Monday, August 31, 2009

Flash floods hit Midwest in the US

Zachary Hoffman in Disaster News Network: Nearly one foot of rain fell in areas of Iowa Thursday and Friday causing extreme flash flooding in several counties, according to the National Weather Service (NWS) in Davenport, IA. …An already saturated ground met with the torrential rainstorm and caused water to collect as runoff resulting in the floodwaters.

Monticello was among the hardest hit cities; preliminary estimates show that 150 homes and 13 businesses were damaged. Jones County officials said that a door-to-door damage assessment was just about to take place, but damage does not seem large enough to allow for federal aid. …Central City in Linn County, Iowa, reported 9.07 inches of rain in a 72-hour period.

In Galveston Island, Texas, a waterspout turned twister injured three people with flying debris and caused a bit of damage to a few homes near the seawall and Dolphin World Inc. souvenir shop Sunday night….

Front Street high water in Davenport, Iowa, 1891

Melting glaciers threaten 'Nepal tsunami'

Terra Daily via Agence France-Presse: …Scientists say the Imja Glacier above Dengboche is retreating by about 70 metres (230 feet) a year, and the melting ice has formed a huge lake that could devastate villages downstream if it bursts. The trend is not new. Nepal's International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), which has studied the Himalayas for three decades, says many of the country's glaciers have been retreating for centuries.

But ICIMOD glaciologist Samjwal Ratna Bajracharya said this was now happening at an alarming speed, with temperatures in the Himalayas rising at a much faster rate than the global average. "Our studies of the past 30 years show that the temperatures (in the Himalayas) are rising up to eight times faster than the global average. Melting is taking place higher and faster," Bajracharya told AFP.

"The melting of glaciers and formation of glacier lakes is a key indicator of the temperature rise. And lately, we have seen massive ice melt." Nepal has more than 2,300 glacial lakes and experts say at least 20 are in danger of bursting.

At almost one square kilometre (0.38 square miles), the Imja lake is the country's second biggest, estimated to hold 36 million cubic metres (47 million cubic yards) of water, and is considered the biggest flood threat.

…Information about how many people would be affected by a glacial lake bursting remains limited, but experts say the floodwaters could reach as far as Nepal's southern planes and beyond. Environment secretary Uday Raj Sharma said last week the bursting of the Imja lake would be like a "Nepalese tsunami," comparing it with the 2004 Indian Ocean disaster in which around 220,000 people died.

Climber taking the final few steps onto the 20,305 ft. (6,189 m) summit of Imja Tse (Island Peak) in Nepal. Shot by Mountaineer, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License

European researchers study urban heat islands on bikes, from the air and from space

Cordis News: This summer, research teams studied the climate-change-related phenomenon of 'urban heat islands' using bicycle-mounted equipment in the Netherlands and ground-based and airborne technologies over Greece. Both investigations are part of a wider effort to understand, mitigate and adapt to rising temperatures in European cities.

Heat waves strike cities hardest because they are densely laid out and green space tends to be limited. Higher daytime temperatures and reduced night-time cooling in cities compared to the surrounding area are collectively referred to as the 'urban heat island' effect. The elderly are particularly hard hit; during heat waves, urban mortality rates are well above average.

This August, researchers from Wageningen University in the Netherlands loaded two cargo bicycles with measurement equipment and rode them through Rotterdam and Arnhem, participants in the EU Future Cities project. The bikes were able to manoeuvre easily through narrow city streets while the solar-powered equipment remained horizontal (and stable enough to operate). Data was collected at various points during a 24-hour period.

The sensors measured temperature, humidity, wind direction and wind speed, as well as the amount of sunlight and heat-radiation exchange. Measurements were taken once per second, and at fixed intervals in the route photographs were taken from 50 cm above the ground (roughly wheel-hub-high) with a fish-eye lens pointed upwards. This helped to establish how much of the ground was overshadowed by either buildings or greenery.

The findings showed a remarkable 7°C difference between Rotterdam city and the countryside beyond the airport during the night. Remarkably, while the city was 2°C hotter than the airport during the day, one of the city's parks (De Twee Heuvelen) was 2.4°C cooler than the airport in the afternoon - a variance of 4.4°C in the urban area. The 'felt', or perceived, air temperature was 6°C higher in the city than at the airport. The results of the Arnhem study were similar….

A panorama of Arnhem from the cathedral tower, shot by Pior

Climate change calls for adaptation, says UN

Deutsche Welle: A five-day conference in Geneva aims to provide politicians and other decision makers with the data they need to make informed decisions when it comes to climate change, according to members of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the technical and scientific arm of the United Nations, which is hosting the conference.

"Even if we reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, the climate will continue to change," Gro Harlem Brundtland, the United Nations secretary-general's special envoy on climate change, said on Monday. "All countries will need to adapt to a changing and more erratic climate."

But the problem is not a lack of dire warnings about more storms, rising sea levels, droughts, and famine, but how the information is used, according to WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud. "The problem is that much information on the climate is not used properly," Jarraud told reporters. "It's time to link technology and science with decision makers."

…Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan told delegates in Geneva that climate agreements had to be "radical, universal and binding" and have "climate justice at its heart." Annan said the people most affected by climate change were the poorest and least developed nations that contributed the least to pollution….

Edward Hicks (1780-1849), "Noah's Ark"

Delta levee projects in California must now prepare for rising sea level

Matt Weiser in the Sacramento Bee: Levee projects in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta will have to account for rising sea levels under a new federal policy aimed at shoring up the region's main line of defense against climate change. It's the first comprehensive policy by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to require that projects under its jurisdiction be designed with higher sea levels in mind.

Many low-lying areas on the edges of the Delta would be under water given the higher seawater levels predicted by the end of this century. Fragile Delta levees also could be overtopped, especially when high tides and storm surges are added into the mix.

