Monday, September 30, 2013

Coastal homeowners in for insurance shock

Sarah Watson in the Press of Atlantic City (New Jersey): More than one-third of New Jersey flood insurance policyholders, including many still recovering from Hurricane Sandy, will be affected by sweeping changes to the federal flood insurance program to take effect Tuesday.

While primary homeowner policies will not be affected immediately, policies for second homes, houses that have been repeatedly flooded and businesses will see sharp rate increases, potentially exceeding $10,000 per year.

The changes will affect flood insurance policyholders across the country, but policyholders in New Jersey will feel a disproportionate effect compared to the rest of the country, according to an analysis of Federal Emergency Management Agency data by The Press of Atlantic City. And flood insurance policyholders in South Jersey appear to face the most effects from the coming changes, the analysis shows.

More than 1,600 primary homeowners in Atlantic City and more than 1,000 in Little Egg Harbor Township will be affected. Of the 10 towns in New Jersey with the most affected primary homeowners, seven are in South Jersey. Of the 10 towns with the most secondary homeowners affected, nine are in South Jersey.

Florida ranks first in the nation for the overall number of policies affected — 268,000, or 13 percent. New Jersey ranks second, and its 88,000 policies affected by the changes represent 37 percent of all flood insurance policies in the state, the analysis shows.

Of those 88,000 policies in New Jersey, 17,000 affected by the changes belong to second homeowners, while more than 42,000 belong to primary homeowners, according to FEMA data. Nearly 5,000 of the affected policies belong to businesses, and more than 22,000 are for apartment and condominium buildings, for which new flood insurance rate changes have yet to be determined...

A house in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey wrecked by a tree falling during Hurricane Sandy, shot by Tomwsulcer, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

Nigeria's disaster agency sensitizes riverine areas on flood

Usman A. Bello in via the Daily Trust (Nigeria): The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) has sensitized flood vulnerable communities in Kogi State on flood risks to reduce impact when it occur.

Speaking at the one day sensitization workshop, Coordinator of NEMA Abuja operating office, Ishaya Isah Chonoko said the need for sustained awareness across diverse interest groups in vulnerable communities informed the sensitization.

Chonoko who was represented by Slaku Lugard said the vulnerable communities needed to be aware of the risks they face and the steps they can take to reduce the risks.

Chonoko said the agency realized that when flooding occur, the affected people often use schools as camps which necessitated the provision of tents by NEMA for those that would be displaced especially Ibaji local government.

According to him, all actions to minimize the impact of flood hingeed on awareness by stakeholders and communities while ignorance of it encourages occupation of flood plain and abuse of town planning as well as failure to heed the warning of by relevant agencies to evacuate, thereby endangering lives...

Typhoon leaves 74 missing in China as Thailand, Vietnam brace for floods

Reuters: Seventy-four Chinese fishermen were missing on Monday after a typhoon sunk three fishing boats in the South China Sea as Thailand and Vietnam braced for torrential rain and flooding.

The ships were hit by Typhoon Wutip on Sunday as they navigated gales near the Paracel Islands, about 330 km from China's island province of Hainan, state news agency Xinhua said, citing sources with the Hainan maritime search and rescue center.

Rescuers had rescued 14 survivors, the sources said. The boats were sailing from the southern province of Guangdong.

Rains from the storm are expected to reach Vietnam on Monday before hitting Thailand on Tuesday.

Thai officials warned that more heavy rains could inundate already flood-hit areas of the northeast. At least 22 people have been killed in this year's flooding....

Typhoon Wutip on September 30, 2013, from NASA

Scientists turn data into disease detective to predict dengue fever and malaria outbreaks

Medical Xpress: Scientists from IBM are collaborating with Johns Hopkins University and University of California, San Francisco to combat illness and infectious diseases in real-time with smarter data tools for public health. The focus is to help contain global outbreaks of dengue fever and malaria by applying the latest analytic models, computing technology and mathematical skills on an open-source framework.

Vector-borne diseases, like malaria and dengue fever, are infections transmitted to humans and other animals by blood-feeding insects, such as mosquitoes, ticks and fleas.

Once thought to be limited geographically to the tropics or developing countries, they continue to show up all over the world and are among the most complex and dangerous infectious diseases to prevent and control. The rise of global transportation, trade and climate change allows insects to easily carry disease organisms across borders, infecting animals as well as humans. Dengue fever, for example, has spread to over 100 countries, including the United States, and malaria is responsible for over one million annual deaths. Finding and implementing new, innovative methods of predicting outbreaks is key to saving lives.

Epidemiologists rely on disease and vaccine simulations to determine the spread of global infection. Until recently, these models were hosted on closed systems and took years to produce due to inefficient data collection and lack of computing power. This approach to model development makes it too slow to respond on a timescale relevant to unexpected pandemics as large populations can be crippled by never before seen viruses or illnesses in a matter of days or weeks. Scientists need to understand not only the dynamics of the disease itself, but also the spread of insect vectors and contributing environmental factors....

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

Coping with volatile weather in Laos

IRIN: The frequent but low-impact disasters in Laos, home to just 6.1 million inhabitants, are seldom in the limelight compared with neighbouring flood-prone Thailand to the west, cyclone-hit Myanmar in the northwest, and earthquake-susceptible China to the north.

In the past five years, floods swept through 65 of Thailand’s provinces in 2011, affecting 14 million people; Cyclone Nargis left 138,300 either dead or missing in Myanmar in 2008; and China’s 2008 Sichuan earthquake killed 34,000. 

The disasters in Laos appear puny in comparison, but increasingly volatile weather conditions are taking a toll on the 80 percent of the population who do not live in the capital, Vientiane, and depend on natural resources for survival. They are dispersed across three widely diverse geographical environments in the North, Central, and Southern regions, which range from forested mountains to low-lying alluvial plains.

“The climate diversity between the north, central and southern regions of Laos means that communities in each area face different risks associated with climate instability, with a uniform consequence on food production,” Edward Allen, a technical adviser and climatological dynamics expert for Southeast Asia at the Laos Institute for Renewable Energy (LIRE), a Vientiane-based non-profit research organization, told IRIN.... 

A child and ox plowing in Laos, shot by Paulrudd, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Saturday, September 28, 2013

After the floods in Colorado, a deluge of worry about leaking oil

Jack Healy in the New York Times: When floodwaters surged into Colorado’s drilling center, they swamped wells, broke pipes and swept huge oil tanks off their foundations. The state has counted a dozen “notable” spills stemming from the catastrophic floods this month.

 Now, as the waters drain east and regulators move to assess the environmental toll, the sight of drowning oil wells has inflamed the emotional debate over the West’s new resource rush. It is a familiar argument here in a state where oil wells dot farmers’ fields and ragged peaks still bear the scars of century-old gold and silver mines.

