Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Alleged king of Amazon deforestation detained in Brazil

NBC News: Brazil has detained a land-grabber thought to be the Amazon's single biggest deforester, the country's environmental protection agency said. The Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources said Ezequiel Antonio Castanha, who was detained Saturday in the state of Para, operated a network that illegally seized federal lands, clear-cut them and sold them to cattle grazers.

The agency blames the network for 20 percent of the deforestation in Brazil's Amazon in recent years, though the statement issued Monday did not provide the estimated scale of the devastation. It quoted the agency's head of environmental protection, Luciano Evaristo, as saying he hopes Castanha's arrest will "contribute significantly to controlling deforestation in the region."

Castanha will face charges including illegal deforestation and money laundering, and could be sentenced to up to 46 years in prison, the statement said.

Officials said late last year that 1,870 square miles (4,848 square kilometers) of rain forest were destroyed between August 2013 and July 2014. That's a bit larger than the U.S. state of Rhode Island....

A deforested hillside in Brazil, shot by Alex Rio Brazil, Wikimedia Commons, public domain

ESA's biomass satellite goes ahead

A press release from the European Space Agency: Following the initial selection in 2013 for Biomass to become ESA’s seventh Earth Explorer mission and the completion of preparatory activities, ESA Member States yesterday gave the green light for its full implementation for launch in 2020.

The mission addresses one of the most fundamental components in the Earth system: the status and dynamics of tropical forests. Its primary scientific objectives are to determine the distribution of above-ground biomass in these forests and to measure annual changes in this stock over the period of the mission.

The amount of biomass and forest height will be measured at a resolution of 200 m, and forest disturbances such as clear-cutting at a resolution of 50 m, providing an important tool for sustainable forest management.

Studying the world’s tropical biomass is key to our understanding Earth’s climate. The mission will provide the first opportunity to explore Earth’s surface at the ‘P-band’ radar frequency from space. In addition to studying forests, the data are expected to be used for monitoring the ionosphere, glaciers and ice sheets, and for mapping subsurface geology in deserts and surface topography below dense vegetation.

Afghanistan snow storms kill more than 80, but ease drought fear

Mirwais Harooni at the Thomson Reuters Foundation via Reuters: More than 80 people have been killed in Afghanistan in avalanches following heavy snow, officials said on Wednesday, with the bad weather set to last for two more days after an unusually dry winter led to fears of drought.

Officials warned of an imminent humanitarian emergency in areas most severely hit by the bad weather, with snow sweeping through villages and blocking off roads.

"We haven't seen this much snow, or this many avalanches, for 30 years," said Abdul Rahman Kabiri, acting governor of the mountainous province of Panjshir, north of Kabul, where more than 30 people were killed in avalanches.

"If the central government doesn't provide humanitarian support, machinery and food soon, this will turn to a disaster," he said, adding that more than 20 people had been injured.

Despite bringing death and misery to so many people, the snow is vital for Afghanistan, where much of the rural population dependent on agriculture relies on snow melting in the mountains to sustain crops in the spring and summer....

Snow in "K-G" Pass in Afghanistan, a shot by the US military

Rise in heatwaves puts pressure on city planning

Catarina Chagas in SciDev.net: Cities around the world are likely to suffer more heatwaves in the future, a study has found, leading to greater need for planning regulation and urban cooling. The study found a significant increase between 1973 and 2012 in the number of heatwaves affecting the 217 urban areas around the world it examined.

It also found that almost two-thirds of cities saw significant rises in ‘extreme hot nights’, which are as warm as the daily minimum temperature. Such nights are dangerous as they mean people have no respite from hot days.

As climate change progresses and cities become denser, these problems could be exacerbated, say the authors of the study, which was published on 29 January in Environmental Research Letters.

Vimal Mishra, the lead author of the study and an engineer at the Indian Institute of Technology, Gandhinagar, says it is particularly important to understand changes to urban climate, as around 70 per cent of the world’s population are forecast to be living in cities by 2050.

Large cities generate their own microclimates, called urban heat islands. This effect means temperatures in urban areas are higher than those in surrounding rural areas, explains Diane Archer, a researcher at policy research organisation the International Institute for Environment and Development. “This is because of the concentration of buildings trapping more heat during the day and releasing it more slowly at night than natural ground cover like vegetation,” she says....

Gokuldham in Mumbai, shot by Gaggarkartik, Wikimedia Commons, public domain

Affrican Development Bank awards US$1 million emergency relief assistance for drought victims in Somalia

A press release from the African Development Bank: The African Development Bank Group (AfDB) has awarded US $1 million emergency relief assistance to Somalia where over one million people affected by drought and famine are in dire need of humanitarian assistance.

The Emergency Humanitarian Relief Assistance to Victims of Drought in the country approved by the AfDB Board of Directors on Monday, February 9, 2015 will support the efforts being made by the Federal Government of Somalia in conjunction with the United Nations to provide urgent food aid distributions and food deliveries to drought-affected families in several parts of the country.

The grant has been mobilised from the Bank’s Special Relief Fund (SRF) and will be used to purchase food items, finance costs of transportation and distribution of food rations to the beneficiaries as well as administrative charges.

The assistance will be channeled through targeted food distribution to households affected by the drought, mainly vulnerable groups (like widows, orphans, female- and elderly-headed households) without alternative means of survival. Due to the imminent shortfalls, local and regional purchases, which have the added benefit of supporting the national and regional agricultural economies, will be made.

...According to United Nations statistics, some 9 to 10 million people in the Horn of Africa are in need of humanitarian assistance as a result of a severe drought, whose effects have been worsened by poor rains, conflict, trade disruptions and reduced humanitarian assistance in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Djibouti. Continued deterioration as a result of severe droughts in 2010 and 2011, coupled with poor humanitarian access and inadequate humanitarian assistance, culminated in the declaration of famine in southern Somalia in 2011, with more than 250,000 people, mainly women and children dying from hunger and decease....

