Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Partially logged rainforests could be emitting more carbon than assumed

Hayley Dunning at Imperial College (London): Global carbon emissions from forests could have been underestimated because calculations have not fully accounted for the dead wood from logging.

Living trees take in carbon dioxide whereas dead and decaying ones release it. Understanding the proportion of both is important for determining whether a large area of forest is a source of carbon dioxide, or a ‘sink’ that helps to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Forestry, agriculture and land-use changes account for nearly 25 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, second only to the energy sector. New research led by Imperial College London on partially-logged tropical rainforests suggests that these forests are probably emitting more carbon than assumed, because they contain a high proportion of dead wood. The study, published in Environmental Research Letters, reveals that in these forests dead wood can make up to 64 per cent of the biomass, the biological material found above ground.

In untouched forests, dead wood is created through natural processes and makes up less than 20 per cent of the total aboveground biomass. Previously, when estimating the carbon emissions from logged tropical rainforests, researchers have assumed that when live trees are cut down and moved out of the forest, the amount of dead wood is reduced proportionately.

However, the new research paints a clearer picture of the situation in selectively-logged forests where only high-value trees are removed. It shows that because selective logging leaves behind significant damage and tree debris, dead wood actually accounts for up to 64 per cent of the total aboveground biomass.

“I was surprised by how much of the biomass dead wood accounted for in badly logged forests,” said lead author Dr Marion Pfeifer from the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial. “That such logged forests are not properly accounted for in carbon calculations is a significant factor. It means that a large proportion of forests worldwide are less of a sink and more of a source, especially immediately following logging, as carbon dioxide is released from the dead wood during decomposition.”....

Jami Dwyer took this shot of jungle burned for agriculture. Public domain

Monday, April 27, 2015

Warming climate may release vast amounts of carbon from long-frozen Arctic soils

Michael Sullivan at the University of Georgia Today: While climatologists are carefully watching carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, another group of scientists is exploring a massive storehouse of carbon that has the potential to significantly affect the climate change picture.

University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography researcher Aron Stubbins is part of a team investigating how ancient carbon, locked away in Arctic permafrost for thousands of years, is now being transformed into carbon dioxide and released into the atmosphere. The results of the study were published in Geophysical Research Letters.

The Arctic contains a massive amount of carbon in the form of frozen soil—the remnants of plants and animals that died more than 20,000 years ago. Because this organic material was permanently frozen year-round, it did not undergo decomposition by bacteria the way organic material does in a warmer climate. Just like food in a home freezer, it has been locked away from the bacteria that would otherwise cause it to decay and be converted to carbon dioxide.

"However, if you allow your food to defrost, eventually bacteria will eat away at it, causing it to decompose and release carbon dioxide," Stubbins said. "The same thing happens to permafrost when it thaws."

Scientists estimate there is more than 10 times the amount of carbon in the Arctic soil than has been put into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels since the start of the Industrial Revolution. To look at it another way, scientists estimate there is two and a half times more carbon locked away in the Arctic deep freezer than there is in the atmosphere today. Now, with a warming climate, that deep freezer is beginning to thaw and that long-frozen carbon is beginning to be released into the environment.

"The study we did was to look at what happens to that organic carbon when it is released," Stubbins said. "Does it get converted to carbon dioxide or is it still going to be preserved in some other form?"

..."We found that decomposition converted 60 percent of the carbon in the thawed permafrost to carbon dioxide in two weeks," Stubbins said. "This shows the permafrost carbon is definitely in a form that can be used by the microbes."...

Permafrost thaw ponds in Hudson's Bay, shot by Steve Jurvetson, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license 

Heat still on despite warming slowdown

University of New South Wales Newsroom: The recent slowdown in the rise of global average air temperatures will make no difference to how much the planet will warm by 2100, a new study has found.

The peer-reviewed study, published today in Nature Climate Change, compared climate models that capture the current slowdown in warming to those that do not. The study found that long-term warming projections were effectively unchanged across the two groups of models.

“This shows that the slowdown in global warming has no bearing on long-term projections – it is simply due to decadal variability. Greenhouse gases will eventually overwhelm this natural fluctuation,” said lead author and Chief Investigator with the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science, UNSW Scientia Professor Matthew England.

