Tuesday, December 31, 2013

In 2013, Climate 'resiliency' officially entered the lexicon

Maria Galluci in Inside Climate News: The debate about tackling climate change has long revolved around the twin challenges of mitigating global warming and adapting to its more predictable long-term impacts—rising seas, higher peak temperatures, relentless drought.

Now a new concept has risen: "climate resiliency," or preparing cities for climate change's unforeseen and destructive disasters and disruptions. Resiliency includes adaptation measures—such as rebuilding wetlands or moving homes onto higher foundations as a way to fight floods—but it's also about armoring entire populations so they can absorb and quickly recover from sudden calamity.

Resiliency is "a more holistic perspective on creating stronger and more prepared communities," said Brian Holland, the director of climate programs at ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability, a nonprofit based in Germany with U.S. headquarters in Oakland, Calif. "We're not just reacting to climate change. We're looking at how to build communities that can bounce forward" after a shock.

Although scientists and academics have long fretted about the resiliency of the word's cities amid increasing bursts of deadly weather, 2013 saw the concept enter the American lexicon after Superstorm Sandy brought the issue of to the fore. The devastation left by the climate-fueled hurricane—the pummeled houses, stranded families, electricity outages and damage to critical shipping ports—showed just how ill-prepared many cities are for a rapidly changing climate. Leaders began raising the issue publicly for the first time in media interviews, during urban policy panels and at national conferences.

The "little burbling" of activity turned into "a tidal wave of interest" that is likely to snowball next year, according to Rosina Bierbaum, an expert on climate change adaptation at the University of Michigan....

From NOAA, a gif of Typhoon Haiyan making landfall in the Philippines, November 7, 2013

2014 is the year for a strong, unified business voice on climate policy

Paul Simpson in the Guardian's Sustainable business blog: The increasing acceptance of the carbon bubble and stranded assets thesis is the most exciting climate change development of the last year. Although the Carbon Tracker Initiative (CTI) has been propagating the concept for years, the rapid mainstreaming of the idea makes it transformative.

For the first time the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was clear that we have only 15 to 25 years before we bust the 1tn tonne carbon budget. CTI's carbon bubble research goes further and shows that two thirds of fossil fuel reserves will have to remain in the ground.

Investors are paying attention. Norwegian asset manager Storebrand divested from 13 coal and six oil sands companies on this basis. The 350.org divestment campaign has gained traction and investors this year filed record numbers of environmental and social policy resolutions.

Many governments obsessively pursue short term economic gains and re-election to the cost of the environment but the science cannot be ignored. Some nations are making progress. Good news over the last year from China, with steps to reduce pollution and the start of emissions trading. In the US carbon trading is established in California with a price of over $10 and President Obama delivered the Climate Action Plan, probably the most meaningful climate move ever by the White House.

The degree of corporate influence on the shift of these countries' policies warrants a PhD thesis. Our research shows some companies, despite having a sustainability strategy, are still negatively influencing policy indirectly through trade associations, research and political funding. Others are directly blocking policy because they cannot see a future for their business in a sustainable world. To achieve a meaningful deal on climate in 2015, governments must learn to discount their advice.

Businesses that are silent need to speak out and push for government action. We have released, in partnership with UNGC, UNFCCC and others, a guide for companies to ensure responsible climate policy engagement. Transparency on corporate climate lobbying has been increasing; a trend that must endure....

A macro photograph of bubbles in Coca-Cola, shot by Spiff, Wikimedia Commons, public domain

Making use of the hazard maps in the Phlippines

An editorial in the Cantanduanes Tribune (Philippines): All 11 municipalities, as well as the provincial government, have received sets of hazard maps under a disaster risk management project funded by the Australian Aid Program through the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC).

Hopefully, the maps would guide them in helping save their constituents during calamities. The 1:50,000-scale maps indicate areas of each town facing various hazards such as earthquake, storm surge, landslide due to earthquake, landslide due to heavy rains, tsunami, flooding and liquefaction during earthquakes. The municipal DRRM offices were also given “soft” or digitized copies.

Now, the maps are nice to look at, especially if they are wrapped in plastic, framed and nailed on the walls of the MDRRM offices. But they should serve the purpose of saving the population from certain danger as envisioned under the Ready Multi-Hazard Mapping and Assessment for Effective Community-based Disaster Risk Management (Ready Project).

In the recent past, the national government also distributed hazard maps of smaller scale to several municipalities, but apparently the maps gathered dust in drawers or in the walls of their offices. None, or very few, people in the villages saw or even had the chance to understand the import of the hazard maps.

Thus, as soon as 2014 comes in, each of the municipal disaster bodies should open the digital copies and begin zooming in on each barangay. By doing this, they can pinpoint specific areas of the village which would be highly susceptible to the hazards. Hazard maps for each barangay could then be made, after which the barangay DRRM council as well as residents could be gathered at the plaza where the particular hazardous areas could be explained. Knowing where a hazard could hit hardest and how to avoid the threat and where to evacuate could save hundreds of lives....

Mangroves in Florida expanding due to climate change

Nature World News: Fewer cold snaps in Florida are helping mangroves extend their territory, according to a new study. Mangroves thrive in warm, salty areas and are known to form complex ecosystems. Their presence in the Sunshine State was limited due to freezing temperatures during winter. However, from the past few years, there has been a decline in the number of days that see temperatures dipping below negative 4 degrees Celsius (25 degrees Fahrenheit).

Fewer cold days have led mangroves to getting a foothold in the region. "Before this work there had been some scattered anecdotal accountsand observations of mangroves appearing in areas where people had not seen them, but they were very local," said study lead author Kyle Cavanaugh, a postdoctoral researcher at Brown University and at the Smithsonian Institution, according to a news release. "One unique aspect of this work is that we were able to use this incredible time series of large scale satellite imagery to show that this expansion is a regional phenomenon. It's a very large scale change."

The study team didn't just document the rise of the mangroves in Florida, but even tried to assess the factors that helped these forests thrive. The team, along with researchers at the University of Maryland, ruled out major contributors such as rise in the annual mean temperature, land use and rainfall.

Researchers then focused on cold snaps, the days that see a brief dip in temperature. Daytona Beach experienced just 1.4 fewer cold snaps between 1984 and 2011 while Titusville had just 1.2 days a year that saw the mercury levels drop below freezing point. The scientists found that these subtle changes were enough to explain the doubling of mangrove in these areas....

US Fish and Wildlife service photo of a mangrove swamp in Florida

Fukushima nightmare continues as homeless people are recruited for cleanup, scammed out of wages

Brandon Baker in Eco News: Police and media in Japan have discovered that homeless people near Fukushima have been recruited to help clean up the three-year-old nuclear devastation for minimum wages, but haven’t seen most of their money. Most have wound up in debt.

According to Reuters, recruiters like Seiji Sasa have been trolling Sendai Station another locations for homeless people to aid in the behind-schedule, taxpayer-funded radioactive cleanup throughout northern Japan. Police arrested members of Japanese crime syndicates several times this year for infiltrating Obayashi Corp.’s subcontractors and illegally sending workers to disaster sites. Those workers were often brought in for less than minimum wage, but essentially scammed out of their earnings because they were given a place to stay during the hours they weren’t attempting to clean up radioactive soil and debris.

