Friday, August 29, 2014

‘State of the World’s Rivers’ project documents decline in rivers from dams

A press release from International Rivers: ....International Rivers launched “The State of the World's Rivers,” a first-of-its-kind interactive online database that illustrates the role that dams have played in impoverishing the health of the world's river basins. The database shows how river fragmentation due to decades of dam-building is highly correlated with poor water quality and low biodiversity. Many of the world’s great river basins have been dammed to the point of serious decline, including the Mississippi, Yangtze, Paraná and Danube.

“The evidence we’ve compiled of planetary-scale impacts from river change is strong enough to warrant a major international focus on understanding the thresholds for ‘river change’ in the world’s major basins, and for the planet as a whole system,” said Jason Rainey, Executive Director of International Rivers.

For example, in the Middle East, decades of dam building in the Tigris-Euphrates basin have made it one of the most fragmented basins in the world. As a result, the basin's flooded grassland marshes have significantly decreased, leading to the disappearance of salt-tolerant vegetation that helped protect coastal areas, and a reduction in the plankton-rich waters that fertilize surrounding soils. Habitat has decreased for 52 native fish species, migratory bird species, and mammals such as the water buffalo, antelopes and gazelles, and the jerboa.

Meanwhile, some of the lesser-dammed basins, which are still relatively healthy at this point, are being targeted for major damming. For example, the most biodiverse basin in the world, the Amazon, still provides habitat for roughly 14,000 species of mammals, 2,200 fish species, 1,500 bird species, and more than 1,000 amphibian species, like the Amazon River Dolphin, the Amazonian Manatee, and the Giant Otter.

When all dam sizes are counted, an astonishing 412 dams are planned or under construction in the Paraná basin, and 254 in the Amazon basin. In Asia, China plans to continue to dam the Yangtze basin with at least another 94 planned large dams, while an additional 73 are under construction. At least 153 more dams are planned or already being built in the Mekong basin....

Gordon Dam in Tasmania, Australia, shot by  JJ Harrison, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons 3.0 license

"Third wave" of malaria resistance lurks on Thai-Cambodia border

IRIN: Public health experts and scientists warn history's third major bout of drug-resistant malaria could spread across Asia to Africa unless "radical action" is taken. Artemisinin-resistant strains on the Thailand-Cambodia border threaten the treatment's efficacy and pose containment challenges.

"The bad news is that drug-resistant parasites are actually found in a wider area than we previously thought," said Nicholas White, professor of Tropical Medicine at the University of Oxford, and author of a July 2014 study that revealed drug-resistant malaria parasites have spread to critical border regions of Southeast Asia (including the Cambodia-Thailand and Myanmar-Thailand borders), and that resistance to Artemisinin, the world's most effective anti-malarial drug, is now widespread in the region.

Artemisinin is effective against malaria, but it must be used in a combination of several drugs. In 2007, the World Health Assembly (WHA) issued a resolution calling for the end of monotherapies (or using a single drug) to treat malaria as this practice was causing resistance. A full dose of Artemisinin Combination Therapy (ACT) is now prescribed to prevent the development of drug resistance.

According to White, who also chairs the Worldwide Antimalarial Resistance Network, despite the new evidence of resistance along the Thailand-Cambodia border, not all hope for effective interventions is lost. He told IRIN: "The good news is that we can still treat it using longer ACT courses and we can map its spread using a molecular marker."...

Faster, more accurate flood warnings through EU research

A press release from the European Commission: Timely flood alerts and real-time monitoring of flood emergencies can save lives and prevent damage to property, infrastructure and the environment. Imprints, WeSenseIt and UrbanFlood are just three examples of EU-funded projects that have developed unique forecasting and alert systems to warn communities of impending floods.

Flood management and prevention is at the heart of the Imprints project which has developed an early warning platform to cut responses to flash floods down to about two hours, and even less – potentially giving people more time to get out of harm’s way. The platform is based on better rainfall predictions, using meteorological models and weather radar networks. The software is able to predict water flows on the ground and provide a full early warning system for flash floods, the amount of debris they might carry and any potential damage to local infrastructure.

Water services and hydro-meteorological operations in Spain, Switzerland and France are using these project’s innovations to refine their own real-time forecasting systems. Furthermore, flash flood indicators, developed within this project, are used now in the operational European Flood Awareness System.

Meanwhile, WeSenseIt, a project which ends in September 2016, makes good use of the power of human observation as an essential part of an early warning system. People contribute by taking measurements using new apps currently being developed by the project, and sending information and images by mobile phone. The new technologies and approaches are being tested in Italy, the Netherlands and the UK.

“We have developed mobile apps so that flood wardens in the UK can walk along river banks, and take tagged pictures if they think there is something of concern,” says project coordinator Fabio Ciravegna from the University of Sheffield. In Italy, an evaluation involving some 500 volunteers simulating a flood in the city of Vicenza was completed at the end of March 2014....

A 2005 flood in Thun, Switzerland, uploaded by Zumbo, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons 3.0 license

Managing coasts under threat from climate change and sea-level rise

EurekAlert via University of Southampton: Coastal regions under threat from climate change and sea-level rise need to tackle the more immediate threats of human-led and other non-climatic changes, according to a team of international scientists.

The team of 27 scientists from five continents, led by Dr Sally Brown at the University of Southampton, reviewed 24 years of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessments (the fifth and latest set being published in 2013 and 2014). They focused on climate change and sea-level rise impacts in the coastal zone, and examined ways of how to better manage and cope with climate change.

They found that to better understand climate change and its impacts, scientists need to adopt an integrated approach into how coasts are changing. This involves recognising other causes of change, such as population growth, economic development and changes in biodiversity. Dr Brown emphasised that: "Over the last two and half decades, our scientific understanding of climate change and sea-level rise, and how it will affect coastal zones has greatly increased. We now recognise that we need to analyse all parts of our human and natural environments to understand how climate change will affect the world."

The scientists also acknowledged that long-term adaptation to climate change can greatly reduce impacts, but further research and evaluation is required to realise the potential of adaptation. "Many parts of the coast can, with forward planning, adapt to sea-level rise, but we need to better understand environments that will struggle to adapt, such as developing countries with large low-lying river deltas sensitive to salinisation, or coral reefs and particularly small, remote islands or poorer communities," said Dr Brown.

...Dr Jochen Hinkel from Global Climate Forum in Germany, who is a co-author of this paper and a Lead Author of the coastal chapter for the 2014 IPCC Assessment Report added: "The IPCC has done a great job in bringing together knowledge on climate change, sea-level rise and is potential impacts but now needs to complement this work with a solution-oriented perspective focusing on overcoming barriers to adaptation, mobilising resources, empowering people and discovering opportunities for strengthening coastal resilience in the context of both climate change as well as existing coastal challenges and other issues."...

