Monday, July 28, 2014

Commission calls for California to lead in climate change adaptation

Twain Harte News (California): The Little Hoover Commission recently sent a message to the state’s leaders: California is beginning to see the initial effects of a warming climate as ongoing efforts by world governments fall short in reducing carbon emissions. Governments statewide must plan now for the impacts of climate change.

The Little Hoover Commission is a bipartisan and independent state agency charged with recommending ways to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of state programs.

A new anticipated environmental reality beginning to envelop California includes a Pacific Ocean rising along 1,100 miles of shoreline, irregular precipitation that includes downpours and drought, higher temperatures, larger, more destructive wildfires and diminishing snowfalls. All suggest eventual damage to property, infrastructure and the natural environment, higher insurance rates, disruption of supply chains and financial insecurity.

“It is already too late to head off impacts of climate change. Even as actions to curb greenhouse gases continue, California must prepare for the inevitable,” said Little Hoover Commission Chairman Pedro Nava. “Preparing well will cost far less than rebuilding infrastructure and managing emergencies.”

In its report, “Governing California Through Climate Change,” the Little Hoover Commission calls on the Governor and Legislature to assume the same leadership role in climate change adaptation and risk assessment as it has for addressing greenhouse gases that contribute to a warming atmosphere. “State government in California sets the pace in reducing carbon emissions. The Commission asks the state to exercise the same global leadership in climate adaptation,” said Mr. Nava.

...The Commission found that there is no single-stop administrative structure in place to create statewide climate adaptation policy, overcome institutional barriers and govern the state’s response to climate change impacts. Adaptation efforts are scattered throughout the bureaucracies of state government...

Brocken Inaglory took this beautiful shot of Point Lobos in California, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Disaster-resilient school design in the Philippines

Maricris Irene V. Tamolang in the Philippine Daily Inquirer: While some schools in the Philippines serve as evacuation centers in times of calamities, none are especially designed to adapt to and withstand natural disasters. Like other structures vulnerable to tropical storms, schools get damaged or worse, destroyed, depriving evacuees the safety they most need.

To address this problem, three incoming senior architecture students at the University of the Philippines Diliman came up with a climate-adaptive and disaster-resilient school design strong enough to survive supertyphoons like “Yolanda.”

With inputs from the group’s adviser, Nicolo del Castillo, “Taklob,” which means cover (derived from the word “Tacloban”), topped the school category of “Build Forward,” a competition sponsored by a property developer. The team members modeled Taklob after the structural design of a bridge introduced in their Architectural Structures IV class last semester, said Rafael Khemlani, who suggested the idea.

This model mainly accounted for the arches and cable wires that replaced the conventional columns in most construction projects, he said. Each classroom has an area of 76.5 sq m. It has a restroom and an evacuation supply storage—both located at the rear side—and doors at both ends of the front side. The floor is elevated 1 meter from the ground to prevent damage from storm surges.

...“We won’t call it a green design because the main element used is mostly steel,” Mervin Afan said. “But it is sustainable because of its tropical feature, allowing air to pass through easily. It is climate-adaptive because of its flexibility. During hot days, you can leave the storm shutters open and when the rainy season sets in, you can keep them closed.”...

A Philippine resident sits outside of his home in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Haiyan. US military photo

Staving off disasters together

Nicola Banwell in the Dhaka Tribune (Bangladesh): Collaboration between the public and private sectors, also known as Public Private Partnerships (PPPs), can create an enabling environment for community resilience and disaster risk reduction. Public private partnerships involve harnessing investment, expertise, and innovation from the private sector for better public infrastructure – including both physical infrastructure (as in roads, railways, etc) and social infrastructure (such as hospitals, schools, and health services).

Small and medium enterprise (SMEs) and other private sector investment is a key strategy in sustainable development financing in the emerging post-2015 development agenda as well.

There is great scope for harnessing private sector strengths and expertise in disaster risk reduction as PPPs increase access to technical expertise and knowledge, as well as resources and innovative solutions. Mainstreaming disaster risk reduction in the private sector can create ample opportunities for the development of innovative technology, and steer public demand and consumers toward disaster resilient materials, solutions, and technology.

Furthermore, because of the private sector’s direct relationship with consumers, producers, and those in the supply chain, private sector investment has the potential to reach a wide range of individuals, communities, and enterprises.

Disaster losses undermine business performance and sustainability, while simultaneously resulting in widespread loss to populations in terms of life, livelihood, and infrastructure. For these reasons, PPPs are of mutual benefit to both parties.

For example, the safety and resiliency of communities can be promoted by the private sector through investment in disaster risk reduction, quality assurance, and standard setting in urban structures, and the development of resilient power and water infrastructure. At the same time these investments also protect their own business continuity, as it enables the private sector to provide their goods and services reliably, with reduced interruption. Further to this, in the event of a disaster, the reliable provision of goods and services allows the community access to vital goods and services....

Fishing in a flooded field in Bangladesh, shot by Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Tropical Storm Hernan forms off Mexico's Pacific coast

Terra Daily via AFP: Fearing potentially deadly flooding, Mexican disaster officials are closely monitoring the weather after Tropical Storm Hernan formed off the country's Pacific coast of Mexico late Saturday.

Hernan was located 585 kilometers (more than 360 miles) southwest of the tourist port of Manzanillo and was moving in a northwesterly direction, parallel to the coastline, at a speed of 22 kilometers per hour, Mexico's National Meterological Service (SMN) reported at 0300 GMT.

The storm was packing maximum winds of 65 kilometers per hour, with gusts up to 85 kilometers per hours, the SMN said.

The Miami-based National Hurricane Center, which had slightly different figures, warned that Hernan was picking up strength. "Additional strengthening is expected" overnight Saturday to Sunday, "and Hernan could be near hurricane strength by Sunday afternoon," the NHC said....

NASA image of Hernan, July 27, 2014

Drought hits China food production

Reuters: Severe drought and scorching heat has damaged over a million hectares of farmland in China's Henan and Inner Mongolia provinces, with no immediate relief in sight, state news agency Xinhua reported.

Henan in central China is experiencing its worst drought in 40 years with precipitation at less than half of normal levels, the agency said. Some 900,000 hectares of crops have been damaged, it said.

Henan is a big producer of food crops, including soybeans, barley and rice. In some regions of the province, governments have shut off water supply to businesses such as commercial swimming pools and bath houses, while water intensive industries have been asked to restrict usage, Xinhua said....

