Category Archives: Nature

Cocaine traffickers fuel climate change

cocaine

An ever-expanding US market for cocaine is leading to drug traffickers destroying swathes of tropical forest to create new transport routes.

LONDON, October 17, 2019 – Having a cocaine habit is bad for your health – and for the planet’s too, as it turns out that the growing use of the drug is also contributing to global warming.

A series of recent reports examining the cocaine trade in Central America say traffickers seeking out new smuggling routes are destroying large areas of tropical forest in order to build roads and landing strips to transport supplies of cocaine bound for an ever-expanding market in the US.

Forests are vital “carbon sinks”, soaking up large amounts of climate-changing greenhouse gases. When they are destroyed, the stores of carbon are released into the atmosphere. And the smoke from forest fires adds to problem.

Drug convoys

Authors of the series of papers describe what’s going on as “narco-deforestation”. Jennifer Devine, an assistant professor of geography at Texas State University and co-author of two of the studies, says: “Narco-deforestation now affects large tropical forests in Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, and is beginning to affect Costa Rica as well.”

Drug traffickers are moving into national parks, forest reserves and special conservation areas in order to elude the authorities. Trees are being chopped down not only to build roads for drug convoys; the researchers found that vast areas of forest are being cleared for ranches and crop growing – through which the traffickers launder their drug money.

Earlier studies looking at drug-related activities on the Caribbean coast of Honduras found that the clearing of forests by the drug cartels has also caused extensive flooding in the region.

“Narco-related activities undermine traditional forest uses and resource governance, producing significant social and ecological cost”

Bernardo Aguilar-González, a director of the Fundación Neotrópica NGO and a co-author of one of the reports, says: “Narco-related activities undermine traditional forest uses and resource governance, producing significant social and ecological costs.”

The reports strongly criticise a long-running, US-backed “War on Drugs” being waged in Central America. They conclude that funds provided by the US for a heavily-militarised anti-drug campaign “have ultimately pushed drug trafficking and the laundering of spectacular profits into remote, biodiverse spaces, where they threaten both ecosystems and people, and undermine conservation goals and local livelihoods”.

Other studies say the campaign has resulted in people being forced off their lands, and this has contributed to a growth in migration – with people trying to cross the border into the US.

Indigenous land rights

The researchers say a key way of tackling deforestation by the traffickers is to give local communities more control over the forests; indigenous land rights must be recognised and enforced across the region.

Areas managed by local communities have very low forest losses say the reports.

“Investing in community land rights and participatory governance in protected areas is a key strategy to combat drug trafficking and climate change simultaneously,” Aguilar-González told the Reuters news agency.

“Taken together, these papers confirm just how vital it is to ensure that local forest communities have long-term control over their land and forest resources,” says David Wrathall, assistant professor of geography at Oregon State University and a report author.

“If we are to reduce the risk of emissions caused when forests are destroyed and to safeguard the carbon in forests, such rights will be key in order to avoid dangerous human interference in the atmosphere.” – Climate News Network

An ever-expanding US market for cocaine is leading to drug traffickers destroying swathes of tropical forest to create new transport routes.

LONDON, October 17, 2019 – Having a cocaine habit is bad for your health – and for the planet’s too, as it turns out that the growing use of the drug is also contributing to global warming.

A series of recent reports examining the cocaine trade in Central America say traffickers seeking out new smuggling routes are destroying large areas of tropical forest in order to build roads and landing strips to transport supplies of cocaine bound for an ever-expanding market in the US.

Forests are vital “carbon sinks”, soaking up large amounts of climate-changing greenhouse gases. When they are destroyed, the stores of carbon are released into the atmosphere. And the smoke from forest fires adds to problem.

Drug convoys

Authors of the series of papers describe what’s going on as “narco-deforestation”. Jennifer Devine, an assistant professor of geography at Texas State University and co-author of two of the studies, says: “Narco-deforestation now affects large tropical forests in Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, and is beginning to affect Costa Rica as well.”

Drug traffickers are moving into national parks, forest reserves and special conservation areas in order to elude the authorities. Trees are being chopped down not only to build roads for drug convoys; the researchers found that vast areas of forest are being cleared for ranches and crop growing – through which the traffickers launder their drug money.

Earlier studies looking at drug-related activities on the Caribbean coast of Honduras found that the clearing of forests by the drug cartels has also caused extensive flooding in the region.

“Narco-related activities undermine traditional forest uses and resource governance, producing significant social and ecological cost”

Bernardo Aguilar-González, a director of the Fundación Neotrópica NGO and a co-author of one of the reports, says: “Narco-related activities undermine traditional forest uses and resource governance, producing significant social and ecological costs.”

The reports strongly criticise a long-running, US-backed “War on Drugs” being waged in Central America. They conclude that funds provided by the US for a heavily-militarised anti-drug campaign “have ultimately pushed drug trafficking and the laundering of spectacular profits into remote, biodiverse spaces, where they threaten both ecosystems and people, and undermine conservation goals and local livelihoods”.

Other studies say the campaign has resulted in people being forced off their lands, and this has contributed to a growth in migration – with people trying to cross the border into the US.

Indigenous land rights

The researchers say a key way of tackling deforestation by the traffickers is to give local communities more control over the forests; indigenous land rights must be recognised and enforced across the region.

Areas managed by local communities have very low forest losses say the reports.

“Investing in community land rights and participatory governance in protected areas is a key strategy to combat drug trafficking and climate change simultaneously,” Aguilar-González told the Reuters news agency.

“Taken together, these papers confirm just how vital it is to ensure that local forest communities have long-term control over their land and forest resources,” says David Wrathall, assistant professor of geography at Oregon State University and a report author.

“If we are to reduce the risk of emissions caused when forests are destroyed and to safeguard the carbon in forests, such rights will be key in order to avoid dangerous human interference in the atmosphere.” – Climate News Network

Penguins in peril as winds change and heat rises

New weather patterns in the warming Antarctic are leaving thousands of penguins in peril, prompting calls for them to be specially protected.

LONDON, 10 October, 2019 – A species that has come to symbolise Antarctica’s wealth of wildlife now faces mortal danger: climate change is putting emperor penguins in peril.

British scientists say the continent is warming with unparalleled speed, meaning the birds may soon have almost nowhere to breed. Some researchers think the number of emperors could be cut by more than half by 2100.

Philip Trathan, head of conservation biology at the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge, says: “The current rate of warming in parts of the Antarctic is greater than anything in the recent glaciological record.

“Though emperor penguins have experienced periods of warming and cooling over their evolutionary history, the current rates of warming are unprecedented.

“Currently, we have no idea how the emperors will adjust to the loss of their primary breeding habitat – sea ice. They are not agile, and climbing ashore across steep coastal land forms will be difficult.

Numbers fluctuate

“For breeding, they depend upon sea ice, and in a warming world there is a high probability that this will decrease. Without it, they will have little or no breeding habitat.”

It is not the first time scientists have sounded the alarm for the emperors. This time, though, they are urging potentially far-reaching action.

In a study published in the journal Biological Conservation, an international team of researchers, led by Dr Trathan, recommends new steps to protect and conserve the penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri).

Satellite images in 2012 suggested there were almost 600,000 of the birds in the Antarctic, roughly double the number estimated in 1992. The researchers involved in this latest report reviewed over 150 studies on the species and its environment as well as its behaviour and character in relation to its breeding biology.

“Some colonies of emperor penguins may not survive the coming decades, so we must work to give as much protection as we can to the species”

Current climate change projections indicate that rising temperatures and changing wind patterns will damage the sea ice on which the emperors breed, with some studies showing populations likely to fall by more than 50% over this century.

Before breeding, both males and females must build their body reserves so that females can lay their single egg, and for males to fast while undertaking the entire egg incubation during the Antarctic winter.

Emperors are unique amongst birds because they breed on seasonal Antarctic sea ice which they need while incubating their eggs and raising their chicks.