 There are about 20,000 oil and gas wells across Weld County, and about 1,900 of them had to be closed off — “shut in” in industry parlance — as the floodwaters coursed down from the mountains and spread out across the plains, inundating entire communities.

 Images of toppled oil tanks and dark sheens on the water created impressions of an environmental calamity, but state officials say the damage appears to be limited. About 37,380 gallons have spilled so far — an amount, energy officials point out, that would fill up about five percent of an Olympic-size swimming pool...

Sandbags for the Colorado flood, with the Colorado National Guard helping. Photo by Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Nicole Manzanares, public domain

Trends in climate change show need rangeland adaptation

Drovers Cattle Network: ...The journal Rangeland Ecology & Management presents two companion articles that identify trends and projections for climate change and assess mitigation and adaptation strategies to cope with pending change. These articles offer an objective assessment of climate trends and contingency planning as it relates to North American rangelands.

The authors assess three main components of climate change: rising concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide, atmospheric warming, and altered patterns of precipitation.  Climate models project that the southwest and southern plains of the United States will become warmer and drier. The Great Basin will become warmer and drier during summer and experience less snowpack in winter. The northern United States and southern Canada are predicted to become warmer and wetter.

Continued increases in greenhouse gas concentrations will modify fire regimes, soil carbon content, forage quantity and quality to affect livestock, plant community composition, and the distribution of plant and animals. This, in turn, will affect the ability of rangelands to provide ecosystem services and livelihoods for human populations.

Humans can take steps to mitigate the effects of global warming, adapt to minimize negative impacts, and transform rangeland systems to provide alternative ecosystem services with different management practices and expectations. An assessment of climate change projections and strategies to mitigate and adapt to these changes will increase future preparedness. For example, the authors contend that rangeland carbon sequestration is not an economically viable mitigation strategy. Adaptation strategies, including changing perceptions of risk, greater flexibility in production systems, and modification of institutions and policies to emphasize climatic variability, rather than consistency, will be much more viable.

Rangeland professionals are in a position to provide leadership on the challenges of climate change. Increasing awareness of and preparedness for climatic variability will promote both the supply of ecosystem services and the maintenance of human livelihoods well into the future....

Cow photo by Brian Thomas, public domain

Read it and weep

A press release from the IPCC: Human influence on the climate system is clear. This is evident in most regions of the globe, a new assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes. It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. The evidence for this has grown, thanks to more and better observations, an improved understanding of the climate system response and improved climate models.

Warming in the climate system is unequivocal and since 1950 many changes have been observed throughout the climate system that are unprecedented over decades to millennia. Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850, reports the Summary for Policymakers of the IPCC Working Group I assessment report, Climate Change 2013: the Physical Science Basis, approved on Friday by member governments of the IPCC in Stockholm, Sweden.

“Observations of changes in the climate system are based on multiple lines of independent evidence. Our assessment of the science finds that the atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amount of snow and ice has diminished, the global mean sea level has risen and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased,” said Qin Dahe, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group I.

Thomas Stocker, the other Co-Chair of Working Group I said: "Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system. Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions."

“Global surface temperature change for the end of the 21st century is projected to be likely to exceed 1.5°C relative to 1850 to 1900 in all but the lowest scenario considered, and likely to exceed 2°C for the two high scenarios,” said Co-Chair Thomas Stocker. “Heat waves are very likely to occur more frequently and last longer. As the Earth warms, we expect to see currently wet regions receiving more rainfall, and dry regions receiving less, although there will be exceptions,” he added.

Projections of climate change are based on a new set of four scenarios of future greenhouse gas concentrations and aerosols, spanning a wide range of possible futures. The Working Group I report assessed global and regional-scale climate change for the early, mid-, and later 21st century....

Flood, poor sanitation result in health hazard around Monrovia via New Republic (Liberia): One of the contaminated open wells, as the result of heavy downpours and Stockpile of dirt now causing mosquitoes in one of the communities hit by flood. The issue of poor sanitation in and around Monrovia, Liberia's Capital is going from bad to worst in the wake of on-going rainy season, resulting to heavy rain fall the past days.

The situation in Monrovia and its environs has increased sanitation problem, especially in communities affected by flooding. Affected areas include the Samuel Kanyon Doe Community, Clara Town, Topoe Village Community on the Somalia Drive and some parts of Jamaica Road, among other.

The heavy downpour of rain over the last few days socked huge piles of garbage resulting to unfavorable smells in most communities over taken by dirt, and creating mosquitoes as well. In some cases, the heavy downpours washed away the dirt and feces (caused from open defecation) in to wells and homes.

Residents in these communities informed the WASH Reporters & Editors Network of Liberia that heavy down pours over the last few days did not only increase the problem of poor sanitation, but also left their personally belongings destroyed...

Downtown Monrovia, shot by Erik (HASH) Hershman, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Is the IPCC right on climate change? Just ask the world's farmers

John Vidal in the Guardian (UK): European development groups have reported that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's latest scientific assessment of the phenomenon matches the observations and experiences of farming and other groups they partner in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

The IPCC scientists, who acknowledge they often have only sketchy rainfall and temperature data for many areas in developing countries, say global temperatures have risen, extreme weather is more frequent and rainfall less predictable. If emissions are not cut dramatically, they say, the world can expect steady sea-level and temperature rises, more extreme weather and less certain rainfall.

"Climate change is a reality here. We can see the impacts everywhere. There are new insects on our crops because of higher temperatures here. We can't produce now without spraying the crops," said a Bolivian farmer, Alivio Aruquipa, who lives in La Granja, near La Paz and works with Christian Aid partner group Agua Sustentable (Care).

"We are the ones who feel the impact of climate change. We have suffered a lot with the lack of water. People feel that they have to leave the country, or leave their homes to look for work and find a way of feeding their families. There are conflicts over water between the different communities because we all need water and there isn't enough for everyone," he said...

A porter hauling hay in Mali, shot by Jelle Jansen, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Friday, September 27, 2013

Storm-stricken Acapulco hit by new floods

Terra Daily via AFP: Authorities in Acapulco closed schools and evacuated dozens of residents Thursday after heavy rains sparked new floods in the Mexican Pacific resort still reeling from deadly tropical storms.

Flooding was reported in at least 22 city districts and the main boulevard to the airport was closed after a lagoon overflowed, though the terminal remained in operation, officials said.

Around 40 people were evacuated from high-risk areas, according to authorities. Residents from the Diamante hotel neighborhood, which was heavily flooded just days ago, left their homes for fear of being trapped by the rising waters again....

