Tuesday, November 30, 2010

New atlas on Africa's water

Maxim’s News Network: The major challenges facing Africa's water resources have been laid out in striking clarity in a new atlas compiled by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The Africa Water Atlas uses hundreds of 'before and after' shots, detailed new maps and satellite images from 53 countries to show the problems facing Africa's water supplies, such as the drying of Lake Chad and the erosion of the Nile Delta, as well as new, successful methods of conserving water.
Some of the most arresting images in the Atlas, which was launched during Africa Water Week in Addis Ababa, include green clouds of eroded soil and agricultural run-off in Uganda, pollution from oil spills in Nigeria and a 3km segment of the Nile Delta that has been lost to erosion.

Research carried out for the Atlas shows that the amount of water available per person in Africa is declining. At present, only 26 of the continent's 53 countries are on track to attain the water-provision target of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to reduce by half the proportion of the population without sustainable access to drinking water by 2015.

Furthermore, only nine African countries (Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Rwanda, Botswana, Angola, South Africa and Egypt) are expected to attain the MDG target of reducing by half the proportion of the population without sustainable access to basic sanitation by 2015.

But in addition to these water challenges, the Atlas maps out new solutions and success stories from across the continent. It contains the first detailed mapping of how rainwater conservation is improving food security in drought-prone regions. Images also reveal how irrigation projects in Kenya, Senegal and Sudan are helping to improve food security.

The Atlas, compiled by UNEP at the request of the African Ministers' Council on Water (AMCOW) shows how the challenges of water scarcity in Africa are compounded by high population growth, socioeconomic and climate change impacts and, in some cases, policy choices....

California’s controlled fires boost biodiversity

Science Daily: In certain ecosystems, such as the mixed-conifer forests of the Sierra Nevada region of the western United States, fires are a natural and essential occurrence for maintaining forest health. However, for many decades, resource managers in California and other western states prevented or suppressed natural fires to limit the potential for catastrophic spread.

Suppressing fire in this region for long periods has led to an unusually large increase in the number of small trees and excess accumulations of logs, branches and needles on the forest floor. Currently, forest managers are using prescribed--also called controlled--fires, thinning and other methods to reduce tree densities and ground debris that could serve as fuel. However, as explained in Ecosphere, an open-access journal of the Ecological Society of America, the ways in which these fuel-management practices affect the biodiversity of these forests is not well understood.

To answer this question, Karen Webster formerly from Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks in California, and Charles Halpern from the University of Washington, Seattle, used more than two decades of data on changes in the abundance and diversity of plants following prescribed burning in these mixed-conifer forests. They analyzed data collected periodically from 51 forest plots that were burned once, twice or not at all during the 20-year study period.

The researchers found that after ten years, burned plots supported more than twice as many native plant species as nonburned plots, and the once-burned plots showed a nearly threefold increase by year twenty. In addition, species diversity increased with severity of burning and nonnative species did not benefit from fire. In general, plots that were burned twice showed patterns similar to those burned only once, suggesting that the use of repeated burning to reduce fuel accumulations does not have a damaging effect on the native vegetation….

Wildfires in Orange County, November 2008, shot by Vrysxy, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Two meters of sea level rise this century?

Leon Clifford in Reporting Climate Science: Sea levels could rise by up to two meters by the end of the century due to climate change and could put nearly 200 million people at risk of being displaced … This is much more than the 59cm maximum sea level rise forecast by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) published in 2007. This new projection is based on the assumption of a rise in average global surface temperatures of 4C by 2100.

“Based on our analysis, a pragmatic estimate of sea-level rise by 2100, for a temperature rise of 4C or more over the same time frame, is between 0.5m and 2m,” according to the authors of a paper published in the latest edition of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.The paper is called “Sea level rise and its possible impacts given a ‘beyond 4C world’ in the twenty-first century”.

The researchers, lead by Robert Nicholl's of Britain's University of Southampton, state that “the probability of rises at the high end is judged to be very low, but of unquantifiable probability.” They point out that a 2m rise would put up to 187 million people at real risk of forced displaced….

Seaweed growing on a rock jetty at Lido West park on Long Island, NY. Shot by Agiorgio, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Soil microbes define dangerous rates of climate change

Seed Daily: The rate of global warming could lead to a rapid release of carbon from peatlands that would further accelerate global warming. Two recent studies published by the Mathematics Research Institute at the University of Exeter highlight the risk that this 'compost bomb' instability could pose, and calculate the conditions under which it could occur.

…The first paper by Catherine Luke and Professor Peter Cox describes the basic phenomenon. When soil microbes decompose organic matter they release heat - this is why compost heaps are often warmer than the air around them.

The compost bomb instability is a runaway feedback that occurs when the heat is generated by microbes more quickly than it can escape to the atmosphere. This in turn requires that the active decomposing soil layer is thermally-insulated from the atmosphere. Catherine Luke explains: "The compost bomb instability is most likely to occur in drying organic soils covered by an insulating lichen or moss layer".

The second paper led by Dr Sebastian Wieczorek and Professor Peter Ashwin, also of the University of Exeter, proves there is a dangerous rate of global warming beyond which the compost bomb instability occurs. This is in contrast to the general belief that tipping points correspond to dangerous levels of global warming....

Càrn na Ceàrdaich. A flat and boggy summit with views across the peatlands towards Ben More. Shot by Richard Webb, Wikimedia Commons via Geograph UK, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Bangladesh wants money, not more talks on climate change

Terra Daily via AFP: The terrible human cost of cyclones and flooding are plain to see in southwest Bangladesh, a low-lying, impoverished region on the frontline of the battle to adapt to climate change. Cyclone Aila, which hit in May last year, killed 300 people, washed away the embankments which make coastal regions habitable, and left 150,000 survivors reliant on emergency relief supplies including free rice.

Aila was particularly destructive as a huge volume of water, swollen by spring tides, slammed into a densely populated, extremely poor area, said Saleemul Huq of the International Institute for Environment and Development.

