Saturday, February 28, 2009

Australian hamlet plans to develop flood plain

Sydney Morning Herald (Australia): The holiday hamlet of Yamba is one step closer to a huge development project that will turn a flood plain at the mouth of the Clarence River into a busy residential area. The Clarence Valley Council voted this week to adopt a local environment plan to rezone the 690-hectare West Yamba site in the northern NSW town.

Plans to turn the land into a residential area are advancing even though coastal design policies caution against building on land subject to rising sea levels and floods. The NSW Government's draft sea level rise policy envisages a rise of 90 centimetres by 2100. Some scientists are predicting even greater rises.

…A flood-risk management plan prepared for council identified difficulties evacuating residents during floods, and uncertainty about the possible effects of rising sea levels. It also required 1.3 million cubic metres of landfill to be trucked in and the town's sewerage system to be upgraded.

…The original proposal was changed to a lower density than some developers were demanding, and includes a larger buffer zone between the water and housing. But these compromises were not enough to satisfy green groups in northern NSW, who have long argued that building on the swamp would not only destroy the sensitive wetland ecology but also leave residents susceptible to the effects of climate change.

A wetland ecologist with the Regional Alliance for Sustainable Planning on the Mid North Coast, Mark Graham, warned the consequences for residents could be dire. "If we learned anything from Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans it's that infilling wetlands creates all sorts of risks to residents," he said…

\Grafton Bridge over Clarence River showing Bascule span lifted to let shipping through. "Southern Cross" aeroplane has been added to the photograph - Grafton, NSW Date of Work : c 1932

Asian Development Bank to intensify Asian water security study

Malaysia Sun: The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has commissioned a second edition of its Asian Water Development Outlook (AWDO) in the run up to the Asia-Pacific Water Summit in 2010. AWDO 2010 will focus on how countries in the region are coping with a wide range of water security issues that pose critical challenges to ADB's mission to boost inclusive economic growth, reduce poverty, and bring about environmental change in the Asia-Pacific region.

"From households and community halls to boardrooms and parliaments, the need for water security is now felt by all sectors and at all levels in our developing member countries," says Amy Leung, ADB's Water Committee chair. "Climate change and a continued rise in water-related disasters are making the challenge of providing water security all the more urgent."

The last AWDO report was released in 2007. It found that inadequate water governance led to a raft of adverse health and social issues that cost countries in developing Asia billions of dollars each year. AWDO 2007 also stressed that committed leadership and existing knowledge and technologies could help solve many water security problems.

ADB will work with a team of experts from regional water knowledge hubs and lead organizations of the Asia-Pacific Water Forum (APWF) to prepare AWDO 2010. Their guiding vision states that "societies can enjoy water security when they successfully manage their water resources and services to 1) satisfy household water and sanitation needs in all communities; 2) support productive economies in agriculture and industry; 3) develop vibrant, liveable cities and towns; 4) restore healthy rivers and ecosystems; and, 5) build resilient communities that can adapt to change."…

How 4C temperature rise this century will change world beyond recognition and threaten human survival

Mail Online (UK): Alligators bask off the English coast, the Saharan desert stretches far into Europe and just 10 per cent of humans are left on the planet. Science fiction? No, this is the doomsday scenario being predicted by scientists if global temperatures make a predicted rise of 4C in the next 100 years. Some fear it could happen as early as 2050.

Rivers from the Danube to the Rhine would be reduced to a trickle while melting glaciers and storm surges would drown coastal regions under two metres of water. More if parts of Antarctica were to melt. While 4C does not sound like very much, the New Scientist magazine, has said it could easily occur.

…In August of 2008 Bob Watson, former chair of the IPCC, warned that the world should prepare for 4C of warming. As part of their research into the article the New Scientist spoke to leading climate experts from around the world to create a map of how our world might look 4C warmer.

Many were optimistic that humans would survive but would have to adapt to vastly altered circumstances. Vast numbers would have to migrate and there would have to be a world effort to redistribute resources. As a huge swathe of desert started to spread out from the equator, humans would migrate north and south towards the poles, knocking down national boundaries. 'We need to look at the world afresh and see it in terms of where the resources are, and then plan population around that,' Peter Cox from the University of Exeter said.

…Large chunks of Earth's biodiversity would vanish because they could not adapt in such a short time. In the world's oceans, numbers of fish would drop dramatically as acid levels rose because of decreasing plankton. As the remaining fertile lands would be so precious people would have to live in compact high-rise cities to preserve space for food growing.

Scientists have put forward the prospect of energy being supplied for homes by a giant solar belt running across North Africa, the Middle East and the southern U.S. The New Scientist article also questioned the future of the humankind. 'I think they'll survive as a species all right, but the cull during this century is going to be huge,' former Nasa scientists James Lovelock said. 'The number remaining at the end of the century will probably be a billion or less.'…

Rub' al Khali or Empty Quarter is the largest sand desert on earth. Shot by Nepenthes, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License

California declares drought emergency

Reuters: California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on Friday declared a state emergency due to drought and said he would consider mandatory water rationing in the face of nearly $3 billion in economic losses from below-normal rainfall this year. As many as 95,000 agricultural jobs will be lost, communities will be devastated and some growers in the most economically productive farm state simply are not able to plant, state officials said, calling the current drought the most expensive ever.

Schwarzenegger, eager to build controversial dams as well as more widely backed water recycling programs, called on cities to cut back water use or face the first ever mandatory state restrictions as soon as the end of the month. "California faces its third consecutive year of drought and we must prepare for the worst -- a fourth, fifth or even sixth year of drought," Schwarzenegger said in a statement, adding that recent storms were not enough to save the state.

He called on urban water users to cut consumption by 20 percent and state agencies to implement a water reduction plan. Meanwhile, the state of emergency will let planners fast-track some infrastructure building. Legislators have also revived a $10 billion bond package to build new dams, fund conservation programs and build plants to recycle waste water and recharge aquifers….

