Black Sea warming linked to 2012 Russian floods

Black Sea warming linked to 2012 Russian floods

Researchers say devastating 2012 Russian flood occurred only because of global warming elsewhere.

LONDON, 30 July, 2015 – Climate scientists, ever reluctant to link any one catastrophic weather event to global warming or climate change, have taken another step nearer the establishment of direct blame.

They do not say that global warming triggered a devastating flood that swept through the Russian town of Krymsk and killed more than 150 people. But they do say the flood three years ago happened only because of decades of rising temperatures nearby.

If the surface temperatures in the Black Sea had not been rising steadily for the last 30 years, researchers report, such a flood would not have been possible.

In one of the first direct connections of this kind, Edmund Meredith of the Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel, Germany and colleagues spell it out.

They report in Nature Geoscience that anthropogenic warming in the Black Sea region played “a crucial role” in the extreme and unprecedented flooding that made thousands homeless, turned a town into a sea of mud, and triggered a bitter political row in Russia.

The scientists call the Krymsk floods “a showcase example” of the potential consequences of human-fuelled global warming because of rising emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in the last 200 years.

Five-metre wave

The reasoning goes like this: they looked at regional rainfall levels and found – using computer simulations – that precipitation was 300% higher on average with observed Black Sea surface temperatures, compared to simulations where the warming trend over the past 30 years was removed.

That is, the simulations showed that without past surface ocean warming, what meteorologists call deep convection – the heat-driven transport of warm, moist air to the upper atmosphere, active in thunderstorms, which often results in heavy precipitation– does not develop in the region.

What happened in July 2012 was that a cyclone moved across the Black Sea and carried moist air over to the foothills of the western Caucasus, followed by a “tongue” of saturated air over Krymsk in the form of a summer thunderstorm.

Russian officials reportedly saw the calamity coming but failed to issue a warning: a five-metre wave of water swept through a town of 57,000 people, with catastrophic consequences. The official death toll reached 172.

The Kiel researchers do not see the event as a statistical freak, but as an outcome of overall warming of the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, with the knock-on effect not just of more precipitation, but greater extremes of precipitation.

Uncertain expectations

As the great American novelist Mark Twain once observed, climate is what we expect, but weather is what we get. Because extremes are rare events, meteorologists prefer to regard them as variations that in total add up to define an average.

But as temperatures rise on average, the intensity and frequency of extremes should, on statistical reasoning, also be on the rise. Scientists have thought increasingly about the possibility of links between random events and background human activity and have warned that drought-stricken California’s vulnerability to drought is likely to increase with climate change.

But it is rare for researchers to arrive at a connection as direct as the Nature Geoscience paper that spells out the process by which a global trend drives a local tragedy.

And, very cautiously, and in very general terms, the scientists warn that such things could happen again. The climate projections, they say, promise increased sea surface temperatures and more summer cyclones in the Black Sea and Mediterranean regions.

“This suggests a corresponding increased risk of intense convective precipitation events,” they conclude. “Other coastal regions with comparable geographical features may, where similar trends are projected, be similarly affected.” – Climate News Network

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Scientists detect mysterious warming in US coastal waters

Scientists detect mysterious warming in US coastal waters

Unprecedented ocean temperature rises off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of the US may be linked to sea level rise or the recent pattern of “weird” weather.

LONDON, 28 June, 2015 − Oceanographers are puzzled by an accelerated burst of warming sea that threatens the fisheries of the American Atlantic coast.

Meanwhile, off the US West coast, scientists report that they have been baffled by a mysterious “blob” of water up to 4°C warmer than the surrounding Pacific, linked to weird weather across the entire country.

Jacob Forsyth and research colleagues from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in Massachusetts report in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans that the ocean off the US north-east continental shelf has been warming at unprecedented levels for 13 years.

Their findings came after analysis of data from sensors − called bathythermographs − dropped 14 times a year from the container ship Oleander, which for 37 years has travelled between New Jersey and Bermuda. Each detector takes the temperature of the water column as it sinks up to 700 metres.

