Sunday, September 30, 2012

Climate change could cripple southwestern US forests: Trees face rising drought stress and mortality as climate warms

Science Daily: Combine the tree-ring growth record with historical information, climate records, and computer-model projections of future climate trends, and you get a grim picture for the future of trees in the southwestern United States. That's the word from a team of scientists from Los Alamos National Laboratory, the U.S. Geological Survey, the University of Arizona, and other partner organizations.

If the Southwest is warmer and drier in the near future, widespread tree death is likely and would cause substantial changes in the distribution of forests and of species, the researchers report this week in the journal Nature Climate Change. Southwestern forests grow best when total winter precipitation is high combined with a summer and fall that aren't too hot and dry.

The team developed a Forest Drought-Stress Severity Index that combines the amount of winter precipitation, late summer and fall temperatures, and late summer and fall precipitation into one number. "The new 'Forest Drought-Stress Index' that Williams devised from seasonal precipitation and temperature-related variables matches the records of changing forest conditions in the Southwest remarkably well," said co-author Thomas W. Swetnam, director of the UA Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research.

"Among all climate variables affecting trees and forests that have ever been studied, this new drought index has the strongest correlation with combined tree growth, tree death from drought and insects, and area burned by forest fires that I have ever seen."

A. Park Williams of Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico is the lead author of the paper, "Temperature as a potent driver of regional forest drought stress and tree mortality." Six of the paper's 15 authors are at the UA. A complete list of authors is at the bottom of this release. ...Williams said, "Atmospheric evaporative demand is primarily driven by temperature. When air is warmer, it can hold more water vapor, thus increasing the pace at which soil and plants dry out. The air literally sucks the moisture out of the soil and plants."...

Weathered growth rings in a horizontal cross section cut through an tree felled around AD 1111 used for the western building complex at Aztec Ruins National Monument, San Juan County, New Mexico, USA. There is the cross section cut of the tree located in the outer wall of the building. Shot by , Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license

Iceland, Faroes may face EU fish sanctions

Terra Daily: Iceland and the Faroe Islands could face EU sanctions over "unsustainable" mackerel catches after an EU Fisheries Council agreement this week.

The EU Council Tuesday adopted a regulation under which sanctions can be slapped on non-EU countries that allow "non-sustainable fishing." Sanctions could include trade restrictions and limiting the use of EU ports by vessels flying the flag of the targeted country.

Norway and Scotland's regional government have been seeking EU sanctions against Iceland and the Faroes over their increased mackerel harvests in northeastern Atlantic Ocean waters.

The two countries unilaterally increased their take of the prized fish this year after four-way Coastal States talks (including the European Union, Faroe Islands, Iceland and Norway) to reach a mackerel deal failed to materialize for a third consecutive year.

Talks for 2013 mackerel quotas are to begin in October and now Norway and Scotland will be armed with the possibility of EU sanctions should the negotiations again fail to produce an agreement....

Whaling ships in the Reykjavik harbor, shot by Martin Sauter, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Nigerian scientists fault govt on climate change, Lokoja flood disaster

Chukwuma Muanya in the Guardian (Nigeria): The Nigerian Academy of Science (NAS) has faulted the response of the Federal Government to the devastating effects of climate change in the country despite early warnings. The body also voiced concern that President Goodluck Jonathan was yet to sign the bill for the creation of the Climate Change Commission into law two years after it was passed by the National Assembly. It commended the president for adopting the Climate Change Policy.

The academy said climate change was impeding development in Africa, preventing Nigeria from meeting national objectives, and the continent from meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

To adequately address the devastating impact of climate change on the environment, health, agriculture, food security and the economy, and provide evidence-based advice to governments, the African Science Academies (ASA) from Uganda, South Africa, Ghana, Cameroun, Kenya, Senegal, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Madagascar and the United States National Academies of Science (USNAS) will meet in Lagos between November 11 and November 14.

...President of NAS, Prof. Oye Ibidapo-Obe, yesterday at press briefing ahead of the eighth Annual Meeting of African Science Academies (AMASA-8) with  the theme, “Climate Change in Africa: Using Science to Reduce Climate Risks,” said the Federal Government had not responded properly to the flood disaster that had ravaged the country in recent times....

A 1911 photo of Lokoja in Nigeria

Typhoon Jelawat injures more than 50 in Japan

Global Post: Typhoon Jelawat has hit Japan's southern island of Okinawa, injuring more than 50 people and leaving 271,400 without power.

The country's Meteorological Agency said the powerful typhoon was expected to hit the Tokyo region Sunday evening, reported BBC News. Residents have been warned to stay indoors.

More from GlobalPost: Typhoon Tembin slams southern Taiwan

One of many typhoons to hit the region in recent weeks, Jelawat is a "very strong" storm with maximum sustained winds near the center of just over 100 mph (165 km/h), the Agency said, according to CNN. A NASA advisory said it was comparable to a category 3 hurricane.

"The winds are screaming through the streets," storm chaser James Reynolds told CNN from Okinawa before the typhoon strike. "I've seen at least one window blow out."...

On September 20, 2012, Jelawat was a tropical depression, not yet a typhoon. From NASA

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Venice Lagoon research indicates rapid climate change in coastal regions

University of Southampton: Research undertaken by the University of Southampton and its associates in Venice has revealed that the sea surface temperature (SST) in coastal regions is rising as much as ten times faster than the global average of 0.13 degrees per decade.

Researchers believe that this is partly as a result of a process known as the ‘urban heat island effect’; where regions experiencing rapid industrial and urban expansion produce vast amounts of heat, making the area warmer than its surroundings.

Professor Carl Amos of Ocean and Earth Sciences at the University of Southampton, will be making a speech at the Estuarine & Coastal Sciences Association’s Research & Management of Transitional Waters international symposium, in Lithuania on Thursday 27 September. He explains: “The urban heat island effect is a little considered problem with extreme consequences. Take London for example; the air temperature in the capital and the SST of the Thames is always warmer than it is in the rest of the UK. Similarly, in South Korea, an area which has seen rapid industrial expansion, the SST is rising at a rate of 0.26 degrees per decade – significantly higher than the global average. Two thirds of this rise is explained by local air temperature, which is largely driven by the urban heat island effect.”