“Many homeless people are just put into dormitories, and the fees for lodging and food are automatically docked from their wages,” Yasuhiro Aoki, a Baptist pastor and homeless advocate, said. ”Then at the end of the month, they’re left with no pay at all.”

The homeless workers reported to companies who then reported to Obayashi, known as the country’s second-largest construction firm and one of 20 large contractors involved in governmental cleanup efforts. There are at least more than 730 subcontractors working for performing work for the Ministry of Environment, an amount that has led to scarce oversight. Loose certification and disclosure rules have made it easier to obtain radiation removal contracts. Reuters found 56 subcontractors on environment ministry contracts worth $2.5 billion in the most radiated areas of Fukushima that would have been barred from traditional public works because they had not been examined by the construction ministry...

The Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant after the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, shot by Digital Globe, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Monday, December 30, 2013

Amazon forest loss risks water security across South America

Paul Brown in the Ecologist: ... The combination of industrial and agricultural pollution and droughts is creating a once unthinkable vulnerability for the five countries of Amazonia. The continued destruction of the Amazon to exploit its resources for mining, agriculture and hydro-power is threatening the future of the South American continent, according to a report by campaigning groups using the latest scientific data.

Five countries - Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru - share the Amazon, and for all of them the forest area occupies more than 40% of their territory. All face threats to their water supply, energy production, food and health.

In addition, the report says, because of the over-exploitation of the region rainfall will fall by 20% over a heavily-populated area far to the south of Amazonia known as the La Plata basin, covering parts of Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay.

Last month it was reported that deforestation in Amazonia had increased by almost a third in the past year, with an area equal to 50 football pitches destroyed every minute since 2000. The report, the Amazonia Security Agenda, authored by the Global Canopy Programme and CIAT, the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture, says the prosperity of the region is based on the abundance of water.

"Amazonia's abundant natural resources underpin water, food, energy, and health security for the economy and people of the region and far beyond", the report states. "At the heart of this nexus of securities is water. So abundant in the region, but now under increasing threat as industrial pollution increases, and unprecedented droughts reveal a once unthinkable water vulnerability."...

A river boat on the Amazon, shot by Pontanegra, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license 

Solar activity not a key cause of climate change

EurekAlert via the University of Edinburgh: Climate change has not been strongly influenced by variations in heat from the sun, a new scientific study shows. The findings overturn a widely held scientific view that lengthy periods of warm and cold weather in the past might have been caused by periodic fluctuations in solar activity.

Research examining the causes of climate change in the northern hemisphere over the past 1000 years has shown that until the year 1800, the key driver of periodic changes in climate was volcanic eruptions. These tend to prevent sunlight reaching the Earth, causing cool, drier weather. Since 1900, greenhouse gases have been the primary cause of climate change.

The findings show that periods of low sun activity should not be expected to have a large impact on temperatures on Earth, and are expected to improve scientists' understanding and help climate forecasting.

Scientists at the University of Edinburgh carried out the study using records of past temperatures constructed with data from tree rings and other historical sources. They compared this data record with computer-based models of past climate, featuring both significant and minor changes in the sun.

They found that their model of weak changes in the sun gave the best correlation with temperature records, indicating that solar activity has had a minimal impact on temperature in the past millennium....

A solar flare shot by NASA, Valentine's Day, 2011

Waiting for the rains, Zambia grapples with climate change

Ernest Chiombe in IPS: It is seven in the morning and Georgina Musende, 56, of Kamanga Township, which just lies east of the Zambian capital Lusaka, is already sweating as she digs into the dry earth. Every time the hoe hits the ground, the dust engulfs her.

But Musende, a single parent who supports her four children and 10 grandchildren, is not concerned about the scorching 35-degree Celsius heat nor the dust. She is worried that the delayed onset of the rainy season will affect her maize production.

“In the past, we knew that the Independence Day [Oct. 24] rainfall marked the beginning of the rainy season, but these days one doesn’t exactly know when the rains will start,” says Musende, who has already paid 90 dollars to rent a field near the township for the season. “Of course, tilling this hard surface in this heat is tough. But I have to do it now so that when the rains come, I will quickly come and sow the seeds,” she tells IPS, gazing at the sky.

About 15 kms away, 32-year-old Pearson Chola of Libala South Township, leans against a 210-litre drum he has filled with water. He has just collected it from the Lusaka Water Sewerage Company’s Water Works Kiosk. Behind him a woman and a group of four young boys, aged between three and seven years old, roll their drums of water home.  “For sure, the climate is changing. Take this year, for example, the rainy season has delayed a lot. When it’s like this, we suffer a lot, as many people come here to get water,” Chola tells IPS.

Joseph K. Kanyanga, chief meteorologist at the Zambia Meteorological Department, tells IPS that weather patterns in Zambia have changed. “Temperatures nowadays are higher than the 1950s; both maximum and minimum temperatures are showing a warming trend. As for rainfall, though there is uncertainty. There is an evident shift in the onset and end of the rainy season. The start of the rainy season shows the pronounced shift; at times starting as late as mid-December for most parts of Zambia,” Kanyanga says....

Close-up aerial photo of Zambezi River at the junction of Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana. Shot by Brian McMorrow,  under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license

Hundreds of corpses unburied after Philippine typhoon

Terra Daily via AFP: More than a thousand dead victims of Super Typhoon Haiyan lay unburied Saturday, seven weeks after the region was battered by the Philippines' deadliest storm, residents living alongside the stench said.

About 1,400 corpses, in sealed black body bags swarming with flies, lay on a muddy open field in San Isidro, a farming village on the outskirts of the destroyed central city of Tacloban, an AFP reporter saw.

...Haiyan killed 6,111 people and left 1,779 others missing on November 8, according to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council....

Caribbean needs help to combat climate change

Diane Abbot in the Jamaica Observer: Christmas 2013 was not a happy one for some parts of the Eastern Caribbean. The region was hit by extraordinarily heavy rains which caused massive floods and landslides. As a result, there was catastrophe everywhere. Eight people died in St Vincent and the Grenadines, dozens of families there were forced out of their homes, water and electricity were cut off in many places, and some people are still missing.

 ...The reason Jamaica is at such risk from climate change and rising seas is that the majority of Jamaica's hotel rooms are in coastal areas like Montego Bay, Negril and Ochos Rios. Altogether, 85 per cent of hotel rooms are found in these areas, 90 per cent of production is there and 25 per cent of the population lives there.

Climate change and rising sea levels are a long-term threat to resort areas, yachting, cruise ship infrastructure and coral reefs. Altogether, climate change threatens billions of pounds of economic activity in the region.

So, if climate change is such a serious threat, what can the region do? In terms of limiting the carbon emissions that reputedly create climate change, the Caribbean is very much in the hands of the big polluters like America and China. But the big industrial powers are reluctant to do much about climate change. And, in a recession, public opinion in America is much more concerned about growth and jobs than controlling carbon emissions.

