Saturday, April 30, 2011

Antarctica threatened by invasion of alien species

Wynne Parry in Live Science: It's unforgivingly cold and isolated, but stowaways are arriving in Antarctica in a steady stream. Seeds, fungi and insects go where people -- in this case researchers and tourists -- take them. These arrivals all create the potential for invasive species to establish themselves in the world's most pristine continent and its islands.

"We are still at the stage when Antarctica has fewer than 10 non-native species, none of which have become invasive," said Kevin Hughes, an environmental scientist with the British Antarctic Survey. "Unless we take steps now to minimize the risk of introduction, who knows what will happen."

…Hughes and other researchers have set out to determine just what is being carried unintentionally into some of the international research stations in the Antarctic. In one study, he and others examined more than 11,250 pieces of fresh produce arriving at nine research stations in the Antarctic and the sub-Antarctic islands located farther north in the Southern Ocean to see what came along with it.

The produce, which included everything from apples to pawpaw trees to turnips, was shipped from around the world. Its stowaways were similarly diverse, and included at least 56 invertebrates -- slugs, butterflies, aphids and so on. Twelve percent of the produce carried soil, and 28 percent had rot caused by microbial infection. [Taking a Bite Out of Invasive Species]

"Are these numbers surprising, or does it mean this is likely to be a problem? It’s pretty hard to say," said Daniel Simberloff, a professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, who was not involved with the research. "The upshot is that there's just enough people going to some parts of Antarctica nowadays that lots of organisms are carried there. I have to think this isn't good, and some subset of them are going to pose environmental problems."…

Photograph by: Kristan Hutchison, National Science Foundation, of McKelvey Valley, located in Victoria Land, Antarctica

World not prepared for climate conflicts - security experts

Laurie Goering in AlertNet: Accelerating climate change and competition for limited supplies of water, food and energy are poised to ignite long-simmering conflicts in fragile states, monopolising the world's military resources and hampering development efforts, security experts say. Defusing these new 21st century conflicts – or at least preparing governments and citizens to cope with them – will require a broad range of innovative interventions, a gathering at Britain's Department for International Development (DFID) heard earlier this month.

Mitigation measures include borrowing business risk-management strategies, getting military officials to talk publicly about the constraints they face, building capable institutions in unstable countries, and ensuring billions in climate aid go to the right places and aren't lost to corruption, experts said. Putting the right strategies in place will require bringing together disparate groups – economists, military strategists, aid workers – and working out fresh approaches to the emerging problems, they said.

Climate change and resource scarcity are "setting a new challenge that we are not very good yet at handling", said Dan Smith, secretary general of International Alert and one of the organisers of the "Dialogue on Climate Change, Conflict and Effective Response".

In Yemen, for example, severe water shortages – the result of water mismanagement and changing climatic conditions – are hurting crop production and feeding into growing political strife that could unseat longtime ruler, President Ali Abdullah Saleh, and even break the country apart. The pressures have important military implications, not least because Saleh has cooperated with Washington to dismantle an arm of Al Qaeda in Yemen, and because food and water shortages appear to be contributing to recent violence.

Worsening climate impacts and resource shortages could similarly aggravate simmering conflicts from Pakistan to fragile regions like the Niger River basin, which includes parts of Mali, Niger and Nigeria, said Smith, whose independent organisation works on peace and conflict issues…

An FX-05 Xiyukohal (Xiuhcoatl) assault rifle, lensed by Rahlgd at en.wikipedia

Climate change outcome of global graft (Bangladesh): Climate change is the outcome of global corruption, but its worst victims are the least developed countries like Bangladesh, speakers have told a seminar. "The industrialised nations are largely responsible for the rapid climate change, harming the countries like Bangladesh. Therefore, this is the right of the affected countries to have the money they have promised," said junior minister for environment Hasan Mahmud. "This is neither grant nor help. They have to pay us the money," he added.

Transparency International, Bangladesh (TIB) organised the seminar on climate change and global corruption report at BRAC Inn Centre on Saturday. Chairman of the Transparency International Huguette Labelle presented the keynote paper at the seminar, chaired by TIB chairperson Sultana Kamal.

Gareth Sweeny, the chief editor of the report, described various its aspects at the seminar. Voicing their firm commitment to prevent corruption in spending the fund, Hasan Mahmud said, "A section of officials may try to misappropriate the fund. To prevent this, a committee has been formed comprising public representatives and people from all walks of life. They will take steps in this regard."…

US southern tornados become second-deadliest in history

Xinhua: The death toll from the devastating tornados that swept through the southern United States this week has risen to at least 342, making it the second-deadliest tornado outbreak in American history. By early Saturday morning, emergency management officials tallied 254 deaths in Alabama, 34 in Tennessee, 33 in Mississippi, 15 in Georgia, 5 in Virginia and 1 in Arkansas, the CNN reported.

This is the deadliest tornado outbreak since March 1932, when 332 people were killed. The death toll is also the second-largest in the country's history, only below that of a 1925 tornado outbreak which left 747 people dead, according to the National Weather Service.

In the hardest-hit Alabama, the confirmed fatalities have soared to 254, according to the state Emergency Management Agency. In addition, more than 1,700 people were injured while several others still missing. U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday flew to Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The city, with a population of over 90,000, has lost at least 45 lives in the storms and tornados.

"I've never seen devastation like this," said the president, "I just want to make a commitment to the communities here that we are going to do everything we can to help these communities rebuild ... We're going to make sure you're not forgotten."

Home to the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa is now struggling to get power and water supply back to city neighborhoods. In Alabama, up to one million homes and businesses remained without power Friday. Because of looting reports, Walter Maddox, mayor of Tuscaloosa, has issued a curfew order and it was still in effect Friday night from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. Saturday morning….

