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, 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 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

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

Kenya to pilot community-wide malaria treatments

IRIN: Kenya is experimenting with unconventional methods to tackle high malaria rates through the piloting of mass drug administration (MDA) - treating entire communities with anti-malarial drugs, regardless of whether they have the parasite.

The project is an initiative of the newly created Malaria Elimination Consortium of Western Kenya, founded in 2013 by the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), and other partners, and is set to be rolled out at the beginning of next year.

MDA has been considered a malaria control mechanism for over a century, with studies on MDA usage dating back to 1914. But more recently, with the availability of transmission-reducing antimalarials, scientists are beginning to refocus on the possibility of using mass treatment to eradicate the disease in areas where other methods have been unable to have a large impact.

In Siaya County in western Kenya, where MDA will be introduced, a large percentage of the population who are healthy nevertheless harbour the malaria parasite and can be transmitters to others, especially children, who have no immunity to malaria.

Siaya has by far the highest malaria burden in the country, with approximately 33 percent of under-5 children, 56 percent of those aged 5-15, and 22 percent of those above 15 carrying the malaria parasite in their blood, according to KEMRI research.

Mosquito netting, shot by Tjeerd Wiersma, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Typhoon in Philippines raises concerns over evacuation centers

Philippine Star via Xinhua: The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said on Friday that its teams were conducting assessments of the areas in the Philippines affected by Typhoon Rammasun (known locally as Glenda).

IOM said in a statement that a Category 3 storm earlier this week had prompted the evacuation of over 500,000 people and claimed at least 40 lives.

Initial findings from the worst affected province, Albay in Bicol, found that 42,000 houses are heavily damaged or destroyed, according to IOM, who declared it was ready to support the Philippine authorities in the construction of stronger houses once needs were confirmed.

Rammasun was the first typhoon to hit the country since the devastating super typhoon Haiyan last November.

Despite the success of the pre-emptive measures, the lack of safe evacuation centers remained a key concern, especially in the Haiyan affected region, said IOM....

A tree down in Quezon City, thanks to Glenda/Ramassun, shot by krichard2011, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license

Saturday, July 19, 2014

What do Google searches tell us about our climate change fears?

A press release from Springer: Republicans search the Net for information about the weather, climate change and global warming during extremely hot or cold spells. Democrats google these terms when they experience changes in the average temperatures. These are some of the surprising findings from a study by Corey Lang of the University of Rhode Island in the US, published in Springer’s journal Climatic Change. He tracked how the temperature fluctuations and rainfall that Americans experience daily in their own cities make them scour the Internet in search of information about climate change and global warming. To do so, he used data from Google Trends, local weather stations and election results.

Google Trends aggregates all Google searches that are made, and measures how popular a specific search term is. Users can fine tune this to be specific to a particular place (such as a country or city) and time (such as monthly or on a specific date). Lang specifically checked how often, when and where citizens in 205 cities in the US used the search terms “global warming,” “climate change” and “weather.” The terms “drought” and “flood” were also included because increases in these natural phenomena are important predicted impacts of climate change. Monthly statistics were collected for the period from January 2004 to May 2013. Lang then matched them with local weather station data, as well as the 2008 presidential election results in Dave Leip’s “Atlas of Presidential Elections.”

Lang found that search activity increased when extreme heat was felt in summer, when no rain fell over extended periods, and when there were fewer extreme cold snaps in winter. Such weather fluctuations are consistent with projected climate change. Interestingly though, searches also increased when average winter and spring temperatures dropped – events that are inconsistent with global warming. Lang believes this could mean that people who observe unusual extreme weather conditions are genuinely interested in learning more about climate change. It could, however, also mean that deniers, who experience an unusually cool winter, go online to confirm their skeptical views that the world is not really growing warmer.

People from varying political and educational backgrounds reach for their devices at different times to check out information on climate change. Republicans and people from less educated areas do more relevant searches during periods of extreme temperatures, while Democrats and residents of well-educated areas do so when they experience changes in average temperatures.

“Weather fluctuations have an impact on climate change related search behavior, however not always in ways that are consistent with the impacts of climate change. And the research suggests that different types of people experience weather differently or have different perceptions about what type of weather defines climate change, ” concludes Lang....