However, Jamaica can consider what it can do to protect low-lying land and the tourist areas. This would include building methods. The problem is that planning for a changing climate requires thinking long-term and billions of pounds. But both of these are in short supply in Jamaica at the present time, when it is struggling with its immediate economic problems...

Dunn's River Falls in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, shot by Poco a poco, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Rescue of stranded Antarctic ship stalls--shades of Shackleton!

Terra Daily via AFP: A Chinese icebreaker has failed to break through thick ice to free a ship carrying scientists and tourists stranded off Antarctica, forcing Australian authorities to look at other rescue options Saturday. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), which is coordinating the rescue of the Russian passenger ship MV Akademik Shokalskiy, said the icebreaker came within six-and-a-half nautical miles of the ship but had to stop.

"The Chinese vessel unfortunately encountered some heavy ice that it's not capable of breaking through," AMSA spokeswoman Andrea Hayward-Maher told AFP. "So unfortunately it won't be able to continue through to the Akademik Shokalskiy. It's making its way back."

"The rescue... unfortunately has stalled."  The Russian ship, with 74 people on board, has been trapped in ice about 100 nautical miles east of the French base Dumont d'Urville since Tuesday.

The Chinese vessel came tantalisingly close to the trapped ship, with those on board reporting they could see it in the distance, but was forced to turn back to open sea once it realised it could not break through.

"At the horizon in the east I can see the Chinese icebreaker that we were hoping was going to be here within hours cutting us a path out of this place but it just couldn't make it," science journalist Andrew Luck-Baker onboard the Russian ship told the BBC.

It slowed down to about half a knot and has decided to go back to where the sea begins and wait for the arrival of an Australian icebreaker. The idea now is for the two of them to come together in parallel towards us, cutting a wider path."

Three vessels with icebreaking capability, including Australia's Antarctic resupply ship Aurora Australis and French vessel L'Astrolabe, were ordered to the area to attempt to rescue the vessel once the distress signal was sent....

Frank Hurley's photograph of the Endurance being crushed by the ice in Antarctica, 1915 

Drought continues to devastate California

Kiley Kroh in EcoWatch: As California enters its third consecutive dry winter, with no sign of moisture on the horizon, fears are growing over increased wildfire activity, agricultural losses and additional stress placed on already strained water supplies.

...The state is enduring its driest year on record and while a drought emergency has not yet been officially declared, the U.S. National Drought Monitor shows that as of Dec. 24, nearly the entire state is gripped by severe to extreme drought conditions.

The portion of the state currently hit hardest by drought includes the Central Valley, a prime agricultural area, and “a lack of rain and snow this winter could bring catastrophic losses to California agriculture, as water allotments are slashed by state agencies,” USA Today reported.

The lack of precipitation is also extending what’s been a devastating wildfire season in California. According to AccuWeather, fire season usually tapers off in the fall and December marks the beginning of the wet season, which usually extends through March. This year, however, looks to be different.

“It will remain dry through February and probably early March in California,” Lead Long-Range Forecaster Paul Pastelok said. “It’s possible that a system or two could reach the state, but not enough to put a dent in the drought.”

As a result, wildfire risk remains high. Mid-December’s Big Sur Fire scorched through more than 900 acres and destroyed dozens of homes before it was contained....

The sylvan banks of the Los Angeles River, shot by http://www.flickr.com/people/24293932@N00/, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

In the Philippines, a vortex of climate change and debt

Samuel Oakford in IPS: Since Typhoon Yolanda made landfall in the Philippines on Nov. 8, the country has sent holders of its debt close to one billion dollars, surpassing, in less than two months, the 800 million dollars the U.N. has asked of international donors to help rebuild the ravaged central region of the archipelago.

Even as the Philippines goes hat in hand to wealthier countries seeking disaster relief, it continues to diligently pay creditors in those same countries millions of dollars every day – much of it interest on debt that can be traced back to the corrupt regime of Ferdinand Marcos (1965-1986) , Cold War ally to the West.

When Philippine President Benigno Aquino III announced last week the staggering cost of rebuilding from the storm, the price tag – 8.17 billion dollars – and a pair of emergency loans to help meet that goal distressed debt reduction campaigners in the country who have for many years called for a cancellation of illegal debts.

“Every dollar of funding assistance will be used in as efficient and as lasting a manner as possible,” Aquino assured reporters. “The task immediately before us lies in ensuring that the communities that rise again do so stronger, better and more resilient than before.”

Yet every 12 months, the Philippines transfers to lenders nearly the same amount Aquino hopes to raise for reconstruction. And because Filipino law privileges the payment of debt over all other expenses, those installments could end up eating into rebuilding funds.

Even before the storm, education and healthcare spending in the country fell well short of global benchmarks; one in five Filipinos live in poverty and over 15 million are malnourished....


Shanties in Manila, photo by Anton Zelenov, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Prime Minister Cameron confronted by angry residents of flooded village

Robert Booth in the Guardian (UK): David Cameron has been confronted by angry residents of a village in Kent that was flooded by waist-high waters over the Christmas holidays. When the prime minister swept into the devastated community in his Range Rover to talk to residents and members of the emergency services on Friday morning, despair at nature's power turned to recrimination over the perceived inadequacy of the official response.

Erica Olivares, 49, was among the residents of a row of early-18th-century cottages in Yalding who were sluicing out silt from inundated floors and hauling out sodden Christmas trees when Cameron arrived with his entourage. Rushing across the street, she told the prime minister that the village felt they had been left to struggle on their own. About 100 homes had to be abandoned on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

"We were literally abandoned," she told him angrily. "We had no rescuers, no nothing for the whole day. It was Christmas." Cameron, who was due to talk to Environment Agency officers and firefighters, seemed taken aback. He asked what she needed now and urged her to "get on to the council", but she replied that "they all decided to go on holiday".

"The Environment Agency said it was up to the council and when I did get through to the council they said if you need sandbags, get your own," she later said. Her grandmother's walnut-veneer cabinet was ruined, chairs were upended and her Christmas tree was about the only thing that was standing....

A lock in Yalding, Kent, shot by Penny Mayes, Wikimedia Commons via Geograph UK, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Threat of water wars is real, says Pakistani climate change scientist

Shahid Husain in the News (Pakistan): In an interview with The News on Friday, Dr Qamar uz Zaman Chaudhry, senior adviser on Climate Change Programme and deputy regional director, Asia, LEAD Pakistan, identified threats to the country due to climate change and global warming.

He agreed that “water wars” were real, and said food security was directly linked to climate change. Dr Chaudhry is in town as a resource person at a three-day Saarc workshop on “Climate Change Impacts on Coastal and Aquatic Resources”. The workshop has been organised by the Saarc Coastal Zone Management Centre, Male, Maldives, in collaboration with the Climate Change Division, Pakistan.

Excerpts follow: Q: In a statement to the press, Ismail Seageldin, vice president of the World Bank, said in August 1995: ‘Many of the wars of this century were about oil, but wars of next century will be over water.” Do you agree? A: I fully agree that future wars will be on water because of water stress created by climate change stresses. This war and confrontation will not only be between countries but also between provinces, different users because there will be competing demands between different stake holders/partners.

