Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Rural women are leading the way -- witll the world follow?

IPS: The United Nations’ 56th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) opened Monday in New York, with the empowerment of rural women high on a list of priorities for this year. According to a press release issued last week by UN Women, "Rural women constitute one-fourth of the world’s population. (They) account for a great proportion of the agricultural labour force, produce the majority of food grown, especially in subsistence farming, and perform most of the unpaid care work in rural areas."

Yet, "the livelihoods and well-being of rural women and girls are directly linked to the environment they live in," Lakshmi Puri, assistant-secretary-general and deputy executive director of UN Women, told IPS.

"In many countries, rural women and girls have been directly impacted by the effects of climate change. (Throughout) the Commission on the Status of Women, UN-Women will be listening to rural women from all continents about the ways they have been impacted by climate change and, together with partners, amplifying their voices so that they are heard by world leaders," Puri added.

While the U.N.'s high-level conference is just getting started, women on the ground in the global South are already in the eye of the storm and are busy deploying a combination of indigenous techniques and adaptive agricultural technologies to ward off the impacts of climate change...

Zhuang women harvesting sugar cane in Fusui, Guangxi, China. Shot by Rolfmueller, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

As temperatures rise, southeastern Europe prepares for flooding

Bojana Milovanovic and Svetla Dimitrova for Southeast European Times: As the Danube River -- the second longest in Europe -- quickly thaws after more than three weeks of snow and freezing temperatures, the dangers of flooding is a top concern for the Southeast European region.

On Monday (February 27th), a ship carrying 700 tonnes of corn sank and dozens of small boats are floating free in Romania's stretch of the Danube after an ice floe melted due to rising temperatures. Axinte Dragomir lives in the village of Vadu Rosca, in Vrancea County, which was devastated by floodwaters in 2005. "I witnessed a whole community tragedy seven years ago. Some of us have not been able to get over that yet; most of us lost their life's belongings overnight. If this happens again, it will probably mean the extinction of the whole community," he told SETimes.

...On Friday, representatives from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Croatia and Montenegro met in Banja Luka to discuss co-operation in the region for emergency situations. In a statement afterwards, Republika Srpska Prime Minister Aleksandar Dzombic said that the countries agreed to appoint a co-ordinator who would monitor activities in cases of floods and analyse the compatibility of the countries' flood-defence systems.

The UN is also on call for flood dangers. "While thousands of people remain snowbound from Serbia to Bulgaria, there are warning signs that destructive floods will add to the loss of life and economic assets, particularly in places where there is an absence of flood management infrastructure such as dams and dikes," the UN Secretary-General's special representative for disaster risk reduction, Margareta Wahlström, said.....

The frozen Danube (near Vienna, I think), February 15, 2012, shot by Karl Gruber, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Farm 'weeds' have crucial role in sustainable agriculture

Seed Daily via SPX: Plants often regarded as common weeds such as thistles, buttercups and clover could be critical in safe guarding fragile food webs on UK farms according to Researchers funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

Published tomorrow in Science, researchers from the University of Bristol detail the interactions that occur between the different food webs commonly found on farms throughout the UK and the robustness of these interactions to species loss.

In one of the first studies to look simultaneously at multiple types of food webs, the researchers found that some plants such as thistles, cow-parsley, clover and buttercups were disproportionately well linked to animals through the food web.

The research also showed that bees, butterflies and other pollinators are more susceptible to changes in their environment making them more fragile than other networks. This research highlights the importance of ensuring an agri-ecosystem approach is taken in land management practice to enhance biodiversity on UK farmland.

Professor Jane Memmott, from the University of Bristol, who led the study, explains: "If ecologists, land managers and policy makers want to manage farmland diversity, they need to understand the way species are linked to each other, since these links can have a huge impact on a community's response to species loss, species restoration and the provision of ecosystem services such as pollination and pest control."...

Thistles, by John Singer Sargent, between 1885 and 18889

Addressing climate change adaptation and mitigation in tropical wetland ecosystems of Indonesia Tropical wetland ecosystems, especially peatlands and mangroves, are important in global carbon cycling. This brief notes that Indonesia has more tropical wetlands than any other country on Earth and that coastal mangroves are important for both mitigation and adaptation. It examines ramifications for Indonesia’s wetlands and calls for ecosystem-based or watershed-wide approaches for communities to manage wetlands. The brief highlights the following key messages:
  • Standardised methods and protocols are needed for effective monitoring, reporting and verification of emissions from land use and land cover change in tropical wetlands
  • Low-lying coastal ecological zones are already affected by rising sea levels and other marine-related climate change effects and yet mangroves are key to both climate change mitigation and adaptation
  • Conservation and reducing degradation to tropical wetlands are sound mitigation approaches and important adaptation strategies
  • Watershed-wide approaches provide the best lens through which communities can assess and manage changing climate conditions.
The brief makes the following recommendations:
  • The understated roles of tropical wetlands in the existing IPCC Guidelines require the growing body of science to improve the IPCC recommendations relating to tropical freshwater and coastal wetlands
  • Carbon-rich tropical wetland ecosystems including mangroves and peatlands should be considered high priorities in climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies globally and Indonesia has much to offer to the global climate agenda and REDD+ mechanisms...
From the Tropenmuseum, via Wikimedia Commons -- an Indonesia marsh in 1913

Drought warning prompts for Horn of Africa call for early action

IRIN: Drought is likely to return to Somalia and other parts of the Horn of Africa over the next three months, say regional climate scientists meeting in the Rwandan capital, Kigali. The forecast comes just weeks after the UN declared the Somali “famine” over.

“There is a high probability of drought returning to the Greater Horn of Africa…Poor rains are a definite in all of Somalia, Djibouti, northern Kenya, southern, eastern and northeastern Ethiopia,” said Laban Ogallo, director of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Climate Prediction and Applications Centre (ICPAC), which provides forecasts for the Horn.

“We have put the message out there. It is now up to governments, civil society and the media to prepare… for the worst-case scenario even if the worst does not happen. There is no harm in being prepared,” he said. “We must realize many of these areas are already facing the cumulative impact of several droughts.”

