Monday, September 15, 2014

Hundreds flee 2 California wildfires; homes burn

Seattle PI via AP: Two raging wildfires in California forced hundreds of people to evacuate their homes, including one near a lakeside resort town that burned nearly two dozen structures, many of them homes.

The blaze, sparked Sunday afternoon near a foothill community south of the entrance to Yosemite National Park in central California, prompted authorities to evacuate about 1,000 residents out of about 400 homes, Madera County Sheriff's spokeswoman Erica Stuart said.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said flames damaged or destroyed 21 structures. The Fresno Bee reports one neighborhood was hit especially hard, with several homes turned to ash and smoldering embers. "This is gut-wrenching," CalFire Battalion Chief Chris Christopherson told the newspaper. "It makes you sick."

...The fire started off a road outside of Oakhurst, near Yosemite National Park, and made a run to Bass Lake. Stoked by winds, it quickly charred at least 320 acres, CalFire spokesman Daniel Berlant said. The lakeside area is a popular destination throughout the year. There were no reports of the blaze, which is 20 percent contained, affecting the park.

The destructive fire led Gov. Jerry Brown to secure a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to cover 75 percent of the costof fighting the fire, state officials said.

Further north, a wildfire about 60 miles east of Sacramento forced the evacuation of 133 homes. El Dorado County sheriff's officials said residents of an additional 406 homes were being told to prepare to flee. Berlant said the blaze started in a remote area Saturday but exploded on Sunday when it reached a canyon full of thick, dry brush. It has blackened 4.7 square miles and was 10 percent contained.

Meanwhile in Southern California, evacuation orders for 200 homes in Orange County's Silverado Canyon were lifted late Sunday as firefighters contained 50 percent of a wildfire....

An Alora Manley photo of a 2007 wildfire in California, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons 2.0 license

Shift in Arabian Sea plankton may threaten fisheries

A press release from the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (part of the Earth Institute at Columbia University): A growing “dead zone” in the middle of the Arabian Sea has allowed plankton uniquely suited to low- oxygen water to take over the base of the food chain. Their rise to dominance over the last decade could be disastrous for the predator fish that sustain 120 million people living on the sea’s edge.

Scientists at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and their colleagues are the first to document the rapid rise of green Noctiluca scintillans, an unusual dinoflagellate that eats other plankton and draws energy from the sun via microscopic algae living within its cells. Noctiluca’s thick blooms color the Arabian Sea an emerald green each winter, from the shores of Oman on the west, to India and Pakistan on the east.

In a study published this week in Nature Communications, the researchers show how the millions of green algae living within Noctiluca’s cells allow it to exploit an oxygen-starved dead zone the size of Texas. They hypothesize that a tide of nutrient-rich sewage flowing from booming cities on the Arabian Sea is expanding the dead zone and feeding Noctiluca’s growth.
           
“These blooms are massive, appear year after year, and could be devastating to the Arabian Sea ecosystem over the long-term,” said the study’s lead author, Helga do Rosario Gomes, a biogeochemist at Lamont-Doherty....

A NASA image of a phytoplankton bloom in the Arabian Sea

'Dangerous' hurricane eyes Mexico Pacific resorts

Terra Daily via AFP: Hurricane Odile swirled menacingly toward Mexico's Los Cabos resorts on Sunday, forcing authorities to evacuate high-risk areas and open shelters as the powerful storm threatened to thrash the Pacific coast.

The "dangerous" category three storm in the five-level Saffir-Simpson scale packed 205 kilometer (125 mile) per hour winds as it approached the Baja California peninsula, according to the US National Hurricane Center.

"All preparedness actions to protect life and property should be rushed to completion," the Miami-based center said, warning that the hurricane could produce life-threatening floods and mudslides.

The core of Odile will pass close to, or over, the southern tip of the peninsula late Sunday and Monday, it added.

Four-meter (13-foot) waves crashed on the beaches and intense rains lashed Los Cabos, which is known for its high-end hotels. Some 26,000 foreign tourists and another 4,000 Mexicans were staying in 18 hotels converted into temporary shelters, officials said....

NASA image of Odile on September 13, 2014

Thirsty Serengeti wildlife to get new water hole: Lake Victoria

Kizito Makoye in Reuters via the Thomson Reuters Foundation: After decades of struggling to help the wildlife of Serengeti National Park cope with Tanzania's increasingly intense droughts, the government is implementing a controversial plan to use Lake Victoria as an alternative water source for animals.

The project aims to ensure the survival of millions of animals, including the wildebeests and zebras that take part in the Great Migration every year, and involves reviving a 36 sq km (14 sq mile) wildlife corridor by extending the border of the park to Lake Victoria's Gulf of Speke.

But guaranteeing animals safe passage to the second-largest freshwater lake in the world will mean evicting hundreds of families living on the land. Government officials say moving about 8,000 people out of the Speke Game Controlled Area in Bunda district is essential to conserve the Serengeti's ecosystem as it faces worsening drought.

"This process is unavoidable due to the importance of the area to the Serengeti-Maasai Mara ecosystem," said a report from the Mara Regional Consultative Committee (RCC), a government body. "The cost to implement these decisions now is much smaller than [it would be after] waiting for more years."

A member of the RCC told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that the project's budget is an estimated $33 million....

A sunset in the eastern Serengeti, shot by Harvey Barrison, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons 2.0 license 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Drought bites as Amazon’s ‘flying rivers’ dry up

Jan Rocha in Climate News Network: The unprecedented drought now affecting São Paulo, South America’s giant metropolis, is believed to be caused by the absence of the “flying rivers” − the vapour clouds from the Amazon that normally bring rain to the centre and south of Brazil.

Some Brazilian scientists say the absence of rain that has dried up rivers and reservoirs in central and southeast Brazil is not just a quirk of nature, but a change brought about by a combination of the continuing deforestation of the Amazon and global warming. This combination, they say, is reducing the role of the Amazon rainforest as a giant “water pump”, releasing billions of litres of humidity from the trees into the air in the form of vapour.

Meteorologist Jose Marengo, a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, first coined the phrase “flying rivers” to describe these massive volumes of vapour that rise from the rainforest, travel west, and then − blocked by the Andes − turn south.

Satellite images from the Centre for Weather Forecasts and Climate Research of Brazil’s National Space Research Institute (INPE) clearly show that, during January and February this year, the flying rivers failed to arrive, unlike the previous five years.

Deforestation all over Brazil has reached alarming proportions: 22% of the Amazon rainforest (an area larger than Portugal, Italy and Germany combined), 47% of the Cerrado in central Brazil, and 91.5% of the Atlantic forest that used to cover the entire length of the coastal area....

