Friday, June 29, 2012

President Obama signs Colorado disaster declaration The President today declared a major disaster exists in the State of Colorado and ordered Federal aid to supplement State and local recovery efforts in the areas affected by the High Park and Waldo Canyon Fires beginning on June 9, 2012, and continuing.

The President's action makes federal funding available to State and eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for emergency protective measures, including direct Federal assistance, for El Paso and Larimer Counties impacted by the High Park and Waldo Canyon Fires.

Federal funding is also available for Crisis Counseling and Disaster Unemployment Assistance for affected individuals in El Paso and Larimer Counties impacted by the High Park and Waldo Canyon Fires.

W. Craig Fugate, Administrator, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Department of Homeland Security, named Michael F. Byrne as the Federal Coordinating Officer for Federal recovery operations in the affected area.

FEMA said that damage surveys are continuing in other areas, and more counties and additional forms of assistance may be designated after the assessments are fully completed.

Smoke from the Colorado Waldo Canyon Fire, shot by Beverly Lussier, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Urgent need for climate change adaptation in Australia's Lake Eyre region The first stage of University of Adelaide research released today shows that South Australia's Arabunna country, which includes Lake Eyre in the far north, is likely to get both drier and hotter in decades to come.

"Temperatures could increase up to four degrees Celsius in Arabunna country in the next century, threatening the survival of many plants and animals," says the author of the report, Dr John Tibby from the University of Adelaide's Discipline of Geography, Environment and Population. "My report suggests that the climate may change in a series of 'jumps' rather than in a gradual manner, hence the need to make plans to adapt to this risk," Dr Tibby says.

"If the climate does change as predicted it will have major impacts on Arabunna country, its people and culture, meaning they will have to adapt to these changes," says Dr Melissa Nursey-Bray, lead researcher with the University of Adelaide's Arabunna Country Community-Based Adaptation to Climate Change project.

"To work out how to adapt, a collaboration between traditional owners and university researchers has been established to identify culturally appropriate adaptation options, allowing both Indigenous and Western expertise to help inform the plan."...

Lake Eyre South, shot by Matt Malone, Wikimedia Commons. The copyright holder of this file allows anyone to use it for any purpose, provided that the copyright holder is properly attributed. Redistribution, derivative work, commercial use, and all other use is permitted

European cities seek to reduce risks of climate change

EurActiv: European cities are planning to adapt to climate change as the risks become more severe, says a report released yesterday (28 June) by UK-based emissions measurement organisation the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) and consultancy Accenture.

Cities increasingly have to plan flood defences, ways to manage water in times of drought, ensure new buildings provide natural cooling to occupants and adapt old buildings and infrastructure to become more energy efficient. The report surveyed 22 cities - including Amsterdam, Berlin, Istanbul, London, Manchester, Moscow, Paris and Rome - about their greenhouse gas emissions and climate change strategies.

The report comes less than a week after a United Nations' summit in Rio de Janeiro failed to define clear sustainable development goals and left many convinced that local governments and businesses will have to lead efforts to improve the environment. The survey found that 17 of the 22 cities have completed or almost completed risk assessments to understand how climate change will affect them.

Eighteen cities said they face "significant risks" arising from climate change and a dozen of them see these risks as "severe" or "very severe". Due to these risks, cities are increasingly looking at developing adaptation plans. Fourteen cities already have an adaptation plan in place while two more are currently developing them.

"European cities are demonstrating leadership and best practice in managing climate change at the local level," said Conor Riffle, head of CDP's cities programme. "The report shows that other cities can benefit by implementing similar strategies, like annual measurement and reporting of greenhouse gas emissions."...

The Danube and Budapest, shot by Daniel Somogyi-Tóth,, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

German Red Cross helps Vietnam with integrated disaster risk reduction

Prevention Web via the German Red Cross: Thanks to a contribution made by the Federal Foreign Office of Germany, the German Red Cross in close cooperation with the Vietnam National Red Cross (VNRC) is implementing a DRR project in the Hue province of Vietnam between June 2011 and December 2012.

Vietnam is one of the most disaster prone countries of Asia because of its geographic situation and long coastline exposed to typhoons. Hit time after time by floods as well as droughts, Vietnam is ranked 14th on the list of priority countries of the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR).

Because of its exposed coastal location, the country is one of those most severely affected by climate change. Some climate trends are already felt in Vietnam nowadays, such as a rise in average temperatures, lower annual precipitations, increased rainfall during the autumn months and more frequent extreme weather conditions such as heat waves, cold spells and up to 8 or 10 annual typhoons, with a rising trend.

The project is implemented in close consultation with local authorities and will generate close synergies with other DRR projects. The main aim of the project is to contribute towards the reduction of impact of natural disasters in Vietnam and an estimated total of almost 48.000 people living in six counties of the Hue Province will benefit from improved DRR mechanisms....

Two farmers and a rice field in Hue Province, Vietnam, shot by Piwaie at fr.wikipedia, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 1.0 Generic license

Agricultural land grabs still remain above pre-2005 level

Seed Daily via SPX: An estimated 70.2 million hectares of agricultural land worldwide have been sold or leased to foreign private and public investors since 2000, according to new research conducted by the Worldwatch Institute for its Vital Signs Online service. The bulk of these acquisitions, which are called "land grabs" by some observers, took place between 2008 and 2010, peaking in 2009.

Although data for 2010 indicate that the amount of acquisitions dropped considerably after the 2009 peak, it still remains well above pre-2005 levels, writes Worldwatch author Cameron Scherer. Although definitions vary, "land grab" here refers to the large-scale purchase of agricultural land by foreign investors. Thus, land leases or purchases among domestic actors are omitted.

In April 2012, the Land Matrix Project, a global network of some 45 research and civil society organizations, released the largest database to date on these types of land deals, gathering data from 1,006 deals covering 70.2 million hectares around the world.

Africa has seen the greatest share of land involved in these acquisitions, with 34.3 million hectares sold or leased since 2000. East Africa accounts for the greatest investment, with 310 deals covering 16.8 million hectares....