No more watering lawns in California. A picture of a sprinkler by Fir0002, Wikimedia Commons, under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2

Friday, February 27, 2009

Rising temperatures may weaken monsoon season in south Asia

Science Daily: The South Asian summer monsoon - critical to agriculture in Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan - could be weakened and delayed due to rising temperatures in the future, according to a recent climate modeling study. A Purdue University research group found that climate change could influence monsoon dynamics and cause less summer precipitation, a delay in the start of monsoon season and longer breaks between the rainy periods.

Noah Diffenbaugh, whose research group led the study, said the summer monsoon affects water resources, agriculture, economics, ecosystems and human health throughout South Asia. "Almost half of the world's population lives in areas affected by these monsoons, and even slight deviations from the normal monsoon pattern can have great impact," said Diffenbaugh, an associate professor of earth and atmospheric sciences and interim director of the Purdue Climate Change Research Center. "Agricultural production, water availability and hydroelectric power generation could be substantially affected by delayed monsoon onset and reduced surface runoff. Alternatively, the model projects increases in precipitation over some areas, including Bangladesh, which could exacerbate seasonal flood risks." The summer monsoons are responsible for approximately 75 percent of the total annual rainfall in major parts of the region and produce almost 90 percent of India's water supply, he said.

General circulation models have been used for projections of what may happen to monsoon patterns for this region, but the models have disagreed as to whether precipitation will increase or decrease, said Moetasim Ashfaq, lead author of the study and a graduate student in earth and atmospheric sciences at Purdue. "South Asia is a unique region with very complex topography," he said. "It ranges from 0 meters elevation from sea level in the south to more than 5,500 meters from sea level in the north. So in terms of topography playing a role in climate and weather, this region of the world is where we expect to see a large impact. Global models like the ones featured in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports can resolve large-scale interactions but have difficulty capturing some of the more subtle atmospheric processes."…

These maps show projected future changes in South Asian summer precipitation and monsoon onset date. A Purdue-led team found that rising future temperatures could lead to less rain and a delay in the start of monsoon season by up to 15 days by the end of the 21st century. (Credit: Diffenbaugh lab image)

Impact of climate change on Wisconsin

Badger Herald News (Wisconsin): Two climate experts told a crowd at the University of Wisconsin Thursday Wisconsin’s climate and economy will suffer consequences as a result of climate change, but state officials and scientists are already working hard to help the state adapt. “The science is really unequivocal that the earth is warming, climate is changing,” said Richard Lathrop, a research scientist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. “So we’re not here to argue that tonight.”

According to Lathrop, the effects of climate change on Wisconsin are numerous and wide-ranging. He said climate change increases temperatures, humidity and the number of storms seen in Wisconsin. The temperatures increase the risk of heat stroke, while the storms can lead to more damaging floods. The floods can increase the amount of pollution in runoff. According to Dan Vimont, UW atmospheric and oceanic sciences assistant professor, Wisconsin can also expect more heat waves in summer and more rainy days in winter. This leads to more ice, creating problems with potholes and decay in road quality, Vimont said.

With the current model of Wisconsin’s climate, the state’s ecosystem will be damaged, according to Lathrop. “The loss of winter is a real potential for our future,” Lathrop said. He went on to say milder winters lead to loss of recreation and can also slow the economy.

…However, the two speakers introduced the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impact, a joint effort from the University of Wisconsin’s Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies and Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources. WICCI focuses on the consequences of climate change on Wisconsin’s ecosystems, farms and health. “We are trying to bring the best minds of the state together to address these problems collaboratively,” Lathrop said. Vimont agreed, saying some sort of organization must be created that brings scientists and decision makers together.

A winter scene in Calumet County, Wisconsin, shot by Royalbroil (I think), Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 License

Climate change could collapse insurance markets

Low Carbon Economy: Insurance markets could fail as a consequence of climate change, according to a new report from the Chartered Insurance Institute. The industry is urged to make an independent index of market robustness and to use its involvement in $55 trillion worth of assets to try to halt the worst impacts of climate change.

Most obviously, the insurance industry is at risk from increasingly intense extreme weather events. Indeed the report claims global warming is already responsible for compounding catastrophe losses by two per cent a year. However, there are other effects which could lead to insurance market failure, which occurs as a result of lack of capital, lack of cover, inability to pay claims or failure to contract.

"Social disorder and international tensions could deteriorate to the point where substantial markets become uninsurable. Another potential problem is 'claims contagion', when systems cannot cope with the sheer volume of work," the report says. One example the report gives of persuading the industry to use its influence in both adaptation and mitigation is pressing the government to make flood-resilient construction mandatory in new developments.

Earlier this month the Institution of Mechanical Engineers urged the government to pay attention to the needs of adapting to the effects of climate change instead of only focusing on mitigating carbon dioxide emissions....

Human dimension needed in US climate research

Environment News Service: The U.S. government's Climate Change Science Program should expand its agenda to integrate research in the natural and social sciences that will enable the nation to tackle problems communities actually face, says a new report from the National Research Council. Climate change already is changing people's lives with extreme weather and climate events and disasters; sea level rise and melting ice; fresh water scarcity; agriculture and food security; ecosystems management; new and re-emerging diseases; and effects on the U.S. economy, the committee acknowledges.

But the Climate Change Science Program is hindered by its limited research into the social sciences and the separation of natural and social sciences research. Spending on research into the human dimensions of climate change has never exceeded three percent of the program's research budget, the committee learned. As a result, research, data collection, and modeling of how people interact with or affect their environments have lagged behind corresponding activities on the physical climate system.

At the same time, government scientists with the Climate Change Science Program should build on their successful research into the causes and processes of climate change, the report advises. "CCSP has created a robust infrastructure for observations and modeling, which has enabled scientists to document trends in critical climate parameters and identify the human impacts on climate change," said Veerabhadran Ramanathan, chair of the committee that wrote the report, and distinguished professor of atmospheric and climate sciences at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego. "Now we need to know how to respond to climate change, while working closely with policymakers on mitigation and adaptation strategies," he said…..

