Friday, January 31, 2014

More heatwave, more action required on climate change and adaptation

Takver in Sydney Indymedia (Australia): Much of south east Australia is again suffering a heatwave this week. The temperature reached 41.2C in M
elbourne on Tuesdayand is forecast to rise again over this weekend. Inland towns get no such reprieve from the heat, with the Bureau of Meteorology having a heatwave forecast in place.

In the first week of 2014 temperatures climbed towards 50C in a heatwave focussed on WA, Northern Territory, Queensland and NSW. It was so hot that thousands of bats fell from the trees from heat exhaustion.

The heat from Central Australia brought heatwave conditions across south east Australia, from the 13th January. Melbourne had four consecutive days of temperatures exceeding 41C, a new record for the city. The Victorian Premier Denis Napthine warned that the electricity grid was stretched to the limit and up to 100,000 people may lose power for a time.

Preliminary statistics are already being reported. Victorian Ambulance Service had a 700 per cent rise in number of call-outs for cardiac arrests when temperatures spiked at almost 44C during the heatwave. About 203 deaths were reported to the coroner, more than twice the average. Paramedics treated more than 500 people for heat exhaustion, and about 60 kids had to be rescued from locked cars, reported the ABC...

Deteriorating asphalt, shot by Bidgee, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Project targets common humanitarian data collection

Jan Piotrowski in Creating a common standard for humanitarian data collection and a shared database or catalogue will be the dual focus of a UN-led project, the Humanitarian eXchange Language (HXL) initiative, whose working group met for the first time last week (20 January).

The year-long project, which is run by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, received funding from the Humanitarian Innovation Fund in November.

By producing guidelines on data type and format, as well as collection methods, the initiative will allow the direct comparison of information from different humanitarian organisations, says David Megginson, head of HXL’s standards efforts.

While standards on how to deliver humanitarian aid exist, the field lacks a coherent system for data management, both in terms of its collection and storage, he tells SciDev.Net. “The problem is there is huge, duplicated effort in data collection and, a few years after the crisis, the information has disappeared,” he says.

HXL’s working group, consisting of representatives of various NGOs and UN and national development agencies, decided to focus on “high-value indicators” that can be compared between different organisations and have a big impact on crisis response efforts, says Megginson....

Oxfam health workers in Dadaab prepare to distribute 7,000 jerry cans and bars of soap to newly arrived refugees who have walked for many days across the desert from Somalia. Shot by Oxfam East Africa, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license 

Philippines on watch for infectious disease outbreaks

IRIN: Health officials are on alert to prevent the spread of infectious diseases in areas stricken by Typhoon Haiyan.

“During this time of year, we can expect heavy rains and stagnant water from floods to become a cause for a possible increase in dengue cases,” said Julie Hall, the UN World Health Organization (WHO) representative in the Philippines.

In a recent report by WHO and the Philippine Department of Health (DOH), there were 84 dengue cases reported between 1 and 18 January. The cases were registered in the city of Ormoc, in Leyte Province in central Philippines, one of the areas worst hit by the category 5 typhoon, which killed more than 6,200 people. Almost 1,800 people are still missing.

“We have been issuing rapid-testing kits where we can test for dengue even without laboratory facilities,” said Hall, who noted that the reports did not come as a surprise, as diagnostics have become more readily available.

The local government and DOH are working together to clear debris left by the storm and clean out potential breeding grounds for mosquitoes....

A devastated townscape in Tacloban aftter Haiyan, shot by DFID - UK Department for International Development, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

H7N9 bird flu resurges in China ahead of Lunar New Year

CNN: ... In recent weeks, China has seen a spike in cases and experts are worried that infections will gather pace as the country celebrates the Lunar New Year this week - a peak time for travel and for poultry sales. Since the strain was first reported in Shanghai in February 2013, it has affected 246 in mainland China, according to Hong Kong's Department of Health. The World Health Organization says that 56 have died from the disease.

The number of cases faded after May, but returned in late 2013. Like all flu strains, H7N9 cases increase during colder months. In January alone, 19 deaths and 96 human cases have been reported, according to figures from the Chinese Center for Disease Control cited by state news agency Xinhua on Monday -- rivaling the initial wave of H7N9 cases seen in March 2013.

Cases have also been reported in Taiwan and in Hong Kong, which on Tuesday began culling 20,000 chickens after a sample of live chicken imported from mainland China tested positive for H7 viruses According to the WHO, most of the human cases were exposed to the H7N9 virus through contact with poultry or contaminated environments, such as live bird markets,

"When the chickens are very overcrowded, at the time of festivals like Christmas, Chinese New Year, and there are no bio-security measures taken, then the virus spreads through poultry very quickly," said Dr. Kwok-Yung Yuen, chair of infectious diseases at the University of Hong Kong. "It's also possible that travelers will bring live poultry back to their own villages," he added....

Fowl cages at a market in Shenzhen, shot by Daniel Case, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Southern England has wettest January since 1910

Yahoo News via AFP: Parts of southern England have seen the wettest January since records began in 1910, figures showed on Thursday, as the army was called in to help one flooded area. A swathe of England stretching from Devon in the southwest to Kent in the southeast has already experienced twice the average rainfall for the month, figures from the Met Office national weather service showed, with more on the way this weekend.

The army was preparing to deploy to one part of the largely rural county of Somerset to help the residents of villages cut off by the worst flooding there for 20 years. Southeast and central southern England have had more than twice their average rainfall, with a record 175.2 millimetres (6.9 inches) falling between January 1 and January 28, beating the previous record of 158.2 millimetres for the month set in 1988.

But Britain as a whole has had an unusually sodden January. The Met Office said 164.6 millimetres of rain had fallen so far in January across the entire country, which was 35 percent above the long-term average.