Locator map of Acapulco by Mixcoatl, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license

UN climate report bolsters case for helping poor adapt

Megan Rowling in the Thomson Reuters Foundation Alertnet: The latest report from the U.N. climate panel, in which scientists said they were more certain of human influence on global warming than ever before, reinforces the need to boost support for the world's poorest communities who are already experiencing severe climate impacts, international aid experts said on Friday.

Thomas Stocker, co-chair of the working group that produced the report, told journalists that the rising sea-levels, higher temperatures and precipitation shifts outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) clearly demonstrate that "climate change challenges the two primary resources of humans and ecosystems - land and water."  "In short, it threatens our planet, our only home," added the Swiss climate scientist.

Many humanitarian and development groups said the report confirmed what they are witnessing on the ground in their work to help impoverished people cope with worsening climate-related disasters and longer-term stresses.

"This report gives further scientific backing to what our partner organisations around the world have been telling us: the climate is changing, and not in a good way. Droughts, floods and erratic weather are ruining crops and damaging communities," said Paul Cook, advocacy director at Tearfund...

Women in an Indian village, shot by Yann, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license

Why has geoengineering been legitimised by the IPCC?

Jack Stilgoe in the Guardian (UK): Today marked an important punctuation mark in the story of humanity's attempts to get to grips with climate change as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its summary for policymakers (pdf here). Climate sceptic journalists and interest groups will be making the most of the tiniest surprises and variations in the climate scientists' new representation of the state of their art. But the evidence is largely unsurprising. For all the talk of a "hiatus" in warming, the IPCC continues to fly its one major fact: more greenhouse gases means more warming.

The big surprise comes in the final paragraph, with a mention of geoengineering. In the scientific world, a final paragraph is often the place to put caveats and suggestions for further research. In the political world, a final paragraph is a coda, a big finish, the place for a triumphant, standing-ovation-inducing summary. The IPCC tries to straddle both worlds. The addition of the word "geoengineering" to the most important report on climate change for six years counts as a big surprise.

There are many reasons to be worried about geoengineering. The idea is old. Countless inventions have been proposed as a technological fix to climate change, but scientists have only recently taken it seriously. Their previous reticence was largely due to a concern that talking about easy solutions would wobble the consensus on the need for a cut in emissions that had been painstakingly built over decades. Geoengineering was taboo – too seductive, too dangerous and too uncertain. It is now moving towards the mainstream of climate science. As the number of geoengineering studies published shoots up, it is now acceptable to discuss it in polite scientific company.

There is an argument that the taboo has already been broken and that, like sex education, it therefore has to be discussed. Those of us interested in geoengineering were expecting it to appear in one or two of the main reports when they are published in the coming months. To bring it up front is to give it premature legitimacy....

First ship through the Arctic carried coal

John McGarrity and Henning Gloystein in Reuters: A large sea freighter completed a voyage through the hazardous Arctic Northwest Passage for the first time on Friday as global warming opens routes that mariners have wanted for centuries.

The 75,000 deadweight-ton Nordic Orion, built in 2011, left the Canadian Pacific port of Vancouver in early September with a cargo of coking coal and is scheduled to arrive in the Finnish port of Pori on October 7, according to AIS shipping data.

"The Northwest Passage is more than 1,000 nautical miles shorter than the traditional shipping route through the Panama Canal and will save time, fuel and reduce carbon dioxide emissions, but even more importantly increase the amount of cargo per transit 25 percent," said Nordic Bulk Carriers, the Danish owner of the ship...

A coal loading depot in Inverkeithing, shot by Richard Webb, Wikimedia Commons via Geograph UK, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license 

Disaster risk reduction: Following the money

Elizabeth Blunt in IRIN: The world takes disaster risk reduction (DRR) seriously these days; it has been nearly 10 years since the Hyogo Framework for Action put the issue on the map. The World Bank, which used to have only 20 people working on DRR, now has more than a hundred. But even now, money spent on DRR is just a small fraction of aid funding. For every US$9 dollars spent responding to disasters, only $1 is spent on preventing and preparing for them. And, says a new report, for every $100 spent on development aid, just 40 cents is invested in protecting that aid from the impact of disasters.

The report, Financing Disaster Risk Reduction, is the outcome of some serious number-crunching by the World Bank’s Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) and the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), which tracked DRR financing over the past 20 years - where the money came from and where it went. The money came from relatively few donors, they found, and went overwhelmingly to just a small group of countries, and often unexpected ones.

The World Bank itself is the source of much of the money, along with the Asian Development Bank and just one national donor, Japan, whose own geographical position has given it direct experience of earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions. (Japan also hosted the Hyogo meeting in 2005.)

The main aid recipients, the report found, are middle-income countries. China and Indonesia are far ahead, and Bangladesh is the only poorer country in the top ten.   “There is some correlation between mortality risk levels and volumes of financing, but only at the high-risk level,” the report says....

The Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse, 1940

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Today’s worst watershed stresses may become the new normal

Environmental Research Web via the University of Colorado at Boulder: Nearly one in 10 U.S. watersheds is “stressed,” with demand for water exceeding natural supply, according to a new analysis of surface water in the United States. What’s more, the lowest water flow seasons of recent years—times of great stress on rivers, streams, and sectors that use their waters—are likely to become typical as climates continue to warm.

“By midcentury, we expect to see less reliable surface water supplies in several regions of the United States,” said the study’s lead author, Kristen Averyt, associate director for science at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado Boulder. “This is likely to create growing challenges for agriculture, electrical suppliers and municipalities, as there may be more demand for water and less to go around.”

Averyt and her colleagues evaluated supplies and demands on freshwater resources for each of the 2,103 watersheds in the continental United States, using a large suite of existing data sets.

They identified times of extreme water stress between 1999 and 2007, and they estimated future surface water stress—using existing climate projections—for every watershed. In the paper, published online in Environmental Research Letters on Sept. 17, the authors also diagnosed the reasons contributing to stress.

Across the United States, the team found that water supplies are already stressed (i.e., demands for water outstrip natural supplies) in 193 of the 2,103 watersheds examined....

The watershed of the Colorado River, created by  Karl Musser using USGS data, Wikimedia Commons,  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Climate-change analysts keep eye on Colorado flood insurance

Shelby Kinney in Denver I-Journal via the Colorado Independent: About a month before the floodwaters tore through town, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released its “State of the Climate” report. The authors highlighted 2012 as the hottest year on record in the United States. Next week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will release its colossal report. Consensus is that we’re in for more heat. Whether that will translate to more frequent “biblical” droughts, fires and floods in Colorado is less certain.

