Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Pakistan's tsunami from the sky

Rina Saeed Khan in Reuters AlertNet: Up until the end of July, the rivers and reservoirs in Pakistan were running dry, the underground water table was receding fast and there was widespread talk of massive water shortages in the country. Then the rains arrived, providing relief - which soon turned to horror as massive amounts of rain fell from the sky. In the high mountain valley of Hunza, on the border with China, the local weather office recorded two years worth of rain in just five days.

"A cloud forest can absorb this amount of rainfall, but these mountains have shallow top soil and the steepest gradients. This triggered landslides and flash floods," notes environmentalist Mehjabeen Habib, who was in Hunza at the time. The torrential rainwater rushed into the ravines and river gorges, causing streams to flood into villages. The run off from these high mountains feeds into the Indus River and its tributaries. Over the years, the river has been tamed by the building of barrages and dams. But these unprecedented rains have caused the Indus to roar back to life.

…Thousands of people are camped out in the open on high ground under the scorching sun - clutching all that remains of their belongings. "These people are completely reliant on food being handed out by the local NGOs and government. There is a mad rush for the aid when it does arrive and some families don't get anything. The government is not releasing the figures but many old people and young children are dying as we speak," says Rafique Junejo, an activist from Jamshoro, in Sindh, who works for Participatory Efforts for Healthy Environment (PEHE), a local NGO.

It is estimated that around 20 million people have been affected by the floods.

Monsoon rains enabled the usually calm Kabul River to sweep away entire buildings in early August 2010. By August 6, intense rains in the Swat Valley of northern Pakistan had subsided somewhat, leaving behind fields of mud to bake in the summertime heat.

Growing drought-tolerant crops inching forward

Seed Daily: A collaborative team of scientists led by researchers at The Medical College of Wisconsin, in Milwaukee, has used the tools of structural biology to understand how a synthetic chemical mimics abscisic acid (ABA), a key stress hormone that helps plants cope with adverse environmental conditions such as drought.

…For years scientists have searched for practical ways to use ABA signaling to improve drought tolerance in agriculture. Unfortunately, the synthetic form of ABA used commercially is light sensitive and expensive. The new study builds on the earlier discovery by scientists at University of California, Riverside of pyrabactin, a synthetic chemical that mimics ABA. However, unlike ABA, pyrabactin activates only a few of the 14 ABA receptors in the plant needed for effective drought tolerance.

"By better understanding how pyrabactin works, we can develop new chemicals to enable plants to resist drought. These same chemicals that signal the response to drought may also contribute to increasing crop yields," says Francis Peterson, Ph.D., lead author and assistant professor of biochemistry at the Medical College.

An ABA receptor is a protein that functions as a molecular switch inside the cell. When an ABA molecule inserts into a cavity within the receptor, it sends a signal by changing the protein structure in a way that resembles the closing of a gate.

…"These insights suggest new strategies for modifying pyrabactin and related compounds so that they can mimic the signaling process of the naturally occurring ABA. This work has paved the way for manufacturing new molecules that activate or turn on receptors" said Sean Cutler, Ph.D., associate professor of plant cell biology at UC Riverside. "The current research is an important step on the way to what is likely to be the next big result: an ABA-mimicking chemical that can be applied to corn, soy bean and other crops," explained Dr. Peterson….

Bridleway to Clare in the UK. Wide cracks are appearing in this path across a wheat field, indicating the current drought. This bridleway is part of the Bury St Edmunds to Clare long-distance walk. Shot by Bob Jones, Wikimedia Commons via geograph.org.uk, under the Creative CommonsAttribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Data suggests Iowa really is getting wetter

Orlan Love for KCRG (Iowa): Muddy rivers, moldy classrooms, swarming mosquitoes, blighted tomatoes and effulgent quack grass will be mere annoyances in Iowa’s new era of serial cloudbursts.

Unless Iowans adjust dramatically to more extreme precipitation and flooding, they can expect more swamped crops, failed dams, sub­merged cities and monolithic public institutions turned into indoor swim­ming pools, said Gov. Chet Culver, who recently dubbed the chronically wet conditions plaguing Iowa as ‘the new normal.’ It’s an assessment shared by other public officials and Iowa climate scientists. ‘It’s just something we are going to have to deal with, and we’d better adjust in all ways that we can," Culver said earlier this month, following the Maquoketa River dam failure that drained Lake Delhi.

"We need to face reality," said Kamyar En­shayan, director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Education at the University of Northern Iowa and a member of the Cedar Falls City Council. "There is significant, solid evidence that Iowa is experiencing a new normal in precipitation and flooding."

Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett, who is leading an effort to secure funding for flood-wall protection on both sides of the Cedar River, said he believes the research and evidence support increased precipitation causing more frequent and severe flooding. "My worst fear," he said, "is the kind of heavy, prolonged downpours that we have experienced in recent summers happening in the spring when the rivers are already full of snowmelt."…

A 2008 flood in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Shot by Matt Herzberger, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Extreme weather starving Chad and Niger

Alanna Shaikh in UN Dispatch: Ten million people are at risk for starvation in Chad and Niger. 400,000 children are at risk in Niger alone. Years of crop-destroying drought are being followed by flash floods. The drought has been causing hunger for years, destroying crops and livestock. Now, the floods have wiped out what’s left.

It was already bad in both Niger and Chad … The floods make it dramatically worse. It’s not just the floods making things worse; international aid has fallen short. At a time where need is growing, food aid is shrinking. The World Food Programme, according to Oxfam, “has had to scale back its £57m operation to feed eight million people in Niger and instead concentrate its efforts on the most vulnerable – children under two…” In addition to the damage done by starvation, people in the flood areas are not at risk for waterborne diseases. That means, diarrhea (the kind that kills children), malaria, and respiratory ailments….

Glaciers retreating in Asia

US Geological Survey: Many of Asia’s glaciers are retreating as a result of climate change. This retreat impacts water supplies to millions of people, increases the likelihood of outburst floods that threaten life and property in nearby areas, and contributes to sea-level rise.

The U.S. Geological Survey, in collaboration with 39 international scientists, published a report on the status of glaciers throughout all of Asia, including Russia, China, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Kazakhstan. “Of particular interest are the Himalaya, where glacier behavior impacts the quality of life of tens of millions of people,” said USGS scientist Jane Ferrigno. “Glaciers in the Himalaya are a major source of fresh water and supply meltwater to all of the rivers in northern India.”

