California rains bring little relief from harsh drought

California rains bring little relief from harsh drought

Unless substantial rain falls soon, California’s worst drought on record threatens dire consequences for the state’s massive agricultural industry.

DAVIS, CALIFORNIA, 29 January, 2015 − Doing the right thing in the environs of the University of California, Davis – one of the foremost agricultural institutions in the US – means driving a carbon efficient car. And having a lawn that’s burned dry.

California’s worst drought on record is forcing people to cut back radically on water use – and that means letting lawns die. There was considerable rainfall last month, but it was not nearly enough to replenish the badly-depleted water resources.

“If we don’t have rain in significant amounts by early March, we’ll be in dire straits,” says Professor Daniel Sumner, director of the Agricultural Issues Center at Davis.

Water restrictions

Higher than average temperatures – particularly during the winter months – have combined with a lack of rainfall to produce severe drought conditions across much of the state. Water restrictions have been brought in following the imposition of a drought emergency in January last year.

“Historically, California’s water has been stored in the snow pack in the mountains, but warmer winter temperatures have meant the pack has been melting.” Sumner says.

“The agricultural sector has made considerable advances in limiting water use, and new, more drought resistant, crops and plant varieties have been introduced, but aquifers have been pumped and they are not being replenished.

“In the past, massive projects were undertaken to distribute water round the state, but now there’s not the money available to do any more big-time plumbing work. Also, the regulations on diverting water for agriculture use are very tight – rivers can’t be pumped if it means endangering fish stocks or other wildlife.”

“California is still growing – and exporting – rice, which is a real water drinker. How crazy is that?”

Whether or not climate change is causing the drought is a matter of considerable debate. A recent report sponsored by the US government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says natural oceanic and atmospheric patterns are the primary drivers behind the drought.

A high pressure ridge that has hovered over the Pacific off California’s coast for the past three years has resulted in higher temperatures and little rainfall falling across the state, the report says.

However, a separate report by climate scientists at Stanford University says the existence of the high pressure ridge, which is preventing rains falling over California, is made much more likely by ever greater accumulations of climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere.

Whatever the cause of the drought, the lack of rain is doing considerable environmental and economic damage. The Public Policy Institute of California, a not-for-profit thinktank, estimates that $2.2 billion in agricultural revenues and more than 17,000 jobs have been lost as a result of the drought.

Severely depleted

Thousands of acres of woodland have been lost due to wildfires, while fisheries experts are concerned that severely depleted streams and rivers could lead to the disappearance of fish species in the area, such as coho salmon and steelhead trout.

The drought is not limited to California. Adjacent states are also affected, and over the US border to the south, in Mexico’s Chihuahua state, crops have been devastated and 400,000 cattle have died.

Frank Green, a vineyard owner in the hills of Mendocino County, northern California, says: “The vines are pretty robust and, despite the drought, our wines have been some of the best ever over the past two years.

“But there’s no doubt we need a lot more rain, and plenty more could be done on saving and harvesting water. Farmers have cut back on growing water-hungry crops like cotton, but California is still growing – and exporting – rice, which is a real water drinker. How crazy is that?” – Climate News Network

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Climate’s threat to wheat is rising by degrees

Climate’s threat to wheat is rising by degrees

Worldwide field trials show that just one degree of warming could slash wheat yields by 42 million tonnes and cause devastating shortages of this vital staple food.

LONDON, 17 January, 2015 − Climate change threatens dramatic price fluctuations in the price of wheat and potential civil unrest because yields of one of the world’s most important staple foods are badly affected by temperature rise.

An international consortium of scientists have been testing wheat crops in laboratory and field trials in many areas of the world in changing climate conditions and discovered that yields drop on average by six percent for every one degree Celsius rise in temperature.

This represents 42 million tonnes of wheat lost − about a quarter of the current global wheat trade − for every degree. This would create serious shortages and cause price hikes of the kind that have previously caused food riots in developing countries after only one bad harvest.

