Sunday, May 31, 2009

Study of melting glaciers reveals that high altitudes are more affected by climate change

Eric Newhouse in the Great Falls Tribune (Montana): The swift meltdown of the glaciers in Glacier National Park has led scientists to believe mountains are more susceptible to global warming than the lowlands around them. "During the past 15 years, there has been a faster rate of temperature increase for mountains than for lower elevations," said U.S. Geological Survey ecologist Dan Fagre in West Glacier.

"For the Glacier Park area, that annual increase is almost 2 degrees Fahrenheit ... almost as much as occurred over a century for low elevation sites," he said. "This helps explain why we are seeing fairly dramatic reductions in glaciers and changes to our annual snowpacks."

The evidence is striking, as anyone can see by looking at a before-and-after photographic comparison of the park's glaciers on a Web site run by the U.S. Geological Survey. Today, Glacier has only 25 of the 150 glaciers that were large enough to name in 1850.

…But it's not just Montana. "Across the globe, the rates of temperature increase in the mountains have been greater than in the adjoining lowlands," Fagre said. Now geologists are seeking an explanation for this scientific puzzle.

One theory is that global warming leads to greater evaporation, more moisture in the system and greater cloud cover. "Under clear skies, particularly at night, the mountains radiate heat, but under a cloud cover they retain that heat," Fagre said. That cloud cover may also generate additional heat, he said....

Grinnell Glacier in Glacier National Park, with arrows showing the former extent of the retreating ice. US Geological Survey

An aversion to calculating the cost of climate change

Reuters Alertnet points out that a recent study of climate mortality has come in for some methodological sniping. But couldn’t the New York Times come up with a more credible critic than denialist Roger Pielke? I’m just saying: Why does it seem so hard to put a credible face on the human impact of climate change? The latest effort to do so - a report commissioned the Global Humanitarian Forum (GHF), a Geneva-based organisation led by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and released on Friday - has been criticised for what some say is the shakiness of its data.

….But articles in two well-respected media outlets - the Economist and the New York Times - have poured cold water on the GHF's efforts to provide those figures. "As in so many reports of this kind, the trend looks plausible, but there seems little basis for the exact numbers," says the Economist. "For example, the authors attribute two-fifths of an expected increase in weather-related disasters to climate change and use this as a basis for all their other sums. But they offer no convincing rationale for this approach, and admit with refreshing candour that 'the real numbers may be significantly lower or higher'."

…The authors admit the human impact "is still difficult to access with great accuracy because it results from a complex interplay of factors" and recommends that the report's estimates "should be treated as indicative rather than definitive". They also warn that the true human impact of global warming is likely to be far more severe than they predict, because the report uses conservative IPCC scenarios. New scientific evidence points to greater and more rapid climate change.

But, despite the caveats, the academic gloves are most definitely off. According to an article by Andrew C. Revkin in the New York Times, the GHF study has been dubbed "a methodological embarrassment" by Roger A. Pielke Jr., a political scientist at the University of Colorado who studies disaster trends. He says there's no way to distinguish deaths or economic losses relating to human-induced global warming from those caused by wider factors such as population growth and economic development in vulnerable areas.

… If the GHF study - irrespective of its alleged imperfections - draws attention to the gaps in what we know and manages to convey the message that the poorest and most vulnerable should get more of a say in the international climate policy arena, it will be of value to the humanitarian community….

Daumier's 1860 "Scene from a Comedy by Moliere"

A brewing water war between the US and Canada

Globe and Mail (Toronto): A punishing drought, which gave the State of Washington a grim warning about what the future might look like with global warming, has led to a U.S. dam proposal that threatens to drown a British Columbia valley. The Shanker's Bend project, proposed by the Okanogan County Public Utility District, would dam the Similkameen River just a few kilometres south of the B.C. border.

The project would provide increased water storage and hydro generation for the town of Oroville, in north central Washington, but it would also back up water deep into the Similkameen Valley – flooding the habitat of endangered species in an area that has been proposed as a national park.

The impoundment would provide more water in a dry B.C. valley where organic orchards and vineyards have flourished only because of irrigation, but water levels would fluctuate to suit demands south of the border, not to meet Canadian needs. “This project can't go ahead,” says Chloe O'Loughlin, executive director of the B.C. chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, who sees nothing positive in the proposal.

“Whatever happens, there are no benefits to Canada in this project. It threatens one of the three most endangered ecosystems in Canada … [and] when that impoundment is drawn down we will be left looking at extensive mud flats,” said Ms. O'Loughlin, whose organization has been leading opposition to the project…..

In a different spot, Washington's Ross Dam on the Skagit River under construction.

‘Climate justice’ a hot new policy area

David Beers in 'the Hook,' part of the Tyee (Canada): The poorest among us will be most hurt by global warming unless politicians take action to protect the most vulnerable. Call it “climate justice”, “climate fairness” or “closing the climate gap”, this is the hot new political zone where social justice policies intersect with climate change science.

Taking the lead in B.C. is the Climate Justice Project, a multi-year research effort spearheaded by the Vancouver office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. A new U.S. report explores similar ground. “The Climate Gap: Inequalities in How Climate Change Hurts Americans & How to Close the Gap,” published by a team from University of Southern California, University of California at Berkeley, and Occidental College in Los Angeles, zeroes in on the “often hidden and unequal harm climate change will cause people of color and the poor in the United States.”… [T]o summarize policies to close the climate gap recommended in the report:
  • Adopting technologies that identify neighborhoods most vulnerable to the Climate Gap
  • Choosing either an auction or fee-based system that would generate revenue to help families living in poverty absorb the higher costs of water, food and energy
  • …Prioritizing the training of people who are most likely to lose their current job because of either climate change or climate solutions for jobs in the new economy
  • Focusing outreach, intervention, and preparedness efforts for extreme weather events in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color
The Watts Towers in Watts, in Los Angeles, built by Sam (or "Simon") Rodia, shot by BenFrantzDale, Wikimedia Commons, under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2. The Towers appear in Don DeLillo's Underworld and the computer game, Grand Theft Auto, among many other place

Drought, floods eating into east Africa’s GDP

Kezio-Musoke David in The East African: East Africa’s periodic drought costs the region between five and eight per cent of its gross domestic product, a recent conference in Kigali for African finance and environment ministers heard last week. According to the conference, the more the droughts and floods become frequent, the more they have a direct long term fiscal liability on the East African Community, with a toll of more than two per cent GDP per annum.

