Friday, July 31, 2009

Sea level rise of 3.3 metres from West Antarctic Ice Sheet collapse

Environmental-Expert, via the European Commission, Environment DG: The West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) is vulnerable to even moderate climate change and could collapse rapidly, pushing up sea levels around the world. A new study concludes that the global sea level rise (SLR) from the collapse of the WAIS will not be as high as predicted by previous studies, but still substantial at around 3.3 metres on average.

Previous studies have suggested that if the WAIS was to completely collapse, there would be an SLR of 5 to 6 metres, distributed equally across all regions of the world. However, these studies did not assess how much of the WAIS is unstable and therefore which parts of it are more susceptible to collapse. In addition, most of these studies did not consider how SLR might vary across the world's oceans.

Instead of assuming a complete disintegration of the whole WAIS, the researchers used models, based on glaciological theory, to simulate how it would respond if floating ice shelves which fringe the WAIS broke free. Although they cannot predict when it will collapse, they reassessed the potential volume of ice that could melt and the possible global and regional sea levels rises that would occur.

Ice sheets and glaciers on land naturally flow downwards under the enormous weight of accumulated ice. Those that reach the sea become ice shelves that float on the water. These floating ice shelves exert a backward pressure on the remaining ice sheets which block their downward flow. If warmer ocean temperatures and/or air temperatures disintegrate the ice shelves rapidly, causing them to break free, the ice sheets will be able to move considerably faster.

Much of the WAIS sits on a layer of rock that is below sea level (the marine portion). There are also extensive areas of the WAIS on land. However, slopes on the land, together with the marine portion, cause instability. If the adjacent ice shelves disappear through the effects of a warming climate, parts of the WAIS would accelerate towards the ocean.

Shackleton's vessel, HMS Endurance, trapped in the pack ice, 1915, shot by Frank Hurley

Uncertainties surround future monsoons

Navin Singh Khadka in the BBC: It is almost halfway through the rainy season, and the monsoon in many parts of South Asia continues to remain unreliable. In some places it has been crippling weak, while in others it has been devastatingly intense.

There are places reeling from drought, yet at the same time there are areas that have been hit by torrential rains, triggering floods and landslides in a very short span of time. This has made the lives of millions of people difficult and has left them increasingly worried for the future.

Very little of the arable land is irrigated, and local populations depend on monsoon rainfall for agriculture. The monsoon clouds have weakened in several parts of the region and the variable and erratic rains have left weather forecasters scratching their heads.

This failure of the monsoons to behave as expected has led to the question of whether climate change is to blame. Experts differ on whether these changes are directly linked to climate.

"This year's monsoon behaviour cannot yet be attributed to climate change as it is still within the observed natural variability of monsoon," said Krishna Kumar Kanikicharla, a scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology. "Our assessment of climate model simulations for the current and the next century indicate no significant deviation until the middle of the 21st Century and thereafter the monsoon rainfall will continue to increase by 8-10% from current levels."…

A monsoon inundates a stretch of the Linking Road in Mumbai, shot by PlaneMad, Wikimedia Commons, under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2

Upstream and downstream on the Nile

A long, history-packed piece by Reem Leila in Al-Ahram (Egypt): The sharing and management of the River Nile waters has put officials of the Nile Basin in a bit of hot water. Talks between the water ministries of Egypt and those of the Nile Basin countries ended on Tuesday night after the two sides agreed to form a technical committee to attempt to solve pending issues between the upstream and downstream countries. Nile Basin water ministers started crucial talks during the two-day 17th Nile-COM meeting in the coastal city of Alexandria on 27 July. Entitled "Nurturing our Partnership for Prosperity" the conference's aim was to draft a new water sharing agreement which is hampered by Egypt's refusal to reduce its share of the world's longest river, the 6,670km long Nile.

…Speaking on behalf of the Development Partners, David Grey of the World Bank pleaded for the inclusiveness of all the Nile Basin countries in the water resource management of the River Nile. "As we look into the future, with growing populations and economies and consequent water demand, and with climate change already a fact, not a conjecture, the world needs to ensure that cooperation and not conflict is the path that will be followed by co- riparian nations," Grey said.

…The River Nile, the longest trans-border artery linking 10 African countries, has become a major challenge for the nations that share its waters. The distribution of the Nile's waters has been a source of dispute and strained relations for many decades. According to the NBI, at the Nile-COM meeting, members emphasised the importance of a "United Basin" approach to managing the River Nile to ensure the most effective development of the river for the people of the member states….

The Aswan High Dam from space, shot by NASA

Alaska's biggest tundra fire sparks climate warning

Tracey Logan in New Scientist: The fire that raged north of Alaska's Brooks mountain range in 2007 left a 1000-square-kilometre scorched patch of earth – an area larger than the sum of all known fires on Alaska's North Slope since 1950.

Now scientists studying the ecological impact of the fire report that the blaze dumped 1.3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere – about the amount that Barbados puts out in a year. What's more, at next week's meeting of the Ecological Society of America in Albuquerque, New Mexico, two teams will warn that as climate change takes hold tundra fires across the Arctic will become more frequent.

Tundra fires only take off once certain thresholds are reached, says Adrian Rocha of the Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, Massachusetts. "But projected changes in climate over the next century – increased aridity, thunderstorms, and warming in the Arctic – will increase the likelihood that these thresholds will be crossed and thus result in more larger and frequent fires."…

Brooks Range Mountains, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, US Fish and Wildlife Service

Zimbabwe declares end to cholera epidemic

Terra Daily via Agence France-Presse: Zimbabwe's health minister said Thursday a cholera epidemic has ended, after more than 4,200 deaths and 100,000 cases since last August, but warned new outbreaks remain a threat. "The nation experienced the worst cholera outbreak between August and June 2009, but the epidemic has successfully been contained and has ended," Health Minister Henry Madzorera said in the official Herald newspaper.

"As the pandemic comes to an end, all districts, provinces and cities will... plan forward for future outbreaks, which have a strong likelihood of recurring in view of continued sewerage and water problems," he added. The outbreak erupted in August as post-election violence was sweeping the country, while public services including hospitals and clinics shut down.