They also need stable sea ice after they have completed breeding, during the time when they undergo their annual moult. They cannot enter the water then as their feathers are no longer waterproof, leaving them unable to enter the sea.

So the researchers are recommending that the IUCN status for the species be raised from “near-threatened” to “vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List.  They say improvements in climate change forecasting of impacts on Antarctic wildlife would help, and recommend that the emperors should be listed by the Antarctic Treaty as a specially protected species.

Wider appeal

Better protection will let scientists coordinate research into the penguins’ resilience to a range of different threats and stressors.

Dr Peter Fretwell, remote sensing specialist at BAS and a co-author of the study, says: “Some colonies of emperor penguins may not survive the coming decades, so we must work to give as much protection as we can to the species to give them the best chance.”

The UK was one of the countries which notified the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting at its 2019 meeting in July that emperor penguins were threatened by the loss of their breeding habitat and that further protection was needed.

A similar paper has also been submitted to this year’s Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), which meets in the Tasmanian capital, Hobart, later this month. – Climate News Network 

New weather patterns in the warming Antarctic are leaving thousands of penguins in peril, prompting calls for them to be specially protected.

LONDON, 10 October, 2019 – A species that has come to symbolise Antarctica’s wealth of wildlife now faces mortal danger: climate change is putting emperor penguins in peril.

British scientists say the continent is warming with unparalleled speed, meaning the birds may soon have almost nowhere to breed. Some researchers think the number of emperors could be cut by more than half by 2100.

Philip Trathan, head of conservation biology at the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge, says: “The current rate of warming in parts of the Antarctic is greater than anything in the recent glaciological record.

“Though emperor penguins have experienced periods of warming and cooling over their evolutionary history, the current rates of warming are unprecedented.

“Currently, we have no idea how the emperors will adjust to the loss of their primary breeding habitat – sea ice. They are not agile, and climbing ashore across steep coastal land forms will be difficult.

Numbers fluctuate

“For breeding, they depend upon sea ice, and in a warming world there is a high probability that this will decrease. Without it, they will have little or no breeding habitat.”

It is not the first time scientists have sounded the alarm for the emperors. This time, though, they are urging potentially far-reaching action.

In a study published in the journal Biological Conservation, an international team of researchers, led by Dr Trathan, recommends new steps to protect and conserve the penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri).

Satellite images in 2012 suggested there were almost 600,000 of the birds in the Antarctic, roughly double the number estimated in 1992. The researchers involved in this latest report reviewed over 150 studies on the species and its environment as well as its behaviour and character in relation to its breeding biology.

“Some colonies of emperor penguins may not survive the coming decades, so we must work to give as much protection as we can to the species”

Current climate change projections indicate that rising temperatures and changing wind patterns will damage the sea ice on which the emperors breed, with some studies showing populations likely to fall by more than 50% over this century.

Before breeding, both males and females must build their body reserves so that females can lay their single egg, and for males to fast while undertaking the entire egg incubation during the Antarctic winter.

Emperors are unique amongst birds because they breed on seasonal Antarctic sea ice which they need while incubating their eggs and raising their chicks.

They also need stable sea ice after they have completed breeding, during the time when they undergo their annual moult. They cannot enter the water then as their feathers are no longer waterproof, leaving them unable to enter the sea.

So the researchers are recommending that the IUCN status for the species be raised from “near-threatened” to “vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List.  They say improvements in climate change forecasting of impacts on Antarctic wildlife would help, and recommend that the emperors should be listed by the Antarctic Treaty as a specially protected species.

Wider appeal

Better protection will let scientists coordinate research into the penguins’ resilience to a range of different threats and stressors.

Dr Peter Fretwell, remote sensing specialist at BAS and a co-author of the study, says: “Some colonies of emperor penguins may not survive the coming decades, so we must work to give as much protection as we can to the species to give them the best chance.”

The UK was one of the countries which notified the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting at its 2019 meeting in July that emperor penguins were threatened by the loss of their breeding habitat and that further protection was needed.

A similar paper has also been submitted to this year’s Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), which meets in the Tasmanian capital, Hobart, later this month. – Climate News Network 

Rebellion grows against climate emergency

Global protestors disrupt traffic and target government buildings to protest at the lack of action to halt the climate emergency.

LONDON, 8 October, 2019 − This city yesterday re-echoed to the sound of dozens of drums beating outside Downing Street, the prime minister’s official residence, as thousands of protestors closed down London to warn the UK government it faces rebellion over the climate emergency and the plight of the natural world.

In 23 major cities across the planet the global movement known as Extinction Rebellion has begun two weeks of disruption intended to show governments that citizens are not satisfied with their actions to curb climate change and to protect wild species.

An extraordinary range of people with a variety of causes all linked to climate change crowded into London’s Trafalgar Square and other streets around Parliament.

Watched by bemused Chinese tourists attempting to take in London’s attractions, key road junctions and bridges were blockaded at 10 am by protestors sitting in the road. The Metropolitan Police arrested 280 demonstrators in the course of the day, although in most places they made no attempt to intervene.

With thousands of protestors trained in non-violent direct action and preparing to be arrested, the police clearly decided not to try to stop them. Instead they stood in front of the entrance to prime minister Boris Johnson’s house in Downing Street and protected the entrances to nearby government buildings.

“A lot of the time it felt like banging your head on a brick wall – now, after 40 years, it is so nice to see something is happening, something that could not be ignored”

Handing out leaflets entitled: “It’s time to tell the truth”, the protestors stressed their key message: “We are in trouble. Sea levels are rising. Heatwaves are killing crops. The Arctic is melting, and Africa and the Amazon are on fire.”

Although the atmosphere was friendly there was no doubt about the determination of those taking part. There were young mothers with children. Italian Monia Salvini, in Trafalgar Square, was carrying her six-month-old daughter Delia.

She had travelled from her home in east London and said she was there because she feared for her daughter’s future − “but I am not doing it just for her, I am doing it for everybody.”

She had first learned about the climate crisis a year ago, and the more she read the more she realised how urgent it was and how little governments were doing about it. “I thought as soon as my pregnancy is over I must do something.”

There were many homemade placards: “Choose Extinction or Rebellion”, “We can’t eat money, we can’t drink oil”, “Mars for the Privileged, Earth for the Poor”, and “We must rise before the tides.”

Next generation

Sarah, who did not want to give her surname, had travelled overnight by train from Edinburgh with her eight-month-old son and carried a notice reading: “Failure to Grasp Science is not an argument against it.” She said that, while the US and Brazilian governments were a disgrace, the United Kingdom led by Boris Johnson was just as bad “because after his government declared a climate emergency he has taken no action to do anything about it.”

There was a hearse across the road blocking the entrance to Whitehall. It held a coffin covered in flowers, and protestors dressed as undertakers. Trained protestors, ready for arrest, lay in the road beside it, but rather than attempt to move them police directed traffic to turn round.

Most drivers were good-humoured about the disruption to their day even though some were caught in traffic jams for over an hour. More vocal were some taxi drivers who shouted expletives at both the protestors and the police.

Outside Downing Street was a large number of people demanding a Citizen’s Assembly, an idea already being tried in Ireland, France, and in some English cities like Oxford.

A key demand of Extinction Rebellion, the idea is to recruit a cross-section of the population, “ordinary people selected at random”, to learn about climate change from experts and then decide together what should be done about it.

Destined to grow

The assemblies, which would undertake to have “no party politics, no short-term election thinking and no hidden money”, would recommend to governments the best way to get out of the climate crisis.

Among the protestors was 66-year-old Steve Morton, from High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire, “hardly a hotbed of the revolution.” A veteran environmental campaigner for Friends of the Earth for nearly 40 years, he said he had been trying “official channels” for all that time to get action on climate change.

“A lot of the time it felt like banging your head on a brick wall – now, after 40 years, it is so nice to see something is happening, something that could not be ignored.” He was particularly pleased to see that the vast majority of protestors were young people.