More heavy rain is forecast from Friday, which would exacerbate the situation in areas already struggling with floods. The weather has left some areas badly affected by flooding, with 65 square kilometres (25 square miles) of the Somerset Levels underwater for a month....

A spelling lesson in Chelsea around 1912

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

New NASA laser technology reveals how ice measures up

Science Daily: New results from NASA's MABEL campaign demonstrated that a photon-counting technique will allow researchers to track the melt or growth of Earth's frozen regions. When a high-altitude aircraft flew over the icy Arctic Ocean and the snow-covered terrain of Greenland in April 2012, it was the first polar test of a new laser-based technology to measure the height of Earth from space.

NASA's Multiple Altimeter Beam Experimental Lidar flew over Southwest Greenland's glaciers and sea ice to test a new method of measuring the height of Earth from space.

Aboard that aircraft flew the Multiple Altimeter Beam Experimental Lidar, or MABEL, which is an airborne test bed instrument for NASA's ICESat-2 satellite mission slated to launch in 2017. Both MABEL and ICESat-2's ATLAS instrument are photon counters -- they send out pulses of green laser light and time how long it takes individual light photons to bounce off Earth's surface and return. That time, along with ATLAS' exact position from an onboard GPS, will be plugged into computer programs to tell researchers the elevation of Earth's surface -- measuring change to as little as the width of a pencil.

This kind of photon-counting technology is novel for satellites; from 2003 to 2009, ICESat-1's instrument looked at the intensity of a returned laser signal, which included many photons. So getting individual photon data from MABEL helps scientists prepare for the vast amounts of elevation data they'll get from ICESat-2.

"Using the individual photons to measure surface elevation is a really new thing," said Ron Kwok, a senior research scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "It's never been done from orbiting satellites, and it hasn't really been done much with airborne instruments, either."...

I can see my house from here. Actually, it's an aerial shot of Greenland, shot by Túrelio, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license

UN warns climate change is drowning Senegal

Space Daily via AFP: The United Nations' head of disaster risk warned Tuesday that flooding caused by climate change had become an emergency in Senegal, with some towns finding themselves underwater for large parts of the year.

Margareta Wahlstrom, on a three-day visit as part of preparations for a new global disaster risk-reduction strategy, told AFP she had met mayors of coastal and riverside towns who said their streets were flooded ten months out of 12.

"There is a huge pressure for action. I think particularly the flooding issue is so critical... because it's very acute," said Wahlstrom, the United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction.

"Listening to the mayors today, some of them were saying 'we are underwater ten months out of 12'. I think that says everything. That's acute and it's why the country is giving full attention and full priority to flooding. The quicker the cities are growing, the more acute the problem will become."

Wahlstrom, speaking on the sidelines of a news conference in Dakar, said she had witnessed the impact of climate change on a trip to St Louis, a northern archipelago in the mouth of the Senegal River often referred to as the "Venice of Africa"...

A fisherman at St. Louis in the Senegal River, shot by HaguardDuNord, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

‘Natural’ engineering offers solution against future flooding

University of Newcastle Press Office: Back-to-nature flood schemes which use the land’s natural defences to slow river flow and reduce flooding could be a cost-effective way of tackling one of the biggest problems facing the UK today. The schemes – which include capturing flow upstream to prevent floods downstream where they are likely to have a greater impact on infrastructure and homes – have been trialled as part of a five-year research project by experts from Newcastle University in partnership with the Environment Agency.

Using Belford Burn in Northumberland as a demonstration, the team have shown that by changing and hindering the natural flow pathways within a small catchment system, it is possible to manage the amount of run-off from the land.  This reduces the risk of flooding in low-lying areas and also cuts down on pollution by preventing phosphorous and nitrates from being washed off the land.

...Research lead, Dr Mark Wilkinson, who carried out the work while at Newcastle University and is now based at the James Hutton Institute in Aberdeen, said: “Climate projections for the UK suggest that total rainfall during winter months will continue to rise and with it the risk of flooding.

“What we have shown at Belford is that by employing so-called ‘soft engineering solutions’ to restrict the progress of water through a catchment – disconnecting fast-flow pathways and adding storage – we have been able to reduce the risk of flooding in the lower areas and, most importantly, in the town.

“Belford is not unique and there are many other areas around the UK where these solutions could make a significant impact and potentially protect peoples’ homes from some of the more severe flooding we are seeing at the moment.”...

A 2008 flood in Telford Bridge, Northumberland, shot by as Tzdelski, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license

Fertilizer nutrient imbalance to limit food production in Africa

A press release from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis: A growing imbalance between phosphorus and nitrogen fertilizer use in Africa could lead to crop yield reductions of nearly 30% by 2050, according to a new study from researchers at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA).

Underuse of phosphorus-based fertilizers in Africa currently contributes to a growing yield gap—the difference between how much crops could produce in ideal circumstances compared to actual yields. This phosphorus-specific yield gap currently lies at around 10% for subsistence farmers, but will grow to 27% by 2050 if current trends continue, according to a study published today in the journal Global Change Biology.

“This research shows that the imbalance between nitrogen and phosphorus applications has the potential to further limit food production for a growing population in Africa” says Marijn van der Velde, a researcher now at the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission, who led the study while working at IIASA.

...“Farmers with limited money are more likely to buy and have access to cheaper nitrogen-based fertilizers,” says van der Velde. “While this might work in the short term, in the longer term it has a negative effect on crop growth as soil nutrients become more imbalanced.”

As farmers use fertilizers for their crops, nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus build up in the soil, providing a reserve of nutrients that plants need to grow. But fertilizer use remains very low in Africa, and to increase crop production, it is widely recognized that farmers must increase their fertilizer use. And while nitrogen-based fertilizer usage has begun to increase in Africa in the last 10 years, the application of phosphorus to cropland has not kept pace, leading to a growing imbalance between nitrogen and phosphorus levels in soil. The new study shows that increases in nitrogen and phosphorus inputs must happen in a way that provides crops with the balanced nutrient input they need....

