Saturday, August 31, 2013

Alaska tundra shows surprising resilience after unprecedented fire

A press release from the University of Alaska at Fairbanks: Despite the size and severity of the massive 2007 Anaktuvuk River fire on Alaska’s North Slope, much of the arctic vegetation has recovered and the tundra is likely to return to its pre-fire condition according to University of Alaska Fairbanks scientist Syndonia “Donie” Bret-Harte and colleagues in a recent scientific paper.

In April 2007, a wall of smoke was visible 23 miles south of the fire at the UAF Institute of Arctic Biology Toolik Field Station where Bret-Harte, co-authors and other scientists had several arctic research projects underway. Tundra fires on the North Slope are historically rare events and, as they watched the smoke, they recognized an important research opportunity was unfolding.

“Most tundra fires are small and go out quickly,” said Bret-Harte, a plant ecologist at IAB. “They are usually ignited by lightning and burn with very light severity, but this was clearly different.”

...In 2008, once funds were secured, Bret-Harte and colleagues began a project assessing the fire. Their results were astounding. The fire, which was caused by a lightning strike, burned 401 square miles, was visible from space and doubled the cumulative area of tundra burned in the Alaska Arctic in the past 50 years. The combustion of tundra plants and soils released 2.1 teragrams, or 2.3 million tons, of carbon into the atmosphere, an amount similar to the carbon stored by tundra biomes worldwide.

...“We wanted to assess whether post-fire plant succession resulted in a mixture of shrubs and sedges similar to what was there before the fire or whether this area could be on a new successional trajectory leading to a different outcome,” said Bret-Harte.

Bret-Harte’s group collected plants and soils from plots along six, 50 meter-long transects in areas that were unburned, moderately burned and severely burned. They collected, measured and catalogued the above- and below-ground parts of vascular plants, such as deciduous and evergreen shrubs, wildflowers and grasses, and non-vascular plants, such as lichens, moss and liverworts.

“We found that vegetation recovery was consistent with what has been observed after other tundra fires, despite the unusual severity and size of this fire,” Bret-Harte said. “Vegetation had not reached pre-fire levels, but had clearly begun to recover.”...

Anaktuvuk Pass, US Fish and Wildlife photo

UN, partners assisting hundreds of thousands affected by floods in Sudan via UN News Centre: The United Nations and its partners in Sudan are providing emergency support hundreds of thousands of people that have been affected by flooding since the start of the month, the world body said today.

According to Government estimates, as many as 530,000 people have been affected by the floods triggered by heavy rains across the country, and at least 74,000 houses have been damaged or destroyed by the rapidly rising waters. The area surrounding the capital, Khartoum, has been hardest hit, with some 180,000 people affected.

Emergency water and sanitation, health items, food and other support is being provided by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), as well as civil society and volunteer organizations, in coordination with Sudanese authorities.

Over 52,000 people have received household items, and water trucks being run by the Khartoum State Water Corporation and the Médecins Sans Frontières are reaching about 110,000 people each day, OCHA said in a news release. While rains at this time of the year are common, they have been heavier than average this year, having a particularly serious impact in 16 out of the 18 states in the country.

The Sudanese health ministry and the World Health Organization (WHO) are also monitoring the situation closely as Government and aid officials have raised concerns that stagnating water in and around the city could lead to outbreaks of water-borne diseases...

This astronaut photograph of Merowe Dam in Sudan illustrates the current extent of the reservoir, which has been filling behind the dam since the final spill gate was closed in 2008.

NASA mission analyzes Saharan dust layer over eastern Atlantic

NASA: One of two of NASA's Global Hawk unmanned aircraft flew over the remnants of Tropical Storm Erin and investigated the Saharan Air Layer in the Eastern Atlantic Ocean on Aug. 20 and 21. The instruments aboard the Global Hawk sampled the environment of ex-Erin and revealed an elevated dust layer overrunning the storm.

"Our goal with this flight was to look at how the Saharan air would move around or into the former storm, but the circulation was so shallow and weak that, according to our instruments, the Saharan air simply moved westward right over what was left of Erin," said Scott A. Braun, HS3 principal investigator and a research meteorologist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

Two Global Hawks are flying as part of HS3, short for NASA's Hurricane and Severe Storm Sentinel mission, this year out of NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility at Wallops Island, Va. Global Hawk aircraft are well-suited for hurricane investigations because they can fly for as long as 28 hours and over-fly hurricanes at altitudes greater than 60,000 feet (18.3 km).

One of the purposes of the HS3 mission is to address the controversial role of the Saharan Air Layer in tropical storm formation and intensification. On its first flight out of Wallops, a Global Hawk obtained data about the SAL using several instruments aboard.

The Cloud Physics Lidar, or CPL, instrument analyzed the SAL and showed an elevated dust layer between about 1.5 and 2.8 miles (2.5 and 4.5 km) overrunning the remnants of Erin. The low-level clouds associated with what was left of Erin were located below 1.2 miles (2 km). The CPL is an airborne lidar system designed specifically for studying clouds and aerosols. CPL will study cloud- and dust-layer boundaries and will provide optical depth or thickness of aerosols and clouds....

This infrared image from NOAA's GOES-East satellite on Aug. 20 shows the Global Hawk crossing the low-level remnants of Erin. Erin's low-level clouds appear as a faint circulation. The green path is the direction the Global Hawk came from. The red line represents the path the aircraft would follow.
Image Credit: NASA/NOAA

Syngenta, Bayer challenge EU bee-saving pesticide ban

Seed Daily via AFP: Swiss agrichemical giant Syngenta and German chemicals group Bayer on Tuesday said they were taking legal action against the European Commission over its suspension of the use of an insecticide it blames for killing bees.

The two companies, which announced their challenges separately, said they were bringing their cases before the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

"We would prefer not to take legal action but have no other choice given our firm belief that the Commission wrongly linked thiamethoxam to the decline in bee health," Syngenta chief operating officer John Atkin said in a statement.

In neighbouring Germany, a spokesman for Bayer said its agrochemical division Bayer CropScience had submitted its legal complaint in the middle of this month and wanted clarity for the sake of future investment.

The European Commission announced in May that it was temporarily banning the use of Syngenta's thiamethoxam, which is also sold under the name Cruiser. The product is used to treat seeds and is applied to the soil or sprayed on bee-attractive plants and cereals...

Bee on a flower, shot by Dinkum, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

New insights on wildfire smoke could improve climate change models

Michigan Tech News: Where there’s wildfire, there’s smoke—a lot of it. And those vast, carbon-laden clouds released by burning biomass can play a significant role in climate change. However, not much is known about the different types of particles in wildfire smoke and how they affect climate. Now two Michigan Technological University researchers have uncovered some of their secrets. In particular, they studied an important component of smoke that has so far been absent from most models of climate change.