The world’s coastal zone occupies 18 per cent of the world’s land mass and it is estimated that 1.6 billion people live in these regions world-wide. The coastal population density is three times the global average and this population is expected to increase 30 per cent by 2025, with trade and infrastructure at the coasts also increasing steadily. Research suggests that in coastal regions of high urban development, human activity is directly warming adjacent coastal waters and that this contribution to global warming at the coastal zones is equal to, or greater than, other factors such as greenhouse gasses.

...In Venice, with 22 million visitors annually and tourism a year-round source of income, the economy remains critically dependent on the city maintaining its status as one of the world’s most desirable destinations. Southampton’s research in Venice has highlighted the tension between tourism’s economic benefits and environmental repercussions. Analyses of seawater temperature trends in the Venice Lagoon have suggested an increase during winter months ten times greater than that predicted globally by the IPCC – a result directly linked to tourism....

Edward William Cooke's 1853 painting, "On the Lagoon of Venice"

Too soon to tap Namibia's groundwater find, experts say

Servaas van den Bosch in The extraction of the much needed water from a large underground aquifer in northern Namibia may need to wait for further studies, officials have warned at a water investment conference.

The aquifer, discovered in July, may contain enough water to sustain about one million people living in the area for 400 years at the current consumption rate, as well as boost development through irrigation in this poor, heavily overgrazed area where women and children walk for hours to get fresh water from boreholes.

But officials and scientists have cautioned against too much optimism until further studies have been conducted. One reason is that  the aquifer is under a smaller, polluted water resource, so it is still unclear how it could be tapped.

"We need to determine the extent of the water reserve and its accessibility first. There is a lot of brackish [partly salty] water in the area," Abraham Nehemia, under-secretary at Namibia's agriculture, water and forestry ministry, told SciDev.Net on the sidelines of the Namibia Water Investment Conference, held this month (12–14 September) in the capital, Windhoek.

Heike Wanke, a hydrogeologist at the University of Namibia, also warned against rushing into exploitation. "The positioning near a polluted aquifer means boreholes must be drilled at appropriate places," Wanke said, adding that studies on the age of the aquifer which will also inform sustainable extraction rates have not been completed yet....

Ancient dunes from the Namib-Naukluft Park in Namibia, Africa. A great shot by Bjørn Christian Tørrissen from his book, One for the Road by B.C. Tørrissen, also available from an online gallery. Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Pakistan floods kill 371, affect 4.47 million

Terra Daily via AFP: Monsoon floods in Pakistan have killed 371 people and affected nearly 4.5 million, the government's disaster relief agency said on Friday.

Pakistan has suffered devastating floods in the past two years, including the worst in its history in 2010, when catastrophic inundations across the country killed almost 1,800 people and affected 21 million.

As in 2010 and 2011, most of those hit by the latest floods are in Sindh province, where the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) said 2.8 million were affected, with nearly 890,000 in Punjab and 700,000 in Baluchistan.

Nearly 290,000 people around the country have been forced to seek shelter in relief camps, NDMA said in figures published on its website.

The floods began in early September, with nearly 80 killed in flash floods, mostly in the northwest and Pakistan-administered Kashmir....

2010 flooding on the Kabul and Indus Rivers, from NASA

Organised crime behind up to 90 percent of tropical deforestation - report

Thin Lei Win in AlertNet: Organised crime trade worth billions of dollars is responsible for 50 to 90 percent of illegal logging in parts of the Amazon basin, Central Africa and Southeast Asia, with implications for deforestation, climate change and the well-being of indigenous people, said a report released Thursday.

“Green Carbon: Black Trade,” by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and INTERPOL, said illegal logging is now worth $30 to $100 billion annually and accounts for 15 to 30 percent of the overall timber trade.

Most wood products with illegal origin are destined for China, while Japan, the EU and the United States are also primary importers. “Illegal logging is not on the decline, rather it is becoming more advanced as cartels become better organised,” said the heads of UNEP and INTERPOL in the report’s preface.

Conflict, corruption, decentralised government structures and weak environmental laws fuel the practice, with criminal groups combining old-fashioned tactics such as bribes with high-tech methods including hacking government websites to obtain permits, said the report.

“Murder, violence, threats and atrocities against indigenous forest-living peoples,” also are problems associated with the trade, the report said.

Criminals are using an increasingly sophisticated range of tactics, the report said, from laundering illegal logs through a web of palm oil plantations and saw mills, to shifting activities between regions and countries to avoid local and international policing efforts....

Jungle burned for agriculture in southern Mexico. Shot by Jami Dwyer, Wikimedia Commons, public domain

Flash floods kill 10 in Spain as torrential rain causes havoc

Lin Jenkins in the Guardian (UK): At least 10 people, three of them children, died after torrential rain triggered flash floods across a swath of southern Spain and another 35 were injured when a tornado swept through a fairground, knocking down a ferris wheel.

The strength of the torrents washed away cars, turned roads to rivers, damaged houses, brought down a motorway bridge and forced thousands to abandon their homes. Many people had to be rescued by the emergency services using inflatable rafts to ferry them to safety.

...The worst hit areas were in the provinces of Málaga and Almería, and the Murcia region. Further north, a tornado hit the town of Gandia, causing severe damage to the fairground in the town square, knocking down the ferris wheel and cutting the electricity supply. Of those injured, 15 were said to be in a serious condition and were treated at the scene before being taken to hospital. The fair had been closed to the public, and local reports said the injured were all fairground workers.

Spain's weather agency said that 9.6 inches of rain fell on Friday morning alone and torrential rainfall and violent thunderstorms were set to continue over the weekend, causing more flooding....

