Monday, November 30, 2009

Australian marine ecosystems get benchmarked

Science Blog: The first-ever Australian benchmark of climate change impacts on marine ecosystems and options for adaptation is being released in Brisbane today. The Marine Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation Report Card for Australia, and an accompanying website, will provide a biennial guide for scientists, government and the community on observed and projected impacts of climate change on marine ecosystems.

"The objective of compiling this information is to consider options available to environmental and resource managers in their response to changes in ecosystem balance," says project leader, CSIRO Climate Adaptation Flagship scientist Dr Elvira Poloczanska.

"On both sides of the continent there is clear evidence of ocean warming and this is already bringing sub-tropical species south into temperate waters, and in the case of the giant kelp forests in Tasmania, appears to be having a severe impact in just a few years. This research is relevant for anyone with a recreational interest or financial investment in our coasts and oceans," Dr Poloczanska says.

The Report Card highlights observations over the past decade, projects forward to 2030 and 2100 with assessments of likely status and confidence ratings, and offers adaptation responses that can also inform policy makers.

Key concerns include; waters around Australia becoming warmer and more acidic, increases in strengths of major warm-water currents such as the East Australian Current, changes in the productivity of marine ecosystems and shifts in the distribution and abundance of species. The Report Card identifies where change is already occurring, likely trends and confidence levels in those trends depending on the state of knowledge….

From NASA: The striking orange-red colored southern Australian coast contrasts against the deep sapphire-blue waters of the Southern Ocean in this true-color Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) image acquired by the Terra satellite on August 19, 2002. In the northern portion of the image, a handful of fires (marked in red) were detected burning in the Great Victoria Desert by the MODIS instrument. South of the desert is the lighter-orange Nullarbor Plain, which stretches for over 1000 kilometers (about 600 miles) from end to end. Finally, just off the coast in the Southern Ocean is the Great Australian Bight, home to Australian Sea Lions, Southern Right Whales, and various fish species.

Climate change in Kuwait Bay

National Oceanography Centre: Since 1985, seawater temperature in Kuwait Bay, northern Arabian Gulf, has increased on average 0.6°C per decade. This is about three times faster than the global average rate reported by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Differences are due to regional and local effects. Increased temperatures are having profound effects on key habitats and on power generation the Arabian Gulf.

Researcher Dr Thamer Al-Rashidi of the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, said: “Because the waters of Kuwait Bay are well mixed by the tides, measurements of sea surface temperature can be used to assess temperature trends over time in the bay as a whole.” He and his colleagues used data on sea surface temperature (1985-2007) remotely sensed by a number of polar orbiting satellites to assess warming in Kuwait Bay and the Gulf region.

…They found that the sea surface temperature of Kuwait Bay increased over the period at an average rate of around 0.62°C per decade, with an uncertainty of plus or minus 0.01°C. This is about three times the rate of average global increase estimated by the IPCC.

The increase was greatest in the early summer and least during winter months. The length of summertime increased almost twice as fast as peak summertime temperature. In 1998 and 2003, the monthly measurements of sea surface temperature showed unusually high peaks in summer temperature coincident with El Niño events – periodic warming of the atmosphere and ocean affecting weather in many parts of the world.

Temperature dipped in 1991, in the aftermath of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. “Dense smoke from the burning of oil fields hung over the region blocking out the sun, and we believe that this atmospheric dimming caused the relatively low summertime temperature peak recorded that year,” said Dr Al-Rashidi, himself an officer in the Kuwaiti Navy. However, temperature then increased fairly steadily between 1992 and 2004. “What all of this tells us,” says Dr Al-Rashidi, “is that the global trends reported by the IPCC may not be representative locally.”…

NASA satellite images covered the Arabian Gulf (yearly average for 2006), this image show that the temperature increases generally towards the coastline. This is perhaps due to the heating effect of the local human activities which take place near the shoreline. The heating is about 2-3 ºC within 20 to 30 km from the shoreline.

Recovery Act funds Washington stormwater projects worth $5.6 million

Environment News Service: Governor Chris Gregoire and the Washington state Department of Ecology have approved clean water projects in Olympia, Spokane, and Seattle's Ballard neighborhood worth a total of $5.6 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding. The funding will pay for low-impact development projects that provide enhanced stormwater treatment. These projects capture or slow stormwater runoff allowing it to infiltrate back into the ground.

The goal is to prevent polluted runoff from getting into downstream waters and drinking water. The projects will reduce flooding and sewer-stormwater overflows, and improve water quality for threatened and endangered salmon. Project proponents estimate the projects will support about 75 construction jobs. "Getting more jobs is a great bonus, but so is getting the clean water these projects provide for our state and for our salmon," said Governor Gregoire.

Polluted stormwater is the leading cause of urban water pollution in Washington state because water that goes into storm drains is not treated. Washington's capital city of Olympia will receive $3.67 million for enhanced treatment of stormwater runoff at Yauger Park. Half of the $3.67 million is a low-interest 20-year loan and half is forgivable principal loan, or money that does not need to be repaid.

….The project will increase stormwater storage at Yauger Park, reducing erosion from flooding. The project includes low impact development, a water quality treatment wetland, retention ponds, a 5,000 square foot rain garden, and swales. The city also will create a new parking lot using porous pavement.

The eastern Washington city of Spokane will receive $382,000 for its West Broadway SURGE (Spokane Urban Runoff Greenway Experiment) project. Half of the $382,000 is a low-interest 20-year loan and half is a forgivable principal loan, or money that does not need to be repaid.

…Seattle Public Utilities’ Ballard Green Streets project gets $1.54 million. Half of the $1.54 million is a low-interest 20-year loan and half is forgivable principal loan, or money that does not need to be repaid. Using this funding, the utility will install 10 blocks of swales to naturally detain and infiltrate stormwater. This Green Streets project will control runoff from 2.6 acres of hard surfaces, reducing sewer-storm overflows. The swales also will free up capacity in the combined sewer-storm system, further reducing pollution overflows….

Spokane Falls, from an 1888 illustration

Munich Re seeks ambitious climate protection targets

Sarah Hills in Reuters: There is clear evidence that climate change is contributing towards rising natural catastrophe losses and ambitious climate protection targets are needed to tackle the increase, according to Munich Re. The world's biggest reinsurer (MUVGn.DE) said its NatCatSERVICE database, a global record for natural catastrophes, shows the average number of major weather-related catastrophes such as windstorms, floods or droughts is now three times as high as at the beginning of the 1980s.

