Wednesday, July 31, 2013

North pole not flooded – but lots of melting in the Arctic

Hannah Hickey in the University of Washington News: Santa’s workshop at the North Pole is not under water, despite recent reports. A dramatic image captured by a University of Washington monitoring buoy reportedly shows a lake at the North Pole. But Santa doesn’t yet need to buy a snorkel.

“Every summer when the sun melts the surface the water has to go someplace, so it accumulates in these ponds,” said Jamie Morison, a polar scientist at the UW Applied Physics Laboratory and principal investigator since 2000 of the North Pole Environmental Observatory. “This doesn’t look particularly extreme.”

After media coverage in CBS News, The Atlantic and the U.K.’s Daily Mail, Morison returned from overseas travel late last week to a pile of media inquiries. Over the weekend the team posted an explanatory page on the project website.

One of the issues in interpreting the image, researchers said, is that the camera uses a fisheye lens. “The picture is slightly distorted,” said Axel Schweiger, who heads the Applied Physics Laboratory’s Polar Science Center. “In the background you see what looks like mountains, and that’s where the scale problem comes in – those are actually ridges where the ice was pushed together.”

Researchers estimate the melt pond in the picture was just over 2 feet deep and a few hundred feet wide, which is not unusual to find on an Arctic ice floe in late July.

In the midst of all the concern, the pool drained late July 27. This is the normal cycle for a meltwater pond that forms from snow and ice — it eventually drains through cracks or holes in the ice it has pooled on....

The view from webcam 2 on July 26 shows open water on the ice.NSF North Pole Environmental Observatory

Flossie weakens to tropical depression on Hawaii approach

Yee Kai Pin and Matthew Brown in Bloomberg: Flossie weakened to a depression as it neared the Hawaiian Islands, while tropical-storm warnings were discontinued.

The system, with top winds of 35 miles (56 kilometers) per hour, was 65 miles north-northwest of Honolulu and 270 miles northwest of Hilo at about 11 p.m. local time yesterday, according to an advisory from the Central Pacific Hurricane Center in Honolulu. It was moving west-northwest at 18 mph.

Flossie had threatened to become the first major system to strike Hawaii in 21 years. The state hasn’t been hit by a tropical storm or hurricane since Hurricane Iniki in 1992, said Kristina Pydynowski, a meteorologist at, a forecaster in State College, Pennsylvania.

The U.S. Coast Guard re-opened the ports of Hilo and Kawaihae on the Big Island at 1 p.m. yesterday, while keeping the port of Kahului, Maui closed, it said in a statement on its website yesterday...

Tropical Storm Flossie over Hawaii on July 29, 2013, shot by those storm-tossed mad folk at NASA

Local governments in the Philippines urged to invest in climate change adaptation

Philippine Information Agency: An officer of the Climate Change Commission urged the local government chief executives to include climate change and seawater level-rise vulnerability to their development plans.

Speaking during the Regional Summit for Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council for Local Chief Executives in the Bulwagan Hall at the provincial capitol of Davao del Norte, Mario Rangasa, community adaptation officer of the Climate Change Commission said seawater level rise is real and poses a threat to the survival of many communities in the country.

Rangasa chairs the Local Climate Change Adaptation for Development, Inc. based in Legazpi City.  He said integration of disaster management and climate change adaptation to the development plan is important so that affected communities can cope and come up with adjustments to change of environment brought about by a natural catastrophe.  “The bottom line here is the safety of the residents in the community,” Rangasa said.

He also said that local government units must take the risk reduction management and adaptation to climate change as investment of scientific tools, human resources and equipment so that decision-making on mitigation, response and adaptation by the chief executives will be anchored on scientific data.

Rangasa said it is the moral responsibility of the local government units to invest on disaster risk and vulnerability reduction.  “Let’s also work closely with our disaster agencies like the Office of Civil Defense, Phivolcs and the PAGASA to give ample advisories on preparation, mitigation, response and adaptability measures to the people,” he said....

Near the barangay of Tigayon, in Aklan, Philippines, shot by Ree Dexter, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr,  under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Anglophone African countries discuss climate change adaptation

Philippe Mwema Bahati in via Rwanda Focus: Experts in climate change from the Least Developed Anglophone Countries in Africa gathered in Kigali this week for a five-day workshop to discuss climate change adaptation on the continent.

The workshop intends to let countries share expertise and look at how to alleviate climate change, a phenomenon that will disproportionately affect African countries more than many others. According to Stanislas Kamanzi, Minister of Natural Resources, adaptation to climate change is imperative, and is a hindrance to the economic development of countries in the region. The least developed countries still lack the capacity to find solutions, but with their agriculturally driven economies and often tropical, they will also be the hardest hit by climate change.

Generally, a lack of commitment among leaders has made Africa one the slowest regions to address climate change. "There is still poor participation from the states," Kamanzi lamented, before clarifying Rwanda as the exception.

Rwanda has undertaken measures including planting trees, preserving forests, and reforming agricultural practices to make them more environmentally friendly. Kamanzi also pointed out the government's new National Climate and Environment Fund (FONERWA), a tool for enhancing projects that support national sustainable development goals.

Richard Muyungi, the chairman of scientific and technological advice of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said countries need to mainstream climate change mitigation in planning processes and government agendas in order to avoid serious consequences for their most impoverished citizens...

The center of Kigali, Rwanda, shot by SteveRwanda, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Turks and Caicos Islands to adopt climate change adaptation strategies

Turks and Caicos Weekly News Online: The Turks and Caicos Islands Government (TCIG) is seeking to include climate change adaptation strategies into the disaster management system of the Turks and Caicos Islands in a region-wide collaborative effort that is expected to prepare vulnerable Caribbean nations for the effects of climate change.

And as part of the climate change response, the Department of Disaster Management and Emergencies (DDME) in collaboration with the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) hosted two days of consultation from July 24 to 25 on ‘Mainstreaming Climate Change Adaptation into Comprehensive Disaster Management Phase II (CCDM-II)’ and ‘Climate Smarting of the Country Work Programme (CS-CWP)’ in the Turks and Caicos Islands.

...During the workshop, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed between the Turks and Caicos Islands Government (TCIG), the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA), Messenger Baptist Church, All Saints Baptist Church and the Gustarvus Lightbourne Sports Complex, as stakeholder groups took advanced action in the area of climate change.

Director of the Department of Disaster and Emergency Management (DDME), Dr. Virginia Clerveaux, commenting on the renewed focus on climate change, said: "This two day workshop focuses on mainstreaming climate change adaptation into comprehensive disaster management and in ensuring that our country work programme is climate smart.

..."Amidst concerns over global economic pressures, climate change has quite frankly slipped to the bed burner of policy priorities but the problem is not going away, in fact it is quite the opposite, the evidence of climate change due to human behaviour is quite literally undeniable and the evidence leads to models and predictions which are becoming clearer about the extent of the impact that we are likely to experience.”...

