Thursday, March 31, 2011

North Carolina researchers track risk from rising sea level

Insurance Journal: …Scientists at the Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI) and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill use the latest modeling techniques and high performance computing power to understand how expected increases in sea level over the next 100 years could affect coastal communities, wildlife and the coastline itself. RENCI, launched in 2004, is a collaborative institute involving the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Duke University and North Carolina State University.

Most scientists believe that melt water from glaciers, the Greenland ice sheet and possibly the West Antarctic ice sheet, along with thermal expansion from warming oceans, will raise sea levels by 1.6 to 3.2 feet over the next century and by 6.5 feet over the next 200 years. If that happens, North Carolina’s coast will change dramatically by 2100 or 2200, according to Tom Shay, a UNC-Chapel Hill marine scientist who conducts research with the UNC Institute for the Environment, the UNC department of marine sciences and UNC’s Center for the Study of Natural Hazards and Disasters.

“Some areas of the Outer Banks are only a few meters above sea level now, and there will be an increased tidal range and larger areas inundated by tides,” said Shay. With deeper water in the sounds, storm wave heights would increase as well, he said.

…Shay uses the coastal storm surge modeling software and the SWAN (for Simulating WAves Nearshore) wave modeling software to create new “What If” models, showing how a major storm could affect the coast if sea levels were higher. The work complements work done at RENCI. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) uses the RENCI model output to develop new flood insurance rate maps for coastal North Carolina.

Shay’s work zeroes in on one storm: Isabel, which made landfall in North Carolina in 2003 as a Category 2 hurricane. Using data on coastal topography and bathymetry compiled for the floodplain mapping modeling effort, Shay models the storm at current sea levels and at sea levels ranging from .5 to 2 meters higher. Although his simulations show more pronounced storm surge and flooding during the hypothetical Hurricane Isabels, Shay stressed that the results depict a possible future, not a certainty.

“There are a lot of unknowns and uncertainties,” he said. “A warming ocean will cause some sea level rise just because of thermal expansion, but we don’t know how fast the ocean will warm or how fast the Greenland ice will melt or whether the West Antarctic ice sheet will melt. All those things have a range of possible outcomes and we want to understand as many of the possible outcomes as we can.”…

Climate modeling and the rain

Terra Daily: Extreme precipitation events seem to be becoming more common in the Northern Hemisphere. But it's been very hard for scientists to pinpoint a major weather event to global warming. Still, when a 100-year flood comes and then returns in a matter of a few years, it's hard not to consider it a sign of a warming world.

Several papers published in the journal Nature demonstrate that such extreme precipitation events in specific localities is the result of climate change and not an overactive imagination. The scientists studied the actual, observable precipitation patterns in the 20th century and then compared them to climate model simulations and a splash of probability to discover a close, predictive match up.

They claim that their results provide "first formal identification of a human contribution to the observed intensification of extreme precipitation." The scientists, led by Seung-Ki Min at the Climate Research Division from Environment Canada in Toronto, say that the global climate models may, in fact, be underestimating the amount of extreme weather events, "which implies that extreme precipitation events may strengthen more quickly in the future than projected and that they may have more severe impacts than estimated."

In another study, this one led by Pardeep Pall at the University of Oxford, looked at a specific weather event: the 2000 floods in England and Wales, which occurred during the wettest autumn since 1766. About 10,000 properties were flooded over, causing evacuations, disruptions in rail service and power supplies, and an economic dent of about a Pounds 1 billion.

Oxford scientists used a climate model and simulated different scenarios of rainfall patterns based on greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere. The results were fed into a model that simulated severe river runoff and found that in nine out of 10 cases, the model forecast an increased risk of floods when 20th century levels greenhouse gases were included…

A downpour in Toronto, shot by ?? ?, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Environmental data 'should be made more available to farmers'

Nadya Anscombe in Environmental Research Web: A new and multidisciplinary approach to the use of environmental data in agriculture is urgently needed if the industry is to increase production while reducing its environmental impact, according to researchers from the University of Wisconsin, US.

In a paper in Environmental Research Letters, David Zaks and Christopher Kucharik warn that valuable data is being wasted because it is not reaching the relevant decision makers in a format that is useful to them. To date, most data collected on farms for management purposes are not used in other ways, and scientific and census data are usually collected independently. National data about agricultural production are often kept confidential.

"Farmers have concentrated on improving productivity of their crops and cannot be expected to maximize productivity and deliver ecosystem services without the right information at their disposal," Zaks told environmentalresearchweb. "Farmers and land managers need to be given incentives to make better use of technology, such as satellite data, ground-based sensors and computer models to manage the land in a sustainable way."

Zaks' research has shown that there are major gaps in the data modelling and decision-making infrastructure in the agricultural industry. "Everyone wins if we were to improve the communication between scientists, policy makers, the public and farmers," he said. "A farmer who knows about the daily variation in soil micronutrients within his field and also has access to data about the weather over days and seasons can make better-informed decisions about how much fertilizer or water to use on his crops. This not only increases yields, but also lessens environmental impact and is a win-win situation. But the majority of farmers currently do not have access to this kind of information."

Zaks believes that governments need to take advantage of what he calls "the Facebook generation" of farmers who are equipped with a large variety of digital tools….

Most farm implements now rely on some form of electronic box to make them function, this box with yellow buttons and display controls a Vaderstad seed drill. Shot by Michael Trolove, Wikimedia Commons via Geograph UK, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Communicating uncertain climate risks

National Science Foundation: …"A major challenge facing climate scientists is explaining to non-specialists the risks and uncertainties surrounding potential" climate change, says a new Perspectives piece published today in the science journal Nature Climate Change. The article attempts to identify communications strategies needed to improve layman understanding of climate science.

…."The goal of science communication should be to help people understand the state of the science," he says, "relevant to the decisions that they face in their private and public lives." Fischhoff, a social and decision scientist at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and Nick Pidgeon, an environmental psychologist at Cardiff University in the United Kingdom wrote the article together, titled, "The role of social and decision sciences in communicating uncertain climate risks."