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Water, water — not everywhere: Mapping water trends for African maize

Molly Sharlach at Princeton Journal Watch: Researchers analyzed water availability trends in African maize-growing regions from 1979 to 2010. Each quarter-degree grid cell represents a 200-square-mile area and is colored according to its average water availability level during the maize growing season. In redder areas, water availability is more limited by rainfall levels, while bluer areas are more limited by evaporative demand. (Image source: Environmental Research Letters)

Today’s food production relies heavily on irrigation, but across sub-Saharan Africa only 4 percent of cultivated land is irrigated, compared with a global average of 18 percent. Small-scale farming is the main livelihood for many people in the region, who depend on rainfall to water their crops.

To understand how climate change may affect the availability of water for agriculture, researchers at Princeton University analyzed trends in the water cycle in maize-growing areas of 21 African countries between 1979 and 2010. The team examined both levels of rainfall and the evaporative demand of the atmosphere — the combined effects of evaporation and transpiration, which is the movement of water through plants.

Overall, they found increases in water availability during the maize-growing season, although the trends varied by region. The greater availability of water generally resulted from a mixture of increased rainfall and decreased evaporative demand.

However, some regions of East Africa experienced declines in water availability, the study found. “Some places, like parts of Tanzania, got a double whammy that looks like a declining trend in rainfall as well as an increasing evaporative demand during the more sensitive middle part of the growing season,” said Lyndon Estes, the study’s lead author and an associate research scholar in the Program in Science, Technology and Environmental Policy at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs...

Researchers analyzed water availability trends in African maize-growing regions from 1979 to 2010. Each quarter-degree grid cell represents a 200-square-mile area and is colored according to its average water availability level during the maize growing season. In redder areas, water availability is more limited by rainfall levels, while bluer areas are more limited by evaporative demand. (Image source: Environmental Research Letters, from the Princeton website)

Friday, July 25, 2014

Stanford biologist warns of early stages of Earth's 6th mass extinction event

Bjorn Carey in the Stanford University News Service:  The planet's current biodiversity, the product of 3.5 billion years of evolutionary trial and error, is the highest in the history of life. But it may be reaching a tipping point. In a new review of scientific literature and analysis of data published in Science, an international team of scientists cautions that the loss and decline of animals is contributing to what appears to be the early days of the planet's sixth mass biological extinction event.

Since 1500, more than 320 terrestrial vertebrates have become extinct. Populations of the remaining species show a 25 percent average decline in abundance. The situation is similarly dire for invertebrate animal life.

And while previous extinctions have been driven by natural planetary transformations or catastrophic asteroid strikes, the current die-off can be associated to human activity, a situation that the lead author Rodolfo Dirzo, a professor of biology at Stanford, designates an era of "Anthropocene defaunation."

Across vertebrates, 16 to 33 percent of all species are estimated to be globally threatened or endangered. Large animals – described as megafauna and including elephants, rhinoceroses, polar bears and countless other species worldwide – face the highest rate of decline, a trend that matches previous extinction events.

Larger animals tend to have lower population growth rates and produce fewer offspring. They need larger habitat areas to maintain viable populations. Their size and meat mass make them easier and more attractive hunting targets for humans.

Although these species represent a relatively low percentage of the animals at risk, their loss would have trickle-down effects that could shake the stability of other species and, in some cases, even human health.

..."Where human density is high, you get high rates of defaunation, high incidence of rodents, and thus high levels of pathogens, which increases the risks of disease transmission," said Dirzo, who is also a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. "Who would have thought that just defaunation would have all these dramatic consequences? But it can be a vicious circle."...

An elephant killed by hunters in what was then German East Africa

Western US states using up groundwater at an alarming rate

Eric Hand in Science:  For the past 14 years, drought has afflicted the Colorado River Basin, and one of the most visible signs has been the white bathtub rings around the red rocks of Lake Mead and Lake Powell, the two biggest dammed lakes on the river. But there is also an invisible bathtub being emptied, below ground. A new study shows that ground water in the basin is being depleted six times faster than surface water. The groundwater losses, which take thousands of years to be recharged naturally, point to the unsustainability of exploding population centers and water-intensive agriculture in the basin, which includes most of Arizona and parts of Colorado, California, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, and Wyoming.

The study is the first to identify groundwater depletion across the entire Colorado River Basin, and it brings attention to a neglected issue, says Leonard Konikow, ahydrogeologist emeritus at the U.S. Geological Survey in Reston, Virginia, who was not involved with the work. Because ground water feeds many of the streams and rivers in the area, Konikow predicts that more of them will run dry. He says water pumping costs will rise as farmers—who are the biggest users of ground water—have to drill deeper and deeper into aquifers. “It’s disconcerting,” Konikow says. “Boy, water managers gotta do something about this, because this can’t go on forever.”

...Famiglietti says it makes sense that cities and farmers turn from surface water to ground water during drought. But he is surprised by the magnitude of the loss. The groundwater depletion rate is twice that in California’s Central Valley, another place famous for heavy groundwater use.

Regulation and monitoring of groundwater extraction are rare. The basin’s surface water is apportioned precisely under the Colorado River Compact, a 1922 agreement among seven states. In contrast, groundwater extraction is often the local right of the landowner. “If you own the property, you can drill a well and pump as much as you want,” Famiglietti says. “That’s just the way it is.”...

The Mark Wilmer Pumping Plant on Lake Havasu, on the border between Arizona and California, near Lake Havasu City, Arizona. Shot by Kjkolb, Wikimedia Commons,  under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Rising temperatures hinder Indian wheat production

A press release from the University of Southampton: Geographers at the University of Southampton have found a link between increasing average temperatures in India and a reduction in wheat production. Researchers Dr John Duncan, Dr Jadu Dash and Professor Pete Atkinson have shown that recent warmer temperatures in the country’s major wheat belt are having a negative effect on crop yield. More specifically, they found a rise in nighttime temperatures is having the most impact.

Dr Jadu Dash comments: “Our findings highlight the vulnerability of India’s wheat production system to temperature rise, which is predicted to continue in the coming decades as a consequence of climate change. We are sounding an early warning to the problem, which could have serious implications in the future and so needs further investigation.”