Startling discovery

What they were startled to discover was an unexplained, and unprecedented, rise in the water temperatures that may be linked with an equally mysterious sea level anomaly: sea levels are going up, but they are going up faster off the north-east coast of the US than almost anywhere else.

“The warming rate since 2002 is 15 times faster than from the previous 100 years,” says Glen Gawarkiewicz, a WHOI senior scientist and one of the authors of the report.

“There’s just been this incredible acceleration to the warming, and we don’t know if it’s decadal variability or if this trend will continue.”

“It’s producing conditions that we think are going to be more common with global warming”

To make sure of their perspective, the authors compared their analysis with surface data from the Nantucket lightship and other such installations along the coast, from 1880 to 2004. The new study shows that the warming is not just confined to surface waters.

Although there must be some link with the steady rise in atmospheric temperatures because of global warming as a result of human-made carbon dioxide emissions, the oceanographers suspect there may also be another explanation, so far undiscovered.

Off the Pacific coast, meteorologists have been scratching their heads over the appearance in 2014 of a “remarkably” warm patch −  1,500 kilometres across in every direction and 100 metres deep − that could be linked to “weird” weather across the continental US that has seen heat and drought in the west and blizzards and chills in the East.

High pressure ridge

Nicholas Bond,  a research meteorologist at the University of Washington in Seattle, and colleagues report in Geophysical Research Letters that what they have called “the blob” was linked to a persistent high pressure ridge, linked in turn to a calmer ocean during the last two northern hemisphere winters.

The blob plays a sure role in the West Coast weather. Air sweeping across it picks up heat, and this results in warmer temperatures and lower snowpack in coastal mountains − which certainly stoke up the conditions for drought.

A second study in Geophysical Research Letters links the warm Pacific puzzle to the big freeze in the eastern states in 2013 and 2014.

Once again, there doesn’t seem to be a direct connection with climate change, but it raises the spectre of changes to come.

“This is a taste of what the ocean will be like in future decades,” Dr Bond says. “It wasn’t caused by global warming, but it’s producing conditions that we think are going to be more common with global warming.” − Climate News Network

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Prospect of warmer winters doesn’t mean fewer deaths

Prospect of warmer winters doesn’t mean fewer deaths

New scientific study pours cold water on the theory that mortality rates will drop in winter months as the climate warms.

LONDON, 26 June, 2015 − Global warming is unlikely to mean that fewer people in northern latitudes will die from cold during the winter, according to a study by scientists in the US.

Despite arguments that an increase in death rates caused by global warming and increased summertime temperatures will be offset by a matching drop in mortality as winter temperatures also rise, the study cautions against assuming any such link as research suggests otherwise.

The study, carried out over several years, looked at temperature-related seasonal mortality rates, particularly among elder people, in a total of 39 cities – the majority in the US, and three in France.

It concludes: “Our findings suggest that reductions in cold-related mortality rates under a warming climate may be much smaller than some have assumed.”

The research, carried out by a team led by Professor Patrick Kinney, a specialist in public health at the Columbia University Earth Institute in the US, is published in the Environmental Research Letters journal.

Temperature range

“We found that excess winter mortality did not depend on seasonal temperature range and was no lower in warmer vs colder cities, suggesting that temperature is not a key driver of winter excess mortality,” the study says.

Although the researchers acknowledge that seasonal temperature patterns can have an effect on health, many other factors influence mortality rates in winter among elderly people.

Diseases such as influenza – often transmitted when younger generations of families meet up with their elders at family celebrations – play a far greater role in mortality than the cold.

“Most older people who die over the winter don’t die from cold – they die from complications related to ’flu and other respiratory diseases,”  Kinney says.

Most previous studies investigating the links between temperature rises and death rates have focused on the impact of summer heat.

“Most older people who die over the winter don’t die from cold – they die from complications
related to respiratory diseases”

A prolonged heatwave across Europe in 2003 – which many scientists say can be attributed to climate change – is believed to have caused between 30,000 and 50,000 deaths. Elderly people in urban areas – often left stranded in their baking apartment blocks – were particularly badly hit.

A lot of media attention has also been given recently to the high rates of death among migrant workers from Nepal working in high temperatures in Qatar and other countries in the Gulf region.

