Monday, October 31, 2011

Climate change greatest threat to Gambia

Momodou Faal in via the Daily Observer (Banjul, Gambia): The deputy permanent secretary, Ministry of Fisheries, Water Resources and National Assembly Matters has said that climate change is currently the greatest threat that humankind is faced with in the modern age.

Ms Fatima Sosseh-Jallow was speaking Thursday while presiding over the opening of the project inception workshop - Strengthening of The Gambia's climate change early warning systems at the Paradise Suites Hotel Sosseh-Jallow described climate change as a global concern, with both rich and poor countries alike affected by its negative impact. She stated that in spite of the well-meaning efforts to achieve the Vision 2020 blueprint, alleviate poverty and achieve the MDGs, climate change still stand to undo the past achievements and undermine future progress.

Speaking earlier, Pa Ousman Jarju, director of Water Resources and the focal person of The Gambia United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) said The Gambia is currently living with the negative impact of climate change events such as irregular rainfall patterns, and living in apprehension of predicted ones as the sea-level rises.He warned that a one-metre sea level rise forecast to occur by 2050 may result in the inundation of over 90 km2 of the coastal zone leading to the loss of the capital City of Banjul...

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Severed from the grid and the Internet

Nothing beats an intensified water cycle for disrupting your blog. Almost two feet of snow have buried Carbon Based. We are currently limping along with generator power and only a trickle of Internet. Posting will be light for a few days.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Bangladesh, India top climate change vulnerability index

Environment News Service: Some of the world's largest and fastest-growing economies, especially those in South Asia, are most at risk from climate change, finds a new global ranking that calculates the vulnerability of 170 countries to the impacts of climate change over the next 30 years. The 2011 Climate Change Vulnerability Index, released by global risks advisory firm Maplecroft, evaluates 42 social, economic and environmental factors to assess national vulnerabilities across three core areas.

The index is mapped in Maplecroft's Climate Change Risk Atlas 2011, which evaluates the risks to business relating to emissions, unsustainable energy use, regulation and climate change vulnerability. The countries at the greatest risk are characterized by high levels of poverty, dense populations, and exposure to climate-related events, as well as their reliance on flood-prone and drought-prone agricultural land.

Bangladesh tops the list of countries at extreme risk, and India is close behind in second place. Madagascar is third, Nepal fourth, Mozambique is in fifth place and the Philippines comes sixth. Haiti, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe and Myanmar (Burma), in that order, round out the top 10 countries listed as at extreme risk. Vietnam and Pakistan are also listed in the extreme risk category, although not in the top 10.

"These countries are attracting high levels of foreign investment from many multinational organizations," said Dr. Matthew Bunce, principal environmental analyst at Maplecroft. "However, over the next 30 years their vulnerability to climate change will rise due to increases in air temperature, precipitation and humidity," he said....

A 2010 flood in Dhaka, shot by Rezowan, Wikimedia Commons, under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation

Key companies launch partnership on climate resilience A number of companies, including Calvert Investments, Entergy, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Inc., Levi Strauss & Co., and Swiss Re, praised today's release of the Administration's Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force report voicing strong support for the report's emphasis on building resilience in communities, in the US and around the world, who are vulnerable to extreme weather events and rising temperatures.

The companies also announced the launch of their new effort, the Partnership for Resilience and Environmental Preparedness (PREP), formed to promote responsible business practices and strong policies and programs that help businesses and vulnerable communities prepare for and respond to climate change. PREP signals a growing recognition among companies that the risks communities on the front lines of climate change face are also business risks

"A meaningful discussion on climate change cannot stop at mitigation," said J. Wayne Leonard, CEO of Entergy Corporation, an integrated energy company operating primarily in the Gulf South. "The solutions must also include adapting to and resilience against its most negative consequences. Today's report recognizes that the livelihoods of people living in coastal communities, the sustainability of rich natural resources that support our economy and the security of residential, commercial and industrial assets are at great risk if we don't devise and implement plans to protect against, and recover from, the adverse effects associated with climate change."

..."Investing in smart adaptation solutions is a major step towards building a climate resilient society," said Mark Way, Senior Vice President for Sustainability and Political Risk Management at Swiss Re, a global reinsurance firm with offices in the US. "By partnering together, companies and communities can utilize their collective resources to tackle climate risk and improve resiliency for the betterment of society as a whole."...

Friday, October 28, 2011

Human-caused climate change a major factor in more frequent Mediterranean droughts

NOAA: Wintertime droughts are increasingly common in the Mediterranean region, and human-caused climate change is partly responsible, according to a new analysis by NOAA scientists and colleagues at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES). In the last 20 years, 10 of the driest 12 winters have taken place in the lands surrounding the Mediterranean Sea.

“The magnitude and frequency of the drying that has occurred is too great to be explained by natural variability alone,” said Martin Hoerling, Ph.D. of NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colo., lead author of a paper published online in the Journal of Climate this month. “This is not encouraging news for a region that already experiences water stress, because it implies natural variability alone is unlikely to return the region’s climate to normal.”

The Mediterranean region accumulates most of its precipitation during the winter, and Hoerling’s team uncovered a pattern of increasing wintertime dryness that stretched from Gibraltar to the Middle East. Scientists used observations and climate models to investigate several possible culprits, including natural variability, a cyclical climate pattern called the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), and climate change caused by greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere during fossil fuel use and other human activities.

Climate change from greenhouse gases explained roughly half the increased dryness of 1902-2010, the team found. This means that other processes, none specifically identified in the new investigation, also have contributed to increasing drought frequency in the region. The team also found agreement between the observed increase in winter droughts and in the projections of climate models that include known increases in greenhouse gases. Both observations and model simulations show a sudden shift to drier conditions in the Mediterranean beginning in the 1970s. The analysis began with the year 1902, the first year of a recorded rainfall dataset....

