Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Climate change: Don't wait until you can feel it

EurekAlert via the Carnegie Institution: Despite overwhelming scientific evidence for the impending dangers of human-made climate change, policy decisions leading to substantial emissions reduction have been slow. New work from Carnegie's Katharine Ricke and Ken Caldeira focuses on the intersection between personal and global impacts. They find that even as extreme weather events influence those who experience them to support policy to address climate change, waiting for the majority of people to live through such conditions firsthand could delay meaningful action by decades. Their findings are published by Nature Climate Change.

Nearly every year, extreme weather events such as heat waves and hurricanes spur the discussion of climate change in the media and among politicians. This can create a window of opportunity for those seeking to enact policy aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But this window of opportunity could be delayed by decades due to the vagaries of weather.

"When support for doing something about climate change is based on personal observations of local weather, policymaking may end up being dictated by the roulette wheel of natural climate variability," says Ricke.

Ricke and Calderia's modeling studies show that within 50 years nearly every country in the world will experience the kind of extreme weather that can be a policy trigger. However, local natural variability in weather means that majority of people in each nation, particularly large countries like China and the United States, could personally experience these extremes for themselves either tomorrow or many years from now. If citizens do not support emissions reductions and other efforts to fight climate change until they experience extreme events firsthand, naturally-driven variations in weather could delay action by decades, Ricke and Caldeira found. They find that sound science should guide policy rather than the vagaries of weather. "Local weather is anecdotal information, but climate change is sound science," Caldeira said. "Good politics can be based on a good anecdote, but good policy needs to be based on sound science."...

Caravaggio's "The Denial of Saint Peter"

China and Nepal agree to cooperate on mountain science

Bhrikuti Rai in China has agreed to share scientific knowledge with Nepal on the effects of climate and environmental changes on the Tibetan plateau in order to spur sustainable development. The Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) signed memorandums of understanding earlier this month (7 April) with Nepalese research institutions the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) and Tribhuvan University.

The agreement is part of the Third Pole Environment (TPE) initiative, a research programme CAS set up in 2009 to study the Tibetan plateau. The area is often referred to as the ‘third pole’ because it contains huge quantities of ice in the form of glaciers that feed major Asian rivers.

Glacial melt in Nepal has previously been a source of flooding: in 2008 a devastating flood hit northern India after a river breached flood defences, leading some to call for better cross-border monitoring of conditions in the mountain regions where the rivers begin.

ICIMOD could now become an important player in environmental research spearheaded by TPE in the Himalayan region, says Dong Qi of the bureau of international cooperation at CAS. The agreement will also open the way for government institutions to cooperate on environmental research, he says.

Areas for cooperation outlined in the memorandum include: monitoring air quality levels; studying high-altitude wetland and river systems to share information on water discharge and strengthen flood forecasting; and researching climate change impacts, for example the effect of pollutants such as elemental carbon on glacial melt and fresh water availability in the region....

Taboche (6367 m) seen from the same point in 2007. The clean, debris-free glaciers and ice nestled below the Taboche summit have been reduced considerably by recent warming trends. Shot by Alton Byers, Khumbu, Nepal, 2007, The Mountain Institute., Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Indian monsoons are becoming more extreme

Stephanie Paige Ogburn in Scientific American via ClimateWire: The Indian monsoon, a seasonal event that brings key moisture to an agricultural region where about 20 percent of the world's population resides, is getting more extreme, researchers report. A new study released yesterday in the journal Nature Climate Change found that extreme wet and dry spells within the monsoon period have increased since 1980.

"In the most fundamental sense, we are identifying climate change," said study co-author Noah Diffenbaugh, a Stanford University researcher and fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment. "The question is what is causing that climate change. It could be global warming; it could be some other forcing factors," Diffenbaugh added.

Deepti Singh, the lead author of the study and a doctoral candidate in the Environmental Earth System Science program at Stanford, said changes in the monsoon are important, because farmers there are very dependent on rain-fed agriculture for food production both nationally and for export. "So any changes and any impact on the crops locally can influence local as well as global food security," Singh said.

Although it has been previously documented that overall monsoon rainfall has lessened, few researchers have found changes in extremes. The frequency and intensity of extreme events within the monsoon are important, as periods of intense rainfall can lead to floods, while periods of extreme dryness can lead to crop failures, particularly at certain growth states when crops are particularly vulnerable...

Monsoon rains in Cherrapunjee, shot by PP Yoonus, Wikimedia Commons, public domain

Nigerian flood victims appeal to government for assistance via the Daily Independent (Lagos): Flood victims in Calabar metropolis have appealed to the Cross River State Government and organisations to assist them with relief materials and financial support. They madetheir request known on Tuesday in Calabar when the News Agency of Nigeria visited some of the flooded areas.

NAN reports that the rain which caused the flooding, started around 10 p.m. on Monday and stopped at about 8am on Tuesday. Narrating her ordeal to NAN, Mrs Patricia Archibong, a resident of the Calabar South Local Government Area, said that it rained for about 10 hours.

According to her, the rain pulled down her fence and flooded her living room. "Flooding has been our major problem in this Elijah Henshaw street, we are always victims of flooding whenever the rainy season comes. "As a result of this flood, I have lost most of my valuables, including foodstuff, furniture, electronics and others," she said.

Archibong appealed to the Cross River Government and organisations to look into their plight and alleviate their sufferings. Speaking after inspecting the flooded areas in Calabar South, Mr Aloysius Edet, described the incident as pathetic...