The Columbia study looked at winter death rates among elderly people in cities in different climate zones and with differing demographics – from Paris and New York to Miami and Marseilles.

Opposite effect

It found that most of the elderly people living in the cities from which data was gathered were not exposed to the winter cold for long periods as the majority had access to a warm indoor environment.

Kinney says that rather than decreasing mortality, warmer winters could have the opposite effect.

“We see mosquito-borne diseases emerging in new territories because warmer winter temperatures enable the insects to over-winter in more northerly regions,” he says.

“Warmer temperatures can also enable an insect-borne virus to replicate inside the insect vector to be transmitted and cause disease in a human or animal.

“Sadly, this research tells us that an increase in summer deaths due to climate change is unlikely to be counteracted by a reduction in winter deaths.” – Climate News Network

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Global warming is accelerating loss of species

Global warming is accelerating loss of species

Human-induced climate change adds to threats vertebrates face from hunting and habitat loss as researchers warn that modern extinction rates are exceptionally high.

LONDON, 24 June, 2015 – Biologists have once again confirmed their own worst fears – that humans have launched a new phase of mass extinction.

There have been five catastrophic episodes in the 500 million-year history of complex life, and humanity has now precipitated a sixth, according to a new study.

Gerardo Ceballos, a researcher in the Department of Ecology Biodiversity at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, and colleagues report in the journal Science Advances that their calculations are based on the most conservative possible estimates of extinction in recent human history.

They compared those with the calculated “background”, or normal, rate of extinction throughout evolution, and came to the conclusion that vertebrate species are slipping away into the eternal night at least 114 times faster than they would if there were no humans around to hunt them, destroy their habitats or change the climates in which they had evolved.

Potentially calamitous

All such stories fall into the “stop me if youʼve heard this one” category. For more than two decades, zoologists in particular have repeatedly warned of potential calamitous extinction rates.

They have reasoned that the pressures already driving down animal populations are likely to be made worse by global warming due to the burning of fossil fuels – either by moving the climatic zones to which the creatures are adapted faster than they can migrate, or by simply becoming too warm overall, which is something that happened 55 million years ago.

One recent study even linked atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide with the worst event of all, the “Great Dying” of the Permian period 252 million years ago.

“We can confidently conclude that modern extinction rates . . . suggest a mass extinction
is under way”

But there has always been a problem of numbers – in fact, two problems of numbers. Biologists have no sure idea of how many species inhabit the planet today, and they have great difficulty establishing that any particular animal is really extinct, as opposed to just rare and difficult to identify.

So Dr Ceballos and his co-researchers went back and did the sums again, working from a recent estimate of the background rate of extinction of two mammal extinctions per 10,000 species per century.

They looked at all the written evidence for recent extinctions – the dodo of Mauritius, Steller’s sea cow, the Rodrigues giant tortoise, and all the other amphibians, birds, reptiles, fish and mammals that have slipped away to oblivion, first since 1500 and then since 1900. And the researchers then chose conservative and highly conservative calculations of loss.

Creatures vanishing

They found that, even using the most generous estimates of “normal” extinction, and the most highly conservative calculations of present loss, based on data from the 2014 International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red Listthey had evidence that creatures are now vanishing at more than 100 times the background rate.

Almost all human health and wealth is based on what grows in the ground or grazes upon it. If the loss goes on, then within as little as three human lifetimes, humanity as a species could be deprived, the researchers warn, of “many biodiversity benefits”.

With this research, they say they have placed a “lower bound” on humanity’s impact on all other living things.

They conclude: “Although biologists cannot say precisely how many species there are, or exactly how many have gone extinct in any time interval, we can confidently conclude that modern extinction rates are exceptionally high, that they are increasing, and that they suggest a mass extinction is under way – the sixth of its kind in Earth’s 4.5 billion years of history.” – Climate News Network

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New flood alert as warming raises sea levels threat

New flood alert as warming raises sea levels threat

Scientists warn countries in northern Europe to plan for dramatic new worst-case scenarios as climate change increases the risk of seas sweeping inland.