On average, Kenya experiences flooding that costs 5.5 per cent of its GDP every seven years, and eight per cent of its GDP every five years, which together represents a long term fiscal liability of about 2.5 per cent GDP per annum. An environmental consultant Paul Watkiss, said the change in climate is costing Kenya and Tanzania revenue from coastal tourism and corals to the tune of $18 million per annum.

“The World Health Organisation estimates show that climate change is already causing 55,000 deaths daily and will contribute a significant increase in the rate of vector and diarrhoeal diseases by 2030,” Mr Watkiss said. “Studies show increased spread of malaria to higher latitudes in East African highlands. Potential heat extremes are expected to affect the health and productivity of the region if nothing is done,” he added.

The African finance and environment ministers were at the Kigali Serena Hotel for the 3rd Pan-African conference to discuss climate change and its challenge to the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals. The conference was presided over by Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame. According to a communiqué from the conference, the ministers noted that as minor emitters of carbon, African countries’ priority in responding to climate change is to strengthen climate risk management and increase the use of international financial instruments for lower carbon….

The Great Rift Valley in Tanzania, shot by Sachi Gahan, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 License

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Positive feedback hint between tropical cyclones and global warming

Science Daily: Tropical cyclones could be a significant source of the deep convection that carries moist air upward to the stratosphere, where it can influence climate, according to Harvard University researchers David M. Romps and Zhiming Kuang. Using 23 years of infrared satellite imagery, global tropical cyclone best-track data, and reanalysis of tropopause temperature, the authors found that tropical cyclones contribute a disproportionate amount of the tropical deep convection that overshoots the troposphere and reaches the stratosphere.

Their findings appear in a recent issue of Geophysical Research Letters. Tropical cyclones account for only 7 percent of the deep convection in the tropics, but 15 percent of the convection that reaches the stratosphere, the researchers found. They conclude that tropical cyclones could play a key role in adding water vapor to the stratosphere, which has been shown to increase surface temperatures.

Because global warming is expected to lead to changes in the frequency and intensity of tropical cyclones, the authors believe their results suggest the possibility of a feedback mechanism between tropical cyclones and global climate…..

Tropical cyclone Dominic, January 2009, shot thanks to a vigilant satellite at NASA

Namibia: Integrated land use curbs effects of climate change via Namibia Economist: Climate change and resulting sea conditions can financially cripple businesses - especially those relying directly on seawater. The evidence is clear. Several oyster farmers and other industries took a knock and some even went under during the extreme red tide outbreak in March 2008.

A recent seminar on climate change presented by the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry shed some light into the effects of climate change and practices that can curb its negative impacts. Literally being a weathercock may have its advantages when it comes to staying financially afloat. The arranged visit to the Salt Company in Swakopmund underpinned the necessity of taking climate change and extreme weather and sea conditions into account.

The secret of surviving these extreme conditions lies in you ability to contain the influences. Our integrated system of the salt industry with the two other complimentary enterprises, guano and oyster farming, have proven to be one way to curb the influence to a greater extent," said Jannie Klein, managing director of the Salt Company. "When we started with the Salt Company in 1936 it soon became evident that producing guano can be introduced as a complementary business. The saltpan formed small natural islands and these were used by the sea birds as a safe overnight spot, keeping predators at bay. The birds and guano in turn led to our starting oyster farming in 1990. The guano fertilizes the top layer of water providing excellent conditions for a natural food chain - algae, worms, shrimps and then also oysters," he added….

Cape Cross seal colony in Namibia, shot by betty x1138, Wikimedia Commons, under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License

Climate experts release new tool for public use

All Headline News: A web tool for projecting past and future temperature of specific areas of the world was unveiled Friday for use by climate experts and the general public.

The tool called ClimateWizard uses computer programming methods, geographic information systems (GIS) and cutting-edge Internet technologies to analyze large databases of climate models located remotely on computer servers, according to the University of Washington (UW), one of the partners that developed the online program. Aside from UW's Evan Givetz, Chris Zganjar from The Nature Consevancy and George Raber from the University of Southern Mississippi developed the tool freely available at

Users input annual, seasonal or monthly temperatures and precipitation in any given area from 1901 to 2099 to get the results in map format with shades of colors indicating temperature levels….

Herman Moll: A new map of the whole world with the trade winds, 1736 (Detail)

Nobel laureates compare climate crisis to threat from nuclear weapons

Guardian (UK): Twenty Nobel prizewinners, including US energy secretary Steven Chu, Nigerian writer Wole Soyinka, and Kenyan environmentalist Wangari Maathai, have compared the threat of climate change to that posed to civilisation by nuclear weapons.

Borrowing a phrase from US civil rights leader Martin Luther King, they said at the end of a three-day climate change symposium hosted by Prince Charles in London: "We must recognise the fierce urgency of now. The evidence is compelling for the range and scale of climate impacts that must be avoided, such as droughts, sea level rise and flooding leading to mass migration and conflict. The scientific process, by which this evidence has been gathered, should be used as a clear mandate to accelerate the actions that need to be taken. Political leaders cannot possibly ask for a more robust, evidence-based call for action."