Friday, September 28, 2012

Netting better data on global fish stocks

Jop de Vrieze in Science Now: Overfishing is a major global concern—but that concern tends to focus on just a few well-studied fish, such as salmon and herring. Current assessments cover only 20% of the world's fish stocks, so the true state of most of the world's fish populations is still murky. Now, a new method based on catch data and fish characteristics suggests that those unstudied stocks are declining—but also that better management of global fisheries could boost the status of many of those stocks and could also increase the global sustainable fish harvest by as much as 40%.

When fisheries are managed well, they can be a source of large amounts of food and economic value without irreversibly disrupting ecosystems and depleting fish numbers. But industry lobbying, corruption, fears that reducing fishing capacity will lead to unemployment, and other economic and political obstacles have made sustainable fisheries management difficult in practice.

Meanwhile, even as they discuss measures for sustainable management, conservation scientists and fisheries scientists are locked in a disagreement about whether global fish stocks are in crisis. In 2006, marine ecologist Boris Worm of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, and colleagues published a paper in Science that projected that if current practices remain unchanged, all fish stocks would collapse by 2048. This projection received heavy criticism from fisheries scientists, who said that the number of recovering stocks actually shows an overall improvement.

Fish like salmon and herring are, in general, strictly managed. Their condition is assessed through sampling to determine stock size, as well as through catch data and population models that examine factors such as the fish's growth, how often they reach maturity, and how quickly they reproduce.

But no such assessment takes place for 80% of current fish stocks, which include more than 7000 populations. This neglect applies to many uncommon fish species, as well as to some stocks of well-known species such as cod and tuna....

Konstantine Volanakis, "The Fishnet"

Salt marshes may cool climate by trapping carbon As the planet warms up, salt marshes could play a role in capturing and removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, perhaps slowing the rate of climate change, a study suggests.

Carbon dioxide acts as an atmospheric blanket, trapping the Earth’s heat. Over time, an abundance of carbon dioxide can change the global climate, according to generally accepted scientific theory. A warmer climate melts polar ice, causing sea levels to rise. A large portion of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is produced by human activities, primarily the burning of fossil fuels to energize a rapidly growing world human population.

 “We predict that marshes will absorb some of that carbon dioxide, and if other coastal ecosystems—such as seagrasses and mangroves—respond similarly, there might be a little less warming,” says the study’s lead author, Matt Kirwan, a research assistant professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia.

Made up primarily of grasses, salt marshes are important coastal ecosystems, helping to protect shorelines from storms and providing habitat for a diverse range of wildlife, from birds to mammals, shell- and fin-fishes, and mollusks. They also build up coastal elevations by trapping sediment during floods, and produce new soil from roots and decaying organic matter.

“One of the cool things about salt marshes is that they are perhaps the best example of an ecosystem that actually depends on carbon accumulation to survive climate change: The accumulation of roots in the soil builds their elevation, keeping the plants above the water,” Kirwan says.

Salt marshes store enormous quantities of carbon, essential to plant productivity, by, in essence, breathing in the atmospheric carbon and then using it to grow, flourish, and increase the height of the soil. Even as the grasses die, the carbon remains trapped in the sediment. The researchers’ model predicts that under faster sea-level rise rates, salt marshes could bury up to four times as much carbon as they do now....

A salt marsh near Hayward Shoreline Interpretive Center building, adjacent to highway 92, Hayward, California, shot by Mercurywoodrose, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Violent winds in Nigeria after floods

Gloria Usman in via Leadership (Abuja): The Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET) has warned Nigerians to take precautions against violent winds that may occur during the dry season, due to the effects of climate change.

The director-general of NIMET, Dr Anthony Anuforom, gave the warning in Abuja yesterday in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN). He said that windy weather was expected during the dry season, following more heavy rains likely to lead to more floods between September and October. He cautioned people not to stay under trees during the period.

Anuforom said: "We are transiting now from rainy to dry season; the kind of things we may experience are violent winds. Therefore, we advise people to avoid staying under trees. The reason why we alert people is for them to know ahead of time and take necessary precautions. We have no ability to protect against natural disasters but the ability to observe what the weather is and inform the people early. Part of the mandate of the Ministry of Aviation is safety and we as an agency under it have keyed into it."

He noted that forecasts by the agency, if strictly adhered to, could help save the situation, adding that any emergency situation could only surprise people unexpectedly if there were no early warnings. "If adequate disaster risk measures are taken, the number of deaths will decrease because people must have known what to expect," Anuforom said.

The NIMET chief said that the 2013 annual seasonal rainfall predictions bulletin on weather and climate would be released early to get people prepared and make use of it....

Houses submerged in Makurdi town Nigeria due to the flooding of Ladgo reservoir in Cameroon, shot by Achakpa, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Caught between quarries and sea erosion in Kerala

K.S. Hari Krishnan in IPS: After more than a century of fighting sea erosion by massively dumping granite boulders along the beaches of southern  Kerala state, environmentalists and administrators are beginning to see that this has been a costly and ineffective solution.

Since 1890 when granite blocks were first used to construct a 1.5 km sea wall  near the pilgrim town of Varkala, entire hills have vanished and vast pits gouged out to extract a mineral that is also in high demand by the construction industry.

Ajayakumar Verma, a senior scientist at the Centre of Earth Science Studies in Thiruvananthapuram, told IPS that unregulated quarrying of granite is beginning to have a perceptible impact on Kerala’s unique ecosystem formed of high rocky hills and a network of rivers and backwaters leading into the sea.

Kerala is home to the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve and the Agasthyamalai Biosphere Reserve, both recognised by United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation as regions of  biological and cultural diversity that need protection while promoting sustainable economic development.

“Mass quarrying is a destructive activity which leads to minor tremors. A balanced stone quarrying policy, taking into account the needs of both the construction industry and coastal protection, is needed,” Verma said.

After a 1989 assessment by the Central Water Commission deemed that 480 km of Kerala’s 560 km coastline was vulnerable to erosion, massive stone quarrying work has been going on, using high explosives and heavy equipment. So far, 331.80 km of seawall have been constructed in an exercise that amounts to moving entire hills to the coasts....