A 2011 winter storm battering Inverclyde, Scotland, shot by easylocum, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Big snowstorms will still occur in the Northern Hemisphere following global warming

Jennifer Chu at the MIT News Office:  If ever there were a silver lining to global warming, it might be the prospect of milder winters. After all, it stands to reason that a warmer climate would generate less snow. But a new MIT study suggests that you shouldn’t put your shovels away just yet. While most areas in the Northern Hemisphere will likely experience less snowfall throughout a season, the study concludes that extreme snow events will still occur, even in a future with significant warming. That means that, for example, places like Boston may see less snowy winters overall, punctuated in some years by blizzards that drop a foot or two of snow.

“Many studies have looked at average snowfall over a season in climate models, but there’s less known about these very heavy snowfalls,” says study author Paul O’Gorman, an associate professor in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. “In some regions, it is possible for average snowfall to decrease, but the snowfall extremes actually intensify.”

O’Gorman studied daily snowfall across the Northern Hemisphere using 20 different climate models, each of which projected climate change over a 100-year period, given certain levels of greenhouse gas emissions. He looked at both average seasonal snowfall and extreme snowfall events under current climate conditions, and also following projected future warming.

Not surprisingly, O’Gorman found that under relatively high warming scenarios, low-elevation regions with winter temperatures initially just below freezing experienced about a 65 percent reduction in average winter snowfall. However, in these same regions, the heaviest snowstorms became only 8 percent less intense. In some higher-latitude regions, extreme snow events became more intense, depositing 10 percent more snow, even under scenarios of relatively high global warming.

“You might expect with a warmer climate there should be major changes in snowfall in general,” O’Gorman says. “But that seems to be true to a greater extent for average snowfall than for the intensities of the heaviest snowfall events.”

Over this 100-year period, O’Gorman found that average snowfall decreased substantially in many Northern Hemisphere regions in warm-climate scenarios compared with the milder control climates, but that snowfall amounts in the largest snowstorms did not decrease to the same extent....

A snowfall, shot by Landskronadino, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons 3.0 license

Ebola management lessons from 14th century Venice

Catherine Paddock in Medical News Today: Lessons from the past can help us deal with today's emerging threats like drug- resistance, infectious disease outbreaks, climate change and even terrorism, say experts who studied the response of Italy's city, Venice, when it was visited by the plague in the 14th century.

The approach the Venetians took is an example of resilience management, write the authors of a study on the subject published in the journal Environment Systems and Decisions. Lead author Igor Linkov, of the US Army Engineer Research and Development Center and a visiting professor at the Ca Foscari University in Italy, says: "Resilience management can be a guide to dealing with the current Ebola outbreak in Africa, and others."

Venice was an important maritime power and commercial hub for trade into central Europe, when it was struck by the deadly plague in 1347. At first, the Venetians responded by intensifying prayers and rituals, but when that did not work, their efforts took the form of what experts today call resilience management.

The authorities did not focus on the disease itself, which they did not understand, but on what they could manage: the movements of people, social interactions and surveillance. For example, they instituted a system of inspection, set up quarantine perio
ds with isolation stations on nearby islands, and issued protective clothing.

...Drawing parallels with the current Ebola outbreak, Prof. Linkov points to economic and cultural factors that impede risk management in West Africa. It will take time to overcome the deeply rooted traditions that are helping the spread of the virus and the local people's mistrust in what the authorities are trying to do to contain it.

But there are things that health experts and national leaders can do to bolster other parts of the system to be more resilient to re-emergence of the disease. To apply the principles of resilience management, you have to view the city or community as a complex system so it can prepare, absorb, recover and adapt to unexpected threats, says Prof. Linkov, who adds: "Similar to what the officials of Venice did centuries ago, approaching resilience at the system level provides a way to deal with the unknown and unquantifiable threats we are facing at an increasing frequency."...

Punta della Dogana, in Venice, shot by Ggonnell/Fav, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons 2.0 license 

Just right' plant growth may make river deltas resilient

A press release from Indiana University: Research by Indiana University geologists suggests that an intermediate amount of vegetation -- not too little and not too much -- is most effective at stabilizing freshwater river deltas. The study, "Optimum vegetation height and density for inorganic sedimentation in deltaic marshes," was published online Aug. 24 by Nature Geoscience. The findings may help guide restoration of river deltas, such as those near the mouth of the Mississippi River, which are under threat as sea levels rise.

Authors are William Nardin, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Geological Sciences in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences; and Douglas A. Edmonds, who holds the Robert R. Shrock Professorship in Sedimentary Geology and is an assistant professor of geological sciences.

Vegetation on marsh surfaces in river deltas can slow the flow of water and cause more sediment to be deposited, helping prevent sea-level rise from drowning sensitive marshlands. But the study finds that, if the vegetation is too tall or dense, it diverts water into the river channel, resulting in less sediment being deposited on the marsh.

“In river deltas the effect of vegetation on sedimentation seems to follow the Goldilocks principle,” Edmonds said. “You want the amount of vegetation that is just right -- not too much, but also not too little.”

The world’s river deltas are rich and productive and are home to about 10 percent of the world’s population. But they are threatened by an array of forces, including population growth, pollution, development and erosion, as well as sea-level rise associated with climate change.

...In tidal saltwater marshes, research has shown that vegetation enhances sedimentation. But scientists know less about how vegetation affects sedimentation in freshwater marshes that are common in river deltas. Nardin and Edmonds used sophisticated computer modeling to study how marsh vegetation influences the transport and deposition of sediment in river deltas. They conducted 75 simulations involving varying scenarios of vegetation height and density and rates of water flow.

They found that vegetation of intermediate height and density results in the greatest deposition of sand and mud. However, if the plants are too tall or densely packed, sediment tends to remain in the river channel, bypassing marshes and being carried directly to the sea....

From the IU website: This image shows freshwater marsh vegetation in Wax Lake Delta, La. Aquatic vegetation on low-elevation marshes is pictured in the foreground, while woody vegetation occupies a levee on the left. The open water in the distance is a deltaic distributary channel. Photo by Elizabeth Olliver

Brazil arrests eight in Amazon deforestation swoop

Yahoo News via AFP: Brazilian police said Thursday they had made eight arrests in raids to smash a gang considered the worst perpetrators of deforestation in the Amazon region. "Eight arrests have been made so far. Police are searching for a further six (suspects) considered to be on the run," a police spokesman in the Amazonian state of Para told AFP.

The gang would invade public land in northern Para state, burn down forest, divided the land into parcels and sell them, raking in millions of dollars in the process, according to federal police who moved in on the gang Wednesday.

According to the Brazilian Environmental Institute, the group has carried out environmental crimes valued at $230 million, making them "the greatest destroyers of the Brazilian Amazon currently active."