From the National Weather Service: EF4-rated tornado damage in Ringgold, Georgia which occurred during the April 25–28, 2011 tornado outbreak. Damage occurred overnight on the 27th, photo taken the next day

Researcher estimates future sea level rise by looking to the past

PhysOrg: Boston University College of Arts & Sciences Paleoclimatologist Maureen Raymo and colleagues have published findings that should help scientists better estimate the level of sea level rise during a period of high atmospheric carbon dioxide levels 3 million years ago. That geologic era, known as the mid-Pliocene climate optimum, saw much higher global temperatures that may have been caused by elevated levels of carbon dioxide—an analogy for the type of climate we are causing through human addition of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

During the mid-Pliocene climate optimum, sea levels were anywhere between 15 and 100 feet higher than at present because water that is now locked up in glaciers as ice circulated freely through the oceans. Raymo and her colleagues published their findings in the current edition of Nature Geoscience in a paper titled “Departures from eustasy in Pliocene sea-level records.” The paper provides an improved model for interpreting geologic evidence of ancient shorelines.

The team’s findings add to the scientific body of knowledge about mid-Pliocene sea levels. By understanding the extent of sea level rise 3 million years ago, scientists like Raymo hope to more accurately predict just how high the seas will rise in the coming decades and centuries due to global warming.

Through their project, titled PLIOMAX (Pliocene maximum sea level project), Raymo and her colleagues have shared data with a larger community of geoscientists involved in studying similar so-called “high stand deposits” around the world. The accumulated data should shed light on the extent to which we can expect the Greenland Ice Sheet, West Antarctic Ice Sheet, and East Antarctic Ice Sheet to melt due to increasing levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide…

Planktic Foraminifera - some examples from Late Pliocene of Baja California - Mexico. Shot by Antonov

Friday, April 29, 2011

Disaster alerts could be sent to mobile, gaming devices

Scott Martin in USA Today: Natural disasters, including the recent rash of tornadoes that cut a destructive path across the U.S., have spurred savvy technologists to develop ways to alert people via popular mobile devices and gaming consoles. That's in part because the U.S. government hasn't yet carried out the Warning Alert and Response Network Act that would make alerting the nation's mobile phone customers a reality.

"Right now, the government is finalizing its gateway and working with the wireless carriers," said Brian Josef, assistant vice president for regulatory affairs at wireless association CTIA. "There's a lot of coordination and a lot of moving parts to make sure it works without hiccups."

Those details are being hammered out by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Federal Communications Commission. The agencies are working with carriers AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint Nextel, Verizon, U.S. Cellular, Metro PCS and Cricket, among others. April 2012 is the deadline to have the federal system up and running.

But there are others rushing in to fill the void. Some states have even taken matters into their own hands. The state of New York has its own working system. Known as NY-Alert, its website allows area people to sign up for alerts by text message, RSS feeds, e-mail and more than a dozen other ways. NY-Alert has 6.6 million subscribers….

A woman talks on her cell phone in a market in Kep, Cambodia. May 2009. Shot by Adam Jones Adam63, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license

Award for rainwater harvesting in Yemen

Zawya: Royal Philips Electronics (NYSE: PHG, AEX: PHI) has today announced the winners of the Philips Livable Cities Award, a global initiative designed to generate innovative, meaningful and achievable ideas to improve the health and well-being of city-dwellers across the world. The overall winner of the Award, announced at a gala ceremony held at the world famous Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, was named as Sabrina Faber based in Sana'a, Yemen, for her idea 'Rainwater Aggregation in Sana'a'.

Sabrina's idea was praised by the supervisory panel for its unique approach to modifying existing structures in Sana'a to capture, filter and store rooftop rainwater. Through her scheme, Sabrina hopes to help solve the water shortages commonly experienced in the city during dry spells, whilst providing clean drinking water. This could potentially result in significant health benefits for the whole population. Sabrina will receive a €75,000 grant from Philips to enable her to realize her vision.

Richard Florida, Professor, Author and Chair of the Philips Livable Cities Award supervisory panel, commented: "What really impressed us with Sabrina's scheme was the proposed execution of a relatively simple concept that will have such a significant impact on the lives of so many people across the city of Sana'a. We're looking forward to seeing her idea come to life and improving the health and well-being of the residents of Sana'a."…

The Old City in Sana'a at night, shot by Antti Salonen, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

An early warning sign for ecosystem collapse?

Jennifer Carpenter in Science: … now a team of ecologists has shown that it is possible to detect early distress signals in a lake that foretell a major disruption to its ecology. If researchers could identify similar signals in other ecosystems, they might one day predict, and perhaps even prevent, ecological meltdowns.

The collapse of the Atlantic cod fishery in the early 1990s saw the most abundant fish in the North Atlantic disappear due to overfishing. Such events are becoming increasingly common as humans overfish, overgraze, and alter the climate. Connections between predators and prey—often described as a food web—become destabilized. This leaves ecosystems vulnerable to dramatic changes, such as when a single species, like certain algae, grows out of control and forms toxic blooms, like the red tides common off the coast of Florida and Mexico. In theory, learning to detect the precursors of environmental distress could help raise the alarm before any damage is irreversible. But while that's a nice idea on paper, no one has shown that it is possible in real ecosystems.

Now, in the first study of its kind, researchers have pinpointed early warning signs for the disruption of a food web in a lake. By gradually introducing a large fish species—the largemouth bass—into a Wisconsin lake dominated by smaller algae-eating fish, a team of ecologists pushed the aquatic ecosystem to a critical limit where the largemouth bass came to dominate the food web….

Right state, wrong lake--Little Cedar Lake in Wisconsin, shot by Leehall7

Is climate change responsible for deadly U.S. tornadoes?

Mitch Potter in the Toronto Star: Giant tornadoes that killed at least 290 people in six U.S. states on Wednesday could provide a treasure trove of answers to scientists searching for evidence tying the outbreaks to climate change.

…While a raft of climate science points to a stormier future involving more frequent and possibly more severe hurricanes, researchers have yet to factor tornadoes into climate-change predictions with any certainty.

Theories abound, however, including a 2009 University of Georgia study that suggested climate change could in fact bring about fewer tornadoes in the southeastern United States, which sustained the worst of the Tuesday’s devastation.