So far the police have made no comment on how long they will stand by while central London traffic is halted by the protests. It is not known either whether they have enough cells to hold the hundreds of demonstrators said to be ready for arrest.

What is clear is that the demonstrations are larger than the last set of disruptions in London in April, and better organised and financed. Like the school strikes begun by the Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg, they seem destined to grow. − Climate News Network

Global protestors disrupt traffic and target government buildings to protest at the lack of action to halt the climate emergency.

LONDON, 8 October, 2019 − This city yesterday re-echoed to the sound of dozens of drums beating outside Downing Street, the prime minister’s official residence, as thousands of protestors closed down London to warn the UK government it faces rebellion over the climate emergency and the plight of the natural world.

In 23 major cities across the planet the global movement known as Extinction Rebellion has begun two weeks of disruption intended to show governments that citizens are not satisfied with their actions to curb climate change and to protect wild species.

An extraordinary range of people with a variety of causes all linked to climate change crowded into London’s Trafalgar Square and other streets around Parliament.

Watched by bemused Chinese tourists attempting to take in London’s attractions, key road junctions and bridges were blockaded at 10 am by protestors sitting in the road. The Metropolitan Police arrested 280 demonstrators in the course of the day, although in most places they made no attempt to intervene.

With thousands of protestors trained in non-violent direct action and preparing to be arrested, the police clearly decided not to try to stop them. Instead they stood in front of the entrance to prime minister Boris Johnson’s house in Downing Street and protected the entrances to nearby government buildings.

“A lot of the time it felt like banging your head on a brick wall – now, after 40 years, it is so nice to see something is happening, something that could not be ignored”

Handing out leaflets entitled: “It’s time to tell the truth”, the protestors stressed their key message: “We are in trouble. Sea levels are rising. Heatwaves are killing crops. The Arctic is melting, and Africa and the Amazon are on fire.”

Although the atmosphere was friendly there was no doubt about the determination of those taking part. There were young mothers with children. Italian Monia Salvini, in Trafalgar Square, was carrying her six-month-old daughter Delia.

She had travelled from her home in east London and said she was there because she feared for her daughter’s future − “but I am not doing it just for her, I am doing it for everybody.”

She had first learned about the climate crisis a year ago, and the more she read the more she realised how urgent it was and how little governments were doing about it. “I thought as soon as my pregnancy is over I must do something.”

There were many homemade placards: “Choose Extinction or Rebellion”, “We can’t eat money, we can’t drink oil”, “Mars for the Privileged, Earth for the Poor”, and “We must rise before the tides.”

Next generation

Sarah, who did not want to give her surname, had travelled overnight by train from Edinburgh with her eight-month-old son and carried a notice reading: “Failure to Grasp Science is not an argument against it.” She said that, while the US and Brazilian governments were a disgrace, the United Kingdom led by Boris Johnson was just as bad “because after his government declared a climate emergency he has taken no action to do anything about it.”

There was a hearse across the road blocking the entrance to Whitehall. It held a coffin covered in flowers, and protestors dressed as undertakers. Trained protestors, ready for arrest, lay in the road beside it, but rather than attempt to move them police directed traffic to turn round.

Most drivers were good-humoured about the disruption to their day even though some were caught in traffic jams for over an hour. More vocal were some taxi drivers who shouted expletives at both the protestors and the police.

Outside Downing Street was a large number of people demanding a Citizen’s Assembly, an idea already being tried in Ireland, France, and in some English cities like Oxford.

A key demand of Extinction Rebellion, the idea is to recruit a cross-section of the population, “ordinary people selected at random”, to learn about climate change from experts and then decide together what should be done about it.

Destined to grow

The assemblies, which would undertake to have “no party politics, no short-term election thinking and no hidden money”, would recommend to governments the best way to get out of the climate crisis.

Among the protestors was 66-year-old Steve Morton, from High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire, “hardly a hotbed of the revolution.” A veteran environmental campaigner for Friends of the Earth for nearly 40 years, he said he had been trying “official channels” for all that time to get action on climate change.

“A lot of the time it felt like banging your head on a brick wall – now, after 40 years, it is so nice to see something is happening, something that could not be ignored.” He was particularly pleased to see that the vast majority of protestors were young people.

So far the police have made no comment on how long they will stand by while central London traffic is halted by the protests. It is not known either whether they have enough cells to hold the hundreds of demonstrators said to be ready for arrest.

What is clear is that the demonstrations are larger than the last set of disruptions in London in April, and better organised and financed. Like the school strikes begun by the Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg, they seem destined to grow. − Climate News Network

Drought may hit half world’s wheat at once

Wheat yields could be hit by severe drought across half the world at once, driving up prices and making problems for global markets.

LONDON, 2 October, 2019 − The planet’s daily bread could be at risk as the global thermometer creeps up and climates begin to change. New research has warned that almost two thirds of the world’s wheat-growing areas could face “severe, prolonged, and near-simultaneous droughts” by the century’s end.

Right now, 15% of the world’s wheat producing regions are at risk of severe water scarcity at the same time. Even if the 195 nations that agreed in Paris to stop global average temperatures from rising beyond 1.5°C by 2100 keep that promise, the chance of simultaneous water stress across continents would still double between 2030 and 2070.

But if nations fail to mitigate the climate change and extremes of heat and rainfall that would inevitably follow runaway global heating, then the chances of devastating failure of wheat harvests in both Europe and North America, or both Europe and Australia, or Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan, begin to soar.

Wheat provides one-fifth of all the calories for humankind. It is the world’s largest rain-fed crop and the global wheat trade matches the traffic in rice and in maize combined. Ten regions account for 54% of the planet’s wheat fields, and 57% of the world’s wheat.

“The results indicate a severely heightened risk of high-impact extreme events under the future climate”

Scientists from Europe, the US and China report in the journal Science Advances that they worked with computer simulations to model the future global weather for water scarcity with changes in temperature for the next eight decades.

Wheat is a successful crop partly because its water needs are relatively low, but it can’t flourish without reliable rainfall before and during growth. And the new simulations confirm earlier fears: that extremes of heat and devastating drought could happen in more than one continent at the same time.

When this happened in the 19th century, global famine followed. Forecasts already warn that with each 1°C rise in temperature, global wheat yield will fall by between 4% and 6.5%. Researchers have repeatedly warned that extremes of heat can slash yields and limit the vital nutrients in cereal harvests. Other teams have found that climate change may already be making this happen.

Worse could follow as one heat wave is pursued promptly by another. And all this could happen in a world in which, as population grows, demand for wheat could increase by at least 43%.

Continued checking

Scientists tend not to take the research of others for granted: they keep on checking. The latest simulation analysed 27 different climate models, each with three different scenarios.

The scientists looked at evidence from the near-past to find that between 1985 and 2007, the impact of drought on world wheat production was twice that between 1964 and 1984.

They included developing countries and low-income nations in eastern and southern Asia in their survey, because these are where half of the already hungry and under-nourished live, and where bread is an important part of people’s diet.

“The results indicate a severely heightened risk of high-impact extreme events under the future climate, which would likely affect all market players, ranging from direct influences on subsistence farmers to price-mediated changes in international markets”, they write. − Climate News Network

Wheat yields could be hit by severe drought across half the world at once, driving up prices and making problems for global markets.

LONDON, 2 October, 2019 − The planet’s daily bread could be at risk as the global thermometer creeps up and climates begin to change. New research has warned that almost two thirds of the world’s wheat-growing areas could face “severe, prolonged, and near-simultaneous droughts” by the century’s end.

Right now, 15% of the world’s wheat producing regions are at risk of severe water scarcity at the same time. Even if the 195 nations that agreed in Paris to stop global average temperatures from rising beyond 1.5°C by 2100 keep that promise, the chance of simultaneous water stress across continents would still double between 2030 and 2070.

But if nations fail to mitigate the climate change and extremes of heat and rainfall that would inevitably follow runaway global heating, then the chances of devastating failure of wheat harvests in both Europe and North America, or both Europe and Australia, or Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan, begin to soar.