The researchers used satellite images taken at weekly intervals from 2002 to 2007 of the wheat growing seasons to measure ‘vegetation greenness’ of the crop – acting as an indicator of crop yield. The satellite imagery, of the north west Indo-Gangetic plains, was taken at a resolution of 500m squared – high enough to capture variations in local agricultural practices. The data was then compared with climate and temperature information for the area to examine the effect on growth and development of the crop. The study, published in the journal Global Change Biology, found that:

  • warmer temperature events have reduced crop yield
  • in particular, warmer temperatures during the reproductive and grain-filling (ripening) periods had a significant negative impact on productivity
  • warmer minimum daily temperatures (nighttime temperatures) had the most significant impact on yield

In some areas of the Indian wheat belt, growers have been bringing forward their growing season in order to align the most sensitive point of the crop growth cycle with a cooler period. However, the researchers have also shown that in the long-term this will not be an effective way of combating the problem, because of the high level of average temperature rise predicted for the future.

Dr Dash comments: “Our study shows that, over the longer period, farmers are going to have to think seriously about changing their wheat to more heat tolerant varieties in order to prevent temperature-induced yield losses....

A wheat field in Phagwara, Punjab, India, shot by Sixtybolts, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Building food security in Ethiopia

IRIN: Ethiopia’s Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP), set up in 2005, aims to make fully food secure the millions of people still dependent on food aid, provide support to the vulnerable to prevent the depletion of livestock, and create productive assets at community level. But nearly a decade on and over US$3 billion spent, how successful has it been?

PSNP claims to be a programme that bridges the response gap between emergency relief and long-term development aid, and helps build resilience.  Initially, it was available in four regions - Tigray, Amhara, Oromiya, and the Southern Nations and Nationalities’ Peoples’ Region - and was later extended to the more remote regions of Afar (in 2006) and the Somali Region (2007), according to the World Bank, one of its main backers.

The Ethiopian government spends 1.1 percent of GDP on PSNP and a complementary scheme called the Household Asset Building Program (HABP).  Both schemes are largely donor funded. The current phase of PSNP (2010-2014) which includes HABP, costs more than $2 billion. Donors include the World Bank, International Development Association (IDA), the US Agency for International Development (USAID), Danish International Development Assistance (DANIDA), UK Department for International Development (DFID), European Commission, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), the governments of Canada, Ireland, Netherlands and the World Food Programme and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

PSNP provides transfers - cash or food - to between six and eight million chronically food insecure Ethiopians for six months each year, according to DFID. At least 85 percent of the beneficiaries receive cash transfers as wages for labour on small-scale public works projects. These projects are selected by the community and contribute to environmental rehabilitation and local economic development, while 15 percent are “direct support” beneficiaries (disabled, elderly, pregnant or lactating women) who receive unconditional transfers.

Both donors and the government have become increasingly aware that PSNP does not really help secure those who have very limited or no assets against shocks, and help them “graduate” from a chronic situation to a state of food security....

Food aid at Dolo Kobe camp in Ethiopia, USAID photo

Forest rights offer major opportunity to counter climate change

Carey L. Biron in IPS: The international community is failing to take advantage of a potent opportunity to counter climate change by strengthening local land tenure rights and laws worldwide, new data suggests.

In what researchers say is the most detailed study on the issue to date, new analysis suggests that in areas formally overseen by local communities, deforestation rates are dozens to hundreds of times lower than in areas overseen by governments or private entities. Anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions are attributed to deforestation each year.

The findings were released Thursday by the World Resources Institute, a think tank [in Washington] , and the Rights and Resources Initiative, a global network that focuses on forest tenure.

“This approach to mitigating climate change has long been undervalued,” a report detailing the analysis states. “[G]overnments, donors, and other climate change stakeholders tend to ignore or marginalize the enormous contribution to mitigating climate change that expanding and strengthening communities’ forest rights can make.”

Researchers were able to comb through high-definition satellite imagery and correlate findings on deforestation rates with data on differing tenure approaches in 14 developing countries considered heavily forested. Those areas with significant forest rights vested in local communities were found to be far more successful at slowing forest clearing, including the incursion of settlers and mining companies.

In Guatemala and Brazil, strong local tenure resulted in deforestation rates 11 to 20 times lower than outside of formally recognised community forests. In parts of the Mexican Yucatan the findings were even starker – 350 times lower....

Misol-Há Waterfall in Mexico, shot by Jorge Mori, Wikimedia Commons,  under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Western wildfires burn through firefighting budgets

Brad Knickerbocker in the Christian Science Monitor: As 26 major wildfires currently rage across the American West – 18 of them in Oregon and Washington – they’re rapidly burning through firefighting budgets as well.

As a result, experts warn, firefighting agencies such as the US Forest Service and the US Department of the Interior have to raid other fire-related programs – forest management and fire preparedness, for example – to battle the blazes.

The reasons for this are multiple and complicated: Years of fire suppression instead of letting fires burn naturally allowed fuel levels to grow dangerously; climate change has brought on changes in weather patterns; and housing and other development pushed into what’s known as the “wildland-urban interface” – some 60 percent of all new homes built since 1990, according to environmental economist Ray Rasker.

 “Changing climate is a dominant driver,” says Jason Funk, senior climate scientist for the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), noting in a conference call with reporters Wednesday that the typical fire season has grown from five months to seven months.

For one thing, changing climate has meant smaller snowpacks. That makes for more dry fuel, as well as stressed trees vulnerable to disease and insect damage. For example, the acreage damaged by bark beetle infestations around the West and therefore less fire resistant amounts to an area about the size of Colorado. “Effectively, we have a tinderbox the size of Colorado just waiting for a spark,” Dr. Funk says...

NASA image of smoke plumes from multiple wildfires in Washington state. Wildfires include the Carlton Complex and the Chiwaukum Creek Fire, part of the Mills Canyon Complex. Image taken on 07/18/2014 at 20:30 UTC by the NASA Aqua satellite using the MODIS instrument. 

Growth, global warming threaten African species

Moki Edwin Kindzeka in Voice of America: Researchers meeting in Cameroon say Africa may lose up to 30 percent of its animal and plant species by the end of the century due to global warming, population growth and unregulated development. The researchers from 20 African, American and European universities say sub-Saharan Africa is losing forest land faster than any place on Earth.

Loggers are cutting down trees to meet unrelenting timber demand from China, Europe and the United States. Meanwhile, countries are recording 3 percent population growth per year, and land that was once covered by forests is being used for homes, industries and plantations for cash crops. That means a loss of habitat for many types of African animals and plants, that are already under pressure from the rise in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and ensuing global warming.

