Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Advanced computing system provides large-scale capacity to examine arctic sea-ice variations, tropical hurricane formation

University at Albany News Center: A new, highly sophisticated computing system will allow several new University at Albany Atmospheric Scientists to conduct large-scale research of arctic sea-ice variations, tropical hurricane formations and structure, and boundary layer weather conditions of large operational wind farms.   The computing system, which combines servers and storage into a ‘cluster,’ represents the University’s most powerful and architecturally advanced supercomputer. 

UAlbany’s Department of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences (DAES) and the Office of Information Technology Services ((ITS) acquired the supercomputer, aided in part by a $35,000 grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). The cluster provides the department with the computing capability to conduct large-scale atmospheric modeling projects. UAlbany Atmospheric Sciences faculty members will utilize the cluster for the following research:
  • Understand how weather and climate works on the scales at which humans and ecosystems are affected ... The computational power provided by SNOW will allow for detailed simulation of individual cloud features, such as lake-effect snow bands. It will also offer long simulations that characterize the mechanisms of regional climate change such as the effect of snow-loss over mountains on regional weather and hydrology. 
  • Study the impacts of changing polar sea ice on weather and climate, and implement polar sea ice forecasting...
  • Investigate the causes of variability in hurricane structure, intensity and frequency using a hierarchy of different modeling approaches ...
  • Conduct numerical simulations using Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) models to explore the impact of wind farms on local climates...
A wind farm in Texas, shot by Leaflet, Wikimedia Commons, public domain

Plants moderate climate warming

The International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis: As temperatures warm, plants release gases that help form clouds and cool the atmosphere, according to research from IIASA and the University of Helsinki.

The new study, published in Nature Geoscience, identified a negative feedback loop in which higher temperatures lead to an increase in concentrations of natural aerosols that have a cooling effect on the atmosphere. “Plants, by reacting to changes in temperature, also moderate these changes,” says IIASA and University of Helsinki researcher Pauli Paasonen, who led the study.

Scientists had known that some aerosols – particles that float in the atmosphere – cool the climate as they reflect sunlight and form cloud droplets, which reflect sunlight efficiently. Aerosol particles come from many sources, including human emissions. But the effect of so-called biogenic aerosol – particulate matter that originates from plants – had been less well understood. Plants release gases that, after atmospheric oxidation, tend to stick to aerosol particles, growing them into the larger-sized particles that reflect sunlight and also serve as the basis for cloud droplets. The new study showed that as temperatures warm and plants consequently release more of these gases, the concentrations of particles active in cloud formation increase.

“Everyone knows the scent of the forest,” says Ari Asmi, University of Helsinki researcher who also worked on the study. “That scent is made up of these gases.” While previous research had predicted the feedback effect, until now nobody had been able to prove its existence except for case studies limited to single sites and short time periods. The new study showed that the effect occurs over the long-term in continental size scales.

The effect of enhanced plant gas emissions on climate is small on a global scale – only countering approximately 1 percent of climate warming, the study suggested. “This does not save us from climate warming,” says Paasonen. However, he says, “Aerosol effects on climate are one of the main uncertainties in climate models. Understanding this mechanism could help us reduce those uncertainties and make the models better.”

The study also showed that the effect was much larger on a regional scale, counteracting possibly up to 30% of warming in more rural, forested areas where anthropogenic emissions of aerosols were much lower in comparison to the natural aerosols. That means that especially in places like Finland, Siberia, and Canada this feedback loop may reduce warming substantially....

Misty Forest. Looking across to Gale Hill Point from the Roman road. Shot by Steve Partridge, Wikimedia Commons via Geograph UK, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Public opinion rebounds from all-time lows

Laura Merli in Policymic: The Pew Research Center has shown that Americans' knowledge that the world is getting warmer because of human activities is rebounding, after an embarrassing low from 2009-2011.

One of the biggest reasons for this dip in knowledge was a disinformation campaign from oil and gas lobbyists. From 2009-2011, the industry spent a reported $471,456,040 on lobbying. They bought politicians to be their mouthpieces, in addition to forming fake “scientific” think tanks such as the Heartland Institute.

A common but silly argument that lobbyists try to pass off as scientific is that the Earth has had warming periods before the Industrial Revolution, and therefore could not currently be warming because of all the carbon we’re releasing.

That’s like saying, “There was a stain on the carpet before I got here, so when I spilled cranberry juice on the rug that couldn’t have made an even bigger stain! The stain getting bigger must be whatever made the first stain!”...

Africa’s logging permit crisis puts EU at risk of laundering illegal timber imports

Global Witness: Systematic abuse of small, poorly regulated logging permits in Africa by companies, forest officials and politicians is undermining efforts to fight deforestation and keep illegal timber out of the EU, says a new report by Global Witness.

The new report, Logging in the shadows, identifies a largely hidden pattern of abuse across Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ghana and Liberia, in which permits designed to promote small businesses and meet local needs are being allocated in their hundreds to industrial logging companies. These “shadow permits” open the door to highly lucrative, large-scale logging operations which bypass oversight by the authorities.

"This is a very worrying trend – logging companies are systematically colluding with corrupt officials to get around laws designed to stop them decimating forests and abusing those that live in them. This is massively undermining international efforts to regulate the international timber trade, notably the EU’s Voluntary Partnership Agreements and Timber Regulation,” said Alexandra Pardal, Europe Campaigner at Global Witness.

12.4 billion Euros worth of timber considered to pose a high risk of illegality entered the EU in 2011... In March 2013 the EU Timber Regulation prohibited the import of illegal timber, but in the past two months Global Witness and Greenpeace have uncovered suspicious log shipments in EU ports from two of the countries featured in Logging in the shadows...

A logging truck in Cameroon, in a collision with a bush taxi, shot by Amcaja, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license 

Where the sea has risen too high already

Catherine Wilson in IPS: The deceptively calm waters of Langa Langa Lagoon on the west coast of Malaita Island in the Solomon Islands is home to thousands of people who have lived on artificial islands for centuries. For generations the islanders in this south-west Pacific nation have employed tenacity and ingenuity to maintain their existence on these tiny low-lying man-made atolls, devoid of freshwater and arable land. But climate change is now the greatest threat to their survival.

“The seas are rough and the tides are getting higher. Sometimes the waves come right across the island during the wet season,” Alphonsus Waleronoa said on Raolo Island, which has a total area of about 100 square metres.

....The Solomon Islands is an archipelago of more than 900 islands east of Papua New Guinea with the majority of the population residing close to the nation’s 4,023 km of coastline. Natural disasters are a high risk especially during the wet season from November to April when tropical cyclones, tsunamis and gale force winds can generate floods and destruction.

...The sea level near the Solomon Islands has risen by 8 mm per year since 1993, compared to the global average of 2.8-3.6mm, according to the Pacific Climate Change Science Programme. The prediction is that by 2030 the sea could rise by a maximum of 15 cm, the average wind speed of cyclones could increase by up to 11 percent and associated rainfall intensity by 20 percent....

