Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Cartographic geeks, rejoice! NASA, Japan release most complete topographic map of earth

NASA: NASA and Japan released a new digital topographic map of Earth Monday that covers more of our planet than ever before. The map was produced with detailed measurements from NASA's Terra spacecraft. The new global digital elevation model of Earth was created from nearly 1.3 million individual stereo-pair images collected by the Japanese Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer, or Aster, instrument aboard Terra. NASA and Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, known as METI, developed the data set. It is available online to users everywhere at no cost.

"This is the most complete, consistent global digital elevation data yet made available to the world," said Woody Turner, Aster program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "This unique global set of data will serve users and researchers from a wide array of disciplines that need elevation and terrain information."

According to Mike Abrams, Aster science team leader at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., the new topographic information will be of value throughout the Earth sciences and has many practical applications. "Aster's accurate topographic data will be used for engineering, energy exploration, conserving natural resources, environmental management, public works design, firefighting, recreation, geology and city planning, to name just a few areas," Abrams said.

…"The Aster data fill in many of the voids in the shuttle mission's data, such as in very steep terrains and in some deserts," said Michael Kobrick, Shuttle Radar Topography Mission project scientist at JPL. "NASA is working to combine the Aster data with that of the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission and other sources to produce an even better global topographic map."…

NASA furnished this great image with the following caption: The Los Angeles Basin is bordered on the north by the San Gabriel Mountains. Other smaller basins are separated by smaller mountain ranges, like the Verdugo Hills, and the Santa Monica Mountains. In this perspective view looking to the northwest, Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) simulated natural color image data were draped over digital topography from the ASTER Global Digital Elevation Model (GDEM) data set. Dodger Stadium is visible in the lower right, and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is the light- colored area at the foot of the mountains in the upper right of the image. The ASTER data were acquired August 15, 2006, and are located near 34.1 degrees north latitude, 118.2 degrees west longitude.

Invading ladybirds (or ladybugs) breed up ecological storm for UK species

What they call “ladybirds” appear to be what Americans call “ladybugs,” or so I glean from David Adam in the Guardian (UK): Millions of very hungry ladybirds are poised to create ecological havoc for hundreds of Britain's native species, scientists warn today. Experts said the anticipated warm summer would provide the perfect conditions for the Asian harlequin ladybird to breed and prepare for a springtime assault. "They are creating a huge genetic stock ready for next year," said Helen Roy, a scientist with the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.

The insect, a voracious predator, has spread across the UK since its arrival from continental Europe in 2004. The bugs have been spotted as far north as Orkney, though they remain strongest in south-east England, where they have overrun many of London's parks. "We believe that the negative impacts of the harlequin on Britain will be far-reaching and disruptive, with the potential to affect over a thousand of our native species," she said. "It's a big and voracious predator, it will eat lots of different insects, soft fruit and all kinds of things."

Unlike British ladybirds, such as the most common seven-spot, the harlequin does not need a cold winter for adults to reach sexual maturity, and so be able to breed. "That gives them a massive advantage," Roy said…

Asian Lady Beetle (Harmonia axyridis), picture taken in Oakland, California. Shot by Calibas, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0, Attribution ShareAlike 2.5, Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 and Attribution ShareAlike 1.0 License

Desert dust alters ecology of Colorado alpine meadows

Science Daily: Accelerated snowmelt—precipitated by desert dust blowing into the mountains—changes how alpine plants respond to seasonal climate cues that regulate their life cycles, according to results of a new study reported this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). These results indicate that global warming may have a greater influence on plants' annual growth cycles than previously thought.

Current mountain dust levels are five times greater than they were before the mid-19th century, due in large part to increased human activity in deserts. "Human use of desert landscapes is linked to the life cycles of mountain plants, and changes the environmental cues that determine when alpine meadows will be in bloom, possibly increasing plants' sensitivity to global warming," said Jay Fein, program director in the National Science Foundation (NSF)'s Division of Atmospheric Sciences, which funded the research in part.

This year, 12 dust storms have painted the mountain snowpack red and advanced the retreat of snow cover, likely by more than a month across Colorado. "Desert dust is synchronizing plant growth and flowering across the alpine zone," said Heidi Steltzer, a Colorado State University scientist who led the study. "Synchronized growth was unexpected, and may have adverse effects on plants, water quality and wildlife."

"It's striking how different the landscape looks as result of this desert-and-mountain interaction," said Chris Landry, director of the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies (CSAS) in Silverton, Colo., who, along with Tom Painter, director of the Snow Optics Laboratory at the University of Utah, contributed to the study….

Matthew Trump shot this view of a meadow in Middle Park southeast of Granby, Colorado along U.S. Highway 40. Wikimedia Commons, under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2

Extinction risk to plant biodiversity may occur at lower levels of atmospheric CO2 than previously considered

PhysOrg.com: Scientists have traced a sudden collapse in plant biodiversity in ancient Greenland, some 200 million years ago, to a relatively small rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide which caused a rise in the Earth’s temperature. According to the findings published in the leading journal Science, the current estimated levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide which are thought to lead to sudden biodiversity loss may have to be revised downwards.

However, the scientists from University College Dublin, The Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC and Oxford University, have cautioned that their study findings may not have accounted for additional atmospheric gases such as sulphur dioxide which may have emerged from extensive volcanic emissions at the time to also play a role in driving the rise in the Earth’s temperature.

“Examining the 200 million year old fossil leaves from East Greenland, we discovered that the ancient biodiversity crash happened at atmospheric greenhouse gas levels of approximately 900 parts per million,” said Dr Jenny McElwain from the UCD School of Biology and Environmental Science at University College Dublin, Ireland, the lead researcher on the project….

North of Greenland's Kaiser Franz Josef Fjord, near Stensjö Bjerg, shot by Erik, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 license.