LONDON, 22 June, 2015 − Europe could face a higher marine invasion than anybody anticipated. As polar ice melts, tides could be as much as 1.5 metres higher around the coasts of Scandinavia, Germany, the Netherlands and England, according to a new study.

This is considerably higher than the average sea level rise – driven by global warming as a consequence of burning fossil fuels – projected by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change under a “business as usual” scenario and a global average temperature rise of 4°C.

But there is no contradiction. The discrepancy arises because the seas have never been level, and the land keeps moving too.

Aslak Grinsted, associate professor in the Centre for Ice and Climate at the Niels Bohr Institute of the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, and colleagues report in the journal Climate Research that they took a closer look at the dynamics of sea level change in the North Sea, the North Atlantic and the Baltic for the remainder of this century.

Land uplift

“Even though the oceans are rising, they do not rise evenly across the globe,” Dr Grinsted says. “This is partly due to changes in the gravitational field and land uplift.”

He and his colleagues started with the anomalies they knew best. These are in Greenland, which is covered by a sheet of ice so massive that it gathers up the sea around it. So, to reach Greenland, ships must sail uphill.

As the ice sheet melts – and there are studies that show it is melting at an accelerating rate that would heighten sea levels by 14 cms this century – the mass will be reduced and the sea levels will fall, even though more water has entered the oceans.

“In England . . . we cannot exclude a sea level rise of up to 1.75 metres this century”

But although waters are notionally lapping ever higher along coastlines, these too are changing. Northern Europe 12,000 years ago was covered by deep ice, and the bedrock below was depressed. Now the ice has gone, but the land once crushed by it is still rising.

Equipped with the latest research and measurements, the Copenhagen team began their reinterpretation of the local future. They found that what had once been considered “high” scenarios for the Netherlands and England will be surpassed.

Best estimate

Dr Grinsted says: “For London, the calculated best estimate is that sea level will rise by 0.8 metres. In England, a sea level rise of more than 0.9 meters in this century has been considered highly unlikely, but our new calculation shows that there is a 27% chance that this limit is surpassed, and we cannot exclude a sea level rise of up to 1.75 metres this century.”

For the Netherlands, the best estimate of sea level rise is 0.83 metres, but the calculations show that there is a 26% chance that it will exceed the existing high-end scenario of 1.05 metres, and could even reach 1.80 metres.

Dr Grinsted says: “Both countries have already established protections for the coasts with barriers, sluice gates and dikes, but is it enough? I hope that our calculations for worst-case scenarios will be taken into consideration as the countries prepare for climate change.”

The IPCC sea level projection is of 80 cms worldwide. Sea levels overall might change little in Scotland, Ireland and Norway. And in the Gulf of Bothnia, in Finland, where the land is rising even faster than the sea, tides could be as much as 10cms lower at the end of the century. − Climate News Network

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Pope calls for moral campaign on climate crisis

Pope calls for moral campaign on climate crisis

Hard-hitting message from the Vatican warns of the threat global warming poses to the world’s ecosystems − and to everyone on the planet.

LONDON, 17 June, 2015 – Pope Francis has challenged climate change deniers by declaring that the destruction of the ecosystem is a moral issue that has to be tackled, or there will be grave consequences for us all.

Pointing to human activity as the main cause for the increasing concentrations of climate-warming greenhouse gases, he praises ecological movements – and, in exceptionally strong language, rounds on those who are obstructing progress in the fight against climate change.

“The attitudes that stand in the way of a solution, even among believers, range from negation of the problem to indifference, to convenient resignation or to blind faith in technical solutions,” the Pope says.

Meant for everyone

His message is contained in an encyclical, a document on Catholic teaching that is traditionally addressed to bishops. But, in this case, he says his words are aimed not only at an estimated 1.2 billion Catholics around the world − they are meant for everyone.

“Faced with the global deterioration of the environment, I want to address every person who inhabits the planet,” the Pope says.

The encyclical − entitled Laudato Si, or Be Praised, and nearly 200 pages long − is the first such document issued by the Vatican dealing specifically with the environment.