Aerial shot of Batuna, Solomon Islands, shot by Graeme Bartlett, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Monday, April 29, 2013

Adapt faster to changing climate, Europe warned

Fiona Harvey in the Guardian: Cities around Europe may have to erect flood barriers similar to the Thames Barrier that protects London from sea surges, as climate change takes hold and leads to the danger of much more destructive storms, floods, heavy rainfall and higher sea levels, Europe's environmental watchdog has warned.

The effects of climate change will be so far-reaching across the continent that vineyards may have to plant new grape varieties, farmers may have to cultivate new crops and water suppliers look to technology such as desalination in order to cope with the probable effects of more extreme weather. Buildings and infrastructure such as transport, energy and communication networks will also have to be changed.

The warnings come in a report from the European Environment Agency, called Adaptation in Europe. The research found that half of the 32 member countries of the EEA still lack plans to adapt to the effects of global warming, although others have begun to take action.

Jacqueline McGlade, executive director of the EEA, said: "Adaptation is about new ways of thinking and dealing with risks and hazards, uncertainty and complexity. It will require Europeans to co-operate, to learn from each other and to invest in the long-term transformations needed to sustain our wellbeing in the face of climate change."

The EEA has found that the effects of climate change are already being felt across Europe, and more is in store. Even if current efforts to cut global greenhouse gas emissions are successful, there are likely to be further impacts from a changing climate, including more frequent "extreme weather events" such as fiercer storms, heatwaves and periods of heavy rainfall. Average temperatures across Europe have risen, and there is now less rainfall in southern Europe, where much of Europe's agriculture is focused, and more rainfall in northern Europe, where it gives rise to floods...

Flood Defences No 8 and 9, Thames Barrier London, shot by Christine Matthews, Wikimedia Commons via Geograph UK, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

India predicted to receive normal monsoon rains

Seed Daily via AFP: India will receive normal monsoon rains this year, the government said on Friday, boosting prospects of a stronger performance this year by Asia's third-largest economy. The pounding rains that sweep across the continent from June to September are dubbed the "economic lifeline" of India, which is one of the world's leading producers of rice, sugar, wheat and cotton.

"The southwest monsoon rainfall for the country is most likely to be normal," said Science Minister S. Jaipal Reddy. "The monsoon rainfall is likely to be 98 percent with a margin of error of five percent," he added.

But monsoon rains in the southern states of Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu may be delayed or could be below normal levels, government officials said. More than 70 percent of Indians depend on farm incomes, and at least 60 percent of the nation's farms lack irrigation, meaning they depend entirely on the rains that fall in intense bursts over the wet season...

View of Kalpa Village and Kinnaur Kailash blocked by monsoons, shot by Honinbou, Wikimedia Commons,  under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

New grass hybrid could help reduce the likelihood of flooding

Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Center: A collaboration of plant and soil scientists from across the UK has shown a grass hybrid species could help reduce the impact of flooding. The BBSRC-funded scientists, from Rothamsted Research, the James Hutton Institute, Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) at Aberystwyth University, Lancaster University and the University of Nottingham, used a hybridised species of grass called perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne) with a closely related species called meadow fescue (Festuca pratensis).

They hoped to integrate the rapid establishment and growth rate of the ryegrass with the large, well developed root systems and efficient water capture of the meadow fescue.

Over two years of field experiments in the south west the team demonstrated that the hybrid, named Festulolium, reduced water runoff from agricultural grassland by up to 51 per cent compared to a leading UK nationally-recommended perennial ryegrass cultivar and by 43 per cent compared to meadow fescue.

It is thought the reduced runoff is achieved because Festulolium's intense initial root growth and subsequent rapid turn-over, especially at depth, allows more water to be retained within the soil. The hybrid grass also provides high quality forage with resilience to weather extremes, making the grass doubly useful to farmers...

Grass-topped flood defenses along the River Parrett, shot by Sarah Charlesworth, Wikimedia Commons via Geograph UK, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Parasite 'resistant to malaria drug artemisinin'

Rebecca Morelle in the BBC: New drug-resistant strains of the parasite that causes malaria have been identified by scientists. Researchers found parasites in western Cambodia that are genetically different from other strains around the world.

These organisms are able to withstand treatment by artemisinin - a frontline drug in the fight against malaria. Reports of drug resistance in the area first emerged in 2008. The problem has since spread to other parts of South East Asia. The study is published in the journal Nature Genetics.

The lead author, Dr Olivo Miotto, of the University of Oxford and Mahidol University in Thailand, said: "All the most effective drugs that we have had in the last few decades have been one by one rendered useless by the remarkable ability of this parasite to mutate and develop resistance. "Artemisinin right now works very well. It is the best weapon we have against the disease, and we need to keep it."...

Mining companies are underprepared for climate change

Barton Loechel in the Conversation: Recent research suggests only a minority of mining companies are preparing for the biophysical impacts of climate change. Those that are preparing are going it alone: there is little collaboration on planning between miners and local government.

The preparedness of Australia’s resource communities for climate change will depend on adaptation planning across multiple sectors. For example, a range of climate change effects – drought, and conflict over water use, heatwaves and intense rainfall – will adversely affect mining operations as well as other industry sectors, communities and the surrounding environment.

Climate change in Australia is projected to lead to more frequent and severe droughts, floods and heat waves; increased cyclone intensity; and sea-level rise and ocean acidification, albeit with significant regional variations over different time frames.

Droughts cause competition between water users in rural areas – notably miners, farmers and rural townships. Intense rainfall events, such as those experienced in the Bowen Basin coal mining region of Queensland, led to extensive flooding of mine pits, damage to transportation routes, on-going disruption to production and export of coal, reduced state royalties, and community outrage over the effects on downstream water quality caused when pit water was released into streams.

Heat waves can reduce the liveability of mining communities and pose occupational health and safety risks for mine operational staff. Sea-level rise and ocean chemistry changes have implications for the integrity of port infrastructure and offshore platforms, while greater storm surge heights may affect mining-related infrastructure in low-lying coastal areas...

A pit at the Morenci Mine, the largest US copper mine. Shot by TJBlackwell, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license

Saturday, April 27, 2013

NASA imaging sensor prepares for western wildfire season

NASA: Airborne imaging technology developed at NASA and transferred to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service (USFS) in 2012 is being tested to prepare for this year's wildfire season in the western United States.

The Autonomous Modular Sensor (AMS) is a scanning spectrometer designed to help detect hot-spots, active fires, and smoldering and post-fire conditions. Scientists at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., and USFS engineers installed it on a Cessna Citation aircraft that belongs to the Forest Service. The USFS plans to use it in operational fire imaging and measurement.

The western United States is expected to have continued droughts this year resulting in increased potential for fire outbreaks, according to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) in Boise, Idaho. To help mitigate fire danger, NASA researchers and USFS firefighters are collaborating to improve fire management capabilities.