But Purdue University climatologist Dev Niyogi, one of the co-authors of the Georgia study, cast doubt on even those findings in an interview Wednesday. Niyogi, like many climate experts, described with awe the sheer rarity of complex conditions that made Tuesday’s storm formations unlike anything the region has seen since the 1970s “The simple answer is we don’t really know whether climate change is going to cause more tornadoes. The jury is still out,” Niyogi told the Toronto Star.

… Niyogi attributes much of the swarming tornadoes of 2011 to “a La Nina spring, which is what we’re in right now. I suspect both the flooding and the extreme storms points to a seasonal variability (La Nina) signature more than a climate-change signature.”…

A radar image of a supercell thunderstorm about to pass through Raleigh, North Carolina during the Mid-April 2011 tornado outbreak.

African ocean current could boost Gulf Stream

David Fogarty in Reuters: An ocean current that flows down the east coast of Africa could strengthen a circulation pattern that brings warmth to Europe, according to a new study that challenges existing climate science. In a study in the latest issue of the journal Nature, scientists examining the Agulhas Current found more of the current's warm, salty water was entering the southern Atlantic, whose waters are cooler and fresher.

This in turn could strengthen the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic that brings warm waters and warmer temperatures to northern Europe. Until now, most studies suggest climate change would weaken the Gulf Stream over the coming decades.

In a further twist, the research team led by Lisa Beal of the University of Miami found signs that climate change had boosted the amount of water from the Agulhas current "leaking" into the south Atlantic over the past few decades.

This could challenge the findings of the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In its last global assessment report in 2007, the panel said climate models showed it was very likely the Gulf Stream, also called the Meridional Overturning Circulation, would slow down during this century….

Sea surface temperatures in the Agulhas Current, from NASA

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Stressed crops impede higher agriculture yields

Seed Daily: Like people, plants experience stress. And also, like people, the response to that stress can determine success. People can exercise, or rest, or talk about the problem. For plants, ways to deal with stress are internal. And ISU researchers are trying to understand how they do it.

Stephen Howell is a professor of genetics, development and cell biology and former director of the Plant Sciences Institute at ISU. His research is featured in the current issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. "We've discovered a new arm of the pathway by which plants activate a response to environmental stress," he said.

Adverse environmental conditions, such as drought, flood, heat and other stresses, affect yield more than crop pests and diseases. Finding a way to maintain high yields for plants under stress is a goal of plant breeders and other agriculture stakeholders, said Howell. "These are environmental stresses that the farmers can't control," Howell said. "They are acts of nature. And now seed companies are interested in trying to equip plants with the ability to tolerate stress."

…"As it turns out, responses that are activated under stress conditions actually inhibit the growth of plants," said Howell. "This allows them to conserve their energy to survive the stress conditions." For plants in the wild, this response is a survival tactic, he said. In production agriculture crops, however, these responses reduce yields…

Aerial view of a crop circle in Diessenhofen, shot by Hansueli Krapf, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Women must get their fair share of climate finance

Nina Somera in AlertNet: At the end of April, a committee of countries chosen to work out the details of a U.N.-backed Green Climate Fund holds its first meeting in Mexico, to discuss how to get the fund up and running. It faces some important questions: How to ensure the money goes to those more vulnerable to climate change? How to judge which projects are most effective and efficient? Where will the money come from, and who will decide where it’s allocated?

Much has been said on these fundamental issues which pit developing against developed countries. But further questions still need to be asked, particularly regarding women: What are the benefits of the Green Climate Fund to women? How to incorporate a gender perspective in decision making about the fund? How can the most vulnerable women access resources to build the resilience of their communities? How can the fund compensate women who’ve lost their few assets due to climate change?

Around the world, a large proportion of women still lack access to land, even as they contribute at least 50 percent of food production. The U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) estimates they could produce as much as 80 to 90 percent of food in some regions, including sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia.

…Given the disproportionate impact of climate change on women and girls, it is critical that a substantial part of the Green Climate Fund be allocated for projects that can help them withstand and cope with the challenges they face.

…Beyond this, women’s needs should be taken into account in all projects financed by the fund. Women must also have direct access to the money without having to go through an intermediary bank, in order to avoid fees and conditions. And the procedures for submitting proposals and reports should be simple enough to encourage women's organisations to tap the fund through their national governments.

Women have a conversation in Ouro Preto, Minas Gerais state, Brazil. July 2006. Shot by Adam Jones Adam63, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Dozens of tornadoes kill more than 240 in South

Marty Roney in USA Today: As day broke Thursday, people throughout the South began to survey the wreckage left behind after dozens of tornadoes ripped through six states killing 248 people. Residents search through what is left of their homes Thursday after a tornado hit Pleasant Grove, just west of downtown Birmingham, Ala., a day earlier.

It was the deadliest outbreak of tornadoes in nearly 40 years. It leveled entire neighborhoods and left victims buried beneath mounds of rubble. "It happened so fast it was unbelievable," said Jerry Stewart, a 63-year-old retired firefighter who was picking through the remains of his son's wrecked home in Pleasant Grove, a suburb of Birmingham, Ala. "They said the storm was in Tuscaloosa and it would be here in 15 minutes. And before I knew it, it was here."

…Alabama's state emergency management agency said it had confirmed 162 deaths, while there were 32 in Mississippi, 32 in Tennessee, 13 in Georgia, eight in Virginia and one in Kentucky. In Tuscaloosa, a city of more than 83,000 that saw some of the worst damage, residents began to sift through what little remained of their homes….

FEMA photo by Liz Roll of aftermath of an Alabama tornado, April 12, 1998

Flood prevention ponds in works for Canadian city

Times & Transcript (New Brunswick): The director of design and construction for the City of Moncton's Engineering department says it's now "full speed ahead" on a project aimed at preventing a repeat of the devastating basement floods that struck Moncton's Hildegarde subdivision in 2009.