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Many cities at risk of sea-level rise, study finds

Wendy Koch in News10 via USA Today: A rise in sea levels threatens the viability of more than 1,400 cities and towns, including Miami, Virginia Beach and Jacksonville, unless there are deep cuts in heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions, says an analysis out Monday.

Prior emissions have already locked in 4 feet of future sea-level rise that will submerge parts of 316 municipalities, but the timing is unclear and could take hundreds of years, according to the paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. If global warming continues at its current rate through the year 2100, at least an additional 1,100 cities and towns will be mostly under water at high tide in the distant future.

"It's like this invisible threat," says author Benjamin Strauss,a scientist at Climate Central, a non-profit, non-advocacy research group based in Princeton, N.J., that's funded by foundations, individuals and federal grants. He says these sea levels are much higher than what's predicted this century - typically 1 to 4 feet - because climate change multiplies their impact over hundreds of years.

He says many people have the mistaken notion that if greenhouse gas emissions stop, the problem of sea levels rising will go away. It won't, he says, because carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for centuries - even millenniums - and contributes to two factors that raise sea levels: higher temperatures and the loss of Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets.

His dire projections suggest that the billions of dollars in damages from last year's Superstorm Sandy are a harbinger of the future. "The current trend in carbon emissions likely implies the eventual crippling or loss of most coastal cities in the world," writes Strauss, who directs Climate Central's program on rising sea levels....

FEMA photo of a Florida town flooded after Tropical Storm Fay

What can Madagascar teach us about rice and water?

Lisa Palmer in the Guardian (UK): The idea that a simple grain like rice could change the world may seem far-fetched. But as a growing population and climate change put pressure on a hot, hungry planet, rice is playing an increasingly important role.

Rice is a major source of calories for half of the world's population, and how rice is grown affects yields and affects the environment. Irrigated rice is normally covered with water. Flooding rice paddies suppresses weed growth, but it also uses enormous quantities of water and increases methane emissions when plant matter decomposes in flooded fields.

Twenty-five years ago small holder farms in Madagascar began growing rice using a methodology that doesn't flood rice paddies continuously. With aerated soil, rather than flooded fields, farmers plant single, young seedlings directly into rows along with nutrients. The rice produces deeper roots and since the field isn't flooded, the roots of the plants don't suffocate. The result is stronger root and larger plants that produce heavier grain. And, in addition to using less water, the method requires less land preparation and fertiliser, although more weeding is required.

Growers produce more grain per hectare, conserve water resources, and create fewer environmental impacts. The system has spread from farmer to farmer, and 2.5 million of them in 50 countries have adopted these methods.

Now, a California-based company, Lotus Foods, is promoting this agriculture method, called the system of rice intensification (SRI) by providing farmers access to a global marketplace. Branded under the More Crop Per Drop label, the company sells six varieties of SRI-grown rice, including Madagascar Pink Rice. "Flooding rice paddies uses a third of our planet's freshwater resources," says Caryl Levine, co-owner of Lotus Foods, adding that the agriculture business doesn't like this method because "there is nothing to buy and it is so farmer friendly."...

Rice growing in the Madagascar highlands, shot by Jean-Louis Vandevivère, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

'Climate change affecting health in Sundarbans'

Zee News: Frequent climatic shocks in the form of cyclones and floods in Sundarbans is playing havoc with the health of 4.5 million villagers staying in the fragile islands, experts say.  As a result of climate change induced sea level rise, instances of coastal erosion, flooding and cyclone incidences have increased manifold in the Sundarban swamps putting the poor villagers at greater health risks.

Almost all types of communicable diseases primarily related to respiratory and gastro-intestinal systems are highly prevalent in Sundarbans, a UNESCO World Heritage site located few kms away from Kolkata.

Prof Barun Kanjilal of The Indian Institute of Health Management Research (IIHMR), who has been studying the region, told PTI that children are the worst affected with chronic malnutrition, diarrhea and other common childhood illness highly prevalent among them.

"Transient climatic shocks have made the child health worse through the pathway of chronic poverty, low resilience, physical and social barriers to health seeking as well as ineffective service delivery system," he said.

When climate events destroy crops, lands or houses, it affects the food security of the people ultimately causing undernutrition through reduction in calorie intake.  In addition to this, disease outbreaks causes additional suffering.  During heavy rains, the low-lying villages get inundated and tubewells go under water. When the water recedes, it leaves behind a trail of impurities, most of it having also entered the tubewells....

A cow shed in the Sundarbans in India, shot by Arne Hückelheim

France promises Malaysia no palm oil 'discrimination'

Seed Daily via AFP: French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault on Monday assured Malaysia that European rules on declaring product ingredients would not "discriminate" against palm oil, the target of environmentalists over its ecological impact.

Malaysia is second only to Indonesia in the production of palm oil, which is blamed for the destruction of huge swathes of rainforest to make way for vast plantations of the palm trees from which the edible oil is derived.

The French Senate last year approved a quadrupling of the tax on palm oil despite protests from major producing nations Malaysia and the Ivory Coast, but the move was later rejected by France's lower house.

"I know how important it is to Malaysia given the number of people who rely on palm oil production for a living, in particular small producers," Ayrault told a press conference with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak after they held talks...

Oil palms in Malaysia, shot by Craig, public domain

Scientists find large Gulf dead zone, but smaller than predicted

NOAA: NOAA-supported scientists found a large Gulf of Mexico oxygen-free or hypoxic “dead” zone, but not as large as had been predicted. Measuring 5,840 square miles, an area the size of Connecticut, the 2013 Gulf dead zone indicates nutrients from the Mississippi River watershed are continuing to affect the nation’s commercial and recreational marine resources in the Gulf.

“A near-record area was expected because of wet spring conditions in the Mississippi watershed and the resultant high river flows which deliver large amounts of nutrients,” said

Hypoxia is fueled by nutrient runoff from agricultural and other human activities in the watershed. These nutrients stimulate an overgrowth of algae that sinks, decomposes and consumes most of the oxygen needed to support life. Normally the low or no oxygen area is found closer to the Gulf floor as the decaying algae settle towards the bottom. This year researchers found many areas across the Gulf where oxygen conditions were severely low at the bottom and animals normally found at the seabed were swimming at the surface.

This is in contrast to 2012, when drought conditions resulted in the fourth smallest dead zones on record, measuring 2,889 square miles, an area slightly larger than Delaware. The largest previous dead zone was in 2002, encompassing 8,481 square miles. The smallest recorded dead zone measured 15 square miles in 1988. The average size of the dead zone over the past five years has been 5,176 square miles, more than twice the 1,900 square mile goal set by the Gulf of Mexico / Mississippi River Watershed Nutrient Task Force in 2001 and reaffirmed in 2008.