...Developed by NASA's Airborne Sciences Program, the Autonomous Modular Sensor acquires high-resolution imagery of the Earth's features from its vantage point aboard research aircraft. The sensor transmits nearly real-time data to ground disaster management investigators for analysis.

The sensor has been modified to fly on various crewed and uncrewed platforms, including NASA's Ikhana remotely piloted aircraft, a Predator-B modified to conduct airborne research. Between 2006 and 2010 the AMS flew on the Ikhana and NASA's B-200 King Air to demonstrate sensor capabilities, support national and state emergency requests for wildfire data, and ensure its operational readiness. ...

US Department of Agriculture photo of a wildfire

EU set to ban pesticides blamed for decline of bees

Seed Daily via AFP: The EU appears set to impose a two-year ban on the use of insecticides blamed for a sharp and worrying decline in bee populations, an EU source said Thursday. A committee of experts is due to vote Monday on the ban in an effort to protect bees and other insects which play an indispensible role in food production through plant pollination.

A vote earlier this year failed to produce a large enough qualified majority in favour, forcing the European Commission to try a second time. Under EU procedure, if Monday's vote is the same, the Commission has the authority to proceed on its own with the ban.

"The most likely outcome will be the same as last time ... and in that case, the Commission will decide to put the ban into operation," the source said. The Commission wants the insecticides banned for use on four major crops -- maize (corn), rape seed, sunflowers and cotton -- in a bid to protect the bee population....

Beehives in Germany, shot by Karl-Heinz Wellmann, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Kenya floods: Worst is yet to come

Maya Danaher at Trust.org: Flooding in Kenya has damaged farmlands, homes and schools, but the worst is yet to come – warns children’s charity Plan International. The heavy rains that have inundated districts throughout Kenya since March show no sign of stopping, and could last until the end of May.

The effects of the flood are being felt across the country. So far more than 1,300 families have been forced to leave their homes in search of temporary shelter on higher ground – and this number is expected to rise.

With severe damage to crops, homes and infrastructure, many people are struggling to survive. “Farmers in the cropping areas have lost all their crops and small animals which are their livelihood. For the few livestock that were not washed away by floods, there are no grazing areas as all fields are covered in water,” says Gezahegn Kebede, Plan International’s Regional Director based in Kenya.

The charity is distributing food to 1,000 households affected by the floods. “Food security in the area will be threatened as families might not harvest anything since the crops were destroyed. Likelihood of disease outbreaks is high as latrines have been washed away, contaminating water sources,” warns Mr Kebede....

Can a national strategy help wildlife adapt to climate change?

Alicia Graef in Care2: ... Experts are worried about how the natural world will continue to adapt and how we will feel the effects of those changes and, as common sense would dictate, they believe we need to start taking steps now to safeguard the natural resources that communities, economies and wild animals rely on.

In response to a call in 2010 from Congress for a nationwide conservation plan, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the New York Division of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources, along with a diverse team of state and tribal experts, put their collective expertise together and gathered input from non-profits, resource managers and 55,000 Americans to create The National Fish, Wildlife and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy.

...“The health and vitality of our nation’s natural resources are important components of our overall social and economic welfare,” said Eric Schwaab, Assistant Administrator for Fisheries at NOAA. “As resource trustees, we have an obligation to understand, consider and minimize all the potential impacts, including those from climate change. This new strategy will help us meet those challenges and empower current and future generations to be better stewards of our priceless resources and cherished landscapes amidst a rapidly changing world.”

The Strategy points out that most of the current laws, policies and regulations we have in place weren’t developed with the understanding we now have of climate change and how it impacts the environment and wildlife.

The authors hope to see a coordinated effort from policy makers, natural resource managers, private land owners and the public in seven key areas: increasing conservation efforts, updating approaches to species and habitat management, updating conservation laws and policies, supporting coordinated management efforts, improving information sharing, increasing public awareness and involvement and reducing non-climate stressors that are hurting plants and wildlife, such as pollution, illegal trade, invasive species and disease....

An elk herd in Yellowstone National Park, shot by Anayst, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Six more H7N9 bird flu cases reported in China

Xinhua: Six more cases of H7N9 bird flu were reported on Friday in the Chinese provinces of Fujian, Jiangsu, Jiangxi and Zhejiang. Health authorities in southeast China's Fujian Province confirmed the province's first human case of H7N9 avian influenza.

A 65-year-old man surnamed Luo, a local resident from Gaopo township, Yongding County, Longyan City, showed symptoms of repeated coughing, low fever and a tight chest on April 18. He tested positive for the H7N9 virus at 11 a.m. on Friday by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Thirty-seven people who have been in close contact with Luo have not shown any abnormal symptoms so far. Also, three men, aged 36, 49 and 60, from three different cities, were confirmed to have caught H7N9 bird flu in Jiangsu Province, according to a statement issued by the provincial health department. Two of them were in serious condition, said the statement....

Friday, April 26, 2013

Researchers advocate a simple, affordable and accurate technology to identify threats from sea-level rise

AlphaGalileo via the National University of Singapore: Potential for method to be used within a network of wetland monitoring programmes in Southeast Asia and globally for assessing shoreline security and stability

A team of researchers led by Associate Professor Edward L. Webb of the National University of Singapore (NUS) is calling for the global adoption of a method to identify areas that are vulnerable to sea-level rise. The method, which utilises a simple, low-cost tool, is financially and technically accessible to every country with coastal wet­lands. The team seeks to establish a network to coordinate the standardisation and management of the data, as well as to provide a platform for collaboration.

...Recognising that some wetlands may be able to keep up with sea-level rise, the research team argues that scientists must quantitatively evaluate which wetlands may persist in the future, and which may be most threatened by sea-level rise.

Although the science behind the tracking of sea-level is well-advanced, a large gap exists in the measurement of the biophysical processes underlying the vertical movement of coastal wetlands, so it remains unknown which coastal wetlands will be most vulnerable to future sea-level rise. Collection of relevant data across global wetlands is critical to informing not only local policies, but to generating more realistic regional-level predictions to inform costal management and policy.

In a bid to address this gap, the research team, comprising members from NUS and the United States Geological Survey, argues for the widespread adoption of a standardised, simple and inexpensive method to measure the vertical movement of coastal wetland surface and its constituent processes that determine whether a wetland can keep pace with sea-level rise. The method utilises a rod surface elevation table (RSET), in which a benchmark rod is drilled vertically through the soil down to the base of the mudflat. A portable horizontal arm is attached at a fixed point to measure the distance to the substrate surface. The RSET is thus a permanent reference point to measure the rate and direction of the mudflat’s surface movement. ...

Nei Lingding Island, view from Hong Kong, shot by Minghong, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Businesses need more collaborative, sustainable water management approach

Ooska News: A new report by World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) called on businesses to focus on water management beyond the “fence-line,” or outside the company, to ensure sustainable use of the resource.