It was due to have been released tomorrow, but parts of a draft appeared early in the Italian magazine, L’Espresso − much to the annoyance of Vatican officials.

“Humanity is called to take note of the need
for changes in lifestyle and changes in methods
of production and consumption
to combat this warming”

Unlike many of his predecessors, Pope Francis has shown a desire, since he became pontiff in 2013, to enter into debate about economic and environmental matters, as well as spiritual issues.

“If we destroy Creation, Creation will destroy us – never forget that,” he told a gathering in St. Peter’s Square, Rome, earlier this year.

The Pope says in the draft of the encyclical that the poor are trapped by environmental and financial degradation, and that the world’s resources cannot continue to be looted by humankind.

“Humanity is called to take note of the need for changes in lifestyle and changes in methods of production and consumption to combat this warming, or at least the human causes that produce and accentuate it,” he says.

The impact of the Pope’s message is likely to be considerable. Although the number of church-going Catholics has dropped in Europe and many other parts of the industrialised world, the influence of the church is growing in many areas, particularly in Africa.

The encyclical is also likely to give added momentum to the need for a climate agreement at the UN Conference on Climate Change in Paris at the end of the year.

John Grim, who lectures in world religions at the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies at Yale University in the US, says the Pope’s teachings give a significant moral voice to climate change issues.

He says: “What we have lacked in many settings is the moral voice of religious leadership informing congregations, denominations and different religions of the depth of the science and the impact on human communities of widespread climate change.”

Repeated warnings

The encyclical is likely to attract criticism from sceptics seeking to deny that there is any such thing as climate change, and who in the past have accused the Pope of straying into areas he knows little about.

Conservatives in the US have branded the Pope’s repeated warnings about growing inequality as the talk of a communist and a Marxist.

In September, Pope Francis is due to go to New York to address the United Nations, and will also speak to the US Congress in Washington.

Vatican officials say the pontiff will continue to speak out on issues linked to poverty and climate change. – Climate News Network

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Temperatures soar to danger point for sun-loving creatures

Temperatures soar to danger point for sun-loving creatures

New research warns that even cold-blooded creatures needing the sun’s warmth to keep them alive are struggling to cope with global warming.

LONDON, 16 June, 2015 – Scientists in California have identified a cold-blooded killer as global warming brings new hazards for ectotherms − creatures that cannot regulate their own body heat.

The suggestion may seem counter-intuitive, as vipers, lizards, fish and frogs all depend on ambient warmth to keep their metabolisms busy. But while endotherms – among them mammals − have ways of keeping themselves cool on hot days, lizards and their like might not be so flexible and could overheat.

Alex Gunderson and Jonathon Stillman, biologists at the Romberg Tiburon Centre for Environmental Studies at San Francisco State University, report in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B that they tested their suspicions about overheating risks by combing through 112 published studies that delivered 394 estimates of potential temperature tolerance in 232 species of ectotherm − laboratory species that had been tested in extremes of hot and cold.

Their sample of the cold-blooded living things included amphibians, reptiles, crustaceans and insects, land-dwellers and water-dwellers.

Climate swings

They found evidence that all had some ability to acclimate – that is, adapt to different temperatures – and some, such as fish, crab, lobster and shrimp, had more tolerance to acclimation than others. But, overall, many of them proved less likely to tolerate increasingly extreme climate swings.

“Because animals have some ability to acclimate to higher temperatures, scientists hoped that they might be able to adjust their physiology to keep up with global warming,” Dr Gunderson says.

“We found by compiling these data in the first large-scale study of hundreds of different animals that the amount they can actually adjust is pretty low. They don‘t have the flexibility in heat tolerance to keep up with global warming.”

“Their ability to acclimate to hotter temperatures is unlikely to keep them in the game. They will have to depend on other strategies”

Global warming and attendant climate change is believed to threaten one species in six with extinction. It can do this by amplifying and adding to a range of existing hazards, threats and pressures such as habitat destruction, or over-hunting, or by changing in a few decades a whole climatic regime to which species have adapted over tens of thousands of years.