...“NOAA’s investment in the Gulf of Mexico continues to yield results that confirm the complex dynamics of hypoxia and provide managers and the public with accurate scientific information for managing and restoring the nation's valuable coastal resources,” said Robert Magnien, Ph.D., director of NOAA’s Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research. “For those who depend upon and enjoy the abundant natural resources of the Gulf of Mexico, it is imperative that we intensify our efforts to reduce nutrient pollution before the ecosystem degrades any further.”...

Map showing the hypoxia area on the Louisiana Gulf of Mexico shelf in 2013. Credit: LUMCON (Rabalais)

Monday, July 29, 2013

We've been asking the wrong questions about conservation

James Watson in the Guardian (UK): In looking at how best to protect wildlife from the growing climate change crisis, conservation scientists usually ignore the single most significant impact on fauna and flora: the changes warming drives in the behaviour of its dominant species – humans – and resultant effects on the living world and natural processes. Those effects are already driving many of the climate-related ecological shifts we are witnessing across the globe.
For example, the opening up of the Arctic for oil and gas, mining and transport routes as sea-ice retreats directly impacts polar biodiversity. Expansion of agricultural activities due to changing rainfall in the mountains of Africa's Albertine Rift and the valleys of the Congo Basin now threatens gorilla habitat there.

Elsewhere, the construction of ineffective seawalls in Papua New Guinea to slow down the impact of sea-level rise has led to the wholesale destruction of some of the most biodiverse and protein-productive coral reefs in the world. Increasing temperatures across the high-altitude Tibetan plateau likewise contribute to a shift in the formerly stable balance between indigenous herders and wildlife, both of which graze the delicate grasslands.

The list is endless but is it not all negative. For example, in the Maya Biosphere Reserve in Guatemala, efforts by local communities to control a growing number of wildfire incidents, associated with a drying climate, are having a positive impact on vulnerable populations of threatened species like jaguar.

Nevertheless, it would appear that in their work on climate change, conservation scientists have forgotten a basic tenet of our field: that conservation is fundamentally about people...

A vine snake from Peten, Guatemala, in the Maya Biosphere, shot by ggallice, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Climate change lessons in Mauritius

Nasseem Ackbarally in IPS: Tourism, agriculture, fishing, the water supply – climate change threatens the very foundations of society and the economy in Mauritius. As the Indian Ocean island nation develops its adaptation strategies, it is working to ground the next generation of citizens firmly in principles of sustainable development.

Launched on Jul. 5, the country’s National Climate Change Adaptation Policy Framework (NCCAPF) included familiar but worrying predictions for the future. Half of this tourist destination’s beaches could disappear by 2050, swallowed by rising seas and increasingly violent and frequent storms. Fresh water resources could shrink by as much as 13 percent while demand will rise steadily.

“We are shocked to learn that our beautiful island – or part of it – may disappear because of a rise in sea levels,” student Felicia Beniff told IPS as she emerged from a class on the environment and climate change with four friends. “We are afraid. We have many more years to live. Where will we go?”

The teenage students at MEDCO Cassis Secondary School in the Mauritian capital Port Louis are among a quarter of a million students across the island that will be exposed to principles of sustainable development.

Mauritius is working hard to correct unsustainable practices, notably through the Maurice Île Durable. Educating youth about sustainable development is part of this long-term vision to establish a new, ecologically sound economy....

Evening in Port Louis, Mauritius, shot by Peter Kuchar (pkuchar), Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Managing waters shared across national boundaries

Space Daily via SPX: The science-based management and governance of shared transboundary water systems is the focus of a wide-ranging collection of articles now published in a special edition of the Elsevier journal Environmental Development.

A collaboration of the Global Environmental Facility's IW:LEARN project and the UN University's Canadian-based Institute for Water, Environment and Health, the special open-access volume includes a treasury of articles available with open public access until the end of 2014.

The volume builds on a 2012 study of the use of science in roughly 200 GEF-supported transboundary water projects involving public investments of more than US$7 billion over 20 years. GEF partnered with UNU and the UN Environment Programme to extract lessons from that huge project portfolio. The volume is highlighted by papers detailing innovations in science-based management and scientific research authored by past or present projects from the portfolio.

"This assembly of articles underlines the overarching lesson that science must play a central role in decisions and investments involving trans-boundary water issues," says Zafar Adeel, director of UNU's Canadian-based International Network on Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH).

"At the heart of this are concerns of cardinal importance: food and energy security, adaptation to climate variability and change, economic growth and human security....

NASA image of the Black Sea

Satellite model could help predict landslides in remote areas

Wagdy Sawahel in Satellite data could not only identify hotspots for landslides, but could also play a part in predicting these potentially devastating events, particularly in remote mountainous regions, a study suggests.

Researchers at the University of California, United States, have developed a model using satellite data on rainfall, topographical features of slopes, and land cover — and by testing the model on a dataset of previous landslides say it predicts these historical events reliably and could be the basis of a real-time, global landslide prediction system.

"Landslides typically occur in mountainous regions where other sources of information, including radar and gauge measurements [used in standard global landslide models], are not available," Amir AghaKouchak, co-author and assistant professor at the Center for Hydrometeorology and Remote Sensing in Irvine, tells SciDev.Net.

"Further, in many developing countries ground-based observations are also limited due to a lack of investment.

"Our model has been developed with satellite data so that it can be used [globally] in remote and topographically complex regions. Most previous landslide studies have been at a local or regional scale," AghaKouchak adds...

Mailboxes in a mudflow, shot by the US Postal Service

Common chemicals harm honey bees' health

University of Maryland Right Now: Commercial honey bees used to pollinate crops are exposed to a wide variety of agricultural chemicals, including common fungicides which impair the bees’ ability to fight off a potentially lethal parasite, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Maryland and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The study, published July 24 in the online journal PLOS ONE, is the first analysis of real-world conditions encountered by honey bees as their hives pollinate a wide range of crops, from apples to watermelons.

The researchers collected pollen from honey bee hives in fields from Delaware to Maine. They analyzed the samples to find out which flowering plants were the bees’ main pollen sources and what agricultural chemicals were commingled with the pollen. The researchers fed the pesticide-laden pollen samples to healthy bees, which were then tested for their ability to resist infection with Nosema ceranae – a parasite of adult honey bees that has been linked to a lethal phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder.

On average, the pollen samples contained 9 different agricultural chemicals, including fungicides, insecticides, herbicides and miticides. Sublethal levels of multiple agricultural chemicals were present in every sample, with one sample containing 21 different pesticides. Pesticides found most frequently in the bees’ pollen were the fungicide chlorothalonil, used on apples and other crops, and the insecticide fluvalinate, used by beekeepers to control Varroa mites, common honey bee pests.

In the study’s most surprising result, bees that were fed the collected pollen samples containing chlorothonatil were nearly three times more likely to be infected by Nosema than bees that were not exposed to these chemicals, said Jeff Pettis, research leader of the USDA’s Bee Research Laboratory and the study’s lead author. The miticides used to control Varroa mites also harmed the bees’ ability to withstand parasitic infection...