Youcef Ait Chellouche, deputy regional coordinator of the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, said the coping mechanism of people in most of these areas who experienced severe drought in 2010-2011, is almost non-existent. In the coming days, he said, he would be meeting disaster risk managers from various countries and agencies to draw up a plan for early action.

“We cannot wait for people to show up in Dadaab [refugee camp in eastern Kenya] yet again. We have to take preventive action now. We need to find ways to secure livestock and provide cash transfers to people now. These are some of the lessons from last year’s drought,” he added...

The Horn of Africa, map by Skilla1st, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

India acquiring weather reconnaissance aircraft to ensure better cyclone forecasting

Press Information Bureau, Government of India: One of the major recommendations made by NDMA in the National Guidelines of Management of Cyclones was the establishment of the Aircraft Probing of Cyclones facility to significantly reduce errors to the extent of 30% in terms of landfall, intensity and storm surge. Govt. of India is taking steps to acquire a Hercules C-130J for this purpose alongwith an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV). With this capability all, all countries of the Indian Ocean Region would also be able to benefit greatly. This was stated by Shri Shashidhar Reddy, Vice Chairman, NDMA during his meeting with Delegation from Madagascar headed by Mr Razakanaivo Mamy Nirina, Head of the Disaster Prevention and Emergency Management Unit, Prime Minister’s Office (CPGU), Madagascar in New Delhi today.

Shri Reddy also informed that traditionally there is a very good response mechanism in place. There was a evacuation of more than 6.5 lakhs people when a cyclone hit in Andhra Pradesh in 1990 which was till date the highest ever human evacuation in the context of the natural disaster.

Shri Reddy explained to them some of the salient features of the National Guidelines for the Management of Floods, Cyclones and Urban Flooding. He also informed, it is for the first time NDMA has decided to address Urban Flooding as a separate disaster de-linking it from floods which affect a large tracks of rural area besides “scientific and technological innovations will greatly improve disaster management capabilities of any country”, said Shri Reddy....

A C-130J Hercules is cleaned up in the new wash system (nicknamed the Bird Bath) at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi. Public domaiun

A climate window in the Southern Ocean

Jennifer Chu in MIT News: The world’s oceans act as a massive conveyor, circulating heat, water and carbon around the planet. This global system plays a key role in climate change, storing and releasing heat throughout the world. To study how this system affects climate, scientists have largely focused on the North Atlantic, a major basin where water sinks, burying carbon and heat deep in the ocean’s interior.

But what goes down must come back up, and it’s been a mystery where, and how, deep waters circulate back to the surface. Filling in this missing piece of the circulation, and developing theories and models that capture it, may help researchers understand and predict the ocean’s role in climate and climate change.

Recently, scientists have found evidence that the missing piece may lie in the Southern Ocean — the vast ribbon of water encircling Antarctica. The Southern Ocean, according to observations and models, is a site where strong winds blowing along the Antarctic Circumpolar Current dredge waters up from the depths.

“There’s a lot of carbon and heat in the interior ocean,” says John Marshall, the Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Oceanography at MIT. “The Southern Ocean is the window by which the interior of the ocean connects to the atmosphere above.”

....“There are huge reservoirs of carbon in the interior of the ocean,” Marshall says. “If the climate changes and makes it easier for that carbon to get into the atmosphere, then there will be an additional warming effect.”...

An iceberg in the Southern Ocean, shot by Lieutenant Elizabeth Crapo, NOAA

As Arctic temperatures rise, tundra fires increase Scientists have found evidence of unprecedented tundra burning on the North Slope of Alaska. Their research indicates that tundra burning increases dramatically when temperatures rise above a mean threshold.

Within the global carbon cycle, what is the fate of the enormous amount of organic carbon stored in tundra ecosystems? Scientists just aren't sure. But results from this study shed new light, indicating that tundra burning is sensitive to climate warming. Increased burning could cause sudden releases of carbon dioxide and accelerate climate warming, while also diminishing subsistence resources for Arctic indigenous people.

In September 2007, the Anaktuvuk River Fire burned more than 1,000 square kilometers of tundra on Alaska's North Slope. This burn area was twice the size of any measured since recordkeeping began in 1950. A team of scientists from multiple universities, led by Feng Sheng Hu at the University of Illinois, sought to answer a simple question: Was this seemingly historic fire an anomaly, or were large fires regular occurrences in the region? They analyzed the distribution of charcoal particles in lake-sediment cores and found no evidence of a fire of similar scale or intensity in the region over the past 5,000 years.

The researchers then developed a model relating the tundra area burned in Alaska each year to the mean temperature and precipitation in the warmest period of the year--June through September. They found a dramatic, nonlinear relationship between climate conditions and tundra fires. That is, once the temperature rises above a mean threshold--or what one may call a tipping point--of 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit), tundra burning increases dramatically...

A tundra fire in Northern Alaska, shot by the US National Park Service

Modeling building use helps estimate regional damage

Christoph Aubrecht of the Austrian Institute of Technology in Environmental Research Web: Increasing demand for land, particularly in mountainous regions, leads to further expansion of settlements into known hazard-prone areas. The potential impacts, as well as regionally defined levels of "acceptable risk", are often not communicated and are also difficult for the public to understand. Analysing past events and assessing regional damage can help planners on all levels to improve sustainable risk management.

In this study we used a geospatial and statistical approach to assess damage costs for a certain region. We included information about actual conditions in terms of land-use disparities and damage data from a documented severe flooding event. First, we classified buildings according to their function and use. To derive functional land-use patterns at very high spatial resolution we linked company information to the building model via geocoded postal address data, which enabled us to classify building types in terms of their predominant use.

To assess the impact, the flood plain is delineated according to post-disaster aerial imagery and a digital terrain model that distinguishes between areas that are subject to long- and short-term flooding. Four regional-damage cost-assessment scenarios with different levels of detail are also calculated, with the most elaborate including high-level land-use information and distinguishing short- and long-term flooded areas. Projecting damage costs relies on sample building-level damage records – from the severe 2005 flood in Austria‘s western province of Vorarlberg – that allow for approximate damage averaging for distinct buildings. The results confirm that taking local land-use patterns into account is essential for optimizing regional-damage cost projections.....