Wheat provides one-fifth of all the calories for humankind. It is the world’s largest rain-fed crop and the global wheat trade matches the traffic in rice and in maize combined. Ten regions account for 54% of the planet’s wheat fields, and 57% of the world’s wheat.

“The results indicate a severely heightened risk of high-impact extreme events under the future climate”

Scientists from Europe, the US and China report in the journal Science Advances that they worked with computer simulations to model the future global weather for water scarcity with changes in temperature for the next eight decades.

Wheat is a successful crop partly because its water needs are relatively low, but it can’t flourish without reliable rainfall before and during growth. And the new simulations confirm earlier fears: that extremes of heat and devastating drought could happen in more than one continent at the same time.

When this happened in the 19th century, global famine followed. Forecasts already warn that with each 1°C rise in temperature, global wheat yield will fall by between 4% and 6.5%. Researchers have repeatedly warned that extremes of heat can slash yields and limit the vital nutrients in cereal harvests. Other teams have found that climate change may already be making this happen.

Worse could follow as one heat wave is pursued promptly by another. And all this could happen in a world in which, as population grows, demand for wheat could increase by at least 43%.

Continued checking

Scientists tend not to take the research of others for granted: they keep on checking. The latest simulation analysed 27 different climate models, each with three different scenarios.

The scientists looked at evidence from the near-past to find that between 1985 and 2007, the impact of drought on world wheat production was twice that between 1964 and 1984.

They included developing countries and low-income nations in eastern and southern Asia in their survey, because these are where half of the already hungry and under-nourished live, and where bread is an important part of people’s diet.

“The results indicate a severely heightened risk of high-impact extreme events under the future climate, which would likely affect all market players, ranging from direct influences on subsistence farmers to price-mediated changes in international markets”, they write. − Climate News Network

US bird numbers drop by nearly 3bn in 48 years

In the last five decades US bird numbers have plummeted by 29%. As populations dwindle, so do the chances of species survival.

LONDON, 22 September, 2019 − America’s birds have taken wing. Ornithologists calculate that in the past 48 years, total US bird numbers, reckoned together with Canada’s, have fallen drastically. There are now 2.9 billion birds fewer haunting North America’s marshes, forests, prairies, deserts and snows than there were in 1970. That is, more than one in four has flown away, perhaps forever.

Birds are one of the better observed species. Enthusiastic amateurs and trained professionals have been carefully keeping note of bird numbers and behaviour for a century or more.

A flock of avian scientists reports in the journal Science that they looked at numbers for 529 species of bird in the continental US and Canada to find that while around 100 native species had shown a small increase, a total of 419 native migratory species had experienced dramatic losses.

Shorebirds are experiencing consistent and steep population losses. Sparrows, warblers, blackbirds and finches are down in numbers.

Swallows, swifts, nightjars and other insectivores are in decline, almost certainly because insect populations are also in trouble.

“People all over the world cherish birds in their own right. Can you imagine a world without birdsong?”

Grassland birds are down 53%: more than 720 million fewer. Radar records of spring migrations suggest that these have dropped by 14% just in the last decade. More than a billion birds have deserted the American forests.

The 529 species studied were spread across 67 bird families, and of these 37 were less abundant than they had been. Where there had been concerted efforts at bird conservation, numbers were on the increase, especially for waterfowl and some of the raptors, such as the bald eagle, but while the gains are measured in millions, the losses are counted in billions.

“Multiple, independent lines of evidence show a massive reduction in the abundance of birds,” said Ken Rosenburg of Cornell University’s ornithology laboratory, who led the study.

“We expected to see continuing declines of threatened species. But for the first time, the results showed pervasive losses among common birds across all habitats, including backyard birds.”

That America’s birds are in trouble is not news. Nor is the loss of the planet’s living things confined to the US: researchers have warned that, worldwide, a million or more species of plant and animal face extinction.

Pest control

Climate change creates unexpected hazards: as northern hemisphere springs get ever earlier, migrant birds may arrive too late to take full advantage of supplies of  caterpillars, aphids or other foods. Birds have an important role in ecosystems: they control pests, they disperse seeds and they are themselves food for other predators.

The researchers argue that all is not lost: conservation action and legislation has been shown to work, but as ever more natural habitat is destroyed, as sea levels rise to damage coastal wetlands, as global temperature rises begin to change local climates, there needs to be much more urgency in response.

“These data are consistent with what we are seeing elsewhere with other taxa showing massive declines, including insects and amphibians,” said Peter Marra, one of the authors, once of the Smithsonian Museum and now at Georgetown University in the US.

“It’s imperative to address immediate and ongoing threats, both because the domino effect can lead to the decay of ecosystems that humans depend on for our own health and livelihoods – and because people all over the world cherish birds in their own right. Can you imagine a world without birdsong?” − Climate News Network

In the last five decades US bird numbers have plummeted by 29%. As populations dwindle, so do the chances of species survival.

LONDON, 22 September, 2019 − America’s birds have taken wing. Ornithologists calculate that in the past 48 years, total US bird numbers, reckoned together with Canada’s, have fallen drastically. There are now 2.9 billion birds fewer haunting North America’s marshes, forests, prairies, deserts and snows than there were in 1970. That is, more than one in four has flown away, perhaps forever.

Birds are one of the better observed species. Enthusiastic amateurs and trained professionals have been carefully keeping note of bird numbers and behaviour for a century or more.

A flock of avian scientists reports in the journal Science that they looked at numbers for 529 species of bird in the continental US and Canada to find that while around 100 native species had shown a small increase, a total of 419 native migratory species had experienced dramatic losses.

Shorebirds are experiencing consistent and steep population losses. Sparrows, warblers, blackbirds and finches are down in numbers.

Swallows, swifts, nightjars and other insectivores are in decline, almost certainly because insect populations are also in trouble.

“People all over the world cherish birds in their own right. Can you imagine a world without birdsong?”

Grassland birds are down 53%: more than 720 million fewer. Radar records of spring migrations suggest that these have dropped by 14% just in the last decade. More than a billion birds have deserted the American forests.

The 529 species studied were spread across 67 bird families, and of these 37 were less abundant than they had been. Where there had been concerted efforts at bird conservation, numbers were on the increase, especially for waterfowl and some of the raptors, such as the bald eagle, but while the gains are measured in millions, the losses are counted in billions.

“Multiple, independent lines of evidence show a massive reduction in the abundance of birds,” said Ken Rosenburg of Cornell University’s ornithology laboratory, who led the study.

“We expected to see continuing declines of threatened species. But for the first time, the results showed pervasive losses among common birds across all habitats, including backyard birds.”

That America’s birds are in trouble is not news. Nor is the loss of the planet’s living things confined to the US: researchers have warned that, worldwide, a million or more species of plant and animal face extinction.

Pest control

Climate change creates unexpected hazards: as northern hemisphere springs get ever earlier, migrant birds may arrive too late to take full advantage of supplies of  caterpillars, aphids or other foods. Birds have an important role in ecosystems: they control pests, they disperse seeds and they are themselves food for other predators.

The researchers argue that all is not lost: conservation action and legislation has been shown to work, but as ever more natural habitat is destroyed, as sea levels rise to damage coastal wetlands, as global temperature rises begin to change local climates, there needs to be much more urgency in response.

“These data are consistent with what we are seeing elsewhere with other taxa showing massive declines, including insects and amphibians,” said Peter Marra, one of the authors, once of the Smithsonian Museum and now at Georgetown University in the US.

“It’s imperative to address immediate and ongoing threats, both because the domino effect can lead to the decay of ecosystems that humans depend on for our own health and livelihoods – and because people all over the world cherish birds in their own right. Can you imagine a world without birdsong?” − Climate News Network

Mountains rich in species still puzzle science

Life on Earth is ultimately a mystery. Even more of a riddle is why there are so many mountains rich in species.

LONDON, 16 September, 2019 − Danish ecologists have begun to wrestle with one of life’s great unsolved puzzles: why does the world have so many ranges of mountains rich in species?

