Saturday, December 31, 2011

Climate change endangers millions in South Asia

Zafar Iqbal the Eurasia Review: Millions of people in South Asia are vulnerable to climate change because of depleting glaciers, increasing coastal erosion, frequent floods and other natural disasters associated with global warming, warn environmentalists and development agencies.

“We are extremely vulnerable to climate change threats.” Says Dr. Durga Poudel, Head of Department of Renewable Resources, University of Louisiana at Lafayette. He has extensively studied climatic patterns of South Asia.

“Our coping mechanism/resources are very limited and are dwindling, the level of public awareness is very low, and the national, regional, and local adaptation strategies and programs are insufficient and lack scientific rigors.”

Climate Change Vulnerability Index (CCVI) 2011, issued by risks advisory firm Maplecroft ranks Bangladesh, Pakistan and India, Afghanistan and Nepal amongst highest risk category of 16 countries that face ‘extreme risk,’ because of the climate-related natural disasters and sea-level rise; population patterns, agricultural dependency and conflicts and other factors.

‘Over the next 30 years their vulnerability to climate change willrise due to increases in air temperature, precipitation and humidity, report added.
Shrinking and retreating of the Himalayan glaciers is greatest environmental threat to the region. Himalayan glaciers are lifeline of Asia’s mightiest rivers — the Indus, the Ganges, the Brahmaputra, Yangtze, and Mekong, upon which 1.3 billion people depend Several fresh environmental studies and findings indicate that Himalayan Mountains, encompassing Bhutan, Tibet, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, are receding alarmingly. As a result, livelihoods of millions of inhabitants of these countries living around the rivers which depend upon glacial waters are at stake. Emission of green house gases from China is the chief hazard to Himalayas. China is world’s single biggest emitter of carbon dioxide- the main greenhouse gas. Since 1961 sharp increase in the temperature has been reported in Himalayan glaciers adjoining to China. Chinese’s coal industry is blamed for this alarming surge. These deadly emissions cause irrecoverable loss to snow covered Himalayan peaks and responsible for death of 750,000 people every year in the country....

In southern China, just north of the border with Nepal, one unnamed Himalayan glacier flows from southwest to northeast, creeping down a valley to terminate in a glacial lake. On December 25, 2009, the Advanced Land Imager (ALI) on NASA’s Earth Observing-1 (EO-1) satellite captured this natural-color image of the glacier.

California flood plan calls for up to $17 billion in repairs

Gosia Wozniacka in the Associated Press: California water officials recommended a historic investment in the state's aging flood control system Friday, saying more than half of the state's levees do not meet standards and the system needs up to $17 billion in repairs and investment.

The Department of Water Resources' release of the first statewide flood plan follows a call by Gov. Jerry Brown to refocus state efforts on preparing for the effects of a warming climate as floods from a faster-melting snowpack already place increased strain on the state's aging levees.
Officials and experts say the state's flood control system — a piece-meal collection of 14,000 levees and other infrastructure built along the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers by farmers and local governments over the last 150 years — is no longer adequate.

Once a mostly agricultural region that was lightly populated, the Central Valley where the rivers meet has experienced rapid development and population growth. "The system is based on antiquated technologies, so you have to upgrade it and keep in mind changing societal demands," said Jeffrey Mount, professor and founding director of Center for Watershed Sciences at UC Davis.

Central Valley's flood risk ranks among the nation's highest. About 1 million Californians now live in floodplains and levees protect an estimated $69 billion in assets, including the state's water supply, major freeways, agricultural land and the valley's remaining wetland and riparian habitat, said Mike Mierzwa, senior engineer in the Central Valley Flood Protection Office.

The Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta is a freshwater source for two-thirds of California's population and irrigates millions of acres of farmland throughout the state. While officials have long known the flood control system was in disrepair, it's the first time they have studied it as a whole, come up with long-term solutions and a priority for investments....

The Suisun Marsh Salinity Control Gates (foreground) span the Montezuma Slough at the Roaring River intake (background). They operate like a heart valve, allowing flow in only one direction. In this picture, the three gates are open to allow the freshwater ebb tide from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to push the more saline Grizzly Bay water out of the slough. US Army Corps of Engineers photo

Mystery of incident that inspired 'The Birds' solved?

Dan Vergano in USA Today: Whodunit? A final mystery surrounding the work of film legend Alfred Hitchcock— what triggered the crazed bird flocks that helped inspire his 1963 thriller The Birds— appears solved by scientists.

Dying and disoriented seabirds rammed themselves into homes across California's Monterey Bay in the summer of 1961, sparking a long-standing mystery about the cause among marine biologists. The avian incidents sparked local visitor Hitchcock's interest, along with a story about spooky bird behavior by British writer Daphne du Maurier.

"I am pretty convinced that the birds were poisoned," says ocean environmentalist Sibel Bargu of Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. She led a team finding that naturally occurring toxins appear to have been the culprit.

Call it the Case of the Poisoned Plankton. Looking at the stomach contents of turtles and seabirds gathered in 1961 Monterey Bay ship surveys, Bargu and colleagues have now found toxin-making algae were present in 79% of the plankton that the creatures ate. In particular, the team finds in the current Nature Geoscience journal that the leading toxin inside the plankton was a nerve-damaging acid, which causes confusion, seizures and death in birds...

Building resilience and adaptation in the Philippines

J.R. Nereus Acosta in the Philippine Inquirer: ...When climate change-driven or exacerbated disasters like Ondoy, Peping, Reming, Pedring or Sendong strike, their impact is far-reaching, protracted and nonlinear. A river swelling its banks and sweeping everything in its torrential path is not only a calamitous occurrence that affects communities in its basin or littoral areas.
Deforested swaths in once lush rainforests cause not just landslides or massive erosion in surrounding farmlands and villages.