To separate the long-term temperature outcomes from short-term variability the researchers took 200 climate simulations and re-evaluated them out to 2100 by comparing those that captured the current slowdown to those that did not.

The models were analysed using one of two IPCC carbon emission projections. The first was a scenario where greenhouse gas concentrations continue to rise unabated through the 21st Century. The second assumes emissions are reduced to address global warming, peaking by 2040 before declining sharply.

Under the high emissions scenario, the difference in average projected end-of-century warming between the two groups of models is less than 0.1°C; a tiny fraction of the projected 5°C global warming if emissions are not curbed. Warming of this magnitude is well beyond the 2°C threshold that is considered a target by the Australian Government and a safe limit by the IPCC....

Barbecue photo by Emilian Robert Vicol  Emilian Robert Vicol, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Water rationing in Taiwan's second largest city as drought deepens

Space Daily via AFP: Taiwan's government said Friday it will expand water rationing to its second largest city next month to battle a worsening drought following record-low rain in nearly 70 years.

The state water company will cut supplies to households and businesses in southern Kaohsiung from May 4 for two days a week -- the first time such a measure has been imposed in the city, the economic affairs ministry said.

Water rationing was already launched in some areas of northern Taiwan earlier this month, including Taoyuan and parts of New Taipei city, after the lowest rainfall across the island last autumn and winter since 1947.

"The water supply situation in Kaohsiung is urgent. The Gaoping River which is its main source of water is running low as there has been little rain for over nine months in the city," said Lai Chien-hsin, a spokesman for the water resources agency.

Kaohsiung city authorities have shut down 12 public swimming pools since late March and reduced water supplies to industrial and some commercial users to fight drought.

Local businesses are now bracing themselves for the new round of rationing. "We will close off the swimming pool and sauna when water rationing starts next month in addition to taking other measures to conserve water," said Emily Huang, a publicist for the Lees Hotel in Kaohsiung. "So far we don't have any cancellations but I I am concerned that the drought will affect business."...

Climate change contributed towards the collapse of the Maya

Adam Steedman Thake in New Historican: Climate change is one of the major problems facing the world today. It is not simply a modern-day occurrence, however. Ancient populations also struggled to deal with changes in their environment.

New research has explored the devastating consequences of climate change on an ancient Maya civilisation.

Researchers have found that historic droughts in Central America matched the patterns of disruption to Maya society. Importantly, these findings provide clues regarding the longstanding questions about what role climate change had in the Maya collapse between 800 and 950 CE.

Paleoclimate records indicate a series of severe droughts occurred during this period of Maya decline. Evidence for drought, however, largely derives from the drier, less populated northern Maya Lowlands. As such, this does not explain the much more drastic societal disruption in the humid conditions of the southern Maya Lowlands.

“Our work demonstrates that the southern Maya lowlands experienced a more severe drought compared to the north,” said Mark Pagani, a Yale University professor of geology and geophysics and co-author of the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences....

Mayan compass, "Chimera of the Crystal Skull," shot by Rikfriday :, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license 

Benefits of adapting Africa's infrastructure to climate change outweigh the costs

FinChannel: The impact of climate change on Africa’s water and energy infrastructure will be costly, according to a new World Bank report, and immediate action is needed to reduce these risks.

"Enhancing the Climate Resilience of Africa’s Infrastructure" quantifies the impacts of climate change on hydropower and irrigation infrastructure and identifies adaptation options as well as recommendations for increasing climate resilience.

Investment in infrastructure is fundamental to sustaining growth in Africa. In 2012, the Region’s Heads of State and Government laid out a strategic program (PIDA) for closing Africa’s infrastructure gap. Much of these investments will support the construction of hydropo
wer dams, power stations, and irrigation canals, which will be vulnerable to the potentially harsher climate of the future.

“Climate change requires new approaches that will help make infrastructure investments in Africa more resilient to the uncertain climate of the future. No action is not an option,” said Jamal Saghir, the World Bank's Senior Regional Adviser for Africa.

Launched during the Africa Climate Resilient Infrastructure Summit in Addis today, the report uses for the first time, a consistent approach across river basins and power systems in Africa, and wide range of state-of-the-art climate projections to evaluate the risks posed by climate change to planned investments in Africa’s water and power sectors. It further analyses how investment plans could be modified to minimize those risks; and it quantifies the corresponding benefits and costs....