Reds and oranges highlight lands around the Mediterranean that experienced significantly drier winters during 1971-2010 than the comparison period of 1902-2010. Map from NOAA

NASA launches trailblazing weather/climate satellite

MSNBC: After a five-year delay, NASA launched an Earth-observing satellite on Friday to test new technologies aimed at improving weather forecasts and monitoring climate change. The $1.5 billion mission comes amid a year of weather extremes, ranging from the Midwest tornado outbreak to the Southwest wildfires to hurricane-caused flooding in New England.

"We've already had 10 separate weather events, each inflicting at least $1 billion in damages," said Louis Uccellini of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The satellite lifted off before dawn from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., aboard a Delta 2 rocket that sent it toward an orbit some 500 miles high. "Smooth ride," flight commentator Steve Agid reported during the ascent.

The space agency already has a fleet of satellites circling the Earth, taking measurements of the atmosphere, clouds and oceans. But many are aging and need replacement. The latest — about the size of a small school bus — is more sophisticated. It carries five different types of instruments to collect environmental data, including four that never before have flown into space.

One of the satellite's main jobs is to test key technologies that will be used by next-generation satellites set to launch in a few years....

The NPP satellite vertical in the cleanroom after EMI, in January 2011

Pestilence, pandemics, and climate change

The Conversation (Australia): Recent outbreaks of deadly bat-borne diseases could be a sign of things to come as rising heat and changing rains help the spread of infectious disease in Australia. Such is the warning that Professor Tony McMichael of the Australian National University’s National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health will deliver in a public lecture next week.

In his advance notes for the talk, Professor McMichael writes that “recent outbreaks of bat-borne viral diseases in horses and humans in Australia are a pointer to likely future risks to human health – as climate change causes the displacement of species such as bats from their natural habitat (and, perhaps, into the urban and suburban environments).” Professor McMichael will also talk about the growing chance that mosquitoes carrying dengue fever will make their way to Australia, given their expanding territorial reach in countries including Japan and the Philippines.

In notes for the lecture, Professor McMichael mentions that climate change partly triggered the 14th Century Black Death that killed up to half of the population of many European cities. He also writes that the last decade’s leap in the reach of the dengue mosquito (Aedes albopictus) into Manila jumped the most when the greatest year-on-year warming occurred (2005-2006). In Japan the dengue mosquito has “extended its zone northwards by 500 kilometres over the past half century in association with warming”....

A sign in Singleton, New South Wales, shot by Peter Firminger, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Building resilience in the Sahel

IRIN: In 2005, drought and famine hit the Sahel, claiming many lives. The pattern was repeated in 2010, with the crisis most acute in Niger. And now the early warning signs are there for problems again next year, in 2012.

Sahelians have always had their ways of coping with bad years. Not so long ago the cycle could be tracked by the size of women’s gold earrings. In major drought years the gold would have to be sold, and for a time the women would wear replica ornaments of painted tin. Then gradually they could start to buy gold again, until eventually their earrings were back to their former size.

But successive droughts, coming this close together, tax families’ resilience to the limits. Not just gold has to be sold, but productive assets too - livestock, tools and land - making it almost impossible for the family ever to get back to its position before the crisis. A government study of 14 agro-pastoral areas in Niger found that pastoralists with small herds had on average lost 90 percent of their livestock due to successive droughts. International aid has kept people alive - more successfully in 2010 than in 2005 - but it has not stopped this kind of progressive impoverishment.

After the 2005 famine, the Sahel Working group, an informal grouping of UK and other European aid agencies, commissioned a study (entitled Beyond Any Drought) - on the lessons which could be learned from the way the crisis had been handled. Now its author, Peter Gubbels of Groundswell International, has repeated the exercise. The new publication, Escaping the Hunger Cycle; Pathways to Resilience in the Sahel, looks at what happened in 2010, what has changed for the better, what challenges remain, and what can be learned for the future.

One of the continuing problems identified in the report, and one which still has not been solved, is a conceptual issue of how you think about crisis and normality in areas where child malnutrition is always at a level which would elsewhere denote an emergency situation....

"Drought has turned farmland into useless soil and sand" A farmer examines the soil in drought stricken Niger during the 2005 famine. Still from a Voice of America TV report

How to prepare yourself before the flood

Pattaya Mail (Thailand): Safeguarding Bangkok from floods has been a major challenge for the government throughout the past few months. However, after several unsuccessful attempts to keep the capital dry, it is now time for the city people to adjust to a new soggy life. This special report will give you basic tips which can help lower losses to be brought on by the deluge. For those living in areas where the floods are certain to come, here are the arrangements you can make on your own.
  • Estimate Possible Losses : Making financial assessment of the damage will enable you to plan your house restoration budget better and prioritize your properties by importance at the same time. You may find that the house clean-up job costs less than expected, thanks to the prior damage estimation.
  • Familiarize Yourself with the Disaster Warning System : Flood disaster has been uncommon in the well-protected Bangkok for a long time. Now, it is time for the city people to learn to memorize warning signals which could be made in the form of gunshots or flares. Always keep yourself updated on the official announcements so that you can distinguish the signal sounds.
  • Keep the Safe Routes in Mind ...
  • Prepare Survival Necessities...
  • Keep Your Properties Safe : Check whether there are any leaks or cracks in your house, which the flood water can squeeze in and fix them. Installation of flood prevention system is also necessary. You may leave your cars at your relatives’ houses. Anyway, make sure that their houses are high enough. Free parking provided by the government or other agencies may be packed now. Using parking service of a condominium is another option....
Thammasat University's Rangsit Campus in Changwat Pathum Thani, north of Bangkok, is inundated with 2-metre-high water on October 24, 2011 and becomes a lake. Shot by Clumsily, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Californians must adapt to climate change

Anne Louise Bannon in the Pacific Palisades Patch: At a hearing hosted by state Senator Fran Pavley (23rd District) in Santa Monica last week, experts testified that Californians will have to adapt to a drier climate and rising sea levels as a result of climate change.