The laureates, who included physics and chemistry Nobel winners, called for urgent reduction in emissions. "Without directing current economic recovery resources wisely, and embarking on a path towards a low carbon economy, the world will have lost the opportunity to meet the global sustainability challenge. Decarbonising our economy offers a multitude of benefits, from addressing energy security to stimulating unprecedented technological innovation. A zero carbon economy is an ultimate necessity and must be seriously explored now."…

The XX-34 BADGER explosion on April 18, 1953, as part of Operation Upshot-Knothole, at the Nevada Test Site. US Department of Energy

Wor;d Bank economist: India needs to reduce damages caused by climate change

Xinhua: India needs to take action now at multiple levels of government to reduce the mounting damages caused by climate change to its agriculture, a World Bank environmental economist said here on Saturday. "Climate variability and climate change are resulting in a more severe occurrence of extreme events, such as droughts, floods and cyclones, which affect the poor most, and jeopardize agricultural production and livelihoods of rural communities," said Richard Damania, the World Bank economist.

He said the impacts of climate change on countries like India are significant as about 20 percent of India's Gross Domestic Product is attributable to the agriculture sector, which also employs 57 percent of the total workforce. Damania said he is looking at options to tackle the problem of "adaptation" to climate change in selected climate hotspots in India.

He said the incomes on the small rain-fed farms in Andhra Pradesh, central India, could decline by 5 percent under modest climate change and by over 20 percent under harsher conditions, increasing poverty among peasants….

A kiwi fruit farm in Himachal Pradesh, India. Shot by Achiwiki356, Wikimedia Commons

Friday, May 29, 2009

Development community must accept uncertainty

Anna Barrett has a great report in Climate Feedback: Uncertainty in regional climate projections isn’t going away, and that’s an inconvenient truth the development community will have to face, says Christoph Müller of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impacts Research in Germany. Müller recently authored a report on expected climate change impacts in sub-Saharan Africa, at the behest of the German Development Institute (GDI), a Bonn-based think tank. A top recommendation of the final report, published 24 April and presented at the IHDP conference last month, is that adaptation strategies should not be motivated by specific impact projections, but instead should work on reducing vulnerability to environmental change in general.

An expert on climate impacts on agriculture and land-use, Müller found while scoping the report for GDI that there was a mistaken assumption by development experts that many of the current uncertainties in predicting climate change will soon clear up. “In the adaptation community, they often have the feeling that if we wait for another five years, we will know exactly what the weather will be,” he says.

So he turned the focus of the report around from cataloging impacts to dealing with uncertainty. “This report basically is trying to raise awareness that you will never get very accurate projections of what you will have to adapt to. Don’t wait for that. You have to adapt to uncertainty,” says Müller. I talked to Müller to find out more about what adaptation planners in sub-Saharan Africa are up against and how they might tackle changes they can't forsee. What climate models agree on is that the continent will warm a bit more than the global average - roughly 2.0 to 4.5 degrees centigrade, according to three emissions scenarios of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

…And if you’re not sure what kind of change you’ll be facing, says Müller, the best adaptation options are the “classical approaches” of development aid, such as trying to diversify income sources and reducing dependence on a single factor like crop yields. “What climate change adds is extra uncertainty, and an extra challenge for politics to respond to,” he says....

Magic 8 ball shot by ChristianHeldt

Experts warn that Long Island homeowners should get flood insurance now, not later

Herald Community Online (New York): Atlantic Beach resident Morris Kramer was all of 4 years old when the great hurricane of 1938 – a Category 3 monster dubbed the Long Island Express – slammed into the Island, buffeting the shoreline with 120-mph winds and sending a wall of water rushing inland and toppling homes. Kramer remembers little of the catastrophe. To this day, however, his older sister distinctly recalls seeing benches from the Long Beach boardwalk floating in nearby streets.

...Kramer, a one-time Nassau Herald columnist who wrote on civic affairs, said people must – must – consider purchasing flood insurance for their homes or apartments. He said that any residents living south of Sunrise Highway are potentially in danger of having their homes flooded in a Category 3 hurricane – d an assertion largely supported by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which administers the National Flood Insurance Program. Floods are not covered by homeowner’s insurance. You must take out flood insurance separately.
FEMA recently rewrote its Flood Insurance Rate Maps, or FIRMs, and included a far larger number of communities in high-risk zones, called Special Flood Hazard Areas. Thousands of homes are affected. The agency also expanded the boundaries of current low-risk zones, like Merrick and Bellmore. And it included a number of neighborhoods not traditionally thought of as flood zones, like parts of Valley Stream, though they were designated lower-risk.

….At the same time, the federal government is beginning to prepare for potentially higher sea levels in the coming decades as Antarctic and Greenland ice melts at an ever-increasing rate in a warmer world brought on by climate change. Scientists call it the greenhouse effect. Gases such as carbon dioxide and methane are released into the atmosphere when fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas are burned. The gases trap infrared heat from the sun, heating the planet and melting ancient glacial ice into the oceans. New York State is so concerned about the potential for rising oceans that in 2007 it impaneled the Task Force on Sea Level Rise, a division of the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

…Denis Miller, a flood insurance specialist with an office in Long Beach, said now is the time to buy flood insurance, despite the ailing economy. If you do so before July 31, you will be ensured of receiving the �grand-fathered� flood insurance rate from FEMA, meaning that for the first year of your policy, you will be charged the current low-risk rate rather than the substantially higher rate that will take effect in September. After one year, if you live in a high-risk zone, new or old, you will be charged half of what you would have paid if you had waited until August or later to take out a policy.

…Miller says that many South Shore residents will discover that their homes are being moved from low-risk to high-risk flood zones thanks to map modernization, and many are unaware that their zones are being changed.