Para authorities say the state has suffered some 15,500 hectares (38,300 acres) of deforestation, with the state prosecutor's office estimating that the area where the gang was operating accounts for about 10 percent of the total.

The institute said Wednesday the gang members should be charged with invading public land, environmental crimes, forgery, criminal association and money laundering.

Police say they have also issued warrants for further arrests in the states of Sao Paulo, Parana and Mato Grosso...

Deforestation in Brazil, NASA photo

Warming aids Arctic economies but far short of 'cold rush'

Alister Doyle in Reuters: Climate change is aiding shipping, fisheries and tourism in the Arctic but the economic gains fall short of a "cold rush" for an icy region where temperatures are rising twice as fast as the world average.

A first cruise ship will travel the icy Northwest Passage north of Canada in 2016, Iceland has unilaterally set itself mackerel quotas as stocks shift north and Greenland is experimenting with crops such as tomatoes.

Yet businesses, including oil and gas companies or mining firms looking north, face risks including that permafrost will thaw and ruin ice roads, buildings and pipelines. A melt could also cause huge damage by unlocking frozen greenhouse gases.

"There are those who think that growing strawberries in Greenland and drilling for oil in the Arctic are the new economic frontiers," said Achim Steiner, head of the U.N. Environment Program. "I would caution against the hypothetical bonanza that some people see," he told Reuters of Arctic regions in Russia, Nordic nations, Alaska and Canada. U.N. studies say global warming will be harmful overall with heatwaves, floods and rising seas....

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Drop in disaster payouts strengthens case for reinsurance price cut

Josh Franklin and David Goodman in Reuters: Payouts by insurers for disaster claims in the first six months of the year were below the average for the past 10 years, a study showed on Wednesday, which is likely to bolster insurers' calls for cheaper reinsurance.

The global insurance industry covered $21 billion in losses from natural catastrophes and man-made disasters in the first half of the year, prelimi
nary estimates from a study by reinsurer Swiss Re showed. This was 22 percent below the $27 billion first-half average for the previous 10 years.

The findings come as reinsurance executives prepare for their annual get-together in Monte Carlo next month and at a time when they are facing calls from insurance company clients to lower prices. Reinsurers such as Hannover and Swiss Re help their clients to cover claims from events such as earthquakes or floods in exchange for part of the premium.

Second-quarter figures showed that lower claims from natural disasters boosted reinsures' earnings. But this, coupled with signs of growing competition, has raised pressure on such companies to reduce prices. The Swiss Re study showed that insurers covered nearly half of the $44 billion in estimated economic losses from natural catastrophes and man-made disasters in the first half of 2014....

An entrance to one of Swiss Re's buildings in Zurich, shot by Alex Schröder, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

UN conference set to bypass climate change refugees

Thalif Deen in IPS: An international conference on small island developing states (SIDS), scheduled to take place in Samoa next week, will bypass a politically sensitive issue: a proposal to create a new category of “environmental refugees” fleeing tiny island nations threatened by rising seas. “It’s not on the final declaration called the outcome document,” a SIDS diplomat told IPS.

The rich countries that neighbour small island states are not in favour of a flood of refugees inundating them, he added. Such a proposal also involves an amendment to the 1951 U.N. Convention on the Status of Refugees, making it even more divisive.

The outcome document, already agreed upon at a U.N. Preparatory Committee meeting last month, will be adopted at the Sep. 1-4 meeting in the Samoan capital of Apia.

Sara Shaw, climate justice and energy coordinator at Friends of the Earth International (FoEI), told IPS, “We believe that climate refugees have a legitimate claim for asylum and should be recognised under the U.N. refugee convention and offered international protection.”

Unfortunately, she said, the very developed nations responsible for the vast majority of the climate-changing gases present in the atmosphere today are those refusing to extend the refugee convention to include climate refugees. “Worse still, they are trying to weaken existing international protection for refugees,” Shaw added....

A NASA image of Aneityum, Vanuatu

UK’s winter floods strengthen belief humans causing climate change – poll

Guardian (UK) via Press Association: More than a quarter of people say UK’s winter floods strengthened their belief in human-induced climate change, a survey has found. Half the people polled for the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) said widespread flooding in early 2014 made them more convinced the climate was changing, and 27% said the floods had also increased their belief humans were the main cause.

But the polling by ComRes of 2,021 people also revealed misconceptions about climate science, despite a majority of people claiming to be very or fairly well informed on climate change. Only one in nine people (11%) said that almost all climate scientists believe that human activities, such as burning fossil fuels, are mainly responsible for rising temperatures.

More than two-fifths (43%) think that a majority of climate scientists believe in human-induced climate change, but 35% think experts are split half and half, and 11% believe either a minority or almost none of the scientific community accept the theory. The finding, which is contradicted by studies showing
more than 90% of climate scientists believe humans are the main cause of global warming, has “uncomfortable echoes” of the MMR controversy 15 years ago, the ECIU said.

...There are also misconceptions on how popular clean energy is in the UK. Most people do not realise how high the support for renewable power sources such as wind farms and solar panels is, with just 5% estimating support from the British public as between 75% and 100%, and two-thirds thinking it is below 50%. Research for the government earlier this year found support for renewables was at 80%....

Flooding near Arundel Castle in February 2014, shot by hehaden, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

WHO urges action on climate change to protect health

Megan Darby in Responding to Climate Change: Leading health experts are urging stronger action on climate change, as the first ever global conference to link the two fields kicks off in Geneva. Bringing together meteorologists, diplomats and medics – not to mention the Prince of Wales – the gathering will highlight health threats from climate change, and joint solutions.

The World Health Organization (WHO), hosting the three-day conference, said green energy and transport policies could save millions of lives each year, by cutting air pollution. It also called for initiatives to help communities prepare for heat, extreme weather, infectious diseases and food insecurity caused by climate change.

“The evidence is overwhelming: climate change endangers human health,” said Dr Margaret Chan, WHO director general. “Solutions exist and we need to act decisively to change this trajectory.”

The rallying cry builds momentum for action ahead of a climate summit to be hosted by UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon next month. At that summit, world leaders will be invited to make commitments to climate action. The idea is to engage heads of state with the issue before a global treaty is signed in Paris, December 2015.

Christiana Figueres, the UN’s climate chief, encouraged delegates to push for a strong agreement. This will “chart a course towards a world with clean air and water, abundant natural resources and happy, health populations,” she said. “Seen in this light, the climate agreement is actually a public health agreement.”...

Black carbon ups risk of cardiovascular diseases in women

Benita Matilda in Science World Report: Black carbon is found worldwide and is often produced from biomass burning, cooking with solid fuels and diesel exhausts. Since black carbon is the leading cause of respiratory illness and premature mortality, researchers at the McGill University investigated the effects of black carbon pollutant on the health of women cooking with traditional wood stoves.