Climate change information for the poor

IRIN: Under-resourced media are failing rural people in developing countries, who are most vulnerable to climate change and in greater need of information to protect themselves from more intense cyclones and longer droughts, according to a new study.

"Journalists need resources and support from their editors to access rural areas to find out how people ... are coping and adapting to climate change - these stories might be relevant to people living in another part of the world," said Mike Shanahan, press officer for the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), who contributed to the study, Climate Change and the Media.

"The general picture painted by the most recent research is that while coverage of climate change in non-industrialized countries is increasing, the quantity and quality of reporting do not match the scale of the problem," he wrote. There was a reliance on Western news agencies rather than locally relevant news, although Indian newspapers were an exception.

"This, coupled with sparse coverage of adaptation, has implications for the world's poor, who urgently need information to prepare for the impacts of climate change." According to the World Bank, three out of four poor people in developing countries live in rural areas....

Inside Dharavi (in Mumbai), Asia's largest slum of over one million dwellers. Shot by the NGO medapt, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License

Monday, June 29, 2009

Carbon-Based on Cleanskies TV

Recently I visited the studios of Cleanskies TV, where correspondent Tyler Suiters interviewed me about a number of climate change adaptation issues. This was my second visit to the internet-based station, which focuses on energy and environmental issues. We discussed a variety of adaptation efforts underway in Asia, Europe and the United States, and some of the challenges that cities and countries face in responding to climate change impacts.

I underscored one of this blog's main themes -- mitigating carbon emissions is just part of the story. We will have to adapt to climate change, too. I had a great time, and you can view the results on the Cleanskies website.

Heatwave warning for parts of UK

BBC: A heatwave warning has been issued for England and Wales, with temperatures in some areas potentially rising as high as 32C (90F) in the coming days. The Met Office says London, the east and south-east of England will be the hottest areas, both by day and night.

Warm and humid weather is also forecast throughout the rest of the UK, with a risk of thundery showers. The Department of Health has asked people to check on elderly friends and family who may suffer in the heat.

NHS staff have also been warned to prepare for a surge of elderly and ill patients suffering from the heat. Hospitals could be asked to set up emergency "cool rooms" and hand out cold drinks as part of a string of measures set down in the Government's official heatwave plan…..

Tower Bridge London, taken by Daniel J Maxwell from Capital FM's Flying Eye at 8.40am on 29th April 2005, Wikimedia Commons, under Creative Commons Attribution 1.0 license.

Rising sea level to submerge Louisiana coastline by 2100, study warns

Suzanne Goldenburg in the Guardian (UK): A vast swath of the coastal lands around New Orleans will be underwater by the dawn of the next century because the rate of sediment deposit in the Mississippi delta can not keep up with rising sea levels, according to a study published today. Between 10,000 and 13,500 square kilometres of coastal lands will drown due to rising sea levels and subsidence by 2100, a far greater loss than previous estimates.

For New Orleans, and other low-lying areas of Louisiana whose vulnerability was exposed by hurricane Katrina, the findings could bring some hard choices about how to defend the coast against the future sea level rises that will be produced by climate change. They also revive the debate about the long-term sustainability of New Orleans and other low-lying areas.

Scientists say New Orleans and the barrier islands to the south will be severely affected by climate change by the end of this century, with sea level rise and growing intensity of hurricanes. Much of the land mass of the barrier island chain sheltering New Orleans was lost in the 2005 storm.

But the extent of the land that will be lost is far greater than earlier forecasts suggest, said Dr Michael Blum and Prof Harry Roberts, the authors of the study. "When you look at the numbers you come to the conclusion that the resources are just not there to restore all the coast, and that is one of the major points of this paper," said Roberts, a professor emeritus of marine geology at Louisiana State University.

Blum, who was formerly at Louisiana State University, now works at Exxon. "I think every geologist that has worked on this problem realises the future does not look very bright unless we can come up with some innovative ways to get that sediment in the right spot," said Roberts. "For managers and people who are squarely in the restoration business, this is going to force them to make some very hard decisions about which areas to save and which areas you can't save."….

An 1866 painting of a Louisian bayou by Joseph Rusling Meeker

Florida Keys ill-prepared for rising sea

Cammy Clark in the Miami Herald: …''South Florida is on the front line against sea-level rise in the United States, and the Florida Keys are ground zero,'' said Evan Flugman, who co-authored a Florida International University report on the importance of Monroe County tackling the issue now.

By 2100, under the best-case predictions of a seven-inch sea-level rise by an international climate panel, the Keys would lose about 59,000 acres of real estate worth $11 billion, according to the nonprofit Nature Conservancy.

Under the panel's worst-case projection of ocean waters rising 23.2 inches, about 75 percent of the Keys 154,000 acres and nearly 50 percent of its $43 billion property value could become submerged. Consequences also include the loss of habitat for many endangered plants and species, including Key deer. And the panel's predictions are conservative in comparison to some scientists' calculations.

The eye-opening projections were presented at a June meeting in Marathon to urge Monroe County Mayor George Neugent, other Keys leaders and residents to develop long-term plans to deal with climate change. Unlike Miami-Dade and Broward counties, the Keys do not have a climate change task force.

…During the presentation, Patrick Gleason, a geologist and member of the Broward County Climate Change Committee, noted that South Florida is among the world's more vulnerable areas, due to low elevation and a porous limestone base.

A Nature Conservancy study mapped out the potential ecological and economic consequences of rising seas for the Keys, particularly Big Pine Key. Yet the FIU study concluded that little has been done to plan for climate change in the Keys...Experts at the Keys meeting said any plan to address rising seas should include mitigation to help reduce greenhouse gases that are accelerating sea-level rise and adaptation to cope with the consequences…

Satellite view of the Florida Keys, NASA

Crops face toxic timebomb in warmer world: study

David Fogarty in Reuters: Staples such as cassava on which millions of people depend become more toxic and produce much smaller yields in a world with higher carbon dioxide levels and more drought, Australian scientists say. The findings, presented on Monday at a conference in Glasgow, Scotland, underscored the need to develop climate-change-resistant cultivars to feed rapidly growing human populations, said Ros Gleadow of the Monash University in Melbourne.

