Archive for the 'climate change' Category

Unnatural Disaster: How Global Warming Helped Cause India’s Catastrophic Flood

Photo retrieved from: www.e360.yale.edu

“The flood had severed the eight-mile footpath to Kedarnath from the rest of India. Kaul took a bus to Guptkashi, the closest town with public transport, but nearly 25 miles short of Kedarnath. He continued on foot, astonished at the scale of destruction even so far downstream. The flood had passed through Kedarnath and surged down the Mandakini, joined by swollen tributaries, gathering force and debris. Kaul saw bare abutments where bridges had stood and foundationless houses dangling above landslide scars. Thirty hydroelectric plants had been damaged or destroyed.

About four miles shy of Kedarnath, he came to the former site of Rambara, a way station that once had about 100 seasonal shopping stalls and several small hotels. Pilgrims had rested there over sweet, milky tea and fried flatbreads and bought camping supplies and religious trinkets. Kaul saw only an empty shelf of bedrock strewn with boulders. “One couldn’t imagine there’d been anything there,” he said later.

Some of of Kedarnath’s steel-reinforced concrete guesthouses and stuccoed fieldstone homes survived better. Still, nearly three quarters of its 259 buildings had been damaged. More than half had been battered and washed away. The flood took most of its victims in Kedarnath, the season’s first pilgrims. “They were still finding dead people,” Kaul recalled, noting that he had smelled rotting flesh and watched relief workers excavate a severed leg.

Kaul climbed steep hills to an overlook about 2,000 feet above the town. The top of a hulking mountain, nearly 23,000 feet tall and crowned by Chorabari glacier, appeared. It blocked the sky at the head of the valley. At an inflection point, where the slope leveled off, a vast tongue of ice stretched out for a mile. Kaul looked for Chorabari Tal. It should have been visible below him, near the tongue’s tip. But there was no lake to be seen.

Titanic geologic forces had forged Chorabari Tal during the widespread cold spell that lasted from about 1300 to 1870 and is known as the Little Ice Age. The glacier had bulldozed stone into linear piles — moraines — jammed between the advancing tongue and the valley’s bedrock rim. The ice had then receded, leaving the lake’s lens-shaped basin, a depression with no outlet. Rain and melted snow filled it every spring and summer. At times, water drained out through the porous moraine, and the water level dropped.

Now, as Kaul looked down, he saw that the basin was empty. He knew what had occurred: The moraine had ruptured, letting loose the lake’s entire contents in a catastrophic spasm.”

Read more: Yale Environment 360

In the Shadow of Glacial Lakes, Pakistan’s Mountain Communities Look to Climate Adaptation

Photo retrieved from: www.ipsnews.net

“Landslides, floods and soil erosion have become increasingly frequent, disrupting channels that carry fresh water from upstream springs into farmlands, and depriving communities of their only source of fresh water.

“Things were becoming very difficult for my family,” Zaman told IPS. “I began to think that farming was no longer viable, and was considering abandoning it and migrating to nearby Chitral [a town about 60 km away] in search of labour.”

He was not alone in his desperation. Azam Mir, an elderly wheat farmer from the Drongagh village in Bindo Gol, recalled a devastating landslide in 2008 that wiped out two of the most ancient water channels in the area, forcing scores of farmers to abandon agriculture and relocate to nearby villages.

“Those who could not migrate out of the village suffered from water-borne diseases and hunger,” he told IPS.

Now, thanks to a public-private sector climate adaptation partnership aimed at reducing the risk of disasters like glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs), residents of the northern valleys are gradually regaining their livelihoods and their hopes for a future in the mountains.

Bursting at the seams

According to the Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD), there were some 2,400 potentially hazardous glacial lakes in the country’s remotest mountain valleys in 2010, a number that has now increased to over 3,000.

Chitral district alone is home to 549 glaciers, of which 132 have been declared ‘dangerous’.

Climatologists say that rising temperatures are threatening the delicate ecosystem here, and unless mitigation measures are taken immediately, the lives and livelihoods of millions will continue to be at risk.

