Chimps’ survival hopes jeopardised by climate change

Chimps’ survival hopes jeopardised by climate change

One of our closest animal relatives is at risk of being wiped out as changing rainfall patterns threaten to destroy its Central African habitat.

LONDON, 30 January, 2015 − Climate change is a challenge for chimpanzees, too. New research warns that a primate subspecies – one of humanity’s closest animal relatives – could become endangered within five years

The threatened subspecies of the common chimpanzee is Pan troglodytes ellioti, and there are only 6,000 remaining individuals, surviving in two populations in Cameroon.

Field biologist Paul Sesink Clee, of Drexel University, US, and colleagues report in BMC Evolutionary Biology that they combined climate, environmental and population data to model how the chimpanzees’ preferred habitats would change with climate under a “business as usual” scenario in which the world went on burning fossil fuels.

Habitat change

Underlying such research is the larger question of how variation in habitat drives evolutionary change: why are there four subspecies of chimpanzee, and how much does geography and habitat have to do with it?

So the scientists made a chimpanzee population map, and imposed it on a map of habitats.

They found two distinct populations of the chimpanzee − one in the mountainous rainforests of western Cameroon, and one in a distinctive region of grassland, forest and woodland in central Cameroon.

Then they simulated how these habitats would change under global warming scenarios by 2020, 2050 and 2080.

“Preliminary projections suggest that rainfall patterns will change dramatically in this region of Africa”

Their findings were that the mountain rainforest habitat would survive, but the lowland dwellers would decline quickly under all scenarios by 2020, and could disappear almost entirely under the worst case scenario by 2080.

Since half of the entire population of Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzees survive in this habitat, the suggestion is that the chimpanzees are particularly vulnerable to climate change.

Severely affected

The researchers did not take into account the opportunities for the chimpanzees to migrate, or to adapt to new circumstances. They point out that Central Africa in particular, and the continent in general, is likely to be severely affected by climate change.

“Preliminary projections suggest that rainfall patterns will change dramatically in this region of Africa, which will result in significant alterations of forest and savanna habitats,” the report says.

“Models of global climate change also have been used to show that 30% of plant and animal species are at risk of extinction if the rise in mean global temperature exceeds 1.5°C − an increase that is nearly certain to occur under future climate scenarios.” – Climate News Network

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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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Increased carbon spill from glaciers sets new puzzle

Increased carbon spill from glaciers sets new puzzle

Samples taken from five continents indicate that a big rise in organic carbon released by melting glaciers could have serious implications for ecosystems.

LONDON, 28 January, 2015 − Researchers in the US have calculated that, thanks to climate change, melting glaciers will have spilled an extra 15 million tonnes of organic carbon into the seas by 2050.

The consequences for the ecosystems that depend on glacial meltwater are uncertain, but this burden of biological soot and sediment has potential implications for the global carbon cycle as well.

The researchers estimate that the dissolved organic carbon released by melting glaciers will be an increase of half as much again on the current flow − the equivalent of about half the annual flow of dissolved carbon down the mighty Amazon River. And their calculations have identified another puzzle for climate scientists trying to understand the carbon cycle.

The planet’s glaciers and ice sheets cover about 11% of the planet’s surface and hold about 70% of the world’s fresh water. Spread thinly through this frozen water is a significant amount of biological carbon, with the Antarctic ice sheet alone hosting 6 billion tonnes of it.

Increased meltwater

It is safe for the time being, but mountain glaciers almost everywhere in the world are in retreat, and meltwater flow from the glaciers that drain the Greenland icecap is on the increase.

Eran Hood, professor of environmental science at the University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau, and colleagues report in Nature Geoscience that they developed a database of dissolved organic carbon found in 300 samples collected from glaciers on five continents.

Some of it was clearly preserved from living things on the ice itself, some of was scraped up as the glaciers moved over old soils, and some of it was soot from fossil fuel combustion or distant forest fires.

There was a wide spread of carbon concentrations in the samples, but it was enough to estimate a global average.

“We know we are losing glaciers, but what does that mean for marine life, fisheries, things downstream
that we care about?”

They also knew that Greenland and Antarctic icebergs delivered 4,250 billion tonnes of water to the oceans each year, and that the run-off from retreating mountain glaciers was somewhere between 369-905 billion tonnes.

So they could begin to make an estimate of the rate at which dissolved organic carbon is re-entering the planetary system, and perhaps augmenting the carbon cycle.

The carbon cycle underwrites all life: plants and microbes withdraw carbon from the atmosphere and some of it gets stored in the soilspreserved as peat, or locked away as rock, or frozen as ice to be returned to the planetary system in all sorts of ways,

New questions

Research like this is basic: it adds another detail or two to an understanding of how the planet works. It starts to answer existing questions − but it also raises new ones.