Gleadow's team tested cassava and sorghum under a series of climate change scenarios, with particular focus on different CO2 levels, to study the effect on plant nutritional quality and yield. Both species belong to a group of plants that produce chemicals called cyanogenic glycosides, which break down to release poisonous cyanide gas if the leaves are crushed or chewed.

Around 10 percent of all plants and 60 percent of crop species produce cyanogenic …Current levels in the air are just under 390 ppm, around the highest in at least 800,000 years and up by about a third since the start of the Industrial Revolution.

"What we found was the amount of cyanide relative to the amount of protein increases," Gleadow told Reuters from Glasgow, referring to cassava. At double current CO2 levels, the level of toxin was much higher while protein levels fell….

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Praying for rain in the cauldron of climate change

A vivid picture of the late monsoon in India, by Dean Nelson in the Telegraph (UK): …The monsoon is now two weeks late and the impact of the delay is potentially devastating. The farmers cannot plant rice, cotton or sugarcane until the rains soften the parched, cracked soil, and if they don’t plant in the next week or so their yields will plunge, prices will rise, and the number of farmer suicides will increase. So far central and north-west India have received between 25 and 60 per cent of normal rainfall.

Mihir Sharma in the Indian Express gave a compellingly alarming explanation of why this is, why India can expect more drought, and in the process highlighted how the slow pot-roasting of the planet will be felt more painfully in India than perhaps anywhere else on earth.

India’s winters are milder than they used to be, its summers are getting hotter, and its monsoons are scattered showers compared with the cloudbursts they once were, he said, and it’s because of the way India has developed.

Delhi, which was once an arid city set in semi-scrub has been lined with trees, while the land surrounding it has been irrigated. The plain it sits on is not as dry as it used to be, and so its atmosphere does not suck in the humid monsoon clouds as powerfully as it once did.

…And while world leaders attend summit meetings to tackle climate change, here global warming seems to have an unstoppable momentum. It is being fuelled by India’s continuing growth which means more vehicles, more city dwellers, more pollution, less water, more electricity, and steel jungles of sky-scrapers covered in glass-panels which send temperatures soaring even higher.

…As I write this, a power cut brings the air conditioner to a halt, it’s getting hotter, and suddenly I care more about the environment than I ever thought possible.
If only it would rain.

The Minaret at Qutb Minar in Delhi, India, shot by Wtclark, who has generously released the image into the public domain

Sea level issues in Texas

Leigh Jones in the Daily News (Galveston, Texas) has a comprehensive story about some of the data and mapping issues that accompany sea level rise: Almost 80 percent of Galveston County households could be displaced by 2109 if water levels in the Gulf of Mexico and Galveston Bay rise as quickly as they have during the past 100 years. Gauges at the Port of Galveston’s Pier 21 show the water is 2.3 feet higher today than it was in 1909.

If that trend continues, the rising water would chase thousands of homeowners away from the coast and cause billions of dollars in damage to the area’s water, sewer and utility systems, according to a study of sea level rise released earlier this month by three researchers from the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University at Corpus Christi.

But a well-known coastal geologist disagrees with the study’s findings, calling them extreme and alarmist. The world’s best scientists agree the sea level is rising at half that rate, he said. As alarming as a repeat of the last 100 years of sea level rise would be, the A&M researchers predict it actually could be much worse.

Estimates that the rate of sea level rise will remain the same are overly conservative, David Yoskowitz, one of the study’s authors, said. It is much more reasonable to expect the rate of sea level rise to increase during the next 100 years, which would submerge Galveston and other bay-front communities in 4.9 feet of additional water, Yoskowitz said. “If you look at our topography along the Gulf Coast, it doesn’t take much of a rise for that water to really work its way inland,” he said.

….Galveston County residents should be most worried about the contribution sea level rise will make to the next 100-year storm, Yoskowitz said. Using modeling software created by FEMA, Yoskowitz and his team simulated a Hurricane Ike-like scenario, which would have caused another $1.7 billion in damage in the three counties that surround the bay, if sea level was 2.3 feet higher than it is now....

An 1871 map of Galveston

Funds to fight fires going up in smoke

Ray Rasker in the Denver Post: This year's forest fire season has arrived across the West, bringing with it the disturbing trends of ever larger fire suppression costs mostly paid for by the national taxpayer, and often to protect second homes that are only seasonally occupied.

The price of fighting forest fires has increased substantially, now accounting for half of the Forest Service's budget and costing taxpayers billions. … Yet we have failed to address one reason why forest fires have become so expensive: the increasing number of private homes, many of them second residences, near forested public lands.

Across the West today, only 14 percent of private land adjacent to forests has homes on it. But this relatively small percentage is tremendously expensive. … In addition, climate change is expanding the length and severity of fire seasons. A case study done by Headwaters Economics analyzing Montana, for example, shows that a one-degree increase in average summertime temperature is associated with a doubling of home protection costs.

Homes built near forested public lands are much more likely to be second homes than compared to other private Western lands. … Residential lots near wildlands also take up more than six times the space of homes built in other places. … . Sprawled housing costs more to protect.

Given these facts, why should the nation's taxpayers — especially at a time of record deficits and record fire years — subsidize the affluent, who often could afford to pay for protecting or insuring these homes?...

A house afire in Oregon, 1953, shot by the US Forest Service

TERI chief says Indian Army's biggest enemy is climate change

Sify News: Dr. R.K. Pachauri, Director General of The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) and Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has warned the Indian Army that climate change could prove to be their biggest enemy, as melting snow could open a new passage for terrorists.

