Nobel Peace Prize-winning panel says 20 million Bangladeshis will become environmental refugees by 2050 and the country will lose some 30 percent of its food production. Director of the US-based NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, professor James Hansen, paints an even grimmer picture, predicting the entire country could be under water by the end of the century.

But Sarker said that while rising sea levels and river erosion were both claiming land in Bangladesh, many climate experts had failed to take into account new land being formed from the river sediment. "Satellite images dating back to 1973 and old maps earlier than that show some 1,000 square kilometres of land have risen from the sea," Sarker said. "A rise in sea level will offset this and slow the gains made by new territories, but there will still be an increase in land. We think that in the next 50 years we may get another 1,000 square kilometres of land."…

Hooghly River and the Ganges Delta seen from space, NASA, Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Congo launches review of logging contracts

Reuters: Congo, home to the world's second largest tropical forest, launched a review of all timber contracts on Wednesday in an effort to clean up a business rife with corruption and to recoup millions of dollars in lost taxes. The World Bank-sponsored initiative will look at 156 deals. Most were signed during a 1998-2003 war and subsequent interim government accused of awarding numerous dubious logging and mining contracts.

In 2002, with the country partially under the control of rebels, the Democratic Republic of Congo issued a five-year moratorium on new logging contracts as part of efforts to stem rampant deforestation aggravated by the conflict. The measure went largely unheeded and companies continued to sign new deals.

Logging and land clearance for farming are eating away the Congo Basin, home to more than a quarter of the world's tropical forest, at the rate of more than 800,000 hectares a year. Many contracts are expected to be cancelled outright by a review panel made up of government officials and independent experts. "What I'm hoping for is fewer concessions. What I'm hoping for is more revenues for the state. What I'm hoping for is better management of the forestry sector," Environment Minister Jose Endundu told reporters on Wednesday….

Brazzaville, Kinshasa and the Malebo Pool of the Congo River viewed either from a satellite or a guy with a really tall ladder, NASA, Wikimedia Commons

Ice break ominous, Arctic scientist says

Toronto Star: A scientist on board the Amundsen research icebreaker near the Beaufort Sea says the ice shelf that broke apart last week is another sign that the Arctic has reached a tipping point in climate change. Two blocks that broke away from the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf near the northern coast of Ellesmere Island are simply the latest loss in the Arctic's rapidly disappearing mass of thick, ancient ice, said Gary Stern, chief scientist on board the Amundsen Coast Guard vessel.

"When I hear what happened, I am not surprised," Stern said by satellite telephone. "The rate we are losing ice is phenomenal. This (climate change) is real," he said. "I think a lot of people don't understand how fast things are changing up here." Stern, a University of Manitoba professor, is leading a major research project – part of the International Polar Year – examining climate change and the loss of sea ice in the Arctic.

…"In November, the Amundsen actually went up to the northwestern side of Banks Island and into McClure Strait. That is the real Northwest Passage. It is almost never open – even in the summer. “The fact that it is open in November is phenomenal. I don't care what anybody says, (the problem) is man-made and we have to deal with it now."….

….Ice shelves can break up for various reasons, not always climate change, Mueller said. It is the lack of new ice forming that shows that global warming is afoot. "There are only five of these ice shelves left," Mueller said. "They are retreating and they are not coming back."...

Brent Glacier (Osborn Range), on Ellesmere Island in Nunavut, Canada, flowing down to Tanquary Fjord, with a view on the opposite side of the Mount Kennedy Icecap. Photo by Ansgar Walk, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 3.0 Unported License

Time to stop growing 'thirsty' rice in Australia Eric Craswell, from the Australian National University's Fenner School of Environment and Society, said rice used 10 times as much water as some other crops. Dr Craswell says it should no longer be planted in the Murray-Darling Basin, and the water be allowed to flow through the river system to help the environment. "People have said you shouldn't single out particular industries but I think in the case of rice there is an argument," he said. "Instead of growing rice in the very wet years, let that water go down the river to rejuvenate the wetlands."

Saying most Australian rice was exported, Dr Craswell questioned why the nation was growing rice for overseas markets when water was running so low. Rice-growing should be left to countries with monsoonal climates like Thailand, he said. Dr Craswell said that using a litre of water to grow vegetables or grapes produced 10 times as much revenue as using that water to grow rice.

In a wet year, 11 per cent of irrigation water is used to grow rice, but that produces just four per cent of the produce by value. Rice has to be flooded and is only grown in Australia in wet years....

Japanese rice symbol from "Le livre des fleurs", by Nyoiti Sakurazawa, DL: 24871 (Editions Ohsawa), Wikimedia Commons

Global warming affects insurance Computerised catastrophe modelling that factors the impact global warming might have on the frequency and intensity of hurricanes is increasingly being used by re–insurers to price their insurance rates. The practice has drawn criticism in the United States, partially because scientists not only have differing views on the effects climate change will have on the frequency and intensity of hurricanes, but also on whether global warming is a long–term phenomenon or just a cyclical warming of the earth’s oceans.