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Expert urges effective management of water resources

Business Ghana: West African countries have been urged to adopt aggressive water management policies to ensure the sustainability of water resources in the face of dwindling raw water resources in the sub-region due to climate change.

Dr Lakhdar Boukerrou, the Regional Director of West Africa Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene (WA-WASH) under the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), gave the advice.

He said a more proactive water resource management and preservation is becoming increasingly critical in West Africa to human survival since agricultural and other crucial economic activities hinges largely on rainfall and ground water.

The environmental expert was speaking to the Ghana News Agency on the sidelines of a WASH Governance Training Programme, held in Kumasi under the auspices of USAID, Global Water for Sustainability and Florida International University

Dr Bourkerrou said though West Africa had enough water resources to ensure continuous water supply to citizens, negative farming practices, bad mining practices and other economic activities, if not stopped, can compromise water security, adding "water is not a finite commodity"...

Super storm lashes Australian east coast for third day

Reuters: A cyclonic storm lashed Australia's east coast for a third day on Wednesday, causing millions of dollars of damage to property and infrastructure in Sydney and other cities. Three people have been killed in the wild weather, which has washed away houses, cut power to more than 200,000 homes and stranded a cruise ship off the coast in mountainous seas.

The Bureau of Meteorology warned that a second storm cell was gathering off the coast north of Sydney, with gale force winds of up to 100 km per hour (62 miles per hour) and heavy winds lashing the coast.

The storm caused havoc in Sydney, felling trees, downing power lines and knocking out traffic lights. Delayed and canceled transport services due to flooding and strong winds left many commuters stranded in the wet.

New South Wales State Premier Mike Baird urged Sydneysiders to delay unnecessary travel and avoid traveling during peak times if possible. "There is no doubt this is a very severe storm event, indeed it is a once in 10-year event," Baird told reporters.

The Insurance Council of Australia said more than 7,500 insurance claims had been lodged. NSW State Emergency Service deputy commissioner Steve Pearce said damage costs were already in the millions and were expected to rise....

Sydney Harbor in better weather, shot by Andy, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Monday, April 20, 2015

Windstorm Niklas to cost German insurers 750 million euros

Reuters: German insurers are likely to face damage claims of around 750 million euros ($808 million) from windstorm "Niklas", which struck the country on March 31, insurance trade body GDV said on Monday.

That would make Niklas, which entailed wind speeds of up to 192 kilometers (119 miles) per hour, one of the five most costly storms to hit the country in the last 15 years, the GDV said of its estimate, which is preliminary.

Germany's third-largest insurer Talanx on Monday said it had penciled in a cost in the low double-digit million euro range from the storm and said this did not include claims faced by its subsidiary, reinsurer Hannover Re....

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Greenland darkening to continue

A press release from City College of News York: Darkening of the Greenland Ice Sheet is projected to continue as a consequence of continued climate warming, Dr. Marco Tedesco, a City College of New York scientist, said at the European Geosciences Union (EGU) General Assembly in Vienna today.

Tedesco told a press conference in the Austrian capital that the projection is based on a model that only accounts for the effects of warming on snow grain size and melting.

An associate professor in City College’s Division of Science and head of its Cryospheric Processes Laboratory that he founded, Tedesco is an authority on the Greenland Ice Sheet where he has conducted annual research.

He noted that a darkening of the Greenland Ice Sheet associated with increasing temperatures and enhanced melting occurred between 1996 and 2012. It was promoted by:

  • Extensively and persistently increased surface snow grain size;
  • The expansion and persistency of the areas of exposed bare ice and by the increased surface impurities concentration associated with the appearance of dirty ice;
  • Increased impurities concentrations due to consolidation with snowmelt. 

Tedesco, however, added that his research had not found any evidence that points to either increased atmospheric deposition of impurities or to the number of fires over Eurasia and North America as being factors....

NASA photo of Greenland ice flowing around a ridge of bedrock

Rainforest protection akin to speed limit control

A press release from the University of Bonn: The destruction of the Brazilian rainforest has slowed significantly. With around 5000 square kilometers annually, the loss is now about 80% lower than in 2004. Led by the Center for Development Research (ZEF) at the University of Bonn, an international team of researchers has evaluated the effectiveness of forest law enforcement in the Brazilian Amazon. In some federal states of the Brazilian Amazon region enforcement has been more effective than in others. The results are presented in the journal "PLOS ONE".