“There’s really almost no question that the world will get warmer,” said Scott Denning, professor of atmospheric science at Colorado State University. “My expert opinion is that maybe [more extreme rainfall] will come more often and maybe it won’t… I just don’t know.”

Last week’s rainfall was a “conspiracy” of many factors, Denning said, which lead to an extremely hard-to-predict event. He said it’s difficult to tie climate change to specific disasters in the kind of direct way the public would like to see. Notable links can be more general.

Soil over the nearly 2,000 square miles of parched rangeland, forests and mountains affected by the floods, for example, had been wrung of its precipitation by increasingly hot temperatures and charred by one wildfire after another. Water is absorbed less efficiently in such conditions, so the conspiracy of rainfall that bounced over the scarred and parched lands had no place to go except into creeks and roadways and so transformed them into rushing rivers.

...“We’ve had so many tragic wake up calls in Colorado that you do need to be financially prepared for disaster. We do have that window now, where people are thinking about the unthinkable.”...

Arapahoe at 1st Street in Boulder, Colorado, on September 13th, 2013. Flood brought debris onto the road and caused serious damage. Shot by AlmanacManiac, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Climate, human rights key to new development goals

Liz Ford in the Guardian (UK): Decisions on what should be included in future development goals must be accompanied by a robust agreement on climate change and a stronger emphasis on human rights, according to the former Irish president Mary Robinson.

Robinson, a human rights campaigner and founder of the Mary Robinson Foundation for Climate Justice, said the two major concerns ahead of 2015, when the millennium development goals (MDGs) expire, are creating equitable sustainable development goals and signing a global agreement that would limit global warming to 2C.

"The serious urgency between now and 2015 is to achieve a global agreement on the sustainable development goals and a robust climate agreement to stay below 2 degrees celsius, or preferably 1.5 degrees celsius," Robinson told the Guardian between meetings at the UN general assembly (UNGA) on Wednesday. Robinson said framing future universal development goals on the principles of human rights, which member states agreed this week, could make a big difference to people's lives.

"When the MDGs were developed, the idea was to keep them simple and not to complicate them. We didn't do as well as we should have. Human rights is about targeting the very vulnerable … making governments more accountable and [ensuring] the participation by people on how goals will be implemented.

"The MDGs did give us goals that governments and civil society and business have worked to, and now we realise they can be much more effective if we have some other issues [included]."...

Mary Robinson at the WEF, shot by World Economic Forum, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

African dust storms traveling far

A press release from the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science: You might find it hard to believe that dust clouds from the African Sahara can travel thousands of miles across the Atlantic Ocean, but it does every year and in large quantities. In a recent study, Joseph Prospero, professor emeritus at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and collaborators at the University of Houston and Arizona State University found that the average air concentrations of inhalable particles more than doubled during a major Saharan dust intrusion in Houston, Texas.

The researchers were able to distinguish between particles transported across the Atlantic and those from local sources in the Houston region. In this way they established the “fingerprint” of the African dust. To their knowledge, this is the first study that isolates, differentiates, and quantifies the air contaminants in the US during the incursion of African dust. There is a concern that the fine airborne dust particles could be a health problem for asthmatics and people with respiratory problems.

Current EPA air quality standards are based on the total amount of particles that are in the air,” Prospero says. “Our study will contribute to our ability to discriminate and identify the dominant components in the air during long-range transport events,” he says. “Our hope is that our work is instrumental in assisting regulatory agencies respond to health and environmental issues linked to African dust.”

The findings published in the journal of Environmental Science and Technology can also serve to address African dust intrusion in other affected regions of the world. For instance, the Caribbean Basin receives enormous quantities of African dust every year.  In addition to its impact on air quality, an important factor for the Caribbean basin is the potential effect of Saharan air outbreaks on hurricane activity.       

African dust storms are associated with hurricane season because the meteorological situations that are involved with generating tropical cyclones are also associated with the generation and transport of dust,” Prospero says. “The dust emerges from the coast of Africa in a hot, dry, elevated layer – the Saharan Air Layer (SAL) following behind Easterly Waves from which tropical cyclones sometimes develop,” he says. “The SAL interacts with the waves in complex way, so that the relationship is not entirely clear. It is the subject of much ongoing research.”...

African dust storm, image by NASA

Kenya plans a national wildlife climate change adaptation strategy

Henry Neondo in Africa Science News:  Kenya has started the process of developing the country’s first ever National Wildlife Climate Change Adaption Strategy. The process is spearheaded by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) in conjunction with the Kenya Climate Change Working Group (KCCWG) and other stakeholders.

The strategy is aimed at inspiring and enabling wildlife resource managers and other decision makers to take the much-needed actions in order to adapt to the changing climate and preserve the precious wildlife resource for posterity. Such adaptation actions are fundamental towards sustaining Kenya’s ecosystems and wildlife resources as well as the livelihoods and values that the wildlife provides.

Speaking while opening the National Wildlife Climate Change Adaptation Strategy Inception workshop in Nanyuki, the KWS Deputy Director in charge of Biodiversity, Research and Monitoring Dr. Samuel Kasiki said apart from poaching, climate change is another silent threat to Kenya’s wildlife.

The workshop, which brought together wildlife and tourism stakeholders, university scholars, conservation scientists and key policy makers from across the country discussed the impacts of climate change to the country’s wildlife and the various ways of mitigating the adverse effects brought about by them.

In emphasizing the importance of the Strategy, the KWS Assistant Director for Ecosystems Conservation and Management Dr. Erustus Kanga, pointed out that over the years, Kenya has suffered greatly from the effects of climate change, These include loss of wildlife as a result of prolonged drought, increased cases of human wildlife conflict due to change in wildlife migratory patterns and change in home ranges, increased wildfires and invasive species as well as extreme weather patterns and events that have negatively impacted on the country’s infrastructure...

A lion in Kenya, shot by Paul Mannix, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Rim Fire's effects likely to last for decades to come

Bettina Boxall in the Los Angeles Times: ...The huge Rim fire, ignited Aug. 17 by a hunter's illegal campfire, is likely to have transformed large swaths of the Stanislaus National Forest for decades to come.

Remote sensing satellite images indicate that virtually all of the vegetation is dead on nearly 40% of the area of the 401-square-mile blaze, which burned from the national forest into the western portion of Yosemite National Park, where it continues to smolder.

Burned chaparral and oak will quickly resprout. But where large patches of trees were killed, ecologists say it could take 30 to 50 years for the forest to reestablish itself in the shrub fields that are the first to grow. If there are more fires in the meantime, the land could permanently convert to chaparral. "You're looking at a huge area that doesn't have any living conifers," said Hugh Safford, regional ecologist for the U.S. Forest Service. "The big question really for managers and the public is what's that landscape going to look like in 50 to 100 years. It's going to look really different."