The hearing was held Oct. 20 in Santa Monica City Council Chambers before a panel that included Pavley, who is the Chair of the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee and the Senate Select Committee on the Environment, the Economy and Climate Change; Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom; state Senators Kevin DeLeon (22nd District) and Ted Lieu (28th District, which includes Mar Vista); and Assemblywoman Betsy Butler (50th District).

"We have a pretty good handle on what's waiting for us," said Dr. Tony Haymet, a director at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography. "That's the good news. We're still a wealthy community. We have the resources." Haymet went on to describe a very dry future for the state, including rising sea levels that would seriously harm area beaches. He said such environmental change would negatively impact the local economy, which depends on beach tourism.

Much of the testimony predicted a dire future for the state, with vanishing resources and a growing population, and various solutions were proposed to help the region adapt.

Matthew Heberger of the Pacific Institute said adaptation was “necessary,” and he advocated increasing and restoring coastal wetlands to deal with rising sea levels, while Martha Dina Arguello of Physicians for Social Responsibility encouraged the creation of more green spaces and community gardens in urban areas. "We have to put social equity at the center of our policy," she said....

Santa Monica beach and pier, with Santa Monica Mountains in backround, in Southern California, shot by Daniel Schwen, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license

Climate change making US water problems worse

Kim Palmer in Reuters: Climate change and population growth in the United States will make having enough fresh water more challenging in the coming years, an expert on water shortages said on Wednesday. "In 1985-1986 there were historical (water level) highs and now in less than 25 years we are at historical lows. Those sorts of swings are very scary," said Robert Glennon, speaking at the State of the Lakes Ecosystem Conference in Erie, Pennsylvania.

Glennon, a professor at Arizona State University and the author of "Unquenchable: America's Water Crisis and What To Do About It," said that that according to climate experts, shorter, warmer winters mean less ice and greater exposure to the air, leading eventually to more water evaporation. "We think about water like the air -- infinite and inexhaustible but it is very finite and very exhaustible," Glennon said.

"When you have a shorter ice season you have great exposure to the air and more evaporation. As temperatures go up it is very troubling," Glennon said. "The cycles are going to become more acute which is very troubling."

This past summer, Ohio Governor John Kasich vetoed a bill that would have allowed unrestricted removal of five million gallons of water from Ohio's lakes and rivers every 90 days. Kasich, a Republican who has criticized government regulations, surprised some political observers by following the advice of organizations that felt the bill would allow lake levels to become dangerously low....

Cleves, Ohio, from the air, shot by Derek Jensen (Tysto)

Mekong flooding causes widespread damage in Viet nam

Tran Phuong Anh at A relentless series of tropical storms and typhoons has filled the Mekong River to record levels, causing widespread flooding that now covers much of south and central Viet Nam in water. The disaster has damaged over a hundred thousand homes, affecting 700,000 residents and killing 49 people – 43 of them children.

One of the hardest hit areas is the southern province of An Giang, where nearly 19,000 homes have been flooded. Some 54 schools are submerged in flood waters, interrupting the educations of over 1,300 students.

...And disasters like this seem to be getting worse. “Although local people are used to seasonal floods and disaster preparedness is part of their daily life, the weather has become more and more unpredictable, and we’ve seen an increased number of cyclones,” said Ho Viet Hiep, Vice Chairman of An Giang’s Provincial People’s Committee.

The Mekong floods have caused an alarming number of child fatalities, most of them due to drowning. “In emergency situations children, particularly young children, are the most vulnerable,” said Nguyen Van Nghia, a child protection expert from the provincial Department of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs. “Many live in houses surrounded by water, and if their parents fail to keep an eye on them for just a second, they might just quickly fall into the water. The flow is currently so strong that it takes a few minutes to sweep the child away as far as a kilometer.”...

A flood in Vietnam, shot by Bút Chiến, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Africa should act on climate change via the New Times (Egypt): Senate president, Dr. Jean Damascene Ntawukuriryayo, has said that Africa should move faster in drawing concrete action plans against climate change. He made the remarks at the ongoing third Nile Basin Development Forum that seeks to come up with measures to mitigate climate change in countries that share the Nile River.

"I call upon you to draw actions for better management and development of Africa's Water Resources. These actions should be based on sound vision, political will and determination," he said. "I believe it is time for Africa to move vigorously with an agenda for action". He added that it was time for Africa to overcome the fragmentation that exists at various levels of climate change management. In this region, there are many initiatives that are engaged in climate change matters. There is need for synergistic interventions that optimize and ensure beneficial use of the available resources." Ntawukuriryayo observed.

He pointed out that Africa needs both technical and financial support to institute measures for climate change adaptation. "It is time for the international community to respond in favour of such demand and provide the long waited financial and technical support towards that cause," he said.

The Nile Basin Development Forum seeks to enhance and continue building confidence, common understanding and broad based dialogue among countries that share the Nile River....

Aerial view of the Nile near Luxor, showing the encroaching desert. Shot by Bionet, public domain

Pakistan tackles water crisis with rainwater harvesting

Saleem Shaikh and Sughra Tunio in AlertNet: Wearing colourful traditional dresses with silver jewellery and bangles on their arms, the women of Tharparkar district look festive. But the empty earthen pots they carry tell a different story.

“Walking for three miles and (hoisting) a ... bucket filled with water through a wooden pulley from a 130-feet-deep well twice a day is toilsome work,” says Marvi Bheel, who lives in isolated Morry-je-Wandh village in this arid district of Sindh province, some 450 km (280 miles) south-east of Karachi.

Increasing temperatures and lower rainfalls, believed to be associated with climate change, are creating intense water shortages in much of Pakistan, a situation which is likely to worsen if the country’s 170 million population doubles as projected in the next 25 years.