The Amazon River delta from a NASA satellite

Adapting to climate change can’t be left to the wild west of the markets

Razmig Keucheyan in the Guardian (UK): ......This fiscal crisis of the state will weigh not only on reaction and adaptation to climate events, but on mitigation policies. Cutting greenhouse gas emissions implies an energetic transition on a massive scale towards clean energies. This requires investments by the state, which will be difficult given the already overstretched public finances. Rising debt levels inflicted on societies by neoliberal tax cuts for the rich gravely compromise our capacity to adapt to climate change.

So far, so good. But then the IPCC report takes a final step – in the wrong direction. To bridge the gap in public finances caused by recurrent extreme weather events, it recommends appealing to private investors. More precisely, it advocates the implementation of financial instruments such as catastrophe bonds or microinsurance as a means to lighten the burden on the state in the face of a changing climate. Where the state does not have the resources to act, financial markets should take charge.

This financialisation of adaptation was already encouraged, in the years preceding the release of the IPCC report, by organisations such as the World Bank and the OECD. Thus, a 2012 working paper published by the OECD spoke of the need to “immunise public finances” from the effects of climate change, by issuing so-called “sovereign” catastrophe bonds, ie catastrophe bonds issued by states.

Financialising adaptation is a bad idea for numerous reasons. Here are two. Firstly, finance is prone to crisis, as the subprime market’s collapse demonstrated in 2007. Thus, financialising adaptation would put adaptation policies – parts of them at least – at the mercy of the erratic behaviour of financial markets. Adding financial instability to environmental instability will only increase the scale of disasters. What is needed, on the contrary, is less reliance on the logic of markets, and more environmental long-term planning.

Secondly, finance is in its essence undemocratic, ie out of the control of democratic deliberation. It is a form not only of economic dispossession, but of political dispossession, where the few choose for the many.

Adaptation to climate change, however, will require the involvement of the people, the deepening of the democratic process, and even the invention of new democratic institutions. Without their active commitment, their knowledge and knowhow, it is doomed to fail. The reason for this is that adaptation will in a good part be a matter of reorganising the daily lives of the people, and that this will obviously not be done without them. Adaptation to climate change, from this perspective, may well be our chance to revitalise democracy “from below”...

Panic at the New York Stock Exchange in 1893

View on Private Sector: Insuring against climate change

Aamna Modhin in SciDev.net: A recent UN report said that global warming will cause trillions of dollars of damage to coral reefs in the Caribbean. It also warned that small island states will be disproportionally affected by the impact of climate change: their coral reefs, which their economies depend on, are under significant environmental stress.

One news report on the document noted that the insurance industry could play a role in safeguarding such nations’ economies by providing stronger theoretical frameworks in which to understand risks to reefs.

I asked Mike Maran, chief science officer at insurance firm Catlin Group, what such efforts might look like. He tells me the firm is sponsoring a global scientific survey of coral reefs, including some in the Caribbean, with the aim of monitoring their health over the coming years.

Why would an insurance company do such a thing? Maran explains that scientific evidence helps insurers understand what might happen to reefs in the future, and how fast. Although firms do not insure the reefs directly, Maran says they have a broad obligation to study the risks society will face in the future so as to understand and manage those risks. The collection of robust scient
ific information gives insurers a good understanding of how the planet is changing and the impact these changes will have on policyholders.

Many of the risks involved in policies firms do provide — for example insurance for homes, other properties and businesses — could be linked to climate change, and so understanding changes to reefs as a proxy measure of that will help quantify those risks. For example, reef degradation could have an impact on fishing or tourism industries and so indirectly change the value of insured assets....

A coral reef in Biscayne National Park in Florida, shot by a Park Service employee

Indian Kashmir city 'in ruins' after floods

Space Daily via AFP: The main city in Indian Kashmir has "drowned completely" under floodwaters, a senior official said Friday, with the deadly inundation now affecting about two million people in neighbouring Pakistan and threatening its all-important cotton industry.

The floods began in Kashmir after heavy monsoon rains and are now progressing downstream through Pakistan, inundating thousands of villages and large areas of important farmland in the country's breadbasket.

More than 450 people have been killed and Pakistan's Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) said just shy of two million people have been affected by the floodwaters -- a figure that includes both those stranded at home and those who fled after the floods hit.

More than 140,000 people have been evacuated from towns and villages around Punjab, Pakistan's richest and most populous province.

Authorities have made plans to blast holes in strategic dykes to divert the turbid brown floodwaters away from Multan, a city of two million inhabitants and the nerve centre of Pakistan's cotton and textiles industry, a vital export earner...

A flood zone map of India, map created by PlaneMad, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The good and bad climate news from permafrost melt

John Upton in Climate Central: Carbon inside now-melting permafrost is oozing out, leaving scientists scrambling to figure out just how much of it is ending up in the atmosphere. Whether recent findings from research that attempted to help answer this question are good or bad climate news might depend on whether you see an Arctic river basin as half full of mud — or half empty.

...Frozen soils known as permafrosts can be found across the planet, and they’re concentrated heavily in the Arctic, which has been warming since the 1980s at twice the global rate. Taken together, permafrosts contain more carbon than is already in the atmosphere. Their warming-induced breakdown is helping to fill the atmosphere with greenhouse gases. In a self-feeding cycle, that's fueling the very climatic changes that are causing permafrost to waste away.

“What everyone’s really concerned about is how all this permafrost carbon is going to decompose,” said aquatic geochemist Rose Cory, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan. “If all of that gets turned into carbon dioxide, then we’ll more than double the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.”

A team of U.S. scientists led by Cory studied Arctic waterways and found that nearly half of the carbon that’s eroding from melting Arctic permafrost is flowing through rivers and lakes and ending up in the seas. Eventually, that sea-bound carbon is likely to be gobbled into aquatic food chains or to settle on ocean floors. The rest is being oxidized in waterways into carbon dioxide, floating into the skies instead of out to sea....

Polar photo ace Brocken Inaglory shot this great image of patterns in permafrost, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons 3.0 license

Ahoy, offshore wind: Advanced buoys bring vital data to untapped energy resource

Frances White in a press release at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory: Two massive, 20,000-pound buoys decked out with the latest in meteorological and oceanographic equipment will enable more accurate predictions of the power-producing potential of winds that blow off U.S. shores.

The bright yellow buoys — each worth $1.3 million — are being commissioned by the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Washington state's Sequim Bay. Starting in November, they will be deployed for up to a year at two offshore wind demonstration projects: one near Coos Bay, Oregon, and another near Virginia Beach, Virginia.

"We know offshore winds are powerful, but these buoys will allow us to better understand exactly how strong they really are at the heights of wind turbines," said PNNL atmospheric scientist Will Shaw. "Data provided by the buoys will give us a much clearer picture of how much power can be generated at specific sites along the American coastline — and enable us to generate that clean, renewable power sooner."

Offshore wind is a new frontier for U.S. renewable energy developers. There's tremendous power-producing potential, but limited information is available about ocean-based wind resources. DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy purchased the buoys to improve offshore turbine performance in the near term and reduce barriers to private investment in large-scale offshore wind energy development in the long term. The buoys were manufactured by AXYS Technologies, Inc., in Sidney, British Columbia.