Global production of wheat was 701 million tonnes in 2012, but most of this is consumed locally. Global trade is much smaller, at 147 tonnes in 2013.

Market shortages

If the predicted reduction of 42 million tonnes per 1˚C of temperature increase occurred, market shortages would cause price rises. Many developing countries, and the hungry poor within them, would not be able to afford wheat or bread.

Since temperatures − on current projections by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change − are expected to rise up to 5˚C this century in many wheat-growing regions, this could be catastrophic for global food supply.

Dr. Reimund Rötter, professor of production ecology and agrosystems modelling at the Natural Resources Institute Finland, said that wheat yield declines were larger than previously thought.

“Increased yield variability is critical economically as it could weaken regional and global stability in wheat grain supply and food security”

He said: “Increased yield variability is critical economically as it could weaken regional and global stability in wheat grain supply and food security, amplifying market and price fluctuations, as experienced during recent years.”

One of the crucial problems is that there will be variability in supply from year to year, so the researchers systematically tested 30 different wheat crop models against field experiments in which growing season mean temperatures ranged from 15°C to 26°C.

Temperature impact

The temperature impact on yield decline varied widely across field test conditions. In addition, year-to-year variability increased at some locations because of greater yield reductions in warmer years and lesser reductions in cooler years.

The scientists say that the way to adapt is to cultivate more heat-tolerant varieties, and so keep the harvest stable.

The results of the study − by scientists from the Finland, Germany, France, Denmark, Netherlands, Spain, United Kingdom, Colombia, Mexico, India, China, Australia, Canada and the United States − are published in Nature Climate Change.

Professor Martin Parry, who is leading the 20:20 Wheat Institute Strategic Programme at Rothamsted Research to increase wheat yields, commented: “This is an excellent example of collaborative research, which will help ensure that we have the knowledge needed to develop the crops for the future environments.” – Climate News Network

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Climate confounds China’s efforts to ease water stress

Climate confounds China’s efforts to ease water stress

Researchers say attempts to solve China’s water crisis − already worsening through population growth, a rampant economy and climate change – are having the opposite effect.

LONDON, 14 January, 2015 − China, the world’s most populous nation, faces one of the planet’s most intractable water crises. And scientists say Beijing’s strategy for resolving the problem is simply making it worse.

A team of international researchers say that water stress is only partially mitigated by China’s current two-pronged approach: transferring water physically to regions that are short of it − for example, by the huge projects to transfer water from the south to the north of the country − and exporting the “virtual” water embodied in products traded domestically and internationally.

China needs more water for energy, food and industry, for its rising population, and for its attempts to end poverty.

But maintaining even current levels of provision is becoming increasingly difficult as climate change lives up to its dire reputation as a threat multiplier and endangers water and food supplies.

Full inventory

Researchers at the UK universities of East Anglia (UEA) and Leeds and other international institutions have compiled the first full inventory of physical water transfers and virtual water redistribution via trade between China’s provinces. Their findings are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

They say the efforts to supply northern China are exacerbating water stress in its poorer water-exporting regions, with transfers of virtual water − defined as the total volume of water needed to produce and process a commodity or service − accounting for more than a third of the country’s national water supply.

Up to 65% of the supply in some provinces is reserved for virtual water redistribution, to be used for infrastructure and for producing exports.

Until China significantly improves its water-use efficiency and addresses the impact its expanding economy is having on its natural resources, the situation will continue to deteriorate, the team concludes.

“China’s current transfer programme is pouring good water after bad . . . and the provinces sharing their water are suffering greatly”

The research −  led by China’s Beijing Forestry University, UEA and Leeds universities, and the University of Maryland in the US − analyses data from 2007 and looks ahead to China’s water distribution plans in 2030. It finds that water stress is likely to become more severe in the main water-exporting provinces.

Dabo Guan, professor of climate change economics at UEA’s School of International Development, said: “China needs to shift its focus to water demand management instead of a supply-oriented approach if it is going to seriously address the overwhelming pressures on its water supplies.