In response, non-governmental organizations are trying to improve water harvesting in rural areas. A pilot project in Morry-je-Wandh has seen the construction of a large covered pond with the capacity to supply the domestic and drinking water needs of 20 families (135 villagers) for more than eight months. “The new rainwater harvesting facilities have transformed the lives of people, as we have now a safe source of clean water,” said Sobho Bheel, a farmer unrelated to Marvi Bheel....

An ancient Jain temple in the Tharparkar district, shot by Mjakhro, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Worsening drought for New Mexico

Staci Matlock in the Santa Fe New Mexican: ...A drought fact sheet released this week by Earth Gauge, a joint project of the American Meteorological Society and the National Environmental Education Foundation, notes 10 percent of the United States, including a chunk of New Mexico, is in a severe drought. For some areas, the conditions are the worst since 1900, when weather stations first began keeping regular precipitation records. A drought outlook released Oct. 20 by the federal Climate Prediction Center says the dry times are likely to continue and get worse in New Mexico through the winter and spring.

The region has yet to endure the deep pinch of historic mega-dry times, which scientists think lasted decades or even centuries because of natural causes. But as New Mexico enters the second winter in a moisture deficit and after the driest first 10 months on record, specters of past droughts loom. And the question remains: How much of a new drought will be from natural climate change, and how much will be from greenhouse-gas emissions from human activity?

Occasional snowstorms or rainstorms won't be enough to make up for a long-term deficit. After some recent rains in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Santa Fe's two municipal reservoirs remain at about 18 percent of usable capacity and a third of total capacity.

Still, we have seen nowhere near the worst drought in the region. The worst New Mexico drought in recent memory occurred in the 1950s.

Using the data and sophisticated computer modeling, scientists can build a picture of what the climate was like in one season or over the course of many centuries. Climatologists are interested in the long-term patterns. Only by looking at moisture and drought over an extended period can they understand whether the patterns are changing, what causes the change and how rapidly....

The Big Bend South Rim, shot by Adam Baker, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

How plants sense low oxygen levels to survive flooding

University of California, Riverside: As countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Vietnam and parts of the United States and United Kingdom have fallen victim to catastrophic flooding in recent years, tolerance of crops to partial or complete submergence is a key target for global food security. Starved of oxygen, crops cannot survive a flood for long periods of time, leading to drastic reductions in yields for farmers.

Experts at the University of California, Riverside and The University of Nottingham now report they have discovered how plants sense low oxygen levels to survive flooding – a finding that could lead eventually to the production of high-yielding, flood-tolerant crops, benefiting farmers, markets and consumers everywhere.

Specifically, the researchers identified the molecular mechanism involved. This mechanism controls key plant proteins, causing them to be unstable when oxygen levels are normal. When roots or shoots are flooded and oxygen levels drop, these proteins become stable.

“When a plant cell is starved for oxygen, it cannot efficiently generate adenosine triphosphate or ATP, the high-energy molecule plants use for energy storage,” explained Julia Bailey-Serres, one of the key researchers participating in the study and a professor of genetics in the Department of Botany and Plant Sciences at UC Riverside. “Because the plant cannot generate enough energy to sustain normal growth, it tries a different approach: it taps into its energy reserves, resulting in more sugars breaking down, as opposed to when oxygen is available, in order to produce ATP. These subtle changes in metabolism are characteristic of low oxygen stress in plant and animal cells. It’s similar to the production of lactic acid in our bodies when we exercise. We produce lactic acid as a by-product because we are not producing energy aerobically.”

...“The mechanism controls key regulatory proteins called transcription factors that can turn other genes on and off,” explained Michael Holdsworth, a professor of crop science at the University of Nottingham who co-led the research project with Bailey-Serres. “It is the unusual structure of these proteins that destines them for destruction under normal oxygen levels, but when oxygen levels decline, they become stable. Their stability results in changes in gene expression and metabolism that enhance survival in the low oxygen conditions brought on by flooding. When the plants return to normal oxygen levels, the proteins are again degraded, providing a feedback control mechanism.”...

UC Riverside graduate student Seung Cho Lee (left) and his advisor Julia Bailey-Serres seen in the lab with a tray of Arabidopsis plants. Arabidopsis is a small flowering plant used widely by plant biologists as a model organism. Photo credit: UCR Strategic Communications

Megacities top climate change risk

News24: Rapidly growing megacities in Africa and Asia face the highest risks from rising sea levels, floods and other climate change impacts, says a global survey aimed at guiding city planners and investors. The study by risk analysis and mapping firm Maplecroft, released on Wednesday, comes as the UN says the world's population will hit seven billion next week and as huge floods inundate areas of Thailand and the capital Bangkok.

The survey ranks nearly 200 nations in terms of vulnerability to climate change over the medium term. It also ranks the top-20 fastest-growing cities by 2020 in terms of risk, with the study based on a series of indices. The survey maps the world in 25km2 segments according to vulnerability, making regional assessments easier.

Haiti is the country most at risk from climate change, while Iceland is the least vulnerable. Thailand is ranked 37th. Dhaka, capital of Bangladesh, is the megacity most at risk with an "extreme" ranking. Other megacities at extreme or high risk include Manila, Kolkata, Jakarta, Kinshasa, Lagos, Delhi and Guangzhou.

"Population growth in these cities combines with poor government effectiveness, corruption, poverty and other socio-economic factors to increase the risks to residents and business," said Maplecroft. This meant infrastructure, already stretched in many cities, would struggle to cope as populations increase, making disaster responses less effective at a time when disasters might become more frequent....

Asad Avenue in Dhaka, shot by Tanweer Morshed, Wikimedia Commons

Forest fires are becoming larger and more frequent

Terra Daily: Research in which scientists from Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M) are participating analyzes the causes and characteristics of fires that have occurred in the Mediterranean basin in recent decades, and determines that rural exodus and changes in land use have increased the number and size of these fires.