Odds of storm waters overflowing Manhattan seawall up 20-fold

A press release from the American Geophysical Union: Maximum water levels in New York harbor during major storms have risen by nearly two and a half feet since the mid-1800s, making the chances of water overtopping the Manhattan seawall now at least 20 times greater than they were 170 years ago, according to a new study. Whereas sea-level rise, which is occurring globally, has raised water levels along New York harbor by nearly a foot and a half since the mid-19th century, the research shows that the maximum height of the city’s “once-in-10-years” storm tide has grown additionally by almost a foot in that same period.

The newly recognized storm-tide increase means that New York is at risk of more frequent and extensive flooding than was expected due to sea-level rise alone, said Stefan Talke, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Portland State University in Portland, Ore. He is lead author of the new study accepted for publication in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union. The research also confirms that the New York harbor storm tide produced by Hurricane Sandy was the largest since at least 1821.

Tide gauge data analyzed in the study show that a major, “10-year” storm hitting New York City today causes bigger storm tides and potentially more damage than the identical storm would have in the mid-1800s. Specifically, Talke explained, there’s a 10 percent chance today that, in any given year, a storm tide in New York harbor will reach a maximum height of nearly two meters (about six and a half feet), the so-called “10-year storm.” In the mid-19th century, however, that maximum height was about 1.7 meters (about 5.6 feet), or nearly a foot lower than it is today, according to tide gauge data going back to 1844, he noted.

“What we are finding is that the 10-year storm tide of your great-, great-grandparents is not the same as the 10-year storm tide of today,” Talke said.

... The study’s findings may indicate that “storm surges’ interaction with New York harbor has gotten larger so that in addition to sea level rise, the storm surges may have been enhanced,” said Chris Zervas, a scientist at NOAA’s Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services in Silver Spring, Md., who was not involved in the study. “For the latter part of the 1900s, [it shows] that the possibility of overtopping the seawall has increased quite a bit in addition” to sea-level rise, he added...

The Hugh L. Carey Tunnel (formerly known as the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel) on Oct. 30, 2012, during Hurricane Sandy, shot by Metropolitan Transportation Authority of the State of New York, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Twisters bring deaths, carnage to southern US

Wendy M. Welch, Doyle Rice and John Bacon in USA Today: At least 11 people were killed Monday after tornadoes ripped through Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee, bringing the death toll from two days of vilent weather across a wide swath of the nation to at least 28. And the carnage may not be over yet, the National Weather Service warned Tuesday.

The massive, slow-moving storm system flattened homes and businesses, uprooted trees and flipped cars across parts of southern and central U.S. The National Weather Service was investigating reports of almost 100 tornadoes -- with more violent weather forecast for Tuesday.

Al least seven deaths were reported in Mississippi on Monday, six of them in and around Louisville. a town of about 6,600 people. State Sen. Giles Ward said he was huddled in a bathroom with his wife, four other family members and their dog Monday night as a tornado destroyed his two-story brick house and turned his son-in-law's SUV upside down onto the patio in Louisville.

"Our family is OK, thank goodness," Ward told The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson. "Our house as well as all the houses in our neighborhood it appears are destroyed. But our family is safe." Later, he texted: "I have never prayed so hard in my life. God is good. All we have lost is stuff."

More than 60 million people from southeastern Michigan to the central Gulf coast to the Carolinas and southern Virginia are at risk of severe storms and tornadoes Tuesday, according to AccuWeather meteorologist Alex Sosnowski....

NOAA stock image of an occluded mesocyclone tornado

Tropical and northern wetlands likely to blame for greenhouse gas increases

A press release from the University of Guelph: A surprising recent rise in atmospheric methane likely stems from wetland emissions, suggesting that much more of the potent greenhouse gas will be pumped into the atmosphere as northern wetlands continue to thaw and tropical ones to warm, according to a new international study led by a University of Guelph researcher.

The study supports calls for improved monitoring of wetlands and human changes to those ecosystems – a timely topic as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change prepares to examine land use impacts on greenhouse gas emissions, says Prof. Merritt Turetsky, Department of Integrative Biology.

Turetsky is the lead author
of a paper published today in Global Change Biology based on one of the largest-ever analyses of global methane emissions. The team looked at almost 20,000 field data measurements collected from 70 sites across arctic, temperate and tropical regions. Agnieszka Kotowska, a former master’s student, and David Olefeldt, a post-doc at Guelph, also were among 19 study co-authors from Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Finland, Germany and Sweden.

One of the strongest greenhouse gases, methane comes from agriculture and fossil fuel use, as well as natural sources such as microbes in saturated wetland soils. The amount of atmospheric methane has remained relatively stable for about a decade, but concentrations began to rise again in 2007. Scientists believe this increase stems partly from more methane being released from thawing northern wetlands.

Scientists have assumed that wetland methane release is largest in the tropics, said Turetsky. “But our analyses show that northern fens, such as those created when permafrost thaws, can have emissions comparable to warm sites in the tropics, despite their cold temperatures. That’s very important when it comes to scaling methane release at a global scale.”....

US Fish and Wildlife Service photo of tundra in the Arctic

Technology praised for assisting land tenure reform

Arthur Allen Rapid technological changes are opening new frontiers in land tenure reform, a recent World Bank conference has heard, but some land tenure experts and community activists are sceptical about how much these technologies will help development.

Geographic information, obtained from satellites, drones, databases and other sources such as traditional surveys and presented in computerised form, enables governments, companies and communities to rapidly access information about land ownership, boundaries and value that may help expand socioeconomic development, some speakers said.

“If property rights are not clearly defined, you have no basis for sustainable development,” Rexford Ahene, a World Bank consultant and an economist at Lafayette College, United States, told SciDev.Net, reflecting on the bank’s interest in land administration. The 2014 Land and Poverty Conference, organised by the bank, was held in Washington DC, United States, last month (24-27 March).