... Two weeks ago, dozens of federal scientists from around the country set out to assess the damage and plan emergency recovery efforts. They fanned out across the forest, digging holes to see if the soil would hold water or repel it in erosive sheets. They checked trails and roads and known archaeological sites.

...Curtis Kvamme, a Forest Service soil scientist who was on his fifth day of poking in the dirt, took a shovel to scrape a thin layer of ash from the ground in an area of badly burned timberland. ...Kvamme's verdict: The soil had burned at high severity, meaning there is a greater chance of erosion. Instead of seeping into the earth, rainfall or snowmelt could wash in torrents downslope, potentially contributing to flooding....

Fire crews construct fireline on the Rim Fire. The Rim Fire in the Stanislaus National Forest near in California began on Aug. 17, 2013. U.S. Forest Service photo by Mike McMillan.

Time to rethink misguided policies that promote biofuels to protect climate

University of Michigan News Service: Policymakers need to rethink the idea of promoting biofuels to protect the climate because the methods used to justify such policies are inherently flawed, according to a University of Michigan energy researcher.

In a new paper published online in the journal Climatic Change, John DeCicco takes on the widespread but scientifically simplistic perception that biofuels such as ethanol are inherently "carbon neutral," meaning that the heat-trapping carbon dioxide gas emitted when the fuels are burned is fully balanced by the carbon dioxide uptake that occurs as the plants grow.

That view is misguided because the plants used to make biofuels—including corn, soybeans and sugarcane—are already pulling carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere through photosynthesis, said DeCicco, a research professor at the U-M Energy Institute and a professor of practice at the School of Natural Resources and Environment.

DeCicco's paper is unique because it methodically deconstructs the life-cycle-analysis approach that forms a basis for current environmental policies promoting biofuels. Instead, he presents a rigorous carbon cycle analysis based on biogeochemical fundamentals to identify conditions under which biofuels might have a climatic benefit. These conditions are much more limited than has been presumed.

"Plants used to make biofuels do not remove any additional carbon dioxide just because they are used to make fuel as opposed to, say, corn flakes," DeCicco said...

Photo by Steve Jurvetson, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Thai provinces hit by floods, authorities say industry safe

Amy Sawitta Lefevre in Reuters: Nine people have died and more than 1 million have been affected by flooding in Thailand, officials said on Wednesday, but authorities offered assurances that floodwaters would not reach central industrial areas and near Bangkok as in 2011.

Widespread floods in 2011 killed more than 800 people and caused massive disruption to industry, cutting economic growth that year to just 0.1 percent. Authorities discount the possibility of any similar disruption, but have expressed concern over one industrial estate in Ayutthaya province, 80 km (50 miles) north of Bangkok.

"We are monitoring Saha Rattana Nakorn complex in Ayutthaya, where flood walls are only 30 percent complete, but are confident that we will be able to take care of all industrial estates," Chatchai Promlert, director general of the Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Department, told Reuters.

Ruangrit Kusolgambot, director of the estate which specialises in production of parts for global auto makers, told Reuters the water would not enter the compound. "The water is a safe distance from our complex and water levels in surrounding areas have decreased significantly over the past few days" he said....

Are banana farms contaminating Costa Rica's crocodiles?

Seed Daily via SPX: Shoppers spend over Pounds 10 billion on bananas annually and now this demand is being linked to the contamination of Central America's crocodilians. New research, published in Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, analyses blood samples from spectacled caiman in Costa Rica and finds that intensive pesticide use in plantations leads to contaminated species in protected conservation areas.

"Banana plantations are big business in Costa Rica, which exports an estimated 1.8 million tonnes per year; 10% of the global total," said author Paul Grant from Stellenbosch University, South Africa. "The climate of the country's North East is ideal for bananas; however, the Rio Suerte, which flows through this major banana producing area, drains into the Tortuguero Conservation Area."

Tortuguero is home to the spectacled caiman (Caiman crocodilus), one of the most common species of crocodilian in Central America. This freshwater predator is known to be highly adaptive, feeding on fish, crustaceans and in the case of larger specimens, wild pigs.

Due to the increased global demand for fruit, pesticide use has more than doubled across Central America in the past twenty years. In Costa Rica, which ranks second in the world for intensity of pesticide use, the problem of contamination is compounded by environmental conditions and lax enforcement of regulations.

"Frequent heavy rains can wash pesticides from plantation areas, leading to contamination and the reapplication of sprays to the crops," said Grant. "Without adequate enforcement of regulations dangerous practices such as aerial spraying close to streams or washing application equipment in rivers also contributes to contamination downstream."...

A spectacled caiman, from the BioTrek California website, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license

Philippines produces 3D flood hazard map

Imelda V. Abano in the Thomson Reuters Foundation: Devastating floods and heavy rains across the country have prompted the Philippine government to begin producing 3D flood hazard maps to help make better planning decisions about flood risks.

“We consider this new map as relevant especially as a tool to make local land use plans truly based on risk - not only historical risks but future risks based on rainfall scenarios. We cannot be planning long term development based on yesterday's event, but must factor in future climate risks,” said Mary Ann Lucille Sering, secretary of the country’s Climate Change Commission.

The maps, which will provide up-to-date scientific data and analysis on local-scale flooding and climate risks, are being created using 3D technology as part of the Climate Change Commission’s efforts to adapt the Philippines to the impacts of climate change.

They incorporate climate change projections for the years 2020 to 2050, and expected future changes in annual mean temperature and rainfall, as well as humidity, chances of erosion, soil texture, sea level rise and other environmental risks. The data, laid on top of existing maps, helps highlight areas that could face future flooding, Sering told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The map identifies areas most vulnerable to flooding with a gradation of colour - the darker the hue, the deeper the water. For instance, the purple colour in the map shows how high water might rise along the banks of the Cagayan De Oro River if heavy rainfall occurs...

An aerial view of flood areas in Kalibo, Philippines, is shown June 26, 2008, three days after being struck by Typhoon Fengshen. The Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group is providing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to victims of the typhoon, which struck the Philippines June 23, 2008. Photo by MCCS Spike Call, US military photo

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Lord Stern: It would be absurd to underestimate climate change risks

Guardian (UK) via Press Association: It would be "absurd" to claim the risks of climate change are small, economic expert Lord Stern said before the publication of a key scientific report on global warming. The latest international assessment of climate science makes it crystal clear the risks are "immense", and it would be extraordinary and unscientific to ignore the evidence and argue for a delay in addressing the problem, he said.