The study, recently published in the journal Climatic Change, is the result of an interdisciplinary collaboration between two researchers: one is UC3M Professor Santiago Fernandez Munoz, who has worked in the area of geographic history under the direction of the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid Professor Josefina Gomez Mendoza; the other is Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas (CSIC - Spanish National Research Council) ecologist Juli Pausas.

Specifically, the authors constructed a complete database of historical fires in the province of Valencia in order to relate them to the evolution of the climate and societal and territorial transformations in the region.

The research that was carried out provides the most complete series of data on the evolution of fires in the Mediterranean basin to date...

Smoke from a 2009 wildfire in Greece, shot by Christos Loufopoulos, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

West African farmers 'already adapting to climate change'

Christophe Assogba in African farmers have developed new cultivation techniques and adopted short-season crop varieties using their own experience and observation to adapt to climate change a workshop in Benin has heard.

"Social adaptation to climate change has also been found in animals," said Abdoulaye Gouro, president of the scientific committee of the research network RIPIECSA (Interdisciplinary and Participatory Research on Interactions between Climate, Ecosystems and Society in West Africa). He was speaking at a workshop last week (18–21 October) organised by France's Institute for Development Research (IRD) to obtain feedback on current RIPIESCA projects.

"Farmers are not inactive in the face of climate change. They are sowing second crops, and growing cassava, yams and so on in the lowlands. They have been able to increase their acreage in some areas because of the shifting seasons," Euloge Agbossou, head of the hydrology laboratory at the University of Abomey-Calavi, Benin,told the workshop.

"People are not waiting for engineers, scientists and researchers in order to adapt to climate change. They are aware of the phenomenon, they feel it around them and they have adapted to it," he said....

A cotton field in Northern Benin, shot by Marco Schmidt, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Central America learning value of disaster prevention

Danilo Valladares the Eurasia Review via Tierramerica: The growing frequency of weather-related disasters in Central America has led to greater organizational efforts for risk management and emergency response. But during the most recent storm in the region, the fruits of these efforts were still not visible.

The latest tragedy to strike Central America was Tropical Depression 12-E: at the time of writing, a total of 91 fatalities had been recorded, while more than a million people suffered some form of losses and damages in El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Guatemala. And this does not include the damages to agriculture and infrastructure, which will take more time to assess. The storm reached the region on Oct. 12, and since then there has been an endless series of emergency situations created by flooded rivers, landslides and collapsing buildings.

The governments of Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua declared a “state of calamity” to gain speedier access to funds for emergency relief work. According to Williams De León of the Volunteer Firefighters of Guatemala, the fear instilled by deadly Hurricane Mitch (1998) and greater inter-institutional coordination has led to a change of attitude toward disaster risks.

“A lot of people realized that Guatemala is very vulnerable to the climate and now they are more organized,” he told Tierramérica.

Since 2004, disaster committees have been created at the regional, departmental (provincial) and local levels, with representatives of all levels of government, the private sector and civil society groups involved in emergency relief and prevention.A 2010 standard established basic criteria for construction, and in July safety standards were established for public buildings....

A 2004 flood in Honduras, shot by ZackClark, Wikimedia Commons

Strengthening Hurricane Rina headed for Yucatan

Brian K. Sullivan and Yee Kai Pin in Bloomberg News: Hurricane Rina strengthened to a Category 2 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale as it churned over Caribbean waters toward resorts on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, the National Hurricane Center said.

Rina’s top winds are 100 miles (160 kilometers) per hour, up from 80 mph earlier, according to an NHC website advisory at 8 a.m. Miami time. It’s the sixth hurricane of the 2011 Atlantic storm season that runs from June through November.

“Additional strengthening is forecast during the next day or so” as the storm spins over warm waters off the north coast of Honduras, the center said. Rina may become a major storm later today or tomorrow, the NHC said.

Mexico issued a hurricane watch from north of Punta Gruesa to Cancun, which means hurricane conditions are possible within the area and readied 1,130 storm shelters in the state of Quintana Roo, which includes Cancun and Cozumel. The country also declared a tropical storm watch for the east coast of the Yucatan from Chetumal to Punta Gruesa, the NHC said...

Hurricane Rina on October 24, 2011, from NASA

China's glaciers in meltdown mode

Terra Daily via AFP: Sharp increases in temperature driven by global warming are melting China's Himalayan glaciers, an impact that threatens habitats, tourism and economic development, says a study released Tuesday. Of 111 weather stations scattered across southwestern China, 77 percent showed significant upticks in temperatures between 1961 and 2008, according to the study, published in a British peer-reviewed journal, Environmental Research Letters.

At the 14 monitoring stations above 4,000 metres (13,123 feet), the jump over this period was 1.73 degrees Celsius (3.11 degrees Fahrenheit), roughly twice the average global increase over the last century. Researchers led by Li Zhongxing of the Chinese Academy of Sciences identified three changes occurring in glaciers that could be caused, at least in part, by this steady warming trend.

Many of the glaciers examined showed a "drastic retreat" as well as large loss of mass, they reported. The Pengqu basin's 999 glaciers, for example, had a combined area loss of 131 square kilometres (51 square miles) over two decades, from 1980 to 2001.

The study also showed that glacial lakes -- fed by runoff from melting ice masses -- had expanded in size. "The implications of these changes are far more serious that simply altering the landscape," the researchers warned...

Ice serac taken by an Everest Peace Project member, Lance Trumbull - Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States license

Bangkok floods breach airport defences

Guardian (UK): Floods in Thailand breached barriers defending Bangkok's second airport on Tuesday and began seeping into the compound, forcing at least one airline to suspend flights for a week, officials have said.