A goatherd in Somalia, shot by Oxfam-East Africa Oxfam East Africa, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Monday, February 23, 2015

High seas fishing ban could boost global catches, equality

A press release from the University of British Columbia: Closing the high seas to commercial fishing could distribute fisheries income more equitably among the world’s maritime nations, according to research from the University of British Columbia (UBC).

The analysis of fisheries data indicates that if increased spillover of fish stocks from protected international waters were to boost coastal catches by 18 per cent, current global catches would be maintained. When the researchers modelled less conservative estimates of stock spillover, catches in coastal waters surpassed current global levels.

“We should use international waters as the world’s fish bank,” says Rashid Sumaila, director of the UBC Fisheries Economics Research Unit and lead author of the study. “Restricting fisheries activities to coastal waters is economically and environmentally sensible, particularly as the industry faces diminishing returns.”

...The study also indicates that a high-seas moratorium would improve fisheries income distribution among maritime nations. Currently, 10 high seas fishing nations capture 71 per cent of the landed value of catches in international waters.

Under all scenarios considered by the researchers, European Member States, Group of Eight nations, and least developed fishing nations would benefit the most from a closure. Under a catch-neutral scenario, the United States, Guam and the United Kingdom would benefit the most, each with potential increases in landed values of more than $250 million (USD) per year. Canada would see an increase of $125 million (USD) per year....

Map of gains and losses from the proposed plan from the University of British Columbia website

Climate change adaptation project kicks off in Myanmar's dry zone

A press release from the UNDP: More than a quarter of a million people in Myanmar will benefit from a project that will equip farmers with timely resources, knowledge and tools and enable them to have good harvests despite changing weather patterns, says  the UN Development Programme’s  Nicholas Rosellini.

The USD$7.9 million, four-year project, “Addressing Climate Change Risk on Water Resources and Food Security in the Dry Zone of Myanmar,” was launched in Mandalay today by the Chief Minister of the Mandalay Region, H.E U Ye Myint and the Union Minister for Environmental Conservation and Forestry, H. E U Win Tun, the UNDP Deputy Assistant Administrator and Deputy Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific, Nicholas Rosellini.

The project will be conducted in central, lowland Myanmar. Over the past 150 years, environmental degradation, compounded by global warming, has transformed this land into one of the most climate-sensitive and resource-depleted regions in Myanmar, now known as the Dry Zone. The Dry Zone is home to 34% of the country’s total population. Water scarcity, resulting from longer and more severe droughts is the biggest threat to livelihood here. A majority of the households spend most of their time and effort fetching water for drinking and other uses, depriving them of income generating opportunities.

Through the project, small scale water management infrastructure such as canals, community ponds, and water pumps and tube wells will be put in place to ensure a continuous supply of freshwater during the dry season in 280 villages. Five thousand hectares of watershed area will be rehabilitated to improve erosion control. The project also aims to provide timely and accurate climate risk information that would enable farmers to better plan crop planting during the dry season....

Chikungunya thrives with climate variability in the Caribbean

Jewel Fraser in IPS: ...According to the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), as of Feb. 7 this year, there were a total of 4,485 confirmed/probable cases of chikungunya, and just over 87,000 suspected cases in CARPHA’s 24 member states comprising Caribbean nations. Throughout the Americas, with the exception of the U.S., there were more than 800,000 suspected cases. There were 21,000 confirmed or probable cases including figures for the United States.

The illness, which is borne by two types of mosquitoes, is transmitted by the Aedes Aegypti mosquito in the Caribbean, said Dr. Dave Chadee, an entomologist and professor of environmental health at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, in Trinidad.

...Prof Chadee told IPS that a mosquito feeding on the blood of an infected person would pick up the virus. The virus would then multiply in the vector’s digestive system before passing through the peritrophic membrane into its circulatory system from where it would migrate to the salivary gland of the mosquito next to the proboscis. From there, the virus would then be transmitted to a human victim when the mosquito takes its next blood meal.

A number of factors have contributed to the rapid transmission of the virus in the Caribbean over the past year, said Chadee, including climate variability. Climate variability has contributed to higher temperatures as well as heavy rains and flooding in some parts of the Caribbean, including, most notably within the past 15 months, the Christmas floods in the Eastern Caribbean in December 2013. Such conditions make the seasonal pattern of the disease an issue in its transmission, Chadee said...

CDC photo of a mosquito

Australia hit by tropical cylone double whammy

Michael Slezak in New Scientist: It was a shocking double blow. Australia is picking itself back up after being battered simultaneously by two severe tropical cyclones last week, in what meteorologists are saying is a first for the country. One of these appears to be the southern-most cyclone of such a strong intensity to make landfall, giving Australians a taste of what climate change is expected to bring.

Tropical cyclone Marcia was categorised in the highest possible category – category five – when it made landfall in Queensland on Friday and brought wind gusts of up to 285 kilometres per hour. On the same day, cyclone Lam, a category four cyclone, made landfall in the Northern Territory, knocking out a wind station with gusts up to 260 kilometres per hour.

Marcia is estimated to have damaged 1500 homes in Queensland while Lam pummelled through north Arnhem Land, leaving indigenous Australian communities there without power, water or sewerage.

"It is the first time that we've seen two severe – that's category three or above – cyclones making landfall within 24 hours," says Andrew Tupper, head of the National Operations Centre at the Bureau of Meteorology in Melbourne, Australia....

NASA image of Cyclone Marcia over Queensland, February 20, 2015

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Another winter storm to pummel eastern United States with snow and sleet

As Bill Murray said in Ghostbusters, "That's the one that slimed me." From Victoria Cavaliere in Reuters: A fresh band of winter weather that churned up the East Coast on Saturday, pummeling the storm-weary region with snow, sleet and freezing rain, was expected to gradually taper off Sunday morning, forecasters said.