…While most glaciers in Asia are in recession, some glaciers have been found to advance. Some of the advancing glaciers are surge-type glaciers, which move forward more rapidly than average in a short period of time. The reason for this is being studied by glaciologists, and is likely due to unique and local condition

Glacier studies in each area started at different times depending on accessibility of glaciers and scientific interest. For example, the earliest description of glaciers in China was in 630 A.D., while studies in the Caucasus area of Russia began in the mid 1800s and modern studies in Nepal started in the 1950s. The time period for retreat also differs among each glacier. In Bhutan, 66 glaciers have decreased 8.1 percent over the last 30 years. Rapid changes in the Himalaya is shown in India by the 12 percent retreat of Chhota Shigri Glacier during the last 13 years, as well as retreat of the Gangotri Glacier since 1780, with 12 percent shrinkage of the main stem in the last 16 years.

…“This report was a collaboration between U.S. and foreign authors, the most knowledgeable glaciologists for each geographic region covered,” said USGS scientist Richard S. Williams, Jr. “The USGS published historical and modern data authored by local experts. Some analyses of past climate conditions were conducted by studying ice cores from high-mountain areas of Asia….

Bivachney Glacier in the Pamir mountains, Russia

Monday, August 30, 2010

Urgent need for Climate Fund

Martin Khor in the Malaysia Star: The flood calamity in Pakistan has again highlighted the urgent need to set up a proper global system to help developing countries affected by climate change and natural disasters. Pakistan’s crisis worsened in the past week, as the floods which had started in the north had spread to the central and southern regions. About a million people were evacuated in southern Sindh province in the past few days as the Indus River burst its banks in several places.

...The New York Times reported: “Even as Pakistani and international relief officials scrambled to save people and property, they despaired that the nation’s worst natural calamity had ruined just about every physical strand that knit this country together – roads, bridges, schools, health clinics, electricity and communications.

“The destruction could set Pakistan back many years, if not decades, further weaken its feeble civilian administration and add to the burdens on its military.” According to The New York Times article, more than 20 million people are now affected. The government estimates that the floods have washed away 5,000 miles of roads and railways, 7,000 schools and over 400 health facilities.

Just to build about 500 miles of roads in war-ravaged Afghanistan, the United States spent US$500mil (RM1.54bil) and it took them several years. By comparison, a US aid agency spent US$200mil (RM617mil) to rebuild just 56 schools, 19 health facilities and other services since the earthquake in the Pakistani controlled portion of Kashmir in 2005.

...The Pakistan tragedy highlights the immense need for financing by developing countries to cope with extreme weather events, an increasing number of which are caused by climate change. The developed countries have committed to pay for the cost incurred by developing countries to mitigate and adapt to climate change under the UN Climate Convention, which was signed in 1992. However, this commitment has remained mainly on paper....

By mid-August, the extreme monsoon floods that had overwhelmed northwestern Pakistan had traveled downstream into southern Pakistan. This image, acquired by the Landsat 5 satellite on August 12, 2010, shows flooding near Kashmor, Pakistan, just before the second wave of the flood hit.

Hurricane Earl strengthens in Caribbean

Reuters: Hurricane Earl strengthened as it began buffeting the Northern Leeward islands in the Caribbean on Monday and was seen becoming a powerful storm within the next 24 hours, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. Earl carried sustained winds of 105 miles per hour and was a Category 2 hurricane in the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of intensity.

"Hurricane conditions are now spreading into the Northern Leeward Islands and will spread westward into the Virgin Islands later today," the hurricane center said in its 5 a.m. advisory. "Earl is expected to become a major hurricane by tonight or early Tuesday," it added.

…Tropical storm conditions were expected to spread over the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico on Monday, with hurricane conditions possible by evening. The hurricane center warned of a storm surge, dangerous waves and heavy rains that could cause flash flooding and mudslides in areas of higher elevation.

…"It looks like the storm will be east of the Bahamas on Wednesday, east of Cape Hatteras on Thursday and then probably east of or near Cape Cod and Long Island on Friday," Miami's WFOR-TV forecaster Jeff Berardelli said on CBS radio….

Hurricane Earl approaching the Caribbean on August 29, 1010

Floods in Niger displace 200,000

Voice of America: The United Nations is appealing for help for Niger, where it says floods have displaced nearly 200,000 people in recent weeks. The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says shelter materials and blankets are urgently needed.

Food and mosquito netting are also in short supply. The floods are compounding the misery in Niger, which was already experiencing a severe drought and food shortages before the rains hit….

Pakistan on 'war footing' to save city

Terra Daily via Agence France-Presse: Pakistani troops and workers were on a "war footing" Sunday as they battled to save the southern city of Thatta after most of the population of 300,000 fled advancing flood waters. Torrential monsoon rains have triggered massive floods that have moved steadily from north to south over the past month, engulfing a fifth of the volatile country and affecting 17 million of its 167 million people.

Southern Sindh is the worst-affected province, with 19 of its 23 districts ravaged as flood waters swell the raging Indus river to 40 times its usual volume. One million people have been displaced over the past few days and hundreds of thousands have already fled Thatta alone ahead of the approaching torrents as soldiers work frantically to repair breached levees on the river.

"The water is still two kilometres (about a mile) away from Thatta where the armed forces and the local administrative workers are working on war footing to save the city," senior city official Hadi Bakhsh Kalhoro told AFP….

Locator map of the Thatta District in Sindh, Pakistan

Calcium carbonate and climate change

University of California at Davis: What links sea urchins, limestone and climate change? The common thread is calcium carbonate, one of the most widespread minerals on Earth. UC Davis researchers have now measured the energy changes among different forms of calcium carbonate, from its messy noncrystalline forms to beautiful calcite crystals that could lock away carbon underground for thousands to millions of years.

"Calcium carbonate is the major long-term sink for atmospheric carbon dioxide," said Alexandra Navrotsky, the Edward Roessler Chair in Mathematical and Physical Sciences and Distinguished Professor of Ceramic, Earth and Environmental Materials at UC Davis.