“This research makes it clear that glaciers represent a substantial reservoir of organic carbon,” said Dr Hood. “As a result, the loss of glacier mass worldwide, along with the corresponding release of carbon, will affect high latitude marine ecosystems, particularly those surrounding the major ice sheets that now receive fairly limited land-to-ocean fluxes of carbon.”

His co-author Robert Spencer, assistant professor of oceanography at Florida State University, said: “The thing people have to think about is what this means for the Earth. We know we are losing glaciers, but what does that mean for marine life, fisheries, things downstream that we care about?” – Climate News Network

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Climate pushes Doomsday Clock close to midnight

Climate pushes Doomsday Clock close to midnight

Scientists warn that the deadly combination of unchecked climate change and nuclear weapons endangers everyone on Earth unless urgent action is taken.

LONDON, 26 January, 2015 − The two main “extraordinary and undeniable threats to the continued existence of humanity” are more acute than at any time in the last 30 years, according to scientists in the US.

One is the possibility of nuclear war − even a limited one. The other is climate change, which the scientists say “looms over all of humanity”. Either means that “the probability of global catastrophe is very high” without urgent action.

The warning comes from the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists’ science and security board, which has moved the hands of the historic Doomsday Clock forward two minutes. They now stand at three minutes to midnight.

Undeniable threats

The board says in a statement: “In 2015, unchecked climate change, global nuclear weapons modernisations, and outsized nuclear weapons arsenals pose extraordinary and undeniable threats to the continued existence of humanity, and world leaders have failed to act with the speed or on the scale required. . .

“These failures of political leadership endanger every person on Earth.”

The statement says: “The board feels compelled to add, with a sense of great urgency: ‘The probability of global catastrophe is very high, and the actions needed to reduce the risks of disaster must be taken very soon.’”

The Doomsday Clock symbolises how close humanity has come to the apocalyptic danger of mass destruction by nuclear weapons, climate change, and emergent technologies.

The clock’s minute hand stood at two minutes before midnight in 1953, and at 17 minutes before midnight in 1991, after the end of the Cold War. The last time it was just three minutes to midnight was 1983, when “US-Soviet relations were at their iciest”, according to the Bulletin.

“This threat looms over all of humanity. We all need
to respond now, while there is still time.”

Sivan Kartha, a member of the Bulletin’s science and security board and a senior scientist at the Stockholm Environment Institute, said: “Steps seen as bold in light of today’s extremely daunting political opposition to climate action do not even match the expectations of five years ago, to say nothing of the scientific necessity.

“Global greenhouse gas emission rates are now 50% higher than they were in 1990. Emission rates have risen since 2000 by more than in the previous three decades combined. Investments have continued to pour into fossil fuel infrastructure at a rate that exceeds $1 trillion per year, with additional hundreds of billions of dollars in continued fossil fuel subsidies.”

Sharon Squassoni, another board member and director of the Proliferation Prevention Programme at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said: “Since the end of the Cold War, there has been cautious optimism about the ability of nuclear weapon states to keep the nuclear arms race in check and to walk back slowly from the precipice of nuclear destruction.

“That optimism has essentially evaporated in the face of two trends: sweeping nuclear weapons modernisation programmes and a disarmament machinery that has ground to a halt.

Slowed dramatically

“Although the United States and Russia no longer have the tens of thousands of nuclear weapons they had during the Cold War, the pace of reduction has slowed dramatically in recent years, well before the crisis in Crimea. From 2009 to 2013, the Obama administration cut only 309 warheads from the stockpile.”

Richard Somerville, a board member and research professor at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, said: “Efforts at reducing global emissions of heat-trapping gases have so far been entirely insufficient to prevent unacceptable climate disruption. . .  This threat looms over all of humanity. We all need to respond now, while there is still time.”

The board urges action to be taken to cap greenhouse gas emissions at levels that that would keep average global temperature from rising more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels. This is the internationally-agreed limit, which will form the basis of the global agreement that climate negotiators hope to reach at UN talks in Paris in December.

The board also urges sharply reduced planned spending on nuclear weapons modernisation, a revitalised disarmament process, and immediate action to deal with nuclear waste. − Climate News Network

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Social conscience is key to cutting household energy

Social conscience is key to cutting household energy

Researchers in Los Angeles find that saving money is not the most powerful message in persuading people to reduce the amount of electricity they use.

LONDON, 25 January, 2015 − Altruism is alive and well and living in California. An extended experiment involving more than 100 households suggests that people are more likely to reduce energy use if they believe it is good for the environment rather than good for their pockets.