Six inches or more of fresh snow was forecast for parts of the Northeast by early Sunday, according to the National Weather Service (NWS). Bitter cold is also expected, but conditions should start to ease in many areas by mid-morning, the service said.

Boston, which had already been hit by 98.7 inches (251 cm) of snow going into the weekend, saw only about an inch Saturday, but local weather watchers there were forecasting the total tally to hit 100 inches by midnight. The city's total is well above the average yearly total of 31 inches (79 cm).

The new round of harsh weather is part of a system that has cut a curving, 2,000-mile path from southern Missouri to Maine.

Snow and ice contributed to major delays at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York Saturday, with some arriving flights delayed more than two hours, and flights destined for Newark International Airport in New Jersey were delayed more than three hours, according to a Federal Aviation Administration advisory.

Winter weather advisories and winter storm warnings were in effect until Sunday for parts of West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, Maine and New Hampshire, the NWS said.

A snowflake, shot by Pen Weggener, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attrbution 2.0 Generic license

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Expert panel details challenges of adapting to climate change in New Jersey

Tom Johnson in NJ Spotlight: With global warming already occurring, the state needs to adapt to its impact even as it takes steps to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, according to a panel of experts at a NJ Spotlight roundtable on preparing New Jersey for climate change.

Participants in the forum in Trenton on Friday predicted that climate change will have an adverse affect on a wide range of sectors in the state, from agriculture, coastal communities, infrastructure, public health, and natural and water resources.

Preparing the state to deal with the consequences of climate change is a huge challenge, given that they range from identifying the people and places most at risk, to implementing a statewide policy to respond to evolving issues, to finding a way to fund those strategies to make New Jersey better prepared to the deal with the effects of global warming.

Those recommendations are detailed in a report by the New Jersey Climate Adaptation Alliance last summer, a study prepared by the group and Rutgers University, which sponsored the event. The time to act is long overdue, they said.

“It is really amazing how unprepared we have left ourselves -- not just for the future, but for the present,’’ said Michael Catania, a cochair of the alliance and executive director of Duke Farms. “There is no excuse for not moving forward now.’’

As a coastal state, climate change is going to affect New Jersey more than other states, according to Catania. “Mitigation, at this point alone, is not going to hold off some of the effects we already are feeling,’’ he said. “It’s too late to mitigate our way out of this.’’...

A police car patrols flooded Hoboken after Hurricane Sandy, shot by Alex PerkinsAlec Perkins, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license 

Work of prominent climate change denier was funded by energy industry

Suzanne Goldenberg in the Guardian (UK): A prominent academic and climate change denier’s work was funded almost entirely by the energy industry, receiving more than $1.2m from companies, lobby groups and oil billionaires over more than a decade, newly released documents show.

Over the last 14 years Willie Soon, a researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics, received a total of $1.25m from Exxon Mobil, Southern Company, the American Petroleum Institute (API) and a foundation run by the ultra-conservative Koch brothers, the documents obtained by Greenpeace through freedom of information filings show.

According to the documents, the biggest single funder was Southern Company, one of the country’s biggest electricity providers that relies heavily on coal. The documents draw new attention to the industry’s efforts to block action against climate change – including President Barack Obama’s power-plant rules.

Unlike the vast majority of scientists, Soon does not accept that rising greenhouse gas emissions since the industrial age are causing climate changes. He contends climate change is driven by the sun. In the relatively small universe of climate denial Soon, with his Harvard-Smithsonian credentials, was a sought after commodity. He was cited admiringly by Senator James Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican who famously called global warming a hoax. He was called to testify when Republicans in the Kansas state legislature tried to block measures promoting wind and solar power. The Heartland Institute, a hub of climate denial, gave Soon a courage award.

Soon did not enjoy such recognition from the scientific community. There were no grants from Nasa, the National Science Foundation or the other institutions which were funding his colleagues at the Center for Astrophysics. According to the documents, his work was funded almost entirely by the fossil fuel lobby....

Hogarth's "Chairing the Member"

Thames study: Rivers can be a source antibiotic resistance

Space Daily via SPX: Rivers and streams could be a major source of antibiotic resistance in the environment. The discovery comes following a study on the Thames river by scientists at the University of Warwick's School of Life Sciences and the University of Exeter Medical School.

The study found that greater numbers of resistant bacteria exist close to some waste water treatment works, and that these plants are likely to be responsible for at least half of the increase observed.

Antimicrobial resistance is one of the largest threats to human health for a century, the researchers argue. Increasingly large amounts of antibiotics are released into the environment through both human and agricultural use, with surface run off from farming activities (including fertiliser and animal slurry) washed straight into rivers after heavy rainfall. Co-lead on the research, Professor Elizabeth Wellington of the University of Warwick, said:

"Antibiotic resistance naturally occurs in the environment, but we don't yet know how human and agricultural waste is affecting its development. We've found that waste water discharges effect resistance levels and that improvements in our treatment processes could hold the key to reducing the prevalence of resistant bacteria in the environment.

"We found antibiotic resistance in the group Enterobacteriaceae which includes gut bacteria and pathogens."...

Thames River at night, shot by Cristian Bortes Cristian Bortes , Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

A map of hunger in 2015 - where to watch

IRIN: Food shortages are often portrayed as random – the result of freak weather conditions or short-term political crises. Yet they are often deeply predictable – while short-term trends can exaggerate the impact, most of the causes are structural.

Last week the Famine Early Warning System (FEWS Net) released its latest forward-looking analysis of food needs in key countries. The data track not just which countries are likely to have food shortages this year but when they are likely to occur.