A mosque in Kerala, shot by arun..., Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Indonesia's Aceh revokes palm permit after legal challenge

Reza Munawir in Reuters: Indonesia's Aceh province has revoked a controversial permit issued to a palm oil firm accused of breaching a ban on forest clearing, a spokesman said on Friday, in a rare climbdown following a legal challenge by environmental groups.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has set a goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by saving Indonesia's dwindling tropical rainforests, the world's third-largest, a pledge that won the promise of $1 billion from Norway should he succeed.

But the effort is being hampered by soaring global demand for palm oil, used in everything from biscuits to biofuel. Indonesia is the world's top producer of the edible oil, whose exports earn the country $20 billion a year.

Last year, the governor of Aceh breached a two-year ban on issuing permits to log and convert forests by giving permission for PT Kallista Alam develop 1,605 hectares (4,000 acres) of swamp, which includes protected peatlands....

Photo of Aceh around 1940 from the Tropenmuseum Collection, Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Climate change is already causing deaths and cutting GDP

Priyanka Boghani in the Global Post: Climate change will cost more than 100 million lives and 3.2 percent of global gross domestic product by the year 2030 if it is ignored, according to a new report released on Wednesday.

The report was conducted by the humanitarian organization DARA and commissioned by the Climate Vulnerable Forum, a partnership of 20 developing countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, according to Reuters.

The rise of global average temperatures will cause extreme weather, drought and rising sea levels, threatening populations and economies, said the report. According to the report's calculation, at least five million deaths each year are the result of air pollution, disease and hunger fueled by climate change.

The report, titled Climate Vulnerability Monitor: A Guide to the Cold Calculus of A Hot Planet, said that climate change is already responsible for nearly 400,000 deaths annually and costs the world more than $1.2 trillion, reducing  the global GDP by 1.6 percent annually, according to the Guardian.

Climate change is already causing deaths in developing countries, due to extreme weather causing crops to fail, leading to malnutrition and poverty in the local populations, said the report. The deaths caused by air pollution were counted separately, and amounted to nearly 4.5 million people a year, according to the study....

Nothing like an Albrecht Durer woodcut illustrating the book of Revelations for an article like this. This one is called "Der Engelkampf"

Huge clean-up begins after record storms batter Britain

ITV News (UK): Hundreds of homeowners are facing a massive clean-up today after record storms battered Britain. Across the North, householders have been reclaiming their homes, which insures estimate will cost an average of about £20,000 per household.

Residents of a block of townhouses in Newburn, Newcastle, were among those who faced a second night out of their homes after floodwater gouged out the ground beneath the building, which remains cordoned off amid safety concerns.

Some areas have seen more than double the average rainfall for the month since Sunday, and although the worst of the rain has now passed, river levels in some places were still rising as the water comes down through the system.

The town of Morpeth, Northumberland was one of the towns that had secured funding for defences through a partnership programme, the Environment Agency had said. The council had allocated £12m and the Northumbria Regional Flood and Coastal Committee £10.6m for flood defences, plans which had been given the go-ahead to start early next year. Morpeth residents are now facing a massive clean-up for the second time in four years after a month's rain fell in 24 hours....

Climate policy key to fighting global warming: experts

Lee Hsin-Yin in Focus Taiwan: A top-down climate change adaptation policy for the energy industry is crucial in Taiwan's efforts to develop environmental sustainability, foreign and local experts said Thursday at a forum on a low-carbon economy.

Regulations aimed at reducing harm to the environment caused by global warming needs to be systematically directed by the government for better risk management, a British expert said.

"We have to understand those risks, and we need to have the right regulations in place," said Michael Harvey Lord, senior adviser of the U.K.'s Climate Change Environment Agency.

A visioning policy could help both the authorities and the public think long-term, Lord said, adding that his country has been doing so since it passed its Climate Change Act in 2008.

Lord said that under the scheme, the U.K. government is able to set planning guidelines for large energy infrastructure projects through helping operators assess their vulnerability to climate change....

Disruptive, fatal flooding in Nigeria

Nigerian Tribune: Looming danger and threats of flooding in some states, occasioned by downpour, earlier predicted by stakeholders in weather management,  manifested more on Wednesday, as eight persons were confirmed dead after a torrential rain wreaked havoc in Kogi, while more than 40 villages were sacked in Kwara and Jigawa states.

Besides, more than 4,700 inhabitants of communities in Edu Local Government Area of Kwara State, namely Bele, Emi,  Faigi, Tswatako, Patako, Tada, Shonga, Edogi Dukun, Yemagi, among others, were also rendered homeless due to a heavy rain yesterday.

Similarly, over 3,200 hectares of rice plantation under the authority of Tada-Shonga Irrigation Scheme in Edu Local Government Area, also in Kwara have been washed away by flood.

These developments came as the Federal Government raised the alarm over imminent food crisis in the country, considering the continued destruction of various hectares of farmlands in some states reputed to be large producers of arable crops in the South and northern parts of the country.

...The deputy governor, who is also the chairman of the State Emergency Management Agency, remarked “What we have lost is billions of naira. How do you do the evaluation of buildings that have been submerged in the state? A lot of havoc was wreaked in the hinterlands. As we are losing buildings, we are also losing farmlands, washed away in many local governments. The extent of damage and loss could be more than that.”...

Livestock grazing on an island of the Niger River (in Niger, from a bridge in Niamey), shot by ILRI/Stevie Mann, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Satellites to the rescue: Disaster monitoring network extends its services to all

Terra Daily: Building on a decade of success in making satellite data available to users for disaster response, the International Charter 'Space and Major Disasters' has opened its doors even wider and is now providing universal access to the Charter during natural emergencies - a move that was initiated when the UK was leading the Charter in 2011.

Any country, regardless of whether they are a Charter member, is now able to draw upon the data provided by this international network of satellites.

This new principal of free universal access means the Charter will play an even bigger role in helping countries respond effectively to emergencies and will ultimately help save more lives.

Satellite images can make a tremendous difference in the immediate aftermath of an emergency, providing invaluable and immediate satellite images during times of crisis. Without the Charter it could be many days before a satellite is able to provide the images needed by civil protection authorities during a disaster.