This rendition of Google's logo by Nyshita talluri, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons 3.0 license

Researchers use “big data” to track zoonotic diseases

John Maday in Dairy Herd Management: About 60 percent of diseases are zoonotic, or can pass between humans and various animal species, and understanding the pathways and complex relationships between pathogens, hosts and environmental factors is key to improving control strategies.

To untangle some of those relationships, researchers at the University of Liverpool in England are developing the Enhanced Infectious Diseases (EID2) database with funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

According to an article from the BBSRC, the researchers realized there was a vast amount of disease data available in scientific literature and pre-existing databases. They decided to use a “big data” approach, utilizing advanced computer technology to mine and aggregate data for application in disease modeling.

Using this approach, the researchers have built a database team member and epidemiologist Dr. Marie McIntyre, says is “matchless in scale, and has the capacity to hold data on all known human and animal pathogens, when detailed information becomes available." The database has been used in efforts to trace the history of human and animal diseases, predict the
effects of climate change on pathogens, produce maps of which diseases are most likely in some areas and categorize the complex relationships between human and animal carriers and hosts of numerous pathogens. The database is open-access for registered researchers, who can manipulate and organize the data to suit their research goals....

A diary herd in Bodalla, Australia, from the Powerhouse Museum

Typhoon Rammasun kills 8 in southern China

Calum MacLeod in USA Today: The death toll from Super Typhoon
Rammasun rose to at least eight as thousands of people were evacuated in Vietnam's northeastern coastal areas ahead of its landfall there Saturday. Rammasun, one of the strongest storms to hit China's coast in decades, roared into southern China on Friday afternoon, packing winds of up to 134 mph.

Xinhua, China's official news agency, reported five people died and 99 were injured after Typhoon Rammasun hit Hainan island Friday and three later died in the Guangxi region as the storm plowed into the mainland on its way north to Vietnam.

Earlier in the week, the storm caused havoc, widespread damage and at least 77 deaths in the Philippines. Rammasun then gathered strength as it crossed the South China Sea. It was upgraded early Friday from typhoon to super typhoon status. Named after the Thai word for "thunder god," Rammasun made landfall in Wenchang City on the northeastern coast of Hainan — south China's tropical island province.

Xinhua said the storm is believed to be the strongest to hit the region in 41 years. Wind speeds reached 130 miles per hour, with the storm knocking down power lines and damaging buildings. The mayor of Wenchang, Liu Chunmei, told Xinhua that many houses have been damaged. He said a man died after being hit by falling debris as his house collapsed. More than 70,000 residents near the landfall region were evacuated....

Typhoon Rammassun on July 18, 2014, via NASA

The lingering pain of Nigerian flooding

Ola Ajayi in via the Vanguard (Nigeria): While some survivors of the flood disaster recorded in some parts of Ibadan metropolis are trying to put the incident behind them, others are yet to come to terms with the painful reality of the incident where a make-shift bridge collapsed and emptied those on it into the raging flood.

While it is true that the State Government has reconstructed the collapsed bridge and also provided free transportation system for residents of the area, those affected are still nursing the scars of that disaster, saying that the experience was still fresh and too painful for them to forget in a hurry.

Following claims by the state government that there was no casualty as reported in the media, Vanguard Metro, VM, tried to locate some of the relatives of the victims of the flood. It coincided with the day that Senator Olufemi Lanlehin who represents the Oyo South visited the residents and gave them items to reduce their trauma.

Some of those interviewed were furious and said it was unfair to say there were no casualties at Apete where they claimed they saw many people being swept away by the flood. To get the truth of the matter, VM accosted one of the students of The Polytechnic Ibadan who then volunteered to lead the correspondent to the children of one of the dead victims, the late Kamoli Jimoh, a father of seven children....

Climate records shattered in 2013

Becky Oskin in Live Science: If global warming could be compared to middle-age weight gain, then Earth is growing a boomer belly, according to a newly released report on the state of the global climate.