An electron shell diagram of phosphorus, created by Pumbaa (original work by Greg Robson), Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales license 

Asian ozone pollution in Hawaii is tied to climate variability

Joanne Curcio in the Princeton Journal Watch:  Air pollution from Asia has been rising for several decades but Hawaii had seemed to escape the ozone pollution that drifts east with the springtime winds. Now a team of researchers has found that shifts in atmospheric circulation explain the trends in Hawaiian ozone pollution.

The researchers found that since the mid-1990s, these shifts in atmospheric circulation have caused Asian ozone pollution reaching Hawaii to be relatively low in spring but rise significantly in autumn. The study, led by Meiyun Lin, an associate research scholar in the Program in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences (NOAA) at Princeton University and a scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, was published in Nature Geoscience.

“The findings indicate that decade-long variability in climate must be taken into account when attributing U.S. surface ozone trends to rising Asian emissions,” Lin said. She conducted the research with Larry Horowitz and Songmiao Fan of GFDL, Samuel Oltmans of the University of Colorado and the NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder; and Arlene Fiore of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University.

Although protective at high altitudes, ozone near the Earth’s surface is a greenhouse gas and a health-damaging air pollutant. The longest record of ozone measurements in the U.S. dates back to 1974 in Hawaii. Over the past few decades, emissions of ozone precursors in Asia has tripled, yet the 40-year Hawaiian record revealed little change in ozone levels during spring, but a surprising rise in autumn.

Through their research, Lin and her colleagues solved the puzzle. “We found that changing wind patterns ‘hide’ the increase in Asian pollution reaching Hawaii in the spring, but amplify the change in the autumn,” Lin said.

...“This study not only solves the mystery of Hawaiian ozone changes since 1974, but it also has broad implications for interpreting trends in surface ozone levels globally,” Lin said. “Characterizing shifts in atmospheric circulation is of paramount importance for understanding the response of surface ozone levels to a changing climate and evolving global emissions of ozone precursors,” she said....

Asian pollution drifts east toward North America in 2010. Hawaii is denoted by the star. (Source: Nature Geoscience)

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A New Mexico expert seeks alternative irrigation sources to save potable landscaping water

Angela Simental at the New Mexico State University News Center: New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service Specialist Bernd Leinauer is a turfgrass expert, studying and researching ways to preserve green spaces in places like New Mexico, where water scarcity is a big problem. “Our research is all about water conservation. We are focusing on water preservation in the landscape,”

Leinauer said. “We need water to grow plants in the desert, but when water is used for aesthetics instead of food, for example, it becomes questionable. So, how much water can we afford to use?” Leinauer found that approximately 50 percent of potable water usage during the summer in Las Cruces goes to irrigating the landscape.

“That is true for almost any city in the desert Southwest,” he said. “Which is considered non-essential, but I would argue that it is important because when we have green space, it contributes to our well-being and moderate climate, but at the end of the day, it is a large amount of water we use for the urban landscape.”

... Leinauer said cities are taking measures to keep landscaped spaces, especially in residential areas, but reducing the outdoor and landscaped area in new housing developments, which consequently reduces the area of irrigation. A second proposed conservation strategy is to have new developments receive two water lines: one for potable water and one for non-potable, treated water for outdoor irrigation, he added.

Leinauer’s research also explores alternative irrigation sources to using potable water while maintaining safety and aesthetics. “The treated effluent a city produces should be considered an alternative source of water. It’s not potable, and so far it is just put into the river and sent to El Paso and eventually on to Mexico,” he said. This water can potentially be used for irrigation in Las Cruces since other cities such as El Paso, Albuquerque and Santa Fe use it heavily for their parks and golf courses.

...Another part of the water conservation project is investigating new and more efficient irrigation systems. Leinauer has been looking at using subsurface water to decrease the waste of water. “This way you take irrigation out of sight and below ground, therefore, you are not throwing it in the air before it has to land on the ground,” he said. “One of the reasons we use so much water during the summer, especially in the residential sector, is that irrigation systems we have in place are extremely inefficient. You see water on the sidewalk or water running down the street. That is not efficient and beneficial use.” ...

A water meter on a church in Taos, New Mexico, shot by Brian Thomas, who is releasing this glamorous image into the public domain

Sensitivity of carbon cycle to tropical temperature variations has doubled

A press release from the University of Exeter: The tropical carbon cycle has become twice as sensitive to temperature variations over the past 50 years, new research has revealed. The research shows that a one degree rise in tropical temperature leads to around two billion extra tonnes of carbon being released per year into the atmosphere from tropical ecosystems, compared with the same tropical warming in the 1960s and 1970s.

Professor Pierre Friedlingstein and Professor Peter Cox, from the University of Exeter, collaborated with an international team of researchers from China, Germany, France and the USA, to produce the new study, which is published in the leading academic journal Nature.

Existing Earth System Model simulations indicate that the ability of tropical land ecosystems to store carbon will decline over the 21st century. However, these models are unable to capture the increase in the sensitivity of carbon dioxide to tropical temperatures that is reported in this new study.

Research published last year by Professors Cox and Friedlingstein showed that these variations in atmospheric carbon dioxide can reveal the sensitivity of tropical ecosystems to future climate change. Taken together, these studies suggest that the sensitivity of tropical ecosystems to climate change has increased substantially in recent decades.

Professor Cox, from the College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences said: “The year-to-year variation in carbon dioxide concentration is a very useful way to monitor how tropical ecosystems are responding to climate. The increase in carbon dioxide variability in the last few decades suggests that tropical ecosystems have become more vulnerable to warming”.