Q: How can these wars be avoided? A: First of all, we need to assess the climate change threats and then particular impacts on water resources. We need to prepare our water development systems and need to plan rational use of available water resources. Pakistan being an agricultural country, the major user of available freshwater is agricultural sector, using 80 percent of water. Present irrigation practices results in wastage of more than 30 percent of this share of water. The foremost action should be to reduce these wastages in agriculture...

A well pump in Pakistan, shot by Mo, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Friday, December 27, 2013

Who’s funding the pro-carbon propaganda?

Brian Dooling in One Green Planet: Even after recent reports from the IPCC stating that climate change is human’s fault, the debate continues to rage on in the U.S. resulting in public confusion. But why? The constant mixed messages in U.S. media and the adamant refusal at national legislative levels to even consider science has pretty much thrown any conversation over the damage we have done to the Earth into a tailspin of conspiracy theories and falsehoods.

A new study titled “Institutionalizing delay: foundation funding and the creation of U.S. climate change counter-movement organizations” by R. J. Brulle, professor of Sociology and Environmental Science at Drexel University, sheds some light on the outrageous amount of money that backs anti-climate change foundations.

The study examines the funding of organizations that make up the Climate Change Counter-Movement (CCCM), a term created by Brulle to collectively address the organizations that take on anti-climate change positions.

In his research he looked at the funding patterns of the CCCM from 2003 to 2010. Using IRS data, he followed the money trail for funding and pieces together the social network of anti-climate change social networking. In total, he examined the income of 91 organizations that are funded by 140 different foundations that oppose climate change.

These 91 organizations received on average $900 million per year. That’s almost a billion dollars a year in funding from mostly conservative donors. Brulle states that not all this money goes to anti-climate change funding, but it still illustrates the amount of wealth that is available to cloud the water of climate science....

Orson Welles in a publicity photo for Citizen Kane

Powerful storm and power shortages fill Gaza with waste water

IRIN: Hamdi Al Shami, 54, woke up in the highly populated Zeitoun area of Gaza City, on 11 December, to find raw sewage flowing down his street at a height of more than 2m. It was just one of several sewage overflows to occur in his neighbourhood over the last five weeks.

On 13 November, more than 35,000 cubic metres of raw sewage overflowed when the Zeitoun pumping station failed, affecting 3,000 nearby residents. Just as the mess was being cleaned up, the area was again inundated - this time with approximately twice as much waste - when heavy rains fell over the Gaza Strip between 11 and 15 December. In Gaza City, one of the worst-hit areas, the municipality estimated that hundreds of thousands of cubic metres of sewage and rainwater overflowed from pumping stations and manholes, flooding streets and homes.

“It was horrible. We lost many things when the sewage came from everywhere around us - the doors, manholes and sinks. This cannot be forgotten,” said Al Shami, speaking about November’s flooding.

That flooding was attributed to a combination of factors: power outages disrupting the city’s sewage pumps and a shortage in capacity, spare parts and facilities because of a seven-year blockade against Gaza. At the time, residents were told that a rapidly established power connection to the Israeli grid would prevent future problems. But with the recent rainfall, the situation in Al Shami’s neighbourhood has only worsened. He was stranded amid water and sewage for days....

Destruction in Gaza after Israeli bombardment, part of Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012, photo by Scott Bobb, Voice of America 

Christmas deluge brings disaster to eastern Caribbean

Desmond Brown in IPS: Colleen James arrived in St. Vincent and the Grenadines from Canada two days before Christmas hoping to enjoy the holiday season with her family. Now she’s getting ready to bury her two-year-old daughter and 18-year-old sister.

“I never do nothing wrong. I always do good,” a dazed James told IPS as she looked out across the flood damage occasioned by a slow-moving low-level trough that brought torrential rains, death and destruction not only to St. Vincent and the Grenadines but St. Lucia and Dominica.

Disaster officials have so far recovered nine bodies and the search continues for three more people reported missing and feared dead. In St. Lucia, five people were killed, including Calvin Stanley Louis, a police officer who died after a wall fell on him as he tried to assist people who had become stranded by the floods.

The trough system resulted in 171.1 mm of rainfall within a 24-hour period ending at 8.50 a.m. on Dec. 25. Trinidad’s Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar has requested that the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM) mobilise food and emergency supplies to be sent to St Lucia.

The CEO of ODPM, Dr. Stephen Ramroop, has contacted the Deputy Prime Minister of Saint Lucia Philip J. Pierre and received a list of items that were urgently required, including canned goods, biscuits, infant formula, water, mattresses, blankets, hygiene kits, disaster kits and first aid kits....No requests have come from the other affected islands as yet.

An image of rain in the Caribbean by Mary Hollinger, NOAA biologist

Christmas in mud as rain pelts Philippine disaster zone

Terra Daily via AFP: Survivors of the Philippines' deadliest typhoon spent a gloomy Christmas Day surrounded by mud Wednesday as heavy rain drove many inside their flimsy shelters, dampening efforts at holiday cheer in the deeply devout nation.

Groups of children in plastic raincoats braved the incessant rain in the devastated central city of Tacloban, knocking on doors in trick-or-treat fashion and beseeching pedestrians for candies, coins and other Christmas presents.

But housewife Susan Scala sat glumly under a white tarpaulin in one of Tacloban's many tent cities for those made homeless by Super Typhoon Haiyan. At a time when her family should be celebrating, all she could think of was her missing husband.

"Even if it's not Christmas I don't stop thinking about him," the mother of five said of her husband Oscar, a telephone utility worker believed lost at sea when giant waves whipped up by the November 8 storm swept away homes in the city's San Jose slum.

Like many of the city's survivors, the miserable weather made Scala nervous. "This incessant rain is scary. It reminds me of what happened (during the typhoon)," the 53-year-old said.

Haiyan left more than 6,100 people dead and nearly 2,000 others missing, many of them from Tacloban and nearby towns, in the storm-prone country's deadliest typhoon disaster....

The aftermath of Haiyan in Tacloban, shot by Trocaire, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Egypt will never give up one drop of its Nile water quota - minister

AllAfrica.com via Egypt Information Service: Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources Mohamed Abdel-Motleb disclosed that consultations are currently being underway with the Sudanese and Ethiopian counterparts to render successful the forthcoming ministerial meeting to be held Khartoum during the first week of January 2014.

The meeting will probe an appropriate mechanism for pursuing the technical studies required from the Ethiopian part as well as assigning an international consultative bureau to perform them, said the Minister.

Such studies will deal with the technical details of the Renaissance Dam's storage bases, storage phases and mechanism of operations all year round, he added.

The minister went on to say that Egyptian State is dealing seriously with the Renaissance Dam crisis in cooperation with the Nile basin states, noting that the meetings of the Supreme Committee for Nile Water have resulted in promoting ties with the Ethiopian side.

He added that Egypt will never give up one drop of its Nile water quota, highlighting that all parties concerned should work on reaching an agreement that serves the interest of all Nile riparian countries through a comprehensive development....

NASA image of the Aswan Dam in southern Egypt

Thursday, December 26, 2013

UK braced for more storms and floods

Haroon Siddique in the Guardian (UK):  Weather forecasters are warning that 80mph winds and blustery showers could cause further significant flooding in parts of England on Thursday as more than 10,000 properties remain without power.