Honey bee photo by Lip Kee, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Indian state launches adaptation center

Zee News: Meghalaya Chief Minister Mukul Sangma today launched a 'Centre for Adaptation to Climate Change' in the state capital with an aim to providing a platform to engage the different government departments and civil societies towards addressing the issue of climate change.

Dedicating the centre to the people of Meghalaya, Mukul said, "I believe that that this centre can be a source of knowledge and data that will benefit not only Meghalaya but also its neighbouring North Eastern states and countries like Bangladesh."

The centre was launched in cooperation and technical support from the German Development Cooperation through the climate change adaptation programme in the North East Region.  The Chief Minister said the impact of climate change has hit the orange cultivation in Garo hills region of the state.

"We need to re-strategize our approach towards adapting to climate change," he said urging participation from cross sections of the society in ensuring sustainable development.

In his speech at the inaugural event, German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, Head of Division South Asia, Thomas Helfen said one billion US dollar has been projected for the North Eastern Region for sustainable development. ...

Umiam Lake is a reservoir located in the hills 15 km to the North of Shillong in the state of Meghalaya, India. Shot by Vikramjit Kakati, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Global warming to cut snow water storage 56 percent in Oregon watershed

Oregon State University: A new report projects that by the middle of this century there will be an average 56 percent drop in the amount of water stored in peak snowpack in the McKenzie River watershed of the Oregon Cascade Range -  and that similar impacts may be found on low-elevation maritime snow packs around the world.

The findings by scientists at Oregon State University, which are based on a projected 3.6 degree Fahrenheit temperature increase, highlight the special risks facing many low-elevation, mountainous regions where snow often falls near the freezing point. In such areas, changing from snow to rain only requires a very modest rise in temperature.

As in Oregon, which depends on Cascade Range winter snowpack for much of the water in the populous Willamette Valley, there may be significant impacts on ecosystems, agriculture, hydropower, industry, municipalities and recreation, especially in summer when water demands peak.

The latest study was one of the most precise of its type done on an entire watershed, and was just published in Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, with support from the National Science Foundation. It makes it clear that new choices are coming for western Oregon and other regions like it. “

In Oregon we have a water-rich environment, but even here we will have to manage our water resources differently in the future,” said Eric Sproles, who led this study as a doctoral student at OSU. “In the Willamette River, for instance, between 60-80 percent of summer stream flow comes from seasonal snow above 4,000 feet,” he said. “As more precipitation falls as rain, there will more chance of winter flooding as well as summer drought in the same season. More than 70 percent of Oregon’s population lives in the Willamette Valley, with the economy and ecosystems depending heavily on this river.”

...The study made clear, so far as snowpack goes, that temperature is the driving force, far more than precipitation. Even the highest levels of anticipated precipitation had almost no impact on snow-water storage, they said....

An aerial view of Crater Lake in the Cascade Range in Oregon, shot by Samion, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Subject to disclaimers

Potential well water contamination highest near natural gas drilling

University of Texas at Arlington News Center: A new study of 100 private water wells in and near the Barnett Shale showed elevated levels of potential contaminants such as arsenic and selenium closest to natural gas extraction sites, according to a team of researchers that was led by UT Arlington associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry Kevin Schug.

Brian Fontenot, who earned his Ph.D. in quantitative biology from UT Arlington, worked with Kevin Schug, UT Arlington associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry, and a team of researchers to analyze samples from 100 private water wells.

The results of the North Texas well study were published online by the journal Environmental Science & Technology Thursday. The peer-reviewed paper focuses on the presence of metals such as arsenic, barium, selenium and strontium in water samples. Many of these heavy metals occur naturally at low levels in groundwater, but disturbances from natural gas extraction activities could cause them to occur at elevated levels.

“This study alone can’t conclusively identify the exact causes of elevated levels of contaminants in areas near natural gas drilling, but it does provide a powerful argument for continued research,” said Brian Fontenot, a UT Arlington graduate with a doctorate in quantitative biology and lead author on the new paper.

He added: “We expect this to be the first of multiple projects that will ultimately help the scientific community, the natural gas industry, and most importantly, the public, understand the effects of natural gas drilling on water quality.”...

A far view of a fracking operation undetaken by Halliburton, shot by Joshua Doubek, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Seeing photosynthesis from space: NASA scientists use satellites to measure plant health

NASA: NASA scientists have established a new way to use satellites to measure what's occurring inside plants at a cellular level.

Plants grow and thrive through photosynthesis, a process that converts sunlight into energy. During photosynthesis, plants emit what is called fluorescence – light invisible to the naked eye but detectable by satellites orbiting hundreds of miles above Earth. NASA scientists have now established a method to turn this satellite data into global maps of the subtle phenomenon in more detail than ever before.

Healthy plants use the energy from sunlight to perform photosynthesis, and re-emit some of that light as a faint but measureable glow. In short, abundant fluorescence indicates active photosynthesis and a well functioning plant, while low or no fluorescence can mean that the plant is stressed or shutting down. Maps of the phenomenon give scientists a direct look at plant health.

The new maps – produced by Joanna Joiner of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and colleagues – boast a 16-fold increase in spatial resolution and a three-fold increase in temporal resolution over the first proof-of-concept maps released in 2011 from a different satellite instrument. Improved global measurements could have implications for farmers interested in early indications of crop stress and ecologists looking to better understand global vegetation and carbon cycle processes.

"For the first time, we are able to globally map changes in fluorescence over the course of a single month," Joiner said. "This lets us use fluorescence to observe, for example, variation in the length of the growing season."

Vegetation dynamics, including the northward migration of plant growth during the northern hemisphere springtime, is already observed indirectly by satellite data used measure the "greenness" of light reflected from Earth's surface. Fluorescence measurements complement the greenness measurements by providing direct and immediate information about plant productivity. For example, the researchers saw plants start to shut down in the fall before their leaves turned colors. They also clearly detected early plant growth during the warm spring of 2012...

Machinery inside the chloroplasts of plant cells converts sunlight to energy, emitting fluorescence in the process. Scientists can detect the fluorescence fingerprint in satellite data.
Image Credit: NASA Goddard's Conceptual Image Lab/T. Chase

Hunting said pushing central African forests to point of collapse

Seed Daily via UPI: Hunting of important animal species in central Africa could be pushing forests to the point of ecological collapse, an international research team says.

Scientists from British and Australian universities and the Wildlife Conservation Society warn the current rate of unsustainable hunting of forest elephants, gorillas and other seed-dispersing species threatens the ability of forest ecosystems to regenerate.

The researchers say unless landscape-wide hunting management plans are put in place there is a risk of environmental catastrophe, a WCS release said Tuesday.

"Humans have lived in the forests of Central Africa for thousands of years, until recently practicing subsistence hunting for the needs of their communities," lead study author Kate Abernethy of Scotland's Stirling University said. "Over the past few decades, this dynamic has drastically changed.

