Saturday, August 8, 2015

To the readers of my blog--we're migrating to Facebook

Carbon Based has been rolling along for some time, and I'm trying an experiment.  The blog now appears on my Facebook page.

Facebook makes many uneasy, I know.  Nature itself dislikes "curated" walled gardens, which smack of the sort of monoculture that evolutionary biologists warn us about. I'm not happy about it myself.  I feel like a fogey grumbling about the dullness and fatuity of most social media. It feels like I'm moving from an elegant, quiet, appealing coffee house to a food court at the mall.

But the numbers are much larger and more consistent on Facebook, so I'm reluctantly making the switch. Ease of posting is another consideration -- I can fling posts much faster via Facebook.

One problem -- some of my readers aren't connected with me on Facebook.  You read Carbon Based for its current news of floods, disasters, heat waves, climate modeling, risk, and other uproarious topics.  You're not interested in puppy videos, unless the puppy has devised a new rescue device that firefighters can use, or a new method of no-till agriculture that halts nitrogen run-off.  The puppy trying to fill a plastic pool with a garden hose just lacks the heft you've come to expect from Carbon Based.

If you'd like to keep abreast of the latest news in climate change adaptation, just hit the friend button. I may tire of Facebook and migrate back to Blogger, which has served me well for more than nine years. But for now, it's social media or bust. I hope you join me.

From 1960, Torsten Wilner performing an experiment at Atomariet at the Museum of Science and Technologi in Stockholm, Sweden. Public domain

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Drought’s lasting impact on forests

University of Utah News Center: In the virtual worlds of climate modeling, forests and other vegetation are assumed to bounce back quickly from extreme drought. But that assumption is far off the mark, according to a new study of drought impacts at forest sites worldwide. Living trees took an average of two to four years to recover and resume normal growth rates after droughts ended, researchers report today in the journal Science.

“This really matters because in the future droughts are expected to increase in frequency and severity due to climate change,” says lead author William R.L. Anderegg, an assistant professor of biology at the University of Utah. “Some forests could be in a race to recover before the next drought

Forest trees play a big role in buffering the impact of human-induced climate change by removing massive amounts of carbon dioxide emissions from the atmosphere and incorporating the carbon into woody tissues. The finding that drought stress sets back tree growth for years suggests that Earth’s forests are capable of storing less carbon than climate models have calculated.

“If forests are not as good at taking up carbon dioxide, this means climate change would speed up,” says Anderegg, who performed much of the work on this study while at Princeton University. He co-authored the study with colleagues at Princeton, Northern Arizona University, University of Nevada-Reno, Pyrenean Institute Of Ecology, University of New Mexico, Arizona State University, U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station, NOAA Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University.

The rate of recovery from drought is largely unknown for the vast majority of tree species. Anderegg and colleagues carefully measured the recovery of tree stem growth after severe droughts since 1948 at more than 1,300 forest sites around the earth using records from the International Tree Ring Data Bank. Tree rings provide a convenient history of wood growth and track carbon uptake of the ecosystem in which the tree grew.

The researchers found that a few forests showed positive effects, that is, observed growth was higher than predicted after drought, most prominently in parts of California and the Mediterranean region. But in the majority of the world’s forests, trees struggled for years after experiencing drought....

Photo of a struggling forest in Arizona, shot by Brian Thomas. Public domain

Global temperatures hit critical point, warn scientists

Tierney Smith in EcoWatch: As 2015 shapes up to be the hottest year on record, scientists warn the world could be halfway towards surpassing countries’ self-set red line of 2C temperature rise.  New research commissioned by the New Scientist shows that four out of the five major surface temperature records are set to pass the 1C point this year, measured from the 1850-1899 average.

At 1C climate change is already affecting the world’s poorest and most vulnerable populations as warming brings escalating sea level rise and more intense and volatile weather extremes. Rising temperatures and changing weather patterns already increase heat-related illnesses, enhance the spread of disease, reduce crop yields and threaten access to clean water and could result in forced migration, conflict and social disruption.

Bold climate action will save huge numbers of lives and produce significant cost savings in the health sector. Direct health impacts from climate change are expected to cost the world US$2-4 billion a year by 2030.

2014 was the hottest year since records began. Now with an El Nino underway and predicted to intensify, it looks as if the glob
al average surface temperature could jump by around 0.1C in just one year. And, 2015 is “shaping up to smash the old record.”

The latest research underscores the urgency for government’s to act and the solutions are ready and waiting....