…One of the oldest sea level monitors on the West Coast, at the Golden Gate Bridge, has recorded a sea level increase of about 2 centimeters per decade during the 1900s. This rate is expected to continue due to human consumption of fossil fuels, which scientists believe is gradually warming the Earth's climate.

Failure to consider this increase in new levees and coastal structures – such as buildings, water intakes and wastewater outfalls – could mean these investments are jeopardized later, or that people are put at risk….

Morning fog at the Golden Gate Bridge, shot by Grombo, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Urgency of tackling climate change

Douglas Alexander (UK Secretary of State for International Development) and Ed Miliband (UK Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change) in the Daily Star (Bangladesh): …As well as coming to listen, we have also come to South Asia to explain that we recognise the role that developed countries must play in facing up to our duties to help solve the problem of climate change. And we are here to work with the Indian and Bangladeshi Governments, to help secure an ambitious, fair and effective deal in Copenhagen.

Firstly, the UK recognises developed countries' historic responsibility for climate change. The developed world must lead in the response and must do more. That means ambitious commitments to reduce emissions, including from the United States and Europe. The UK has set out plans to reduce its emissions by one third by 2020 compared to 1990 and our Climate Change Act puts our stringent targets in legislation. We are prepared to go even further as part of a global deal.

Secondly, developed countries must meet our commitment to provide the finance and technology to help developing countries address the challenges of climate change. Prime Minister Gordon Brown recently launched a climate finance initiative which put a global figure of around $100 billion every year by 2020 to help developing countries address climate change, including adapting to its impacts. Finance needs to flow in the context of an ambitious global deal.

…Bangladesh, a very low-energy consuming country, is pursuing a low-carbon growth path whilst building its resilience to climate change, reducing the risks climate change poses to national development. This is the kind of action, which the UK stands ready to assist. We are keen to learn how, as part of a global climate deal, we can help India and Bangladesh to build on these plans, thereby helping to tackle together the climate challenge and lift millions more out of poverty…..

The Banyan, the national tree of Bangladesh, shot by McKay Savage, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License.

African deltas suffer early impacts of climate change

Etiosa Uyigue in People and The Niger Delta in Nigeria, is home to about a quarter of the country’s population. But climate change and rising sea levels are bringing floods and salt water into this fertile region, reports Etiosa Uyigue.

Between 1960 and 1970, a mean sea level rise of 0.462m was recorded along the Nigerian coast (largely due to local coastal subsidence or sinking). Flooding of low-lying areas in the Niger Delta region has already been observed, and with further impacts from climate change, problems with floods and intrusion of sea-water into freshwater sources and ecosystems are bound to increase.

This is expected to destabilize mangrove systems and affect agriculture, fisheries and livelihoods in general. Experts say the Niger Delta could lose over 15,000 km2 of land by the year 2100 with a one metre rise in sea level, while at least 80 per cent of the people of the Niger Delta would be displaced.

At the same time, Nigeria has seen a decline in rainfall since the beginning of the 1960s. Farmers can no longer predict the rain and know precisely when to plant their crops. Farmers usually begin cultivation at the end of the dry season, when the rain begins to fall. They plant their crops after the first or second rain in the month of March or April.

After the first rain, rain falls periodically until the months of June/July (the peak of the rainy season). Rainfall within the period before the peak is needed for the optimum performance of many crops. Because of changes in the rainfall pattern, however, farmers who plant after the first or second rain, experience huge losses when rains are delayed beyond the usual, due to climatic changes….

The Niger Delta from the Space Shuttle, NASA

Big wildfires hit western US states

Disaster News Network: A massive wildfire exploded in three different directions in the mountains north of Los Angeles Saturday night destroying more homes and threatening as many as 12,000 homes. Meanwhile in Utah, emergency officials were urging residents to leave in the face of another rapidly spreading wildfire.

Emergency officials said they expect the fire, now stretching 19-miles from east to west, will continue to spread. They are predicting Sunday will produce "extreme fire conditions." More than 2,000 fire fighters are working to control the San Gabriel Valley fire that has already consumed more than 35,000 acres.

On Saturday the Station Fire, as it has been named, was moving between Acton near the Antelope Valley to Altadena in the San Gabriel Valley at a rate of approximately 2.5 miles per hour. Some the flames were shooting up as high as 80-feet.

…In New Harmony, Utah, emergency officials were going door-to-door Sunday morning to encourage residents to evacuate in the face of a growing wildfire that has already burned three homes and is threatening dozens more. The Mill Flat Fire has already consumed more than 10,000 acres and is expected to continue to spread with forecasts of wind gusts of 25 mph or more. About 150 residents are already in area shelters….

Shot of a 2006 fire in Oregon by Wing-Chi Poon, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 License

Erosion control with hedges

Ann Perry at the US Department of Agriculture website: One way farmers can preserve soil and protect water quality is by planting grass hedges to trap sediment that would otherwise be washed away by field runoff. Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists at the agency’s National Sedimentation Laboratory in Oxford, Miss., have calculated how much soil erosion these hedges prevent and verified predictions of the Revised Universal Soil Loss Equation version 2 (RUSLE2).

Agronomist Seth Dabney, hydrologist Glenn Wilson and agricultural engineer Robert Cullum collaborated with retired agricultural engineer Keith McGregor in a series of studies over 13 years to assess the effectiveness of grass hedges for erosion control in wide or ultra-narrow-row conventional tillage or no-till cotton systems.

The researchers established single-row continuous swaths of miscanthus, a tall perennial grass, across the lower ends of 72-foot-long plots with a 5 percent slope. Then they tracked how much sediment was trapped by the vegetation from both the wide and ultra-narrow-row conventional tillage and no-till fields. The hedges eventually became a yard wide and were clipped two to three times every year after the grass was 5 to 6.5 feet tall.