“China’s current transfer programme is pouring good water after bad. The problems of water-stressed regions aren’t being alleviated, and the provinces sharing their water are suffering greatly.”

Guan and colleague Martin Tillotson, professor of water management at Leeds University, published research in 2014 showing that 75% of China’s lakes and rivers and 50% of its groundwater supplies are contaminated as a result of urban household consumption, infrastructure investment and exports.

Increased demand

Professor Tillotson said: “Even allowing for future efficiency gains in agricultural and industrial water consumption, China’s water transfers are likely to be insufficient to offset increased demand due to the effects of economic and population growth.

“A much greater focus needs to be placed on regulating or incentivising reductions in demand-led consumption.”

China aims to remain about 95% self-sufficient in food, but imports more than 60% of its oil and nearly 50% of its natural gas. Some senior officials argue that it should increase food imports so as to be able to use more of its water for producing energy.

But some of China’s neighbours and traditional suppliers are themselves facing growing problems from climate change, with several countries in south-east Asia contemplating a “shocking” future.

Some observers think that China’s growing demand for grain imports may even strain global supplies. − Climate News Network

 

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Aid aims to help rice farmers in a warming world

Aid aims to help rice farmers in a warming world

International team provides help to small-scale farmers on the eastern Ganges plains who are struggling to make a living and grow enough rice to feed the population.

KATHMANDU, 12 January, 2015 − Research scientists are coming to the aid of 300 million people along the River Ganges for whom rice is the staple food and who face a hungry future because productivity is poor and the harvest is threatened by climate change.

The team of scientists and development practitioners from Australia, Bangladesh, India and Nepal plan to improve the productivity, profitability and sustainability of 7,000 small-scale farmers in the eastern Gangetic plains with a five-year US$ 6.7 million programme.

According to Nepal’s Ministry for Agriculture Development, 66 per cent of Nepal’s total population of almost 27 million is involved in agriculture and contributes 39 per cent in the GDP. Local scientists say that lack of access to climate-resilient technologies and dependency on monsoon rains for irrigation are major problems for farmers in Nepal.

Food security

“Nepal is one of the most vulnerable countries to projected climate change effect, so the project will help small-scale farmers address pressing issues about their livelihood and food security,” Devendra Gauchan, senior scientist at Nepal Agricultural Research Council, told the Climate News Network.

Altogether, the eastern Gangetic plains of Nepal, Bangladesh and India are home to 300 million people. The aid team, funded by the Australian government, aim to help rice farmers systems through efficient use of water and conserving resources to improve adaptation to climate change, and also connect them to new markets.

The Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) will manage the programme, which will be led by the International Wheat and Maize Improvement Centre in eight districts − two in north-west Bangladesh, two in east Nepal, and two each in the Indian states of Bihar and West Bengal.

“Nepal is one of the most vulnerable countries to projected climate change effect”

“Rice-based system productivity [in the eastern Gangetic plains] remains low, and diversification is limited because of poorly-developed markets, sparse agricultural knowledge and service networks, and inadequate development of available water resources,” says Kuhu Chatterjee, South Asia regional manager of ACIAR.

The project was designed in consultation and participation with NARC, the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, and agricultural universities in India.

New technologies

Local scientists feel that this project will also help build capacity of researchers in Nepal. Devendra Gauchan said: “Agricultural research in Nepal has very limited strength in terms of human resource, infrastructure facility and institutional capacity. Through this project we will get to learn about new technologies and research management from scientists from participating countries.”

According to Kuhu Chatterjee, the project will test and fine-tune the technologies developed in countries such as Australia, Canada and Brazil, and will modify them to suit farmers in the eastern Gangetic plains.

“Community consultations will be conducted to identify different ways to optimise the productive use of rain and irrigation water, increase cropping intensity through timely planting, reduced tillage and enhancing access to, and use of, energy-efficient irrigation technologies,” Chatterjee said. – Climate News Network

  • Bhrikuti Rai, a journalist based in Kathmandu, Nepal, writes on climate change, science and development issues. Follow her on Twitter @bbhrikuti

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Climate change increasing stresses on fragile states

Climate change increasing stresses on fragile states

Briefing for UK aid workers says climate-related factors are making the world increasingly unstable and adding to hardships of the poorest people.