Fischhoff and Pidgeon argue that science communication should give the public tools that will allow them to understand the uncertainties and disagreements that often underlie scientific discussion. He says that understanding is more likely to happen when people know something about the process that produces the conflicts they hear about in the press.

…"When people lack expertise, they turn to trusted sources to interpret the evidence for them," Fischhoff says. "When those trusted sources are wrong, then people are misled." Fischhoff and Pidgeon propose a communications strategy that applies "the best available communications science to convey the best available climate science." The strategy focuses on identifying, disclosing and when necessary reframing climate risks and uncertainties so the lay public can understand them easily.

"All of our climate-related options have uncertainties, regarding health, economics, ecosystems, and international stability, among other things," says Fischhoff. "It's important to know what gambles we're taking if, for example, we ignore climate issues altogether or create strong incentives for making our lives less energy intensive."

Key to effective communications is what the authors call "strategic organization" and "strategic listening." Strategic organization involves working in cross-disciplinary teams that include, at a minimum, climate scientists, decision scientists, social and communications specialists and other experts. Strategic listening encourages climate scientists, who often have little direct contact with the public, to overcome flawed intuitions of how well they communicate. Strategic listening asks scientists to go beyond intuitive feeling and consider how well they communicate by using systematic feedback and empirical evaluation….

Benjamin West's painting, Benjamin Franklin Drawing Electricity from the Sky (ca. 1816)

Coastal communities have new tool to study sea levels

Judy Benson in the Day (Connecticut): Old Saybrook Selectman William Peace saw the immediate utility in being able to visualize the best projections available on the effects of rising sea levels on his town, both for the present and for future decades.

"We're considering reconstructing our police station. I'd like to see the worst case scenario for 2050, when the bonds would be paid off," he said, addressing his request to Nathan Frohling, lower Connecticut River program director for the Nature Conservancy, and Ben Gilmer, conservation geographer for the conservancy's Global Marine Initiative, during a demonstration Wednesday of a new online tool to help towns prepare for climate change effects.

…According to the conservancy, a free online tool can help town officials "analyze the ecological, social and economic impacts" of sea-level rise on their communities and will offer a menu of potential responses. Peace was among more than 50 officials at the workshop from towns along the Connecticut coast, from Fairfield County to New London County, who came to learn how to use the tool. Locally, Old Lyme, Groton, Waterford, Stonington, Salem and East Lyme were represented….

The Amtrak bascule bridge between Old Lyme and Old Saybrook in the open position, shot by Denimadept, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Vietnam to enhance climate change adaptation ability

VOV News: A seminar on climate change adaptation in Vietnam was jointly held in Hanoi on March 29 by the Live and Learn for Environment and Community Centre and the Ministry of Education and Training (MoET). The seminar, themed “Sharing experiences and boosting education on climate change in Vietnam” aims to share experiences on climate change adaptation and natural disaster relief education, as well as to set up a joint cooperation mechanism on climate change education in Vietnam.

At the event, some non-governmental organisations introduced successful models and experiences in climate change education in the country, which were carried out with children from the northern mountainous areas, central coastal provinces and Mekong Delta regions playing a central role.

During the seminar, the Belgian Association for Development Cooperation and Technical Assistance (VVOB) and the Teachers’ Training University discussed how to bring issues related to the environment and climate change into high school education in the future, while Action for the City Centre introduced various ways to change urban residents’ behaviour and attitude towards their surrounding environment.

A MoET representative presented an action plan on how to cope with climate change for the 2011-2015 period, with a view to enhancing people’s knowledge and ability in dealing with climate change. He also said the ministry will instruct relevant agencies to implement tasks included in the action plan on climate change adaptation, while boosting postgraduate training and science research.

Hanoi's Old Town on the eve of Tet, 2008, shot by Kelisi, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Aircraft contrails stoke warming, cloud formation

Alister Doyle in Reuters: Aircraft condensation trails criss-crossing the sky may be warming the planet on a normal day more than the carbon dioxide emitted by all planes since the Wright Brothers' first flight in 1903, a study said on Tuesday. It indicated that contrails -- white lines of Vapor left by jet engines -- also have big knock-on effects by adding to the formation of high-altitude, heat-trapping cirrus clouds as the lines break up.

The findings may help governments fix penalties on planes' greenhouse gas emissions in a U.N.-led assault on climate change. Or new engines might be designed to limit Vapor and instead spit out water drops or ice that fall from the sky.

"Aircraft condensation trails and the clouds that form from them may be causing more warming today than all the aircraft-emitted carbon dioxide (CO2) that has accumulated in the atmosphere since the start of aviation," the journal Nature Climate Change said in a statement of the findings.

The study, by experts at the DLR German Aerospace Center, estimated that the net warming effect for the Earth of contrails and related cirrus clouds at any one time was 31 milliwatts per square meter, more than the warming effect of accumulated CO2 from aviation of 28 milliwatts….

Multiple contrails in an area with high airline traffic. NOAA image

Antarctic icebergs play a previously unknown role in global carbon cycle, climate

Terra Daily: In a finding that has global implications for climate research, scientists have discovered that when icebergs cool and dilute the seas through which they pass for days, they also raise chlorophyll levels in the water that may in turn increase carbon dioxide absorption in the Southern Ocean.

…The research indicates that "iceberg transport and melting have a role in the distribution of phytoplankton in the Weddell Sea," which was previously unsuspected, said John J. Helly, director of the Laboratory for Environmental and Earth Sciences with the San Diego Supercomputer Center at the University of California, San Diego and Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Helly was the lead author of the paper, "Cooling, Dilution and Mixing of Ocean Water by Free-drifting Icebergs in the Weddell Sea," which was first published in the journal Deep-Sea Research Part II.

The results indicate that icebergs are especially likely to influence phytoplankton dynamics in an area known as "Iceberg Alley," east of the Antarctic Peninsula, the portion of the continent that extends northwards toward Chile.

The latest findings add a new dimension to previous research by the same team that altered the perception of icebergs as large, familiar, but passive, elements of the Antarctic seascape. The team previously showed that icebergs act, in effect, as ocean "oases" of nutrients for aquatic life and sea birds.