The scientists found that the ability of the hedges to trap sediment increased as the hedges matured. The hedges were more effective at intercepting sediments that washed out of conventionally tilled fields, possibly because the eroded materials from no-till fields were composed of smaller particles….

A hedge of miscanthus grass, from the USDA website, shot by Seth Dabney of the Agricultural Research Service

Hurricane Jimena bellows off Mexican Pacific coast

Reuters: Hurricane Jimena blew into a dangerous Category 4 storm off Mexico's Pacific Coast and was on track to buffet resorts on the Baja California peninsula on Tuesday, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said on Sunday.

Jimena, a small but powerful hurricane that has intensified quickly since it formed early on Saturday, had winds of near 135 mph (215 kmh) with higher gusts, and further strengthening was expected in the hours ahead. According to the five-step Saffir-Simpson intensity scale, Category 4 hurricanes are "extremely dangerous" and can cause devastating damage if they hit land.

Jimena was a safe distance from shore but forecast to gather strength and brush the upscale resort of Los Cabos on Tuesday, when the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development is scheduled to hold a meeting there to discuss tax havens...

A sunnier day in Cabo San Lucas, shot by Stan Shebs, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License

Saturday, August 29, 2009

It's not drought, it's climate change, say scientists

Melissa Fyfe in the Age (Australia): Scientists studying Victoria's crippling drought have, for the first time, proved the link between rising levels of greenhouse gases and the state's dramatic decline in rainfall. A three-year collaboration between the Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO has confirmed what many scientists long suspected: that the 13-year drought is not just a natural dry stretch but a shift related to climate change.

Scientists working on the $7 million South Eastern Australian Climate Initiative say the rain has dropped away because the subtropical ridge - a band of high pressure systems that sits over the country's south - has strengthened over the past 13 years. These dry, high pressure systems have become stronger, bigger and more frequent and this intensification over the past century is closely linked to rising global temperatures, they found.

Climate data from across the past century shows the subtropical ridge has peaked and waned, often in line with rising global temperatures. But to see what role greenhouse gases played in the recent intensification, the scientists used sophisticated American computer climate models.

When they ran simulations with only the ''natural'' influences on temperature, such as changing levels of solar activity, they found there was no intensification of the subtropical ridge and no decline in rainfall.

But when they added human influences, such as greenhouse gases, aerosols and ozone depletion, the models mimicked what has occurred in south-east Australia - the high pressure systems strengthened, causing a significant drop in rainfall. ''It's reasonable to say that a lot of the current drought of the last 12 to 13 years is due to ongoing global warming,'' said the bureau's Bertrand Timbal…..

A dust storm in Wagga Wagga, Victoria, shot by Bidgee, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License

Greece declares state of emergency as forest fires reach Athens

Helena Smith in the Guardian (UK): Thousands of Greeks were battling to save their homes from forest fires raging out of control on the outskirts of Athens as authorities declared a state of emergency and mobilised the army today in the capital.

Gale-force winds hampered firefighting efforts for a second day as the flames encroached on the city's outer suburbs. Officials appealed to residents to evacuate but some Athenians remained in their homes to try to battle the inferno with hoses and buckets. The Greek government has appealed for help from Italy, France and Cyprus. State-run institutions, including the children's hospital in Pendeli, were abandoned as the flames spread.

"What we are facing is a huge ordeal," said prime minister Kostas Karamanlis. "A massive effort by authorities is taking place to deal with this very difficult challenge."...

Smoke above Syntagma Square, right in the middle of Athens, shot by Yucatan (Юкатан), Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License.

Kenya should heed the weatherman's warnings about El Nino rains via the Business Daily (Nairobi): Just as many Kenyans are suffering the consequences of persistent dry weather conditions in most parts of the country, the weatherman is warning of looming torrential rains associated with the El Nino weather phenomenon.

…It is not surprising that for many Kenyans, trapped in the current hardships of drought and starvation torrential rains promise to be the answer to the country's problems. It cannot be denied that heavy rains will bring to an abrupt close the ongoing costly rationing of power and water besides bringing down the cost of key food staples such as vegetables that have been driving up headline inflation in recent months.

But such gains should not blind anyone, especially policy makers, to the destruction that will come with El Nino rains. One only needs to look back at the damage that such torrential rains left the country in the last time they hit Kenya in the late 1990s.

Thousands of Kenyans lost property in ensuing floods in unexpected places such the usually dry Garissa and Tana River districts besides the usually vulnerable places such as Busia District's Budalangi and Kano Plains on the shores of Lake Victoria. Kenya also suffered massive infrastructure destruction after the rains swept away large sections of bitumen and loose surface roads rendering many parts of the country inaccessible.

And just as drought is forcing Treasury to reorganize its budget to find the billions of shillings it needs for the massive relief operation, the El Nino rains of the 1990s left millions of Kenyans in camps for the internally displaced and in need of relief assistance….

Improving the ecology can boost the economy

Science Daily: Research co-authored by Bournemouth University (BU) Professor Adrian Newton and published in the journal Science this week shows that ecological restoration in areas of environmental degradation can help reverse global biodiversity losses, as well as promoting recovery of ecosystem services.

However the research also showed that measures of biodiversity and ecosystem services are higher in pristine land, freshwater and marine systems than in restored systems. Examples of ecosystem services include improved water quality and increased carbon storage, services which benefit human well-being.

The research was carried out by an international team from the University of Alcalá in Spain, the UK’s Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, and Bournemouth University in the UK.