Deforestation of the Amazon rainforest featured in international press headlines for a long time. However, Brazil has made substantial efforts to protect rainforests ecosystem services lately. "Over the last decade, there has been a significant decline in deforestation," says Dr. Jan Börner, the Robert Bosch junior professor at the Center for Development Research (ZEF) of the University of Bonn. According to national statistics, in 2004, 27,772 square kilometers of forest fell victim, primarily to agricultural use; by 2012, deforestation had decreased to 4,656 square kilometers.

Rainforest destruction is driven in particular by large cattle ranchers and farmers, but also small-scale agriculture. New roads promote timber extraction and clearing. With an international team of researchers from the University of Freiburg, the Humboldt University in Berlin and the Institute of Applied Economic Research (IPEA) in Brazil, Börner studied around 15,000 forest law violations across the Brazilian part of the Amazon basin to measure how effective the implementation of the rainforest protection was. "Forest law enforcement is, in principle, similar to speed limit control in traffic: the higher the penalties and the more frequent the controls, the greater the deterrence potential", explains Börner.

...The study suggests that effective rainforest protection hinges on the physical presence of regulators and the actual delivery of disincentives on the ground. This often involves effective collaboration between enforcement authorities at federal and state levels. Based on those criteria, forest law enforcement was particularly effective in the Brazilian states of Mato Grosso and Pará. "Public prosecutors in these states have dramatically increased the pressure: They maintain black lists of agricultural enterprises that violate the protective provisions", reports the ZEF scientist. "For example, wholesale dealers may then no longer buy products from these sources."...

NASA image of afternoon clouds over the Amazon rain forest

China's struggle for water security

Business Standard via AFP: Way back in 1999, before he became China's prime minister, Wen Jiabao warned that water scarcity posed one of the greatest threats to the "survival of the nation".  Sixteen years later, that threat looms ever larger, casting a forbidding shadow over China's energy and food security and demanding urgent solutions with significant regional, and even global, consequences.

The mounting pressure on China's scarce, unequally distributed and often highly polluted water supply was highlighted in a report released at the World Water Forum this week in Daegu, South Korea.

Published by the Hong Kong-based NGO, China Water Risk (CWR), it underlined the complexity of the challenge facing China as it seeks to juggle inextricably linked and often competing concerns over water, energy supply and climate change.  "There are no one-size-fits-all solutions to China's water-energy-climate nexus," the report said.

"More importantly, China's energy choices do not only impact global climate change, but affect water availability for Asia," it said, warning of the danger of future "water wars" given China's upstream control over Asia's mightiest rivers.

The Qinghai-Tibetan plateau is essentially the world's largest water tank and the origin of some of Asia's most extensive river systems including the Indus, Brahmaputra and Mekong.  The most significant link in the nexus the report describes is the fact that 93 percent of China's power generation is water-reliant....

In Yunnan, on the Tibetan Plateau, shot by Popolon, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license 

Niger says 2.5 million suffering food insecurity

Africa Daily via AFP: More than 2.5 million people in Niger are suffering from food insecurity because of a shortfall in the cereal harvest due to bad weather and crop pests, the agriculture minister said Saturday.

"A survey conducted since December 2014 indicated that 15.7 percent of the population, or 2,588,128 people, are in a situation of food insecurity, including 410,297 in severe insecurity," Maidagi Allambeye told MPs. The situation has been aggravated by the presence of some 200,000 refugees who had fled attacks by Boko Haram and other militants.

Food insecurity in the poor Sahel country, which is plagued by recurring food crises, is linked to a cereal deficit of more than 230,000 tonnes at the end of the 2014 crop year, he explained. The government attributed the shortfall to drought, floods and caterpillar attacks.

"We cannot say that Niger is suffering chronic insecurity but this is still very common," said Vigno Hounkanli, a spokesman for the World Food Programme in Niamey, which has helped some 480,000 people since June...

Locator map of Niger by Vardion, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 3.0 Unported license 

That sinking feeling: Developing nations speak out on climate change

Thom Mitchell in New Matilda: Developing nations around the world - rarely big emitters of carbon emissions - are ramping up their calls for radical global action to tackle the climate threat that is already looming large for low-lying countries.