A cabbage plot in Kenya, shot by CIAT, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Fire crew says Waldo Canyon Fire has burned an estimated 300 homes to the ground

CBS News: Fire crews fought to save the U.S. Air Force Academy and residents begged for information on the fate of their homes Wednesday after a night of terror sent thousands of people fleeing a raging Colorado Springs wildfire.

More than 30,000 have been displaced by the fire, including thousands who frantically packed up belongings Tuesday night after it barreled into neighborhoods in the foothills west and north of Colorado's second-largest city. With flames looming overhead, they clogged roads shrouded in smoke and flying embers, their fear punctuated by explosions of bright orange flame that signaled yet another house had been claimed. A team of Denver firefighters called in to help battle the Waldo Canyon fire told CBS affiliate KCNC an estimated 300 homes have burned to the ground.

"The sky was red, the wind was blowing really fast and there were embers falling from the sky," said Simone Covey, a 26-year-old mother of three who fled an apartment near Garden of the Gods park and was staying at a shelter. "I didn't really have time to think about it. I was just trying to keep my kids calm."

Wilma Juachon sat under a tree at an evacuation center, wearing a mask to block the smoke. A tourist from California, she was evacuated from a fire near Rocky Mountain National Park last week and, now, from her Colorado Springs hotel.

Shifting winds challenged firefighters trying to contain the 29-square-mile Waldo Canyon blaze and extinguish hot spots inside the city's western suburbs. The National Weather Service reported 60 mph winds and lightning above the fire Wednesday afternoon, but winds were calmer by nightfall.

"It won't stay in the same place," said incident commander Rich Harvey. Some 3,000 more people were evacuated to the west of the fire, Teller County authorities said Wednesday, and Teller County courts were closed through Thursday....

The Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado Springs, June 26, 2012, shot by Keystoneridin, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Sea ice tracking at record low levels

Arctic Sea Ice News & Analysis from the National Snow and Ice Data Center: After a period of rapid ice loss through the first half of June, sea ice extent is now slightly below 2010 levels, the previous record low at this time of year. Sea level pressure patterns have been favorable for the retreat of sea ice for much of the past month.

On June 18, the five-day average sea ice extent was 10.62 million square kilometers (4.10 million square miles). This was 31,000 square kilometers (12,000 square miles) below the same day in 2010, the record low for the day and 824,000 square kilometers (318,000 square miles) below the same day in 2007, the year of record low September extent.

The main contributors to the unusually rapid ice loss to this point in June are the disappearance of most of the winter sea ice in the Bering Sea, rapid ice loss in the Barents and Kara Seas, and early development of open water areas in the Beaufort and Laptev Seas north of Alaska and Siberia. Recent ice loss rates have been 100,000 to 150,000 square kilometers (38,600 to 57,900 square miles) per day, which is more than double the climatological rate.

A pattern of high pressure over the Beaufort Sea and low pressure over the Laptev Sea has been present for the past few weeks. This pattern is favorable for summer ice loss, by advecting warm winds from the south (in eastern Asia) to melt the ice and transport it away from the coastlines in Siberia and Alaska. The high pressure over the Beaufort leads to generally clear skies, and temperatures are now above freezing over much of the Arctic pack. Snow cover in the far north is nearly gone, earlier than normal, allowing the coastal land to warm faster.

Early melt onset, and clear skies near the solstice are favorable conditions for more rapid melting, and warming of the ocean in open-water areas. The persistence of this type of pressure pattern throughout summer 2007 was a major factor toward causing the record low September extent that year. Conversely, in 2010, the patterns were not as favorable for loss of ice and the seasonal decline slowed later in the summer, and the extent did not approach the record low levels of 2007....

The gray line in time series (above) indicates 1979 to 2000 average extent for the day shown. Graphic from the National Snow and Ice Data Center

Flood management fund of €44.5m available in Ireland

Michael O'Regan and Marie O'Halloran in the Irish Times:  The allocation for schemes addressing flood problems this year is €44.5 million, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has said. Brendan Howlin told the Dáil this morning that he had been very anxious last year to ensure funding for flood management schemes would be protected.

“In truth, climate change is changing our weather patterns,’’ he added. “We are having wetter summers, as was predicted. We have just come through the wettest June on record.’’ Mr Howlin said the €44.5 million, allocated through the Office of Public Works, contrasted with the allocations in the boom time. In 2007, some €23 million had been allocated; in 2008, the figure was €24 million.

“We are getting better value as well, because construction prices have been reduced,’’ he said. Mr Howlin said there had been building on flood plains in the boom time because of bad planning. “That is another legacy issue of the Celtic Tiger that we are left to address,’’ he added.

...He said flooding in the Shannon basin was regular and consistent and there was a need for an early warning system...

High water on the River Fergus in Ennis, Ireland (2009), shot by Eddylandzaat, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Netherlands license

Using information and communication technology to protect Africans against natural disasters via the World Bank: In February 2000, intense flooding left hundreds of thousands of people homeless in the African nation of Mozambique. The cause: a tropical cyclone and heavy rainfall which many experts attributed to the effects of climate change.

More than a decade later, February 2012 turned out to be a turbulent month for the island nation of Madagascar with Cyclones Giovanna and Irina battering the country one after the other, impacting more than 300,000 people and causing widespread flooding, landslides and severe damage to homes and businesses.

Across Africa, coastal cities are seeing the worst affects of climate change-induced hazards like flooding and drought, because of their proximity to coastlines or large bodies of water. And the urban poor are most heavily impacted.

"Poor communities often spring up in the least-desirable, highest-risk locations in flood zones along rivers or seacoasts with weak infrastructure and poor sanitation," said Gaurav Relhan, an Information and Communication Technology (ICT) specialist in the World Bank's Africa Region, and author of a new report on ICTs, Cities, and natural disasters in Africa: Municipal ICT Capacity and its Impact on the Climate-Change Affected Urban Poor: The Case of Mozambique.