LONDON, 2 January, 2015 − A chilling account of how climate change is already adding to the problems of conflict and social breakdown in fragile states is contained in an advice document to the staff of the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID).

“Topic Guides” on a variety of subjects are briefings to staff on key problems and how to deal with them when providing overseas aid. This guide, called “Conflict, Climate Change and Environment”, describes how and where society is already breaking down.

Although the guide – compiled by experts from the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and International Alert (IA)− says climate change is only part of the problem, it concludes that it adds to food and water shortages, rapid urbanisation, unemployment, and weak and corrupt governance, which increase the chance of conflict.

Most at risk

The report lists the top 20 countries most at risk: Somalia, followed by Afghanistan, Niger, Guinea-Bissau, Burundi, Chad, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea, Haiti, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Central African Republic, Bangladesh, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Timor-Leste, Burkina Faso, Myanmar/Burma and Rwanda.

It says that the both the British Foreign Office and the defence and security departments in the UK and US are concerned that climate change is making the world increasingly unstable.

The authors − Katie Peters, a climate and environment research fellow at the ODI, and Janani Vivekananda, IA’s environment, climate change and security manager − say that one of the ways to prevent the movement of people and other conflicts over resources is to build up the quality of governments, and so build an administrative structure that will give local people the ability to adapt to climate change and to deal with its consequences.

“The consequences of climate change are felt daily and affect all sectors of development, peacebuilding and humanitarian programming”

Although the document is aimed at briefing DFID staff so they can be better able to direct aid to where it will be of most benefit, it is is a strong counter-argument to many politicians in the UK who want to cut the overseas aid budget.

Despite savage cutbacks in domestic services in Britain, the government has preserved the overseas aid budget, arguing that it is in the country’s long-term interest to avoid more migration and conflict abroad. The guide makes the government case.

The authors say that by helping people to be more prosperous in their home countries, promoting resilience to climate change and improving the quality of government, then the threats to the UK are reduced.

“The consequences of climate change are felt daily and affect all sectors of development, peacebuilding and humanitarian programming,the guide says.

It quotes the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2014 report that “affirms that the impact of climate change on human wellbeing, peace and security will worsen, especially for the poorest members of society.

Persistent poverty

“Many of the most affected live in fragile states where under-development is intractable. Such communities are afflicted not only by persistent poverty, poor infrastructure, weak natural resource governance or unsustainable resource management, and lack of access to the world market, but also by the fragility of state institutions, political instability, and the effects of recent armed conflict or threat of looming violence.

“In many countries, as climate change interacts with other features of their social, economic and political landscape, there is a high risk of political instability and violent conflict.”

The guide says that many of the existing problems faced by poor and badly-governed communities are made worse by climate change − and ignoring its consequences might render other aid projects useless.

The authors advise that climate change impacts should not be viewed in isolation, but should be seen as part of a much wider effort to prevent conflict over resources such as food and water.

By promoting collaboration on all mutual problems, groups can be brought together to manage the impacts of climate change and the other causes of deprivation. – Climate News Network

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Migration merits place at heart of climate debate

Migration merits place at heart of climate debate

Forecasts indicate that many millions of people may be forced to leave their homes in future due to changes in climate, yet this serious issue remains sidelined.

LONDON, 23 December, 2014 − Among all the statistics about temperature increase, polar melting and sea level rise associated with a warming world, the impact on hundreds of millions of people forced to leave their homes due to climate change is often not fully considered.

But the International Organization for Migration (IOM), an intergovernmental body set up in the early 1950s to help resettle an estimated 11 million people made homeless in the aftermath of World War Two, is making new efforts to put questions of migration at the centre of the climate change debate.