Those who tuned into the messages about public good saved, on average, 8% on their fuel bills, while households with children reduced their energy use by 19%. But people who were repeatedly reminded that they were using more power than an economy-conscious neighbour altered their consumption hardly at all.

Environmental economist Magali Delmas and research fellow Omar Asensio, of the University of California Los Angeles, report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they were investigating behaviour-altering messages that might encourage energy savings, as Americans could potentially save 20% a year − or 123 million tonnes of carbon.

Real-time use

Smart-metering systems were devised and installed in 118 apartments in a campus village that is home to graduate students and their families.

A website was created so that everybody could track real-time use and see what such things as dish washing machines and heating and cooling systems could cost, and even see the spikes in energy use every time they opened the fridge.

“Electricity is still largely invisible to most people.
We want to help them see it.”

They took six months to measure the baseline use, and then started to send weekly emails to the volunteers.

For four months, one group kept getting messages that said they were using more power than a neighbour, or that their consumption was more costly. The other group was told how much more air pollution they were creating than their neighbour − and, at the same time, reminded that air pollution is linked to childhood asthma, and cancer.

The environmental argument won, conspicuously. And it may have succeeded, the researchers think, because the environmentally-aware households were being presented with two ideas: that if they cut air pollution and reduced the risk of disease they were doing something that would benefit both them and society at large.

Relatively cheap

The pressure to cut household fuel bills may not have worked, said Asensio, because electricity is relatively cheap.

“For most people at our field site, the savings for cutting back to using the same as their most efficient neighbour would only be $4 to $6 a month,” he said. “That’s a fast-food combo meal or a couple of gallons of milk.”

Professor Delmas, the study’s principal investigator, said: “Electricity is still largely invisible to most people. We want to help them see it.” – Climate News Network

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Warming warning as temperatures hit record high

Warming warning as temperatures hit record high

As statistics confirm that 2014 was the hottest year ever recorded, leading scientists say climate change trends are dominated by human emissions of greenhouse gases.

LONDON, 21 January, 2014 − Last year was the warmest year on record, according to two separate analyses by two giant US government organisations.

The findings, which confirm a conclusion that meteorologists confidently predicted last November, mean that 14 of the warmest years on record have happened this century, and nine of the 10 warmest years have been since 2000.

Scientists from the space agency NASA and from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration both examined surface temperature measurements around the planet and decided that 2014 was on average the hottest since 1880 − the earliest year for global records.

Climate cycle

The post-millennial pattern was broken only in 1998 − the year of a super El Niño, when global warming coincided with the peak of a natural climate cycle in the Pacific.

Not surprisingly, 2014 was also recently confirmed as the hottest year ever for the UK, where there have been sustained temperature measurements since 1659.

And World Meteorological Organisation scientists warned last month that 2014 could be a record-breaking year for the continent of Europe as well.

Since 1880, the Earth’s average surface temperature has crept up by 0.8 degrees Celsius, and most of that warming has occurred in the last three decades.

“This is yet another flag to the politicians,
and to all of us”

“This is the latest in a series of warm years, in a series of warm decades,” said Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. “While the ranking of individual years can be affected by chaotic weather patterns, the long-term trends are attributable to drivers of climate change that right now are dominated by human emissions of greenhouse gases.”

The results are an average: some parts of the US − including the Midwest and the East Coast − were unusually cool, while Alaska, California and Nevada all experienced their highest ever temperatures.

The Goddard Institute analyses were based on measurements from 6,300 weather stations, ship and buoy-based sea surface temperature measurements, and data from Antarctic research stations.

Rowan Sutton, who directs climate research at the National Centre for Atmospheric Science at the University of Reading, UK, said: “By itself, a single year doesn’t tell us too much, but the fact that 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have occurred since the turn of the century shows just how clear global warming has become. This is yet another flag to the politicians, and to all of us.”

Likely to accelerate

And Bob Ward, policy director at the UK’s Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, said the figures exposed the myth that global warming had stopped. The rate of increase in global average surface temperatures had slowed over the last 15 years to about 0.05°C a decade, but was likely to accelerate again.

“Measured over a period since 1951, global mean surface temperature has been rising about 0.12°C per decade,” Ward said. “There is mounting evidence all round the world that the Earth is warming and the climate is changing in response to rising levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

“Carbon dioxide levels are close to 400 parts per million − 40% higher than they were before the Industrial Revolution, and probably higher than they have been for millions of years.”