This is not just a question for the intellectual high ground. As many as a million species of amphibian, fish, bird, reptile, mammal, insect or plant could be threatened by climate change and the destruction of forest habitat by human action this century.

But forests – if conserved and protected – could play a vital role in mitigating climate change, and researchers have repeatedly found that undisturbed forests hold the greatest levels of biodiversity, and conversely that biodiversity is important to the stability of the great forests.

But when biologists look more closely at the challenge of explaining biodiversity, they are confronted by something unexpected. The richest landscapes on the planet are the tropical and subtropical mountain chains. And the richest of all are the northern Andean chain.

This stretch of soaring peaks and woodland valleys is the most species-rich of all, with 45,000 kinds of flowering plant, 44% of which are found only in that region.

“Mountains, with their uniquely complex environments and geology, have allowed the continued persistence of ancient species deeply rooted in the tree of life”

There are huge concentrations of living things in the highlands of China’s Sichuan and Yunnan, the East African Highlands and the mountains of New Guinea. These contours of ridge and valley occupy only 25% of the inhabited continents, but they are home to 85% of amphibians, birds and mammals.

And of this population of vertebrates, more than half are found only in mountain ranges. To mark the 250th anniversary of the birth of the great explorer Alexander von Humboldt, scientists have dubbed this question “the Humboldt enigma”.

In 1799 Humboldt began a five-year voyage of discovery through Latin America, and made history by mapping the way vegetation changed with altitude on Mt Chimborazo in Ecuador.

“The challenge is that, although it is evident that much of the global variation in biodiversity is so clearly driven by the extraordinary richness of tropical mountain regions, it is this very richness that current biodiversity models, based on contemporary climate, cannot explain,” said Carsten Rahbek of the University of Copenhagen and Imperial College London, who led the research, published in the journal Science.

“Mountains are simply too rich in species, and we are falling short of explaining global hotspots of biodiversity.”

Search for principles

Professor Rahbek was one of a team that, five years ago, measured changes of colour in butterflies and dragonflies that could be linked to changes in European temperatures in a world of global heating.

That is, evolution seemed to be responding to environmental change. Scientists call this sort of research macroecology: the search for the principles behind change, rather than the details of change.

There could hardly be a bigger macroecological question than one that concerns the location of the richest concentrations of life’s variety. Climatic variation – including the shifts in temperature with altitude – is clearly a factor.

Geology – because mountains are where bedrock tends to be most exposed – emerges as another factor in the two papers in Science.

Open question

Professor Rahbek describes the studies as testament to the pioneering science of Humboldt more than two centuries ago. The Humboldt enigma, for the moment, remains an open question.

Conservation scientists know that climate change and habitat destruction driven by human behaviour threatens the bewildering richness of life on Earth. But they still don’t know quite why life on Earth is so bewilderingly rich, and especially why it is so rich in relatively confined hotspots.

“The global pattern of biodiversity shows that mountain biodiversity exhibits a visible signature of past evolutionary processes,” Professor Rahbek said.

“Mountains, with their uniquely complex environments and geology, have allowed the continued persistence of ancient species deeply rooted in the tree of life, as well as being cradles where new species have arisen at a much higher rate than in lowland areas, even in areas as amazingly biodiverse as the Amazonian rainforest.” − Climate News Network

Life on Earth is ultimately a mystery. Even more of a riddle is why there are so many mountains rich in species.

LONDON, 16 September, 2019 − Danish ecologists have begun to wrestle with one of life’s great unsolved puzzles: why does the world have so many ranges of mountains rich in species?

This is not just a question for the intellectual high ground. As many as a million species of amphibian, fish, bird, reptile, mammal, insect or plant could be threatened by climate change and the destruction of forest habitat by human action this century.

But forests – if conserved and protected – could play a vital role in mitigating climate change, and researchers have repeatedly found that undisturbed forests hold the greatest levels of biodiversity, and conversely that biodiversity is important to the stability of the great forests.

But when biologists look more closely at the challenge of explaining biodiversity, they are confronted by something unexpected. The richest landscapes on the planet are the tropical and subtropical mountain chains. And the richest of all are the northern Andean chain.

This stretch of soaring peaks and woodland valleys is the most species-rich of all, with 45,000 kinds of flowering plant, 44% of which are found only in that region.

“Mountains, with their uniquely complex environments and geology, have allowed the continued persistence of ancient species deeply rooted in the tree of life”

There are huge concentrations of living things in the highlands of China’s Sichuan and Yunnan, the East African Highlands and the mountains of New Guinea. These contours of ridge and valley occupy only 25% of the inhabited continents, but they are home to 85% of amphibians, birds and mammals.

And of this population of vertebrates, more than half are found only in mountain ranges. To mark the 250th anniversary of the birth of the great explorer Alexander von Humboldt, scientists have dubbed this question “the Humboldt enigma”.

In 1799 Humboldt began a five-year voyage of discovery through Latin America, and made history by mapping the way vegetation changed with altitude on Mt Chimborazo in Ecuador.

“The challenge is that, although it is evident that much of the global variation in biodiversity is so clearly driven by the extraordinary richness of tropical mountain regions, it is this very richness that current biodiversity models, based on contemporary climate, cannot explain,” said Carsten Rahbek of the University of Copenhagen and Imperial College London, who led the research, published in the journal Science.

“Mountains are simply too rich in species, and we are falling short of explaining global hotspots of biodiversity.”

Search for principles

Professor Rahbek was one of a team that, five years ago, measured changes of colour in butterflies and dragonflies that could be linked to changes in European temperatures in a world of global heating.

That is, evolution seemed to be responding to environmental change. Scientists call this sort of research macroecology: the search for the principles behind change, rather than the details of change.

There could hardly be a bigger macroecological question than one that concerns the location of the richest concentrations of life’s variety. Climatic variation – including the shifts in temperature with altitude – is clearly a factor.

Geology – because mountains are where bedrock tends to be most exposed – emerges as another factor in the two papers in Science.

Open question

Professor Rahbek describes the studies as testament to the pioneering science of Humboldt more than two centuries ago. The Humboldt enigma, for the moment, remains an open question.

Conservation scientists know that climate change and habitat destruction driven by human behaviour threatens the bewildering richness of life on Earth. But they still don’t know quite why life on Earth is so bewilderingly rich, and especially why it is so rich in relatively confined hotspots.

“The global pattern of biodiversity shows that mountain biodiversity exhibits a visible signature of past evolutionary processes,” Professor Rahbek said.

“Mountains, with their uniquely complex environments and geology, have allowed the continued persistence of ancient species deeply rooted in the tree of life, as well as being cradles where new species have arisen at a much higher rate than in lowland areas, even in areas as amazingly biodiverse as the Amazonian rainforest.” − Climate News Network

Moderate forest damage raises local temperature

Trees cool the world. They also cool themselves. Even moderate forest damage makes local temperatures soar.

LONDON, 13 September, 2019 − Destruction of the Amazon rainforest is bad news for the planet. It isn’t good news for the people, plants and animals of the region either. And even moderate forest damage raises local temperatures faster than it can affect the average global temperature.

British researchers used comprehensive and systematic sets of satellite data to test the local temperatures of both surviving tropical rainforest in the Amazon basin, and of the surfaces cleared of canopy by fire, axe, drought and grazing.

They report that even if two-thirds of the tree cover survived, the local ground temperature increased. The more canopy that was lost, the more pronounced the effect.

Local thermometer readings went up by almost half a degree in the first 13 years of this century, compared with the original undisturbed forest. And in the dry season, over the areas most affected by severe deforestation, the average temperatures soared by 1.5°C compared with intact forest.

This figure of 1.5°C has almost iconic status. It represents what 195 nations in Paris in 2015 agreed should be the limit of global average warming by the end of the century.