Losses have increased by 11 percent per year since 1980, and overall losses due to weather-related events total $1.6 trillion in original values, with insured losses amounting to approximately $465 billion, it said in a statement last week on Thursday. In the period from 2000-2008, overall losses totalled over $750 billion, whilst insured losses came to around $280 billion due to the impact of climate change.

Munich Re said to what extent the increased losses are due to climate change is not yet clear. But preliminary analyses suggest that it accounts for a low single-digit percentage of annual overall losses. "Our statistics clearly show that the loss burden from weather-related natural catastrophes is increasing. A year like 2009, with relatively low losses to date, in no way contradicts this", said Torsten Jeworrek, member of Munich Re's Board of Management responsible for reinsurance business.

"Something must be done. Even if an all-embracing agreement does not seem feasible in Copenhagen, at the very least fundamental framework conditions should be established. We cannot afford a delay at the expense of future generations."….

Saudi flood death toll up to 103 The Saudi death toll from floods that hit the port city of Jeddah this week has risen to 103, with another 1,399 rescued, Saudi civil defense services said on Sunday. Civil defense planes flew over the flood-affected areas searching for missing people, Jeddah authorities said in a news release. Relief aid have already been delivered to the affected families in Jeddah, it said, adding that they had been taken to hotels and furnished housing units until the situation was back to normal.

Torrents of water inundated the Red Sea port on Wednesday after Saudi Arabia saw some of the heaviest rainfall in years. Many of the victims were drowned or were killed by collapsing bridges and in car crashes….

Jeddah in 1938. Because we're always current here at Carbon Based

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Traditional indigenous fire management techniques deployed against climate change

Science Daily: A landmark Australian project that mitigates the extent and severity of natural savannah blazes by deploying traditional Indigenous fire management techniques is being hailed as a model with vast global potential in the fights against climate change and biodiversity loss, and for protecting Indigenous lands and culture.

The enterprise is expected initially to generate at least 1 million tonnes worth of carbon credit sales annually, creating over 200 new jobs in traditional Northern Australia Indigenous communities. Proponents heading to the December climate change talks in Copenhagen say similar projects can be adopted in the savannas of Africa, where the potential for reductions is very high.

Supported today by modern technologies like satellites, Indigenous fire management involves controlled early dry season fires to create fire breaks and patchy mosaics of burnt and un-burnt country. Pioneered centuries ago, the practice minimises destructive late dry season wildfires and maximises biodiversity protection.

In the last three years, the West Arnhem Land Fire Abatement (WALFA) project has reduced CO2-equivalent emissions in Northern Australia by 488,000 tonnes -- an annual average of 140,000 tonnes that can be sold as credits on the carbon exchange market, valued today at A$10 per tonne….

A savanna fire, this one in Burkina Faso, shot by Marco Schmidt, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 License

Burning rainforests release huge amounts of greenhouse gases

Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (Germany): Peatlands, especially those in tropical regions, sequester gigantic amounts of organic carbon. Human activities are now having a considerable impact on these wetlands. For example, drainage projects, in combination with the effects of periodic droughts, can lead to large-scale fires, which release enormous amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere, and thus contribute to global warming.

Using laser-based measurements, Professor Florian Siegert and his research group at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (LMU) in Munich have now estimated the volume of peat burned in such fires with unprecedented accuracy. The new data imply that, in 2006, peatland fires in Indonesia released up to about 900 million metric tons of CO2. This is more than the total amount of CO2 emitted in Germany in that year, and represents about 16 % of the emissions associated with deforestation worldwide. “Our work once again underlines the decisive role played by acutely endangered tropical wetland ecosystems in the context of global warming”, says Siegert. “

…. “It is estimated that, in the tropics, peat swamps cover an area of 30 to 45 million hectares”, says Professor Florian Siegert from the GeoBio-Center of the LMU Munich. “This corresponds to about 10% of the total area of peatlands in the world, and means that tropical peatlands represent one of the largest near-surface storage sites for organic carbon that we have”. – And almost half of this reservoir is located in a single country, Indonesia.

… Left in their natural state, they are simply too wet to burn. But drainage measures and deforestation disturb their ecological equilibrium and make them vulnerable to fire, which is almost always caused by human activities. Private companies often exploit fires to prepare the ground for the establishment of large-scale plantations for the production of wood pulp and palm oil,.

The fires, however, are doubly dangerous. The smoke they produce contains tremendous amounts of aerosols and toxic gases, which can lead to serious health problems in many areas of Southeast Asia. Furthermore, the soil-bound organic carbon is transformed into carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas which plays a leading role in global warming. …

…Most studies on changes in land use and their effects on climate change have considered only total forest biomass. The new data demonstrate that, in future, one must also focus on the biomass that is stored in the soil…..

Thick smoke hung over the island of Borneo when the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite passed overhead on October 5, 2006.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

US Navy plots Arctic push

Ian MacLeod in CommonDreams via the Ottawa Citizen takes a dry Canadian view of US expansionism: The U.S. navy is planning a massive push into the Arctic to defend national security, potential undersea riches and other maritime interests. While the plan talks diplomatically about "strong partnerships" with other Arctic nations, it is clear the U.S. is intent on seriously retooling its military presence and naval combat capabilities in a region increasingly seen as a potential flashpoint as receding polar ice allows easier access.

"This opening of the Arctic may lead to increased resource development, research, tourism, and could reshape the global transportation system. These developments offer opportunities for growth, but also are potential sources of competition and conflict for access and natural resources," says the 33-page document, signed by Admiral Jonathan W. Greenert, vice-chief of Naval Operations.

"While the United States has stable relationships with other Arctic nations, the changing environment and competition for resources may contribute to increasing tension, or, conversely, provide opportunities for co-operative solutions," it says.

…If the recent surfacing of a U.S. submarine near the North Pole left any doubt, the navy's roadmap makes it clear the U.S. and other nations will increasingly flex military muscle in the resource-rich region, says a specialist on Canada's northern security. "The Arctic is transforming and everyone else gets it and they're not going to go away," Rob Huebert, associate director at the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary, said Friday….

On July 1, 2008, the fast attack submarine USS Providence breaks through the ice at the North Pole in the Arctic Ocean to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first submarine polar transit by the USS Nautilus in 1958. U.S. Navy photo by Yoeman 1st Class J. Thompson

Ski resorts fight global warming; Utah gov unsure

Brock Vergakis, Associated Press: Ski resorts across the country are using the Thanksgiving weekend to jump start their winter seasons, but with every passing year comes a frightening realization: If global temperatures continue to rise, fewer and fewer resorts will be able to open for the traditional beginning of ski season. Warmer temperatures at night are making it more difficult to make snow and the snow that falls naturally is melting earlier in the spring.