The teams's research indicates that ordinary icebergs are likely to become more prevalent in the Southern Ocean, particularly as the Antarctic Peninsula continues a well-documented warming trend and ice shelves disintegrate. Research also shows that these ordinary icebergs are important features of not only marine ecosystems, but even of global carbon cycling.

"These new findings amplify the team's previous discoveries about icebergs and confirm that icebergs contribute yet another, previously unsuspected, dimension of physical and biological complexity to polar ecosystems," said Roberta L. Marinelli, director of the NSF's Antarctic Organisms and Ecosystems Program...

An iceberg in the Weddell Sea, shot by the incomparable Frank Hurley during Sir Ernest Shackleton's epic 1916 Antarctic voyage

‘No regrets’ policy for long-term climate change planning

Summit County Citizens’ Voice (Colorado): The well-respected London School of Economics is warning that developing countries must start considering climate change impacts in their long-term planning. That includes looking at potential changes in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events to avoid “locking in” vulnerabilities, which could lead to significant and potentially irreversible damage in the future.

Recommended steps include a focus on concrete adaptation measures like early warning systems for extreme weather and flood defenses, as well as softer adaptation measures, such as public awareness-raising and evacuation planning.

Policy makers should look at low-regret strategies to cope with a wide range of possible climate conditions. For example, bigger reservoirs can be built to maintain an adequate supply of water even under a wide range of potential rainfall conditions in the future. As a specific example, new coastal defense systems could be built with broader foundations so that they can be increased in height at a later date rather than re-constructed entirely to protect against higher sea levels.

The report by Dr Nicola Ranger and Su-Lin Garbett-Shiels was prepared as a contribution to the World Resources Report 2011, and points out that “uncertainties in computer model projections about future climate should not stop good adaptation decisions being made today.” It stresses that “by building flexibility into adaptation strategies from the outset, increasing climate resilience, even with deep uncertainty about future impacts, should be no more challenging than other areas of policy.”…

Setsuko Hara in 1946 Japanese movie No Regrets for Our Youth (わが青春に悔なし, Waga seishun ni kuinashi).

Flood management master plan updated in the Philippines

Raymund F. Antonio in the Manila Bulletin: The lessons of super typhoon Ondoy, which submerged many areas in Metro Manila almost two years ago, have prompted Public Works officials to update the master plan for flood management in the metropolis. They are also soliciting the support of other departments and agencies, realizing it cannot do the job alone.

With Ondoy exposing the vulnerability of Metro Manila to sudden and destructive flooding due to climate change, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) recognized that the problem of flooding should be a collective effort. Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson said the DPWH is taking the lead role in the Inter-agency Steering Committee that was formed to conduct a risk assessment study for Metro Manila and the surrounding basin area.

The IASC, Singson said, will look into the priority structural and non-structural measures that will provide sustainable flood management up to the designated safety level. The committee will likewise conduct consultation activities, including meetings, workshops, and seminars among stakeholders.

“This will ensure that their concerns are duly considered into the risk assessment and to agree on the flood risk management,” Singson said. The DPWH is scurrying to improve its flood control projects to prevent a repeat of the devastation of Ondoy, which left Metro Manila crippled and most houses submerged in water due to raging floods….

Flooding after 2009's Typhoon Ondoy, shot by Philippinepresidency, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Accountants urged to help small firms adapt to climate change

Will Nichols in Business Green: Management accountants could become a new type of 'eco-warrior' as part of government-backed efforts to convince small businesses to develop climate change adaptation strategies. Defra has today teamed up with the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) to launch a new Climate Resilience Toolkit, billed as a quick and simple online tool that businesses can use to produce a tailored report on the climate risks faced by their own operations.

"Some of the questions are obvious, but I bet nine out of 10 businesses don't ask them," he said. "It's about stopping long-term thinking being six months ahead and seeing it as six years ahead." CIMA research suggests that, while almost 80 per cent of large companies have formal sustainability strategies, this number plunged to three per cent among SMEs.

Harding said that, as a result, many small businesses were vulnerable to extreme weather events such as flooding. He added that, while many smaller firms felt unable to fund even the most basic adaptation measures, management accountants could play a major role in ensuring they have the financial, environmental and social impact data they require to make informed investment decisions…

Photo of Toadstool National Monument by Brian Thomas, under the Creative CommonsAttribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Studying how tree genomes adapt to climate change

Virginia Tech News: Jason Holliday of Blacksburg, Va., assistant professor of forest genetics and biotechnology in Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment, is using a $1.5 million Faculty Early Career Development Program grant from the National Science Foundation to gain insight into how tree populations adapt at the genomic scale as a result of climate change.

“Winter dormancy is a hallmark of northern tree species that enables them to survive the freezing and dehydration stresses of winter,” said Holliday. “Although forest tree populations are well adapted to their local environments at present, climate change is substantially altering adaptive landscapes and is expected to lead to widespread maladaptation of tree populations to their seasonal temperature regimes.”

Holliday has extensive experience in this area, having employed similar genomic tools to study local climatic adaptation in Sitka spruce, a western U.S. species. The current study, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Florida and the University of Alberta, will extend this work in black cottonwood, a species that is ideal for such a study and is widely distributed throughout the western United States.

The genomic analysis will be used to inform our understanding of climatic adaptation in two related species that are also widespread in the United States — trembling aspen and eastern cottonwood. Together with black cottonwood, these three species and their hybrids are expected to be important feedstocks for the production of ethanol from woody biomass, owing to their rapid growth on marginal lands unsuitable for agriculture. The research will provide a link to practical breeding applications to optimize the productivity of poplar planting stock in a changing climate….