A large crowd, upon arriving at the Vienna/Fairfax-GMU station on the Washington Metro, heads toward the escalator to exit the station. Shot by Ben Schumin, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 License

Nigerian region devasted by wind storms via Leadership (Abuja): Abi local government area, the home state of the governor of Cross River State, Senator Liyel Imoke, has suffered another natural disaster within three weeks. This time around, over 5,000 people are rendered homeless as against the 200 who were rendered homeless as a result of windstorm in the area. Over 680 houses have been destroyed by hailstones in Ekureku and its adjourning villages in Abi local government area of Cross River State. The hailstones which preceded a windstorm perforated all the corrugated roofing sheets of houses in the area rendering over 5,000 people homeless.

The people are now virtually exposed to indement weather as rain, sun, dust and reptiles as well as mosquitoes gain free access into their homes. Assessing the damage, the Director General, State Emergency Management Agency, Mr. Vincent Aquah, described the phenomenon as rare in the history of disaster in the state.

Mr. Aquah lamented that with the new development; the state has now increased its disaster portfolio to thirteen having experienced twelve others in the past. He sympathised with the victims of the disaster and assured them of governments prompt action to alleviate their suffering. The Abi council Chairman, Mr.Chucks Agube, described the level of destruction as colossal as every house top is affected causing panic among the people…

Locator map of Cross River state in Nigeria, drawn by/dessiné par Jaimz height-field, Wikimedia Commons, under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Expect more exposure to pests and pollutants from warming

Environmental Health News: … As climate change alters wind and water patterns, there will be significant effects on how chemicals and pathogens are distributed in the environment. Researchers in the United Kingdom gathered data from scientific experts and published literature relating to the current use, distribution and human health effects of chemicals and pathogens associated with farming and raising livestock in Europe.

They then evaluated 1) aspects of climate change that could affect the movement of the pathogens and chemicals and 2) changes in how humans may be exposed through the environment -- air, water, food -- that would likely result from predicted changes in climate. Using mathematical models, the scientists predicted the effects of climate change on many aspects of indirect environmental exposures associated with agriculture that are of concern to human health. The main agents were chemicals and pathogens, including pesticides, fertilizers, industrial pollutants (metals, dioxins, PCBs, etc.), biological pathogens (bacteria, viruses), pharmaceuticals, nutrients and allergens (mold, mildew, pollen, etc.).

Climate change is likely to alter the makeup of the chemical mix in the environment and may even change chemical forms. Higher temperatures may transform contaminants into either more or less harmful varieties. Some of these may be easier for organisms to accumulate. Increases in the abundance of pests associated with agriculture are predicted, due in part to a reduced effectiveness of pesticides. This could lead to higher use of herbicides, insecticides, fungicides and medicines and the development of new types of chemicals and drugs to control the unwanted guests. The increased use of these pesticides will contribute to the growing list of human health concerns associated with pesticide exposure. Hotter and drier/wetter conditions predicted by climate change may also influence current farming practices. Droughts may require more irrigation of fields and livestock. An excess of rain will flood fields.

…Although many of these increased risks are significant and startling, the authors believe much can be done to prevent some of the impending problems and damage. Some of their recommendations include:

• Develop surveillance for the presence of pathogens in high-risk areas to greatly increase our awareness and treatment of problem areas.
• Update regulations and policies regularly in light of new scientific knowledge. Some countries are already developing policies to limit negative effects from climate change (Boston 2008). Significant time lags between new research findings and policy development will not be acceptable in a rapidly-changing environment.
• Develop models and data sets for chemical and disease pathways that have not been extensively studied. These include dust transport and flood immersion.

Sunset, from Zebulun beach in Herzliya, Israel, shot by RonAlmog, (Flickr page), Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License

Adaptation needed for warming

Jakarta Globe (Indonesia): The same year that “An Inconvenient Truth” helped catapult climate change to the center of the global agenda in 2007, climate change took to another global stage here in Indonesia with the 13th United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Bali. In spite of the choice of Indonesia, a developing country, to host the preeminent conference on climate change, the debate since then has emphasized reducing greenhouse gas emissions among developed countries, as opposed to how developing nations can deal with the inevitable consequences of global warming.

“This has become a weakness in tackling climate change,” said environmental expert Jatna Supriatna. “The developed countries only talk about how to prevent or mitigate emissions so they can comply with existing standards.” Jatna, of Conservation International Indonesia, speaking at a workshop on dealing with climate change at the University of Indonesia, said on Wednesday that adaptation — rather than prevention — was needed to cope with extreme weather and an increased incidence of mosquito-borne illnesses like malaria as a consequence of warming.

“Climate change continues to occur and cannot be stopped,” he said. “But if there are more natural disasters, are our people ready?” He said developing an adaptation program was the responsibility of both the government and the broader society.

…Hannah Campbell of Conservation International said there had not been enough talk about the changes and adaptations human populations needed to make to deal with a warming planet. “There is also a growing understanding [among developed countries] that they need to mitigate, but they also need to adapt,” she said. “For instance, they need to consider the fact that they might not have fresh water.”

NASA Study Predicted Outbreak Of Deadly Virus

Terra Daily: An early warning system, more than a decade in development, successfully predicted the 2006-2007 outbreak of the deadly Rift Valley fever in northeast Africa, according to a new study led by NASA scientists. Rift Valley fever is unique in that its emergence is closely linked to interannual climate variability. Utilizing that link, researchers including Assaf Anyamba, a geographer and remote sensing scientist with the University of Maryland Baltimore County and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., used a blend of NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration measurements of sea surface temperatures, precipitation, and vegetation cover to predict when and where an outbreak would occur.

The final product, a Rift Valley fever "risk map," gave public health officials in East Africa up to six weeks of warning for the 2006-2007 outbreak, enough time to lessen human impact. The researchers described their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The first-of-its-kind prediction is the culmination of decades of research. During an intense El Nino event in 1997, the largest known outbreak of Rift Valley fever spread across the Horn of Africa. About 90,000 people were infected with the virus, which is carried by mosquitoes and transmitted to humans by mosquito bites or through contact with infected livestock….