Thomas Smith, from the Center for Tropical Research at the University of California, said, "With a 1.5 degree rise in global temperature, Africa may lose 30 percent of its animals and plants. And unfortunately with the increase in CO2 that has been now estimated to be up to three degrees in terms of rising global temperatures --  that means we may lose 40 percent of all mammal species in Africa by the end of the century."

An example of the animals disappearing is the African chimpanzee. Mary Katherine Gonder of the Department of Biology at Drexel University, said the chimps' forest home is disappearing, and the animals themselves continue to be hunted and sold as food in and around the Congo Basin forests.

"What will happen over the next 20 years, the distribution of those chimpanzees will change," said Gonder. "Their habitat will change fundamentally and they will no longer be around. So it is a real threat. The habitat for those chimpanzees will be gone."....

Sulky chimpanzee (drawn by T. W. Wood). Figure 18 from Charles Darwin's The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. Caption reads "FIG. 18.—Chimpanzee disappointed and sulky. Drawn from life by Mr. Wood."

Poland suffers first cases of African swine fever in pigs

Terra Daily via AFP: Poland on Wednesday confirmed its first cases of deadly swine fever in domestic pigs, as the World Trade Organisation reviewed a Russian embargo on EU pork imports imposed over the disease. "Test results showed the first outbreak of African swine fever on a farm with five pigs," in the eastern region of Bialystok bordering Belarus, Polish veterinary authorities said in a statement.

The animals were destroyed and 37 surrounding farms with 192 pigs were put under quarantine, it added. The development comes the day after fellow EU member Latvia declared a state of emergency in a second area of the Baltic state as efforts continued to contain an outbreak of the fever among pigs.

Lithuania ordered a mass cull of wild boar earlier this year, targeting 90 percent of the estimated 60,000 living on its territory, after the disease was detected in animals thought to have come from Belarus. Poland first imposed measures in February to safeguard its lucrative pork exports, worth 912 million euros ($1.2 billion) last year, after the disease was found in two wild boar....

Jatki (Old Abattoir alley) - "In Memory of Slaughter Animals" memorial. Shot by Julo, public domain

Typhoon Matmo spares Taiwan major damage

Jenny Hsu in the Wall Street Journal: Typhoon Matmo brought fierce winds and torrential rain to Taiwan on Wednesday injuring at least 10 people, but sparing the island major damage. The typhoon made landfall around 12 a.m. local time Wednesday in the eastern coastal counties of Taitung and Hualien and has dumped some 600 millimeters of rain in the mountainous areas, according to the Central Weather Bureau.

Taiwan's Central Emergency Operation Center reported at least nine noncritical injuries related to the typhoon. The weather bureau said Matmo moved out to sea at about 4:20 a.m. and is expected to hit eastern China later Wednesday. At about noon on Wednesday was moving northwesterly at approximately 20 kilometers per hour with maximum sustained winds of 155 kilometers per hour.

Schools and offices across Taiwan were closed on Wednesday because of the storm. Trading on the Taiwan stock exchange and foreign-exchange markets was also halted. The strong wind shattered windows, uprooted trees, washed out at least one bridge, and disrupted electricity in the county of Hualien on the east coast of the island, affecting about 30,000 residents.

Taiwan's airport authority said that 43 international flights to and from Taoyuan International Airport were canceled Wednesday morning. A handful of domestic flights were also been suspended. Most rail services had resumed after earlier disruptions....

Typhoon Matmo, via NASA, July 24, 2014

Genetically modified mosquitoes set to be released in Brazil to combat dengue

Justine Alford at IFL Science: ... Mosquitoes kill more people each year than all other animals combined, and on average they kill even more people than humans do. It is estimated that over 1 million people die per year from mosquito-borne diseases, such as Malaria and Dengue Fever, and millions more endure pain and suffering.

Tackling this problem has proved a formidable task in the past, but a very small UK-based company called Oxitec have been developing and implementing an exciting and cost effective technique that could help curb vector-borne diseases in problem areas without the negative environmental impacts that other approaches often bestow. This sustainable technique, which involves the release of “sterile” insects into the wild, has already proved a success story in several dengue mosquito trials in different areas of the world, and can also be applied to control other insect problems such as agricultural pests which risk food security. Furthermore, a factory in Brazil is set to be opened next week in order to raise and release these mosquitoes on a commercial scale in order to tackle Dengue Fever.

Dengue fever is the fastest-growing mosquito-borne disease in the world; incidence has increased 30-fold over the last 50 years, and currently it affects around 50-100 million people each year and causes around 25,000 deaths. It’s a viral disease spread primarily by two species of mosquito; Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopticus, although the former is responsible for the majority of transmissions. Dengue is sometimes nicknamed “breakbone fever” because of the agonizing bone pain associated with the illness, and severe cases may result in the often fatal manifestation dengue hemorrhagic fever. Currently there are no vaccines or effective antiviral drugs, meaning that mosquito control is the only viable option to control the disease....

A mosquito, photographed by ProjectManhattan , Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons 3.0 license

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Has Antarctic sea ice expansion been overestimated?

A press release from the European Geosciences Union: New research suggests that Antarctic sea ice may not be expanding as fast as previously thought. A team of scientists say much of the increase measured for Southern Hemisphere sea ice could be due to a processing error in the satellite data. The findings are published today in The Cryosphere, a journal of the European Geosciences Union (EGU).

Arctic sea ice is retreating at a dramatic rate. In contrast, satellite observations suggest that sea ice cover in the Antarctic is expanding – albeit at a moderate rate – and that sea ice extent has reached record highs in recent years. What’s causing Southern Hemisphere sea ice cover to increase in a warming world has puzzled scientists since the trend was first spotted. Now, a team of researchers has suggested that much of the measured expansion may be due to an error, not previously documented, in the way satellite data was processed.

“This implies that the Antarctic sea ice trends reported in the IPCC’s AR4 and AR5 [the 2007 and 2013 assessment reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] can’t both be correct: our findings show that the data used in one of the reports contains a significant error. But we have not yet been able to identify which one contains the error,” says lead-author Ian Eisenman of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at University of California San Diego in the US.

...In the study published in The Cryosphere, Eisenman and collaborators compare two datasets for sea ice measurements. The most recent one, the source of AR5 conclusions, was generated using a version of Bootstrap updated in 2007, while the other, used in AR4 research, is the result of an older version of the algorithm.

The researchers found a difference between the two datasets related to a transition in satellite sensors in December 1991, and the way the data collected by the two instruments was calibrated. “It appears that one of the records did this calibration incorrectly, introducing a step-like change in December 1991 that was big enough to have a large influence on the long-term trend,” explains Eisenman.