The diarrhoeal disease thrives in places without proper sanitary facilities. Cholera is deadly but easily preventable with clean water and proper sanitation….

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Africa needs funds to fight climate change

Robert Bakiike in New Vision (Uganda): African countries have identified climate change as an issue of concern. During the Bonn talks recently, world leaders called for the need for national climate mitigation actions. National mitigation plans have not been defined because developing countries are different. However, mitigation plans will include actions like reducing greenhouse emissions, degradation and deforestation.

In an African minister’s environment meet in Nairobi in May, the ministers agreed to mainstream climate change adaptation measures into national and regional plans. The ministers urged the international community to increase support to Africa to help the continent cope with climate change.

Developing countries have limited funds to develop strategies to mitigate climate change. In addition, Africa has insufficient technology to handle climate change. Yet before negotiating for climate funds, developing countries are required to develop greenhouse gas inventories and national adaptation plans. All these exercises demand time and money, but offer little direct benefit to the country’s population….

Uncertain levees and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina

Matthew Cardinale in IPS: Today, the population of New Orleans is still about 175,000 people fewer than it was before Hurricane Katrina hit four years ago next month. Along with concerns about jobs and housing costs, the city's vulnerability to flooding has weighed heavily on the minds of many evacuees, many of whom have not returned.

In the first part of this series, IPS explained how the levees are being built up to a new standard of protection - essentially 99 percent protection each year - scheduled to be completed by the end of 2011, and that Holland, by comparison, uses a higher standard of 99.99 percent protection.

Unfortunately, most New Orleanians, both current residents and in the diaspora, have very little understanding of what level of protection is being promised. Neither the local nor national media have asked the tough questions, said Sandy Rosenthal, executive director of

People in New Orleans see work being done on the levees, but they generally sense that the level of protection being promised would not be strong enough to handle another hurricane on the scale of Katrina. The street wisdom is that the new levees might be strong enough for a Category 3 or 4 hurricane, but certainly not a 5.

In reality, the scale which measures hurricanes in categories 1 through 5, the Saffir-Simpson scale, speaks to intensity or wind speed, not to flood levels, the latter of which are more important to the issue of levee protection, several experts told IPS. Ed Link of the Interagency Performance Evaluation Task Force, which studied the Hurricane Katrina levee failures, said the scientific community is debating whether to create a new category system that is both meaningful and that people can understand. He declined to identify a category level which would describe the level of protection, using Saffir-Simpson, that would be offered by the new levees....

New Orleans flooded by Hurricane Katrina in 2005

Battling scientists reach consensus on health of global fish stocks

Lizzie Buchen in Nature: Fisheries scientists and conservation ecologists have put aside their differences to collaborate in a study of overexploited commercial fisheries. They say that such ecosystems can be revived and managed sustainably with existing techniques, but that these measures are being patchily applied around the world.

The study marks a rare consensus between the two fields. Both recognize that overfishing is a serious problem, but have disagreed strongly on how bad the situation is and what the most effective remedies might be.

Now, researchers from both sides of the debate have come together in a collaboration led by ecologist Boris Worm of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, and fisheries scientist Ray Hilborn of the University of Washington, Seattle. They conclude that efforts to rein in overfishing are beginning to show success in several ecosystems, but they haven't yet reversed the global trend of depletion for individual fish stocks.

"It was quite surprising that the exploitation rate was decreasing in a number of ecosystems," says Worm. "This shows that we don't need to wait for someone to come up with a magical cure for exploitation. We already have the tools."….

Cod and halibut caught off the coast of Alaska, around 1927. As Sarah Palin says, North to the Future!

Insurers blame climate change for rising costs

Andrew Donoghue in Business Green: Businesses that may already be struggling to comprehend and comply with climate-related legislation will soon face another environmental burden – rising buildings insurance.

That is the conclusion of the latest quarterly study from the AA British Insurance Premium Index released this week. Although the survey only tracks home insurance providers, its findings are likely to be mirrored in the commercial sector, which is similarly prone to the increased incidence of flood and storm damage that the study identifies as the main driver behind rising prices.

The report reveals that the average quoted premium for an annual building insurance policy has risen for the sixth successive quarter. It now stands at £223.92, a 2.5 per cent rise over the past quarter and 10.1 per cent over the past year, according to the AA.

Simon Douglas, director of AA Insurance, said insurers are beginning to reflect concerns about climate change in their pricing. "The industry is expecting rising cost and frequency of claims for flooding, subsidence and storm damage," he said. He added that it is not only high-risk areas which are facing increasing premiums due to the threat of flooding. "Compared to the first six months of 2008, there has been a 15 per cent rise in the number and cost of payments for buildings damaged by flash floods and storms in areas with little or no previous record of such claims," he explained…..

A flooded road near St. Polten, Austria, shot by Alexander Wagner, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License

Testing the Waters 2009: A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches

NRDC: NRDC's annual survey of water quality and public notification at U.S. beaches finds that pollution caused the number of beach closings and advisories to hit their fourth-highest level in the 19-year history of the report. The number of 2008 closing and advisory days at ocean, bay and Great Lakes beaches topped 20,000 for the fourth consecutive year, confirming that our nation's beaches continue to suffer from serious water pollution that puts swimmers at risk.

Aging and poorly designed sewage and stormwater systems hold much of the blame for beachwater pollution. Even in the relatively dry 2008 beach season, stormwater runoff contributed to two-thirds of the closing/advisory days in which a contamination source was reported. Unknown sources of pollution caused nearly 13,000 closing and advisory days.