This transmission electron micrograph (TEM) depicted a highly magnified view of a tissue that had been infected with Rift Valley fever (RVF) virus

Collier: I don't buy economists' case for fighting climate change

Paul Collier in the Guardian (UK) points out some flaws in relying on a utilitarianism for making climate change decisions: The 2006 Stern report brought the legitimising power of orthodox economics to the emotive battleground of global warming. In his Review on the Economics of Climate Change - widely regarded as the most important and comprehensive analysis of global warming to date - Lord Stern argued that in cold cost-benefit terms, it made sense for the present generation to make sacrifices because the benefits to future generations would be so substantial.… Post-Stern, that battleground has now shifted to ethics. Superficially, this is surprising: environmentalists have long occupied the moral high ground. Yet the challenges have come from two ethical positions that, viewed from the left, cannot be readily dismissed.

One challenges the elitism that is implicit in overriding democracy: according to the utilitarian calculus the government should value the interests of the future far more highly than most voters would do. Indeed, if we are guilty of radically undervaluing the future, then this neglect applies not just to carbon emissions, but to all the other ways in which we could help the world of the future. The government should force us to save far more than we do, perhaps by subsidising bequests instead of taxing them - in the utilitarian calculus there is nothing special about curbing global warming as a means of benefiting the future. Are we radically neglecting the future by not saving enough?

…Personally, I doubt whether the utilitarian calculus is the right ethical framework in which to think about global warming. It gives us numerical answers, but it just does not feel as though the calculus captures my concerns. …Is there an ethical basis for being concerned about global warming that does not depend upon the notion that quite generally we are radically negligent about future people? I think that there is, but this concern depends upon a rights-based notion of ethics rather than on utilitarianism. Most professional economists will at this point stop reading because they will think that rights are a quagmire. But here goes.

Natural assets such as biodiversity, and natural liabilities, such as carbon, are not owned by the current generation, because we did not create them. We have them because previous generations passed them on to us, and we are obliged to do the same. If we deplete natural assets, or run up natural liabilities, we have an obligation to compensate future generations in some other way…Ultimately, in a democracy our policy decision rules must rest on ethical principles that are widely shared by citizens. I suspect that most people feel that they should reduce carbon emissions, but the key issue is why? Is their motivation better captured by the utilitarian calculus used by economists, or by a sense of custodial obligation towards our natural legacy, of which carbon is but one instance?

Jeremy Bentham's "Auto-Icon" at University College London, shot by Michael Reeve, Wikimedia Commons, under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2

Media coverage affects perceptions of climate change

EurekAlert: Climate change will not be taken seriously until the media highlights its significance, say researchers at the University of Liverpool. Dr Neil Gavin, from the School of Politics and Communication Studies, believes the way the media handles issues like climate change shapes the public's perception of its importance. Limited coverage is unlikely to convince readers that climate change is a serious problem that warrants immediate and decisive action. Researchers found that the total number of articles on climate change printed over three years was fewer than one month's worth of articles featuring health issues. The articles offered mixed messages about the seriousness and imminence of problems facing the environment.

Dr Gavin explains: "Our research suggests that the media is not treating these issues with the seriousness that scientists would say they deserve. The research company lpsos-MORI found that 50% of people think the jury is still out on the causes of global warming. The limited amount of media coverage - which tends to be restricted to the broadsheets - means that this statistic is unlikely to alter in the short-term. "Climate change, therefore, may not be high enough on the media agenda to stimulate the sort of public concern that prompts concerted political action. The media may well continue to focus its attention on health, the economy or crime, thereby drawing public attention away from the issue of climate change.

"This is more likely when resources are stretched, government popularity is on the wane, or where more pressing, non-climate-related issues force the government to direct expenditure or invest its political capital and energy elsewhere." He added: "Even if the British Government wanted to push climate change further up the media agenda, it is not necessarily in a position to shape the debate that takes place in the media."

Escher's "Relativity" rendered in Lego, by Dash from Bristol, UK, Wikimedia Commons, under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 License

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

FEMA grants $5 Million for sea level rise study in North Carolina The state of North Carolina will receive $5 million for a statewide risk assessment and mitigation strategy demonstration of the potential impacts of climate change-induced sea level rise. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will use the results of this study to assess the long-term fiscal implications of climate change as it affects the frequency and effects of natural disasters. Information from the study will be shared with other states to inform their climate change mitigation efforts.

According to FEMA Regional Administrator Phil May, the information and results from this study may help formulate strategies to deal with potential effects of sea level rise on the nation's coast. "North Carolina has been very proactive in implementing and improving upon coastal zone management activities and policies," May said. "Although the study is focused on just the state of North Carolina, the results of the study should be applicable to other coastal states as well. In addition, the study will compliment an existing study currently being performed by FEMA which focuses on the effect of climate change on the National Flood Insurance Program."

FEMA's Mitigation Directorate administers the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). The NFIP is an insurance, mapping, and land use program that provides the availability of federally backed flood insurance to home and business owners located in communities that participate in the NFIP….

Cape Hatteras Light is a lighthouse located on Hatteras Island in the Outer Banks of North Carolina near the community of Buxton

Official blames climate change for early Vietnam heatwave The early arrival of spring weather this year in Vietnam is due to global climate change, the head of Vietnam's southern meteorology laboratory said Wednesday. "Normally, hot weather starts appearing in the southern provinces in March, but this year, it has arrived about one month early," said Nguyen Minh Giam, head of the Southern Regional Hydrometeorological Centre's Forecasting Department in Ho Chi Minh City.

Giam's deputy, Le Thi Xuan Lan, was quoted in local media Tuesday as saying daily highs in several southern provinces recently had averaged 35 to 37 degrees, well above normal for this time of year. The temperature in Ho Chi Minh City hit 36.6 degrees Tuesday, a 30-year high for that date. Lan said the La Nina phenomenon, in which the surface water temperatures of the Pacific Ocean fall, also was bringing unseasonal early rains in several southern provinces. The period from March to May is normally the hottest time of year in Ho Chi Minh City with temperatures reaching 39 degrees.