When the heat is on, wild creatures have three choices: they can migrate away to cooler latitudes, move uphill to cooler temperatures, or they can adapt. But global average temperatures might be rising too fast to permit many animals to evolve a greater range of heat tolerance.

Evolutionary change

“Our results suggest that their ability to acclimate to increasing temperatures will not buffer them from the changes that are occurring, and that they are going to have to depend on behavioural or evolutionary change to persist,” Dr Gunderson says.

In general, the scientists found that although some species could acclimate to higher temperatures, this left them with a lower margin of safety. This mean that an animal comfortable at 20°C might be able to survive at 30°C, but when it became acclimatised to 25°C then it might perish at 32°C.

Unexpectedly, although animals that evolved in the higher latitudes were accustomed to more dramatic swings in temperature than those in the tropics, this did not deliver a greater capacity to deal with even more extremes of heat. Canadian ectotherms, for example, showed no more ability to survive unusual heat than those in the tropics.

“Ectotherms are very much at the mercy of their environments,” Dr Gunderson says. “Now we see that their ability to acclimate to hotter temperatures is unlikely to keep them in the game. They will have to depend on other strategies.” – Climate News Network

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Delegates accused of ‘fiddling’ while the planet burns

Delegates accused of ‘fiddling’ while the planet burns

Tame end to Bonn climate talks leaves critics fearing that hopes are fading of a binding agreement being signed to keep global warming in check.

LONDON, June 11, 2015 − For a meeting on which the future of the planet depends, there were remarkably few headlines coming out of the UN climate change conference in Bonn as it ended yesterday.

Critics believe that progress, after nearly two weeks of talks, was so slow that the chances of world leaders signing up to an agreement on tackling climate change in Paris later this year are receding − and that there is a lack of political will to do so.

Delegates agreed that a “streamlined” text of a legal agreement based on the negotiations so far should be drawn up and sent to governments to review.

This will cover issues such as how the agreement can be financed, who will cut greenhouse gas emissions, how to adapt to climate change, and compensation for nations badly affected. The negotiators will then come back to Bonn and try again.

Optimists will argue that this is progress, and that the talks were not supposed to be final, but merely moving towards a legally-binding agreement that will be signed by heads of state at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris in December.

Sleepwalking

However, for many environment groups lobbying the talks, it was certainly not enough. The phrase “sleepwalking into Paris” was how Christian Aid  described it.

Their senior climate change adviser, Mohamed Adow, was quoted by the BBC as saying: “There has been too much time spent fiddling around with the unimportant details of the text. Negotiators have acted like schoolchildren colouring in their homework timetable and not getting round to any actual homework.”

It was not all bad news. One of the surprising breakthroughs was an agreement that will enable poorer countries to receive money for keeping their forests standing.

Trying to preserve the world’s forests in order to store carbon, and so protect the climate, has been a thorny issue since the first Earth Summit in Rio in 1992.

“Negotiators have acted like schoolchildren colouring in their homework timetable and not getting round to any actual homework”

The scheme for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, known as UN-REDD, was originally going to be a Forest Convention, but developing countries rejected that on the grounds that it was up to them how they used their own natural resources. In any case, they said, the developed world had already cut down its forests.

After 20 years of talking, the increasing recognition that forests are more valuable in their pristine state than logged or clear-cut, and that rich countries were prepared to compensate poorer ones for not cutting them down, finally led to agreement.

Brazil, still battling to reduce Amazon deforestation, was among the countries pushing for an early settlement.

Package of deals

Although the agreement has been reached, it cannot come into operation until the end of the Paris conference, when it is supposed to be part of the package of deals that will save the climate from going over the internationally-agreed 2˚C temperature rise limit above pre-industrial levels.

The main sticking point in the past, at the Bonn talks, and for the future is the small matter of $100 billion pledged in aid by the rich countries to developing nations by 2020 to help them to adapt to climate change and still develop at the same time.

Money has been trickling in to various funds set up for the purpose, but there is no sign that the bulk of the donations will actually materialise.

Another serious problem is that the pledges that larger countries have made to reduce emissions are not enough to stop the world overheating beyond the 2˚C limit agreed by politicians.