A big 2005 flood in Austria threatened the Brixentaler bridge, public domain

Livestock science will benefit sub-Saharan Africa

Seed Daily via SPX: Africa will benefit greatly from advances in livestock science that will benefit the animals and the people they provide with high quality protein, said scientists here Sunday. Panelists addressed the hopes and challenges of modernizing livestock production in Sub-Saharan Africa during the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Vancouver, B.C.

"We explored how implementing new technologies will benefit society," said University of Idaho animal scientist Rod Hill. He studies physiology in cattle, focusing on topics including feed use efficiency and muscle development. "The issue is," Hill said, "how do we get them to work best for mankind and benefit societies in Africa."

..."We wanted to look at how new technologies are changing how we raise livestock," Hill said, "And how do we get them to work to best advantage for the benefit of mankind and societies ranging from developing communities in Africa to highly developed ones in the United States."...

N'Dama cattle in West Africa. The round marks are brands. Shot by ILRI, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Monday, February 27, 2012

NASA pinning down 'here' better than ever

Elizabeth Zubritsky in Space Daily via NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center: Before our Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation devices can tell us where we are, the satellites that make up the GPS need to know exactly where they are. For that, they rely on a network of sites that serve as "you are here" signs planted throughout the world. The catch is, the sites don't sit still because they're on a planet that isn't at rest, yet modern measurements require more and more accuracy in pinpointing where "here" is.

To meet this need, NASA is helping to lead an international effort to upgrade the four systems that supply this crucial location information. NASA's initiative is run by Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., where the next generation of two of these systems is being developed and built. And Goddard, in partnership with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., is bringing all four systems together in a state-of-the-art ground station.

"NASA and its sister agencies around the world are making major investments in new stations or upgrading existing stations to provide a network that will benefit the global community for years to come," says John LaBrecque, Earth Surface and Interior Program Officer at NASA Headquarters.

GPS won't be the only beneficiary of the improvements. All observations of Earth from space-whether it's to measure how far earthquakes shift the land, map the world's ice sheets, watch the global mean sea level creep up or monitor the devastating reach of droughts and floods-depend the International Terrestrial Reference Frame, which is determined by data from this network of designated sites.

Earth is a shapeshifter. Land rises and sinks. The continents move. The balance of the atmosphere shifts over time, and so does the balance of the oceans. All of this tweaks Earth's shape, orientation in space and center of mass, the point deep inside the planet that everything rotates around. The changes show up in Earth's gravity field and literally slow down or speed up the planet's rotation....

Navstar-2F satellite of the Global Positioning System (GPS), from NASA

Taking tips from Vikings can help us adapt to global change

Terra Daily via SPX: Climate change, economic turmoil and cultural upheaval may be pressing concerns today - but history can teach us how best to respond, research suggests. Scientists studying the past environments and archaeological remains of Greenland and Iceland have been able to analyse how well the Norse responded to changes in the economy, trade, politics and technology, against a backdrop of changing climate.

They found that Norse societies fared best by keeping their options open when managing their long-term sustainability, adapting their trade links, turning their backs on some economic options and acquiring food from a variety of wild and farmed sources. Researchers say their findings could help inform decisions on how modern society responds to global challenges.

In the middle ages, people in Iceland embraced economic changes sweeping Europe, developed trading in fish and wool and endured very hard times to build a flourishing modern society. In Greenland, however, medieval communities maintained traditional Viking trade in prestige goods such as Walrus ivory. In adapting to severe weather, the Norse in Greenland became increasingly specialised, and in the 15th century changes in trade, climate and cultural contact with the Inuit led to the society's downfall....

A 1570 map in a 1669 copy depicting the Atlantic Ocean, from Norse mythology sources

Public submissions called for Myanmar's climate change draft report

Aye Sapay Phyu in the Myanmar Times: The Department of Meteorology and Hydrology is inviting public submissions on the first draft of a UN-backed climate change adaptation report, a spokesperson said earlier this month. The department began will accept submissions on the Preparation for National Adaptation Programs of Action (NAPA) on climate change until March 12, said project coordinator U Aung Win.

The draft report presents priority projects to address the need for adapting to the adverse effects of climate change in terms of agriculture, forestry, biodiversity, coastal zone, energy, transport, industry, public health and water resources. The proposed projects include reforestation, improved weather forecasting equipment and a reassessment of the country’s dams and reservoirs.

“The public review and suggestions on the draft will support the main theme of the project, which is to present the projects that need to be prioritised [for Myanmar] to adapt to climate change. This is the reason why we have invited the public to participate in reviewing the draft,” he said.

...“It also considered rural public assessments on climate change, variability, impacts and adaptation … collected in Nyaungshwe [in Shan State], Kyaukpadaung [in Mandalay Region] and Bogale [in Ayeyarwady Region] in July and August 2011, and national strategies on climate change,” he said....

The Irrawaddy River photographed from a commercial Bangkok-bound flight from Europe. The river flows slowly and reaches widely into the surrounding landscape. Shot by Bjørn Christian Tørrissen, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Ancient Arabic writings help scientists piece together past climate

Alpha Galileo Foundation: Ancient manuscripts written by Arabic scholars can provide valuable meteorological information to help modern scientists reconstruct the climate of the past, a new study has revealed. The research, published in Weather, analyses the writings of scholars, historians and diarists in Iraq during the Islamic Golden Age between 816-1009 AD for evidence of abnormal weather patterns.

Reconstructing climates from the past provides historical comparison to modern weather events and valuable context for climate change. In the natural world trees, ice cores and coral provide evidence of past weather, but from human sources scientists are limited by the historical information available.

Until now researchers have relied on official records detailing weather patterns including air force reports during WW2 and 18th century ship’s logs. Now a team of Spanish scientists from the Universidad de Extremadura have turned to Arabic documentary sources from the 9th and 10th centuries (3rd and 4th in the Islamic calendar). The sources, from historians and political commentators of the era, focus on the social and religious events of the time, but do refer to abnormal weather events.