Anxieties over climate change have been running high in Ho Chi Minh City since January when 50-year-record high tides shattered dikes and flooded hundreds of houses in the city. Experts said rising sea levels caused by climate change contributed to the flooding…

A street scene in Ho Chi Minh City, shot by Mike, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License

Gujarat to set up department for global warming

Gujarat Gujarat has decided to set up a special department to tackle with the problem of global warming. This was announced by Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi in the State Assembly. Modi himself will look after the department which will prepare a comprehensive policy on issues related to climate change and global warming. The state will promote maximum use of green technology and the new department will function as nodal agency coordinating with different departments.

Modi said that comprehensive multi dimensional policy on climate change of Gujarat state will be prepared by the new department. This is first such initiative in Asia and sixth in the world, Modi said. He described the move as path breaking and an example of pro active governance saying that even in the developed countries, the concept was in nascent stage. The task of the new department will be to prepare comprehensive multi-dimensional Climate Change Policy of Gujarat State. It is to coordinate with all other departments with respect to Climate Change.

Gujarat has 1600 KM of coastal line. The department would undertake detailed and extensive research and survey with regard to impacts of Climate Change on coastal area. This would cover the possible impacts on Gujarat coast due to sea level rise, changes in agricultural productivity, new challenges to health and infrastructure facilities in the coastal areas and the measures that would be required to deal with them…

Nargole Beach in Gujarat, India, shot by Nichalp, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License

Polar research reveals new evidence of global environmental change

E-Science News: The wide-ranging IPY [International Polar Year] findings result from more than 160 endorsed science projects assembled from researchers in more than 60 countries. Launched in March 2007, the IPY covers a two-year period to March 2009 to allow for observations during the alternate seasons in both polar regions. A joint project of WMO and ICSU, IPY spearheaded efforts to better monitor and understand the Arctic and Antarctic regions, with international funding support of about US$ 1.2 billion over the two-year period. "The International Polar Year 2007 – 2008 came at a crossroads for the planet's future" said Michel Jarraud, Secretary-General of WMO. "The new evidence resulting from polar research will strengthen the scientific basis on which we build future actions."

Catherine Bréchignac, President of ICSU, adds "the planning for IPY set ambitious goals that have been achieved, and even exceeded, thanks to the tireless efforts, enthusiasm, and imagination of thousands of scientists, working with teachers, artists, and many other collaborators." IPY has provided a critical boost to polar research during a time in which the global environment is changing faster than ever in human history. It now appears clear that the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are losing mass contributing to sea level rise. Warming in the Antarctic is much more widespread than it was thought prior to the IPY, and it now appears that the rate of ice loss from Greenland is increasing.

Researchers also found that in the Arctic, during the summers of 2007 and 2008, the minimum extent of year-round sea ice decreased to its lowest level since satellite records began 30 years ago. IPY expeditions recorded an unprecedented rate of sea-ice drift in the Arctic as well. Due to g
lobal warming, the types and extent of vegetation in the Arctic shifted, affecting grazing animals and hunting. Other evidence for global warming comes from IPY research vessels that have confirmed above-global-average warming in the Southern Ocean. A freshening of the bottom water near Antarctica is consistent with increased ice melt from Antarctica and could affect ocean circulation. Global warming is thus affecting Antarctica in ways not previously identified.

..IPY has also given atmospheric research new insight. Researchers have discovered that North Atlantic storms are major sources of heat and moisture for the polar regions. Understanding these mechanisms will improve forecasts of the path and intensity of storms. Studies of the ozone hole have benefited from IPY research as well, with new connections identified between the ozone concentrations above Antarctica and wind and storm conditions over the Southern Ocean. This information will improve predictions of climate and ozone depletion....

The dome at the Amundsen-Scott station in Antartica, with a foreground of sastrugi, shot by Bill McAfee for the National Science Foundation

Climate tipping point near warn UN, World Bank

Environment News Service: The planet is quickly approaching the tipping point for abrupt climate changes, perhaps within a few years, according to the UN Environmental Programme's newly released 2009 Year Book and a separate World Bank report now being presented throughout Latin America. The UN agency warns that urgent action is needed to avoid catastrophic climate events such as major food and water shortages, shifts in weather patterns, and destabilization of "major ice sheets that could introduce unanticipated rates of sea level rise within the 21st century."

The report warns that climate changes are occurring much faster than anticipated by the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, issued in 2007. While earlier estimates forecast up to half a meter (19.5 inches) rise in sea level in the coming century, updated calculations suggest that the rise may be as high as two meters (78 inches). Melting ice sheets and glaciers in the northern and southern hemispheres will not only contribute to sea level rise, but will also leave many regions around the world without basic water resources for human consumption and industrial production.

In its new report, the World Bank focuses on four climate impacts of special concern: "the warming and eventual disabling of mountain ecosystems in the Andes; the bleaching of coral reefs leading to an anticipated total collapse of the coral biome in the Caribbean basin; the damage to vast stretches of wetlands and associated coastal systems in the Gulf of Mexico; and the risk of forest dieback in the Amazon basin."

….Last week, World Bank climate experts presented devastating news to an audience in Lima, Peru - glaciers in the Andes mountain range may disappear within the next 20 years unless immediate action is taken to mitigate climate change. In the past 35 years, Peruvian glaciers have shrunk by 22 percent, resulting in a 12 percent reduction in freshwater for the coastal area, the home of about 60 percent of the country's population.

A rainbow in Death Valley, shot by Jim Gordon from Biloxi, MS, Wikimedia Commons, under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Residents flee as deadly Australian wildfires flare

Terra Daily via Agence France-Presse: Several hundred Australians fled their homes Monday as wildfires that killed more than 200 people flared again, destroying at least one home and injuring two firefighters. The deadly combination of strong winds and searing temperatures that whipped up the most deadly fires in Australia's history returned to drive flames toward towns to the east and northwest of Victoria's state capital, Melbourne.

However, conditions eased late Monday, lowering the immediate danger, although authorities said the threat remained with four major fires continuing to burn out of control. The scare occurred as Britain's Princess Anne visited blackened townships north of Melbourne that bore the brunt of firestorms that flared on February 7, claiming at least 210 lives. The official toll increased by one Monday after a resident of Strathewen, where 43 have now perished, died in hospital. The Country Fire Authority (CFA) issued urgent threat warnings to more than a dozen communities, advising residents either to flee or to defend their homes.

…Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) said winds of 50 kilometres (31 miles) an hour made the flames unpredictable. Authorities set up an evacuation centre near the fire at Lilydale, which was housing hundreds of residents, with many more believed to have left their homes to stay with relatives.

…More than 3,500 firefighters were working to control fires still raging in the southeastern state, with conditions forecast to deteriorate again late in the week. Princess Anne, who travelled to Australia to represent Queen Elizabeth II at Sunday's national day of mourning, met volunteer firefighters at Wandong and bushfire survivors at an evacuation centre….

Boulder scientist: Slighter warming, greater impact

Colorado Daily: In 2001, scientists from around the globe, including Boulder’s Joel Smith, warned that if global temperatures increased just a handful of degrees, the impacts to ecosystems and weather patterns could be both extreme and widespread. Now, a group of scientists led by Smith, many of whom also worked on the 2001 report for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, have published an update. Ecosystems and weather patterns — and the people they impact — are probably even more sensitive to global warming than they thought.

For example, in 2001, Smith, of Stratus Consulting in Boulder, and his colleagues estimated that global temperatures would have to rise between 1.8 and 3.6 degrees above 1990 levels to increase the risk of severe weather. Now the researchers report in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that “increases in drought, heat waves and floods are projected in many regions and would have adverse impacts, including increased water stress, wildfire frequency and flood risks, starting at less than (1.8 degrees) of additional warming above 1990 levels.”

Since 2001, new climate-change research has sketched a clearer picture of how global warming can affect, and in some cases already has affected, all aspects of the Earth, from agriculture to sea levels. Scientists have been busy piecing together how Atlantic hurricanes, European heat waves and pine beetle infestations, for example, may all be related to an increase in greenhouse gases. “Based on observed impacts and new research, the risks from climate change in general now appear to be greater than they did a few years ago,” Smith said. “The current path of greenhouse gas emissions is likely to lead to a change in climate that will exceed levels which we found will cause significant adverse impacts.”…

A bimetal thermometer, shot by 1-1111 , Wikimedia Commons, under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2

No end to the deluge in Namibia, from the Namibian: Weeks of wet weather have left large parts of Namibia soaked so far this month - and more of the same can be expected this week. Rainfall conditions remain favourable for most of the country this week, weatherman Simon Dirkse told The Namibian yesterday.

He said the northern half of the country is expected to have a 60 per cent chance of rain up to Friday, while in the southern part of Namibia a 30 per cent chance for rain is forecast. A continuation of the wet weather appears set to push up rainfall totals in some areas of the country so far this rainy season to levels last seen during Namibia's near record wet season of 2005-06.

A large part of Mariental was flooded in early 2006, after a massive inflow of water into the Hardap Dam prompted the opening of the dam's gates and the release of water at a rate that overwhelmed the confines of the Fish River below the dam wall. With huge quantities of water flowing into the Hardap Dam from the dam's catchment area over the past two weeks, the dam's sluice gates were kept open over the weekend….

Rain clouds (last year) over Sam Nujoma Stadium in Windhoek, Namibia, shot by Thomas.macmillan

Erosion doubles along part of Alaska’s Arctic coast: cultural and historical sites lost

US Geological Survey: Coastal erosion has more than doubled in Alaska - up to 45 feet per year - in a 5-year period between 2002 and 2007 along a 40-mile stretch of the Beaufort Sea. The U.S. Geological Survey-led study reveals that average annual erosion rates along this part of the Beaufort Sea climbed from historical levels of about 20 feet per year between the mid-1950s and late-1970s, to 28 feet per year between the late-1970s and early 2000s, to a rate of 45 feet per year between 2002 and 2007. The study was published in the current issue of Geophysical Research Letters, a publication of the American Geophysical Union.

USGS scientist and lead author Benjamin Jones cautioned that it is possible that the recent patterns documented in their study may represent a short-term episode of enhanced erosion. However, they may well represent the future pattern of coastline erosion in the Arctic. "Erosion of coastlines is a natural process, and this segment of coastline has historically eroded at some of the highest rates in the circum-Arctic, so the changes occurring on this open-ocean coast might not be occurring in other Arctic coastal settings," said Jones.

The authors proposed that these recent shifts in the rate and pattern of land loss along this coastline segment are potentially a result of changing arctic conditions, including declining sea ice extent, increasing summertime sea-surface temperature, rising sea level, and increases in storm power and corresponding wave action.

"Taken together, these factors may be leading to a new era in ocean-land interactions that seem to be repositioning and reshaping the Arctic coastline," wrote Jones and his colleagues. "And any increases in the current rates of coastal retreat will have further ramifications on Arctic landscapes - including losses in freshwater and terrestrial wildlife habitats, and in disappearing cultural sites, as well as adversely impacting coastal villages and towns. In addition, oil test wells are threatened."…

Three polar bears on the Beaufort Sea coast, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Launch mishap ends Orbital Carbon Observatory's mission

Terrible news, from NASA. This satellite would have provided a great deal of valuable data about global atmospheric greenhouse gases at a time when the world needs it more than ever: NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory satellite failed to reach orbit after its 4:55 a.m. EST liftoff Feb. 24 from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base. Preliminary indications are that the fairing on the Taurus XL launch vehicle failed to separate. The fairing is a clamshell structure that encapsulates the satellite as it travels through the atmosphere.

The spacecraft did not reach orbit and likely landed in the Pacific Ocean near Antarctica, said John Brunschwyler, the program manager for the Taurus XL. A Mishap Investigation Board is to determine the cause of the launch failure.

NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory and its Taurus booster lift off from Vandenberg Air Force Base. A contingency was declared a few minutes later. Image credit: NASA TV

Monday, February 23, 2009

Climate change lays waste to Spain's glaciers

Guardian (UK): The Pyrenees mountains have lost almost 90% of their glacier ice over the past century, according to scientists who warn that global warning means they will disappear completely within a few decades. While glaciers covered 3,300 hectares of land on the mountain range that divides Spain and France at the turn of the last century, only 390 hectares remain, according to Spain's environment ministry.