To help people lessen and, when possible, prevent the severe effects of climate change-induced emergencies, more cities in African countries are turning to ICTs. Geographic Information Systems (GIS), for example, are helping local governments identify flood zones on maps, measure communities' vulnerability to flooding, and plan for new flood-prevention infrastructure like drainage systems and levees. Through mobile phones, citizens are being alerted via SMS texts to coming floods or cyclones. And Early Warning Systems are simulating weather patterns and predicting disasters in advance. These tools, according to Relhan, can play a pivotal role in ultimately saving lives and lowering recovery costs.

In Madagascar, where access to up-to-the-minute weather forecasts is limited, local communities currently rely on low-tech approaches to help warn of disasters. The 'town crier' system, administered by the National Bureau for Risk and Disaster Management (BNGRC), currently is the main system for alerting rural communities in advance of cyclones. As part of the system, a village leader walks through the community ringing a bell and shouting warnings and instructions....

Cyclone Giovanna comes ashore in Madagascar, February 14, 2012. Shot from NASA

'Not enough being done to tackle drought' in India

ZeeNews: With several states reeling under a drought-like situation as they await the monsoon, experts have pointed out that not enough is being done to deal with the situation arising out of scanty rainfall. Drought management, they say, assumes significance in view of changing weather patterns.

"We are not prepared to handle the effects of climate change on agriculture. It is reflected through our management of drought situation in states like Karnataka, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh," veteran agricultural scientist M.S. Swaminathan told [Zee News].  "As the effects of climate change manifest, there will be unprecedented droughts and some areas will receive more rain..." said Swaminathan, known as the father of India's Green Revolution.

For 2012, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) has downgraded the monsoon forecast to 96 percent from the April forecast of 99 percent.  As per IMD standards, an average or normal monsoon means rainfall between 96 and 104 percent of a 50-year average of 89 cm during a four-month season from June. Rainfall below 90 percent of the average is considered to result in a drought.

While a deficit monsoon has so far not been announced, the drought-like situation in several states has already had a negative impact on agricutlture and also resulted in several farmers' suicides....

Sand mining in a dry riverbed in Tamil Nadu, India, shot by Pitchaimuthu, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Tropical Storm Debby rains misery on flooded Florida

Michael Peltier in Reuters: Tropical Storm Debby weakened to a tropical depression after it drifted ashore on Florida's Gulf Coast on Tuesday, even as it dumped more rain on flooded areas and sent thousands of people fleeing from rising rivers. After stalling in the Gulf for two days, the large and ragged storm finally began moving eastward. The center crossed the shore late on Tuesday afternoon near Steinhatchee, in the Big Bend area where the Panhandle joins the peninsula, and later took an unexpected turn to the southeast.

Most of the thunderstorms and rain were northeast of the storm center and had already dumped 2 feet of rain over parts of Florida. Local media reports said a man died after his canoe capsized on Lake Dorr in Ocala National Forest, a few hours before Debby made landfall. It was at least the second storm-related death in Florida and occurred when the man drowned while trying to help his girlfriend and two daughters back to shore in the rough waters, the reports said.

Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center said Debby could bring another 4 to 8 inches of rain - and possibly tornadoes - to north Florida and southeast Georgia in the next two days.

Debby's top winds weakened to 35 miles per hour (55 km per hour) on Tuesday evening, just below the threshold to remain a tropical storm. Little change in intensity was expected, as its center slogged across the northern Florida peninsula, and it was seen emerging over the Atlantic Ocean by Wednesday evening, where it could strengthen again into a tropical storm, the forecasters said...

NASA shot of Debby on June 25, 2012

More than 32,000 ordered to flee Colorado wildfire

Galon Wampler in USA Today via the AP: A towering wildfire jumped firefighters' perimeter lines and moved into the city of Colorado Springs, forcing frantic evacuation orders for more than 32,000 residents, including the U.S. Air Force Academy, and destroying an unknown number of homes.

Heavy smoke and ash billowed from the foothills west of the city as the Waldo Canyon Fire became the top challenge for the nation's firefighters. "It was like looking at the worst movie set you could imagine," Gov. John Hickenlooper said after flying over the fire late Tuesday. "It's almost surreal."

With flames cresting a ridge high above its campus, the Air Force Academy told more than 2,100 residents to evacuate Elsewhere, fleeing residents covered their faces with T-shirts and bandanas to breathe through the smoke.Throughout the West, firefighters have toiled for days in searing, record-setting heat against fires fueled by prolonged drought. Most, if not all, of Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana were under red flag warnings, meaning extreme fire danger.

The nation is experiencing "a super-heated spike on top of a decades-long warming trend," said Derek Arndt, head of climate monitoring at the National Climatic Data Center....

A FEMA photo of a 2002 wildfire evacuation in Colorado

GMOs may save us from climate change

Science 2.0: While the world actually grows enough food to feed all its inhabitants, it isn't equally distributed. Nearly 500 million people in the developing world remain undernourished and, if projections hold true, that number could to 20% within a decade due to the impacts of climate change on global food production, according to a detailed analysis by The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn&Child Health (PMNCH), the World Health Organization (WHO), the UN System Standing Committee on Nutrition (UNSCN), 1,000 Days, World Vision International and partners.

According to the analysis, it is this equation of climate change and its impacts on food production plus increased population growth that would result in a deficit of global food production versus demand, which could increase by 100 million the number of undernourished people by 2020.

Since no energy solution that would make it cheap to distribute food is on the horizon, the solution to an impending food crisis brought on by climate change is genetically modifying more foods so they can grow in difficult climates...

Image of DNA from the US Department of Energy, public domain

Desalinated water could help quench a thirsty Egypt

Megan Detrie in Egypt Independent: Desalinated water could offer Egypt a secure source of potable water, as concerns over future access to water increase, experts say. Countries in arid regions facing scarce water supplies have increasingly turned to desalination, which can turn seawater into drinkable water.

In Egypt, dozens of desalination plants are already used by tourism resorts with limited access to water and the industrial sector. Despite currently making up less than one percent of Egypt's total water production, experts say desalinated water should be a vital component to Egypt's future water security.

“Water desalination is one of the important technologies we need to think about because there is an increasing water deficit, and with all that is going on in Africa, desalination could be one of the most important aspects [for water security],” said Abeer Shakweer,  an adviser for the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology who has been researching water desalination.