About 1,000 homes in south-east and south-west England have already been flooded and at one stage 300,000 properties in the south-east, the east of England and London had no electricity as bad weather threw many people's Christmas celebrations into chaos.

The Met Office said widespread gales were likely to develop late during Thursday night or in the early hours of Friday morning bringing gusts of more than 50mph inland and of 70mph to 80mph to some coastal areas and high ground.

Helen Roberts, a forecaster from the Met Office, said: "The storm will push in from the west overnight, bringing wet and windy weather to much of the UK. There will be very strong gales inland at times and severe gales on the western coast.

"There will be about 10-20mm of rain for many areas, possibly 25mm in some locations. This is not a huge amount of rain but because it will be falling on very saturated land, even relatively small amounts of rain could cause further problems."...

Sunset over the flooded Ouse Washes in 2009, shot by Richard Humphrey, Wikimedia Commons via Geograph UK, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Remittances are a lifeline to Philippines' typhoon survivors

Reuters: A sister living on the other side of the world gave Roberto Retanal what he needed most to piece his humble home back together after the devastating typhoon that tore through his village in the central Philippines last month. She sent him 40,000 pesos ($900) to replace the roof ripped off his house by the strongest winds ever recorded in a country where typhoons are all too common.

Retanal's sister live and works in Britain. There are some 10 million Filipinos living and working abroad, sending regular remittances to help their families get by. Between January and October, they had sent back around $18.5 billion, six percent more than last year and running at a rate equivalent to around 10 percent of the gross domestic product.

When disaster struck on November 8 the telegraphic transfers went into overdrive. "Filipinos dug even deeper," said Pia de Lima, spokeswoman for Western Union in Asia-Pacific, which cancelled transaction fees for three weeks after the typhoon for money coming in from 43 countries.

The typhoon Haiyan killed nearly 6,100 people, with around 1,800 still listed missing. But more than 16 million people have been affected by the calamity. Aside from the ruined infrastructure and housing, the coconut groves that provided livelihoods for families in rural areas were uprooted. The worst-hit eastern and central Visayas region accounts for around 9 percent of the Philippines' GDP.

Economic growth is expected to be 7 percent this year, slightly slower than China. As a result of the typhoon, analysts expect growth to slow to between 4.1 and 5.9 percent in the fourth quarter, but officials are sticking with a 6.5-7.5 percent growth target for next year....

Lightning detection promises improved storm forecasts

Charlotte Owen in SciDev.net: An alternative to costly radar-based weather services could soon be operational in developing nations, to help them detect severe storms more cheaply and quickly. The technology, which uses lightning detection to forecast when and where storms will strike, has already proven successful in demonstration projects in Brazil, Guinea and India. Next year, Earth Networks — one of the companies at the forefront of the technology — will conduct further trials in Haiti.

As more developing nations increase their numbers of mobile phone masts, which are ideal locations for mounting the lightning sensors on, the proportion of countries using the technology looks set to increase, according to the US company.

Lightning detection costs a fraction of traditional Doppler radars, which can cost tens of millions of dollars for broad regional coverage. “Data from these stations would fill the gaps encountered in the collection and exchange of data on the regional and international level.”

Mamadou Lamine Bah, National Directorate of Meteorology  It also collects data faster and, by monitoring precipitation, can be used to assess the likelihood of floods and drought. According to Finnish company Vaisala, which has more than 100 lightning detection stations located in the United States, when lightning is detected the data can be delivered in less than two minutes.

Vaisala’s Total Lightning system detects the electromagnetic signals given off when lightning strikes the earth’s surface. Information on the location, time, and strength of each strike, and on whether it is positively or negatively charged is then processed and communicated to users of the technology....

Photo by Thomas Bresson, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Extensive use of antibiotics in agriculture creating public health crisis

Seed Daily via SPX: Citing an overabundance in the use of antibiotics by the agriculture and aquaculture industries that poses a threat to public health, economics professor Aidan Hollis has proposed a solution in the form of user fees on the non-human use of antibiotics.

In a newly released paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Hollis and co-author Ziana Ahmed state that in the United States 80 per cent of the antibiotics in the country are consumed in agriculture and aquaculture for the purpose of increasing food production.

This flood of antibiotics released into the environment - sprayed on fruit trees and fed to the likes of livestock, poultry and salmon, among other uses - has led bacteria to evolve, Hollis writes. Mounting evidence cited in the journal shows resistant pathogens are emerging in the wake of this veritable flood of antibiotics - resulting in an increase in bacteria that is immune to available treatments.

If the problem is left unchecked, this will create a health crisis on a global scale, Hollis says. Hollis suggest that the predicament could be greatly alleviated by imposing a user fee on the non-human uses of antibiotics, similar to the way in which logging companies pay stumpage fees and oil companies pay royalties.

"Modern medicine relies on antibiotics to kill off bacterial infections," explains Hollis. "This is incredibly important. Without effective antibiotics, any surgery - even minor ones - will become extremely risky. Cancer therapies, similarly, are dependent on the availability of effective antimicrobials. Ordinary infections will kill otherwise healthy people."...

A scanning electron micrograph of MRSA, from the National Institutes of Health

After bad year, insurers face potential ice-storm hit

Tim Kiladze in the Globe and Mail (Toronto): Canadian insurers are grappling with the prospect of financial damage from yet another severe storm, capping off a brutal year that raised serious questions about how the industry will deal with the costs of climate change.

After suffering a $3-billion hit from natural disasters such as the summer floods in Alberta and the Greater Toronto Area, property and casualty insurers are now racking up claims from the ice storm that hit Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada. It is still too early to determine the costs, but insurers are bracing for a bruising.

 “The ice storm that hit Central Canada this weekend has caused significant physical damage and emotional trauma for many households, and will likely be a significant insured event for the industry,” André-Philippe Hardy, a financial services analyst at RBC Dominion Securities, wrote in a note to clients. Insurer RSA Canada said the storm was “one of the worst we’ve seen in Toronto in quite some time.”

Insurers aren’t the only ones on the hook – they share the burden with reinsurance companies that take on a portion of the risk – but the latest storm reopens a deep wound. The property insurance industry is coming to grips with evidence that severe weather events are becoming more frequent. That has potentially significant implications for consumers and businesses, who may be forced to pay higher premiums as insurers try to recover from the losses.

“As severe weather events become more extreme and frequent, we will continue to pursue our efforts to ensure that the protection we offer reflects our country’s new climate reality and that governments, consumers, businesses and all stakeholders pursue their efforts to better adapt to climate change,” Charles Brindamour, chief executive officer of insurer Intact Financial Corp., said in November after the company reported its first underwriting loss in a decade....

Generic NOAA image of ice storm damage

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Part of adapting is resting

This is a beaver habitat not far from Carbon Based headquarters. At a bend in the road, the beavers have clogged a culvert and made a pond that stretches back into the woods. The Cornwall town crew periodically cleans it out, but their enemies wait until the backhoe leaves, and then it's back to work. They leave the rusted metal grate to one side, I assume so that the beavers don't use it as a lattice for their mud and twig dam.