Climate data show that global temperatures in 2013 continued their long-term rising trend. In fact, 2013 was somewhere between the second- and sixth-hottest year on record for the planet since record keeping began in 1880, according to the climate report, released Thursday (July 17) by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). (Four groups of scientists, who rely on slightly different methods to calculate global surface temperatures, ranked 2013 slightly differently compared with other years.)

The annual State of the Climate report compiles climate and weather data from around the world and is reviewed by 425 climate scientists from 57 countries. The report can be viewed online. "You can think of it as an annual checkup on the planet," said Kathryn Sullivan, NOAA administrator. And the checkup results show the planet ranged well outside of normal levels in 2013, hitting new records for greenhouse gases, Arctic heat, warm ocean temperatures and rising sea levels.

"The climate is changing more rapidly in today's world than at any time in modern civilization," said Thomas Karl, director of NOAA's National Climatic Data Center. "If we look at it like we're trying to maintain an ideal weight, then we're continuing to see ourselves put more weight on from year to year," he said. Climate scientists blame rising levels of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, in the atmosphere for the planet's changing climate.

...Most parts of the planet experienced above-average annual temperatures in 2013, NOAA officials said. Australia experienced its warmest year on record, while Argentina had its second warmest and New Zealand its third warmest. There was a new high-temperature record set at the South Pole, of minus 53 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 47 degrees Celsius)....

Friday, July 18, 2014

Borneo deforested 30 percent over past 40 years

Terra Daily: Forest cover in Borneo may have declined by up to 30% over the past 40 years, according to a study published July 16, 2014 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by David Gaveau from the Center for International Forestry Research, Indonesia, and colleagues.

The native forests of Borneo have been increasingly impacted by logging, fire, and conversion to plantations since the early 1970s. Borneo lacks island-wide forest clearance and logging documentation, making forest conservation planning difficult, especially for selectively logged forests that have high conservation potential but are vulnerable to being converted to plantations.

To better understand long-term forest cover and logging patterns, the researchers in this study analyzed LANDSAT satellite images from 1973 to 2010...

A deforested landscape in Borneo, from the Tropenmuseum

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Lightning, floods leave 20 dead in rain-hit China

Terra Daily via AFP: At least 20 people have died in the past week as torrential rain batters swathes of China, with at least six killed by lightning, thousands of homes destroyed and more than 300,000 evacuated, state media said.

There had been six deaths from lightning strikes in the central province of Jiangxi since last Friday, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

There were other fatalities from lightning in Guizhou in the southwest, it said, where a total of seven people died. A landslide in the province early Thursday buried eight people, Xinhua said, with two rescued by mid-morning but six still missing.

Officials in Guizhou are bracing for more devastation, the China Daily said, reporting a warning that "local authorities should make full-scale preparations for geological disasters that could be triggered by rains".

The most severe downpours, which began on Sunday night, destroyed 5,800 homes and damaged another 16,300 in Guizhou, Xinhua said, in a re
port late Wednesday...

'Peak soil' threatens future global food security

Nigel Hunt and Sarah Mcfarlane in Reuters: The challenge of ensuring future food security as populations grow and diets change has its roots in soil, but the increasing degradation of the earth's thin skin is threatening to push up food prices and increase deforestation.

 While the worries about peaking oil production have been eased by fresh sources released by hydraulic fracturing, concern about the depletion of the vital resource of soil is moving center stage.  "We know far more about the amount of oil there is globally and how long those stocks will last than we know about how much soil there is," said John Crawford, Director of the Sustainable Systems Program in Rothamsted Research in England.  "Under business as usual, the current soils that are in agricultural production will yield about 30 percent less than they would do otherwise by around 2050."

Surging food consumption has led to more intensive production, overgrazing and deforestation, all of which can strip soil of vital nutrients and beneficial micro-organisms, reduce its ability to hold water and make it more vulnerable to erosion.

Such factors, exacerbated by climate change, can ultimately lead to desertification, which in parts of China is partly blamed for the yellow dust storms that can cause hazardous pollution in Asia, sometimes even severe enough to cross the Pacific Ocean and reduce visibility in the western United States....

An archive shot of the Dust Bowl in the Texas Panhandle, original date not given, processed by Capmo, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Indigenous mountain farmers unite on climate change

Bhrikuti Rai in Farmers from 25 indigenous mountain communities in ten countries have come together to share traditional knowledge that could help them to mitigate climate change and to lobby governments for greater recognition of their unique knowledge.