Egypt relies mainly on water from the Nile to support its population, but experts warn that factors like growing population, economic development in Egypt and the Nile Basin countries, increased pollution and climate change are likely to drastically reduce Nile resources....

Aswan High Dam from Lake Nasser, shot by Olaf Tausch, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license

West India drought fuels migration to cities

Darryl D'Monte in AlertNet: Worsening drought in western India is making it harder for men to find brides and pushing poor rural families to seek work in cities, as government policies to help them deal with crop failure and financial pressures fall short.

More than a dozen young men in a village in Khatav sub-district in Satara, in the west Indian state of Maharashtra, have been waiting in vain for brides for more than two years, since the dry spell began, the Daily New and Analysis (DNA) newspaper reported in May.

...As well as doing household chores, young brides are expected to fetch water from wells up to 3 km away in the searing heat – a burden some don’t want to take on. And in order to get by after poor harvests, some wives have had to join the federal government’s rural employment guarantee scheme, which provides villagers with up to 100 days’ work a year.

Other families have left their villages, along with their cattle, to look for work in cities including Mumbai, the state capital, less than 300 km away. Once there, many become slum dwellers.

Some 6,000 people out of Maan sub-district’s population of 200,000 have permanently migrated to urban areas in the past year, according to Yogendra Katiyare, the top local government official. Last year’s census shows that the inhabitants of Aundh village, for example, dropped to 7,500 from 9,000 a decade ago....

The Mumbai-Pune Expressway, seen from Khandala, shot by Mouleesha, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Dissent criminalized again: Arctic drilling ships legally protected from protesters

As Mark Twain noted, "The price of freedom is eternal discretion." From the Courthouse News Service: Fearing environmental activists will try to board or divert 19 Arctic oil drilling ships, the U.S. Coast Guard established a 500 yard no-go zone around the vessels as they pass through Washington's Puget Sound. The ships have been staged in Seattle, Wa., for the summer drilling season where several have also undergone extensive retrofitting.

Citing a spate of recent unsafe and illegal demonstrations tactics, including actress Lucy Lawless' February boarding of the Noble Discoverer in New Zealand, the Coast Guard said the no-go zone is need to protect the safety of protesters, the drilling ships and other shipping traffic.

"While the Coast Guard respects the First Amendment rights of protesters, it is clear that certain unlawful protest activity poses a danger to the life and safety of protesters, target vessels, and other legitimate waterway users. The Coast Guard must take swift action to prevent such harm," the Guard said in a Federal Register notice.

The Coast Guard said that Greenpeace has identified ships being used by Shell and British Petroleum as targets for boarding and that the advocacy group Alaska Wilderness League had chartered a boat to observe retrofitting of Shell's mobile offshore drilling unit Kulluk at a Seattle shipyard.

A common tactic used by activists is to put kayaks, or swimmers and other small boats in front of ships to slow or divert them while teams of protesters try to board them. The Coast Guard said that given the size of the ships this could have fatal results for the protesters, cause severe damage to the vessels if they run aground, or cause environmental damage if they divert into ecologically sensitive areas....

Young Friends of the Earth Norway demonstrates against oil drilling in the Norwegian Artic. Shot by Natur og Ungdom, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Texas grid expects to set June power record again in baking heat

Reuters: The Texas power grid expected demand Tuesday to break the June peak record for a second day in a row and urged consumers to continue cutting back on power use to avoid straining the system as much of the state broils under triple-digit temperatures.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the grid operator for most of Texas, forecast peak demand Tuesday would reach 66,415 megawatts (MW), easily surpassing the June record set Monday of 65,047 MW. Before Monday, the June record was 63,102 MW set last year.

The state's all-time peak use was 68,379 MW set in August last summer during a protracted heat wave and drought. Real-time power prices briefly exceeded $100 per megawatt-hour Monday afternoon. Next-day power prices for Tuesday traded between $165 and $175 per MWh.

The extreme heat hit Sunday when the mercury reached 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 Celsius) in Houston, San Antonio and Dallas, the three biggest cities in the Lone Star State, prompting residents to crank up air conditioners. Triple-digit highs were forecast for several more days this week, with several high enough to set records, forecast...

A road sign in Notrees, Texas, public domain

Lack of climate understanding in Australia

Carl Dickens in the Sydney Morning Herald: A report set to shape how Australia adapts to climate change assumes Australians accept and understand the science when many of us still don't get it, a federal government body says. Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency secretary Blair Comley has criticised the Productivity Commission's draft report on the unavoidable barriers faced by Australian households, businesses and governments in adapting to a changing climate.

Mr Comley said the commission's draft report was overly "sanguine", as it implied Australians broadly acknowledge the effects of climate change and are considering them in their plans for the future. "I would argue that acceptance of the science is not widespread, either due to outright rejection or because while not rejected, it's not sufficiently internalised by key decision makers to practically influence their decision making," Mr Comley told the Climate Adaptation in Action Summit in Melbourne on Tuesday.

He said discussions with many people who didn't deal with climate change in their daily business had revealed that the issue, even if it was accepted as significant, was "implicitly absent" from their decision-making. The draft report, released in April, also failed to consider the impacts of political and technical "path dependency" on making changes to adapt to the uncertainties of climate change, Mr Comley said....

Building resilience against the effects of climate change

Nanise Loanakadavu in the Fiji Times Online: As the executive heads of provincial councils, all roko tui are being groomed to play key roles in assisting Fijians build resilience against climate change at the Fiji Inter-Provincial Adaptation Forum that began at Nadave, Tailevu yesterday. And it was heard that roko tui from the 14 provincial councils worked very closely with villages and communities, making them a crucial channel of communication on issues of climate change.

The two-day forum, jointly hosted by the iTaukei Affairs Board and WWF South Pacific Program, aims to provide roko tui with knowledge and a greater understanding of climate change issues. Deputy permanent secretary for iTaukei Affairs Colonel Apakuki Kurusiga said all the roko tui played an important role in the dissemination of this information to the grassroots level.