Thomas Moran's 1907 painting, "The Old Bridge Over Hook Pond, East Hampton, Long Island"

NASA uses satellite innovation for crop forecasting

Seed Daily: Soil moisture is essential for seeds to germinate and for crops to grow. But record droughts and scorching temperatures in certain parts of the globe in recent years have caused soil to dry up, crippling crop production. The falling food supply in some regions has forced prices upward, pushing staple foods out of reach for millions of poor people. NASA researchers are using satellite data to deliver a kind of space-based humanitarian assistance. They are cultivating the most accurate estimates of soil moisture - the main determinant of crop yield changes - and improving global forecasts of how well food will grow at a time when the world is confronting shortages.

During a presentation this week at the the Joint Assembly of the American Geophysical Union in Toronto, NASA scientist John Bolten described a new modeling product that uses data from the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer for EOS (AMSR-E) sensor on NASA's Aqua satellite to improve the accuracy of West African soil moisture. The group produced assessments of current soil moisture conditions, or "nowcasts," and improved estimates by 5 percent over previous methods. Though seemingly small and incremental, the increase can make a big difference in the precision of crop forecasts, Bolten said.

The modeling innovation comes at a time when crop analysts at agencies like the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) are working to meet the food shortage problem head on. They combine soil moisture estimates with weather trends to produce up-to-date forecasts of crop harvests. Those estimates help regional and national officials prepare for and prevent food crises. "The USDA's estimates of global crop yields are an objective, timely benchmark of food availability and help drive international commodity markets," said Bolten, a physical scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. "But crop estimates are only as good as the observations available to drive the models."…

The AMSR-E on the ground back in 2002, NASA

Migratory wading birds at risk across the Middle East, Africa

Environment News Service: Populations of migratory wading birds in Europe, West Asia and Africa are declining more quickly than ever, and they need better protection of wetlands along their flyways, finds the first comprehensive overview of key sites for these small waterbirds in Europe, West-Asia and Africa. The Wetlands International's Wader Atlas released May 20 in London contains this overview and also shows that there is an incomplete network of protected areas for these birds, especially in Africa and the Middle East.

The product of 10 years of work by thousands of coordinated expert observers in nearly 100 countries, the atlas was funded by the governments of Belgium, the UK and The Netherlands, and a United Nations treaty, the African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement.

Waders are small waterbirds such as lapwings, plovers, godwits, curlews and sandpipers as well as larger birds such as flamingoes. Many of them undertake long distance migrations from their Arctic breeding grounds to wintering areas as far away as Southern Africa. Some concentrate in huge numbers at just a few sites, making these wetlands critical for their survival. The European Union has established a comprehensive network of protected areas for waders in Europe under the Birds Directive.

But outside the EU the protection and management of key sites is still inadequate. A string of wetlands concentrated on the western coast of Africa, in the Sahel zone along the Senegal and Niger rivers, around Lake Chad, and in East Africa in the Sudd, along the Rift Valley and eastern coast of Africa, is crucial for the survival of many migratory waders, the atlas shows….

The Makgadikgadi Salt Pans in Botswana are one of the most important breeding sites in Southern Africa for lesser and greater flamingos. Shot by Ed Glickman from Edina, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License

Climate change causes 315,000 deaths a year-report

Reuters: Climate change kills about 315,000 people a year through hunger, sickness and weather disasters, and the annual death toll is expected to rise to half a million by 2030, a report said on Friday. The study, commissioned by the Geneva-based Global Humanitarian Forum (GHF), estimates that climate change seriously affects 325 million people every year, a number that will more than double in 20 years to 10 percent of the world's population (now about 6.7 billion).

Economic losses due to global warming amount to over $125 billion annually -- more than the flow of aid from rich to poor nations -- and are expected to rise to $340 billion each year by 2030, according to the report. "Climate change is the greatest emerging humanitarian challenge of our time, causing suffering to hundreds of millions of people worldwide," Kofi Annan, former U.N. secretary-general and GHF president, said in a statement....

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Angola: Smart relief needed as floodwaters fall, via IPS: The flood waters are starting to recede as the rainy season ends for another year, but while the emergency is over in southern Angola, the long term outlook is bleak. Because of the water damage, many families have been unable to return to their villages and tens of thousands are clustered in IDP camps where there is a high risk of an outbreak of water-borne diseases due to pressures on sanitation. An increase in respiratory problems is also likely, particularly among children, as the country enters its "cacimbo" cool season.

More than 222,000 families were displaced by heavy rains and flooding which swept away houses, sank roads, ruined 228,000 hectares of crops and killed thousands of goats, cows and livestock. The provinces of Cunene and Kuando Kubango on Angola's southern border with Namibia, and Moxico in the east next to Zambia, bore the brunt of the water damage.

It is to these provinces that teams from the British Red Cross and the World Food Programme (WFP) have now been despatched to assess the seriousness of the situation and the threat posed to food security in Angola's poorest provinces. The challenges are vast: communities living in traditional family structures in remote areas, hundreds of kilometres from towns and relying mainly on subsistence farming now need food and need it fast.

...The impact climate change has had on the additional rainfall in this part of Africa is yet to be fully investigated but the extent and severity of the flooding in Angola and across the borders in Namibia and Zambia certainly caught the authorities off-guard….

Stronger rules on pesticides in US soil The American Environmental Protection Agency is to strengthen safety measures around pesticides put into the soil during farming. The pesticides, or fumigants, are used on a wide range of crops mainly potatoes, tomatoes, strawberries, carrots and peppers.

The agency says the safety measures will reduce the exposure to fumes of people living near to agricultural fields that are fumigated. As well as increasing the safety of the process by making sure those use it are subject to stronger planning rules. Soil fumigants are pesticides injected or incorporated into soil to form a gas in the dirt that kills a wide array of pests. However, the side effects of the gas mean it can travel from the soil and into the air.

Off-site workers or bystanders exposed to these pesticides can experience eye, nose, throat, or breathing problems, or more severe poisonings, depending on the fumigant and level of exposure. Some of the new safety measures include creating buffer zones, enforcing posting requirements, adding measures to protect agricultural workers and strengthening training programs, among other practices….