By using the Charter they have access to a vast range of satellite resources and can assess the extent of damage or decide where to target their resources. Radar images can see through fire or smoke, and other sensors can even monitor the spread of pollution....

Hurricane Isabel from 2003

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Ofwat urged to recognise the true value of water in London Water must be managed better in London, and leakage rates are not likely to improve significantly because Ofwat targets are not stringent enough, according to the London Assembly.  A report issued today by the Assembly's Health and Environment Committee, issues a range of recommendations for managing water supplies more effectively and avoiding drought restrictions in the future.

Despite heavy rain - with more expected today, the report, called Water Matters, warns that the capital cannot rely solely on its own rainfall. It claims that uncertainties about future rainfall, an increasing population and the effects of climate change, are placing more pressure on water supplies.

Although there have been improvements from water companies, a quarter of London's treated drinking water is still lost through leakage. The report suggests that because all four of London's water companies are already meeting or beating their Ofwat targets set up to 2015, leakage rates are unlikely to improve in the next few years.

The report calls for Ofwat to take into account long-term economic, social and environmental costs of supplying water when it calculates leakage targets.

The Assembly's findings say there is plenty to be done to reduce the amount of water Londoners use - currently around 167 litres per day - such as implementing aerators on taps and using hosepipe fittings. It also called on DECC to reconsider excluding cold water efficiency measures when the National Green Deal is implemented.

In addition, the Assembly has called for water companies to install more water meters - currently only around a quarter of households in London have them....

A puddle in London, shot by Oxfordian Kissuth, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Caribbean islands brace for challenges of climate change

Desmond Brown in IPS: Prime Minister Dr. Denzil Douglas remembers how quiet – even uneventful – this tiny twin-island federation was for the first four decades of his life. But over the past 10 years, St. Kitts and Nevis, as well as the rest of the Caribbean, have seen radical climatic shifts. There is no question in Douglas’s mind that these changes are the direct results of climate change.

“Growing up, I knew nothing of hurricanes, (but) in the last decade St. Kitts and Nevis has felt the wrath of hurricanes like never before,” said Douglas, who has been the head of government here for the last 17 years.

Yet the islands of St. Kitts and Nevis are “hardly unique” in experiencing these hurricanes, Douglas said. “We can remember only too well the brutality of  (hurricanes) Ivan and Emily” in Grenada in 2004 and 2005, despite the fact that at the time, Grenada was considered “very safely nestled in the more southerly reaches of our archipelago”, he told IPS.

In July 2005 Hurricane Emily left a trail of destruction in Grenada, which was still recovering from the ravages of Hurricane Ivan the previous year.

Those who live in the region face multifaceted and troubling ramifications as a result of climate change, Douglas, who has primary responsibility for the environment and climate change in the quasi-cabinet of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), told audience members from across the region during a climate change seminar earlier in September....

Butterflies act as wildlife indicators, warning us of ecosystem changes

Faye Dobson in Environment News Network via the Ecologist: Although butterflies may seem like an attractive addition to your flower garden they are a more important insect than most people realize. Acting as a vital wildlife indicator, butterflies can tell us almost everything we need to know about the health of an ecosystem. But from the Meadow Brown to the Swallowtail, British native butterfly species are slowly disappearing.

According to a report by the Dorset-based charity Butterfly Conservation, 72 per cent of butterfly and moth species have declined in the last ten years, and 54 per cent have decreased in the UK. Even the abundance of common garden butterflies, such as the Red Admiral, has dropped by 24 per cent.

Butterflies react extremely quickly to even minor changes in the environment, making them both a good indicator of biodiversity and providing an early warning system for other reductions in wildlife. As a result, they are now the best-monitored group of insects in the world.

A decline in butterflies would also have a knock-on effect on other British species, in particular birds such as blue tits, jays and sparrows.

Stephen Dickie, head keeper explains: "Birds plan their whole breeding season around when caterpillars will be most abundant. If the butterfly and caterpillar numbers are depleted then there's not going to be a lot of food for developing chicks."

Plants will also be affected. Butterflies are a major pollinator of both wild and cultivated plants. Without them and other important pollinating insects flying around, there will be a significant decline in viable seed produced.....

Plate XVI from Europas bekannteste Schmetterlinge. Beschreibung der wichtigsten Arten und Anleitung zur Kenntnis und zum Sammeln der Schmetterlinge und Raupen (ca. 1895), F. Nemos, Oestergaard Verlag, Berlin, 18 chromolithographische Tafeln, 160 pp. By Dr. F. Nemos. Public domain

Warning of 'water bankruptcy' for many regions after reviewing 200 major global projects

Terra Daily: A study of almost 200 major international water-related projects over the past 20 years has identified a suite of existing and emerging challenges and how science can offer remedies.

The Global Environment Facility (GEF), the largest public funder of projects to improve the global environment and promote sustainable development, partnered with the United Nations University and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to extract lessons from a portfolio of major transboundary water projects involving investments of more than US$7 billion.

Insufficient and disjointed management of human demands on water and aquatic systems has led to situations where both social and ecological systems are in jeopardy and have even collapsed, says the report.

River basins in particular are set to experience growing pressures due to urbanization, rising water scarcity and poor water quality.

Investing in science, in order to identify emerging issues and track trends relating to the use of water resources, can help to reduce such risks, according to the study. Links between science and policymaking also need to be strengthened....

The aqueduct of Krak des Chevaliers in Syria, shot by Bernard Gagnon, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported,

Climate migrant remittances could help adaptation

Laurie Goering in AlertNet: Migration linked with climate change is more likely to involve a steady step-up in existing patterns of movement around the world than the sudden surges of desperate refugees many governments fear, climate and migration experts say.

Many argue, in fact, that migration – if prepared for and managed – could prove one of the most effective means of adapting to climate change and building resilience to its impacts, particularly if migrants send remittances home.

“When we think of climate migration, we think of areas emptying, of what happens if 10,000 people leave,” said Dan Smith, the head of International Alert, a London-based peace-building organisation. But much current - and probably future - migration focuses instead on people saying, “We’re a family. I’ll go, you stay. I’ll send some money home so you can survive.”