Island Heritage Chief Marketing Officer Nigel Twohey said he spoke to representatives of Munich Re, an active reinsurer in the Caribbean, about this issue in June at an insurance conference. “Reinsurers are aware of the probable effects of global warming on sea temperatures and are making provisions for this in pricing and deductibles,” Mr. Twohey said. “For the Caribbean, they have not increased their premiums that much for global warming – yet. As details become clearer, especially if we have an active [hurricane] season, then we can certainly expect this to become an increased factor.”

…Despite the uncertainty, reinsurers, particularly after very active hurricane seasons in 2004 and 2005, have started including the potential future impact of global warming in their pricing methodology. “Many of the catastrophe models do indeed include increasing amount of data to include global warming,” said Mr. Twohey. “For the Caribbean and Cayman, we are concerned about rising water levels and increased heat in the water, which is one of the major factors for hurricane development.”

Michael Gayle, senior vice president property and casualty at Sagicor General Insurance (Cayman) Ltd. said the concept of insurance relies somewhat on the prediction of future events…..Mr. Gayle confirmed that on the property side of the insurance industry there has been an increased use of modelling as a predictive tool, although he could not say whether the potential effects of global warming were reflected in pricing….

Tropical Storm Chris, 2006, from NOAA, Wikimedia Commons

Adaptation to climate change will be difficult for Madagascar

Mongabay: Madagascar's high levels of endemism coupled with its extensive loss and degradation of ecosystems leave its species particularly vulnerable to climate change. A new paper evaluates these risks and sets forth conservation priorities to best maintain the ecological resilience of the island nation.

Although Madagascar has lost about 90 percent of its natural forest cover, more than 90 percent of its plants, mammals, reptiles and amphibians are unique to the island, making it a top global biodiversity hotspot. Nevertheless climate change is projected to have a big impact on the island. Models suggest that Madagascar will lose 17-50 percent of its remaining forest habitat due to climate change if plants are unable to disperse or migrate to suitable areas. The outcome could prove devastating for flora and fauna.

A new paper, published in Biology Letters, make three recommendations that could help Madagascar's biodiversity adapt to climate change: (1) restoration and protection of riverine corridor forests important for migration; (2) maintenance and restoration of connectivity among fragmented forests, especially in regions with high genetic divergence between populations across major riverine corridors; and (3) management of all remaining natural forest to maximize the potential for species migration in response to climate change. The authors, led by Lee Hannah of Conservational International, note that riverine corridors and forest fragments can serve as key migration paths and refugia for species….

A dwarf lemur depicted by Friedrich Specht in The Natural History of Animals by Carl Vogt and Friedrich Specht, 1888. Volume 1, p. 83. Found where else but Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Study: Reefs may “unglue” in oceans with high carbon dioxide

A press release from NOAA about some recent coral research: Cements that bind individual coral skeletons and larger coral reef structures are predominantly absent in waters with naturally high levels of carbon dioxide (CO2), making these reefs highly susceptible to a wearing down of their physical framework, say scientists with NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory in Miami, Fla. and other institutions.

The study, released in the July 28 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that the coral reefs of the eastern tropical Pacific provide a real-world example of the challenges all coral reefs will face under high-CO2 conditions resulting in ocean acidification. This is the first attempt to characterize the impacts of ocean acidification on coral reef ecosystems by examining naturally occurring, high-CO2 reef environments.

Lead author, Derek Manzello, a coral reef ecologist at AOML, and his colleagues analyzed the abundance of cements within reef framework structures from the eastern tropical Pacific, which is an entire region exposed to naturally higher levels of carbon dioxide, and compared them to reefs from the Bahamas, an ecosystem exposed to comparatively lower levels of carbon dioxide.

The impact of ocean acidification seems to be a drastic reduction in the production of the cements that allow coral reefs to grow into large, structurally-strong formations that can withstand high wave action. “Reefs are constantly degraded by mechanical, biological, and chemical erosion,” said Manzello. “This study indicates that poorly cemented reefs that develop in an acidic ocean will be much less likely to withstand this persistent erosion. These results imply that coral reefs of the future may be eroded faster than they can grow.”…

Coral reefs that form in environments that are naturally high in carbon dioxide (CO2) are poorly formed and not as stable as those in lower CO2 areas. Photo: UVI (from the NOAA website)

Typhoon Fung-wong in China -- a selection of stories

Tropical storm Fung-wong hits China
Times, India - 3 minutes ago
The tropical storm that hit the Fujian province of the country last night was earlier in the form of devastating typhoon when it had hit Taiwan unleashing ...
Typhoon Fung Wong makes landfall in Fujian
CCTV, China - 33 minutes ago
Typhoon Fung Wong has swept into east China's Fujian Province. It's the eighth tropical storm to hit the country's coast this year. ...

Over 600000 evacuated as tropical storm hits China: reports
AFP - 2 hours ago
The storm was downgraded from typhoon level as it hit Fujian province late Monday after slamming into Taiwan, where it had whipped up strong winds and ...