A recent report estimated the U.S. could power nearly 17 million homes by generating more than 54 gigawatts of offshore wind energy, but more information is needed. Instruments have long been sent out to sea to measure winds on the ocean's surface, but the blade tips of offshore wind turbines can reach up to 600 feet above the surface, where winds can behave very differently....

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is commissioning two of these large buoys, which are decked out with advanced scientific instruments to more accurately predict offshore wind’s power-producing potential. Terms of Use: Our images are freely and publicly available for use with the credit line, "Courtesy of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory."

Globalization threatens benefits of an African ‘green revolution’

A press release from the University of British Columbia: A prospective “green revolution” in Africa could boost land use and carbon emissions globally, according to a study co-authored by a University of British Columbia researcher. The term “green revolution” typically describes the use of agricultural innovations – such as the development of new seeds – to increase yields, particularly in developing countries.

Past green revolutions in Asia, Latin America and the Middle East have spared land and carbon dioxide emissions. However, in an increasingly globalized economy, an African green revolution could lead to opposite outcomes, finds the study.

“Africa happens to be a carbon-rich region that has a large share of agriculture today and low yields. Innovation results in farmers responding by expanding land faster than in other regions,” says UBC Professor Navin Ramankutty.

The research showed that ramping up agricultural productivity in Africa from 2025 to 2050 could increase global cropland expansion by 1.8 million hectares and global carbon emissions by 267 million metric tonnes.

The study also contributes to a long-standing debate on the environmental impacts of green revolutions. While many researchers claim that agricultural productivity is inherently harmful to the environment, others believe it can be environmentally beneficial if additional crops can be grown on the same amount of land. Despite the concerns, agricultural innovations in Africa could produce long-term benefits such as cheaper food, improved farming returns and reduced poverty.

Sunflowers in South Africa, shot by Ossewa, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons license 3.0

Resilience goes mainstream

Rolf Rosenkranz in Devex: Resilience has been an international development buzzword for years. This week’s 2nd World Reconstruction Conference in Washington suggests that it’s more than a fad: Resiliency programs have gone mainstream around the globe.

Two documents released on the fringes of the conference, which is hosted by the Word Bank and ends Friday, underscore that notion: The disaster recovery framework and post-disaster needs assessment guide are both meant to increase the ability of communities to prevent and, if necessary, weather environmental and man-made shocks.

Nancy Lindborg, the assistant administrator at the U.S. Agency for International Development, drove that point home during a panel discussion I moderated on Thursday: The concept of resilience, she said, allows the international community to “layer” humanitarian and development action into a “complete package.” It’s a way to synthesize multifaceted goals into one word that’s easy to rally around — a pathway to shared goals.

And many governments — as well as aid organizations — are doing just that. On the panel I moderated, for instance, Jorge Melendez, El Salvador’s secretary for vulnerability issues, spoke of efforts to incorporate risk reduction and prevention into the country’s development strategy.

“Vulnerabilities need to be identified in order to be able to reduce the associated risk and undertake mitigation measures,” he said in prepared remarks. “Investing in the resilience of infrastructure and communities is more effective. Action needs to take place before the disaster strikes; this means investing in sound development to reduce the consequences of a disaster.”

His conclusion: “We are resilient if there is development. Development, in turn, should generate resilience.” ...

A Sim City screen, shot by Xardox, Wikimedia Commons, public domain

Floodplain management solution to devastating flood losses

A press release from WWF-Pakistan: WWF-Pakistan raised serious concerns over the increased frequency of massive floods and urged the government to reduce the impacts of environmental hazards through better management of floodplains.

Encroachments on floodplains for agricultural purposes and housing settlements are regarded as the main reasons for the increasing devastation caused by heavy rains and floods. Speaking on the issue, Hammad Naqi Khan, Director General, WWF-Pakistan called for a collective action to mitigate environmental hazards with thorough planning which includes strict policymaking to avoid any sort of development which may threaten the balance of nature.

It is worth noting that WWF-Pakistan has shared recommendations with the government from time to time on effective measures to mitigate floods by strengthening the Disaster Risk Reduction strategy - DRR. Due to lack of awareness about the causes of heavy rains and flooding, agricultural land and property is heavily damaged, leading to a huge loss to the national economy.

Managing the rivers to minimize the impacts from annual floods is essential to ensure the long-term survival of communities living near rivers and mainstreams. Following the floods of 2010, the Ministry of Climate Change requested the Secretariat of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands to organize an expert team under the Convention’s Ramsar Advisory Mission (RAM) mechanism, to visit the wetlands along the Indus Ri
ver floodplains and share its recommendations.

The RAM visit aimed to a) devise a workable and cost effective strategy for wise-use of the floods, b) make recommendations for alteration in the prevailing flood control strategy to obtain maximum benefit from the floodwater and c) identify high priority wetlands/Ramsar Sites for restoration by using the floods as a tool for restoration. The mission highlighted the need to establish a broad-based coordinating authority for the sustainable management of the Indus River Basin and the need for an integrated approach to floodplain management....

A NASA image of 2010 floods in Pakistan

Monday, September 8, 2014

Megadroughts a threat to civilization

Doyle Rice in the Californian: California is in the third year of one of the state’s worst droughts in the past century, one that’s led to fierce wildfires, water shortages and restrictions, and potentially staggering agricultural losses.

The dryness in California is only part of a longer-term, 15-year drought across most of the Western USA, one that bioclimatologist Park Williams said is notable because “more area in the West has persistently been in drought during the past 15 years than in any other 15-year period since the 1150s and 1160s” — that’s more than 850 years ago.

“When considering the West as a whole, we are currently in the midst of a historically relevant megadrought,” said Williams, a professor at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University in New York.

Megadroughts are what Cornell University scientist Toby Ault calls the “great white sharks of climate: powerful, dangerous and hard to detect before it’s too late. They have happened in the past, and they are still out there, lurking in what is possible for the future, even without climate change.” Ault goes so far as to call megadroughts “a threat to civilization.”

Megadroughts are defined more by their duration than their severity. They are extreme dry spells that can last for a decade or longer, according to research meteorologist Martin Hoerling of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration....

Mono Lake in California on August 1, 2014, shot by Maryphillips1952, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license

Reduced rains affect food security in Kenya

AllAfrica.com via the UN World Food Program: Below average rains, increased food prices and conflicts, have contributed to a 15 percent increase in the number of people requiring food assistance. A Long Rains food security assessment recently released by the National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) estimates that 1.5 million people are acutely food insecure and will require immediate food assistance over the next six months (September 2014 - February 2015). This is almost double the 850,000 that were in need during the same period last year.

With the peak of the lean season yet to set in, and the next rains expected in mid-October, the food and nutrition security situation will likely worsen, prompting the need for urgent response. The poor rains resulted in below-average crop production and weak recovery of rangeland conditions.