When the Furies of Nature batter homes and livelihoods and leave multitudes reeling in despair, everything we know to be stable or predictable, the quotidian rhythms of life, is displaced or grinds to a halt. In the aftermath of the catastrophic Sendong that pummeled Cagayan de Oro and Iligan, 50,000 people were rendered homeless, more than a thousand perished and hundreds more reported missing. But the far greater tragedy is the trauma and loss for people and families, a nonphysical dislocation so wrenching and indefinite.

...The United Nations Institute for Environment and Human Security ranks the Philippines the third most vulnerable country to climate impact. The country has numerous geohazard zones with crowded settlements, which means risks and costs to lives and property can be extremely high and concentrated. Yet, the capacity to adapt to future risks is low, given weak infrastructure, high poverty incidence and overall lack of preparedness....

In December, 2004, logs cover the beach near destroyed homes in Real, Republic of the Philippines after damaging floods. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Joel Abshier

Friday, December 30, 2011

A tide of concern is rising over risk of storm surges in New York City

Terese Loeb Kreuzer in the Villager: A horror movie could not have been more frightening or more graphic. Hurricane-force winds. Sea levels rising 13 feet over the course of an hour. Thirty-foot storm surges destroying every manmade object in their path. Transportation systems flooded. No potable drinking water. Destroyed ecosystems. Beaches and barrier islands washed away. Two to three million people having to be evacuated.

This is what might happen if New York City were hit by a hurricane. Some of this is what has happened from time to time in the past but a future storm would probably be even worse. Climate change has already caused sea levels to rise even without the added stress and dangers of a storm.

According to David Bragdon, director of the Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability, “By midcentury, New York City’s average temperatures will rise by three to five degrees Fahrenheit, and sea levels could rise by more than two feet. By the end of the century, the city’s climate may be more similar to North Carolina than present-day New York City and sea levels could rise by as much as four-and-a-half feet.”

Much of the metropolitan area lies less than three feet above sea level and millions of people live close to New York City’s 520 miles of coastline.

On Dec. 16 in a room packed to overflowing, the grim impact of climate change on New York City was depicted by expert after expert at a City Council hearing convened by James F. Gennaro, chairperson of the Committee on Environmental Protection, and Michael Nelson, chairperson of the Committee on Waterfronts. State Senator Tom Duane and Assemblymember Richard Gottfried testified that their districts are particularly vulnerable. Duane’s district includes the Hudson River waterfront from Vestry St. to W. 70th St. and the East River waterfront between E. 14th and E. 30th Sts. Gottfried’s district runs along the Hudson River waterfront from W. 14th St. to 59th St.

“Significant portions of our districts lie just above sea level and are therefore at risk from rising sea levels and storm surges,” they said. “The high density of human population, infrastructure and enormous monetary and cultural value of existing buildings make adaptation to or mitigation of flooding impossible.”...

A woman reading in the Battery Park. New York City 2005, on a bench that is higher than many areas of the coast in Manhattan and Brooklyn, shot by Jorge Royan, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Quebec on the verge of catastrophic climate change, experts say

William Marsden in the Montreal Gazette: Record floods, melting permafrost, shoreline erosion and intense winds caused havoc for thousands of Quebecers as 2011 proved to be yet another year of higher than normal temperatures. These higher temperatures add to the credibility of climate models that have predicted the march of global warming will accelerate the more greenhouse gases we pump into the atmosphere, scientists say.

“It is striking that over the last 10 to 15 years we didn’t have a single season colder than normal,” said Alain Bourque, director of climate change impacts and adaptation at Quebec’s climate change research institute Ouranos. “That is a clear indication that Canada’s climate is heating up beyond any reasonable doubt.”

While most Quebecers may cheer the warmer winters, Bourque warns it is already endangering coastlines, the northern communities that are built on permafrost and our forests, which probably will not be able to adapt fast enough to a warmer climate.

He said warmer temperatures for pretty well all seasons indicate Quebec is well on its way to meeting the climate-model predictions that we are fast closing in on the 2C mark many scientists claim is the tipping point that will plunge the globe into catastrophic climate change.

The models indicate mean temperatures in the southern half of Quebec will be 2C to 3C higher than normal by 2020. In northern Quebec, the warming will be even higher. And at the present rate of warming as tracked since 1948, we are on track to be well over 4C by 2050 and as high as 7C to 9C by 2080....

Rivière aux brochets in the regional county municipality of Brome-Missisquoi, Montérégie, Québec. During the summer 2006 floods. Shot by Antaya, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Cyclone Thane lashes India's south coast

Reuters via AlertNet: Lashing rains and gale force winds bore down on India's southeastern coast on Friday, disrupting power supplies and communication lines as Cyclone Thane landfall near the industrial city of Chennai, officials and witnesses said.

Packing wind speeds of up to 125 kmph (77 mph) and accompanied by tidal surges of up to 1.5 meters (5 feet), Thane hit Tamil Nadu state, close to the former French colonial town of Pondicherry on Friday morning, as coastal villagers moved to relief shelters.

"Under the influence of this system, rainfall at most places with heavy to very heavy falls at a few places and isolated extremely heavy falls would occur," said the Indian Meteorological Department in its latest bulletin.

"Gale winds speed reaching 120-130 kmph gusting to 145 kmph is likely along and off north Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry coasts during next 3 hours and then decrease gradually." Witnesses in Chennai and Pondicherry said trees had been toppled and there had been power outages throughout the night and disruptions in phone and Internet services in some areas. There have been no reports of casualties....

Cyclone Thane on December 29, 2011, from NASA

Fire destroys 1,500 hectares of Patagonia forest

Terra Daily via AFP: A fire has destroyed or seriously damaged 1,500 hectares (3,700 acres) of vegetation in a Patagonia nature preserve in southern Chile, forcing the evacuation of 400 people, officials said Thursday.

"We are facing an extremely dangerous and complex fire as we have experienced very hostile climate conditions so far and forecasts say it will stay that way" on Friday, Interior Minister Rodrigo Hinzpeter said.

"The topography is hindering the efforts of rescue workers to reach the area and fight the fire, while the vegetation remains highly combustible."

He said the conditions made it "impossible" to estimate how long it would take to control the blaze....