Alcide Richard said yesterday the city now has the consent it needs from the Province of New Brunswick to build three water retention ponds at the side of Wheeler Boulevard, part of which is provincial property. "We've gotten something in writing from the minister," he said.

Getting the provincial approval had been a matter of some urgency for the city, as it hopes to complete the first phase of the two-phase construction project during this construction season.

…After the 2009 flooding, a number of other remediation measures were undertaken that have so far prevented a repeat of the unprecedented basement floods. But the whole point of investing what's expected to be close to $17 million upgrading the storm sewer infrastructure is being prepared for events that might only come along every few decades. As any of the more than 70 flooded Hildegarde residents will tell you, having a basement that might only flood once in your lifetime is still pretty cold comfort.

Peace of mind is not cheap, unfortunately. The particular project under way now, the construction of a series of three retention ponds, will cost about $7.5 million….

Downtown Moncton, shot by Stu pendousmat

The challenges facing small states

Everton Pryce in the Jamaica Observer: Thirty two of the Commonwealth's 53 member countries are small states, defined as countries with populations of less than 1.5 million people. They range in size from micro-states, such as St Kitts and Nevis in the Eastern Caribbean with less than 50,000 people and Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique of the Lesser Antilles in the Windward Islands of the Eastern Caribbean with a population of 110,000 inhabitants, to countries like Botswana and Gambia in Africa.

These countries, without exception, are characterised by their extreme vulnerability in the areas of security, environmental disasters, limited human resources and a lack of adequate economic capital. Despite the threat to the survival of these human-scale societies posed by unstable currencies, military-civil wars, poverty, HIV/AIDS, etc, climate change remains the single most important threat yet facing their prospects for economic development, peace and security and territorial existence.

…This profile in the extreme vulnerability of these states -- with serious implications for our own society -- means that climate change is fast becoming one of the critical international problems of the coming decades, and as such we can expect the cost to our societies of protecting vulnerable infrastructure, such as capital cities, airports, seaports and coastal roads to increase dramatically.

…Responding to the multi-faceted threats of climate change, therefore, will require small states pursuing developmental and sustainability policies that focus on the development of renewable technologies to help in shaping the transition from the fossil era to renewable energies. Especially in open trade-dependent small societies like ours, where energy price shocks tend to have a multiplier effect on the cost of living in the form of goods and services with the potential to trigger deepening political conflicts and social unrest, ways must be found to develop alternative energy sources and to effect domestic energy saving…

Map of St. Kitts and Nevis

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Range of the brown recluse spider could expand

University of Kansas Biodiversity Institute: One of the most feared spiders in North America is the subject a new study that aims to predict its distribution and how that distribution may be affected by climate changes. When provoked, the spider, commonly known as the brown recluse (Loxosceles reclusa), injects powerful venom that can kill the tissues at the site of the bite. This can lead to a painful deep sore and occasional scarring.

But the wounds are not always easy to diagnose. Medical practitioners can confuse the bite with other serious conditions, including Lyme disease and various cancers. The distribution of the spider is poorly understood as well, and medical professionals routinely diagnose brown recluse bites outside of the areas where it is known to exist.

By better characterizing its distribution, and by examining potential new areas of distribution with future climate change scenarios, the medical community and the public can be more informed about this species, said study author Erin Saupe. Saupe is a graduate student in Geology and a Biodiversity Institute student.

To address the issue of brown recluse distribution, Saupe and other researchers used a predictive mapping technique called ecological niche modeling. They applied future climate change scenarios to the spider’s known distribution in the Midwest and southern United States. The researchers concluded that the range may expand northward, potentially invading previously unaffected regions. Newly influenced areas may include parts of Nebraska, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, South Dakota, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
“These results illustrate a potential negative consequence of climate change on humans and will aid medical professionals in proper bite identification and treatment, potentially reducing bite misdiagnoses,” Saupe said…

I dare you to pick up that quarter. Shot by Br-recluse-guy

Vietnamese city probes climate risks to development plan

Thin Lei Win in AlertNet: Like many coastal cities in Vietnam, Quy Nhon is gearing up for development. It has big plans to become a trading and seaport hub, thanks to its strategic location connecting important transport routes. It also wants to develop snazzy accommodation for its population of 260,000 residents, and attract more tourists to its beautiful beachfront.

The city in central Binh Dinh province has also taken the novel – and, to climate experts, welcome – step of looking at the risk of disasters and potential effects of climate change before embarking on its major development programme.

With $300,000 funding from the U.S.-based Rockefeller Foundation, Quy Nhon is conducting a hydrology study that will explore the impact of infrastructure development in a flood-prone district, taking into consideration future weather patterns likely to be associated with climate change.

"I think it's a tribute to the Binh Dinh People's Committee that they're willing to step back and say, 'Wait, we know climate change is an issue, we know sea level is rising and storms are likely to intensify, what's likely to happen here?'" said Karen MacClune, a scientist with the U.S.-based Institute for Social and Environmental Transition which is providing technical support for the project.

Vietnam, with a coastline more than 3,200 km long, has been cited as one of the countries that will be most affected by global warming, which scientists warn could lead to sea-level rises and more extreme weather….

View of Quy Nhon from Ghenh Rang Recreation Area. Shot by Dragfyre, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Climate disruptions to the status quo

Rachel Godfrey Wood in the Poverty Matters blog in the Guardian (UK) mentions a book that's clearly pertinent to this blog: It's not always a great idea to acknowledge that bad things can create opportunities – but they can. Bad things cause suffering and tragedy, but they can also destabilise the status quo, open space for new discussions, and give an impetus to groups looking for positive change.

This is particularly relevant for climate change, which is likely to challenge governments and social systems in a way that has never happened before. This point has been made by Mark Pelling, who in his new book, Adaptation to Climate Change: From Resilience to Transformation, argues that adapting to climate change should be seen as an opportunity to challenge existing social contracts and unequal relationships.

A good example is the discussion over climate change and its potential to cause "instability" and threat to "security". This issue has apparently been rising up the priority list of military establishments and has been used by some environmentalists to advocate mitigation policies.