Part of Sitka spruce plantation on Vikna archipelago, Nord-Trøndelag, Norway. 10 April 2009. Shot by Orcaborealis, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Large-scale assessment of Arctic Ocean shows significant increase in freshwater content

Terra Daily: The freshwater content of the upper Arctic Ocean has increased by about 20 percent since the 1990s. This corresponds to a rise of approx. 8,400 cubic kilometres and has the same magnitude as the volume of freshwater annually exported on average from this marine region in liquid or frozen form. This result is published by researchers of the Alfred Wegener Institute in the journal Deep-Sea Research. The freshwater content in the layer of the Arctic Ocean near the surface controls whether heat from the ocean is emitted into the atmosphere or to ice. In addition, it has an impact on global ocean circulation.

Around ten percent of the global mainland runoff flows into the Arctic via the enormous Siberian and North American rivers in addition to relatively low-salt water from the Pacific. This freshwater lies as a light layer on top of the deeper salty and warm ocean layers and thus extensively cuts off heat flow to the ice and atmosphere. Changes in this layer are therefore major control parameters for the sensitive heat balance of the Arctic.

We can expect that the additional amount of freshwater in the near-surface layer of the Arctic Ocean will flow out into the North Atlantic in the coming years. The amount of freshwater flowing out of the Arctic influences the formation of deep water in the Greenland Sea and Labrador Sea and thus has impacts on global ocean circulation.

…The freshwater content of the Arctic Ocean may rise due to increased sea ice or glacier melt, precipitation or river inputs. Less export of freshwater from the Arctic - in the form of sea ice or in liquid form - also results in a rise in the freshwater content. The authors of the study point to altered export of freshwater and altered inputs from near-coastal areas in Siberia to the central Arctic Ocean as the most probable reasons….

The German icebreaker Polarstern, where much of this research was conducted, shot by Bruce McAdam, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Managing grazing lands with fire improves profitability

EurekAlert: Texas Agrilife Research fire and brush control studies in the Rolling Plains on a working ranch-scale showed the benefits and limitations of managed fires for reducing mesquite encroachment while sustaining livestock production. Dr. Richard Teague, AgriLife Research rangeland ecology and management scientist, along with colleagues Dr. Jim Ansley, brush ecologist, and Dr. Bill Pinchak, animal nutritionist, spent more than 10 years trying to determine how effective prescribed fire could be in reducing mesquite and cactus on the Waggoner Ranch south of Vernon.

Three major conclusions of the study were: fire is effective only at low levels of mesquite encroachment; 12 percent of the unit must be burned each year; and stocking rates should be light — 12 percent lower than the "moderate" Natural Resources Conservation Service level for the range type and range condition, Teague said.

To determine the potential of fire to reduce brush and prickly pear and how to manage the fire for maximum effectiveness, they looked at: effect of brush abundance on forage production and composition; how quickly the brush and cactus increased; treatment longevity; effect of grazing management on grass production and animal performance; and economic returns.

…"Fire is by far the least expensive means of reducing brush, and it should be used whenever possible to minimize the use of more expensive treatments," Teague said. "But our study suggests that fire can be used only for maintenance of low mesquite cover."…

From the National Archives of Canada, a fire spreads from near Rattlesnake Island up into Okanagan Mountain Park.

Patching water infrastructure where it leaks money

Business Wire: The market for technologies that help inspect and repair the world’s aging water infrastructure is approaching $20 billion worldwide and is growing at a healthy 10%. Currently, that growth is mostly paid for by spiraling consumer water bills rather than government grants, leading municipalities to desperately seek more cost-effective new ways of maintaining their pipe networks. In its latest report, Lux Research argues that the most lucrative solutions will arise from technologies that can monitor the entire water infrastructure and allow owners to target sections in most urgent need of repair.

“Without this holistic view, utilities cannot prioritize the most critical repairs – and may end up throwing money down the drain to address the leaks that are visible today rather than the ones that could prove catastrophic tomorrow.”

Titled “Plugging the Leaks: The Business of Water Infrastructure Repair,” the report provides a reality check on the challenges and opportunities surrounding the inspection and repair of aging water infrastructures. Utilities, investors and technology developers will find strategic guidance on how to identify technologies best equipped to isolate, prioritize, and target critical repairs.

“Outdated water infrastructure and record high government deficits are both fueling demand for low-cost inspection and repair solutions – namely software and sensor technologies that can provide a snapshot of a utility’s entire infrastructure,” said Brent Giles, a Lux Research Senior Analyst and the report’s lead author. “Without this holistic view, utilities cannot prioritize the most critical repairs – and may end up throwing money down the drain to address the leaks that are visible today rather than the ones that could prove catastrophic tomorrow.”…

This pipe emerges from the ground to cross the Allt Lochan nan Geadas. From the height it appears to be flowing to or from Lochan Breaclaich. Shot by Rob Burke, Wikimedia Commons via Geograph UK, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Monday, March 28, 2011

Spreading antibiotic resistance in wastewater treatment

Michael Torrice in Chemical & Engineering News: When people pop antibiotics to treat infections, the drugs often end up excreted into sewage. As scientists continue to find these antibiotics in the wastewater coming from homes and hospitals, they worry that the drugs' presence is fueling the spread of antibiotic resistance. At the American Chemical Society meeting in Anaheim, Calif., researchers reported that wastewater contains other chemicals that might also promote antibiotic resistance: heavy metals.

Environmental scientists have previously observed a connection between metals and antibiotic resistance in metal-contaminated soils and freshwater sediments. The bacteria living in these environments had significantly higher levels of resistance than bacteria from noncontaminated soils.

Edward F. Peltier of the University of Kansas, Lawrence; David Graham of Newcastle University, in England; and their colleagues wondered if the phenomenon also occurred in wastewater treatment plants. These plants are a unique environment where, along with antibiotics, metals such as zinc and copper are common. Bacteria also play a key role in the treatment process. After removing solids from wastewater, treatment plants mix it with a sludge containing an array of bacteria that chew up dissolved organic compounds.

…They found that copper alone, in the absence of antibiotics, could promote resistance to the antibiotic ciprofloxacin, with resistance levels jumping from a baseline level of 7% of the reactor population after the first phase to 11% after the second phase. Zinc alone didn't have an effect, but in the presence of certain antibiotics it did enhance resistance levels. In reactors receiving zinc and tetracycline, 63% of the bacteria were resistant to the antibiotic. Meanwhile, resistance levels in reactors that received tetracycline and no metal were only 44%.