Despite these statistics, promising developments could improve the state of water monitoring at U.S. beaches. As a result of legal pressure from NRDC, the Environmental Protection Agency has agreed to update its 20-year-old beachwater quality standards by 2012. The legal settlement requires EPA to:
  • Conduct new health studies and swimmer surveys.
  • Approve a water-testing method that will produce same-day results.
  • Protect beachgoers from a broader range of waterborne illnesses…

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Improving famine early warning systems

Belle Dumé in Environmental Research Web: Researchers in the US are aiming to improve the Famine Early Warning System Network by asking specialists around the world to evaluate their needs for remote sensing satellite data. The improved network could help decision-makers responsible for responding to famine and food insecurity in regions such as Africa and South America.

The Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS NET) was created in 1985 by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to help improve how emergency services react when faced with food-shortage crises in Africa. The goal is to disseminate information in a timely and effective manner so that residents can prepare themselves for a crisis in advance. FEWS NET transforms data from satellite remote sensing into rainfall and vegetation information that can be used by decision-makers.

To help improve the current system, Lauren Underwood of Science Systems and Applications, US, and colleagues at NASA and the US Geological Survey sent an online review questionnaire to 40 experts around the world. The questionnaire focused on how to improve the type of data obtained for FEWS. According to Underwood, the results are important because peer-reviewed literature on FEWS NET is limited, as are papers that describe ways of determining what end-users of remote sensing data need.

"Because of their limited training in remote sensing, users have extensive needs but these are often difficult to articulate and quantify," she told environmentalresearchweb. "We present a general understanding of this important application of remote sensing technology."

The results show that rainfall data is an important famine early warning system component. The majority of reviewers also feel that data on crop yield estimates, vegetation, soil moisture and flooding are crucial too. However, less than half of the reviewers think of temperature, land cover and humidity data as vital for early warning analyses….

Famine stele at Sehel Island in Egypt, containing an account of a seven-year famine, shot by Markh

New predictions for sea level rise

University of Bristol: Fossil coral data and temperature records derived from ice-core measurements have been used to place better constraints on future sea level rise, and to test sea level projections. The results are published today in Nature Geoscience and predict that the amount of sea level rise by the end of this century will be between 7- 82 cm – depending on the amount of warming that occurs – a figure similar to that projected by the IPCC report of 2007.

Placing limits on the amount of sea level rise over the next century is one of the most pressing challenges for climate scientists. The uncertainties around different methods to achieve accurate predictions are highly contentious because the response of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets to warming is not well understood.

Dr Mark Siddall from the Earth Sciences Department at the University of Bristol, together with colleagues from Switzerland and the US, used fossil coral data and temperature records derived from ice-core measurements to reconstruct sea level fluctuations in response to changing climate for the past 22,000 years, a period that covers the transition from glacial maximum to the warm Holocene interglacial period.

By considering how sea level has responded to temperature since the end of the last glacial period, Siddall and colleagues predict that the amount of sea level rise by the end of this century will be similar to that projected by the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Dr Siddall said: “Given that the two approaches are entirely independent of each other, this result strengthens the confidence with which one may interpret the IPCC results. It is of vital importance that this semi-empirical result, based on a wealth of data from fossil corals, converges so closely with the IPCC estimates….

Traditional Thai hill farmers help preserve genetic diversity of rice Rice is one of the most important crops worldwide, as it feeds over half of the world's population. Domesticated rice is an important supply of the world's rice. However, these strains are genetically static and cannot adapt to changing growing conditions. Traditional varieties, or landraces, of rice are genetically evolving and provide a pool of traits that can be tapped to improve crops worldwide.

Research from Barbara A. Schaal, Ph.D., the Mary-Dell Chilton Distinguished Professor of biology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, and her colleagues at Chiang Mai University in Thailand shows how natural genetic drift and agricultural practices of the traditional farmers combine to influence the genetic diversity of a given landrace of rice.

…Schaal and her colleagues studied a landrace of rice grown by the Karen people in Thailand. They compared the genetic variation among the same variety of rice grown in different fields and villages. The genetics of the rice population fits the isolation by distance model, much like a native plant species. The further apart fields are, the more genetically distinct they are.

…In the lowlands of Thailand, farmers grow modern high-yield rice. In the hills, the Karen people practice traditional agriculture, growing ancestral varieties of rice with traditional practices. Expert farmers play a role in maintaining their crop's genetic diversity by exchanging and choosing seeds to plant the following year....

A rice plantation in Thailand, shot by Martin-Manuel Beaulne, Wikimedia Commons, under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2

Exceptional drought in Texas

The rest of the United States is not suffering too badly, but a record heat wave and no rainfall is taking a toll on Texas. California is experiencing a severe drought, too. But the southeastern states seem to be recovering from an arduous spell of terrible dry weather, so the news isn't entirely parched. For more information, visit the invaluable Drought Monitor.

Scientists expect wildfires to increase as climate warms in the coming decades

Harvard News: As the climate warms in the coming decades, atmospheric scientists at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and their colleagues expect that the frequency of wildfires will increase in many regions. The spike in the number of fires could also adversely affect air quality due to the greater presence of smoke.

The study, led by SEAS Senior Research Fellow Jennifer Logan, was published last month in the Journal of Geophysical Research. In their pioneering work, Logan and her collaborators investigated the consequences of climate change on future forest fires and on air quality in the western United States.

Previous studies have probed the links between climate change and fire severity in the West and elsewhere. The Harvard study represents the first attempt to quantify the impact of future wildfires on the air we breathe. “Warmer temperatures can dry out underbrush, leading to a more serious conflagration once a fire is started by lightning or human activity,” says Logan. “Because smoke and other particles from fires adversely affect air quality, an increase in wildfires could have large impacts on human health.”

Using a series of models, the scientists predict that the geographic area typically burned by wildfires in the western United States could increase by about 50 percent by the 2050s due mainly to rising temperatures. The greatest increases in area burned (75-175 percent) would occur in the forests of the Pacific Northwest and the Rocky Mountains.

In addition, because of extra burning throughout the western United States, one important type of smoke particle, organic carbon aerosols, would increase, on average, by about 40 percent during the roughly half-century period….