A team including Claudio Mazzoleni, an associate professor of physics, PhD student Swarup China and Michigan Tech physics alumnus Kyle Gorkowski of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, along with other LANL scientists, looked at two types of particles captured during the 2011 Las Conchas fire in New Mexico: soot, not unlike that found in diesel exhaust; and tar balls, tiny round blobs that are abundant in biomass smoke and composed largely of carbon and oxygen. Tar balls made up 80 percent of the particles from the Las Conchas fire, but they have not yet been integrated into most climate-change models.

China and Mazzoleni observed the soot and tar balls using a field emission scanning electron microscope at low voltage, which enhanced the contrast between the different particles. Tar balls, they discovered, come in two main types in the electron microscope images: “dark” and “bright.” The dark tar balls are more oxidized, and the two types likely absorb and scatter light differently.

Soot particles are even more diverse. China and Mazzoleni identified four categories of soot, from bare to heavily coated, each with different optical properties. The team also heated tar balls and soot in a special chamber, which baked off their coatings and provided additional insights into their composition and properties.

...So, do tar balls warm or cool the Earth? “We don’t have an answer to that,” Mazzoleni said. “The particles might be warming in and of themselves, but if they don’t let solar radiation come down through the atmosphere, they could cool the surface. They may have strong effects, but at this point, it’s not wise to say what. However, our study does provide modelers new insights on the smoke particle properties, and accounting for these properties in models might provide an answer to that question.”

“The big thing we learned is that we should not forget about tar balls in climate models,” China said, “especially since those models are predicting more and more wildfires.”...

Field emission scanning electron microscopy image of tar balls with an aggregation of soot particles from the Las Conchas fire. Swarup China image

Friday, August 30, 2013

Some evacuations lifted as firefighters in California battle Rim Fire near Yosemite

Ed Payne at CNN: It was a rare bright spot on an otherwise hazy, smoke-filled horizon. As firefighters worked to get a grip on one of the largest wildfires in California's history, an evacuation advisory was lifted Thursday for residents in Tuolumne City, a picturesque community threatened by the blaze.

In a further sign of progress, authorities also withdrew similar advisories for two other northern California communities close to the flames, Soulsbyville and Willow Springs. 

Known as the Rim Fire, the conflagration has charred nearly 200,000 acres, cost the state more than $39 million to date and is threatening 5,500 structures, of which 4,500 are residences. It's the fifth-largest wildfire in California history. On Thursday, it was in its 12th day and it had only been contained 32%, according to Cal Fire. That's a slight improvement from the 30% containment the day before.

Because of the approaching flames, officials have shut down electricity generators, and San Francisco -- more than 120 miles to the west -- is temporarily getting power from elsewhere.

While the Yosemite Conservancy says the Rim Fire has consumed tens of thousands of acres inside Yosemite National Park, it has so far had little or no direct impact on Yosemite Valley, a popular spot for tourists and home to many of the park's iconic attractions, including the El Capitan rock formation. Firefighters hope to keep it that way. Nearly 5,000 people have been assigned to tackling the blaze...

The Rim Fire on August 17, 2013, shot by U.S. Department of Agriculture, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license 

Smartphones could provide weather data in poor nations

Laura Garcia in Smartphones can now be used to collect weather data such as air temperatures through WeatherSignal, a crowdsourcing app developed by UK start-up OpenSignal.   This helps crowdsource real-time weather forecasts and could one day help collect climate data in areas without weather stations, its developers say.

Once installed, the app automatically collects data and periodically uploads them to a server. The app's ability to record air temperature is based upon the discovery that the temperature of a smartphone battery correlates closely to the surrounding air temperature, published in Geophysical Research Letters this month (13 August).

"Lithium ion batteries have temperature sensors to prevent damage caused by attempts to charge them when the battery is too hot," the paper says. But these sensors do not provide a direct air temperature measurement — due to heat being emitted by both the smartphone and its user. So the researchers used a model that estimates the outside temperature based on smartphone readings. The fact that battery temperature correlates with ambient air temperature was discovered by accident, James Robinson, one of the authors of the paper and co-founder of OpenSignal, tells SciDev.Net. 

The team was researching energy consumption in relation to poor mobile network signal, a condition that is known to reduce battery performance. "We started playing with the data and decided to look at average battery temperature versus historic weather temperature, and we found a really strong correlation," says Robinson....

An Ubuntu smartphone (in an attempt not to be outdated), shot by Cartmanland, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license

Brazil Amazon town takes a stand against deforestation

Terra Daily via AFP: When farmer Luiz Martins Neto first moved to Sao Felix do Xingu a quarter of a century ago, the area had virgin forest, gold and a reservation for the local indigenous people. "They used to say it was the best place to live," he said.

But like many others, he created his first fazenda -- coffee plantation -- with slash and burn techniques, helping to destroy his pristine surroundings. "In those days, the more you cleared the forest, the better your life was and the more land you acquired," the 54-year-old said. This was long the prevailing view in Brazil's vast Amazon region, particularly during the 1964-85 military dictatorship.

But, decades later, the town in the northern state of Para is turning its back on the destructive ways of the past and trying to save what it has left.

Today, Neto's farm is part of a model agribusiness project that makes use of deforested land and does not encroach on the remaining forest. "One learns how to do things right," he said, flashing a proud smile under his straw hat.

A new forestry law took effect last October, limiting the use of land for farming and mandating that up to 80 percent of privately-owned acreage in the Amazon rainforest remains intact. More than 60 percent of Brazil's 8.5 million square kilometers (3.3 million square miles) is covered in forest, but two-thirds of it is either privately owned or its ownership is undefined....

Seen from space, fires along the Xingu River, via NASA

Building resilient food systems, adaptation to climate change

The Fish Site: Ecosystem-based adaptation approaches should be mainstreamed and up-scaled to build resilient food systems and adapt to climate change in Africa. This was the declaration made by participants to the first Africa Food Security and Adaptation Conference held on 20-21 August 2013 in the UN offices in Nairobi, Kenya.

Agriculture, including livestock, forestry and fisheries, is by far the sector most affected by climate change. Climate change will impact food security, both directly causing less food availability and indirectly, leading to loss of jobs and livelihoods which in turn would affect the purchasing power of farmers and consumers living in Africa and globally at large.

Climate change adds a new challenge and uncertainties to agricultural and rural development. Many countries in Africa are amongst the most vulnerable in ensuring food security and adapting to ongoing effects and risks of climate changes. For example, 95 per cent of the food in Sub-Saharan Africa is grown under rain fed agriculture, and thus vulnerable to adverse weather conditions.

Speaking for FAO, Modibo Traore, sub-regional coordinator for Eastern Africa (SFE) emphasized the importance of focusing on ecosystem based approaches for food security and adaptation to climate change. "This topic enables us to address the critical nexus between agriculture, food security and climate change in a systemic way."...