If metals do help spread antibiotic resistance in wastewater treatment plants, then they could be a more long-lasting source of resistance than are antibiotics themselves, Peltier says. "Antibiotics can degrade, metals can't," he says…

A wastewater treatment plant, shot by Kristian Bjornard, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

When times are tight, focus on adaptation

From CSIRO, some wise guidance for research and communication about climate change: In a commentary article in the journal Nature Climate Change, US, Spanish and Australian researchers submit that biologists should, instead, aim to achieve a balance between understanding climate change impacts and planning for the consequences. “There is little point in focussing on fully identifying the climate impacts while losing species,” says co-author Dr Elvira Poloczanska, an environment scientist with CSIRO’s Climate Adaptation Flagship.

According to Dr Poloczanska, and co-author Dr Anthony Richardson from CSIRO and the University of Queensland, climate scientists have, for two decades or more, linked global warming impacts to the rise in greenhouse gas emissions from human activity. “Biologists have already shown globally that the flowering and breeding times and distributions of plants and animals are changing,” Dr Poloczanska said. “This is consistent with universal atmospheric warming and elevated greenhouse gas emissions likely arising from human activity.

“But, if you scale this down to the local level with individual species the application is questionable. This does not mean change isn’t happening but climate models do not work on such fine scales and biological responses are often too complex to be modelled effectively, especially where they need to account for extreme events and underlying climate variability.”

Rather than submitting to inexhaustible demands for more proof, it would be more advisable to focus on developing crucial adaptation and conservation measures. Dr Richardson said that to improve estimates of future biological impacts researchers need to focus on how other human stressors such as habitat destruction, fishing and pollution increase the impacts of climate change.

“Fortunately from a conservation standpoint, these other stressors are more easily managed on local scales than climate itself, and are crucial factors in constructing adaptation programs to cope with human-induced climate change,” Dr Richardson said….

Henri Rousseau's "At the Edge of the Woods"

A Philippine town learns to cope with climate change

Ninfa B Quirante in Philippine Information Agency: Dolores local government is trying to cope with climate change through planting alternative crops other than rice. The town is the biggest rice producing municipality in the province but due to too much rain and severe flooding, Dolores River overflows destroying homes and the rice farms.

Mayor Emeliana ‘Ewit’ Villacarillo visited Barangays Quiatan and Magsaysay; two barangays reachable by the Dolores River after an hour of rivercruise and gave a lecture on climate change and how it has brought erratic rains that destroyed their ricefileds. “We will not fight the weather anymore, we will cope with it,” Villacarillo told the gathering of some farmer-folks in upstream Dolores.

The mayor did not discourage her people to plant rice, but told them to plant other crops as well to make sure that they will have reserve resources should their ricefarm fail them. “The LGU will pay you Php 5.00 for every banana or abaca plant you have,” Villacarillo challenged the farmers.

“The agricultural technician will check on your abaca and banana plants and you will be paid every Saturday,” the lady mayor added. The mayor recalled that during her first term as a mayoir she urged two barangays to plant abaca, the abaca yield has tided them over these hard times when rice did not reach its desired production….

Map of Eastern Samar showing the location of Borongan City, created by Mike Gonzalez (TheCoffee), Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

World Bank’s forest climate fund slammed

Scoop (New Zealand): A new report launched today at the 8th meeting of the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) reveals that the Bank is not fulfilling its promises to protect the rights of forest peoples. Smoke and Mirrors: a critical assessment of the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility by Forest Peoples Programme (FPP) and FERN exposes the World Bank’s failure to uphold its commitments on human rights and its engagement in never-ending changes to its social and environmental policies, weakening its accountability to affected communities and the public.

Co-author of the report, Francesco Martone, FPP policy advisor, said: "The FCPF is backsliding on its social commitments, using a smokescreen of constantly changing standards and guidance notes that pay lip service to forest peoples’ rights, governance and benefit-sharing without clear binding rules that would hold the Bank and recipient governments accountable. The whole question of which standards apply to the FCPF has just become more complicated as the Fund now plans to use different international agencies to implement its projects..."

The FCPF is administered by the World Bank. It is one of the main international climate initiatives set up to fund developing country schemes for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD). The report finds serious faults in government proposals seeking FCPF funding for planning and preparation activities in support of REDD schemes. It finds that while proposals for monitoring and measuring forest carbon are well-advanced, plans for activities that could actually reduce deforestation, such as clarifying and securing land rights and dealing with corruption and weak governance in the forest sector, are poor.

Kate Dooley, FERN’s policy advisor, said: "In none of the eight REDD preparation plans developed by the governments of Panama, Guyana, Peru, Ghana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Nepal and Indonesia are land rights adequately addressed or existing land conflicts acknowledged. Proposals for governance reform are often limited to setting up new institutions to oversee forest carbon trading, at the expense of legal reform, including land tenure."…

Terena Indians in the race at the closing ceremony of the ninth edition of the Games of Indigenous Peoples (Olinda PE) in 2007, shot by , Wikimedia Commons via Agencia Brasil, under the Creative Commons License Attribution 2.5 Brazil

Renewed hope for York's flood defenses

Mike Laycock in the Press (Yorkshire, UK): Hopes that a massive upgrade of York flood defences can still go ahead despite Government cuts have been given a boost. York council leader Andrew Waller has revealed that £310,000 is set to be earmarked from a local authority levy towards the strengthening of embankments which protect hundreds of homes in the Leeman Road area.

The money would be on top of a million pounds already allocated by City of York Council towards the project, and Coun Waller says it improves the scheme’s chances of receiving Government partnership funding – particularly if the overall costs of the scheme can also be driven down.