"The Last Furrow," by Henry Herbert La Thangue (1895)

Revitalization of Korean rivers to help block water disasters

Korea Times: An Chang-ho ― a revered Korean independence leader during the Japanese occupation ― called for renovation of national territory so that mountains will be filled with trees and rivers affluent with freshwater, and along the rivers commerce, agriculture and industry will flourish. It must have been words of inspiration for President Lee Myung-bak who initiated the ``Revitalization of the four major rivers'' as one of the key projects under the $38.5-billion ``Green New Deal.''

Climate change is being found in all areas of life ― from weather and agriculture to fisheries. Undoubtedly, however, the negative effects of climate change are most evident in the area of water. Water-related disasters, such as flood and drought, are increasing in numbers and intensity. The annual social cost from flood has increased 15 times since the 1970s.

The government spends an average of 5.3 trillion won per year on flood-related costs, of which 79 percent is on restoration. Water scarcity is also becoming an alarming issue. It is expected that Korea will be short of 0.8 billion cubic meters in 2011, and 1 billion cubic meters by 2016.

Building climate resilience, improving water quality and access to water, while at the same time creating jobs in times of economic depression, will definitely be in line with the paradigm of green growth set as the national vision of Korea on Aug. 15, 2008…..

EPA chief praises Netherlands' water policy on fact-finding trip

The Tech Herald: In a sneak preview of the way future US water planning may be headed, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Lisa Jackson and Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu both praised the Dutch methods of water management during a week-long fact-finding trip. Jackson said her agency could learn a great deal from the Dutch way of learning how to mitigate flooding instead of attempting to prevent increased rain due to climate change.

"As climate changes and we start seeing more and more rain we have to stop fighting it," news agency Associated Press reported Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson as saying. "There's not enough energy in the world to fight it."

Senator Landrieu said prior to going on the trip that she intended to get some answers to how the US can deal with flood emergencies such as that which inundated New Orleans during the Hurricane Katrina disaster of 2005. She said a number of "...very powerful and influential federal officials [were] going along, so that when we return we can really incorporate hopefully a lot of these ideas."

The mission was impressed by a number of Dutch innovative tactics to repel flooding including mixing water with sand dunes, building up minor waterways and the doing away with pavements to allow water to soak through to the earth….

Outer right wing of an altarpiece with the St Elizabeth’s Day flood, 18-19 November 1421, with the broken dike at Wieldrecht. Painted between 1490 and 1495

A briefing on risk management and Caribbean hurricanes

Insurance Journal: Against the background of the impending Atlantic Hurricane Season, the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility (CCRIF) has released a briefing document outlining the role of risk management in the region's adaptation strategy in the face of climate change.

"The briefing was prepared by Caribbean Risk Managers Ltd in support of the CCRIF Chairman's contribution to a discussion session forming part of the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) Board of Governors' meeting in the Turks & Caicos Islands," said the bulletin. "The purpose of the document is to examine ways in which the region can implement best practice in sovereign risk management to continue in the proactive management of natural hazards risks. It also explores the inter-linkages between many aspects of the region's risk landscape both at a national and regional level."

Warren Smith, the CDB's Director of Finance and Corporate Planning, stated: "As a strong supporter of risk mitigation as a way to achieve economic targets, the Caribbean Development Bank takes much interest in the effects that natural disasters can have on the sustainable development of the region. The Caribbean's high exposure to hurricanes and other climate-related hazards, the specific natural and social conditions which many small island states operate within, as well as the increased loss tally due to natural disasters over the past 15 years, point to a continued need for climate change adaptation within a holistic sovereign risk management framework."

The study urged that several steps be taken to meet the challenge posed by the threat. These included: "the development of national risk registries and risk 'maps' which detail the likelihood and potential severity of all risks faced by an individual country, along with their interconnectivity, as well as the potentially critical role of a 'Country Risk Officer' in coordinating risk management activities throughout the government and with regional counterparts."…

Atlantic hurricane tracks, 1851-2005

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Melting Greenland ice sheets may threaten northeast United States, Canada

University Corporation for Atmospheric Research: Melting of the Greenland ice sheet this century may drive more water than previously thought toward the already threatened coastlines of New York, Boston, Halifax, and other cities in the northeastern United States and Canada, according to new research led by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).

The study, which is being published Friday in Geophysical Research Letters, finds that if Greenland's ice melts at moderate to high rates, ocean circulation by 2100 may shift and cause sea levels off the northeast coast of North America to rise by about 12 to 20 inches (about 30 to 50 centimeters) more than in other coastal areas.

….This visualization, based on new computer modeling, shows that sea level rise may be an additional 10 centimeters (4 inches) higher by populated areas in northeastern North America than previously thought. Extreme northeastern North America and Greenland may experience even higher sea level rise. "If the Greenland melt continues to accelerate, we could see significant impacts this century on the northeast U.S. coast from the resulting sea level rise," says NCAR scientist Aixue Hu, the lead author. "Major northeastern cities are directly in the path of the greatest rise."

….The northeast coast of North America is especially vulnerable to the effects of Greenland ice melt because of the way the meridional overturning circulation acts like a conveyer belt transporting water through the Atlantic Ocean. The circulation carries warm Atlantic water from the tropics to the north, where it cools and descends to create a dense layer of cold water. As a result, sea level is currently about 28 inches (71 cm) lower in the North Atlantic than the North Pacific, which lacks such a dense layer.

…Unlike water in a bathtub, water in the oceans does not spread out evenly. Sea level can vary by several feet from one region to another, depending on such factors as ocean circulation and the extent to which water at lower depths is compressed….

This visualization, based on new computer modeling, shows that sea level rise may be an additional 10 centimeters (4 inches) higher by populated areas in northeastern North America than previously thought. Extreme northeastern North America and Greenland may experience even higher sea level rise. (Graphic courtesy Geophysical Research Letters, modified by UCAR.)