Emerging equine disease

In a looong but interesting piece, the explores a veterinary aspect of emerging infectious diseases: … Ongoing outbreaks of disease in humans and animals worldwide have established repeatedly that the war on infectious diseases is not over. Indeed, fully one third of all human deaths worldwide are still caused by infectious diseases. Similarly, outbreaks of infectious diseases in horses will continue to occur as surely as new diseases will appear.

The challenge to the horse industry is to prepare for this reality and invest in the research needed to understand these diseases and the factors that lead to their emergence. By understanding the factors that influence the development, frequency and distribution of disease, we can develop reliable diagnostic techniques, effective therapies, and appropriate control strategies. This Horse Report presents some background information about infectious diseases and describes three diseases that have emerged recently and that may have a significant impact on horses. A fourth noninfectious condition is also described and is referred to as a syndrome--a group of signs that characterize a previously unrecognized disease. [The list includes:]

  • Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus
  • African Horse Sickness
  • Equine Multinodular Pulmonary Fibrosis
  • Bone Fragility Syndrome
A group of two-year-old Budjonny stallions in the stud farm Budjonny in southern Russia. Photo by Anna Edith Seuberth, Wikimedia Commons, under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation license, Version 1.2

New plans to combat floods in Wales

Wales Online (UK): Environment Agency Wales is embarking on a consultation process including farming unions and other representative bodies to develop long term plans on how to manage flood risk. We will also be consulting with representatives of communities which are at risk of flooding.

…Traditionally our approach to managing flood risk has been dominated by the construction of defences but in the future it will not be possible to defend everyone, everywhere, all of the time. We must adapt and change to a broader approach and this will include managing the consequences of flooding, working with natural processes. This broader approach must take a long-term view because climate change is a long-term issue and it will take time to make the changes required.

We must consider how we manage water from the moment it falls onto the land, enters our watercourses, flows through our rivers, past our villages and towns, until it joins the sea. If we can improve the management of water that runs off the land, we can produce economic, environmental and flood risk benefits, both locally and elsewhere.

Changing the way we all work to manage flood risk will take time, there is no quick fix solution. The Environment Agency believes this change can only be achieved by working closely and constructively with a range of land managers and owners, and farmers are key to this success

….The Environment Agency is preparing 10 Catchment Flood Management Plans (CFMPs) to cover Wales. These are long term strategic plans and are intended to start to inform the wider debate into the future of flood risk management. CFMPs are supported by both the Welsh Assembly Government and Defra in England and are based on river and not political boundaries.

….It is no longer enough to target flooding through piecemeal local action. Climate change is here and it isn’t going to go away so we need to do things differently. CFMPs are about planning for the future and thinking about catchments as a whole and their impact on neighbouring areas and beyond….

Elwy River, Cefn, in Wales. Photo: Francis Bedford (1816-1894), 1860s. Wikimedia Commons. On occasion my photo research isn't current.

No-tillage plus: Cover crops offer a model for sustainability in tropical soils

American Society of Agronomy: Tropical soils often behave differently than temperate soils when being farmed. In tropical regions, soils lose nutrients quickly when cultivated. With food shortages looming and soil quality declining rapidly, new farming techniques are needed to make tropical and sub-tropical farming more productive and sustainable. New research from Agronomy Journal shows that no-till management combined with a winter cover crop is most effective in retaining nutrients in tropical soils.

An international team of scientists from Brazil, France, and the U.S. studied the impact of different cover crops, crop rotation, and tillage on soil organic carbon storage after 19 years of crop production on a tropical soil in southern Brazil.

The results, published in the July-August issue of Agronomy Journal, show that no-tillage management combined with crop rotations including winter cover crops with high amounts of crop residues returned annually to the soil, will most likely maintain soil organic carbon stocks, and most likely mimic natural forested condition for tropical and subtropical areas.

This crop management, if adopted by farmers in tropical and sub-tropical regions, can help to keep land productive and sustainable. Scientist Bill Hargrove from Kansas State University said, “These results have broad implications for agricultural production in tropical areas in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. We can manage soils in ways that allow profitable crop production while mimicking natural vegetative conditions under which land is not degraded at accelerated rates.”

The full article is available for no charge for 30 days following the date of this summary. View the abstract at

Monday, July 28, 2008

Angola to create a national climate change program

Angola Press: Angola intends to work out a National Programme of Adaptation and respective plan aimed at the implementation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and Kyoto Protocol. Approved in June 2008 by the Cabinet Council and published in the State Gazette, the Strategy is a recommendation emerged from the conference of the convention parties.

According to Lucas Miranda, who was speaking on behalf of Urbanism and environment Ministry, while introducing the I National Workshop on Vulnerability and Adaptation to Climate Change, the changing of climate parameters is evident worldwide, that is why it is necessary to take measures for adapting the actions to the ongoing changes.

The actions also include, under the strategic framework, the creation of human foundations, legal and materials for inventory and quantification of sources of greenhouse gas emissions into the sources and emitting agents. Also among other objectives, it serves as a simplified and direct channel for communication of information related to the urgent and immediate needs of the country’s adaptation.