"Climate change poses new threats to India. Melting snows in the north open up passages for terrorists, just as melting glaciers affect water supply in the subcontinent's northern part, sharpening possibility of conflict with our neighbours. Changing rainfall patterns affect rain fed agriculture, worsening poverty which can be exploited by others," Dr. Pachauri said while delivering the keynote address at the convocation ceremony at the Military College of Telecommunication Engineering, Mhow.

He cautioned that climate change might force millions of 'climate refugees' across India's border, posing a new challenge to nation's armed forces. "Our defence forces might find themselves torn between humanitarian relief operations and guarding our borders against climate refugees, as rising sea-levels swamp low-lying areas, forcing millions of 'climate refugees' across India's border," he added….

Gaumukh (Cow's mouth), the end of Gangotri glacier, start of Bhagirathi River in Uttarakhand, India, shot by Atarax42, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0, Attribution ShareAlike 2.5, Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 and Attribution ShareAlike 1.0 License.

QuickScat finds tempests brewing in 'ordinary' storms

Science Daily: … In the decade since NASA's QuikScat satellite and its SeaWinds scatterometer launched in June 1999, the satellite has measured the wind speed and wind direction of these powerful storms, providing data that are increasingly used by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Hurricane Center and other world forecasting agencies. The data help scientists detect these storms, understand their wind fields, estimate their intensity and track their movement.

But tropical cyclones aren't the only storms that generate hurricane-force winds. Among others that do is a type of storm that dominates the weather in parts of the United States and other non-tropical regions every fall, winter and into spring: extratropical cyclones.

Scientists have long known that extratropical cyclones (also known as mid-latitude or baroclinic storms) sometimes produce hurricane-force winds. But before QuikScat, hurricane-force extratropical cyclones were thought to be relatively rare. Thanks to QuikScat, we now know that such storms occur much more frequently than previously believed, and the satellite has given forecasters an effective tool for routinely and consistently detecting and forecasting them.

…As confirmed in a 2008 study, QuikScat substantially extends the ability of forecasters to detect hurricane-force wind events in extratropical storms. For the studied case, QuikScat was able to identify more than three-and-a-half times as many hurricane-force events as combined data from the European ASCAT sensor on the METOP-A satellite, directly-measured buoy and ship information, and model predictions.

…QuikScat data have been instrumental in the ability to forecast hurricane-force extratropical cyclones several days in advance, while they are still well out over the ocean. Forecasters can use the data to determine which numerical weather prediction models are handling a storm the best, thereby improving the accuracy of forecasts and increasing warning lead times. QuikScat data are available to forecasters within three hours of acquisition….

Artist's conception of the QuikScat satellite, from one of the Gerhard Richters of NASA

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Brazil grants land rights to squatters living in Amazon rainforest

Tom Phillips in the Guardian (UK): Brazil's president Lula has approved a controversial law which grants land rights to squatters occupying land in the Amazon — campaigners fear it will result in a further increase in deforestation of the Amazon region. The law – known as "provisional measure 458" – is one of the most controversial environmental decisions of Lula's two terms in office, with the president coming under intense pressure from both environmental groups and the country's powerful agricultural lobby.

Marcelo Furtado, Greenpeace's campaigns manager in Brazil, said the approval of the law showed that Brazil's policy on global warming was contradictory: "On one hand Brazil is setting targets for the reduction of carbon emissions and on the other it is opening up more areas for deforestation."

Brazil's government says more than 1m people will benefit from the law, which covers 67.4m hectares of land, an area roughly the size of France. It believes the law will reduce violent conflicts by giving people private ownership of the land they live on, and will make it easier to track down those illegally felling trees.

But environmentalists – who have dubbed it the "land-grabbers bill" – fear the new rules will offer a carte blanche for those wanting to make money by destroying the Amazon. They say the law effectively provides an amnesty for those who have devastated the Amazon over the last four decades. Around 20% of the Amazon has already been lost, according to environmental campaigners, and deforestation globally causes nearly a fifth of all greenhouse gas emissions. "This measure perpetuates a 19th century practice [of Amazon destruction] instead of taking us towards a new 21st century strategy of sustainable development," said Furtado….

Torching a national park in Brazil in 2007, shot by Antonio Cruz, Wikimedia Commons via Agência Brasil, under the Creative Commons License Attribution 2.5 Brazil)

Projected food, energy demands seen to outpace production

Science Daily: With the caloric needs of the planet expected to soar by 50 percent in the next 40 years, planning and investment in global agriculture will become critically important, according a new report released June 25.

The report, produced by Deutsche Bank, one of the world's leading global investment banks, in collaboration with the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, provides a framework for investing in sustainable agriculture against a backdrop of massive population growth and escalating demands for food, fiber and fuel.

…The report notes that agricultural research and technological development in the United States and Europe have increased notably in the last decade, but those advances have not translated into increased production on a global scale. Subsistence farmers in developing nations, in particular, have benefited little from such developments and investments in those agricultural sectors have been marginal, at best. The Deutsche Bank report, however, identifies a number of strategies to increase global agricultural productions in sustainable ways, including:
  • Improvements in irrigation, fertilization and agricultural equipment using technologies ranging from geographic information systems and global analytical maps to the development of precision, high performance equipment.
  • Applying sophisticated management and technologies on a global scale, essentially extending research and investment into developing regions of the world.
  • Investing in "farmer competence" to take full advantage of new technologies through education and extension services, including investing private capital in better training farmers.
  • Intensifying yield using new technologies, including genetically modified crops.
  • Increasing the amount of land under cultivation without expanding to forested lands through the use of multiple cropping, improving degraded crop and pasturelands, and converting productive pastures to biofuel production….

Rising sea could swallow Mombasa in 20 years

Murithi Mutiga in the Daily Nation (Kenya): Mombasa is known all over the world as a city of sun-kissed beaches and luxurious hotels packed with tourists having the time of their lives. But in just 20 years, this world-renowned tourist haven may become an island of misery in which vast stretches of land are submerged in sea.

