Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Gulf woes grow as hurricane threat mounts

Jeanna Bryner in LiveScience: With Hurricane Alex churning through the Gulf of Mexico Wednesday and this year's hurricane season forecasted to be an active one, scientists are worried about how the Gulf Coast will fare from the potential wallop it could take. Right now, scientists are predicting that this hurricane season, which officially began on June 1, could be as intense as or worse than in 2005 (the most active Atlantic season ever recorded and the year Hurricane Katrina struck).

This stormy weather has the potential to not only wreak the normal havoc on coastal areas, toppling trees and flooding inland areas, but could worsen the already devastating impact of the BP oil spill on the Gulf, spreading tar balls over a much wider area, as well as across not-yet-hit marshes, according to Ping Wang in the Department of Geology at the University of South Florida. Already, Alex has pushed oil from the spill onto Gulf coast beaches, with some tar balls as large as apples, according to news reports.

There are many unknowns to how the hurricane season could play out, including the location and track of each hurricane, which could impact where the oil ends up and whether the end result actually helps rid the beaches of oil or piles it on. How intense each hurricane will be is also pretty fuzzy, even when a hurricane has fully formed.

"As far as the Gulf and the oil slick, it doesn't take much of a hurricane to make a fairly big difference there in being able to drive oil ashore. Any storm that comes through is not good news," said Greg Holland of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., which is sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF).…

Track map of Tropical Storm Alex, 2010 hurricane season, from June 26, 2010. Created by Titoxd using Wikipedia:WikiProject Tropical cyclones/Tracks. The background image is from NASA. Tracking data from the National Hurricane Center's running best track.

A new European satellite shines at a symposium

European Space Agency: Today, a focus at ESA's Living Planet Symposium is on the innovative SMOS mission, which recently became operational. Early results are proving very encouraging with its first observations due to be released in early July.

ESA's Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS) satellite was launched in November to gather data on moisture in the surface layers of soil and salt in the surface of the oceans. SMOS will improve our understanding of the water cycle and help advance weather and climate studies. SMOS has completed an intense programme of calibration and commissioning and, in May, it formally began its operational life delivering data.

Although it is still early days, scientists and users are very impressed with the first snapshots of 'brightness temperature' – the microwave radiation emitted from Earth's surface. ESA's Mission Manager, Susanne Mecklenburg said, "We still have some way to go before the full soil moisture and ocean salinity data products are available, but the brightness temperature data we have been working on for the past months clearly demonstrate what this advanced mission has to offer."

The satellite carries an innovative sensor to image brightness temperature. As key observables, these images are used as input to derive global maps of soil moisture and ocean salinity. Given the success of the mission so far, the maps are expected to be available by the autumn.

To test the usefulness of SMOS data for numerical weather prediction, data are also being delivered, within three hours of sensing, to meteorological centres such as the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts….

SMOS is already delivering very encouraging results for ocean salinity. The data, combined from one month (May), show accuracy within 0.45 psu (practical salinity units) when compared with in situ float data, even though the data had not undergone through extensive processing in terms of averaging over space and time. The scientific requirement is 0.1 psu for 200 × 200 km over 10–30 days so there is still scope for improvement. However, even without averaging over space and time as necessary to fulfil this requirement these early results clearly show potential. Credits: ESA - Ifremer, N. Reul

Jamaican Climate Change Centre moves to secure adaptation money

Petre William-Raynor in the Jamaica Observer: The Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (5Cs) is looking to have the Caribbean be among the first to benefit from the Adaptation Fund. In March this year, the Adaptation Fund Board (AFB) finally issued the call for projects and programmes, following two years of work to get the fund up and running.

Now the 5Cs is seeking to get US$10 million from the fund in order to finance a set of projects that were developed based on work done in Grenada, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Guyana, and Belize. "The centre would be the executing agency (for the project," Ulric Trotz, science adviser to the 5Cs told Environment Watch. "We got the endorsement from the five governments and developed the proposal in a short time... But it had to go through the hierarchy of the World Bank before it got to the Adaptation Fund Board so they didn't make the deadline (following the first call for projects and programmes this year)."

…Meanwhile, the project for St Vincent and the Grenadines should see the development of a reverse osmosis plant, fully powered by wind and solar energy, to get water to the people of those islands, Trotz revealed….

Jamaica's coat of arms

Ireland’s ‘heat wave’ and droughts to become the norm

Irish Although it has been raining in Ireland over the last two days water rationing is set to increase as reservoirs drop up to 40 percent compared to last summer. As the ‘heat wave’ of temperatures up to 68°F continues Ireland is told that water shortages during the summer will become the norm.

Over 30 millimeters of rain are expected to fall over the coming days but Count Councils say that this is too little too late as the countries water supplies are running out.

A leading climatologist from the Geography Department of National University of Ireland, Maynooth, Dr John Sweeney said that along with the low rainfall in the first six months of the year the reservoirs supplies were also affected by the freezing winter snap.
Dr Sweeney warned that Ireland will have to get used to droughts during the summer months.

He said “This is a problem that is going to become more common in years to come. We cannot label one dry summer as climate change. But it is the kind of drier summer we can expect in years to come.” He also asked that this be taken into account when Councils calculate their projections for water use….

A waterwheel in Foulksmills, shot by Aubrey Dale, Wikimedia Commons via Geograph UK, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Climate change threatens to slash Bangladesh rice crop, report warns

Syful Islam in AlertNet: Without adequate intervention, rice production in Bangladesh could see a dramatic decline by 2050 due to the impacts of climate change, even as population is projected to continue rising, researchers say. "Bangladesh faces formidable challenges to feed its population in the future," note the authors of a new report on adapting Bangladesh's agriculture to climate change.

And the problems may extend well beyond the densely populated, low-lying South Asian nation. "The present climatic variability is taking its toll in a lot in countries where temperatures are high," said M. Asaduzzaman, research director of the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies and one of the authors of the study, titled, "Investment in Agriculture for Higher Growth, Productivity and Adaptation to Climate Change".

Rising temperatures, salt intrusion into agricultural fields, drought and other climate-related issues are threatening rice production, he said, and the problems may lead to falling rice harvests in other Asian nations as well, including India and Indonesia, and in some African countries.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Magnitude of global warming uncertain, says survey

Margaret Munro in Canwest News Service: There is more than a 10 per cent chance the planet could undergo dramatic warming even if humanity manages to curb emission in coming decades, according to a survey of leading climate experts. "The possibility of really dramatic climate outcomes is significant," says engineer David Keith, of the University of Calgary, whose survey highlights the large but seldom discussed uncertainty in climate change scenarios.

It is known the climate will warm as a result of the billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide bumped into the atmosphere each year through the burning of coal, oil and other fossil fuels. But it is still not clear how much, says Keith, director of the U of C's Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy. To gauge the risks Keith and his colleagues canvassed 14 leading climate scientists, including two in Canada. Most are on the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The scientists were asked for their expert advice on how the climate system will respond to different emissions scenarios. Their responses are detailed in a report published Monday in the U.S. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Keith says the most significant finding is that it is "still very uncertain" how the climate will change.

The "risk of rapid or extreme warming are larger than what you would get by reading the IPCC" reports, he says. The UN reports are used at international talks aimed at reducing global CO2 emissions. But on the flip side, Keith says the survey also found a higher than expected chance of seeing less warming than expected.

In a "medium" emissions scenario, which Keith says will be hard to meet given the increasing global emissions, the level of CO2 in the atmosphere climbs to 550 parts per million by 2200 and stays there. "It's still technically possible but it'd be pretty darn hard," Keith says of the "politically optimistic" scenario….

A burn mark on a cork trivet, shot by Ranveig

Communities in the UK 'must contribute' to flood protection

Emily Beament in the Independent UK): Businesses, landowners and communities will have to make a bigger contribution to paying for flood defences in their area in the future, the Environment Agency warned today. The government agency, which has responsibility for river and coastal flooding and co-ordinates management of surface water flooding, said its spending on flood management was at record levels.

But despite Government funding to the tune of £629 million this financial year, the agency said other sources of cash would need to be found to protect communities from the increased risk of flooding and coastal erosion brought on by climate change in the future.

At a flood and coastal risk management conference in Telford today, Environment Agency chief executive Dr Paul Leinster will point to communities which have already adopted an approach in which they contribute to flood defences.

In Hereford, Asda contributed £2 million under planning conditions for a supermarket in the town and constructed 440 metres of flood defence as part of a £7.5 million scheme to protect 196 properties including 25 listed buildings….

The Lyvennet in flood, shot by Tim Leete, Wikimedia Commons via Geograph UK, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Mapping sea level rise and storm surge in the Chesapeake Bay

The Huntington News: The Chesapeake Bay region is one of the most vulnerable areas in the nation to sea level rise induced by climate change, trailing only parts of Louisiana, Florida, Texas and North Carolina in national assessments, and a new state-of-the-art map and website unveiled today by The Conservation Fund show just what that means for the Bay’s natural resources and public infrastructure.

Sea level is predicted to rise steadily along the East Coast due to a changing climate, which, along with periodic storm surge, could result in shoreline erosion, coastal flooding, salt water intrusion of freshwater resources and inundation of some coastal areas. With more than 11,600 miles of coastline along its main body of water and tidal tributaries, the Chesapeake Bay is at risk.

Natural resource managers and decision makers are grappling with the scope of this problem and are developing strategies to adapt to future predicted changes. Rising waters and potential storms could profoundly impact the way in which we determine appropriate areas for conservation and development.

“The purpose of these resources is to raise awareness of one of the most significant threats that climate change poses to natural and human infrastructure in the Bay region, and to help communities respond and adapt to its impacts,” said Erik Meyers, vice president of Sustainable Programs for The Conservation Fund. “Until now, there hasn’t been a reliable and easily accessible educational resource available for students, professionals, businesses and governments to explore the phenomena. We were pleased to work with the National Geographic Society and a group of experts from around the Bay to produce visually oriented, education tools that go beyond simply reading about it.”

The new National Geographic map and website describe the threats that sea level rise and storm surge pose to the environment, wildlife and our roads, buildings and houses, and provides a Bay-wide visualization identifying low-lying threatened areas. They also provide snap shots of high-resolution inundation models for Washington, D.C., Dorchester County, Maryland, and Virginia Beach, Virginia. The website address is:

From 1869, the steamship Arrowsmith on Chesapeake Bay

Peru inventor 'whitewashes' peaks to slow glacier melt

Terra Daily via Agence France-Presse: In a remote corner of the Peruvian Andes, men in paint-daubed boilersuits diligently coat a mountain summit with whitewash in an experimental bid to recuperate the country's melting glaciers. It's a bizarre sight at 4,756 metres (15,600 feet) above sea level.

The man behind the idea is not a glaciologist but an inventor, Eduardo Gold. His non-governmental organisation Glaciares de Peru was one of 26 winners of the World Bank's "100 Ideas to Save the Planet" competition in November 2009. Gold has already begun work while he waits for the 200,000-dollar prize money to fund his pilot project. His plan is to paint a total area of 70 hectares (173 acres) on three peaks in the Andean region of Ayacucho in southern Peru.

Chalon Sombrero, the name of an extinct glacier which used to irrigate a valley and several rivers, is where he's started with a team of four men from the local village, Licapa. The workers use jugs - rather than paintbrushes - to splash the whitewash onto loose rocks around the summit. So far they have painted some two hectares, just a tenth of the total area they aim to cover on that peak.

"A white surface reflects the sun's rays back through the atmosphere and into space, in doing so it cools the area around it too," explains Gold. "In effect in creates a micro-climate, so we can say that the cold generates more cold, just as heat generates more heat."…

Luis Padilla took this shot of the Andres, near Cusco, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

China to move tens of thousands for huge water scheme

Reuters: China will move 345,000 people, mostly poor villagers, within about two years to make way for a vast scheme to draw on rivers in the south to supply the increasingly dry north, an official newspaper said on Tuesday. The forced resettlement for the South-to-North Water Transfer Project will be the biggest China has undertaken since building the Three Gorges Dam, the world's biggest hydroelectric scheme, said the People's Daily.

The project involves an eastern route to take water from the lower reaches of the Yangtze River and a central route to tap rivers flowing into the Danjiangkou Dam in central China. The scheme has been troubled by delays, cost increases, pollution and the burden of resettling displaced farmers.

Zhang Jiyao, the official in charge of the project, said the mass move for the central route could be more demanding than the Three Gorges Dam move, which sparked years of contention with displaced residents unhappy with compensation and conditions….

A dress rehearsal for this new project: The Three Gorges Dam, shot by Tomasz Dunn, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Monday, June 28, 2010

Prepare for hotter and drier Southwestern US, climate experts urge via Science Daily: Jonathan Overpeck, principal investigator with the Climate Assessment for the Southwest at the UA, and Bradley Udall, director of the Western Water Assessment at the University of Colorado, write in the June 25 issue of the journal Science that such an approach is necessary for coping with a wide range of projected future climate changes in the West and Southwest.

In their overview of shifting climate in the region, Overpeck and Udall cite published findings of prevalent signs of change: rising temperatures, earlier snowmelt, northward-shifting winter storms, increasing precipitation intensity and flooding, record-setting drought, plummeting Colorado River reservoir storage, widespread vegetation mortality and more large wildfires.

"The West, and especially the Southwest, is leading the nation in climate change -- warming, drying, less late-winter snowpack and drought -- as well as the impacts of this change," said Overpeck, a UA professor of geosciences and atmospheric sciences and co-director of the Institute of the Environment.

In the past 10 years, temperatures in almost all areas in western North America have surpassed the 20th century average, many by more than 1 or even 2 degrees Fahrenheit. The warming has decreased late-season snowpack, which serves as a water reservoir, as well as the annual flow of the Colorado River, the researchers said.

Those reductions, combined with the worst drought observed since 1900, haven't helped matters; water storage in Lakes Powell and Mead, the largest southwestern water reservoirs, fell nearly 50 percent between 1999 and 2004 and has not risen significantly since.

In addition to water, vegetation is feeling the effects of climate change. Work by UA's David Breshears and colleagues have already showed that more than 1 million hectares of piñon pine have died in the Southwest in the last few decades from a lethal combination of record-high temperatures and uncommonly severe drought. In addition, the frequency of large wildfires has increased as snowpack has decreased....

Lake Powell, shot by Justin Brockie, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Water shortages a growing global concern

Sam Bond in …David Nussbaum, chief executive of WWF UK, told delegates at the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) event in London this week that water scarcity is already the reality in many places and a serious risk to many of the challenges of the 21st century.

Meeting food and energy demands and avoiding regional conflict and wars all require a sustainable water supply, said Mt Nussbaum. "In more and more places we're simply using more water than nature provides for us," he said. "And in the end that will have to stop."

He said that Earth's land-to-sea ratio is deceptive and conceals the fact that fresh water is a resource for which demand outstrips supply. "We live on a blue planet covered in water but what we have access to, in terms of fresh drinking water, is less than one per cent of that water," he said. "Desalination can help a little in some place but it isn't going to make a material difference."…

A woman is filling a bowl with a dirty water at Boromata's well. The Vakaga region, close to Sudan, suffers from a high incidence of environmental diseases. Shot by ierre Holtz - UNICEF, hdptcar from Bangui, Central African Republic, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Arctic reacts strongly to warming

Larry O’Hanlon in Discovery News: Whether it's 5 million years ago or June 2010, it's becoming very clear that whenever the Earth's climate warms up a few degrees -- for whatever reason -- the Arctic multiples that warming by a factor of about three.

Two new studies of past warming and cooling periods going back millions of years have found that the Arctic reliably amplifies whatever global climate is doing. If the world drops 3 degrees colder, the Arctic will see 9 to 12 degrees of cooling. If Earth warmed up 3 degrees, the Arctic steams up 9 to 12 degrees.

"What it reinforces is that the Arctic has very strong positive feedbacks," said Gifford Miller of the University of Colorado, who spoke to Discovery News via satellite phone from a research expedition in northwest Australia. This year, that could mean the Arctic could be the warmest ever recorded since data from NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies show that global temperatures in 2010 have reached record levels.

The most powerful of feedbacks in the Arctic is sea ice and snow cover, said Miller, the lead author on a paper about past "Arctic amplification" in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews. When ice melts more sunlight reaches the oceans or the ground, causing even more ice to melt. The opposite is also true: When there is more ice it reflects more solar energy back into space, and cools the Arctic down, which leads to more sea ice forming….

Polar Circle, on the Norwegian coast winter in 2005-2006, shot by Janter, who has released the image into the public domain

Alex may become hurricane in Gulf

Adrian Virgen in Reuters: Tropical Storm Alex was expected to become a hurricane later on Monday as it heads northwest toward the Mexico-Texas border but was likely to stay far from the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Forecasters said Alex was moving slowly away from Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, but Coast Guard officials have said they do not think the storm poses an imminent threat to oil-siphoning efforts at BP Plc's blown-out Macondo well.

Oil prices fell toward $78 per barrel on Monday as concerns about over the impact in supply from Alex eased. Protectively, Shell Oil Co shut subsea production at the Auger and Brutus platforms in the Gulf during the weekend and evacuated nonessential workers from production platforms and drilling rigs in U.S.-regulated areas.

Some streets in the coastal city of Campeche were flooded by Alex's heavy rains but officials said there was no serious damage reported from the storm. "There has not been serious affects and emergency services personnel are surveying the region," Jorge Argaez, a civil protection official for the state of Campeche, told reporters over the weekend….

A five day forecast map for Alex, from June 25, via NOAA

Sodden China battles to repair flood defences

Terra Daily via Agence France-Presse: China scrambled Sunday to repair water defences shattered by relentless rain, state media said, after flood-related disasters claimed the lives of 235 people this month. Officials in Jiangxi province said a major dyke that broke last week when the river running through Fuzhou city burst its banks, forcing the evacuation of 1.3 million people, had been fixed, the Xinhua news agency said.

The breach was fixed "following around-the-clock repair efforts by hundreds of people", which would allow about 100,000 of the evacuees to return home sooner than expected, it said. Another, smaller breach was still being worked on, Xinhua said.

Days of torrential rain in parts of eastern, central and southern China have affected 68.7 million people in 22 regions, the news agency cited the State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters as saying. Rain continued to fall over the weekend on the hard-hit provinces and regions of Zhejiang, Fujian, Hunan, Guangdong and Guangxi, as well as in Jiangxi….

Flooding along the Gangjiang River in Jiangxi on June 21, shot by Alancrh, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Sunday, June 27, 2010

What weathermen know about climate change

Answer – surprisingly little. From Climate change is a topic that impacts the weather not only globally, but also locally. While some people may be concerned about the melting ice sheets at the far corners of the Earth, what most really want to know is "how will global warming affect me?" -- and they often turn to their local weatherperson to find out.

A study released today study by the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication in Fairfax, Va., showed that 27 percent of broadcast meteorologists -- who are, according to the National Institutes of Standards and Technology, "often the most visible representatives of science in U.S. households" -- believe that global warming is a scam.

According to the National Science Foundation’s 2010 Science and Engineering Indicators, television is the number one source the public turns to for information about science and technology. Broadcast meteorologists are often the only people at TV news stations with a science background. But the education and experience of those who deliver news about the weather varies dramatically.

"In television, when it comes to weather, there is an extremely wide range of education sets," said Jim Gandy, chief meteorologist at WLTX-TV in Columbia, S.C. "Some have bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, and Ph.D.'s, but you also have some without."

…Beginning in July, the next phase of the National Science Foundation-funded study will begin. A test case at Gandy’s station will include 30-second segments in some of the weathercasts to educate viewers about climate change. "It will be a year-long effort using our resources on-air and on the Internet in an effort to educate the public about climate change past, present, and future," said Gandy. "I wish the public knew how difficult it is to have knowledge of climate science. Simply being a meteorologist is not enough, and this is a mistake that some television meteorologists make."...

Austell, GA, September 25, 2009 -- This news media telecommunication vehicle is on site at the Cobb County Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) as reporters speak with FEMA and other partnes inside. George Armstrong/FEMA

Site-specific tech helps mitigate climate change

Rita De La Cruz in the Philippine Star: There are many ways of mitigating climate change and one of them is adopting …a technique called site-specific nutrient management (SSNM). At the same time, the application of SSNM brings in higher yields while reducing the costs incurred by farmers resulting in more income for them. This was proven in an experiment involving 42 farmers tilling some 30 hectares of cornfields in Brgy. Arubub, Jones, Isabela. From an average of five tons per hectare, the farmers were able to harvest 8-10 tons per hectare. The farmers’ cornfields were showcased during a Farmers’ Field Day.

Dr. Carmencita V. Kagaoan, chief of the Program Development Division (PDD) of the Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR) who was present during the farmers’ field day, said: “The cornfield showcased is farmer-managed, given that farmers know what do to maximize the full potential of their lands by applying only the right amount of fertilizer. Aside from the promise of an increased yield, what is good about the SSNM technology is that it helps in the mitigation of climate change because of the lesser use of inorganic fertilizer. The use of synthetic fertilizers contributes to the global warming as it can cause the loss of soil carbon dioxide.”

The SSNM technology is an approach that recommends the use of available organic nutrient sources and inorganic fertilizer in meeting the nutrient demand of a high yielding crop. The use of organic matter increases the water holding capacity of the soil while the use of Bio-N, a microbial soil inoculant for root and shoot growth, enhances root development of corn at the early stage resulting in well-developed rooting systems that penetrate deeper into the soil….

Soil-borne pathogens drive tree diversity in forests, study shows

Science Daily: Why are tropical forests so biologically rich? Smithsonian researchers have new evidence that the answer to one of life's great unsolved mysteries lies underground, according to a study published in the journal, Nature.

What determines plant diversity in a forest? It's a question even Charles Darwin wanted to unravel. But most research into forest diversity demonstrates only patterns of species survival and abundance rather than the reason for them -- until now.

A team of researchers led by biologists at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) has shown that soil-borne pathogens are one important mechanism that can maintain species diversity and explain patterns of tree abundance in a forest.

"We've known for a long time that tree seedlings do not grow and survive well under their mothers or other adult trees of the same species," said Scott Mangan, postdoctoral fellow at the University of Wisconsin -- Milwaukee and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama. "One explanation for the maintenance of the diversity of tropical trees is that adult trees harbor pests and diseases that harm seedlings of their own species more than they do seedlings of other species." The experiments show that underground organisms are key to the maintenance of species diversity and patterns of tree-species relative abundance. The detrimental effects of soil organisms from adult trees not only explain seedling growth and survival patterns, but moreover that these effects are much more severe for seedlings of rare species than for seedlings of common species….

Henri Rousseau, "Combat of a Tiger and a Buffalo," 1908-1909

Ethiopia’s great thirst for water power threatens survival of tribes

Kate Eshelby in HeraldScotland: ‘It’s better to kill us first,” Olikoro says, naked apart from a piece of cloth slung over his shoulder. An AK 47 rests by his side as he stares at the Omo river and contemplates his stark, ruined future. Olikoro, a man from the Mursi tribe, is talking about the Gibe III dam: the latest in a cascade of dams being built on the Omo river in south-west Ethiopia. The river begins its 500-mile journey in Ethiopia’s emerald highlands and drops through steep gorges to a sun-scorched valley before twisting towards the jewel of Lake Turkana in Kenya.

In Addis, Ethiopia’s capital, the dam is seen as essential for progress. But travelling along the river, deep into the Omo valley, one can see how the tribal people depend on the river – and how they dread the impact it will have on the lives of the half a million people.

The Omo valley’s 15 tribes use the river’s seasonal floods to nourish their crops. Each March and September rains fall onto the highlands, causing the Omo river to spill over its banks. It then retreats – ready for the people to return to newly replenished river banks to plant maize and sorghum. Once the dam goes up, the floods will stop. “If the dam is built we will die,” Olikoro says.

Terri Hathaway, from International Rivers, an organisation working to protect rivers and encourage sustainable energy, says when the Ethiopian government began building the dam environmental impact assessment papers – meant to highlight all possible negative impacts – made no mention of the tribal people living downstream. “The Government has no interest in these people,” says Hathaway. “The fact many of them wander around wearing few clothes is an embarrassment to them.” Many of the tribal people had no idea the dam was even being built until the Sunday Herald told them….

The Omo River delta at Lake Turkana, between Ethiopia and Kenya, via satellite, NASA

Tropical storm Alex forms in Caribbean

Terra Daily via Agence France-Presse: Tropical Storm Alex was speeding toward Belize and Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula Saturday as it caused concern for efforts to clean up the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill, US forecasters said.

A US Air Force plane was inbound to evaluate the storm, which is likely to miss the spill area if it stays on its current track but could generate waves that would impact cleanup efforts, the US National Hurricane Center said.

At 1800 GMT, the eye of the season's first tropical storm was located about 75 miles (120 kilometers) east of Belize City as it packed maximum sustained winds of 45 miles (75 km) per hour....

Alex, two days ago...

Friday, June 25, 2010

More rains lash flood-hit south China

Terra Daily via Agence France-Presse: Heavy rains lashed south China Thursday as the government set up emergency response headquarters to combat floods and landslides that have killed over 200 people and forced millions to evacuate. The scale of the disaster prompted Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao to fly to hard-hit Jiangxi province to inspect rescue and relief operations -- his second visit to a flood-hit area in one week, state radio reported.

…. The state meteorological bureau warned that more rains were due to hit five provinces and regions in southern China in the coming days, as water levels on many rivers surpassed historic highs. Up to 196 millimetres (eight inches) of rain fell on parts of Jiangxi and neighbouring Fujian province during a 24-hour period starting Tuesday, the Ministry of Civil Affairs said, warning of landslides and mudflows. More than 15,000 soldiers have been dispatched to hard-hit areas to help in rescue operations, while militias aided in the evacuation of over 75,000 people in Jiangxi after a dyke burst on the Fuhe river, the ministry added.

…The disaster, which has hit 10 southern and central Chinese provinces or regions, has caused an estimated 43 billion yuan (six billion dollars) of economic losses and displaced 2.4 million people since June 13....

A man shelters from the the rain under the canopy of his rickshaw, from 2008 in China, shot by Stougard, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Report shows climate change will affect which diseases damage crops

Horticultural Week: Climate change will bring about significant changes in the spectrum of diseases that damage horticultural crops - and in the majority of cases the severity of disease outbreaks will increase. This was the finding of a report by ADAS plant pathologist Dr Peter Gladders, who was commissioned by chemical company BASF to study the impact of increasing temperatures - experts predict a rise of 2 degsC by 2050 - and more variable rainfall.

Gladders looked at how these changes would influence disease incidence and severity in seven different crops - vegetable Brassicas, carrots, lettuce, onions, potatoes, strawberries and top fruit. He studied individual diseases - identifying the optimum temperatures and wetness needs for each pathogen and so predicting where changes might occur - to find that Brassicas, carrots, lettuce and potatoes could be among the worst affected crops.

…"Heavy rainfall events and subsequent flooding would increase soil-borne diseases such as clubroot and Phytophthora root rot. We could even see new diseases emerging. Verticillium wilt and Fusarium wilts are favoured by higher soil temperatures and summer drought.

"On the bright side, we could see less downy mildew and less light leaf spot because spore production is inhibited by high summer temperatures. In carrots, many pathogens are favoured by high temperatures and high rainfall."…

Potato varieties, a chart created by FCA00000, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License

Migratory species face disaster from climate change, UN-backed report warns

UN News Centre: Migratory species face disaster from the effects of climate change unless urgent action is taken, according to the preliminary findings of a forthcoming United Nations-backed report. “Increasing temperatures, changes in precipitation, sea level rise, ocean acidification, changes in ocean currents and extreme weather events will all affect migratory species populations,” said Aylin McNamara, who led the research project at the Zoological Society of London.

…International efforts for species conservation across national borders and to mitigate climate change were imperative, Ms. McNamara added. “These vulnerability assessments show us the likely order in which these species will become extinct” if such action is not taken.

The research, conducted in support of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), shows that even subtle changes in environmental conditions caused by climate change could have catastrophic consequences for animals that migrate.

Loggerhead turtles, for example, face the loss of suitable beaches for nesting due to sea-level rise, while a rise in temperature could cause the entire male population of a species to be eradicated. Green turtles, hawksbill turtles and leatherback turtles are also at high risk from climate change, along with the blue whale, West African manatee and giant catfish…

A loggerhead sea turtle in the National Aquarium in Washington DC, shot by Bachrach44, Wikimedia Commons

Drought-hit UK utility firm asks for more water

The aptly named James Thirst in the Independent (UK): A utility firm hit by north-west England's driest start to the year since 1929 wants to take more water from lakes and rivers. The Environment Agency (EA) said United Utilities, which supplies water to the area, will apply for a drought permit tomorrow after many reservoirs dropped to under half of their capacity.

Despite the shortage in the North West, the EA said there was "little threat" to supplies elsewhere in England and Wales.

Trevor Bishop, the EA's head of water resources, said: "We are working closely with United Utilities to make sure they are doing everything they can to secure water supplies, manage customer demand and tackle leakage." The EA said the North West had seen its driest start to the year since 1929….

Derwentwater from east of Friar's Crag. The water in the lake is depleted in this picture by several feet due to the drought of July 2006. This shingle would not normally be visible. Shot by Andy Beecroft, Wikimedia Commons via Geograph UK, under the Creative CommonsAttribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

Researchers call for 'no-regrets' approach to climate warming

Stephanie Doster, Institute of the Environment at the University of Arizona: Two prominent climate experts, including one from the University of Arizona, are calling for a "no-regrets" strategy for planning for a hotter and drier western North America. Their advice: use water conservatively and continue developing ways to harness energy from the sun, wind and Earth.

Jonathan Overpeck, principal investigator with the Climate Assessment for the Southwest at the UA, and Bradley Udall, director of the Western Water Assessment at the University of Colorado, write in the June 25 issue of the journal Science that such an approach is necessary for coping with a wide range of projected future climate changes in the West and Southwest.

In their overview of shifting climate in the region, Overpeck and Udall cite published findings of prevalent signs of change: rising temperatures, earlier snowmelt, northward-shifting winter storms, increasing precipitation intensity and flooding, record-setting drought, plummeting Colorado River reservoir storage, widespread vegetation mortality and more large wildfires.

"The West, and especially the Southwest, is leading the nation in climate change – warming, drying, less late-winter snowpack and drought – as well as the impacts of this change," said Overpeck, a UA professor of geosciences and atmospheric sciences and co-director of the Institute of the Environment….

Map of the observed difference between the average annual U.S. temperatures (degrees F) for this century (2000 to 2009) and those of the last century (1900 to 1999). It is clear that the U.S. has been much warmer in this century than the last, particularly in the West, and even more so in the Southwest and headwaters of the Colorado River. From the University of Arizona website(Source: NOAA)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Studies confirm presence, severity of pollution in US national parks

Science Daily: Toxic contamination from pesticides, the burning of fossil fuels, agriculture, industrial operations and other sources are a continuing concern in national parks of the West, two new studies confirm. In research performed by an international group of scientists over several years, pollution was found in all eight of the national parks and preserves that were studied, in terrain ranging from the Arctic to southern California. Most of it was caused by regional agriculture or industry, but some had traveled thousands of miles from distant sources in Asia and elsewhere.

The two recent reports, both published in Environmental Science and Technology, reinforce previous research that has identified such problems, scientists say, and better quantify the extent of the concerns. "As scientists we're getting more used to these pollution problems," said Staci Simonich, an associate professor of environmental and molecular toxicology at Oregon State University, and lead investigator on both studies. "Pesticide pollution is now so routine that we've had to look at museum specimens to find baseline data that existed prior to pesticide use. But it still seems surprising that such remote and supposedly pristine areas are not all that pristine," she said. "You never really get used to that. And we're now nailing down just where the real problems are and what is causing them."

The biggest concern, Simonich said, appears to be pesticides, which can bioaccumulate in the ecosystem and food web, and were most often linked to regional agricultural activities. Of the areas studied, the largest problems with pesticides were found in Sequoia, Rocky Mountain and Glacier National Park….

Hidden Lake in Glacier National Park

Home insurance Catch-22 for those living near UK floodplain

Lisa Bachelor in the Guardian (UK): Homeowners who live in or near a floodplain are caught up in a Catch-22 situation when it comes to getting insurance, according to a Which? report released today. Before an insurer agrees to protect a property, it will require the owner to reveal, to the best of their knowledge, whether they live in a flood risk area. If they disclose information on flooding, the insurer may not offer cover. But if the owner doesn't pass on information, any claim they make on their insurance could be dismissed, said the consumer body.

To beat this risk, says Which?, it makes sense to approach only insurers that consider a home's specific risk rather than basing quotes on the area. It found that different insurers' approach to assessing flood risk varied wildly. Some use sophisticated techniques to analyse potential flood risk and others rely on more general postcode data.

Of the 50 insurance companies Which? tested, Aviva and Stroud & Swindon offered the most comprehensive solutions currently available. They use the latest mapping systems that take into account the proximity of waterways and any other relevant terrain features, and combine information with the Environment Agency (EA) flood map and flood defence data to pinpoint an individual property's flood risk.

…Malcolm Tarling of the Association of British Insurers (ABI) said that most households were able to get some level of flood cover from their insurance company and that insurers were increasingly using more sophisticated data to assess flood risk....

A flood bank near the Severn River, shot by Stuart Wilding, Wikimedia Commons via Geograph UK, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Thai farmers in dire need of rain year after year

My Sinchew via the Nation (Thailand): Around this time every year, Thailand experiences drought, which affects millions of people, especially farmers, whose livelihoods depend on rainfall. We should have learned how to deal with this by now. It's time for the government and relevant agencies to come up with ways to mitigate the effects of water shortages. We need a long-term solution.

The recent proposal by the agriculture ministry to give affected farmers cash handouts may ease the pain for a while, but such measures offer only an immediate, temporary solution. Combating drought requires a sustainable solution. Natural disasters always recur, and water deficiencies will continue to affect our lives.

It is estimated that drought this year will affect more than 1.7 million households in 50 provinces. More than 6 million Thais are affected by the extreme dry season. Drought not only depletes water reserves, but also causes damage to fields and plantations. The lack of rainfall also affects those not directly involved in agriculture, as some waterways are used for transportation of goods and passengers.

Agriculture is of course the most affected sector, as it consumes more than two-thirds of the country's water supply. Being the world's largest rice exporter, the country's water crisis could have a severe impact on rice output as farmers are forced to reduce their rice harvesting cycles.

Another problem is that the decrease in the amount of water that flows into dams can be attributed to a high level of water consumption upstream. The issue must be addressed from both supply and demand sides. Effective irrigation systems should be developed to ensure a sustainable supply of water. The pipe and storage infrastructure should be constantly checked and improved to prevent unnecessary waste of water through leakage or corrosion....

Rice farmers who are transplanting in Chaiyapun, Thailand, are members of the local community to manages the supply of the agricultural water. This picture was taken by TORIKAI Yukihiro, a Japanese economist, in 2004/09/01. Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License

Discovery could aid restoration of coral reefs

Penn State Live: Discoveries about tropical coral reefs, to be published on June 23 in the Public Library of Science journal PLoS ONE, are expected to be invaluable in efforts to restore the corals, which are succumbing to bleaching and other diseases at an unprecedented rate as ocean temperatures rise worldwide. The research gives new insights into how the scientists can help to preserve or restore the coral reefs that protect coastlines, foster tourism, and nurture many species of fish. The research, which will be published in the journal PLoS One, was accomplished by an international team whose leaders include Iliana Baums, an assistant professor of biology at Penn State.

The team focused on one of the most abundant reef-building species in the Caribbean, Montastraea faveolata, known as the mountainous star coral. Though widespread, this species is listed as endangered on the Red List of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature because its numbers have declined significantly -- in recent years, up to 90 percent of the population has been lost in some areas.

Discovering how corals respond to ocean warming is complicated because corals serve as hosts to algae. The algae live in the coral and feed on its nitrogen wastes. Through photosynthesis, the algae then produce the carbohydrates that feed the coral. When this complex and delicate symbiosis is upset by a rise in ocean temperature, the coral may expel the algae in a phenomenon known as coral bleaching, which may cause the death of both algae and coral. The challenge is to figure out why some corals cope with the heat stress better than others.

"We decided to focus on coral larvae because the successful dispersal and settlement of larvae is key to the survival of reefs," said Baums. "Also, since free-swimming larvae do not yet have symbiotic algae, we can record the expression of different genes in our samples and know that we are looking at the molecular response of the coral itself to heat stress."

…Baums said she is excited by the clear evidence of local adaptations in populations that this study documented. Previous work by Baums and her colleagues has included experiments in restoring damaged coral reefs by creating larvae from controlled genetic crosses, growing them in captivity until they settle onto ceramic tiles, and then transplanting them into selected areas to replenish damaged reefs. …

Researchers set fine nets over coral just before mass spawning events in order to collect the eggs and sperm as they were broadcast into the water column. Gametes were collected and returned to the lab within an hour to be raised under controlled conditions. From the Penn State Live website

Africa's water most precarious, Iceland best-study

Alister Doyle in Reuters: African nations led by Somalia, Mauritania and Sudan have the most precarious water supplies in the world while Iceland has the best, according to a survey on Thursday that aims to alert companies to investment risks.

The ranking, compiled by British-based risk consultancy Maplecroft, said climate change and a rising world population meant that stresses on supplies would be of increasing concern in coming decades for uses from farming to industry.

A "water security risk index" of 165 nations found African and Asian nations had the most vulnerable supplies, judged by factors including access to drinking water, per capita demand and dependence on rivers that first flow through other nations. Somalia, where just 30 percent of the population has clean drinking water, topped the list above Mauritania, Sudan, Niger, Iraq, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Egypt, Turkmenistan and Syria.

At the other end of the scale, rain-soaked Iceland had the most secure supplies, slightly better than Norway and New Zealand….

Aerial view of Sarax Darandoole in Somalia, shot by Simisa, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Dust beats biology for cloud ice formation

Liz Kalaugher in Environmental Research Web: Biological particles have been touted as potential key players in the nucleation of ice particles in clouds, as they are able to help ice form at warmer temperatures than many other aerosols. But new modelling work in Norway and Germany indicates that biological particles are not that important for cloud ice formation after all.

"We are confident now that on a global scale, biological particle concentrations are too low to play a significant role in cloud ice formation, and that instead mineral dust is the major component," Corinna Hoose from the University of Oslo, Norway and Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Germany told environmentalresearchweb. "This is in agreement with many measurements of ice crystal residuals."

Together with colleagues from Oslo and the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, Germany, Hoose calculated that biological particles contributed a maximum of 0.6% to the global average ice nucleation rate. The team used the CAM–Oslo aerosol climate model and newly available estimates and laboratory measurements to come up with their results.

…Ice nucleation in clouds is of particular interest as it is the first step in the creation of snow and most types of rain. Previously, high concentrations of biological ice nuclei have been found in a wave cloud over Wyoming and in the Amazon basin, and the particles have been found to be ubiquitous in precipitation on different continents. "[Our study] means that living or dead micro-organisms are less involved in cloud ice and precipitation formation than has been speculated, and that the observed cases with high biological ice nucleus concentrations are not representative of average atmospheric conditions," said Hoose....

Cumulus clouds just floating along, shot by Michael Jastremski., Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

Thousands at risk from dyke breach as China flood toll rises

Terra Daily via Agence France-Presse: Chinese authorities rushed Tuesday to evacuate 12,000 people threatened by a dyke breach as the death toll from widespread flooding across the nation's south rose to nearly 200. China's President Hu Jintao called for all-out rescue efforts in response to the dyke breach in Jiangxi province, as torrential rains that have battered a broad swathe of southern China for 10 days continued.

The civil affairs ministry said the persistent downpours since June 13 and resulting floods and landslides had left 199 people dead and another 123 missing. Authorities have already evacuated 68,000 people from areas around the Changkai dyke in Jiangxi that collapsed after a swollen river burst its banks, the provincial flood control headquarters said.

But water in a reservoir upstream from the dyke had now exceeded danger levels, further threatening the thousands who had still not moved out of harm's way downstream in Fuzhou city, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

Both Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao ordered intense rescue efforts to battle the flooding and rescue victims of the dyke breach, according to the headquarters, as state television broadcast footage of towns and large swathes of land in the area submerged in brown, muddy water…

Climate change a concern for national security, says US Navy official

Camille Tuutti in ExecutiveGov: The U.S. Navy is concerned about how climate change with rising sea levels could impact national security and military operations in the future, according to a senior Navy official. “We want to basically pace the threat,” said Navy Rear Adm. David W. Titley, who serves as director of the Navy’s Task Force Climate Change. “We don’t want to get into a tail chase over climate change, but at the same time, … we do not want to spend ahead of need, spending for things that may not be required for years or decades later.”

Titley said one of the investments the Navy will consider is how sea-level rises will affect its infrastructure. As an example, he mentioned Diego Garcia, an island in the Indian Ocean mostly populated by the U.S. military. Studies have shown that over the course of the 2oth century, sea levels have risen roughly eight inches, he said.

…As the oceans get warmer, they expand and cause the sea level to rise, Titley explained. In addition, the land-based ice that already is melting adds volume to the ocean. He acknowledged considerable uncertainty over the time line and extent of sea-level rise, but noted that leading climate scientists believe sea levels could rise as much as six feet by the end of the century.

When asked whether naval bases were prepared for stronger and more intense hurricanes, Titley said the impact a warming climate may have on tropical storm development is controversial and subject to much research. Ocean warming is only one component of hurricane formation, and other factors such as upper-level wind shear, may not support increased frequency and intensity, he said….

The USS Saratoga moored at the Diego Garcia base in the Indian Ocean

Methane in Gulf 'astonishingly high': U.S. scientist

Julie Steenhuysen in Reuters: As much as 1 million times the normal level of methane gas has been found in some regions near the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, enough to potentially deplete oxygen and create a dead zone, U.S. scientists said on Tuesday. Texas A&M University oceanography professor John Kessler, just back from a 10-day research expedition near the BP Plc oil spill in the gulf, says methane gas levels in some areas are "astonishingly high."

Kessler's crew took measurements of both surface and deep water within a 5-mile (8 kilometer) radius of BP's broken wellhead. "There is an incredible amount of methane in there," Kessler told reporters in a telephone briefing. In some areas, the crew of 12 scientists found concentrations that were 100,000 times higher than normal. "We saw them approach a million times above background concentrations" in some areas, Kessler said.

The scientists were looking for signs that the methane gas had depleted levels of oxygen dissolved in the water needed to sustain marine life. "At some locations, we saw depletions of up to 30 percent of oxygen based on its natural concentration in the waters. At other places, we saw no depletion of oxygen in the waters. We need to determine why that is," he told the briefing....

A Coast Guard vessel searches for survivors after the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon platform, photo via the Coast Guard

West Africa to receive EUR20 million aid package for drought

Eurasia Review: The European Commission adopted Wednesday a € 20 million humanitarian financial package to support 12 million people affected by drought in Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Uganda. This funding will help efforts to develop the populations' resilience to drought and adapt to climate change.

The Greater Horn of Africa has been severely affected by recurrent and persistent manmade and natural hazards, leaving populations highly vulnerable to drought, human and livestock disease outbreaks, and to a lesser extent floods. Accounting for 95% of the death toll caused by natural disasters in Africa, droughts pose a very serious threat to the people of this region.

Protracted conflicts, major structural problems and a lack of basic services mean that inhabitants are poorly equipped to cope with natural disasters. Malnutrition and child morbidity and mortality are among the greatest humanitarian concerns in this region. Since 2008, the Commission hassupported drought preparedness interventions in the region worth € 60 million.

....A large number of the pastoralist populations in the arid lands chronically rely on outside assistance, and lack access to basic services. This results in high rates of malnutrition, child morbidity and mortality, as well as increasing numbers of pastoralist drop-outs, and poses significant humanitarian risks during periods of reduced rainfall. It is estimated that over 12 million pastoralists and agro-pastoralists are affected by recurrent droughts…

An Awdalite at Gargara's well, shot by Aby saylici, Wikimedia Commons via World 66, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 1.0 Generic license

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The western Mediterranean has warmed for more than a century

Science Daily: The longest sequences of temperature and salinity data analyzed (from 1900 to present), have confirmed the gradual warming of the waters of the western Mediterranean. The warming has accelerated since the mid 1970's.

Researchers from the Spanish Institute of Oceanography (IEO) in collaboration with the Institute of Marine Sciences of Barcelona (ICM, CSIC), have demonstrated that the waters of the Western Mediterranean have been warming progressively throughout the twentieth century, this warming being more pronounced since the mid seventies and during the current twenty first century. The rate of warming is around one thousandth per year.

This work, published this May in the Journal of Marine Systems, has reconstructed the longest time series of temperature and salinity in the western Mediterranean, from 1900 to 2008. In addition, the study shows that the way in which the temperature of the Western Mediterranean deep layer increases is well correlated with the air temperature in the northern hemisphere and with the heat absorbed by the Atlantic Ocean.

Thus, the Western Mediterranean is presented as an excellent indicator of the changes that are occurring in the Earth's climate on a larger scale, and, therefore, the observing systems developed by the IEO and the ICM become very useful tools in the study of climate change….

Torre des Matzoc (Torre d'Aubarca), Artà, Mallorca, Spain, shot by Olaf Tausch, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License