Forecasts for the number of people who will be forced to move due to climate change vary considerably. At the top end of the scale, there are estimates that up to one billion environmental migrants could be created by mid-century.

The IOM is trying to bring together the various data and research on migration and climate change to better understand the issue, and has recently launched a website dedicated to the topic.

Environmental factors

As part of a new research programme, IOM will initially examine how environmental factors influence migration patterns – and impact on overall policy making – in six countries: Vietnam, Papua New Guinea, Kenya, Mauritius, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti.

The link between environmental change and migration is complex. Better educational possibilities elsewhere – or the lure of jobs and wages – are often primary reasons for people leaving their homes. Often changes in climate – leading to floods or droughts, and resulting in decreasing crop yields – are just one added factor driving migration.

Migration can be one way people find of adapting to climate change. The IOM says: “Migration in the face of global environmental change may not be just part of the ‘problem’, but can also be part of the solution.”

The six-country study, funded by the European Union, will involve household surveys in places of origin and of destination. The aim is to determine to what degree climate change encourages migration, and also to assess whether migration is a positive or negative factor in the adaptation process.

Remittances to families left at home might be used to build more resilience to climate change – for example, money sent back to villages might be used to buy seeds that are more resistant to drought or flood. On the other hand, migration can mean that farms are left untended, with fewer crops harvested.

The headlines often portray migration in terms of large movements of people across borders, but the bulk of migration takes place within countries – from rural to urban areas. More than 50% of the world’s population now lives in cities.

“It is evident that gradual and sudden environmental changes are already resulting in substantial population movements”

Environmental migration can be slow to build up as land becomes degraded, soil fertility decreases and water availability shrinks.

But migration can also happen over a relatively short period of time. In China, in a little more than a generation, more than 250 million people have moved from the countryside to cities − mainly in search of work − in what is the biggest mass movement of people in history.

The IOM seeks to integrate climate change factors into migration management and policy making – and wants greater consideration of migration in climate change negotiations.

Legal status

Among the questions it is raising is how environmental migrants should be classified under international law – and whether they should be given the same legal status as, for example, refugees from conflicts and war.

Back in 1990, when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change made its first detailed assessment of the threat posed by global warming, it said: “The gravest effects of climate change may be those on human migration.”

Over time, a lack of research and absence of data on issues linking climate change with the movement of people has meant that the topic has become sidelined in successive climate negotiations.

Among the projects the IOM has been working on is an Atlas of Environmental Migration.

“There are no reliable estimates of climate change-induced migration,” the IOM says. “But it is evident that gradual and sudden environmental changes are already resulting in substantial population movements.” – Climate News Network

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Climate’s impact on agriculture could lead to calamity

Climate’s impact on agriculture could lead to calamity

Widespread hunger and poverty are predicted unless strategies are developed to cope with the drop in crop yields climate change will cause.

LONDON, 22 December, 2014 – New research predicts that climate change will transform agriculture, with a drop in yields of up to 18% by 2050 in terms of calories harvested. By then, the global population will have risen by more than 18%, so the consequences could be calamitous.

That’s the worst projected outcome. By the same date, the researchers say, yields in terms of calories could have risen by 3%, but that would still mean widespread hunger and poverty.

The difference in projected outcomes may say more about the sheer complexity of global agriculture and the uncertainties of the future than anything else.

David Leclère, a researcher at the International Institute for Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Austria, and colleagues report in the journal Environmental Research Letters that they used computer simulations to explore nine different climate scenarios and their impact on 18 selected crops and four crop management systems.

Human adaptations

They also factored in human adaptations that might be necessary, chief among them being new management systems for water and for irrigation.

Also explored were the benefits of a warmer world − some temperate regions will certainly become more productive – as well as the fertilisation effect of increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

They had to balance these against the expectation of extremes of heat, which can affect yield, and the overall change in rainfall patterns expected with climate change.

This is already having an effect on productivity, they say, and things will get worse.