As Vanuatu grapples with the fall out of category five Tropical Cyclone Pam which struck the Pacific nation on March 15, developing nations’ calls for action from high-emitting nations like Australia are being amplified.

At the United Nations Third World Disaster Risk Reduction conference in Sendai, Japan, calls to action from Vanuatu’s President and other highly exposed nations came at a grimly ironic time - March 14 to 18 - as Pam bore down on, then battered, the Pacific.

“Overnight a devastating disaster can wipe out years of development and reduce people [to] a state of increased poverty,” Baldwin Lonsdale, the President of Vanuatu, said at the conference.

"According to the World Bank report of 2012 it places Vanuatu on the map as the most prone country in the South Pacific region in all natural hazards such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunami, drought, floods, landslides, tropical cyclones and impacts of climate change and rising sea level,” he said....

Hideaway Island on Vanuatu, shot by Graham Crumb, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Atribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license 

Saturday, April 18, 2015

The dramatic growth in plant cover will not offset the damage made from deforestation

Tom Bawden in the Independent (UK): The dramatic growth in plant cover in the past decade gives a huge boost to the battle against global warming. But any celebrations should be muted by this sobering fact: the extra carbon being stored by this additional vegetation, while enormou
s, only represents seven per cent of the 60 billion tonnes of carbon that has been emitted into the atmosphere over the same period, which will remain there for centuries.

There is no sense, then, in which the increased carbon uptake of our plantlife detracts from the urgent need to step up the fight against climate change by cutting fossil fuel use and protecting woodland. eThe need to preserve our diminishing rainforests is particularly acute.

This report may have identified a surprisingly big increase in plant cover, but there is nothing unexpected about the confirmation it provided about tropical deforestation.

The devastation of the rainforests is particularly worrying because these not only act as a major carbon sink – they also provide one of the most “biodiverse” habitats in the world, supporting vast networks of inter-dependent species.

Total plant cover has increased in the past decade, but in many cases the quality of this cover is far lower than the loss of the tropical forests it is helping to offset. Only about half of the rainforest loss has been offset by growth in coniferous and mixed-leaf forests, with much of the rest of the increase coming from shrubland and savannas...

Canada wild rye, shot by Dehaan, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license

Can't pay? Won't pay! -- putting a price on water

Space Daily via AFP: It's arguably our most vital and precious natural resource, and one that is growing dangerously scarce from China to California, but no matter how much we value water, we're not that keen on paying for it.

The issue of pricing water is extremely sensitive -- socially, politically, economically -- but it's an issue that is being revisited with increasing frequency as warnings of a looming global crisis over water scarcity grow louder.

A recent editorial in The Economist and an op-ed piece in the New York Times -- on China's and California's chronic water shortages respectively -- both insisted that the best way forward was to raise prices.

The suggestion raises the hackles of those who feel pricing public water is tantamount to monetising nature, while others say there is simply no alternative given UN estimates that the world will face a 40 percent "global water deficit" by 2030.

"If you have an artificially low price for a product, you tend to consume more of it and tend not to give it importance," said Angel Gurria, secretary general of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)....

Photo by Juhanson, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Study puts a price on the help that nature provides agriculture

Sylvia Kantor in the Washington State University News: A team of international scientists has shown that assigning a dollar value to the benefits nature provides agriculture improves the bottom line for farmers while protecting the environment. The study confirms that organic farming systems do a better job of capitalizing on nature’s services.

Scientists from Australia, Denmark, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States describe the research they conducted on organic and conventional farms to arrive at dollar values for natural processes that aid farming and that can substitute for costly fossil fuel-based
inputs. The study appears in the journal PeerJ.

“By accounting for ecosystem services in agricultural systems and getting people to support the products from these systems around the world, we move stewardship of lands in a more sustainable direction, protecting future generations,” said Washington State University soil scientist John Reganold, one of the study’s authors.

Farmers use cover crops like hairy vetch mixed with triticale or rye grass to supply organic matter to soil and make nitrogen available to plants. (Photos by Sylvia Kantor, WSU)

Earthworms turning the soil, bees pollinating crops, plants pulling nitrogen out of the air into the soil and insects preying on pests like aphids – these are a few of nature’s services that benefit people but aren’t often factored in to the price we pay at the grocery store.

The value of ecosystem service benefits provided to people by nature is rarely quantified experimentally in agricultural studies and is generally not taken into account in the real world of economic markets...