Salinity will make the water unfit for human consumption, it is feared, and local agriculture will collapse due to excess salts in the soil. That is the grim projection of scientists who are now warning that authorities must take urgent steps to save the coastal city from collapsing under the weight of the effects of global warming.

“We are already seeing adverse climate change signals. Some hotels at the South Coast are building sea walls to deal with waves, something we have not seen before,” says Dr Samuel Mariga, assistant director in charge of climate change at the Kenya Meteorological Department. “All our models indicate that temperatures will continue going up and we must put in place adaptation and mitigation measures to deal with the problem.”

Dr Mariga’s views tally with those presented in a new book focusing on how cities can best cope with effects of changing climactic conditions. The book, "Adapting Cities to Climate Change", highlights challenges facing Mombasa, Dhaka, Cotonou, Mumbai, Rio de Janeiro, Shanghai and Durban….

Evening in Mombasa, shot by Angelo Juan Ramos, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License

UK climate change funding cut by 25%

The Register (UK): The Met Office, home of UK weather soothsaying, is getting its climate research budget chopped by a quarter after the Ministry of Defence ended financial support to focus on "current operations." A loss of £4.3m ($7m) funding will hit the Met Office Hadley Centre for Climate Change, according to the science journal Nature. The research institute provides the government with bleeding-edge computer models indicating which parts of the UK should stockpile sunscreen and floaties for the coming Thermageddon.

The pull-out will be the first time Met Office climate research has gone without MoD money. For several years now, the MoD has been the Hadley Center's primary customer and funder for climate modeling. "Global and regional security will be threatened by climate change, and the MoD is hopelessly wrong to think it is outside its responsibility," climate scientist Martin Parry told Nature. Parry formerly worked at the Met Office and is now with Grantham Institute for Climate Change at Imperial College London…..

William Hogarth's "Gin Lane," re-engraved by Samuel Davenport ca. 1806

Friday, June 26, 2009

Climate-proofing the Zambesi River

AllAfrica.com, from IRIN: The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has launched a USD$ 8 million initiative to help build the disaster resilience of 600,000 people living along the Zambezi river in seven southern African countries. The Zambezi River Basin Initiative (ZRBI) is a response to "a dramatic increase in the numbers of floods along the river basin" according to Farid Abdulkadir, IFRC disaster management coordinator for the southern Africa region. At 2,574 kilometers, the Zambezi is Africa's fourth largest river. Some 80 percent of the 32 million people in the fertile basin depend on agriculture or fishing.

…The focus of the ZRBI, launched on 25 June, would therefore be on disaster preparedness rather than post emergency relief operations: "The Zambezi Initiative aims to break this cycle; to help communities be prepared for these disasters, and to encourage them to take steps to reduce the devastating impact that they have on their lives," he said….

The Zambesi Delta, from the International Space Station

Deserts crossing the Mediterranean

ANSA (Italy): The Sahara Desert is crossing the Mediterranean, according to Italian environmental protection group Legambiente which warns that the livelihoods of 6.5 million people living along its shores could be at risk. ''Desertification isn't limited to Africa,'' said Legambiente Vice President Sebastiano Venneri.

''Without a serious change of direction in economic and environmental policies, the risk will become concrete and irreversible.'' A recent report by Legambiente estimated that 74 million acres of fertile land along the Mediterranean were turning to desert as the result of overexploited land and water resources.

Legambiente said that southern Italy was at severe risk in addition to the islands of Sicily and Sardinia where 11% of all arable land showed signs of drying up. ''Semi-arid coastal regions like southern Italy are prone to the effects of desertification due to farmers' dependence on water from underground aquifers instead of rainfall,'' said Legambiente spokesman Giorgio Zampetti. According to Zampetti, pumping too much fresh water out of these underground deposits can result in seawater leaking in to replace it, effectively poisoning the groundwater.

As an example of the long-term consequences, Legambiente pointed to Egypt where it said brackish groundwater had compromised half the country's farmland.

''The south of Italy isn't the only part of the country at risk,'' added Zampetti. ''Aquifers around the Po Delta in northern Italy have also begun showing signs of saltwater contamination.'' Experts said that the Po River, which is Italy's longest waterway and nearly dries up in parts when industrial consumption peaks, is one of the most visible examples of desertifying climate change in Italy. Italy is not the only country in Europe losing fertile land....

Mount Etna seen from Castelmola above Taormina, Sicily, shot by Arnold Paul, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 License

Gordon Brown puts $100bn price tag on climate adaptation

David Adam in the Guardian (UK): Gordon Brown today attempted to seize the political initiative on climate change by calling for rich countries to hand over $100bn (£60bn) each year to help the developing world cope with the effects of global warming.

In a speech at London zoo, the prime minister said the cash offer was intended to break the political stalemate over a new global deal on greenhouse gas emissions. He said the "security of our planet and our humanity" rested on such a treaty being agreed at key UN negotiations in Copenhagen in December.

...Aides said the speech was intended to provide fresh momentum to the stalling political talks on global warming. In exchange for greater action on climate as part of a new deal, the developing world wants money to help it cut carbon emissions and adapt to a warmer world. Earlier this month, EU leaders postponed a decision on such funds until October.

…The annual $100bn falls well short of what China and other developing nations have demanded in climate funding. The G77 group of nations has suggested that rich countries could hand over 1% of their GDP, a figure that British government sources consider unfeasible. "That's a totally unrealistic number. It doesn't even bring us to the negotiating table," one said…..

A heavy rain, shot by Pridatko Oleksandr

More than 100 reported dead in Indian heatwave

Terra Daily via Agence France-Presse: An acute heatwave roasting much of India has claimed at least 100 lives, with more deaths feared because the annual monsoon rains have yet to come, officials said Thursday. In the eastern state of Orissa, at least 58 people have died due to sunstroke since April, disaster management official Durgesh Nandini Sahoo told AFP in the state capital Bhubaneswar.