IRIN's interactive map highlights countries that are particularly prone to crisis. Click on a country to see how many people are at risk, the level of crisis and when the potential lean season is.

FEWS Net doesn’t cover all countries with food crises. Syria, India, and Iraq, for example are excluded. This is partly due to FEWS Net's  background - it was founded in Africa - and also partly because in the case of Syria and Iraq these trends are still new.

FEWS Net uses the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification to grade crises into five categories, from “minimal” to “famine.”...

Map of Sahel countries by , Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Study finds climate change may dramatically reduce wheat production

A press release from Kansas State University: A recent study involving Kansas State University researchers finds that in the coming decades at least one-quarter of the world's wheat traded will be lost to extreme weather from climate change if no adaptive measures are taken.

Vara Prasad, professor of crop ecophysiology and director of the USAID Feed the Future Sustainable Intensification Innovation Lab at Kansas State University, is part of a collaborative team that found wheat yields are projected to decrease by 6 percent for each degree Celsius the temperature rises if no measures to adapt to extreme weather fluctuations are taken.

Based on the 2012-2013 wheat harvest of 701 million tons worldwide, the resulting temperature increase would result in 42 million tons less produced wheat per degree of temperature increase. To put this in perspective, the amount is equal to a quarter of the global wheat trade, which reached 147 million tons in 2013. Changes in genetics and crop management can minimize some of these losses.

"It's pretty severe," Prasad said. "The projected effect of climate change on wheat is more than what has been forecast. That's challenging because the world will have to at least double our food supply in the next 30 years if we're going to feed 9.6 billion people."

Prasad is a co-author on the study, "Rising temperatures reduce global wheat production," published in a recent issue of the scientific journal Nature Climate Change.

..."Extreme temperature doesn't only mean heat; it also means cold," Prasad said. "Simply looking at the average temperature doesn't really show us anything because it's the extremities that are more detrimental to crops. Plants can handle gradual changes because they have time to adapt, but an extreme heat wave or cold snap can kill a plant because that adjustment period is often nonexistent."....

Wheat, shot by Scott Bontz (Dehaan), Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Capturing and storing carbon in soil: Is it real and can it scale?

EurekAlert via Arizona State University: Can beef production help restore ecosystems? A team of scientists, advisors and communications specialists are banding together to explore whether ranching management can create robust soils, watersheds and wildlife habitat while sequestering atmospheric carbon dioxide.

The Arizona State University-SoilCarbon Nation team is examining the adaptive multi-paddock (AMP) grazing management technique that involves using small-sized fields to provide short periods of grazing for livestock and long recovery periods for fields. The method mimics the migrations of wild herd animals, such as elk, bison and deer. The science team proposes a whole system science measurement approach in comparing AMP grazing with conventional, continuous grazing methods.

Peter Byck, professor of practice at the School of Sustainability and the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at ASU, is helping organize the project. "By using measures - such as the carbon stored, the water absorbed and retained, populations of fungi, bacteria, wild life and insects, and rancher and animal well-being - we are comparing adaptive grazing with conventional grazing to see if the former actually improves ranch ecosystems," he said. "We hope to study and compare 36 ranches located in four diverse eco-regions across the U.S. and southern Canada."

While individual members of the team concentrate on aspects and impacts of various grazing techniques, Byck's focus is to discover whether the methods store carbon in the soil, and if so, which is the most successful.

According to Byck, the idea for the project came from researching Soil Carbon Cowboys, a short Carbon Nation 2.0 film made in collaboration with ASU. His feature documentary, 2011's Carbon Nation, focuses on climate change solutions....

"While filming Soil Carbon Cowboys, we came across ranchers who were adopting healthier grazing practices to rejuvenate their land and their livestock," said Byck. "What they did not know is that they were helping capture a significant amount of carbon dioxide from the air."....

US Agricultural Research Service photo of a cattle herd

Adaptation in Philippine farming

Oliver T. Baccay at the Philippines Information Agency:  ...As a region which plays a key role in the balance of agricultural productivity, Cagayan Valley cannot afford to decrease production these days as it will have an effect on the entire country’s economy. But the threat disguised as Climate Change looms and may affect production, farmer-leaders told agriculture officials recently.      

Just how resilient and adapted to natural calamities as an effect of climate change are the region’s preferred crops would be a lingering question.

The region is within the typhoon belt, prone to different disasters that cause devastations to farmer’s productivity. Without these calamities, farmers’ produce would be enough to feed the nation  or even a surplus production for export.

With these challenges, the workers of the Department of Agriculture (DA) Region 2 as well as other agriculturists continue to stretch their research muscles to address these challenges not only to ensure production, but also to develop disaster-resilient crops. These efforts, Hector Tabbun, information officer, said include the researches for drought and water resistant corn, palay, legumes and root crop varieties.

 ...DA also constructed several Small Water Impounding Projects (SWIPS) in different areas to harvest sufficient water during the rainy season to be utilized during the dry season. The farmers are also continuously taught how to harvest rainwater from the small type water reservoir as a climate change adaptation measure....

Not in Cagayan, but a rice field in the Nagacadan Rice terraces, shot by Schubert Ciencia Shubert Ciencia, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

UNDP pledges to assist Malawi recover from floods disaster

Vatican Radio: ...Malawi is regularly hit by floods and droughts. This requires emergency responses of varying size each year. This year, according to the UN News Service, flooding has caused displacement of over 170,000 people, while an estimated 116,000 households have lost their crops and livestock. In Nsanje district alone, 79 people are confirmed dead with another 153 people still missing.
...A United Nations (UN) wide effort has been launched to support those in need and mitigate the potential risks of disease and food shortages. In addition to the important work provided by the World Food Program (WFP), World Health Organisation (WHO) and United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) in airlifting supplies and providing clean water and sanitation, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and other agencies are poised to help in early recovery efforts.
 Ensuring livelihood, economic and social recovery – reestablishing schools such as Jimmy Mbamere’s – is crucial.
 The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is already planning early recovery and has put in place an adviser who will engage with the government and other UN agencies to ensure a comprehensive early recovery strategy.... 