As competing demands for water increase and more frequent weather events due to climate change come into play, businesses need to plan for an unpredictable and inconsistent water supply and develop more sophisticated water management practices than merely bringing down their own water usage, according to the report “Sharing Water: Engaging Business,” launched last week.

It says companies should adopt a more holistic “watershed approach” that factors in upstream and downstream interactions and direct and indirect impacts, and acknowledges the needs of the environment.

For many businesses, this approach is a more cost-effective method to mitigate water risks and provides significant benefits and opportunities through new revenue prospects, reputation enhancement, improved compliance and cost savings, the report added.

According to the WBCSD, to accelerate the impact of business actions, there needs to be a shift from inside the fence-line to watershed-based collaboration that effectively engages other stakeholders to improve shared management of water....

Shot of a running brook by Jon Sullivan, public domain

Sea surface temperatures reach highest level in 150 years on northeastern US continental shelf

NOAA's Northeast Fisheries Science Center: Sea surface temperatures in the Northeast Shelf Large Marine Ecosystem during 2012 were the highest recorded in 150 years, according to the latest Ecosystem Advisory issued by NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC). These high sea surface temperatures (SSTs) are the latest in a trend of above average temperature seen during the spring and summer seasons, and part of a pattern of elevated temperatures occurring in the Northwest Atlantic, but not seen elsewhere in the ocean basin over the past century. The advisory reports on conditions in the second half of 2012.

Sea surface temperature for the Northeast Shelf Ecosystem reached a record high of 14 degrees Celsius (57.2°F) in 2012, exceeding the previous record high in 1951. Average SST has typically been lower than 12.4 C (54.3 F) over the past three decades.

Sea surface temperature in the region is based on both contemporary satellite remote-sensing data and long-term ship-board measurements, with historical SST conditions based on ship-board measurements dating back to 1854. The temperature increase in 2012 was the highest jump in temperature seen in the time series and one of only five times temperature has changed by more than 1 C (1.8 F).

The Northeast Shelf’s warm water thermal habitat was also at a record high level during 2012, while cold water habitat was at a record low level. Early winter mixing of the water column went to extreme depths, which will impact the spring 2013 plankton bloom. Mixing redistributes nutrients and affects stratification of the water column as the bloom develops.

Temperature is also affecting distributions of fish and shellfish on the Northeast Shelf. The advisory provides data on changes in distribution, or shifts in the center of the population, of seven key fishery species over time. The four southern species - black sea bass, summer flounder, longfin squid and butterfish - all showed a northeastward or upshelf shift. American lobster has shifted upshelf over time but at a slower rate than the southern species. Atlantic cod and haddock have shifted downshelf.”...

The four subregions of the Northeast Shelf Large Marine Ecosystem, which extends from Cape Hatteras, N.C. to the Gulf of Maine. MAB is the Mid-Atlantic Bight, SNE is Southern New England, GB is Georges Bank, and GOM is the Gulf of Maine. Credit: NOAA

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Rain-soaked Midwest braces for more flooding

Alastair Jamieson at NBC News: Flood-weary residents in parts of the Midwest were still trying to stem the tide of murky river water Thursday, as late snow-melt combined with days of spring rain sent rivers toward high-water records.

Floodwaters had begun an inch-by-inch retreat in inundated Peoria, Ill., after the Illinois River crested Tuesday at 29.35 feet, eclipsing a 70-year record. In central Indiana, more heavy rain through Wednesday morning prompted a request for voluntary evacuation along the Tippecanoe River near Lafayette.

The Grand River at Grand Rapids, Mich., which reached record levels, was expected to fall below flood stage Thursday and some of the hundreds of people evacuated were starting to return home.

Along the Mississippi, the biggest concern was that the flood is expected to linger into May, potentially straining longstanding earthen levees and hastily-built sandbag walls. No towns were in imminent danger.

Rain-soaked Chicago had its wettest April on record, the National Weather Service said, according to NBCChicago.com. In tiny Dutchtown, Missouri, flooding from the Mississippi has become such a fact of life that residents expressed hope that the Federal Emergency Management Agency would buy them out of their homes...

A FEMA photo of cattle stranded in a 2008 flood in Missouri

H7N9 Is an 'unusually dangerous virus,' international group of experts concludes

Mara Hvistendahl and Dennis Normile, with reporting by Yang Jianxiang in Science Insider:  An international team of experts concluded an investigative mission to China today with both sobering and encouraging findings about H7N9, a novel avian influenza virus recently found for the first time in humans.

"This is an unusually dangerous virus for humans," said Keiji Fukuda, assistant director-general for health security of the World Health Organization (WHO), at a press conference in Beijing this morning. From what is known so far, he added, H7N9 "is more easily transmissible from poultry to humans than H5N1," the avian influenza virus that has circulated in poultry in Asia for more than a decade, occasionally causing human fatalities.

The team also reported that the available evidence points to live bird markets as being the most likely pathway for the virus from poultry to humans. Positive samples have been retrieved from poultry and from contaminated surfaces at the markets. Nancy Cox, a flu expert at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, cautioned that while it is still early, "we can now understand that the likely source of infection is poultry—that the virus originates from poultry."

Shanghai closed its live poultry markets on 6 April, shortly after the market link was suspected. "Almost immediately there was a decline in the number of new cases," said Anne Kelso, director of the WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza in Melbourne, Australia. "This is a very encouraging outcome so far," she added, calling the decision to close markets "very quick and appropriate."...

Various views of H5N1, a previous bird flu, from the Centers for Disease Control

Women are 'key drivers' in climate change adaptation

Bernard Appiah in SciDev.net: Plans to protect ecosystems and help people adapt to climate change ― also known as ecosystem-based adaptation (EBA) ― must involve vulnerable groups, including women and communities greatly hit by global warming if they are to succeed, according to scientists who met in Tanzania last month (21-23 March).

Scientists and policymakers at the UN-led international workshop on EBA in Dar-es-Salaam, also said that more needed to be done to monitor and evaluate the cost-effectiveness of such adaptation, and to learn from past experiences in order to transfer knowledge into action and policy.

"Adaptation to the adverse effects of climate change is vital in order to reduce the impacts of climate change that are happening now, and increase resilience to future impacts," says Richard Kinley, deputy executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which organised the meeting. "Ecosystem-based approaches are part of the solution that countries could use in building resilience to climate change," he adds.

For example, mangroves or forest — rather than artificial sea walls — should be maintained or restored to help protect coastlines. The mangroves can improve water quality and thus increase fish yields, while also protecting fishing communities from future disasters....

Bangladesh tragedy underlines how deficient building codes can fuel disasters

UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction: The Head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), Margareta Wahlström, today extended condolences to the families of those who have lost loved ones in the collapse of an eight-storey building in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and reiterated that Dhaka is also in a high risk earthquake zone.