Lesson from the past for surviving climate change

E-Science News, via the University of Leicester: Research led by the University of Leicester suggests people today and in future generations should look to the past in order to mitigate the worst effects of climate change. The dangers of rising sea levels, crop failures and extreme weather were all faced by our ancestors who learnt to adapt and survive in the face of climate change.

Dr Jago Cooper, of the School of Archaeology and Ancient History at the University of Leicester, has been studying the archaeology of climate change in the Caribbean as part of a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship. The international study involves researchers from Britain, Cuba and Canada. Dr Cooper said: "Populations in the Caribbean, from 5000 BC to AD 1492, successfully lived through a 5 meter rise in relative sea levels, marked variation in annual rainfall and periodic intensification of hurricane activity.

"This research examines the archaeological lessons that can inform current responses to the impacts of climate change in the Caribbean. I have examined the relationship between long and short-term effects of climate change and past human engagement with the geographical, ecological and meteorological consequences. A key focus of the research has been to investigate past mitigation of the impacts of climate change through the analysis of changes in settlement structures, food procurement strategies and household architecture."

…Said Dr Cooper: "We have acquired archaeological information that has then been closely correlated in space and time with the long and short-term impacts of climate change. It has then been possible to evaluate the relative advantages and disadvantages of past cultural practices in the face of environmental change and establish lessons that will contribute to contemporary mitigation strategies."

Following the end of the last Ice Age, the people of the Caribbean have had to cope with a relative sea level rise of 5m over 5,000 years. Hurricanes led to storm surges that reached inland more than ever. Groundwater became contaminated with salt and the land was waterlogged. But the researchers found that far from abandoning life by the coast and moving further inland, people continued to live by the shore- and even built houses on stilts over a lagoon…..

In the aftermath of Hurricane Gustav, waters off the southern coast of Northern Cuba were significantly churned up by the 150mph winds and 30 foot swells. Photo by NASA

Freshwater flows change as global climate shifts

Naomi Lubick in Environmental Science & Technology: During the past 50 years, freshwater rivers on all continents except Antarctica (and Greenland) have undergone changes in their volume, and most of these differences can be connected to climate change, according to new research published May 15 in the Journal of Climate.

…Led by Aiguo Dai of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), the researchers collected streamflow data from 1948 to 2004 for rivers on all major land masses except Greenland and Antarctica. They logged 925 rivers using the gage farthest downstream on all the rivers where possible. Where the data were missing, either because of lapsed stream gages or other reasons, the researchers used precipitation and other climate data to model what the river flows were likely to have been.

The team determined that in the past half century, freshwater flow dropped 3–14% for some of the major rivers feeding the Pacific and Indian Oceans; however, changing precipitation patterns linked to climate shifts has increased flow for other rivers, such as the Mississippi. (Rainfall over the part of North America that feeds the Mississippi River also is up.) This change in freshwater resources could have impacts in highly populated areas that rely on depleted rivers, such as China’s Yellow River, which flows through the country’s major agricultural belt.

Streamflow in many rivers varied over the years with the El Niño–Southern Oscillation, and others matched the variability of rainfall patterns in their basins, with the exception of the Arctic. In the subtropics and tropics in particular, decreases in rainfall that are related to climate changes were reflected in reduced river flows, according to NCAR and others’ climate models…..

The Ob River in Russia, 2004

Spring agricultural fires have large impact on melting Arctic

Science Daily: Scientists from around the world will convene at the University of New Hampshire June 2-5, 2009, to discuss key findings from the most ambitious effort ever undertaken to measure "short-lived" airborne pollutants in the Arctic and determine how they contribute in the near term to the dramatic changes underway in the vast, climate-sensitive region.

The two-year international field campaign known as POLARCAT was conducted most intensively during two three-week periods last spring and summer and focused on the transport of pollutants into the Arctic from lower latitudes.

One surprise discovery was that large-scale agricultural burning in Russia, Kazakhstan, China, the U.S., Canada, and the Ukraine is having a much greater impact than previously thought. A particular threat is posed by springtime burning - to remove crop residues for new planting or clear brush for grazing - because the black carbon or soot produced by the fires can lead to accelerated melting of snow and ice.

Soot, which is produced through incomplete combustion of biomass and fossil fuels, may account for as much as 30 percent of Arctic warming to date, according to recent estimates. Soot can warm the surrounding air and, when deposited on ice and snow, absorb solar energy and add to the melting process.

In addition to soot, other short-lived pollutants include ozone and methane. Although global warming is largely the result of excess accumulation of carbon dioxide, the Arctic is highly sensitive to short-lived pollutants. Forest fires, agricultural burning, primitive cookstoves, and diesel fuel are the primary sources of black carbon; oil and gas activities and landfills are major sources of methane….

Peasant hut in the village of Martianova. From 'Views in the Ural Mountains and Western Siberia, survey of waterways, Russian Empire' by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii as part of his work to document the Russian Empire from 1909 to 1915.

Flood warning in Nigeria via This Day (Nigeria): Residents and property owners along the banks and flood plains of Ogun River and all its tributaries within its basin in Lagos State, have been admonished to take more precautionary measures. This is because there is going to be a very high rise in water level around the areas as the Ogun-Osun River Basin Authority has commenced emergency release of water from Oyan dam.

Lagos State Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Muiz Banire, who made this known in his office yesterday, said release of water from the dam became imperative, following what the Ogun-Osun River Basin Authority described as precautionary measure occasioned by increase in the water level of Oyan dam, after the heavy downpour in the last few weeks.

The River Basin Authority had in a letter addressed to Banire with Ref No OORBDA/S/102/7/1599 dated 19th May, 2009 and signed by its Executive Director (Operations), Engr Jimi Omoliki , said that the release of water from the dam was as a result of increase in rainfall in recent weeks, resulting in increase in the volume of water in the reservoir at Oyan dam.