In few places is this a bigger concern than the American West, where skiing is one of the most lucrative segments of the tourism industry and often the only reason many people visit cash-strapped states like Utah during winter. But even as world leaders descend on Copenhagen next month to figure out a way to reduce carbon emissions blamed in global warming, the industry is still grappling with leaders in some of their own ski-crazy states who refuse to concede that humans have any impact on climate change.

Chief among them is Republican Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, who says he will host what he calls the first "legitimate debate" about man's role in climate change in the spring.…Herbert's reluctance to acknowledge that greenhouse gases contribute to global warming quietly frustrates Utah ski resorts that depend on state marketing money, but it openly infuriates industry officials elsewhere who liken it to having a debate about whether the world is flat.

"That's just kind of raging ignorance," said Auden Schendler, executive director of sustainability for Aspen (Colo.) Skiing Co. "We're not environmentalists, we're business people. We have studied the hell out of the climate science. To have a neighboring governor not believe it ... It's absurd."

A climate study by the Aspen Global Change Institute is forecasting that if global emissions continue to rise, Aspen will warm 14 degrees by the end of this century, giving it a similar climate to that of Amarillo, Texas….

The Snowbird ski resort in Northern Utah, shot by Apollomelos

Global warming causing Irish floods, climate change, says Nobel expert

Patrick Reynolds in Irish Central: Ireland's massive flooding has almost certainly been the result of climate change, says Nobel Prize-winner and Ireland's leading climatologist, Prof. John Sweeney. "We have reaped what we have sown," he said.

Devastating floods have swept large parts of the country. Areas of the south and west of Ireland have been under water in the worst flooding in 800 years, according to experts. Major rivers such as the Shannon and the River Lee have burst their banks and thousands have been evacuated.

Sweeney, of Maynooth College, was one of the climatologists who formed part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and won the Nobel Prize in partnership with Al Gore in 2007 because of their warnings about climate change He pointed out that, per capita, Ireland is one of the largest contributors to climate change, as the country has far greater greenhouse emissions than Germany, France and Britain.

…He stated that in some parts of the west of Ireland, it has rained in each of the last 30 days. Sweeney said that "serious lessons must be learned from this. "There needs to be more care on where we build new infrastructure and new housing. I have been quite struck in the last number of days by the number of modern housing estates I have seen flooded that are located on flood plains."

The River Lee in County Cork, Ireland, shot by Michael Rogers, Wikimedia Commons, under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2

Climate change may weaken El Niño's hurricane buffering effect

Curtis Morgan in the Miami Herald: Despite underwater mortgages, failed Ponzi schemes and jailed politicians, the beleaguered citizenry of South Florida does have a few things to be thankful for this holiday season. … Hurricane season is about to end, meekly.

….Unfortunately, experts see this year's quieter-than-normal hurricane season, which officially ends Monday, as a fortunate break owed largely to the weather pattern known as El Niño. “Unless we have a special event like El Niño, we still are in a period where we are going to have active seasons,'' said James Franklin, chief of hurricane specialists at the National Hurricane Center in Miami.”

If that's not enough to dull the relief of dodging another tropical bullet, a new study co-authored by a University of Miami scientist suggests climate change may sap the strength when El Niños form in the future -- at least some of the time.

An El Niño occurs periodically when ocean temperatures rise in the eastern Pacific Ocean. That creates an atmospheric ripple effect reaching around the globe in the form of strong upper level wind shear that can weaken and shred tropical cyclones as they move across the Atlantic Ocean. Shear took its toll on virtually every storm this year, from Ana to Ida.

But Ben Kirtman, a professor of meteorology and physical oceanography at UM's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Studies, said climate data indicates that El Niño may be forming more frequently in the central Pacific, a 4,000-mile move to the west that could rob its ``protective shield'' of power. “When it is shifted further to the east, it has a nice effect on the shear that tends to suppress our hurricanes,'' Kirtman said. ``When El Niño happens to shift further to the west, we might expect less of an influence.''….

…But at least El Niño maintained its clout this year. The average six-month hurricane season in the Atlantic basin produces 10 named storms and six hurricanes, two of them major. This year's total: nine named storms and only three hurricanes, with Bill and Fred both reaching major Category Three-plus strength of 111-mph winds or higher….

The tracks of pre-1900 hurricanes that cross Florida

Preparing for cyclones in Madagascar via IRIN: Two near misses by huge storms rolling in from the Indian Ocean have signalled an early start to Madagascar's cyclone season, prompting the humanitarian community to appeal for "urgent" preparedness funding. Meteorologists forecast that four to five intense cyclones could strike Madagascar during the 2009/10 season.

The approaching Tropical Storm Bongani, hot on the heels of Cyclone Anja in mid-November, provided a wake-up call for aid agencies and the partly paralyzed national disaster management authority.

A UN Country Team statement on 25 November "raised concern over the approaching cyclone season that could seriously affect the lives of up to 600,000 people", and appealed for US$6 million "to be used for pre-positioning stocks in the most vulnerable regions of the country".

The concept of preparedness is not new to Madagascar. The island lies in the main path of storms crossing the Western Indian Ocean and is battered by cyclones every year; five have struck it in the last two years, affecting over 463,000 people.

…The focus had started shifting from a reactive approach - limited to response and recovery after an event - to a more comprehensive approach centred on preparedness. "We can see the payoff of prepositioning stocks ahead of the cyclone season. This has made it possible to help victims immediately," IRIN quoted Colonel Jean Rakotomalala, then Executive Secretary of the disaster response agency, BNGRC, who stressed the importance of recent investments in disaster risk reduction in January 2009....

Locator map of Madagascar by Vardion, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License

Friday, November 27, 2009

Organic farming for adaptation and mitigation

The Soil Association (UK): New research from the Soil Association reveals that if all UK farmland was converted to organic farming, at least 3.2 million tonnes of carbon would be taken up by the soil each year - the equivalent of taking nearly 1 million cars off the road. Patrick Holden, Soil Association Director, said: “Unless we are successful in tackling climate change, we won’t be able to feed the world’s growing population, however we farm. This report shows that agriculture can reduce greenhouse gas emissions while producing food sustainably.