“The challenge we face is to find a strategy that fits a hundred scenarios at the same time”

“Yields of major crops will decrease in low latitude areas even under a local increase in temperature below 2°C, and worldwide losses are expected for larger temperature increases,” the study warns. “This will precipitate significant adjustments throughout the global food supply chain.”

In a large part of the world, demand for irrigation may grow by as much as 25%.

Since, over the centuries, agriculture has been adapted very precisely to local climate patterns, and since climate models aren’t precise enough to predict quite where precipitation will change, there is still a great deal of uncertainty.

The new research explores this uncertainty, and how humans and their economies will cope.

“Our new study is the first to examine at a global scale whether the adaptations required from agricultural systems are in the transformational range, and whether these transformations are robust across certain plausible scenarios,” says Dr Leclère.

Transformations

“By looking at where, when, why and which transformations are required, but also in how many scenarios, it lays the groundwork for countries to better plan for the impacts of climate change.”

Agriculture has always adapted. How well it can adapt to global climate change depends not just on temperature and rainfall and the choice of crops, but also on international trade and on the decisions governments may take.

Computer models are a way of helping analysts think about a choice of possible outcomes, across a wide range of cultures and climates.

“Our models show that there is an effective global adaptation strategy to any single climate change scenario,” says Petr Havlik, an IIASA researcher, who is one of the report’s authors.

“The challenge we face is to find a strategy that fits a hundred scenarios at the same time.” – Climate News Network

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Disaster looms if loss of Amazon rainforest continues

Disaster looms if loss of Amazon rainforest continues

Brazilian climate expert proposes five-point “battle plan” in a war against the Amazon deforestation that is having increasingly dire impacts on the regional and global climate.

SÃO PAULO, 12 December, 2014 − The relentless destruction of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest will endanger the global climate unless it can be stopped and restored, says a new report by a leading climate scientist.

In an eloquent, hard-hitting scientific assessment report entitled The Future Climate of Amazonia, Dr Antonio Donato Nobre, a researcher at Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE), traces the climatic potential of the world’s greatest remaining rainforest.

He looks at its critical functions for human society, its destruction through deforestation and fire, and he discusses what needs to be done “to stop the runaway train that the climate has become since human occupation in forest areas”.

The report talks of the Achilles’ heel of Amazonia − the danger that the invincible hero will fall – and warns that its future climate has already arrived. Approximately 20% of Brazil’s Amazon forest has been clear cut, while forest degradation has disturbed the remaining forest to varying degrees − directly affecting an additional 20% or so of the original area.

Forest degradation

Dr Nobre says there are clear indications that a reduction of approximately 40% of the rainforest may trigger a large-scale transition to a savanna landscape over time. “There is no doubt,” he says, “that deforestation, forest degradation and associated impacts have already affected the climate both near and far from the Amazon.”

He spells out the sheer scale of the devastation: the total deforested area is greater than the size of two Germanys or two Japans. It is equal to 184 million football fields – which means that, over the last 40 years, the equivalent of 12,635 football fields have been deforested per day.

Dr Nobre is critical of the Brazilian government’s recent claims that deforestation is falling. He says: “There is no reason whatsoever to celebrate the relatively lower rates of clear-cutting in recent years, especially since − after the adoption of the new Forest Code (2011), with its wide amnesty for those who deforested − a distinct tendency towards further increases in the annual rates has already been observed.”

“We must regenerate, as widely as possible,
all that has been changed and destroyed”

So concerned is Dr Nobre about what is happening that he believes only a virtual war effort can save the rainforest. His battle plan – with ignorance the first enemy to overcome − has five steps:

1.Popularising forest science: On the basis that knowledge is power, scientific facts about the role of the forest in creating a friendly climate, and the effect of deforestation in leading to an inhospitable climate, must become common knowledge.

2. Zero deforestation: The harm deforestation does to human beings and the economic losses it causes should be compared with that of tobacco, Dr Nobre argues. When Brazil introduced a new Forest code that scaled back protection, the consequences of changed land use on the climate were never discussed by the politicians. While economic growth and market demand create pressures that leads to deforestation, planning weaknesses foster the invasion and occupation of forested areas − and all these loopholes must be sealed urgently.