Consequent upon this development and in conformity with the reservoir operational rule of the dam, the Authority stated that it had become imperative to release water gradually in order to maintain a tolerable capacity level for the safety of the dam, and by extension, safety of life and property downstream…..

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Appearance of Himalayas are changing due to climate change, garbage

Xinhua: The mountainous range of Himalayan nation Nepal are gradually changing their appearance as they are caught with severity of global warming and garbage. Apa Sherpa, also known as Nepal's "Super Sherpa" who had climbed Mt. Qomolangma 8848 meters 19th time beating his own previous record said on Monday, "White part of the Mt. Qomolangma is melting exposing its rocky parts."

Apa scaled Mt. Qomolangma, the highest peak in the world for a record of 19th time on May 21. He is part of the Eco Everest (Mt. Qomolangma) Expedition which has 31 members, including 17 Nepali Sherpas and 14 foreigners. Last year, he climbed the Mt. Qomolangma on May 22 with an aim to raise funds for a school in Thame, his village on the foot of Mt. Qomolangma. This time, he climbed the mountain to raise awareness about climate change and global warning.

Addressing a press conference on Monday organized to congratulate Apa by WWF-Nepal, Asian Trekking (P) Ltd and iDEAS, a local NGO, Apa said that he along with his team had collected 6,000 kilograms of garbage and brought down to base camp for proper disposal.

Appa, 49, an inhabitant of Solukhumbu, some 125 km east of Nepali capital Kathmandu, the district where Mt. Qomolangma is located said, "We need to clean Mt. Qomolangma continuously to safeguard it from changing its appearance." … Having suffered personal loss of home and property during the Dig Tsho Glacial Lake Outbrust Flood (GLOF) on Aug. 3, 1985, Apa wants to participate in campaigns to create awareness on the high risks of GLOF and to seek international support to help mountain communities…..

Dhaulagiri, in the Himalayas, shot by Kogo, Wikimedia Commons, under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 License

How gulf coast's wetlands mitigate the force of a hurricane

Craig Pittman in the St. Petersburg Times: Seven years ago, a coalition of Louisiana groups launched a save-our-coast campaign called "America's Wetland" with sponsors that ranged from the NFL's New Orleans Saints to the company that makes Tabasco sauce.

The campaign began because they wanted to alert the public that Louisiana's coastal wetlands are disappearing at a rate of 25 square miles per year. The campaign picked up steam after Hurricane Katrina showed the vital role that those coastal wetlands play in blunting the force of such storms.

Earlier this month, the latest iteration of the campaign sailed into St. Petersburg's Bayboro Harbor in a gorgeously restored 1984 Grand Banks yacht. At the helm of the 50-foot trawler was Val Marmillion, a Fort Lauderdale resident who grew up in Houma, La. He has been the managing director of the America's Wetland Foundation since its inception. Now he's taking his boat around the Gulf Coast in the weeks preceding the start of hurricane season, warning boaters and anyone else he encounters about the need to restore wetlands.

…Marmillion wants the tour to spread awareness of the impact wetlands losses are having on the environment and also the economy, since it affects the seafood and tourism industries. And it's happening not just in Louisiana but throughout the country. He named the Everglades, Chesapeake Bay, the Great Lakes and the California delta near San Francisco as places in jeopardy.

"We're losing it right around the perimeter of the country — our nation is shrinking," he said. "The whole country around its rim is in danger."

Satellite imagery showing the loss of wetlands in Louisiana over the course of 23 years. Jesse Allen, Earth Observatory, NASA

Great Lakes research, laws are shifting focus

Toledo Blade (Ohio): Though the Great Lakes have been the driving force behind many environmental laws since the early 1970s, they soon may undergo a moderate shift in how they're researched and regulated for future generations.

Some scientists who attended last week's International Association of Great Lakes Research conference at the University of Toledo said they're eager to move on to a new suite of chemicals and a broader array of studies about how the lakes can affect human health, both physically and psychologically.

UT President Lloyd Jacobs believes the lakes should not be viewed in narrow terms. He opened the conference by encouraging scientists to step back and "think also about the lakes as a spiritual resource." The reassessment comes as the United States and Canada prepare for a June 13 summit in the Niagara Falls area to mark the 100th anniversary of their 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty.

The two countries also are reconsidering the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement they signed in 1972 and last amended in 1987. Both agreements have been used as frameworks for mutually protecting the lakes. But neither addresses what scientists see as the region's most critical emerging issue: climate change.

"We consider climate change to be an enormous, emerging public health problem," said Howard Frumkin, one of the conference's two keynote speakers. Mr. Frumkin is director of the National Center for Environmental Health and Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

Deadly heat waves, more air pollution, more infectious diseases, and more allergies are likely in the Great Lakes region as its climate warms….

North Shore Palisade Head area Lake Superior, Minnesota

Three-dimensional modeling of earth's ocean climate

Science Daily: Earth scientists are reaping huge benefits from research performed on NASA's advanced supercomputers. New cube-based simulations are helping to improve estimates of ocean circulation and climate.

Researchers from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, Calif. and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, Mass., are using a new gridding method that projects the faces of a cube onto the surface of a sphere. They found that this method covers the sphere more uniformly than a latitude-longitude grid, and that it produces more accurate results near Earth's poles.

…Scientists believe the ocean and its interactions with the atmosphere are key to studying climate change. To better understand these interactions, they identified three important areas in climate research. They look at the 'states' of the ocean and sea-ice, which includes their temperature, salinity, current speeds, and sea-surface elevation, and study their changes at and below the surface. They also look at the 'state' of the atmosphere, which includes its temperature, humidity, and wind patterns, and study how it was affected by the changes in the ocean. These interactions between the atmosphere and ocean directly affect the weather, according to Hill. Finally, the scientists study the biological activity in the ocean and its responses to the changing 'state' of the ocean.