Nation House in Nairobi, shot by Rotsee2, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Philippine province to use geographic information systems for forest management

Clarice Africa in FutureGov:   The German Technical Cooperation – Manila, the social development agency in the Philippines on behalf of the German Government, will be conducting capacity building workshop on the use of GIS in forest management.

GIS continues to evolve according to the needs of the users. Since it is capable of handling large amounts of data and create new information about our environment, decision makers can leverage it to arrive at well-informed decisions related to soil and water conservation, wildlife conservation and many others.

The workshop will be given to the Local Government Units located in Easter Samar which include: Guiuan, Llorente, Can-avid and the City of Borongan, which are now being considered as “Eco-towns”. Eastern Samar is one of three provinces on Samar Island, the second largest island in the Visayas, the region between Luzon Island to the north and Mindanao Island to the south....

Thursday, August 29, 2013

East Antarctic Ice Sheet could be more vulnerable to climate change than previously thought

Durham University News: The world’s largest ice sheet could be more vulnerable to the effects of climate change than previously thought, according to new research from Durham University. A team from the Department of Geography used declassified spy satellite imagery to create the first long-term record of changes in the terminus of outlet glaciers – where they meet the sea – along 5,400km of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet’s coastline. The imagery covered almost half a century from 1963 to 2012.

Using measurements from 175 glaciers, the researchers were able to show that the glaciers underwent rapid and synchronised periods of advance and retreat which coincided with cooling and warming. The researchers said this suggested that large parts of the ice sheet, which reaches thicknesses of more than 4km, could be more susceptible to changes in air temperatures and sea-ice than was originally believed.

Current scientific opinion suggests that glaciers in East Antarctica are at less risk from climate change than areas such as Greenland or West Antarctica due to its extremely cold temperatures which can fall below minus 30°C at the coast, and much colder further inland.

But the Durham team said there was now an urgent need to understand the vulnerability of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, which holds the vast majority of the world’s ice and enough to raise global sea levels by over 50m. The findings are published in the prestigious scientific journal Nature.

Dr Chris Stokes, in Durham’s Department of Geography, said: “We know that these large glaciers undergo cycles of advance and retreat that are triggered by large icebergs breaking off at the terminus, but this can happen independently from climate change. “It was a big surprise therefore to see rapid and synchronous changes in advance and retreat, but it made perfect sense when we looked at the climate and sea-ice data....

A 1913 shot of Adelie Land, from the National Library of Australia

Yosemite Rim Fire finally slows in encouraging sign

Mike Rosenberg in the San Jose Mercury News: After the enormous Rim Fire ambushed the area in and around Yosemite National Park over the last week and a half, firefighters are finally starting to get a handle on the blaze and are eyeing full containment within two weeks.

The fire burned about 300 acres an hour on average during the 24-hour span ending Wednesday evening, down from 1,000 acres an hour the day before. It spread 10 times faster, burning more than 3,000 acres an hour, during its peak last week.

About 4,500 firefighters had the largest fire in the nation 30 percent contained, significantly up from 20 percent a day before. Full containment is now expected by Sept. 10. "A lot of that has to do with the fact that the weather is cooperating a lot more with us," said Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant, noting temperatures have cooled and humidity has risen.

Berlant said the constant air drops and bulldozer-dug dirt lines around the perimeter of the fire have paid off. "There's a lot of work that's been done over the past week and a half now to really put this fire to bed," Berlant said. "We are hoping that we've turned the corner."

Also on Wednesday, the California National Guard said it had launched an unmanned aircraft typically used in combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq to fly over the fire. The drone isn't directly fighting the fire, but rather gathering information that firefighters on the ground can use to know where to go....

The Rim Fire approaching the Groveland Ranger Station in the Stanislaus National Forest. Shot by the US Department of Agriculture, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

A study finds that larvae control cuts malaria cases

Nick Kennedy in Targeting mosquito larvae could cut malaria cases by up to 75 per cent in some sites, a review published today has found. The Cochrane review reports that a set of control methods, known collectively as larval source management (LSM), which kill mosquito larvae before they become malaria-carrying adults, could dramatically cut the disease's spread.

In some places, where the environmental conditions are right, this control method could reduce the number of people infected with the parasite by as much as 90 per cent, according to the review.

LSM techniques, which include draining land, adding larvicide to standing water or introducing animals that eat mosquito larvae, could boost malaria control efforts at a particularly challenging time for global malaria control.

"Malaria control is currently faced by various challenges, such as resistance to the main antimalarial drugs and insecticides, and new tools such as LSM are going to be increasingly needed," says lead author Lucy Tusting, a researcher from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, United Kingdom.

Some malaria-endemic countries in Sub-Saharan Africa are already implementing LSM programmes, but there has been a lack of consensus on how effective the method is. Tusting and her team's report is the first large-scale review of the effectiveness of larval source management...

Mosquito larvae, shot by either Fir0002 or Fui in terra aliena (not sure which), Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Subject to disclaimers.

Thirteen dead in Mexico mudslides

Space Daily via AFP: Mudslides crashed through several homes in eastern Mexico on Monday, killing at least 13 people after a tropical storm pelted the state of Veracruz with heavy rains, officials said.

The storm named Fernand weakened to a tropical depression after making landfall just before midnight, unleashing a deluge that flooded streets, homes and businesses in some towns and caused rivers to overflow.

Governor Javier Duarte, who had ordered the closure of schools before the storm came ashore, urged residents to heed any calls for evacuations and said the authorities remained on high alert.

Nine people died in the town of Yecuatla, three more in Tuxpan and one in Atzalan, he said. "They were all caused by mudslides on their homes," Duarte told a news conference....

The track of Tropical Storm Fernand, August 23-26, 2013, created by Cyclonebiskit, public domain

China's arsenic contamination risk is assessed

Rebecca Morelle in the BBC: Nearly 20 million people in China could be exposed to water contaminated with arsenic, a study suggests. Scientists used information about the geology of the country to predict the areas most likely to be affected by the poison.

...Arsenic occurs naturally in the Earth's crust, but if it leaches into groundwater, long-term exposure can cause serious health risks. These include skin problems and cancers of the skin, lungs, bladder and kidney.

Until now, estimating the scale of arsenic contamination in large countries has been difficult. China is thought to have more than 10 million drinking wells, and each needs to be screened to establish whether any toxic compounds are present. This process could take decades.

Instead, researchers from Switzerland and China looked at geological maps of the country. Dr Annette Johnson, from the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (EAWAG) and a co-author of the study, explained: "In the last few years the amount of geospatial information - electronic maps - that's become available is large. You have information such as climate data, land use, and distance to the river or elevation."

Using this information, and by looking at the types of rocks present in the country, and in particular their age, the researchers pinpointed the regions where the toxic element is most likely to be found....