One of the most successful initiatives underway is a four-year, 7.6-million-dollar project backed by the U.N. Adaptation Fund, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the government of Pakistan.

Signed into existence in 2010, its main focus, according to Field Manager Hamid Ahmed Mir, has been protection of lives, livelihoods, existing water channels and the construction of flood control infrastructure including check dams, erosion control structures and gabion walls.”

Read more: IPS News

 

The Risks of Cheap Water

“This summer, California’s water authority declared that wasting water — hosing a sidewalk, for example — was a crime. Next door, in Nevada, Las Vegas has paid out $200 million over the last decade for homes and businesses to pull out their lawns.

It will get worse. As climate change and population growth further stress the water supply from the drought-plagued West to the seemingly bottomless Great Lakes, states and municipalities are likely to impose increasingly draconian restrictions on water use.

Such efforts may be more effective than simply exhorting people to conserve. In August, for example, cities and towns in California consumed much less water — 27 billion gallons less —than in August last year.

But the proliferation of limits on water use will not solve the problem because regulations do nothing to address the main driver of the nation’s wanton consumption of water: its price.”

Read more: The New York Times

 

Amid crippling drought, California voters see no relief at the polls

Photo retrieved from: www.ecowatch.com

“LOS ANGELES — California residents face stiff fines if they use too much water. Wells in some communities are running dry. Farmers are drilling deeper and deeper in search of what has become liquid gold.

Yet in a state that is suffering a drought of historic proportions, water is not playing a paramount role in next month’s midterm elections.

It’s not that Californians are unconcerned about water shortages. In a recent Public Policy Institute of California survey, 72 percent of likely voters said the water supply in their part of the state is a problem. “Water and the drought are definitely on people’s minds,” said Dean Bonner, an associate survey director for the institute, a nonpartisan research group. “We found that 29 percent of likely voters named drought or water as a top issue for the state [second only to jobs and the economy]. Last September it was 2 percent.”

So why is it that drought rarely comes up in candidate forums or campaign ads?

“I don’t know if it’s because Californians are accustomed to the drought or because there’s no easy solution to it,” said Roger Salazar, Democratic political consultant. “It’s very much at the top on the mind of voters, but there isn’t anybody to take it out on.”

It may simply be tough to hold politicians accountable for a natural disaster. Whether or not the drought is a result of global warming, human intervention cannot reverse this year’s crippling drought. As a result, there is not one villain to boot out of office, and there is not one solution to the problem. “We’re all in this drought together,” Salazar said. “Now, if we could say, ‘Such and such has the solution,’ but no, we’re all in the same dry-docked boat together.”

Hard-hit farmers in the Central Valley and water conservationists statewide complain about the state’s history of disastrous water policies, but that does little to solve the problem now. Democrats have traditionally been more supportive of environmental measures, and any link between drought and climate change could bolster their positions. More Republicans are skeptical about global warming, but the number of doubters is shrinking, according to Gallup polls.”

Read more: Aljazeera

 

Drought Takes Hold as Amazon’s ‘Flying Rivers’ Dry Up

Photo retrieved from: www.climatecentral.org

“The unprecedented drought now affecting São Paulo, South America’s giant metropolis, is believed to be caused by the absence of the “flying rivers” − the vapor clouds from the Amazon that normally bring rain to the center and south of Brazil.

Some Brazilian scientists say the absence of rain that has dried up rivers and reservoirs in central and southeast Brazil is not just a quirk of nature, but a change brought about by a combination of the continuing deforestation of the Amazon and global warming.

This combination, they say, is reducing the role of the Amazon rainforest as a giant “water pump,” releasing billions of liters of humidity from the trees into the air in the form of vapor.

Meteorologist Jose Marengo, a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, first coined the phrase “flying rivers” to describe these massive volumes of vapor that rise from the rainforest, travel west, and then − blocked by the Andes − turn south.