"We have diverted our task and refocus our strategies to the conservation of our environment through raising awareness to the villagers," Colonel Kurusiga said. "At the same time, we are protecting our values, culture because they are linked to the environment we live in," he said.

Colonel Kurusiga said they would also protect the children and women. Speakers shared their experiences, lessons, tools and how they assessed and managed the unfavourable impacts of climate change. The forum is aimed at strengthening adaptive capacity in climate smart planning at the provincial level, with the aim of reducing vulnerability to climate change....

An aerial photo of Nadi, Fiji, shot by Kat Clay , Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Investment and growth in the time of climate change European climate policy has to be flexible with respect to the outcome of international negotiations as well as updates in the evaluation of climate change, says a Bruegel analysis. Bruegel is an independent economic think tank in Brussels. "According to a joint report by Bruegel and the Economics Department of the European Investment Bank, decarbonisation is not necessarily detrimental to growth if the policy mix is well adapted to the issue.

Climate policy, like all policies, is about making choices. Taking an economic perspective, the report addresses two major choices of European decarbonisation policies. At the highest level, a decision has to be made whether climate change is best dealt with by reducing carbon emissions into the atmosphere (mitigation), or by investing into assets that allow people to better cope with the consequences of global warming (adaptation).

Then, the individual policies to curb emissions and incentivise adaptation investments have to be selected. Underlying these choices is the question of the economic impact of climate policies. Choosing decarbonisation is harder if it is connected to forgoing economic growth. Hence, it is important to understand whether economic growth and decarbonisation can go hand in hand, or if there are choices to be made. The report contributes to all three discussions.

...There is no self-contained optimal balance between mitigation and adaptation. The balance shifts more towards mitigation if we expect high damages through climate change, and if we care a lot about the welfare of future generations....

Sea defenses and drainage channel in the eastern UK, shot by Keith Rose, Wikimedia Commons via Geograph UK, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Monday, June 25, 2012

Melting sea ice threatens emperor penguins

A news release from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution: At nearly four feet tall, the Emperor penguin is Antarctica’s largest sea bird—and thanks to films like “March of the Penguins” and “Happy Feet,” it’s also one of the continent’s most iconic. If global temperatures continue to rise, however, the Emperor penguins in Terre Adélie, in East Antarctica may eventually disappear, according to a new study by led by researchers from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI). The study was published in the June 20th edition of the journal Global Change Biology.

“Over the last century, we have already observed the disappearance of the Dion Islets penguin colony, close to the West Antarctic Peninsula,” says Stephanie Jenouvrier, WHOI biologist and lead author of the new study.  “In 1948 and the 1970s, scientists recorded more than 150 breeding pairs there. By 1999, the population was down to just 20 pairs, and in 2009, it had vanished entirely.” Like in Terre Adélie, Jenouvrier thinks the decline of those penguins might be connected to a simultaneous decline in Antarctic sea ice due to warming temperatures in the region.

Unlike other sea birds, Emperor penguins breed and raise their young almost exclusively on sea ice. If that ice breaks up and disappears early in the breeding season, massive breeding failure may occur, says Jenouvrier. “As it is, there's a huge mortality rate just at the breeding stages, because only 50 percent of chicks survive to the end of the breeding season, and then only half of those fledglings survive until the next year,” she says.

Disappearing sea ice may also affect the penguins’ food source. The birds feed primarily on fish, squid, and krill, a shrimplike animal, which in turn feeds on zooplankton and phytoplankton, tiny organisms that grow on the underside of the ice. If the ice goes, Jenouvrier says, so too will the plankton, causing a ripple effect through the food web that may starve the various species that penguins rely on as prey.

To project how penguin populations may fare in the future, Jenouvrier’s team used data from several different sources, including climate models, sea ice forecasts, and a demographic model that Jenouvrier created of the Emperor penguin population at Terre Adélie, a coastal region of Antarctica where French scientists have conducted penguin observations for more than 50 years...

Emperor Penguin, Atka Bay, Weddell Sea, Antarctica. Another great shot from Hannes Grobe of AWI, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license

Rain from Tropical Strom Debby drenches Florida

Suzette Laboy in the Associated Press: Tropical Storm Debby spun drenching rains Monday over northern Florida as it hung nearly stationary over the Gulf of Mexico, making its biggest threat flooding rather than winds.

Tropical storm warnings were in effect along the Florida Panhandle as the storm parked offshore. Even with the storm's center far from land, it lashed Florida with heavy rains and spawned isolated tornadoes that killed at least one person.

And in Alabama, crews planned to continue searching for a South Carolina man who disappeared in rough surf Sunday afternoon. The man, whose name and hometown were not immediately released, was vacationing with his family when he went underwater around 1:45 p.m. Sunday, said Melvin Shepherd, director of beach safety for Orange Beach, Ala. The storm also prompted the closing of a bridge to St. George Island, popular vacation island in Florida.

Residents in several counties near the crook of Florida's elbow were urged to leave low-lying neighborhoods because of the threat of flooding. High winds forced the closure of an interstate bridge that spans Tampa Bay and links St. Petersburg with areas to the southeast. In several locations, homes and businesses were damaged by high winds authorities believe were from tornadoes.

Authorities in the Tampa Bay area were asking residents and tourists to stay away from flooded streets. Some streets were still under water early Monday, while others were blocked with debris. The constant barrage of wind and rain triggered fears of the widespread flooding that occurred across the Florida Panhandle during Hurricane Dennis in 2005....

Tropical Storm Debby on June 24, 2012, from NASA

NASA sees first Atlantic hurricane fizzling in cool waters

Rob Gutro at NASA: Chris may have been the Atlantic Ocean Hurricane Season's first hurricane, but didn't maintain that title for long. NASA satellite data revealed one good reason why Chris had weakened and became a post-tropical storm.

Sea surface temperatures play a big role in keeping a tropical cyclone alive. They need warm seas of at least 300 Kelvin (80 Fahrenheit/26.8 Celsius) to maintain strength. NASA's Aqua satellite revealed that those conditions were not met where Chris is located in the Atlantic Ocean.

When NASA's Aqua satellite passed over Chris at 0447 UTC (12:47 a.m. EDT) today, June 22, the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) instrument captured a new infrared image of Chris' clouds and surrounding sea surface temperatures. The sea surface temperatures to the south of Chris are at least 300 Kelvin (80 Fahrenheit/26.8 Celsius) and warmer. In the area where Chris is located, AIRS revealed that sea surface temperatures are closer to 290 Kelvin (62 Fahrenheit/16.8 Celsius).

At 11 a.m. EDT on June 22, Chris was now classified as a post-tropical storm with maximum sustained winds near 45 mph (75 kmh). Chris was far to the north near 44.6 North and 46.9 West, about 335 miles (535 km) east-southeast of Cape Race, Newfoundland, Canada. Chris was moving to the west-southwest near 16 mph (kmh), and is expected to slow and turn southward. Chris' minimum central pressure is 990 millibars.

According to the National Hurricane Center, Chris "should merge with another extratropical low on Saturday [June 23]" in the north Atlantic Ocean...

NASA's Aqua satellite passed over Chris on June 22 at 12:47 a.m. EDT and infrared data from the AIRS instrument inidicated the storm is in waters too cool to maintain strength. The waters are near 290 Kelvin (62F/16.8C). Credit: NASA/JPL, Ed Olsen

The climate challenge list from Lloyd's

Lloyd's has a detailed list of climate change impacts-- just a few snips here: As world leaders, academics and scientists gather for the Rio +20 conference to try to reach agreement on sustainable growth, controlling world emissions and managing the growing impact of climate change, we look at the recent past to identify potential climate challenges ahead.

There is growing evidence that prolonged heatwaves are likely to lead to a greater incidence of wildfires, particularly in Southern Europe and the Western United States. 2009 saw wildfires raging out of control in Spain, France, Greece and Italy. In Spain, this destroyed more land in just a few days than the entire wildfire season of 2008. In 2010 and 2011, wildfires devastated large swathes of Russia’s agricultural land. In 2011, these destroyed 618,000 hectares while in 2010, the loss of crops to wildfires in the country forced Russia to impose a ban on grain exports – creating a spike in the price of these commodities on international markets..

The severity of flooding on communities is affecting a growing number of people across the world. In both 2009 and 2011, floods in southern India took hundreds of lives and left millions homeless. The 2011 Thailand floods were the largest insured fresh-water loss in history. The Mississippi floods of 2011 disrupted an estimated 13% of US petroleum refinery output, resulting in a rise in petrol prices. In Europe last year, flash flooding resulted in a state of emergency being declared by Italy and Czech Republic. In China last year, floods in Eastern China affected an estimated 5 million people, killing 17, disrupting 1,000 businesses and decimating crops. Analysts have predicted crop shortages in China could affect global food prices. Half the world’s population (3bn) live within 200 kilometres of the coastline. If current trends continue, this could double to 6bn by 2025.

...Lloyd’s believes strongly that insurance has a vital role to play in helping businesses and communities adapt to the effects of climate change. We were a founding member of the ClimateWise initiative, which provides insurers with a framework to set out how they build climate change into their business operations.

Inside the Lloyd's building, photo from Lloyd's, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license

Eat less meat and improve farming efficiency to tackle climate change

University of Exeter: We need to eat less meat and recycle our waste to rebalance the global carbon cycle and reduce our risk of dangerous levels of climate change. New research from the University of Exeter shows that if today’s meat-eating habits continue, the predicted rise in the global population could spell ecological disaster. But changes in our lifestyle and our farming could make space for growing crops for bioenergy and carbon storage.

Though less efficient as an energy source than fossil fuels, plants capture and store carbon that would otherwise stay in the atmosphere and contribute to global warming. Burning our waste from organic materials, such as food and manure, and any bioenergy crops we can grow, while capturing the carbon contained within them, could be a powerful way to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Published today (20 June 2012) in the journal Energy and Environmental Science, the research suggests that in order to feed a population of 9.3 billion by 2050 we need to dramatically increase the efficiency of our farming by eating less beef, recycling waste and wasting less food. These changes could reduce the amount of land needed for farming, despite the increase in population, leaving sufficient land for some bio-energy. To make a really significant difference, however, we will need to bring down the average global meat consumption from 16.6 per cent to 15 per cent of average daily calorie intake – about half that of the average western diet.

The researchers argue that if we change the way we use our land, recycle waste, and dedicate enough space to growing bioenergy crops we could bring down atmospheric carbon dioxide to safe levels. Not doing this means we would lose our natural ecosystems and face increasingly dangerous levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide....

Vegetarian symbol created by Erik Wannee, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Dambisa Moyo: 'The world will be drawn into a war for resources'

Decca Aitkenhead in the Guardian (UK): Massive geopolitical shifts seldom announce themselves with a bang. They tend instead to creep up slowly, until it's hard to be sure exactly when they began. I remember going to buy some steel about six years ago, and being staggered by the price. "Ah," the man in the hardware store explained, "it's the Chinese, you see. They're buying up so much steel, the price has gone through the roof."
....These sort of random, disconnected events look neither random nor disconnected once you read Dambisa Moyo's account of what's happening to the world's commodities...  Moyo writes, "in less than 20 years we will witness the creation of a middle class of roughly the same size as the current total population of Africa, North America and Europe." Naturally, they will want mobile phones, fridges, cars and washing machines; 2,000 new cars already join Beijing's streets every day. In 2010 China had 40 cities with populations of more than a million; by 2020 it plans to have added another 225. The implications for the world's commodity resources are stark and sobering: global demand for food and water is expected to increase by 50% and 30% respectively by 2030, the pressure on copper, lead, zinc and corn is already becoming unsustainable, and no one has a clue where the energy we'll need is going to come from.

If Moyo's calculations are correct, we are in big trouble – which makes the central premise of her book, Winner Takes All, all the more arresting. Governments across the world, she writes, have singularly failed to grasp what's coming – with one sensational exception. "Simply put, the Chinese are on a global shopping spree."