Professor Newton, an environmental conservation expert from BU’s Centre for Conservation Ecology and Environmental Change said: "These results highlight the importance of ecological restoration approaches for addressing the environmental degradation that has occurred in many parts of the world. The research suggests that restoration can offer a 'win-win' solution, by increasing the provision of environmental benefits to people, while at the same time increasing biodiversity."…

Freshwater Bay on the Isle of Wight, shot by Dave Pape, who has generously released the image into the public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, August 28, 2009

California governor puts LA County in emergency state due to burning wildfires

Xinhua: The Californian governor Arnold Schwarzenegger proclaimed a state of emergency in Los Angeles County Friday as wildfires in four separate sites continue burning in the region. In announcing the order, Schwarzenegger said that the "circumstances of these fires, by reason of their magnitude, are or are likely to be beyond the control of the services, personnel, equipment and facilities of any single county, city and county, or city and require the combined forces of a mutual aid region or regions to combat."

Fire crews are battling two separate blazes in the Angeles National Forest in the Los Angeles County. More than 3,000 acres (1214 hectares) of land have been consumed and hundreds of homes under threat. A separate fire in Rancho Palos Verdes sent more than 1,000 people scurrying from the homes. Six homes were slightly damaged in the blaze, which broke out Thursday evening.

The 125-acre (50.6 hectares) Rancho Palos Verdes Fire was 70 percent contained, and evacuation orders were lifted by late morning.

The firefighters have engaged themselves in aerial and ground actions in a bid to contain and put out the blazes swept across the rugged and largely inaccessible hilly terrains. Air tankers and helicopters continued to drop water over the flame throughout the day, and fire engines, siren wailing, kept rushing to the scene from other places in the region….

Foothill Ranch, Orange County, CA. Santiago Canyon Fire in October 2007. View from Overlook Park as helicopters fly very low and spray into Whiting Ranch. Shot by Alex Miroshnichenko, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License.

Methane seepage heightens pressure for climate treaty

EurActiv: Evidence that methane, a dangerous greenhouse gas, is escaping from the warming Arctic seabed makes securing a new international agreement to slash global-warming gas emissions even more urgent, scientists warn.

A British-German research team discovered that over 250 plumes of methane bubbles are rising from the seabed off West Spitsbergen, a Norwegian island in the Arctic Ocean. The researchers discovered the seeps, which lie 150-400 metres deep, using sonar technology, they wrote in the Geophysical Research Letters earlier this month.

The methane was released from methane hydrates, "ice-like substances" that remain stable amid the high pressure and low temperature of marine sediments. Scientists have predicted that as ocean temperatures rise as a result of climate change, methane hydrates would begin to break down at greater depths. But the fact that the process has begun already surprised the team.

"Our survey was designed to work out how much methane might be released by future ocean warming; we did not expect to discover such strong evidence that this process has already started," said Professor Tim Minshull of the National Oceanography Centre at the University of Southampton in the UK. Data collected over past decades shows that 30 years ago methane hydrates were stable at water depths as shallow as 360 metres in the Spitsbergen area….

Svalbard reindeer in center of Longyearbyen, Svalbard, shot by Krzysztof Maria Różański, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License

Climate change threatens India's monsoons

Dean Nelson in the Telegraph (UK): One of India's leading meteorologists has given warning that in Central India the "days of long duration rains are almost gone". In a study of monsoon patterns in India over the last 150 years, BN Goswami, director of the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, said global warming had made India's weather more unpredictable.

He said there were now longer dry spells and shorter sudden heavy showers, replacing the three month continuous rain which has characterised the Indian monsoon. His comments will fuel fears that climate change will cause increasing hardship for farmers in India, where the failure of the monsoon has already reduced food output by 20 per cent. Ministers reduced the country's growth projection this year by just under two per cent as drought hit crops throughout the country.

Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee this week said there had been a 25 per cent decline in rainfall this monsoon in 252 districts throughout ten states, while in Maharashtra crop yields fell by more than 40 per cent….

Global warming impacts lives of millions in Mideast, regional meeting concludes

Daily Star (Lebanon): Global warming is changing the lives and livelihoods of millions of people in the Middle East and neighboring countries, and concrete measures should be taken immediately to combat the effects of climate change on water resources there, a regional meeting hosted by UNDP in the Swe­dish capital concluded last Thursday.

“The most important strategic resource in the Middle East and neighboring countries is neither oil nor gas, but water. With growing populations and increased water scarcity, less predictable water supplies and deteriorating water quality due to climate change, global warming is felt and experienced everyday by millions,” Paolo Lembo, UNDP director for Iraq and instigator of the initiative, said at a press conference held in Stockholm.

“Climate change has arrived in the Middle East, there is no time to plan and develop strategies for sometime in the future, the time for action is now, not 10 or 15 years ahead,” he added, echoing the consensus among participants at the meeting.

Climate change is felt most strongly in the Middle East region through an ever-increasing stress on already-scarce water resources. Further depletion is expected, causing acute water shortages and affecting households and farming communities alike. Already hit by prolonged shortages of clean water, and often no water at all, this will have especially negative impacts on poor or marginalized communities, particularly women, children, the elderly and other vulnerable groups in these….

The Dead Sea before sunrise, shot by Ester Inbar (user:ST or he:user:ST)., Wikimedia Commons

African farmers encouraged to plant trees to boost agriculture

David Gibbs in Farmers in Africa are being encouraged to plant a particular species of acacia tree that boasts a wide array of useful traits - including helping to stave off climate change. Around 800 scientists meeting in Nairobi for the second World Congress of Agroforestry this week said that the tree, known as a Mgunga in Swahili, had beneficial properties that made it almost unique.

As a nitrogen fixer the tree provides a free, organic source of fertiliser while offering fodder for livestock, wood for construction and fuel and windbreaks and erosion control. The Mgunga is also unusually well adapted to thrive in soils across a wide range of African climates, from sub-Saharan to the humid tropics.

Persuading farmers of the advantage of tree planting would also go some way towards offsetting the damage being done through deforestation elsewhere on the continent. "The future of trees is on farms," said Dennis Garrity, director general of the World Agroforestry Centre, or ICRAF…..