“You’d think it would be easy to see which record has this spurious jump in December 1991, but there’s so much natural variability in the record – so much ‘noise’ from one month to the next – that it’s not readily apparent which record contains the jump. When we subtract one record from the other, though, we remove most of this noise, and the step-like change in December 1991 becomes very clear.”

With the exception of the longer time period covered by the most recent dataset, the two records were thought to be nearly identical. But, by comparing the datasets and calculating Antarctic sea ice extent for each of them, the team found that there was a stark difference between the two records, with the current one giving larger rates of sea ice expansion than the old one in any given period. If the error is in the current dataset, the results could contribute to an unexpected resolution for the Antarctic sea ice cover enigma.

An iceberg off the Antarctic coast, shot by Christopher Michel - 091203_iceberg_6964, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons 2.0 license 

Can Modi clean the Ganges, India's biggest sewage line?

Space Daily via AFP: Standing on the banks of the river Ganges a day after his election triumph, Prime Minister Narendra Modi vowed to succeed where numerous governments have failed: by cleaning up the filthy waterway beloved of India's Hindus. From a prime minister already known for the scale of his ambitions, it was a bold but calculated promise to improve the health of what the deeply religious leader referred to as his "mother".

Success would pay huge dividends in endearing him further to his core Hindu supporters -- and correcting the long-standing neglect of the river would perfectly demonstrate his fabled administrative skills. But nowhere is the scale of the challenge more evident than in the northern town of Kanpur, around 500 kilometres (300 miles) from the capital, which is known for its large leather-treatment industry.

A river believed to cleanse sins is used here as a giant sewage line for the largely untreated excrement of five million residents and a disposal facility for millions of litres of chemical-laced industrial waste. Some devout pilgrims still brave the obvious dangers of submersing themselves in the water, in which fecal coliform bacteria can be 200 times the safe limit, according to local authorities.

But even they are increasingly put off. Local boatman Vijay Nishad, who has been rowing religious visitors on the river for more than 15 years, says his business is suffering. "Around 100 or 200 people came to bathe this morning but they left without going in the water because of the dead fish and the terrible stench," he told AFP as he oared his boat....

A downstream view of the Ganges from a railroad bridge in Kanpur, shot by Faizhaider, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons 3.0 license 

New water balance calculation for the Dead Sea

A press release from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research: The drinking water resources on the eastern, Jordanian side of the Dead Sea could decline severe as a result of climate change than those on the western, Israeli and Palestinian side. This is the conclusion reached by an international team of researchers that calculated the water flows around the Dead Sea. The natural replenishment rate of groundwater will reduce dramatically in the future if precipitation lowers as predicted, say the scientists, writing in the journal Science of the Total Environment. Even now, the available groundwater resources in the region are not sufficient to meet the growing water requirements of the population and agriculture. If the situation worsens, it could therefore have serious social, economic and ecological consequences for the region.

A reliable inventory of existing water resources around the Dead Sea, on the border between Israel, Palestine and Jordan, forms the basis for sustainable water management. The lowest lake on earth is not only one of the biggest tourist attractions in the Middle East; more than four million people rely on the groundwater resources in its catchment basin. For a long time, the complex hydrology of this region presented major unknown factors in the local water balance equation. To some extent it still does. Thanks to improved computer simulations, the researchers were able to
work out – on an international scale for the first time – how much water actually infiltrates from rainfall and replenishes the groundwater reservoir: around 281 million cubic metres per year. This means that we now also know what the maximum withdrawal limit should be if this resource is to be managed sustainably.

... Using the models, the scientists were able, for the first time, to make predictions about possible future changes in the groundwater resources that are so vital for this region: the western (Israeli–Palestinian) side of the lake receives almost twice as much rainfall as the eastern (Jordanian) side. As a result, groundwater replenishment rates are currently around 50 per cent higher on the western side. Climate scenarios predict a decrease in annual rainfall of around 20 per cent. However, the water that currently ends up underground and replenishes these important groundwater resources would be halved. The decrease on the western Israeli–Palestinian side is expected to be around 45 per cent, whereas the water available for the Jordanian (eastern) side would fall by nearly 55 per cent. The social and economic situation could therefore worsen, in Jordan in particular.

Saving and reusing water could therefore be a solution, and the UFZ researchers are developing this concept further with colleagues from Israel, Palestine and Jordan. For instance, the SMART project researched ways of stabilising water supply in the Middle East. The UFZ developed new concepts for decentralised wastewater treatment and made a significant contribution to the water master plan of Jordan, one of the world’s most arid countries. Great importance was attached to adapting the wastewater treatment concept to local conditions, and to collaborating with local scientists and authorities. A special implementation office was set up in Jordan’s Ministry of Water in Amman....

Sinkholes and surface springs in Samar (Western Dead Sea), the Jordan flank of the Dead Sea is visible in the background. Photo: Dr. Christian Siebert/UFZ

Flood alert data not reaching communities in Nepal

Om Astha Rai in Republica: ...Until last year, there was no early warning system in the Mahakali River basin. This year, just a month ahead of the onset of monsoon, the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DHM), with support from Mercy Corps, an INGO that has been supporting disaster preparedness programs in Nepal, developed early warning system in the Mahakali River basin.

Under the system, two early warning stations were installed in the Mahakali basin -- one in Dattu VDC of Darchula district and another in Sirsha VDC of Dadeldhura district. However, both stations could be useful only for people living downstream of Khalanga of Darchula, the worst-hit place in last year´s flood.

"We have no early warning system as yet," says Bohara, who now leads a group of Mahakali flood victims fighting for adequate relief and compensation from the government. "We are still vulnerable to floods."

Over the last five years, Nepal has made huge progress in collecting real-time information about floods. Today, flood forecasting stations have been set up in as many as 21 places of seven different river basins. Apart from Mahakali, flood forecasting stations are in operation in Karnali, Babai, West Rapti, Narayani, Bagamati, Koshi and Kankai river systems as well.

In these rivers, if water levels rise above warning points, the system automatically sends sound alarms to government authorities and local people. "If we react to these alarms on time, we can save lives as well as properties," says Rajendra Sharma, chief of flood forecasting section at the DHM....

The Chandani Dodhara suspension bridge over the Mahakali River, shot by Shivagoutam, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license 

NASA's HS3 mission spotlight: The HIRAD instrument

NASA: The Hurricane Imaging Radiometer, known as HIRAD, will fly aboard one of two unmanned Global Hawk aircraft during NASA's Hurricane Severe Storm Sentinel or HS3 mission from Wallops beginning August 26 through September 29.