In meetings last year in Dhaka, Ms. Wahlström urged Government ministers to update the National Building Code and strengthen its implementation to minimize casualties in view of the fact that over 40 million people in Bangladesh live in seismic zones.

She said today: "As we know from earthquakes, buildings kill more people than anything else. Bangladesh is a role model for many countries working to reduce deaths and losses from disasters and is a world leader in disaster risk reduction. The country has done excellent work in reducing mortality from cyclones and is poised to do an equally thorough job when it comes to updating the National Building Code and enforcing its implementation.

"The rapid pace of urbanization around the world means that sub-standard construction work is not just a problem in Bangladesh. We know that many governments are challenged by the task of ensuring adherence to land-use regulations and building codes. More people are living in seismic zones than ever before. We will have over six billion people living in urban areas by mid-century, up from around 3.5 billion people today. We can prevent many tragedies if we invest with care in new urban developments and public safety while raising awareness and commitment by citizens, business communities as well as the construction industry."

The Bangladesh capital, Dhaka, along with Barishal, Jamalpur and Sylhet have all joined UNISDR's Making Cities Resilient Campaign and are committed to implementing the campaign's Ten Essential actions to build resilience including better land use and adherence to strong building codes....

Floods highlight disaster management challenges in Kenya

IRIN: Assistance to thousands of flood-affected families in Kenya has been curtailed by lack of a national disaster management body, poor coordination, poor rural infrastructure and other challenges.  At least 89,515 Kenyans had been displaced by floods, according to a recent Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS) report. Sixty-two people were killed and many others were injured. The floods, caused by heavy rains in mid-March and early April, have affected areas in the central, eastern, northeastern, Rift Valley and western regions, and in Nairobi, the capital.

Disaster response in Kenya is often inadequate and characterized by a failure to act on early warnings, according to Mohamed Sheikh Nur, an aid agency consultant.  "What the government is doing now in the name of disaster response is neither effective nor adequate. I am yet to see a special kitty [fund] set [aside] to help the disabled, pregnant women, children and the sick. The [bulk of what] they are doing is only focused on distribution of food.”

According to Muhammed*, an HIV-positive father of six, more attention should be paid to vulnerable groups, such as those living with HIV.  "We need special care. Some of us have developed complications for failing to take [anti-retroviral] drugs. Some of us lost their drugs, some contracted waterborne diseases,” he told IRIN, from the Madogo area of the Tana River Delta region.

"Cases of pregnant women with delivery complications are prevalent. We have lost three mothers who required caesarean operations. They died because they could not reach Isiolo Town, where the service is available. The road remains cut off," Abdi Sora, an Isiolo County representative, told IRIN...

Kenya's Tana River flooded in 1998, US military photo

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Predicted flood at head of the Red River scaled back

Bill McCauliffe in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune: Residents of the Red River’s first flooding target got a bit of good news Tuesday when the National Weather Service scaled down Sunday’s expected river crest by half a foot. A recent slow melt, a soil thaw and a forecast calling for little rain prompted the Weather Service to drop the peak expected at Breckenridge, Minn., and Wahpeton, N.D., where the Red is formed by the Otter Tail and Bois de Sioux rivers.

The predicted peak would be about the sixth-highest on record and nearly 3 feet below the record reached in 1997.

The Weather Service may announce a crest Wednesday for Fargo-Moorhead, the largest U.S. population center along the north-flowing Red, where crests generally arrive about four days after leaving Breckenridge-Wahpeton. The agency forecasts crest heights only within seven days of their expected occurrence, but it has been indicating a 40 percent chance of a record crest at Fargo-Moorhead.

The downgrade at Breckenridge-Wahpeton won’t make a significant practical difference with the river at an already high level, said Tom Richels, retired Wilkin County engineer who is acting as a consultant for the county on spring flooding. But Richels said he expects more downgrades in the coming days.

The Weather Service has indicated the Red might crest at Fargo-Moorhead somewhere between 38 and 42 feet. The record there is 40.8, set in 2009...

FEMA image of Fargo, North Dakota's record flood in 2009

Rivers act as “horizontal cooling towers,” study finds

University of New Hampshire Media Relations: Running two computer models in tandem, scientists from the University of New Hampshire have detailed for the first time how thermoelectric power plants interact with climate, hydrology, and aquatic ecosystems throughout the northeastern U.S. and show how rivers serve as “horizontal cooling towers” that provide an important ecosystem service to the regional electricity sector — but at a cost to the environment.

The analysis, done in collaboration with colleagues from the City College of New York (CCNY) and published online in the current journal Environmental Research Letters, highlights the interactions among electricity production, cooling technologies, hydrologic conditions, aquatic impacts and ecosystem services, and can be used to assess the full costs and tradeoffs of electricity production at regional scales and under changing climate conditions.

...Thermoelectric power plants boil water to create steam that in turn drives turbines to produce electricity. They provide 90 percent of the electricity consumed nationwide and an even a greater percentage in the Northeast — a region with a high density of power plants.

Cooling the waste heat generated during the process requires that prodigious volumes of water be withdrawn and makes the thermoelectric sector the largest user of freshwater in the U.S. — withdrawing more than the entire, combined agricultural sector. Water withdrawals are either evaporated in cooling towers or returned to the river at elevated temperatures. Rivers can help mitigate these added heat loads through the ecosystem services of conveyance, dilution, and attenuation  — essentially acting as horizontal cooling towers as water flows downstream.

Says Stewart, a research scientist in the EOS Earth Systems Research Center, “Our modeling shows that, of the waste heat produced during the production of electricity, roughly half is directed to vertical, evaporative cooling towers while the other half is transferred to rivers.” The study also shows that, of the waste heat transferred to rivers, only slightly more than 11 percent wafts into the atmosphere with the rest delivered to coastal waters and the ocean. ...

Tricastin Nuclear Power Center in the Rhone wine region of Coteaux du Tricastin. Shot by jean-louis Zimmermann, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Forest conservation could reduce malaria transmission

María Elena Hurtado in SciDev.net: Preserving the biodiversity of tropical forests could have the added benefit of cutting the spread of malaria, according to a new study. The finding contradicts the traditional view that clearing native forest for agriculture curbs malaria transmission in the Amazon rainforest.

"Our study suggests, in contrast, that conservation of biodiversity can be reconciled with malaria control," Gabriel Zorello, an epidemiologist at Brazil's University of Sao Paulo and lead researcher of the study, tells SciDev.Net.

The researchers looked at two aspects that can affect malaria transmission in forested areas: the numbers of warm-blooded animals and the numbers of mosquitoes that do not carry malaria. Their study area was a large, sparsely-populated forested mountain range within the Atlantic Forest of southeastern Brazil. Warm-blooded animals live there, including medium-to-large birds such as toucans and quails, and mammals such as howler monkeys and squirrels.

No malaria cases have been reported on the mountain range in the past 30 years, but the primary malaria mosquito in the Atlantic Forest, Anopheles cruzii, lives nearby and could introduce the Plasmodium vivax parasite — associated with an estimated 80–300 million cases of malaria worldwide.

The researchers plugged real data from the area into a mathematical model of their own design to explore what would happen to malaria rates when the numbers of warm-blooded animals and non-malarial mosquitoes grew.

They found that the circulation of P. vivax is curbed when mosquitoes and animals are more abundant — suggesting that the mosquitoes compete with each other, and that the animals act as dead-end reservoirs of the malaria parasite. "These aspects of biodiversity that can hinder malaria transmission are services provided by the forest ecosystem," says Zorello....

Culex pipiens, shot by Alvesgaspar, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

The Asian monsoon is getting predictable

Robert Monroe at the UC San Diego News Center: For much of Asia, the pace of life is tuned to rhythms of monsoons. The summer rainy season is especially important for securing the water and food supplies for more than a billion people. Its variations can mean the difference between drought and flood. Now a Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego-led study reports on a crucial connection that could drastically improve the ability of forecasters to reliably predict the monsoon a few months in advance.

Yu Kosaka and Shang-Ping Xie from Scripps and colleagues from NOAA found that a winter appearance of the climate phenomenon called El Niño in the Pacific Ocean can leave its mark on monsoon formation in the Indian Ocean a full six months later. In between is an atmospheric phenomenon called the Pacific-Japan pattern that provides the teleconnection between the two ocean basins and further poleward to East Asia.

“It has long been a mystery that climate anomalies in the region correlate better with El Niño in the preceding winter than with the one developing in the concurrent summer,” said Xie, a climate scientist and inaugural holder of the Scripps Roger Revelle Chair in Environmental Science. “The new paper shows that Indian Ocean temperature and atmospheric anomalies in the western Pacific are physically coupled, and their interactions amplify each other. We demonstrated that this new mode of coupled ocean-atmospheric anomalies is predictable a season ahead. Such predictions have tremendous benefits to society.”

... “The last sound El Niño makes is in the western Pacific Ocean,” Kosaka said, “because the positive feedback between the Indian Ocean and Pacific-Japan pattern we found amplifies climate anomalies in this region.” The last echoes of El Niño have devastating consequences to the region....
Researchers studied anomalies of observed (a) and modeled (c) Indian Ocean sea-surface temperatures as well as observed (b) and modeled (d) precipitation patterns to establish a link between El Niño and the Asian monsoon. Image by PNAS.

China bird flu spreads to new province

Terra Daily via AFP: China on Tuesday said the H7N9 bird flu had spread to a new area as it confirmed the first case in the eastern province of Shandong in an outbreak which has so far killed 22 people.

Since China announced on March 31 that the virus had been discovered in humans for the first time, most cases have been confined to the commercial hub Shanghai and three nearby provinces, Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Anhui. Beijing and the central province of Henan have also reported cases...

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Study finds that residential lawns efflux more carbon dioxide than corn fields

Soil Science Society of America: More carbon dioxide is released from residential lawns than corn fields according to a new study. And much of the difference can likely be attributed to soil temperature. The data, from researchers at Elizabethtown College, suggest that urban heat islands may be working at smaller scales than previously thought. These findings provide a better understanding of the changes that occur when agricultural lands undergo development and urbanization to support growing urban populations.

David Bowne, assistant professor of biology, led the study to look at the amount of carbon dioxide being released from residential lawns versus corn fields in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. His co-author, Erin Johnson, was an undergraduate at the time of the study and did the work as part of her senior honors thesis. Their findings were published online today in Soil Science Society of America Journal.

For Bowne, the study allowed him to look beyond the obvious impact of losing agricultural fields to development – the loss of food that was once produced on the land. “That is a legitimate concern, but I wanted to look more at how this change could potentially impact the carbon cycle with the understanding that the carbon cycle has implications for global climate change,” explains Bowne.

...Higher temperatures leading to increased carbon dioxide efflux was not a surprise for Bowne and Johnson as this relationship has been documented before. “As you increase temperature,” Bowne explains, “you increase biological activity – be it microbial, plant, fungal, or animal.” That increased activity, then, leads to more respiration and higher levels of carbon dioxide leaving the soils.

What was unexpected, however, was that the higher temperatures found in residential lawns suggested urban heat islands working at small scales. Urban heat islands are well documented phenomena in which development leads to large areas of dark-colored surfaces such as roofs, buildings, and parking lots. The dark color means more heat is absorbed leading to an increase in temperature in the neighboring areas. Urban areas, then, are warmer than the surrounding countryside.

The interesting part of Bowne’s study is that the urban heat islands in the areas he was looking seem to operate on much smaller scales than he previously thought. While heat islands are usually studied on large scales – such as comparing a large city and its surrounding rural areas – fewer studies have been done to work out how development may affect temperatures on small scales. “Within a developed area, within a city or town, you could have local increases in soil temperature because of the amount of development within a really small area,” says Bowne....

Lawn grass, shot by MichaelPloujnikov, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Viruses from sewage contaminate deep well water

Janet Pelley in Chemical & Engineering News: Scientists once thought that pathogens could not reach drinking water wells sunk into deep, protected groundwater aquifers. Nevertheless, over the past decade, researchers have identified diarrhea-causing viruses at a handful of deep bedrock well sites in the U.S. and Europe. Now, researchers in Madison, Wis., report where these pathogenic viruses may have originated. The viruses appear to seep from sewer pipes and then swiftly penetrate drinking water wells....

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does not regulate the presence of viruses in drinking water, so many public water systems do not routinely test for them. In a 2007 study, a team of researchers, including Mark Borchardt, a microbiologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Kenneth Bradbury, a hydrogeologist at the University of Wisconsin-Extension, in Madison, investigated the integrity of aquifers confined beneath a thick layer of clay or ... Groundwater models predicted that surface contaminants would require tens to hundreds of years to reach wells in these aquifers, which typically sit more than 700 feet underground. Even if pathogens did find their way to the groundwater, they should be dead after that amount of time. “But we were shocked to find human-specific viruses—some of which were still infectious—in every well we sampled in Madison,” Bradbury says.

This group and others in the field suspected that leaking sewer pipes were the source, so the scientists launched a sampling program to determine how the pathogens got into the wells. Every two to four weeks, the team sampled sewage at the city’s waste treatment plant and water pumped from six wells prior to any disinfection. They identified viruses and measured their concentrations in the samples using real-time quantitative polymerase chain reaction.

Viruses appear and disappear in the human population on a monthly cycle, which allowed the researchers to track their presence in sewage and well water, Borchardt says. After the team detected viruses in the sewage, the same viruses appeared simultaneously in all six wells a few weeks later, usually after rain or snowfall melt. The scientists could correlate when the pathogens popped up in the well water with their appearance in the sewage system.

What’s more, the scientists cultured the viruses from the wells and showed that they were still infectious. Virus concentrations similar to those found in the study are sufficient to cause vomiting and diarrhea, Borchardt says. However, “because Madison chlorinates its water, no one has become sick,” Bradbury adds....