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Dead zone in Gulf of Mexico is smaller but more severe than expected

NOAA: NOAA-supported scientists, led by Nancy Rabalais, Ph.D. from the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, found the size of this year’s Gulf of Mexico dead zone to be smaller than forecasted, measuring 3,000 square miles. However the dead zone, which is usually limited to water just above the sea floor, was severe where it did occur, extending closer to the water surface than in most years.

Earlier this summer, NOAA-sponsored forecast models developed by R. Eugene Turner, Ph. D. of Louisiana State University and Donald Scavia, Ph.D. of the University of Michigan, predicted a larger than normal dead zone area of between 7,450 – 8,456 square miles. The forecast was driven primarily by the high nitrate loads and high freshwater flows from the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers in spring 2009 as measured by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Rabalais believes the smaller than expected dead zone is due to unusual weather patterns that re-oxygenated the waters, among other factors. “The winds and waves were high in the area to the west of the Atchafalaya River delta and likely mixed oxygen into these shallower waters prior to the cruise, thus reducing the area of the zone in that region,” said Rabalais. “The variability we see within each summer highlights the continuing need for multiple surveys to measure the size of the dead zone in a more systematic fashion.”

“The results of the 2009 cruise at first glance are hopeful, but the smaller than expected area of hypoxia appears to be related to short-term weather patterns before measurements were taken, not a reduction in the underlying cause, excessive nutrient runoff,” said Robert Magnien, Ph.D., director of NOAA’s Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research. “The smaller area measured by this one cruise, therefore, does not represent a trend and in no way diminishes the need for a harder look at efforts to reduce nutrient runoff.”…

Sediment-laden water pours into the northern Gulf of Mexico from the Atchafalaya River in this photo-like image, taken by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite. Thank you, NASA

Death toll in torrential rain in China rises to 38: state media

Terra Daily via Agence France-Presse: The number of people left dead from torrential rains and floods in southwest and central China rose to 38, state media reported Monday. A downpour that hit Miyi county in Sichuan province for around 10 hours from late Sunday left 22 dead and seven missing, Xinhua news agency said.

Meanwhile, 16 people were killed and one was missing after torrential rains battered Hunan province in central China from Thursday until early Monday, the China News Service said. Over two million people were affected by the rains in Hunan that caused 900 million yuan (132 million dollars) worth of damage, the report said.

And earlier report from the service said Monday that 16 were killed and 13 were missing in Sichuan. Another 38 people had been injured in the storms, which triggered floods and mud slides and affected more than 21,500 people, it added. South and central China are prone to flooding during the summer rainy season….

Flooding in Shenzhen, China, in 2008, shot by Chase Chesser, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License

Florida tornado hits mobile homes

Monica Olivas in Disaster News Network: Residents are picking through the mess while disaster response workers are assessing damage from a tornado that hit this eastern Florida community Friday evening. The tornado touched down in three mobile home communities and at least 154 homes are reported to have sustained damage, but Port Orange Fire and Rescue officials expect that number to climb as the area is canvassed.

As many as 65 homes have major damage and are unfit for habitation right now. Those displaced residents are staying with family, friends and neighbors. Four or five of those are completely destroyed – the official number is still unknown.

Port Orange Council members have declared a state of emergency for the area, although Tanya Dilardi, Fire and Rescue PIO for Port Orange, said she does not expect a state or federal emergency declaration.

Early estimates of the cost of damage are about $2.6 million. Port Orange is just south of Daytona Beach, in Volusia County. The county has faced much weather related damage in the last five years – including seven Presidential declarations in that time….

City Hall in Port Orange, Florida, shot by Ebyabe, under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2

Funding remains a challenge for adaptation

Ramesh Jaura in In Depth News: UN's top climate change official Yvo de Boer has expressed the hope that the forthcoming informal negotiations August 10-14 in Bonn will give governments "a great opportunity to make further concrete and substantive progress on the key issues" that need to be resolved to reach an agreed outcome in Copenhagen in December.

One key issue is funding -- in particular for adaptation to climate change. Precisely the issue of how to successfully match national adaptation programmes of action (NAPAs) and funding remains a challenge, says a document posted on the website of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) secretariat.

"Current climate agreements do not provide binding commitments for adaptation funding. Funds available for adaptation through the GEF (Global Environment Facility) are relatively small, have been disbursed slowly, and will need to be increased substantially to make any meaningful contribution to climate change adaptation in developing countries," the UNFCCC says.

The document adds: The Least Developed Countries (LDCs) will be hoping for significant progress on adaptation at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen December 7-18. This includes more concrete funding commitments by industrialized nations for adaptation activities, especially for NAPA implementation, as well as improved access to funds.

…"In order to curtail the amount of adaptation needed in the future, they are also hoping that industrialized countries will take the lead in making a stronger and time-bound commitment to deep emission cuts," says the UNFCCC secretariat. The significance of this document is underlined by the fact that adaptation is one of the five key building blocks -- together with shared vision, mitigation, technology and financial resources -- needed for a strengthened future response to climate change.

German bank notes from 1923

Rich nations vulnerable to water disasters

Thalif Deen in IPS: The growing shortage of water - a perennial problem in the world's poorer nations - is expected to eventually reach the rich nations in the Western world. The United States, Spain, Australia and the Netherlands are likely to face the consequences of climate change resulting in water-related disasters, including droughts, floods, hurricanes and sea-level rise.

"Even the world's richest nations are not immune," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned Tuesday. Citing official U.S. figures, he said the state of California, the world's fifth largest economy, "could see prime farmland reduced to a dustbowl, and major cities running out of water by the end of the century".

Blaming it on the negative impact of global warming, he said that climate is changing - globally. "And so, therefore, must we." He quoted scientists as saying that by 2020, 75 to 250 million people in Africa will face growing shortages of water due to climate change. "Yields from rain-fed agriculture could fall by half in some African countries in the next 10 years. These are frightening scenarios," he declared….

Death Valley, in California and Nevada, shot by Roger469

Monday, July 27, 2009

Study examines feedback mechanism that may be hastening Greenland ice-sheet melt

Kate Ravilious in Environmental Research Web: The Greenland ice sheet and the surrounding Arctic sea ice have experienced record levels of melting in recent years. But are the two linked? When sea ice melts does it encourage the ice sheet to melt too? A new study suggests that the answer to this question may be yes.