Professor Friedlingstein, who is an expert in global carbon cycle studies added: “Current land carbon cycle models do not show this increase over the last 50 years, perhaps because these models underestimate emerging drought effects on tropical ecosystems”.

The lead author of the study, Xuhui Wang of Peking University, added: “This enhancement is very unlikely to have resulted from chance, and may provide a new perspective on a possible shift in the terrestrial carbon cycle over the past five decades”....

A NASA diagram of the carbon cycle

In Haiti, planting trees is no simple matter

IPS News in Doucet, Haiti: Reforestation and soil conservation programmes costing many thousands of dollars in this rural community have resulted in hundreds of small ledges built of straw or sacks of earth. In certain areas, the earthworks seem to be lasting, but in others, they are disintegrating.

The construction and destruction of the anti-erosion ledges – all made with foreign development and humanitarian money – offer an example of how at least some of Haiti’s reforestation projects turn out. No matter what promises were made, a farmer will always be concerned with the immediate need of feeding and clothing his or her family first.

In the years since the 2010 earthquake, the 11th and 12th communal sections of Petit-Goâve, located 60 kilometres southwest of the capital, have hosted several soil conservation and agricultural programmes with budgets in the tens and even hundreds of thousands. The U.N.’s Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), Helvetas and Action Agro Allemande (AAA), sometimes working with a local development organisation – Mouvman Kole Zepòl (MKOZE) – oversaw projects aimed at rehabilitating the watershed of the Ladigue River.

The steep slopes around the river “are very vulnerable to water erosion and mudslides,” MKOZE explained in a report on one project that had a budget of 91,534 dollars. “During rainy season, the waters from the Ladigue River dump a lot of sediment and rocks at the river’s mouth, destroying fields and causing homes to flood. Sometimes harvests, homes, animals and even human lives are lost.”

In the Petit-Goâve region, deforestation started about a half-century ago, according to many residents. It began with the devastating 1963 Hurricane Flora, which caused great damage and over 5,000 deaths in Haiti’s western and southern regions.

...Haiti has less than three percent tree cover, down from about 60 percent a century ago, and perhaps 80 percent when Christopher Columbus first disembarked. In Haiti, trees are cut down primarily for fuel....

A view above Milot in Haiti, shot by Carol4929, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license 

Climate change taking a toll on kids' health

Saswati Mukherjee B in the Times of India: ...Manifestations of climate change, like diurnal temperature variation, prolonged winters, extremely hot summers, extended rainy season and cloudy skies adversely impact children's health, say experts. "Climate variations make children vulnerable - it can lead to anything from prolonged bouts of cough to asthma," says MB Rajegowda, agro-meteorologist at the University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore.

'Save the Children', a recent study by Unicef, confirms that children are most vulnerable to adverse impacts of climate change. "This, apart from bearing the burden of a future with a changed and potentially reduced quality of life," the study notes.

City doctors substantiate the increase in ailments among children. "There has been a jump in respiratory illnesses, and cases of asthma and allergy have particularly shot up. One cause for this upward swing in asthma cases is depletion of the ozone layer. Of late, we've been seeing a lot of unusual infectious diseases," says Dr Sujatha Ramesh, consultant paediatrician (allergy), Columbia Asia Referral Hospital, Yeshwantpur.

Experts across disciplines share the opinion. "Extreme heat in the morning and cold at night is affecting children's health. Nasal allergy, cough, sneezing, runny nose and eye and throat irritation are the common symptoms. The age of vulnerability has dipped to two years. That's usually the time when kids come into contact with other children. Medication depends on the intensity of symptoms and family history," says Dr Sudha Kumar, homoeopathy physician at Soukya Holistic Health Centre....

Indian children at school, shot by melgupta, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

Saudi Arabia water supply could affect US security

PR Web: Fresh water security in Saudi Arabia is dangerously precarious, warns L. DeWayne Cecil, Ph.D., a former global climatologist and Atmospheric Scientist for NASA and NOAA. A two-year drought could throw this mostly desert country into chaos, which could pose a threat to the many countries dependent on Saudi oil to drive their economies.      

Cecil made the comments during a recent interview on the Sharon Kleyne Hour Power of Water® syndicated radio show on VoiceAmerica and Apple iTunes.

According to Dr. Cecil, Saudi Arabia has 27 million people and 2013 was the world’s number two petroleum producer, after Russia and slightly ahead of the United States. The US is pro
jected to become number one in 2015 (Lawler, A., “US to become world’s top oil producer in 2015,” MSN News, 11-13-13).

Despite having the world’s 19th largest economy, says Cecil, Saudi Arabia faces many challenges. According to Cecil, only 0.7% of their land surface is fresh water, compared to 13.5% in New York State. Saudi Arabia has no year-round rivers and almost no lakes. One-percent of Saudi land is arable compared to 16% in the United States (“Saudi Arabia,” CIA World Factbook, 2013).

Sharon Kleyne observed that the Saudi fresh water supply is precarious and sporadic, with frequent service interruptions. Fifty-percent of their fresh water, Kleyne explained, comes from desalinization plants and 10% comes from surface water capture. The other 40% comes from the mining of non-renewable ground water. According to Dr. Cecil, four-fifths of the ground water reserve has already been mined (Elie Elhadj, “Household water and sanitation services in Saudi Arabia,” Water Research Group, U. of London, 2004)....