Aside from the debate over whether the climate "threat" to security is actually significant, there is a need to question the assumption that all forms of instability are bad. In fact, a quick glance of history shows us that environmental shocks have led to sweeping political changes, some of which were positive. Pelling himself identifies Bangladesh, Nicaragua and Mexico as countries that saw an opening of democratic space following natural disasters….

Rural development gets help from the sky

Seed Daily: The International Fund for Agricultural Development has been funding projects in Madagascar for over 30 years to eradicate rural poverty. With the country facing an exploding population and food crisis, the agency is looking skyward for support. The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) is not only working in Madagascar but also supporting poor rural people around the world to help them grow more food and achieve better livelihoods.

Earth observation satellites allow objective assessments of remote rural areas to help design, plan and monitor the impact of IFAD's development projects. ESA and IFAD have been working together to identify the detailed information needed to support selected projects in Madagascar.

ESA has carried out three trials to demonstrate how state-of-the-art Earth observation services can provide this information and improve the impact of IFAD's project.

Strengthening food security: One of IFAD's projects is to strengthen the food security of the rural population in the dry, famine-prone region of the Mandrare Basin by increasing productivity of the irrigated and rain-fed crops.

…Improving development planning: IFAD's project to support development in the Menabe region focuses on the sustainable expansion of arable land, mainly through irrigation schemes and securing agricultural land.

Securing land rights: IFAD is supporting a scheme introduced by the Malagasy Government that offers rural farmers the opportunity to formalise ownership of the land on which they depend….

Lake Kinkony in Madagascar, shot by NASA

Running ring around hurricanes predictions

Liz Ahlberg in Space Daily: Coastal residents and oil-rig workers may soon have longer warning when a storm headed in their direction is becoming a hurricane, thanks to a University of Illinois study demonstrating how to use existing satellites to monitor tropical storm dynamics and predict sudden surges in strength.

"It's a really critical piece of information that's really going to help society in coastal areas, not only in the U.S., but also globally," said atmospheric sciences professor Stephen Nesbitt. Nesbitt and graduate student Daniel Harnos published their findings in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Meteorologists have seen large advances in forecasting technology to track the potential path of tropical storms and hurricanes, but they've had little success in predicting storm intensity. One of the biggest forecast problems facing the tropical meteorology community is determining rapid intensification, when storms suddenly transform into much stronger cyclones or hurricanes.

"Rapid intensification means a moderate-strength tropical storm, something that may affect a region but not have a severe impact, blowing up in less than 24 hours to a category 2 or 3 hurricane," Harnos said. "This big, strong storm appears that wasn't anticipated, and the effects are going to be very negative. If you don't have the evacuations in place, people can't prepare for something of the magnitude that's going to come ashore."

For example, Hurricane Charlie, which hit southern Florida in 2004, was initially forecast as a category 1 storm. However, when it made landfall less than 24 hours later, it had strengthened to a category 4, causing major damage….

Destruction remains throughout rural Florida in 2005 (though the story says Charlie occurred in 2004), hard hit by Hurricane Charlie. FEMA Photo/Leif Skoogfors

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Community-based adaptation in Nepal

IRIN: The Himalayan kingdom of Nepal has become one of the first countries to consider scaling up community-based adaptation (CBA) to climate change and making it part of national development policy. Nepal is vulnerable to rising global temperatures and has already been dealing with the impact of erratic rainfall, frequent droughts and floods, which have been affecting food security. In response the country decided to experiment with a bottom-up approach using Local Adaptation Plans of Action, or LAPAs, in 10 districts across the country in 2010.

In a joint paper on local adaptation plans, Bimal Raj Regmi, a researcher, and Gyanendra Karki, a government official, said the idea of drawing up LAPAs came out of the National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPA) process. They noted that Nepal, as one of the last of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) to develop its NAPA, was able to incorporate elements omitted from the adaptation plans of other countries.

These include better links to climate change planning processes and mainstreaming national adaptation goals down to the local level, so that the NAPA process moved beyond regional and national consultation to include the input of vulnerable communities in the LAPAs.

The LAPAs are developed by people from various sectors in a village or district who identify local climate risks, vulnerability and needs, and focus on increasing resilience based on the geographical location and assessments made by the community using their knowledge of the local environment. "This is particularly critical because if communities are unable to distinguish climate change risks from other risks they face, then efforts to develop adaptive capacity might become unfocused or ineffective," said Regmi and Karki….

The Karnali River in Nepal, shot by filippo_jean, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Colombia launches major emergency operations after floods

Terra Daily via AFP: Some 160,000 Colombian police officers and 52 aircraft are participating in emergency operations following deadly floods that killed 67 people and caused widespread damage, officials said Monday. The police are focusing on rescue, evacuation, food distribution, security at shelters, manning state roads and other emergencies, according to a statement from the police directorate.

Heavy rains that battered Colombia this month have so far left 67 dead, 36 wounded and eight missing, while another 98,000 were injured and 183 homes were destroyed. …The heavy rains, triggered by the La Nina weather phenomenon, have caused damage in 28 of the country's 32 departments, and have blocked 16 major roads due to landslides. Some have collapsed entirely….

Map of Colombia by Marburi96, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Conservation of coastal dunes in Spain is threatened by poorly designed infrastructure

Science Daily: Although the dune ecosystem is unusual, fragile and is protected by the "habitats" directive of the network Natura 2000, its conservation is very vulnerable to the proliferation of car parks, nearby buildings and inadequate boardwalks installed for protection or beach access. Researchers at the University of Seville (UoS) have published a study in the Journal of Coastal Research of human impact on the natural dunes at two sites in the Gulf of Cádiz, specifically in the protected areas of La Flecha Litoral in El Rompido and Enebrales in Punta Umbria, both in Huelva province. The experts show that both dune systems are exposed to human pressure.