A bee pollinating a flower, shot by João Carvalho, public domain

Ethiopian dam deal ignores science, warn experts

Rehab Abd Almohsen in Water scientists from Egypt have raised concerns over a declaration governing the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam that is meant to ensure fair access to Nile water for countries downstream.

The Declaration of principles, which the leaders of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan signed in Khartoum, Sudan, on 23 March, is meant to regulate Nile water use following political upheaval over the dam, which is about a third into its construction.

Talking to SciDev.Net, scientists monitoring the declaration’s creation have warned that concerns over the dam’s impact on the environment and local people have been sidelined for gains in political negotiations.

Nader Noureddine, a water resources and soil researcher at Cairo University, says the technical committee appointed by all three countries to oversee the dam’s construction will be allowed to study documents provided by the Ethiopian government, but “will not be allowed to visit the dam or to witness the work on the site”. This, Noureddine says, will seriously impact its ability to make an evidence-based assessment of the dam’s environmental impacts.

“They are not even allowed to discuss issues like the width of the reservoir and specifications of the dam,” Noureddine says. A report from the committee is due to be issued in around 15 months.

Meanwhile, Dia El-Din Ahmed El-Quosy, a professor at Egypt’s National Water Research Center and former advisor to the country’s Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation, says: “The agreement is free of any technical details, such as how the dam reservoir will be filled.”...

NASA image of the Aswan Dam in Egypt

Sunday, April 12, 2015

‘Warm blob’ in Pacific Ocean linked to weird weather across the US

Hannah Hickey at UW Today (University of Washington): The one common element in recent weather has been oddness. The West Coast has been warm and parched; the East Coast has been cold and snowed under. Fish are swimming into new waters, and hungry seals are washing up on California beaches.

A long-lived patch of warm water off the West Coast, about 1 to 4 degrees Celsius (2 to 7 degrees Fahrenheit) above normal, is part of what’s wreaking much of this mayhem, according to two University of Washington papers to appear in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.

“In the fall of 2013 and early 2014 we started to notice a big, almost circular mass of water that just didn’t cool off as much as it usually did, so by spring of 2014 it was warmer than we had ever seen it for that time of year,” said Nick Bond, a climate scientist at the UW-based Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean, a joint research center of the UW and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Bond coined the term “the blob” last June in his monthly newsletter as Washington’s state climatologist. He said the huge patch of water – 1,000 miles in each direction and 300 feet deep – had contributed to Washington’s mild 2014 winter and might signal a warmer summer.

...Bond says that although the blob does not seem to be caused by climate change, it has many of the same effects for West Coast weather. “This is a taste of what the ocean will be like in future decades,” Bond said. “It wasn’t caused by global warming, but it’s producing conditions that we think are going to be more common with global warming.”...

Image of the warm blob in April 2014 from NOAA

Why Brazil's megadrought is a Wall Street failure

Amy Larkin in the Guardian (UK): It’s hard to overestimate the appalling environmental and economic crisis that’s brewing in Brazil right now. The country is in the grip of a crippling megadrought – the result of pollution, deforestation and climate change – that deeply threatens its economy, society and environment. And the damage may be permanent: São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city and industrial center, has begun rationing water and is discussing whether or not it will need to depopulate in the near future.

But if Brazil’s drought is shocking, Wall Street’s shortsighted approach to the country is appalling. Institutional investors’ reports on the country – the seventh largest economy in the world – cite worries about inflation, government cutbacks and low consumer confidence. But I could not find a single analysis that mentioned the existential threat facing the country: the megadrought that is expected to last decades and could destroy the Brazilian economy. Not a single analysis cited the brutal global impact that this will cause.

In other words, a host of institutional investors have found worrisome things to say about Brazil, but none seem to be aware of – or, at least, willing to face – the country’s greatest threat. Attempting to separate economies from environment – as many of these analysts seem to do – is like trying to separate mind and body. It simply doesn’t work.

We will never repair our business models and government policies to conform to the real environmental constraints of the 21st century until we repair this fundamental flaw in our economic system. Investors and analysts regularly review a host of factors – including national debt, inflation, currency devaluation and other financial considerations – when they formulate their economic predictions. Their decision to omit the environment as a fundamental economic consideration is willfully ignorant and negligent....