Musk Lake in Saudi Arabia, where the sewage from Jeddah is pumped. Shot by Yousef Raffah, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license 

Monday, January 27, 2014

Notre Dame launches the Global Adaptation Index

Laura Henson in New Security Beat: In 2008 and 2010, the price of many basic food stuffs soared, sparking a series of riots and food crises around the world. People in the poorest countries – those living with the smallest margins – were most affected, while the economies of developed nations were able to absorb the price changes. According to Notre Dame’s Global Adaptation Index, how climate change will impact different countries depends not only on their vulnerability to its physical changes, but also their ability to absorb these impacts. [Video Below]

The ND-GAIN Index, which ranks countries according to both their exposure to climate change and their readiness to adapt, show some of the world’s poorest countries are a full century behind the wealthiest, in terms of preparedness, putting not only millions of people but private assets at risk as well.

The ND-GAIN Index launched at the Wilson Center on December 12 during a two-day conference focused on security and the private sector’s role in climate change mitigation and adaptation. “We’re seeing new shifts in the way the world focuses its attention,” said former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Thomas R. Pickering. “Certainly economics, over the last dozen years, has become as much of a center pivot of international activities and action
as the traditional role of political diplomacy and indeed national security. And of course, the truth is, they’re intimately linked and intertwined.”

Marcus King, director of research at the George Washington Elliott School of International Affairs, dubbed climate change an “instability accelerant” and identified three “mega-trends” that could threaten national security over the next 20 years: uneven demographic growth, climate change-induced scarcity (especially water scarcity), and the rise of violent extremists. “These trends converge most alarmingly in the Middle East, North Africa, and the Horn of Africa,” he explained.

...Still, “it’s really hard to forecast something like armed conflict,” said Patrick Regan, professor of international relations at the University of Notre Dame. “We just don’t know enough about the drivers of civil war to do that effectively, in a way like you can population or income.”...

More precise hurricane forecasts with NASA-NOAA Suomi NPP VIIRS satellite sensor

Space Daily via SPX: The ability to use satellites to locate a storm that could evolve into a severe storm or hurricane will likely become more accurate for this year's Atlantic hurricane season beginning June 1. By then, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's or NOAA's, weather forecasters will be able to further improve the use of sensors aboard the NASA-NOAA Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership satellite known as Suomi NPP.

U.S. Polar Environmental satellites such as Suomi NPP provide complete global coverage twice daily, while NOAA/NASA Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites offer imagery over a fixed area. To improve the ability to better find and track hurricanes, NOAA scientists are finding ways to incorporate data from Suomi NPP's Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite, or VIIRS sensor, that allows observations of Earth's atmosphere and surface during nighttime hours and offers enhanced capability to see through clouds.

VIIRS provides many advances over previous operational imagers and advances compared to its research predecessor, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometers currently operating on NASA's Aqua and Terra satellites. It is these advances in polar imagery that will give forecasters a new tool to improve their predictions.

..."This is a new source for gathering temperature and moisture structure within and around the storm, showing us what is steering the storm, and affecting changes in the storm intensity," said Mark DeMaria, technology and science branch chief of NOAA's National Hurricane Center in Miami.

...NOAA's National Weather Service uses large-scale global models to calculate a storm's projected path, size and intensity. The path and intensity of storms, and storms that could become hurricanes, are updated every six hours through the hurricane season. That information is relayed to the National Hurricane Center which zooms in to looks at the storm area in greater detail with its NOAA's Hurricane Weather Research and Forecasting System....

The Visible Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the United States’ newest Earth-observing satellite, NPP, acquired its first measurements on November 21, 2011. This image above shows a broad swath of eastern North America from the Great Lakes to Cuba.  VIIRS collects radiometric imagery in visible and infrared wavelengths of the Earth's land, atmosphere, and oceans. “This image is a next step forward in the success of VIIRS and the NPP mission,” said James Gleason, project scientist for the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System Preparatory Project at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

Data sharing and joint thinking urged for Amazonia

Zoraida Portillo in Countries in the Amazon region need better data sharing and a more holistic view of development if they are to avoid conflicts and costs relating to key resources such as water over the next 50 years, experts warn.

A report making recommendations for a new, international security agenda for the Amazon, says the region’s nations should link-up and circulate data on water, energy, health and food security to ensure sustainable development and tackle challenges posed by changes in climate and land use. A failure to do so, it says, could lead to far greater economic and social disruption in the mid-term and create unprecedented challenges for South America’s political leaders.

“The data exist, but are very fragmented,” says Andy Jarvis, a programme leader at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), and an author of the report released by CIAT and think-tank the Global Canopy Programme last month (17 December). The report was developed with input from science experts and political leaders from Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.

According to Jarvis, existing data on matters crucial for the region’s future security are out of date, and there is a lack of a consistent monitoring on issues such as access to water, energy and health. Where there are data, the links between these issues, or between data collected at a regional, national or international level, are missing, he adds.

Jarvis also laments the disjointed approach to development in the region, with resource extraction currently dominating the development agenda, instead of efforts to deliver sustainable and holistic progress....

An Orange-winged Amazon near Yarina Lodge, Napo Province, Ecuador. Shot by Geoff Gallice, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Replace Tacloban? Government mulls rebuilding new urban hub

Natashya Gutierrez in the Rappler: As the government begins the long and tedious task of rebuilding areas hardest hit by Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), it is looking to focus on first rebuilding the economic hub. In the past, that was Tacloban. But now, the government is not so sure, said Presidential Assistant for Rehabilitation and Recovery Panfilo "Ping" Lacson.

"We are actually coordinating closely with [the private sector] to prioritize Tacloban or if we really have no plans to rebuild Tacloban, let’s look for another place that can be a hub of business activity like Palo [in Leyte]," Lacson said on Monday, January 27.

"Because maybe the path of future calamities really crosses Tacloban. So that's being studied too. That's why there's a forum of experts looking at the movement of storms. Maybe Tacloban isn't tenable anymore to be rebuilt in the manner it was before Yolanda," he said. (READ: Climate change threatens economy of 4 cities)

Tacloban's location on the country's eastern seaboard exposes it to many climate risks, like tropical cyclones during the southwest monsoon. From a range of 1 to 10 – with 10 being most vulnerable – Tacloban was rated 6.74 in terms of how exposed it is to climate change impacts, like stronger storms, extreme droughts, sea level rise, and aggravated flooding and landslides, based on a study.