"Much of the hunting is now commercially driven, and species that play important ecological functions are being driven to local extinction."...

A 1910 photo

Friday, July 26, 2013

Coastal Antarctic permafrost melting faster than expected

University of Texas at Austin News: For the first time, scientists have documented an acceleration in the melt rate of permafrost, or ground ice, in a section of Antarctica where the ice had been considered stable. The melt rates are comparable with the Arctic, where accelerated melting of permafrost has become a regularly recurring phenomenon, and the change could offer a preview of melting permafrost in other parts of a warming Antarctic continent.

Tracking data from Garwood Valley in the McMurdo Dry Valleys region of Antarctica, Joseph Levy, a research associate at The University of Texas at Austin’s Institute for Geophysics, shows that melt rates accelerated consistently from 2001 to 2012, rising to about 10 times the valley’s historical average for the present geologic epoch, as documented in the July 24 edition of Scientific Reports.

Scientists had previously considered the region’s ground ice to be in equilibrium, meaning its seasonal melting and refreezing did not, over time, diminish the valley’s overall mass of ground ice. Instead, Levy documented through LIDAR and time-lapse photography a rapid retreat of ground ice in Garwood Valley, similar to the lower rates of permafrost melt observed in the coastal Arctic and Tibet.

 “The big tell here is that the ice is vanishing — it’s melting faster each time we measure,” said Levy, who noted that there are no signs in the geologic record that the valley’s ground ice has retreated similarly in the past. “This is a dramatic shift from recent history.”

Ground ice is more prevalent in the Arctic than in Antarctica, where glaciers and ice sheets dominate the landscape. In contrast to glaciers and ice sheets, which sit on the ground, ground ice sits in the ground, mixed with frozen soil or buried under layers of sediment. Antarctica’s Dry Valleys contain some of the continent’s largest stretches of ground ice, along the coast of the Ross Sea...

The McMurdo Dry Valleys in Antarctica, view by NASA

Clean drinking water, still a dream in parts of Pakistan

Daily Times (Pakistan): Girls in traditional Sindhi Ajraks carrying tins, pots and plastic cans, walk the unpaved streets filled with garbage heaps and scavenger dogs to fetch water from the muddy village pond.

Located just on the edge of Arabian Sea in the outskirts of Karachi, Dabla Paro is supposed to be one of the oldest fishermen hamlets in the city. Lined with broken boats lying outside humble huts, the village paints the picture of neglect and State apathy towards the residents.

... Despite being a historical settlement, the village has been deprived of drinking water, proper sanitation system, streetlights, health unit and even a school. ...Though there are dozens of small settlements, traditional villages of indigenous fisher folk and farmers are still living without proper water supply schemes. Apart from using the murky water from the pond for cooking and drinking purposes, the women also wash clothes in the pool every day. "In the absence of water facility in our village, life is very tough, especially for women and children," said Safia, a mother of three.

"Loose motion and diarrhoea is common in the village, especially among newborn and infants, who suffer the most due to lack of basic health facilities or state-run hospital in the area," said Shahzadi Mallah.

According to official data, out of the total 8 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in Sindh, the most important target to reduce mortality rate of children under 5, has now become impossible to achieve. Health experts say that apart from different diseases, waterborne illnesses, especially diarrhoea, which contributes a major role in child mortality.  The mortality rate of children under 5 is as high as 100 deaths per 1,000 live births against a target of 52...

A water tanker in Karachi, shot by کراچی, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license 

China to tackle air pollution with new plan

Sino Daily via UPI: The Chinese government has announced a $277 billion initiative to tackle air pollution. The Airborne Pollution Prevention and Control Action Plan aims to reduce emissions by 25 percent from 2012 levels by 2017 and specifically targets North China, especially Beijing and the provinces of Tianjin and Hebei, China Daily reported Wednesday.

"The Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei province area is the most stringently targeted because airborne pollution is most serious in this area," the state-run newspaper quoted Wang Jinnan, vice president of the Chinese Academy for Environmental Planning as saying during the Eco-Forum Global Annual Conference Saturday in Guiyang, Guizhou province. Wang participated in drafting the new pollution plan.

"The central government is determined to curb emissions in energy-consuming and highly polluting industries," state-run news agency Xinhua quoted Environment Minister Zhou Shengxian as saying at the conference...

New study proposes changes in New Orleans area levee systems

William G. Gilroy in Notre Dame News: Less may mean more when it comes to the levee systems designed to protect New Orleans from hurricanes. That’s the conclusion of a new study by a team of University of Notre Dame researchers led by Joannes Westerink, chair of the department of civil and environmental engineering and earth sciences and co-developer of the authoritative computer model for storm surge used by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the state of Louisiana to determine water levels due to hurricane surge and to design levee heights and alignments.

The lower Mississippi River south of New Orleans protrudes into the Gulf of Mexico, and man-made levees line the west bank of the river for 55 kilometers of what is known as the Lower Plaquemines section. There are no levees on the east side of this stretch of the river. Westerink points out that, historically, sustained easterly winds from hurricanes have directed storm surge across Breton Sound into the Mississippi River and against its west bank levees.

“This study clearly shows that the man-built west bank levees on the lower Mississippi River enhance the capture of storm surge by the river,” Westerink said. “The surges are generated by the prevalent easterly winds that are common for regional hurricanes, but they spill into the river. These surges then propagate upriver, endangering New Orleans from the river side.”

As an alternative, the study shows that the lowering of man-made levees along the Lower Plaquemines river section to their natural state, to allow storm surge to partially pass across the Mississippi River, will decrease storm surge upriver toward New Orleans.

“By eliminating the 55 kilometers of man-made levees on the west bank of the river from Pointe a la Hache and Venice, the surges propagating in the river from Pointe a la Hache past New Orleans will be lowered by up to two meters,” Westerink said. “This would save billions of dollars in levee construction to protect communities upriver from Pointe a la Hache.”...

FEMA image of the 17th Street levee in New Orleans

Climate forecasts shown to warn of crop failures

Seed Daily via SPX: Climate data can help predict some crop failures several months before harvest, according to a new study from an international team, including a research scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

Scientists found that in about one-third of global cropland, temperature and soil moisture have strong relationships to the yield of wheat and rice at harvest. For those two key crops, a computer model could predict crop failures three months in advance for about 20 percent of global cropland, according to the study, published July 21 in Nature Climate Change.

"You can estimate ultimate yields according to the climatic condition several months before," said Molly Brown, with Goddard's Biospheric Sciences Laboratory. "From the spring conditions, the preexisting conditions, the pattern is set."

The scientists wanted to examine the reliability and timeliness of crop failure forecasts in order for governments, insurers and others to plan accordingly. The research team, led by Toshichika Iizumi with the National Institute for Agro-Environmental Sciences in Tsukuba, Japan, created and tested a new crop model, incorporating temperature and precipitation forecasts and satellite observations from 1983 to 2006.