“The Amazon wildfires have reminded us all of the important role that forests play in our global systems. But intact Amazon forests are also crucially important for Brazil’s local climate”

Forests – and in particular the tropical rainforests – are part of the global strategy to constrain global heating driven by ever-increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, themselves the product of fossil fuel use and the destruction of grasslands and forests.

In a process called evapotranspiration, great tracts of canopy draw cascades of water from the soil and release it into the atmosphere, to lower local temperatures and at the same time absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide.

But rainforests such as the Amazon are also at risk, directly from human assault and less directly from global heating as higher temperatures increase the hazard of longer droughts, which in turn intensifies the loss of canopy.

And political change in Brazil now means that the planet’s “green lungs” are more at risk than ever, as fires blaze over the region.

Jessica Baker from the University of Leeds and her co-author report in the journal Frontiers in Forests and Global Change that almost one million square kilometres – an area the size of Egypt – of the Amazon has already been cleared: this is nearly a fifth of the original forest.

Damage increases heat

The researchers combed through local studies, satellite observations made by day and night, and other research to grade the forest as intact or no longer intact, and then as moderately or severely affected, and then started comparing averaged data from the three years 2001-2003 with that of 2011-2013.

They found that even if 70% of the canopy survived, the damaged forest was significantly warmer than the nearest intact forest. Towards the end of the dry season of August and September, heavily disturbed forest regions warmed by as much as 1.5°C compared to intact canopy.

“The Amazon wildfires have reminded us all of the important role that forests play in our global systems,” Dr Baker said. “But it cannot be overlooked that intact Amazon forests are also crucially important for Brazil’s local climate.”

And her co-author Dominick Spracklen said: “Evapotranspiration can be thought of as the forest ‘sweating’; when the moisture emitted by the forests evaporates it cools the local climate. Deforestation reduces evapotranspiration, taking away this cooling function and causing local temperatures to rise.

“As temperatures rise this increases drought stress and makes forests more susceptible to burning.” − Climate News Network

Trees cool the world. They also cool themselves. Even moderate forest damage makes local temperatures soar.

LONDON, 13 September, 2019 − Destruction of the Amazon rainforest is bad news for the planet. It isn’t good news for the people, plants and animals of the region either. And even moderate forest damage raises local temperatures faster than it can affect the average global temperature.

British researchers used comprehensive and systematic sets of satellite data to test the local temperatures of both surviving tropical rainforest in the Amazon basin, and of the surfaces cleared of canopy by fire, axe, drought and grazing.

They report that even if two-thirds of the tree cover survived, the local ground temperature increased. The more canopy that was lost, the more pronounced the effect.

Local thermometer readings went up by almost half a degree in the first 13 years of this century, compared with the original undisturbed forest. And in the dry season, over the areas most affected by severe deforestation, the average temperatures soared by 1.5°C compared with intact forest.

This figure of 1.5°C has almost iconic status. It represents what 195 nations in Paris in 2015 agreed should be the limit of global average warming by the end of the century.

“The Amazon wildfires have reminded us all of the important role that forests play in our global systems. But intact Amazon forests are also crucially important for Brazil’s local climate”

Forests – and in particular the tropical rainforests – are part of the global strategy to constrain global heating driven by ever-increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, themselves the product of fossil fuel use and the destruction of grasslands and forests.

In a process called evapotranspiration, great tracts of canopy draw cascades of water from the soil and release it into the atmosphere, to lower local temperatures and at the same time absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide.

But rainforests such as the Amazon are also at risk, directly from human assault and less directly from global heating as higher temperatures increase the hazard of longer droughts, which in turn intensifies the loss of canopy.

And political change in Brazil now means that the planet’s “green lungs” are more at risk than ever, as fires blaze over the region.

Jessica Baker from the University of Leeds and her co-author report in the journal Frontiers in Forests and Global Change that almost one million square kilometres – an area the size of Egypt – of the Amazon has already been cleared: this is nearly a fifth of the original forest.

Damage increases heat

The researchers combed through local studies, satellite observations made by day and night, and other research to grade the forest as intact or no longer intact, and then as moderately or severely affected, and then started comparing averaged data from the three years 2001-2003 with that of 2011-2013.

They found that even if 70% of the canopy survived, the damaged forest was significantly warmer than the nearest intact forest. Towards the end of the dry season of August and September, heavily disturbed forest regions warmed by as much as 1.5°C compared to intact canopy.

“The Amazon wildfires have reminded us all of the important role that forests play in our global systems,” Dr Baker said. “But it cannot be overlooked that intact Amazon forests are also crucially important for Brazil’s local climate.”

And her co-author Dominick Spracklen said: “Evapotranspiration can be thought of as the forest ‘sweating’; when the moisture emitted by the forests evaporates it cools the local climate. Deforestation reduces evapotranspiration, taking away this cooling function and causing local temperatures to rise.

“As temperatures rise this increases drought stress and makes forests more susceptible to burning.” − Climate News Network

Sand and dust storms pose global threat

The United Nations plans to tame lethal sand and dust storms with a mixture of modern technology and traditional knowledge.

DELHI, 12 September, 2019 − The standard bearer of the United Nations’ effort to combat desert spread and the threat from sand and dust storms, meeting here, is determined to be remembered as not just a global talking shop, but a launchpad for action.

The UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) has launched a coalition to energise the UN’s response to the problem.  One focus for the new body will be to develop the sand and dust storms (SDS) source base map to improve the monitoring of the storms.

Iran told the meeting that both traditional and modern knowledge on SDS hot spots could help to create a stronger knowledge base for regional initiatives. The coalition’s members include  the International Civil Aviation Organization and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

The WMO already has an established SDS warning advisory system (SDS-WAS) to research the problem and try to provide forecasts of dangerous storms. Countries are now being asked to explore ways of reducing man-made contributions to dust storms, for example by not denuding land of vegetation.

Climate change and extreme weather have made SDS a threat to more than 150 countries, causing economic damage and threatening health. The storms, once thought of as a local problem in desert or arid regions, are now recognised as a global hazard.

“There is a need for more accurate real-time observations of dust properties and for understanding dust triggering mechanisms, seasonal variabilities, and transport dynamics”

Huge quantities of sand and dust can be lifted into the air by high winds and distributed over hundreds of miles. The problem is worsening as droughts increase and land is degraded by deforestation and poor agricultural practices.

Dust is also intensifying climate change, for example by discolouring ice so that it melts faster, and human health is affected by increased asthma and the spread of diseases such as valley fever and meningitis.

Aviation suffers when storms close airports or cause damage when dust is sucked into engines. Roads are lost under sand and electricity supplies disrupted. Even fisheries are damaged by sand settling in the oceans and affecting plankton growth.

The storms can be severe. In 2018 more than 125 people died and 200 were injured by a high-velocity dust storm in northern India. Even in Europe large areas can be covered in orange sand and dust from the Sahara.

Hesham El-Askary, professor of earth systems science and remote sensing at Chapman University in California, said: “There is a need for more accurate real-time observations of dust properties and for understanding dust triggering mechanisms, seasonal variabilities, and transport dynamics to assist mitigation of windblown dust consequences in many applications. These include human health, weather, solar and wind energy systems, aviation, highway safety and urban development.”

Higher cyclone intensity

The Asia Pacific Disaster Report 2019, released in August, suggests that the impacts of climate change differ by sub-region: “Temperature increase is likely to cause a rise in the number and duration of heat waves and droughts . . . Climate change is also expected to increase cyclone intensity, with serious threats along the coastal areas of countries in south-east Asia.”

A complex sequence of climate and weather disasters such as drought, SDS, desertification and floods is on the rise in arid and semi-arid sub-regions of south-west and central Asia, the report said. And, as indicated clearly in the recent IPCC report on global warming of 1.5°C, the decrease in soil moisture will increase the frequency and intensity of sand and dust storms in south, south-west and central Asia.

A recent example was the powerful dust storm that swept over parts of Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan in May 2018. There was also a toxic salt storm from the Aral Sea that hit northern Turkmenistan and western Uzbekistan.