Several countries presented reports about their progress in registering land and creating title deeds and land ownership maps. Rwanda demarcated 10.4 million plots — its entire landmass — in a three-year project that ended in 2012. In Indonesia, a US$333 million project, using drones and satellite data, began last year to demarcate and list the land titles for a pilot area. Land registrations also help expand market-based economies and give governments a clearer picture of their tax base, Ahene told SciDev.Net.

Rwanda, for example, expanded its annual land tax income from two to ten billion Rwandan francs (around US$2.9 million to US$14.4 million) between 2011 and 2013. About one per cent of Rwandan land is now bought and sold each year, and title registration is facilitating economic activity, said Thierry Hoza Ngoga, manager of the Land Technical Operations Division within the Rwanda Natural Resources Authority....

A NASA image of Rwanda (with yellow boundary added)

Climate adaptation advice for cities in global South

Jaspreet Kindra in IRIN: Cities in developing countries with quality health, housing and water drainage systems, can more easily adapt to a changing climate, says the new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.

David Satterthwaite, a leading expert on human settlements and one of the two coordinating lead authors of the urban chapter in the IPCC report, told IRIN the report’s message for urban centres in developing countries is: “Good development provides the basis for climate change adaptation both in the sense of resilient infrastructure (piped water, drains, all-weather roads) and better quality houses… Providing these, also develops the institutional and financial base for climate change adaptation.”

Urban centres in developing countries often have to make difficult decisions on how much expenditure to allocate to development versus climate change adaptation, but the report’s authors say a successful balance can be achieved with clear policy direction, committed and informed staff, knowledge, and of course money.

Many cities in developing countries “are caught in a `perfect storm’ of population growth, escalating adaptation needs and substantial development deficits created by a shortage of human and financial resources, increasing levels of informality, poor governance, environmental degradation, biodiversity loss, poverty and growing inequality,” writes Debra Roberts, the environmental planning head of the South African city of Durban and one of the lead authors of the urban chapter in the IPCC report....

A shanty town in Mumbai, near the railroad, shot by M M, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license 

Climate change in coastal areas of Pakistan

Syed Muhammad Abu Baker in the Nation (Pakistan):
...According to German Watch Institute, Pakistan was not included in the Long-Term Climate Risk Index (1993-2012) which clearly shows that it wasn’t a disaster hit country but the Climate Risk Index (CRI) for 2012 ranked Pakistan at number 3 as the most affected country by climate change revealing that inappropriate decision making of the government, ineffective planning and over-exploitation of natural resources causing billions of dollars in damage and driving the economically unstable country further into poverty.

...Scientists have commented that floods in Pakistan (2010, 2011, 2012) are the result of climate change but if proper adaptation measures had been taken, their devastation could have been reduced greatly. It has been observed that Pakistan was never a disaster-prone country and received adequate rainfall and seasonal temperatures throughout the year, but as time passed the frequency of natural calamities increased, which highlights the fact that human activities have led the whole country to this point.

...It has been observed that people adjoining northern and coastal areas of Pakistan are witnessing the worse impacts of climate. Unawareness, ignorance and over-exploitation of natural resources are some causes and deforestation is one of the major causes for increasing climate change impacts. Over the past few years deforestation in Pakistan has increased at a fast pace of 2.1% per annum, the highest in Asia, followed by mangrove forest depletion at an alarming rate of 2.3 % annually.

Pakistan is blessed with one of the largest semi-arid mangroves in the world but has ignored their ecological importance for long which has caused great damage. Mangrove cover helps in protecting coastal communities from harsh climatic conditions as they serve as a shield from storms and floods and also serve as a potential habitat for shrimps and marine life, also economically supporting fishermen communities. Using mangroves for fuelwood for domestic and commercial purposes, camel grazing, pollution from industrial effluents and reduced fresh water supply to the forests are some of the main reasons for reduced mangrove cover in Pakistan. Fast depleting mangrove forests have made the coastal areas of Pakistan vulnerable to harsh climatic conditions especially cyclones, floods, sea level rise and the impacts of change...

Mangroves in Port Qasim, Karachi, shot by Ismail.sultan, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication 

Monday, April 28, 2014

At least 15 dead as tornadoes rip through central, southern US

ABC News via Good Morning America: Rescuers sifted through the rubble today looking for survivors after a powerful tornado carved out a path of destruction, flattening homes and businesses and downing power lines.

The death toll was originally set at 17, but it was revised down by two people this afternoon by Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe's office. At least 15 people in the central and southern United States were killed by the storm system, with 14 of the victims in Arkansas.

One trail of storm destruction stretched 30 miles, Arkansas Department of Emergency Management spokesman Brandon Morris said. "Some homes have been completely destroyed, some have severe damage, we have power lines and trees down in those counties, as well," Morris told ABC News.

At least one other person died in Quapaw, a small northeastern city near Oklahoma’s borders with Kansas and Missouri. Ottawa County Emergency Management director Joe Dan Morgan said Quapaw, which has about 900 residents, was heavily damaged by the tornado.

"Looks like about half of town got extensive damage as well as the fire department," Morgan said. The violent storm destroyed entire neighborhoods within minutes, slicing an 80-mile path across the region....

NOAA's 2014 tornado prediction

NASA satellites show drought may take toll on Congo rainforest

NASA: A new analysis of NASA satellite data shows Africa's Congo rainforest, the second-largest tropical rainforest in the world, has undergone a large-scale decline in greenness over the past decade. The study, led by Liming Zhou of University at Albany, State University of New York, shows between 2000 and 2012 the decline affected an increasing amount of forest area and intensified. The research, published Wednesday in Nature, is one of the most comprehensive observational studies to explore the effects of long-term drought on the Congo rainforest using several independent satellite sensors.