It is also aimed at creating a national capacity of the Angolan experts in vulnerability field and adaptation to climate changes, thus ensuring a favourable environment for the implementation of the referred convention, as well as to facilitate the creation of capacity for preparation of national communication about the subject….

Map of Angola from the CIA World Factbook, Wikimedia Commons

Scientists test system to forecast flash flood in Colorado's Front Range

National Science Foundation: People living near vulnerable creeks and rivers along Colorado's Front Range may soon get advance notice of potentially deadly floods, thanks to a new forecasting system being tested this summer by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colo.

Known as the NCAR Front Range Flash Flood Prediction System, it combines detailed atmospheric conditions with information about stream flows to predict floods along specific streams and catchments. "The goal is to provide improved guidance about the likelihood of a flash flood event many minutes out to an hour or two before the waters start rising," says NCAR scientist David Gochis, one of the developers of the new forecasting system. "We want to increase the lead time of a forecast, while decreasing the uncertainty about whether a flood will occur."

Funding to create the system came from the National Science Foundation (NSF), which is NCAR's sponsor, as well as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "This project is an excellent example of using basic research findings to improve forecasts important to saving lives," said Cliff Jacobs, program director in NSF's Division of Atmospheric Sciences.

The Front Range, because of its steep topography and intense summer storms, is unusually vulnerable to summertime flash floods. Such floods have claimed the lives of hundreds of people and accounted for hundreds of millions of dollars in damages throughout the region's history. Flash floods are difficult to predict because they happen suddenly, often the result of heavy cloudbursts that may stall over a particular watershed….

Communities may soon have advance warning of flash floods. Credit: U.S. Geological Survey

At least 16 dead in flooding in Ukraine, Romania: governments

Terra Daily, via Agence France-Presse: At least 16 people have died in severe storms and flooding in western Ukraine and northern Romania that forced almost 20,000 people to abandon their homes, authorities said Sunday.

The government in Kiev said 13 people, including five children, had been killed and two were missing, while authorities in Bucharest issued a toll of three dead and two missing. In Ukraine around 6,700 people were evacuated after 21,000 homes were flooded in regions close to the border with Romania, the emergency situations ministry said….

…Authorities in Romania said a 30-year-old mother, her son and another youngster, who had taken refuge from the swollen waters in a house built on a hill, died when a landslip swept the building away in the northern district of Maramures. Almost 19,000 hectares (almost 50,000 acres) have been affected, including 6,200 wells, 500 kilometres (310 miles) of roads and 1,000 bridges.

Some 3,650 security forces and volunteers had been mobilised Sunday to build dykes, help evacuate people and animals in danger and to distribute aid. Authorities expected the torrential rains to ease off later in the day, although a red alert was to remain in force through until Monday afternoon for six north-eastern districts.

Map of central and eastern Europe, the Cartographic Section of the United Nations, Wikimedia Commons

Region hit hard by 1993 floods showed economic resiliency, study indicates

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: With the first wave of clean-up efforts behind them, residents of communities affected by this year’s Midwest floods may find hope in a University of Illinois study on the economic impact of the 1993 flood that devastated much of the same region.

“Viewing the regional economy as a whole suggests significant economic resiliency to the flood,” according to U. of I. urban and regional planning doctoral student Yu Xiao. Her recently completed dissertation focuses on adjustments in the local labor market and overall economic impacts of the 1993 flood on 516 Midwest communities. Xiao’s research also includes an in-depth case study of Grafton, Ill., a tourist town at the junction of the Mississippi and Illinois rivers that was singled out by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for its flood-mitigation and recovery efforts.

Despite having the distinction of being the costliest U.S. flood of the 20th century – resulting in $20 billion in economic losses – the 1993 flood “caused very minimal or only temporary negative economic impacts in the year of the event, measured by gross domestic product, the unemployment rate and the number of businesses,” Xiao said. “Two years after the event, there were no discernable aggregate effects on these economic indicators at the regional, state and county levels.”

And amid all the mud, muck and destruction, there were even a few silver linings. According to Xiao, who presented her research findings earlier this month at the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning-Association of European Schools of Planning Joint Congress in Chicago and at the Annual Hazards Research and Applications Workshop in Broomfield, Colo., the gross domestic product of counties that experienced flood damage in 1993 received a “significant boost in 1994.”

….While such findings may be cause for optimism for those still mired in recovery efforts resulting from this year’s flooding – as well as for those who may be impacted by future disasters – Xiao’s research revealed that there’s actually more to the economic-recovery picture in many communities than what appears on the surface.

Photo by L. Brian Stauffer, on the website of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Urban and regional plannning doctoral student Yu Xiao's dissertation research focused on the economic impact on the Midwest of the devastating 1993 flood. Her adviser was professor Ed Feser.