An acacia tree, from the USGS

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Climate warming predicted for Utah

Amy Joi O’Donoghue in the Deseret News: Climate change over the next 100 years could raise Utah's average temperature by as much as 9.4 degrees, leading to widespread impacts on outdoor recreation, wildlife, tourism and agricultural industries, according to an analysis by The Nature Conservancy.

The report, released Thursday, put Utah in the top 10 for greatest temperature increases, with the spike threatening elevated risks of heat-related deaths, compromised water quality and the disappearance of wildlife.

"From the food we put on the table to plant and animal species that make our state unique, this study shows that none of us is immune if temperatures continue to rise as projected. We can now see that climate change will directly hit us here in Utah, in our own backyards," said Dave Livermore, director of the Utah chapter of The Nature Conservancy.

…The conservancy said that even under the best-case scenario, which assumes the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere will decrease each year, Utah's temperatures will increase by up to 6.5 degrees by the end of the century.

…In Utah, the conservancy warned of the potential impacts of such temperature increases, pointing to soil erosion due to drought, dust-caused acceleration of snowpack melt, decrease in soil fertility and eroded air quality due to dust particles. The conservancy also said a heated-up Utah could lead to agricultural losses because of depleted range for livestock and at the same time, create more susceptibility to wildfires because of an increase in invasive plant life….

Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, in Utah

Satellites reveal recent increases in Indonesian logging

Kate Ravilious in Environmental Research Web: Indonesian rainforest is disappearing fast. Forty percent of primary rainforest in the lowlands of western Indonesia was cleared between 1999 to 2005, and logging continues today. So how much logging is happening now, where is it occurring and how can it be discouraged? Scientists are using satellite images to help answer these questions.

It is very hard to keep tabs on logging in Indonesian rainforest, and estimates of the rate of forest loss vary wildly. For the current decade (2000 to 2005) the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimated a clearance rate of 1.87 million hectares per year, while a pan-humid tropical forest clearing survey came up with a figure of 0.7 million hectares per year for the same period.

Using satellite imagery Matthew Hansen from South Dakota State University, US, and colleagues, have managed to resolve this discrepancy and provide a clearer picture of what is happening on the ground in Indonesia.

…The results show a dramatic reduction in clearing from the 1990s (an average of 1.78 million hectares per year) to the current decade (an average of 0.71 million hectares per year between 2000 and 2005). But hidden inside the average for the current decade they found a rapid increase in logging, rising to over 1 million hectares per year by 2005.

…Although depressing, these clear and reliable satellite estimates may help to bring about change. "Remote sensing can provide critical facts on what is going on in the forest and it brings transparency to the issue," said Hansen. "All parties, whether government, private industry, or civil society may use this information to better manage forest resources."

NASA satellite images of fires on Borneo and Sumatra, Indonesia

Has northern-hemisphere pollution affected Australian rainfall?

Physorg: New research announced at the International Water in a Changing Climate Science Conference in Melbourne 24-28 August, implicates pollution from Asia, Europe and North America as a contributor to recent Australian rainfall changes. Australian scientists using a climate model that includes a treatment of tiny particles - or aerosols - report that the build up of these particles in the northern hemisphere affects their simulation of recent climate change in the southern hemisphere, including rainfall in Australia.

The CSIRO climate model, which can include the effects of aerosols caused by humans, suggests that aerosols - whose major sources are in the northern hemisphere - can drive changes in atmospheric and oceanic circulation in the southern hemisphere. Their model results suggest that human-generated aerosols from the northern hemisphere may have contributed to increased rainfall in north-western and central Australia, and decreased rainfall in parts of southern Australia.

Lead researcher, Dr Leon Rotstayn, Principal Research Scientist at the Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research, a partnership between CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology, said: "Perhaps surprisingly, inclusion of northern hemisphere aerosols may be important for accurate modelling of Australian climate change."…

Ayer's Rock in Uluru, Australia, shot by, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License

New publication -- Assessing the costs of adaptation to climate change: A critique of the UNFCCC estimates

International Institute for Environment and Development: This book takes another look at the costs of adapting to climate change. The estimates for 2030 used by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change are likely to be substantial under-estimates. Professor Martin Parry and his co-authors look at the estimates from a range of perspectives, and conclude that:

• the current cost assessments do not include some key sectors, such as ecosystems, energy, manufacturing, retailing, and tourism
• some of the sectors included have been only partially covered in cost estimates
• the additional costs of adaptation have sometimes been calculated as ‘climate mark-ups’ against low levels of assumed investment.

In some parts of the world, low levels of investment have led to an adaptation deficit, and this deficit will need to be made good by full funding of development, without which the funding for adaptation will be insufficient. Residual damages also need to be evaluated and reported because not all damages from climate change can be avoided. There is an urgent need for more detailed assessments of these costs, including case studies of costs of adaptation in specific places and sectors. This report aims to demonstrate the need for the further and transparent refinement of cost estimates for responding to climate change…

Changing climate and worsening drought threatens lives in Wajir

Reuters AlertNet via Oxfam: Communities in Wajir have told Oxfam at a series of public hearings that the drought in the district is becoming the most severe in recent memory and has left children malnourished, animals weak or dying, and people struggling to find water. With just over three months until the Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change, and with worsening drought across the country leaving nearly 4 million Kenyans in urgent need of aid, Oxfam organised public hearings for pastoralist communities to testify about their plight and what needs to be done in response.

Many communities said the local climate is changing, with the rains failing more frequently and droughts becoming more common. They said the most critical danger they face now is a lack of water. Some people reported having to walk up to 60 kilometres to find water for their family and animals, and said the drought has left them surviving on less than five litres of water per day - far below the international standard of 15 litres per day.

…In some areas, communities reported that livestock have started dying because of the long treks for water - 185 animal carcasses were recently found around one dried-up water source. Most communities in Wajir are pastoralists and livestock are the most vital source of income. With a lack of clean water, there are also growing concerns of outbreaks of serious illnesses.