A Chinese heat wave alert sign 

Ebola: UN emergency response mission winds down as WHO announces possible ‘game changer’ vaccine

UN News Centre: Having achieved its “core objective” of scaling up global action to tackle the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response will officially wind down today, transferring its role to the World Health Organization (WHO), which just announced that an experimental vaccine being tested in Guinea appears to be highly effective and could be a “game changer.”

In WHO’s announcement and in results it published today in the medical journal, The Lancet, the UN health agency said the results from an interim analysis of trials in Guinea show that the VSV-EBOV vaccine is highly effective against Ebola, which has killed more than 11,000 people in Liberia, Sierra Leone, as well as Guinea, in an epidemic that has proved devastating for the region.

The agency said that while the vaccine up to now shows 100 per cent efficacy in individuals, “more conclusive evidence is needed on its capacity to protect populations.”

The Guinea vaccination trial began in affected communities on 23 March 2015 to evaluate the efficacy, effectiveness and safety of a single dose of the vaccine VSV-EBOV by using a so-called ring vaccination strategy, the agency said. “To date, over 4,000 close contacts of almost 100 Ebola patients, including family members, neighbours, and co-workers, have voluntarily participated in the trial,” it said.

Describing the initial results as “promising” and “exciting,” WHO Executive Director said Dr. Margaret Chan told reporters: “I would like to say that if proven effective, this is going to be a game-changer. It will change the management of the current Ebola outbreak and future outbreaks.”...

A 26-year-old man, the third participant enrolled in VRC 207, receives a dose of the investigational NIAID/GSK Ebola vaccine at the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, Md. Credit: NIAID

Devastating floods might be more common than thought

Sasha Harris-Lovett in Sci-Tech Today: Keep the sandbags handy. Previous flood assessments have underestimated the actual risk of dangerous floods in many parts of the country, according to a new study. By looking back at the historical weather records, researchers have found an important synergy between two flood risk factors in coastal zones that has often gone overlooked.

In the past, engineers usually determined flood risk for coastal areas by looking at the separate probabilities of intense rainfall and the especially high seas caused by raging wind, called storm surges. But some of the worst floods in coastal areas are caused by the unfortunate concurrence of big storm surges with high rainfall -- a double-whammy for flooding, because it can result in the sea spilling over onto land while rivers and urban drainage systems overflow onto the streets.

By examining these two phenomena together, researchers showed that heavy precipitation and high seas are occurring in tandem more often in many coastal cities, especially along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts of the U.S. The results were published this week in Nature Climate Change.

"This is an important yet less studied aspect of vulnerability along the coastline," said Shaleen Jain, a civil and environmental engineer at the University of Maine and one of the authors of the study. Nearly 40% of the U.S. population lives in coastal counties, researchers noted.

The scientists combed through historical records of rainfall, tide gauge readings and hurricane tracks dating back to 1900 for 30 port cities around the continental United States. They noted all the instances where high storm surges corresponded to strong rainfall.

Neither the frequency of big storm surges nor heavy rainfall alone have changed dramatically since 1900, but the probability of them occurring at the same time -- and the resulting devastating floods -- has shown a marked increase in many U.S. cities, said Thomas Wahl, a coastal engineer at the University of South Florida and the lead author of the study. These cities include Boston; New York City; Tampa, Fla.; Houston; San Diego; Los Angeles; and San Francisco....

Flooding in 2001 from Hurricane Gabriel near Tampa, Florida. Photo from NOAA

Philippines Haiyan rebuilding 'inadequate', says UN

Bangkok Post via AFP: The Philippines has not done enough to rebuild after Super Typhoon Haiyan, as thousands remain in shanties without power or water for nearly two years, a United Nations representative said Saturday.

Many storm survivors in the central region have had to endure relocating to evacuation camps up to three times since Haiyan struck in 2013, and the sub-standard housing leaves them vulnerable to future typhoons, said Chaloka Beyani, UN special rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons.

"While the government is to be commended in terms of its immediate responses, its attention to ensuring sustainable durable solutions for IDPs (internally displaced persons) remains inadequate to date," Beyani said in a statement posted on the UN website.

Beyani was in the Philippines in late July to check on the government's handling of people displaced by Haiyan and by fighting between the military and Muslim rebels in the south.

Aside from falling short of safety standards, the wood-and-tin "bunkhouses" also leave women and girls vulnerable to sexual abuse and early pregnancy, Beyani said. The box-like shanties also rob the storm survivors of their "privacy and dignity" as they struggle to rebuild their lives, he said....

An aerial view of Tacloban City after Typhoon Haiyan struck, shot by Russell Watkins/Department for International Development, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license