Arsenic from the periodic table, created by Schnee, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

'Seed freedom is the answer to hunger and malnutrition'

Vandana Shiva in the "Health and well-being hub" at the Guardian (UK): What happens to the seed affects the web of life. When seed is living, regenerative and diverse, it feeds pollinators, soil organisms and animals - including humans. When seed is non-renewable, bred for chemicals, or genetically engineered with toxic Bt or Roundup Ready genes, diversity disappears.

In recent years, beekeepers have been losing 25% of their hives each winter. According to a scientific study in 2008, bees and pollinators contribute more than €153bn annually to agriculture. Chemically-farmed soils, sprayed with herbicides and pesticides kill the beneficial organisms that create soil fertility and protect plants.

Organic seeds and organic farming do not just protect human health; they protect the health and wellbeing of all.

With industrial seeds and industrial agriculture, the diversity of plants and crops disappears. India had 200,000 rice varieties before the "green revolution" in the 1970s, which relied on pesticides and fertilisers to avert famine in India. This diversity was replaced by monocultures.

Today the fastest expanse in acreage is of genetically engineered corn and soya, because they are patented and corporations can collect royalties from farmers. When seed freedom disappears and farmers become dependent on GMO seeds, they in effect become seed slaves.

According to the National Bureau of Crime Records, more than 284,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide since seed monopolies were established in India. Gandhi spun cotton for our freedom. Today GMO Bt cotton has enslaved our farmers in debt, and pushed them to suicide. And 95% cotton seed is controlled by one company: Monsanto.

When culture is eroded, biodiversity is eroded. And when control over seeds becomes big business, diversity disappears faster. Diversity is a product of care, connection and cultural pride....

Home-grown seeds of Detroit Dark Red beets (Beta vulgaris), an earthy-tasting, dark red, culinary beet. Shot by Downtowngal, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

US electrical grid on the edge of failure

Jeff Tollefson in Nature: Facebook can lose a few users and remain a perfectly stable network, but where the national grid is concerned simple geography dictates that it is always just a few transmission lines from collapse.

That is according to a mathematical study of spatial networks by physicists in Israel and the United States. Study co-author Shlomo Havlin of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat-Gan, Israel, says that the research builds on earlier work by incorporating a more explicit analysis of how the spatial nature of physical networks affects their fundamental stability. The upshot, published today in Nature Physics, is that spatial networks are necessarily dependent on any number of critical nodes whose failure can lead to abrupt — and unpredictable — collapse1.

The electric grid, which operates as a series of networks that are defined by geography, is a prime example, says Havlin. “Whenever you have such dependencies in the system, failure in one place leads to failure in another place, which cascades into collapse.”

The warning comes ten years after a blackout that crippled parts of the midwest and northeastern United States and parts of Canada. In that case, a series of errors resulted in the loss of three transmission lines in Ohio over the course of about an hour. Once the third line went down, the outage cascaded towards the coast, cutting power to some 50 million people. Havlin says that this outage is an example of the inherent instability his study describes, but others question whether the team’s conclusions can really be extrapolated to the real world.

“I suppose I should be open-minded to new research, but I'm not convinced,” says Jeff Dagle, an electrical engineer at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington, who served on the government task force that investigated the 2003 outage. “The problem is that this doesn’t reflect the physics of how the power grid operates.”...

Transmission pylons at sunset in north Texas, shot by Loadmaster (David R. Tribble), Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Amur flooding breaks records in China

Space Daily via AFP: The Amur River which marks the border between China and Russia has experienced its worst flooding in a century, cutting off roads to some areas, Chinese state media said Monday.

The Amur, which China knows as the Heilong River, has risen since mid-August with some middle and lower sections reaching their highest levels since records began in 1896, the Xinhua news agency said.

On Saturday, one station on the river measured a record high water level of 50.62 metres (167 feet), 1.31 metres more than the previous high in 1984, it said.

Another station registered a high of 43.37 metres, also surpassing a 1984 record, Xinhua said....

Confluence of the Amur River (on the right) and the Ussuri River (on the left), in the center there is a part of the Bolshoy Ussuriysky Island (Khabarovsk Krai, Russia).Shot by Ondřej Žváček, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Torrential rains pour across Laos

Steff Gaulter in Flash floods and heavy monsoon rains have battered Laos, killing at least 20 people. The torrential downpours have also swept away roads and destroyed crops.

116,000 people have now been affected; many have been left without access to clean water. The flooding has been caused by the annual rains, which this year have been intensified by a number of tropical cyclones.

Although the storms themselves have not made landfall in Laos, Typhoon Utor and Tropical Storm Mangkhut have been close enough to intensify the rains and cause widespread flooding. There are fears that there could be more heavy rain across the region in the next few weeks, as the rainy season runs from May till the end of September....

Dead Sea, Red Sea plan raises environmental hackles

Terra Daily via AFP: A plan to link the Red Sea with the shrinking Dead Sea could save it from total evaporation and bring desalinated water to thirsty neighbours Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians. But environmentalists warn that the "Red-Dead" project could have dire consequences, altering the unique chemistry of the landmark inland lake at the lowest point on earth.

Jordanian Prime Minister Abdullah Nsur said on Monday that his government had decided to press ahead with the 980-million dollar project which would give the parched Hashemite kingdom 100 million cubic metres (3.5 billion cubic feet) of water a year.

"The government has approved the project after years of technical, political, economic and geological studies," Nsur told a news conference. Under the plan, Jordan will draw water from the Gulf of Aqaba at the northern end of the Red Sea to the nearby Risheh Height, where a desalination plant is to be built to treat water.

"The desalinated water will go south to (the Jordanian town of) Aqaba, while salt water will be pumped to the Dead Sea," Nsur said. The Dead Sea, the world's saltiest body of water, is on course to dry out by 2050.

It started shrinking in the 1960s when Israel, Jordan and Syria began to divert water from the Jordan River, the Dead Sea's main tributary....

On Israel's shore of the Dead Sea, xta11, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Insight into marine life's ability to adapt to climate change

EurekAlert via the University of Plymouth: A study into marine life around an underwater volcanic vent in the Mediterranean, might hold the key to understanding how some species will be able to survive in increasingly acidic sea water should anthropogenic climate change continue.

Researchers have discovered that some species of polychaete worms are able to modify their metabolic rates to better cope with and thrive in waters high in carbon dioxide (CO2), which is otherwise poisonous to other, often closely-related species. The study sheds new light on the robustness of some marine species and the relative resilience of marine biodiversity should atmospheric CO2 continue to cause ocean acidification.

A team of scientists led by Plymouth University, and including colleagues from the Naples Zoological Station in Ischia; the Marine Ecology Laboratory ENEA in La Spezia, Italy; the University of Texas Galveston; and the University of Hull, conducted a three-year research project into the potential mechanisms that species of worm polychaetes use to live around the underwater CO2 vent of Ischia in Southern Italy.