Drones for good?

Louise Redvers in IRIN: Most commonly associated with spying and military missions, the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – or drones – for humanitarian purposes is the subject of both hype and caution. Sceptics are wary of the ethical and practical implications, worried about human rights and security aspects and unconvinced by their capabilities and relevance.

But experts argue they could play an important role in disaster relief as well as having other useful civilian applications. A two-day event hosted in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) this weekend presented some potentially positive uses for UAVs in civilian and humanitarian settings offering big money prizes to the best ideas.

“Drones don’t have a great reputation,” admitted Patrick Meier, the director of social innovation at Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI), and a leading advocate for UAVs in the humanitarian sector, who helped judge the Dubai competition.

“Don’t forget in the past we used to associate satellites with the Cold War and the military, but that has now changed, thanks to the democratization of imagery. Hopefully as the public see more examples of drones doing good, of stopping animal poaching, of saving lives in search-and-rescue efforts or delivering medicines to remote parts of Africa, then perceptions will change,” said Meier, also the co-founder of the Digital Humanitarian Network (DHN), a membership platform for digital disaster response. ...

A NASA Pathfinder drone

Pakistan suffering heavy losses from Indian mills' emissions

Faiza Ilyas in Dawn (Pakistan): Apart from damaging public health and crop cultivation, heavy fog mainly created by hazardous emissions from the coal-based Indian steel mills are causing a loss of $2 billion annually to Pakistan’s aviation industry.

The Sindh coast doesn’t face the threat of complete drowning from the intruding sea by 2060 as was recently reported in the press, but there are all indications that Pakistan would be seriously impacted by changes in weather conditions, which would become more intense in the coming years. Building dams could help Pakistan prevent flooding.

These were some important points highlighted by deputy director general of the meteorological department Dr Ghulam Rasool at a press briefing held on Saturday. It was arranged by Green Media Initiative in collaboration with the Karachi Press Club.

...“Pakistan ranks 10th among countries that would suffer the most from climate change. Every aspect of the phenomenon would impact us. Our coasts are now more vulnerable to tropical cyclones as their intensity would increase in the Arabian Sea and reduce in the Bay of Bengal,” he said, adding that sea level rise would contribute to sea intrusion.

According to Dr Rasool, of the total 8,123 glaciers in Pakistan, only 8,000 are advancing while the rest are reducing. The Siachen Glacier is the fastest melting glacier in the world. The deployment of armed forces of both Pakistan and India in that region is also contributing to decline in the ice mass....

Karachi traffic, shot by  from Tokyo, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Atribution 2.0 Generic license

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Delaware's new maps to show future flood risks

Molly Murray in Delawareonline: There's a new worst-case scenario for future flood riisk in Delaware – worse than the state's sea level rise maps, worse than flooding from 100-year storms plotted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. This mapping project takes that 100-year storm flood level and adds three feet to it.

So at the south end of Rehoboth Beach, the maps – not yet publicly available – show places that are high and dry on the FEMA maps in a 100-year-storm, but are inundated with water during that same storm once sea level rises three feet.

The new mapping tool is designed to help state officials plan where and how to build future roads, bridges, buildings and other structures ev
en when they aren't within a currently mapped flood zone. It can also be used as a tool during reconstruction and to avoid places where future flooding is likely.

"The new maps are not regulatory," said Susan Love, a planner with the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. "They are for guidance." In fact, said state Environmental Chief David S. Small, there is no one within state government to enforce the use of the maps by state agencies.

Small and others stressed they were strictly advisory and had no impact on where local government and private landowners could or should build. "It doesn't mean we are taking your rights away," said state Planner Constance Holland. But, she added, "it is better building."...

The aftermath of a 1913 flood in New Jersey (near Delaware)

Swiss tourist dies of swine flu in India as toll mounts

Terra Daily via AFP: A Swiss tourist died Thursday of swine flu while visiting India, a local health official said, as the country grapples with an outbreak that has killed more than 400 people since the start of 2015. The 70-year-old woman fell ill while visiting the western state of Rajasthan, a popular tourist destination that has been particularly hard hit by the latest outbreak.

"She died in hospital. She tested positive for the H1N1 virus," the chief medical officer for the Rajasthani city of Jodhpur Y. S. Rathore told AFP, referring to the swine flu virus.

The woman, whose full name has not been given, was visiting the state with a large tour group when she complained of flu-like symptoms and was admitted to a private hospital, where she was placed on a ventilator.

The postmortem report into her death will be completed later Thursday, Jodhpur police commissioner Ashok Rathore told AFP. No one at the Swiss embassy could immediately be reached for comment.

India's health ministry said Wednesday that 407 people had died of swine flu since the start of the year, more than half of them in the first 10 days of this month. More than 5,000 cases of the disease have been detected, the ministry said. The government said it was reviewing procedures to prevent the disease from spreading further, including vaccinating medical staff working with affected patients....

Global rainfall satellites require massive overhaul

Space Daily via SPX: Circling hundreds of miles above Earth, weather satellites are working round-the-clock to provide rainfall data that are key to a complex system of global flood prediction. A new Cornell University study warns that the existing system of space-based rainfall observation satellites requires a serious overhaul. Particularly in many developing countries, satellite-based flood prediction has weak spots, which could lead to major flooding that catches people by surprise. What's more, four of the 10 dedicated rainfall satellites are past their warranty, further increasing risk of disaster.

The study, published online Feb. 11 in Environmental Research Letters, is led by Patrick Reed, professor of civil and environmental engineering, in collaboration with researchers at Princeton University and the Aerospace Corporation.