They then examined how well those data predicted the crop yield or crop failure that actually occurred at the end of each season. For example, by looking at the temperature and soil moisture in June of a given year, they were hoping to predict the success of a corn harvest in August and September.

The team studied four crops - corn, soybeans, wheat and rice - but the model proved most useful for wheat and rice. Crop failures in regions of some major wheat and rice exporters, such as Australia and Uruguay, could be predicted several months in advance, according to the study. The model also forecasted some minor changes in crop yield, not just the devastating crop failures resulting from severe droughts or other weather extremes....

An alternate view of Dorothea Lange's migrant mother photo, 1936

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Deciphering communication between sea and sky

GEOMAR at the Helmholtz Center for for Ocean Research in Kiel: Why does hurricane activity vary from decade to decade? Or rainfall in the Sahel region? And why are the trans-Atlantic changes frequently in sync? A German-Russian research team has investigated the role of heat exchange between ocean and atmosphere in long-term climate variability in the Atlantic. The scientists analyzed meteorological measurements and sea surface temperatures over the past 130 years. It was found that the ocean significantly affects long term climate fluctuations, while the seemingly chaotic atmosphere is mainly responsible for the shorter-term, year-to-year changes. The study appears in the current issue of the prestigious journal Nature, and provides important information on the predictability of long-term climate fluctuations.

How do the ocean and atmosphere communicate? What information do they exchange, and what are the results? These are questions that climate scientists must ask, especially if they want to understand the cause of natural climate fluctuations of varying duration. These fluctuations superimpose the general global warming trend since the beginning of industrialization and thus complicate the accurate determination of human influence on the climate. The causes and mechanisms of natural climate variability, however, are poorly understood. A study led by scientists at the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel shows that the ocean currents influence the heat exchange between ocean and atmosphere and thus can explain climate variability on decadal time scales. The study, which appears in the current issue of the renowned journal Nature, also references the potential for predicting such phenomena.

...Ocean currents affect the surface temperature of the oceans and thus the heat exchange with the atmosphere - eventually causing climate variations on the adjacent continents. The most evident is an oscillation with a period of 60 years. "Such decadal climate fluctuations are superimposed on the general warming trend, so that at times it seems as if the warming trend slowed or even stopped. After a few decades, it accelerates once again,” explains Prof. Latif. “It is important for us to understand these natural cycles, so that we can finally provide better climate predictions as well." One of the major problems, as Latif explained, is that there are just very few long-term oceanic measurements, thereby complicating the analysis and interpretation of climate change signals. Therefore, scientists are using increasingly refined statistical methods to extract more and more information from the available data sets.

"We need both, realistic model simulations and long-term data records, and really sophisticated analysis methods to produce reliable climate predictions. Our work is an additional piece in the giant puzzle of global climate variability, but I am confident that we will be able to extract the secrets underlying the natural climate fluctuations," says Prof. Latif...

North Atlantic region, dark blue area was used for temperature data, red area for the heat flux. Graphics: C. Kersten, GEOMAR.

Infrastructure investors overlooking climate threats

Business Green: Infrastructure investors are still failing to adequately consider the impact of climate change when making long term investments, leaving energy, transport, and communications developments exposed to mounting physical risks, insurance broking giant Marsh has warned.

A new report by the risk management specialist says the climate resilience of infrastructure assets such as new power stations, railways, or broadband networks, should be more widely considered at the project's inception, as well as all the way through its life cycle.

However, Marsh warns many investors have not built climate change into their risk models, particularly if they are operating in countries or sectors of the economy that are still largely unaffected by severe weather or environmental pollution.

The report argues the risks of failing to incorporate climate risks are huge: the estimated costs of the UK floods in 2007 was around £3bn, and in 25 years' time the Confederation of Business Industry predicts flood damage could cost the UK economy as much as £10bn each and every year.

Marsh also warns the threat posed by climate change is growing, stating in the report that "elevated global average temperatures and the incidences of extreme weather events are likely to become even more frequent and severe over coming decades". It adds that "an increase in the impacts of severe weather events on property and infrastructure looks likely".

The report suggests that wider climate change risk due diligence, which improves project delivery and operational efficiency throughout the asset life cycle, could help mitigate the risks...

The Sweetwater dam break of 1916

Adapting to climate change in arid Chile

Francesco Fiondella in EarthSky, both the text and the photos: The Elqui River basin in Chile’s Coquimbo region is one of the driest places on Earth. It receives only about 100 millimeters (4 inches) of rain each year, and most of it during one short rainy season. The rainfall is also highly variable. In some years, the region will get close to zero rainfall, while in others it will get five times the normal amount. All of this presents quite a challenge to those managing the Elqui basin’s water resources, which provides drinking water for two cities and irrigation for large vineyards, small farmers and goat herders.

The Elqui River is fed by snowmelt from the Andes and that collects in two large reservoirs, one of which is the Puclaro Reservoir. A widespread, multiyear drought that started in 2009 has depleted the Puclaro to only 10 percent of its capacity as of May 2013. Old villages that were abandoned and inundated after the Puclaro dam was built are now completely exposed and bone dry.

Since 2010, the Earth Institute’s International Research Institute for Climate and Society along with UNESCO and their colleagues in Chile have been working with Elqui’s water authority to help them use seasonal forecasts as way to better allocate water and prepare for droughts. The water authority used these forecasts to generate water availability estimates for the first time in 2012. Now the goal is to better-integrate the climate information into policies that impact water management across the region....

After a rainy day in Vicuna, Chile, shot by Celoso, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

The disease vectors, my friend, are blowing in the wind  Australian researchers are developing a new tool to help track and manage the vast numbers of disease-carrying insects blown from Asia into northern Australia every year by cyclones and monsoon winds.

The new software and modelling tool is among the projects to be developed as part of the CSIRO's new Biosecurity Flagship launched in Canberra today, a dedicated vehicle bringing together CSIRO experts around the range of Biosecurity issues that challenge Australia.

The Tool for Assessing Pest and Pathogen Airborne Spread, known as TAPPAS and jointly being developed by the CSIRO Biosecurity Flagship, the Bureau of Meteorology and the Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry, will model the risks associated with wind-assisted migration of species like Culicoides, a biting midge that carries an animal disease called Bluetongue virus.

Bluetongue virus in livestock can cause fever, oral and nasal haemorrhages, swollen tongue, emaciation and can slow down wool production in sheep. Its potential spread within Australia is a major concern.

"The appearance of some strains of Culicoides can only be explained by wind-borne movement and we know of a number of other insects that are detected across northern Australia after cyclones," said Gary Fitt, Director CSIRO Biosecurity Flagship.

"That's part of the reason why one of our projects is to develop a model to help predict wind-assisted arrivals of insects or plant pathogens into northern Australia, or in fact into any part of Australia. With the same models, we can then predict where these organisms might spread and also use the model in reverse mode to backtrack where they may have came from. That helps us better understand how to prepare for and manage an outbreak."...