No politician, he said, could afford to ignore this overwhelming scientific evidence, or claim that global warming was a hoax. – Climate News Network

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Gold rush leaves tropical forests poorer than ever

Gold rush leaves tropical forests poorer than ever

New research shows that parts of South America’s most biologically valuable tropical forests are being damaged by a resurgent gold mining industry.

LONDON, 19 January, 2015 − The natural wealth of South America’s tropical forests is at growing risk from demand for its minerals − and specifically its gold.

Researchers says that a veritable global gold rush has led to a significant increase of deforestation in the region’s forests, and is having a growing environmental impact on some of the most biologically important areas in the tropics.

The researchers say the increased mining pressure is caused by rising demand and greater financial insecurity. In 2013, world gold production was more than 10% greater than in 2000, and the price of the metal had increased almost fivefold.

The team, from the University of Puerto Rico, have published their findings in the journal Environmental Research Letters. They show that around 90% of the deforestation occurred in just four areas, and that much of it happened close to conservation areas.

Increased mining

Between 2001 and 2013, around 1,680 square kilometres (650 square miles) of tropical moist forest lost in South America as a result of gold mining, the study says. The mining increased from around 377 to 1,303 sq km between 2007’s global economic crisis and 2013.

The study’s lead author, environmental scientist Nora L Álvarez-Berríos, said the loss of forest from mining was less than deforestation caused by other land uses, such as agriculture or ranching, but it was happening in some of the most biologically-diverse regions in the tropics.

She said: “For example, in the Madre de Dios Region in Peru, one hectare of forest can hold up to 300 species of trees.”

The study says a combination of growing personal consumption and uncertainty in global financial markets has driven up global gold production from around 2,445 tonnes in 2000 to about 2,770 in 2013. At the same time, the price of gold rose from US $250 to $1,300 an ounce (28 grammes).

This has stimulated new gold mining activity around the world and has made it possible in previously unprofitable areas, including deposits beneath tropical forests.

“It is important also to encourage more responsible ways of extracting gold . . .  to reduce deeper encroachment into the forests”

The researchers say this spread can not only lead to extensive forest loss but result as well in serious environmental impacts, caused by the removal of vegetation, the building of roads and railways for access, and the creation of informal settlements.

Long-term impacts, they say, can include the failure of vegetation to regrow, changes in rainfall patterns, permanent loss of biodiversity, and the release of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

They sought to quantify the impacts of gold mines in tropical forests by creating a geographical database that highlighted the location of newly-developed mines between 2000 and 2013. This was then cross-referenced with annual land cover maps showing the change in forest cover over the same period.

Forest loss

The study examined the tropical and subtropical forest biome − one of the world’s major physical communities, classified according to its predominant vegetation − below 1,000 metres in Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia.

The results showed that, over the 13-year study period, 89% of forest loss occurred in just four ecoregions of South America: the Guianan, southwest Amazon, Tapajós-Xingú, and Magdalena Valley-Urabá.

There was little deforestation inside strict protection areas, but around a third of the total occurred within a 10km buffer zone around them, leaving the zones exposed to the harmful impacts of the chemical pollutants dispersed from mines.

Professor Álvarez-Berríos said consumers’ awareness needs to be raised about the environmental and social impacts of buying or investing in gold.

She said: “It is important also to encourage more responsible ways of extracting gold by helping miners to extract in a more efficient way to reduce deeper encroachment into the forests.” − Climate News Network

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Small volcanic eruptions are key to warming hiatus

Small volcanic eruptions are key to warming hiatus

Sulphur dioxide hurled in vast amounts from volcanoes is known to cool the atmosphere, but now scientists have identified how even small eruptions have a big effect on climate.

LONDON, 13 January, 2015 − Researchers now have a new explanation for the so-called slowdown in global warming in this century. They blame it on not very dramatic, small-scale volcanic eruptions.

This is a new twist in a puzzling story. In 1991, a catastrophic eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines hurled 20 million tonnes of sulphur dioxide into the stratosphere − a delivery of aerosols huge enough to block incoming sunlight and actually cool the planet for a couple of years. The assumption since then has been that big volcanic eruptions have enough heft to influence climate.

But in two recent papers, researchers have proposed another hypothesis, and then identified the evidence that a greater number of quite modest eruptions could have the same effect.

Mechanisms at work

To demonstrate such a thing, scientists need to pinpoint the mechanisms at work. In November, David Ridley, an atmospheric scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and colleagues focused on the intersection of two atmospheric layers – the atmosphere and troposphere.

They used a mix of ground, air and space-based technology to observe the aerosols in the lower stratosphere, and then they played with a climate model. The conclusions were straightforward: volcanoes could have caused a cooling of between 0.05°C and 0.12°C since 2000.