…Philippa Crosland-Taylor, head of Oxfam GB in Kenya, said: "Droughts are happening more frequently, and the government and donors need to be aware of the changing climate now and in future, and shape their policies accordingly. Emergency aid is urgently needed now, but in the long-term we need to rethink policies to focus on mitigating the risks of droughts before they occur, rather than rushing in food aid when it's too late. Improving development in the most vulnerable areas is key, especially in the light of increasing climate variability."…

Local men unload trucks filled with American aid near Wajir, Kenya. Shot by Monica's Dad, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Modelling the climate change possibilities in Australia

Matt Cawood in Queensland Country Life (Australia): What's common to Asian factories, Australian land clearing and the subtropical ridge? They have all been implicated in decreased rainfall over the Murray-Darling Basin. Climate researchers are grappling with the decade-long rainfall decline over the MDB, particularly in south-eastern Australia where lack of runoff has crippled irrigated agriculture and threatens urban water supplies.

When your subject is something as vast as the planet's climate, a way to try and understand all the variables at work is to use computer simulations. Three separate computer modelling exercises have thrown up some interesting possibilities to explain the south-east's rainfall deficit.

The Bureau of Meterology's Dr Bertrand Timbal and colleagues have previously reported on a drought pattern linked to intensification of a band of high pressure called the subtropical ridge. They have now linked the ridge's behaviour to global warming.

As of May 2009, south-eastern Australia had recorded its driest 12-year period on record, with an annual average of 506mm since October 1996. Previously, the driest 12-year period was from 1935-1947, when the annual average was 511mm.

Dr Timbal's team identified a link between the two dry spells: they both occurred during a period when the subtropical ridge intensified. The high pressure band sits roughly between 30-35 degrees of latitude, in NSW defined by Wagga Wagga in the south and Walgett in the north. When it intensifies, Dr Timbal said, the ridge forces rain-bearing low pressure systems off the continent and out to sea….

The confluence of the Murray and Darling Rivers, shot by Peterdownunder, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License

Mercury found in every fish tested!

US Geological Survey press release: Mercury contamination is widespread. Mercury was detected in all fish sampled from 291 streams across the U.S. Concentrations in about a quarter of the fish sampled exceeded the criterion for the protection of humans who consume average amounts of fish, established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (0.3 parts per million, wet weight).
  • Most rivers and streams across the U.S. receive mercury predominantly via atmospheric deposition. However, atmospheric deposition of mercury alone does not explain mercury contamination in fish in our Nation’s streams. Naturally occurring watershed features, like wetlands, forests, and organic-rich soils, can enhance the conversion of mercury to the most toxic form of mercury (methylmercury). Methylmercury is a form of mercury that is readily available for uptake by aquatic organisms, and biomagnifies to high concentrations in fish….
  • Once in the food web, methylmercury biomagnifies at a fairly consistent rate from algae to invertebrates to fish—even among diverse stream ecosystems. In the ecosystems studied, foodweb characteristics have less impact on the amount of mercury in fish than do methylmercury levels in water.
A brook trout, not a thermometer

Deadly heat waves are becoming more frequent in California

Science Daily: From mid July to early August 2006, a heat wave swept through the southwestern United States. Temperature records were broken at many locations and unusually high humidity levels for this typically arid region led to the deaths of more than 600 people, 25,000 cattle and 70,000 poultry in California alone.

An analysis of this extreme episode carried out by researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego, put this heat wave in the context of six decades of observed heat waves. Their results suggest that such regional extremes are becoming more and more likely as climate change trends continue.

The team, led by climate scientist Alexander Gershunov, examined meteorological conditions that lead to this and other recorded heat waves, when temperatures rose into the hottest one percent of historical summertime daily and nightly temperatures recorded in California and Nevada since 1948. The scientists found that heat waves in the region often fall into either of two types: the typical "daytime" events characterized by dry daytime heat and rejuvenating nighttime cooling, or the less typical "nighttime" heat waves characterized additionally by high humidity and hot muggy days and nights.

Since the early 1990s, nighttime heat wave events in California, which historically had been less common, have become more prevalent, increasing in both frequency and intensity. The pinnacle of nighttime heat waves occurred in a 17-day episode during July 2006 when a persistent warm pattern was aggravated by unusually humid conditions, associated with warm ocean waters off Baja California, Mexico....

A shack in California's Mojave Desert, shot by Abramandis, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License

Haiti farmers spared hunger by timely aid

Terra Daily via UPI: Farmers in Haiti, the poorest nation in the Americas and one of the most destitute on Earth, have been spared hunger and starvation because of an innovative seed replacement program financed by international funders. Haitians are already on alert against an impending onslaught of seasonal hurricanes, for which they have received emergency aid to last a few weeks after the storms hit the Caribbean state, as they most certainly will between now and September, U.N. sources said.

Sylvie Wabbes, a senior emergency operations officer with the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization, told United Press International the program was the first major U.N. effort to forestall hunger in the Haitian farmer communities and had already recorded success.

"This joint Ministry of Agriculture and IFAD and FAO program is the first one with this tripartite arrangements and of such large scale," Wabbes, agronomist, operations officer and budget holder for the FAO emergency operations and rehabilitation division, said in an interview. She said agencies had earlier run smaller programs to supply farmers with good-quality seeds but the new effort owed much to "the knowledge and capacity of a strong national FAO emergency team."…

NASA shot of deforestation in Haiti

Water shortage threatens two million people in southern Iraq

Martin Chulov in the Guardian (UK): A water shortage described as the most critical since the earliest days of Iraq's civilisation is threatening to leave up to 2 million people in the south of the country without electricity and almost as many without drinking water. An already meagre supply of electricity to Iraq's fourth-largest city of Nasiriyah has fallen by 50% during the last three weeks because of the rapidly falling levels of the Euphrates river, which has only two of four power-generating turbines left working.