The study, conducted by Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) Philippines and BPI Foundation, gave this score based on 3 factors: climate or environmental exposure, socio-economic sensitivity, and capacity to adapt. (READ: Tacloban: In the jaws of a 'climate sandwich')

Lacson said experts are also discussing whether the Tacloban airport, which was completely destroyed by Yolanda, should be transferred as well....

Tacloban's airport, pre-Haiyan, shot by mtoz, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Beijing's mayor urges "all-out effort" to curb air pollution

Sui-Lee Wee in Reuters: Beijing's mayor pledged on Thursday to cut coal use by 2.6 million tonnes and set aside 15 billion yuan ($2.4 billion) to improve air quality this year as part of the city's "all-out effort" to tackle air pollution, state news agency Xinhua said.

The announcement by Wang Anshun came as the capital was blanketed in its worst smog in months. An index measuring PM2.5 particles, especially bad for health, reached 500 in much of the capital in the early hours.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers a level above 300 hazardous. Coal-burning boilers inside Beijing's fifth ring road - covering the built-up area of the city - will be eliminated and measures taken against coal burning in the capital's periphery, Xinhua quoted Wang as saying.

The city also aims to ban all heavily polluting vehicles this year, cut new car registrations and promote new energy vehicles, Wang said....

Heavy smog in Tianamen Square, shot by McKay Savage, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr,  under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Climate scepticism blamed as Owen Paterson slashes spending on global warming

Tom Bawden in the Independent: Owen Paterson has been accused of “incredible complacency” over climate change after new figures showed his department has slashed spending on helping Britain cope with global warming.

The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) will spend just £17.2m on domestic “climate change initiatives” this financial year, a 41 per cent decline on the previous 12 months, according to its response to a freedom of information request. The figures will fuel fears that the Environment Secretary’s personal climate-change scepticism could be exposing the UK to a higher risk of flooding and other global warming consequences.

Bob Ward, policy director at the London School of Economics’ Grantham Research Institute, said: “These shocking figures should worry everyone in the UK. Defra is the lead government department for climate change adaptation and is primarily responsible for making the UK resilient to the impacts of global warming, such as increased flood risk,”

Maria Eagle, shadow Environment Secretary, said such a steep drop in domestic climate change initiatives “reveals an incredible level of complacency about the threat to the UK from climate change”. She added:“This is further evidence that Owen Paterson’s unwillingness to accept the science on climate change is leading him to make the wrong choices on spending cuts within his department,.”

...The dramatic cut in domestic climate change spending comes in Mr Paterson’s first full-year as Environment Secretary – he took up the post in September 2012 . The spending now represents just 0.7 per cent of the department’s total budget for the year, down from 1.2 per cent last year....

Ostriches with their heads almost in the sand, shot by Fwaaldijk, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication 

Getting carbon out of your portfolio is tricky

Jonathan Fahey in ABC News via AP: If you are like millions of Americans and own a broad stock index fund, you own parts of Exxon Mobil, Peabody Energy and other companies that earn money selling oil, coal and other fossil fuels.

For some, that's great. Fossil fuels give us light, keep us warm, help grow our food, deliver our products and jet us around the planet. And companies such as Exxon, Chevron and Southern Co. are stable and profitable and offer consistent dividends that pad retirement accounts nicely. For others, however, profiting from companies that produce or burn fuels that pollute and contribute to climate change — and lobby against laws and regulations that would reduce emissions — is something they want no part of. Still others fear the share prices of fossil fuel companies are sure to plummet when society decides we can no longer burn the troves of hydrocarbons they own.

But while student groups around the country are calling for college endowments to stop investing in fossil fuel companies, and some religious groups have done already so, it's much trickier for individual investors.

Matt Patsky, chief executive of Trillium Asset Management, an investment adviser in Boston that has long helped endowments, religious organizations and wealthy families invest in socially-responsible ways, says that about a decade ago clients started asking the firm to create investment strategies that left out fossil fuel companies.

The firm, which manages $1.4 billion, now strips out investments in oil and gas companies, coal companies and utilities that generate electricity with mostly fossil fuels for these clients. The firm then adds shares of other companies that attempt to mirror the performance of these traditional energy companies. He says the firm has been able to generate returns as good or better than the broad market, though he says it is not possible to generate dividends quite as high as the total market....

Climate history written in dust

EurekAlert via the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research: In spring 2010, the research icebreaker Polarstern returned from the South Pacific with a scientific treasure - ocean sediments from a previously almost unexplored part of the South Polar Sea. What looks like an inconspicuous sample of mud to a layman is, to geological history researchers, a valuable archive from which they can reconstruct the climatic history of the polar areas over many years of analysis. This, in turn, is of fundamental importance for understanding global climatic development. With the help of the unique sediment cores from the Southern Ocean, it is now possible to provide complete evidence of how dust has had a major influence on the natural exchange between cold and warm periods in the southern hemisphere. An international research team under the management of the Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven was able to prove that dust infiltrations there were 2 to 3 times higher during all the ice ages in the last million years than in the warm phases in climatic history.

"High large-area dust supply can have an effect on the climate for two major reasons", explained Dr. Frank Lamy, geoscientist at the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research, about the findings. "Trace substances such as iron, which are essential for life, can be incorporated into the ocean through dust. This stimulates biological production and increases the sea's capacity to bind carbon. The result is that the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide is taken out of the atmosphere. In the atmosphere itself, dust reflects the sun's radiation and purely due to this it reduces the heat input into the Earth's system. Both effects lead to the fact that the Earth cools down."