And the latest study, by a team led by Benjamin Santer, an atmospheric scientist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, has shown that the “signals” of eruptions in the late 20th and early 21st centuries can be positively identified in the atmospheric temperature, moisture and reflected radiation at the top of the atmosphere.

This signal, they report in Geophysical Research Letters, doesn’t explain all the hiatus or slowdown. But it makes a significant contribution.

Uptick in activity

Very roughly, there are 1,500 active volcanoes on the planet and, during 1990, there were 53 recorded eruptions. In 2010, there were 83; in 2013, there were a record 84. So it looks as if an uptick in geothermal activity could have made a difference.

But the climate machine is not a simple thing, and the argument is likely to go on. Other researchers have proposed that the missing heat is concealed in the ocean depths, or that a change in the trade winds may be a factor, or that climate scientists may have misread the signals because the extremes in the last 15 years have been hotter, even if the average has not increased much.

So, all along, the discussion has been not just about what might have been missed, but also about precisely what should or could be measured. And, in any case, words such as “pause”, “hiatus” and even “slowdown” add to the confusion.

Early in December, meteorologists declared 2014 on course to be the warmest year ever. It may not prove so – the calculations will take a few more weeks – but even if it isn’t, 14 of the 15 warmest years ever recorded have all occurred in the 21st century. – 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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Peat bog fires are burning issue in climate calculations

Peat bog fires are burning issue in climate calculations

Human exploitation and drainage of carbon-rich peatlands has led to some of the biggest fires on Earth – another factor fanning the flames of global warming.

LONDON, 10 January, 2015 − The greatest concentrations of the world’s soil carbon have been pinpointed by researchers − and much of it is a dangerously flammable addition to climate change concerns.

An international scientific survey of peat bogs has calculated that they contain more carbon than all the world’s forests, heaths and grasslands together − and perhaps as much as the planet’s atmosphere. Since peat can smoulder underground for years, it is another potential factor in global warming calculations.

Peat is simply leaf litter that never completely decayed. Ancient peatlands become distinctive ecosystems and, in some places, an economic resource.

Soil carbon

Merritt Turetsky, an ecosystem ecologist at the University of Guelph, Ontario, and colleagues report in Nature Geoscience that peatlands cover between only 2% and 3% of the planet’s land surface, but store 25% of the planet’s soil carbon.

In the high latitudes of the northern hemisphere, they cover about 4 million sq km and store between 500 and 600 billion tonnes of carbon. In the tropics – and especially in south-east Asia – they cover about 400,000 sq km and store 100 billion tonnes of carbon. The entire pool of atmospheric carbon, in the form of carbon dioxide, adds up to about 850 billion tonnes.

In its pristine condition, a peat bog is unlikely to burn: the peat exists because vegetation doesn’t decay normally in water.

“Peat fires . . . lack the drama of flames, but they produce a lot of smoke”

But, over thousands of years, humans have drained the peat bogs, exploited them for fuel, and even used peat as a gardening mulch. Dry peat burns easily, and some of the largest fires on Earth are now in the drained peatlands.

“When people think of a forest fire, they probably think of flames licking up into treetops, and animals trying to escape,” Dr Turetsky says. “But peat fires tend to be creeping ground fires. They can burn for days or weeks, even under relatively wet conditions. They lack the drama of flames, but they produce a lot of smoke.”

The research by Canadian, British, Dutch and US scientists is part of a wider global attempt to understand the carbon cycle.

Global warming happens because more carbon goes into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide than plants in the oceans and on land can absorb. So it makes sense to work out in fine detail where the carbon comes from, and how it is soaked up by living things.

Enduring hazard

Peat fires are an enduring hazard, and a local threat to human health. But in a warming world, in which the human population has trebled in one lifetime, the peatlands are drying out, and could fan the flames of climate change.

Once started, peat fires are hard to stop. Fire in the treetops can race across the forest at 10 kilometres an hour, while smouldering peat can take a week to travel half a metre. But both can happen at once, the scientists report.

“The tropical peatlands of South-east Asia are a clear demonstration of how human activity can alter the natural relationships between ecosystems and fire,” said Susan Page, professor of physical geography at the University of Leicester, UK, and a co-author of the latest report.

In a Nature study in 2002, she calculated that a dramatic and sustained forest fire in Indonesia in 1997 may have sent 2.5 billion tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere – a figure that could have added up to 40% of all the emissions from all the fossil fuel burning that year.

“Tropical peatlands are highly resistant to natural fires, but in recent decades humans have drained peatlands for plantation agriculture,” she said. “People cause the deep layers of peat to dry out, and also greatly increase the number of fire ignitions. It’s a double threat.” – Climate News Network

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