“It’s a different kind of migration from that odd picture we’ve constructed for ourselves,” Smith told a recent discussion at the Royal Commonwealth Club on the security challenges of climate change and migration.

Already there are 200 million people living in a country other than the one they were born in, and another 750 million people living in their native country but outside their region of birth – a total of about a billion migrants worldwide, said Richard Black, a professor of human geography at Sussex University and contributor to the UK government’s 2011 Foresight project, which explored the potential impact of climate change on migration, among other issues....

Old suitcases, shot by Mattes, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Asia's top business leaders establish key disaster reduction partnership

Brigitte Leoni in the UNISDR News Archive: Some of Asia's most influential business leaders today agreed to adopt Business Continuity Management (BCM) as a first step towards safeguarding their businesses against disasters.  Some 30 CEOs and top managers based in the Philippines and Asia who gathered today in Manila in the Philippines also established the first regional Asian Private Sector Partnership on Risk Reduction.

The experience of the AXA insurance group, PricewaterhouseCoopers and many other corporations in the region set the tone for discussions and decisions today as did the reality that businesses are at increasing risk of disasters in Asia. Last year floods, typhoons and earthquakes caused more than 274 billion US$ of economic losses in Asia alone.

"As we grow in business we should not lose focus on earning respect from our communities. We can do it by strengthening disaster resilience. Your role may not be immediately recognized by communities but you can be sure of their gratitude and appreciation when disasters strike" said Hans Sy, President of SM Prime Holdings who convened the Top leader forum together with the UN office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR).

..."BCM is a great way for businesses to demonstrate that they are robust as well as safe and to reassure their shareholders and partners", said James Crask, a senior manager at Pricewaterhouse Coopers, who made a full simulation to the SM staff in the afternoon.  "But BCM needs to be of good quality, understood by staff, supported by board management, financially sustained and delivered as part of the organization general approach to risk," Crask stressed.

..."It's obvious that today any supply chain depends on another one and collaboration between corporations at national, regional and global levels is key to minimizing disaster losses. You don't have to be close to a hazard to be affected by a disaster," said Jerry Velasquez, UNISDR regional coordinator for the UNISDR Asia Pacific Office. "This is why it's important to build alliances and partnerships to considerably reduce global disaster losses as they continue to rise," he added....

Flooded bridge on west side of Prapa canal, just outside Bangkok border, October 31, 2011. (VOA)

Midwest drought: how engineered corn saved some farmers from disaster

Richard Mertens in the Christian Science Monitor: ...Across the Corn Belt, farmers have expressed surprise that their corn endured drought as well as it did – much better, they say, than the varieties they planted just a decade or two ago. In Illinois, for example, one estimate suggests that corn farmers will lose one-quarter less of their crop than they did during the 1988 drought – in large part because of the seeds they planted.

Farmers are benefiting from decades of research in plant breeding combined with a growing interest in crops that can better tolerate drought and other stress. Indeed, research has shown that vulnerability to drought is one of the chief limits to crop production around the world. Meanwhile, gene mapping and other innovations have enabled scientists to develop new varieties with much greater speed and precision than before.

The results are startling, and have implications far beyond the the survival of one year’s harvest in the Midwest. In a world of rising temperatures and population, improvements in drought tolerance are especially urgent.

“We’re heading for 9 billion people in the future,” says Mitch Tuinstra, a researcher at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., who has worked on drought tolerance in corn and sorghum. “If climate change is important, and we have to double the amount of grains we produce, we have to think about how we’re going to adopt to conditions like those we had in the United States this year.”

The improvements are not a cure, say experts. The US Department of Agriculture estimates that farmers this year will harvest 13 percent less corn than last year, despite planting 4 percent more acres. “Drought can wreak a lot of havoc on crops, even today,” says Emerson Nafziger, a crop specialist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign....

This illustration is from "The Home and School Reference Work, Volume II" by The Home and School Education Society, H. M. Dixon, President and Managing Editor. The book was published in 1917 by The Home and School Education Society.

A training course in Azerbaijan on wildfire management

Trend (Azerbaijan): The OSCE Office in Baku and the Office of the Coordinator of OSCE Economic and Environmental Activities (OCEEA), in co-operation with the Global Fire Monitoring Centre and Azerbaijan's Emergency Situations Ministry launched today a two-day training course on fire management, OSCE Office in Baku reported.

Some 35 participants from state agencies dealing with forest fire management are attending the event, which takes place in Gabal, a district in northern Azerbaijan. The training was delivered by experts from Germany, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Turkey.

"Due to increasing number of emergencies in the region related to extreme weather and as a result of climate change, expected prolonged droughts, forest fires are expected to occur more often," said Emmanuel Huntzinger, the Head of the Economic and Environmental Unit at the OSCE Office in Baku. "OSCE recognizes the importance of this challenge and through training such as this, enhance Azerbaijan's capacity in wildfire management."

Zahid Hasanov representing the State Fire Protection Service of Azerbaijan's Emergency Situations Ministry said: "The development of dedicated policies and implementation strategies can make forest fire management efforts more effective and efficient. We are committed to strengthen our capacity for co-ordinated response to combat forest fire, and welcome the OSCE's assistance in this regard."

The training course will be followed by a meeting with community members of Gabala on 26 September and a national roundtable meeting on wildfire management on 27 September, which will bring together representatives of all state institutions involved in the management of forest fires, civil society representatives and international organizations who will discuss progress and challenges, targeted policies, as well as regional and international co-operation on fire management in Azerbaijan....

A forest in Azerbaijain, shot by Gulustan, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Automatic building mapping could help emergency responders

Larry Hardesty in MIT News: MIT researchers have built a wearable sensor system that automatically creates a digital map of the environment through which the wearer is moving. The prototype system, described in a paper slated for the Intelligent Robots and Systems conference in Portugal next month, is envisioned as a tool to help emergency responders coordinate disaster response.