It was not immediately clear how much water had entered Don Muang airport, which is primarily used for domestic flights. An airport official confirmed floodater was inside the compound, but added that runways were unaffected and flights were operating normally.

The budget airline Nok Air has suspended operations at Don Muang until 1 November "because water has entered the north side of the airport already", the company's CEO, Patee Sarasin, said. He said all airborne planes would be diverted to Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport, the country's main international gateway, adding that refunds would be given as needed.

The Thai government says the death toll from the catastrophic nationwide flooding has risen to 366 since the floods began in late July....Authorities have declared seven of the capital's 50 districts at risk. Those zones, located in the north and north-west, are experiencing minor flooding, but most of Bangkok is dry....

Bridges and roads in front of Don Mueang Bangkok International Airport (domestic terminal), Thailand. Shot by Mattes, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike license, versions 1.0, 2.0, 2.5, 3.0 and any later version released by Creative Commons

Two dead, hundreds stranded in Irish flooding

Reuters: Two people died and hundreds were stranded in northern and eastern Ireland on Tuesday after torrential rain closed roads and rail lines, left shops and homes under water and led to the capital, Dublin, being put on an emergency footing.

More than one month's rain fell on Dublin in 24 hours, causing several rivers to break their banks and flooding the country's largest shopping center in the south of the city.

Dublin City Council said the amount of rain that fell on the east coast on Sunday and Monday was unprecedented, damaging hundreds of properties and forcing many people to evacuate their homes...

Monday, October 24, 2011

Little time left to halt warming

John von Radowitz in the Independent (UK): A lack of international will means the chances of bringing climate change under control may already be "slipping out of reach", scientists have warned. A study by the Swiss science university ETH Zurich shows that without an early and steep cut in greenhouse gas emissions, global temperatures are not "likely" to remain less than 2C higher than pre-industrial levels. The 2C target, which experts say is needed to avert dangerous climate change, was agreed by the UN climate conference in Copenhagen in 2009.

But countries that signed up to the Copenhagen Accord have yet to commit to measures far-reaching enough to meet it, according to experts. A voluntary agreement hammered out in the dying hours of last December's UN climate talks in the Danish capital is said to fall well short of the cuts required.

The new report, published today in the journal Nature Climate Change, sounds a further loud warning that time is running out. It suggests that for a "likely" chance (more than 66%) of holding warming below 2C by the end of this century, emissions must peak before 2020.

...Authors of the new study, led by Dr Joeri Rogeli, from the Swiss science university ETH Zurich, wrote: "Without a firm commitment to put in place the mechanisms to enable an early global emissions peak followed by steep reductions thereafter, there are significant risks that the 2C target, endorsed by so many nations, is already slipping out of reach."...

Air pollution from a truck, shot by Zakysant, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Have floods changed with increasing CO2 levels?

US Geological Survey: Only one of four large regions of the United States showed a significant relationship between carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere and the size of floods over the last 100 years. This was in the southwestern region, where floods have become smaller as CO2 has increased.

This does not mean that no strong relationship between flooding and greenhouse gases will emerge in the future. An increase in flood magnitudes remains one of the most anticipated impacts of climate change, and land and water resource managers are asking questions about how to estimate future flood risks and develop effective flood mitigation strategies for the future.

A new report published by U.S. Geological Survey scientists in the Hydrologic Sciences Journal looks at this potential linkage using historical records of floods throughout the nation. Scientists studied flood conditions at 200 locations across the United States looking back 127 years through 2008.

"Currently we do not see a clear pattern that enables us to understand how climate change will alter flood conditions in the future, but the USGS will continue to collect new data over time and conduct new analyses as conditions change," said USGS scientist and lead author Robert Hirsch. "Changes in snow packs, frozen ground, soil moisture and storm tracks are all mechanisms that could be altered by greenhouse gas concentrations and possibly change flood behavior. As we continue research, we will consider these and other factors in our analyses."

..."The relationship between greenhouse gas concentrations and floods is complex, demonstrating the need for long-term streamflow data to help guide future flood hazard mitigation and water resources planning," said Matthew Larsen, USGS Associate Director for Climate and Land Use Change. "USGS streamgages provide real-world data to help scientists understand this relationship. Planning for water supplies and flood hazards should be informed by a combination of predictive modeling approaches as well as statistical approaches such as this study."...

The 1927 Mississippi flood in Greenville, Mississippi

Weather satellite budget cuts a 'disaster in the making' - Obama official

Suzanne Goldenburg in the Guardian (UK): America and Europe face a "disaster in the making" because of Congress budget cuts to a critical weather satellite, one of Barack Obama's top science officials has warned. The satellite crosses the earth's poles 14 times a day, monitoring the atmosphere, clouds, ice, vegetation, and oceans. It provides 90% of the information used by the National Weather Service, UK Met Office and other European agencies to predict severe storms up to seven days in advance.

But Republican budget-cutting measures would knock out that critical capacity by delaying the launch of the next generation of polar-orbiting satellites, said Jane Lubchenco, who heads the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency. "It is a disaster in the making. It's an expression of the dysfunction in our system," said Lubchenco, who was speaking at a dinner on the sidelines of the Society of Environmental Journalists meeting in Miami.

It would cost three to five times more to rebuild the project after a gap than to keep the funds flowing. "It's insanity," Lubchenco said.

2011 has set new records for extreme weather events in the US and around the world, bringing hurricanes, heatwaves, floods, tornadoes, blizzards, droughts and wildfires. Ten of those events, including last August's devastating Hurricane Irene, inflicted damages of at least $1bn. Climate change is expected to produce more extreme weather events in the future, making accurate long-range weather forecasts even more essential.

Forecasters say the information from the polar orbiters is critical to providing early notice of unusually powerful storms and tornadoes – buying time for governments and disaster responders in both the US and Europe....