“Our findings add fresh evidence to the strong case for agri-environmental farming made in the IAASTD Report, produced by 400 international scientists and endorsed by the UK Government.” According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), 89% of agriculture’s global greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation potential is from carbon sequestration – a fact that Governments seem to be ignoring in the critical run-up to climate change talks in Copenhagen (COP 15) in December.

The research’s key findings are:
  • On average organic farming produces 28% higher levels of soil carbon compared to non-organic farming in Northern Europe, and 20% higher for all countries studied (in Europe, North America and Australasia).
  • In the UK, grasslands and mixed farming systems also have a vital role to play, and soil carbon may go a long way to offsetting the methane emissions from grass-fed cattle and sheep.
  • The widespread adoption of organic farming practices in the UK would offset 23% of UK agricultural emissions through soil carbon sequestration alone, more than doubling the UK Government’s pathetically low target of a 6-11% reduction by 2020.
  • A worldwide switch to organic farming could offset 11% of all global greenhouse gas emissions. Raising soil carbon levels would also make farming worldwide more resilient to extremes of climate like droughts and floods, leading to greater food security….
An organic farm in Germany, shot by EwigLernender, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License

Australia's oceans under pressure

Nicky Phillips for ABC Science Online (Australia): Scientists have given the state of Australia's marine environment a low grade in the country's first Marine Climate Change report card released today. The report, compiled by CSIRO and the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility, details how Australia's marine environment has already changed as a result of a warming planet, and how it is expected to change in the future.

Marine biologist and contributing author Dr Alistair Hobday of CSIRO says "our marine environment is vulnerable of dropping out of school". But he says the report does offer strategies to help marine environments adapt to the projected impacts of climate change.

Dr Hobday says the report, which took more than a year to prepare, demonstrates that climate change is already having an impact. He says the temperature is going to rise by 2 to 4 degrees Celsius, even if greenhouse gas emissions are regulated from today. "Over the next 30 years the kind of changes we're expecting to see are already locked in now because of the amount of greenhouse gases we've put into the atmosphere," he said. "Nothing we do today can change that."

….He says climate change impacts on the marine environment and the projections are rated on a confidence scale, which is based on current literature and the consensus of leading scientists in the field. Dr Hobday hopes the report's adaptation strategies will be used in the short term while more drastic longer-term solutions are negotiated. "These strategies [are what] scientists feel will help these marine systems adapt to climate change [in the short term]," he said….

Island Archway on the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, Australia. Taken as a 6 segment panorama showing the surrounding coastline. Shot by David Iliff, or Diliff, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License

Fall in rice strains highlights China's biodiversity gap

Shanshan Li in The number of China's rice varieties has dramatically decreased, raising fears about the country's food security and biodiversity. China had 46,000 rice varieties in the 1950s, but this plummeted to just 1,000 in 2006, according to a Chinese study published in BioScience this month (November).

The research used a variety of environmental indicators — such as forest coverage and water quality — to examine China's progress since parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity agreed in 2002 to significantly reduce biodiversity loss by 2010. It found that despite making progress with its forest resources, China needs a more integrated biodiversity strategy.

"A significant reduction of biodiversity loss — or even a halt of it — can be achieved only if biodiversity conservation is mainstreamed into national and sectoral strategies and action plans. The next decade is a critical period for China," the authors wrote. According to the study, China's grasslands have declined by 15,000 square kilometres per year over the past 30 years, and previous research found than 90 per cent of China's grasslands are degraded.

But there is some good news. Water quality in marine ecosystems has improved by more than four per cent per year from 2001 to 2007. The area of China's forests has increased from 13 per cent to 18 per cent in 2003, and forest growing stock — the volume of trees in an area that have more than a certain diameter at chest height — has increased by over 40 per cent. "Biodiversity is increasing in China's forests," the study said.

Earlier this month, the State Forest Administration of China published its plan to adapt to climate change, proposing that China's forest coverage should increase to 20 per cent by 2010. Bao-Rong Lu, a professor at China's Fudan University, told SciDev.Net: "The huge decrease [in rice yields] is a result of the extensive cultivation of a few genetically improved modern varieties that are high-yielding and pest-resistant."

"In addition, the farming style of monoculture — with only a few dominant varieties covering a huge area — will lead to a vulnerable agro-ecosystem." Lu said that genebanks and nurseries could boost conservation but have their limitations, such as seeds not being able to adapt to environments after being frozen for long periods of time….

A rice paddy in Yangshuo, China, shot by Corto Maltese 1999, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License

Cost of climate change adaptation will be 'huge', conference told

The A Brussels conference has urged the EU to "act early" to help developing countries meet the cost of tackling climate change. The European Policy Centre event was told that the financial implications of helping poorer nations adapt to global warming will be "huge."

But Hans Martens, EPC chief executive who chaired the meeting, said, "If we act early we can deal with the problem in a more cost-effective way than having to pick up the pieces after a natural disaster, such as floods, happens." He was responding to the results of a study that show that climate change could cost developing countries up to 12 per cent of their gross domestic product (GDP) by 2030. A report by the Economics of Climate Adaptation Working group, circulated at the conference, also indicates that climate change could cost rich nations up to 19 per cent of their GDP.

Reto Schnarwiler, head of public sector at Swiss Re, said, "These are quite meaningful figures and, of course, it is the developing countries which are most vulnerable." He added, "The impact of climate change on the GDP of developing countries will vary widely as will the implications of global warming for these nations." He said that adaptation measures for developing countries include the construction of new dams and reservoirs and new irrigation systems. "The cost will be huge and that is one reason why we still need to look at new technologies and other solutions."…

The Devil's Golf Course in Death Valley, California, shot by Tahoenathan, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License

Boston faces deep risk from sea level rise

Some local reaction to the WWF/Allianz report on impacts, from the Boston Globe: Brace yourself Boston: Sea level rise from climate change could jeopardize Hub assets worth $463 billion. A new report out by World Wildlife Fund and insurer Allianz warns that sea levels could rise along the U.S. coast a whopping 26 inches by 2050 as the world warms. That would place assets worth $7.4 trillion at risk along the US coast.

“With each new study the alarm bells become deafeningly clear that climate change will have devastating consequences for our economy and way of life,’’ said David Reed, senior vice president of policy at WWF. The report comes several weeks before the world’s nations meet in Copenhagen to work toward a binding agreement to lower greenhouse gases from power plants, cars, and factories that are warming the earth and causing sea levels to rise.

New scientific evidence shows that the pace of warming in some places is outstripping even dire projections….