In experiments conducted on the MIT campus, a graduate student wearing the sensor system wandered the halls, and the sensors wirelessly relayed data to a laptop in a distant conference room. Observers in the conference room were able to track the student’s progress on a map that sprang into being as he moved.

Connected to the array of sensors is a handheld pushbutton device that the wearer can use to annotate the map. In the prototype system, depressing the button simply designates a particular location as a point of interest. But the researchers envision that emergency responders could use a similar system to add voice or text tags to the map — indicating, say, structural damage or a toxic spill.

“The operational scenario that was envisioned for this was a hazmat situation where people are suited up with the full suit, and they go in and explore an environment,” says Maurice Fallon, a research scientist in MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, and lead author on the new paper. “The current approach would be to textually summarize what they had seen afterward — ‘I went into this room on the left, I saw this, I went into the next room,’ and so on. We want to try to automate that.”...

The prototype sensor included a stripped-down Microsoft Kinect camera (top) and a laser rangefinder (bottom), which looks something like a camera lens seen side-on. Photo: Patrick Gillooly

El Nino seen developing in September-October

Reuters: An El Nino event, usually associated with significant changes in rainfall, is likely to develop this month and next in the Pacific, affecting global climate patterns, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said on Tuesday.

The phenomenon, characterized by unusually warm ocean temperatures in the tropical Pacific, has been linked previously to drier-than-normal conditions in Australia, Indonesia, the Philippines, northeastern Brazil, southeastern Africa and parts of Asia, the United Nations agency said.

"A weak El Nino may develop in September and October and last until the northern hemisphere winter," the WMO said in a statement.

El Nino is also associated with wetter-than-normal conditions in Ecuador, northern Peru, southern Brazil to central Argentina and parts of eastern Africa, it said.

El Nino winters tend to be mild over western Canada and parts of the United States and wet over the southern United States, it added. La Nina, its opposite phenomenon which causes an abnormal cooling of waters, ended in April....

Public domain photo by 15jan1993

Monday, September 24, 2012

'Dead zones' could happen in the Great Lakes

Matthew Hall in the Holland Sentinel (Michigan): Scientists are studying how extreme weather associated with climate change may produce more of the algae that create dead zones in the Great Lakes. Figuring it out may help government agencies manage the threat algae poses in light of further projected changes in climate.

Climate change presents a “perfect storm” for the Great Lakes because the sequence and intensity of extreme weather creates just the right conditions for blooms to flourish, said R. Jan Stevenson, co-director of Michigan State University’s Center for Water Sciences. He heads a research team studying the situation.

This past summer, dry conditions and hot weather have contributed to pea soup conditions in parts of Lake Macatawa at Holland. The Ottawa County Health Department issued no-body-contact warnings for two local beaches in August.

Over the next three years, the work will include modeling of Muskegon Lake in Muskegon County, Saginaw Bay in Lake Huron, Grand Traverse Bay on Lake Michigan and the Grand River – the state’s longest river — which is one of the biggest sources of nutrients that flow into Lake Michigan, Stevenson said.

Algal blooms are rapid increases in algae caused by an excess of nutrients like the phosphorus and nitrogen often used in farm fertilizers. Harmful blooms can produce natural toxins. And when they die and decompose, they use up dissolved oxygen, creating a “dead zone” that suffocates fish and other organisms....

Lake Huron, viewed by NASA

Satellites trace sea level change

Jonathan Amos in the BBC: A major reassessment of 18 years of satellite observations has provided a new, more detailed view of sea-level change around the world. Incorporating the data from a number of spacecraft, the study re-affirms that ocean waters globally are rising by just over 3mm/yr.

But that figure, according to the reassessment, hides some very big regional differences - up and down. The Philippine Sea, for example, has seen increases in excess of 10mm/yr . Part of that signal reflects the great fluctuation in winds and sea-surface temperature across the Pacific Ocean known as the El Nino/La Nina-Southern Oscillation.

"The trend map is really a way of looking at average field changes over the 20 years," explained Steven Nerem of the University of Colorado, US. "The places where you see high trends probably won't have high trends in another 20 years. A lot of this is decadal variability that will average out over the longer time series, which is why we need more missions to understand where this variability is."

Paolo Cipollini from the UK's National Oceanography Centre added: "Many of the features in the trend map correspond to long-term variations in the ocean currents."

This is evident if you look for some of the well-established mass movements of water - such as the Gulf Stream arching across the North Atlantic from the eastern US, or the Kuroshio Extension reaching out from Japan into the Pacific....

Yorkshire is disappearing up to three times as fast as last year

Martin Wainwright in the Northerner Blog at the Guardian (UK): A dry spring and soggy summer are being blamed for sharply increased coastal erosion along Yorkshire's eastern flank which borders the North Sea.

Just in time before more rain fell, engineers from the East Riding of Yorkshire district council have been out along their stretch of collapsing cliffs south of Bridlington where the solid rock walls which culminate in Flamborough Head come to an end.

Using a backpack satnav which plots their course, the team are surveying the current 'last of Yorkshire' and comparing it with where the county ended a year ago. The results vary but in places the county has lost a startling 7m (22ft) compared to annual average of 1.7m (5.5ft).

As a result, more properties which now all but teeter above the beach below have been added to the list of homes no longer considered safe. Retired couples in Aldborough, 10km (6.2mls) south of Hornsea face almost certain evacuation before next summer. Ten houses were abandoned last year, their plots going the way of the three local hotels – the Spa, the Talbot and the Royal – whose remains are now under the sea.

In proportion to the loss of land, the East Riding has gained a mountain of information which is very approachably available online here. Last year, the range of surveys and monitoring was joined by the first accurate seabed mapping off Holderness, the southern stretch of the coast which ends in the delicate – and up to now indestructible – hook of Spurn point....

Cliffs at Flamborough, shot by Peter Church, Wikimedia Commons via Geograph UK, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

One million displaced by floods in India

Terra Daily via AFP: Devastating floods have forced more than one million people to flee their homes in northeastern India where authorities have called a health alert, officials said on Monday.

"So far 18 of 27 districts of Assam have been hit by floods with more than one million displaced and 11 people drowned in separate incidents in the past week," the Disaster Management agency said in a statement.