In pastoral and agro pastoral areas, forage conditions were fair to poor with 70 percent to 80 percent of ground water sources reported to be exhausted. The current areas of concern include parts of Turkana, Marsabit, Wajir, Mandera, Samburu, Baringo and West Pokot. In the Arid areas the large majority of counties have general acute malnutrition (GAM) rates that are critical (>15%) or very critical (>
20%) and this is a significant deterioration compared to last year.

WFP is currently providing general food distributions (GFD) to 530,000 people in Kenya. That number will rise based on the current situation. WFP is also providing cash and food assistance to 700,000 vulnerable people in order for them to build assets at household and community levels which enhance their resilience to shocks. Support focuses on rainwater harvesting for crop and livestock production, rehabilitation of degraded land, and increased production of drought-tolerant and high value cash crops....

Yarey Abdi iIobe lives in Shabantaabaq village, without rain for two and a half years and about 80% of the cattle have died. The village population has almost doubled in recent months with an influx of families arriving in search of food and water: "My husband is old and he cannot eat the grains. We need something soft like milk but it is no longer available. Here are quite a number of families in the village who are malnourished. Without the aid we are getting we would be dead." Photo by Oxfam East Africa, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr,  under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Hurricane Norbert drenches Mexican coast

Greg Botelho in CNN: Hurricane Norbert lashed Mexico's west coast Saturday with strong winds and drenching rains, the latter of which triggered mudslides that cut off some communities.

As of 5 p.m. (8 p.m. ET), the storm had 100 mph sustained winds as it moved northwest at an 8 mph clip. The worst of it was not rolling over land -- centered, as it was, 180 miles west-northwest of Cabo San Lazaro -- meaning its winds haven't been as devastating as might have otherwise been the case.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center predicted that 3 to 6 inches will likely fall in the central and northern Baja California peninsula, with 10 inches possible in some spots.

All that water has already caused dangerous mudslides and damage. "There are no terrestrial communications" in two communities in the Loreto municipality after landslides, said Baja California official Jose Luis Perpuly Drew, according to the Notimex state news agency.

Local authorities working with army, navy and civil protection forces are moving to bring food and medical supplies to Ague Verde and San Cosme, said Drew....

NASA image of Norbert, September 7, 2014

Jammu and Kashmir floods: Massive rescue operation under way, Srinagar submerged

Times of India: Massive rescue operations were under way on Monday to evacuate tens of thousands of people stranded in floods in Jammu & Kashmir as the situation remained grim with most parts of Srinagar city still under water and bad communication lines and high water levels posing a big challenge.

As authorities struggled to deal with the calamity, a landslide was reported from Pachori village in Udhampur district and mitigation forces have reached the area to rescue the few people trapped there.

A total of 25 boats have been launched in flooded areas of Srinagar city to ferry people out even as over 5,100 people have been rescued from the state which is reeling under heavy floods.

Flood fury has so far claimed the lives of about 150 people and damaged many buildings, including hospitals, and snapped road and communication links, cutting off many areas. The Army cantonment, civil secretariat and the high court in Srinagar have also been inundated.

"We are facing a big problem of communication as all links are down. We are not able to communicate with our teams sent on ground in this flood-ravaged areas. Also, as water level is high in many places our personnel are not able to reach the stranded," National Disaster Response Force chief O P Singh told reporters in Delhi....

Friday, September 5, 2014

Carbon stored in the world’s soils more vulnerable to climate change than expected

A press release from the University of Exeter: The response of soil microbial communities to changes in temperature increases the potential for more carbon dioxide to be released from the world's soils as global temperatures rise, scientists have revealed.

The potential for global warming to stimulate decomposition rates in soils, and thus release large quantities of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, has long been considered to be one of the potentially most important positive feedbacks to climate change.

However, the results from more recent studies have suggested that responses within microbial communities could greatly reduce, or even eliminate, the potential for soil carbon losses under global warming.

This key idea was tested using soils collected from a thermal gradient from the Arctic to the Amazon rainforest. The results, published in Nature, show that, contrary to expectations, microbial community responses resulted in an overall increase, rather than a decrease, in the effects of temperature on rates of carbon dioxide release from soils.

Dr Kristiina Karhu of the University of Helsinki, and lead author of the paper, said: “Because soils store more than twice as much carbon than the atmosphere, changes in rates of decomposition and carbon dioxide release from soil could be very important. Our findings suggest that warming will increase the activity of soil microbes to a greater extent than was previously expected, which could have implications for future rates of climate change.”...

Some soil in the Netherlands, shot by FotoDutch , Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons 3.0 license

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Bangladesh floods test disaster response improvements

IRIN: Floods triggered by two weeks of intense rain have affected two million people in northern Bangladesh and left up to half a million homeless. While the country’s disaster response capacity has been enhanced in recent years, experts argue that with people displaced and crops destroyed the flooding is testing response mechanisms.

"Improvement has been made in regard to flood forecasting system but there is still lack of coordination among government agencies," Mahbuba Nasreen, director of the Institute of Disaster Management and Vulnerability Studies at Dhaka University, told IRIN.

A 31 August situation report by the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief said 17 of the country’s 64 districts have been affected. Six of these districts are expected to experience rising water levels this week, and Dhaka, the capital and home to 15 million people, may see flooding as well. NGOs estimate that the floods have left 500,000 homeless and, according to the UN World Food Programme (WFP), “others, who have nowhere else to go, have remained in their flooded homes.”

Nasreen explained that part of the remaining weakness is due to Bangladesh’s Water Development Board being responsible for building and repairing embankments, which protect against floods, while the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief is responsible for reacting to disasters. This, she argued, results in lack of coordination between the two agencies. "One organization should look after the whole thing," she said. "There are still lots of things to do to improve [the] country's disaster response."...

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

New York must act now to alleviate flooding caused by climate change, AG says

Glenn Coin in Syracuse.com: New York has seen a "steep increase" in heavy rains and flooding due to climate change -- and must act now to avert future disasters, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said today in a new report.

"In recent years, there has been a steep increase in the number of powerful deluges," Schneiderman said in the 19-page report. "Extreme rainstorms, and the disastrous floods and soil erosion that result, are wreaking havoc in places that rarely had to contend with these damaging meteorological events."

Schneiderman calls upon the state to take several measures to reduce carbon dioxide and make the state more resilient to extreme weather. Schneiderman said extreme downpours are becoming more common. The report lists a number of recent rainfalls that caused flooding, including the 13.6 inches that fell on Long Island Aug. 13

"That deluge flooded out over 1,000 homes and businesses, opened massive sinkholes on area roadways, and forced hundreds to evacuate to safer ground," Schneiderman wrote. "Initial damage estimates already exceed $30 million."...