Highlighting the detrimental effects of black carbon, the researchers claim that this pollutant elevates the risk of cardiovascular disease in women. They based their finding on the daily exposure to various types of air pollutants, including black carbon, in 280 women residing in China's rural Yunnan province.

The team basically focused on the health consequences of these air pollutants that are emitted from sources common in developingcountries.

"China's unprecedented economic growth is fuelling massive increases in industrial and motor vehicle pollution, and 700 million Chinese homes still cook with wood and coal fuels. The Chinese government is setting new targets to improve its air quality. We wanted to identify the pollution sources that most impact human health to help inform these pollution control efforts." said study lead McGill Professor Jill Baumgartner....

A chulla cookstove in Tamil Nadu, shot by mckaysavage, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Cutting emissions pays for itself

Audrey Resutek in MIT News: Lower rates of asthma and other health problems are frequently cited as benefits of policies aimed at cutting carbon emissions from sources like power plants and vehicles, because these policies also lead to reductions in other harmful types of air pollution.

But just how large are the health benefits of cleaner air in comparison to the costs of reducing carbon emissions? MIT researchers looked at three policies achieving the same reductions in the United States, and found that the savings on health care spending and other costs related to illness can be big — in some cases, more than 10 times the cost of policy implementation.

“Carbon-reduction policies significantly improve air quality,” says Noelle Selin, the Esther and Harold E. Edgerton Career Development Professor of engineering systems and atmospheric chemistry at MIT, and co-author of a study published today in Nature Climate Change. “In fact, policies aimed at cutting carbon emissions improve air quality by a similar amount as policies specifically targeting air pollution.”

Selin and colleagues compared the health benefits to the economic costs of three climate policies: a clean-energy standard, a transportation policy, and a cap-and-trade program. The three were designed to resemble proposed U.S. climate policies, with the clean-energy standard requiring emissions reductions from power plants similar to those proposed in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan.

The researchers found that savings from avoided health problems could recoup 26 percent of the cost to implement a transportation policy, but up to to 10.5 times the cost of implementing a cap-and-trade program. The difference depended largely on the costs of the policies, as the savings — in the form of avoided medical care and saved sick days — remained roughly constant: Policies aimed at specific sources of air pollution, such as power plants and vehicles, did not lead to substantially larger benefits than cheaper policies, such as a cap-and-trade approach....

Illustration by Christine Daniloff/MIT

The 'most endangered' river in the US

Tim Palmer in EcoWatch: ... The San Joaquin is repeatedly impounded for hydropower as it plunges toward grassy foothills, diverted for irrigation in the Central Valley, finally ending in the Delta as a conduit of agricultural runoff and the second-longest river system in California.

The San Joaquin can claim to be the hardest working river in America; not only did diversions completely dry up a 63-mile middle reach for fifty years, but then the lower river’s polluted return-flows are pumped back upstream to be used yet again. The Water Education Foundation called this the “most impaired major river in the state.”....

When the Federal Bureau of Reclamation acted to extend the San Joaquin’s overdrawn plight by rubber-stamping another 40-year extension of irrigation supply contracts, the Natural Resources Defense Council and other conservation groups appealed, and prevailed in court. With hard-earned consensus of all major parties in 2006, a legal agreement set new rules, contracts and appropriations to serve irrigation needs but also to re-nourish nominal flows in the desiccated reaches, to upgrade water quality, and to restore self-sustaining runs of salmon. With great fanfare, initial flows freshening the San Joaquin’s long-parched mid-section bubbled northward in 2009. Salmon—eager to return home for spawning even after the species’ half-century of absence—migrated upriver once again in 2012 and 2013. Restoration flows were recaptured downstream for farmers. Fishing derbies, salmon festivals and summer camps sprang to life in communities along the way as the newly formulated San Joaquin gained stature as America’s preeminent river to be reborn.

A panic-stricken response to the drought could put these gains in jeopardy. Earlier this year a bill passed the House of Representatives to undercut the San Joaquin’s negotiated settlement of two decades in the making. The Senate will not likely approve this edict, but the future of the restored lifeline remains vulnerable and depends on continuing support for the fish and wildlife gains of recent years....

The headwaters of the San Joaquin, shot by Hike395, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license

Bangladesh floods leave thousands homeless, damage crops

Reuters: Heavy flooding across Bangladesh has forced thousands of people from their homes and caused severe damage to crops, with officials on Tuesday warning the situation could worsen as floodwaters poured into the capital, Dhaka.

Heavy monsoon rain in recent days has aggravated the situation in the low-lying and densely populated country, with the wet season due to run into September. "Over the next couple of days the flood situation around Dhaka ... might further deteriorate," said Sazzad Hussain, an engineer at the Flood Forecasting and Warning Center in the capital.

People in low-lying areas next to the rivers in Dhaka would likely be affected, he added. An official at the disaster management control room said the floods have affected more than 74,000 people and the number of homeless ran into several thousands, but she gave no official figure....

Monday, August 25, 2014

NASA scientists watching, studying Arctic changes this summer

A press release from NASA: As we near the final month of summer in the Northern Hemisphere, NASA scientists are watching the annual seasonal melting of the Arctic sea ice cover. The floating, frozen cap that stretches across the Arctic Ocean shrinks throughout summer until beginning to regrow, typically around mid-September.

As of Aug. 19, Arctic sea ice covered about 2.31 million square miles. While this is on track to be larger than the record-breaking low year in 2012, the sea ice extent is still well below average for the past 30 years, and continues a trend of sea ice loss in the Arctic. From 1981 to 2010, the average sea ice extent on Aug. 19 was 2.72 million square miles – 18 percent larger than on that same date this year.

"While this year is not heading toward a record low minimum extent in the Arctic, sea ice is well below normal and continues an overall pattern of decreasing sea ice during summer in the Arctic,” said sea ice scientist Walt Meier, based at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

With the launch of five Earth-observing missions in 2014, NASA will be able to deliver even more crucial data to scientists trying to understand our changing planet.

While NASA scientists have used satellites to document sea ice changes for more than 40 years, this summer the agency is also flying three airborne research campaigns to observe different aspects of climate-driven change in the Arctic.

The ARISE (Arctic Radiation-IceBridge Sea and Ice Experiment) campaign will begin flights later this week from Greenland to measure how changing land and sea ice conditions in the region are affecting the formation of clouds and the exchange of heat from Earth’s surface to space.

For some time scientists at NASA and elsewhere have been concerned about how the retreat of sea ice in summer could affect the climate of the Arctic. This campaign is one of the first to study the interaction between sea ice loss and the Arctic atmosphere....

Arctic ice, shot by Pink floyd88 a, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Twelve dead, 36,000 homeless in Niger flooding

Reuters: At least 12 people have been killed and more than 36,000 made homeless in Niger due to flooding caused by heavy seasonal rainfall, the government said.