"It's important for us to start thinking as a globe about a serious discussion on flood adaptation, and aiding affected populations to reduce their risks," Reed said. "We want to give people time to evacuate, to make better choices, and to understand their conditions."

In their study, Reed and colleagues showed that even assuming all 10 satellites are working well and perfectly coordinated, rainfall data still has many deficits across the globe, including in areas vulnerable to flood risk. Removing the four satellites that have surpassed their design life dramatically increases these deficits, possibly leading to high-intensity flood events to go unobserved.

The study was not all bad news. Reed and colleagues also demonstrated that replacing as few as two of the four satellites past their design life could help close these gaps considerably....

Typhoon Songda in 2011, via NASA

Sub-Saharan African countries are failing to plan for climate change

Lindsey Jones in the Guardian (UK): Communities around the world are feeling the impacts of climate change already, but many of the most severe effects will be felt in the decades to come, particularly from mid-century onwards. Nowhere is this more apparent than in sub-Saharan Africa which will be one of the hardest hit regions of the world.

Right now, African countries are busy investing in infrastructure and development to help support current economic growth. Many of these long-lived investments – such as ports, large dams, and social infrastructure, such as hospitals and schools – will most likely last well beyond 2050. But by then, Africa’s climate may look quite different to what it does today. Factoring climate change into long-term investments and planning decisions is essential for supporting climate-resilient development – but it’s not happening.

New research, coordinated by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN), shows that governments and businesses across sub-Saharan Africa are failing to consider long-term climate information in their investments and planning decisions. This includes studies from Zambia, Malawi, Rwanda, Ghana and Mozambique. The worst case scenario is that poor use of climate information could lock societies into patterns that make them highly vulnerable to droughts, floods, high temperatures or sea-level rise in the future.

Why do decision-makers have this blind
spot? First and most importantly, other challenges such as eradicating poverty and promoting access to primary and secondary education are extremely pressing, forcing decision-makers to think and act in short time frames.

Secondly, long-term climate information is often ill-suited to informing local economic, social and environmental contexts in sub-Saharan Africa.

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

NASA study finds carbon emissions could dramatically increase risk of US megadroughts

NASA: Droughts in the U.S. Southwest and Central Plains during the last half of this century could be drier and longer than drought conditions seen in those regions in the last 1,000 years, according to a new NASA study.

Soil moisture 30 cm below ground projected through 2100 for two emissions scenarios. Brown is drier and blue is wetter than the 20th c. average. RCP 4.5 assumes reduced CO2 emissions. RCP 8.5 is "business as usual."

The study, published Thursday in the journal Science Advances, is based on projections from several climate models, including one sponsored by NASA. The research found continued increases in human-produced greenhouse gas emissions drives up the risk of severe droughts in these regions.

"Natural droughts like the 1930s Dust Bowl and the current drought in the Southwest have historically lasted maybe a decade or a little less," said Ben Cook, climate scientist at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University in New York City, and lead author of the study. "What these results are saying is we're going to get a drought similar to those events, but it is probably going to last at least 30 to 35 years."

According to Cook, the current likelihood of a megadrought, a drought lasting more than three decades, is 12 percent. If greenhouse gas emissions stop increasing in the mid-21st century, Cook and his colleagues project the likelihood of megadrought to reach more than 60 percent....

Soil moisture 30 cm below ground projected through 2100 for high emissions scenario RCP 8.5. The soil moisture data are standardized to the Palmer Drought Severity Index and are deviations from the 20th century average. Image Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Geoengineering report: Scientists urge more research on climate intervention

A press release from the University of Michigan: Deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, while necessary, may not happen soon enough to stave off climate catastrophe. So, in addition, the world may need to resort to so-called geoengineering approaches that aim to deliberately control the planet's climate. That's according to a National Research Council committee that today released a pair of sweeping reports on climate intervention techniques. The University of Michigan's Joyce Penner, who is the Ralph J. Cicerone Distinguished University Professor of Atmospheric Science, served on the committee. Penner studies how clouds affect climate.

The reports consider the two main ways humans could attempt to steer the Earth's system: We could try to take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Or we could try to reflect more sunlight back into space. The committee examined the socioeconomic and environmental impacts as well as the costs and technological readiness of approaches in each category.

The researchers said that certain CO2-removal tactics could have a place in a broader climate change response plan. But the sunlight reflecting technologies, on the other hand, are too risky at this point. They underscored how important it is for humans to limit the levels of CO2 they put into the atmosphere in the first place, and they called for more research into all climate intervention approaches.

"I, for one, am concerned with the continuing rise in CO2 concentrations without clear efforts to reduce emissions," Penner said. "The widespread impacts from these increases are readily apparent, and the cost of climate change impacts is likely to be high.

...While the committee said that some of the CO2 removal strategies including "carbon capture and sequestration" have potential to be part of a viable plan to curb climate change, it noted that only prototype sequestration systems exist today. Much development would have to occur before it could be ready for broad use....

A detail of a wall of the Temple of the Moon in Yeha, Ethiopia, shot by A. Davey A. Davey, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Atribution 2.0 Generic license

Dire conditions for Malawi's flood survivors

IRIN: For those who have lost everything in southern Malawi’s Chikwawa District, just getting the next meal is now the priority. “Life is unbearable here. We hardly get food, but what else can we do? We cannot go back to our homes. They are under water and probably [fallen] down by now,” said displaced Aman Maomao, who is among hundreds sheltering in the grounds of a local public building.

In total 1.15 million Malawians have been affected by the flooding of 15 of the country’s 28 districts, which followed heavy rains a month ago. In all, some 336,000 people have been displaced and 276 are missing or dead.

“We have been hit and we are in this situation. There is nothing we can do. We are waiting for the necessities, as we cannot go back home,” said a man who identified himself as Aswell Guta.