Culicoides imicola blood feeding female midges showing stages of blood feeding in relation to transmission of viruses. Shot by Alan R Walker, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Drought worsens child malnutrition in Cameroon

Elias Ntungwe Ngalame in AlertNet by the Thomson Reuters Foundation: Prolonged drought in northern Cameroon, an aspect of the changing climate that is affecting the whole Sahel region, has reduced food output, pushed up prices and increased the severity and prevalence of malnutrition among children, experts say.

During a visit to north Cameroon’s Garoua district by the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) early this month, women and health officials at the Lamudam village health unit said local people had yet to recover from the drought-driven Sahel food crisis of 2012 and levels of malnutrition were alarming.

“We receive cases of child malnutrition in this health centre regularly,” said Issa Houre, who runs the unit. “In January this year, for example, we had 33 cases and in May (there were) 49, and this is quite high in a small community of about 1,500 inhabitants.”

...Njakoi Henry, former country director of Heifer Project International Cameroon, told Thomson Reuters Foundation in Yaounde that rains in the north “are now shorter and less frequent”, adding that “pasture land is turning into desert”. “This is changing the way of life for the people in this region and many cannot feed themselves and their children… They need support to adapt and increase their resilience," he said....

Children fending for themselves in Cameroon, shot by Sodeit, public domain

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Cost of Arctic methane release could be ‘size of global economy’ warn experts

University of Cambridge Research News: Economic modelling shows that the possible methane emissions caused by shrinking sea ice from just one area of the Arctic could come with a global price tag of 60 trillion dollars - the size of the world economy in 2012.

As the Arctic warms and sea ice melts at an unprecedented rate, hitting a record low last summer, the thawing of offshore ‘permafrost’ - frozen soil - in the region is releasing methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.

Scientists have previously warned that there are vast reservoirs of methane in the Arctic, hundreds of billions of tonnes of a gas many times worse than carbon dioxide for global warming - of which only a fraction needs releasing into the atmosphere to trigger possibly catastrophic climate change.

Now, researchers from Cambridge and Rotterdam have for the first time calculated the potential economic impact of a scenario some scientists consider increasingly likely: that the methane below the East Siberian Sea will be emitted, either steadily over the next 30 years or in one giant “burp”.

Writing in the journal Nature, the academics say that just this area’s methane alone - some 50 billion tonnes, or 50 gigatonnes - would have a mean global impact of 60 trillion dollars, an amount very similar to the size of the entire global economy last year. Current US national debt stands at a mere 16 trillion dollars in comparison.

The economic impact modelled was only for the methane existing on the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, and “the total price of Arctic change will be much higher,” they warn...

“Arctic science is a strategic asset for human economies because the region drives critical effects in our biophysical, political and economic systems,” write the academics, who say that world leaders will “miss the bigger picture” without factoring in Arctic methane projections - as neither the World Economic Forum or the International Monetary Fund currently recognise the economic danger of Arctic change...

Lama Lake on the Putorana Plateau in Siberia, shot by Vitaly Repin, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Major global analysis offers hope for saving the wild side of staple food crops

A press release from Kew, the Royal Botanic Gardens: Global efforts to adapt staple foods like rice, wheat and potato to climate change have been given a major boost today as new research shows the whereabouts of their wild cousins. These wild relations could offer beneficial qualities to help major crops become more productive and resilient in the face of future climates and new threats.

This new analysis assesses 29 of the world’s most important food crops and reveals severe threats to just over half of their wild relatives, as they are not adequately saved in genebanks and not available to researchers and plant breeders for crop improvement.

Climate change is predicted to cause the substantial decline of agricultural production in the coming decades, and together with rising food prices, this will hit the poorest first and hardest. This global analysis forms part of a larger partnership to collect and conserve the wild relatives of the world’s major food crops.

The initiative, led by the Global Crop Diversity Trust (Crop Trust) in partnership with Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank and in collaboration with national and international agricultural research institutes, is the largest ever global effort to conserve crop wild relatives. These wild plants contain essential traits that could be bred into crops to make them more hardy and versatile in the face of dramatically different climates expected in the coming years. The Norwegian government is providing funding for this ten-year initiative. Find out more about how Kew is helping to strengthen food security.

... “This is a major step forward in the global effort to make our food crops more resilient to the effects of climate change,” says Andy Jarvis, leader of CIAT’s Decision and Policy Analysis Research Area, which conducted the research. “Crop wild relatives are a potential treasure trove of useful characteristics that scientists can put to good use for making agriculture more resilient and improving the livelihoods of millions of people.”...

Flowering wheat, shot by Aalang, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license

Tropical ecosystems regulate variations in Earth's carbon dioxide levels

Space Daily via SPX: The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that a temperature anomaly of just 1+ C (in near surface air temperatures in the tropics) leads to a 3.5-Petagram (billion tonnes of carbon) anomaly in the annual CO2 growth rate, on average. This is the equivalent of 1/3 of the annual global emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels and deforestation together.

Importantly, the NASA Earth Exchange (NEX) study results provide scientists with a new diagnostic tool to understand the global carbon cycle as it undergoes major changes due to the influences of human activities.

NASA study co-author, CSIRO's Dr Pep Canadell, said that the study's 50-year analysis centred on temperature and rainfall patterns during El Nino years, when temperatures increase in tropical regions and rainfall decreases. An accompanying analysis assessed the effects of volcanic eruptions, which lead to decreased temperatures due to volcanic aerosols in the atmosphere.

"Our study indicates that carbon exchanges in tropical ecosystems are extremely sensitive to temperature, and they respond with the release of emissions when warmer temperatures occur".

..."Warming is the one thing that we know with most certainty will occur under climate change in the tropics, but there are still large uncertainties about the future precipitation in tropical regions," says Dr Canadell, who is also Executive Director of the Canberra-based Global Carbon Project....

Amazon deforestation, via NASA

Worse floods ahead for UK as climate warms

Paul Brown in the Guardian (UK): Heavy and prolonged rainfall will cause both more frequent and more severe flooding across the UK and the rest of north-west Europe as the atmosphere continues to warm, say British and American scientists

The study of these "atmospheric rivers", published in Environmental Research Letters, pins the blame for the increasing flood risk firmly on man-made climate change and says the same problem will afflict other parts of the planet.

The researchers describe how atmospheric rivers carry vast amounts of water vapour around the Earth, delivering heavy and prolonged rainfall, particularly to mountainous areas. They were responsible for the protracted winter and summer floods in the UK in 2012, which caused an estimated $1.6 billion (£1 bn) in damage.

In a warming world the atmosphere can carry more water and the research showed that the rivers, typically running a kilometre above the Earth, 300 kilometres wide and thousands of kilometres long, would become larger and capable of delivering even bigger quantities of prolonged rainfall.