Traffic crossing a flooded section of NY 17K at the Muddy Kill just west of Montgomery, NY, USA, following Hurricane Irene. Shot by Daniel Case, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons 3.0 license

The key to drilling wells with staying power in the developing world

Space Daily via SPX: What happens after a well is drilled, fitted with a hand pump, and a community celebrates having access to clean water for the first time? Half of them break down in a year.

When a community lacks sufficient resources and training, these wells would be rendered unusable; however, a new study by the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill's (UNC) Water Institute and Water and Sanitation for Africa, a Pan-African humanitarian agency, found that if local water communities collect fees for repairs and train community members to fix the wells, they can remain in use for decades.

The study found that nearly 80 percent of wells drilled by the Christian humanitarian organization World Vision - which integrates local water committees, usage fees and repair teams into its model of delivering clean water - were still operational after more than two decades.

The research, funded by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, will be presented at the World Water Week meeting in Stockholm, Sweden. The foundation has provided $80 million over more than two decades to enable water access to an estimated 2 million people.

"The results of this study are very encouraging," said Steven M. Hilton, Chairman, President and CEO of the Hilton Foundation. "Strategic investments targeted at developing the capacity of local communities ensure that water systems remain reliable and long-lasting."...

A man draws water at a well built in Ghana in 2012 by USAID

Evidence supports urgent action to avoid grave health consequences from climate change

A press release from the World Health Organization: Evidence is linking climate change to five major health consequences—disease and injury from extreme weather events; changing distribution of insect-borne diseases; diarrhoeal disease from water scarcity or flooding; compromised food security; and air pollution. Over 300 heads of government, leading scientists and development partners agreed that without adequate action climate change poses unacceptable risks to global public health, and they put forward ways for increasing health in tandem with climate change mitigation and adaptation at the WHO’s first-ever Conference on Health and Climate in Geneva, Switzerland, on 27–29 August 2014.

Examples underscoring the urgent need to address climate change as a health issue are rapidly mounting. One of the 128 European region participants from 32 countries attending the Conference, Elisabetta Colaiacomo from Italy’s Ministry for the Environment Land and Sea, described t
hat, “Italy, and the Mediterranean basin, is very much a ‘hot point’ for the impacts of climate change. Extreme weather events, such as floods, droughts and heat-waves, are more frequent now than in the past and present a distinct climate-related threat to health. Urgent actions are needed to develop a prompt response to all the threats to the environment and health. These actions will need to consider local and regional relevance, tackling issues in a concrete and intersectoral manner.” Colaiacomo added, “It is our commitment to work for concrete co-benefits, and bringing together the health and environment communities to strengthen a common dialogue and speak with a stronger voice to face the common challenges.”

...Reflected in the implementation of the Parma “Commitment to act” and the European Regional Framework for Action is the need to develop a health sector that can optimally fulfill a leadership role in climate change mitigation, such as by identifying critical health consequences and reducing carbon emissions from operations. Ainash Sharshenova, Scientific and Production Centre for Preventive Medicine, Ministry of Health, Kyrgyzstan, said, “Kyrgyzstan is a very mountainous country; almost 90% of the land area is more than 1,500m above sea level. As such, we experience specific impacts of climate change, such as melting glaciers and increases in desertification. These effects are having impacts on health through flooding and landslides, as well as extreme weather events. I think it is very important that the health sector leads by example. In Kyrgyzstan, WHO and UNDP/GEF have supported innovation in energy efficiency and use of renewable energy in the health sector. By promoting the use of renewable energy sources and energy-saving technologies in the health sector we have shown that it is sustainable, it can enhance business continuity in rural areas, and it supports both climate change mitigation and adaptation.”

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Drought forces big changes among California growers

Alan Bjerga in the Seattle Times via Bloomberg News: California growers have adapted to the record-low rainfall by installing high-technology irrigation systems, watering with treated municipal wastewater and even recycling waste from the processing of pomegranates to feed dairy cows. Some are taking land out of production.

...[C]rop switching is one sign of a sweeping transformation going on in California — the nation’s biggest agricultural state by value — driven by a three-year drought that climate scientists say is a glimpse of a drier future. The result will affect everything from the price of milk in China to the source of cherries eaten by Americans. It has already inflamed competition for water between farmers and homeowners.

Growers have adapted to the record-low rainfall by installing high-technology irrigation systems, watering with treated municipal wastewater and even recycling waste from the processing of pomegranates to feed dairy cows. Some are taking land out of production altogether, bulldozing withered orange trees and leaving hundreds of thousands of acres unplanted.

“There will be some definite changes, probably structural changes, to the entire industry” as drought persists, said American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman. “Farmers have made changes. They’ve shifted. This is what farmers do.”

In the long term, California will probably move away from commodity crops produced in bulk elsewhere to high-value products that make more money for the water used, said Richard Howitt, a farm economist at the University of California at Davis. The state still has advantages in almonds, pistachios and wine grapes, and its location means it will always be well-situated to export what can be profitably grown....

Almond blossoms in Chico, California, shot by Michael Favor, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Limits to Growth was right. New research shows we're nearing collapse

Graham Turner and Cathy Alexander in the Guardian (UK): The 1972 book Limits to Growth, which predicted our civilisation would probably collapse some time this century, has been criticised as doomsday fantasy since it was published. Back in 2002, self-styled environmental expert Bjorn Lomborg consigned it to the “dustbin of history”.

It doesn’t belong there. Research from the University of Melbourne has found the book’s forecasts are accurate, 40 years on. If we continue to track in line with the book’s scenario, expect the early stages of global collapse to start appearing soon.

Limits to Growth was commissioned by a think tank called the Club of Rome. Researchers working out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, including husband-and-wife team Donella and Dennis Meadows, built a computer model to track the world’s economy and environment. Called World3, this computer model was cutting edge.

The task was very ambitious. The team tracked industrialisation, population, food, use of resources, and pollution. They modelled data up to 1970, then developed a range of scenarios out to 2100, depending on whether humanity took serious action on environmental and resource issues. If that didn’t happen, the model predicted “overshoot and collapse” – in the economy, environment and population – before 2070. This was called the “business-as-usual” scenario.

The book’s central point, much criticised since, is that “the earth is finite” and the quest for unlimited growth in population, material goods etc would eventually lead to a crash.

So were they right? We decided to check in with those scenarios after 40 years. Dr Graham Turner gathered data from the UN (its department of economic and social affairs, Unesco, the food and agriculture organisation, and the UN statistics yearbook). He also checked in with the US national oceanic and atmospheric administration, the BP statistical review, and elsewhere. That data was plotted alongside the Limits to Growth scenarios.

The results show that the world is tracking pretty closely to the Limits to Growth “business-as-usual” scenario. The data doesn’t match up with other scenarios...

UN climate chief says 'door closing' on warming fix

Space Daily via AFP: UN climate change chief Christiana Figueres on Tuesday warned time was running out for meaningful action on global warming, citing the plight of low-lying Pacific nations facing ever rising seas. Figueres, in Samoa for a UN conference on small island states, said the impact of climate change was greatest on Pacific nations, even though they had contributed little to the problem.