When it rains at night, the displaced do their best to find some space in the few tents but they are usually used for medical consultations and are too small to be decent dormitories. They are segregated by sex, but not by age: children share the sleeping quarters with adults. In other displacement sites, men and women share tents.

Only one of the 20 displacement sites in Chikwawa district has enough tents to meet the needs of those living there. In the others many sleep in the open, with few cooking utensils, mosquito nets and buckets....

Midwestern US states are getting soaked by rise in damaging floods

Maria Galluci in the International Business Times: The U.S. Midwest is getting soaked. Damaging floods are hounding the region with increasing frequency, leading to billions of dollars in agricultural losses and displacing thousands of people, a new study found. Scientists say the trend will likely get worse in coming decades as the effects of climate change accelerate.

Fourteen states in the Midwest and surrounding area saw “increasingly more frequent flood episodes” from 1961 to 2011, according to a University of Iowa study published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change. Researchers pored over daily geological reports from 774 stream gauges, and found that about a third of stations experienced increasingly frequent flooding. Only 9 percent of stations showed a decrease in flood events.

“There was a feeling that these flood events have been increasing, but the question was, Is it just our perception of the recent past vs. present?” Gabriele Villarini, an engineering professor at Iowa and the report’s lead author, said. “So that’s when we decided to do this analysis.”

Five major floods have pummeled the Midwest region over the past two decades, including a record 2008 disaster in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, that caused up to $6 billion in flood-related damage and forced 25,000 people from their homes...Nationwide, many states have also seen a rise in “nuisance flooding,” the minor events that shut down roads down and clog storm drains but aren’t particularly dangerous, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported last fall....

Villarini said the increased frequency of Midwest floods is largely the result of changes in regional temperatures and rainfall patterns. In the northern states, the spring season has become steadily warmer over the past few decades, while at the same time, snowmelt -- the watery surface runoff caused by melting snow -- has also increased. In other areas, heavy rainfall events are happening more often, leading to more frequent flooding.

...But he noted that the findings are consistent with how climate scientists generally believe global warming is affecting the hydrological cycle. As the atmosphere warms up, it can retain more moisture; all that added vapor, in turn, can lead to more intense and frequent precipitation. In the Midwest, that could lead to more “erosion declining water quality and negative impacts on transportation, agriculture, human health and infrastructure,” according to the National Climate Assessment, a sweeping 2014 report by the White House....

Cedar Rapids in a 2008 flood, shot by Matt Herzberger Matt Herzberger, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Supply chain policies need work to save forests

Megan Rowling in Reuters via the Thomson Reuters Foundation: Governments, companies and investors still have significant work to do if they are to stop global supply chains causing deforestation and worsening climate change, a tropical forest think tank said on Wednesday.

A new ranking of 250 companies, 150 investors and lenders, 50 countries and regions, and 50 other powerful players showed only a small minority have comprehensive policies in place to tackle the problem.

At the current rate of progress, international goals to end deforestation will not be met, the Global Canopy Programme (GCP) warned. "Whilst some powerbrokers are leading the way in addressing global forest loss, many are failing to take the action required," it said in a report on the "Forest 500" (www.forest500.org).

Over the last decade, growing global demand for food, animal feed and fuel has been responsible for more than half of deforestation in tropical and sub-tropical regions, according to the report. Deforestation and changes in land use today cause more than 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, undermine water security and threaten the livelihoods of over 1 billion people worldwide, it added.

Progress on curbing tree losses and emissions has been made, including last year's New York Declaration on Forests, signed by businesses, governments and indigenous peoples. It aims to cut natural forest loss in half by 2020 and end it by 2030....

Diagram by Stern, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Brazil drought: water rationing alone won't save Sao Paulo

Marussia Whatley and Rebeca Lerer in the Guardian (UK): It should be the rainy season. Instead Sao Paulo state is experiencing a third consecutive year with soaring temperatures and rainfall patterns well below historic records.

The main water reservoirs are operating at their lowest capacity. The Cantareira reservoir system, which serves more than nine million people in the state, is only 5% full. At the Alto Tietê reservoir network, which supplies three million people in greater Sao Paulo, water levels are below 15%.

Simple calculations indicate that given the current level of consumption versus the predicted raining patterns there is only enough water on the system to last four to six months. That means the water could run out before the next rainy season starts in November. State officials recently announced a potential rationing program of five days without water and two days with, in case the February and March rains do not refill the reservoirs.

This extreme climate scenario, combined with a series of management flaws, political negligence and a culture of waste and pollution, is bringing the largest metropolitan region of Brazil to the brink of collapse.

Since 2013, after decades of warnings about misguided development policies and destructive land use practices, experts and civil society organisations have been calling for increasingly strong measures to reduce water consumption to keep the minimum secure levels for supply reservoirs. The calls have been ignored by the state government – the system’s main operator – and federal and municipal authorities turned a blind eye to the severity of the situation....

Image from a drought in northeastern Brazil. Shot by LeoNunes, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

World thunderstorm "map" key to assessing climate change

A press release from Tel Aviv University:
The Doomsday Clock, which measures the likelihood of global catastrophe, last month ticked a minute closer to "midnight" — the apocalypse. The symbolic clock was set to 11:57 by a board of atomic scientists featuring 17 Nobel Laureates, who warned that the planet, beset by climate change and nuclear proliferation, faced extraordinary and undeniable threats to its continued existence.

New research by Prof. Colin Price of Tel Aviv University's Department of Geosciences and published in Environmental Research Letters will likely be crucial to measuring the impact of climate change on thunderstorms — one of the weather occurrences most problematic for human life on the planet. The varying frequency and intensity of thunderstorms have direct repercussions for the public, agriculture, and industry.