Thais tense as floods set to swamp more of capital

Apornrath Phoonphongphiphat and Martin Petty in Reuters: More districts of Thailand's capital were on high alert on Monday with floods bearing down from northern Bangkok as authorities raced to pump water toward the sea and defend the business district.

Hundreds of people were evacuated over the weekend as water in residential areas of the northern Lak Si and Don Muang suburbs reached levels as high as two meters (six feet), testing flood defenses and spilling out of swollen canals and rivers.

Thailand's worst flooding in five decades has killed at least 356 people and affected nearly 2.5 million, with more than 113,000 living in temporary shelters and 720,000 people seeking medical attention.

Central areas and the industrialized provinces of Pathum Thani, Nonthaburi and Ayutthaya on the northern fringes of the Bangkok are the worst hit, but with rivers and canals at a constant risk of bursting, the city of 12 million is on edge....

Run-off, emissions deliver double whammy to coastal marine creatures

Chelsea Toledo in the University of Georgia News: Increasing acidification in coastal waters could compromise the ability of oysters and other marine creatures to form and keep their shells, according to a new study led by University of Georgia researchers.

Their findings will be published in the November 2011 issue of Nature Geoscience. The researchers determined the combined effects of fertilizer runoff carried by the Mississippi River to the northern Gulf of Mexico and excess atmospheric carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels result in an unexpected increase in the acidity of Gulf waters.

"Before, scientists only worried about low oxygen in waters along the coast," said Wei-Jun Cai, a professor of marine sciences in the UGA Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. "Our paper basically says not only do we need to worry about low oxygen, we also need to worry about acidification."

..."Many of our fisheries resources, especially shellfish, are concentrated in areas where rivers discharge onto the coast, like the northern Gulf and the East China Sea, and thus are at risk," said James T. Hollibaugh, UGA Distinguished Research Professor of marine sciences. "And of course there are likely ramifications for fish and animals further up the food chain that depend on these same shellfish for food."

...To minimize future damage to the coastal ocean, Cai and his colleagues recommend that farmers better manage fertilizer use and societies limit fossil fuel use. Their future research will explore seasonal patterns of acidification and its influence on the coastal ecosystem...

Gulf of Mexico with ship, shot by Chad Teer, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Sunday, October 23, 2011

UN official stresses climate change adaptation measures in Africa

UN News Centre: African States have no choice but to implement climate change adaptation measures, given the continent’s vulnerability to the phenomenon, a senior United Nations official said today as the first conference on climate change and development in Africa got under way in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

“Adaptation offers the chance to manage, spread risk and enhance choices, thereby contributing to sustainable development whilst dealing with social, economic and security threats posed by climate change,” said Abdoulie Janneh, the Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).

“African leaders have said repeatedly that daptation without rapid cuts in emissions to maintain global warming at its lowest possible level, would be futile. For Africa, adaptation is an existentialist issue and a serious cause for concern,” Mr. Janneh told the opening session of the first annual Conference on Climate Change and Development in Africa. He cautioned, however, that “adaptation without rapid cuts in emissions to maintain global warming at its lowest possible level, would be futile.”

The three-day conference was organized to serve as a forum for dialogue and awareness-raising to mobilize effective commitment and actions on climate change in Africa. It was convened by ECA’s African Climate Policy Centre, a joint initiative of the African Union, the African Development Bank and ECA....

Akseli Gallen-Kallela's 1909 painting, "The Veldt Ablaze at Ukamba"

Navajo memory complements science in study of climate change

US Geological Survey: The sand dunes among which Navajos have eked out austere livings for generations are growing fast and becoming mobile as the climate changes, says U.S. Geological Survey geologist Dr. Margaret Hiza Redsteer, whose interviews with elders and historical research augment her decade-long research on Navajo Nation land. Redsteer will discuss her work Friday, Oct. 21 at the annual conference of the Society of Environmental Journalists in Miami, as part of a panel on "Climate Change and Indigenous Peoples on the Frontlines."

One third of the Navajo Nation is sand dunes, much of it stabilized to varying degrees by vegetation that holds moisture and provides livestock range. Some of the dunes are very old; others date from the 1950s, when drought and wind mobilized sediment from floods on the Little Colorado River. Now, after severe drought has gripped the region with varying but persistent severity from 1996 to 2011, new dunes are increasing in number and previously inactive dunes are on the move. The new dunes form downwind from rivers and washes, largely from dry, wind-blown river sediment. In the Grand Falls area of the southwest Navajo Nation, dunes have grown 70 percent since 1995 and are moving northeast at a rate of 115 feet per year.

Dune mobility can threaten roads and buildings, as well as the livestock raising vital to the Navajo economy and indispensable to its culture. It is one of many signs of the region’s increased aridity. Redsteer and the USGS Navajo Land Use Planning Project, under license to and in collaboration with the Navajo Nation, are mapping the area’s geology and documenting its changes to help Navajo leaders plan for the challenge.

In addition to using ground-based lidar measurements, meteorological monitoring, GPS and aerial and satellite imaging, Redsteer drew on more than 70 elders living in the southwestern Navajo Nation to record observed changes in land use practices, as well as weather, vegetation, location of water sources and the frequency of wind and dust storms. The interviews helped corroborate USGS science....

In the Painted Desert in Arizona, part of the Navajo Nation. Image shot by Doug Dolde and released into the public domain

World's largest beef company breaks commitment on avoiding Amazon deforestation

Mongabay: In a campaign launched in Italy on Wednesday, Greenpeace accused Brazilian beef giant JBS-Friboi of breaking its commitment to exclude cattle connected with illegal deforestation and slave labor from its supply chain.

Greenpeace says it has uncovered evidence of JBS breaking its 2009 commitment on responsible cattle sourcing. The agreement signed by JBS commits it to avoid buying cattle from properties that have been blacklisted by the Labor Ministry, embargoed by Brazil's environmental protection agency IBAMA, or are situated within indigenous territories.