“Climate information recovered from these ancient sources mainly refers to extreme events which impacted wider society such as droughts and floods,” said lead author Dr Fernando Domínguez-Castro. “However, they also document conditions which were rarely experienced in ancient Baghdad such as hailstorms, the freezing of rivers or even cases of snow.”

Baghdad was a centre for trade, commerce and science in the ancient Islamic world. In 891 AD Berber geographer al-Ya'qubi wrote that the city had no rival in the world, with hot summers and cold winters, climatic conditions which favored strong agriculture. While Baghdad was a cultural and scientific hub many ancient documents have been lost to a history of invasions and civil strife. However, from the surviving works of writers including al-Tabari (913 AD), Ibn al-Athir (1233 AD) and al-Suyuti (1505 AD) some meteorological information can be rescued....

Conquest of Baghdad by the Mongols 1258. Left part of a double-page illustration of Rashid-ad-Din's Gami' at-tawarih. Tabriz (?), 1st quarter of 14th century. Water colours and gold on paper. Original size: 37.2 cm x 29 cm. Staatsbibliothek Berlin, Orientabteilung, Diez A fol. 70, p. 7. From the 14th century

Coffee farmers opt for best practices in Tanzania

Peter Temba in via the Tanzania Daily News: An initiative involving better coffee production and climate change was launched at Sal Salinero Hotel here recently. Its aim is to enable coffee farmers to respond to changing climatic conditions by applying better farming practices.

The measures include climate change adaptation and mitigation into a globally applicable toolbox, it was learnt here on Friday. According to the Director General of the Moshi-based Tanzania Coffee Board (TCB), Engineer Adolph Kumburu, who was among 40 invited participants to the meeting, the project combines farmer know-how with state of the art climate change science.

It builds upon experiences gained within other relevant projects. It is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development."Pilot projects in four key coffee regions (Brazil, Guatemala, Tanzania and Vietnam), are designed to test the toolbox in the field and to develop appropriate training schemes for farmers and service providers," he said.

He added that worldwide dissemination of the defined toolbox is promoted through the establishment of a self-financing institutional frame work. Kumburu revealed that stakeholders within the pilot projects are undergoing capacity building activities, enabling them to apply effective strategies in order to respond to climate change.

"At least 3,000 farmers, including operators of processing stations, are trained directly by the project in order to meet climate change challenges. Furthermore stakeholders along green coffee supply chains can utilize the toolbox for developing and applying best adaptation and mitigation practices," he said....

Sunday, February 26, 2012

GDP 'not sufficient' for measuring economic wealth

Maina Waruru in A group of the world's top environmental scientists have backed calls for replacing the gross domestic product (GDP) as a sole measure of a nation's economic wealth with more inclusive indicators that would consider the impact of economic growth on the well-being of the environment.

Relying only on GDP ignores important aspects of a nation's well-being such as sustainable development and threats to the environment, they said in a report presented at the UN Environment Programme's (UNEP) 12th special session of the governing council in Nairobi, Kenya, this week (20–22 February). The report, 'Environment and Development Challenges: The Imperative to Act', was prepared by laureates of the Blue Planet Prize, known unofficially as the Nobel prize for the environment.

"Governments should recognise the serious limitations of GDP as a measure of economic growth and complement it with measures of the five forms of capital, built (produced); natural; human; social; and institutional/financial capital," the report said. This would be "a measure of wealth that integrates economic, social and environmental dimensions, and is a better method for determining a country's productive potential".

Bob Watson, lead author of the report, told SciDev.Net: "When we capture a people's wealth by their ability to buy drugs to fight diseases caused by air pollution in the process of exploiting natural resources in order to create wealth, that cannot be said to a true measure of wealth."

"Wealth measurement must be more sophisticated … It must go beyond GDP and include ecosystems services, and the quality of water, air and food produced in a given area," he added....

The Garden of Eden by Hieronymous Bosch

Japan sends aid to Mindanao towns for climate change adaptation

MindaNews (Philippines): The Japanese government has allocated P17 million to boost agricultural practices of indigenous peoples in Mindanao, the Japanese embassy said in a statement.

Japanese Ambassador Toshinao Urabe signed early this week the grant contract for the “Construction of Small-Scale Agriculture Facilities for Climate Change Adaptation” with Oxfam Japan.

The project, amounting to US$ 399,263 (approximately 17 million pesos), is funded through the grant assistance for Japanese Non-Government Organization Projects, a small-grant funding program of Japan’s Official Development Assistance.

Oxfam Japan will implement the project in Esperanza, Sultan Kudarat and Balabagan in Lanao del Sur, which have witnessed harvest reductions of agricultural products in the past 15 years due to unusual weather conditions, the statement said....

Drought-weary Texans welcome rains, wildflowers

Jim Forsyth in the Chicago Tribune via Reuters: ... As spring approaches, recent rains across much of the state are giving drought-weary Texans hope that the devastation may be over. The drought ... killed millions of trees, sparked wildfires that burned nearly 4 million acres and caused billions of dollars in losses to the state's farming and ranching industries. Last year was the driest year on record in Texas, and the second-hottest, according to the National Weather Service.

Now, a little more than a third of the state - and none of the state's four largest metropolitan areas - is suffering from extreme or exceptional drought, according to a survey released last week by the U.S. Drought Monitor. By contrast, last September, nearly 97 percent was in one of those two most severe categories.

Parts of Texas received more rain in the first six weeks of 2012 than they received in all of 2011, state climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon said. The drought still lingers in lightly populated parts of West Texas, the Texas Panhandle and in the brush country that hugs the Gulf Coast south of Corpus Christi. But San Antonio and Austin are only in moderate drought; Dallas-Fort Worth has emerged from the drought entirely; Houston is listed just as abnormally dry; and a large stretch of North Texas is back to normal moisture levels, according to the survey.

Heavy rains in January and early February were a welcome sight to farmers who suffered more than $5 billion worth of crop damage in last year's drought, according to Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples. The drought has resulted in higher consumer prices for everything from beef to peanut butter....