If, as predicted, the river falls by a further 20cm during the next fortnight, engineers say the remaining two turbines will also close down, forcing a total blackout in the city.

Down river, where the Euphrates spills out into the Shatt al-Arab waterway at the north-eastern corner of the Persian Gulf, the lack of fresh water has raised salinity levels so high that two towns, of about 3,000 people, on the northern edge of Basra have this week evacuated. "We can no longer drink this water," said one local woman from the village of al-Fal. "Our animals are all dead and many people here are diseased."

Iraqi officials have been attempting to grapple with the magnitude of the crisis for months, which, like much else in this fractured society, has many causes, both man-made and natural….

A water tower in Nasiriyah, Iraq, unusable becasue of war damage. Shot by USAID

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Targeted investments in climate science could present enormous economic savings for UK and Europe

A press release by Louisa Watts from the National Centre for Atmospheric Science and the Walker Institute, Reading (both in the UK): Targeted investments in climate science could lead to major benefits in reducing the costs of adapting to a changing climate, according to new research published by scientists from the UK's National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS). Published in the scientific journal, the Bulletin for the American Meteorological Society, the study shows that investments made now, can lead to as much as 10-20% improvement in climate predictions for the UK and Europe in the coming decades, and up to 20% across the rest of the globe.

This is good news for businesses and policy-makers currently seeking predictions to aid planning for adaptation to climate change in the coming years, and for whom such improvements could present enormous economic savings: uncertainty in climate forecasts means that adaptation measures have to be designed with greater resilience, making them more expensive.

The results came after the researchers, based at the Walker Institute, University of Reading, used data from a suite of state-of-the-art climate models to identify the main causes of uncertainty in predictions of temperature change over different space and time scales. Although this type of study had previously been done on a global scale, this is the first time it has been attempted on regional scales (2000 km) across the globe.

Results showed that for all regions for the next four decades, the main uncertainties in climate predictions are dominated by: (i) differences between the climate models themselves eg in the way they represent different atmospheric processes; (ii) the natural variability of the climate (ie changes in the climate not brought about by human influences). Fortunately, both types of uncertainty are reducible through investment and progress in climate science.

An important issue for planners and funding agencies, therefore, is how climate science can best deliver improvements in such predictions, and so reduce the costs of adaptation to a changing climate…..

A traditional iron weather vane, shot by Unisouth, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License

China mulls practical, effective measures to combat climate change

Xinhua (China): Chinese lawmakers are considering practical and effective measures to combat climate change in a draft resolution being deliberated by the country's top legislature on Tuesday. The draft resolution on climate change, submitted to the 10th session of the Standing Committee of the 11th National People's Congress (NPC), puts forward five guidelines to practical action to better deal with climate change.

… The resolution stresses the country's ability to adapt to climate change should be improved. "We must improve monitoring and early warning systems and prepare ourselves well against extreme weather and climate disasters," it says.

The country must intensify the development of agricultural infrastructure, promote agricultural restructuring, increase research and development on water-saving technologies, and strengthen monitoring and protection of coastal environments, it says.

The resolution says the country should speed up the research, development and promotion of key technologies in energy efficiency, renewable and clean energy and low-carbon energy.

… The government should combine all measures to enhance the ability to tackle climate change issues and serve long-term sustainable economic and social development, the resolution says….

A poster of China's Great Leap Forward (copyright held by Stefan R. Landsberger), from Stefan Landsberger's phenomenal site

Report: Future U.S. heat waves will be worse

Dan Vergano in USA Today: The nation is headed for strong heat waves in coming decades that will hit cities and farmers and threaten wildlife with extinction, a new global warming report warns. The report, "More Extreme Heat Waves: Global Warming's Wake Up Call," sponsored by medical, environmental and civil rights organizations, comes as a legislative fight over a climate change bill gets ready to resume next month in Congress. Its remedies are based on recent findings of global warming effects by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, which coordinates climate research across federal agencies.

"The report highlights the current vulnerabilities from heat waves growing," says climate scientist Amanda Staudt of the National Wildlife Federation, a report sponsor. Average temperatures are expected to grow 4 to 11 degrees Fahrenheit nationwide over the next century, according to the federal climate research group.

The severity will vary with industrial emissions of greenhouse gases, but "heat waves will continue to get worse in the coming decades," the report warns. It lists the 30 major cities most at risk…..

A hot day in Yuma, Arizona, in 1939, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License.

Scottish agency apologizes for flood alarm failure

Luke Walsh in Homes and business were flooded without warning when an automatic system set up to send text alerts about rising water failed. The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) has now apologised for the fault which meant its area duty officer didn't get a text message about high water to their mobile.

The flooding happened overnight last Wednesday (19 August) in the upper reaches of the Ettrick Valley in the Borders.

The agency's gauging station at Deephope on the Tima Water, a tributary of the Ettrick Water, rose above alarm levels and warnings should have gone to several groups in the valley. However, no warnings were sent because of what SEPA describes as an 'unforeseen technical malfunction' in its handling system, which forwards alarms as text messages….

A farm on the Ettrick Water, Scotland, shot by Richard Webb, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license.

Wildfire rages near Athens, thousands flee

Renee Maltezou and Dina Kyriakidou in Reuters: A huge wildfire fanned by strong winds cut a swathe of destruction near Athens on Sunday, burning houses, razing large patches of forest and sending thousands fleeing their homes, authorities said.

Efforts to fight the blaze from the air were suspended as night fell and the fire raged unchecked for a third day, testing state resources and the conservative government, which is facing the threat of an early election by March.

…Authorities said the fire had retreated from Athens suburbs and was burning mainly forest land, but winds remained strong and the danger for a flare-up was constant. "It will be a difficult night because everyone is exhausted," said Leonidas Kouris, governor of the eastern Attica region where a state of emergency was declared on Saturday. "We will keep fighting for another day," he told Greek TV.