3. An end to fires, smoke and soot: Using fire as a tool for clearing land is a deeply ingrained habit that must be stopped. The fewer sources there are of smoke and soot, the less damage will be done to the formation of clouds and rain, resulting in less damage to the green-ocean rainforest.

4. Recover and regenerate forest: Stopping deforestation is not enough to reverse threatening climate trends. “We must regenerate, as widely as possible, all that has been changed and destroyed,” Dr Nobre says. Reforestation on such a scale implies a reversal of land use in vast areas that are now occupied − difficult in the current scenario − and land zoning technologies will be needed.

5. Governments and society need to wake up: In 2008, when the global financial bubble burst, governments around the world took just 15 days to decide to use trillions of dollars of public funds to save private banks and avoid what threatened to become a collapse of the financial system. The climate crisis has the potential to be immeasurably worse than any financial crash, yet still there is procrastination − despite the abundance of scientific evidence and of viable, creative and appealing solutions.

Unavoidable reality

In a final warning, Dr Nobre’s report predicts that climate chaos “has the potential to be immeasurably more damaging than World War II. What is unthinkable today may become an unavoidable reality sooner than expected.

“China, with all its serious environmental problems, has already understood this and has become the country with the most ongoing reforestation activities.

“Restoring native forests is the best bet we can make against climate chaos, and is the only true insurance policy we can buy.” – Climate News Network

* The Future Climate of Amazonia: Scientific Assessment Report by Dr Antonio Donato Nobre, CCST Earth System Science Centre, Ministry of Science and Technology/National Institute for Space Research.

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Climate turbulence deals costly blow to olive oil yield

Climate turbulence deals costly blow to olive oil yield

Worldwide consumption of olive oil has grown rapidly in recent years, but climate extremes and disease have seriously damaged this year’s crop in many regions and pushed prices up.

LONDON, 2 December, 2014 − Attention all those cooks who cannot produce a meal without adding a splash or drizzle of olive oil. The price of your favourite culinary ingredient is rising fast – driven in large part by changes in climate.

Spain accounts for nearly 50% of total world olive oil production, but an unusually warm spring this year caused damage to olive trees during their flowering period. Then a prolonged drought hit many regions − including the southern province of Andalucía, which produces 70% of Spain’s crop. As a result, this year’s harvest is predicted to be half that of 2013.

In Italy, which has 15% of world production, a mild winter and warm spring was followed in summer by cloudbursts of torrential rain in many areas. Farmers and processors are describing 2014 as the worst year for olive oil production in living memory, with overall yields down by nearly 40%.

Trees blighted

The warm spring and generally humid conditions in Italy are also believed to have encouraged the spread of the Xylella fastidiosa pathogen – which blights trees, causing them to wilt and shed their leaves – and given rise to infestations of the olive fruit fly, Bactrocera oleae

Both have devastated crops in many areas, and autumn hail storms have added to the woes of Italy’s olive oil producers.

Olive farmers in southern France, northern Africa and other olive oil producing regions round the Mediterranean Basin have faced similar problems.

Producers are now predicting a big hike in olive oil prices worldwide − in some markets, prices have gone up by 30%.

The destructive olive fruit fly, Bactrocera oleae. Image: Alvesgaspar via Wikimedia Commons
The destructive olive fruit fly.
Alvesgaspar via Wikimedia Commons

In its latest assessment report on global climate, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned of the impact of increasing temperatures in the Mediterranean Basin region, with the possibility of more droughts and increasing desertification.

Such warming has serious implications for a region that is a world leader in the production not only of olives, but also a wide range of other crops.

Worldwide consumption of olive oil has risen sharply over the last 20 years, with consumers rushing to buy a product that is not only a tasty addition to various dishes but is also believed to be good for the health.

Large plantations

To meet demand, farmers and large agricultural corporations around the Mediterranean region have rushed to grub out old, often terraced, rain-fed olive groves, replacing them with large plantations of olive tree monoculture.