A dried up reservoir in Paraguacu, Brazil, from 2012, shot by WOtP, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Zimbabwe on alert over cholera threat

IRIN: Children play on the dumpsite in the Budiriro suburb of Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, scrambling through the garbage and ignoring the clouds of flies and overpowering stench from the rotting, untreated waste.

This was the epicenter of Zimbabwe’s last and worst cholera epidemic, which between 2008 and 2009 killed 4,300 people and infected over 100,000. Now, with the emergence of a cholera outbreak in neigbouring Mozambique, which has already infected 14 people in Zimbabwe’s border towns, the question is whether the authorities are ready and better able to cope should cholera spread to Harare.

Joseph Mpofu lives in a compound of three homes just 10 meters from the dumpsite in Budiriro. “Our children are always going down with diarhoea and we have made numerous reports to Harare City to collect the waste, but they have never done so,” he told IRIN, waving away flies settling on nappies hung out to dry.

“The last cholera outbreak started here in Budiriro and we are manufacturing ideal conditions for another outbreak to occur. If the cholera in Mozambique finds its way to Harare, it would spread rapidly,” said Mpofu.

Given the extent of cross-border trade and travel in southern Africa, one of the likely entry points for the highly infectious cholera bacillus would be bus stations like the Mbare terminus, which welcomes people from across the region....

More food, low pollution effort gains traction

A press release from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science: Nitrogen fertilizers make it possible to feed more people in the world than ever before. However, too much of it can also harm the environment. Professor Eric Davidson, director of the UMCES Appalachian Laboratory, has been leading a group of scientists, economists, social scientists, and agriculture experts in figuring out how to produce more food while lowering pollution at the same time. He calls it a “Mo Fo Lo Po”: more food, low pollution.

“The main objective is to produce abundant, nutritious, and affordable food and give farmers a chance to make a living, but do all of this while minimizing pollution of the environment,” said Davidson, whose research career has focused on how human changes to the land affect carbon and nitrogen in soil, water, and air.

Averaged globally, about half of the fertilizer nitrogen applied to farms is typically removed with the crops, while the other half either remains in the soil or is lost from the farmers’ fields. Knowledge and techniques already exist to make agriculture more productive and environmentally sustainable at the same time, yet many economic and social barriers still stand in the way of widespread adoption of practices by farmers.

...“Our objective is to bring together communities of scientists and stakeholders who would otherwise be unlikely to get together to talk about nitrogen issues as it relates to food security, pollution, human health impacts, global warming, ozone destruction, and the list goes on,” he said.

Less than two years later, the group has produced a collection of papers in Journal of Environmental Quality, published this month. A special section on Nitrogen Use Efficiency, guest edited by Davidson, provides a closer look at the economic, social, and technical impediments to improving efficiency of nitrogen use in crop and animal farms....

Photo of wheat stalks by CSIRO, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license

Satellite eyes on threat to US freshwater

A press release from NASA: NASA has joined forces with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and U.S. Geological Survey to transform satellite data designed to probe ocean biology into information that will help protect the American public from harmful freshwater algal blooms.

Algal blooms are a worldwide environmental problem causing human and animal health risks, fish kills, and taste and odor in drinking water. In the United States, the cost of freshwater degraded by harmful algal blooms is estimated at $64 million annually. In August 2014, officials in Toledo, Ohio, banned the use of drinking water supplied to more than 400,000 residents after it was contaminated by an algal bloom in Lake Erie.

The new $3.6 million, multi-agency effort will use ocean color satellite data to develop an early warning indicator for toxic and nuisance algal blooms in freshwater systems a
nd an information distribution system to aid expedient public health advisories.

“The vantage point of space not only contributes to a better understanding of our home planet, it helps improve lives around the world,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “We’re excited to be putting NASA’s expertise in space and scientific exploration to work protecting public health and safety.”

Ocean color satellite data from NASA’s Aqua, the USGS-NASA Landsat, and the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-2 and -3 are currently available to scientists, but are not routinely processed and produced in formats that help state and local environmental and water quality managers. Through this project, satellite data on harmful algal blooms developed by the partner agencies will be converted to a format that stakeholders can use through mobile devices and web portals.

“Observations from space-based instruments are an ideal way to tackle this type of public health hazard because of their global coverage and ability to provide detailed information on material in the water, including algal blooms,” said Paula Bontempi of the Earth Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington....