"Climate change is the greatest threat these islands face and they are recognised as the bellwether of global efforts to address this issue," she told AFP. "Unless the world acts on climate change in a timely way, they are going to be the hardest hit."

Figueres said rising seas not only eroded the coastlines of island states, they also spoiled water supplies when they entered the water table and swamped agricultural land, rendering it barren.

Warming also meant more cyclones and storms battered the islands, while planning was underway for a worst-case scenario where populations of climate change refugees would have to be relocated from their homelands.

"Kiribati (which has purchased land in neighbouring Fiji) is probably the most famous, but countries as large as Papua New Guinea are already starting to identify which are their most threatened populations," she said....

Madagascar's capital city plagued by locust swarm

Eric Zerkel at the Weather Channel: Clouds of millions of locusts blacked out portions of the sky in Madagascar's capital city of Antananarivo, the scene a part of an ongoing plague that's threatening the food supply of more than 13 million people.

The plague started back in April of 2012, ABC News reports, and was largely limited to the rural, agricultural areas of the island nation. But on Thursday the locusts arrived in hordes in Antananarivo, a city of more than 700,000 people, attracted by unseasonably warm temperatures amplified by the city's urban setting. “It reminds us of the 10 plagues of Egypt,”  Ronald Miller, a missionary working in Madagascar with his family, told ABC.

..."Locust infestations, if untreated, could wipe out food crops and livestock grazing lands -- and with it a family’s ability to provide for itself," the Washington Post reports.

Previous swarms of that magnitude prompted the Madagascar government to declare a state of disaster across the country. So since 2013, the government along with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), have been spraying insecticides across large swaths of the country to combat locust outbreaks.

Those measures are part of a three year, $41 million plan to reduce the locust population to protect the livelihoods of millions of people living in Madagascar. So far the plan appears to be working, even though the images coming out of Antananarivo might seem to suggest otherwise...

A 1944 image of locusts in the Sahara

Changing global diets is vital to reducing climate change

AlphaGalileo via University of Cambridge: Healthier diets and reducing food waste are part of a combination of solutions needed to ensure food security and avoid dangerous climate change, say the team behind a new study. A new study, published today in Nature Climate Change, suggests that – if current trends continue – food production alone will reach, if not exceed, the global targets for total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2050.

The study’s authors say we should all think carefully about the food we choose and its environmental impact. A shift to healthier diets across the world is just one of a number of actions that need to be taken to avoid dangerous climate change and ensure there is enough food for all.

As populations rise and global tastes shift towards meat-heavy Western diets, increasing agricultural yields will not meet projected food demands of what is expected to be 9.6 billion people - making it necessary to bring more land into cultivation.

This will come at a high price, warn the authors, as the deforestation will increase carbon emissions as well as biodiversity loss, and increased livestock production will raise methane levels. They argue that current food demand trends must change through reducing waste and encouraging balanced diets.

If we maintain ‘business as usual’, say the authors, then by 2050 cropland will have expanded by 42% and fertiliser use increased sharply by 45% over
2009 levels. A further tenth of the world’s pristine tropical forests would disappear over the next 35 years.

The study shows that increased deforestation, fertilizer use and livestock methane emissions are likely to cause GHG from food production to increase by almost 80%. This will put emissions from food production alone roughly equal to the target greenhouse gas emissions in 2050 for the entire global economy.

The study’s authors write that halving the amount of food waste and managing demand for particularly environmentally-damaging food products by changing global diets should be key aims that, if achieved, might mitigate some of the greenhouse gases causing climate change....

"Belshazzar's Feast," from 1860

Monday, September 1, 2014

Reducing water scarcity possible by 2050

A press release from McGill University: Water scarcity is not a problem just for the developing world. In California, legislators are currently proposing a $7.5 billion emergency water plan to their voters; and U.S. federal officials last year warned residents of Arizona and Nevada that they could face cuts in Colorado River water deliveries in 2016.

Irrigation techniques, industrial and residential habits combined with climate change lie at the root of the problem. But despite what appears to be an insurmountable problem, according to researchers from McGill and Utrecht University it is possible to turn the situation around and significantly reduce water scarcity in just over 35 years.

In a new paper published in Nature Geoscience, the researchers outline strategies in six key areas that they believe can be combined in different ways in different parts of the
world in order to effectively reduce water stress. (Water stress occurs in an area where more than 40 percent of the available water from rivers is unavailable because it is already being used – a situation that currently affects about a third of the global population, and may affect as many as half the people in the world by the end of the century if the current pattern of water use continues).

The researchers separate six key strategy areas for reducing water stress into “hard path” measures, involving building more reservoirs and increasing desalination efforts of sea water, and “soft path” measures that focus on reducing water demand rather than increasing water supply thanks to community-scale efforts and decision-making, combining efficient technology and environmental protection. The researchers believe that while there are some economic, cultural and social factors that may make certain of the “soft path” measures such as population control difficult, the “soft path” measures offer the more realistic path forward in terms of reducing water stress.

“There is no single silver bullet to deal with the problem around the world,” says Prof. Tom Gleeson, of McGill’s Department of Civil Engineering and one of the authors of the paper. “But, by looking at the problem on a global scale, we have calculated that if four of these strategies are applied at the same time we could actually stabilize the number of people in the world who are facing water stress rather than continue to allow their numbers to grow, which is what will happen if we continue with business as usual.”...

Concerned scientists tell the UN: hunger will never be eradicated without better rainwater management

Worldwaterweek.org: The world is missing a chance to eradicate hunger and poverty for billions of people living in regions with variable and scarce rainfall. Without improved management of rainwater, the future development goals currently being discussed are unrealistic, say leading scientists.

Some of the world’s leading water, environment and resilience scientists and experts today publish a call to the UN, saying that rain, and the way it is managed, is what will determine whether hunger and poverty can be eradicated in the world.

The call was made at the onset of World Water Week in Stockholm – the leading annual meeting place for water and development issues.

The scientists, including Professor Malin Falkenmark of Stockholm International Water Institute/Stockholm Resilience Centre andProfessorJohan Rockström of Stockholm Resilience Centre, are “deeply concerned that sustainable management of rainfall in water scarce regions of the world is missing in the goals and targets proposed by the UN Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on Poverty (Goal 1), Hunger (Goal 2) and Freshwater (Goal 6).

More than two billion people live in some of the driest and poorest areas of the world, also home to the fastest growing populations. These regions depend on highly variable, unreliable and unpredictable rainfall. When it rains, it pours, making agriculture extremely challenging. However, over time these areas do receive enough rain, and with better methods of using the rainwater, food production could be drastically improved.