"It's important to understand these changes because most climate models predict tropical forests may be under stress due to increasing severe water shortages in a warmer and drier 21st century climate," Zhou said.

Scientists use the satellite-derived "greenness" of forest regions as one indicator of a forest's health. While this study looks specifically at the impact of a persistent drought in the Congo region since 2000, researchers say that a continued drying trend might alter the composition and structure of the Congo rainforest, affecting its biodiversity and carbon storage.

Previous research used satellite-based measurements of vegetation greenness to investigate changes in the Amazon rainforest, notably the effects of severe short-term droughts in 2005 and 2010. Until now, little attention has been paid to African rainforests, where ground measurements are even sparser than in the Amazon and where droughts are less severe but last longer.

To clarify the impact of long-term drought on the Congo rainforest, Zhou and colleagues set out to see whether they could detect a trend in a satellite measure of vegetation greenness called the Enhanced Vegetation Index. This measure is developed from data produced by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument on NASA's Terra satellite. The scientists focused their analysis on intact, forested regions in the Congo basin during the months of April, May and June each year – the first of the area's two peak rainy and growing seasons each year.

The study found a gradually decreasing trend in Congo rainforest greenness, sometimes referred to as "browning," suggesting a slow adjustment to the long-term drying trend. This is in contrast to the more immediate response seen in the Amazon, such as large-scale tree mortality, brought about by more episodic drought events...

In the Congo rainforest, a browning trend (brown) dominates smaller areas that show a greening trend (green) during April, May and June each year from 2000 to 2012. Image Credit: NASA Goddard's Scientific Visualization Studio

Latest IPCC report: Climate change poses risks to the well-being of nature and people – but there are ways of mitigating these risks

A press release from the Finnish Environment Institute: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has approved the second part of its Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), titled Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability, at the IPCC meeting in Yokohama, Japan. The key message of the report is that climate change poses serious risks to the well-being of nature and people all over the world. The observed effects of climate change have an impact on people’s health, land and marine ecosystems, water supplies, and people’s livelihoods, from the polar regions to the tropics and from small islands to continents. Poor countries that lack the means to adapt to these changes will suffer the worst.

...Professor Tim Carter from the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE) is one of the lead writers of the now published report. He hopes that decision-makers will take the information produced by researchers seriously: “If adequate measures to reduce emissions are not taken, the fear is that some of the changes resulting from climate change will push us over an edge after which development can no longer be reversed. This kind of threshold could be, for example, the irreversible melting of Greenland’s glaciers.”

...In Finland, the effects of climate change may weaken the water quality of water systems, as the ground remains unfrozen for longer periods of time in the autumn and winter. Water protection efforts will have to adapt to increased run-off, erosion, and nutrition loads. This will result in new challenges, particularly in agricultural water protection. The warming o
f Finland’s climate is already evident in Finnish fauna; birds, for example, are migrating earlier in the spring and later in the autumn.

...Countries all over the world have begun to develop climate change adaptation plans and strategies. Finland has been a pioneer in this regard, and Finland’s reformed adaptation strategy is currently being widely circulated for comments. In Europe, the EU’s adaptations strategy has led to adaptation planning being incorporated into, for example, the use and management of coastal areas and water systems and the risk management of natural disasters....

Helsinki at night, shot by Petteri Sulonen, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr,  under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license 

Tens of thousands of Afghans displaced after deadly floods

Nita Bhalla at the Thomson Reuters Foundation: Flash floods in northern Afghanistan have killed more than 120 people and forced tens of thousands from their homes, aid agencies and the United Nations said on Monday. Triggered by several days of heavy rainfall, the floods have washed away houses and roads and destroyed crops in parts of six provinces - Jawzjan, Faryab, Sar-e-Pul, Balkh, Samangan and Takhar.

The U.N.'s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said many people were still missing and authorities and aid agencies were trying to assess the damage and provide aid to survivors. "The foremost priority at the moment is saving lives. Whilst search and rescue operations continue ... assessments in flood-hit areas have been initiated to determine the full extent of the damage caused, as well as responding to the immediate needs of the population," said a statement from OCHA.

"With some areas still difficult to access, it may be some time yet until a clear picture of the full extent of the damage is known."

Aid workers said Afghan army helicopters had been evacuating people to safer areas on higher ground. Some of the displaced had taken refuge in madrassas (Islamic schools) while others remained living out in the open.

The charity Save the Children estimated that at least 40,000 people - 25,000 of whom were children - had been affected by the deluge which began last week. It said there was an urgent need for clean drinking water, medicines, food rations and emergency shelter materials such as tarpaulin sheets...

Recognising resilience innovation in the Pacific

A press release from the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction: To help mark the approaching 10th anniversary of the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA), the global strategy for reducing disaster losses worldwide, the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) Sub-Regional Office for the Pacific today launched the inaugural Pacific Innovation and Leadership Award for Resilience (PILAR), a pioneering initiative in the region.

The award recognises exemplary action taken by individuals, businesses, communities, governments and or non-governmental organisations across all the Pacific Island Countries and Territories, to build community and national resilience through disaster risk reduction measures.

Mr Timothy Wilcox, UNISDR’s Sub-Regional Coordinator for the Pacific, said: “This is the last Pacific Platform before a post-2015 framework for disaster risk reduction is endorsed next year by the global community in Japan. It is appropriate that we mark the contributions of so many activities with the launch of an award that recognises and promotes innovation, good-practice and leadership in these areas”.