The storms then moved through Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and north-west India and collided with the pre-monsoon weather, including thunderstorms and rain, affecting a wide area and causing the loss of hundreds of lives. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

Nivedita Khandekar is an independent journalist based in Delhi. She writes on environmental and developmental issues. Email: nivedita_him@rediffmail.com; Twitter: @nivedita_Him

The United Nations plans to tame lethal sand and dust storms with a mixture of modern technology and traditional knowledge.

DELHI, 12 September, 2019 − The standard bearer of the United Nations’ effort to combat desert spread and the threat from sand and dust storms, meeting here, is determined to be remembered as not just a global talking shop, but a launchpad for action.

The UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) has launched a coalition to energise the UN’s response to the problem.  One focus for the new body will be to develop the sand and dust storms (SDS) source base map to improve the monitoring of the storms.

Iran told the meeting that both traditional and modern knowledge on SDS hot spots could help to create a stronger knowledge base for regional initiatives. The coalition’s members include  the International Civil Aviation Organization and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

The WMO already has an established SDS warning advisory system (SDS-WAS) to research the problem and try to provide forecasts of dangerous storms. Countries are now being asked to explore ways of reducing man-made contributions to dust storms, for example by not denuding land of vegetation.

Climate change and extreme weather have made SDS a threat to more than 150 countries, causing economic damage and threatening health. The storms, once thought of as a local problem in desert or arid regions, are now recognised as a global hazard.

“There is a need for more accurate real-time observations of dust properties and for understanding dust triggering mechanisms, seasonal variabilities, and transport dynamics”

Huge quantities of sand and dust can be lifted into the air by high winds and distributed over hundreds of miles. The problem is worsening as droughts increase and land is degraded by deforestation and poor agricultural practices.

Dust is also intensifying climate change, for example by discolouring ice so that it melts faster, and human health is affected by increased asthma and the spread of diseases such as valley fever and meningitis.

Aviation suffers when storms close airports or cause damage when dust is sucked into engines. Roads are lost under sand and electricity supplies disrupted. Even fisheries are damaged by sand settling in the oceans and affecting plankton growth.

The storms can be severe. In 2018 more than 125 people died and 200 were injured by a high-velocity dust storm in northern India. Even in Europe large areas can be covered in orange sand and dust from the Sahara.

Hesham El-Askary, professor of earth systems science and remote sensing at Chapman University in California, said: “There is a need for more accurate real-time observations of dust properties and for understanding dust triggering mechanisms, seasonal variabilities, and transport dynamics to assist mitigation of windblown dust consequences in many applications. These include human health, weather, solar and wind energy systems, aviation, highway safety and urban development.”

Higher cyclone intensity

The Asia Pacific Disaster Report 2019, released in August, suggests that the impacts of climate change differ by sub-region: “Temperature increase is likely to cause a rise in the number and duration of heat waves and droughts . . . Climate change is also expected to increase cyclone intensity, with serious threats along the coastal areas of countries in south-east Asia.”

A complex sequence of climate and weather disasters such as drought, SDS, desertification and floods is on the rise in arid and semi-arid sub-regions of south-west and central Asia, the report said. And, as indicated clearly in the recent IPCC report on global warming of 1.5°C, the decrease in soil moisture will increase the frequency and intensity of sand and dust storms in south, south-west and central Asia.

A recent example was the powerful dust storm that swept over parts of Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan in May 2018. There was also a toxic salt storm from the Aral Sea that hit northern Turkmenistan and western Uzbekistan.

The storms then moved through Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and north-west India and collided with the pre-monsoon weather, including thunderstorms and rain, affecting a wide area and causing the loss of hundreds of lives. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

Nivedita Khandekar is an independent journalist based in Delhi. She writes on environmental and developmental issues. Email: nivedita_him@rediffmail.com; Twitter: @nivedita_Him

French wines show hot dry years are now normal

Records have begun to topple for the world’s finest tipple. French wines can now count 664 years of vintage information in the east of the country.

LONDON, 6 September, 2019 − French wines tell a remarkable story: climate scientists and historians, with a new wine list to savour, have carefully reconstructed the harvest dates for Burgundy – one of the most important wine regions of France – to highlight the dramatic change in global climate.

Grapes in Burgundy are now picked 13 days earlier than the average for the last 664 years. And the advance in harvest dates has been dramatic: almost all since 1988.

The finding is based on painstaking study of data going back to 1354. From medieval times Burgundian growers and civic authorities had an unusual communal arrangement: they each year collectively considered the growing conditions and imposed a date before which no grapes might be picked.

And scientists from France, Germany and Switzerland report in the journal Climate of the Past that they worked through all surviving records to provide an accurate record of the harvest date around the city of Beaune.

“The transition to a rapid global warming after 1988 stands out very clearly. We hope people start to realistically consider the climate situation in which the planet is at present”

Since grapes are highly sensitive to temperature and rainfall, and the quality and reputation of Burgundy has been well-established for centuries, the researchers are confident that the data confirm a dramatic warming trend.

Even in a much cooler past, exceptionally early harvests were not unknown. The researchers counted 33 altogether, and 21 of these happened between 1393 and 1719, and five between 1720 and 2002. In the 16 years since 2003, there have been eight outstandingly warm spring-summer seasons, and five of those have happened in the last eight years.

“In sum, the 664-year-long Beaune grape harvest date series demonstrates that outstanding hot and dry years in the past were outliers, while they have become the norm since transition to rapid warming in 1988,” they write.

Historical reconstructions are not easy: data had been assembled before, but these records turned out to be riddled with copying, typing and printing errors. There were administrative changes (after 1906, city authorities in the Burgundian capital of Dijon ceased to set or record a harvest date).

Narrative verified

There were accounts kept by the dukes of Burgundy, and records of payments for grapevine labourers maintained by church authorities in Beaune, evidence of purchases of food for the harvesters, and records of sales to the King of France.

But those six centuries were also marked by the Little Ice Age, the Thirty Years War between Catholic and Protestant states from 1618 to 1648, several epidemics of plague, and the arrival of the vineyard-destroying infection phylloxera.

So the researchers had to verify their proxy history of regional climate from tree-ring data, and from vineyard records kept in Switzerland, as well as temperature records from Paris.

The wine industry is vulnerable to climate change: researchers noted three years ago that harvests in Burgundy and in Vaud in Switzerland were up to two weeks earlier and that climate change had begun to warm southern England’s chalky soils to the a degree that made them yield sparkling wines to match qualities pursued in the Champagne region of France.

Inescapable conclusion

But the same soaring temperatures that for the moment have helped the grower have begun to impose costs on the grape pickers, who become less productive as the mercury rises.

So the confirmation that harvests are earlier is not in itself news. The data from Beaune and Dijon are best seen as another example of painstaking phenological research. Phenology is the science of when insects hatch, trees bud and birds nest, and in the Burgundian series climate scientists now have a continuous record stretching back 664 years. The story told by the series is unequivocal.

“The transition to a rapid global warming after 1988 stands out very clearly,” said Christian Pfister of the University of Bern in Switzerland, one of the authors.

“The exceptional character of the last 30 years becomes apparent to everybody. We hope people start to realistically consider the climate situation in which the planet is at present.” − Climate News Network

Records have begun to topple for the world’s finest tipple. French wines can now count 664 years of vintage information in the east of the country.

LONDON, 6 September, 2019 − French wines tell a remarkable story: climate scientists and historians, with a new wine list to savour, have carefully reconstructed the harvest dates for Burgundy – one of the most important wine regions of France – to highlight the dramatic change in global climate.

Grapes in Burgundy are now picked 13 days earlier than the average for the last 664 years. And the advance in harvest dates has been dramatic: almost all since 1988.

The finding is based on painstaking study of data going back to 1354. From medieval times Burgundian growers and civic authorities had an unusual communal arrangement: they each year collectively considered the growing conditions and imposed a date before which no grapes might be picked.

And scientists from France, Germany and Switzerland report in the journal Climate of the Past that they worked through all surviving records to provide an accurate record of the harvest date around the city of Beaune.