It takes them just a few days to block the flow of water again, and then it's back to beaver heaven. When I was taking this shot, a sullen beaver did figure-eights in front of me and slapped his tail on the water. He probably sent the same warning to the neighbor piloting the backhoe.

Unlike the beavers, though, I take breaks occasionally. I'll be with friends for a Christmas meal, enjoying a respite from the litany of troubles that constitute our beat: ice melt, sea level rise, floods, droughts, disasters, infestations, contaminations, pollutions, corruptions....



Promising rainfall for Namibia

AllAfrica.com via the Namibian: Good rains have been received in the northern and central parts of the country this week, the Namibia Meteorological Services (NMS) reports.

Otjiwarongo and Tsumeb recorded the highest amount of rainfall of 52.2 millimetres (mm) and 49 mm, respectively on Sunday. Windhoek and Grootfontein also recorded some good rains of nearly 40 mm and 27 mm, respectively.

NMS Chief Hydrologist at the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, Pauline Mufeti said the water levels of some perennial rivers have risen tremendously due to the heavy rains that fell in the last couple of weeks.

"The latest river flow readings show that some perennial rivers recorded water levels that are above normal," she reported....

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

From drought to hurricanes, Grenada tackles climate change with German help

Christa Marshall in E&E News: After a sudden thunderstorm this fall, Paul Valdon sat in a line of cars for 45 minutes near a bridge over a river because of gushing water....  Valdon missed an important work meeting because of the flood. "It was so frustrating. This happens at this river several times a year," said Valdon, a project coordinator at SPECTO, an environmental advocacy group.

Valdon's group is planning to fortify the riverbank with boulders and clear a buildup of sediment and debris, which is contributing to the frequent flooding. It also is planning workshops to change the practices of local communities and farmers, who routinely toss logs and other matter into the river, causing it to become elevated beyond normal levels.

It is one of several initiatives funded by the Integrated Climate Change Adaptation Strategies (ICCAS) program -- a three-year, €5 million ($6.84 million) initiative through 2016 funded by the German government to address Grenada's climate threats from droughts to hurricanes.

The ICCAS program is not the first climate change project in this 133-square-mile country by any stretch. But it is unique for being Grenada-specific rather than a blip on a broader regional effort and for considering multiple topics across government agencies, said Dieter Rothenberger, head of program at the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and leader of the ICCAS work.

What has been missing in the country at times is tangible results on the ground, so the team is developing a series of projects that will have permanent effects, said Rothenberger, who is working on a daily basis with the Grenada Ministry of Agriculture, Lands, Forestry, Fisheries and Environment.

That level of government cooperation allows for much more detailed attention than typical regional projects, where a team might fly in for a few days and move on to another Caribbean island. Grenada was selected because it has played an active role in international climate negotiations, he said at a ministry interview here....

Downtown St. George in Grenada, shot by Boltique, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Climate change study suggests cutting herds

Eric Mortenson in the Capital Press (Oregon): New report from an OSU scientist says reducing cattle and other ruminant herds is the most effective way to reduce methane gas emissions and ease climate change. A new climate change study issued by an Oregon State University professor and others concludes the best way to reduce methane gas emissions is to reduce cattle, sheep and other ruminant herds worldwide.

The conclusion isn’t likely to be favored by industry groups, but OSU forestry Professor William Ripple and co-authors said herd reduction should be considered an antidote to climate change along with cutting back on fossil fuel use. “Because the Earth’s climate may be near a tipping point to major climate change, multiple approaches are needed for mitigation,” Ripple said in an OSU news release.

The Oregon Cattlemen’s Association dismissed the recommendation to reduce herds. Methane produced from “enteric fermentation” by livestock amounts to only about 2 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, association communications officer Lauren Montgomery said in an email. She said other sources, including wildfires, produce much more.

She said such studies have not taken into account what “substitute” greenhouse gases might be produced if livestock are reduced or even eliminated.

The association believes assessments of greenhouse gas impacts should include an accounting of energy used per gas unit produced...

A 1943 shot of livestock in Colorado, Clelland, Joe, War Relocation Authority photographer, Photographer (NARA record: 8464457)

Typhoon survivors celebrate uncertain Christmas

IRIN: Typhoon survivors in the Guiuan area will celebrate an uncertain Christmas as aid workers and authorities struggle to provide shelter and livelihood assistance more than one month after Typhoon Haiyan made first landfall here, in Guiuan Eastern Samar Province in the Philippines.

“We depend on relief goods for our daily needs. If there are no more relief goods, I don’t know what will happen to us,” said Virgilio Cerdo, 86, one of Guiuan’s estimated 47,000 residents. Cerdo used to make about US$2 a day tending a coconut farm, a major source of livelihood in the region.“I don’t know how to do anything else,” said Cerdo, looking at the uprooted coconut trees.

Typhoon Haiyan descended on the central Philippines on 8 November with wind speeds of 235km/h and gusts of 275km/h, flattening everything on its way across large swaths of nine provinces. More than one million homes were damaged or destroyed, displacing more than four million people and leaving over 6,000 dead.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council has put the damage to infrastructure at more than $412 million, while agricultural damage stands at $413 million. Many small businesses were destroyed or have been unable to continue operating, and most people now have no reliable source of income.

Oxfam, one of 20 partners working in the area of early recovery and livelihoods, is looking into ways to help families recover faster.“We’re listening to both men and women from the families to see what skills they have, and possibly giving them livelihood opportunities. We often see that the women bring diversity in the ways the family gains a sustainable income,”said Justin Morgan, Oxfam country director in Manila, the Philippine capital.

“The most urgent need right now is shelter,” said Andrew Lind, International Organization for Migration (IOM) programme managerand focal point for the 20 partners for shelter and camp coordination management (CCM) in Guiuan, adding that about 90 percent of the homes were destroyed....

A Guiuan resident stares out of his doorway in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Haiyan. US Department of Defense photo dated November 15, 2013

Malaria drug target raises hopes for new treatments

Sam Wong at the Imperial College London: In a study published in Nature Chemistry, they show that blocking the activity of an enzyme called NMT in the most common malaria parasite prevents mice from showing symptoms and extends their lifespan. The team are working to design molecules that target NMT more potently, and hope to start clinical trials of potential treatments within four years.

A recent study estimated that 1.2 million people died from malaria in 2010. Although a variety of antimalarial drugs are available, some strains of the parasite are resistant to treatment. These strains are becoming more common, with treatment failures reported across multiple frontline drugs. If acute illness is cured, the parasite can remain dormant in the blood and return to cause illness later. Malaria vaccines have been researched intensively, but none have been introduced into clinical practice.

The new study shows that NMT is involved in a wide range of essential processes in the parasite cell, including the production of proteins that enable malaria to be transmitted between humans and mosquitoes, and proteins that enable malaria to cause long-term infection.

The researchers have tested a handful of molecules that block the activity of NMT in the parasite living inside human red blood cells, and in mice, but further refinement will be needed before a treatment is ready to be tested in humans. Dr Ed Tate, from the Department of Chemistry at Imperial College London, who led the project, said: “The drug situation for malaria is becoming very serious. Resistance is emerging fast and it’s going to be a huge problem in the future.