Satellite measurements show that the area of the Greenland ice sheet that experiences melting has increased by around 16% over the last 30 years. Meanwhile, Arctic sea-ice extent shrunk to a record minimum in the summer of 2007; 39% less than the long-term average. The years of 2008 and 2005 were also extreme; on average the summer sea-ice extent has been decreasing at more than 10% per decade for the last 30 years.

…Asa Rennermalm from the University of California in Los Angeles, US, and her colleagues have been investigating one potential feedback mechanism that may be hastening ice-sheet melt. Using satellite data gathered over the last 30 years, they looked at the way that the Greenland ice sheet and surrounding sea ice have changed in size over time.

They found a strong covariance between sea-ice extent and Greenland ice-sheet melt, particularly in the late summer of each year. The smaller the sea ice extent, the greater the rate of melting of the ice sheet. "They appear to work in concert," Rennermalm told environmentalresearchweb. Not all regions of the ice sheet showed this covariance, but where it did occur – in the west and the southwest – it was very strong…

The edge of the Greenland ice sheet, by the incomparable Hannes Grobe of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 License

World will warm faster than predicted in next five years, study warns

Duncan Clark in the Guardian (UK): The world faces a new period of record-breaking temperatures as the sun's activity increases, leading the planet to heat up significantly faster than scientists had predicted over the next five years, according to a new study. The hottest year on record was 1998, and the relatively cool years since have led to some global-warming sceptics claiming that temperatures have levelled off or started to decline. However, the new research firmly rejects that argument.

The work is the first to assess the combined impact on global temperature of four factors: human influences such as CO2 and aerosol emissions; heating from the sun; volcanic activity; and the El Niño southern oscillation, the phenomenon by which the Pacific Ocean flips between warmer and cooler states every few years.

It shows that the relative stability in global temperatures observed in the last seven years is explained primarily by the decline in incoming sunlight associated with the downward phase of the 11-year solar cycle, together with a lack of strong El Niño events. These trends have masked the warming caused by CO2 and other greenhouse gases.

As solar activity picks up again in the coming years, the new research suggests, temperatures will shoot up at 150% of the rate predicted by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The research, to be published in a forthcoming edition of Geophysical Research Letters, was carried out by Judith Lean of the US Naval Research Laboratory and David Rind of Nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Lean said: "Our paper shows that the absence of warming observed in the last decade is no evidence that the climate isn't responding to man-made greenhouse gases. On the contrary, the study again confirms that we're seeing a long-term warming trend driven by human activity, with natural factors affecting the precise shape of that temperature rise."….

Altocumulus clouds shot by Fir0002, Wikimedia Commons, under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2

Climate change increases run-off in eastern US forests

Environment News Service: Computer models of climate change may be underestimating how much water is likely to run off the land and back into the oceans as human activities pump more carbon dioxide and ozone into the atmosphere, a team of NASA-funded researchers concludes.
Runoff may be as much as 17 percent higher in forests of the eastern United States when models also account for changes in soil nitrogen levels and atmospheric ozone exposure. "Failure to consider the effects of nitrogen limitation and ozone on photosynthesis can lead us to underestimate regional runoff," said Benjamin Felzer, an ecosystem modeler at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

…."More runoff could mean more contamination and flooding of our waterways," he said. "It could also mean fewer droughts than predicted for some areas and more water available for human consumption and farming. Either way, water resource managers need more accurate runoff estimates to plan better for the changes."

The team used theoretical models to project various future scenarios for the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and what it would mean to the changing water cycle in forests east of the Mississippi River. They found that runoff would increase anywhere from three to six percent depending on location and the amount of the increase in CO2.

"Though this study focuses on Eastern U.S. forests, we know nitrogen and ozone effects are also important in South America and Europe," said co-author Adam Schlosser of the Center for Global Change Science at MIT….

A forest creek in Eagleville, Pennsylvania, shot by Mortis, Wikimedia Commons, under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2

Pacific needs help to combat climate change: Oxfam

Agence France-Presse: Developed countries need to act urgently to help vulnerable Pacific island nations cope with climate change, international aid group Oxfam said Monday. By the year 2050, about 75 million people could be forced to leave their homes due to climate change in the Asia-Pacific region, the Oxfam report said.

"Climate change has the potential to affect almost every issue linked to poverty and development in the Pacific," said Oxfam New Zealand executive director Barry Coates. "Without immediate action 50 years of development gains in poor countries will be permanently lost," he said.

Coral atolls are particularly vulnerable, including countries such as Tuvalu, Kiribati and the Marshall Islands, which consist solely of atolls that often rise only two to three metres (six to nine feet) above sea level.

Climate change is expected to worsen storm surges, cyclones and high tides. "Scientists have also projected an increase in diseases such as malaria and dengue fever, together with significant soil and coastal erosion as a result of climate change," Oxfam said….

A beach at Funafuti atoll, Tuvalu, shot by Stefan Lins, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 License

Bangladesh invests in tackling climate change impacts

New Nation (Bangladesh): The government is going to take a Tk 30,000 crore mega project to address the country's climate change impacts, said State Minister for Environment and Forest Advocate Mostafizur Rahman on Monday. "Under the project, embankments will be extended and the heights of roads and costal areas will be raised apart from afforestation in drought-prone areas and dredging rivers," he told reporters after the inaugural session of an international conference.

Campaign for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods (CSRL) and Oxfam GB jointly organised the three-day conference, 'International Civil Society Conference: the Rights of Most Vulnerable Countries in Climate Negotiations', at a city hotel.