The defences came close to being overtopped by water from the River Ouse during the floods of November 2000, putting about 550 homes at risk, and the Environment Agency fears flooding risks will increase through the 21st century because of climate change.
The agency drew up plans for a £6.5 million scheme to raise and strengthen the embankments and, having held a public consultation last year, it intended to carry out preparatory work in the coming financial year before starting on construction work in 2012/13. But earlier this year, agency bosses confirmed the project had fallen victim to Government cuts in public spending…

The River Ouse in York, shot by Chris j wood at en.wikipedia, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Egypt seeks food and water security in Sudan

Abdelmoneim Abu Edries Ali in AFP: Egypt will make the completion of a partially-built canal spanning an unnavigable section of the river Nile in south Sudan a top priority, a cabinet spokesman said on Sunday. As Prime Minister Essam Sharaf visited Egypt's soon-to-be partitioned southern neighbour, cabinet spokesman Magdi Radi told a news conference in Khartoum: "We want to start the building of the Jonglei Canal, because it is a top priority. It offers to provide four billion cubic metres of Nile water (annually)."

The 360-kilometre (220-mile) canal project, which would drain the swamps in south Sudan's Jonglei state and carry the water into the White Nile, was begun in 1978 but abandoned just six years later after a raid by southern rebels. Radi was speaking after a joint ministerial meeting on the first day of a two-day visit to Sudan by an Egyptian delegation led by Sharaf, which also includes the foreign, agriculture and irrigation ministers.

It is their first such foreign trip since the new government was appointed by the army after weeks of nationwide protests toppled veteran Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak last month. Foreign Minister Nabil al-Arabi said his country would be the second, after Sudan, to recognise an independent south, when it splits from the north in July, following January's landmark referendum.

Sudan is an important ally for Egypt both in terms of its agricultural potential and in Cairo's efforts to secure an acceptable agreement with upstream Nile countries about the future of its vital water supplies….

Lucy, a specialized excavator used to dig the Jonglei canal. Construction of the canal ended in 1983 and the digger has remained here since 1983. USAID photo

Heaviest ever floods in northern Namibia

Servaas van den Bosch in InterPress Service: North-central Namibia is experiencing the heaviest floods ever recorded, but unlike in previous years, the area is fully prepared. Flood levels in the Cuvelai basin in north-central Namibia are eight centimetres higher than in the 2009 flood season, setting a new record for the area where about one million people – half of Namibia’s population - live.

Every year Efundja - the Oshiwambo name for the annual floods coming from Angola - fills the shanas (floodplains) in the northern regions. The arrival of the flood is much anticipated as it brings fish, restores grazing capacity and ensures water reserves for the dry months ahead. But in recent years floods have become heavier and more frequent, generally doing more damage than good.

"It’s going to be bad," predicts Guido van Langenhove., Director of Hydrology in the Department of Water in Windhoek. "There have been good rains up in the catchment area in Angola over the past few days. This water will reach us in two weeks time. If, in the meantime it keeps raining in the Namibian part of the catchment, the inundations will get much worse."

"The situation is terrible," agricultural extension officer Miriam Fikunawa tells IPS by mobile phone from Okalongo village. "There is a lot of water and the flood is much worse than in 2009. All the roads are flooded and you cannot reach this area because it is completely under water. The clinic is unreachable and doctors and nurses are visiting patients by helicopter in order to stll give them medical attention.

"All the fields are under water and there hardly is grazing left for animals. Even people's houses are flooded and they are taking to tented camps in higher areas. There will be no harvest this year. The plants are hammered by the rains and the grain is scattered all over. This will be a very poor growing season….

Government claims no food security problem in Pakistan

The Daily Times (Pakistan): The Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MINFA) on Thursday claimed that Pakistan harvested two bumper wheat crops in 2009 and 2010 and has exported one million tonnes of wheat with plans to export up to three million tonnes.

This is despite the fact that the international market is going through an unstable time. Pakistan has also exported rice to the tune of 1.678 million tonnes despite flood damage to the crop. The cereal supplies in the country are plenty and currently, the prices are comparable with the international market. The food departments are releasing wheat to flour mills at Rs 1,000 per 40 kilogrammes (kgs). The government’s move against the unprecedented price hike of onion three months ago has kept the market stable at Rs 40 per kg. The overall price hike is not Pakistan specific. It is being experienced across the globe. The government is expecting arrival of another mega wheat harvest in the next two months.

World Food Programme Head Wolfgang Herbinger denied the comment on wheat price being attributed to him, in a letter received from Rome. It appears that his conversation has been read out of context. The government is also endeavouring to help the needy through Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) by providing monthly financial assistance to over four million households through cash transfers. It is not fair to imply the flood-related insecurity issues to the whole country. Even in flood-affected areas wheat supplies remained satisfactory because the country was having abundance of wheat stocks. Therefore, MINFA categorically denied the views given in the news item and made it clear that food security situation is stable in the country. …

Bagrote Valley Wheat Harvest, shot by Zensky, Wikimedia Commons, nder the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

No surge of demand for flood insurance in Rhode Island

Richard Salit in the Providence Journal: Pictures of submerged neighborhoods saturated the minds of Rhode Islanders a year ago. But the tragedy did not unleash a torrent of demand for flood insurance policies.

“There was a little uptick,” said Michelle Burnett, floodplain manager for the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency and the state coordinator for the National Flood Insurance Program. “Some people think the chances of it happening again are unlikely — which is not the case, of course, with weather changing and climate change.”

The number of flood insurance policies in Rhode Island rose to 15,732 last year, up 3.7 percent from 2009, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA administers the National Flood Insurance Program, established in 1968 to fill a void that private insurers were reluctant to fill. The program underwrites flood insurance policies in communities that agree to manage their floodplains to reduce potential damage.

All 39 communities in Rhode Island participate, but only 3 percent of the state’s flood-prone properties have flood insurance, according to the Rhode Island EMA. In Rhode Island, the small jump in the ranks of the insured was driven largely by the residents who got federal help after last year’s floods. Anyone who received a FEMA grant or a Small Business Administration loan was automatically enrolled in a group flood insurance policy. The coverage provides up to $30,000 for structural damage but does not cover contents.