“Finding an enzyme that can be targeted effectively in malaria can be a big challenge. Here, we’ve shown not only why NMT is essential for a wide range of important processes in the parasite, but also that we can design molecules that stop it from working during infection. It has so many functions that we think blocking it could be effective at preventing long-term disease and transmission, in addition to treating acute malaria. We expect it to work not just on Plasmodium falciparum, the most common malaria parasite, but the other species as well...

An 1881 ad from the US for an anti-malaria medicine

Greek economic crisis leads to air pollution crisis

Space Daily via SPX: In the midst of a winter cold snap, a study from researchers in the United States and Greece reveals an overlooked side effect of economic crisis - dangerous air quality caused by burning cheaper fuel for warmth.

The researchers, led by Constantinos Sioutas of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, show that the concentration of fine air particles in one of Greece's economically hardest hit areas has risen 30 percent since the financial crisis began, leading to potential long-term health effects.

These fine particles - measuring less than 2.5 microns in diameter (approximately 1/30th the diameter of a human hair) - are especially dangerous because they can lodge deep into the tissue of lungs, according to the EPA.

"People need to stay warm, but face decreasing employment and rising fuel costs," explained Sioutas, senior author of the study in the journal Environmental Science and Technology and Fred Champion Professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering at the USC Viterbi School. "The problem is economic hardship has compelled residents to burn low quality fuel, such as wood and waste materials, that pollutes the air."...

A smoggy view from the Acropolis, photo by Karol M, retouched by Hekerui, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license

Monday, December 23, 2013

Greenland ice stores liquid water year-round

University of Utah News Center: Researchers at the University of Utah have discovered a new aquifer in the Greenland Ice Sheet that holds liquid water all year long in the otherwise perpetually frozen winter landscape. The aquifer is extensive, covering 27,000 square miles.

The reservoir is known as a “perennial firn aquifer” because water persists within the firn – layers of snow and ice that don’t melt for at least one season. Researchers believe it figures significantly in understanding the contribution of snowmelt and ice melt to rising sea levels. The study was published online Sunday, Dec. 22, in the journal Nature Geoscience.

“Of the current sea level rise, the Greenland Ice Sheet is the largest contributor – and it is melting at record levels,” says Rick Forster, lead author and professor of geography at the University of Utah. “So understanding the aquifer’s capacity to store water from year to year is important because it fills a major gap in the overall equation of meltwater runoff and sea levels.”

Forster’s team has been doing research in southeast Greenland since 2010 to measure snowfall accumulation and how it varies from year to year. The area they study covers 14 percent of southeast Greenland yet receives 32 percent of the entire ice sheet’s snowfall, but there has been little data gathered.

In 2010, the team drilled core samples in three locations on the ice for analysis. Team members returned in 2011 to approximately the same area, but at lower elevation. Of the four core samples taken then, two came to the surface with liquid water pouring off the drill while the air temperatures were minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit. The water was found at about 33 feet below the surface at the first hole and at 82 feet in the second hole.

“This discovery was a surprise,” Forster says. “Although water discharge from streams in winter had been previously reported, and snow temperature data implied small amounts of water, no one had yet reported observing water in the firn that had persisted through the winter.”...

Drill rig used to extract firn cores from within the Greenland firn aquifer. One of the snowmobiles used in the 300 km traverse of the ice sheet to reach the drill site. Pictured, Clément Miège (co-author and PhD student University of Utah), and Terry Gacke (Ice Drilling Design and Operations). Photo Credit: Evan Burgess

Cyclone evacuation in Odisha, India, to become a global example

A press release from the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction: The effective evacuation of almost 1 million people in Odisha ahead of Cyclone Phailin will be highlighted as a global example in the lead-up to the 3rd World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, in 2015.

The Head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), Ms Margareta Wahlström, lauded Odisha for its ‘landmark success’ actions in limiting the number of deaths directly caused by the cyclone to 21.  “We have started work on documenting the Odisha success story and will highlight it as an example at the World Conference. It is easy to talk about problems and failures. We have to bring into people’s minds what works,” Ms Wahlström said.

The Chief Minister of Odisha, Naveen Patnaik, said the plaudits would spur his State to continue efforts to strengthen its disaster risk management and that they would not become complacent.  “The credit for the success of Phailin management goes to the brave people of Odisha who rose to the occasion in spite of all the odds and faced the calamity with inspiring courage,” said Chief Minister Patnaik, whose state fixed a ‘zero casualty’ target during the cyclone.

“I would also like to thank the meteorological department for its accurate prediction of the storm that played a major role in our preparedness. We want to prepare a long-term disaster risk reduction plan and climate change action plan for our state and we are now poised to implement it in the coming years.”

Ms Wahlström presented a citation to Chief Minister Patnaik to recognise the State Government’s achievement in being so well prepared ahead of the cyclone.  “The State Government’s fast response was remarkable. It was a fantastic achievement; they did excellent work. Odisha’s handling of the very severe cyclone will be a landmark success story in disaster management,” she said....

NASA image of Cyclone Phailin, October 11, 2013

NOAA: Coastal ocean aquaculture can be environmentally sustainable

A press release from NOAA: Specific types of fish farming can be accomplished with minimal or no harm to the coastal ocean environment as long as proper planning and safeguards are in place, according to a new report from researchers at NOAA’s National Ocean Service.

The study, led by scientists at National Ocean Service’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS), evaluated the environmental effects of finfish aquaculture, including interactions with water quality, benthic habitats, and marine life across various farming practices and habitat types.

“We did this study because of concerns that putting marine finfish farms in the coastal ocean could have adverse effects on the environment,” said Dr. James Morris, NCCOS ecologist. “We found that, in cases where farms are appropriately sited and responsibly managed, impacts to the environment are minimal to non-existent.”

“This report provides coastal and farm managers with a global perspective on a range of potential environmental effects and their relative intensity,” said Dr. Michael Rubino, director of NOAA Fisheries Office of Aquaculture. “It is a tool that can be used when evaluating proposed or operational farming sites and gives them a factual basis to make decisions.”

In the report, scientists said that continued development of regional best-management practices and standardized protocols for environmental monitoring are key needs for aquaculture managers. As aquaculture development increases in the coastal ocean, the ability to forecast immediate or long-term environmental concerns will provide confidence to coastal managers and the public.

“This report contributes to the growing body of evidence supporting marine aquaculture as a sustainable source of safe, healthy and local seafood that supports jobs in coastal communities,” said Sam Rauch, acting assistant NOAA administrator for NOAA Fisheries...

Net pen aquaculture in deep coastal waters, photo by NOAA

Research raises concerns about global crop yield projections

Dan Moser at University of Nebraska-Lincoln Today: About 30 percent of the major global cereal crops – rice, wheat and corn -- may have reached their maximum possible yields in farmers’ fields, according to UNL research published this week in Nature Communications. These findings raise concerns about efforts to increase food production to meet growing global populations.

Yields of these crops have recently decreased or plateaued. Future projections that would ensure global food security are typically based on a constant increase in yield, a trend that this research now suggests may not be possible.