...They monitored the responses of the worms and found that one of the species that had been living inside the CO2 vent was physiologically and genetically adapted to the acidic conditions, whilst another was able to survive inside the vent by adjusting its metabolism.

...The results revealed that species normally found inside the CO2 vent were better able to regulate their metabolic rate when exposed to high CO2 conditions, whilst species only found outside the CO2 vent were clearly impaired by acidic waters. In fact, their metabolism either greatly decreased, indicating reduced energy production, or greatly increased, indicating a surge in the basic cost of living, in both cases making life inside the vent unsustainable.

Dr Maria-Cristina Gambi, of the Naples Zoological Station in Ischia, explained: "Despite some species showing the ability to metabolically adapt and adjust to the extreme conditions that are found inside the CO2 vents, others appear unable to physiologically cope with such conditions. In this sense, our findings could help to explain mass extinctions of the past, and potential extinctions in the future, as well as shed light on the resilience of some species to on-going ocean acidification."...

Sully Vent in the Main Endeavour Vent Field of the northeastern Pacific Ocean. Shot by NOAA, public domain

Yosemite Rim Fire 13th largest in California history, 20 percent contained

NBC (Bay Area): After battling the Rim Fire raging on the outskirts of Yosemite National Park for the last nine days, state and federal fire crews on Monday had contained 20 percent of the wildfire - now the size of Chicago. That is more than double the containment from the day before, and much more than the 2 percent containment for most of the fire reported on Aug. 17 in the heart of the Stanislaus National Forest.

Still, 4,500 structures and San Francisco's water and power supply remained threatened by the Rim Fire, California's 13th largest in history. The total number of acres burned stood at nearly 170,000 on Monday evening.

"Firefighters have a real challenge on their hands," Gov. Jerry Brown said after touring the charred landscape in the afternoon. "This is one of the worst." He said he's make sure the "resources" in terms of "funding and talent" would be made available to continue fighting the Rim Fire, and he thanked everyone battle the blaze - and breathing the noxious air. Without being too specific, he assured the crowd that "California has the money" to fight the fire.

To date, 23 structures burned in the fire, including a popular Bay Area camp - Berkeley Tuolumne Family Camp - an institution for Bay Area families since 1922, which was totally destroyed sometime on Sunday....

The Rim Fire on August 17, 2013, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Floods test Nigeria’s preparedness

IRIN: Heavy rains have unleashed floods in parts of Nigeria, testing the country’s emergency preparedness one year after its worst flooding in decades. Some 35,000 people have been affected, most of them in five states, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). The 2012 floods affected around 7 million people.

According to Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Authority (NEMA), this year’s floods have displaced some 600 people and caused one fatality in the northern Kano State, and about 20 bodies were unearthed at a cemetery in the state’s Yan Kaba area. In Katsina State, also in the north, 55 farms were inundated by heavy rains.

NEMA spokesman Ibrahim Farinloye said early warning and rapid relocation of communities helped prevent greater loss of lives.

Forty communities in flood-prone areas in southeastern Benue State have been relocated by authorities, who have also urged people in other vulnerable areas to move. Farinloye said the Borno, Adamawa and Taraba states in the northeast were flashpoints.

“We have been able to contain any adverse humanitarian effects. All the affected states have been able to respond adequately. So far the response has been positive, but we cannot say we have a perfect system,” Farinloye told IRIN....

Plantations in Africa's deserts could help capture carbon

Nehal Lasheen and Imogen Mathers in Planting trees in coastal deserts could capture carbon dioxide, reduce harsh desert temperatures, boost rainfall, revitalise soils and produce cheap biofuels, say scientists.

Large-scale plantations of the hardy jatropha tree, Jatropha curcas, could help sequester carbon dioxide through a process known as 'carbon farming', according to a study based on data gathered in Mexico and Oman that was published in Earth System Dynamics last month (31 July).

Each hectare of the tree could soak up 17-25 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, they say, at a cost of 42-63 euros (about US$56-84) per tonne of gas, the paper says. This makes the technique competitive with high-tech carbon capture and storage.

Klaus Becker, the study's lead author and director of carbon sequestration consultancy Atmosphere Protect, says that a jatropha plantation covering just three per cent of the Arabian Desert could absorb all the carbon dioxide produced by cars in Germany over two decades.

"Our models show that, because of plantations, average desert temperatures go down by 1.1 degree Celsius, which is a lot," Becker says. He adds that the plantations would also induce rainfall in desert areas...

Jatropha planted in Senegal, shot by Trees ForTheFuture, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Dengue fever epidemic sparks public health emergency in Central America

Thomas Diego Badia in the Guardian (UK): A dengue epidemic is raging in Central America, from Honduras to Costa Rica. The virus has already claimed 60 lives, with a total of 120,000 cases. The Pan American Health Organisation fears the figures may "explode", with this year looking "unusually bad".

Several factors are likely to exacerbate the situation. The rainy season, which starts in June in that part of the world, is set to continue until November. With heavy rainfall and torrid heat, conditions are particularly favourable for proliferation of the main vector of dengue fever, the Aedes aegypti mosquito, whose eggs hatch on the surface of ponds.

With the rising number of new cases, Honduras, El Salvador and Costa Rica announced a health emergency in July and launched campaigns to prevent the disease from spreading. Lacking adequate resources, Honduras, which has been hardest hit with at least 17 fatalities and 20,000 cases reported, appealed to the International Red Cross for help.

"The $169,000 in aid provided by the disaster relief emergency fund enables us to distribute mosquito nets in high-risk areas, promote hygiene and combat vectors, in order to halt mosquito reproduction," says Amanda McClelland, a Red Cross co-ordinator.

The poor suburbs of Central American capitals are the main targets for campaigns to raise public awareness. Poor housing, the lack of a mains water supply and the accumulation of household waste make such neighbourhoods an ideal breeding ground for mosquitoes. The authorities have dispatched paramedics, police and the military to remote villages in order to stamp out the epidemic in the areas most at risk....

A TEM micrograph showing Dengue virus virions (the cluster of dark dots near the center).

Monday, August 26, 2013

Poor and disabled when disaster strikes

Lucy Westcott in IPS: Upon first glance, the emergency checklist distributed in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake looks like any other. Organised into key categories like water, sanitation and hygiene, and psychosocial support, the information is typical of the kind circulated for emergency response.

But after a closer read, with recommendations for latrines to be built with a 90cm diameter so a wheelchair can turn around, and 80-cm-wide doors for wheelchair or crutch-users to pass through comfortably, it is clear that the checklist, distributed by Handicap International, was intended for persons with disabilities living in the disaster-ravaged country.