“The transition to a rapid global warming after 1988 stands out very clearly. We hope people start to realistically consider the climate situation in which the planet is at present”

Since grapes are highly sensitive to temperature and rainfall, and the quality and reputation of Burgundy has been well-established for centuries, the researchers are confident that the data confirm a dramatic warming trend.

Even in a much cooler past, exceptionally early harvests were not unknown. The researchers counted 33 altogether, and 21 of these happened between 1393 and 1719, and five between 1720 and 2002. In the 16 years since 2003, there have been eight outstandingly warm spring-summer seasons, and five of those have happened in the last eight years.

“In sum, the 664-year-long Beaune grape harvest date series demonstrates that outstanding hot and dry years in the past were outliers, while they have become the norm since transition to rapid warming in 1988,” they write.

Historical reconstructions are not easy: data had been assembled before, but these records turned out to be riddled with copying, typing and printing errors. There were administrative changes (after 1906, city authorities in the Burgundian capital of Dijon ceased to set or record a harvest date).

Narrative verified

There were accounts kept by the dukes of Burgundy, and records of payments for grapevine labourers maintained by church authorities in Beaune, evidence of purchases of food for the harvesters, and records of sales to the King of France.

But those six centuries were also marked by the Little Ice Age, the Thirty Years War between Catholic and Protestant states from 1618 to 1648, several epidemics of plague, and the arrival of the vineyard-destroying infection phylloxera.

So the researchers had to verify their proxy history of regional climate from tree-ring data, and from vineyard records kept in Switzerland, as well as temperature records from Paris.

The wine industry is vulnerable to climate change: researchers noted three years ago that harvests in Burgundy and in Vaud in Switzerland were up to two weeks earlier and that climate change had begun to warm southern England’s chalky soils to the a degree that made them yield sparkling wines to match qualities pursued in the Champagne region of France.

Inescapable conclusion

But the same soaring temperatures that for the moment have helped the grower have begun to impose costs on the grape pickers, who become less productive as the mercury rises.

So the confirmation that harvests are earlier is not in itself news. The data from Beaune and Dijon are best seen as another example of painstaking phenological research. Phenology is the science of when insects hatch, trees bud and birds nest, and in the Burgundian series climate scientists now have a continuous record stretching back 664 years. The story told by the series is unequivocal.

“The transition to a rapid global warming after 1988 stands out very clearly,” said Christian Pfister of the University of Bern in Switzerland, one of the authors.

“The exceptional character of the last 30 years becomes apparent to everybody. We hope people start to realistically consider the climate situation in which the planet is at present.” − Climate News Network

Worse US Atlantic floods need planned retreat

Its coasts are at ever-greater risk from rising seas, and US Atlantic floods will soon force people to move. Why not start planning now?

LONDON, 3 September, 2019 − What are now considered once-in-a-hundred-years floods are on the increase in the US. Later this century, they could happen to northern coastal states every year.

And even in the more fortunate cities along the south-east Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico coasts, the once-in-a-century floods will happen a lot more often: somewhere between every 30 years and every year.

In a second study, a team of distinguished scientists argues that the US should face the inevitable and begin to plan for a managed, strategic retreat from its own coasts.

At the heart of both studies is a set of new realities imposed by a rapidly-heating ocean and higher air temperatures worldwide. As the icecaps of Greenland and Antarctica melt, and as the glaciers of Canada and Alaska retreat, so sea levels have begun to rise inexorably.

But as the oceans increase in average temperature, thanks to an ever-warmer atmosphere driven by greenhouse gases from profligate combustion of fossil fuels, so the oceans have begun to expand: warmer waters are less dense, and thus higher.

“We need to stop picturing our relationship with nature as a war. We’re not winning or losing, we’re adjusting to changes in nature”

And there is a third factor. With warmer seas there will be more frequent and more violent hurricanes and windstorms, more damaging storm surges and yet more torrential rainfall.

Researchers from Princeton University report in the journal Nature Communications that they considered all three factors to create a flood hazard map of the US. Simply because of rising waters, New England states can expect to see what were once rare events almost every year.

“For the Gulf of Mexico, we found the effect of storm surge is compatible with or more significant than the effect of sea level rise for 40% of counties,” said Ning Lin, a Princeton engineer.

“So if we neglect the effects of storm climatology change, we would significantly underestimate the impact of climate change for these regions.”

Growing Atlantic danger

Exercises of this kind are about planning for the worst: were the Princeton research the only such study, city chiefs could afford to relax. But it is not.

For years climate scientists and oceanographers have been warning of ever-greater hazard to Atlantic America. They have warned of ever more torrential rains and the hazards of ever more damaging floods even in disparate cities such as Charleston and Seattle; they have even warned of high tide floods on a daily basis in some cities, and they have proposed that an estimated 13 million Americans could become climate refugees, driven by the advancing seas from their own homes.

All of which is why a trio of researchers argue for the need to accept the inevitable and step back from the sea, and they say so in the journal Science. They argue that the US should start to prepare for retreat by limiting development in the areas most at risk.

“Fighting the ocean is a losing battle,” said A R Siders of Harvard and the University of Delaware. “The only way to win against water is not to fight. We need to stop picturing our relationship with nature as a war. We’re not winning or losing, we’re adjusting to changes in nature.” − Climate News Network

Its coasts are at ever-greater risk from rising seas, and US Atlantic floods will soon force people to move. Why not start planning now?

LONDON, 3 September, 2019 − What are now considered once-in-a-hundred-years floods are on the increase in the US. Later this century, they could happen to northern coastal states every year.

And even in the more fortunate cities along the south-east Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico coasts, the once-in-a-century floods will happen a lot more often: somewhere between every 30 years and every year.

In a second study, a team of distinguished scientists argues that the US should face the inevitable and begin to plan for a managed, strategic retreat from its own coasts.

At the heart of both studies is a set of new realities imposed by a rapidly-heating ocean and higher air temperatures worldwide. As the icecaps of Greenland and Antarctica melt, and as the glaciers of Canada and Alaska retreat, so sea levels have begun to rise inexorably.

But as the oceans increase in average temperature, thanks to an ever-warmer atmosphere driven by greenhouse gases from profligate combustion of fossil fuels, so the oceans have begun to expand: warmer waters are less dense, and thus higher.

“We need to stop picturing our relationship with nature as a war. We’re not winning or losing, we’re adjusting to changes in nature”

And there is a third factor. With warmer seas there will be more frequent and more violent hurricanes and windstorms, more damaging storm surges and yet more torrential rainfall.

Researchers from Princeton University report in the journal Nature Communications that they considered all three factors to create a flood hazard map of the US. Simply because of rising waters, New England states can expect to see what were once rare events almost every year.

“For the Gulf of Mexico, we found the effect of storm surge is compatible with or more significant than the effect of sea level rise for 40% of counties,” said Ning Lin, a Princeton engineer.

“So if we neglect the effects of storm climatology change, we would significantly underestimate the impact of climate change for these regions.”

Growing Atlantic danger

Exercises of this kind are about planning for the worst: were the Princeton research the only such study, city chiefs could afford to relax. But it is not.

For years climate scientists and oceanographers have been warning of ever-greater hazard to Atlantic America. They have warned of ever more torrential rains and the hazards of ever more damaging floods even in disparate cities such as Charleston and Seattle; they have even warned of high tide floods on a daily basis in some cities, and they have proposed that an estimated 13 million Americans could become climate refugees, driven by the advancing seas from their own homes.

All of which is why a trio of researchers argue for the need to accept the inevitable and step back from the sea, and they say so in the journal Science. They argue that the US should start to prepare for retreat by limiting development in the areas most at risk.

“Fighting the ocean is a losing battle,” said A R Siders of Harvard and the University of Delaware. “The only way to win against water is not to fight. We need to stop picturing our relationship with nature as a war. We’re not winning or losing, we’re adjusting to changes in nature.” − Climate News Network