Looking Towards Torres Del Paine, Chile - Photographers Comment: "The blue colour-cast is real. It's just the colour of the light down there." Shot by Winky, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr (which considers this one of its finest images, and rightly so), under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

The 2011 drought in East Africa

IRIN: Severe drought, exacerbated by poverty and conflict, hit at least four countries in 2011 - Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia - displacing hundreds of thousands of people. Thousands in Somalia and Ethiopia began the year by making the dangerous journey to Yemen. Others from these two countries headed for South Africa where they faced arrest, deportation and detention.

Among other innovations, the humanitarian response in drought-affected countries across the Horn saw an escalation in the use of cash transfers. As the magnitude of the drought crisis gained international attention, familiar laments emerged about the failure to heed warnings issued months earlier and learn from previous famines by building resilience to inevitable weather shocks.

...The drought was especially hard in Somalia, with the UN declaring a famine in some regions of south-central Somalia. Drought and insecurity forced hundreds of thousands to flee to neighbouring Kenya, swelling the number of people in the congested Dadaab refugee complex, which for many residents, has been “home” for most of their lives.

Meanwhile, relief efforts inside Somalia were thrown into jeopardy by the banning of several agencies by the Al-Shabab insurgency as well as by frequent looting at distribution centres and also Kenya’s military intervention, aimed at neutralizing the insurgents. US anti-terror legislation has also placed hurdles in the way of aid agencies...

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Melting glaciers mean double trouble for water supplies

Rick Lovett in National Geographic Daily News: Mountain glaciers long have been known to be in retreat as the planet warms. But the process is occurring even more rapidly than previously believed, scientists said earlier this month in San Francisco at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union.

For example, said Garry Clarke, professor emeritus of glaciology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, the massive glaciers of Canada's Saint Elias region, now comprised of nearly 98 cubic miles of ice (453 cubic kilometers), are likely to be cut in half by 2100, even under middle-of-the-road climate-change scenarios. "[And] that's the good news," Clarke said.

In parts of the Canadian Rockies, he said, today's glaciers will all but disappear completely, while others will shrink to remnants just 5 to 20 percent of their current size. "We think that we will be witness over the next century mainly to the disappearance of the glaciers of western North America," he said.

Other disturbing finds are coming from the Himalayas, where Ulyana Horodyskyj, a graduate student at the University of Colorado's Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, has been monitoring supraglacial lakes—ponds of water that appear on the surface of melting glaciers.

"Most people think about glaciers receding," she said, "but they also shrink vertically. These lakes can lead to enhanced melting, and we see a lot of them forming throughout the Himalayas ... You can think of these lakes as cancers that are consuming the glacier."....

National Park Service photo of Hidden Lake in Glacier National Park in Montana

Criteria missing from climate investments: stakeholders

A rather sour view of the subject from Mike De Souza in the Montreal Gazette: A research project offering support and advice for climate change adaptation in South Africa is among dozens of initiatives sharing $1.2 billion in loans and grants sent overseas over three years from the Canadian government as it tries to distance itself from "hot air" and the Kyoto Protocol.

But observers note there is still a long way to go before an emerging global green climate fund establishes its own guidelines and criteria to ensure accountability and results from the massive investments.

The International Development Research Centre, an arm's-length Canadian Crown corporation that is distributing millions of dollars of the climate funding, said that research is the first step toward identifying credible projects and ensuring federal dollars are spent well.

"This is really kind of a critical priority because in my view, there's a whole lot of noise around (adaptation issues), but not that many effective projects," said Mark Redwood, a program leader on climate change and water at IDRC.

The corporation chose seven research projects in Africa, working with local stakeholders that deliver development projects on the ground to find the most effective investment options.

"One thing that they observed and which I also noted is that there are many, many adaptation projects that would not pass basic criteria for a development bank or a private investor," said Redwood, who specializes in urban and environmental planning. "The benefits are difficult to identify, sometimes with climate change adaptation. The field is still sorting itself out a little bit, so basically there's a disconnect . . . between those projects and the number of projects that a development bank could fund."...

Sometimes I am stumped for an illustrative photo, and I do something like this detail from an Art Deco elevator door in the lobby of the Hotel Allegro in Chicago, shot by John Hritz, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Citizen scientists' climate-impact forest survey wraps up

Priya Shetty in Nature News: One of the biggest citizen-science projects ever conducted concludes this month after five years of data collection. The wealth of information gathered will help researchers to understand how climate change is affecting forests.

The effort has been coordinated by Earthwatch, an environmental group and a member of the HSBC Climate Partnership, which supports a range of environmental projects funded by the international bank. Earthwatch aimed to improve the way that temperate and tropical forests are monitored in countries such as Brazil, China and India, in order to better understand the way that forests capture and release carbon, one of the least understood aspects of the global carbon cycle. Earthwatch has recruited more than 2,200 volunteers (all HSBC employees) to measure tree growth, study the decomposition of leaf litter on the forest floor and analyse soil samples to estimate how much carbon is captured.

"Forests play a huge role in regulating climates at global scale and provide livelihoods for many millions of people, so understanding how they are going to change and adapt to changing conditions is one of the most pressing environmental questions of our time,” says Robert Ewers, a forest biodiversity researcher at Imperial College London who is not involved in the Earthwatch project. "Every forest is different, so well-managed and quality-controlled citizen science such as Earthwatch’s programme represents a powerful way of gaining the large volumes of data that are needed to gain insight into the global patterns of forest change."...

A view of the Amazon rainforest, shot by Beyond The Ultimate Llc Race Director Wes Crutcher, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license

Drought feared in Pakistan

The Pakistan Observer: The prolonged dry spell has created a drought like situation in the country affecting the crops especially wheat crop, Chief Meteorologist, Ghulam Rasul said on Wednesday. Talking to APP, he said the variability in weather pattern has increased due to rapid climate change which is seriously impacting the crops and human lives.