An August 2011 shot of a public boat launch on Lake Palestine in Henderson county, Texas during an extreme drought, shot by Buddpaul, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Protecting the climate by reducing fluorinated greenhouse gas emissions

EMPA, a research institute of the ETH (Zurich): The Montreal Protocol led to a global phase-out of most substances that deplete the ozone layer, such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). A happy side-effect of the gradual ban of these products is that the Earth’s climate has also benefited because CFCs are also potent greenhouse gases.

However, now a "rebound effect" threatens to accelerate the rate of global warming. Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which have been used in recent years in increasing quantities as substitutes for CFCs, are also climatically very active and many are also extremely long-lived. In the renowned journal Science an international team of researchers recommends that the most potent of these gases also be regulated. This could save the positive side effect of the Montreal Protocol for the global climate.

.... Since the year 2000 the radiative forcing (a measure of the effect on the climate of chemical substances) of all ozone-depleting substances including CFCs has remained at a more or less constant value of 0.32 W/m2, compared to a value of 1.5 W/m2 for CO2. Had the Montreal Protocol recommendations not been implemented, today’s value would be approximately double this figure, i.e. 0.65 W/m2. Putting things another way, the CFC ban has prevented the equivalent of 10 billion tonnes of CO2 being emitted into the atmosphere in 2010, five times the annual reduction target set by the Kyoto Protocol.

Velders, Reimann and their co-authors fear that this positive effect will soon be negated by HFC emissions, which are currently increasing at 10 to 15% annually. n their article they state that «the HFC contribution to climate change can be viewed as an unintended negative side effect» of the Montreal Protocol. At the moment the effect is still small – about 0.012 W/m2 for all CFC substitutes combined. But it is beyond question that radiative forcing due to HFCs will rise significantly in future as a result of increasing demand and production for these substances, above all in threshold and developing countries. The atmospheric scientists estimate that this value will rise to between 0.25 und 0.4 W/m2 by the year 2050. The greatest problem is presented by saturated HFCs, which are extremely stable and survive in the atmosphere for up to 50 years, exhibiting a long-term global warming potential of up to 4000 times higher than CO2. For Empa researcher Reimann the situation is clear: "Long-lived HFCs should no longer be used in these quantities."...

Space-filling model of the 2,3,3,3-tetrafluoropropene molecule, a hydrofluorocarbon used as a refrigerant, created by Ephemeronium, public domain

Himalayan Sherpas lament climate change devastation

The West (Australia) via AFP: Climate change is altering the face of the Himalayas, devastating farming communities and making Mount Everest increasingly treacherous to climb, some of the world's top mountaineers have warned. Apa Sherpa, the Nepali climber who has conquered Mount Everest a record 21 times, said he was disturbed by the lack of snow on the world's highest peak, caused by rising temperatures.

"In 1989 when I first climbed Everest there was a lot of snow and ice but now most of it has just become bare rock. That, as a result, is causing more rockfalls which is a danger to the climbers," he told AFP. "Also, climbing is becoming more difficult because when you are on a mountain you can wear crampons but it's very dangerous and very slippery to walk on bare rock with crampons."

Speaking after completing the first third of a gruelling 1,700-kilometre (1,100-mile) trek across the Himalayas, Apa Sherpa would not rule out the possibility of Everest being unclimbable in the coming years.

"What will happen in the future I cannot say but this much I can say from my own experiences -- it has changed a lot," he said an an interview with AFP in the village of Gati, 16 kilometres from Nepal's border with Tibet....

Everest, seen from Tibet, shot by Peter Morgan, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Saturday, February 25, 2012

UNISDR welcomes Typhoon Sendong post-mortem

Prevention Web via UNISDR: The Head of the UN's Disaster Risk Reduction Office, UNISDR, Margareta Wahlström, today congratulated three Philippines Senators for leading an in-depth, two-day post-mortem with local leaders into the devastating losses caused to Mindanao island by Typhoon Sendong in December.

She said: "The Mindanao Declaration on Disaster Risk Reduction Priorities is a very honest and searching analysis of the man-made contributions to this disaster in which over 1,000 people lost their lives. It is very significant that this initiative has the support of three influential Senators, UNISDR's Regional Champion for Disaster Risk Reduction, Loren Legarda, Aquilino Pimentel III and Teofisio Guingona III. I would like to thank them for their efforts.

"It is important now to focus on recovery and ensure that Mindanao builds back better and that we take this opportunity to avoid re-creating the risks exposed by Typhoon Sendong. The priority now is to take care of the 4,981 families who have been left homeless. I met many of them on my visit last month and their views must be taken on board when it comes to implementing the Mindanao Declaration.

"Essentially, this declaration contains an eight-point plan of action which is an endorsement for the passage of laws which, if successfully implemented, will establish a permanent, independent disaster management and risk reduction agency and promote cooperation between local governments on these issues."

Senator Legarda said: "Leaders have the capacity to protect our people and secure future generations. The important starting point is political commitment, and our measure for success is more disaster-resilient development investments and, fundamentally, better and greater quality of life for our long-suffering people."

The Mindanao Declaration expresses particular concern that "logging, mining, unsustainable agriculture, and other similar land-use activities increase the vulnerability of many ecosystems and communities in our island."...

Typhoon Sendong (also known as Cyclone Washi) in December, 2011

Climate change to hurt food security in Bangladesh

The Daily Star (Bangladesh): Bangladesh must improve its financial management to obtain a significant share of funds available globally to combat climate change impacts and ensure food security, said an eminent climatologist yesterday.

“The developed countries are ready to release billions of dollars to the affected countries. It is not impossible for Bangladesh to collect $2 to 3 billion, as the country is in the forefront of the fight against the climate change impacts,” said Prof Ainun Nishat, a senior adviser to International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. “But I am afraid Bangladesh may not get hold of the funds due to its poor financial management. The country must notice the direction the world is moving towards,” he said.

Prof Nishat was speaking at a discussion on “Climate change, natural disaster, environmental management and food security” on the concluding day of a two-day international symposium styled “Science for Society” at Bangladesh Agriculture Research Council in the capital.