Floods are an annually recurring problem in the West African country during the rainy season when overflowing streams and rivers sweep away homes and destroy crops, leaving victims without shelter and creating food shortages later on.

"Heavy precipitation recorded in six regions caused flooding and serious damage," the office of Niger's prime minister said in a statement late on Friday. "Evaluations by the civil protection services uncovered 12 deaths."

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), citing government figures, said that 36,441 people had lost their homes in the floods as of Aug. 21.

"The rains are continuing and the damage could require the deployment of more means in terms of emergency food and non-food assistance and tents," OCHA said in a statement...

Locator map of Niger by Rei-artur, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons 3.0 license

Marie remains powerful hurricane south of California

Brian Lada in AccuWeather: Hurricane Marie rapidly intensified into a major hurricane on Saturday night, becoming the third major hurricane of the 2014 Eastern Pacific Hurricane Season. While the storm will not have any direct impacts on Mexico or the United States, indirect impacts, such as rough surf and enhanced monsoonal rainfall, could be rather significant.

During Saturday morning, local time, Marie intensified into a Category 1 hurricane. By Sunday afternoon, Marie had undergone explosive intensification to become a Category 5 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 160 mph. Since then, the hurricane intensity slipped slightly a powerful Category 4 with sustained winds of 150 mph.

Marie is expected to remain a major hurricane during the start of the week before gradually weakening around midweek. After being classified as a Category 5 hurricane, Marie has become the strongest hurricane over the eastern Pacific since Hurricane Celia in 2010.

"Marie is a very large hurricane, and as its moisture gets drawn to the northeast into the region, very heavy rainfall is possible, along with localized flooding," said Meteorologist Anthony Sagliani.

Sagliani continued by saying, "Some of the most likely cities to see locally heavy rainfall include La Paz, Cabo San Lucas and Hermosillo in Mexico, and Phoenix, Tucson and Albuquerque in the southwestern United States."...

NOAA image of Hurricane Marie on August 24, 2014

Climate change: adapt now or perish

Bindu Lohani in Live Mint: Climate change will sow confusion and concern as it unfolds across South Asia in coming decades. Home to a quarter of the world’s population, this vast region will be hit harder than just about anywhere else. Sudden flooding, storms, droughts and other hazards will upend lives, livelihoods, and economies.

As this grim future takes shape, the price of global inaction is rising each year. Up to 9% will have been stripped annually from South Asia’s economy on average by 2100 if no further action is taken globally on climate change, says a new report by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), Assessing the Costs of Climate Change and Adaptation in South Asia. There’s an outside chance of those losses blowing out to 24% given the uncertainty surrounding climate change’s future impacts.

What can be done? The region’s countries have taken steps to cushion the impact of a warming world, but bolder action is needed. Given the slow pace of global mitigation efforts, the worst-case scenario of huge economic losses might end up being South Asia’s future by default. While only global action will halt climate change, countries should not wait on it before taking adaptive measures. They can be as straightforward as placing sand-filled geotextile bags along riverbanks to stall erosion as happened recently in low-lying Bangladesh, where an area up to twice the size of Shimla city is swallowed annually. Or they can be more wide-ranging, such as a recent initiative of the UK government, the Rockefeller Foundation and ADB to boost climate resilience at 25 cities in Asia by helping to integrate climate risks into city plans and develop resilient infrastructure.

Those efforts must now be mainstreamed into national development plans, with governments, the private sector and civil society working together. Moreover, as climate change ignores national borders, South Asia’s countries must respond cooperatively through a regional framework to promote technology transfer, dialogue, and sharing of best practices....

US Department of Defense photo of flooding in suburban Bangkok in 2011

'Widespread methane leakage' from ocean floor off US coast

Matt McGrath n BBC News: Researchers say they have found more than 500 bubbling methane vents on the seafloor off the US east coast. The unexpected discovery indicates there are large volumes of the gas contained in a type of sludgy ice called methane hydrate.

There are concerns that these new seeps could be making a hitherto unnoticed contribution to global warming. The scientists say there could be about 30,000 of these hidden methane vents worldwide. Previous surveys along the Atlantic seaboard have shown only three seep areas beyond the edge of the US continental shelf.

The team behind the new findings studied what is termed the continental margin, the region of the ocean floor that stands between the coast and the deep ocean. In an area between North Carolina and Massachusetts, they have now found at least 570 seeps at varying depths between 50m and 1,700m.

Their findings came as a bit of a surprise. "It is the first time we have seen this level of seepage outside the Arctic that is not associated with features like oil or gas reservoirs or active tectonic margins," said Prof Adam Skarke from Mississippi State University, who led the study....

From 1992: mapping conducted by the USGS off North Carolina and South Carolina shows large accumulations of methane hydrates.Dr. William Dillon, U.S. Geological Survey, public domain

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Drought, blight threaten to press up olive oil price

Terra Daily via AFP: Shoppers risk paying more for their olive oil this year as a drought in Spain and a blight in Italy wither trees in the two top producers, driving up prices. Months of dry weather have struck Andalusia in the south of Spain, the world's biggest producer of the "yellow gold".

In the second-biggest grower Italy, the bacteria xylella fastidiosa has shrivelled olive branches in the southern Puglia region. "Prices will rise by 30 to 40 percent because there will be fewer olives and therefore less oil produced," said one olive farmer in Puglia, Raffaele Piano.

"But quality will not be affected," he told AFP. "There is no cure. The only solution is to burn the infected trees to stop the bacteria spreading quickly."

Producers in parched Spain say they expect their prices to rise too over the coming months as the October harvest approaches, but hesitate to forecast by how much....

An amphora depicting olive gatherers, from the British Museum, public domain

Tropical depression upgraded to Tropical Storm Cristobel, headed for Bahamas

CTV News via AP: A strengthening tropical depression that dumped heavy rains on parts of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic was upgraded early Sunday to Tropical Storm Cristobal as it passed closer to the Bahamas, the U.S. Hurricane Center said.

Cristobal originally formed as depression over the Turks and Caicos Islands on Saturday. It was the fourth depression of the Atlantic hurricane season.

Sunday morning, the depression had sustained winds of35 mph (55 kph) and was located about 40 miles (160kilometres) north northwest of Mayaguana island, the hurricane centre said in a tropical advisory. The storm was moving northwest at about 9 mph (15 kph).

A tropical storm warning has been issued for the Turks and Caicos and for the southeast and central Bahamas, with forecasters saying it could bring up to 8 inches (20 centimetres) of rain.

The storm was upgraded to a tropical depression on Saturday afternoon, and it had previously downed several trees and power lines in Puerto Rico, leaving more than 17,000 people without power and nearly 5,600 without water...

Serengeti wildlife to access Lake Victoria's water as climate change looms large

Adam Ihucha in ETN Global Travel Industry News: Chief Ecologist with Serengeti National Park, Emilian Kihwele says that the revival of the wildlife corridor linking the vital Serengeti-Maasai Mara ecosystem with Lake Victoria is imperative.