The former World Bank chief economist and author of the key 2006 Stern review on the economics of climate change also warned that scientific projections and economic predictions were underestimating the risks of global warming. While scientists recognised some potential impacts such as the melting of permafrost, which would release powerful greenhouse gas methane, could be very damaging, they were left out of models because they were hard to quantify.

Many economic models, meanwhile, "grossly underestimate the risks" because they assumed that growth will continue and the costs of climate change will be relatively small, he said. "Both assumptions trivialise the problem and are untenable given the kind of change that could take place," Lord Stern warned.

Temperature rises of 3C or 4C above pre-industrial levels by 2100 would put humans "way outside" the conditions in which civilisation developed, and could cause major disruptions that would damage growth.

Hundreds of millions or even billions of people could be forced to move from where they lived, causing conflict, there could be large-scale destruction of infrastructure and important services provided by nature could collapse, he warned...."The IPPC report makes crystal clear that the risks from climate change are immense," Stern said....

A Greek road sign, redrawn by Gigillo83, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license

In Mexico, storms dredge up human errors

Terra Daily via AFP: Human nature is sharing the blame with Mother Nature in Mexico for the destruction spawned by twin storms, with critics pointing to shoddy construction, endemic corruption and political wheeling-and-dealing.

The country was thrashed last week by a rare tag team of tropical storms on opposite coasts, Manuel and Ingrid, that killed at least 123 people, damaged 72 roads and affected 1.5 million homes to various degrees.

A further 63 people are still missing, authorities said in the latest tally late Monday. The interior minister has estimated the final death toll could reach 200, with some 1.5 million homes affected.

While some experts say there was little Mexico could do against the first double storm assault since 1958, critics argue that the disaster was exacerbated by bad urban planning, poorly designed roads and widespread illegal logging. "It's not surprising. We develop in unbuildable areas, we build with garbage and we design without planning," Jesus Silva-Herzog Marquez, a law professor at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico, wrote in Reforma newspaper...

Hurricane Ingrid on September 14, 2013, via NASA

Current pledges put over 600 million people at risk of higher water scarcity

Space Daily via SPX: Our current pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which are projected to set the global mean temperature increase at around 3.5 C above pre-industrial levels, will expose 668 million people worldwide to new or aggravated water scarcity.

This is according to a new study published in IOP Publishing's journal Environmental Research Letters, which has calculated that a further 11 per cent of the world's population, taken from the year 2000, will live in water-scarce river basins or, for those already living in water-scarce regions, find that the effects will be aggravated.

The results show that people in the Middle East, North Africa, Southern Europe and the Southwest of the USA will experience the most significant changes.

The results show that if the global mean temperature increases by 2 C - the internationally agreed target - then eight per cent of the world population (486 million people) will be exposed to new or aggravated water scarcity, specifically in the Near and Middle East.

Lead author of the research Dr Dieter Gerten, from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, said: "Our global assessments suggest that many regions will have less water available per person...

Dripping faucet by Dschwen, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license

UN ready to assist Namibia mitigate drought via the Namibian: The United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced yesterday that the UN is ready to support Namibia fight the effects of the drought that is currently ravaging Namibia. In a message to the 11th Conference of Parties to the parties of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification yesterday, Ki-moon said the conference was taking place at a time Namibia is facing a severe drought.

"You meet as Namibia faces severe drought. The United Nations system stands ready to continue to support your efforts to mitigate its effects and build resilience. Desertification and land degradation threaten the livelihoods, well-being and sustainable development of at least one billion people.

In the drylands of Africa, climate change is already having an impact. Temperatures have risen by about two degrees Celsius in some areas. Long periods of drought, famine and deepening poverty are impoverishing and depopulating vast areas," he said.

He said healthy land is a prerequisite for food and water security and necessary to avert political instability. "We need it for climate change resilience and preserving valuable biodiversity. World leaders at Rio+20 acknowledged the threat of desertification, land degradation and drought in all regions, and especially for developing countries. As we define the post-2015 development agenda, we need to be able to measure progress towards the commitment to halt and reverse land degradation," he said...

The Fish River Canyon in Namibia, shot by GIRAUD Patrick, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Lao farmers need no ‘magic’ to adapt to climate change

Lorie Ann Cascaro in Minda News (Philippines):  ...Vientiane is one of the six major flood-affected provinces in Laos, including Savannakhet, Bolikhamxay, Khammouane, Attapeu and Champasak.

“Climate change” is not a common term for most farmers in Laos. But, the Lao government recognizes the impacts of climate change by signing the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1995 and the Kyoto Protocol in 2003. The government developed its National Adaptation Programme of Action to Climate Change (NAPA) with support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

In the NAPA 2009, Deputy Prime Minister Chair of National Environment Committee Mr Asang Laoly says Laos has seen in recent years “more frequent and severe floods and droughts which are alternately occurring each year.” “Temperature is continuously increasing and the rainfall is erratic, resulting in a number of adverse impacts to the economic system, environment and the livelihoods of people of all ethnic groups.”

Over three decades, from 1966 to 2009, Laos has felt the impacts of climate change through the increase in temperature with an average of 0.1 degrees Celsius (C), between the northern and central part, and between the central and southern part. As observed in the rapid assessment, the average temperature in eight northern provinces increased from 23.0 to 23.2 C; 26.3 C to 26.6 C in five central provinces; and, 26.9 C to 27.3 C in four southern provinces.

Data from the Department of Meteorology and Hydrology (DMH) show that drought occurred in Laos from 1995 to 2005 “characterized by higher and irregular increases in temperature.” The country also experienced large floods, including flash floods in the northern and eastern regions as recorded in 1995, 1996, 2000, 2002 and 2005. More recently, experiences with typhoons have been made in the south of the country....

The Mekong River in Vientiane, Laos, shot by yeowatzup, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Monday, September 23, 2013

Mexico looks to rebuild from deadly, costly twin storms

Terra Daily via AFP: Mexico looked Saturday to the Herculean task of rebuilding after a rare double onslaught of storms, with at least 170 people feared dead in the path of destruction.

The death toll in the tragedy soared, with President Enrique Pena Nieto saying another 68 people were feared dead in a landslide in the southern village of La Pintada in Guerrero state. An earlier count put the number of dead at 101.

"The sheer volume of earth that has virtually buried more than 40 homes there means (it would be difficult) to find anybody alive" in La Pintada, the president said during a press conference with members of his cabinet in Guerrero, the state hardest hit by the twin storms that have since dissipated.

"As of today, there is virtually no hope that we can find anyone alive" in La Pintada, added the president who visited the devastated mountain town.

A police rescue helicopter missing since Thursday also was found to have crashed, with no survivors, the Interior Ministry said. Five policemen were killed, the ministry said in a statement...