...The influence of dust supply on the climate changes between ice ages and warm periods has long been suspected. Climatic researchers always found particularly high dust content containing iron when the earth was going through an ice age, both in Antarctic ice cores and in sediment cores from the Atlantic part of the Southern Ocean. However, up to now there was no data available for the Pacific section, which covers 50% of the Southern Ocean. "We can now close this central gap" is how Lamy underlines the importance of the new study. "The result is that we are now finding the same patterns in the South Pacific that we found in cores from the South Atlantic and the Antarctic ice. Therefore, the increased dust input was a phenomenon affecting the southern hemisphere during colder periods. This means that they now have to be considered differently when assessing the complex mechanisms which control natural climate changes."

..."Our investigations have now proved without a doubt that colder periods in the southern hemisphere over a period of 1 million years always and almost everywhere coincided, , with lower carbon dioxide content in the atmosphere and higher dust supply from the air. The climatic history of the Earth was, therefore, written in dust." ...

NASA image of dust over southeast Australia

Tsunami-hit city shares recovery tips with typhoon-hit Philippines

Japan Times: A city in Miyagi Prefecture that was devastated by the March 2011 disasters is sharing its recovery lessons with the central Philippines, which is trying to recover from the damage Typhoon Haiyan inflicted in November.

Shuya Takahashi of Higashi-Matsushima’s Reconstruction Policy Division said the city is trying to become place that can “withstand disasters and is safe, where people can feel secure and live with smiles on their faces, and nurture industries and create jobs.”

Takahashi was speaking Friday at a seminar organized by the Japan International Cooperation Agency and the Philippine Public Works and Highways Department. The two bodies are sharing experiences and strategies on disaster management and reconstruction.

Takahashi disclosed that just a month after the natural disasters, Higashi-Matsushima was able to come up with guidelines for recovery and reconstruction. This was followed by a 10-year reconstruction and development plan through 2020.

Takahashi said that it was very important to get the local community involved in developing the plan and other prudent measures, like setting up evacuation areas and building tsunami defenses. “We adopted a bottom-up approach to our consensus plan
ning,” he said.

Koichi Hashimoto of the Higashi-Matsushima Construction Industry Association and Chamber of Commerce spoke of the value of recycling debris from disasters, citing the city’s 97 percent recycling rate. Not only can natural materials be used for reconstruction, they can also help affected people generate income, thus rekindling the local economy, he said....

An aerial view of Tacloban after Haiyan, shot by Russell Watkins/Department for International Development, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Fungi are the rainforest 'diversity police'

A press release from the University of Exeter: A new study has revealed that fungi, often seen as pests, play a crucial role policing biodiversity in rainforests. The research, by scientists at Oxford University, the University of Exeter and Sheffield University, found that fungi regulate diversity in rainforests by making dominant species victims of their own success.

Fungi spread quickly between closely-packed plants of the same species, preventing them from dominating and enabling a wider range of species to flourish. “In the plant world, close relatives make bad neighbours,” said Dr Owen Lewis of Oxford University's Department of Zoology, who led the study. “Seedlings growing near plants of the same species are more likely to die and we now know why. It has long been suspected that something in the soil is responsible, and we've now shown that fungi play a crucial role. It's astonishing to see microscopic fungi having such a profound effect on entire rainforests.

“Fungi prevent any single species from dominating rainforests as they spread more easily between plants and seedlings of the same species. If lots of plants from one species grow in the same place, fungi quickly cut their population down to size, levelling the playing field to give rarer species a fighting chance. Plots sprayed with fungicide soon become dominated by a few species at the expense of many others, leading to a marked drop in diversity.”

...Scientists had suspected that fungus-like microorganisms called oomycetes might also play a part in policing rainforest diversity, but this now seems unlikely. Professor Sarah Gurr, of Biosciences at the University of Exeter, said: “Oomycetes are potent pathogens that can cause seeds and seedlings to rot, and were responsible for the 1840s potato famine. To see if they play a role in promoting rainforest biodiversity, we sprayed plots with a fungicide which protects plants against oomycetes called Ridomil Gold. It had no significant effect on the number of surviving species, suggesting that true fungi and not oomycetes are driving rainforest diversity.” The findings help to explain why tropical rainforests are so much more diverse than forests in temperate countries....

An 1898 drawing of an oomycete

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Arctic inland waters emit large amounts of carbon

A press release from Umea University (Sweden): Geoscientist Erik Lundin shows in his thesis that streams and lakes of Northern Sweden are hotspots for emissions of carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere. Erik defends his findings at Umeå University on Friday 31 January.

"Especially small streams, which in this study accounted for only about four percent of the investigated water systems, turned out to be particularly important by releasing about ten times as much carbon as lakes," says Erik Lundin. "The reason for this is that streams generally have high concentrations of carbon dioxide, but also because they are turbulent which promotes exchange of gases with the atmosphere."

One of the greatest challenges of our time is to understand the effects of future climate change and its underlying causes. This requires more knowledge of the global carbon cycle, but also how it is affected by a changing climate.

Erik Lundin shows in his study that lakes release a large portion of their carbon dioxide and methane in connection with thaw. It is partly because organic materials that decompose in the lakes in the winter form dissolved carbon dioxide and methane which is then trapped under the ice. When the ice breaks up in the spring these dissolved gases are released, sometimes as quickly as within a few days.

The study also shows that two thirds of catchment carbon loss is through lakes and streams, either through emissions into the atmosphere, but also as dissolved organic and inorganic carbon, which are transported by rivers downstream.

...The results shows that Arctic lakes are more efficient carbon sequestrators than warmer boreal lakes. It indicates that with a warmer climate northern lakes will reduce their coal storage ability and we can expect larger emissions of carbon dioxide and methane from our northernmost lakes....