Steps to mitigate global climate change will likely include extracting carbon dioxide from power plant flues and the atmosphere and storing it underground, initially as a dense gas in old mines and depleted oil reservoirs that would eventually turn into solid, stable calcium carbonate through chemical reactions. "By measuring the heat liberated during these transformations, we can study the process by which carbon dioxide is trapped and transformed to stable carbonate minerals," Navrotsky said.

…Calcium carbonate exists in several forms with different levels of stability. The first stage is noncrystalline, amorphous calcium carbonate. It forms when carbon dioxide mixes with calcium dissolved in water, either in the soil or in the oceans. Animals such as sea urchins and shellfish also make amorphous calcium carbonate and use it as a first step to build their spines and shells.

More stable forms have a repeating geometric crystal structure, culminating in calcite (Iceland spar), one of the most abundant minerals in the Earth's crust.

Navrotsky and her colleagues at UC Davis' Peter A. Rock Thermochemistry Laboratory have now measured with high accuracy the heat lost or gained as calcium carbonate changes from one form to another. They found that amorphous calcium carbonate made by chemical reactions is energetically similar to amorphous calcium carbonate extracted from a sea urchin, and that there is a series of downhill transformations ending in calcite as the most energetically stable version….

Limestone concretions in Pamukkale, Turkey, shot by Taroth, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Hurricane Earl heads west; Danielle downgraded

Dan Hart and Brian K. Sullivan in Bloomberg: Hurricane Earl moved west toward the northern Leeward Islands after strengthening from a tropical storm, and Hurricane Danielle weakened as it tracks north away from Bermuda, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

Earl became a Category 1 hurricane on the five-step Saffir- Simpson scale after maximum sustained winds of 75 miles (120 kilometers) per hour were measured by an Air Force Reserve hurricane hunter aircraft, the Miami-based center said in an advisory.

Hurricane warnings are in effect for Anguilla, Antigua, Barbuda, Montserrat, St. Barthelemy, St. Eustatius, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Martin/Maarten in the northern Leewards, the hurricane center said. A hurricane watch was issued for the British and U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

“Hurricane Earl will become a major hurricane over the next few days and will pose a serious threat to the East Coast as we approach Labor Day weekend,” said Jim Rouiller, senior energy meteorologist at Planalytics Inc. in Berwyn, Pennsylvania. “The next few days will be critical because each day that passes this week without any true and sustained hook northward will result in threat levels dramatically increasing for a major hurricane strike to the East Coast.”…

The track of Tropical Storm Earl, 2010

Not carbon offsets, but carbon upsets

Douglas Kysar presents a striking idea in the Guardian (UK):…In theory, carbon offsets are a way to lower the cost of emissions reductions. Credits are awarded when a project is less greenhouse gas-intensive than it would have been in the usual course. These credits can then be sold to polluters and used to satisfy their emissions reduction obligations which would have been more expensive to undertake directly. In practice critics have pointed to numerous problems with offsets. Most fundamentally, they fail to incentivise the kind of structural transformation toward a low-carbon future that we desperately need.

Here's where "carbon upsets" come in: Rather than award credits based on development that moves us toward a cleaner but still very dirty future, why not award credits to legal and political actions that have more dramatic impact? For instance, rather than bribe fossil fuel companies to stop flaring natural gas, why not reward indigenous groups that entirely block new exploration activities? Rather than transfer money to logging operations for incremental replanting programs, why not award credits to forest-dwelling communities that successfully fight to stop logging altogether?

As with the existing offset approach, financial benefits could be shared in the case of legal and political activities that are "sponsored" by an international partner. …In that world, the landmark deal recently brokered by the UN development programme to preserve Ecuador's Yasuni national park would become a model of climate capitalism.

The carbon upset approach does not directly promote transformative clean-energy technologies. Instead, it aims to disrupt the political and economic inertia of the status quo. But that's precisely the disruption we need…..

San Rafael Falls in Ecuador's Yasuni National Park, shot by BankTrack

Recommendations for the IPCC

Union of Concerned Scientists: An independent panel of scientists and other experts will release a report on August 30 assessing the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) procedures for producing reports on the state of climate change science, impacts and solutions.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri asked the InterAcademy Council (IAC)—an association of science academies around the world—to convene the panel to conduct an independent review after a handful of errors were discovered in the IPCC’s most recent report, issued in 2007. The report, which fills some 3,000 pages, was the IPCC’s fourth. The IPCC, which is comprised of more than 2,500 scientists worldwide, published its first report in 1990, its second in 1995, and its third in 2001. It plans to issue its fifth report by 2014.

“I expect the Inter-Academy Council review to largely support the IPCC process, acknowledging that it produces high quality reports,” said James McCarthy, board chair of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and a biological oceanography professor at Harvard University. “But the review also will likely recommend that the IPCC adhere more strictly to its established editorial and review policies, and establish new policies to catch errors before finalizing its reports.

“While there is always room for improvement, the bottom line is the IPCC does an admirable job presenting climate science accurately and cautiously,” added McCarthy, a former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a co-chair of the 2001 IPCC report.

….Frumhoff also anticipates that the IAC panel will reaffirm the importance of some highly criticized IPCC policies, such as permitting careful citations of so-called “gray” literature—reports by governments, private companies and non-governmental organizations that have not been formally peer-reviewed.

“There is often timely, policy-relevant information in government agency and private organization reports that are not formally published in the scientific literature,” Frumhoff said. “The IPCC should continue to draw upon those sources as needed, and more consistently apply and strengthen its own rigorous review standards to catch any errors.”

An indispensable national water policy for Malta

Caroline Galea in the Malta Independent: … Malta’s water consumption and footprint make … grim reading. For a nation that for centuries has prided itself on conserving every drop of water, today’s situation has changed a great deal. One can easily confirm this when considering the omnipresent well in every old house and the hundreds of cisterns and wells that dot our countryside.

Our annual consumption of water has increased steadily over the years. Alas, the majority of aquifers are being over-extracted with extraction figures perilously above the mean annual recharge. … A few weeks ago, the government, through the Ministry for Resources and Rural Affairs, launched a period of consultation that aims to address the growing problem that Malta faces with water consumption and conservation. This consultation should lead to a draft proposal on a comprehensive national water policy. … Indeed, there is precious little time to lose.