The International Network of Mountain Indigenous Peoples was formed at a workshop in Bhutan last month (26 May-1 June). It includes communities from Bhutan, China, India, Kyrgyzstan, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Taiwan, Tajikistan and Thailand.

Member communities from Bhutan, China and Peru had already agreed to exchange seeds at a meeting held in Peru earlier this year (26 April-2 May). The agreement was extended to the other members at the most recent meeting.

The farmers say the network will enable communities to access new seed varieties that are more resilient to pests and drought; will help increase their crop diversity; and will reduce their dependence on corporate-owned seeds.

“Learning about experiences and strategies from other farming communities — based on local knowledge systems — through this network reaffirms people’s beliefs and faith in their own systems, values and traditional knowledge,” says Reetu Sogani, an activist who works with the International Institute for Environment and Development’s (IIED’s) Smallholder Innovation for Resilience project, which was involved in the workshop....

Terrace farms on Bolivia's Cordillera Central, shot by Christopher Walker, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license 

20 dead, 370,000 evacuated as typhoon passes Philippines

Solar News (Philippines): Typhoon Glenda (international name: Ramassun) left 20 people dead and caused the evacuation of more than 370,000 by the time it hit Metro Manila early on Wednesday, July 16. By early evening, it was last located over the West Philippine Sea moving towards Bajo de Masinloc, Zambales according to a latest bulletin of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA).

Glenda was last spotted 160 km west of Zambales packing winds of 140 kph and gustiness of up to 170 kph. It was moving west northwest at 24 kph. Public storm signals have now been lowered.

Metro Manila is now under Storm Signal No. 1, along with Laguna, Batangas, Tarlac, Pampanga, Bataan, Bulacan, Rizal, Cavite, Zambales, Pangasinan, Lubang Island, and the northern part of Occidental and Oriental Mindoro, PAGASA forecaster Rene Paciente said the weather is expected to improve late in the evening. Glenda is expected to leave Philippine territory by tomorrow afternoon (July 17).

Earlier, the typhoon shut down Manila, the capital, cutting power and prompting the evacuation of almost more than 370,000 people, rescue officials said. The eye of Glenda, the strongest storm to hit the country this year, passed south of Manila after cutting a path across the main island of Luzon, toppling trees and power lines and causing electrocutions and widespread blackouts....

A tropical storm over Manila in 2008 (something much less powerful than Ramassun/Glenda), shot by CE Photo Uwe Aranas, Wikimedia Commons,  under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Russia's top cities wake up to need for climate change adaptation

Angelina Davydova in Thomson Reuters Foundation: Russia’s two biggest cities, Moscow and Saint Petersburg, have started working out how they should adapt to the impacts of climate change, including warmer temperatures, floods and rising sea levels. And it’s not before time, experts say, as scientific data suggests climatic changes in the world’s northern and Arctic regions are occurring more rapidly than elsewhere.

“In Russia, global warming is happening even quicker than average on Earth - in some parts of the country, especially in Siberia and in the Arctic, up to two times faster,” said Vladimir Katsov, director of the Voeikov Main Geophysical Observatory in St Petersburg.

In 2013, mean annual rainfall increased by 13 percent from the previous year, and in Ru
ssia’s Far East by as much as 20 percent. This region was badly hit by floods last autumn, with economic costs amounting to $1.4 billion.

Climate change is expected to bring more extreme weather and climate-linked disasters, while having major impacts on food security, forestry and other ecosystem services. Worse still, the melting of the Arctic and permafrost could have a multiplier effect, causing even more greenhouse gases to be released into the atmosphere.

In early June, natural disasters swept across eastern Russia, from floods in the Altai Region of south Siberia to forest fires in neighbouring regions of Eastern Siberia and the Far East.  In the summer of 2010, forest fires and the worst heat wave in Central Russia for 130 years caused heavy smog in Russia’s capital, Moscow, resulting in around 11,000 excess deaths....

Aerial view of St. Petersburg by ERIC SALARD, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons 2.0 license