"The day-to-day weather comes from the atmosphere state, but it is strongly modulated by the ocean state. Other less apparent processes, such as the carbon dioxide extracted from the atmosphere by the ocean, depend on the oceans' physical and biological state," said Hill.

Following work begun by Carl Wunsch and colleagues at MIT as part of the World Ocean Circulation Experiment, a NASA-sponsored project called Estimating the Circulation and Climate of the Ocean, Phase II (ECCO2), is modeling the global ocean currents and their fluctuations, the changes in temperature and salinity, and the growth and melting of sea-ice in the polar regions.

The project's goal is to produce quantitative images of the state of the ocean globally, including its evolution. These images use data from all available NASA satellites and from on-site instruments, and are the result of combining and assimilating these data into global full-ocean-depth and sea-ice configurations built by the MIT general circulation model (MITgcm). These data combinations, called data syntheses, help quantify the role of the ocean in the global carbon cycle, explain the recent evolution of the polar oceans, and monitor time-evolving balances within and between different components of the Earth system….

The NAS facilities have been critical to the initial cube computation, which was carried out on the NAS SGI Altix system, Columbia. More recently it has been moved to the NAS Pleiades cluster facility. Photo Credit: NASA

Purdue undertakes largest tornado study ever

Terra Daily: Purdue University researchers could improve tornado warnings and unveil trends in their occurrences as part of the largest tornado and storm field study in history.
A project led by Jeff Trapp, an associate professor of earth and atmospheric sciences, is part of the second Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes Experiment, or VORTEX 2, field study.

The more than $9 million study, funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, involves scientists from 14 universities and institutions and is sampling supercell thunderstorms and tornadoes that form over the Great Plains of the United States through June 13.

"Through this field study we hope to discover more about what causes a tornado, why one becomes stronger than another and what characteristics of the tornado cause damage," said Trapp, who also was involved in the first VORTEX study in 1994 and 1995.....

The Altus, Oklahoma tornado of May 11, 1982. Photo from NOAA

Monday, May 25, 2009

Earth vibrations indicate increased storminess

Liz Kalaugher in Environmental Research Web: Traditionally the earth vibrations caused by ocean gravity waves created by cyclonic storms have been seen as noise that distracts from the earthquake signals seismologists are looking for. But these ocean-induced microseisms can provide valuable information about how climate has changed over time.

"Ocean-generated ambient noise measured on land is an integrator of ocean wave activity along coasts, and thus complements traditional oceanic measurements," Peter Bromirski of Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego told environmentalresearchweb. "The seismic data indicate that the amount of wave energy reaching coastlines is increasing, important under rising sea levels which allows more wave energy to reach farther shoreward."

The increase in ocean wave energy along coasts also has implications for coastal erosion and coastline evolution under rising sea levels.

…The Earth's "hum", long-period oscillations thought to be excited by ocean infragravity waves, is also climate-related. That's because some of the ocean swell reaching coastlines is transformed into infragravity waves with periods of more than 50 seconds. And the amount of ocean swell depends on storm track and storm intensity.

"The direct association of storm-driven ocean waves with microseisms and hum shows that the solid Earth is not independent of the global 'climate system'," writes Bromirski in a perspective article in Science….

The photograph was taken by Sofwathulla Mohamed while standing on his doorstep. His apartment was entirely washed out damaging all his belongings. His website is and his email address is The image is not copyrighted, you may use it freely, any credit given would be appreciated.

Kenya ill-equipped to fight climate change, UN body says

Africa Science News: As preparations for the World Environment Day gets underway, United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) has warned that Kenya is ill-equipped to mitigate the effects of climate change. UNEP’s Climate Change Adaptation Unit says despite the fact that the effects of climate change such as floods, droughts and diseases are evident in Kenya, the country lacks the capacity to address the environmental disasters.

A Programme Officer at the Unit Dr Musonda Mumba blames the country for not giving environmental issues the seriousness they deserve. Dr Mumba accuses the government of not even applying for funds from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) to fight climate change as other countries in the world are doing.

“Despite the fact that the West have met their targets by providing funds to assist developing countries adapt to climate change, some of them such as Kenya are not utilizing the Global Environment Facility kitty…” Dr Mumba told Africa Science News Service at the sidelines of a public lecture on climate change in Nairobi last week. At the same time, she lashed out at the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) for its closed door policy which locks out public participation hence hampering environmental conservation efforts.

“NEMA must embrace an open policy to bring all stakeholders on board if environmental conservation programmes are to succeed. There is need to package science in a simple and accessible manner to avoid a situation where it looks like an elitist business,” notes the Programme Officer…

Climate change has a considerable impact on the emergence and re-emergence of animal diseases

World Organization for Animal Health (or OIE): The impact of climate change on the emergence and re-emergence of animal diseases has been confirmed by a majority of OIE Member Countries and Territories in a worldwide study conducted by the OIE among all its national Delegates.

“More and more countries are indicating that climate change has been responsible for at least one emerging or re-emerging disease occurring on their territory. This is a reality we cannot ignore and we must help Veterinary Services throughout the world to equip themselves with systems that comply with international standards of good governance so as to deal with this problem,” explained Dr Bernard Vallat , Director General of the OIE.

Indeed, the conclusions of the study on “Impact of climate change and environmental changes on emerging and re-emerging animal disease and animal production”, presented by Australian expert Dr Peter Black, the Rapporteur for this Technical Item at the General Session, call for a new approach to prevent these new dangers.

…126 of the OIE's Member Countries and Territories took part in the study. Of these, 71% stated they were extremely concerned at the expected impact of climate change on emerging and re-emerging diseases. 58% identified at least one emerging or re-emerging disease on their territory that was believed to be associated with climate change. The three animal diseases most frequently mentioned by the OIE Members that responded were: bluetongue, Rift Valley fever and West Nile fever….

A transmission electron micrograph (TEM) with a highly magnified view of a tissue infected with Rift Valley fever (RVF) virus, Centers for Disease Control