A surface aerator at a water treatment plant, shot by Trlabarge, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Without adequate funding, deadly wheat disease could threaten global food supplies

University of Minnesota News: Disease-resistant wheat developed over the past half century helped ensure steady world food supplies, but a global team led by researchers from the University of Minnesota warns in a new paper that without increased financial support for disease resistance research, new strains of a deadly fungal disease could leave millions without affordable access to food.

The study, published in the current edition of the journal Science, examines how Ug99 – new virulent forms of stem rust first found in Uganda in 1999—could continue its movement across Africa, the Middle East and southwest Asia.  It threatens food supplies for millions of people who depend on wheat and other small grains. Scientists have developed new wheat varieties with some resistance to the deadly disease, but the disease evolves and mutates into new forms, requiring new resistant varieties to be developed. 

Several projects to develop resistance to Ug99 are under way, including an international consortium known as the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative, a $26 million, five-year effort funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  But the University of Minnesota economists estimate that as much as $51 million a year is needed.  They arrived at that conclusion by estimating the economic losses that would likely have occurred without the 20th century research that kept earlier variations of the disease at bay.

"Failing to increase and sustain investments in rust-resistance research is tantamount to accepting an increase in the risk of yield losses on one of the world’s food staples," said Phil Pardey, leader of the research team and a professor of applied economics at the University of Minnesota.   "Spending on stem rust research has been inadequate for some time, and increased research investment must be sustained over the long haul if science is to keep on top of these ever-evolving crop diseases."...

Stripe rust on wheat, shot by Yue Jin, public domain

Regional insights set latest study of climate history apart

Space Daily via SPX: As climate studies saturate scientific journals and mainstream media, with opposing viewpoints quickly squaring off in reaction and debate, new findings can easily be lost in the noise. But in the case of Northern Arizona University Regents' professor Darrell Kaufman and a study appearing in Nature Geoscience, obscurity is an unlikely fate.

What Kaufman-the lead co-author of "Continental-scale temperature variability during the last two millennia"-and 78 experts from 24 countries have done is to assemble the most comprehensive study to date of temperature change of Earth's continents over the past 1,000 to 2,000 years. By looking regionally, the researchers found considerable complexity hidden within a global average.

"We wanted a new and ambitious effort to reconstruct past climate," Kaufman said of the PAGES 2k network of researchers. "One of the strongest aspects of the consortium study is that it relies on regional expertise."

Members of the consortium represent eight continental-scale regions. They lent their insights about the best proxy records-such as tree-ring measurements-to use for a particular region, and how to interpret the data based on regional climatology.

While the study does not attempt to attribute temperature changes to natural or human-caused factors, Kaufman said the finding of a long-term global cooling trend that ended late in the 19th century is further evidence that increased greenhouse gasses have had an influence in later years. "The pre-industrial trend was likely caused by natural factors that continued to operate through the 20th century, making 20th century warming more difficult to explain if not for the likely impact of increased greenhouse gasses," Kaufman said.

While that sounds like a familiar theme, the study's findings of regional variations are less well known. Because of extensive participation by scientists working in the Southern Hemisphere, Kaufman said, data from those regions broadened what had been a view previously centered on Europe....

A NASA image of Europe processed by http://www.terraprints.com, Wikimedia Commons, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license

Climate change conference opens in Bangladesh

Ghana Business News: Climate change experts today began a four-day conference in the Bangladesh capital, Dhaka, also known as the “adaptation capital of the world” because it is seen as the country that has done most to adapt to the effects of climate change.

The 7th International Conference on Community Based Adaptation to Climate Change is being managed by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies (BCAS).

Although Bangladesh may be among the countries most vulnerable to climate change it is also the country that has put in so much effort to adapt to the impacts ahead, according to the organisers of the international conference that takes place there this week.

According to a press release issued by the IIED, Bangladesh’s Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, was expected to open the conference, while former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, is billed to give the keynote speech in the closing session.

Speaking to Bangladesh’s status as a country most affected by climate change, Dr. Saleemul Huq, senior fellow at IIED, said: “The story of Bangladesh being vulnerable to climate change is yesterday’s story. Today’s story is about Bangladesh being one of the most adaptive countries. I would call it the adaptation capital of the world. Other so-called developing countries too have lessons that even the world’s richest countries can learn about how to adapt to climate change.”...

Boat and bridge in Dhaka, shot by synthia k, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Climate change reshaping agriculture in Eastern Europe

William Brittlebank in Climate Action: Ensuring food security in a changing climate is a critical and pressing development challenge in today's world. Projections estimate that food production around the globe needs to increase by 70-100 per cent by 2050 in order to meet the demands of a world with nine billion people.

As part of the effort to address the challenges of food security and climate change, a new approach to agriculture is being developed. This approach, known as "climate smart agriculture", emphasizes the need for agricultural practices which can simultaneously increase productivity in today's climate, build resilience to climate change, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions - contributing to a "triple win" in the agriculture sector and providing sustainable solutions to the challenges posed by a shifting global climate.

Food security remains a key development challenge across the globe, with some projections estimating the need for an increase in agricultural production of 70-100 percent by 2050.

Shifts in temperature and precipitation are forcing farmers in Europe and Central Asian countries to adapt to impacts of climate change in their agriculture sectors.

A new book provides analysis and recommendations for agricultural adaptation measures in response to the risks of climate change impacts in the region, particularly for Albania, FYR Macedonia, Moldova, and Uzbekistan.

Climate change is already underway in the Europe and Central Asia region and it is accelerating, reinforcing the need for immediate, medium-, and long term solutions which can help everyone involved in agriculture to reduce its adverse impacts. Changes in precipitation patterns, rising temperatures, and increases in the frequency and severity of natural disasters are forcing people to address these impacts in new and innovatice ways and begin adapting to a changing climate. While these changes in climate and their resulting effects on agriculture will have an impact on the global population at large, it is the rural populations who are most vulnerable...

A farmer's market in Skopje, shot by ImogenX, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Superstorm Sandy shook the US. Literally

News Center, University of Utah: When superstorm Sandy turned and took aim at New York City and Long Island last October, ocean waves hitting each other and the shore rattled the seafloor and much of the United States – shaking detected by seismometers across the country, University of Utah researchers found.

“We detected seismic waves created by the oceans waves both hitting the East Coast and smashing into each other,” with the most intense seismic activity recorded when Sandy turned toward Long Island, New York and New Jersey, says Keith Koper, director of the University of Utah Seismograph Stations.

“We were able to track the hurricane by looking at the ‘microseisms’ [relatively small seismic waves] generated by Sandy,” says Oner Sufri, a University of Utah geology and geophysics doctoral student and first author of the study with Koper. “As the storm turned west-northwest, the seismometers lit up.”

...There is no magnitude scale for the microseisms generated by Sandy, but Koper says they range from roughly 2 to 3 on a quake magnitude scale. The conversion is difficult because earthquakes pack a quick punch, while storms unleash their energy for many hours.