Pacific Island Countries and Territories face extreme risk from naturally occurring hazards that are likely to intensify with the onset of climate change. Despite the inherent vulnerabilities that confront the Pacific, there have been many opportunities for innovation and ingenuity from all sectors of society to reduce disaster impact and to ensure long term sustainability of nations and communities.

The award covers a range of areas including awareness-raising, knowledge sharing, community engagement, policy interventions, and other resilience-building activities....

Landing in Fiji, shot by Kat Clay, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Taiwan typhoon victims lose compensation suit

Terra Daily via AFP: A Taiwanese court on Friday rejected a group compensation claim filed by victims of a deadly typhoon in 2009 against local authorities for alleged negligence. A district court in the southern city of Kaohsiung ruled that the city government and a local township office did not have to pay Tw$590 million ($19.67 million) jointly sought by relatives of 175 people who died when their village was destroyed during Typhoon Morakot.

Morakot, the worst storm to hit Taiwan in half a century, left more than 600 dead, including 400 people from Hsiaolin village in Kaohsiung that was buried by mudslides triggered by torrential rains. The disaster plunged President Ma Ying-jeou into his worst political crisis since taking office in May 2008, amid widespread public criticism that his government's response was late and inefficient.

Surviving residents of Hsiaolin village filed the compensation suit in 2011, arguing that authorities failed to efficiently monitor mudslides and evacuate the village in time, resulting in massive deaths and financial losses.

The court, however, ruled that it was impossible for the officials to predict the occurence of mudslides that buried the village. The villagers said they would appeal the decision....

The landslide has completely blocked the Wugan Riverbed in Nantou County,caused by typhoon Morakot on 8th August,2009. Shot by Yiken, Wikimedia Commons,  under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license 

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Indonesia’s adaptation and mitigation efforts

Indroyono Soesilo in the Jakarta Post: ...Indonesia plays a dual role in climate change issues, taking its impact but also being able to provide solutions on global carbon absorption and in oxygen emission. Global warming takes its course in Indonesia with surface temperatures increasing from 0.2 to 0.3 of a degree Celsius per decade.

This impacts precipitation patterns, causing a wetter climate in Sumatra and Kalimantan but drier seasons in Java, Bali and Nusa Tenggara. Decreased rainfall during critical times of the year may increase high drought risk, while increased rainfall during already wet times of the year may lead to high flood risk.

Climate change in Indonesia will also produce stronger and more frequent El Niño/La Nina events and will exacerbate drying and/or flooding trends and could lead to decreased food production and increased hunger.

Meanwhile, due to global warming, the sea-level rise in the coastal areas of Indonesia will be increasing at the rate of 3-5 millimeter per year making more people at risk of flooding and seawater intrusion. Indonesia’s abundant biodiversity and ecosystem services are also threatened, 50 percent of its total biodiversity is at risk, 80 percent of its coral reefs are in severe condition because of warming sea-surface temperatures, sea level rise and other added stresses.

Climate change causes significant declines in fish larvae abundance and large-scale changes in fish habitat, such as skipjack tuna, while the massive coral bleaching leads to widespread loss of coral reefs and biodiversity, including the fish that many Indonesians rely on for food and livelihoods.

On land, more frequent forest fires are having significant impacts on Indonesia’s wildlife habitats and biodiversity and translating into serious economic and domestic as well as transboundary pollution consequences...

Rainforest understory in Lambir Hills National Park, shot by Mike Shanahan, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Friday, April 25, 2014

Extended California fire season confirms severity of climate change

Haya El Nasser in Al-Jazeera America: The climate change debate currently pits the bulk of the scientific community against holdout deniers who don't believe rising temperatures are the result of human activity. But in California, a state suffering from a historic drought, why the phenomenon is happening is less important than the simple fact that it is.

Forecasters and fire agencies have now tossed aside their normal fire calendar – mid-May to mid-October – and prepare for what some call a “new normal” of a greatly extended fire season. They are hiring extra staff and issuing more warnings. Some local officials have warned that fire season in some parts of California is basically a year-round phenomenon now.

The National Weather Service has been issuing an unprecedented number of fire forecasts and alerts in the thick of the usually-wet season, months earlier than normal. Its forecast offices have kicked into fire-season mode well ahead of schedule.

The Sacramento office, which issues fire forecasts for interior Northern California, decided last week to up its daily seven-day forecasts to twice a day, and its National Fire Danger Rating System, which measures the seriousness of fire conditions, is going out earlier. “Climatology shows us we’ve been getting warmer and a little drier,” said Michelle Mead, warning coordination meteorologist in Sacramento. “The fire season is not what it used to be 10 years ago.”

Research papers linking climate change to a persistent drought – which has parched California three years in a row – have been making the rounds among fire forecasters, said Brett Lutz, meteorologist and climate program manager for the National Weather Service in Medford, Ore. “Climate change for the first time was actually a topic of conversation that was presented and discussed at length” in a recent meeting, he said....

A 2009 fire in California, shot by Rennett Stowe, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Scientists monitor huge iceberg that broke off from Antarctica

NBC News via Reuters: Scientists are monitoring an iceberg roughly six times the size of Manhattan -- one of the largest now in existence -- that broke off from an Antarctic glacier and is heading into the open ocean. NASA glaciologist Kelly Brunt said on Wednesday the iceberg covers about 255 square miles (660 square km) and is up to a third of a mile (500 meters) thick. Known as B31, the iceberg separated from Antarctica's Pine Island Glacier last November, Brunt added.