Local newspapers have reported at least 12 deaths in the impoverished northern state of Bihar, and 17 deaths in neighbouring Jharkhand state. The Press Trust of India has reported 18 deaths in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, and six more in the south-central state of Andhra Pradesh. In the eastern state of Chhattisgarh authorities have ordered schools to shut….

The Haji Ali Dargah, in the Mahim Bay in Mumbai, shot by Humayunn Peerzaada AKA HumFur from Mumbai, India, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 License

Massive imbalances in global fertilizer use

Seed Daily: Synthetic fertilizers have dramatically increased food production worldwide. But the unintended costs to the environment and human health have been substantial. Nitrogen runoff from farms has contaminated surface and groundwater and helped create massive "dead zones" in coastal areas, such as the Gulf of Mexico. And ammonia from fertilized cropland has become a major source of air pollution, while emissions of nitrous oxide form a potent greenhouse gas.

These and other negative environmental impacts have led some researchers and policymakers to call for reductions in the use of synthetic fertilizers. But in a report published in the June 19 issue of the journal Science, an international team of ecologists and agricultural experts warns against a "one-size-fits-all" approach to managing global food production.

"Most agricultural systems follow a trajectory from too little in the way of added nutrients to too much, and both extremes have substantial human and environmental costs," said lead author Peter Vitousek, a professor of biology at Stanford University and senior fellow at Stanford's Woods Institute for the Environment.

"Some parts of the world, including much of China, use far too much fertilizer," Vitousek said. "But in sub-Saharan Africa, where 250 million people remain chronically malnourished, nitrogen, phosphorus and other nutrient inputs are inadequate to maintain soil fertility."….

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Study provides insights into how climate change might impact species’ geographic ranges

University of Notre Dame News: A new study by a team of researchers led by Jessica Hellmann, assistant professor of biological sciences at the University of Notre Dame, offers interesting insights into how species may, or may not, change their geographic range — the place where they live on earth — under climate change. The lead author on the paper is recent Notre Dame doctoral degree recipient Shannon Pelini.

…In a paper appearing in this week’s edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Hellmann and her team describe how they tested the assumption that populations at the northern edge of a species’ range will increase with warming and thereby enhance the colonization process by using two butterflies: the Propertius duskywing and the Anise swallowtail.

….Hellmann pointed out that by comparing and contrasting two distinct butterfly species in the same geographic area, researchers can obtain general principles to help predict if species will change their geographic ranges under climate change.

Hellmann and her colleagues found that populations at the northern range edge in both butterfly species experienced problems when exposed to warmer conditions — the conditions that they will experience under climate change. The duskywing performed well in the summer months, initially suggesting that populations could increase with warming conditions. However, it performed poorly under warmer winter conditions, which would likely offset the summer population gains. Additionally, range expansion of the species is inhibited by the lack of host plants.

Northern populations of the swallowtail did not benefit from any of the warming treatments. The species fared badly during heat waves occurring during the summer months when tested under field conditions and fared no better under conditions of steady, moderate warming in the laboratory. Temperatures at the northern edge of the geographic range also impacted the host plant the species relies on, implying that interactions among species could change under climate change.

The results shed doubt on the assumption that populations near the upward range boundary are pre-adapted to warming and will increase with upward range expansions and this paper is the first based on experiments to say so....

Anise Swallowtail on the San Francisco Bay Trail in Tiburon, California, shot by Stephen Lea, Wikimedia Commons, under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2

UK government claims 'significant progress' on flood prevention

Luke Walsh in Edie.net: Two years on from devastating floods that tore through the UK the Government has confidentially announced it's making 'significant progress' on improving defences. The announcement comes six months after Sir Michael Pitt's review, published in December 2008, in which he made 92 recommendations to improve the UK's preparation, management and response to severe flooding.

Hilary Benn, the environment secretary, today (25 June) outlining the progress made in carrying out the recommendations in the Pitt Review into the 2007 floods.

Many of the recommendations in the report … are listed as complete or ongoing. However, one of the ones to have missed its target was for the government to develop a single set of guidance for local authorities and the public on the 'use and usefulness' of sandbags. This is now due to be issued by the Environment Agency (EA) at the end of next month (July), with additional guidance to follow in the autumn.

Another recommendation where there's been significant progress is with the EA and the Met Office working together, through a joint centre, to improve their technical capability to forecast, model and warn against all sources of flooding…

Bridge collapse in Ludlow during the 2007 flooding in UK. Picture taken June 30, 2007, by Mea, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0, Attribution ShareAlike 2.5, Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 and Attribution ShareAlike 1.0 License

Eight killed in Philippines storm

Press Association: At least eight people have died and eight more are missing after a tropical storm cut across the central Philippines. The storm whipped up tornadoes, triggered landslides and overturned boats amid widespread flooding, officials said. Tropical Storm Nangka, with winds of 40 miles per hour and gusts of up to 50 mph, blew into the South China Sea west of Manila overnight and was expected to track northwest towards the Taiwan Strait this weekend, forecasters said.

Nearly 10,000 people were stranded aboard hundreds of ferries and motorboats, which were ordered to stay docked for safety on Wednesday. As the weather began to clear ships began leaving ports and only about 1,800 passengers remained stranded in 21 ports, officials said.

Two people died when a landslide buried their house in southern Cagayan de Oro city after days of heavy rain. A farmer died on Wednesday when a live electrical wire hit him as he was driving a tractor along a flooded street in central Romblon province, the national disaster agency and police reported….