Locator map of Guerrero state in Mexico

Powerful typhoon kills 20 in southern China, swipes Hong Kong

Reuters: A powerful typhoon hit Hong Kong and the southern China coast on Monday, killing at least 20 people on the mainland, crippling power lines and causing flooding and gale force winds.

Typhoon Usagi, the strongest storm to hit the Western Pacific this year, began pounding the Asian financial center late on Sunday. More than 370 flights were canceled.

The No. 8 signal warning remained in force early on Monday, with financial markets closed for at least part of the morning. The weather observatory said the storm had weakened from "super" typhoon status and that it would consider lowering the warning signal before 10 a.m. (0200 GMT)

China's National Meteorological Centre issued its highest alert, with more than 80,000 people moved to safety in Fujian province and authorities deploying at least 50,000 disaster-relief workers, state Xinhua news agency reported.

At least 20 people were killed on China's southern coast, television reports said, including 13 in Shanwei in the eastern fringes of Guangdong province.

The victims included people hit by debris and others who had drowned. One man was killed by a falling window pane...

Typhoon Usagi on September 22, 2013, via NASA

Children will bear brunt of climate change impact, new study says

Fiona Harvey in the Guardian (UK): Children will bear the brunt of the impact of climate change because of their increased risk of health problems, malnutrition and migration, according to a new study published on Monday. And food prices are likely to soar as a result of warming, undoing the progress made in combating world hunger.

The findings are published as scientists began meeting in Stockholm to produce the most comprehensive assessment yet of our knowledge of climate change. Over the next five days, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, bringing together the world's leading experts, will thrash out the final details of a message to the world's governments.

They are expected to warn that climate change is almost certainly caused by human actions, and that it will lead to a global temperature rise likely to top 2C, with related effects including the shrinking of the Arctic ice cap and glaciers, a rise in sea level by nearly 1 metre by the end of this century and more extreme rainfall in parts of the globe.

Unicef argues that, although children are more vulnerable to the effects of global warming, they have been largely left out of the debate. "We are hurtling towards a future where the gains being made for the world's children are threatened and their health, wellbeing, livelihoods and survival are compromised … despite being the least responsible for the causes," said David Bull, Unicef's UK executive director. "We need to listen to them."

Children born last year will come of age in 2030, by which time the effects of climate change in the form of an increase in droughts, floods and storms are likely to be more in evidence. In the 10 most vulnerable countries, including Bangladesh, India and the Philippines, there are 620 million children under 18....

Bilaal Rajan in Malawi, Africa (July 2007), shot by Portpass19, public domain

Opening the flood gates in China

Business Insider via the Economist: China has many good reasons not to build the $5.2 billion Xiaonanhai dam on the Yangzi river in Chongqing. The site, on a gentle slope that moves water along only slowly, is not ideal for generating hydropower. The fertile soil makes it one of China’s most productive regions, so it is densely populated with farmers reaping good harvests. And the dam (see map), which would produce only 10% of the electricity of the Three Gorges project downstream, could destroy a rare fish preserve, threatening several endangered species including the Yangzi sturgeon.

Yet it does not matter how strong the case may be against Xiaonanhai, because the battle against a hydropower scheme in China is usually lost before it is fought. The political economy of dam-building is rigged. Though the Chinese authorities have made much progress in evaluating the social and environmental impact of dams, the emphasis is still on building them, even when mitigating the damage would be hard. Critics have called it the “hydro-industrial complex”: China has armies of water engineers (including Hu Jintao, the former president) and at least 300 gigawatts of untapped hydroelectric potential. China’s total generating capacity in 2012 was 1,145GW, of which 758GW came from coal-burning plants.

An important motive for China to pursue hydropower is, ironically, the environment. China desperately needs to expand its energy supply while reducing its dependence on carbon-based fuels, especially coal. The government wants 15% of power consumption to come from clean or renewable sources by 2020, up from 9% now. Hydropower is essential for achieving that goal, as is nuclear power. “Hydro, including large hydro in China, is seen as green,” says Darrin Magee, an expert on Chinese dams at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in New York state.

There is also a political reason why large hydro schemes continue to go ahead. Dambuilders and local governments have almost unlimited power to plan and approve projects, whereas environmental officials have almost no power to stop them....

Gezhouba Dam in Yichang, Hubei Province, China, shot by Doris Antony, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license

Disaster risk reduction gets only 0.4 percent of aid

Megan Rowling at the Thomson Reuters Foundation: The international community spent $13.5 billion on reducing the risk of disasters in the past two decades, just 40 cents for every $100 of aid, and a tiny amount compared with the $862 billion in disaster losses suffered by developing countries, according to a new study.

The report from the London-based Overseas Development Institute (ODI) said funding for disaster risk reduction (DRR) has been concentrated in a small number of middle-income countries, such as China and Indonesia, with many high-risk nations - especially poor, drought-prone states in sub-Saharan Africa - receiving negligible financing.

The top ten countries received nearly $8 billion between them, and the remaining 144 just $5.6 billion combined. The inequity of disaster risk reduction spending is clear when broken down on a per capita basis. Ecuador, the second-highest recipient per capita, got 19 times more than Afghanistan, 100 times more than Costa Rica and 600 times more than Democratic Republic of Congo , for example.

There has been some progress in protecting people and their assets from floods and other disasters caused by natural hazards, the report said. National governments have started to put in place more effective ways of warning and evacuating their populations, as well as reducing their vulnerability to economic shocks.

"Lives have been saved, livelihoods protected and resilience built. However, we need more, faster and better action to contain the current trend of risk," the report said...

Waves from Typhoon Talas in 2011, shot by Stephen Wheeler, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Louvre plans to evacuate works from Paris due to flooding risk

Gareth Harris in the Art Newspaper: Officials at the Louvre hope to establish a storage facility in the north of France that would house most of the museum’s vast 460,000-strong collection. The Louvre’s holdings are currently stored in the basement of the museum building on the banks of the River Seine and could be damaged if the city ever floods. Around 35,000 works are usually on display at the museum.

The culture minister Aurélie Filippetti has announced plans to transfer works from the Paris museum to a special storage facility located around 200km away near the Louvre-Lens satellite branch in the northern region of Nord-Pas de Calais. The government has commissioned a feasibility study on the project.

...The proposed venue was due to house the collections of three Paris museums at risk from flooding: the Musée d’Orsay, the Musée du Quai Branly and the Louvre. But the idea was abandoned because of uncertainty over costs. Representatives from the Musée d’Orsay and the Musée du Quai Branly declined to comment on the Louvre’s new storage plans....

An aerial view of the Louvre, shot by MatthiasKabel, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Africa and climate change: What's at stake?