Natural disasters are common in many developing countries across the globe, and organisations like Handicap International are helping communities plan better for their disabled populations. There are between 2.9 and 4.2 million persons with disabilities among the world’s 42 million forcibly displaced population, according to data from the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

For many people living with disabilities in developing countries, social stigma and cultural barriers prevent community cohesion, which is essential for emergency planning and preparedness, Annie Lafrenière, social inclusion and technical adviser at Handicap International, told IPS. “People won’t speak about social barriers… they’ll talk about ramps [instead],” Lafrenière said. “[People with disabilities] are not considered the same as everyone else.”

Developing countries are vulnerable and at a higher risk of disasters because they are less prepared and equipped to deal with them, and not necessarily because they are more exposed to hazards, Lafrenière says. Persons with disabilities are often invisible to relief activities and unable to reach food or water checkpoints due to destroyed roads or non-accessible transportation....

Floods affect 500,000 in Sudan via Radio Dabanga: The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) announced in its latest report on Friday that 500,000 people have been affected by floods in Sudan so far. The figure was provided by Sudan's Humanitarian Aid Commission (HAC).

HAC estimates that a total of 106,000 families (about 530,000 people) in 16 States across Sudan (plus Abyei) have been "affected", the report reads. "The number of flood-affected people across Sudan has gradually increased due to continuous rains in some areas and new information being made available ... [HAC estimates] that 74,000 houses were either totally destroyed or damaged by the floods."

These are, however, initial estimates and the figures will be confirmed as more detailed assessments take place, it was stated.

"Following an initial lack of clarity over who was responsible within the Government for coordinating the floods response with international organisations, on 18 August HAC activated a Floods Task Force. HAC called on designated agencies to participate in the Task Force, which will meet daily until further notice and report to the Government's High Council for Civil Defence," OCHA says.

The OCHA bulletin states that Khartoum is the hardest hit state in the country, with HAC figures indicating that an estimated 36,000 houses were either totally destroyed or damaged by the floods....

The Nile at Khartoum, shot by WT-shared) Tiagox2, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Floods affect 1.5 million in Pakistan

Arab News via AFP: Floods and heavy monsoon rains have now killed 178 people and affected 1.5 million across Pakistan in the last three weeks, disaster management officials said Sunday in updated figures. “At least 178 people have died and 1,503,492 others affected by recent monsoon rains and floods across Pakistan,” a senior National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) official told AFP.

He said that the rains had wounded 855 people, affected 5,615 villages and destroyed 20,312 houses all over the country. On Wednesday the figures stood at nearly one million people affected and 139 dead.

Nearly 350 relief camps have been set up to help people, mostly in the central province of Punjab, the southern province of Sindh and the southwestern province of Baluchistan, the official said. Further heavy monsoon rains are expected in Pakistan next month, but the NDMA is fully prepared, he said. Pakistan, which has suffered from monsoon floods for the last three years, has been criticized for not doing more to mitigate against the dangers posed by seasonal rains washing away homes and farmland.

Streets in all major cities including Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad suffer intermittent flooding due to downpours, damaging roads and homes....

From the December 2010 floods in Pakistan, shot by DFID - UK Department for International Development, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Japan seeds clouds to boost Tokyo rain

Terra Daily via AFP: Japanese scientists have fired cloud seeding equipment to help top up reservoirs serving the 35 million people of greater Tokyo, officials said Friday, amid a sweltering summer dry spell.

Months of below normal rainfall and soaring temperatures have left supplies around 60 percent of the average for the time of year, sparking calls to economise on water in the heaving Japanese capital.

Using a piece of equipment nearly half a century old, the Bureau of Waterworks sent a plume of silver iodide up through a chimney over an area outside of Tokyo, an official told AFP.

Around 17.5 millimetres (two thirds of an inch) of rain was recorded over the following two hours, the Asahi Shimbun reported.

"It's difficult to judge whether the machine was direct cause of the rain, but we'd like to think that the run was effective," the official said....

Tokyo's skyline, shot by by Ningyou, public domain

Rim fire: Small gains reported in Day 10 of blaze near Yosemite

Diana Marcum and Samantha Schaefer in the Los Angeles Times: The Rim fire, which continues to scorch the Stanislaus National Forest near Yosemite National Park, is now 15% contained, officials reported Monday.

The fire, which according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has burned 149,780 acres, had been just 7% contained Sunday night as thousands of firefighters worked to divert the blaze away from entire communities.

Over the weekend near Tuolumne City, firefighters dug trenches, cleared brush, laid heavy water hoses and started backfires to try to divert the blaze around the town, as they had earlier in Groveland.

Nine structures have been destroyed so far, and thousands more are threatened, including 1,600 homes in Tuolumne City at the northwestern edge of the fire, officials said. Tuolumne City and Ponderosa Hills, home to about 2,000 people, were under voluntary evacuation orders. Parts of Groveland were evacuated Friday.

At more than 230 square miles, the Rim fire is one of the largest in California’s history. The fight to slow its pace is now in its 10th day....

California Army National Guard’s 1–140th Aviation Battalion at the Rim Fire near Yosemite, Aug. 22, 2013. Photo by Master Sgt. Julie Avey, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Sunday, August 25, 2013

How dry is it?

Rising levels of acids in seas may endanger marine life

Fiona Harvey in the Guardian (UK): Rapidly rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are causing a potential catastrophe in our oceans as they become more acidic, scientists have warned. Hans Poertner, professor of marine biology at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany, and co-author of a new study of the phenomenon, told the Guardian: "The current rate of change is likely to be more than 10 times faster than it has been in any of the evolutionary crises in the earth's history."

Seawater is naturally slightly alkaline, but as oceans absorb CO2 from the air, their pH level falls gradually. Under the rapid escalation of greenhouse gas emissions, ocean acidification is gathering pace and many forms of marine life – especially species that build calcium-based shells – are under threat.

Poertner said that if emissions continue to rise at "business as usual" rates, this would be potentially catastrophic for some species. Acidification is just one of a broader range of the problems facing the oceans and the combination of different effects is increasing the threat. Poertner said: "We are already seeing warm water coral reefs on a downslide due to a combination of various stressors, including [rising] temperature. Ocean acidification is still early in the process [but] it will exacerbate these effects as it develops and we will see more calcifying species suffering."

However, the process of acidification takes decades and the worst effects on some species could still be avoided if emissions are urgently reduced. "The ocean is changing already, mostly due to temperature – acidification will exacerbate those effects," Poertner said.

Evidence from prehistoric ocean life provides a comparison. "The [effects observed] among invertebrates resembles those seen during the Permian Triassic extinctions 250m years ago, when carbon dioxide was also involved. The carbon dioxide range at which we see this sensitivity [to acidification] kicking in are the ones expected for the later part of this century and beyond."...

Crustacean wagon in Morgan's Slough. I believe it'!  Shot by Mette Batterton, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

From an Australian town, a call to remove sea-level rise notices

Damon Cronshaw in the Newcastle Herald (Australia) reports on a refrain that we'll be hearing ever more loudly from coastal dwellers: More than 250 residents have demanded the removal of Lake Macquarie City Council’s controversial sea level rise and flooding maps and notations, amid concern they threaten $4billion worth of private property.