"This work tried to identify which factors influence the vulnerability of the dunes. On the one hand, these ecosystems are exposed to natural perturbations like storms, but also, we observe that human impact may have negative consequences even in zones which are difficult to access," explains Sara Muñoz Vallés, lead author of the study and researcher at the UoS.

…According to their assessment, some of the most affected areas, both in La Flecha and in Enebrales, owe this instability to human impact. "Specifically, car parks constructed within the dune area, poorly designed accesses and the laxity of control of tourists, as well as boardwalks installed at ground level which permit access to the beach over the first (seaward) line of dunes, but which interfere with their natural dynamics, have contributed to this vulnerability," indicates the researcher.

This fact explains that zones of La Flecha where there are no boardwalks and tourists have free access to the dune system show the same degree of fragility and of poor conservation as zones in Enebrales, where there are six boardwalks intended to protect the dunes from trampling.

…"Aside from their beauty and biodiversity, the dynamics of dune formation are unusual and highly plastic, and they play a very important role in the protection of the interior. Studies of the passage of Hurricane Katrina have explained how well-conserved mangrove swamps mitigated the destruction and erosion caused by Katrina, while those in a poor state of conservation did not have that capacity. The case of dunes is similar as far as pounding by the sea is concerned," concludes the expert.

One of the beaches studied, El Rompido, at low tide. Shot by Marc Ryckaert (MJJR), Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Wales set for more floods and hotter summers warns expert

Daily Post (UK): Wales is set to experience more floods and hotter summers, an expert has warned. Nobel prize winner and Denbighshire born Sir John Houghton told the Daily Post how it was likely that floods would rise in North Wales as a result of climate change. The ex-chief executive of the Met Office predicted that millions of people could be holidaying in Wales in the future as a result of warmer summers.

He added while it was hard to say that the recent peak in weather was a consequence of global warming, recent patterns could be interpreted as a step in that direction, he claimed. Last week, Wales recorded the warmest day in the year with places like Porthmadog in Gwynedd shooting up to 24 degrees.

…“The biggest effects we will have in Wales is sea level rise and flooding. The North Wales coast is very vulnerable to storms. We may get warmer summers and in the future if you go to the Mediterranean in the summer that’s going to be very hot and dry, which could mean more people will want to come to Wales.

“Welsh agriculture will have to adapt and countries in Africa and Asia will also get hotter so hundred’s of million could migrate. It’s a serious problem….”

Who knew the Welsh flag sports a glowering dragon? I'm impressed

US releases report highlighting impacts of climate change to western water resources

US Department of the Interior: Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today released a report that assesses climate change risks and how these risks could impact water operations, hydropower, flood control, and fish and wildlife in the western United States. The report to Congress, prepared by Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation, represents the first consistent and coordinated assessment of risks to future water supplies across eight major Reclamation river basins, including the Colorado, Rio Grande and Missouri river basins.

“Water is the lifeblood of our communities, rural and urban economies, and our environment,” said Secretary Salazar, “and small changes in water supplies or the timing of precipitation can have a big impact on all of us. This report provides the foundation for understanding the long-term impacts of climate change on Western water supplies and will help us identify and implement appropriate mitigation and adaptation strategies for sustainable water resource management.”

…The report notes that projected changes in temperature and precipitation are likely to impact the timing and quantity of stream flows in all western basins, which could impact water available to farms and cities, hydropower generation, fish and wildlife, and other uses such as recreation.
"Impacts to water are on the leading edge of global climate change, and these changes pose a significant challenge and risk to adequate water supplies, which are critical for the health, economy, and ecology of the United States," added Reclamation Commissioner Mike Connor.

Reclamation is already working with stakeholders across the West to achieve a sustainable water strategy to meet our nation's water needs. Through the WaterSMART Basin Studies Program, Reclamation is developing and evaluating options for meeting future water demands in river basins where water supply and demand imbalances exist or are projected…

Monday, April 25, 2011

Climate change understanding falls along political lines

Jeanna Brynner in Live Science: While public opinion on climate change might be polarized, it's a stark contrast to the scientific community's unified stance regarding the warming of our planet. The latest research finds public understanding of the issue falls along political party lines, with Republicans most often saying Earth's climate is either not changing or agreeing it is changing -- but that those changes are due to natural causes.

Democrats, on the other hand, most often agreed that the climate is changing now due mainly to human activities. The research is published in a report put out by the University of New Hampshire's Carsey Institute and announced this week.

"Although there remains active discussion among scientists on many details about the pace and effects of climate change, no leading science organization disagrees that human activities are now changing the Earth's climate," said study researcher Lawrence Hamilton, professor of sociology and senior fellow with the Carsey Institute. "The strong scientific agreement on this point contrasts with the partisan disagreement seen on all of our surveys."

The reason may have to do with where we get our information on climate change, which Hamilton suggests is not scientists, but instead through news media, political activists, friends and other nonscience sources.

….The take-home for all those involved: "There are things scientists could do better to communicate, using the new media; and journalists could do better if they gained science literacy," Hamilton told LiveScience. "But such improvements would still be arrayed against a political climate that rewards wedge-issue polarization."…

John Tenniel's illustration of "A Mad Tea Party" in a one chapter of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Here Alice meets the Mad Hatter, the March Hare and the Dormouse. The ensuing discussion is not rewarding for Alice

Coping with climate change in Ghana

Evelyn Tagbo in Business Day online (Nigeria): … Keta in Volta Region of Ghana is a coastal town very close to Aflao, the last town on Ghana's border with Togo. For the many Nigerians that visit the country by road, Keta is the first face of Ghana they see. Along the narrow road leading through Keta and Anloga, another neighbouring town, are a number of dilapidated ancient European-style buildings that tell a lot about the areas' past.

…Dan Dotse, a scientist whom the reporter met at the Afloa border, however, believes that the regular flooding in the area which Francis, blames on the voodoo priestess might not really be her making. He blames the situation on climate change. "The people of Keta and its environs are some of the worst victims of climate change in Ghana. Many of them have been rendered homeless by such floods and many others are still very much at risk," he says.