Satellite images from the Centre for Weather Forecasts and Climate Research of Brazil’s National Space Research Institute (INPE) clearly show that, during January and February this year, the flying rivers failed to arrive, unlike the previous five years.

Alarming Proportions

Deforestation all over Brazil has reached alarming proportions: 22 percent of the Amazon rainforest (an area larger than Portugal, Italy and Germany combined), 47 percent of the Cerrado in central Brazil, and 91.5 percent of the Atlantic forest that used to cover the entire length of the coastal area.”

Read more: Climate Central

 

Climate Change Could Wreak Havoc on Drought-Plagued California

Photo retrieved from: www.alternet.org

“Michael Goulden, associate professor of earth system science at the  University of California Irvine, and Roger Bales, director of the  Sierra Nevada Research Institute at the University of California Merced, publish their alarming findings in the  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Their research looked not at the long-term projections for precipitation in the US south-west, but simply at the  effect of higher average temperatures on plant growth.

Mountains in many ways mimic hemispheres: just as trees become more stunted at higher latitudes, so they get smaller and less frequent at higher altitudes. Temperature ultimately controls plant growth.

But a projected warming of 4.1°C by 2100 would make a big difference to plant growth in the Arctic tundra and around the present alpine treeline everywhere in the world.

The scientists contemplated snow and rain conditions in the King’s River Basin in the Sierra Nevada range. They looked at how much flows downstream to local communities, and how much goes back into the atmosphere as water vapour. Then they did their sums.

They calculated that the 4.1°C temperature rise in the region would increase the density of vegetation at high elevations, with a 28% increase in evapotranspiration − the process that draws water up through the roots to the leaves, and then releases it as vapour through the pores. And what was true for one river basin, they thought, should be true for the whole area. River run-off could drop by 26%.”

Read more: AlterNet

 

 

Struggling to Find Water in the Vast Pacific

Photo retrieved from: www.ipsnews.net

“Pacific Island states are surrounded by the largest ocean in the world, but inadequate fresh water sources, poor infrastructure and climate change are leaving some communities without enough water to meet basic needs.

Laisene Nafatali lives in Lotofaga village, home to 5,000 people on the south coast of Upolu, the main island of Samoa, a Polynesian island state located northeast of Fiji in the central South Pacific region.

Like many on the island, she is dependent on rainfall and surface water for household needs. But without a nearby water source, such as a stream or waterfall, or a rainwater tank, she struggles with sanitation, washing, cooking and drinking.

“We only have one-gallon buckets, so if it is going to rain the whole week most of the water is lost,” Nafatali told IPS, adding that many people are unable to collect a sufficient amount of rainwater in such small containers.

 

“We have one bucket to store the water for the toilet, but that’s not enough for the whole family,” she added.

The wet season finished in March and now, in the dry season, it rains just two to four times per month.

Water for drinking and cooking is a priority. “If there is no rain the whole week, we pay for a truck. We put all our containers on the truck and we go to find families that have pipes and then we ask for some water. But that only [lasts] for two to three days, then we have to go again,” she said.

For washing, Nafatali and her family of six walk to the beach, which takes half an hour, and when the tide is low, they dig into the sand to find fresh water.”

Read more: IPS

 

 

‘Worse Than Anything Seen in 2,000 Years’ as Megadrought Threatens Western States

Photo retrieved from: www.commondreams.org

“A new study warns that the chances of western states in the U.S. experiencing a multi-decade ‘megadrought’—not seen in historical climate records in over 2,000 years—has a much higher chance of occurring in the decades ahead than previously realized. In fact, scientists are warning, the drought now being experienced in California and elsewhere could be just the beginning of an unprecedented water crisis across the west and southwest regions of the country.

The research—a project between scientists at Cornell University, the University of Arizona, and the U.S. Geological Survey—shows that chances for a decade-long drought this century is now at fifty-fifty, and that a drought lasting as long as 35 years—defined as a “megadrought”—has a twenty- to fifty-percent chance of occurring.