Attempting to eradicate global poverty and hunger without addressing the productivity of rain “is a serious and unacceptable omission”, and the Sustainable Development Goals as currently proposed “cannot be achieved without a strong focus on sustainable and resilient management of rainfall for resilient food production” the scientists say.

The signatories call upon the United Nations to add a target on rainwater management to any Hunger Goal in the Sustainable Development Goals, which are to be agreed on in 2015....

Leading Ebola researcher says there’s an effective treatment

A press release from the University of Texas Medical Branch: A leading U.S. Ebola researcher from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston has gone on record stating that a blend of three monoclonal antibodies can completely protect monkeys against a lethal dose of Ebola virus up to 5 days after infection, at a time when the disease is severe.

Thomas Geisbert, professor of microbiology and immunology, has written an editorial for Nature discussing advances in Ebola treatment research. The filoviruses known as Ebola virus and Marburg virus are among the most deadly of pathogens, with fatality rates of up to 90 percent.

Since the discovery of Ebola in 1976, researchers have been actively working on treatments to combat infection. Studies over the past decade have uncovered three treatments that offer partial protection for monkeys against Ebola when given within an hour of virus exposure. One of these treatments, a VSV-based vaccine was used in 2009 to treat a laboratory worker in Germany shortly after she was accidentally stuck with a needle possibly contaminated by an Ebola-infected animal.

Further advances have been made that can completely protect monkeys against Ebola using small ‘interfering’ RNAs and various combinations of antibodies. But these treatments need to be given within two days of Ebola exposure. “So although these approaches are highly important and can be used to treat known exposures, the need for treatments that can protect at later times after infection was paramount,” said Geisbert.

Further research led to a cocktail of monoclonal antibodies that protected 43% of monkeys when given as late as five days after Ebola exposure, at a time when the clinical signs of the disease are showing.

The new study from Qui and colleagues at MAPP Biopharmaceutical Inc. used ZMAPP to treat monkeys given a lethal dose of Ebola. All of the animals survived and did not show any evidence of the virus in their systems 21 days after infection, even after receiving the treatment 5 days after infection. They also showed that ZMAPP inhibits replication of the Ebola virus in cell culture....

Thailand totters towards waste crisis

Bangkok Post via AFP: A blaze at a vast rubbish dump home to six million tonnes of putrefying trash and toxic effluent has kindled fears that poor planning and lax law enforcement are tipping Thailand towards a waste crisis.

Locals had long pressed for the closure of the foul-smelling Praeksa landfill site, which is wedged between a cluster of industrial estates on the fringes of Bangkok. But a ferocious eight-day fire that cloaked the eastern suburbs of the capital in poisonous smoke earlier this year thrust Praeksa to the heart of a national debate over rubbish.

Bangkok produces around 10,000 tonnes of waste a day, a substantial portion of the 27 million tonnes generated each year across the kingdom. The ruling military regime has put waste disposal high on its to-do list, recognising that poorly regulated pits are filling quickly and prone to disaster.

Experts warn that dumps are time bombs for the environment and the increasing number of communities forced to live cheek-by-jowl with them. Open dumping "offers a quick and easy solution in the short run," the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific said in a study, warning of severe environmental problems and long-term health issues caused by contaminated water and land.

Of Thailand's 2,500 open rubbish pits, just a fifth are properly managed, according to the kingdom's Pollution Control Department. The rest are at the mercy of illegal dumping - including of hazardous waste - fires and seepage into nearby land and water systems....

A recycler buying trash door to door in Thailand, shot by Mattes, Wikimedia Commons, public domain 

Climate change adaptation can help promote sub-Saharan African livelihoods

UN News Centre: Investing in ways to adapt to climate change will promote the livelihood of 65 per cent of Africans, the United Nations environmental agency reported, warning also that failing to address the phenomenon could reverse decades of development progress on the continent.

Africa’s population is set to double to 2 billion by 2050, the majority of whom will continue to depend on agriculture to make a living, according to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). “With 94 per cent of agriculture dependent on rainfall, the future impacts of climate change – including increased droughts, flooding, and seal-level rise – may reduce crop yields in some parts of Africa by 15 - 20 per cent,” UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said. “Such a scenario, if unaddressed, could have grave implications for Africa’s most vulnerable states,” he added.

In a new graphical report, Keeping Track of Adaptation Actions in Africa (KTAA) - Targeted Fiscal Stimulus Actions Making a Difference, UNEP details the implications of climate change, and provides examples of adaptation projects that range from forest ecosystem management to aquatics and agriculture.

The report describes sustainable examples of how countries in sub-Saharan Africa enhanced environmental and ecosystem resilience through the use of native plants and natural infrastructure, land plans and rainwater harvesting, among other examples.

The projects are integrated into national development policies which can strengthen and enhance the resilience communities against the impacts of climate change, while also contributing to the realization of the anti-poverty targets known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), according to the report authors....

Sunday, August 31, 2014

No more pause: Warming will be non-stop from now on

Michael Slezak in New Scientist: Enjoy the pause in global warming while it lasts, because it's probably the last one we will get this century. Once temperatures start rising again, it looks like they will keep going up without a break for the rest of the century, unless we cut our greenhouse gas emissions.

The slowdown in global warming since 1997 seems to be driven by unusually powerful winds over the Pacific Ocean, which are burying heat in the water. But even if that happens again, or a volcanic eruption spews cooling particles into the air, we are unlikely to see a similar hiatus, according to two independent studies.

Masahiro Watanabe of the University of Tokyo in Japan and his colleagues have found that, over the past three decades, the natural ups and downs in temperature have had less influence on the planet's overall warmth. In the 1980s, natural variability accounted for almost half of the temperature changes seen. That fell to 38 per cent in the 1990s and just 27 per cent in the 2000s.

Instead, human-induced warming is accounting for more and more of the changes from year to year, says Watanabe. With ever-faster warming, small natural variations have less impact and are unlikely to override the human-induced warming.

"The implication is that we will get fewer hiatus periods, or hiatus periods that last for a shorter period," says Wenju Cai at the CSIRO in Melbourne, Australia, who wasn't involved in the work...

Hokusai's "The Wave"

Museum specimens, modern cities show how an insect pest will respond to climate change

A press release from North Carolina State University: Researchers from North Carolina State University have found that century-old museum specimens hold clues to how global climate change will affect a common insect pest that can weaken and kill trees – and the news is not good. “Recent studies found that scale insect populations increase on oak and maple trees in warmer urban areas, which raises the possibility that these pests may also increase with global warming,” says Dr. Elsa Youngsteadt, a research associate at NC State and lead author of a paper on the work.

“More scale insects would be a problem, since scales can weaken or kill the trees they live on,” Youngsteadt says. “But cities are unique, so we wanted to know whether warming causes scale insect population explosions in rural forests, the way it does in cities.”