"It's one that's large enough that it warrants monitoring," Brunt said in a telephone interview, noting that U.S. government organizations including the National Ice Center keep an eye on dozens of icebergs at any given time.

The iceberg's present location is not in an area heavily navigated by ships. "There's not a lot of shipping traffic down there. We're not particularly concerned about shipping lanes. We know where all the big ones are," she said.

Scientists are especially interested in this iceberg not only because of its size but because it originated in an unexpected location, said Brunt. "It's like a large sheet cake floating through the Southern Ocean," she added.

The glacial crack that created the iceberg was first detected in 2011, according to Brunt, a scientist with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and Morgan State University in Maryland. Pine Island Glacier has been closely studied over the past two decades because it has been thinning and draining rapidly and may be an important contributor to sea level rise, scientists say.....

A November 2013 NASA image of the Pine Island Glacier

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Researchers question published no-till soil organic carbon sequestration rates

A press release from the University of Illinois: For the past 20 years, researchers have published soil organic carbon sequestration rates.  Many of the research findings have suggested that soil organic carbon can be sequestered by simply switching from moldboard or conventional tillage systems to no-till systems. However, there is a growing body of research with evidence that no-till systems in corn and soybean rotations without cover crops, small grains, and forages may not be increasing soil organic carbon stocks at the published rates.

“Some studies have shown that both moldboard and no-till systems are actually losing soil organic carbon stocks over time,” said University of Illinois soil scientist Ken Olson who led the review.

The review was conducted by a team of senior researchers from universities in Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Ohio who studied the published soil science and tillage literature related to soil organic carbon sequestration, storage, retention, and loss. After examining hundreds of original research and summary papers, 120 papers on all sides of the soil organic carbon sequestration, storage, retention, and loss issue were selected for review and analysis.

Olson explained that the difference between the no-till and moldboard plots at the end of a long-term study is only a measure of net soil organic carbon storage difference between treatments and does not support soil organic carbon sequestration claims. No-till systems on sloping and eroding sites retain more soil organic carbon in the surface from 0 to 15 centimeters when compared to moldboard as a result of less disturbance and less soil erosion and transport of soil organic carbon-rich sediment off the plots....

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Food shortages could be most critical world issue by mid-century

Terra Daily via SPX: The world is less than 40 years away from a food shortage that will have serious implications for people and governments, according to a top scientist at the U.S. Agency for International Development.

"For the first time in human history, food production will be limited on a global scale by the availability of land, water and energy," said Dr. Fred Davies, senior science advisor for the agency's bureau of food security. "Food issues could become as politically destabilizing by 2050 as energy issues are today."

Davies, who also is a Texas A and M AgriLife Regents Professor of Horticultural Sciences, addressed the North American Agricultural Journalists meeting in Washington, D.C. on the "monumental challenge of feeding the world." He said the world population will increase 30 percent to 9 billion people by mid-century. That would call for a 70 percent increase in food to meet demand.

"But resource limitations will constrain global food systems," Davies added. "The increases currently projected for crop production from biotechnology, genetics, agronomics and horticulture will not be sufficient to meet food demand." Davies said the ability to discover ways to keep pace with food demand have been curtailed by cutbacks in spending on research.

"The U.S. agricultural productivity has averaged less than 1.2 percent per year between 1990 and 2007," he said. "More efficient technologies and crops will need to be developed -- and equally important, better ways for applying these technologies locally for farmers -- to address this challenge." Davies said when new technologies are developed, they often do not reach the small-scale farmer worldwide.

"A greater emphasis is needed in high-value horticultural crops," he said. "Those create jobs and economic opportunities for rural communities and enable more profitable, intense farming." Horticultural crops, Davies noted, are 50 percent of the farm-gate value of all crops produced in the U.S....

Photo by fir0002 |, Wikimedia Commons, under the GFDL v1.2 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Future heat waves pose risk for population of greater London

A press release from the University of Oxford: A study led by Oxford University has modelled the effects of future heat waves on people living in Greater London in 2050 and concludes that the risk of heat-related deaths could be significantly reduced if buildings were adapted properly for climate change.

The model, which takes into account future changes to urban land use and man-made heat emissions, estimates an additional 800 heat-related deaths per year by 2050. Researchers used projections on likely increases in temperatures carried out by the Met Office and Newcastle University, coupled with data on demographic changes from the Office of National Statistics, to calculate the likely health risks of future heat waves for the population of Greater London.

The research, published online by the journal Climatic Change, says that policy makers need to fo
cus on how to adapt buildings and cities for future climate change. It highlights London as particularly vulnerable, owing to the so-called ‘urban heat island’ effect, which sees cities become hotter than the surrounding areas due to high concentrations of people, buildings and activities.

The Oxford study calculates that if the likely temperature increase was lessened by 1-2°C through better ventilation, shading or other means of keeping buildings cooler, the number of heat-related deaths could be cut by between 32-69%. The study also suggests that current climate scenarios tend to underestimate the effects and risks of heat waves in urban areas because they don’t account for the additional effect of the urban heat island.

It is widely known that summer heat waves lead to rises in the number of deaths and hospital admissions from thermal exhaustion, and projections suggest that heat waves are likely to become more regular and intense in the future. During the 2003 heat wave, London experienced a rise in the number of deaths of between 650 and 1,000. Hospital admissions from other heat-related conditions such as heat exhaustion and respiratory disorders also rose....

A rooftop view of London, circa 1865

Study casts doubt on climate benefit of biofuels from corn residue

A press release from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln: Using corn crop residue to make ethanol and other biofuels reduces soil carbon and can generate more greenhouse gases than gasoline, according to a study published today in the journal Nature Climate Change.