“For the southwestern U.S., I’m not optimistic about avoiding real megadroughts,” Toby Ault, Cornell assistant professor of earth and atmospheric sciences and lead author of the paper, told the Cornell Chronicle. “As we add greenhouse gases into the atmosphere – and we haven’t put the brakes on stopping this – we are weighting the dice for megadrought.”

And if such a megadrought does occur, warned Ault, “This will be worse than anything seen during the last 2,000 years.”

And as USA Today notes, “The difference now, of course, is the Western USA is home to more than 70 million people who weren’t here for previous megadroughts. The implications are far more daunting.”

The study—entitled Assessing the Risk of Persistent Drought Using Climate Model Simulations and Paleoclimate Data—used both “climate model projections as well as observational (paleoclimate) information” as it looked back over the historic records of drought in the region while also looking forward by using advanced predictive techniques used to measure the possible impacts of current and future global warming.”

Read more: Common Dreams

 

Preventing crises over shared water resources requires stronger foreign policy engagement

Photo retrieved from: www.trust.org

“Ukraine, Iraq, Syria, Gaza. With such crises in the headlines, it is easy to forget about the structural challenges that threaten to become the foreign policy crises of the future. Among these, access to fresh water stands out. It is already contributing to many conflicts around the world, and demand is growing fast while supplies are limited (and, in the case of groundwater, being exhausted at unsustainable rates). Simultaneously, about 60 percent of the volume of global river flow is shared by two or more states.

Many shared basins – among them the Nile, the Indus, the Ganges, the Euphrates-Tigris, the Orontes, the Jordan, the Amu Darya and Syr Darya, and the Mekong – overlap with regions characterised by substantial interstate and intrastate tensions. Population and economic growth increase demand for water. Climate change is concurrently leading to changes in regional and seasonal water variability. The resulting scarcity and extreme weather events, both floods and droughts, threaten long-term regional stability.

Yet shared waters do not have to be flashpoints of conflict, and can even build bridges in the midst of conflicts. For example, the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty has survived three wars between India and Pakistan. Water has also served as a crucial means for strengthening cooperation in Southern Africa. And the negotiations over shared waters between Israel and its neighbours have not only come much further than negotiations over other issues, but have also helped to establish informal means of cooperation in an otherwise highly conflictive region.”

Read more: Reuters

 

Young Farmers in the Western U. S. Adapt to a Water-Scarce Future

Photo retrieve from: www.nationalgeographic.com

“The Colorado Basin alone irrigates some 15% of US produce overall and 80% of winter vegetables.  So we all, to some degree, “eat” the Colorado – and thus have a stake in how well farmers can adapt to the drought-prone, water-stressed world now upon us.

Though the farmers profiled differ in their approaches to building resilience on their land and in their operations, and they represent a small, non-random sample, a few important themes jump out.

First, restoring health to soils is key.  Heavily compacted, nutrient poor, exposed soils do not store water well.  So enhancing the capacity of soils to hold moisture is crucial for every western farmer interested in weathering dry spells and reduced water allocations.

For Brendon Rockey, a 36-year-old farmer in southern Colorado’s San Luis Valley, a groundwater-dependent region in the headwaters of the Rio Grande, the solution came in the form of an age-old practice: planting “green manure” cover crops.  Instead of rotating in barley after potatoes, Rockey eliminated the barley in favor of a strategic mix of ten different cover crops that kept the soil protected from wind and evaporation losses, fixed nitrogen and thus naturally fertilized the soil, and produced flowers that brought predatory insects that kept the non-beneficial bugs at bay.

The cover crops not only reduced Rockey’s groundwater use (and pumping costs), they helped improve the quality of his potato harvest and lowered fertilizer and pesticide costs.

“Farmers need to become biologists again,” Rockey told the NYFC.

Second, farmers just starting out often do not have the capital to purchase water-saving equipment or implement conservation methods, so support for irrigation technology upgrades can be a big help.”

Read more: National Geographic