To address that question, Youngsteadt examined more than 300 museum specimens of red maple branches collected between 1895 and 2011 in rural areas of North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. By evaluating the scale insect remains attached to each specimen, Youngsteadt estimated scale population density and compared it to the average August temperature for the year and place where the specimen was collected. Youngsteadt then compared the findings from the historical specimens with more recent data from urban Raleigh, North Carolina.

“Scale insect density in rural areas was not as high as it was in the city, but there was a common pattern,” Youngsteadt says. “Scale insects were most likely to be present on specimens collected during warm historical time periods, and scales were most abundant when temperatures were similar to modern, urban Raleigh.”

Given the shared urban and historical pattern, the researchers also predicted that scale insects would be more abundant in rural forests today than in the past, as a result of recent climate warming. To test this prediction, Youngsteadt went to 20 sites where historical specimens were collected from 1970 to 1997 and sampled their modern scale insect populations.

“Sure enough, scale abundance had increased at 16 of the 20 sites,” Youngsteadt says. “Overall, we found a total of about five times more scale insects in 2013 than on the historical specimens from the same locations. The urban and historical data are so well-aligned that we can view scale insect populations in cities as a preview of what to expect elsewhere,” Youngsteadt adds. “It also suggests that we should begin looking at cities for clues to how other insect species will respond to higher global temperatures.”...

A red maple museum sample of evaluated as part of the study. Image credit: North Carolina State University Herbarium. 

New planting technique in Laos adapts to climate change

The Nation (Laos) via the Vientiane Times: Thousands of tonnes of rice each year are damaged in Laos by drought and flooding as a result of climate change. To overcome this problem the Lao government, in cooperation with relevant sectors and different international organisations, is looking at ways to adapt to these challenging conditions.

Dry-direct seeding using drum seeders is one of the new options to reduce loss from natural disasters, particularly floods and drought. Lao researchers studied the technique for over three years in Savannakhet province.

The study came under a project carried out by the National Agriculture and Forestry Research Institute in cooperation with the Department of Agriculture Promotion and Cooperatives, the Department of Meteorology and Hydrology and the Faculty of Agriculture at the National University of Laos for developing improved farming and marketing systems in Laos.

Farmers who use this method should be able to achieve two harvests during the rainy season as they can plant the first crop at the end of April or beginning of May when the early, light rains have fallen. They don't have to wait for the heavy rains in the middle of the year and, after harvesting this crop, should be able to plant again soon after, the Agriculture and Forestry Research Centre director, Dr Thavone Inthavong said....

Planting rice the traditional way in Laos, shot by Stuart Ling, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

UNICEF distributes half a million mosquito nets amid heavy rains and violence in CAR

A press release from UNICEF: Amid heavy rains and violence UNICEF and partners have distributed more than half a million mosquito bed nets reaching every home in Bangui to protect families from malaria - the leading killer of children under 5 in Central African Republic.

With the current heavy rains the risk of malaria significantly increases. To ensure children are protected UNICEF and the National Red Cross with support from the Ministry of Health mobilized more than 7,000 volunteers who went door-to-door distributing more than 530,000 mosquito nets in a single month.

“Rains are pouring down every day here", says UNICEF CAR Representative Souleymane Diabaté. “Courageous volunteers have been working every day in a volatile environment to provide families the protection they need from this deadly disease.”

Every year nearly 460,000 people in Central African Republic suffer from malaria, and there has been an increase in the number of malaria deaths since 2010. In the north-west of the country, malaria accounted for 70 percent of all child deaths from May to July last year. When used correctly, bed nets can reduce malaria by half and can reduce all causes of child mortality on average by 20 percent....

Saturday, August 30, 2014

China landslide kills seven

Terra Daily via AFP: Seven people died and another 20 were left missing by a landslide in China, state media reported Thursday. The landslide engulfed a village near Fuquan city in the southwestern province of Guizhou, the Xinhua news agency said.

Torrential rain complicated the rescue work, it said. Pictures showed emergency personnel levering up slabs of tiled wall. A total of 77 houses collapsed or were buried in the disaster, Xinhua said, with seven people confirmed dead and another 20 missing.

Guizhou is one of the poorest provinces in China, and renowned for its hilly topography and wet weather. Mining is one of its key industries but soil erosion is among the worst in China, with around 42 percent of the province affected, according to an official national survey in 2009....

Southwestern US may face 'megadrought' within century

Blaine Friedlander in the Cornell Chronicle: Due to global warming, scientists say, the chances of the southwestern United States experiencing a decadelong drought is at least 50 percent, and the chances of a “megadrought” – one that lasts up to 35 years – ranges from 20 to 50 percent over the next century.

... “For the southwestern U.S., I’m not optimistic about avoiding real megadroughts,” said Toby Ault, Cornell assistant professor of earth and atmospheric sciences and lead author of the paper. “As we add greenhouse gases into the atmosphere – and we haven’t put the brakes on stopping this – we are weighting the dice for megadrought.”

As of Aug. 12, most of California sits in a D4 “exceptional drought,” which is in the most severe category. Oregon, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas loiter in a substantially less severe D1 moderate drought. Ault says climatologists don’t know whether the severe western and southwestern drought will continue, but “with ongoing climate change, this is a glimpse of things to come. It’s a preview of our future,” he said.

While the 1930s Dust Bowl in the Midwest lasted four to eight years, depending upon location, a megadrought can last more than three decades, which could lead to mass population migration on a scale never before seen in this country.

Ault said that the West and Southwest must look for mitigation strategies to cope with looming long-drought scenarios. “This will be worse than anything seen during the last 2,000 years and would pose unprecedented challenges to water resources in the region,” he said....

Dried mud, shot by Frank Vincentz, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons 3.0 license 

Silver lining in Ebola gloom

IRIN: Amid the horror of Ebola in West Africa, where more than 1,400 people have died of the disease, a few have found reason to celebrate after recovering from the virulent infection which has no known cure.

Current Ebola treatment is mainly palliative: easing the headache, fever and muscle pain triggered by the virus, which also causes vomiting and diarrhoea, and in some cases internal and external haemorrhage. It killed up to 90 percent of patients in the early days of the outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“We can’t do anything else because there is no treatment for the virus. The only thing we can do is help the body fight the virus and develop immunity,” said Julie Damond, spokeswoman for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in West Africa.

If the symptomatic treatment works, the body rebuilds its defences and health is restored. In the ongoing outbreak in West Africa - the worst known so far - 47 percent of patients have been able to recover, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). MSF says it has seen recovery rates of 25-75 percent in its isolation centres in Guinea and Sierra Leone.

The medical aid group reported that since the outbreak started, 95 out of 177 patients confirmed to have been infected with Ebola in its treatment centres in Guinea recovered, and 52 out of 204 survived in Sierra Leone. Liberia is yet to report such figures as the MSF centre there opened just recently...

Ebola virus particles, Thomas W. Geisbert, Boston University School of Medicine - PLoS Pathogens, November 2008 direct link to the image description page doi:10.1371/journal.ppat.1000225, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons 2.5 license