Participants from Nepal, Cambodia, Samoa, Switzerland, Zambia, the Maldives, Ethiopia, Niger, Vietnam, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Uganda, Tanzania and Tuvalu are taking part in the conference as part of preparation for negotiations at the 15th conference of Parties (COP15) in the Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen to be held in December next.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Winter heat threatens California fruit and nut crops

Michael Reilly in Discovery News: California's famously fertile Central Valley -- home to a $9 billion industry that provides much of the United States' supply of fruit and nut crops -- may be teetering on the edge of a climate-induced disaster, according to a new study. A team lead by Eike Luedeling of University of California, Davis used a computer simulation of past and future climates in the 400-mile long valley to predict what impact future, human-induced global warming could have on fruit and nut tree farmers.

Fruit trees need cold winter weather almost as much as they need warm summer sunshine. If it doesn't get cold enough, trees stay dormant later into the spring, and flower erratically. As a result fruit crops may not be fully matured at harvest time, or there may be nothing to pick at all. Compared to 1950, the team found cool winter weather had already decreased 30 percent by 2000. If human emissions of greenhouse gases continues to grow unabated until the end of the 21st century, a worst-case scenario, chill may decline as much as 80 percent.

Under such conditions, as much as three quarters of the valley may be rendered unsuitable for the production of peaches, walnuts, plums, apricots, pistachios and nectarines -- some of the Central Valley's most lucrative crops. Cherries, apples, and pears are even more sensitive. They could be severely damaged, or even disappear from the valley as early as 2050.

"This is going to have a very significant effect on many crops," Luedeling told Discovery News, scientists wrote in research published yesterday in the journal PloS ONE."It will be very tough for orchard farmers to adjust. For some tree species, they may have to think about planting something else."…

A Central Valley almond farm, shot by Archer5054

Revealed: the secret evidence of global warming Bush tried to hide

Suzanne Goldenberg and Damian Carrington in the Guardian (UK): Graphic images that reveal the devastating impact of global warming in the Arctic have been released by the US military. The photographs, taken by spy satellites over the past decade, confirm that in recent years vast areas in high latitudes have lost their ice cover in summer months.

The pictures, kept secret by Washington during the presidency of George W Bush, were declassified by the White House last week. President Barack Obama is currently trying to galvanise Congress and the American public to take action to halt catastrophic climate change caused by rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

One particularly striking set of images - selected from the 1,000 photographs released - includes views of the Alaskan port of Barrow. One, taken in July 2006, shows sea ice still nestling close to the shore. A second image shows that by the following July the coastal waters were entirely ice-free.

The photographs demonstrate starkly how global warming is changing the Arctic. More than a million square kilometres of sea ice - a record loss - were missing in the summer of 2007 compared with the previous year.

…The latest revelations have triggered warnings from scientists that they no longer have the funds to keep a comprehensive track of climate change. Last week the head of the US's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Professor Jane Lubchenco, warned that the gathering of satellite data - crucial to predicting future climate changes - was now at "great risk" because America's ageing satellite fleet was not being replaced….

Marine pests cost billions in damage to fisheries, coastal communities and infrastructure – and they are spreading

Science Daily: Marine pest species costing billions in damage to fisheries, coastal communities and infrastructure are spreading as the world’s shipping nations continue to largely neglect bringing into effect an international treaty setting out requirements for consistent handling and treatment of ships’ ballast water.

Silent Invasion, a new report issued by WWF as International Maritime Organization (IMO) delegates met to consider environmental aspects of shipping in London July 13, details 24 cases where significant marine pests were most likely introduced or spread through discharges of ships ballast water during the five years in which the Convention on the Control and Management of Ship’s Ballast Water and Sediments was ratified by only one of the world’s top ten shipping states.

In that time, the North American comb jellyfish that virtually wiped out the anchovy and sprat stocks in the Black Sea in the 1990s has been expanding in the Caspian Sea, North Sea and the Baltic Sea. The Chinese mitten crab has established itself on both sides of the north Atlantic and is estimated to have caused damage to river banks, fishing gear and industrial water systems to the tune of €80 million in Germany alone.

“The IMO Ballast Water Convention provides the set of agreed practices and standards for effective control of ballast water internationally, minimizing the spread of marine invasive organisms while imposing minimal costs upon shipping and trade,”. said Dr Anita Mäkinen, WWF’s head of delegation to the IMO meeting….

A comb jellyfish

UN chief in flood-ravaged Mongolia Ban Ki-moon, the UN chief, has arrived in Mongolia in order to highlight the impact climate change is having on people's everyday lives, his office has said. Ban planned to spend time in a traditional Mongolian herder community on Sunday, meeting people whose livelihoods are being hit by water shortages and desertification.

People in Ulan Bator, Mongolia's capital, were still trying to cope on Sunday with the effects of severe flash flooding, the worst since the 1960s according to aid workers. The flooding first hit in and around the city on July 17, killing a total of 24 people and damaging thousands of homes.

Conditions worsened on July 22 when more heavy rain and hail storms hit the country, signs environmentalists point to climate change. The flash floods may have been exacerbated by deforestation that allowed water to rush down bare hillsides, said Francis Markus, from the International Red Cross….

Saturday, July 25, 2009

NOAA: Global ocean surface temperature warmest on record for June

NOAA: The world’s ocean surface temperature was the warmest on record for June, breaking the previous high mark set in 2005, according to a preliminary analysis by NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C. Additionally, the combined average global land and ocean surface temperature for June was second-warmest on record. The global records began in 1880.

Global Climate Statistics

  • The combined global land and ocean surface temperature for June 2009 was the second warmest on record, behind 2005, 1.12 degrees F (0.62 degree C) above the 20th century average of 59.9 degrees F (15.5 degrees C).
  • Separately, the global ocean surface temperature for June 2009 was the warmest on record, 1.06 degrees F (0.59 degree C) above the 20th century average of 61.5 degrees F (16.4 degrees C).
  • Each hemisphere broke its June record for warmest ocean surface temperature. In the Northern Hemisphere, the warm anomaly of 1.17 degrees F (0.65 degree C) surpassed the previous record of 1.12 degrees F (0.62 degree C), set in 2005. The Southern Hemisphere’s increase of 0.99 degree F (0.55 degree C) exceeded the old record of 0.92 degree F (0.51 degree C), set in 1998.
  • The global land surface temperature for June 2009 was 1.26 degrees F (0.70 degree C) above the 20th century average of 55.9 degrees F (13.3 degrees C), and ranked as the sixth-warmest June on record.