An editorial in by Richard Munang and Joy Hyvarinen: The Warsaw climate change conference in November this year is the next milestone towards the 2015 deadline for adopting a new climate change agreement. With many issues to resolve and the deadline approaching, negotiations are likely to be intense. Africa does have much at stake, but also much to bring to the negotiations.

Severe droughts in the Horn of Africa in 2011 and in the Sahel region in 2012 highlighted Africa's vulnerability. The threats to people and development will worsen as warming is projected to be greater than the global annual mean, with an average increase of three to four degrees over the next century. These continental changes will affect the livelihoods of millions and permanently displace many thousands. Agricultural losses are forecasted to result in the loss of between two and seven percent of GDP and, by 2050, average maize, rice and wheat yields will decline by up to five percent, 14 percent, 22 percent respectively. These stark statistics are the evidence of a growing realisation of what is at stake for the continent.

The Doha climate change conference in December 2012 made only limited progress and failed to set more ambitious goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. That failure increases the risk of a rise in average global temperatures by two degrees Celsius by the end of this century. Studies by the World Bank indicate that even with the current commitments and pledges fully implemented, there is roughly a 20 per cent likelihood that temperature increases would top four degrees by the end of this century, potentially triggering a cascade of cataclysmic changes - including extreme heat-waves, declining global food stocks and a rising sea level, affecting hundreds of millions of people.

African countries have for long held positions in favour of an ambitious global climate agreement. The Warsaw climate change conference, followed by the 2014 climate conference in Peru, will be important stages in finalising the current round of negotiations scheduled for completion in Paris in 2015. The aim is to adopt a future climate change agreement, but many issues need to be resolved before that. ...

NASA image of Africa

Vaccinating cattle against E. coli O157 could cut human cases of infection by 85 percent

Seed Daily via SPX: Vaccinating cattle against the E. coli O157 bacterium could cut the number of human cases of the disease by 85%, according to scientists. The bacteria, which cause severe gastrointestinal illness and even death in humans, are spread by consuming contaminated food and water, or by contact with livestock faeces in the environment. Cattle are the main reservoir for the bacterium.

The vaccines that are available for cattle are rarely used, but could be significant.

The research was lead by a team of researchers at the University of Glasgow in collaboration with the University of Edinburgh, the Royal Veterinary College, Scotland's Rural College, Health Protection Scotland, and the Scottish E. coli O157/VTEC Reference Laboratory.

The study, published in the online journal PNAS, used veterinary, human and molecular data to examine the risks of E. coli O157 transmission from cattle to humans, and to estimate the impact of vaccinating cattle.

The risk of E. coli O157 infection is particularly significant when the cattle are 'super-shedding' - excreting extremely high numbers of bacteria in their faeces for a limited period of time. Vaccines against the bacteria exist that can reduce super-shedding....

E. coli shot by Mattosaurus, public domain

Vietnam estimates to lose 1.5 pct of GDP due to disasters

Global Times via Xinhua: Vietnam is estimated to lose around 1.5 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) annually due to property damage caused by natural disasters, according to the Vietnamese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD).

MARD's Minister Cao Duc Phat made the statement at the seminar on Vietnam-Japan cooperation in natural disaster prevention and control held here on Friday, local Dan Tri (Knowledge for the People) reported on its website.

Statistics showed that in recent years natural disasters tend to occur with greater frequency and so damages continue to rise. This is suspected to be a result of climate change, said the report quoting the minister as saying.

Typhoon Linda claimed 778 lives, left 2,123 missing and 1,232 injured while causing property damage worth 593 million US dollars when it raged through Vietnam's southern region from Bac Lieu to Ca Mau provinces in November 1997.

In November 1999, several floods struck the central region from Quang Binh to Ninh Thuan provinces, causing 600 dead and missing and property losses worth 270 million dollars.

Floods in the southern Mekong Delta region in November 2000 caused property damage worth 280 million dollars. In October of the same year, floods also caused losses of 140,000 dollars in the northern province of Lai Chau....

Densely populated Hong Kong battens down as typhoon approaches

Reuters: A powerful typhoon headed towards the southern Chinese city of Hong Kong, one of the most densely populated cities on Earth, on Sunday amid warnings of severe flooding as well as strong winds in the event of a direct hit.

Typhoon Usagi, the strongest storm to hit the Western Pacific this year, began pounding the Asian financial centre late on Sunday. Over 370 flights were cancelled in the city, while residents rushed home ahead of what weathermen warned could be the strongest hit by a typhoon in years.

The No. 8 signal warning was hoisted as winds intensified and the famous harbor churned with waves. The storm, which killed two people in the Philippines, was expected to buffet the city through Monday, possibly closing financial markets and the stock exchange.

The storm has weakened from "super" typhoon status but winds of over 160 kilometers per hour were expected. China's National Meteorological Centre issued its highest alert, with more than 80,000 people moved to safety in Fujian province and authorities deploying at least 50,000 disaster-relief workers, the state Xinhua news agency reported....

Typhoon Usagi on September 21, 2013, via NASA

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Colorado rescue effort biggest in USA since Katrina in 2005

Rick Jervis in USA Today: The massive search-and-rescue effort after the recent floods in Colorado has been one of the biggest in state history -- and the largest in the USA since Katrina -- as thousands of stranded people are plucked from swirling floodwaters by helicopters or rumbled out of washed-out neighborhoods by all-terrain military vehicles.

TV and camera-phone images of people hoisted by helicopter from flooded homes have brought eerie comparisons with similar efforts to rescue stranded Gulf Coast residents during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The rescues in Colorado were only a fraction of the number in the Gulf -- 3,101 Coloradoans as of Thursday, compared with 60,000 rescued from rooftops and flooded homes in Katrina's aftermath -- but the event still tested Colorado's emergency-response system and brought together the assets of several agencies in challenging terrain.

Unlike the Katrina rescue effort, where critics later pointed to a breakdown in communication among local, state and federal agencies, various rescue teams in Colorado -- from Colorado National Guardsmen to U.S. Forest Service Hotshot Crews -- worked quickly and, by most accounts, effectively together in one of the largest rescue missions in Colorado history, says 1st Lt. Skye Robinson, a Colorado National Guard spokesman.

Six people have been confirmed dead since the floods began Sept. 11, and 140 are still unaccounted for, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"The assets needed arrived and were prepared and went out to mission," Robinson says. "The process went very smoothly. This is how things should work."...

Jamestown, Colorado on September 15, 2013 -- Nebraska Task Force 1 (NE-TF1) conducts search and rescue operation in a damaged building in Jamestown, Colorado following flooding in 2013. Photo by Michael Rieger/FEMA