Dr. Rasul said, “it is for the first time that the country is experiencing such cold weather conditions and the long spell of below freezing temperatures in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is a unique phenomenon.” The dry weather is also causing dust allergy and other viral diseases affecting the health of residents seriously. According to weather report, a shallow westerly wave is affecting northern parts of the country and likely to persist there for next 24-36 hours.

In Punjab, federal capital and Balochistan, very cold and dry weather is expected during next 24 hours. Misty conditions are likely to remain in plain areas of the Punjab including Gunjranwala, Lahore, Faisalabad, Sargodha, Sahiwal, Multan, Bahawalpur divisions and Sukkur division in Sindh from mid-night to morning...

A Mozambique province prepares for floods Mozambique's relief agency, the National Disasters Management Institute (INGC) has reactivated all 84 Local Disaster Risk Management Committees in the central province of Sofala because of the possibility of serious flooding in the province, reports Wednesday's issue of the Maputo daily "Noticias".

The weather forecast for central Mozambique is for normal to above normal rainfall in the second half of the rainy season (January to March). The INGC delegate in Sofala, Luis Pacheco, warned that this could mean floods on the four major rivers that flow through Sofala - the Zambezi, the Pungoe, the Buzi and the Save.

He said that people living in the river valleys, and in the provincial capital, Beira, will be on flood alert and that over six million meticais (about 221,000 US dollars) will be spent on preventive activities. He added that Sofala has all the logistical equipment needed to face the heavy rains that are forecast.

If large scale flooding does occur, said Pacheco, the government will resort immediately to the more than 20 motor boats stationed at the INGC's Central Regional Directorate in Caia, on the south bank of the Zambezi. The boats will be used in search and rescue operations.

Beira is at risk because parts of the city are up to five metres below sea level. Currently the Beira drainage channels are being cleaned, and new Disaster Risk Management Committees have been set up in the city's suburbs....

A NASA image of a 2000 flood in Mozambique

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Punishing drought just getting started in Texas

Greg Harman in the Current (San Antonio): Natural weather cycles delivered the worst one-year drought in the historic record to Texas in 2011. Scientists examining tree rings had to go back as far as 1789 to find a worse one. It was global climate change, however, that supplied the added heat that further reduced precipitation and exacerbated an already ugly dryness into levels of record-breaking heat.

When Texas state Rep. Doug Miller suggested that State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon had said climate change was not involved, the typically cautious, Bush-appointee offered the Current his correction: "Global warming contributed to the high temperatures, especially with this drought. So it enhanced evaporation and decreased water supply and therefore made the drought more intense then it would otherwise have been." Apart from the body-blow the dry stretch gave growers and ranchers (statewide herds were reduced by an estimated 600,000), the drought wiped out as many as 500,000 trees — possibly as much as 10 percent of the forestland — according to preliminary estimates from the Texas Forest Service.

Not only will drought continue through 2012, according to Nielsen-Gammon, but the current period of "enhanced drought susceptibility" could run into the 2020s. While Gammon's October report to the Lege fails to raise any climate-change alarms beyond suggesting that "an increase of several degrees Fahrenheit by mid-century in Texas is well within the realm of possibility" others have forecast as much — and worse — for some time.

Back in early 2009, the U.S. Climate Change Science Program surveyed the range of international scientific literature to determine that the Western and Central United States is returning to an era of "megadrought" conditions capable of lasting for hundreds of years....

US Drought Monitor detail for the US south as of December 20, 2011

No time left to adapt to Peru's melting glaciers

Stephen Leahy in IPS via Tierramérica: The water supplied by the glaciers of the Cordillera Blanca, vital to a huge region of northwest Peru, is decreasing 20 years sooner than expected, according to a new study. Water flows from the region's melting glaciers have already peaked and are in decline, Michel Baraer, a glaciologist at Canada's McGill University, told Tierramérica. This is happening 20 to 30 years earlier than forecasted.

"Our study reveals that the glaciers feeding the Río Santa watershed are now too small to maintain past water flows. There will be less water, as much as 30 percent less during the dry season," said Baraer, lead author of the study "Glacier Recession and Water Resources in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca", published Dec. 22 in the Journal of Glaciology.

When glaciers begin to shrink in size, they generate "a transitory increase in runoff as they lose mass," the study notes. However, Baraer explained, the water flowing from a glacier eventually hits a plateau and from this point onwards there is a decrease in the discharge of melt water. "The decline is permanent. There is no going back."

Part of the South American Andes Mountain chain, the Cordillera Blanca is a series of snow-covered peaks running north to south, parallel to the Cordillera Negra, located further west. Between the two ranges lies the Callejón de Huaylas, through which the Río Santa runs, eventually emptying into the Pacific Ocean.

The tropical glaciers of the Andes Mountains are in rapid decline, losing 30 to 50 percent of their ice in the last 30 years, according to the French Institute for Research and Development (IRD). Most of the decline has been since 1976, IRD reported, due to rising temperatures in the region as a result of climate change. In Bolivia, the Chacaltaya glacier disappeared in 2009....
Stephen Leahy in IPS via Tierramérica: The water supplied by the glaciers of the Cordillera Blanca, vital to a huge region of northwest Peru, is decreasing 20 years sooner than expected, according to a new study. Water flows from the region's melting glaciers have already peaked and are in decline, Michel Baraer, a glaciologist at Canada's McGill University, told Tierramérica. This is happening 20 to 30 years earlier than forecasted.

"Our study reveals that the glaciers feeding the Río Santa watershed are now too small to maintain past water flows. There will be less water, as much as 30 percent less during the dry season," said Baraer, lead author of the study "Glacier Recession and Water Resources in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca", published Dec. 22 in the Journal of Glaciology.

When glaciers begin to shrink in size, they generate "a transitory increase in runoff as they lose mass," the study notes. However, Baraer explained, the water flowing from a glacier eventually hits a plateau and from this point onwards there is a decrease in the discharge of melt water. "The decline is permanent. There is no going back."

Part of the South American Andes Mountain chain, the Cordillera Blanca is a series of snow-covered peaks running north to south, parallel to the Cordillera Negra, located further west. Between the two ranges lies the Callejón de Huaylas, through which the Río Santa runs, eventually emptying into the Pacific Ocean.