...Prof Nishat, also the vice-chancellor of Brac University, said food security in Bangladesh would come under a serious threat if the sea level rises to a dangerous point. The ecosystem and biodiversity will undergo major changes, as they will not be able to acclimatise. “We have had good yield in the last three years due to congenial weather. But if we are forced to import even a small volume of food grains, it will be a major concern for us.”...

Negative impact of climate change worries residents on Tanzania's islands

Daily News (Tanzania): Anxiety about circumstantial eviction is growing among more than six thousand people living on Kisiwapanza Island, one of the inhabited islands in Pemba due to rising sea level. They now fear they may in the near future be forced to leave their beloved homes for safety.

People living on Kisiwapanza have been witnessing negative impacts of climate change and yet adaptation and mitigation efforts in the area are just beginning to take course. Mzee Chum Abdallah ‘Lambika’, 71, a resident of Kisiwapanza says the destruction
of historical graves near the beach, salinization of boreholes (traditional wells) and farms are some of the visible problems caused by rising sea.

“Some years ago, one of the Zanzibar leaders jokingly said that we should vacate this small island because it was about to sink, but the joke may turn to be true in the near future. We are trying to apply adopting methods, but our grandchildren may not have the chance to continue living on this beautiful island,” Mzee Chum says. Mr Sihaba Haji Vuai, acting director of environment in the First vice president’s office says that negative impact of climate change in Kisiwapanza is devastating.

He also mentioned Tumbe and Nungwi as other areas being affected by climate change, but also attributes to unfriendly human activities. “As mitigation and adaptation strategies we are discouraging people from unnecessary cutting down of trees, mainly the mangroves, avoid farming close to the sea, enforce the law restricting the construction of tourists hotels close to the beach (30 metres away from the beach), and construct new boreholes free from salinity,” Vuai said....

He says that effective mitigation and adaptation methods would be applied after the planned study by the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) on the impact of climate change on people and national economy. An environment expert from DFID is expected to arrive in Zanzibar next Friday for the study. “The finding will give an idea on the scale of the problem in Zanzibar, but it is still too early to think of evicting people from Kisiwapanza isle although it is worrying."...

Pemba Island, Vumawimbi beach, shot by Marcel Oosterwijk, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

A boost for Scotland's flood protection

Egovmonitor: New flood protection schemes for Forres, Galashiels and Inverness have come a step closer today as part of the local government settlement for 2012-15.

The three new schemes will receive support from the Scottish Government for up to 80 per cent of their total costs. Locals Authorities are yet to appoint project contractors but according to Minister for Environment and Climate Change Stewart Stevenson, today’s announcement will give assurance to potential bidders and residents.

Mr Stevenson said: “This is great news for flood protection in Scotland, particularly for the three vulnerable areas who will receive this aid. We have listened to the concerns of local government and agreed with COSLA that this resource should be targeted towards major new projects.

“Today’s announcement will give these councils the certainty to tender and I look forward to seeing the positive impact these schemes will have to the lives of residents and livelihoods of businesses. In partnership with COSLA, a further application round will be held in due course which will help take forward flood protection schemes in other parts of Scotland.”...

The River Tweed near Galashiels, shot by james denham, Wikimedia Commons via Geograph UK, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Friday, February 24, 2012

Canadian scientist warns of potential ‘megadrought

Emma Graney in the Leader Post (Saskatchewan): When a drought hit North America in the 1930s, creating a giant dust bowl and crippling agriculture from Saskatchewan to Oklahoma, it entered history as the Dirty Thirties. But University of Regina paleoclimatologist Jeannine-Marie St. Jacques says that decade-long drought is nowhere near as bad as it can get.

St. Jacques and her colleagues have been studying tree ring data and, at the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Vancouver over the weekend, she explained the reality of droughts. “What we’re seeing in the climate records is these megadroughts, and they don’t last a decade — they last 20 years, 30 years, maybe 60 years, and they’ll be semi-continental in expanse,” she told the Leader-Post by phone from Vancouver.

The big concern, she says, is that there’s no reason a megadrought won’t hit the continent again. “When Europeans settled North America ... we know from tree ring records that it was a very wet period, and so people’s sense of what’s normal is probably not correct,” St. Jacques said. “We’re certainly very scared in the community, because there’s no reason why these things shouldn’t come back.”...

Wind erosion carries topsoil from farmland during the Dust Bowl, circa 1930's, from the USDA

Pacific fisheries need tech to track climate impact

Johann Bell in Climate change could derail plans by Pacific Island countries and territories (PICTs) to use fisheries and aquaculture to foster economic development and food security. Bottom-dwelling coastal fish are expected to be hardest hit. Under continued high emissions of greenhouse gases, stocks of these fish are estimated to decrease by 20 per cent by 2050 due to global warming and ocean acidification, which affect the fish themselves as well as the coral reefs that support them.

But much uncertainty remains about the impacts of climate change. And contrary to assessments for some other parts of the world, the projections for fisheries and aquaculture in the Pacific are not all negative. In particular, tuna stocks are expected to rise in the eastern Pacific, and increased rainfall is likely to improve the production of freshwater fisheries and pond aquaculture in the western Pacific.

Indeed, many communities could switch their fishing efforts to tuna that frequent coastal waters. By installing anchored fish aggregating devices (FADs) to temporarily hold tuna, small-scale fishers could access these valuable resources more easily.

Building networks of inshore FADs to increase coastal communities' access to tuna is an example of a 'win-win adaptation': it will help supply the additional fish needed by growing populations in ways that are likely to be favoured by climate change....

Nice picture, wrong ocean. Casting a net in Kerala, India, shot by Challiyil Eswaramangalath Vipin, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

New business attitude to risk

Dennis McClean in UNISDR News: The business world is on "the cusp of a major revolution" in its understanding of disaster risk reduction as insurance industry demands force a shift from traditional accounting-based management to risk-based management, according to Rowan Douglas, CEO Global Analytics at Willis Group.