... But when the resources begin to run dry, the consequences will be catastrophic. Already, since 1990 at least 18 violent conflicts worldwide have been triggered by competition for resources. If nothing is done now, warns Moyo, commodity wars on a terrifying scale are all but inevitable.

To western eyes, Winner Take All makes for scary reading. Viewed through Chinese eyes, on the other hand, it's an altogether different story. For all its premonitions of armageddon, the book's tone feels more congratulatory than cautionary – reflecting the particular perspective of its author....

Climate change and the South Asian summer monsoon

EurekAlert: The vagaries of South Asian summer monsoon rainfall impact the lives of more than one billion people. A review in Nature Climate Change (June 24 online issue) of over 100 recent research articles concludes that with continuing rise in CO2 and global warming, the region can expect generally more rainfall, due to the expected increase in atmospheric moisture, as well as more variability in rainfall.

In spite of the rise in atmospheric CO2 concentration of about 70 parts per million by volume and in global temperatures of about 0.50°C over the last 6 decades, the All India Rainfall index does not yet show the expected increase in rainfall. The reviewers Andrew Turner from the Department of Meteorology at the University of Reading and H. Annamalai from the International Pacific Research Center at the University of Hawaii at Manoa give several reasons for why the region's observed rainfall has not yet increased, among them are inconsistent rainfall observations, decadal variability of the monsoon, the effects of aerosols resulting from industrialization, and land-use changes.

Regional projections for devastating droughts and floods--which are most meaningful for residents living in South Asia-- are still beyond the reach of current climate models, according to the reviewers' detailed analyses of the present state of research. The authors conclude that in order to make regional projections that can help in disaster mitigation and in adapting to climate change, the following is needed: establishing more consistent rainfall datasets by expanding observations to include, for example, agricultural yield; a better grasp of the complicated thermodynamics over the monsoon region and of the interactions among monsoon rainfall, land-use, aerosols, CO2, and other conditions; and an evaluation in coupled circulation models (which allow feedbacks among variables) of those processes that have been shown in simpler models to affect the monsoon and rainfall.

2009 surf during the monsoon in Colombo, Sri Lanka, image from V.M._Doroshevich-East_and_War-Colombo._Surf_during_Monsoons.png: Uncredited photographer, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Sea level rise increasing three to four times faster on the US Atlantic coast

Daily Disruption: Rates of sea level rise are increasing three-to-four times faster along portions of the U.S. Atlantic Coast than globally, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey report published in Nature Climate Change. Since about 1990, sea-level rise in the 600-mile stretch of coastal zone from Cape Hatteras, N.C. to north of Boston, Mass. — coined a “hotspot” by scientists — has increased 2 – 3.7 millimeters per year; the global increase over the same period was 0.6 – 1.0 millimeter per year.

Based on data and analyses included in the report, if global temperatures continue to rise, rates of sea level rise in this area are expected to continue increasing. The report shows that the sea-level rise hotspot is consistent with the slowing of Atlantic Ocean circulation. Models show this change in circulation may be tied to changes in water temperature, salinity and density in the subpolar north Atlantic.

“Many people mistakenly think that the rate of sea level rise is the same everywhere as glaciers and ice caps melt, increasing the volume of ocean water, but other effects can be as large or larger than the so-called ‘eustatic’ rise,” said USGS Director Marcia McNutt. “As demonstrated in this study, regional oceanographic contributions must be taken into account in planning for what happens to coastal property.”

...“Cities in the hotspot, like Norfolk, New York, and Boston already experience damaging floods during relatively low intensity storms,” said Dr. Asbury (Abby) Sallenger, USGS oceanographer and project lead. “Ongoing accelerated sea level rise in the hotspot will make coastal cities and surrounding areas increasingly vulnerable to flooding by adding to the height that storm surge and breaking waves reach on the coast.”...

David Shankbone took this shot of Hurricane Irene flooding 6th Street in Manhattan and the FDR Drive in 2011, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license

Rising seas mean shrinking South Florida future

Curtis Morgan in the Miami Herald: The subject of global warming has become so politically unpalatable over the last few years that neither party mentions it much anymore. A conference on climate change sponsored by Florida Atlantic University made it clear that ignoring the threat has done nothing to slow it down — particularly in South Florida, which has more people and property at risk by rising sea levels than any place in the country.

The two-day summit in Boca Raton, which wrapped up Friday, painted a bleak and water-logged picture for much of coastal Florida. Under current projections, the Atlantic Ocean would swallow much of the Florida Keys in 100 years. Miami-Dade, in turn, would eventually replace them as a chain of islands on the highest parts of the coastal limestone ridge, bordered by the ocean on one side and an Everglades turned into a salt water bay on the other.

Ben Strauss, chief operating officer of Climate Central, an independent research and journalism organization, warned that much of the southern peninsula south of Lake Okeechobee would be virtually uninhabitable within 250 years.

“There’s good reason to believe southern Florida will eventually have to be evacuated,” Strauss told some 275 scientists and climate and planning experts from government agencies, insurance companies, construction experts and other businesses likely to be impacted by rising seas.

While scientists can’t yet predict with certainty how fast and high seas will eventually rise, there is no disputing South Florida will be ground zero for the earliest major impacts, said Leonard Barry, director of FAU’s Florida Center for Environmental Studies. “The sky is not falling, but the waters are rising,” he said. “We need to recognize that, prepare for that and begin to address it."...

Flooding caused by 1960's Hurricane Donna at Biscayne Blvd. in Miami, Florida, shot by NOAA

Bridge over troubled waters

Gargi Parsi in the Hindu: A new report on water sector options in the face of changing climate has called for fresh approach to studying alterations in the patterns of rainfall and snowfall, availability of surface and ground water and the existing water infrastructure.

The report—Water Sector Options for India in a Changing Climate-- laments the lack of studies in the country on the impact of climate change in the water sector, but at the same time is optimistic about the situation offering a `unique opportunity’ for revisiting the sector for better understanding, planning and management.

Dedicated to communities around the world whose lives have been disrupted by climate change brought about due to high consumption lifestyle of the elite, the report, published by the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, reviews the situation in the context of the international framework of climate change vis-a-vis adaptation, mitigation, technology and economics.