New publication: Access to Affordable and Nutritious Food—Measuring and Understanding Food Deserts and Their Consequences: Report to Congress

USDA Economic Research Service has a new publication on “food deserts”: This report fills a request for a study of food deserts—areas with limited access to affordable and nutritious food—from the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008. The report summarizes findings of a national-level assessment of the extent and characteristics of food deserts, analysis of the consequences of food deserts, lessons learned from related Federal programs, and a discussion of policy options for alleviating the effects of food deserts. Overall, findings show that a small percentage of consumers are constrained in their ability to access affordable nutritious food because they live far from a supermarket or large grocery store and do not have easy access to transportation….

Czech government sends aid to flood-hit areas

Czech Happenings: The Czech government decided today to earmark up to 54 million crowns for the flood-hit localities in North Moravia and to send there up to 1000 soldiers to remove the flood consequences, Prime Minister Jan Fischer told reporters after a meeting of the National Security Council. The North Moravian regional authorities announced today that it would distribute 70 million crowns among flood victims.

Regional governor Jaroslav Palas (Social Democrats, CSSD) told journalists after a meeting of the regional crisis committee that the regional council would provide 20,000 crowns per person and that municipalities could receive from the region up to 500,000 crowns to remove the first damage. In addition, the Local Development Ministry will earmark 45 million crowns.

Czech humanitarian organisations are preparing aid to victims of the floods. The ADRA organisation has started recruiting volunteers and will start taking concrete measures on Friday….

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Climate change, poverty and envrionment in Malawi

ReliefWeb has a link to an Oxfam report on Malawi:… Malawi is … beginning to demonstrate that with the right support, farmers can succeed and overcome some of the limitations of both poverty and a fickle climate. Crucially 2006 and 2007 were years of generally good rain and just as crucially, improved government policies and support, meant two record-breaking national maize harvests in a row. The record-breaking harvests give hope for the future, albeit fragile. Malawi is dangerously over-dependent on maize. Building resilience to climate change means seizing this moment to diversify crops and diversify rural livelihoods ready for the next time that the rains are poor.

Good adaptation and good development are intimately linked. For farmers it starts with being able to get access to improved seeds – faster maturing and higher yielding - but to fulfil the potential of such seeds requires much more, including training in innovative farming methods – and sometimes the revival of old methods. The use of irrigation and compost, and growing a wider range of crops, are particularly crucial in the south, where population is high and land shortages are exacerbated by the presence of huge tea estates.

…The government of Malawi has developed a list of priority activities that it wants to implement in order to start adaptation to climate change. Malawi's National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPAs) aim to improve community resilience, restore forests, improve agricultural production, and improve preparedness for floods and droughts and boost climate monitoring. To fund Malawi's NAPAs requires US$ 22.43 million. To date, however, no money has been forthcoming from the international community that asked Malawi to develop its plan. Oxfam says the ongoing failure to fund the NAPAs drawn up by Least Developed Countries is unacceptable. However, Civil Society Organisations in Malawi also say lack of donor funding must not become an excuse for inaction: the government can and should do more even if the NAPAs remain unfunded….

Chilean glaciers melting at unprecedented rates

Santiago Times via El Mercurio (Chile): A preliminary analysis by a team of scientists from NASA and Chile’s Valdivia-based Center of Scientific Studies (CECS), which commenced an expedition to the Ice Field in October 2008, sheds light on the alarming speed at which the glaciers are depleting. The scientists discovered that the masses of ice in the Patagonia are melting in larger proportions and in much higher alpine zones than in any other part of the world, including Alaska and the Himalayas. Glacier ice accounts for around 75 percent of the world’s fresh water.

“The loss of ice mass in the higher zones is the really new phenomenon,” said Gino Casassa, a CECS glaciologist. “At least this is what we are seeing with the preliminary results which we have just received.” Until recently, it was believed that glacial loss occurred from lower areas, and that snowfall on the higher sections of glaciers would compensate for loss of ice at lower altitudes.

…The new findings are also curious because they contradict some former studies. For example, a previous study found that the Chilean glaciers Trinidad and Pio XI (the biggest glacier in the southern hemisphere outside of Antarctica) had advanced instead of receded, while the Perito Moreno glacier in the Los Glaciares National Park in southern Argentina had maintained a volume balance.

….Most of Chile’s 3,500 identified glaciers can be found in the Patagonia Region. And most have experienced significant losses in volume and surface area due to climate change and are in danger of disappearing altogether. “This loss contributes significantly to sea levels,” noted Casassa. “Between 1995 and 2000, Patagonian glaciers made up nine percent of the total glacier contribution to sea levels.”…

Laguna San Rafael, Chile, shot by Vincent Huang, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License

Agency says wildlife-rich Tennessee has lot to lose with global warming

Tennessee.com: Brook trout, the state's only native trout, could disappear. Wood duck wouldn't be found as often raising their young along waterways and in wetlands. Drying of prairie potholes and marshes to the north could mean fewer mallard, northern pin-tail, blue-winged teal and other ducks migrating to Tennessee in winter, resulting in shorter hunting seasons.

These are among many possibilities that the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency lists in a new report showing that significant change would be in store for the state and its residents — the people, plants and wildlife — with global warming. The report was issued last week as Congress debates climate change legislation that could provide funds for wildlife agencies to address potential impacts….

…Tennessee, known for its variety of species, has much to lose. It's home to 77 amphibian species, which include 21 types of frogs and 56 kinds of salamanders, which make it third in the nation for the most variety in amphibians, according to TWRA. And the slippery slope is already underfoot.

…Proposed strategies in the report include protecting key ecosystem features, such as stream banks and headwater streams, maintaining a mix of habitat types, restoring habitats and ecosystems with at-risk species and reforesting bottomland hardwoods that can sequester carbon. Also, monitoring of changes as they occur is recommended along with research to identify the species and ecosystems most vulnerable to climate change….