The tropical glaciers of the Andes Mountains are in rapid decline, losing 30 to 50 percent of their ice in the last 30 years, according to the French Institute for Research and Development (IRD). Most of the decline has been since 1976, IRD reported, due to rising temperatures in the region as a result of climate change. In Bolivia, the Chacaltaya glacier disappeared in 2009....

Llaca glacier located in central Peru in the Cordillera Blanca (White Range). Shot by Edubucher, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Stronger but fewer cyclones for Australia says CSIRO scientist

Takver in (Australia): New research by CSIRO scientists is showing a trend for fewer tropical cyclones forming off the Western Australian coast, but those that do form may become more intense and potentially destructive. The results apply across the Australian region according to CSIRO in an interview with Dr Debbie Abbs from CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research.

Dr Debbie Abbs said there could be a 50 percent reduction in the number of storms in the second half of this century - from 2051-2090 - compared to the period from 1971-2000. The climate model developed by Dr Abbs' team also indicates a distinct shift towards more destructive storms. "Despite a decrease in the number of tropical cyclones, there is a greater risk that a tropical cyclone that forms will be more severe in future," Dr Abbs said. "Even a small increase in cyclone intensity is concerning because of the threat to life, property, industry and agriculture," said Dr Abbs in a CSIRO media release.

The research work is being done on behalf of the Indian Ocean Climate Initiative (IOCI) which is a strategic research partnership between the WA government, CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology.

...It was once thought that elevated sea surface temperatures alone would increase cyclone frequency, but this has proved not to be the case. "In the early days of climate research we thought that increase in sea surface temperatures would result in more tropical cyclones. However in the world that we live in today cyclones are due to more than just high sea surface temperatures." said Dr Debbie Abbs from CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research.

"If we get changes in either the wind shear or in the temperature and humidity characteristics of the atmosphere, then that will affect the ability of the atmosphere to form tropical cyclones, and we find that is happening, but the relative contributions are still under investigation. Some of our climate models say that it's the shear is the most important, and other climate models say it's the temperature and humidity characteristics that are the most important." said Dr Abbs....

Tropical cyclone Charlotte hitting Australia in January, 2009, via NASA

Singapore highlights climate issues

Evelyn Choo in ChannelNewsAsia: More agencies are communicating environment-related messages to the public via social media and engaging in public consultations this year. In some cases, public consultation has proven to be productive.

For instance, consumers often do not pay attention to labels on electrical appliances, which tell consumers how much energy they would use. But after a recent public consultation exercise by the National Climate Change Secretariat, a suggestion -- to pitch in terms of dollars and cents so that people will see the real savings and buy the idea -- was made.

This was among about a thousand ideas floated by participants at the exercise. It began in September to hear from different segments of society -- including households, industry players, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) -- on climate change.

Some of these ideas look set to shape the National Climate Change Strategy, to be released in the middle of next year.

...Besides the change in climate, Singapore faces another looming threat to its environment - flash floods - a result of heavier-than-average rainfall....

A sunrise in Singapore, shot by Mohd Kamal, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Two dead as heavy rains lash Brazil's Minas Gerais state

Terra Daily via AFP: At least two people were killed and 31 injured as torrential rains lashed the Brazilian southeastern state of Minas Gerais where a state of emergency was declared in 31 municipalities, authorities said Tuesday.

The state civil defense said on its website that nearly two million people were affected by the downpours, including 7,759 who had to evacuate their homes.

Some 2,000 homes were damaged and 73 completely destroyed, it added...

Locator map of the Minas Gerais by Raphael Lorenzeto de Abreu, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

World 'dangerously unprepared' for future disasters

BBC: Some countries' failure to pay into a UN disaster relief fund is leaving the world "dangerously unprepared" for future crises, Andrew Mitchell says. The international development secretary said several countries had not donated to the Central Emergency Response Fund, aimed at speeding-up relief delivery.

Britain has increased its pledge for 2012 from £40m to £60m but the fund is expected to be £45m short next year. The international community must "wake up" to the challenge, Mr Mitchell said.

The Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) was set up in the wake of the Indian Ocean tsunami on 26 December 2004. It includes a grant element based on voluntary contributions from governments and private sector organisations and individuals.

The fund was designed by the United Nations to speed up relief in crisis zones with one central fund, though many countries still choose to give bilaterally.

ActionAid spokeswoman Jane Moyo told BBC Breakfast: "The importance of this fund is that it pre-positions money where it is most needed and it is important that people - other governments - pull their weight because then we can help people who are most in need, in their time of most need."

The fund has been hit hard by a series of natural disasters this year - the tsunami in Japan; an earthquake in New Zealand; famine in the Horn of Africa; and floods in Pakistan and the Philippines....

In the village of Aynanshahadig, Oxfam is running a cash-for-work project that pays local people to work on projects that are beneficial to the community. These pastoralist men have helped build a check dam which will prevent gulley erosion. Photo by Oxfam East Africa, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Torres Strait sea wall project starts

Heather Beck in (Australia): A project to upgrade failing sea walls on low-lying Torres Strait Islands is under way despite the regional council having no guarantee that the Federal Government will provide funding. Torres Strait Island Regional Council is applying for $5 million through round two of the Federal Government's Regional Development Australia Fund to rebuild the sea walls.

On January 11, the RDAF committee will announce the three projects in each region that will proceed to full application stage, but successful projects will not be announced until mid to late May. In the meantime, the TSIRC has received a small amount of funding through the Torres Strait Regional Authority which will enable it to start preparing the designs.

TSIRC engineering manager Patrick McGuire said it was a worthwhile project. "The points have been made that one of the most at-risk places in the world for sea level rise or climate change is the Torres Strait and the Government should be looking after its own backyard," he said....

Photo taken at Sesia Cape York Queensland Australia, shot by B51Seisia, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license

A call for geohazard maps in the Philippines

Philippine Information Agency: The information provided in the geohazard maps show the level of susceptibility of an area to hazards like flooding and landslides, therefore they should be used by the local government officials, according to the Mines and Geosciences Bureau-6.

MGB Regional Director Leo Van Juguan repeated his call for all local chief executives to use the geohazard maps given to them last year, to prepare their people and prevent loss of lives.

Van Juguan reiterated the call in the aftermath of the devastation wrought by tropical storm Sendong in Iligan, and Cagayan de Oro in Mindanao and Dumaguete City in Negros Oriental. He said the information provided there should spur the mayors, governors and other stakeholders in the disaster preparedness and mitigation program of communities to take action.

“They should relocate communities most vulnerable to hazards of flooding and landslides,” Van Juguan said....

A NASA satellite's view of the Philippines

Pakistan faces $4.3 billion of environmental loss annually

Dawn (Pakistan): The annual cost of environmental degradation in Pakistan is about $4.3 billion which is 4.3 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This was disclosed in a report of Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology of the University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences (UVAS) regarding the hazards of environmental pollution.

Specific examples in this regard are air, land and water degradation, drought and desertification, water logging, forest depletion, loss of biodiversity, vehicular and industrial pollution and climate change, the report added.

Major air pollutants in industrialized countries include carbon monoxide (50 per cent of the total air pollutants), sulphur dioxide (18 per cent), Hydrocarbon (12 per cent), particular matter (Smoke, pesticide, 10 per cent) and nitrogen (6 per cent). Air pollution appears to be a contributing factor in bronchitis, obstruvtice pulmonary disease and lung cancer.

Chemical compounds that contribute to environmental pollutants include the polychlorinated biphenyl, dioxins, asbestos and heavy metals....

A night view of Islamabad by Yasir Hussain, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Experts tap knowledge on climate change trends to boost farming

Bob Koigi in Business Daily Africa: Scientists have issued an analysis of East Africa’s future climate as the first step in a new programme that will help farmers grow crops that will best thrive in the changed weather conditions 20 years from now, a new study has shown.

“Climate change will significantly alter growing conditions, but in most places the new farming environment will not be novel in the global context,” said Julian Ramirez, a scientist based at the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture in Colombia and a lead author of the study.

The report is compiled by the Consultative Group on International on International Agricultural Research programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security. Titled, Climate Analogues: Finding Tomorrow’s Agriculture Today, the report forms the platform of a global programme to exchange knowledge between communities on current agriculture practices that can help maintain productivity in the future, despite potentially dramatic shifts in growing conditions.

“The situation in the future will closely resemble conditions that already exist in other parts of the world. Making these links might offer clues about practical, proven approaches that could enable poor people dependent on agriculture to adapt their farming to changes in temperature and precipitation,” he said during the release of the report. “We will take farmers to a site that is similar to their future and help them understand what they need to do to ensure that their production stays the same,” he said....

Monday, December 26, 2011

A western Massachusetts point of view on climate change

Brian W. Conz in The extraordinary weather events that have recently affected so many of us in Western Massachusetts and across the region cannot easily be linked to climate change, we are told. However, as Ray Bradbury, a climate scientist at the University of Massachusetts stated in a Republican interview in June of this year, shortly after one of the nation’s 82 violent tornadoes hit Springfield, these kinds of serious weather events are exactly what we can expect more of in the future.

A range of other events and trends across the globe, like major droughts and catastrophic fires, news of record high temperatures (2010 tied 2005 for the hottest year on record), strongly suggest that addressing the issues of climate change and instability will be one of the greatest issues of the 21st century. Through our experiences in Western Mass. this year, we have tasted the vulnerability that is the everyday reality for so many people in other, less fortunate parts of the world.

... Quite apart from the inaction and the complete lack of political will to address the climate crisis at the highest levels of government, in Western, Mass. we are experiencing a near renaissance, of social, economic and scientific developments that are meeting our current environmental, as well as economic predicaments, head on.

Three related developments are especially worth discussing: the dramatic expansion of college programs addressing themselves to environmental themes like alternative sustainable energy; the growth in so-called green jobs; and the explosion of interest and investment in re-building our regional food system through sustainable agriculture and conscious eating....

A view of the Berkshires in western Massachusetts, shot by BenFrantzDale, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license

Quantifying risks from invasive species

Norwegian University of Science and Technology (Trondheim): ...A coalition of researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) and staff from the Norwegian Biodiversity Information Centre have created a unique quantitative method that enables researchers and others to assess the environmental risks posed by non-native species. While the method is tailored to the Norwegian environment, it can easily be adapted to other countries, and fills a vital need internationally for a quantifiable, uniform approach to classifying and assessing alien species, the developers say.

"This provides an objective classification of these species' potential impact on the Norwegian environment. We relied on much of the same principles as are used in the preparation of the 'Red List' of endangered and threatened species," says Professor Bernt-Erik Saether at NTNU's Center for Conservation Biology (CCB), who has spearheaded the development of the new methodology with the help of a coalition of other Norwegian scientists and Biodiversity Information Centre staff.

The method classifies species according to their reproductive ability, growth rate, individual densities, population densities, prevalence and their effect. This information allows the researchers to plot the risks posed by each species on two axes, one which shows the likelihood of the species' dispersal and ability to establish itself in the environment (along with its rate of establishment, if applicable) and the other shows the degree to which the alien species will affect native species and habitats.

Based on the combined values of the two axes, the species can be placed in one of five risk categories:

  • Very high risk species that can have a strong negative effect on the Norwegian environment;
  • High risk species that have spread widely with some ecological impact, or those that have a major ecological effect but have only limited distribution;

  • Potentially high risk species that have very limited dispersal ability, but a substantial ecological impact or vice versa;

  • Low risk species, with low or moderate dispersion and moderate to limited ecological effect;
  • Species with no known risk factors that are not known to have spread and have no known ecological effects.
Norway's first official foray into evaluating the risks posed by invasive species was with the publication of the 2007 Norwegian Black List, which described the risks posed by 217 of the 2483 alien species then known in Norway....

Alnes, Godøy (seen from Aksla mountain, Ålesund), Giske municipality, shot by Frode Inge Helland, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Flood damage in a few Ontario towns exceeds $25 million

Monica Wolfson in the Windsor Star (Ontario): This year's heavy rainfall caused millions in property damage and has put pressure on area municipalities to address flooding issues.

At least $25 million in property damage was caused from flooding of almost 1,000 homes during six storms that were categorized as one in 100-year events. It was hard to avoid the rain and snow in 2011 - 1,542 millimetres of the wet stuff fell by Dec. 20. That's a 73 per cent increase over the norm of 892 millimetres.

"I think it was a combination of bad luck with storms stalled over Windsor," said David Phillips, senior climatologist with Environment Canada. "The frequency of storms (in the future) isn't so clear. But when it rains, it will be heavier amounts."

Heavy rainfall over short periods of time caused severe flooding in Amherstburg, South Windsor, Harrow, Belle River and Tecumseh this year. Municipalities have to think about fixing flood problems, which could cost at least $100 million, but also consider improving infrastructure. "You don't want to overreact and rejig criteria," said Tim Byrne, flood and erosion control officer with the Essex Region Conservation Authority. "But you have to pause and look at the areas affected."...

Pair of ducks swimming in Malden Park

Vietnam's climate response lacks resources

Vietnam News: Insufficient human resources was a major challenge for Viet Nam in responding to climate change, said head of the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry's Personnel and Organisation Department Ta Dinh Thi.

Thi said that although Viet Nam launched its first National Target Programme to respond to climate change in 2008, the biggest difficulty in its implementation lied in a shortage of staff specialising in the climate change-related sector at all levels. Most staff working in the sector had been trained in other fields and were assigned to do other tasks at the same time.

At present, there are nearly 50,000 people working in administrative and research institutions belonging to the natural resources and environment sector, but more than half of them work in the land management sub-sector, with only 1 per cent focused on tackling climate change.

"Preparing human resources in the climate change sector is an urgent task, especially at local levels," said the deputy director of Viet Nam's Institute of Meteorology, Hydrology and Environment, Tran Hong Thai....

Blue hour in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), shot by Kham Tran -, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license

Famine early warning system gives Africa a chance to prepare

Hamilton Wende in the Christian Science Monitor: As the world enters a new phase of politically charged climate talks, some scientists have focused on less-­contentious projects like a famine early warning system that can help poor nations adapt to the planet's changes.
...As age-old patterns of rainfall and seasons change, drought and famine are becoming more common. The most recent example is the ongoing food shortage in Somalia, which many observers have described as Africa's worst food-security crisis in two decades.

Tens of thousands of people have lost their lives, and the situation remains serious. However, a project known as FEWS-NET, or the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, gave advance warning of the looming food crisis and ensured that thousands of other lives were saved.

"We monitor food security and vulnerable populations," says scientist Jim Rowland at the US Geological Survey (USGS), which is part of FEWS-NET. "We started to create alerts about the present situation in Somalia in August 2010 after the upheaval in weather conditions following La Niña [conditions]. We continued to send monthly updates until famine was declared in July 2011 based on much of our data."

Nowhere is the possible use of technology more important than in Africa, where scientists say climate change has taken its greatest human toll. Aid groups have used data from FEWS-NET to warn of another looming crisis, in West Africa, and encourage preventive action.

Challiss McDonough of the World Food Program confirms that FEWS-NET helped predict the Somali famine, adding that "the warning was instrumental in getting the attention of some donors before the crisis peaked."...

On the outskirts of Dadaab, where many refugees are sheltering as the main camps are overcrowded, a family gathers sticks and branches for firewood and making a shelter to protect them from the elements and wild animals. The carcasses of animals which have perished in the drought are strewn across the desert. Photo: Andy Hall/Oxfam, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Groundwater dropping globally

Devin Powell in ScienceNews: Groundwater levels have dropped in many places across the globe over the past nine years, a pair of gravity-monitoring satellites finds. This trend raises concerns that farmers are pumping too much water out of the ground in dry regions.

Water has been disappearing beneath southern Argentina, western Australia and stretches of the United States. The decline is especially pronounced in parts of California, India, the Middle East and China, where expanding agriculture has increased water demand.

“Groundwater is being depleted at a rapid clip in virtually of all of the major aquifers in the world's arid and semiarid regions,” says Jay Famiglietti, a hydrologist at the University of California Center for Hydrologic Modeling in Irvine, whose team presented the new trends December 6 at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union.

Famiglietti and his colleagues detect water hidden below the surface using the modern equivalent of a dowsing rod: a pair of car-sized satellites, nicknamed Tom and Jerry, that are especially sensitive to the tug of gravity from below.

As the spacecraft chase each other around the planet like their cat and mouse namesakes, they are pulled apart and pushed together by areas of higher or lower gravity. Mountains and other large concentrations of mass have a big, obvious effect that’s consistent from month to month. But water moves around over time, creating small gravity fluctuations that the satellites’ orbital motions respond to.

It takes a lot of flow to noticeably change the distance between the satellites. After subtracting the contributions of snowpack, rivers, lakes and soil moisture, scientists can detect changes in groundwater greater than a centimeter over an area about the size of Illinois.

This joint mission between NASA and the German Aerospace Center — called the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment, or GRACE — has been creating monthly snapshots of global groundwater since 2002. The trends now identified in this data help fill in monitoring gaps and confirm problems in places where official groundwater information is unreliable or nonexistent....

Groundwater is found beneath the solid surface. Notice that the water table roughly mirrors the slope of the land's surface. A well penetrates the water table. Image by Geoff Ruth, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

President Aquino vows political will to solve Philippine flooding

Aurea Calica in the President Aquino has vowed to exercise political will to make government officials do whatever would be necessary to mitigate the effects of disasters hitting the country every year. Aquino also said those officials found to have been responsible for the loss of lives in the flashfloods that struck the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan during tropical storm “Sendong” last week would have to face the consequences.