The most southerly glaciers in Europe are losing the battle against warming and look set to be among the first to disappear from the continent over the coming decades. Their loss will have a severe impact on summer water supplies in the foothills and southern plains south of the Pyrenees. "This century could see (perhaps within a few decades) the total, or almost total, disappearance of the last reserves of ice in the Spanish Pyrenees and, as a result, a major change in the current nature of upper reaches of the mountains," the authors of the report on Spain's glaciers said.

Scientists have ruled out the idea that the progressive deterioration of glaciers around the globe are part of normal, long-term fluctuations in their size. Europe's glaciers are thought to have lost a quarter of their mass in the last 8 years.

Prof Wilfried Haeberli, director of the World Glacier Monitoring Service, said that the rate of glacier loss is particularly quick. "Small glaciers disappear faster so the relative loss is much larger." "They are the best indicators of climate change," he said . "I would even say these figures (for Spain) are optimistic. If the loss of ice goes on at the speed of the past 10 years they may disappear within ten to 20 years."….

La Madaleta glacier in Spain, shot by Luis Paquito, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 License

Vital climate change warnings are being ignored, says expert

Science Daily: Canada's inland waters, the countless lakes and reservoirs across the country, are important "sentinels" for climate change and Ottawa and the provinces are ignoring the warnings. That's the message from University of Alberta biologist David Schindler and colleagues in a paper in the journal, Science.

Schindler is a co-author of Sentinels of Change, which reviewed papers addressing the effects of climate change revealed in numerous long-term studies presented at a conference last September.

In his paper, Schindler highlighted studies that have shown that Canada and the United States will have to rethink plans to use the Laurentian Great Lakes as an emergency water supply if a dramatic shortage befalls North America in the future. Data collected by researchers indicate the water balance is the Laurentian Great Lakes is precarious because it is only renewing itself at the rate of less than one per cent a year.

Schindler and his co-authors also analyze a study involving carbon emissions. "Recent studies show that lakes release very high releases of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, in many cases higher than the surrounding forests in the same watersheds. This has been missed in climate modeling to date."….

Lake Superior north shore sunsent, shot by Xopher Smith, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License

Insurance professionals call for industry leadership on climate change

Insurance Daily: The body that represents professionals working in the insurance sector has warned that climate change will present the industry with the “biggest challenge in our time”. A new thinkpiece from the Chartered Insurance Institute (CII) emphasises “the clear and pressing need” for insurers to assess and effectively manage the issues raised by changing weather patterns.

According to the article, which has been published ahead of a major CII report due out this week, the number of days on which temperatures could reach at least 25 degrees Celsius in London is expected to double by the 2020s. In addition, the report predicts that in many regions of Europe, summers will be hotter than the 10% hottest summers experienced during the period 1961 to 1990.

…CII director of policy and public affairs, David Thomson, comments that this week’s report will provide “evidence of both risks and opportunities” for insurers, while at the same time demonstrating the urgent need for the industry to “use its expertise to lead in the development of solutions in mitigation and adaptation strategies”. He adds: “Above all, we need industry leadership to ensure we act now”.

Chasseur a pied. Bugler, full dress (1885). This illustration appeared in L'Armee Française by Jules Richard, illustrated by Édouard Detaille, first published in 1885.

Mapping Southeast Asia’s vulnerability to climate change

Business Mirror (Philippines): There is mounting evidence that climate-related disaster events are having an impact on developing countries in Southeast Asia, home to more than 570 million people. While researchers and scientists reveal that climate change is set to reverse decades of social and economic progress, the international climate change spotlight has not yet fallen on Southeast Asia as attention is focused more on the industrializing giants China, India and Brazil.

Multiple stresses make most of Southeast Asian countries highly vulnerable to environmental changes, and climate change is likely to increase this vulnerability. These impacts include drought, sea-level rise, cyclones, desertification, deforestation, forest degradation, coral bleaching, the spread of diseases and impacts on food security.

“Millions of people in the region tend to suffer most from the catastrophic impacts of global warming coupled with recurring food, oil and financial crisis,” said Herminia Francisco, director of the Singapore-based Economy and Environment Program for Southeast Asia (Eepsea).

Typically, according to Francisco, these will be the poorest people and the most vulnerable communities who may have little information about impending hazards and are often the least able to rebuild their lives and livelihoods after having suffered a setback.

…The Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Sumatra and Indonesia are among the countries identified as climate change “hotspots”—countries particularly vulnerable to some of the worst manifestations of climate change, such as the increase in extreme drought, flooding, sea-level rise, landslide and cyclones expected in the coming decades. This, according to a new report of Eepsea funded by Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC), an international organization public corporation created in 1970 to support research in developing countries.

The report titled, “Climate Change Vulnerability Mapping for Southeast Asia” conducted by Francisco and economist Arief Anshory Yusuf from Indonesia, is expected to be highly valuable to policymakers, as well as external donors in better targeting their support on climate-change initiatives in the region....

From the publication above, a map with an index of climate change vulnerability, from the Business Mirror's website

Acidification from absorbing atmospheric CO2 is changing the ocean's chemistry

Chemical & Engineering News: People can't walk on water, but scientists say the carbon dioxide emitted by humans into the atmosphere has started to leave noticeable footprints on the ocean.

Scientists have been concerned for years that lower ocean pH caused by absorption of CO2 emissions could decrease calcification processes underlying the growth of shells and corals' hard exteriors. Besides studying that phenomenon, they are investigating how acidification alters the concentration and behavior of the ocean's trace metals, some of which are nutrients for marine life. They are also looking into some unexpected consequences of ocean acidification, such as disruptions to sound propagation and transmission of chemical cues. Some scientists believe the net effect of these and other yet undiscovered changes may threaten the survival of a wide variety of marine organisms.