"To date, satellites have only provided snapshots of thunderstorm incidence," said Prof. Price, whose new map of thunderstorms around the world is the first of its kind. "We want to use our algorithm to determine how climate change will affect the frequency and intensity of thunderstorms. According to climate change predictions, every one percent rise in global temperature will lead to a 10 percent increase in thunderstorm activity. This means that we could see 25 percent more lightning by the end of the century."

To draft a global thunderstorm map, Prof. Price and TAU graduate student Keren Mezuman used a vast global lightning network of 70 weather stations capable of detecting radio waves produced by lightning — the main feature of a thunderstorm — from thousands of miles away. The World Wide Lightning Location Network (http://wwlln.net) is run by atmospheric scientists at universities and research institutes around the world. The TAU team harnessed this ground-based system to cluster individual lightning flashes into "thunderstorm cells."..."When we clustered the lighting strikes into storm cells, we found that there were around 1,000 thunderstorms active at any time somewhere on the globe," said Prof. Price.

The researchers, pooling seven years of data analysis, found that every day lightning activity on earth peaked at 1900 GMT, with low activity at 0300 GMT every day. While previous studies had estimated that 90 percent of lightning flashes occurred over land areas, the TAU team found that only 50 percent of the thunderstorms cells existed over land areas, implying that land storms have much more lightning than ocean storms. "How lightning will be distributed in storms, and how the number and intensity of storms will change in the future, are questions we are working on answering," Prof. Price said.

A thunderstorm in Slovakia, shot by Eryn Blaireová, Wikimedia Commons,  under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Evidence from warm past confirms recent IPCC estimates of climate sensitivity

A press release from the University of Southampton: New evidence showing the level of atmospheric CO2 millions of years ago supports recent climate change predications from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

A multinational research team, led by scientists at the University of Southampton, has analysed new records showing the CO2 content of the Earth’s atmosphere between 2.3 to 3.3 million years ago, over the Pliocene.

During the Pliocene, the Earth was around 2ºC warmer than it is today and atmospheric CO2 levels were around 350-400 parts per million (ppm), similar to the levels reached in recent years. By studying the relationship between CO2 levels and climate change during a warmer period in Earth’s history, the scientists have been able to estimate how the climate will respond to increasing levels of carbon dioxide, a parameter known as ‘climate sensitivity’.

The findings, which have been published in Nature, also show how climate sensitivity can vary over the long term. “Today the Earth is still adjusting to the recent rapid rise of CO2 caused by human activities, whereas the longer-term Pliocene records document the full response of CO2-related warming,” says Southampton’s Dr Gavin Foster, co-author of the study.

“Our estimates of climate sensitivity lie well within the range of 1.5 to 4.5ºC increase per CO2 doubling summarised in the latest IPCC report. This suggests that the research community has a sound understanding of what the climate will be like as we move toward a Pliocene-like warmer future caused by human greenhouse gas emissions.”...

Fossils from the Pliocene, shot by H. Zell, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Funding drought threatens Zimbabwe climate change response

Madalitso Mwando in the Thomson Reuters Foundation: Zimbabwe is struggling to pay for measures to cope with climate stresses and weather-related disasters, such as recent floods, amid domestic spending cuts and slow progress in accessing international finance.

The budget for the Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate has been reduced to $52 million for 2015, from $93 million set aside for 2014. As this year began with floods that have claimed some 20 lives and washed away villages, the funding squeeze has raised concerns about the country's preparedness for climate-linked disasters, which are expected to worsen as the planet warms.

The Civil Protection Unit, the state's disaster response agency, was caught unawares by the floods, exposing a lack of effective early warning for extreme weather events. The meteorological services department received $400,000 from the government last year - less than a tenth of the $5 million it says it needs annually.

Barnabas Chipindu, a meteorologist and lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe, said economic hardship had shrunk state capacity to deal with climate-related disasters. "The country does not have enough resources to combat the adverse impacts of climate variability," Chipindu told the Thomson Reuters Foundation....

Researchers link smoke from fires to tornado intensity

Gary Galluzo at Iowa Now: Can smoke from fires intensify tornadoes? “Yes,” say University of Iowa researchers, who examined the effects of smoke—resulting from spring agricultural land-clearing fires in Central America—transported across the Gulf of Mexico and encountering tornado conditions already in process in the United States.

The UI study, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, examined the smoke impacts on a historic severe weather outbreak that occurred during the afternoon and evening of April 27, 2011. The weather event produced 122 tornadoes, resulted in 313 deaths across the southeastern United States, and is considered the most severe event of its kind since 1950.

The outbreak was caused mainly by environmental conditions leading to a large potential for tornado formation and conducive to supercells, a type of thunderstorm. However, smoke particles intensified these conditions, according to co-lead authors Gregory Carmichael, professor of chemical and biochemical engineering, and Pablo Saide, Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research (CGRER) postdoctoral fellow.

They say the smoke lowered the base of the clouds and increased wind shear, defined as wind speed variations with respect to altitude. Together, those two conditions increased the likelihood of more severe tornadoes. The effects of smoke on these conditions had not been previously described, and the study found a novel mechanism to explain these interactions.

“These results are of great importance, as it is the first study to show smoke influence on tornado severity in a real case scenario. Also, severe weather prediction centers do not include atmospheric particles and their effects in their models, and we show that they should at least consider it,” says Carmichael....

The satellite image for April 27, 2011 shows the southeastern United States, Central America and the Gulf of Mexico—along with tornado tracks (red solid lines, with the thickest indicating a magnitude 5 tornado, descending to magnitude 1 for the thinnest—for the period April 26-28, 2011. Yellow markers indicate fires, and an iridescent overlay shows particulate matter in the air, with red showing highest amount and purple the lowest. Imagery courtesy of Brad Pierce, NOAA Satellite and Information Service Center for Satellite Applications and Research.