While these property owners enjoy free coverage for three years, they will be obliged to begin paying for flood insurance after that. “If you don’t,” said Flood Insurance Program spokeswoman Lauren Pawlik, “you may be forfeiting your right [to] disaster assistance in the future.”…

Warwick, RI, April 16, 2010 -- Road damage near the Warwick mall shopping center. Photo: Michael Rieger/FEMA

Rain coming to South Florida but not enough to ease drought

Eliot Kleinberg in the Palm Beach Post: Some much needed rain is expected for later this week, but not enough to make a dent in the region's drought or dim the threat of more wildfires, meteorologists said. A 20 percent chance of showers is forecast for overnight, rising to 30 percent Monday morning and 40 percent Monday night. Rain chances are in the 20 to 30 percent range through the week.

Rainfall at Palm Beach International Airport is down 15 inches since Oct. 1, around the start of the dry season, and approaching two feet below normal since June 1, around the start of the 2010 wet season, the National Weather Service's Miami office said. In a posting late Thursday, it said March has been mostly bone dry, except for a "very weak" cold front that moved through March 17 with rainfall totals of less than a tenth of an inch.

An "extreme drought" designation for Palm Beach and Broward counties has expanded to northern Miami-Dade and areas west of Lake Okeechobee, according to the posting. Last week, the South Florida Water Management District cut watering from three days a week to two. And the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reported the north end of the big lake is so low it's closed at least five locks to boat traffic.

On the Keetch-Byram drought index, which measures soil dryness on a 0-800 scale, all of southeast Florida, including Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast was in the "severe" category or at the mid-range or high end of "moderate."…

A firefighter works to snuff out hot spots of the Florida Bugaboo Fire. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) authorized 5 Fire Management Assistance Grants between March 27th and May 10th 2007, to help Florida fight fires in 16 counties. Mark Wolfe/FEMA

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Russian boreal forests undergoing vegetation change

Fariss Samarrai in University of Virginia Today: Russia's boreal forest – the largest continuous expanse of forest in the world, found in the country's cold northern regions – is undergoing an accelerating large-scale shift in vegetation types as a result of globally and regionally warming climate. That in turn is creating an even warmer climate in the region, according to a new study published in the journal Global Change Biology and highlighted in the April issue of Nature Climate Change.

…"We've identified that the boreal forest, particularly in Siberia, is converting from predominantly needle-shedding larch trees to evergreen conifers in response to warming climate," said the study's lead author, Jacquelyn Shuman, a post-doctoral research associate in environmental sciences in U.Va.'s Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. "This will promote additional warming and vegetation change, particularly in areas with low species diversity."

…The researchers used a climate model to assess what would happen if evergreens continued to expand their range farther north and larch species declined. The "positive feedback" cycle of warming promoting warming showed an increase of absorbed surface warming. The model takes into account detailed information about tree growth rates, and the results agree with actual field studies documenting changes in cone production and movement of evergreen treelines northward.

…The Russian boreal forest sits over a tremendous repository of carbon-rich soil frozen in the permafrost. As the forest changes in species distribution from larch to evergreens, warming of the ground surface would cause decomposition of the soil, releasing huge quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere – possibly as much as 15 percent of the carbon dioxide currently in the atmosphere. "This is not the scenario one would want to see," Shugart said. "It potentially would increase warming on a global scale."…

Jack London Lake near Kolyma in Siberia, shot by Bartoshd, Bartosh Dmytro, Ukraine, Kiev,, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license

Modelling dam breaks, tsunamis and other geophysical events

CSIRO (Australia): CSIRO mathematicians are creating computational models of events like floods, dam breaks and tsunamis to aid understanding and planning for these phenomena. Catastrophic events like floods, dam breaks, tsunamis, storm surges, volcanic eruptions, and mud slides involve large-scale movement of fluids and solids. They can have serious economic, environmental and humanitarian effects.

These geophysical flow events are difficult to observe and measure. They are also very complex to model because they involve:
  • movement of solids and fluids in large volumes over large areas
  • many kinds of physical processes
  • events occurring over an expanse of time and space.
New geophysical flow modelling techniques developed by CSIRO can be used to assist at-risk regions and nations by accurately visualising potential disaster scenarios to allow evidence-based decision making for emergency services management.

CSIRO has been developing computational fluid dynamics (CFD) methods, specifically particle-based smoothed particle hydrodynamics (SPH) code and granular flow (GF) code, to accurately model events like dam breaks and tsunamis using real three-dimensional (3D) topography obtained from digital terrain models. Using real topographic information means the results can be directly compared with disaster scenarios. Particle-based methods for modelling geophysical flows have numerous advantages over traditional grid or mesh-based continuum methods....Projects currently being undertaking using these methods include:
  • refining a 3D simulation of the 1928 St Francis Dam break in California. Results from the computer simulation agree closely with historical data about damage from the real event.
  • modelling the hypothetical collapse of China's Geheyan Dam, one of the world's largest dams. This project is a collaboration with the Chinese Academy of Surveying and Mapping.
  • simulating a hypothetical flood of the Bellinger River in NSW, due to a storm surge
  • predicting areas affected by a hypothetical tsunami inundating the Californian coastline
  • dynamic prediction of flooding in several Australian cities due to dam breaks, tsunamis, floods and other disasters….
The St. Francis dam before it was destroyed in 1928

Pakistan flood rebuilding to take at least 3-5 years

Thin Lei Win in AlertNet: Pakistan's reconstruction following the worst floods in recorded history will take a minimum of three to five years, the head of the country's disaster management body said, adding that more money should have been poured into maintaining dikes and dams. Massive flooding began in Pakistan in July last year, leaving an area the size of England under water and destroying more than 2 million hectares of crops. More than 1,750 people were killed and 10 million people left homeless.

It was the kind of disaster experts predict may become more frequent as climate change brings more extreme and variable weather, including more intense rainfall. “We are spending $3 billion in relief and recovery and we’ve suffered over $10 billion in terms of losses without even including the trauma that people went through,” General Nadeem Ahmed, chairman of Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA) told AlertNet in an interview late on Wednesday.