…According to experts, Ghana's northern and Volta regions are more prone to climate devastation than other parts of the country. The frequency of droughts and floods is increasing in both areas. While both trends are damaging to livelihoods, floods are especially problematic, as they destroy productive infrastructure. Being a poor settlement, some of the homes destroyed by the floods, cost their owners their entire life savings. Little wonder the agony that comes with such losses.

….Thousands of coastal dwellers in West Africa like the Ketans, are already feeling the impacts of climate change. This is resulting in significant economic and human losses and hindering efforts to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in these areas. In September 2008, rising sea levels destroyed hundreds of homes, hotels, roads and harvests, in Cotonou, Benin's capital.

…Even without climate change, agriculture in Nigeria, Benin Republic and other West African countries face serious challenges - land degradation, high rainfall variability, lack of storage infrastructure, inadequate irrigation systems, and a relatively stagnant contribution to economic growth….

A view of the beach from St. George's castle in Ghana, shot by Stig Nygaard, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Doctors in US should be on lookout for dengue fever

Christine S. Moyer in the American Medical News: As cases of dengue infection escalate around the globe, authors of a new study are urging physicians to ask patients with fevers for travel histories. The mosquito-borne infection should be considered as a possible diagnosis for people who recently visited places where the disease is endemic, including Asia, the Caribbean, Central America and South America.

Doctors also should know the trends of the disease in the United States, the authors said.

Their study, published online April 13 in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Emerging Infectious Diseases, found that more than three times as many people were hospitalized in the U.S. with dengue fever in 2007 than in 2000. Hospitalizations climbed from 81 cases in 2000 to 299 in 2007.

The study's authors attribute the increase, in part, to the growing number of worldwide dengue cases and the significant number of Americans who travel to areas where the disease is abundant. The global rise has been linked to climate change. Greater rainfall and warmer temperatures make it more conducive for infected mosquitoes to circulate.

"It's important for physicians to recognize who's at risk of dengue fever," said Judy A. Streit, MD, an author of the study. "Traditionally, [it has been people who] travel to disease-endemic areas." But, she added, physicians should not rule out the disease in patients with a febrile illness who have not been outside the country recently.

"Travel is not the only risk factor. We do have the vectors present in the U.S.," said Dr. Streit, assistant professor in the Dept. of Internal Medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine in Iowa City…

In the 1960s, a major effort was made to eradicate the principal urban vector mosquito of dengue and yellow fever viruses, A. aegypti, from southeast United States. This field technician is looking for larvae in standing water containers. Image source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Publich Health Image Library.

Texas drought causes wildfires

The Battalion Online (Texas A&M University): With the dry weather and high winds, Texas residents have reason to be cautious. The weather affects everything from agriculture to wildfires, and there is no change in sight. "The current weather conditions are due to the La Niña weather pattern," said Travis Miller, professor, associate head and extension program leader for the Soil and Crop Sciences Department.

Miller said there is a difference between weather and climate. "This time La Niña turned out really bad," said John Nielsen-Gammon, professor of atmospheric sciences and climatologist.

Miller said implications of the drought are occurring right now. Wheat crops were destroyed, many farmers are abandoning dry-land crops, and fires burn in the grasslands of West Texas. It is too dry to plant cotton, and it is difficult for cattle to find food.

"Farmers are liquidating herds and selling cattle," Miller said. "Ranchers invest their career in developing a set of genetics right for their ranch and it is like parting with children when you have to sell them."

Miller said agricultural losses added up to more than $18 billion in Texas. "Soon it will start affecting water systems and the use of water in urban areas goes up when it is this dry," Miller said….

A view across the desert landscape of Big Bend National Park, Texas. Shot by Martin Proll

Gold prices spur six-fold spike in Amazon deforestation

Terra Daily: Deforestation in parts of the Peruvian Amazon has increased six-fold in recent years as small-scale miners, driven by record gold prices, blast and clear more of the lowland rainforest, according to a new Duke University-led study. The study, published in the online journal PLoS ONE, combined NASA satellite imagery spanning six years with economic analyses of gold prices and mercury imports to document the forces responsible for deforestation in Peru's biologically diverse Madre de Dios region.

Roughly 7,000 hectares, or about 15,200 acres, of pristine forest and wetlands were cleared at two large mining sites between 2003 and 2009, with a dramatic increase in deforestation occurring in the last three years. "In addition to these two large sites, there are many scattered, small but expanding areas of mining activity across Madre de Dios that are more difficult to monitor but could develop rapidly like the sites we've tracked over time," says Jennifer Swenson, assistant professor of the practice of geospatial analysis at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment.

Much of the deforestation visible in the satellite images has been caused by unregulated, artisanal mining by miners who are often among the poorest and most marginalized members of their society. "These are small-time miners; there is no big 'Goliath' mining company to blame," Swenson says. The miners often lack modern technology, have limited knowledge of mining's environmental or human health effects and rarely have safeguards to limit the release of the mercury they use to process their gold into the air, soil or water….

A gold coin depicting Septimius Severus, 193–211 AD. Aureus (7.23 gm). Struck 193 AD to celebrate the legion that proclamed him emperor. Image from Classical Numismatic Group, Inc., Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license

Sunday, April 24, 2011

New Jersey must take immediate action to address Passaic River flooding

A commentary by Jeff Tittel in New Jersey Newsroom: For the first time the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has denied funding to New Jersey for the March flooding of the Passaic River. FEMA did not consider the flood event major enough to be a disaster. For the people who live along the Passaic River it is a disaster. The impact on their homes, families, and lives is devastating. The March flood was the second big flood they faced in little over a year. These people should not be put through this type of disaster time and time again. The FEMA decision came at a time when people are still cleaning up from another flood that happened earlier this week.

…This decision reinforces the need to have buyouts on Passaic River. The homes that constantly flood need to be purchased. We should remove those houses and restore the flood plain. In the long run this approach is cheaper for tax payers, better for the environment, and better for the families next to the river.