So far, more than 30 countries have pledged to limit emissions of greenhouse gases, with around 150 smaller countries yet to set goals.

A bright spot on the pledges front was the agreement of the G7 group of countries to phase out all electricity production from fossil fuels by the end of this century.

However, as critics pointed out, what the leaders failed to do was outline any measures they were prepared to take now to set the world on the right course.

Another vexed issue yet to be resolved is compensation for the loss and damage suffered by poorer countries because of sea level rise and storms for which they are not responsible.

Impatient with progress at the talks, some of the poorer nations − Vanuatu, Kiribati, Tuvalu, Fiji, the Solomon Islands, and the Philippines − announced that they would be taking a human rights case again big oil, coal and gas companies, and demanding compensation.

There are signs that public opinion − so often in the past indifferent to the issue of climate change − is now taking the issue more seriously.

A vast poll that involved testing public opinion in 70 countries on the same day found that 80% of people are very concerned about climate change, and 67% back a legally-binding agreement for all countries to reduce emissions.

Avoided showdown

Jan Kowalzig, Oxfam climate change policy adviser, summed up the feelings of environmental observers in Bonn when he said: “Negotiators avoided a showdown over crunch issues such as finance and increasing near-term emissions cuts, but they are only delaying the inevitable.

“A clearer mandate from heads of state and ministers is needed to ignite the talks and ensure key questions are answered.

“Political leaders need to give a clear steer on how to address the inadequacy of current emissions reductions pledges, but also on the urgent financial support needed for the most vulnerable countries and populations.”

Once governments have had a chance to review the “streamlined texts”, delegates will return to Bonn in August and October for more rounds of talks, before the Paris summit at the end of the year. – Climate News Network

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India’s coastal villages map out disasters strategy

India’s coastal villages map out disasters strategy

The Indian Ocean can be an angry and sometimes lethal neighbour, but those who live beside it are now learning how to prepare for its next onslaught.

CHENNAI, 26 May, 2015 – It has been over a decade since the devastating tsunami struck southeast Asia, but the horrific memories remain as vivid as ever for people in the coastal villages of the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

Now, in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami and also two cyclones, local people are benefiting from the Indian government’s encouragement of international co-operation in helping vulnerable communities, and have produced a hazard map as a precaution against future disasters.

Vikas Shankar, from the fishing village of Sulerikattukuppam, remembers clearly the moment the tsunami struck.“I was engrossed in playing cricket when I saw water entering the village,” he says. “I thought it was just another day when the sea poured in. Then, suddenly, I saw my mother caught in a whirlpool and realised something was seriously wrong.”

His mother, Tilakavathy, survived the tsunami’s fury, but recalls: “I thought this was really the end of the world.”

Completely destroyed

Amazingly, no one in the village died, but fishermen lost their gear and livelihoods, and many buildings close to the shore were completely destroyed.

The tsunami prompted Tilakavathy and her husband to decide not to send their sons to sea to earn a livelihood.

When Vikas, their youngest son, was old enough, he was sent instead to the local community college, built in 2011 by the state government to provide education and alternative livelihood opportunities for the fishing community.

The local people, recognising the need for disaster preparedness, are now involved in a programme that focuses on  developing communication tools for vulnerable communities and raising awareness of other disaster-related issues.

Krishnamurthy Ramasamy, professor of applied geology at the University of Madras, was formerly the principal of the community college. He says: “We realised the need for international collaboration to build a curriculum on disaster management and field-based learning activities.”

Kyoto University in Japan was one of the universities keen to work with him, and two Australian universities, Melbourne and Victoria, also joined in, helping with funds, curriculum development and exchange visits.

“We were taught how and why cyclones and tsunamis happen. It helped us to understand disasters in the first place.”

The college itself fostered community-based preparedness by offering disaster management as an optional subject, and by helping to set up a Local Residents’ Alliance (LRA) in 2013 to mobilise villagers. Most members of this group were parents of students from the college.

Vikas Shankar says: “In the class, we were taught how and why cyclones and tsunamis happen. It helped us to understand disasters in the first place.”