“Like what happened in Iligan, there were so many logs when the ban on logging in the residual forests and natural forests has been there because forest cover has been (denuded), that’s where the flooding is coming from,” Aquino said during an interview with GMA 7 late Friday.

“But the problem is many are still violating (the log ban). So we have a fact-finding team that will determine the violators and we will file cases and hold them accountable,” he said. Aquino stressed the importance of imposing political will. “Firstly, we will demonstrate political will and force my subordinates to do what is right,” he said.

...The President added he wanted concerned authorities to do their jobs well in responding to the disaster so he waited before proceeding to Cagayan de Oro, Iligan and Dumaguete City. He said he wanted local officials to concentrate on attending to the problems rather than bother with his visit.

Aquino on Tuesday ordered a probe to determine the possible negligence of officials in the floods that left over a thousand people dead and scores more missing in several areas in Mindanao following the storm. Aquino said he wanted a probe on who should be held responsible for the tragedy to serve as a lesson so that it would not happen again....

Tropical Storm Washi (also known as Sendong) devastated the Philippines on December 16 and 17, 2011. The storm was not powerful in the traditional sense—it’s winds never surpassed 55 knots (100 kilometers per hour or 63 miles per hour) and it lacked the organization of an intense typhoon or hurricane. Nonetheless, Washi unleashed extremely heavy rain on northwest Mindanao,. and the resulting floods left hundreds dead or missing. This image shows rainfall between December 15 and midday on December 19. Dark blue spots indicate areas of extreme rain, and the largest area is in northwest Mindanao. The image was made with data from the Multisatellite Precipitation Analysis, which combines measurements from many satellites and calibrates them with rainfall data from the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) satellite. Most of the rain fell on Friday, December 16. The rain rushed down mountain slopes and converged on coastal communities overnight, while people were sleeping. The ensuing flash floods left 957 dead and 1,582 injured as of December 20, reported the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council. Most of the fatalities came in Cagayan De Oro and Iligan City. Nearly 340,000 people have been affected by the disaster.

A notorious US agency struggles to adapt

Rocky Barker in the Idaho Statesman: When ecologist Mike Pellant first arrived in 1981, the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey area southwest of Boise was called “the asbestos range” because it never burned.

Today, fires are frequent, and invasive cheatgrass has taken over much of the desert in the 484,000-acre area along the Snake River canyon. Climate change has warmed the area and helped the noxious weed spread into the ponderosa pines in the higher elevations of the Boise Foothills. “Ten years ago, 15 years ago, we didn’t see a problem,” said Pellant, now a coordinator of the Great Basin Restoration Initiative.

He and other land managers are struggling to gather the information they need to protect the health and productivity of the lands they manage. That effort came under fire recently from the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which filed a complaint saying the Bureau of Land Management studies weren’t looking at grazing because it was politically sensitive.

The BLM’s rapid eco-regional assessments are looking at the impacts of fire, invasive species, urban sprawl and climate change in nine regions of the sagebrush West, Pellant said. He declined to talk about the complaint or the other regions but said the Northern Great Basin rapid area assessment that includes Idaho will look at grazing as a potential change agent.

But the Idaho-based team is hampered by a lack of landscape-level information about grazing impacts. For decades, the Bureau of Land Management kept its records based on the grazing allotments that are divided among ranchers.

...The Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project did develop a lot of information about the importance of microbiotic crusts on the soil and upcoming threats, including those to the sage grouse. “The BLM just proceeded to ignore all of that information,” said Katie Fite of the Western Watersheds Project, one of the agency’s biggest critics of grazing. It can’t afford to do that now....

The Snake River Birds of Prey Conservation Area in Idaho, shot by Larry Ridenour of the Bureau of Land Management

Flood finger-pointing in India

IBN Live (India): The controversy over September floods refuses to die down. The issue resurfaced in the Assembly on Thursday with the Congress claiming them man-made and the State Government blaming the climate change. The back-to-back floods played havoc taking at least 87 lives. A dissatisfied Congress staged a walkout in the House.

During an adjournment debate, Congress Chief Whip Prasad Harichandan alleged that the Government let them happen in view of the panchayat elections. "The 2008 flood had paid rich dividend to the BJD in the general elections in 2009."

The Government created the floods in September to woo people by distributing relief, he charged. Taking the allegation further, Leader of Opposition Bhupinder Singh claimed that the Government had admitted on October 29 that it created the floods. “Over the years we have created and managed many disasters,” Singh quoted Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik.

Though the Chief Minister’s Office had subsequently clarified that it was a slip of tongue, Singh said neither the CM nor the Government has issued any clarification.

BJP member Jaynarayan Mishra also termed the floods man-made. “We claim that the floods are man-made as the Government did not take any preventive measures to avoid them."

However, Revenue and Disaster Management Minister S N Patro strongly defended the Government. “The floods were an impact of the climate change at global level. The change is certainly man-made, not the floods,” Patro countered the charge....

Rescue operation of NDRF during the 2008 Kosi Floods, shot by Kumarrakajee, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Climate onus on Cambodian government

Mom Kunthear in the Phnom Penh Post: Most Cambodians believe it is the government’s responsibility to respond to climate change, but are unclear about who in government should take the lead, according to a survey discussed by officials at a workshop on climate change yesterday.

The survey, Understanding Public Perceptions of Climate Change in Cambodia, also found that most people were unaware of any organised response to climate change, or of the national and local programs already set up to respond to shifting weather patterns.

This left communities stranded from the knowledge, programs and support already existing, officials said at the two-day workshop on how to integrate climate adaptation strategies from the national to the village level.

UNDP Cambodian country director Elena Tischenko said this could be done in a way that “could empower communities and enable the country to become more resilient in the face of climate change”.

Kristina Kuhnel, head of development co-operation at the Swedish embassy, said eff-icient, early adaptation could reduce the costs of the negative impact of climate change substantially. She also called for training for commune councillors on how to add climate adaptation strategies into their commune development plans, including how to use vulnerability and risk- assessment tools...