One of the NASA Global Hawks will cover the storm environment and the other will analyze inner-storm conditions. HIRAD will fly aboard the inner-storm Global Hawk and will be positioned at the bottom, rear section of the aircraft.

“HIRAD’s purpose is to map out where the strongest winds are in a hurricane. During its first deployment in 2010 for the GRIP airborne campaign, HIRAD had two interesting hurricane cases, Earl and Karl," said Daniel J. Cecil, the principal investigator for the HIRAD instrument at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Alabama. "We have made improvements to the instrument since then, and are looking forward to the next good case - out over water, avoiding land of course!”

HIRAD is a passive microwave radiometer that was developed at NASA Marshall. A radiometer is an instrument used to measure the power of electromagnetic radiation. Because HIRAD is a passive microwave radiometer it detects microwave radiation naturally emitted by Earth. The radiation HIRAD detects is then used to infer wind speed at the surface of an ocean.

The antenna on HIRAD makes measurements of microwaves emitted by the ocean surface that are increased by the storm. As winds move across the surface of the sea they generate white, frothy foam. This sea foam causes the ocean surface to emit increasingly large amounts of microwave radiation, similar in frequency or wavelength, but much lower intensity, to that generated within a typical home microwave oven. HIRAD measures that microwave energy and, in doing so, allows scientists to deduce how powerfully the wind is blowing. With HIRAD’s unique capabilities, the two-dimensional structure of the surface wind speed field can be much more accurately determined than current operational capabilities allow....

A NASA artist's conception of HIRAD imaging

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Is the US National Flood Insurance Program affordable?

Space Daily via SPX: There is often tension between setting insurance premiums that reflect risk and dealing with equity/affordability issues. The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) in the United States recently moved toward elimination of certain premium discounts, but this raised issues with respect to the affordability of coverage for homeowners in flood-prone areas. Ultimately, Congress reversed course and reinstated discounted rates for certain classes of policyholders.

Carolyn Kousky (Resources for the Future, USA) and Howard Kunreuther's (The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, USA) paper in the inaugural issue of the Journal of Extreme Events, "Addressing Affordability in the National Flood Insurance Program", examines the tension between risk-based rates and affordability through a case study of Ocean County, New Jersey, an area heavily damaged by Hurricane Sandy.

Kousky and Kunreuther argue that the NFIP must address affordability, but that this should not be done through discounted premiums. Instead, the authors propose a means-tested voucher program coupled with a loan program for investments in hazard mitigation.

As a condition for a voucher, homeowners would be required to take steps to invest in flood loss reduction measures such as elevating their property. They show that that the cost of a program to homeowners and the federal government would be considerably less than if a voucher were just provided to cover the cost of insurance.

Kousky and Kunreuther conclude that a more detailed, nationwide (United States) analysis is needed to estimate the costs to the federal government of a coupled voucher and mitigation loan program, as well as the expected benefits of reduced flooding losses in the future....

The 1979 Easter flood in Jackson, Mississippi, National Weather Service

Haiti witnesses declining cholera rates, significant gains in development

UN News Centre: Haiti, often cited as one of the least developed countries in the Western Hemisphere, has reached – or nearly reached – several of the Millennium Development Goals ahead of the 2015 deadline, according to a report launched by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) a month ago.

Among other achievements, the country has seen a steady boost in enrollment rates in primary education from 47 per cent in 1993 to nearly 90 per cent, achieving equal participation of boys and girls in education. Haiti has also halved the number of underweight children under the age of five some three years ahead of the 2015 deadline.

As Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon wrapped up a visit to the Caribbean nation earlier this week, poverty reduction was a central theme in his discussions with UN officials and Haitian authorities. It is also a priority for the Government. Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe recently remarked, “Our initiatives will be increasingly strengthened and we invite civil society to join us in the fight against poverty and to improve Haitians’ living conditions.”

Since the quake, which killed at least 200,000 people, UNDP reports that 97 per cent of the debris has been removed from the streets; 11,000 displaced families have been relocated and 50 camps housing the displaced have been closed; and more than 4,000 metres of river bank protection structures have been constructed to guard against flooding.

Haitian and international efforts have succeeded in significantly reducing the toll from the cholera epidemic, reflected in a 74 per cent decrease in the number of new cases so far this year, while Haitian communities are rebuilding, recovering and becoming more resilient to future catastrophes four years after the devastating 2010 earthquake....

At the clinic in Haiti, shot by Alex Proimos, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons 2.0 license

Sea erosion leaves thousands of Liberians homeless

Jennifer Lazuta in Voice of America News: The homes and businesses of thousands of poor people living on Liberia's coast are being swept away by rising sea levels. Liberia’s Environmental Protection Agency says a project is underway to help stop the erosion, but that there is not enough funding.  

“The situation is terrible. The sea erosion has taken away our homes," said Joe Muffer, who lives in Grand Bassa County’s Buchanan City, one of several areas that have been badly affected by the erosion. "Right now, we have had to relocate my family to an abandoned school building because as you can see the sea erosion is still tough. The sea is rising every day, every moment. We are in dire need of help right now," he explained.

Liberia’s Environmental Protection Agency is aware of the problems the rising sea levels are causing and has been working to control the erosion.

Stephen Y. Neufville, deputy executive director of the EPA, said, “The first phase of the project is ongoing. There have been some drawbacks, but we are responding to the impact of the sea encroaching on the city, and therefore putting boulders and other things to minimize the impact.”

Neufville said the Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy has spent $6 million on various projects throughout the country to reduce the negative effects of climate change, including sea erosion....

A cell tower in Monrovia, with the eroding coasts of Monrovia Bay in the background, shot by http://www.flickr.com/photos/whiteafrican/3349747776/in/set-72157614650422899/, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons 2.0 license

Giving up beef will reduce carbon footprint more than cars

Damian Carrington in the Guardian (UK): Beef’s environmental impact dwarfs that of other meat including chicken and pork, new research reveals, with one expert saying that eating less red meat would be a better way for people to cut carbon emissions than giving up their cars.

The heavy impact on the environment of meat production was known but the research shows a new scale and scope of damage, particularly for beef. The popular red meat requires 28 times more land to produce than pork or chicken, 11 times more water and results in five times more climate-warming emissions. When compared to staples like potatoes, wheat, and rice, the impact of beef per calorie is even more extreme, requiring 160 times more land and producing 11 times more greenhouse gases.