To learn about other people’s best practices, Professor Ramasamy visited communities along the Japanese coast, and there he made a significant discovery. He says: “The first thing I noticed in each village was the hazard map. I thought that we needed this too.”

Back at the college, work on hazard map preparation began, and the first step was students surveying their own villages to understand the geography better.

Teams went from house to house and marked all the huts in the village. They counted the number of people in the house, with details of numbers of women, children, old and disabled people living there. All this information went on the hazard map.

Miwa Abe, from the Centre for Policy Studies at Kumamoto University, Japan, who trained the Indian students, says: “A hazard mapping exercise with local people gives them an opportunity to know their village.

“It is not only about environmental conditions, but also human relationships, social networks, architectural conditions. Usually people do not think about their own area because it is too familiar to them.”

Evacuation routes

The teams also prepared evacuation routes, and, after six months of rigorous work, the students presented the final map to the local people.

Today, as one walks into the village, the first thing to catch the eye is the big blue hazard map board at its entrance. It shows the evacuation routes to be followed during disasters, and also the village’s population distribution − crucial information so that local people will know who to rescue first, and where they live.

The village’s approach is now being used as a case study in efforts to prepare community-based disaster management (CBDM) plans for the entire district, and eventually as a model for the state. The Tamil Nadu government has given land adjacent to the college to establish permanent infrastructure and to provide better facilities for the students.

Rajalakshmi Mahadevan, a fisherman’s daughter, says: “The evacuation map can be read by anyone, even a newcomer. Now we know which house to go to, who to evacuate first, and this has lifted the fear of disaster from local people’s minds.”– Climate News Network

  • Sharada Balasubramanian, an independent journalist from Tamil Nadu, India, writes on energy, agriculture and the environment. Email: sharadawrites@gmail.com; Twitter: @sharadawrites

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Rising temperatures mean fewer but fiercer hurricanes

Rising temperatures mean fewer but fiercer hurricanes

Climate change brings mixed prospects for people threatened by hurricanes: they are likely to occur less often, but when they do they will be even more destructive.

LONDON, 25 May, 2015 − Once again, scientists have confirmed the link between climate change and destructive hurricanes. The link is a simple one: a warmer world could mean fewer tropical storms, but those that arrive are likely to be more violent.

The conclusion is not new: other teams have already proposed that global warming linked to increases of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as a consequence of fossil fuel combustion could drive tropical cyclones to higher latitudes and that the most destructive hurricanes could happen increasingly often. A British team has even linked better air quality – fewer sulphate aerosols and dust – to a greater probability of more violent winds.

But Nam-Young Kang, who now directs South Korea’s National Typhoon Center, and James Eisner, a geographer at Florida State University, set about a study of weather data and hurricane, cyclone and typhoon records between 1984 and 2012 to see if they could identify a pattern of change.

In the last 60 years or so, global average temperatures have risen, but are still less than 1°C above the average for the centuries before the Industrial Revolution. Hurricanes are linked to sea surface temperatures and the hurricane “season” does not start until ocean surface levels go beyond 26°C.

“We’re seeing fewer hurricanes, but the ones we do see are more intense. When one comes, all hell breaks loose”

The two scientists reckoned that even slightly higher average temperatures would mean more energy and therefore higher wind speeds at sea as well. They report in Nature Climate Change that they found what they were looking for: a pattern. On average, storm wind speeds had increased by 1.3 metres a second and there were 6.1 fewer tropical storms a year worldwide than there would have been if land and water temperatures had remained constant.

The research paper describes tropical cyclones – a term that for geographers also embraces Pacific typhoons and Atlantic hurricanes – as “perhaps the least welcomed natural phenomena on our planet” and points out that even well-developed, highly complex societies are exposed to them, and vulnerable. Superstorm Sandy, which began as an Atlantic hurricane, hit New York in 2012 with devastating consequences and even set the nation’s earthquake alarms ringing.

Professor Eisner has already established a link between temperatures and tornado hazard.  The new study delivers a statistical warning of a trade-off between frequency and strength offshore as well.“We’re seeing fewer hurricanes, but the ones we do see are more intense. When one comes, all hell breaks loose,” he said. − Climate News Network

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