…Many people abandoned communities around Athens overnight and some frantically tried to stop the flames reaching houses with garden hoses and tree branches.

"We are facing a great ordeal," said Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, who took a helicopter tour of the afflicted area. "The fire department is making a superhuman effort." The handling of the fire, the biggest since Greece's worst wildfires in living memory killed 65 people over 10 days in 2007, will be crucial for his political fate….

The fires are near the Parthenon, shot by Thermos, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 License

Monday, August 24, 2009

Setback for seafront living in Australia

Jennifer Eliot in the Cairns Post (Australia): New low set homes and single storey units could be banned in low lying areas of Cairns under a proposed state development plan, based on predictions sea levels will rise by 80cm by 2100 and 30cm by 2050.

The State Government yesterday revealed it would carry out an overhaul of the Far North’s coastal development regulations that could also see Cairns Regional Council lose total control of planning decisions.

A draft copy of the Queensland Coastal Plan, obtained by The Cairns Post, would ban any living spaces, such as bedrooms, kitchens and lounge rooms being built below the new 80cm mark but it would not exclude carports, storerooms or laundries. It will not impact on existing buildings. Climate Change and Sustainability Minister Kate Jones said the draft proposal, which was designed to combat flooding and erosion in hazardous areas, would prohibit homes being built in areas that could be inundated by rising sea levels.

"We need to ensure development, particularly urban and residential development, does not result in unacceptable risks to people or property from coastal erosion, sea level rises or storm tides which may result from climate change," Ms Jones said.

"The predicted 80cm sea level rise by 2100 will inform many decisions about the allocation of new areas for urban development and planning by councils for coastal erosion and storm tide inundation."…

A mangrove seedling on Cairns beach, Australia, shot by Guillaume Blanchard, Wikimedia Commons, under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 1.0 License

Africa to seek billions of dollars in climate change compensation

Peter Heinlein in VOA News: The African Union is considering a proposal to demand at least $67 billion a year in environmental damages from developed countries at the Copenhagen Climate summit in December. Africa is seeking a common position to increase its bargaining power in Copenhagen.

Representatives of several African heads of state met at AU headquarters Monday to determine how much the continent should ask in compensation at the UN climate summit in December. A concept paper obtained by VOA says the flow of money to support 'adaptation to changes in climate' must be at least $67 billion a year by the year 2020.

In all, the paper recommends that developed countries commit to paying one-half percent of Gross Domestic Product, or GDP for 'climate action' in poorer countries. Diplomats attending a closed-door session say several countries argued that the demand should be much higher in view of the severe environmental damage facing the continent.

At the opening ceremony, AU Rural Economy and Agriculture Commissioner Rhoda Peace Tumusiime said Africa is one of the main victims of global warming. "The global carbon trading mechanism that are expected to emerge from international negotiations on climate change should give Africa an opportunity to demand and get compensation for the damage to its economy caused by global warming, bearing in mind the fact that, despite contributing virtually nothing to global warming, Africa has been one of the primary victims of its consequences," she said…..

Experts tell agriculture sector to adapt to changing Philippine climate

Jonathan L. Mayuga in the Business Mirror (Philippines): The Department of Agriculture (DA) on Sunday urged all affected segments of the farm and fishery sectors to take measures to adapt to the changing climate patterns in the archipelago. The decision to include mitigating measures to climate change in the DA’s action plans was made this week by Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap after agency and bureau heads were briefed by a team of climate experts commissioned by the United Nations to help strengthen the Philippines’ institutional capacity to adapt to climate change.

Agriculture Undersecretary for Operations Jesus Emmanuel Paras has divided DA groups into three climate-change adaptation teams: one team involved in crops, another on fisheries, and a team on research and development, an aspect of climate change-mitigating actions most lacking, as pointed out by the UN team.

The three teams were instructed to come out with their climate-change adaptation plans for their sectors before the weekend. The DA was targeted by the UN project as one of the chief implementors of programs to mitigate the ill effects of changing climate patterns affecting the country.

Paras, however, asked the UN group for the speedy release of fresh and adequate information on climate change to give farm officials the lead time to adjust their programs to new situations, especially as the impact of these climate changes affects each region differently….

Maine insurers try to stay one step ahead of rate hikes related to weather and climate change

Sara Donnelly in Mainebiz: …“The weather patterns of recent years have changed how the insurance companies are looking at their data,” explains Chris Condon, president-elect of the Maine Insurance Agents Association and CEO of United Insurance, a Falmouth-based network of 12 insurance agencies in Maine. Condon says Maine insurers first started paying closer attention to climate change predictions in 2004, when, in one of the most active hurricane seasons in decades, eight hurricanes hit the U.S. coast, causing an estimated $25 billion in total damages.

….Condon says Maine insurers have since modified their risk models to consider whether a property is vulnerable to a catastrophic disaster over the next 500 years, rather than the previous industry standard of 100 years. Though Maine’s catastrophic weather events remain relatively infrequent (unlike in Florida and Texas, for example, which have been so battered by hurricane damage legislators are scrambling to keep state-run coastal property insurance programs solvent), some Maine property insurers have modified premium prices and plan details along the coast, which is considered more vulnerable than inland areas to freak weather patterns like those associated with global warming, as well as to sea level rise.

Here in the Pine Tree State, insurers are more worried about ice storms than hurricanes. Here, too, coastal properties are the concern. In the ice storm of 1998, the sandy southern coastal counties of York and Cumberland, more vulnerable than the rocky northern coastline, were hit the hardest — nearly 3,200 of the 3,901 total insurance claims from that storm came from those two counties, accounting for $8.8 million of the $11.1 million in total ice storm-related losses to insurers in the state, according to the Maine Emergency Management Agency….

Maine Coast Near Bar Harbor, by Hermann Ottomar Herzog