A lake in the Abisko region of Sweden, shot by Robin van Mourik, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license 

Food security should be top priority for Pakistan

Suhail Yusuf in Dawn: Experts from various disciplines gathered at the Climate Change Conference in Karachi stressed a dire need for research on the issue in Pakistan as it ranked amongst countries highly vulnerable to the phenomena.

The conference, organised by Habib University, highlighted the urgent need to incorporate climate change adaptation into the national climate policy. The keynote speaker, Dr Bruce McCarl, a disitinguised professor of Agricultural Economic at Texas A&M University, sounded the alarm and advised the government of Pakistan to put a special emphasis on saving it agricultural sector, first and foremost since it was most sensitive to extreme weather.

McCarl, who was also part of the Noble Peace Prize winning team of Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) in 2007, said, "From agricultural point of view, Pakistan should focus on its most staple crops like Wheat" because food security should be the top priority in the climate change scenario.

Shafqat Kakakhel, chairperson of Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) said that Pakistan was prone to natural disasters and was frequently facing an increase in floods, droughts and other extreme events. Kakakhel also stressed the need for educational institutes to introduce climate change and environment policy in the school curriculum.

Climate change and the role of media was the subject of another important panel discussion at the conference where Rina Saeed Khan, a prominent writer on environment, said in her presentation that though Pakistan was one the lowest emitters of green house gases in the world it remained highly susceptible to the climate uncertainties....

Sindh peasants in a 2009 protest march, shot by Roshanzangejo, public domain

Will fleeing home be the last resort as the climate changes?

Jaspreet Kindra in IRIN: ...Like many other Micronesian states, Palau is extremely vulnerable to rising sea levels and storm surges - several islands are less than a metre above sea level. In other low-lying countries like Bangladesh, people have become used to the idea of moving, but "planned relocation" evokes strong feelings in this part of the Pacific.

Palau gained independence from the United States in 1994 and signed the Compact of Free Association, which will run until 2044. Under this agreement, the US provides substantial financial assistance to Palau, whose nationals can also travel to the US with relative ease and work there. Almost everyone has a family member in the US, but no one talks about moving there permanently.

...People in neighbouring islands like Kiribati and Tuvalu are being forced to move away from the constantly encroaching sea. Planning for possible dual citizenship, shopping for land, and providing new skills so their people can get jobs in another country are among the policy decisions that confront low-lying countries and islands.

"Some countries expressed reservations about the idea of having planned relocation ... since [they]...have hardly contributed to dangerous climate change, but would be asked to concede significant things like administration of viable populations and habitable territory - both key parts of sovereignty" But many Pacific islanders feel like Josephs. Tony de Brum, the
Minister in Assistance to the President of the Marshall Islands, told IRIN that the idea of planned relocation is not even being considered. “If we do that, it will be an admittance of failure in our part,” on two counts - adaptation and global mitigation efforts...

Aerial view of limestone islands of Palau, shot by NOAA

Caribbean sees worrying rise in climate-sensitive diseases

Desmond Brown in IPS: Caribbean countries, struggling to emerge from a slump in exports and falling tourist arrivals brought on by the worldwide economic crisis that began five years ago, have one more thing to worry about in 2014.

Dominica’s chief medical officer, Dr. David John, said climate change and its effects are taking a toll on the health of people in his homeland and elsewhere in the region.  “You have seen what is happening [with] the effects of climate change in terms of our infrastructure, but there are also significant effects with regards to climate change on health,” John said, adding that “these effects relate to the spread of disease including dengue fever and certain respiratory illnesses.”

John said the Dominica government would be seeking assistance from international agencies, including the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), to mitigate “the effects of climate change on health as it relates to dengue, leptospirosis and viral disease.”

In late 2012, the Ministry of Health in Barbados alerted members of the public about a spike in leptospirosis cases. Senior Medical Officer of Health-North Dr. Karen Springer said then that five people had contracted the severe bacterial infection, bringing the number of cases for the year to 18.

Springer explained that the disease, which includes flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache, chills, nausea and vomiting, eye inflammation and muscle aches, could be contracted through contact with water, damp soil or vegetation contaminated with the urine of infected animals. Bacteria can also enter the body through broken skin and if the person swallows contaminated food or water....

A scanning micrograph of leptospira, from the CDC

No-till soybean fields give (even some rare) birds a foothold in Illinois

Seed Daily via SPX: Researchers report in a new study that several bird species - some of them relatively rare - are making extensive use of soybean fields in Illinois. The team found significantly more birds and a greater diversity of bird species nesting, roosting and feeding in no-till soybean fields than in tilled fields.

The team spent about 13 weeks each spring and summer in 2011 and 2012 scouring a total of 24 fields (12 per year) in two counties in Central Illinois. The fields were 18 to 20 hectares (44-49 acres) on average, and the researchers walked roughly 3,200 kilometers (1,988 miles) in the course of the study.

The team found more bird nests and greater species diversity in the no-till fields than in the tilled soybeans. Nest losses were high, however. About 80 percent of nests in the no-till fields and more than 90 percent in tilled fields failed as a result of predation or the onset of farm operations before eggs hatched or young birds were ready to fly.

High mortality is fairly common in bird nests, however, and while the losses in no-till soybean fields were greater than those seen in pristine grasslands, they were not much worse, the researchers said. A paper describing the research appears in the journal Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment.

"I was surprised to see all the different birds that are using these agricultural fields - especially during spring migration," said Kelly VanBeek, a wildlife biologist at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources who conducted the study while a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "I was shocked by the variety of sparrow species that we saw - white-crowned sparrows and white-throated sparrows, for example."...

A sunset driving between field in central Illinois, shot by ParentingPatch, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license