Estimates of future global food production and its ability to meet the dietary needs of a population expected to grow from 7 billion to 9 billion by 2050 have been based largely on on projections of historical trends. Past trends have, however, been dominated by the rapid adoption of new technologies – some of which were one-time innovations – which allowed for an increase in crop production.

As a result, projections of future yields have been optimistic – perhaps too much so, indicates the findings of UNL scientists Kenneth Cassman and Patricio Grassini, of the agronomy and horticulture department, and Kent Eskridge of the statistics department.

They studied past yield trends in countries with greatest cereal production and provide evidence against a projected scenario of continued linear crop yield increase. Their data suggest that the rate of yield gain has recently decreased or stopped for one or more of the major cereals in many of the most intensively cropped areas of the world, including eastern Asia, Europe and the United States.

The Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources scientists calculate that this decrease or stagnation in yield gain affects 33 percent of major rice-producing countries and 27 percent of major wheat-producing countries....

Aleksandr Makovsky's 1895 painting, "Rye"

Looking beyond food for causes of Cameroon’s malnutrition

IRIN: ...Many Cameroonians know little about malnutrition, and the condition is not properly addressed as a public health problem, health experts say. Many see malnutrition only as a problem of insufficient food, and are perplexed that the ailment abounds in a country with strong agricultural production - a view that overlooks unequal food distribution and access in the country as well as other factors that contribute to the illness.

Severe acute malnutrition is highest in the arid Far North and North regions, but it is also high in Adamaoua and the East regions. And chronic malnutrition afflicts children in seven of Cameroon’s 10 regions. “This is the hidden face of Cameroon,” said Ines Lezama, a nutrition specialist with UNICEF, referring to chronic malnutrition, which has affected 1.4 million Cameroonian children in 2013.

...“It is a problem of education, culture. It’s like an insult when you tell somebody that their child is malnourished. Yet this is a health problem like any other,” said Georges Okala, a nutrition specialist with Cameroon’s Ministry of Health. “It is important that parents understand that when their child is underweight and not growing normally, there is a problem, and they should know what is causing that problem.”

Malnutrition is responsible for 38 percent of deaths among children under age five in Cameroon, and one out of three children is stunted. Forty-four percent of chronically malnourished children in the 11-member Economic Community of Central Africa States (ECCAS) are in Cameroon, according to UNICEF....

Market in Abong-Mbang, East Province, Cameroon. Shot by Amcaja, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

At least two killed as storms tear through Arkansas, Mississippi

Reuters: At least two people were killed as wild storms and suspected tornadoes tore through parts of Mississippi and Arkansas on Saturday, injuring several others, damaging homes and sweeping trucks off a highway, authorities said.

Two adults died when the car they were driving in struck a fallen tree in the road in Jasper County, Mississippi, county coroner Randy Graham told Reuters.

Local television reports said a man was killed in Coahoma County when his mobile home blew over in high winds, but authorities could not be reached for confirmation early on Sunday.

Widespread damage from the storm system was also reported near Dermott, Arkansas, in the southeast corner of the state, where five homes were badly damaged, 15 suffered minor damage and four trucks were blown off a highway, said National Weather Service meteorologist David Cox in Jackson, Mississippi. Two people were injured, he said….

FEMA photo of damage from a 2001 tornado near the Arkansas-Mississippi border


Friday, December 20, 2013

Drought and climate change: an uncertain future?

A press release from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (UK): Drought frequency may increase by more than 20% in some regions of the globe by the end of the 21st century, but it is difficult to be more precise as we don’t know yet how changes in climate will impact on the world’s rivers.

The results come from a study, published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), which examined computer simulations from an ensemble of state of the art global hydrological models driven by the latest projections from five global climate models used for the fifth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The research was led by Dr Christel Prudhomme from the UK’s Centre for Ecology & Hydrology working with colleagues from the UK, USA, the Netherlands, Germany and Japan.

Increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are widely expected to influence global climate over the coming century. The impact on drought is uncertain because of the complexity of the processes but can be estimated using outputs from an ensemble of global hydrological and climate models.

The new study concluded that an increase in global severity of hydrological drought - essentially the proportion of land under drought conditions - is likely by the end of the 21st century, with systematically greater increases if no climate change mitigation policy is implemented.

Under the ‘business as usual’ scenario (an energy-intensive world due to high population growth and slower rate of technological development), droughts exceeding 40% of analysed land area were projected by nearly half of the simulations carried out. This increase in drought severity has a strong signal to noise ratio at the global scale; this means we are relatively confident that an increase in drought will happen, but we don’t know exactly by how much...

Entering Arizona on I-10 from New Mexico, shot by Wing-Chi Poon, Wikimedia Commons,  under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license

Scientists help Brazilian farmers adapt to climate change

The Raw Story via AFP: Hundreds of scientists are helping Brazil’s giant agricultural sector prepare for the effects of climate change and anticipate pests that hit neighboring countries. Spearheading the effort is the Brazilian Agriculture Research Corporation (Embrapa), a state agency tasked with developing and extending technology to support sustainable farming.

“We have 400 investigators currently focusing on how to adapt our agriculture to climate change,” said Embrapa chief Mauricio Lopes. “We have a tropical climate and it is the first to be affected by these variations.”

Brazil, South America’s biggest country in terms of size and population, has gradually emerged as an agricultural powerhouse. A net importer of farm products in the 1970s, it now ranks among the world’s five top agricultural producers and exporters and serves as a model for many developing countries. It ranks only second to the United States for biofuel production.

Lopes said Embrapa is studying the effects of rising temperatures on crops “30, 40, 100 years” from now. “Where will we have to move coffee, sugarcane and corn production? We are carefully anticipating the potential impacts of climate change in areas where we are adapting the crops,” he said....

A cotton field in Brazil, shot by João Felipe C.S, public domain

Hack the planet? Geoengineering research, ethics, governance explored

Hannah Hickey at UW Today: Hacking the Earth’s climate to counteract global warming – a subject that elicits strong reactions from both sides – is the topic of a December special issue of the journal Climatic Change. A dozen research papers include the most detailed description yet of the proposed Oxford Principles to govern geoengineering research, as well as surveys on the technical hurdles, ethics and regulatory issues related to deliberately manipulating the planet’s climate.

University of Washington researchers led the three-year project to gather leading thinkers and publish a snapshot of a field that they say is rapidly gaining credibility in the scientific community. “In the past five years or so, geoengineering has moved from the realm of quackery to being the subject of scientific research,” said co-editor Rob Wood, a UW associate professor of atmospheric sciences. “We wanted to contribute to a serious intellectual discourse.”

Creating clouds over the ocean that would reflect back sunlight is the subject of a chapter by Wood, whose research is on the interaction among air pollution, clouds and climate. He and co-author Tom Ackerman, a UW atmospheric sciences professor, look at what it would take to test the idea with a field experiment.

 “I don’t want to prove it right, I just want to know if it’s feasible,” Wood said. “If you look at the projections for how much the Earth’s air temperature is supposed to warm over the next century, it is frightening. We should at least know the options. Is geoengineering feasible if there were to be what people call a ‘climate emergency’?”....

Image by Beckyq6937, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license