Typhoon Fung-wong -- a selection of stories

One dead after typhoon pounds Taiwan
AFP - 20 minutes ago
TAIPEI (AFP) — Typhoon Fung-wong churned towards China Monday after it slammed into Taiwan, leaving one dead, six injured and forcing the closure of schools ...
More than 270000 people evacuated in as Typhoon Fung Wong approaches
Tian Shan Net, China - 45 minutes ago
Frontier guards fasten a vessel at a harbor in Fuzhou, capital of southeast China’s Fujian Province, July 27, 2008. The intensifying Typhoon Fung Wong was ...
Taiwan, China brace for typhoon
United Press International - 59 minutes ago
TAIPEI, Taiwan, July 28 (UPI) -- Taiwanese authorities Monday canceled flights and train and ferry services as Typhoon Fung-wong picked up momentum toward ...

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Cassava for food and energy security

FAO Newsroom: The tropical root crop cassava could help protect the food and energy security of poor countries now threatened by soaring food and oil prices, FAO said today. At a global conference held in Gent, Belgium, cassava scientists called for a significant increase in investment in research and development needed to boost farmers’ yields and explore promising industrial uses of cassava, including production of biofuels.

The scientists, who have formed an international network called the Global Cassava Partnership, said the world community could not continue to ignore the plight of low-income tropical countries that have been hardest hit by rising oil prices and galloping food price inflation.

Widely grown in tropical Africa, Asia and Latin America, cassava is the developing world’s fourth most important crop, with production in 2006 estimated at 226 million tonnes. It is the staple food of nearly a billion people in 105 countries, where the root provides as much as a third of daily calories. And it has enormous potential – at present, average cassava yields are barely 20% of those obtained under optimum conditions.

Cassava is also the cheapest known source of starch, and used in more than 300 industrial products. One promising application is fermentation of the starch to produce ethanol used in biofuel, although FAO cautions that policies encouraging a shift to biofuel production should carefully consider its effects on food production and food security….

Dried manioc Manihot esculenta, also known as cassava, displayed in the market of Abong-Mbang, East Province, Cameroon. Shot by Amcaja, Wikimedia Commons, under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation license, Version 1.2

Hurricane and tsunami warnings from satellites

Science Daily: For humans in the path of destructive hurricanes and tsunamis, an accurate warning of the pending event is critical for damage control and survival. Such warnings, however, require a solid base of scientific observations, and a new satellite is ready for the job.

The Ocean Surface Topography Mission (OSTM)/Jason 2 adds to the number of eyes in the sky measuring sea surface and wave heights across Earth's oceans. The increased coverage will help researchers improve current models for practical use in predicting hurricane intensity, while providing valuable data that can be used to improve tsunami warning models.

"When it comes to predicting hurricane intensity, the curve in the last 40 years has been somewhat flat, with little advance in how to reduce error in predicted intensity," said Gustavo Goni, of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Miami. Maps of sea surface height created from satellites, however, could help change the curve.

Satellites that measure sea surface height have been running operationally nonstop since November 1992. But more than one is needed to fly at the same time in order to identify all the features that could be responsible for intensification of tropical cyclones all over Earth. The OSTM/Jason 2 mission will help make the additional coverage possible.

…While sea surface height may not necessarily be the most significant parameter for hurricane intensity forecasts, researchers now know that if sea surface height is accounted for in current forecast models, errors in forecasts for the most intense storms are reduced. For weak storms, the reduction in error is not very significant. However, for storms in the strongest category 5 range, the heat content in the upper ocean derived from sea surface height becomes increasingly important. "This is a good thing, because these are the storms that produce the most damage," Goni said.

This is what it looked like on the ground: Inside the Astrotech processing facility at Vandenberg Air Force Base, the OSTM/Jason-2 spacecraft is viewed from another angle after being lifted to a vertical position on the tilt dolly. The OSTM, or Ocean Topography Mission, on the Jason-2 satellite is a follow-on to Jason-1. It will take oceanographic studies of sea surface height into an operational mode for continued climate forecasting research and science and industrial applications. NASA, Wikimedia Commons

Botanists sound the alarm as rare species face extinction

Miami Herald: Six years ago, ecologists at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden painstakingly gathered the seeds of a vine found only in eight wild spots from Palm Beach County through Miami-Dade so they could be grown in a nursery and then reestablished in their natural habitat. But as seas rise with climate change, the beaches may be inundated and the dozen patches of beach jacquemontia, or clustervine, nourished with so much care may be lost.

As climate change affects everything from human health to agriculture, plant scientists are trying to cope with a future that might thwart the task to which they have devoted themselves for decades -- saving all the species of the planet's biological diversity. Although climate change has been identified as a direct contributor to the extinction of only a few species of flora and fauna so far, plant scientists fear that may soon accelerate. ''We may lose 30 percent of the plants by 2050,'' says Kathryn Kennedy, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Plant Conservation in St. Louis.

Others predict even higher losses. A temperature increase of 2 to 3 degrees Fahrenheit -- considered a mid-range rise, neither the highest nor lowest prediction -- could wipe out 22 to 75 percent of plant species by 2050, a team of 19 ecologists wrote in the journal Nature in 2004.

…. ''I think of rare species as canaries in the coal mine,'' says Joyce Maschinski, who heads Fairchild's South Florida conservation team. ``Our world is undergoing change at a magnitude that's unprecedented. It's hard to predict which species will make it through the bottleneck. But the more we have, the better chance we'll have for something to make it.''….

Forest and Kim Starr took this shot of Jacquemontia ovalifolia subsp. sandwicensis. From: Hawaiian Ecosystems at Risk project, Wikimedia Commons

EU pledges more money to prevent natural disasters A statement released on 23 July said the EC had extended the scope of its disaster preparedness programme (DIPECHO) with a new allocation of €5 million (US$7.8 million) for the four southern African countries. "This is an important step in supporting communities that are particularly vulnerable to natural disasters. Experience shows that many lives can be saved if people know what precautions to take and how to react when the disaster strikes," Louis Michel, the European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, said in the statement.

"Mozambique, Madagascar, Malawi and the Comoros all suffer the serious effects of tropical storms that develop in the Indian Ocean. This type of action is especially important in a context of rising food prices and climate change," Michel noted. More storms on the horizon

"The number of extreme weather events has increased sharply in recent years. Climate change already seems to be having a serious humanitarian impact," John Clancy, spokesman for Commissioner Michel, explained.

"The decision to extend it [DIPECHO] to the southwest Indian Ocean reflects an unfortunate reality: more cyclones are occurring in that area, causing ever more structural damage and serious flooding," Clancy said. ’’The increase in extreme climatic events keeps such communities in a state of constant quasi-emergency, and does not allow them to establish the long-term coping mechanisms they need to allow real development to take off.”…

…"The funding targets communities that are already vulnerable because of extreme poverty, isolation due to weak infrastructure and difficult communications, and in Malawi and Mozambique, the high incidence of HIV and AIDS," Clancy said. "The increase in extreme climatic events keeps such communities in a state of constant quasi-emergency, and does not allow them to establish the long-term coping mechanisms they need to allow real development to take off."

…The new funds would assist communities by establishing cyclone- and flood-resistant schools and clinics, "which can also serve as shelters for the community, and by funding the acquisition of small boats, for example, which allow children to continue to access their schools even in heavily flooded areas."…

Map of Mozambique and neighboring countries from the CIA World Factbook, Wikimedia Commons

Let the sea rise, say the Dutch

Thaindian News, via IANS: Seventy percent of the Netherlands is below the sea, making it more vulnerable than any other country to climate change-triggered rising sea levels. The Dutch plan to deal with this national threat in a unique way - by adapting to the rise rather than trying to halt it. “In the Netherlands, we’re facing the impact of climate change every single day,” said Pavel Kabat, the country’s chief planner on how to deal with this issue, and one of the lead authors of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that shared last year’s Nobel Peace Prize for its seminal fourth report on the subject.

Speaking to delegates gathered from around the world at a recent session of the Salzburg Global Seminar on Combating Climate Change at Local and Regional Levels: Sustainable Strategies, Renewable Energy, Kabat pointed out that 80 percent of the Netherlands’ economic produce was from areas below sea level.

“But we have stopped seeing climate change as a threat,” Kabat said. “We now see it as an opportunity.”

Kabat illustrated what the Dutch planners plan to do instead. “Take the case of the Rhine, which flows through the Netherlands. Its level will also rise. We can keep raising the dikes on both sides. But how long can we do that? “So instead, what we plan to do is to break the dikes on one side. Let the extra water flow there. And we’ll change the land use pattern on that side so that people on whose land the water will then flow can start commercial fishing or a similar activity.”

It’s a very new philosophy,” as Kabat pointed out. “It is the difference between hard infrastructure (as now) and allowing the water to rise and accommodating it as a part of your development.” “Let us not try to keep the water from coming,” Kabat said. “Let it come, when it does. Let us adapt to it. That is the basic idea.”...

The Prinses Irenesluizen (locks) in the Amsterdam-Rhine Canal, near the city of Wijk bij Duurstede (the Netherlands), shot by "China Crisis," Wikimedia Commons, under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation license, Version 1.2

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Report: Peripheral canal offers best solution for Sacramento-San Joaquin delta

Elizabeth Larson in the Capital Press (“The West’s Ag Website) reports on a proposed solutions for a troubled delta in California: A new report says building a peripheral canal offers the best - and least expensive - strategy in solving both ecosystem and water supply issues in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, a conclusion being greeted by enthusiasm by some policy makers and sharp criticisms by delta-based groups.

The new report, "Comparing Futures for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta," is a sequel to the Public Policy Institute of California's February 2007 study, "Envisioning Futures for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta," said Ellen Hanak, the institute's associate director, who worked on both studies. The 2007 study looked at various scenarios and concluded that settling on a new strategy was urgent.

The latest report's suggestions include allowing 23 delta islands to flood permanently, transitioning to a new delta management system and developing a new governance framework. Hanak asserted there are two options for the delta - stop pumping water or build an isolated facility, or peripheral canal. The report concludes it's cheaper to build the canal, which it suggests could benefit fish, and address myriad other factors - from sea rise and climate change to seismicity, salinity and water quality, said Hanak…

…There's also been sharp criticism for PPIC's report. Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, campaign director for the Stockton-based Restore the Delta coalition, said the peripheral canal can't fix the state's annual water deficit of 5 million acre feet, nor does it account for increased pressure on urban levees if the 23 delta islands are abandoned. It also doesn't properly analyze salinity and water quality impacts and is heavily biased toward Central Valley agriculture. She also questions why it doesn't include delta-based interests in managing the delta, where farming contributes $2 billion per year to the local economy, and recreation, like boating and fishing, add another $750 million.

Hanak said the report suggests moving away from the extremely fragmented management of the delta now, where at least 60 different agencies are involved. Rather, she said, more centralized management is needed. …Hanak said, ultimately, the report tries to find solutions. "If we wait until there's a catastrophe, it's going to be a lot harder to pick up the pieces."

The Suisun Marsh Salinity Control Gates (foreground) span the Montezuma Slough at the Roaring River intake. Like a heart valve, they allow water to flow in only one direction. In this picture, the three gates are open to allow the freshwater ebb tide from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to push the more saline Grizzly Bay water out of the slough. Photo by US Army Corps of Engineers, Wikimedia Commons

Farmers urged to join the 'greener' revolution, via FAO: Some 100 delegates from 36 countries meeting at FAO today called on farmers to join the ongoing "Greener" revolution represented by a form of farming known as Conservation Agriculture. This farming system, CA for short, aims to help feed the world more sustainably by building up soil ecosystems and reducing unnecessary soil disturbance wherever possible.

According to one study, some 20 percent of the earth's cropland is now being eroded or otherwise degraded - a potential catastrophe given the need to double world food production by 2050 to feed a population of more than nine billion. Rebuilding good soil structure and encouraging biological processes in soil increases its capacity to produce crops, the delegates declared in a Framework for Action adopted at the end of a three-day technical meeting on Investing in Sustainable Crop Intensification and Improving Soil Health.

They urged "a rapid shift, whenever and wherever conditions permit it, to management systems based on minimal soil disturbance, increased soil cover, and appropriate crop rotation". The Framework for Action also called on donors and policy-makers to promote such systems into their programmes for agricultural development and to mitigate the current food crisis….

FAO logo found on Flickr, on Jaume d'Urgell's stream, under Creative Commons 2.0 license

It's their economy, stupid...

An unimpressed parsing of Western carbon curbs, by Pramit Pal Chaudhuri in the Hindustan Times (India): Climate change is getting nasty. And we’re not talking about the weather. The climate change policies rolled out by the European Union in the past few weeks make it clear Brussels will use trade sanctions to push these policies overseas. Legislation tabled before the US Senate indicates the next Washington administration will go down the same slippery slope.

Wrongly or rightly, carbon emission curbs have become the kernel of the West’s anti-climate change policies. The only existing multilateral carbon curbs are those enshrined in the Kyoto Protocol. …

Brussels’ decision to put the carbon tariff threat on the table is a “shot across the bow”, but something like this is “inevitable”, say those familiar with the EU’s official thinking. The idea is to scare countries like India and China into signing up for carbon curbs of the Kyoto variety and comparable to the commitments made by the EU. In India’s view, this is morally and economically questionable. There is a huge economic gulf between the two sets of countries. Eighty million Germans and 60 million Italians together generate as much carbon as 1.1 billion Indians. There is the additional problem that emerging economies are still undergoing an energy-intensive industrialisation process that is largely history for the West.

….It is obvious China, with the world’s most dynamic manufacturing base, will suffer the most from carbon tariffs. However, India cannot afford to be sanguine. India is one of the ten largest exporters of steel to the US and a major exporter of chemicals to the developed world. Much of Indian industry is powered by dirty coal and would face proportionately high tariffs.

It is important to realise the threat Kyoto represents for India’s economic rise. India is experiencing a revival of the factory base ruined by a half-century of socialism. This assembly-line renaissance — and the essential role it plays in absorbing surplus rural labour — will be stillborn if new factories are unable to export or have to pay for green technologies sold at gunpoint. Putting together an alternative carbon emissions policy, one that is far more nuanced than the guillotine of Kyoto, and stitching up a diplomatic alliance of like-minded countries is now an imperative for New Delhi. The carbon trade wars are coming.

The recently completed Delhi metro, shot by Ankur, Wikimedia Commons, under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation license, Version 1.2

As wildfires get wilder, the costs of fighting them are untamed

Los Angeles Times: It was day 42 of the Zaca fire. A tower of white smoke reached miles into the blue sky above the undulating ridges of Santa Barbara's backcountry. Helicopters ferried firefighters across the saw-toothed terrain and bombed fiery ridges with water. Long plumes of red retardant trailed from the belly of a DC-10 air tanker. Bulldozers cut defensive lines through pygmy forests of chaparral.

…On this single day, Aug. 14, fighting the Zaca cost more than $2.5 million. By the time the blaze was out nearly three months later, the bill had reached at least $140 million, making it one of the most expensive wildfire fights ever waged by the U.S. Forest Service.

A century after the government declared war on wildfire, fire is gaining the upper hand. From the canyons of California to the forests of the Rocky Mountains and the grasslands of Texas, fires are growing bigger, fiercer and costlier to put out. And there is no end in sight.

Across the country, flames have blackened an average of 7.24 million acres a year this decade. That's twice the average of the 1990s. Wildfires burned more than 9 million acres last year and are on pace to match that figure in 2008. At 240,207 acres, the Zaca was the second-biggest wildland blaze in California's modern record. But nationally, it wasn't even the largest of 2007. A conflagration on the Idaho-Nevada border charred more than twice as much land.

…Wildfire costs are busting the Forest Service budget. A decade ago, the agency spent $307 million on fire suppression. Last year, it spent $1.37 billion. Fire is chewing through so much Forest Service money that Congress is considering a separate federal account to cover the cost of catastrophic blazes. In California, state wildfire spending has shot up 150% in the last decade, to more than $1 billion a year.

"We've lost control," said Stephen J. Pyne, a professor of life sciences at Arizona State University and the nation's preeminent fire historian. This "ecological insurgency," as Pyne calls it, has varied causes. Drought is parching vegetation. Rising temperatures associated with climate change are shrinking mountain snowpacks, giving fire seasons a jump-start by drying out forests earlier in the summer. The spread of invasive grasses that burn more readily than native plants is making parts of the West ever more flammable. The government's long campaign to tame wildfire has, perversely, made the problem worse.

...."There are three things that are driving it: climate, development, fuel loads.. . . . And they're all unequivocally going in the wrong direction," said Geoffrey Donovan, a Forest Service researcher in Portland, Ore. "I don't see how anybody could think we're anywhere close to being at the worst of this."....

The Zaca fire, shot by John Newman ("from the interagency," whatever that means), Wikimedia Commons

Life cycles of atmospheric aerosols can be illuminated with new technology

Science Daily: An aerosol mass spectrometer developed by chemists from Aerodyne Research Inc. and Boston College is giving scientists who study airborne particles the technology they need to examine the life cycles of atmospheric aerosols – such as soot – and their impact on issues ranging from climate change to public health.

BC Chemistry Professor Paul Davidovits and Aerodyne Principal Scientist Timothy B. Onasch say their novel spectrometer allows researchers to better understand what happens to these sub-microscopic particles that can absorb and scatter light and influence the lifetime of clouds.

"For scientists looking at climate change, the biggest uncertainty has to do with the effect of aerosol particles in the air," says Davidovits. "The issue is made that much more complex because aerosols can have different effects on climate. That means the target is constantly shifting."

The historic role of carbon-laden soot in climate change has been identified by researchers, particularly through ice samples taken from glaciers. Now scientists are focusing on tiny airborne particles of black carbon released into the atmosphere today in order to better understand the lifecycle of these aerosols in the atmosphere.

To that end, nearly 20 researchers from across the country brought other devices to the Davidovits lab this month to test and fine-tune these new tools developed by scientists from universities, industry and national laboratories at the forefront of this path-breaking science of the sky.

….Aerosols are somewhat fleeting. Unlike carbon dioxide, which can remain in the atmosphere for years, aerosols have an atmospheric life of about 10 to 20 days. In that time, they can absorb other molecules that alter their original state.

….Linked closely to the atmospheric effects of aerosols is a range of public health concerns, says Onasch. "There is a need on many fronts – from the climate to public health – for greater understanding of the role aerosol particles play in our lives and what's happening here is the scientific community rising to meet those needs," says Onasch.

This image, taken by Terra/MODIS instrument in December 2004 shows thick haze and smoke over the Ganges Basin in northern India. Major sources of aerosols in this area are believed to be smoke from biomass burning in the northwest part of India, and air pollution from large cities in northern India. NASA, Wikimedia Commons

Friday, July 25, 2008

REDD funding for 14 countries to protect tropical forests

Mongabay: Fourteen countries have been selected by the World Bank to receive funds for conserving their tropical forests under an innovative carbon finance scheme. The initiative, known as the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF), was unveiled last year as a way to kick start Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD), a proposed mechanism that would reward countries with carbon credits for preserving their forest cover. Globally deforestation accounts for nearly one-fifth of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions — more than the transport sector.

"Deforestation and forest degradation together are the second leading man-made cause of global warming," said Joƫlle Chassard, Manager of the World Bank's Carbon Finance Unit. "They are responsible for about 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and the main source of national emissions in many developing countries. For that reason, we have been eager to initiate this partnership and assist countries while building a body of knowledge on how best to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by protecting forests and helping the people who benefit from them."

The 14 developing countries include six in Africa (the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar); five in Latin America (Bolivia, Costa Rica, Guyana, Mexico, Panama); and three in Asia (Nepal, Lao PDR, and Vietnam). The countries will receive grant support as they build their capacity for REDD, including establishing emissions reference levels, adopting strategies to reduce deforestation, and designing monitoring systems….

Deforestation in Amazonia, seen by satellite, NASA/JPL, Wikimedia Commons