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Munich Re says climate change is one of humanity's biggest challenges

When Munich Re says that the likely contribution of climate change is in the low single-digit percentage, don’t feel that you can relax about global warming. What matters more is how quickly this proporition is increasing. This increase is what has insurers worried. Oliver Suess in Bloomberg: Munich Re, the world’s biggest reinsurer, said climate change is “one of the biggest challenges facing mankind” and must be fought with ambitious targets to curb a costly rise in natural catastrophes. …The average number of major weather-related catastrophes such as windstorms, floods and drought is now three times as high as at the beginning of the 1980s, Munich Re statistics show. “Losses have risen even more,” the Munich-based reinsurer said.

Natural catastrophe losses reached about $1.6 trillion in original values between 1980 and 2008 while insured losses amounted to about $465 billion, according to Munich Re. That compares to overall losses of more than $750 billion and insured losses of about $280 billion in this decade, the company said. “To what extent the increased losses are due to climate change is not yet clear,” Munich Re said in the statement. “Preliminary analyses suggest that it accounts for a low single-digit percentage of annual overall losses.”

To help developing countries, many of them in regions more exposed to natural catastrophes and unable to adapt to the growing danger, Munich Re has founded the Munich Climate Insurance Initiative. MCCI estimates its costs for preventive measures, microinsurance plan support, and funding of a climate insurance pool for the biggest risks will cost about $10 billion a year. “It is expected that items from the MCII program will be incorporated into the final Copenhagen document,” Munich Re said.

The Egyptian Bridge collapse in 1905 in Saint Petersburg

'Cull livestock to combat climate change'

Johann Tasker in Farmers Interactive Weekly (UK): Livestock numbers should be slashed to combat climate change, says a report. A 30% reduction in livestock in high-producing countries is needed to meet climate change targets, says the document.

The report calls on health ministers and professionals across the world to recognise the danger that climate change poses to health. A reduction in livestock numbers that led to reduced meat consumption would have positive effects on human health, it states.

Changes in farming practice to reduce livestock and overall meat consumption could lower the intake of saturated fat, says the report. The document was launched at an event attended by health secretary Andy Burnham on Wednesday (25 November).

"Climate change can seem a distant, impersonal threat - in fact, the associated costs to health are a very real and present danger," he said. "Health Ministers across the globe must act now to highlight the risk global warming poses to the health of our communities. We need well-designed climate change policies that drive health benefits."….

"The Livestock Market" by Peter van Bloemen (1657-1720).

Warming to hit "roads, pipelines" in Canada north

David Ljunggren in Reuters: Roads, buildings and pipelines in Canada's north are at risk from global warming and the government must do more to protect infrastructure in the remote frozen region, an official panel said Thursday. Temperatures in the north -- which includes the Arctic -- are rising much faster than elsewhere in the world, and this comes at a time of increasing interest in the area's vast mineral and energy reserves.

The National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE) said the permafrost layer had begun to melt, a development that can have disastrous consequences. "Melting permafrost is undermining building foundations and threatens roads, pipelines and communications infrastructure,' it said in a report, also citing the potential danger to energy systems, waste disposal sites and ponds containing toxic tailings from mines. "The risk to infrastructure systems will only intensify as the climate continues to warm."….

The Diavik Diamond mine in the Northwest Territories, Canada, apparently shot by Trevor MacInnis

The flooding disaster exposes Britain's fragile economic future

Deborah Orr in the Guardian (UK): …So far, 16 bridges have been closed or destroyed in Cumbria, taking other utilities – electricity, phone lines – with them. A total of 1,600 bridges are now being inspected, to see if they too are less solid that they seemed a week ago. One entire community has been all but marooned, and a temporary railway station has been erected, to help with sudden demand for the local rail service. The cost of replacing lost infrastructure will not be a mere bagatelle. And no one is arguing with the idea that the government will have to find the money, not even those blue-eyed boys who like nothing more than to profess their hatred for the "big state".

On the contrary, the Confederation of British Industry, at its conference this week, insisted that more transport infrastructure, along with more broadband investment and new nuclear power, should be items at the top of any government shopping list. I have no argument with that, and I don't think John Maynard Keynes would either. It is just the sort of spending he had in mind when he exhorted governments to throw money at recessions, racking up deficits on their way if they had to, in order to get the economy growing again. Actually, it's just the sort of thing that many governments spend money on, even when they are not in recession. The destruction in Cumbria, however, is a horribly timely reminder that successive governments of the late 20th century in Britain have not done this.

…[T]he government and the opposition are only half-right as they wrestle in their phoney fight about public spending. Of course it would be idiotic to cut public spending in the middle of a recession. But it would not be idiotic to redirect it. The great trouble is that the government is pouring money into stuff that is not laying the groundwork for the sustainable economy that everyone wants for the future.

…. It is time for us to understand that if we want a sustainable and secure future, then everything has to be reassessed, and much will have to change. Otherwise, our taxes will be spent on servicing debt until all of our bridges are swept away, and there is no way back.

Railway bridge over the River Derwent in Workington, shot by Andy V Byers, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License

The high cost of climate change in Rwanda

Moses Gahigi in via the New Times (Rwanda): A report by Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) on the economics of climate change in Rwanda has revealed that climate change has had a significant setback on the economy, especially in the past four years. The research which was funded by the Department for International Development (DFID) assessed the impact of the various climate change conditions such as carbon emissions, droughts and floods.

The report indicates that in 2007 alone, it is estimated that the measurable economic costs for floods were US$ 4 to 22m which is equivalent to around 0.1 to 0.6 of GDP for two districts alone, excluding the wider economic costs like infrastructure damage. "The climate change impacts are reducing GDP and generally affecting economic growth, however the steps Rwanda is taking to combat this phenomenon are worth commending," pointed Paul Watkiss the Project Director.

Speaking to The New Times, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Mines and Natural Resources, Caroline Kayonga, said they are taking the research recommendations seriously and its findings are going to significantly help them in strengthening mechanisms of combating impacts of climate change in a broader perspective. "We are taking the recommendations and findings of this report, there are already things we have done and others are underway in line with combating climate change and we believe this report is going to help us strengthen our efforts and strategies."

The impacts of climate change are cross-cutting and have been felt by various sectors including agriculture, health, energy and a significant effect on the existing eco-systems. It is estimated that climate change could increase the rural population at risk from malaria by 150 percent by 2050, and the disease burden could lead to full economic risks that are over US$50m per year….