The findings by a University of Nebraska-Lincoln team of researchers cast doubt on whether corn residue can be used to meet federal mandates to ramp up ethanol production and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Corn stover – the stalks, leaves and cobs in cornfields after harvest – has been considered a ready resource for cellulosic ethanol production. The U.S. Department of Energy has provided more than $1 billion in federal funds to support research to develop cellulosic biofuels, including ethanol made from corn stover. While the cellulosic biofuel production process has yet to be extensively commercialized, several private companies are developing specialized biorefineries capable of converting tough corn fibers into fuel.

The researchers, led by assistant professor Adam Liska, used a supercomputer model at UNL’s Holland Computing Center to estimate the effect of residue removal on 128 million acres across 12 Corn Belt states. The team found that removing crop residue from cornfields generates an additional 50 to 70 grams of carbon dioxide per megajoule of biofuel energy
produced. Total annual production emissions, averaged over five years, would equal about 100 grams of carbon dioxide per megajoule – which is 7 percent greater than gasoline emissions and 62 grams above the 60 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions as required by the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act.

Importantly, they found the rate of carbon emissions is constant whether a small amount of stover is removed or nearly all of it is stripped, the study found. “If less residue is removed, there is less decrease in soil carbon, but it results in a smaller biofuel energy yield,” Liska said.

To mitigate increased carbon dioxide emissions and reduced soil carbon, the study suggests planting cover crops to fix more carbon in the soil. Cellulosic ethanol producers also could turn to alternative feedstocks, such as perennial grasses or wood residue, or export electricity from biofuel production facilities to offset emissions from coal-fueled power plants. Another possible alternative is to develop more fuel-efficient automobiles and significantly reduce the nation’s demand for fuel, as required by the 2012 CAFE standards....

Corn stover in Calumet County, Wisconsin, shot by Royalbroil, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

West Africa's ebola outbreak prompts changes in Ivory Coast cuisine

Adama Bakayoko in Yahoo News via AFP: West Africa's first outbreak of Ebola fever is bad news for gourmets in Ivory Coast, but brings respite from the hunter to species sought out for tasty meat but feared to carry the disease. Late in March, Health Minister Raymonde Goudou Coffie called for her compatriots to stop eating porcupines and agoutis, which look like large river-rats, "until we can be sure there are no risks".

Bushmeat is known to be a vector of Ebola, the alarming haemorrhagic fever that has claimed at least 122 lives in Guinea, according to a UN World Health Organisation toll on April 17. Liberia, meanwhile, reports 13 deaths.

Hunters and restaurant owners in the central Ivorian town of Bouake are upset that clients have begun to steer clear of the strong taste of the agouti, a beast with a long snout and brown fur that can reach half a metre (1.6 feet) in length.

Last week, the minister's recommendation was still going unheeded or ignored by some traders and hunters in Bouake's main bushmeat market. One hunter openly carried a dead rodent. Emile, a customer in his 40s who seemed slightly tipsy, asked for "Ebola meat", meaning braised agouti. "Ebola can't survive alcohol or hot water," claimed the scarred Rigobeli, who had just eaten a large meal.

But such scenes are swiftly becoming a thing of the past. An official ban on bushmeat -- including antelopes, chimpanzees and porcupines as well as agoutis -- has been enforced and a week later, the Bouake market was empty....

I found an ew!-making picture of bushmeat, and I backed down. Just a stewpot, shot by Kriják Krisztina. 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.  

Recycling industrial waste water

Space Daily via SPX: A research group composed of Dr. Martin Prechtl, Leo Heim and their colleagues at the University of Cologne's Department of Chemistry has discovered a new method of generating hydrogen using water and formaldehyde.

The generation of hydrogen from liquids is of particular interest when it comes to fuel cell technologies. The results of the project, entitled "Selective and mild hydrogen production using water and formaldehyde", have recently been published in the journal Nature Communications.

Among other applications, the new approach can be used to recycle industrial waste water contaminated by formaldehyde to break down the contaminants whilst simultaneously generating hydrogen.

With the aid of this method, it is possible to reclaim an important raw material from industrial waste water. Prechtl and his colleagues have also identified an air-stable and robust catalyst that can be employed with the technique. The researchers have already filed a corresponding patent application....

A water treatment plant at Bret Lake, Switzerland, shot by Rama, Wikimedia Commons,  under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 France license

New Egyptian satellite launched into orbit over Kazakhstan

Sara Aggour in the Daily News (Egypt): A new Egyptian telecommunication satellite is scheduled to launch on Wednesday from Kazakhstan at 8.20pm, Moscow time, by Russia’s Baikonur spaceport. This is the second Egyptian satellite to enter service.

Russian News Agency ITAR-TASS reported that the satellite is equipped with advanced technologies that are used to take “visible-range and infrared photographs”. The data collected by the satellite will be used in agriculture, ecological and geographical research. The Russian news agency quoted an anonymous source from the Russian space agency Roscosmos as saying that the satellite will separate from the rocket at 8.28pm, Moscow time.

Egyptian cabinet spokesman Hossam Al-Qaweish said that the new satellite will serve the industrial, agricultural, mineral, planning and environmental fields in Egypt, state-run news agency MENA reported. Qaweish added that the satellite will also help support development projects in the Arab region.

According to the Russian agency, the first Egyptian satellite was launched from the same Russian spaceport in 2007; however, “the contract was lost in 2011”, according to ITAR-TASS. The new agency added that Egyptian specialists stated at the time that the first satellite was an experimental project with a maximum life service of five years....