Speaking today in Geneva at the second joint meeting of the UNISDR Private Sector Advisory Group with diplomats from the UNISDR Support Group, he said this new form of financial management will soon begin to have an influence on company behaviors as assets are valued with closer reference to their exposure to risks.

He said that the UNISDR Private Sector Advisory Group is still in its infancy and "the challenge ahead is to integrate the awareness of risk into the economic system in order to make countries and populations resilient."

Mr. Douglas who is also vice-chairman of the UNISDR Private Sector Advisory Group, said that the last ten years of remarkable shocks had been like an overture to a 21st century symphony as the world looks ahead to "a perfect storm of environmental challenges, population growth and an increasing number of disasters."

He observed that today we have a great scientific understanding of natural catastrophes through the kind of risk modeling developed for UNISDR's Global Assessment Report but the challenge remains to "go from intellectual awareness to action in both the public and private sectors."...

Anton Romako, "At the Waterfall," public domain

Mild climate change killed off ancient Mayans

ChannelNewsAsia via AFP: The collapse of the Mayan civilization was likely due to a relatively mild drought, much like the drier conditions expected in the coming years due to climate change, scientists said Thursday. Scholars have long believed that a major drought caused severe dry conditions that killed off the ancient culture known for its mastery of language, math and astronomy.

But researchers from the Yucatan Center for Scientific Research in Mexico and the University of Southampton in Britain said their analysis shows the drought only caused reductions of 25 to 40 percent less annual rain.

The smaller amounts of rain meant that open water sources in pools and lakes evaporated faster than could be replaced by more precipitation, said the study in the journal Science. "The data suggest that the main cause was a decrease in summer storm activity," said co-author Eelco Rohling of the University of Southampton.

The study is the first of its kind to attempt to assess exactly how much rainfall decreased between 800 and 950 AD when Mayan civilization went into decline, and bases its modeling data on records of past rainfall changes from stalagmites and shallow lakes.

The analysis showed that modest dry spells could have sparked major water shortages in an area with no rivers, and no source of water other than rain....

Mayan ruins in Belize, shot by Josh, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Vietnam faces rising temperature risk

Nam Pham in Viet Nam News: The Meteorology Office/Hadley Centre, the UK's foremost climate change research facility, yesterday warned Viet Nam of a four degrees Celsius temperature rise at a climate change conference held by British Council in the capital.

The warning came in accordance with the centre's new "4 Degree Map" launched at the conference, which shows the potential impact of global warming in South East Asia and Viet Nam.

"Negative impacts may occur in Viet Nam and other South East Asian countries due to rising global warming," according to Chris Gordon, head of the Science Partnership at the UK Meteorology Office/Hadley Centre.

He added that if Viet Nam took no action, there would be a four degrees Celsius temperature increase, causing a 65 cm rise in the sea-level and the shrinking of many coastal regions, especially in the low-lying Mekong Delta. "Around half of the delta will be shrunk", Gordon said.

Such a sea-level rise would totally submerge the lowest parts of the delta with up to 13 per cent (5,100 sq meter) of land mass disappearing, doing significant damage to the annual 4.7 tonnes rice economy....

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Global permafrost zones in high-resolution images on Google Earth

Space Daily via SPX: Thawing permafrost will have far-reaching ramifications for populated areas, infrastructure and ecosystems. A geographer from the University of Zurich reveals where it is important to confront the issue based on new permafrost maps - the most precise global maps around. They depict the global distribution of permafrost in high-resolution images and are available on Google Earth.

Unstable cable-car and electricity pylons and rock fall - Alpine countries like Switzerland have already had first-hand experience of thawing permafrost as a result of climate change. If temperatures continue to rise, the problem will intensify in many places.

Permafrost, namely rock or soil with a negative temperature for at least two years, occurs in the subsurface and therefore cannot be mapped directly. The existing maps are thus fraught with major uncertainties that have barely been studied or formulated. Furthermore, due to the different modeling methods used the maps are difficult to compare.

Now, however, glaciologist Stephan Gruber from the University of Zurich has modeled the global permafrost zones for the first time in high resolution and using a consistent method. In his study recently published in The Cryosphere, the scientist estimates the global permafrost regions at 22 million square kilometers - a sixth of the world's exposed land surface. With a grid resolution of one square kilometer, Gruber's maps are the most precise permafrost maps in the world...

Sedimentary rock till after avalanche in Målselvfjorden, Målselv municipitaly, Norway, shot by Chmee2, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Coastal drinking water more vulnerable to water use than climate change

Terra Daily via SPX: Human activity is likely a greater threat to coastal groundwater used for drinking water supplies than rising sea levels from climate change, according to a study conducted by geoscientists from the University of Saskatchewan and McGill University in Montreal.

Grant Ferguson from the U of S Department of Civil and Geological Engineering worked with Tom Gleeson from McGill's Department of Civil Engineering to examine data from more than 1,400 coastal watersheds.

What they found was that with the exception of very flat coastal areas that can be inundated with sea water - rare in North America - most coastal aquifers are relatively unaffected by rising sea level. What does appear to affect these aquifers is humans pumping water from wells for drinking, domestic use and irrigation.

"The bulk of the research in recent years has focused on climate change effects on coastal groundwater but increases in water demand could be more important," Ferguson says. "This is particularly true in growing coastal cities and towns where groundwater is often an important water supply."...

Saltwater intrusion diagram by Sweetian, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Cloud changes may lower global temperature

University of Auckland: Research from The University of Auckland on changes in cloud height in the decade to 2010 has provided the first hint of a cooling mechanism that may be in play in the Earth’s climate. Published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, the analysis of the first ten years of data from the NASA Terra satellite revealed an overall trend of decreasing cloud height. Global average cloud height declined by around 1 per cent over the decade, or around 30 to 40 metres. Most of the reduction was due to fewer clouds occurring at very high altitudes.

“This is the first time we have been able to accurately measure changes in global cloud height and, while the record is too short to be definitive, it provides just a hint that something quite important might be going on,” explains lead researcher Professor Roger Davies. Longer-term monitoring will be required to determine the significance of the observation for global temperatures.