Agriculture is a significant driver of global warming and causes 15% of all emissions, half of which are from livestock. Furthermore, the huge amounts of grain and water needed to raise cattle is a concern to experts worried about feeding an extra 2 billion people by 2050. But previous calls for people to eat less meat in order to help the environment, or preserve grain stocks, have been highly controversial.

“The big story is just how dramatically impactful beef is compared to all the others,” said Prof Gidon Eshel, at Bard College in New York state and who led the research on beef’s impact. He said cutting subsidies for meat production would be the least controversial way to reduce its consumption....

Cattle branding in Queensland, around 1897

Mudslides kill 11 in southwest China, 14 missing

Channel News Asia: Eleven people were killed and 14 others are still missing after mudslides swept through two villages in southwest China on Monday following days of heavy rain, state news agency Xinhua reported. Rescuers are working to retrieve people still buried after mudslides struck the villages in Yunnan province, the news agency said, citing local government.

Heavy downpours battering the mountainous province in recent days have caused several landslides, crushing houses, blocking roads and disrupting power supplies. More than 1,100 rescuers were stranded trying to reach the village of Huna in Dehong, western Yunnan, where a mudslide early Monday killed ten people, Xinhua reported.

"Victims are badly in need of relief supplies including tents and waterproof clothing," it cited local authorities as saying at a disaster relief meeting. Tents, bags of rice and generators have been sent to the area, it said....

Keith Edkins released this image of the path of Typhoon Rammassun into the public domain

Monday, July 21, 2014

Animal disease spread spells bad news for human health

Annie Hauser at Weather.com: Sea otters off of Alaska's Aleutian Islands might be the latest victims of climate change's effect on the spread of disease.  In the past 10 years, the population has plummeted 70 percent — thanks to phocine distemper virus, a disease once never found in the North Pacific, Christopher Solomon recently wrote for Scientific American.

Researchers believe the Arctic's melting polar icebox is to blame for this virus's travel. "Their theory is that it has made its way through the fabled Northwest passage via a seal or its feces and met animals on the other side due to the dramatic level of sea ice reduction," Solomon explained to NPR.

 Musk oxen are another dramatic example of an animal dying thanks to the changing climate, in this case because of a fatal lung disease that was once unable to survive in the frigid Arctic temperatures, a team of international researchers wrote in a Science special issue on climate change last year.

The spread of disease among animals poses a huge threat to human health. As Solomon explained to NPR: "Since 1940, 60 percent of the new infectious diseases we've discovered in humans have come from animals. We've knocked down the borders between the natural world and the man-made world. Or, in these cases, the borders are simply melting away … As one parasitologist Michael Grigg at the National Institutes of Health told me, he said, 'if the animals get sick, we can get sick.'"

The warming globe's impact on vector-borne diseases has recently been acutely felt in the United States. In Florida, the first locally acquired case of the deadly, mosquito-borne chikungunya virus appeared last week. Rates of all vector-borne diseases, such as the most common, Lyme disease, have been increasing in recent years with experts fingering climate change as the culprit...

A sea otter in Morro Bay, shot by Mike Baird, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Hundreds of firefighters tackle thousands of acres of wildfires destroying countryside across Spain

Matthew Bennett in the Spain Report: Spain has deployed twenty-nine firefighting aircraft and several Forest Fire Reinforcement Brigades to try to extinguish active wildfires across northern Spanish regions, according to a statement published by Spain’s Agriculture, Food & Environment Ministry. The latest estimates put the total damaged surface area at around 8,000 acres.

In the province of Guadalajara (Castilla La Mancha, north-east of Madrid), nine firefighting aircraft have been deployed to tackle blazes in the villages of Cogulludo, Aleas and Bustares. In the northern region of Navarra, six firefighting aircraft have been deployed from Navarra, La Rioja and Madrid to tackle a blaze near the small village of Ujué.

Spanish news agency Europa Press reports a further fourte
en firefighting aircraft and several dozen firefighters have been working since lunchtime Sunday to extinguish a forest fire in La Vall d’Uixò, in the eastern coastal province of Castellón (Valencia). Up to 100 people have been evacuated from their houses.

Spain’s Military Emergencies Unit (UME) sent troops to villages around Guadalajara, following a request from the regional government on Friday, after five wildfires took hold in the province at the end of the week. Two were especially active, “out of control” with a “very negative outlook”, and one reached the edges of the Sierra Norte national park....

Image from a 2009 fire in Spain, shot by Elvira S. Uzábal - elbeewa, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons 2.0 license

Microplastics worse for crabs and other marine life than previously thought

A press release from the University of Exeter: The tiny plastic particles polluting our seas are not only orally ingested by marine creatures, but also enter their systems through their gills, according to a new study led by the University of Exeter. Scientists also discovered that when microplastics are drawn in through this method they take over six times longer to leave the body compared with standard digestion.

Lead author Dr Andrew Watts of Biosciences at the University of Exeter said: “Many studies on microplastics only consider ingestion as a route of uptake into animals. The results we have just published stress other routes such as ventilation. We have shown this for crabs, but the same could apply for other crustaceans, molluscs and fish – simply any animal which draws water into a gill-like structure to carry out gas exchange. “This is highly important from an ecological point of view, as if these plastics are retained longer within the animal there is more chance of them being passed up the food chain.”

The researchers used fluorescently labelled polystyrene microspheres to show how ingested microplastics were retained within the body tissues of the common shore crab, Carcinus maenas. Multiphoton imaging suggested that most microspheres were retained in the foregut after sticking to hair-like ‘setae’ structures within the crabs.

...It has been suggested that 10 per cent of plastic which is thrown away ends up in the marine environment. At 2013 production levels this equates to 11 million tonnes of packaging ending up in the marine environment every year. This plastic is then degraded by wave action, heat or UV damage and is created into microplastic (particles smaller than 5mm).

Dr Watts added: “This is a human issue. We have put this plastic there, mostly accidently, but it is our problem to solve. The best way to do this is to reduce our dependency on plastic. It comes back to the old phrase: reduce, reuse and recycle.”...

A commons shore crab, shot by D. Hazerli, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.\

As floods threaten, Tanzania aims to build a megacity that works

Kizito Makoye at the Thomson Reuters Foundation, about Dar es Salaam:  Tanzania’s largest commercial city - one of the fastest-growing in Africa - has redrawn its master plan to try to become a megacity prepared for climate change, and not a city of worsening urban sprawl and flooding.