Notable Developments and Events

  • El Niño is back after six straight months of increased sea-surface temperature anomalies. June sea surface temperatures in the region were more than 0.9 degree F (0.5 degree C) above average.
  • Terrestrial warmth was most notable in Africa. Considerable warmth also occurred in Siberia and in the lands around the Black and Mediterranean Seas. Cooler-than-average land locations included the U.S. Northern Plains, the Canadian Prairie Provinces, and central Asia.
  • Arctic sea ice covered an average of 4.4 million square miles (11.5 million square kilometers) during June, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. This is 5.6 percent below the 1979-2000 average extent. By contrast, the 2007 record for the least Arctic sea ice extent was 5.5 percent below average. Antarctic sea ice extent in June was 3.9 percent above the 1979-2000 average.
  • Heavy rain fell over central Europe, triggering mudslides and floods. Thirteen fatalities were reported. According to reports, this was central Europe's worst natural disaster since the 2002 floods that claimed 17 lives and caused nearly $3 billion in damages.
Gustave Doré, 1832–1883, "Summer"

Philippine province of Cagayan most vulnerable to sea level rise

The Philippine Star: Cagayan is the most vulnerable if the country’s sea level rises owing to climate change. Cagayan, one of the country’s biggest provinces, forms part of the northeastern flank of Luzon whiplashed by the waters of the Pacific Ocean.

If the Philippine sea level rises by one meter when much of the world’s ice caps melt owing to global warming or climate change, 13,134 hectares of seashore lands in 16 Cagayan towns will go under water, states an analysis made by the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) Climate Change Program.

UPLB presented the results of its analysis at an exhibit in the just-concluded observance of National Science and Technology Week (NSTW) 2009 in Los Baños sponsored by the Los Baños Science Community (LBSC) held at the historic UPLB Baker Hall.

Palawan ranks second to Cagayan as most vulnerable, with 9,146 ha in 17 towns to submerge following a one-meter sea level rise. Third is Iloilo with 8,647 ha in 16 towns; followed by Zamboanga Sibugay, 8,330 ha in 12 towns; and Camarines Sur, 8,139 ha in 27 towns. Completing the list of 10 provinces that will be most adversely affected by a one-meter sea level rise are Negros Occidental, 7,870 ha in 25 towns; Capiz, 7.094 ha in seven towns; Bohol, 5,985 ha in 24 towns; Tawi-Tawi, 5,987 ha in eight towns; and Sulu, 5,728 ha in 19 towns….

The Pinacanauan River, seen just below the Callao Caves, is one of the major tributaries of the Cagayan River. Shot by Shubert Ciencia, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License

As 'climate security' forecast darkens, is Canada ready?

Mike Blanchfield, Canwest News Service:… Real life 21st Century threats due to climate change – massive flooding, droughts, population explosions, massive migrations of uprooted and desperate people facing life-threatening food and water shortages - have made ‘climate security,’ a buzzword that now extends far beyond the war rooms of western capitals. The trepidation is very real that this will be the driver for war on a scale we have yet to see on this planet, bringing tension to stable parts of the world, making the tense places worse.

Don't dismiss this as military-driven paranoia: the alarm is being sounded by non-military actors - United Nations agencies, leading philanthropists, the World Bank, as well as major international aid agencies that have always strived to maintain a healthy distance from the world's military establishment. Here in Canada the connection between climate change and global instability is not publicly discussed, and no one seems to really know why.

Perhaps our security agencies are overburdened, maybe it has to do with the fact we lag behind western developed nations in coming up with an actual climate change strategy.

‘I don't want to be a scaremonger, but I am concerned climate change does not seem to be a priority within Canada's security, intelligence, defence establishment. I'm concerned that, as far as I know, Canadian security players haven't analyzed the existing scientific reports,’ said Margaret Purdy, who spent 28 years as a leading federal public servant in Canada's security apparatus, including as associate deputy minister of defence…..

The Athabasca River railroad track at the mouth of Brûlé Lake in Alberta, Canada. Shot by "Eddie" with copyright held by Alcazar Mountain, Wikimedia Commons, under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License

Groundwater crisis could hit India as climate changes

Belle Dumé in Environmental Research web: Managing underground water storage will be crucial for coping with future hydro-climatic change in India, according to Tushaar Shah of the International Water Management Institute in Colombo. Depleted aquifers mean higher greenhouse gas emissions as groundwater is pumped and less water available during periods of drought.

Traditionally India has relied on surface storage and gravity flow to water crops but in recent years it has come to depend heavily on groundwater to irrigate crops and to cope with dry spells. Today the number of irrigation wells equipped with diesel or electric pumps in the country stands at more than 19 million, compared with just 150 000 in 1950.

…India needs to learn intelligently from the experience of countries such as Australia and the US that have succeeded in managing aquifer recharge, adds Shah. Maintaining groundwater levels throughout India at 3–8 metres below ground level should be one of the key objectives in India's water policy. "This would minimize the carbon footprint of the country's irrigation economy and maximize agrarian resilience to hydro-climatic change," he told environmentalresearchweb.

Ancient well at a temple near Tiruchendur, Tamil Nadu, India. Shot by Amar, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 License

Water crisis in Uganda

Chris Ahimbisibwe in, via New Vision (Uganda): Bushenyi district is facing a water crisis due to the prolonged drought. Schools are the most affected, as students trek long distances in search of water. The district assistant education officer, Sabastian Katungwensi, said some schools had no water harvesting tanks and access to gravity water.

He said if the drought continued, the school term could be ended prematurely. "The boarding schools have been seriously affected. They are trying to improvise by using their vehicles to carry water," Katungwensi said.