"Bangladesh is often said to be on the 'frontline' of adverse climate change impacts due to this combination of a large, dense and poor population with potentially severe changes [in weather] as well as sea level rises," Huq said. "Such severe storms are likely to become more frequent in future," he told AFP, adding that sea level rises mean cyclones and tidal surges will become more devastating.

Such dire warnings explain why, as the UN's talks on climate change begin in Mexico, people in Bangladesh are less interested in the endless debates than in getting money to help communities prepare for increasingly extreme weather….

Monday, November 29, 2010

Climate deaths more than double in 2010 - Oxfam

Reuters: Climate-related disasters killed 21,000 people in the first nine months of this year, more than double the number in 2009, the humanitarian organization Oxfam reported on Monday. Timed to coincide with the start of international talks tackling climate change in Cancun, Mexico, the report cited floods in Pakistan, fires and heat waves in Russia and sea level rise in the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu as examples of the deadly consequences of climate change.

The new round of U.N. climate negotiations aims to agree on a narrow range of issues dividing rich and poor economies, specifically on funding, preservation of rainforests and preparations for a warmer world. The talks also will seek to formalize existing targets to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Last year's climate negotiations in Copenhagen ended with no binding global agreement, and expectations for this year's talks are low. U.S. lawmakers are unlikely to consider legislation creating a cap-and-trade system to curb climate-warming emissions.

Still, Oxfam put its report forward as evidence that quick action is needed to mitigate and adapt to climate change. "Countries should identify new ways to raise the billions of dollars needed, such as putting levies on unregulated international aviation and shipping emissions and agreeing on a Financial Transaction Tax on banks. The sooner the money is delivered, the cheaper it will be to tackle climate change," Tim Gore, author of the report, said in a statement.

The events of 2010 are in line with expectations detailed in a 2007 report by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which noted that more severe heat waves, wildfires, floods and rising sea levels were likely….

A 2001 mudslide in El Salvador, from the US Geological Survey

Scientists urge conservation of Africa's forests

Compass Newspaper (Nigeria): In a bid to reduce the severity of climate change, scientists have called for the preservation of Africa’s surviving tropical forests and planting new trees to replace those lost to deforestation.

They added that the forests ease the local impact of climate change by absorbing more carbon from the air and by regulating local weather conditions. They also cited the forests’ roles as watersheds, defences against soil erosion and conservation pools for biodiversity.

During the 2010 Open Day of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), which was marked with the planting of indigenous trees by institutes’ workers in Ibadan, the Manager of the IITA - Leventis Foundation Project, Dr. John Peacock, said that reforestation and education on the benefits of conservation were critical to stemming and reclaiming Africa’s lost forest and biodiversity.

According to him, the planting of trees was part of a new initiative to restore rainforests in Nigeria . IITA is also contributing to the important United Nations Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (UN-REDD) initiative in Nigeria ….

The Osun-Osogbo Sacred grove in Nigeria, shot by Alex Mazzeto - Jurema Oliveira (talk), Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Being too clean can make young people sick

Environment News Service: Age seems to matter when it comes to the health effects of environmental toxicants. Young people who are overexposed to antibacterial soaps containing triclosan may suffer more allergies, and exposure to higher levels of bisphenol A among adults may harm the immune system, a new University of Michigan School of Public Health study suggests.

Triclosan is a chemical compound used in products such as antibacterial soaps, toothpaste, pens, diaper bags and medical devices. Bisphenol A is found in many plastics and used as a protective lining in food cans. Both of these chemicals are in a class of environmental toxicants called endocrine disrupting compounds, which are believed to negatively impact human health by mimicking or affecting hormones.

Using data from the 2003-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, University of Michigan researchers compared urinary bisphenol A and triclosan with cytomegalovirus antibody levels and diagnosis of allergies or hay fever in a sample of U.S. adults and children over age six. Allergy and hay fever diagnosis and cytomegalovirus, CMV, antibodies were used as two separate markers of immune alterations.

"We found that people over age 18 with higher levels of BPA exposure had higher CMV antibody levels, which suggests their cell-mediated immune system may not be functioning properly," said Erin Rees Clayton, research investigator at the University of Michigan School of Public Health and first author on the paper. Researchers also found that people age 18 and under with higher levels of triclosan were more likely to report diagnosis of allergies and hay fever.

There is growing concern among the scientific community and consumer groups that these endocrine disrupting compounds are dangerous to humans at lower levels than previously thought….

A little compulsive handwashing from Lady Macbeth, painting by Gabriel Cornelius von Max, 1885

Hammerheads, other sharks protected at fisheries meet

Terra Daily via AFP: Half-a-dozen species of endangered sharks hunted on the high seas to satisfy a burgeoning Asian market for sharkfin soup are now protected in the Atlantic, a fisheries group decided Saturday.

Scalloped, smooth and great hammerheads, along with oceanic white tip, cannot be targeted or kept if caught accidentally, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) said.

Three other types of hammerhead are included in the ban: smalleye, scoophead, and whitefin. However, a proposal submitted by the European Union to extend the same level of protection to the porbeagle shark, critically endangered in the northeast Atlantic and Mediterranean, was shot down….

Great hammerhead (Sphyrna mokarran) at the Adventure Aquarium, Camden, NJ, USA, shot by Jim Capaldi, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Linguistic hotspots in the Arctic

The great blog Languagehat pointed me to this interview in the "Johnson" column of the Economist with linguist K. David Harrison. Just a snip: ...Johnson: Talking about language and local ecology, you say losing one entails losing the other. If most things are translatable, is it possible to keep the knowledge but not the language?

Mr Harrison: It's possible, but not likely, and it's not the usual case we see everywhere from the Arctic to Amazonia. In indigenous cultures we observe the decline of languages and lifeways occurring in parallel. There's an astonishing book called "Watching Ice and Weather Our Way," co-authored by Yupik elders and scientists. In it, the Yupik elders describe, define and draw sketches of 99 distinct types of sea ice formations which their language gives specific names to.

Their climate science astounds with its precision, predictive power, and depth of observation. Modern climate scientists have much to learn from it. As the Arctic ice melts, and new technologies like snowmobiles advance, Yupik ice-watching becomes the passion of the elderly few. Their knowledge of ice, their words for it, and the hunting skills and lifeways are all receding in tandem with the Yupik language itself....

A fish mask of the Yupik people, Yukon/Kuskokwim region (Alaska), early 20th century. From the collection of Andre Breton, now in the Louvre

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Large companies chasing $135 billion global warming market

Jim Efstathiou Jr. and Kim Chipman in Bloomberg: Seed maker DuPont Co., wind-turbine manufacturer General Electric Co. and insurer Zurich Financial Services AG are devising products to help the world adapt to climate change, a potential $135 billion-a-year market by 2030.

…Damages from climate-related disasters are mounting. Insured losses from storms and floods have risen more than fivefold to $27 billion annually in the past four decades, Swiss Reinsurance Co. said in a September report. By 2030, the world may need to spend $135 billion a year on flood protection, buildings that can withstand hurricanes and drought-resistant crops, Swiss Re said, citing United Nations data.

“Climate change presents a direct threat to our business,” Jim Hanna, director of environmental impact for Seattle-based Starbucks Corp., the world’s largest coffee chain, said in an interview. “We are already hearing some anecdotal evidence that shifting weather patterns and increased erosion and pest infestation are starting to impact coffee crops.” Adaptation strategies, such as rewarding farmers for taking extra steps to prevent erosion on vulnerable land, will help Starbucks prepare, Hanna said.

Relatively rich nations such as the U.S. are devoting more attention and resources to adaptation and are negotiating a fund to help poorer countries cope with the higher sea levels, droughts, heat waves, more severe storms and erratic weather predicted by climate scientists.

“Sooner or later all businesses will have to climate-proof their operations,” Christiana Figueres, the UN’s climate chief, said in a September speech in New York. “Adaptation will be imperative if businesses want to avoid climate-change impacts that could drive them out of business.”….

Gustave Doré, an 1865 engraving of a climbing disaster on the Matterhorn, scanned from A Brief History of British Mountaineering by Colin Wells, ISBN 978-0903908627

Post-flood Pakistan's housing needs

Siamak Moghaddam in the Nation (Pakistan): The unprecedented flood in Pakistan’s history and the enormous all-round damage it has done have tasked the decision makers with finding answers to daunting questions that they may not be prepared for.

...According to the government’s figures, some 1.74 million households have lost their homes. The level of investment and effort for reconstruction of this sector is gigantic and runs into billions of dollars. However, Pakistan has proven before that it can rebuild its housing sector in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), and that it can do it again, if the right policies and strategies are adopted.

Looking back at the response to recent disasters could lead to lessons for application to the current flood response. In the reconstruction strategy of Kashmir earthquake, a staged assistance package (Rs 175,000) was provided to the affected population together with earthquake resistant designs and standards and an extensive technical assistance programme, free of charge; communities were mobilised en masse for earthquake resistant construction and awareness.

People were central to the decision on their own housing and fully involved in the reconstruction of their own homes. Women were actively engaged in the decision making at household level. At the end of the Rural Housing Rehabilitation Programme (2009), some 436,543 houses (95 percent of the destroyed houses) were completed of which 97 percent were determined as compliant with ERRA standards and hence safer….

Philippines sets financing focus for climate change meet

Judy T. Gulane in Business World (Philippines): The Philippines will push for climate change adaptation financing at the Cancun talks that begin today, emphasizing the need for measures to deal with the phenomenon’s adverse effects. Philippine delegation head Mary Ann Lucille Y. Sering, vice-chairman of the Climate Change Commission (CCC), said the country, as part of the G77 and China bloc, would also continue to call for a greenhouse gas emissions deal even if binding commitments are not likely.

"Going to Cancun, [the Philippines is] hoping to see progress on the financing structure, on how fast this financing that was committed to last time can be delivered," she said last Friday.

…The Philippines, for instance, already the victim of strong storms as a result of climate change, faces fiercer storms, sea-level rise and varying rainfall patterns that will impact food security, human health and human settlements if global warming were not mitigated.

…"With the Philippines’ geophysical and socioeconomic characteristics, more emphasis is given on adaptation to risks associated with current climate variability and extremes," the framework reads.

Antonio G.M. La Viña, an international environment lawyer based at the Ateneo de Manila University and a member of the Philippine delegation to Cancun, likewise said "the Philippines will take a strong position on mitigation and adaptation." "The stakes are high for us, because without an international agreement on mitigation and adaptation, the Philippines is left on its own to fight the serious challenge of climate change," he told BusinessWorld last Thursday….

Experts split on global warming, highland malaria

Terra Daily via AFP: Malaria cases in east African highland areas hitherto unaffected by the disease have caused worry that global warming is creating new mosquito breeding grounds but experts disagree on whether there is actually any link between the two. "We have recently seen waves of epidemics in highland areas. ... They have actually killed people," said Dr. Amos Odiit, who was until October head of clinical paediatrics at Mulago hospital in the Ugandan capital Kampala.

The first cases of malaria in Uganda's western Kabale region, which rises 2,000 metres above sea level, were reported in 2007, said Seraphine Adibaku, the head of the national programme against malaria. "It is climate change. Kabale is not as cold as before," she added.

Climatologists say Africa has become warmer by 0.7 degrees Celsius over a century, favouring the spread of malaria as mosquitoes that carry the parasite thrive in warmer climes and cannot survive in temperatures below 15 degrees.

…But the theory is just a juxtaposition according to other experts who explain that the spread of malaria is determined by the effectiveness of public health interventions and a country's state of economic development. Contrary to the theory that malaria has increased due to rising global temparatures, the disease has not spread any further than it was in the past century, said Simon Hay of Oxford University.

…Many researchers however seem to agree that while there is a theoretical relationship between climate change and rising malaria infections, this trend can be curbed by robust public health drives….

A World War II vintage public health poster about malaria

Managing nature reserves using ecological disturbances can easily go wrong

University of Gothenberg (Sweden): Ecological disturbances are not necessarily a bad thing – deliberate disturbances can actually be used to preserve or even increase biodiversity in a nature reserve. The outcome depends on countless different factors, but many mistakes are made by those working with ecological disturbances and biodiversity, claims a researcher from the University of Gothenburg. “Nobody knows exactly what biodiversity is, and so different researchers test different measures of it and can draw completely different conclusions depending on the measures they’ve used,” says Robin Svensson from the Department of Marine Ecology at the University of Gothenburg.

“If you test a hypothesis about the change in the number of species with a measure of how evenly species are distributed, rather than how many there are, you’ll always be in trouble. It’s rather like when comedian Kurt Olsson famously asked record-breaking high-jumper Patrik Sjöberg how ‘wide’ he’d jumped – or counting the number of apples on a pear tree!”

Ecological disturbances can come in many different forms and have very different effects on biodiversity. Common disturbances in nature include forest fires, storms, floods, waves, trawling, pollution, drought, ice cover and driftwood scraping species off rocky shores. Biological disturbances can also be included under this term, in other words animals that eat other animals and plants or stamp out other living creatures in their path.

The most concrete and manageable definition is that a disturbance must kill or remove organisms in a community (an area with co-existing species), so making it easier for new species to become established. The seemingly innocuous sub-clause about the establishment of new species has proved surprisingly important when testing ecological explanatory models for disturbances and biodiversity.

The effects of a disturbance depend on what kind of disturbance it is, how it is measured, and which species are in the community when it occurs. Also playing a role when testing hypotheses about biodiversity and disturbances are the degree of competition between species and establishment of new species, and the measure of biodiversity used in the study.

“If you don’t know how disturbances work and how they will affect the community where they are introduced, they can easily have the opposite to the desired effect,” says Svensson. “How you calculate the effect will naturally have a major impact when managing nature reserves with the help of ecological disturbances.”…

With a scraper, Robin Svensson has manipulated underwater communities and recreated the conditions following an ecological disturbance in nature. The species seen here include mussels, sea squirts, algae, sea anemones and barnacles. The experiments were carried out at the Sven Lovén Centre for Marine Sciences field station on the island of Tjärnö. Photo: Robin Svensson

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Barrier reef not looking so great

Jane Southward in the Sydney Morning Herald: A research team running the world's first underwater laboratory on the Great Barrier Reef has confirmed the natural treasure is in great danger. Led by Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, from the global change institute of the University of Queensland, the team has been studying how coral is affected by increasing acidity in sea water caused by carbon emissions.

They began the world-first experiment on a two-square-metre patch of the reef off Heron Island in May and found damage to the reef more serious than expected. They will soon remove the four experimental chambers - two simulating future carbon dioxide levels and two with control conditions. They are using more than 20 precision instruments to monitor the changing water chemistry. The experiment simulates the predicted levels of carbon emissions in 2050.

Team member David Kline said the group had noted that in only eight months the part of the reef with the higher CO2 levels already looked quite different. ''What is growing there has changed, the types of algae are different and, based on our research, we would expect that the growth rate of the coral would have slowed,'' he said…

Heron Island, Australia, viewed from a helicopter, shot by Nickj, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Horror summer fails to shift Russia climate scepticism

Maria Antonova in AsiaOne News: Russia may have endured its hottest summer on record and battled deadly forest fires, but attitudes on climate change remain dominated by scepticism and even mired in conspiracy theories. Experts see no major substantial movement in Russia's stance ahead of the latest UN climate conference in Cancun, despite the occasional acknowledgment by President Dmitry Medvedev that the earth is warming.

During the last major climate conference in Copenhagen, Medvedev published Russia's ambitious Climate Doctrine and even appointed a climate adviser a month later. Russia's own weather agency Rosgidromet said in a weighty 2008 report that daily average temperatures in Russia would rise by four to six degrees Celsius by 2050, and that the change of the past 50 years was most likely man-made. It concluded that "the dependency of Russia's nature and economy on climatic factors... demand a serious scientific base to government policy on climate change."

But two years later, after summer forest fires that ravaged more than a million hectares (2.5 million acres) in Russia and a heatwave believed to have killed thousands, state media are still debating whether climate change is a myth. In August, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin even wondered aloud if the natural dying out of mammoths around 10,000 BC means that current climate change was also a phenomenon independent of human influence.

"Most scientists in the world now share the view that climate change is human-caused, but in Russia science is very politicized," said Vladimir Chuprov, a climate expert for Greenpeace Russia….

Smog over Moscow after wildfires in the summer of 2010, shot by A.Savin/--S, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Black Sea states call for efforts to address climate change

Xinhua: The 23rd Meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization (BSEC) Member States winded up on Friday at the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki with a Joint Declaration on strengthening efforts to address climate change at a regional and international level. Representatives of a total of 12 countries of the area who took part in the one-day event signed an agreement which will be submitted to the coming UN negotiations on climate change in Cancun, Mexico, in December, pledging a promising start in the Black Sea region.

Stressing that climate change is an international challenge which requires international solutions and represents an opportunity to turn to green economy, BSEC member states promised to step up regional cooperation to attract investments on environmentally friendly economy projects. Participating countries also pledged to make every possible contribution to protect the environment on international level.

"The Declaration of Thessaloniki" as Greek Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas referred to the agreement on Friday, talking about a positive outcome of deliberations, is regarded as the culminating point of the Greek chairmanship of BSEC during the second half of 2010. Under the motto "Black Sea turns Green" Greece promoted green economy as the best way to face the challenge of climate change….

Bulgaria's Black Sea coast, shot by Evgeni Dinev, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Ships and buoys made global warming look slower

New Scientist: Claims that global warming has slowed down over the past decade were partly based on faulty data. Instead, the rate of global warming was underestimated because of a new way of measuring sea-surface temperatures, suggests a new study.

Since the 1970s average global temperatures have risen by 0.16 °C per decade, but over the past decade they seemed to rise by only 0.09 °C, an apparent slowdown of 0.07 °C. John Kennedy and colleagues at the UK Met Office have now found that the real slowdown was smaller.

Over the past decade, sea-surface temperature has mostly been measured by thermometers on buoys, whereas previously it was measured aboard ships. Ship measurements tend to be too high because the water warms up as it is taken on board. So although the newer buoy measurements are more accurate, the switch in method has erroneously shown sea-surface temperatures appearing to level off.

"Compared with ships, buoys show cooler temperatures," says Vicky Pope at the Met Office. "You have to be careful of false signals." Kennedy says the underestimation of the change in sea-surface temperature could account for up to 0.03 °C of the apparent slowdown in global temperatures. The correction could mean that 2010 will be the warmest year on record, surpassing 1998 and 2005…

Friday, November 26, 2010

New book: "Assessment of the Risk of Amazon Dieback"

A new publication from the World Bank: The Amazon basin is a key component of the global carbon cycle. Not only is the old-growth rainforests in the basin huge carbon storage with about 120 billion metric tons of carbon in their biomass, but they also process annually twice the rate of global anthropogenic fossil fuel emissions through respiration and photosynthesis. In addition, the basin is the largest global repository of biodiversity and produces about 20 percent of the world’s flow of fresh water into the oceans.

Despite the large CO2 efflux from recent deforestation, the Amazon rainforest is still considered to be a net carbon sink or reservoir because vegetation growth on average exceeds mortality. However, current climate trends and human-induced deforestation may be transforming forest structure and behavior.

Amazon forest dieback would be a massive event, affecting all life-forms that rely on this diverse ecosystem, including humans, and producing ramifications for the entire planet. Clearly, with changes at a global scale at stake, there is a need to better understand the risk, and dynamics of Amazon dieback. Therefore, the purpose of the book is to assist in understanding the risk, process and dynamics of potential Amazon dieback and its implications.

Apologies for the blurry cover -- the World Bank website just had a teensy thumbnail

Pakistan's flood survivors determined to help themselves

IRIN: In Pakistan’s northwestern Swat Valley, where the floods that swamped the country in August began, shock has given way to a new determination among communities to get back on their feet. “We really have no choice but to do so. Temperatures in this mountain valley will soon drop to minus 10 or 15 degrees Celsius; it will snow, many of our houses are damaged and we have lost bedding and warm clothes. We have to act now to survive,” said Zewar Khan, 40, in his village near the town of Kalam, in the north of Swat, one of the worst-hit areas.

Along with dozens of other men from his area, Zewar Khan has helped build a 50km road leading up to Kalam, allowing access to other towns in the region – essential for the transportation of food, medicines and other goods in winter. “The road is rough in places, but it is passable,” Zewar told IRIN. Fifty bridges were destroyed in the area, and have now been rebuilt – at least in rudimentary form – by men working with picks, shovels and their bare hands.

“The army engineers working in the area gave us some help, but they had a lot else to do. We realized it was up to us,” said Khan. “These people have done great work,” noted volunteer engineer Muhamad Zubair, 40, who offered his technical skills when he could travel to the area from his home in Mingora, the principal city of Swat.

Women are a central part of the recovery effort, knitting sweaters, working together in villages to stitch and fill quilts with cotton wool and to make warm clothing for children. “We lost all this when the floods swept into the homes. We need them now, especially for the children, and it is good to play a role to rebuild lives,” said Jamila Bibi, 30….

An aerial view from a U.S. Army CH-47D helicopter as it passes over towns in Swat Valley. Shot from ISAF Headquarters public affairs office, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Tiny islands face change

Michael Green in the Sydney Morning Herald: …Tuvalu is the world's second-least populous nation, after Vatican City. Its 12,000 residents live on several reefs and atolls halfway between Australia and Hawaii. Nearly all the land is less than three metres above the sea. The director of the tiny nation's Environment Department, Matio Tekinene, says his people are already suffering the ill effects of climate change.

Rising sea levels and more frequent king tides are causing coastal erosion and salinating the groundwater, making it hard to grow the traditional subsistence root crop, pulaka. The freshwater supply is now restricted to rainfall, which arrives in unfamiliar patterns at unfamiliar times. Coral bleaching is reducing fish stocks close to shore.

Tuvalu - rising sea leaves and frequent king tides are causing coastal erosion and salinating the groundwater, making it hard to grow crops. Photo: Rodney Dekker ''Food security related to climate change is a very important issue for us,'' Tekinene says. ''Tuvaluan people, we live very much on our limited crops and marine resources. Nowadays there is a great change because we have difficulty to grow these natural foods.''

…For the past five years Lusama has chaired the Tuvalu Climate Action Network. The group co-ordinates the various non-government organisations that run climate programs in the country and sends delegates to international forums to advocate strong action to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

''We've been raising our voices to be heard by the industrialised countries and the international community and still we are being ignored,'' he says. ''Land is equivalent to life in our culture. If your land has been gradually eroded by the sea, you are looking at your life being eaten away. Put simply, why should I die for the sake of luxury for others? That is injustice.".…

Nui Atoll, Tuvalu, via NASA satellite

Southeast Queensland drought likely caused by climate variability rather than climate change

FavStocks via Green Car Congress: The recent South-East Queensland (SEQ) drought was likely caused by shifts associated with climate variability over decades rather than climate change, according to the findings of a team of CSIRO researchers led by Dr Wenju Cai. The research team aimed to determine whether the SEQ’s recent rainfall reductions were partly due to climate change and, if so, whether dry conditions will occur there more often in the future.

…The science team assessed the role of climate change by using the same 24 models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Their results show that the recent drought in SEQ is not consistent with climate change projected by the models. Funded by the SEQ Urban Water Security Research Alliance, the study’s findings were published recently in the American Meteorological Society’s Journal of Climate.

[The team said:] “We found that, unlike in South-West Western Australia, climate change plays little part in the SEQ rainfall reduction, but cannot be ruled out. At this stage, renewal of a rain-generating process with La Niña bringing higher rainfall to SEQ might be expected to last for 10 to 20 years. Ongoing research is examining whether increased temperatures linked to climate change in the future will alter the frequency, intensity, and duration of drought. We are also investigating if the rising temperature due to climate change has played a part in the unprecedented low water storage level of the recent drought and how climate change will impact on climate variability….

The Somerset Dam wall in Southeast Queensland, Australia, shot by Ezykron, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Satellites reveal rising seas

PlanetSave via Inside Science: New measurements from a pair of satellites nicknamed Tom and Jerry have provided a first time look into the planet’s average ocean level increase. Measuring gravity everywhere around the globe, Tom and Jerry have provided researchers with data showing that the annual world average sea level rise is about 1 millimetre.

Naturally, this is not a general 1 millimetre spread across the entire planet. In some areas such as the Pacific Ocean near the equator and the waters offshore from India and north of the Amazon river, the increase in sea level is larger; whereas in some areas such as off the east coast of the United States the sea levels have actually dropped.

Scientists, in an effort to get an accurate measurement of sea levels across the planet, have started measuring the gravity in any one place, determining how much mass lies in that region and whether it is the result of mountains, glaciers, mineral deposits or oceans. When the gravity changes, that refers to a loss of or increase in mass, which in the case of the oceans correlates to a rise or drop in ocean level.

…“GRACE is definitely the ‘real deal’ when it comes from measuring climate change from space,” said Joshua Willis, an ocean expert at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “This work by Dr. Riva and company reminds us that the world’s oceans don’t behave like a giant bathtub. As the ice melts and the water finds its way back to the ocean, the resulting sea level rise won’t be the same all over the world.”…

Artist's concept of Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment

Millions of Africans at risk from sea level rise

AllAfrica.com via United Nations Settlements Program (Kenya): More than 25 per cent of Africa's population of about one billion people lives within 100 km from the coast. With climate change, many will be at risk from sea level rise and coastal flooding over the coming decades. According to the new UN-HABITAT report, State of African Cities 2010, Africa will suffer disproportionately from the negative effects of climate change despite contributing less than 5 per cent of global green house emissions.

"Already confronted by innumerable problems related to economic development and urbanisation, African countries have to now address the negative effects of climate change despite being minimal contributors to green house emissions. The slums of African cities are already witnessing increased numbers of environmental refugees," said Joan Clos, Executive Director of UN-HABITAT. "Whatever the reasons, this is the time to act. African cities can adopt measures to reduce vulnerability and mitigation measures should be put in place. With strategic urban
planning that improves slums and rationalizes urban mobility and energy consumption, cities can be part of the solution."

Already beaches and dune ridges along some African coasts show evidence of retreat, varying from between a loss of about 1 to 2 metres annually in Senegal to between 20 and 30 metres along the Gulf of Guinea. The Dakar coast, for instance, with 50,000 individuals per square km, is one of the most densely populated in Western Africa, and a storm surge disaster could easily affect 75,000 residents.

While climate variability is not a new factor in Africa's history, the report points out that the incidence and severity of extreme weather events, including floods and droughts, has increased sharply in recent years and projections indicate that this trend may intensify, further increasing vulnerability. Burkina Faso, for instance, experienced the heaviest rains in 90 years in 2009, leaving 150,000 people homeless. Other parts of Africa recently suffered prolonged droughts and subsequent hunger, leading to rural-urban ecomigration, adding even more people to the urban populations at risk….

Cancun's vanishing mangroves hold climate promise

Patrick Rucker in Reuters, in Cancun: This famous beach resort, which will next week host international climate change talks, was itself born from the destruction of a potent resource to fight global warming. Thick mangrove forests lined the canals and waterways here before developers dredged the land to make way for the upscale hotels that now draw several million tourists every year.

In the 40 years since Cancun was founded, countless acres of mangrove forests up and down Mexico's Caribbean Coast have been lost -- and the destruction continues. Now many scientists say that mangrove forests can help slow climate change, and are desperate to save them.

"We still have a lot to learn but the potential is huge for mangroves," said Gail Chmura, a climate change researcher at McGill University in Montreal who studies how much carbon is stored in these knobby, tidal forests.

As they process sunlight into food, mangroves suck an uncommon amount of industrial carbon out of the atmosphere and bury it deep within their underground network of roots. As nations looks desperately for "carbon sinks" that can capture and store carbon linked to climate change, mangroves are increasingly seen as a resource worth saving….

A mangrove stand in Chacahua, Mexico, photo by Bernardo Bolaños, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Review of national climate change strategies

Jocelyn Newmarch in Business Day (South Africa): Countries need to put comprehensive and specific national strategies in place to tackle climate change, according to the first combined international audit on the subject. SA is one of the 14 countries taking part in an audit on efforts to address climate change.

According to the report, released yesterday, targets, objectives and actions on climate change were not always specified at regional or sectoral levels, which made it difficult to drive action and monitor progress. Climate change objectives also sometimes conflicted with other programmes.

…The report was released in Sandton yesterday at the 20th congress of the International Organisation for Supreme Audit Institutions . The body comprises 188 member states, making it the second-largest world organisation after the United Nations (UN) .

…Climate change risk assessment and planning for adaptation was still at an early stage, according to the report. However , carbon trading had failed to drive down country emissions, as the market price for carbon was not high enough….

New York report predicts rising sea level

A disclosure alert – Carbon Based participated in an earlier stage of this project… from the Chronicle (New York): A new state environmental report predicts sea levels could rise more than four feet in some coastal areas of New York state over the next 70 years with dramatic implications for New York City, Long Island and the lower Hudson Valley. The draft report from the Sea Level Rise Task Force notes New York Harbor’s waters have risen 15 inches in 150 years. Harbor gauges show they rose four to six inches since 1960.

Sea level rise affecting the Lower Hudson Valley and Long Island is projected to be 2 to 5 inches by the 2020s and 12 to 23 inches by the end of this century, according to the report. Regular or profound flooding could threaten rail movement throughout the Hudson Valley, including plans for high-speed rail development, the report says. The sea level rise will also push the Hudson River salt front upriver, threatening water supplies of several Hudson Valley communities and businesses.

The Rising Waters project brought together private and public stakeholders in transportation, health care, utilities, emergency preparedness, planning and environmental advocacy. Several stakeholders are now developing a climate change speakers bureau in the Hudson Valley to promote a sustainable shoreline initiative and restore marshes. Rising Waters was spearheaded by The Nature Conservancy’s eastern New York chapter and partners such as the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Hudson River Estuary Program and National Estuarine Research Reserve, Cornell University, the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, and Sustainable Hudson Valley….

Albert Bierstadt's 1886 painting, "Autumn Woods"

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Sea level rise may affect atomic plants in Tamil Nadu

IANS: The Kalpakkam atomic power station near Chennai in Tamil Nadu may have escaped the fury of the deadly tsunami six years ago, but it need not be second time lucky. A new study says the Madras Atomic Power Station - as it is formally called - and another station under construction in Kudankulam are at risk of being affected by the anticipated one-metre sea level rise (SLR) as early as 2050 due to climate change.

'A one-metre rise in average sea level will permanently inundate about 1,091 sq km along the Tamil Nadu coast, but the total area at risk will be nearly six times as much,' says the study released in Chennai. 'These nuclear power stations and their associated infrastructure are located just beyond the zone estimated to be directly at risk from storm surges from a 1-metre SLR,' says Sujatha Byravan, senior researcher at the Centre for Development Finance (CDF) in Chennai and principal author of the study.

The Madras Atomic Power Station 1&2 reactors are at elevations of 5-10 metres above current mean sea level, while the Kudankulam nuclear power plant is even higher. 'Nevertheless, both are very close to the shoreline and are of concern because of the risk associated with coastal erosion,' the study says.

The report was co-authored with Rajesh Rangarajan of CDF and Sudhir Chella Rajan, humanities and social sciences professor at the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras. The authors admit that the exact rise in sea level resulting from climate change is highly debatable and that their estimate of one-metre SLR by 2050 is 'conservative'….

Aerial view of Rama's Bridge (or Adam's Bridge) on the coast of Tamil Nadu, shot by Bodhitha

Half million Syrians flee drought

Tafline Laylin in Green Prophet: Nearly half a million people have abandoned an area in Eastern Syria near the Euphrates River that has shriveled under a five year drought. Fierce temperatures and dwindling rainfall, as well as corruption and mismanagement of existing water resources, has led to what Trade Arabia calls the largest internal migration of people since Britain and France “carved the country out of the Ottoman empire in 1920.”

Those that stayed behind must scrape life out of ruined croplands and filthy water – since most of the choice supplies have been diverted to well-connected farm owners. Others irrigate crops with water usurped from illegal wells, but that’s not enough to provide for everyone. Thousands of people are receiving aid from the World Food Program, while others have been relegated to slums.

In the 1980′s, the region that used to belong to the ancient Inezi tribe received 189mm rainfall annually. During the nineties that fell to 163mm and has plummeted to 152mm in the last decade. Meanwhile, thispast summer, Syria experienced 46 consecutive days of temperatures higher than 40 degrees Celsius, according to Trade Arabia. Only 15% of livestock remain, and locals are unable to till their own land for food.

“Environment Minister Kawkab al-Dayeh told a water conference in Damascus last month pollution had played a role in the deterioration of 59 percent of total agricultural land, with raw sewage being widely used for irrigation,” AT reports….

Hauran near Izra', Syria, shot by Bertramz, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Indonesia's billion-dollar forest deal in danger

Terra Daily via AFP: Greenpeace on Tuesday warned that a billion-dollar deal between Norway and Indonesia to cut carbon emissions from deforestation is in danger of being hijacked by timber and oil palm companies. The environmental group said "notorious industrial rainforest destroyers" such as palm oil and pulp producers intended to manipulate the funds to subsidise further conversion of natural forests to plantations.

The allegations came in a new Greenpeace report called "REDD Alert: Protection Money", expressing doubts about Indonesia's plans to use a UN-backed scheme to reduce carbon emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD). It said Indonesia's greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction proposals "may create perverse incentives to clear forests and peatlands, create opportunities for corruption... and actually drive an increase in GHG emissions".

Under a REDD scheme announced in May, Norway has agreed to contribute up to a billion dollars to help preserve Indonesia's forests, partly through a two-year moratorium on new clearing of natural forests and peatlands from 2011. Indonesia is the world's third biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, due mainly to rampant deforestation by the palm oil and paper industries, fuelled by corruption.

"Expansion plans show that these sectors intend to utilise the Indonesian government's ambiguous definitions of forests and degraded land to hijack the funds and use them to subsidise ongoing conversion of natural forests to plantations," the group said in a statement….

From the Tropenmuseum collection via Wikimedia Commons, ruins in the forest near the Goenoeng Manik rubber- and tea plantation at Lampegan, sometime between 1900 and 1938

New wave of planning for coastal zones

PhysOrg describes an event that had interesting material on Venice as well as San Diego: Among the traits they share in common -- proximity to the coast, popularity among tourists, renowned, painterly light -- Venice, Italy, and San Diego also share one all-too-disturbing similarity: They are both in considerable danger if climate change leads to a predicted rise in sea levels.

At the most recent installment of an ongoing series of Greenovation Forums at the University of California, San Diego, a panel of experts warned of the potential threats to both cities and discussed ongoing methods for mitigating and adapting to risks posed by climate change and rising ocean levels.

Titled "Rising Seas: Adaptation Strategies for Coastal Bays and Lagoons," the forum was held last week at the UC San Diego division of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2) and featured speakers Christina Nasci, a research associate with both the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) at UCSD and a marine biologist with the Environment and Territory Division at the Venice-based Thetis S.P.A.; Sam Iacobellis, a research specialist and senior lecturer at SIO; and Michelle White, manager of the Green Port Program for the Port of San Diego.

Nasci's presentation to a standing-room-only audience painted a disconcerting yet hopeful portrait of an ancient city under siege by its surrounding waters. She said that over time, changes in sea levels, land subsidence, erosion and wave motion have caused more frequent and intense floodwaters in Venice, resulting in near-daily flooding in the lowest-lying zones of the city during the autumn and winter months.

… the pace of adaptive measures has been stepped up, most recently with the creation of a major intervention plan by the Venice Water Authority that called for the restoration of wetlands using dredged sediments, as well as the construction of a Mose system of mobile flood barriers that can be activated for tides higher than 110 cm (and up to 2 meters). Nasci said that since the plan was established in 1992, 11 square kilometers of wetlands have been restored, and work on the Mose barriers (a system of submerged gates installed in the seabed along ocean inlets) will be complete in 2014….

A view from the San Marco tower, shot by Alex1011, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic

Taking disaster out of Ethiopian drought

IRIN: New automated weather stations could boost Ethiopia’s fledgling agricultural insurance schemes, expanding the use of payouts triggered by abnormally low rainfall and reducing costly visual verification of yield losses. Some 85 percent of Ethiopians farm for a living, mostly on very small plots. They have few options to mitigate the increasing crop failure brought about by climate change. With credit hard to come by, farmers may have to sell essential assets or dip into meagre savings to survive a poor harvest and pay for the next planting season.

Such a poverty trap, exacerbated when severe drought affects entire regions, undermining traditional risk management strategies, tends to rule out investment in improved seeds or other costly yield-enhancing inputs. Sometimes it prevents a farmer buying any new seeds at all.

Two insurance schemes have been set up recently in Ethiopia in an effort to break this vicious cycle – and to make a profit. For now, they only have a few thousand policy-holders between them – fewer than 1 percent of all farmers in Ethiopia, and well short of the critical mass required to ensure long-term viability.

The new weather stations could improve their chances. The National Meteorological Agency has just set up 20 (10 in the Somali Region, five in Eastern Oromia and five in Afar) - and another 30 are due to be installed by the end of 2010. The devices send real-time data to Addis Ababa via mobile phone and feed into the country’s national drought index.

"The stations will allow us to identify climate risks at an early stage and better protect vulnerable, food-insecure people in rural areas through innovative projects such as the weather risk insurance," said Felix Gomez, Ethiopia acting country director for the World Food Programme, which installed the stations….

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Earth's lakes are warming

NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory: In the first comprehensive global survey of temperature trends in major lakes, NASA researchers determined Earth's largest lakes have warmed during the past 25 years in response to climate change. Researchers Philipp Schneider and Simon Hook of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., used satellite data to measure the surface temperatures of 167 large lakes worldwide.

They reported an average warming rate of 0.45 degrees Celsius (0.81 degrees Fahrenheit) per decade, with some lakes warming as much as 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) per decade. The warming trend was global, and the greatest increases were in the mid- to high-latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere.

"Our analysis provides a new, independent data source for assessing the impact of climate change over land around the world," said Schneider, lead author of the study published this week in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. "The results have implications for lake ecosystems, which can be adversely affected by even small water temperature changes."

Small changes in water temperature can result in algal blooms that can make a lake toxic to fish or result in the introduction of non-native species that change the lake's natural ecosystem. Scientists have long used air temperature measurements taken near Earth's surface to compute warming trends. More recently, scientists have supplemented these measurements with thermal infrared satellite data that can be used to provide a comprehensive, accurate view of how surface temperatures are changing worldwide.

The NASA researchers used thermal infrared imagery from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and European Space Agency satellites. They focused on summer temperatures (July to September in the Northern Hemisphere and January to March in the Southern Hemisphere) because of the difficulty in collecting data in seasons when lakes are ice-covered and/or often hidden by clouds. Only nighttime data were used in the study….

Lake Baikal taken at Bolshoi Koty 7/06 by InvictaHOG, released into public domain

Africa to take a "quantum leap" in forecasting

IRIN: Africa has struggled to make accurate and detailed predictions of the impact of climate change on its countries, but the Coordinated Regional Climate Downscaling Experiment (CORDEX) which began earlier in 2010, will see the continent take a "quantum leap" in climate change projection, says Bruce Hewitson, the project’s Africa coordinator.

CORDEX, an initiative by the World Climate Research Programme, will help downscale the global climate model climate change projections being prepared for the next assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) so as to predict, for instance, what impact higher global temperatures might have on Lagos, Nigeria, until the end of this century.

This detailed information will feed into the IPCC's fifth assessment report, expected to be published in 2013 or 2014. "The priority area for CORDEX is Africa, as it is historically under-researched," said Hewitson, who is also the co-lead author of the chapter on regional contexts in the report by IPCC Working Group II, which will look at impact, adaptation and vulnerability.

Projecting the impact of climate change requires studying changes in the long-term averages of daily weather patterns and many other factors, and can be a tricky business. To make forecasting the possible effects of climate change as comprehensive as possible, and also make the connection between current events and future consequences clearer, scientists and academics have been expanding the list of variables to include sea level rise and even food price increases and malnutrition statistics.

…Fourteen climate modelling groups have already begun work, taking into account climate data from as far back as 1950 and looking beyond into 2100. Because of a lack of capacity in Africa, only two groups - one at UCT, led by Hewitson, and the other being the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in Pretoria, South Africa - are based on the continent….

A 1689 map of Africa