These newly-planted areas, particularly in southern Spain, are fed by water that is often piped in from hundreds of miles away. When there’s a drought – or when disease or pests strike – the large plantations are vulnerable.

Olive oil production is very much an up and down business. A bumper crop in the Mediterranean region in 2013 is believed to have contributed to this year’s downturn: trees are tired after over producing last year.

But the outlook is not good. As temperatures rise in southern Europe and around the Mediterranean, olive oil production will come under increasing pressure – and prices will continue their upward trend, hitting the pockets of all those keen cooks. – Climate News Network

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Rare water data drives heating debate underground

Rare water data drives heating debate underground

Global warming’s effects are being felt even below the Earth’s surface, as researchers find that temperatures are rising not only in oceans, but also in subterranean freshwater sources.

LONDON, 25 November, 2014 − Two great bodies of water have begun to feel the heat. European scientists report that they have evidence that the planet’s groundwater – the subterranean ocean of freshwater that bubbles into wells, freshens desert springs, scours great underground limestone caverns and makes possible the irrigation of crops in the world’s farmlands – may be responding to climate change.

And out on the open sea, average global surface temperatures in the northern summer of 2014 were the highest ever recorded.

Both claims will require verification from other sources: in science, one set of measurements is never enough.

Precious resource

In the case of the groundwater temperature rises, this will not be easy. Although water authorities everywhere are concerned about the depletion of this precious resource, and there are routine chemical and microbiological checks, sustained records of groundwater temperatures are rare.

But a team from ETH Zurich in Switzerland and Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany had an advantage: they had data from four wells near the German cities of Cologne and Karlsruhe, where temperature records have been maintained systematically for nearly 40 years.

They report in the journal Hydrology and Earth System Sciences that, after a detailed study of evidence from the four sources, they were able to identify a pattern of very small but significant rises in the groundwater temperatures that mirrored – but came later than – changes in average temperatures above ground. That is, even far below the surface, global warming is making its presence felt.

Research like this is not easy, and there will be plenty of questions and some argument about how they reached these conclusions.

Warming stages

Groundwater is ancient rainfall that seeped down into the bedrock and filled the pores in the soil. As it is drawn from one source, it moves to fill the gap, so there will be questions about how “old” the water is, how swiftly it is being replenished, how well insulated it is from the surface, and how close it might be to seepage from surface rivers.

However, the data reveals not just a rise in temperatures over the four decades, but also a series of warming stages that echo patterns of warming in the atmosphere far above.

“Global warming is reflected directly in the groundwater, albeit damped and with a certain time lag,” says Peter Bayer, senior scientist in engineering geology at ETH Zurich.

Meanwhile, Axel Timmermann, professor of oceanography at the University of Hawaii’s International Pacific Research Centre, says that global mean sea surface temperatures in 2014 were the highest ever recorded.

They were higher even than those of 1988, a year marked by a powerful El Niño event that warmed the Pacific and reversed climate patterns, with sometimes catastrophic consequences in the form of floods, droughts, windstorms, forest fires and harvest failures.

Unexpected slowdown

The 2014 ocean warming may have brought to an end the so-called global warming hiatus, in which average surface air temperatures rose only very slowly between 2000 and 2013.

While there have been a number of possible explanations for this unexpected slowdown – unexpected because greenhouse emissions have increased in that time – there has been no clinching argument. But Timmerman says that the long pause may have come to an end.

He says: “The 2014 global ocean warming is mostly due to the North Pacific, which has warmed far beyond any recorded value and has shifted hurricane tracks, weakened trade winds and produced coral bleaching in the Hawaiian islands.

“Record-breaking greenhouse gas concentrations and anomalously weak North Pacific summer trade winds, which usually cool the ocean surface, have contributed further to the rise in sea surface temperatures. The warm temperatures now extend in a wide swath from just north of Papua New Guinea to the Gulf of Alaska.” – Climate News Network

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