India needs to immediately come out with a report on the state of impact of climate change in the water sector, it says. Trends in quantum, peaks and pattern of long-term annual rainfall, resultant impact on river flows and ground water recharge are crucial issues for equitable distribution of water and its management. Transparency and sharing of data is the key to finding solutions.

Seeking top priority to rain-water harvesting, ground water recharge and incentives for changing cropping patterns and methods, the report points out that the irregularity in monsoon rains is hugely impacting farmers, particularly the rain-fed ones who form 60 per cent of the entire farming community...

A rice field in India. Author information missing, but Wikimedia Commons says the source is, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Anti-desertification plan gets official launch in Rio

Ochieng' Ogodo in Organisations from Africa, Brazil and France have officially launched a scientific collaboration to fight desertification in Africa. The collaboration was discussed at the Fight Against Desertification in Africa conference in Niger in October 2011. The 'Declaration of Niamey' adopted at the conference highlighted the need for interdisciplinary research in the fields of desertification, drought and land degradation, focusing on social, economic and environmental issues.

Its commitments were ratified earlier this year (March 2012), with a tripartite agreement signed at the sixth World Water Forum in Marseille, France, between Brazil's National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq) of Brazil, the Institute of Research for Development (IRD) in France, and the Pan-African Agency of the Great Green Wall (PAGGW), to which 11 African countries belong.

Yesterday's official launch at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), taking place this week (20–22 June), saw the presentation of the collaboration's first concrete actions based on these earlier commitments. The project's initial start-up capital is US$1.3 million, and it is funded by the three organisations equally. It is "an original initiative in that it is a South-South-North cooperation", according to the IRD.

The collaboration brings together researchers to devise programmes for tackling desertification (the process by which fertile land becomes desert), particularly in Africa's Sahel region — a belt of semi-arid grasslands, savannas and steppes stretching across northern Africa, immediately to the south of the Sahara desert...

Algerian desert - Tassili National Park, shot by magharebia, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Drought hits Argentine corn and soy crops

Seed Daily via UPI: Drought is claiming a heavy toll on Argentina's corn and soy crops, creating new problems for the economy amid an increasingly fraught confrontation between farmer groups and the government. Drought isn't a new threat to Argentine agriculture and has affected crops with varying severity over the past three years but officials said this year's yields could be the worst in 15 years.

Dry, hot weather conditions are blamed on La Nina, the weather phenomenon that is the opposite of El Nino. The last major La Nina phase began in mid-2007 and lasted through 2009 but its adverse effects returned in parts of Latin America in 2010 and in other parts in 2011.

Venezuela is another regional country affected by La Nina's vagaries. Drought-related yield reports from across the country earlier led the Agriculture Ministry in Buenos Aires to slash soy output forecast to 42.9 million tons. Economists from Argentina's Rosario grain exchange said they were revising the soy harvest estimates further downward -- from 40.9 million tons to 40.5 million tons for soy planted in the last season.

Rosario's latest figures represented a sharp revision of yield forecasts issued as recently as May and a drastic departure from earlier estimates that predicted soy yields of 52 million-53 million tons. Analysts said that continued drought conditions made it likely the yield forecasts could be revised again....

A soy field in Argentina, shot by Maggilautaro, public domain

US experts predict higher sea level rise

AFP: Global sea levels could rise two to three times higher over the next century than previous UN estimates, according to a study released Friday by the US National Research Council. A committee of experts evaluated the latest UN data and updated those projections with new data on polar ice-cap melting that is believed to be speeding up sea level rise around the world.

By 2100, the NRC estimates that global sea levels will rise between 20-55 inches (50 and 140 centimeters). The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's projection in 2007 had predicted a fraction of that, at seven to 23 inches (18-59 centimeters) worldwide.

"Our answers are pretty much in line with what others have done except that the IPCC was a little timid in 2007 about the ice contribution, so using more current information about the ice melt we have a bigger contribution there," said Robert Dalrymple, committee chair and professor of civil engineering at Johns Hopkins University.

The wide range within each estimate is due to increasing uncertainty about sea level projections as researchers attempt to assess what may happen further and further into the future, the report said. In the near term, the NRC predicted a global sea level rise of three to nine inches (eight to 23 centimeters) by 2030 (over the 2000 level) and seven to 19 inches (18 to 48 centimeters) by 2050.

The committee was convened by an executive order from the state of California to assess sea level rise in order to inform preparations for coastal impact, and to make detailed predictions for the US West Coast. The NRC found that the sea level was projected to rise faster than global estimates in much of southern California due to land erosion and subsiding coastline....

Under the Redondo Beach boardwalk, shot by Natalie Ries, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license

Indonesian forest fires could endanger region

Dyna Rochmyaningsih in An Indonesian scientist has warned of a growing danger of forest fires in the western Indonesian island of Sumatra engulfing neighbouring countries in resulting haze, as occurred in 2006. Eris Risandi, a climate scientist at Indonesia's Agency of Meteorology, Climatology, and Geophysics (BMKG) said earlier this month that the agency's latest calculations indicated an increased chance of forest fires in Riau, Central Sumatra — even though this is one of the country's most deforested provinces. 

He added that if forest fires were to break out, the country's high rate of deforestation would exacerbate the situation, as deforested areas have drier air, which could make the haze more vulnerable to being spread by winds. The agency's prediction is based on satellite monitoring and observations from local weather stations, which take into account how climatic changes can increase vulnerability to forest fires and make controlling them more difficult. 

"If the wind blows to the northeast, the haze may reach Singapore and Malaysia, just as it did in the 1990s," Eris told SciDev.Net.   The latest calculations (5 June 2012), published on the BMKG website, show that the province of Riau is the most vulnerable area to forest fire.

The agency also estimated that of all the provinces, Riau would experience the highest fire intensity levels, due to the large quantities of peat in the area. Peat is made up of partially decayed vegetation, and once the moisture is removed, it becomes dry and highly combustible...

NASA shot of forest fire smoke over northern Sumatra