Rescue officials said around 2,000 villages have been hit by overflowing waters from the rain-swollen Brahmaputra river...

The Brahmaputra River viewed from the SPOT satellite.  One glance and you can see how vulnerable the area is to flooding.  Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

‘Study coastal areas' vulnerability to sea rise’

Bennett Oghifo in This Day (Nigeria):  It is imperative to map the vulnerability of sea level rise on coastal areas, Director of the Climate Change Adaptation Unit of the Federal Ministry of Environment, Dr. Samuel Adejuwon has said.

He stated this at the Climate Change and Coastal States Dialogue. A two-day Workshop organised by the UNDP in collaboration with Lagos State Government at the weekend in Lagos. The theme was ‘Challenges of Sea Level Rise Induced Flooding in Nigeria; Coastal States in Focus. States in attendance were; Lagos, Delta, Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Cross River, Ondo and Ogun.

The first paper; Potential Consequences and Response Strategies to Sea Level Rise in Nigeria’ was presented by Prof. Emmanuel Oladipo; the second paper was; ‘Industrial Pollution and Water Quality in Coastal States in Nigeria’ by Prof. Labode Popoola and the third paper, ‘Climate Change and Coastal Environment: A Case Study of Lagos State’ was delivered by Prof. Jide Alo, who was represented.

Adejuwon while commenting on the presentations said different coastal states have separate characteristics and that it would be good to map individual state’s vulnerability. “We have not been able to really do this. We need to do the mapping to see the adaptation measures we can put in place in order to combat the effect of climate change.”

He also agreed with the Cross River State Commissioner for Environment who said there were other factors that cause flooding that should not be ignored, stating that there was need to do research to unearth these factors. “All these factors are being [ex]acerbated by climate change.”...

The Third Mainland Bridge in Nigeria, one of three bridges from Lagos Island to the mainland, shot by Zouzou Wizman, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Biodiversity hopes dropping like (fruit) flies

John Elder in the Sydney Morning Herald: In a world first, Melbourne researchers have shown that many species of fruit fly won't survive even a modest increase in temperature. Many are close to or beyond their safety margin - and very few have the genetic ability to adapt to climate change.

Professor Ary Hoffmann, of Melbourne University's department of genetics, says: ''We were hoping to see potential for adaptation and that didn't happen. Which is bad news. And not just for fruit flies.''

The research - published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, by researchers from Monash University, the University of Melbourne and Danish collaborators - is part of an ongoing project to identify signatures of extinction risk, at the genetic level. This will indicate what life forms will be the first-stage losers in a climate of greater extremes - heat, cold and dryness.

Much climate research has focused on the delicacy of tropical environments, such as rainforests. ''What this paper shows, worryingly, is that it's very difficult for species that have evolved in more moderate mid-latitude environments to jump into a more extreme environment.''

Dr Vanessa Kellerman, of Monash University's molecular ecology research group, said the scientists looked at the heat resistance of 100 different species of fruit flies. ''This involved putting them in a water bath and slowly ramping up the water temperature over a three- or four-hour period until they started literally falling over.''

It was found that only a few species could withstand high temperatures, and that these species were all closely related - and had evolved in a more extreme climate....

A fruit fly shot by michael, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Sea level rise washes out a bunny

Mickie Anderson in A rise in sea level is responsible for the disappearance of nearly half of the endangered marsh rabbit’s Florida Keys habitat, research shows. The Lower Keys marsh rabbit, known to scientists as Sylvilagus palustris hefneri—named for Playboy publishing magnate Hugh Hefner–is a small- to medium-sized rabbit with dark brown fur and a grayish-white belly.

Once abundant in the lower Florida Keys, the rabbit has been on the federal endangered species list since 1990, and only a few hundred remain on just a few of the keys, including Boca Chica, Sugarloaf, and Big Pine.

The findings raise concerns about the outlook for many coastal species, researchers say, because there is no reason to believe that outlook won’t worsen over time, as ocean levels are predicted to continue to rise.

 “We kind of look at sea level rise as this problem that’s just starting, something that is going to be a real problem for conservation in the future. But what we’re showing here is that it’s already a problem,” says Robert McCleery, assistant professor wildlife ecology and conservation at the University of Florida....

An employee of The Nature Conservancy uses a drip torch filled with gasoline and diesel fuel to set fires along the runways of Naval Air Station (NAS) Key West. Working in cooperation with the State of Florida and The Nature Conservancy, NAS Key West's Environmental Department conducted prescribed burns to gauge the effectiveness of prescribed fires for maintaining vegetative growth in areas around runways, reducing invasive and exotic vegetation, and improving forage and cover habitats for the Lower Keys Marsh Rabbit. U.S. Navy photo by Trice Denny (RELEASED)

Discovering hot towers

Terra Daily: Two hours before Hurricane Isaac made landfall, a satellite orbiting hundreds of miles above the storm used a radar instrument to map the storm's inner structure. The instrument on the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) observed two extremely tall complexes of rain clouds called hot towers in the eyewall, a sign that Isaac was trying to strengthen.

The towering clouds were so high that they punched through the troposphere (the lowest layer of the atmosphere where most weather occurs) and sent air loaded with ice crystals rushing into the stratosphere, a higher layer that normally contains very little moisture.

Interestingly, the "hot" in the name comes not from the temperature of the air that hot towers loft high into the atmosphere, but because of the latent heat the rain clouds release.

"The latent heat is an important ingredient in fueling the updrafts that allow the towers to rise to such icy heights, so 'in honor' of the role that latent heat plays, the towers are called hot towers," explained Owen Kelley, a research scientist based at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

Early radar instruments first confirmed the existence of hot towers in the 1950s, but such instruments (and those that followed in subsequent decades) did not measure their vertical structure precisely and could not track and catalog the features in a uniform way. That's no longer a problem. Since TRMM launched in 1997, the satellite has been monitoring hot towers over land and open ocean throughout the tropics in a consistent fashion....

Hot tower image from NASA, and found on Terra Daily