The road leading to Ndera, Kigali province, Rwanda. Shot by SteveRwanda, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Researchers establish common seasonal patterns among bacterial communities in Arctic rivers

University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science: New research on bacterial communities throughout six large Arctic river ecosystems reveals predictable temporal patterns, suggesting that scientists could use these communities as markers for monitoring climate change in the polar regions. The study, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition, shows that bacterial communities in the six rivers shifted synchronously over time, correlating with seasonal shifts in hydrology and biogeochemistry.

The research team documents these patterns through a three-year, circumpolar study of planktonic bacterial communities in the six largest rivers of the pan-arctic watershed: the Ob’, Yenisey, Lena, Kolyma, Yukon, and Mackenzie Rivers.

“Our results demonstrate that synchrony, seasonality and annual reassembly in planktonic bacterial communities occur on global scales,” said lead author Dr. Byron Crump of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. “Since bacterial communities in big arctic rivers shift predictably with circumpolar seasonal changes in environmental conditions, they may serve as sensitive indicators of climate change in the Arctic.”

“The six river systems studied are comparable in size to the Mississippi River in the United States,” said coauthor Rainer Amon of Texas A&M University at Galveston. “One of the things we learned is the bacteria communities in all six of them seem to be very similar. There are many questions still to be answered, such as how these bacteria communities might respond to a continued increase in temperature.”

This synchrony indicates that hemisphere-scale variation in seasonal climate sets the pace of variation in microbial diversity. Moreover, these seasonal communities reassembled each year in all six rivers, suggesting a long-term, predictable succession in the composition of big river bacterial communities….

Image courtesy of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA, from the University of Maryland website

Drought worsening in New South Wales

Nick Ralston in the Brisbane Times: Farmers will battle through the drought because they believe current dry conditions are mostly cyclical and not the effect of climate change, the NSW Farmers Association says. Latest figures released on Monday show that drought in NSW is worsening, with 73.6 per cent of the state now affected, compared with the October figure of 67.7 per cent.

A further 24.5 per cent of the state is marginal, meaning just 1.9 per cent of NSW is considered to be satisfactory. The figures, released by the Department of Primary Industries, show more of the state is affected by drought than at any time in the past two years.

NSW Farmers Association senior vice president John Ridley said a lack of average rainfall should usually only occur once every ten years. But Mr Ridley, who lives in central NSW, said he hadn't seen average rainfall since 2001.

As debate heats up around the federal government's carbon pollution reduction scheme, Mr Ridley said most farmers did not think the big dry in NSW was an effect of climate change. "I think most farmers are a bit cynical about any lasting climate change effect," he told AAP. "They are more inclined to think that the climate is changing at the moment but it will change back the other way….

From 1889, ON THE ROAD FROM HAY TO BOOLIGAL [N.S.W.] - RECENT DROUGHT IN NEW SOUTH WALES-From sketches by our special artist. Wood engraving published in The Illustrated Australian news. The image consists of five panels: Hay -- A changing station -- Sunrise on the one tree plain -- The Booligal sanitary authorities -- Booligal

Warming means rain but no crop boost for northeast China

Emma Graham-Harrison in Reuters: Climate change is likely to bring more rain to China's northeastern bread basket, but too late in the year to benefit crops, seriously threatening a major region for wheat, corn and rice, a report said on Tuesday. Climate change-driven water scarcity in the country's northeast could lop up to 12 percent off forecast average crop yields. Droughts are exacerbated by limited irrigation in an area that has historically had fairly reliable water supplies but is already losing millions of tonnes of potential grain production a year from shortages.

The report, "From bread basket to dust bowl" highlights how complicated the impact of climate change may be in many areas, and also the threats it poses to China's food supplies. Many models of warming driven by greenhouse gases suggest northeast China may get more rain and a longer growing season.

But this report, prepared with leading Chinese experts on climate change and farming, suggests such changes may not bring bigger yields -- at least, not without major spending to counter shifting and increasingly erratic rain patterns….

A harvest in China, region unknown, shot by Steve Evans, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License

Environmental consequences of American food waste

Science Daily: Food waste contributes to excess consumption of freshwater and fossil fuels which, along with methane and carbon dioxide emissions from decomposing food, impacts global climate change. In a new paper published in the open-access, peer-reviewed journal PLoS One, Kevin Hall and colleagues at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases calculate the energy content of nationwide food waste from the difference between the US food supply and the food eaten by the population. The latter was estimated using a validated mathematical model of human metabolism relating body weight to the amount of food eaten.

The researchers found that US per capita food waste has progressively increased by about 50% since 1974 reaching more than 1400 Calories per person per day or 150 trillion Calories per year. Previous calculations are likely to have underestimated food waste by as much as 25% in recent years.

This calculated progressive increase of food waste suggests that the US obesity epidemic may have been the result of a "push effect" of increased food availability and marketing with Americans being unable to match their food intake with the increased supply of cheap, readily available food.

Hall and colleagues suggest that addressing the oversupply of food energy in the US could help curb to the obesity epidemic as well as reduce food waste, which would have profound consequences for the environment and natural resources. For example, food waste is now estimated to account for more than one quarter of the total freshwater consumption and more than 300 million barrels of oil per year representing about 4% of the total US oil consumption…

Liberians face rising flood threat

Rob Young in the BBC World Service: Liberia on Africa's west coast is in desperate need of help as it suffers from the effects of climate change. The country, which has been devastated by years of civil war, is now facing a second major threat - the ocean.

The United Nations Development Programme say the changing climate means the sea level is rising and the rainy season is getting longer. This has led to a rapidly eroding coastline and more instances of flooding.

…"We have to send out an SOS call to the international community that Liberia is in dire need of their support," says Carlton Miller, a senior government minister. "We are facing an imminent threat, this is not something we can do on our own."

…The majority of Liberia's population live in coastal cities and what is left of its infrastructure is also near the ocean. "Some areas are so low compared to sea level that a rising tide will see some inundation of low-lying areas," says David Wiles, assistant professor of geography at the University of Liberia.

…The exact rate of coastal erosion is unclear because historical records were destroyed during the civil war. But the government estimates that in one coastal city, Buchanan, the sea has moved 250 metres in almost 40 years….

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

'Moves to stop global warming are devastating tribal people’, says new report

Survival Measures to stop global warming risk being as harmful to tribal peoples as climate change itself, according to a new report from Survival. The report, ‘The most inconvenient truth of all: climate change and indigenous people’, sets out four key ‘mitigation measures’ that threaten tribal people:

1. Biofuels: promoted as an alternative, ‘green’ source of energy to fossil fuels, much of the land allocated to grow them is the ancestral land of tribal people. If biofuels expansion continues as planned, millions of indigenous people worldwide stand to lose their land and livelihoods.