Mr. Kihwele says that the basin, which straddles the Kenya-Tanzania border, is adversely affected by climate change and human activities not compatible with conservation interests, putting the world’s greatest annual wildlife migration across east Africa's plains – under threat.

Planet’s largest wildlife migration – the annual loop of two million wildebeest and other mammals across the Tanzania’s legendary national park of Serengeti and Kenya’s renowned Maasai Mara reserve – is a key tourist lure, generating multi-million-dollars annually.

A leading TANAPA ecologist, Dr. James Wakibara says that ripple effects of climate change as well as large-scale irrigation and industrial activity such as mining along the sprawling basin have led to higher rates of water abstraction.

Increased clearance of the forest and cultivation, respectively, in the upper catchment of Mau escarpments in Kenya has progressively led to excessive sediment loads and altered hydrograph of the Mara River, the only source of drinking water for Serengeti-Mara ecosystem wildlife during the dry months of August-September.

Consequently, both seasonal floods and droughts have become more frequent and extreme, leading to Mara River water flow becoming unpredictable in the past few years, scientists say....

An acacia tree in Serengeti National Park, shot by Kev Moses, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons 2.0 license 

Lebanon skeptical of 'save water' effort

Sophie Cousins in  Plastered across billboards, flashing across television screens, and splashed on pamphlets and stickers, a new message is suddenly everywhere you look in Lebanon: "If you love me, save me some water."

This year, in an attempt to mitigate a growing water crisis, the Ministry of Energy and Water has encouraged people to turn off their taps and conserve precious drops. But according to Lebanon’s National Water Sector Strategy (NWSS), which was adopted by the government in 2012, only approximately 10 percent of water connections in Lebanon are metered, meaning that the overwhelming majority of people pay the same rate, regardless of how much water they use.

So as people in Beirut continue to hose down sidewalks, wash their cars, take long showers, and flush their stairwells instead of mopping, the awareness campaign has left many wondering: What’s the incentive?

"A lot of the time we don’t have any water at my [vegetable] shop anyway, so why would I save water when I pay the same rate per year?" said Fadi Hammoud, a shopkeeper in the affluent neighbourhood of Achrafieh in east Beirut. "This all comes down to government mismanagement and, really, without a proper government, what are we meant to do? Water and electricity issues have long been a problem for us."

The lack of metering also gives no incentive for "water establishments to increase water supply or spend more on operation and maintenance... as water deliveries generate no extra revenue", according to the Water Sector Assistance Strategy for 2012-2016, published by the World Bank...

Qaraoun Lake in Lebanon, public domain photo by Fouad Awada

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Record decline of ice sheets: For the first time scientists map elevation changes of Greenland and Antarctic glaciers

A press release from the Alfred Wegener Institute: Researchers from the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI), have for the first time extensively mapped Greenland’s and Antarctica’s ice sheets with the help of the ESA satellite CryoSat-2 and have thus been able to prove that the ice crusts of both regions momentarily decline at an unprecedented rate. In total the ice sheets are losing around 500 cubic kilometres of ice per year. This ice mass corresponds to a layer that is about 600 metres thick and would stretch out over the entire metropolitan area of Hamburg, Germany's second largest city. The maps and results of this study are published today in The Cryosphere, an open access journal of the European Geoscience
s Union (EGU).

“The new elevation maps are snapshots of the current state of the ice sheets. The elevations are very accurate, to just a few metres in height, and cover close to 16 million km2 of the area of the ice sheets. This is 500,000 square kilometres more than any previous elevation model from altimetry”, says lead-author Dr. Veit Helm, glaciologist at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven.

For the new digital maps, the AWI scientists had evaluated all data by the CryoSat-2 altimeter SIRAL. Satellite altimeter measure the height of an ice sheet by sending radar or laser pulses in the direction of the earth. These signals are then reflected by the surface of the glaciers or the surrounding waters and are subsequently retrieved by the satellite. This way the scientists were able to precisely determine the elevation of single glaciers and to develop detailed maps.

...The team derived the elevation change maps using over 200 million SIRAL data points for Antarctica and around 14.3 million data points for Greenland. The results reveal that Greenland alone is reducing in volume by about 375 cubic kilometres per year. “When we compare the current data with those from the ICESat satellite from the year 2009, the volume loss in Greenland has doubled since then. The loss of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet has in the same time span increased by a factor of 3. Combined the two ice sheets are thinning at a rate of 500 cubic kilometres per year. That is the highest speed observed since altimetry satellite records began about 20 years ago,” says AWI glaciologist Prof. Dr. Angelika Humbert, another of the study’s authors.

The areas where the researchers detected the largest elevation changes were Jakobshavn Isbrae (Jakobshavn Glacier) in West Greenland and Pine Island Glacier in West Antarctica. Since February 2014 scientists know that the Jakobshavn Isbrae is moving ice into the ocean at a record rate of up to 46 meters a day. The Pine Island Glacier hit the headlines in July 2013. Back then AWI scientists reported that a table iceberg as large as the area of Hamburg had broken off the tip of its ice shelf. (Link to the AWI press release from the 9th July 2013)

But whereas both the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and the Antarctic Peninsula, on the far west of the continent, are rapidly losing volume, East Antarctica is gaining volume – though at a moderate rate that doesn’t compensate the losses on the other side of the continent....

The border of an Antarctic glacier, photo from the Alfred Wegener Institute

Which US cities have the worst urban heat islands?

Doyle Rice in USA Today: Las Vegas, Albuquerque and Denver lead the list of U.S. cities with the most intense urban heat islands, according to a report released this week by research organization Climate Central, which is based in Princeton, N.J.

"Urban heat islands have hotter days, far hotter nights, and more extremely hot days each summer than adjacent rural areas," said Alyson Kenward, lead author of the report and senior scientist with Climate Central. The concrete, asphalt and shingled roofs of buildings, roads and other infrastructure in urban environments usually make cities much hotter than surrounding rural areas.

On average, U.S. summer temperatures have increased nearly 2 degrees since 1970, the National Climate Assessment reported earlier this year. "Thanks to the dual action of urbanization and climate change, cities are not just hotter, they are getting hotter faster: 45 of 60 cities we analyzed were warming at a faster rate than the surrounding rural land," Kenward reported.

About 80% of Americans live in metropolitan areas. Cities also tend to have many more extremely hot days each year, on average, than nearby rural areas, the report found. Over the past 10 years, cities had an average of at least eight more days over 90 degrees each summer, compared to nearby rural areas.

Hotter summer temperatures have been correlated with higher ozone pollution, and the hottest days of the year often had ozone levels exceed the safe standard established by the Environmental Protection Agency....