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Deforestation could intensify climate change in Congo Basin by half

A press release from KU Leuven (Belgium): Explosive population growth and inefficient agricultural practices are causing large-scale destruction of tropical rainforests in Central Africa. A team of KU Leuven researchers examined how these practices will affect longer-term temperatures in the region. Using a sophisticated computer model, they forecasted Congo Basin temperatures anno 2050.

Their findings: Central Africa of 2050 will be an average of 1.4 °C hotter than today as a result of global greenhouse gas emissions. Deforestation will add an extra 0.7 °C to that figure. The results also show a strong spatial correlation between deforestation and global warming. In certain deforestation ‘hot spots’, increases caused by deforestation could rise to 1.25 °C, in addition to the war
ming caused by greenhouse gases. Such drastic temperature increases will drive off plant and animal species and may even threaten some with extinction, warn the researchers.

The researchers used an advanced computer model based on realistic projections of the speed and the spatial pattern of deforestation to forecast changes in the Congo Basin climate. The study also maps the region’s vegetation mix – which has largely replaced felled rainforest in much of the region – for the first time.

The deforestation-induced warming forecasted by the model can be attributed in large part to reduced evaporation, say the researchers. Once deforestation has occurred, the solar energy that rainforests would otherwise use to evaporate water accumulates near the Earth’s surface, causing the atmosphere to warm.

This reduced evaporation also threatens precipitation levels in the region, the study predicts. However, because of the complexities of air circulation and cloud formation, the link between the spatial pattern of change and the deforestation pattern is less pronounced.

The researchers used an average forecast of future emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases to arrive at their calculations. Their deforestation scenario is far from extreme. “The results point to the need to address the causes of deforestation in the Congo Basin,” says Tom Akkermans of the Regional Climate Studies research group at KU Leuven, and lead author of the study. “Not only does deforestation in this region contribute to the global rise in temperature through CO2 emissions from wood burning, it also has a direct impact on the climate of Central Africa.”...

NASA image of the Congo rainforest and the Lualaba River

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Landslide gains speed, threatens Wyoming resort homes

Laura Zuckerman in Reuters: A slow-moving landslide threatening the affluent Wyoming community of Jackson is picking up speed, with safety concerns prompting authorities to halt efforts to stabilize the area, city officials said on Friday.

"The acceleration in the slide has been doubling since approximately April 1st, with significant movement in the last 24 hours," the town said on its website. But officials were not issuing any warnings or critical alerts, it added.

The landslide has displaced residents of several homes and two apartment buildings near the base of the East Gros Ventre Butte, which geologists said was slumping at a rate that this week increased to a foot a day from four inches.

"The fractured mass wants to slide down and gravity is pulling it down," said Peter Ward, a retired geologic hazards expert with the U.S. Geological Survey. "How it's going to fall apart nobody knows, but it's going to come apart," Ward said at a town meeting.

Evacuations from residences and several businesses below the crumbling hillside may continue for weeks as Jackson crews and utility companies work to prevent ruptures to gas and power lines and a city water main.

Water supply was halved pending repairs set for Tuesday, when water would be shut off to several Jackson residences and businesses until the repairs were completed, authorities said. Dozens of people who wanted to return home on Saturday to retrieve possessions were allowed to do so with escorts, Jackson officials said in a statement. Homeowners will also be allowed access to their homes on Sunday, officials said...

A public domain image of Jackson, Wyoming, by Mlewis2005

Japan culls 112,000 chickens after bird flu outbreak

Seed Daily via AFP: Japan has finished slaughtering 112,000 chickens after confirming its first bird flu infections for three years, with authorities stepping up efforts to swiftly contain the latest outbreak, officials said Tuesday.

Workers on Sunday started culling 56,000 chickens kept at a poultry farm in Kumamoto, southwestern Japan, where DNA tests confirmed the H5 strain of the virus after owners reported sudden deaths in the flock on Saturday, a Kumamoto prefectural government official said.

Another 56,000 birds were slaughtered at a separate farm run by the same owner after it was identified as a location of possible infections, the official said. "We finished the slaughtering operation late Monday and are now preventing the virus from spreading to other areas," the official said, adding that no further infections had been reported by Tuesday morning.

It was the first confirmed outbreak of bird flu in Japan in three years. Scientists say there have been no cases of the disease being contracted by people who have eaten poultry or eggs....

Saving Caribbean tourism from the sea

Desmond Brown in IPS:  Faced with the prospect of losing miles of beautiful white beaches – and the millions in tourist dollars that come with them – from erosion driven by climate change, Barbados is taking steps to protect its coastline as a matter of economic survival.

“We need to be able to preserve those beaches. We need to be able to preserve our coral reefs. We need to preserve the marine life of our country, which is part of what tourists come to the Caribbean for,” Ronald Sanders, a former regional diplomat, told IPS.

 “All of those things are now, even as we speak, being eroded, and sitting back and doing nothing about it is not in our interest,” he said. “If there is continuous erosion of the beaches, that is the very thing that you are selling worldwide. You are saying ‘we have great beaches, come and enjoy them and pay for the privilege’, but if you have no beaches, what are you selling?” Sanders added.

Tourism is one of the largest industries in the world, with an estimated 500 million people spending billions of dollars on tourism-related services annually. In addition, the industry employs more than 100 million people worldwide.

Tourism accounts for 15 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in Barbados, with the beaches playing a significant role. Foreign Affairs Minister Maxine McLean stresses that Barbados has not been spared the effects of climate change. “There is no greater threat to the survival, viability and security of Barbados than the threat posed by climate change,” she said...

A late swim in Barbados, shot by Berit, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license