2. Hydro-electric power: A new boom in dam construction in the name of combating climate change is driving thousands of tribal people from their homes.

3. Forest conservation: Kenya’s Ogiek hunter-gatherers are being forced from the forests they have lived in for hundreds of years to ‘reverse the ravages’ of global warming.

4. Carbon offsetting: Tribal peoples’ forests now have a monetary value in the booming ‘carbon credits’ market. Indigenous people say this will lead to forced evictions and the ‘theft of our land’.

The report calls for tribal people to be fully involved in decisions that affect them, and for their land ownership rights to be upheld. Survival Director Stephen Corry said today, ‘This report highlights ‘the most inconvenient truth of all’ – that the world’s tribal people, who have done the least to cause climate change and are most affected by it, are now having their rights violated and land devastated in the name of attempts to stop it. Hiding behind the global push to prevent climate change, governments and companies are mounting a massive land grab. As usual, where money and vast profits are at stake, the world’s indigenous people are being shamefully swept aside.’….

Recently chopped rainforest for production of palm oil in the province of Loreto, Northern Peru. © Thomas Quirynen/Survival

More than 100 icebergs heading towards New Zealand

Terra Daily via Agence France-Presse: More than 100, and possibly hundreds, of Antarctic icebergs are floating towards New Zealand in a rare event which has prompted a shipping warning, officials said on Monday. An Australian Antarctic Division glaciologist said the ice chunks, spotted by satellite photography, had passed the Auckland Islands and were heading towards the main South Island, about 450 kilometres (280 miles) northeast.

Scientist Neal Young said more than 100 icebergs -- some measuring more than 200 metres (650 feet) across -- were seen in just one cluster, indicating there could be hundreds more. He said they were the remains of a massive ice floe which split from the Antarctic as sea and air temperatures rise due to global warming.

"All of these have come from a larger one that was probably 30 square kilometres (11.6 square miles) in size when it left Antarctica," Young told AFP. "It's done a long circuit around Antarctica and now the bigger parts of it are breaking up and producing smaller ones."

He said large numbers of icebergs had not floated this close to New Zealand since 2006, when a number came within 25 kilometres of the coastline -- the first such sighting since 1931….

A 2000 shot of an Antarctic iceberg by Jerzy Strzelecki, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License

Climate change accelerating beyond expectations, urgent emissions reductions required, say leading scientists

The Copenhagen Diagnosis – Updating the World on the Latest Climate Science: Global ice-sheets are melting at an increased rate; Arctic sea-ice is disappearing much faster than recently projected, and future sea-level rise is now expected to be much higher than previously forecast, according to a new global scientific synthesis prepared by some of the world’s top climate scientists.

In a special report called ‘The Copenhagen Diagnosis’, the 26 researchers, most of whom are authors of published IPCC reports, conclude that several important aspects of climate change are occurring at the high end or even beyond the expectations of only a few years ago. The report also notes that global warming continues to track early IPCC projections based on greenhouse gas increases. Without significant mitigation, the report says global mean warming could reach as high as 7 degrees Celsius by 2100.

The Copenhagen Diagnosis, which was a year in the making, documents the key findings in climate change science since the publication of the landmark Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report in 2007. The new evidence to have emerged includes:
  • Satellite and direct measurements now demonstrate that both the Greenland and Antarctic ice-sheets are losing mass and contributing to sea level rise at an increasing rate.
  • Arctic sea-ice has melted far beyond the expectations of climate models. For example, the area of summer sea-ice melt during 2007-2009 was about 40% greater than the average projection from the 2007 IPCC Fourth Assessment Report.
  • Sea level has risen more than 5 centimeters over the past 15 years, about 80% higher than IPCC projections from 2001. Accounting for ice-sheets and glaciers, global sea-level rise may exceed 1 meter by 2100, with a rise of up to 2 meters considered an upper limit by this time. This is much higher than previously projected by the IPCC. Furthermore, beyond 2100, sea level rise of several meters must be expected over the next few centuries.
  • In 2008 carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels were ~40% higher than those in 1990. Even if emissions do not grow beyond today’s levels, within just 20 years the world will have used up the allowable emissions to have a reasonable chance of limiting warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius.
The report concludes that global emissions must peak then decline rapidly within the next five to ten years for the world to have a reasonable chance of avoiding the very worst impacts of climate change. To stabilize climate, global emissions of carbon dioxide and other long-lived greenhouse gases need to reach near-zero well within this century, the report states....

Intensive land management leaves Europe without carbon sinks

Max Planck Gesellschaft: Of all global carbon dioxide emissions, less than half accumulate in the atmosphere where it contributes to global warming. The remainder is hidden away in oceans and terrestrial ecosystems such as forests, grasslands and peat-lands. Stimulating this "free service" of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems is considered one of the main, immediately available ways of reducing climate change. However, new greenhouse gas bookkeeping has revealed that for the European continent this service isn’t free after all. These findings are presented in the most recent edition of Nature Geoscience (Advanced Online Publication, November 22, 2009).

Researchers from 17 European countries cooperating in the EU-Integrated Project CarboEurope, led by Detlef Schulze, of the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry in Jena, Germany have compiled the first comprehensive greenhouse gas balance of Europe. They made two independent estimates: one based on what the atmosphere sees and one based on what terrestrial ecosystems see.

The new bookkeeping effort confirmed the existence of a strong carbon sink of -305 Million tonnes of carbon per year in European forests and grasslands. A sink of this magnitude could offset 19% of the emission from fossil fuel burning. However, agricultural land and drained peat-land are emitting CO2, which cancels part of this sink. The resulting net CO2 sink of the European continent is 274 Million tonnes of carbon per year - only 15% of the emissions from fossil fuel burning. But this balance is still incomplete, because all European ecosystems are managed and as a by-product of land management other powerful greenhouse gases are released - for example nitrous oxide from fertilizers applied to grassland and crops, and methane from ruminants and from peat-lands. These previously neglected emissions of greenhouse gases from land-use cancel out almost the entire carbon sink, leaving the landscape offsetting only some 2% of the CO2 emissions from households, transport and industry.