In villages people line up at protected springs to get water. "The situation is terrible," said a Bushenyi town resident. The National Water and Sewerage Cooperation area manager, Cyrus Aomu, said: "We have nothing to do because the drought has affected the water table."…

Friday, July 24, 2009

Technology on way to forecasting humanity's needs

Indiana University News: Much as meteorologists predict the path and intensity of hurricanes, Indiana University's Alessandro Vespignani believes we will one day predict with unprecedented foresight, specificity and scale such things as the economic and social effects of billions of new Internet users in China and India, or the exact location and number of airline flights to cancel around the world in order to halt the spread of a pandemic.

In tomorrow's (July 24) "Perspectives" section of the journal Science, Vespignani writes that advances in complex networks theory and modeling, along with access to new data, will enable humans to achieve true predictive power in areas never before imagined. This capability will be realized as the one wild card in the mix -- the social behavior of large aggregates of humans -- becomes more definable through progress in data gathering, new informatics tools and increases in computational power.

…Researchers have already shown they can track the movement of as many as 100,000 people at a time over six months using mobile phone data, and use worldwide currency traffic as a proxy for human mobility. There are sensors and tags generating data at micro, one-to-one interaction levels, much as Bluetooth, Global Positioning Systems and WiFi leave behind detailed traces of our lives.

Such are some of the new sources of basic information that researchers are using to gain knowledge about aggregated human behavior. This new "reality mining" should in turn enhance the ability of researchers and scientists to accurately forecast the effects of phenomena like catastrophic events, mass population movements or invasions of new organisms into ecosystems, Vespignani said.

..."While the needed integrated approach is still in its infancy, using network theory, mathematical biology, statistics, computer science and nonequilibrium statistical physics will play a key role in the creation of computational forecasting infrastructures," Vespignani said. "And that should help us design better energy distribution systems, plan for traffic-free cities and manage the deployment of the world's resources."

This 1555 woodcut shows a soothsayer in front of a king, with some of the signs in the nature the soothsayer uses. Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus", book 3 - retrieved from Lars Henriksson's clipart collection, descriptions used with permission.

Strong evidence that cloud changes may exacerbate global warming

Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science: The role of clouds in climate change has been a major question for decades. As the earth warms under increasing greenhouse gases, it is not known whether clouds will dissipate, letting in more of the sun’s heat energy and making the earth warm even faster, or whether cloud cover will increase, blocking the Sun’s rays and actually slowing down global warming.

In a study published in the July 24 issue of Science, researchers Amy Clement and Robert Burgman from the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and Joel Norris from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego begin to unravel this mystery. Using observational data collected over the last 50 years and complex climate models, the team has established that low-level stratiform clouds appear to dissipate as the ocean warms, indicating that changes in these clouds may enhance the warming of the planet.

Because of inconsistencies in historical observations, trends in cloudiness have been difficult to identify. The team broke through this cloud conundrum by removing errors from cloud records and using multiple data sources for the northeast Pacific Ocean, one of the most well-studied areas of low-level stratiform clouds in the world. The result of their analysis was a surprising degree of agreement between two multi-decade datasets that were not only independent of each other, but that employed fundamentally different measurement methods. One set consisted of collected visual observations from ships over the last 50 years, and the other was based on data collected from weather satellites.

“The agreement we found between the surface-based observations and the satellite data was almost shocking,” said Clement, a professor of meteorology and physical oceanography at the University of Miami, and winner of the American Geophysical Union's 2007 Macelwane Award for her groundbreaking work on climate change. “These are subtle changes that take place over decades. It is extremely encouraging that a satellite passing miles above the earth would document the same thing as sailors looking up at a cloudy sky from the deck of a ship.”

What was not so encouraging, however, was the fact that most of the state-of-the-art climate models from modeling centers around the world do not reproduce this cloud behavior….

Clouds over Grand Junction, Colorado, shot by Tewy, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License

Floods jeopardize food security in Namibia

Ndapwa Alweendo in, via the Namibian: Food insecurity in Namibia's flood-damaged northern and northeastern regions has reached alarming new heights, according to a report compiled by the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations.

Flooding in the area, already made vulnerable by drought in 2007 and flooding in 2008, hit subsistence farmers the hardest: this year's crops could not be harvested and stored maize and sorghum were spoiled by the persistent damp, or washed away entirely. Food inflation, or the progressive increase in food prices, is another contributing factor to food insecurity.

While food inflation has been gradually decreasing since the beginning of the year, it remains in the double digits at 11 percent, according to the Namibian Consumer Price Index released last week by the Central Bureau of Statistics.

The combination of food inflation and the floods have contributed to high levels of what the WFP/FAO report refers to as "chronic food insecurity", defined as "a long-term and persistent inability to meet minimum food requirements."…

Alternative agricultural practices combine productivity and soil health

Science Daily: The progressive degradation of useful soils for agriculture and farm animal husbandry is a growing environmental and social problem, given that it endangers the food safety of an increasing world population. This fact prompted the Basque Institute for Agricultural Research and Development – Neiker-Tecnalia – to design a series of research projects in order to evaluate alternative agricultural practices, as a function of their capacity to combine the productivity of crops with the health of the soil.

Conclusions of great interest for the agricultural and animal husbandry sector were drawn from the studies. Neiker-Tecnalia was able to show that, on extensive mountain pastures, lime sand and wood ash are a viable alternative to quicklime as a liming material. In moderate doses, both products slightly correct the acidity of soils and, at the same time, produce a balanced increase in their short-term biological activity, as well as an increase in the productivity and the nutritive value of the pasture. Besides this, no significant changes were observed in the floristic composition of the pastures one year after the application of these liming materials

…From this research, it was concluded that the biomass, the mineralizable nitrogen, the activity and functional diversity of the edaphic microbial communities, as well as the abundance of earthworms, have a fast and high sensitivity response to the changes that agricultural practices produce in the soil. This is why they are high potential tools when evaluating alternative agricultural practices, within the framework of a necessary transition to an agriculture that is more respectful to the environment and that harmonises crop productivity with the protection of soil health and quality in the long-term.

Soil (upper) and regolith (below) from augen gneiss near Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. Shot by Eurico Zimbres, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 License