“Had we spent only $40 million in making sure our flood protection structures are maintained, these losses would’ve been reduced to one-tenth. We would have been able to save a lot of lives, properties and the trauma the affected population went through," he told journalists. … Pakistan lost more than 10,000 schools, 500 health facilities and some 18,000 kms of roads and bridges in the disaster that ploughed a swathe of destruction from northern Pakistan to the southern province of Sindh….

Water supply in western Canada faces impact from international decisions

Judie Steves in the Kelowna Capital News (British Columbia): While the shorelines are dotted with beaches and resorts for those who love the recreational opportunities, to others, the Okanagan’s lakes are less things of beauty than conduits providing life-giving water to hundreds of thousands of people and millions of other living things—in two countries.

We’re at the top end of what is an enormous watershed, all feeding the Columbia River through Washington and Oregon in the U.S., before it dumps into the Pacific Ocean at Portland. And, in a couple of years, the orders governing water levels in the cross-border Osoyoos Lake in the southern part of the valley, must be renewed by the International Joint Commission. That decision will impact everyone in the Okanagan Basin.

If the current orders requiring that the lake levels remain between elevations of 911.5 feet and 909 feet are kept, there could be little change in how the new orders impact Central Okanagan residents. …However, if changes are made to consider not only lake level but the flows, there could be water losses to upstream users, particularly during drought years, which are predicted to be more likely as climate change impacts natural flows of water. And, that’s an issue that concerns the Okanagan Basin Water Board, which wrote to both the IJC boards in Canada and the U.S. and to Okanagan-Coquihalla MP Stockwell Day requesting that no such change be made in the orders.

The board was responding to a report by Washington State University researchers recommending a shift in water management policy from lake levels to flow requirements. “We believe this is a substantial shift from the status quo, and, despite our ongoing studies, there is still insufficient science to inform such a change—especially considering the high level of uncertainty about water availability in any given year,” wrote board chair Stu Wells.

…Climate change impacts are not normally taken into account by the IJC in making decisions on orders for trans-boundary waters, he said. People should be informed about the possible upstream impacts of changes in orders for the watershed’s trans-border waters, he added….

Osoyoos in British Columbia, shot by David Wise, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Climate change can't be stopped, but we will adapt

Chris Berg in the Sydney Morning Herald: …The world is acting on climate change. But not acting to stop it - to adapt to it. In the 1920s, an average of 240 people out of every million died every year from extreme weather events: drought, flood, windstorm, landslide, earthquake, extreme temperatures and wildfire.

According to data from the International Disaster Database, last decade that figure dropped to just three per million. Actually, the numbers are even better than they first look. The 20th century saw a 99.9 per cent reduction in the risk of death from drought. And the risk of death from floods came down almost as much: 89 per cent. Floods and drought - two of the most commonly mentioned consequences of climate change. We're getting much better at managing and surviving them.

The causes of this remarkable decline in mortality are many. Better transport and communications help move food to where it's needed, quicker. Globalised trade gives producers an incentive to do so. Hardy modern agriculture can survive not just long-term climatic shifts, but the more pressing problem of bad growing seasons.

Better flood control and prevention, weather forecasting and more responsive emergency services all help reduce the damage from floods. Never have we been better at protecting ourselves against nature. If the past is any guide to the present, that's how we'll deal with further changes in climate (whether caused by human activity or not): through adaptation. …

Children playing in the floodwater in Brisbane in 1893

Friday, March 25, 2011

Kudzu vines spreading north from US southeast with warming climate

Science Daily: Kudzu, the plant scourge of the U.S. Southeast. The long tendrils of this woody vine, or liana, are on the move north with a warming climate. But kudzu may be no match for the lianas of the tropics, scientists have found. Data from sites in eight studies show that lianas are overgrowing trees in every instance.

If the trend continues, these "stranglers-of-the-tropics" may suffocate equatorial forest ecosystems. Tropical forests contain more than half of Earth's terrestrial species, and contribute more than a third of global terrestrial carbon and a third of terrestrial net primary productivity, says ecologist Stefan Schnitzer of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee…."Any alteration of tropical forests has important ramifications for species diversity, productivity--and ultimately the global carbon cycle," says Schnitzer.

Tropical forests are indeed experiencing large-scale structural changes, the most obvious of which may be the increase in lianas, according to Robert Sanford, program director in the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Division of Environmental Biology, which funded the research. Lianas are found in most tropical lowland forests. The woody vines are "non-self-supporting structural parasites that use the architecture of trees to ascend to the forest canopy," says Schnitzer. In tropical forests, lianas can make up some 40 percent of the woody stems and more than 25 percent of the overall woody species.

Lianas usually have a high canopy-to-stem ratio, says Schnitzer, "which allows them to deploy a large canopy of leaves above those of the host tree, competing aggressively with their hosts for sunlight, water and nutrients."…

Kudzu in South Carolina, shot by Bastique, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative CommonsAttribution 3.0 Unported license

UK's Environment Agency to advise businesses on adapting to climate change

Emily Smoucha in Greenwise (UK): The Environment Agency (EA) is to take over from the UK Climate Impacts Programme (UKCIP) on advising organisations on how to adapt to climate change. From September, the EA will be responsible for delivering climate adaptation work on behalf of Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), which is not renewing its contract with the UKCIP and regional climate change partnerships.

To provide businesses and communities with necessary information, the EA will receive £2 million from Defra, £500,000 more than the UKCIP and regional climate change partnerships previously received. With the new funding, Defra said the EA would work closely within the health, water, transport, engineering and finance sectors to establish the most effective methods for adaptation.

Climate adaptation is a growing requirement for businesses needing to mitigate the risks of climate change, such as warmer, wetter winters; hotter, drier summers and severe weather and flooding. Cumbria was devastated by severe flooding in November 2009, while the floods of 2007 costs businesses around £740 million, according to the EA.

"These extra responsibilities enable us to build on the work we already do to tackle flooding and coastal erosion and manage precious water resources, water quality, wildlife and habitats," said Environment Agency chairman Lord Chris Smith….

The road at high tide, shot by John Holmes, Wikimedia Commons via Geograph UK, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license