The shaking was caused partly by waves hitting the East Coast, but much more by waves colliding with other waves in the ocean, setting up “standing waves” that reach the seafloor and transmit energy to it, Sufri and Koper say.

While many people may not realize it, earthquakes are not the only events that generate seismic waves. So do mining and mine collapses; storm winds, waves and tornadoes; traffic, construction and other urban activities; and meteors hitting Earth....

Hurricane Sandy on October 29, 2012, via NASA

Chinese poultry industry struggles to survive H7N9

Xinhua: Lin Yuanzhong has killed more than 40,000 ducklings in the past 10 days as there is no sign anyone will patronize his duck breeding farm in Zini Town, Longhai City in east China's Fujian Province. "If this continues for another 20 days, all the feed manufacturers, breeding farms and poultry raisers will be bankrupt," said Lin, who has been engaged in the industry for decades.

Even though the fast spread of H7N9 avian influenza has so far only hit Shanghai, Beijing and the provinces of Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Anhui and Henan, the ensuing fear has reached nationwide. The outbreak since earlier this month has given China's poultry industry its hardest hit in a decade, with drastic declines in both poultry prices and consumption. Xiao Zhiyuan, director of the poultry association of south China's Guangdong Province, labeled the current crisis "the worst in history."

The SARS outbreak in 2003, H5N1 in 2005 and H1N1 in 2009 inflicted at most a daily loss of 5 million yuan (801,077 U.S. dollars) per company, but Guangdong Wen's Food Group Co., Ltd., one of the largest poultry raisers in China, has suffered a loss of 20 million yuan in one day this time, according to Xiao.

"We lost up to 100 million yuan from April 1 to April 14 and the loss is expected to hit 150 million yuan this month," said Liang Zhiyong, general manager of Wen's Food Group Co. Ltd.'s branch in Zhejiang Province. "We have been trying to get financing from various channels, but the gap is still huge," said Liang.

The area worst hit by the H7N9 crisis is east China, where the largest number of human cases of the virus have been recorded...

Research finds invasive kudzu bugs may pose greater threat than previously thought

Seed Daily via SPX: The invasive kudzu bug has the potential to be a major agricultural pest, causing significant damage to economically important soybean crops. Conventional wisdom has held that the insect pests will be limited to areas in the southern United States, but new research from North Carolina State University shows that they may be able to expand into other parts of the country.

Kudzu bugs (Megacopta cribraria) are native to Asia, and were first detected in the U.S. in Georgia in 2009. They have since expanded their territory as far north as Virginia. The bugs have an interesting life cycle, which has been thought to be a limiting factor on far they can spread.

Eggs laid in the spring hatch into a first generation, which we'll call "Generation A." The immature bugs of Generation A normally feed on kudzu plants until they reach adulthood, when they have been known to move into commercial soybean fields.

These mature adults lay eggs that hatch into Generation B during the summer months. Generation B kudzu bugs can feed on soybean crops during both their immature and adult life stages, causing significant crop damage. ..

A field of kudzu. Maybe there are some bugs in there. Shot by Galen Parks Smith (Gsmith), Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Locals need more legal rights in big African land deals

Chelsea Diana in AlertNet: Can legal reforms help affected communities have a bigger say about African land deals? As negative impacts of large commercial land acquisitions are exposed, people who feel wronged by them are becoming more engaged and searching for ways to take action, research shows. Ensuring they have, and know about, legal rights could help, experts say.

Large-scale land deals in can offer benefits, such as job opportunities, market access and infrastructure improvements, supporters say. But critics note that they also can lead to local people losing control of land, and can spur economic conflict in local communities.

A report, published by the International Institute for Environmental Development (IIED) this month, looks at the ways citizens respond when they see land deals as unjust. These efforts include letter writing, requesting an audience with authorities, forming negotiating groups and using the courts to work through their legal options, as well as staging protests.

Looking at the legal frameworks in 12 African countries, including Mozambique, Tanzania and Liberia, and 16 large-scale land deals, the research found too few legal options available for local groups in comparison to laws protecting investors, governments and communities. ...

A field in Tanzania, shot by Hansueli Krapf, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Saturday, April 20, 2013

US drought falls below 50 percent for first time in 10 months

Science Daily: The area of the contiguous United States in moderate drought or worse fell below 50 percent for the first time since June 19, 2012, according to the latest edition of the U.S. Drought Monitor released Thursday.

Heavy precipitation across the Plains and the upper Midwest continued to ease drought. The area of the lower 48 states in moderate drought or worse declined to 47.82 percent, from 50.82 percent a week ago.

"We've been on a steady but slow recovery path from drought since the peak in September 2012," said Mark Svoboda, University of Nebraska-Lincoln climatologist and a founding author of the Monitor. "We've seen a much more active weather pattern lately across the midsection of the country, which has been eroding the intensity of drought as we head into spring. This is exactly what we needed."

Svoboda, the head of the Monitoring Program area at the National Drought Mitigation Center based at UNL, cautioned that improvement is still needed before the hot, dry season sets in.

Drought Monitor authors synthesize many drought indicators into a single map that identifies areas that are abnormally dry, in moderate drought, in severe drought, extreme drought and exceptional drought.

In the Midwest, heavy rains soaked into thawing soils and reduced drought in Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Missouri, observed this week's narrative accompanying the Drought Monitor map. The area of the Midwest in moderate drought or worse declined to 20.94 percent from 32.24 percent the preceding week, according to statistics released with the map....

Nitrogen has key role in estimating CO2 emissions from land use change

News Bureau for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: A new global-scale modeling study that takes into account nitrogen – a key nutrient for plants – estimates that carbon emissions from human activities on land were 40 percent higher in the 1990s than in studies that did not account for nitrogen.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Bristol Cabot Institute published their findings in the journal Global Change Biology. The findings will be a part of the upcoming Fifth Assessment Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“One nutrient can make a huge impact on the carbon cycle and net emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide,” said study leader Atul Jain, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the U. of I. “We know that climate is changing, but the question is how much? To understand that, we have to understand interactive feedback processes – the interactions of climate with the land, but also interactions between nutrients within the land.”

The carbon cycle is a balance of carbon emissions into the atmosphere and absorption by oceans and terrestrial ecosystems. Carbon is absorbed by plants during photosynthesis and by the oceans through sea-air gas exchange. On the other side of the cycle, carbon is released by burning fossil fuels and by changes in land use – deforestation to expand croplands, for example. While fossil fuel emissions are well-known, there are large uncertainties in estimated emissions from land use change.

“When humans disturb the land, the carbon stored in the plants and the soil goes back into the atmosphere,” Jain said. “But when plants regrow, they absorb carbon through photosynthesis. Absorption or release of carbon can be enhanced or dampened depending on environmental conditions, such as climate and nutrient availability.”...

A plowing match in Australia, way back when