The call comes from accusations that the council is showing disregard to the effects its flood policies are having on people’s lives and hip-pockets, but the council maintains it is acting prudently. Cr Jason Pauling will table at a council meeting today a call from the residents for the ‘‘immediate withdrawal’’ of the notations and maps.

Cr Pauling will ask council officials to explain the consequences of removing the notations, which the council placed on section 149 planning certificates of 10,000 properties in 2009. ‘‘The response has been too hard, too early,’’ Cr Pauling said, of the council’s sea level rise measures.

A council statement said it was ‘‘obliged by law to note on property certificates known risks relating to property’’. ‘‘Council has a duty of care to record development controls related to these risks on the section 149(2) certificate,’’ the statement said.

Coastal Residents president Len Gibbons said the council had ‘‘failed in its duty of care to act in the best interests of all Lake Macquarie residents’’. Mr Gibbons alleged the council had ‘‘completely disregarded the well-being of residents and ratepayers’’.

He said the notations had been ‘‘encoded with flood information that includes the most extreme sea level rise projections of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’’. He said this was ‘‘incomprehensible and highly damaging to communities’’....

Boating at Lake Macquarie in New South Wales in 1928, from Photographic Collection, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Nigerian state government relocates village over flood

Yusha'u A. Ibrahim in the via the Daily Trust (Nigeria):  The Katsina State government has relocated Tudun Yan-Tuluna village in Charanchi Local Government Area of the state to save the people from flood.

Caretaker chairman of Charanchi Local Government Area, Alhaji Yahaya Galadima, said over 500 people in the area have been relocated to a new settlement named after the state governor, Alhaji Ibrahim Shema. He said the settlement is known as "Sabon Garin Shema".

Galadima, who was in the area to pay compensation to the people whose farmlands were acquired for the relocation exercise, said people of Yan Tuluna village lost all their 78 houses to flood which occurred in the area two weeks ago.

He said though no life was lost and nobody was injured by the disaster, the people lost foodstuff, livestock and household items worth millions of naira.

He said after the incident, the local government relocated the people to a temporary camp in Kartaka Primary School and was providing food, water and medication for them before they were finally relocated to a permanent settlement in Sabon-Garin Shema....

Locator map of Katsina in Nigeria, by PhilFree, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

The potential for successful climate predictions

GEOMAR, the Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research-Kiel: Will there be rather warm or cold winters in Germany in the coming years? We may have a long way to go before reliable forecasts of this kind can be achieved. However, marine scientists, under the auspices of the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, recently managed to successfully hindcast climate shifts in the Pacific. These shifts also have a profound effect on the average global surface air temperature of the Earth. The most recent shift in the 1990s is one of the reasons that the Earth's temperature has not risen further since 1998. The study, published in the online edition of Journal of Climate, shows the potential for long-term climate predictions.

What happened in the years 1976/77 and 1998/99 in the Pacific was so unusual that scientists spoke of abrupt climate changes. They referred to a sudden warming of the tropical Pacific in the mid-1970s and rapid cooling in the late 1990s. Both events turned the world's climate topsy-turvy and are clearly reflected in the average temperature of the Earth. Today we know that the cause is the interaction between ocean and atmosphere. Is it possible to successfully predict such climate shifts? This is the question that scientists, under the auspices of the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, pursued. Using a coupled model of the ocean and the atmosphere, they were able to successfully replicate these events.

"The ocean plays a crucial role in our climate system, especially when it comes to fluctuations over several years or decades," explains Prof. Mojib Latif, co-author of the study. "The chances of correctly predicting such variations are much better than the weather for the next few weeks, because the climate is far less chaotic than the rapidly changing weather conditions," said Latif. This is due to the slow changes in ocean currents which affect climate parameters such as air temperature and precipitation. "The fluctuations of the currents bring order to the weather chaos".

The researchers used a climate model, a so-called coupled ocean-atmosphere model, which they forced with the observed wind data of the last decades. For the abrupt changes during the 1970s and 1990s they calculated predictions which began a few months prior to the beginning of the observed climate shifts. The average of all predictions for both abrupt changes shows good agreement with the observed climate development in the Pacific. "The winds change the ocean currents which in turn affect the climate. In our study, we were able to identify and realistically reproduce the key processes for the two abrupt climate shifts," says Prof. Latif. "We have taken a major step forward in terms of short-term climate forecasting, especially with regard to the development of global warming. However, we are still miles away from any reliable answers to the question whether the coming winter in Germany will be rather warm or cold”. Prof. Latif cautions against too much optimism regarding short-term regional climate predictions: “Since the reliability of those predictions is still at about 50%, you might as well flip a coin."

Observed and predicted temperature changes in the Pacific during the 90ies. Graphics: C. Kersten, GEOMAR.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Sea ice decline spurs the greening of the Arctic

A press release from the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska: Sea ice decline and warming trends are changing the vegetation in nearby arctic coastal areas, according to two University of Alaska Fairbanks scientists. Uma Bhatt, an associate professor with UAF’s Geophysical Institute, and Skip Walker, a professor at UAF’s Institute of Arctic Biology, contributed to a recent review of research on the response of plants, marine life and animals to declining sea ice in the Arctic.

“Our thought was to see if sea ice decline contributed to greening of the tundra along the coastal areas,” Bhatt said. “It’s a relatively new idea.” The review appeared in a recent issue of Science magazine. It is a close, comprehensive look at how the losses of northern sea ice affect surrounding areas. Bhatt and Walker were two of ten authors.

The review team analyzed 10 years worth of data and research on the subject. The findings show that sea ice loss is changing marine and terrestrial food chains. Sea-ice disappearance means a loss of sea-ice algae, the underpinning of the marine food web. Larger plankton is thriving, replacing smaller, but more nutrient dense plankton. What that means exactly is not yet understood.

Above water, loss of sea ice has destroyed old pathways of animal migration across sea ice while opening new pathways for marine animals in others. Some animals and plants will become more isolated. In the case of the farthest north and coldest parts of the Arctic, entire biomes may be lost without the cooling effects of disappearing summer sea ice.

Walker, a plant biologist, says warming soils provide an opportunity for new vegetation to grow where less vegetation occurred previously. This contributes to a general greening of the Arctic that is visible from space. Bhatt, an atmospheric scientist, examined a 1982-2010 time series of remote sensing data to examine trends in sea ice, land-surface temperatures and changes in the vegetation abundance....