A report carried out by Carmen Delia for FAO in 2004 entitled “Water consumption, Sustainability and its Economic implications for Malta” continues to clarify the picture. Obviously, we are completely dependant on our desalination plants to cover the huge gap between consumption and our actual reserve of water. More so, our water is heavily subsidized. The price of a unit of water covers a fraction of the real cost both economically and environmentally.

...Furthermore, it was estimated that producing 1 cubic metre of water by reverse osmosis consumes 7.05 kWH of electricity. This is a significant amount, contributing to economic strains on the utility and more emissions. The problem is apparently complex. Pricing of water has always been a sensitive political and social issue hence solutions are hard to come by. More efficiency and a judicious use of this priceless resource are apparently the immediate actions available….

A valley near Xlendi, Gozo, Malta, shot by Ramessos, Wikimedia Commons

Forest Service, Denver Water team up to protect watersheds

Robert Allen in the Summit Daily: Denver Water and the U.S. Forest Service are tackling forest restoration by splitting a $33 million commitment to treat 38,000 acres of forest land over the next five years. The work is intended to protect critical watersheds against catastrophic wildfires in areas impacted by mountain pine beetle, as well as other tree-killing infestations.

…The finances evenly split between the USFS and Denver Water are to thin dead forests, create firebreaks and address erosion issues, among other efforts. Areas treated are to be include the Blue River watershed as well as forests upstream of Strontia Springs, Gross, Eleven Mile Canyon and Cheesman reservoirs.

Colorado has about 3 million acres of dead trees — amid 17-18 million across the West — because of beetle infestation. Sherman said the problem relates to past fire suppression efforts and climate change. This causes increased risk of wildfire.

Denver Water CEO and manager Jim Lochhead said the finances will “reduce wildfire risks in priority watersheds.” Sherman spoke of past fires in the state causing 10s of millions of dollars in restoration efforts. The agreement announced Saturday is the first significant partnership between a major water provider and the Forest Service….

A winter view of Cheesman Park in Denver, shot by David Shankbone, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Flood insurance based on fantasy

USA Today editorial: Away from New Orleans, with its unique geography and dependence on levees, discussion of hurricanes inevitably turns to insurance. After Katrina struck in 2005, there was much talk about reforming insurance programs in coastal areas to protect taxpayers and promote responsible development.

…The National Flood Insurance Program is a near-perfect illustration of what's wrong in Washington and why. In a cover story Thursday, USA TODAY's Thomas Frank exposed a new round of absurdities. The program's premiums are based on what coastal-state lawmakers think they should be, rather than what is needed to fund payouts after major storms. The program is now $19 billion in the hole as the result of Katrina and other storms. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which runs it, has no plans for doing anything but passing this red ink, and future losses, on to taxpayers.

National flood insurance is not only a drain on the federal treasury, it also encourages overbuilding in flood-prone areas, which begets even more losses. Frank found 19,600 properties where repeated claims have resulted in payouts greater than the property's value. In one case, a Mississippi home valued at $69,000 has been flooded 34 times since 1978, prompting insurance payments totaling $663,000.

One option to fix this ludicrous situation is to phase out the federal program and turn it over to private insurance companies. … A second option would be to change the program so it could charge premiums that roughly approximate actual risk from storm-related losses.

…Irresponsibility extends to the state level, where Florida has decided that a government takeover of the homeowners insurance business was in order. When rates went up after the 2005 hurricanes, Gov. Charlie Crist signed legislation turning the state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp. from an insurer of last resort to Florida's biggest property insurer. Meanwhile, the state's Hurricane Catastrophe Fund, the main re-insurance pool used by public and private insurers, has nowhere near the reserves needed to survive a major storm…..

Estimated flooding within city limits in New Orleans, St. Bernard Parish, and Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, in the aftermath of the levee and floodwall failures during Hurricane Katrina. The raw satellite imagery shown in these images was obtain from NASA and/or the US Geological Survey. Post-processing and production by http://www.terraprints.com

Floods, drought hurt China's grain crop

Bloomberg: Natural disasters may block any increase in China’s grain production this year as the worst floods in a decade ruin crops. Flooding cut harvests of early rice in the major growing areas of southern China, Xinhua News Agency cited Vice Agriculture Minister Chen Xiaohua as saying yesterday during a government inquiry on grain safety. Crops in low-lying areas of the country’s fertile northeast were also damaged, he said.

China’s corn imports in July surged after traders bought the most overseas grain in more than 10 years to replenish shrinking domestic supplies. Early rice production this year fell 6.1 percent to 31.3 million tons, the National Bureau of Statistics said on its website yesterday. The world’s most- populous country grows almost a third of the globe’s rice and cotton, and produces about half its pork.

“This year’s weather will not reduce the output,” Chen Shuwei, a manager at Beijing Orient Agribusiness Consultant Co. said in a telephone interview. “China will not have a shortage in the next one or two years.”

Low temperatures due to floods delayed the ripening of winter wheat by five to seven days, and spring sowing in the northeast by seven to 10 days, the minister said. Lower rice output won’t stop overall summer grain production from equaling the levels of previous years, making it China’s seventh year of bumper harvests, Xinhua quoted the government’s Chen as saying….

Farmland in Yunnan, shot by BrokenSphere, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

'Fire devil' tornado blazes in Brazil

Tom Bonnett in the Herald Sun (Australia) via Sky News: A fire tornado caused by brush fires and strong winds stopped motorway traffic as drivers in Brazil gawped at the rare phenomenon. The whirlwind of flames burned through fields beside the road in the northwest city of Aracatuba in Sao Paulo state, Sky News said.

But, as quickly as it appeared, the roaring twister fizzled down and just a smouldering line in the land remained. The firestorm followed a drought which has led to brush fires across Brazil.

It has been three months since it last rained in the region and Sao Paulo state is already suffering from high pollution levels. Humidity levels have also soared with Globo TV reporting they were similar to those in the Sahara desert. As a precaution, state authorities have forbidden farmers from burning sugar cane field waste, a typical after-harvest activity.

In the most remote areas municipalities with few resources have been unable to contain fires. Fire tornados, also known as fire whirls or fire devils, are rare and depend on certain air temperatures and currents to create a vertical, rotating column of air….

Image is a generic shot, a firestorm on the Mirror Plateau in Yellowstone National Park, by Jim Peaco

Pakistan floods reveal climate change fallout

William Dowell in the Global Post: Pakistan’s floods, the worst natural disaster in recent memory, have the potential to spark a series of crises that could affect large parts of the world, illustrating perhaps better than ever the political and economic consequences of climate change, analysts and international aid groups say.

Randolph Kent, executive director of the Humanitarian Futures Programme, said that disasters now are far more interactive than they were in the past and Pakistan’s floods are the prime example. The international community, he said, is just beginning to realize that the floods in Pakistan are the start of what could be a cascading series of political and economic catastrophes. “Hundreds of millions of people will be vulnerable to a whole host of events,” Kent said. “What we are creating is a series of crisis drivers that impact on each other.”

In a report released earlier this month, called “Waters of the Third Pole,” the Humanitarian Futures Programme found that the Himalayan and Hindu Kush mountain ranges contain the earth’s third largest single mass of frozen water, surpassed only by the North and South Poles. Just as the glaciers in the Arctic are rapidly melting, the ice contained in the world's two largest mountain ranges is also beginning to melt.

…The result, once the floods have gone, will be an economic catastrophe in which ordinary people lack the resources to feed their own families. Political chaos, affecting more than just Pakistan, is also likely to follow. The floods are already destabilizing Pakistan’s weak civilian government. At least one minority political party is calling on the country’s army, which has proved better organized to respond to emergencies, to assume power.

…The inability of either Pakistan’s government or the international community to provide sufficient aid quickly enough only reinforces the Pakistani Taliban’s argument that the foreigners, and their predator drones, should go home….

Hurricane Frank churns in Pacific

Reuters: Hurricane Frank powered along Mexico's Pacific on Thursday and could turn into the Baja California peninsula as a storm but is expected to weaken quickly, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

Sustained wind speeds were near 90 mph as Frank reached Category 1 status but was expected to weaken. "A gradual weakening is expected tonight and Friday followed by a more steady weakening on Saturday as Frank moves over cool waters," the center said.

Frank, the third Pacific hurricane of the season, was 335 miles south of the tip of Baja California on Thursday afternoon. It is expected to swing west over the weekend and could dump heavy rain on Baja California, but is so far forecast to move away from beach resorts popular with U.S. tourists….

Friday, August 27, 2010

After Katrina, Gulf Coast still vulnerable

Jessica Marshall in Discovery News: In the five years since Hurricane Katrina slammed the U.S. Gulf Coast, breaching levees and flooding New Orleans, one thing hasn't changed: Louisiana is still sinking at a rate that's only going to quicken. The questions now are, is New Orleans ready for another storm like Katrina? And going forward, what's to be done about a region that's headed back into the sea?

Since the storm, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and others have spent millions to rebuild the city and its flood protection system. "We'll be absolutely ready for it," said Corps communications officer Wade Habshey, who is based in New Orleans. "What we have in place now can withstand a Katrina-level storm."

Beyond the city, though, there are still concerns. As coastal areas erode, residents living near the shore face a greater threat of flooding. This could become worse with global warming. Colonel Edward Fleming, commander for the New Orleans district of the Army Corps of Engineers, says coastal restoration projects are underway, and that he's in Washington seeking approval for six more this week. Still, he concedes that the state is losing 27 square miles of land a year.

…Leonard Bahr, a coastal scientist formerly with the Louisiana governor's office, now maintains an independent blog about the Louisiana coast (lacoastpost.com). "The model of bolstering the protections in New Orleans is inappropriate to be used across the rest of Louisiana," he said. "Once you build levees and start pumping, the rest is history. You're doomed to perpetual pumping."

…While New Orleans may be in better shape to face a storm, a bigger issue outside the city is the loss of wetlands. Wetlands provide a buffer against storms, and offer crucial habitat for Gulf fisheries species. Coastal wetlands are constantly eroded, especially in big events like Katrina. Historically, the erosion was balanced by the deposit of new sediment downriver.

…Sediment loss is only part of the problem facing delta lands, the Nature Geoscience study noted. Even if all of the river's sediment could proceed freely to the delta, sea level rise is outpacing sediment deposition by more than threefold, meaning delta lands are certain to disappear.

Crack in 17th Street Canal floodwall near Metarie Pumping Station. Shot by Infrogmation, who has taken so many informative, moving pictures of Katrina's aftermath. Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license

Drought means rising wheat price

Bloomberg: Wheat advanced for a second day on speculation that demand for U.S. supplies may increase after the International Grains Council lowered its global production forecast. Corn also gained. The December-delivery wheat contract climbed 1 percent to $6.9525 a bushel as of 6:24 a.m. on the Chicago Board of Trade, paring a third weekly decline.

The global wheat harvest may be 644 million metric tons, 1.1 percent lower than last month’s estimate and less than record demand of 657 million tons, the London-based group said in a report yesterday. Dry weather in Russia, Ukraine and Australia and excessive rain in parts of the European Union drove prices more than 50 percent higher since the end of May.

“News in the last 48 hours have been supportive,” Luke Mathews, a commodity strategist at Commonwealth Bank of Australia. The reduction in the global wheat output forecast and an increase in the estimate for demand boosted prices, he said.

Prices also rose because of the prospect of grain imports by Russia, Mathews said by phone from Sydney. Russia may import as much as 6 million tons of grain in the marketing year that ends in June after the country’s worst drought in 50 years, SovEcon Managing Director Andrei Sizov Jr. said yesterday. Wheat imports may total 1.5 million tons, while barley deliveries may be 1.8 million, Sizov wrote….

A wheat field, shot by 3268zauber, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative CommonsAttribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Pakistan floods displace 1 million more people

Voice of America: The United Nations says new floods in southern Pakistan have displaced about one million people since Wednesday, worsening the impact of a month-long flooding disaster. U.N. officials said Friday the newly-displaced flood victims were forced to leave their homes in Sindh province as the swollen Indus river burst its banks.

Pakistani authorities ordered people to leave the historic town of Thatta in Sindh after the Indus breached a levee nearby. Tens of thousands of residents began fleeing late Thursday.

The floods that began almost one month ago have devastated a large swath of Pakistan, starting in the mountainous north and shifting to its southern agricultural heartland. The disaster has killed an estimated 1,600 people and affected up to 20 million others….

By mid-August, the extreme monsoon floods that had overwhelmed northwestern Pakistan had traveled downstream into southern Pakistan. This image, acquired by the Landsat 5 satellite on August 12, 2010, shows flooding near Kashmor, Pakistan, just before the second wave of the flood hit.

Storms ramp up in Atlantic

Sydney Morning Herald: Hurricane Danielle, the strongest storm of the Atlantic season, surged to a Category Four intensity Friday followed close behind by Earl, a tropical storm that could hit the Caribbean within days, US forecasters said. "Danielle is a Category Four hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson (five-step) scale," with sustained winds of 135 miles (215 kilometers) per hour, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said in a bulletin just before 0900 GMT. "Some additional strengthening is possible in the next 24 hours."

Danielle -- the second and strongest to date of the 2010 Atlantic hurricanes -- is forecast to track well east of Bermuda and then curl to the northeast and out to sea. But the hurricane will likely drench the island chain with rain and the NHC said "interests in Bermuda should monitor the progress of Danielle."

…Danielle surged in strength in just a few hours from Category Two to Category Four, the second highest level on the NHC's scale. Category Four storms cause "catastrophic damage" when they make landfall, with "a very high risk of injury or death to people, livestock, and pets due to flying and falling debris," according to the NHC. Shortly before 0900 GMT the hurricane was 875 kilometers southeast of Bermuda and moving to the northwest at 19 kilometers per hour, but there were no coastal watches or warnings in effect, the center said.

Of greater concern out in the Atlantic was Tropical Storm Earl, which forecasters expect to reach hurricane status by late Saturday and then threaten the eastern Caribbean, including Puerto Rico, by late Monday or early Tuesday….

On August 22, Danielle was still a Tropical Depression

Kenya fights threat to nut cash crop

Seed Daily via UPI: A tree disease threatens the livelihood of farmers in Kenya who grow macadamia nuts, their only cash crop after the coffee market crashed, officials say. The coffee boom of the 1970s and 1980s ended when the Kenyan government failed to protect coffee farmers from middlemen, who pay farmers as little as 25 cents for 2 pounds of coffee worth up to $10 in the European market, and many coffee planters turned to macadamia trees as their salvation, Inter Press Service reported Wednesday.

It is estimated that more than 10,000 Kenyan farmers have switched to farming macadamia as a cash crop mainly for the export market. Now they face a new worry, a fungal disease attacking their nut trees….

Thursday, August 26, 2010

El Niños are growing stronger

NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory: A relatively new type of El Niño, which has its warmest waters in the central-equatorial Pacific Ocean, rather than in the eastern-equatorial Pacific, is becoming more common and progressively stronger, according to a new study by NASA and NOAA. The research may improve our understanding of the relationship between El Niños and climate change, and has potentially significant implications for long-term weather forecasting.

Lead author Tong Lee of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., and Michael McPhaden of NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, Seattle, measured changes in El Niño intensity since 1982. They analyzed NOAA satellite observations of sea surface temperature, checked against and blended with directly-measured ocean temperature data. The strength of each El Niño was gauged by how much its sea surface temperatures deviated from the average. They found the intensity of El Niños in the central Pacific has nearly doubled, with the most intense event occurring in 2009-10.

The scientists say the stronger El Niños help explain a steady rise in central Pacific sea surface temperatures observed over the past few decades in previous studies-a trend attributed by some to the effects of global warming. While Lee and McPhaden observed a rise in sea surface temperatures during El Niño years, no significant temperature increases were seen in years when ocean conditions were neutral, or when El Niño's cool water counterpart, La Niña, was present.

"Our study concludes the long-term warming trend seen in the central Pacific is primarily due to more intense El Niños, rather than a general rise of background temperatures," said Lee. "These results suggest climate change may already be affecting El Niño by shifting the center of action from the eastern to the central Pacific," said McPhaden. "El Niño's impact on global weather patterns is different if ocean warming occurs primarily in the central Pacific, instead of the eastern Pacific.

"If the trend we observe continues," McPhaden added, "it could throw a monkey wrench into long-range weather forecasting, which is largely based on our understanding of El Niños from the latter half of the 20th century."…

Deviations from normal sea surface temperatures (left) and sea surface heights (right) at the peak of the 2009-2010 central Pacific El Niño, as measured by NOAA polar orbiting satellites and NASA's Jason-1 spacecraft, respectively. The warmest temperatures and highest sea levels were located in the central equatorial Pacific. Image credit: NASA/JPL-NOAA

Time to blame climate change for extreme weather?

An editorial by Anil Ananthaswamy in New Scientist: It is time to start asking the hard questions. Countless people in flood-stricken Pakistan have lost families and livelihoods. Who can they hold responsible and turn to for reparations?

Less than a decade ago, these questions would have been dismissed outright. "Many scientists at the time said that you can never blame an individual weather event on climate change," says Myles Allen of the University of Oxford. But a small meeting of scientists in Colorado last week - organised by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the UK Met Office's Hadley Centre, among others - suggests the tide is turning.

The aim of the Attribution of Climate-Related Events workshop was to discuss what information is needed to determine the extent to which human-induced climate change can be blamed for extreme weather events - possibly even straight after they have happened.

…The basic idea in producing such a figure is straightforward. Run thousands of simulations of the climate as it is and as it would have been without human influences, then compare the number of times a given event occurs in each scenario. In 2004, technological limitations made it impossible to run simulations for long enough to reproduce the 2003 heatwave, so the analysis involved making certain assumptions.

…Ultimately, though, putting numbers on the consequences of climate change will open the door to legal challenges. "There is a possibility that people who are adversely affected by climate change might seek compensation from those they feel are responsible," says Allen.

…There is another reason for finding out how much climate change is to blame for various events. "Hundreds of billions of dollars are potentially available [in a UN fund] to help developing countries adapt to climate change," says Allen. Who gets what share of the funds depends on being able to say which regions have suffered most as a result of climate change. For now, at least, that remains an open question….

Hurricane Mitch in 1998

Adapt to to reduce risks, small enterprises told

Business World Online (Philippines): Even small businesses have to adapt to unavoidable changes in climate and help mitigate their adverse effects, experts said in a forum organized by the Institute for Small-Scale Industries at the University of the Philippines (UP) in Diliman early this month.

The afternoon-long symposium focused on how micro, small, and medium scale enterprises (MSMEs) can address the ill effects of climate change, and at the same time reduce the unnecessary risks to, or even improve, business operations. Saying climate change is inevitable, speakers from the government, private sector and the academe offered options for both small enterprises and individuals to keep climate-driven disasters at bay.

In his welcome remarks to an audience of fellow faculty, students and UP system officials, Institute Director Nestor Rañeses said businesses should “create more” by using less polluting materials in the new era of climate change. The innovative approach ensures sustainable consumption while improving the productive use of limited resources.

The local economy should not entirely be dependent on greenhouse gas-emitting resources and linked to an increasingly de-carbonized, de-materialized global economy. Dennis de la Torre, chief of staff at the Climate Change Commission, the lead agency implementing the national framework strategy for climate change, said adaptation is the less bitter pill to take over mitigation….

A 50 peso note from the Phillipines, from 1885

Prophecies fulfilled in Pakistan

Matthew O. Berger in IPS: Analysts have been warning for several years that the impacts of climate change directly relate to the national security of the U.S. and other countries, but the link has never been so clear as it is today in northwest Pakistan. The security implications of climate change first got official U.S. government attention this February, in the Quadrennial Defence Review, a four-yearly report from the Pentagon on the direction of national security strategy.

Noting rising sea levels, water shortages, melting Arctic ice, and extreme weather events, the review said that "while climate change alone does not cause conflict, it may act as an accelerant of instability or conflict, placing a burden to respond on civilian institutions and militaries around the world."

These implications had been discussed by other experts much earlier. Most notable was a 2007 report from the think tank Center for a New American Security (CNAS), which found that, when compared to other national security challenge, climate change "may represent a great or a greater" test. Their conclusions, however, were based on scenarios and exercises.

In Pakistan, where unprecedented floods have killed 1,500 people and displaced millions more, those scenarios are now reality. When floods swept through the country in late July, they pushed some desperate refugees right into the arms of militant groups in the northern regions of the country, where government aid was too slow or too little….

Katrina's lessons yet to be learned

An editorial in the Merced Sun-Star (California): Five years after Hurricane Katrina, Congress has committed nearly $15 billion toward protecting a major American metropolis -- the New Orleans region -- from another devastating flood. Those investments are resulting in a flood control system far more protective than the one that existed prior to Aug. 29, 2005. Will it be enough? Hardly.

More than any other floodplain city, New Orleans is living on borrowed time. Much of this metropolitan area sits below sea level, upon old marshland that is subsiding. It faces possible inundation from both hurricanes and Mississippi River floods. With sea levels rising and the potential for climate change to generate ever-more powerful storms, the ability of engineers to design a foolproof fortification of New Orleans is fanciful, at best.

…Ricardo Pineda, floodplain management chief of the California Department of Water Resources, has served on this new regional flood control authority since 2007 and has made 37 trips to southeast Louisiana during that time. He reports there is now an integrated approach to preventing flood damages on a regional scale, including elevation of homes and better coastal protection.

Even with that progress, many experts, including Robert G. Bea of the University of California, Berkeley, fear complacency. Bea told the Times that the current effort at 100-year flood protection in New Orleans "is not even close to what is needed."

…Also lacking in New Orleans is a commitment to strategic land planning. If the city and suburbs were to minimize their urban footprint, there would be much less land requiring fortification, and more space available for marshes and natural floodways….

A collapsed building in New Orleans a few months after Katrina, shot by Daniel Lobo, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Genetic study on mosquitos shows climate change adaptation

Softpedia: Over the past couple of decades, global warming has made its presence felt more and more, and species have been forced to adapt under this influence. The evolution has now been proven by a genetic study of mosquitoes. Researchers at the University of Oregon investigated the fine-scale genetic structure of Wyeomyia smithii, which is a type of pitcher plant mosquito. The analysis revealed that this species is indeed evolving right now, as an adaptation to the rapid climate change that is affecting Earth as we speak.

Global warming shifts weather patterns, influences precipitations and drought events, raises sea levels, and generally makes the world a hotter place. Plants are growing smaller each year, while the ocean becomes increasingly acidic, and all of this is caused by our massive greenhouse gas emission levels.

Using Restriction-site Associated DNA (RAD), a high-throughput sequencing technique, the team managed to discover that these changes in the environment are affecting W. smithii as well. Details of their investigation appear in the latest issue of the esteemed journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

“This project demonstrates the power of genomics technologies, which can provide new knowledge about the vast array of Earth's species,” explains expert Sam Scheiner…..

Time for your close-up, Wyeomyia smithii. Shot by Rkitko, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Resilience can be effective in turbulent times

Petra Tschakert in the Centre Daily: …While we can adopt a doomsday vision of abrupt and irreversible environmental change, we would be better served to acknowledge that challenges, surprises and even chaos always lurk around the corner and to learn new ways to respond to such inevitable disturbances. Rather than learning by shock, in other words, we should learn how to prepare for and adapt to a future marked by uncertainty and instability.

This is at the heart of the concept of resilience. In essence, resilience is about developing the capacity to absorb disturbance without losing the ability to function. It’s about working with natural ecological and socioeconomic cycles. And it’s about embracing change and taking advantage of opportunities to regenerate and revive after major changes or shocks — such as Hurricane Katrina — have occurred.

Resilience assumes that solving the complex problems we face today — global climate change, global economic inequities — requires more than greater efficiencies and better controls. Such business-as-usual approaches tend to value stability and growth and miss the opportunities opened up by surprise and unpredictability. Instead, creativity, experimentation and envisioning are the tools we need to pursue sustainable resource management and build a resilient world.

A resilient world promotes the biological and landscape diversity essential to buffer against low-level disturbances. Agricultural fields planted with several crops rather than a single crop, for instance, are more resilient to disease and pest attacks than monoculture fields. Small-scale prescribed burns not only prevent the catastrophic wildfires that devastate forests, but they can improve diverse habitat and enhance rejuvenation without detrimental damage.

Resilience in social systems can best be seen in community efforts to strengthen social ties through the development of walkable neighborhoods, public transit, urban gardens and farmers markets. Such “transition towns” are creating bold yet possible visions for a future without fossil fuels….

Photo of a Swiss Army knife by Jonas Bergsten, Wikimedia Commons

Waiting for more flooding in Pakistan

IRIN: All eyes are on the Kotri Barrage in southeastern Pakistan, the last on the River Indus before it flows into the Arabian Sea. Meteorologists expect more but moderate rainfall over the upper reaches of the river, but a scientist involved in managing the ecosystem in that part of the river is optimistic.

About 1.5 million people live along the last 120 km stretch of the Indus from the Kotri Barrage in southern Sindh Province to where its 13 outlets empty their water into the sea, said Mohammed Tahir Qureshi, senior advisor on coastal ecosystems at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in Pakistan.

Storage dams and barrages have been built on the Indus River, and a complex network of canals channels the water to about 30 million acres of agricultural land, according to the IUCN. Unlike other barrages on the river, where the flow has begun to level off and even ebb, the water at the Kotri Barrage has risen to an alarming level.

The Indus usually flows through the Kotri Barrage at a speed of about 2,841 cubic metres per second on the last leg of its journey to the sea; it is currently flowing at more than 25,485 cubic metres per second - at least 10 times its normal flow rate. "We are concerned whether the barrage will be able to withstand the tremendous flow of the water," said Prof Qamar-Uz-Zaman Chaudhry, head of the Pakistan Meteorological Department and a member of the government's task force on climate change….

NASA image of Pakistan flooding, July 31, 2010

Blocked jetstream plus climate change means floods

Rupee News: A massive heatwave in Russia and the current devastating floods in Pakistan could be linked by the unusual behaviour of the jetstream, scientists believe. The jetstream is the high-altitude wind that circles the globe from west to east and normally pushes a series of wet but mild Atlantic lows across Britain. But meteorologists who study the phenomenon say that it is producing unusual holding patterns which keep weather systems in one place and produce freak conditions. The jetstream is being held by the Rossby waves that normally produce its distinctive wave-like pattern.

These powerful spinning wind currents are caused by the Earth’s shape and rotation and push the jet stream from east to west at high altitudes. Now scientists believe that Rossby waves are acting against the jetstream’s usual pattern, holding it in place, according to a report in New Scientist. Since mid-July, when it would normally be moving eastwards the jetstream has been held in one place as strong Rossby waves push against it.

When the jet stream is held in one place it traps the weather systems that are caught between its meanders. Warm air is sucked north to the ‘peaks’ while cold air travels to the ‘troughs’.

Professor Mike Blackburn of the University of Reading believes that a blocked jetstream could be behind a heatwave in Japan which killed 60 and the sudden end to warm weather in the UK. In Pakistan, the blocking event took place at the same time as the summer monsoon, with tragic consequences….

A jetstream shot by NASA

Large potential for drought tolerant maize in Africa

Physorg: As climate change intensifies drought conditions in Africa and sparks fears of a new cycle of crippling food shortages, a study released today finds widespread adoption of recently developed drought-tolerant varieties of maize could boost harvests in 13 African countries by 10 to 34 percent and generate up to US$1.5 billion in benefits for producers and consumers.

"We need to move deliberately, but with urgency, to get these new varieties from the breeders to the farmers, because their potential to avert crises is considerable," said Roberto La Rovere, a socio-economist at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (known by its Spanish acronym CIMMYT) and lead author of the study, which was produced in partnership with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA).

"Our analysis shows that with high rates of adoption, more than four million producers and consumers would see their poverty level drop significantly by 2016," he added.

The study was conducted as part of the Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa Initiative (DTMA) implemented by CIMMYT and IITA with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Howard G. Buffett Foundation. CIMMYT and IITA have worked with national agriculture research centers in Africa to develop over 50 new maize varieties that in drought conditions can produce yields that are 20 to 50 percent higher than existing varieties....

Corncobs shot by Sam Fentress, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license version 2.0.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Drought costs Russia one billion dollars in crop losses

Seed Daily via Agence France-Presse: Russia's agriculture industry faces losses of over one billion dollars after a record drought destroyed over a quarter of its crops, an official said Monday. "The losses amount to about 32.7 billion rubles (1.07 billion dollars)," Deputy Agriculture Minister Alexander Petrikov was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying. He said the drought had destroyed some 11 million hectares (27 million acres) of crops or 26 percent of the total harvest.

Before the drought and a blistering heatwave, Russia was one of the world's top wheat exporters, but Prime Minister Vladimir Putin announced a ban on foreign grain exports earlier this month as the harvest forecast was slashed. The export ban, which runs at least to the end of the year, helped drive wheat prices to multi-year highs, sparking fears that food costs could soar and boost inflation.

Russia's harvest is expected to be sharply lower at 60-65 million tonnes of grain compared with 97.1 million tonnes in 2009. So far, Russian farmers have harvested 40.7 million tonnes of grain, a drop of 17.8 million tonnes from the same time last year, according to the agriculture ministry.

Despite the export ban, consumers are likely to see some staggering price hikes, such as on buckwheat, a staple in Russian diets. "Reserves from last year are not large, the forecasts for the harvest this year are down, that is why we expect it to have the sharpest hike in prices to hit buckwheat, from 40 to 60 percent," Mikhail Sussov of the X5 Retail Group distributor told Interfax….

A wheat field in Saysari, near Tumane, shot by Maxim Unarov in 2006

Hurricane Danielle to strengthen, head near Bermuda

Eileen Moustakis in Reuters: Hurricane Danielle, which strengthened early Tuesday in the open Atlantic Ocean to a Category 2 storm, packing winds of 100 miles per hour, was expected to gain strength but posed no threat to energy interests in the Gulf of Mexico as it headed northwest and to the east of Bermuda.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said early Tuesday that Danielle was about 1,100 miles east of the Lesser Antilles, moving west at 20 mph. According to several forecasters, the storm was expected to strengthen by early Wednesday to Category 3 on the Saffir-Simpson scale at its intensity peak, with sustained winds over 111 mph.

Computer models showed Danielle curving to the northwest on a path that would keep it over open seas, turning more northerly to the east of Bermuda…..

Hurricane Danielle as of August 23, 2010 13:20 UTC.