The plan, which looks ahead to 2036, aims to transform the city of over 4.5 million people and proposes creation of a Metropolitan Development Authority to oversee planning and major infrastructure development, including transportation and utilities. It calls for measures to mainstream climate change adaptation into existing urban development policies, for instance constructing better storm-water drainage systems for a city increasingly hard-hit by flooding, and relocating residents from areas with high flood risk.

The authority would have powers to veto planning decisions by lower municipal councils that are inconsistent with land-use policies for the city. Said Meck Sadick, Dar es Salaam Regional Commissioner, told Thomson Reuters Foundation that the government wants to see Dar es Salaam grow into a megacity with ultra-modern institutions, industries and facilities to attract investment and accommodate an ever-increasing population.

The success of the plan, however, depends on enforcing regulations and stopping continued construction of buildings in flood-prone and other prohibited areas, Sadick said. Fast-growing Dar es Salaam generates over 40 percent of Tanzania’s GDP but is exposed to a range of risks from climate change, including flooding, sea level rise, coastal erosion, water scarcity and insect-borne diseases....

The harbor of Dar es Salaam, shot by Prof.Chen Hualin , Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons 3.0 license

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Cooler temperatures, lighter winds could help firefighters with Washington wildfires

US News and World Report via AP: Cooler temperatures and lighter winds are forecast to descend on a wildfire-stricken Washington state, helping firefighters battle flames that have been growing unfettered for a week and have covered hundreds of square miles.

While Sunday's weather has slight improvements on the hot temperatures and gusty winds that have fueled the wildfires, the forecast for Monday and Tuesday calls for lighter winds and temperatures, said Spokane-based National Weather Service meteorologist Greg Koch. "Overall, it looks like the weather scenario is improving," Koch said.

Then on Wednesday a "vigorous" front is expected to cover Washington, bringing rain to much of the state. But it will also bring lighting, he added. "The benefits of the system are still up in the air," Koch said. "We may get some rain where we need it, but we may also experience some lighting that could cause some new ignitions."

Sunday's official estimate puts the wildfire burning in north-central Washington at more than 370 square miles. It measured 260 square miles on Friday. Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers estimates that 150 homes have been destroyed, but suspects that number could be higher. His deputies haven't been able to search parts of the county where homes are spread miles apart. No serious injuries have been reported, Rogers said.

There are nearly 1,400 firefighters battling the flames, assisted by more than 100 fire engines, helicopters dropping buckets of water and planes spreading flame retardant...

An archival shot of a 1973 fire in Washington state

The rate at which groundwater reservoirs are being depleted is increasing

AlphaGalileo via Goethe University, Frankfurt am Main: In what parts of the world and to what degree have
groundwater reservoirs been depleted over the past 50 years? The Frankfurt
hydrologist Prof. Petra Döll has been researching this using the global water
model WaterGAP. She has arrived at the most reliable estimate to date by taking
into consideration processes which are important in dry regions of the world.
The values calculated were compared with monitoring data from many different
wells and data from the GRACE satellites. These satellites measure changes in
the Earth's gravity field. Döll has come to the conclusion that the rate at
which groundwater reservoirs are being depleted is increasing, but that the
rate is not as high as previously estimated.

90 percent of water consumption is due to irrigation for
farming purposes. Only the comparatively small remainder is used for potable
water and industrial production. As an example, 40 percent of the cereals produced
around the world is irrigated. However, in many cases this results in increased
scarcity of water resources and puts a burden on ecosystems. In dry regions,
the amount taken from groundwater reservoirs can easily exceed the amount being
replenished, so that the groundwater reservoir is overused and depleted.

"By comparing the modelled and measured values of
groundwater depletion, we were able for the first time to show on a global
scale that farmers irrigate more sparingly in regions where groundwater
reservoirs are being depleted. They only use about 70 percent of the optimal irrigation amounts", explains Petra Döll from the Institute of Physical
Geography at the Goethe
University.

The rate at which the Earth's groundwater reservoirs are
being depleted is constantly increasing. Annual groundwater depletion during
the first decade of this century was twice as high as it was between 1960 and
2000. India, the USA, Iran, Saudi Arabia and China are the countries with the
highest rates of groundwater depletion. About 15 percent of global groundwater
consumption is not sustainable, meaning that it comes from non-renewable
groundwater resources. On the Arabian Peninsula, in Libya, Egypt, Mali,
Mozambique and Mongolia, over 30 percent of groundwater consumption is from
non-renewable groundwater.

The new estimate of global groundwater depletion is 113,000
million cubic meters per year for the period from 2000 to 2009, which is lower
than previous, widely varying estimates. This can be considered to be the most reliable value to date, since it is based on improved groundwater consumption
data which takes the likely deficit irrigation into account, and since the
model results correlate well with independent comparative data....

A helical step well, shot by Ankush.sabharwal, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Australia's drying climate caused by greenhouse gases, study finds

Click Green (UK): US Government scientists have developed a new high-resolution climate model that shows southwestern Australia's long-term decline in fall and winter rainfall is caused by increases in manmade greenhouse gas emissions and ozone depletion.

"This new high-resolution climate model is able to simulate regional-scale precipitation with considerably improved accuracy compared to previous generation models," said Tom Delworth, a research scientist at NOAA's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton, N.J., who helped develop the new model and is co-author of the research published today.  "This model is a major step forward in our effort to improve the prediction of regional climate change, particularly involving water resources."

NOAA researchers conducted several climate simulations using this global climate model to study long-term changes in rainfall in various regions across the globe. One of the most striking signals of change emerged over Australia, where a long-term decline in fall and winter rainfall has been observed over parts of southern Australia.

Simulating natural and manmade climate drivers, scientists showed that the decline in rainfall is primarily a response to manmade increases in greenhouse gases as well as a thinning of the ozone caused by manmade aerosol emissions.  Several natural causes were tested with the model, including volcano eruptions and changes in the sun's radiation. But none of these natural climate drivers reproduced the long-term observed drying, indicating this trend is due to human activity.

Southern Australia's decline in rainfall began around 1970 and has increased over the last four decades. The model projects a continued decline in winter rainfall throughout the rest of the 21st century, with significant implications for regional water resources. The drying is most severe over southwest Australia where the model forecasts a 40 percent decline in average rainfall by the late 21st century....

In the Wheatlands, Australia, shot by Phillip Capper, Wikimedia Commons via Fllickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license