Increased use of fossil fuels has caused the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere to nearly double since the Industrial Revolution. "Over the past 200 years, the oceans have absorbed approximately 550 billion tons of CO2 from the atmosphere, or about a third of the total amount of anthropogenic emissions over that period," says Richard A. Feely, a senior scientist with the National Oceanographic & Atmospheric Administration's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, in Seattle. That means the ocean currently absorbs about 22 million tons of CO2 per day, he adds.

Marine scientists who have measured the pH of the ocean's surface waters for decades see that it has been dropping. They say that the pH is currently about 8.1, down from about 8.2 in the 18th century. If CO2 emissions continue at current rates, they expect the pH to fall by approximately 0.3 more units in the next 50–100 years. And as the ocean becomes more acidic, scientists anticipate myriad changes to the ocean's chemistry….

Sea urchins off the coast of Madagascar. Their spines get truncated as the surrounding seawater becomes more acidic. Shot by Mila Zinkova, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5, Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 and Attribution ShareAlike 1.0 License

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Flood buyouts: Residents in flood-prone homes face uncertain future

Houston Chronicle: Gazing into her backyard, a stone’s throw from White Oak Bayou, Judy Callaway can still see her daughters running through the sprinklers on a hot summer day or laying out in their bikinis trying to get a tan. She chokes back tears, remembering birthday celebrations, graduation parties, and cooking Thanksgiving dinner in a kitchen so tiny it was a wonder two people could squeeze in to it to carve the bird and pour the iced tea.

Those memories made it almost impossible for her to imagine accepting the Harris County Flood Control District’s offer to buy her flood-prone northwest Houston home. But other memories made it equally difficult to turn such a deal away. She has memories of propping up her couch on her kitchen pots every time a tropical storm headed for Houston. And teaching herself to remove and install drywall when Tropical Storm Allison filled her house with 16 inches of water….

Now, she and dozens of other homeowners participating in the district’s most recent buyout program are trying to figure out where to go when the homes they poured their hearts into building are gone….The flood control district has spent $200 million purchasing and demolishing about 2,200 houses since 1989, restoring the land to its natural flood-plain state. About half the money has come from Federal Emergency Management Agency grants, with the district covering the rest. Most of the buyouts are voluntary, though about 600 homes had to be razed to make way for district building projects….

Buffalo Bayou, White Oak Bayou Confluence and Main St. - 06/09/01. NOAA Photo Library

Satellite sensor errors cause data outage for Arctic ice

SpaceRef: As some of our readers have already noticed, there was a significant problem with the daily sea ice data images on February 16. The problem arose from a malfunction of the satellite sensor we use for our daily sea ice products. Upon further investigation, we discovered that starting around early January, an error known as sensor drift caused a slowly growing underestimation of Arctic sea ice extent. The underestimation reached approximately 500,000 square kilometers (193,000 square miles) by mid-February. Sensor drift, although infrequent, does occasionally occur and it is one of the things that we account for during quality control measures prior to archiving the data. See below for more details.

We have removed the most recent data and are investigating alternative data sources that will provide correct results. It is not clear when we will have data back online, but we are working to resolve the issue as quickly as possible.

…As discussed above, near-real-time products do not undergo the same level of quality control as the final archived products, which are used in scientific research published in peer-reviewed journals. However, the SSM/I sensors have proven themselves to be generally quite stable. Thus, it is reasonable to use the near-real-time products for displaying evolving ice conditions, with the caveat that errors may nevertheless occur. Sometimes errors are dramatic and obvious. Other errors, such as the recent sensor drift, may be subtler and not immediately apparent. We caution users of the near-real-time products that any conclusions from such data must be preliminary. We believe that the potential problems are outweighed by the scientific value of providing timely assessments of current Arctic sea ice conditions, as long as they are presented with appropriate caveats, which we try to do.

Sensor drift is a perfect but unfortunate example of the problems encountered in near-real-time analysis. We stress, however, that this error in no way changes the scientific conclusions about the long-term decline of Arctic sea ice, which is based on the the consistent, quality-controlled data archive discussed above.

We are actively investigating how to address the problem. Since we are not receiving good DMSP SSM/I data at the present time, we have temporarily discontinued daily updates. We will restart the data stream as soon as possible.

Daily Arctic sea ice extent map for February 15, 2009, showed areas of open water which should have appeared as sea ice. Sea Ice Index data. Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center

At Grand Canyon, water battle rages anew

A long, worthwhile piece by Shaun McKinnon in the Arizona Republic covers a recent wrinkle in the ongoing conflict over water and land use in the western region of the US: Nearly a year after the federal government flooded the Grand Canyon in a test of resource restoration, questions persist about whether the agency in charge watered down the experiment to protect power providers and ignored high-level critics of the operation.

The allegations resurfaced with a January memo written by the superintendent of Grand Canyon National Park, who accused his bosses of disregarding science in preparing for the flood designed to reverse some of the damaging effects of Glen Canyon Dam on the canyon and on the Colorado River. He also described the environmental review of the experiment as one of the worst he's seen.

Conservation groups say the Interior Department tailored the experiment, a four-day flush of water from Lake Powell down the Colorado River, to appease providers whose power is generated by Glen Canyon Dam. The providers have long complained about the money lost whenever changes are made in the way water is released from the dam.

The episode further feeds a long-simmering feud between environmentalists and power interests and raises the issue yet again of whether a dam and a fragile riparian ecosystem can coexist. A sustainable solution would require each side to yield some ground, which seems unlikely anytime soon: Conservationists have sued the federal government to force changes even as the Interior Department defends its five-year plan.

Both sides share the rocky but unbreakable link between water and energy in the arid West, a connection that will grow more critical if climate change reduces water flows or leads to surcharges on fossil fuels used to produce power.

Federal officials, under pressure from Western lawmakers to keep power prices from rising, insist they must balance the often-competing demands on the river. Environmental groups fear what would happen if those demands force the government to choose between cheap electricity and a vulnerable natural resource…..

Sunset at the Grand Canyon, shot by Tobias Alt, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0, Attribution ShareAlike 2.5, Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 and Attribution ShareAlike 1.0 License