Downtown ABQ, shot by Asaavedra32, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons 3.0 license 

Zambia’s cash transfer schemes cushion needy against climate shocks

Friday Phiri in IPS: ...Here, in what the Zambia Meteorological Department classifies as a region characterised by low rainfall, most families are entirely dependent on agriculture and have gone through similar hardships. But when these disasters strike, families have proven resilient and are finding ways to cope.

...Stella Kapumo of the Social Welfare Department in Pemba district explains that “there are three schemes under which our department gives support to the vulnerable in the community.”

“The Public Welfare Assistance Scheme is where material support such as shelter and food aid are given, and there are two cash protection schemes – a social cash transfer and a social protection fund,” Kapumo tells IPS.

According to Kapumo, the cash transfer is a bi-monthly cash allowance of 25 and 50 dollars respectively for vulnerable households and households where there are people with disabilities. The social protection fund is a once-off grant of up to 670 dollars for viable business proposals.

“The cash schemes are the most popular and have proven to be a powerful relief to the socio-economic challenges of the vulnerable communities where they are being implemented.  “However, here in Pemba we are implementing the ‘social protection fund’  where we give cash grants targeting vulnerable families to either boost and/or venture into viable businesses,” Kapumo says.

Piloted in 2003 in Kalomo district, southern Zambia, the social cash transfer has expanded to 50 districts currently providing social protection to about 60,000 vulnerable households. Communities in Zambia that rely on agriculture for their livelihoods are already suffering the consequences of climate change due to their limited resource capacity to adapt....

Zambian kids, shot by Florence Devoaurd, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons 3.0 license

Study measures steep coastal costs of China's GDP growth

Seed Daily via SPX: A new study by a team of Chinese and American conservation biologists quantifies the serious consequences of China's recent economic growth on its coastal ecosystems. By several measures, 1978 was the beginning of a hugely successful surge in the nation's ability to produce economic value, but that surge brought accelerated degradation in the vitality of its coastal ecosystems.

The combined analysis of economic growth, human activities and impacts, and environmental quality data appears in the journal Scientific Reports. It shows that after reforms declared in 1978, which liberalized the Chinese economy to spur growth, many human economic activities with deleterious environmental impacts increased markedly, even in the absence of significant population growth.

The economic reforms led to a shift from an inland agrarian economy to an industrial economy concentrated on the coast. In lockstep with that shift came environmental problems such as declines in fish size and diversity, damage to coral reefs, and a surge in harmful algal blooms.

"This study flags the problem and screams out this is a problem that has to be dealt with," said Mark Bertness, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Brown University and the paper's second author. "This has all happened within a generation."

Lead author Qiang He of Beijing Normal University, who led the research while a visiting scholar in the Bertness lab at Brown, said the research shows that economic growth alone can generate environmental impacts. "We show that in a country with a relatively constant coastal population growth rate, economic growth rather than population growth is the major driver of coastal degradation, while previous science often addresses how increasing human population degrades the coastal and marine environment," He said....

Shanghai's Bund viewed from the Oriental Pearl Tower in Pudong, Shanghai, shot by Bobak, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons 2.5 license

Japan landslide: Death toll in Hiroshima climbs to 46

Australia Network News: The death toll from huge landslides in Japan's Hiroshima prefecture has risen to 46, with at least 41 people still missing. A Hiroshima police spokesman says rescuers uncovered six more bodies on Saturday morning

Emergency service personnel are continuing the search for survivors three days after torrential rains triggered the mountainside disaster. Volunteers from other parts of the country have joined the rescue effort to back up nearly 3,000 police officers, firefighters and soldiers already involved.

The rain stopped by early on Saturday but there are concerns about new landslides because the weather bureau is predicting another heavy downpour by the evening. Firefighters and soldiers are removing debris by hand where possible because of concerns about using heavy machinery....

An aerial view of Kure, Hiroshima, shot by EEIM, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons 3.0 license

Friday, August 22, 2014

Severe drought is causing the western US to rise

Mario Aguilera at the UC San Diego News Center: The severe drought gripping the western United States in recent years is changing the landscape well beyond localized effects of water restrictions and browning lawns. Scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego have now discovered that the growing, broad-scale loss of water is causing the entire western U.S. to rise up like an uncoiled spring.

Investigating ground positioning data from GPS stations throughout the west, Scripps researchers Adrian Borsa, Duncan Agnew, and Dan Cayan found that the water shortage is causing an “uplift” effect up to 15 millimeters (more than half an inch) in California’s mountains and on average four millimeters (0.15 of an inch) across the west. From the GPS data, they estimate the water deficit at nearly 240 gigatons (63 trillion gallons of water), equivalent to a four-inch layer of water spread out over the entire western U.S.

...While poring through various sets of data of ground positions from highly precise GPS stations within the National Science Foundation’s Plate Boundary Observatory and other networks, Borsa, a Scripps assistant research geophysicist, kept noticing the same pattern over the 2003-2014 period: All of the stations moved upwards in the most recent years, coinciding with the timing of the current drought.

Agnew, a Scripps Oceanography geophysics professor who specializes in studying earthquakes and their impact on shaping the earth’s crust, says the GPS data can only be explained by rapid uplift of the tectonic plate upon which the western U.S. rests (Agnew cautions that the uplift has virtually no effect on the San Andreas fault and therefore does not increase the risk of earthquakes).

For Cayan, a research meteorologist with Scripps and USGS, the results paint a new picture of the dire hydrological state of the west. “These results quantify the amount of water mass lost in the past few years,” said Cayan. “It also represents a powerful new way to track water resources over a very large landscape. We can home in on the Sierra Nevada mountains and critical California snowpack. These results demonstrate that this technique can be used to study changes in fresh water stocks in other regions around the world, if they have a network of GPS sensors.”...

Plate Boundary Observatory GPS station P466, located in the Inyo Mountains near Lone Pine, California. P466 is mounted on a deep-drilled braced (Wyatt-Agnew) monument, and its displacement data were used to determine water loading changes in the western United States. Credit: Shawn Lawrence, UNAVCO

Water crisis threatens thirsty Sao Paulo

Space Daily via AFP: Sao Paulo is thirsty. A severe drought is hitting Brazil's largest city and thriving economic capital with no end in sight, threatening the municipal water supply to millions of people.

The water at the Cantareira reservoirs, which supply about nine million of the 20 million people in the metropolitan area, is at its lowest level ever amid the region's worst drought in 45 years. Other reservoirs are also in distress after 15 months of overstretching. And more dry weather is forecast.

Prosecutors have threatened to sue the state government to make it begin rationing water, warning that Sao Paulo is facing "the worst water crisis ever to hit the region and the collapse of its entire reservoir system." But with Governor Geraldo Alckmin up for reelection in October, his administration has vowed to handle the crisis without rationing the city's water.