Even though most of the families have flood insurance, it is subsidized by tax payers. People without flood insurance tend to be poor people or senior citizens that do not have mortgages. But more importantly the people that go through these disasters time and time again have to be moved out of harms way.

…Gov. Christie has placed roll backs on flood hazard rules, removing key protections like zero net fill and stream buffers. He has weakened storm water rules which would require recharging and detention of stormwater as well as buffers. The DEP has proposed a waiver rule that is so vague that virtually any development project can skirt the rules of critical environmental programs. Christie has been weakening the Highlands regulations by attempting to repeal the Highlands Act through appointments to the Highlands Council that are pro-development. Weakening protections in the Highlands will result in more flooding in the Passaic River Basin as the headwaters in the Highlands lose the capacity to store water as a result of development…

The Great Falls of the Passaic River at Paterson, New Jersey, a site enshrined in the William Carlos Williams poem. Shot by Contranova

Scientists see pattern in Texas' bad wildfire year

Randy Lee Loftis in the Sacramento Bee via the Dallas Morning News: Texas horizons have been red lately, but not from great sunsets. Wildfires have burned roughly 1.4 million acres and destroyed nearly 200 homes this year during one of the state's worst droughts and through its driest March.

…Scientists say the immediate cause is a La Nina, a recurring, months-long pattern that blocks Texas' normal rains. But are the drought and fires also linked to climate change? Climate scientists say that question, though common whenever extreme weather arrives, is both unanswerable and misdirected. "By now, most people get that you can't attribute any single weather event on global warming," said John Nielsen-Gammon, the Texas state climatologist and a professor at Texas A&M University.

…Texas has boosted spending for wildfire control, largely in response to the catastrophic 2006 season. If climate change makes such events more common, the bill for protecting rural or even suburban property could climb. Climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe, a research associate professor at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, said Texas trends are already emerging - especially a tendency toward more extreme rainfall events.

…Rainfall in a few heavy bursts rather than throughout a growing season might not help crops very much. Higher temperatures might boost irrigation demands, further depleting West Texas' already declining Ogallala Aquifer, Hayhoe said.

Although no one drought or flood can be blamed on climate change, she said, the chances for such events might increase, like rolling dice loaded with an extra six….

Satellite image of fires in Texas and Mexico, April 15, 2011. From NASA

Melting ice on Arctic islands boosts sea levels

The Independent via AFP: Melting glaciers and ice caps on Canadian Arctic islands play a far greater role in sea level rise than previously suspected, according to a study published Thursday. Between 2004 and 2009, the 30,000 snow-and-ice covered islands in the Canadian Archipelago shed 363 cubic kilometres (87 cubic miles) of water, equivalent to three-quarters of contents of Lake Erie, the study found.

During the first half of this six-year period, the average loss was 29 cubic kilometres (seven cubic miles) per year. But during the second three-year period, the average jumped to 92 cubic kilometres (22 cubic miles) annually. Over the full six years, this added a total of one millimeter to the height of the worlds oceans, the researchers calculated.

"This is a region that we previously didn't think was contributing to sea level rise," said Alex Gardner, a researcher at the University of Michigan and lead author of the study. "Now we realise that outside of Antarctica and Greenland, it was the largest contributor for the years 2007 through 2009. This area is highly sensitive and if temperatures continue to increase, we will see much more melting," he said in a statement.

Ninety-nine percent of all the world's land ice is trapped in the massive ice sheets of Antarctica and Greenland. Despite their size, however, they currently only account for about half of the land-ice bleeding each year into the oceans, mainly because they are so thick and cold that ice melts only at their edges. The other half of the ice melt contributing to sea-level rise comes from smaller mountain glaciers and ice caps such as those in the Canadian Arctic, Alaska and Patagonia….

The incomparable photographer of Arctic scenes Ansgar Walk took this picture of Baffin Island from the air, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Seasonal water metering is seen as a con by UK consumers, study finds

Jamie Doward in the Guardian (UK): The race to provide Britain with a sustainable water supply is already generating the first of what is likely to be a long list of controversies.

As the UK basks in temperatures that put Athens in the shade and with rivers already running low, utility companies are under increasing pressure to preserve water. But the most comprehensive study of its kind suggests the leading option for ensuring the UK enjoys a sustainable water supply – metering – is hitting the poorest hardest and is viewed with suspicion by consumers who believe it is a ruse by utility companies to increase their profits. The study by Wessex Water, which supplies water to more than one million households in the west country, found the introduction of meters reduced customer demand by 17%, higher than previous estimates.

The reduction was even greater if the meters were tied to a tariff system that saw the price of water rise in the summer, an increasingly popular option being considered by the utility companies, but one which has caused widespread anger among consumers.

The Wessex study, the largest since metering was introduced 20 years ago, found 15% of customers saw their annual bills rise by more than £100 after flat-rate metered systems were installed. A quarter of the poorest customers saw their bills increase by more than £50. Phil Wickens, tariffs manager at Wessex Water, acknowledged his company had one of the highest water rates in the UK, but said that it was vital the industry introduced a new charging system if the UK was to have a sustainable supply.

"We want a charging system that gives us the ability to meet future challenges in the long term," Wickens said. "Climate change and population growth are going to place pressure on the need for increased investment. In order for us to secure that investment we really need all of our customers to be willing and able to pay their bills. There is a commercial incentive for raising these issues now."…

Water meters shot by Man, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Brazil hit by deadly floods and landslides

BBC: Landslides and floods triggered by torrential rain have killed at least 10 people in southern Brazil. Among the dead were three children whose home was among several buried in the town of Novo Hamburgo in the state of Rio Grande do Sul.

A man was electrocuted by toppled power lines in Sapucaia do Sul and a farmer died when a building collapsed on him. Floods and landslides in January killed about 800 people in a mountainous region near Rio de Janeiro.…Surrounding areas believed at risk from further landslides are being evacuated, officials said….

Locator map of Novo Hamburgo, created by Cícero Henrique Rodrigues, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license