A Canadian goose and turtle at Radnor Lake in Nashville, Tennessee, shot by Kaldari, who has generously released the image into the public domain

International experts study ways to fight wildfires

Voice of America News: Fire authorities from around the world have been meeting in Australia to learn from the devastating bush fires in the southern state of Victoria earlier this year. The affects of climate change have been a major point of discussion for international firefighting experts gathered in Sydney to look at ways to fight bushfires. Delegates from Asia, the United States and Europe attending two-day International Wildfire Management Conference see improved technology and research as weapons against wildfires around the world.

Southeast Australia is one of the most fire-prone regions anywhere and international experts have been keen to learn from the catastrophic events in the state of Victoria earlier this year. A series of blazes, many sparked by lightning strikes or by suspected arsonists, killed more than 170 people. Walls of flames powered through communities, propelled by strong winds. The fires were fed by dry conditions caused by very hot temperatures and a long drought, which many blame on climate change.

The disaster has focused attention on Australia's "stay-or-go" policy, where homeowners either fight the flames or leave their property. Some fire chiefs in California say that residents should always be encouraged to evacuate, but Naomi Brown, from the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council, says installing effective early warning systems is the key.

"Evacuation also requires enough time for people to evacuate," Brown noted. "That's really the biggest issue. When there is really a big sudden fire, the time to evacuate is extremely limited and extremely dangerous. So if we can get better at giving people triggers of when to leave early, which we will work very hard on doing, then people evacuating themselves is the safest thing to do as long as it's early enough."

Fire crew working a fire line in the Grapevine Pass between Los Angeles and Bakersfield, California, in 2007, shot by Epolk, who has generously released the image into the public domain

Insurance tool helps farmers, nations manage climate risk

AllAfrica.com via America.gov: Extreme weather takes a toll on farmers everywhere. In developed countries, farmers can buy crop insurance to help manage that risk. Not long ago, poor farmers in developing nations, where crop insurance is rarely available, had no alternative but to shoulder their own risk, in the process often becoming mired in poverty.

Today, a relatively new tool called index insurance may give these farmers and other vulnerable people around the world an affordable way to manage the effects of a variable and changing climate on their livelihoods now and in the future. The farmers' resulting economic stability may make creditors more willing to extend credit, suddenly allowing them to invest in new seeds, fertilizer and equipment -- their own agricultural productivity -- and begin to climb permanently, harvest by harvest, out of developing-world poverty traps.

"Index insurance has been really promising in a couple dozen places throughout the world," Molly Hellmuth, director of the Climate and Society Publication Secretariat, part of the International Research Institute (IRI) for Climate and Society, located in New York, told America.gov.

In traditional crop insurance, a farmer pays money, called a premium, to an insurance company to protect against a crop loss. If something happens to the crop, the farmer files a claim and the company sends an insurance adjustor to the farm to assess the loss and determine how much the insurance company will pay the farmer.

…With index insurance, a farmer pays a very small premium to protect against, for example, drought-related crop loss -- the most common application in developing countries so far. Rather than being linked to a crop loss, the payout is linked to a weather index, in this case rainfall.

To determine the payout, the insurance company measures rainfall using data from rain gauges near the farmer's field. If the data from the rain gauge show the rainfall amount is below a certain stated level, the insurance company pays the farmers.

"We're saying, instead of giving people insurance on their losses, let's give them a payout when something happens that would cause their crops to die," [according to Daniel Osgood, associate research scientist in economic modeling and climate at IRI:] "Its advantage is, if I know the rainfall [level] there's no way people can cheat to get a payout. That makes it much simpler and [insurance adjusters] don't have to go see if people's crops have died."….

Dry earth in the Sonora desert, Mexico. Shot by Tomas Castelazo, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Two new European climate studies launched in Brussels

RedOrbit: Two new reports examining climate change adaptation and policy making across Europe will be launched today in Brussels in the presence of Peter Gammeltoft, Head of Unit 'Protection of Water & Marine Environment' at the European Commission. The preliminary conclusions of the research were used in the European Commission's White Paper on climate change, published in April 2009.

The reports are published by the Partnership for European Environmental Research (PEER), a grouping of seven of the biggest European environmental research institutes. PEER is chaired by Professor Pat Nuttall, Director of the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology.

…Peter Gammeltoft said, "I greatly welcome the publication of these two new reports from the Partnership for European Environmental Research. It is this sort of dialogue between the research institutes across Europe and national and European policymakers that is essential if we are to successfully deal with the many threats that climate change poses."

The first new report from PEER, 'Europe Adapts to Climate Change: Comparing National Adaptation Strategies', critically analyzes the current status of national adaptation strategies in EU member states, and identifies a variety of opportunities to strengthen their further development and implementation, including timely and targeted scientific research.

The second report, 'Climate Policy Integration, Coherence and Governance', concludes that specific measures to tackle climate change, such as emissions trading, will only be successful if they are coherently supported by other government policies addressing economic and social issues….

Long-term sea level rises may be greater than predicted

Cordis News: Sea levels may rise much further than long-term projections predict, even if today's carbon dioxide (CO2) levels are stabilised, says a new report published this week in the journal Nature Geoscience.

…..The team created a continuous reconstruction of sea level fluctuations over the past 520,000 years and compared it with data on climate change and carbon dioxide levels from Antarctic ice cores. Their results suggest that sea levels may rise to a much higher level than the long-term projections found in the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)...

The research reveals a systematic relationship between global temperature and CO2 concentration and sea level changes over the past five glacial cycles. If this relationship is projected onto today's CO2 levels, this would result in a 25-metre sea level rise. The figures are in line with data from the Middle Pliocene era, 3 million years to 3.5 million years ago, when CO2 levels were similar to today's levels.

'We emphasise that such equilibration of sea level would take several thousands of years. But one still has to worry about the large difference between the inferred high equilibrium sea level and the level where sea level actually stands today,' commented Professor Michael Kucera of the University of Tübingen and Dr Mark Siddall of the University of Bristol…..

Ocean wave shot by Jon Sullivan, who has released it from PD Photo.org into the public domain