State water company Sabesp has encouraged consumers to reduce their usage but also downplayed the shortage, saying it will transfer water from other dams and use emergency reserves if necessary. It says it has enough supplies to last until March 2015 and has vowed not to implement rationing.

But many Sabesp customers suspect their supplies are already being rationed. "Last week we went four whole days without water," said Adilson Becerra, a 36-year-old salesman who lives in the southern suburbs....

Sao Paulo skyline, shot by Jeff Belmonte, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons 2.0 license

In saving a forest, Kenyans find a better quality of life

Peter Kahare in IPS: ...Tucked between Tsavo east and Tsavo west in Voi district, 150 kilometres northwest of Mombasa, Kenya’s coastal city, Kasigau region is slowly rising from the ashes as its green economy flourishes. This region of almost 100,000 people is beginning to grow as the Kasigau Corridor REDD+ project, implemented in 2004 through Wildlife Works, slowly bears fruit.

...The open canopy along the Kasigau corridor is now regenerating and the REDD+ project is empowering thousands of residents here to abandon forest destruction and embrace new, sustainable livelihoods.

...Currently, the Kasigau REDD+ project generates over one million dollars annually through the sale of carbon, at about eight dollars per tonne, on the African Carbon Exchange.

One third of the revenue goes towards project development and is reinvested in income-generating green initiatives like manufacturing clothes (which are sold locally and internationally), agroforestry, and artificial charcoal production, among other activities. A portion of the profit is also distributed directly to the land owners here.

...Chief Pascal Kizaka is the administrator of Kasigau location. He told IPS that the REDD+ project has had real and direct solutions for poverty alleviation. “Besides conservation, part of the profits has enabled construction of 20 modern classrooms in local schools, bursaries for over 1,800 pupils, a health centre and an industry — hence improving our standards of living,” Kizaka said.

The Kasigau project is the first verified REDD+ project in Kenya where communities living in the area are earning money from conserving their natural resources....

A mist forest near Mount Kasigau in Kenya, shot by Ina96, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Nepal's disaster preparedness woefully inadequate

Om Astha Rai in My Republica: Nepal has put in place plenty of plans, strategies and mechanisms to deal with disasters in the last five years.  But, is Nepal now well-prepared to manage disasters?  The answer is a big NO. In the aftermath of the recent Sunkoshi landslide and other devastating floods, particularly in the plains of the midwestern region, it seems that Nepal´s disaster preparedness is almost non-existent.

Government officials often dub 2009 as a landmark year in the field of disaster risk management. On October 11 that year, the government approved a national strategy for disaster risk management, outlining top five priority areas.  In the years since 2009, several mechanisms, as envisioned by the national strategy, have been formed to manage disasters.

...So, despite all this preparedness, why did the recent floods cause so much damage in the mid-western region? According to the National Emergency Operation Center (NEOC) of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MoHA), floods and landslides have killed 123 people, injured 67 people and left 126 people missing in several parts of the country since August 14.

..."Perhaps, our disaster preparedness is far from adequate," says Ramesh Shrestha, an early warning system officer at Mercy Corps Nepal, an NGO working in disaster management sector. Shrestha believes that there is no gap in disaster management policies and strategies but their implementation is far from satisfactory. "This is why disasters continue to cause so much destruction every year," says Shrestha....

A highway next to the Sunkoshi River, shot by Rajesh2044, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license 

Viruses take down massive algal blooms - and a whole lot of carbon dioxide

Scientific Blogging: ...Using a combination of satellite imagery and laboratory experiments, researchers have evidence showing that algae is sucking up climate-warming carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and sinking it to the bottom of the ocean.  And for that, we can thank one other thing people dislike: viruses.

Viruses infecting those algae are driving the life-and-death dynamics of the algae's blooms, even when all else stays essentially the same. According to results reported in Current Biology, a single North Atlantic algal bloom, about 30 kilometers in radius, converted 24,000 tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into organic carbon - a process known as carbon fixation.

Two-thirds of that carbon turned over within a week as that bloom grew at a very rapid rate and then quickly met its demise. A closer look at those algae revealed high levels of specific viruses infecting their cells. To put that in context, Assaf Vardi of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel says that this patch of ocean fixes about as much carbon as an equivalent patch of rainforest and then almost immediately turns much of it over.

"This is, of course, only one patch out of numerous co-occurring patches in other parts of the Atlantic Ocean," adds Ilan Koren, also of the Weizmann Institute, not to mention those algal blooms that appear in other seasons and ecosystems. "While the impact that viruses have on the entire ecosystem was previously estimated to be very large, we provide the first approach to quantify their immense impact on open ocean blooms."

Important questions remain about the ultimate fate of all that carbon taken in by algal blooms, the researchers say. Much of it is probably recycled back to the atmosphere by bacteria. But it's also possible that the virus-infected algae release sticky sugars and lipids, leading their cells and the carbon within them to sink faster to the ocean floor. "If the latter scenario is true, it will have a profound impact [on] the efficiency of carbon dioxide 'pumping' from the atmosphere to the deep ocean," Vardi says. "This carbon will then have a better chance [of being] buried in the ocean sediment."...

An algal bloom off the Volga delta in the Caspian Sea, shot by NASA

Thursday, August 21, 2014

When science meets politics: the EU’s impact assessment review and the precautionary principle

Frederic Simon in EurActiv: Since the turn of the century, the European Union has striven to improve its decision-making by requesting a detailed impact analysis before taking new major policy initiatives. Impact assessments (IAs) are now routinely conducted to predict the likely consequence of EU legislation on citizens and the wider economy, in a detailed cost-benefit analysis.

The European Commission is currently reviewing the guidelines on how it carries out IAs and has committed to publish new ones by the end of 2014. The debate may sound technical but could have far-reaching consequences: an IA may lead the Commission to make substantial amendments to a legislative proposal, scale it down or even drop it altogether. Products and technologies may be approved or rejected as a result, leading to new growth opportunities or job losses depending on the outcome.

And some questions can easily turn explosive when science is thrown into the mix – on topics such as climate change, renewable energies, GMO authorisation, shale gas or the regulation of endocrine-disrupting chemicals. On each of these, the Commission seeks advice from the scientific community to determine what form of regulation is needed, if any, applying the precautionary principle. It is therefore no surprise that IAs have attracted attention and sometimes, criticism.

Some see them as just another layer of bureaucracy and a further impediment to faster and leaner law-making. Others have been suspicious of the IA process, saying the “evidence” presented there is prone to political manipulations and influence from a wide variety of interest groups, including powerful business lobbies.

Even the scientists feel they are being manipulated by politicians seeking to push specific policy initiatives. A big challenge for the incoming European Commission will be to disconnect its evidence gathering processes from the “political imperative” that’s driving policy proposals, said Anne Glover, the EU’s chief scientific advisor....

Aftermath of a car crash, shot by Jeff Attaway, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons 2.0 license