An example of their potential danger is the atmospheric river that caused the severe flooding on 19 November 2009 over north-west Britain. As it approached the coast it was transporting a moisture volume 4,500 times the average gauged flow of the river Thames through London....

The Manchester Wheel in the rain, shot by Chris Denny, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Poorly planned hydropower plants linked to North India floods

Nilima Choudhary in Responding to Climate Change: The poor construction and locations of hydropower projects in Uttarakhand appears to have exacerbated the recent flooding and raised questions over India’s planning regulations. Unseasonally heavy rain in June triggered a series of water surges down Himalayan valleys, leading to over 1,000 deaths with thousands more left stranded.

Construction in and around riverbeds has been partially blamed for the level of casualties, as has high levels of deforestation in the region.

But the proliferation of hydropower plants is also a target of local anger. Some say they have eroded riverbanks making them weak and narrow, unable to hold their structure during intense flooding, which experts agree will be a regular occurrence due to the effects of climate change.

It’s a critical issue for India’s government, which faces the twin challenges of generating more electricity and building more resilient communities. Around a quarter of northern India’s installed power generation capacity comes from hydropower.

The floods in Uttarakhand caused severe damage to six hydro power plants of which four were operational with a total installed capacity of 3,426MW along the Ganges and its tributaries, according to the Indian Express...

The Tehri Dam on the Bhagirathi River in the Garhwal Himalayas is the only major dam in the Ganges basin, and one of the largest dams in the world. Shot by Lingaraj, G. J., Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Two Idaho fires rage as summer heat wears on

Tamara Kemsley in Nature World News: Forest fires are once again blazing in the hot, dry West. Only this time, instead of Colorado or Arizona, it's Idaho that's feeling the heat after two fires started over the weekend continue to burn.

One, called the Lodgepole fire, is located roughly 15 miles west of the town Challisa and was discovered around noon on Saturday, at which point local fire resources responded both quickly and effectively, according to NASA. As of Monday, the cause of the fire remained unknown and firefighters continued to work suppressing the flames that had burned some 650 acres.

No injuries have been linked to the fire, though a local campground was forced to shut down because of it.

Making matters difficult for the firefighters was the discovery of a second fire, called the Bradley fire, nearby and just a handful of hours after the Lodgepole fire was first uncovered, forcing firefighters to reallocate resources.

"We had an aggressive initial attack," Paul Sever of the Central Idaho Fire Center told the Associated Press about the Lodgepole fire. "But we moved stuff from there when the Bradley fire broke out."

For this reason, a DC-10 jet fire retardant bomber is currently on loan from Southern California and has made, according to Sever, several successfully drops....

Generic wildfire photo from the US Bureau of Land Management

Cleaner, healthier cities for Nepal's urban population

Asian Development Bank press release: Bharatpur in Chitwan is one municipality in Nepal that is taking steps to improve the urban environment, making the city more climate-resilient in the process. Bharatpur is one of Nepal’s fastest growing municipalities. Engineer Bhoj Kaudel of the city’s planning department sees this trend as an opportunity for his native city to become one of Nepal’s key urban centers.

“If we can develop good services here, why would people need to move to Kathmandu?” he says. Attracting people to live and work in such secondary cities takes pressure off congested Kathmandu, spreading economic development more evenly across the country.

In early 2000, Bharatpur was on the track to unplanned urban sprawl. Migrants were settling on the riverbanks in unsafe and unsanitary conditions. Wastewater from these and other settlements was flowing into the Narayani River, polluting the fresh water flowing down from the Himalayan Mountains. Housing construction was spreading in every direction around the city center, causing the traditional water supply to dry up. Drainage problems in the flood season were getting bad.

These growing pains were the reason that Bharatpur was selected as one of the sites for ADB’s Urban and Environmental Improvement Project, which started in 2005. The project promoted sustainable urban development through better municipal planning and upgrading of infrastructure for clean water supply, drainage, and sanitation.

With ADB’s support the municipality transformed the city’s riverside into a green space with a cement embankment that protects the residential land from erosion and provides steps down to the river’s edge....

Namche Bazaar in Nepal, shot by stevehicks, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Heavy storms mark climax of the UK's longest heatwave for nearly 40 years

Heather Saul in the Independent (UK): A fortnight's rain fell overnight in parts of Britain, bringing a stormy end to the country's longest heatwave in seven years. The thunder, lightning and hail that broke the sunny spells on Monday night will last intermittently throughout Tuesday and Wednesday, coupled with torrential rain and the risk of flash floods, weather experts warned.

Pershore in Worcestershire recorded the highest rainfall last night with more than an inch (25.8mm) falling - half the area's 50mm average total for the whole of July, the Met Office said. Rochdale saw 18.6mm (0.7 inches) in the 12 hours to 7am while Monks Wood in Cambridgeshire recorded 15mm (0.6 inches).

The sunnier climate that provided the nation with weeks of scorching temperatures, peaked yesterday at 33.5C in London - the hottest day since 20 July, 2006. The storms will thunder on over the Midlands as well as across eastern, central, northern and southern parts of England, with the East Midlands, London and Kent experiencing the worst of the weather.

Temperatures will dip to the high 20s and remain humid, but the west of England, Wales and Northern Ireland will be far cooler before the rest of the country gradually follows suit. Britons can even expect more of the large hailstones witnessed in south London as a result of the humidity....

A tree in a storm near East Riding, shot by Andy Beecroft, Wikimedia Commons via Geograph UK, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

New studies examine link between food crops and global warming

RedOrbit: In light of growing concern over the potential impact of climate change on the global agricultural industry, scientists are searching for new ways to help ensure global access to some of the most important food crops.

In one such study, Toshichika Iizumi of the National Institute for Agro-Environmental Sciences in Tsukuba, Japan and an international team of colleagues report they have discovered a way to use climate data to help predict some crop failures several months prior to harvest.

Iizumi’s team found there is a strong association between temperature and soil moisture and the yield of wheat and rice at harvest time in approximately one-third of the world’s cropland. For those two crops, computer models could be used to predict possible failures up to 12 weeks in advance for roughly 20 percent of global cropland, they explain in the latest edition of the journal Nature Climate Change.

“You can estimate ultimate yields according to the climatic condition several months before,” Molly Brown, a research scientist at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s Biospheric Sciences Laboratory and a co-author on the study, said in a statement. “From the spring conditions, the preexisting conditions, the pattern is set.”

...“This is a major step forward in the global effort to make our food crops more resilient to the effects of climate change,” said Andy Jarvis, head of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture’s Decision and Policy Analysis Research Area, which conducted the research. “Crop wild relatives are a potential treasure trove of useful characteristics that scientists can put to good use for making agriculture more resilient and improving the livelihoods of millions of people.”...

Dried millet, shot by Christophe MOUSTIER, Wikimedia Commons. The copyright holder of this file allows anyone to use it for any purpose, provided that the copyright holder is properly attributed. Redistribution, derivative work, commercial use, and all other use is permitted.