Compared to Europe as a whole, the situation is even worse for the 25 states of the European Union. Here, although forests and grasslands can compensate for 13% of the CO2 emitted by fossil fuel burning, emission of powerful greenhouse gases from agricultural emissions and peat mining reduces the effectiveness of the land surface sink to 111 Million tonnes of carbon per year, which is only 11% of the CO2 emitted by fossil fuels. However, since the emissions of methane and nitrous oxide are relatively higher in the European Union the land surface emerges as a greenhouse gas source of 34 Million tonnes of carbon per year. This effectively increases the emissions from fossil fuel burning by another 3%.

Prof Schulze said "These findings show that if the European landscape is to contribute to mitigating global warming, we need a new, different emphasis on land management. Methane and nitrous oxide are such powerful greenhouse gases; we must manage the landscape to decrease their emissions."...

To compute whether European landscapes store or release greenhouse gases, climatologists have for the first time also considered methane and nitrogen oxide emissions from livestock farming and intensive agriculture. The result? Forests, grasslands and agriculture fields, particularly in central Europe, freely release greenhouse gas (in carbon dioxide equivalents / red colouring in diagram). In this way they almost completely cancel the effect which Russian forests have as a carbon sink (blue colouring). Image by the CarboEurope Team, from the Max Planck Gesellschaft website

Climate change could boost incidence of civil war in Africa, study finds

Kathleen Mackay in the UC Berkeley News: Climate change could increase the likelihood of civil war in sub-Saharan Africa by over 50 percent within the next two decades, according to a new study led by a team of researchers at University of California, Berkeley, and published in today's (Monday, Nov. 23) online issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The study, conducted by researchers at UC Berkeley as well as at Stanford University, New York University and Harvard University, provides the first quantitative evidence linking climate change and the risk of civil conflict. It concludes by urging accelerated support by African governments and foreign aid donors for new and/or expanded policies to assist with African adaptation to climate change.

"Despite recent high-level statements suggesting that climate change could worsen the risk of civil conflict, until now we had little quantitative evidence linking the two," said Marshall Burke, the study's lead author and a graduate student at UC Berkeley's Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics. "Unfortunately, our study finds that climate change could increase the risk of African civil war by over 50 percent in 2030 relative to 1990, with huge potential costs to human livelihoods."

"We were definitely surprised that the linkages between temperature and recent conflict were so strong," said Edward Miguel, professor of economics at UC Berkeley and faculty director of UC Berkeley's Center for Evaluation for Global Action. "But the result makes sense. The large majority of the poor in most African countries depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, and their crops are quite sensitive to small changes in temperature. So when temperatures rise, the livelihoods of many in Africa suffer greatly, and the disadvantaged become more likely to take up arms."…

Farming along White and Blue Nile Rivers, near Khartoum,Sudan In the Sahara Desert, along the White and Blue Nile rivers lies a thriving agricultural area. As seen in this Landsat 7 image, the farming patterns resemble French long farms, whose long, rectangular shapes allow each individual plot access to water from irrigation canals along the narrow side.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Staying afloat: what businesses can do to protect themselves against flooding

Sue Wheat in GreenWise: The extent of the damage from last week’s ‘biblical style’ flooding that swept through parts of northern England, north-west Wales and western Scotland, is now very apparent to all. It will undoubtedly cause millions of pounds worth of damage to businesses and unmeasurable emotional stress to business owners, staff and customers, with many businesses forced to close temporarily or permanently if damage has made them structurally unsound and they are not insured.

…In a strange quirk of timeliness, the Queen announced new flood protection legislation in her Queen’s Speech in parliament on Thursday as the extent of the floods was becoming apparent. Her Majesty stated that: "Legislation will be introduced to protect communities from flooding and to ensure the security of water suppliers,” and referring to the new Flood and Water Management Bill, which is designed to improve the UK's resilience to floods.

Specialists in environmental management, engineering and the insurance sector all welcomed the legislation. Granville Davies, principal engineer at Royal Haskoning, says the bill will enable local authorities to take the lead in local flood risk management in the UK and brings an essential EU directive into UK legislative frameworks.

“With 3.8 million properties in England alone at risk of surface water flooding, the bill will also facilitate essential surface water management planning activity,” says Mr Davies. “This will enable greater understanding of surface water flood risks, the identification of flood risk management assets, and improved collaboration between stakeholder groups to implement preventative measures.”

Meanwhile, flood claims are expected to be in the region of £50-100 million, the Association of British Insurers (ABI) said. … “All insurance companies are concerned about the impacts of climate change and want to minimise any impact,” says James Wallace, group head of Corporate Responsibility at RSA.

…Businesses that prepare for flooding will definitely be best placed for recovery. Preparation can save 20 to 90 per cent of the cost of lost stock and moveable equipment as well as making your insurance claim easier….

Flooding on the A596 road at Workington, Cumbria, about 300 metres from Calva Bridge, 20 November 2009, 7.30am, shot by David Trochos, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License

Climate variability and dengue incidence

Science Daily: New research published in PLoS Medicine demonstrates associations between local rainfall and temperature and cases of dengue fever, which affects an estimated fifty million people per year worldwide. But the study finds little evidence that the El Niño-Southern Oscillation -- the climate cycle that occurs every three to four years as a result of the warming of the oceans in the eastern Pacific -- has a significant impact on the incidence of dengue in Mexico, Puerto Rico or Thailand.

Large outbreaks of dengue, a vector-borne viral disease spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, occur every few years in many tropical countries. Michael Johansson, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Puerto Rico, used a technique called "wavelet analysis" to probe relationships between the local climate, El Niño, and incidence of dengue in Mexico, Puerto Rico and Thailand -- three countries where dengue is endemic. They were able to separate and compare seasonal and multiyear components of each. In all three countries temperature, rainfall, and dengue incidence varied strongly on an annual scale, showing association in the wavelet analysis.

On the multiyear scale however, the researchers found no association between El Niño and dengue incidence in Mexico, a statistically insignificant association in Thailand, and an association in Puerto Rico only significant for part of the study period. The authors warn that the Puerto Rico outcomes should be viewed with caution.

The authors acknowledge that El Niño could still play a role undetected by this research. But as Pejman Rohani of the University of Michigan -- uninvolved in the research -- states in a related Perspective, the absence of a predictable link between El Niño and dengue transmission "is an important piece of information for the development of early warning systems"….

The outermost structural protein of the dengue virus, termed the envelope protein, is shown here from PDB entry 1k4r. The virus is enveloped with a lipid membrane, and 180 identical copies of the envelope protein are attached to the surface of the membrane by a short transmembrane segment.