Greenpeace says the discovery "demonstrates weaknesses in the supply chain for responsible leather and meat products."

"Consumers buying products originating from JBS’ supply chain cannot be assured their products are responsibly sourced, meaning not contributing to deforestation and slave labour," said Greenpeace in Broken Promises: How the cattle industry in the Amazon is still connected to deforestation, slave labour and invasion of indigenous land [PDF], a report launched as part of the campaign.

Greenpeace is calling upon JBS to honor its commitment under the 2009 Cattle Agreement signed by other cattle majors....

Mechanical milking in the Minas Gerais, shot by Andrevruas, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license

New study shows no simultaneous warming of northern and southern hemispheres as a result of climate change for 20,000 years

Lund University News (Sweden): A common argument against global warming is that the climate has always varied. Temperatures rise sometimes and this is perfectly natural is the usual line. However, Svante Björck, a climate researcher at Lund University in Sweden, has now shown that global warming, i.e. simultaneous warming events in the northern and southern hemispheres, have not occurred in the past 20,000 years, which is as far back as it is possible to analyse with sufficient precision to compare with modern developments. Svante Björck’s study thus goes 14 000 years further back in time than previous studies have done. “What is happening today is unique from a historical geological perspective”, he says

Svante Björck has gone through the global climate archives, which are presented in a large number of research publications, and looked for evidence that any of the climate events that have occurred since the end of the last Ice Age 20 000 years ago could have generated similar effects on both the northern and southern hemispheres simultaneously. It has not, however, been possible to verify this. Instead, he has found that when, for example, the temperature rises in one hemisphere, it falls or remains unchanged in the other.

“My study shows that, apart from the larger-scale developments, such as the general change into warm periods and ice ages, climate change has previously only produced similar effects on local or regional level”, says Svante Björck.

...“As long as we don’t find any evidence for earlier climate changes leading to similar simultaneous effects on a global scale, we must see today’s global warming as an exception caused by human influence on the earth’s carbon cycle”, says Svante Björck, continuing: “this is a good example of how geological knowledge can be used to understand our world. It offers perspectives on how the earth functions without our direct influence and thus how and to what extent human activity affects the system.”...

Off the Greenland coast, shot by Christine Zenino, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Better climate services would improve drought management

A press release from the World Meteorological Organization: Scientific progress has laid the basis for more effective policies to combat and manage drought and desertification. The challenge of climate change means it is imperative to translate that science into action, according to the World Meteorological Organization.

...[WMO Secretary General Michel] Jarraud outlined the plans for the new Framework during the High-Level Segment of the Tenth session of the Conference of the Parties of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) in Changwon, Republic of Korea. He addressed a Roundtable entitled “Harnessing Science Knowledge for combating desertification, land degradation and drought: The path to improvement”....In his presentation to the UNCCD Roundtable, Mr Jarraud made the following points:
  • Even without the recent climate change concern, land degradation is especially critical as only around 11% of the global land surface feeds a population of some 7 billion.
  • The picture is even grimmer if we include the cumulative effects (since 1750) of greenhouse gases from human activities (fossil fuel burning & land use).
  • different areas there might either be augmented land degradation, due to drought, or increased soil erosion, owing to enhanced rainfall....
  • ... by altering the familiar spatial and temporal patterns of temperature, rainfall, solar radiation and winds, climate change will contribute to exacerbate desertification, so societies should recognize that historic/ traditional knowledge can often no longer be accepted as a valid indicator of the future.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Flood protection planning for North Dakota

Lindsey D. Fry in in KFYR (Bismarck, North Dakota): North Dakota could see as much as $65 million in federal money to help build permanent flood protection. The funds come in the form of Hazard Mitigation grants, which provide money to state and local governments to implement long-term protection after a disaster.

Senator Conrad said it is desperately needed to begin rebuilding the communities devastated by this summer`s flood. “This isn`t about me, this is about 4,000 families that had their homes destroyed in Minot North Dakota,” said Conrad.

Conrad said right now no community in the country deserves the attention more than Minot and Burlington. But he added certain factors must happen before a successful recovery is made. “If we don`t get additional resources in CDBG, and if we don`t have flexibility to use this hazard mitigation money that will be coming in to this state, we are not going to have kind of recovery all of us want to see,” said Conrad...

The North Dakota National Guard’s patrols one of the mandatory evacuation zones in Minot County on June 22, 2011. The patrols help ensure that all citizens have evacuated their homes and to render assistance in the areas threatened by the rising water of the Souris River that has exceeded major flood stage. (Photo by Spc. Cassandra Simonton, 116th Public Affairs Detachment)

Thai floods may last six more weeks

ABC News via the Associated Press: Thailand's catastrophic floods may take up to six weeks to recede, the prime minister said Saturday, as residents living in Bangkok's outskirts sloshed through waist-high waters in some areas and the human toll from the crisis nationwide rose to 356 dead and more than 110,000 displaced.

Water bearing down on the capital from the north began spilling through Bangkok's outer districts on Friday and continued creeping in on Saturday. So far, however, most of the metropolis of 9 million people has escaped unharmed, and its two airports are operating normally. Bangkokians are girding for the worst, though, after Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra this week urged all residents to move valuables to higher ground.

...The government's emergency relief center said flooding in the city was occuring at "concentrated points." One of them, the northern district of Don Muang, was partially inundated after floodwaters burst through a canal barrier wall that workers were scrambling to repair overnight.

...Excessive monsoon rains have drowned a third of the Southeast Asian nation since late July, causing billions of dollars in damage and putting nearly 700,000 people temporarily out of work. Some flooding on Bangkok's outskirts was expected after Yingluck ordered floodgates opened Thursday in a risky move to drain the dangerous runoff through urban canals and into the sea. Nobody knows with any certainty to what extent the city will flood....

Map of Bangkok by Lerdsuwa, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license