A toxic algae bloom in Lake Erie in 2011, viewed by a NASA satellite

Thursday, April 9, 2015

African islands meet to address climate change and disaster risk challenges

ClimDev-Africa: Representatives of African Small Island Developing States (SIDS) have convened here for a two-day workshop to develop a collaborative framework for support to address the challenges of climate change and manage disaster risks.

The workshop is being held at the UNECA Headquarters under the auspices of the Climate for Development Africa (ClimDev-Africa) Programme, a joint initiative of the African Union Commission (AUC), the Africa Development Bank (AfDb) and the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA)  ‘s  African Climate Policy Centre (ACPC) a unit of the UNECA’s Special Initiatives Division (SID), which serves as the Secretariat for the ClimDev-Africa programme responsible for establishing the policy basis of the joint initiative.

The workshop aims to provide African SIDS with support to address the urgent challenges posed by climate change and seize opportunities in emerging areas related to the transition towards blue and green economies that are aligned to development aspirations.

The gathering is a follow up to a scoping mission to Cabo Verde, Union of the Comoros, Guinea Bissau, Mauritius, Seychelles and, São Tomé and Príncipe, undertaken by ACPC upon request from the African SIDS. The mission assessed their climate change adaptation and mitigation needs; identified priority interventions aimed at building country resilience to climate change and the means to address residual loss and damage. Africa’s six SIDS are highly vulnerable to climate change and related extreme weather-induced disasters that make it difficult for them to attain their development goals....

Shot of the Seychelles by Anse Takamaka, Mahé, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International3.0 Unported2.5 Generic2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license

Monday, April 6, 2015

Northern fires caused almost a quarter of global forest loss, contributed to global carbon emissions

Karl Mathiesen in the Guardian (UK): Vast areas of forest in Canada and Russia were lost to fire in 2013, according to new satellite data. But there were encouraging signs from Indonesia, where the loss of forest cover fell to the lowest level in a decade.

Scientists from Global Forest Watch collated 400,000 images of the Earth’s surface to map the world’s forests down to a resolution of 30 metres. Their findings showed that overall the world lost 18m hectares of forest in 2013.

Between 2011 and 2013 fires in the boreal forests of Canada and Russia accounted for almost a quarter of global forest losses. Some of this will return, but northern forests are particularly slow to recover after fire.

Boreal forests are one of the world’s great carbon sinks. But scientists predict that climate change will cause them to burn more often and with greater intensity, unlocking the carbon stored in the wood and soil. Already they are burning more than at any point in the past 10,000 years.

Dr Nigel Sizer, study co-author and director of the forests programme for the World Resources Institute (WRI), said the increase of fires in northern forests had worrying implications for the climate. “If global warming is leading to more fires in boreal forests, which in turn leads to more emissions from those forests, which in turn leads to more climate change. This is one of those positive feedback loops that should be of great concern to policy makers.”...

A 2012 wild fire in Siberia, shot by Савин Игорь Игоревич, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Sunday, April 5, 2015

As sea level rise accelerates, buying shorefront property becomes a game of musical chairs

Ivy Main at the Energy Collective: Thank God for climate change deniers. They may eventually be the only buyers for shorefront real estate.

Sea level rise may not cause widespread flooding until later in this century or into the next one, but real estate deals involve long timelines: the useful life of a new house or a commercial building can be at least fifty years, while an infrastructure project might last a hundred years or more.

And of course, it’s one thing to lose your house, and another to lose the ground beneath it. Sea level rise means low-lying real estate now comes with an expiration date.

So smart buyers—and landowners—have to consider not just today’s flood maps, but also ones that haven’t been drawn yet. If a rising sea will threaten property some decades from now, it will depreciate over time, like a car. At some point only chumps and climate deniers will buy.

Head-in-the-sand posturing still dominates the headlines, like Florida Governor Rick Scott’s alleged ban on the use of the term “climate change,” or the North Carolina legislature’s silly (and costly) attempt to legislate sea level rise out of existence. Now the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) hopes to force states to get serious about climate change by requiring states to do a better job planning for natural disasters caused in part by global warming. FEMA’s goal is to save money through better planning, but conservatives have attacked the requirement as politically motivated....

FEMA photo of beach houses in Pensecola, Florida, damaged by Hurricane Ivan in 2004