A consistent reduction in cloud height would allow the Earth to cool to space more efficiently, reducing the surface temperature of the planet and potentially slowing the effects of global warming. This may represent a “negative feedback” mechanism – a change caused by global warming that works to counteract it. “We don’t know exactly what causes the cloud heights to lower,” says Professor Davies, “but it must be due to a change in the circulation patterns that give rise to cloud formation at high altitude.”

Until recently however, it was impossible to measure the changes in global cloud heights and understand their contribution to global climate change.

“Clouds are one of the biggest uncertainties in our ability to predict future climate,” says Professor Davies. “Cloud height is extremely difficult to model and therefore hasn’t been considered in models of future climate. For the first time we have been able to accurately measure the height of clouds on a global basis, and the challenge now will be to incorporate that information into climate models. It will provide a check on how well the models are doing, and may ultimately lead to better ones.”...

Image by Ted Garvin, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license

Pakistan's forgotten people

Naseer Memon has an opinion piece in Dawn (Pakistan): Recently, a report titled Pakistan flood emergency: Lessons from a continuing crisis was prepared by a collaborative group of over a dozen leading international and national humanitarian aid agencies. It is a deeply saddening reminder that some 2.5 million people affected by floods last year are still struggling to return to normal life. The miseries of these citizens are going unnoticed, having been overshadowed by the political turmoil in the country.

According to the provincial disaster management authority’s official website, no flood affectees are living in camps any more. This masks the fact that they are still in dire need of food, shelter, drinking water, sanitation facilities and medicine. Thousands remain hungry and shivering in the unprecedented cold wave. The numbers that find space on official websites do not reflect any of these very grim realities.

The hardship being suffered by those affected by the floods does not end when they evacuate the camps; in fact, they return to their places of residence with nothing with which to resume their lives. In the absence of a robust early recovery plan, those affected by disaster find themselves destitute. The social ramifications of this can be very extensive and perhaps worse than the disaster itself.

Following the floods, the official appeal for international aid was inexplicably delayed; meanwhile, the humanitarian community’s lukewarm response means that there was insufficient support for relief. The loss of 2.2 million acres of crop lands and an estimated 116,000 heads of cattle has shattered the local economy in flood-hit areas. Sowing during the Rabi season following the floods was scanty, as more than 10,000 square kilometres of land in the seven worst-hit districts remained inundated, making ploughing impossible....

A wheat farm in southern Sindh, Pakistan, outside Hyderabad, shot by Farhan, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

GDP inadequate as climate cost gauge - Stern

Nina Chestney in Reuters: The cost of global warming can no longer be quantified solely in terms of gross domestic product as the changes the world will experience and the resulting loss of life will be so immense, climate economist Nicholas Stern said on Wednesday. In 2006, Stern published a major report on the economics of climate change which said average global temperatures would rise by 2 to 3 degrees centigrade in the next 50 years and could reduce global consumption per head by up to 20 percent.

"That particular calculation had the one good model based on consumption and GDP but I would look at it now more broadly," Stern, who is chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics, told Reuters in an interview.

"One simple measure of cost in terms of loss of GDP or consumption is a fairly narrow way of looking at things. It doesn't get at the full nature of the risk management question," he added, referring to the massive loss of life which would likely arise from billions of people being displaced due to floods and droughts if emissions are allowed to rise.

The latest climate science shows the planet has warmed by 0.8 degrees centigrade above last century but if left unmanaged the world could face temperatures of 4, 5 or 6 degrees higher this century, Stern said. The planet has not experienced such temperature rises for millions of years, he added.

...A 4, 5 or even 6 degree world is difficult to describe but many areas will turn into deserts, countries will submerge and the whole pattern of the north Indian monsoon might change which shapes the activity of hundreds of millions of people in the most densely populated parts of the world, he said. "Southern Europe looking like the Sahara desert, Bangladesh under water - these are the kinds of things that could happen."

Most climate models have underestimated the risks as they omit the timing and consequences of "tipping points", or thresholds beyond which a small additional rise in average temperature results in irreversible changes, Stern added...

A Burroughs adding machine from the 1890s, shot by trekphiler, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Glaciers provide a window into human impact on the global carbon cycle

Science Daily: New clues as to how Earth's remote ecosystems have been influenced by the industrial revolution are locked, frozen in the ice of glaciers. That is the finding of a group of scientists, including Robert Spencer of the Woods Hole Research Center. The research will be published in the March 2012 issue of Nature Geoscience.

Globally, glacier ice loss is accelerating, driven in part by the deposition of carbon in the form of soot or "black carbon," which darkens glacier surfaces and increases their absorption of light and heat. The burning of biomass -- trees, leaves and other vegetation around the globe, often in fires associated with deforestation -- and fossil fuel combustion, are the major sources of black carbon.

Spencer and his fellow scientists have conducted much of their research at the Mendenhall Glacier near Juneau, Alaska. Mendenhall and other glaciers that end their journey in the Gulf of Alaska receive a high rate of precipitation, which exacerbates the deposition of soot, but also makes for a good research site.

"We are finding this human derived signature in a corner of the U.S. that is traditionally viewed as being exceptionally pristine," Spencer notes. "The burning of biomass and fossil fuels has an impact we can witness in these glacier systems although they are distant from industrial centers, and it highlights that the surface biogeochemical cycles of today are universally post-industrial in a way we do not fully appreciate."

The key to the process is carbon-containing dissolved organic matter (DOM) in the glacial ice. Glaciers provide a great deal of carbon to downstream ecosystems. Many scientists believe the source of this carbon is the ancient forests and peatlands overrun by the glaciers. However, thanks to new evidence from radiocarbon dating and ultra-high resolution mass spectrometry, Spencer and his colleagues believe that the carbon comes mainly from the burning of fossil fuels and contemporary biomass. Once the organic matter that contains black carbon is deposited on the glacier surface by snow and rain, the resultant DOM moves with the glacier and is eventually delivered downstream in meltwaters where it provides food for microorganisms at the base of the aquatic food web....

The Mendenhall Glacier in 2006, shot by Stephen Kellam, public domain