Barrier islands and lagoons at Cape Espengerg, in Kotzebue Sound. A US Fish and Wildlife photo

Over 50 shanties washed away in a flooding disaster at Kroo Bay in Sierra Leone

Memunatu Bangura in via the Concord Times (Freetown): As Freetown residents continue to battle with the monsoon, slum dwellers are coming worse off in the desperate human efforts to cope. Heavy rains on Wednesday swept away over fifty (50) homes, predominantly makeshift homes constructed with corrugated zinc (pan-bodies), and property worth millions of Leones at Kroo Bay community, just the back of the Prince of Wales Secondary School at Kingtom.

A victim, Salamatu Bangura, narrated that she woke up around 6:30amthat fateful day to a flooded room. She was however able to rescue her children but not quite successful in her bid to protect her property, as everything was swept away by water. "Since I have been living here for the past three years, we have not seen this type of flood and our important belongings are gone," Salamatu lamented.

According to Sinneh Kallon, he was woken up by the sound of the flood water which had taken over the house and completely destroyed his shelter.

Kallon, who has been staying in the Kroo Bay community for more than six years, complained that life has not been pretty good for them in the environment, but was quick to say that they have no alternative shelter in the city, as rents charged for houses are very high....

A street in Freetown, shot by Radamanth, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Argentine dam deal awarded to Chinese, domestic firms

Space Daily via AFP: The construction of two hydroelectric dams in Argentina's Patagonia region has been awarded to a consortium of domestic and Chinese companies, President Cristina Kirchner announced Wednesday.

Local Electroingenieria e Hidrocuyo and China-based Gezhouba Group Company Limited secured the deal, Kirchner said. Those losing out include Alstom (France)- Odebrecht (Brazil), Isolux (Spain), Sinohydro (China) and Hyundai (South Korea).

The dams, to be built on the Santa Cruz river, will have a production capacity of 1.740 megawatts, or 4.7 percent of national electric production.

Kirchner said the new construction would mean that the Santa Cruz river would have the second largest dam after Yacyreta, a dam located on the Parana river and jointly administered by Argentina and Paraguay. Argentina relies heavily on the Yacyreta dam, which covers 22 percent of the country's electricity needs....

A bridge over the Santa Cruz River at Comandante Luis Piedra Buena, Argentina.  Shot by James Cadwell, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 1.0 Generic license

Fast-moving wildfire near Yosemite threatens power in San Francisco

Laila Kearney in Reuters: A wildfire raging at the edge of Yosemite National Park is threatening power lines that provide electricity to San Francisco, prompting California Governor Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency. The fire has damaged the electrical infrastructure serving the city, and forced the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission to shut down power lines, the governor said in his declaration.

There were no reports of blackouts in the city, which is about 200 miles west of the park. The wildfire swept further into Yosemite National Park on Friday, remaining largely unchecked as it threatened one of the country's major tourist destinations.

The so-called Rim Fire, which started last week in the Stanislaus National Forest, had blackened 11,000 acres at the northeastern corner of Yosemite as of Friday afternoon after exploding in size overnight, park spokeswoman Kari Cobb said.

The blaze burning in the western Sierra Nevada Mountains is now the fastest-moving of 50 large wildfires raging across the drought-parched U.S. West that have strained resources and prompted fire managers to open talks with Pentagon commanders and Canadian officials about possible reinforcements....

A 2008 controlled burn in Yosemite National Park, shot by Rennett Stowe, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

What’s making the floods worse in Manila?

The Business Mirror (Philippines): Lashed each year by typhoons and stuck with outdated drainage systems, the Philippine capital has been hit by ever-worsening floods. Population growth, inadequate infrastructure, corruption, deforestation and even trash buildup combine to exacerbate the impact.

It’s a trend experts expect to continue. Here’s why: Manila is located in a catch basin sandwiched between Manila Bay and Laguna Lake to the southeast. The city was built on waterways, canals and creeks that have, for centuries, channeled floodwaters into the sea.

But half the 40 kilometers of narrow waterways and canals that would drain rainwater—constructed and modified during the Spanish colonial period—have been lost, cemented or paved over, said architect and urban planner Paulo Alcazaren.

Many of the remaining ones are clogged with garbage and ill-maintained, teeming with squatter colonies occupying riverbanks and coastal areas.

Much of Manila, once known as the “Pearl of the Orient,” was lost in heavy bombardment at the end of World War II. The haphazard, poorly planned urban reconstruction, coupled with the tenfold jump in population to nearly 12 million today, has severely strained the city’s ability to cope with flooding.

The capital’s flood-control system is outdated, incomplete and poorly designed, said Felino Palafox Jr., another urban architect who has closely studied flooding in Manila....

The Manila skyline, shot by airforcefe, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Friday, August 23, 2013

Sudan's worst floods for 25 years leave 500,000 facing destruction and disease

Mark Tran in the "globaldevelopment" blog in Guardian (UK): Forty-eight people have been killed and more than 500,000 affected by the worst floods in Sudan in quarter of a century. The region around the capital, Khartoum, was particularly badly hit, with at least 15,000 homes destroyed and thousands of others damaged. Across Sudan, at least 25,000 homes are no longer habitable. A UN official described the situation as a disaster.

The flooding, caused by continuous rains, has damaged public buildings, including schools, clinics, offices, shops, markets and water and sanitation facilities. Roads have been inundated, disrupting transport.

One of the major health worries is the collapse of more than 53,000 latrines; the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned of an increase in malaria cases in the past two weeks....

From NASA in 2005, a satellite image of Khartoum. The cities Omdurman (left), Bahri (top right) and Khartoum (bottom right) divided through the Nile river.

New York City's poor targeted by silent killer: heat

Thomson Reuters Foundation: In the East New York neighborhood of New York City’s Brooklyn, a new danger is poised to increase stress on the area’s disadvantaged population. That threat - nothing to do with the well-publicized problems of drugs, gangs or guns - is heat stroke, experts say.

“When it’s hot out, it gets really busy in here,” said Alexandra Grainger, an emergency room nurse at New York Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan, whose service area includes the low-income neighborhoods of East Harlem and Roosevelt Island, as well as Yorkville which has many older people.

“It’s sad because most of the people are either elderly and don't know how to deal with the heat, or are less fortunate and cannot afford an air conditioner. It's a silent killer because the warning signs aren’t obvious and most don’t realize they are sick until it’s too late,” the nurse added.

That goes for the most vulnerable residents of Brooklyn, where housing projects abut liquor stores, and children play against a backdrop of boarded-up shops, overgrown lots and drug deals.

The unemployment rates in the Brooklyn neighborhoods of East New York and Brownsville are the highest in the city, standing at around 20 percent, and a little over half of residents receive some form of social support. In the summer, air conditioning for many is limited to an open fire hydrant.

“Research has shown that poverty-stricken areas in New York City see a greater increase in morbidity than other areas during a heat wave,” said Pat Kinney, a researcher with the Consortium for Climate Risk in the Urban Northeast (CCRUN), part of the Earth Institute at New York City’s Columbia University....

A 1942 shot of the Kosciusko public swimming pool in Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn