Tag Archives: India

Asian carbon finds its way home

India and China have good reason to cut their greenhouse emissions, scientists say: soot they are producing is damaging their own water resources.

LONDON, 25 August, 2016 – Black carbon – soot particles that absorb sunlight, spread by fossil fuel combustion  – are thought to accelerate the thinning of the glaciers of Himalaya and Tibet. Scientists have just identified the source of this Asian carbon.

The smears that warm the ice in the Himalayas come from India, they say. And two thirds of the black cloud that settles on the frozen rivers of Tibet is from China.

Since billions of people in the region depend on the steady flow of glacial meltwater down the Indus, the Ganges, the Tsangpo-Brahmaputra, the Mekong, the Yangtze and many other rivers through the summer growing season, the implications are ominous.

But since India and China are two of the three countries that burn fossil fuels to emit the highest levels of climate-warming carbon dioxide, the research also delivers another goad to action.

Pristine snow and ice reflect solar radiation back into space: mountain snows with a high albedo provide their own insulation, and release meltwater slowly throughout the season.

Faster melting

Soot and cinders from forest fires or factory chimneys lower the albedo, because black carbon absorbs solar radiation and accelerates melting.

Shichang Kang of the Cold and Arid Regions Environmental and Engineering Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, based in Lanzhou, reports in the journal Nature Communications that he and colleagues from China and Sweden focused on identifying the source of carbon particles collected from eight snowpits.

These were on glaciers at what the scientists call the Third Pole – the Himalaya-Hindu Kush mountains and the Tibetan Plateau represent the greatest mass of ice on Earth beyond the Arctic and Antarctic – during May and June over the years 2012 to 2014.

They also collected aerosols – particles of black carbon drifting across the region – at seven stations along the Mustang and Langtang valleys in the massif.

Source pinpointed

Then they used a technique called dual-carbon isotope fingerprinting to identify a chemical signature to distinguish whether the soot came from burning vegetation or fossil fuels, and where the samples came from.

Two-thirds of the soot from the Tibetan plateau, they report, came from fossil fuel combustion in China, and much of the remainder from cinders of yak dung, a traditional fuel in Tibet.

The particles sampled from the Himalayas were, they write, equally composed of fragments of burning biomass and fossil fuels from the Indo-Gangetic Plain in North India. So Asian carbon could be storing up problems for a thirsty (and therefore hungry) future.

Black carbon aerosols, the authors report, “are believed to play a considerable role in the melting of mid-latitude glaciers.” And they conclude that their observations could help “guide policy actions aimed to effectively mitigate emissions.” – Climate News Network

India and China have good reason to cut their greenhouse emissions, scientists say: soot they are producing is damaging their own water resources.

LONDON, 25 August, 2016 – Black carbon – soot particles that absorb sunlight, spread by fossil fuel combustion  – are thought to accelerate the thinning of the glaciers of Himalaya and Tibet. Scientists have just identified the source of this Asian carbon.

The smears that warm the ice in the Himalayas come from India, they say. And two thirds of the black cloud that settles on the frozen rivers of Tibet is from China.

Since billions of people in the region depend on the steady flow of glacial meltwater down the Indus, the Ganges, the Tsangpo-Brahmaputra, the Mekong, the Yangtze and many other rivers through the summer growing season, the implications are ominous.

But since India and China are two of the three countries that burn fossil fuels to emit the highest levels of climate-warming carbon dioxide, the research also delivers another goad to action.

Pristine snow and ice reflect solar radiation back into space: mountain snows with a high albedo provide their own insulation, and release meltwater slowly throughout the season.

Faster melting

Soot and cinders from forest fires or factory chimneys lower the albedo, because black carbon absorbs solar radiation and accelerates melting.

Shichang Kang of the Cold and Arid Regions Environmental and Engineering Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, based in Lanzhou, reports in the journal Nature Communications that he and colleagues from China and Sweden focused on identifying the source of carbon particles collected from eight snowpits.

These were on glaciers at what the scientists call the Third Pole – the Himalaya-Hindu Kush mountains and the Tibetan Plateau represent the greatest mass of ice on Earth beyond the Arctic and Antarctic – during May and June over the years 2012 to 2014.

They also collected aerosols – particles of black carbon drifting across the region – at seven stations along the Mustang and Langtang valleys in the massif.

Source pinpointed

Then they used a technique called dual-carbon isotope fingerprinting to identify a chemical signature to distinguish whether the soot came from burning vegetation or fossil fuels, and where the samples came from.

Two-thirds of the soot from the Tibetan plateau, they report, came from fossil fuel combustion in China, and much of the remainder from cinders of yak dung, a traditional fuel in Tibet.

The particles sampled from the Himalayas were, they write, equally composed of fragments of burning biomass and fossil fuels from the Indo-Gangetic Plain in North India. So Asian carbon could be storing up problems for a thirsty (and therefore hungry) future.

Black carbon aerosols, the authors report, “are believed to play a considerable role in the melting of mid-latitude glaciers.” And they conclude that their observations could help “guide policy actions aimed to effectively mitigate emissions.” – Climate News Network

Monsoon brings late relief to scorched India

Meteorological researchers in India suspect that climate change is a contributory factor to the changing weather patterns that have caused  the late arrival of the monsoon after a summer of swelteringly dry heat that has broken temperature records

Kolkata, 24 June, 2014 − At last, the rains have come. The summer monsoon arrived in West Bengal last week – almost two weeks later than usual − and brought relief to Kolkata and other cities and states across India that have been enduring an unusually hot summer. A temperature of 41.5˚C was recorded in Kolkata in late May – the highest in 10 years – while temperatures in New Delhi  earlier this month exceeded 43˚C for seven consecutive days, and at one stage reached 48˚C. Other cities and states have had record temperatures, and many lives have been lost due to the heat. Livelihoods have also suffered. Kolkata is famous for its bustling streets and pavements crowded with hawkers, but throughout recent months there has been a deserted look to the city. “We have had to close our stalls earlier than usual and there’s been hardly any customers,” says Asraf Ali, a street hawker. “People from neighbouring districts, who are our main customers, have not been coming into the city due to the terrible heat.”

Absence of humidity

One thing that’s been worrying residents of Kolkata is an unusual period of what is called “dry heat” – an absence of humidity. Locals say this has made daytime conditions even more scorching. Aminul Hasaan, a worker in one of Kolkata’s notoriously polluting leather tanning factories, says: “I was working so hard, and usually I sweat so much. But in the weeks before the monsoon I felt my forehead was always dry. It made me feel sick.” Anshujyoti Das, who works for Express Weather, a private weather research organisation that aims to provide location-specific weather forecasts, says the dry heat indicates certain changes in weather patterns. He says: “We cannot claim that this is the direct result of climate change, but we can’t brush the issue under the carpet. We must conduct studies to ascertain the reasons behind such unusual weather patterns.” One possible cause for the dry conditions is thought to be the absence of the north-westerly storms that usually lash Kolkata and surrounding areas in the run-up to the monsoon. On average, five to seven such storms hit in April and May, but this year only one was recorded. There was also an absence of moisture-laden winds blowing from the south. Due to the conditions, the local government authorities extended summer vacations at 57,000 primary schools and more than 18,000 secondary schools. And the city police in Kolkata decided that traffic constables aged 55 and above should be relieved of their duties because of the extreme heat. Dilip Adak, a senior officer at Kolkata’s traffic department, said: “We try to help [traffic policemen] by providing oral rehydration kits and umbrellas, but often that is not enough.”

Driving up prices

About half of India’s 1.25 billon people are involved in agriculture and are dependent on the summer monsoon rains. The late arrival of the monsoon can have a serious impact, driving up prices of many agricultural goods. The latest report from the Indian Meteorological Department shows that the monsoon has not only arrived late but is less intense than normal, with many areas receiving well below average rainfall. Climate change and the influence of an El Niño – a periodic warming of waters in the western Pacific that affects prevailing trade winds, with serious consequences on both sides of the Pacific and Indian Oceans – are seen as important influences on the behaviour of the monsoon– Climate News Network

• Shiba Nanda Basu is a reporter with The Statesman newspaper, Kolkata, India.

• Additional reporting by Kieran Cooke.

Meteorological researchers in India suspect that climate change is a contributory factor to the changing weather patterns that have caused  the late arrival of the monsoon after a summer of swelteringly dry heat that has broken temperature records

Kolkata, 24 June, 2014 − At last, the rains have come. The summer monsoon arrived in West Bengal last week – almost two weeks later than usual − and brought relief to Kolkata and other cities and states across India that have been enduring an unusually hot summer. A temperature of 41.5˚C was recorded in Kolkata in late May – the highest in 10 years – while temperatures in New Delhi  earlier this month exceeded 43˚C for seven consecutive days, and at one stage reached 48˚C. Other cities and states have had record temperatures, and many lives have been lost due to the heat. Livelihoods have also suffered. Kolkata is famous for its bustling streets and pavements crowded with hawkers, but throughout recent months there has been a deserted look to the city. “We have had to close our stalls earlier than usual and there’s been hardly any customers,” says Asraf Ali, a street hawker. “People from neighbouring districts, who are our main customers, have not been coming into the city due to the terrible heat.”

Absence of humidity

One thing that’s been worrying residents of Kolkata is an unusual period of what is called “dry heat” – an absence of humidity. Locals say this has made daytime conditions even more scorching. Aminul Hasaan, a worker in one of Kolkata’s notoriously polluting leather tanning factories, says: “I was working so hard, and usually I sweat so much. But in the weeks before the monsoon I felt my forehead was always dry. It made me feel sick.” Anshujyoti Das, who works for Express Weather, a private weather research organisation that aims to provide location-specific weather forecasts, says the dry heat indicates certain changes in weather patterns. He says: “We cannot claim that this is the direct result of climate change, but we can’t brush the issue under the carpet. We must conduct studies to ascertain the reasons behind such unusual weather patterns.” One possible cause for the dry conditions is thought to be the absence of the north-westerly storms that usually lash Kolkata and surrounding areas in the run-up to the monsoon. On average, five to seven such storms hit in April and May, but this year only one was recorded. There was also an absence of moisture-laden winds blowing from the south. Due to the conditions, the local government authorities extended summer vacations at 57,000 primary schools and more than 18,000 secondary schools. And the city police in Kolkata decided that traffic constables aged 55 and above should be relieved of their duties because of the extreme heat. Dilip Adak, a senior officer at Kolkata’s traffic department, said: “We try to help [traffic policemen] by providing oral rehydration kits and umbrellas, but often that is not enough.”

Driving up prices

About half of India’s 1.25 billon people are involved in agriculture and are dependent on the summer monsoon rains. The late arrival of the monsoon can have a serious impact, driving up prices of many agricultural goods. The latest report from the Indian Meteorological Department shows that the monsoon has not only arrived late but is less intense than normal, with many areas receiving well below average rainfall. Climate change and the influence of an El Niño – a periodic warming of waters in the western Pacific that affects prevailing trade winds, with serious consequences on both sides of the Pacific and Indian Oceans – are seen as important influences on the behaviour of the monsoon– Climate News Network

• Shiba Nanda Basu is a reporter with The Statesman newspaper, Kolkata, India.

• Additional reporting by Kieran Cooke.

India’s lethal heat wave strikes again

Large numbers of people die in India each year because of heat waves − and as climate change takes hold and the country swelters again, doctors are warning the public to take extra precautions Chennai, 28 May − Kumar Srinivasan, a 34-year-old policeman, is struggling to cope with the heat as he controls traffic at a busy city-centre road junction in Chennai, South India. “I feel like a roasted chicken,” he says. “But it’s actually worse, since I am alive while the chicken would have gone to rest in heaven.” India is sizzling under hot winds as many parts of the country suffer temperatures hovering above 40˚C. And officials in the National Weather Forecasting Center of the India Metrological Department have warned that “heat waves to severe heat wave conditions would prevail in isolated parts of the country in the last week of May”. As the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports confirm that India will continue to get hotter because of climate change, doctors are concerned that the public needs to be warned of the danger they are in. Excess heat is already claiming many lives. Research published earlier this year in the journal Plos One showed that in May 2010, when the Indian city of Ahmedabad in the state of Gujarat experienced a heat wave with record-breaking maximum temperatures of 46.8˚C, an estimated 1,344 deaths occurred − 43% higher than expected.

Road fatalities

Another chilling statistic in 2012, recently published by the National Crime Records Bureau, is that 5.4% of the total 22,960 road fatalities in India were attributable to heat strokes. That is more than 1,000 people. The Indian government has done its bit to make the summer slightly more bearable for policemen such as Srinivasan, providing them with packets of aerated fruit juices and buttermilk (yoghurt diluted in water), as well as sunglasses. “I am just waiting for the summer to be over, or for some of the summer showers that sometimes happen during June,” Srinivasan says before stepping out of the shade of his little booth to start directing traffic manually again in the scorching heat because a power failure has cut out the traffic lights. Indian politicians, trying to woo voters, put up water pandals (small stalls made of dried palm/coconut leaves) to supply water, and even buttermilk at times, to the public during the recent election period. In fact, the Indian elections are deliberately timetabled to avoid the worst part of summer, and the entire election process this time was completed by the second week of May, when the sun was beginning to get harsh.. Doctors at the government’s Rajiv Gandhi General Hospital in Chennai have asked the public to take preventive measures to avoid heat strokes – including wearing light-coloured, loose-fitting cotton clothes, staying hydrated, and avoiding strenuous exercise during the day.

“The maximum temperature will reach 40˚C  in many places in Tamil Nadu . . .  It’s going to be sweltering hot.”

And the Regional Meterological Centre (RMC) in Chennai has been publishing weather projections for the state of Tamil Nadu on its website, keeping people informed with with regular updates of  projections of average temperatures for one week for every district in the state. S.R. Ramanan, director of the RMC, told Climate News Network: “The maximum temperature will reach 40˚C  in many places in Tamil Nadu in the coming days.  It’s going to be sweltering hot.” While rich and middle-class Indians go for upgraded refrigerators, air conditioners and coolers, the poor households have to settle for earthen pots to keep drinking water cool. The plight of people is the same, or even worse, in most parts of tropical India during the hostile summers, particularly since fast-moving urbanisation is taking its toll on trees, which are being chopped down to make way for new high-rise buildings, roads and shopping malls

Loss of shade

The loss of the natural shade of avenue trees means that it’s not just humans who are suffering. The bovine population roams around the streets looking for any tiny puddle of urban gutter water to quench their thirst, and the government’s forest department has had to build concrete tanks and fill them with water to try to prevent animals from suffering dehydration. Many milkmen live in urban areas and do not take enough care of their cows to protect them from the summer heat, and the Tamil Nadu Veterinary and Animal Sciences University has also found that many aged animals suffer kidney failures in the summer season because of dehydration. Meanwhile, as more people die every year in India due to heat strokes, social activists are calling for the government to take up initiatives to protect people and spread awareness about preventive measures. “Curbing privatisation of water and ensuring supply of good quality drinking water for the residents is a major step to avoid dehydration and heat strokes,” said Chennai social activist A.Devaneyan. “The government health department should conduct awareness campaigns to inform people about taking additional care of elders and children during the summer.” Devaneyan pointed out that the rising number of players in the bottled drinking water industry has also led to rising prices. He said: “A one-litre bottle now costs 20 rupees. How many can afford that?” Not surprisingly, the popularity of the Tamil Nadu state chief minister, Ms Jayalalithaa Jayaram, also rose after she recently ordered her government to supply water at 10 rupees per bottle − half the price of the “private” water. – Climate News Network.

  • Pramila Krishnan is based in Chennai as Principal Correspondent of the Deccan Chronicle, an English-language newspaper in India.

Large numbers of people die in India each year because of heat waves − and as climate change takes hold and the country swelters again, doctors are warning the public to take extra precautions Chennai, 28 May − Kumar Srinivasan, a 34-year-old policeman, is struggling to cope with the heat as he controls traffic at a busy city-centre road junction in Chennai, South India. “I feel like a roasted chicken,” he says. “But it’s actually worse, since I am alive while the chicken would have gone to rest in heaven.” India is sizzling under hot winds as many parts of the country suffer temperatures hovering above 40˚C. And officials in the National Weather Forecasting Center of the India Metrological Department have warned that “heat waves to severe heat wave conditions would prevail in isolated parts of the country in the last week of May”. As the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports confirm that India will continue to get hotter because of climate change, doctors are concerned that the public needs to be warned of the danger they are in. Excess heat is already claiming many lives. Research published earlier this year in the journal Plos One showed that in May 2010, when the Indian city of Ahmedabad in the state of Gujarat experienced a heat wave with record-breaking maximum temperatures of 46.8˚C, an estimated 1,344 deaths occurred − 43% higher than expected.

Road fatalities

Another chilling statistic in 2012, recently published by the National Crime Records Bureau, is that 5.4% of the total 22,960 road fatalities in India were attributable to heat strokes. That is more than 1,000 people. The Indian government has done its bit to make the summer slightly more bearable for policemen such as Srinivasan, providing them with packets of aerated fruit juices and buttermilk (yoghurt diluted in water), as well as sunglasses. “I am just waiting for the summer to be over, or for some of the summer showers that sometimes happen during June,” Srinivasan says before stepping out of the shade of his little booth to start directing traffic manually again in the scorching heat because a power failure has cut out the traffic lights. Indian politicians, trying to woo voters, put up water pandals (small stalls made of dried palm/coconut leaves) to supply water, and even buttermilk at times, to the public during the recent election period. In fact, the Indian elections are deliberately timetabled to avoid the worst part of summer, and the entire election process this time was completed by the second week of May, when the sun was beginning to get harsh.. Doctors at the government’s Rajiv Gandhi General Hospital in Chennai have asked the public to take preventive measures to avoid heat strokes – including wearing light-coloured, loose-fitting cotton clothes, staying hydrated, and avoiding strenuous exercise during the day.

“The maximum temperature will reach 40˚C  in many places in Tamil Nadu . . .  It’s going to be sweltering hot.”

And the Regional Meterological Centre (RMC) in Chennai has been publishing weather projections for the state of Tamil Nadu on its website, keeping people informed with with regular updates of  projections of average temperatures for one week for every district in the state. S.R. Ramanan, director of the RMC, told Climate News Network: “The maximum temperature will reach 40˚C  in many places in Tamil Nadu in the coming days.  It’s going to be sweltering hot.” While rich and middle-class Indians go for upgraded refrigerators, air conditioners and coolers, the poor households have to settle for earthen pots to keep drinking water cool. The plight of people is the same, or even worse, in most parts of tropical India during the hostile summers, particularly since fast-moving urbanisation is taking its toll on trees, which are being chopped down to make way for new high-rise buildings, roads and shopping malls

Loss of shade

The loss of the natural shade of avenue trees means that it’s not just humans who are suffering. The bovine population roams around the streets looking for any tiny puddle of urban gutter water to quench their thirst, and the government’s forest department has had to build concrete tanks and fill them with water to try to prevent animals from suffering dehydration. Many milkmen live in urban areas and do not take enough care of their cows to protect them from the summer heat, and the Tamil Nadu Veterinary and Animal Sciences University has also found that many aged animals suffer kidney failures in the summer season because of dehydration. Meanwhile, as more people die every year in India due to heat strokes, social activists are calling for the government to take up initiatives to protect people and spread awareness about preventive measures. “Curbing privatisation of water and ensuring supply of good quality drinking water for the residents is a major step to avoid dehydration and heat strokes,” said Chennai social activist A.Devaneyan. “The government health department should conduct awareness campaigns to inform people about taking additional care of elders and children during the summer.” Devaneyan pointed out that the rising number of players in the bottled drinking water industry has also led to rising prices. He said: “A one-litre bottle now costs 20 rupees. How many can afford that?” Not surprisingly, the popularity of the Tamil Nadu state chief minister, Ms Jayalalithaa Jayaram, also rose after she recently ordered her government to supply water at 10 rupees per bottle − half the price of the “private” water. – Climate News Network.

  • Pramila Krishnan is based in Chennai as Principal Correspondent of the Deccan Chronicle, an English-language newspaper in India.

India's dam building bonanza

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
India is in the midst of a massive hydro electric dam building programme, necessary, it says, to fuel the energy needs of its fast growing economy. Kieran Cooke, one of the editors of the Climate News Network, has been in India and reports on the country’s energy plans.

Assam, northeastern India, March 16 – This region, east of Bangladesh and bordering China to the north, is an area described by politicians as India’s ‘future powerhouse’ and is a key focus point of the country’s dam building programme.

The ambition of planners in New Delhi is not in doubt. So far plans for more than 160 dams – both big and small – have been announced in the northeast, the majority of them to be built in the remote, mountainous state of Arunachal Pradesh and harnessing the waters of the mighty Brahmaputra river and its tributaries.

It’s planned that in total more than 60,000 MW of electricity will be generated from the planned dams. More projects are likely to follow.

Not to be outdone, China, which borders Arunachal Pradesh, is involved in a major dam building programme on its side of the border, also using the waters of the Brahmaputra – which it calls the Yarlung Tsangpo.

Controversy

The dam building programme is highly controversial: critics say it not only ignores geological and ecological factors – it also fails to take into account the impact of climate change in the region.

The Brahmaputra, 10 kilometres wide in places, is one of the world’s major rivers, winding for nearly 3,000 kilometres from the Tibetan Plateau through China, India and Bangladesh before joining with the Ganges and flowing out into the Bay of Bengal.

It is an extremely volatile, tempestuous river system: the Brahmaputra’s waters rise dramatically during monsoon season, causing widespread flooding, erosion  and misery for many thousands of mostly subsistence farmers.

Ashwini Saikia is a farmer on the banks of the Brahmaputra river, in the small settlement of Rohomoria in northern Assam. Even now, in pre monsoon season when the river is low, there is the “plop, plop” sound of land falling into the waters.

Erosion fears

“Each year the river has eaten away more and more of my land. Then in 2010 the waters rose so much I lost my house for the fifth time in the last 15 years” says Ashwini.

Ashwini has given up farming and is now being forced to move with his family and livestock – to where he’s not entirely sure.

Dr Partha Das is an Assamese academic who has been studying the Brahmaputra for several years. He also runs Aaranyak, a locally based environmental NGO.

“The dam building programme has many question marks hanging over it including the fact that the northeast is a highly seismic region, with an earthquake in 1950 completely altering the geological structure of the Brahmaputra river basin.

Climate change impacts

“Then there is the whole question of climate change, which has scarcely been mentioned by the planners. Already we’re seeing an increase in intense rainfall events that are accelerating the high rate of soil erosion and landslides in mountainous regions. And as temperatures rise and glaciers melt on the Tibetan Plateau and in the Himalayas, river flow levels – at least in the short term – are likely to increase.”

The Indian government defends its dam building programme, saying the power generated will mean that the country will be able to wean itself off its dependence on coal for energy, most of it low quality and extremely polluting.

But many in the northeast, who have long felt cut off from the rest of India and neglected by central government, are unconvinced by New Delhi’s arguments.

There are accusations that the mostly privately backed dam building projects are money making exercises for the wealthy: most of the power produced will be exported to other parts of India and not used to build up local industries.

Tribal concerns

The northeast is a tribal area: indigenous peoples say the influx of labourers from elsewhere in India is threatening local culture. They say the dams will also lead to more deforestation – and threaten some of India’s most important wildlife habitats.

Opponents of the dam building say no proper overall plan has been put in place: though India and China recently reached agreement on sharing various river resources, there is no specific deal on managing the Brahmaputra’s waters.

Protests about the dams has been growing, with work on what is India’s biggest dam construction project to date – the 2,000MW Lower Subansiri dam on one of the Brahmaputra’s tributaries – repeatedly held up. – Climate News Network

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
India is in the midst of a massive hydro electric dam building programme, necessary, it says, to fuel the energy needs of its fast growing economy. Kieran Cooke, one of the editors of the Climate News Network, has been in India and reports on the country’s energy plans.

Assam, northeastern India, March 16 – This region, east of Bangladesh and bordering China to the north, is an area described by politicians as India’s ‘future powerhouse’ and is a key focus point of the country’s dam building programme.

The ambition of planners in New Delhi is not in doubt. So far plans for more than 160 dams – both big and small – have been announced in the northeast, the majority of them to be built in the remote, mountainous state of Arunachal Pradesh and harnessing the waters of the mighty Brahmaputra river and its tributaries.

It’s planned that in total more than 60,000 MW of electricity will be generated from the planned dams. More projects are likely to follow.

Not to be outdone, China, which borders Arunachal Pradesh, is involved in a major dam building programme on its side of the border, also using the waters of the Brahmaputra – which it calls the Yarlung Tsangpo.

Controversy

The dam building programme is highly controversial: critics say it not only ignores geological and ecological factors – it also fails to take into account the impact of climate change in the region.

The Brahmaputra, 10 kilometres wide in places, is one of the world’s major rivers, winding for nearly 3,000 kilometres from the Tibetan Plateau through China, India and Bangladesh before joining with the Ganges and flowing out into the Bay of Bengal.

It is an extremely volatile, tempestuous river system: the Brahmaputra’s waters rise dramatically during monsoon season, causing widespread flooding, erosion  and misery for many thousands of mostly subsistence farmers.

Ashwini Saikia is a farmer on the banks of the Brahmaputra river, in the small settlement of Rohomoria in northern Assam. Even now, in pre monsoon season when the river is low, there is the “plop, plop” sound of land falling into the waters.

Erosion fears

“Each year the river has eaten away more and more of my land. Then in 2010 the waters rose so much I lost my house for the fifth time in the last 15 years” says Ashwini.

Ashwini has given up farming and is now being forced to move with his family and livestock – to where he’s not entirely sure.

Dr Partha Das is an Assamese academic who has been studying the Brahmaputra for several years. He also runs Aaranyak, a locally based environmental NGO.

“The dam building programme has many question marks hanging over it including the fact that the northeast is a highly seismic region, with an earthquake in 1950 completely altering the geological structure of the Brahmaputra river basin.

Climate change impacts

“Then there is the whole question of climate change, which has scarcely been mentioned by the planners. Already we’re seeing an increase in intense rainfall events that are accelerating the high rate of soil erosion and landslides in mountainous regions. And as temperatures rise and glaciers melt on the Tibetan Plateau and in the Himalayas, river flow levels – at least in the short term – are likely to increase.”

The Indian government defends its dam building programme, saying the power generated will mean that the country will be able to wean itself off its dependence on coal for energy, most of it low quality and extremely polluting.

But many in the northeast, who have long felt cut off from the rest of India and neglected by central government, are unconvinced by New Delhi’s arguments.

There are accusations that the mostly privately backed dam building projects are money making exercises for the wealthy: most of the power produced will be exported to other parts of India and not used to build up local industries.

Tribal concerns

The northeast is a tribal area: indigenous peoples say the influx of labourers from elsewhere in India is threatening local culture. They say the dams will also lead to more deforestation – and threaten some of India’s most important wildlife habitats.

Opponents of the dam building say no proper overall plan has been put in place: though India and China recently reached agreement on sharing various river resources, there is no specific deal on managing the Brahmaputra’s waters.

Protests about the dams has been growing, with work on what is India’s biggest dam construction project to date – the 2,000MW Lower Subansiri dam on one of the Brahmaputra’s tributaries – repeatedly held up. – Climate News Network

India’s dam building bonanza

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE India is in the midst of a massive hydro electric dam building programme, necessary, it says, to fuel the energy needs of its fast growing economy. Kieran Cooke, one of the editors of the Climate News Network, has been in India and reports on the country’s energy plans. Assam, northeastern India, March 16 – This region, east of Bangladesh and bordering China to the north, is an area described by politicians as India’s ‘future powerhouse’ and is a key focus point of the country’s dam building programme. The ambition of planners in New Delhi is not in doubt. So far plans for more than 160 dams – both big and small – have been announced in the northeast, the majority of them to be built in the remote, mountainous state of Arunachal Pradesh and harnessing the waters of the mighty Brahmaputra river and its tributaries. It’s planned that in total more than 60,000 MW of electricity will be generated from the planned dams. More projects are likely to follow. Not to be outdone, China, which borders Arunachal Pradesh, is involved in a major dam building programme on its side of the border, also using the waters of the Brahmaputra – which it calls the Yarlung Tsangpo.

Controversy

The dam building programme is highly controversial: critics say it not only ignores geological and ecological factors – it also fails to take into account the impact of climate change in the region. The Brahmaputra, 10 kilometres wide in places, is one of the world’s major rivers, winding for nearly 3,000 kilometres from the Tibetan Plateau through China, India and Bangladesh before joining with the Ganges and flowing out into the Bay of Bengal. It is an extremely volatile, tempestuous river system: the Brahmaputra’s waters rise dramatically during monsoon season, causing widespread flooding, erosion  and misery for many thousands of mostly subsistence farmers. Ashwini Saikia is a farmer on the banks of the Brahmaputra river, in the small settlement of Rohomoria in northern Assam. Even now, in pre monsoon season when the river is low, there is the “plop, plop” sound of land falling into the waters.

Erosion fears

“Each year the river has eaten away more and more of my land. Then in 2010 the waters rose so much I lost my house for the fifth time in the last 15 years” says Ashwini. Ashwini has given up farming and is now being forced to move with his family and livestock – to where he’s not entirely sure. Dr Partha Das is an Assamese academic who has been studying the Brahmaputra for several years. He also runs Aaranyak, a locally based environmental NGO. “The dam building programme has many question marks hanging over it including the fact that the northeast is a highly seismic region, with an earthquake in 1950 completely altering the geological structure of the Brahmaputra river basin.

Climate change impacts

“Then there is the whole question of climate change, which has scarcely been mentioned by the planners. Already we’re seeing an increase in intense rainfall events that are accelerating the high rate of soil erosion and landslides in mountainous regions. And as temperatures rise and glaciers melt on the Tibetan Plateau and in the Himalayas, river flow levels – at least in the short term – are likely to increase.” The Indian government defends its dam building programme, saying the power generated will mean that the country will be able to wean itself off its dependence on coal for energy, most of it low quality and extremely polluting. But many in the northeast, who have long felt cut off from the rest of India and neglected by central government, are unconvinced by New Delhi’s arguments. There are accusations that the mostly privately backed dam building projects are money making exercises for the wealthy: most of the power produced will be exported to other parts of India and not used to build up local industries.

Tribal concerns

The northeast is a tribal area: indigenous peoples say the influx of labourers from elsewhere in India is threatening local culture. They say the dams will also lead to more deforestation – and threaten some of India’s most important wildlife habitats. Opponents of the dam building say no proper overall plan has been put in place: though India and China recently reached agreement on sharing various river resources, there is no specific deal on managing the Brahmaputra’s waters. Protests about the dams has been growing, with work on what is India’s biggest dam construction project to date – the 2,000MW Lower Subansiri dam on one of the Brahmaputra’s tributaries – repeatedly held up. – Climate News Network

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE India is in the midst of a massive hydro electric dam building programme, necessary, it says, to fuel the energy needs of its fast growing economy. Kieran Cooke, one of the editors of the Climate News Network, has been in India and reports on the country’s energy plans. Assam, northeastern India, March 16 – This region, east of Bangladesh and bordering China to the north, is an area described by politicians as India’s ‘future powerhouse’ and is a key focus point of the country’s dam building programme. The ambition of planners in New Delhi is not in doubt. So far plans for more than 160 dams – both big and small – have been announced in the northeast, the majority of them to be built in the remote, mountainous state of Arunachal Pradesh and harnessing the waters of the mighty Brahmaputra river and its tributaries. It’s planned that in total more than 60,000 MW of electricity will be generated from the planned dams. More projects are likely to follow. Not to be outdone, China, which borders Arunachal Pradesh, is involved in a major dam building programme on its side of the border, also using the waters of the Brahmaputra – which it calls the Yarlung Tsangpo.

Controversy

The dam building programme is highly controversial: critics say it not only ignores geological and ecological factors – it also fails to take into account the impact of climate change in the region. The Brahmaputra, 10 kilometres wide in places, is one of the world’s major rivers, winding for nearly 3,000 kilometres from the Tibetan Plateau through China, India and Bangladesh before joining with the Ganges and flowing out into the Bay of Bengal. It is an extremely volatile, tempestuous river system: the Brahmaputra’s waters rise dramatically during monsoon season, causing widespread flooding, erosion  and misery for many thousands of mostly subsistence farmers. Ashwini Saikia is a farmer on the banks of the Brahmaputra river, in the small settlement of Rohomoria in northern Assam. Even now, in pre monsoon season when the river is low, there is the “plop, plop” sound of land falling into the waters.

Erosion fears

“Each year the river has eaten away more and more of my land. Then in 2010 the waters rose so much I lost my house for the fifth time in the last 15 years” says Ashwini. Ashwini has given up farming and is now being forced to move with his family and livestock – to where he’s not entirely sure. Dr Partha Das is an Assamese academic who has been studying the Brahmaputra for several years. He also runs Aaranyak, a locally based environmental NGO. “The dam building programme has many question marks hanging over it including the fact that the northeast is a highly seismic region, with an earthquake in 1950 completely altering the geological structure of the Brahmaputra river basin.

Climate change impacts

“Then there is the whole question of climate change, which has scarcely been mentioned by the planners. Already we’re seeing an increase in intense rainfall events that are accelerating the high rate of soil erosion and landslides in mountainous regions. And as temperatures rise and glaciers melt on the Tibetan Plateau and in the Himalayas, river flow levels – at least in the short term – are likely to increase.” The Indian government defends its dam building programme, saying the power generated will mean that the country will be able to wean itself off its dependence on coal for energy, most of it low quality and extremely polluting. But many in the northeast, who have long felt cut off from the rest of India and neglected by central government, are unconvinced by New Delhi’s arguments. There are accusations that the mostly privately backed dam building projects are money making exercises for the wealthy: most of the power produced will be exported to other parts of India and not used to build up local industries.

Tribal concerns

The northeast is a tribal area: indigenous peoples say the influx of labourers from elsewhere in India is threatening local culture. They say the dams will also lead to more deforestation – and threaten some of India’s most important wildlife habitats. Opponents of the dam building say no proper overall plan has been put in place: though India and China recently reached agreement on sharing various river resources, there is no specific deal on managing the Brahmaputra’s waters. Protests about the dams has been growing, with work on what is India’s biggest dam construction project to date – the 2,000MW Lower Subansiri dam on one of the Brahmaputra’s tributaries – repeatedly held up. – Climate News Network

Farming on sand

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE The Brahmaputra river is one of the world’s mightiest rivers, with millions dependent on its waters. The river also brings misery, with flooding and erosion major problems: climate change is likely to bring more hardship. Kieran Cooke, one of the editors of the Climate News Network, has been in Assam in northeast India, meeting villagers living on the Brahmaputra’s banks. Laupani village, Assam, 10 March – The holes are dug laboriously in the dusty, sandy soil. Krishna Maya Sharma stops her work to wipe the sweat from her lined face. “In the old days we would plant paddy here and have enough to sell at market” says Krishna, a 42 year old mother of six children. “Now the soil is so bad, sweet potato is the only thing that will grow. The rest of our land is ruined.” Laupani is a village in the north of the tea state of Assam, spread along the banks of the Brahmaputra river. In the distance, the pink evening light shines on the snow capped ridges of the eastern Himalayas. The Brahmaputra, its waters rising more than 5,000 metres up on the Tibetan Plateau and flowing for about 3,000 kilometres through China, India and Bangladesh before joining up with the Ganges and out into the Bay of Bengal, is one of the world’s major rivers, 10 kilometres wide in places.

Widespread flooding

According to a recent report by India’s Third Pole organisation, the Brahmaputra carries a volume of water exceeded only by the Amazon and Congo rivers – and greater than the combined flow of Europe’s 20 largest rivers. The river is a lifeline to millions, delivering vital nutrients to the soils of the plains but its fast flowing waters also cause widespread misery to people like Krishna. Floods are frequent. There is widespread erosion and massive amounts of sand washed out of the river’s banks are deposited on surrounding fields, making once verdant areas into what looks like an enormous beach. The floods also bring invasive plant species that colonise agricultural lands. More than 40% of Assam’s geographical area is designated as being flood prone: more than 1.5 million people were displaced by floods in 2012, lives were lost and whole villages were washed away.

Sand accumulations

“The waters were so deep and stayed so long that the grass was destroyed and our cattle died because they had no fodder” says Krishna. “The sand means our land is no good anymore – my husband has given up being a farmer and is working in construction. Many young men go away to try and find jobs, there is nothing for them here.” Locals – the majority of whom are poor, subsistence farmers – say river flows are becoming more unpredictable, with erosion and what’s called sandcasting becoming worse. In part the flooding caused by the Brahmaputra’s waters is a natural phenomenon which has been going on for centuries. As the river’s waters cascade down from the Tibetan Plateau and Himalayas, millions of tons of sediment is washed onto the alluvial plains of Assam and others states in India’s northeast.

Earthquake danger

There are other forces at work: the region is a highly seismic zone. In 1950 the Brahmaputra river basin suffered one of the most violent earthquakes ever recorded. The geology of the area was changed and the river level was raised dramatically, by between eight and 10 metres in places. Climate change is another factor, with a combination of rising temperatures and accumulations of what’s known as black carbon or soot in the high Himalayas and on the Tibetan Plateau causing glaciers which feed into upper reaches of the Brahmaputra to melt. Increasingly unpredictable rainfall patterns, with periods of intense downpours, are also contributing to more volatile river flows. Professor Jogendra Nath Sarma is a locally based geologist who has been studying the Brahmaputra for years. “Over time different rivers in the Brahmaputra basin have merged, braiding over a very wide area. Thousands of square kilometres of land has been eaten away. Rampant deforestation is another big contributor to land erosion. “ In the past, says Professor Sarma, people would migrate to higher ground during the flood season but now, due to population growth and large scale immigration, there is nowhere for them to go.

Doubtful future

The future does not look good. According to models produced by scientists at the Indian Institute of Technology in Guwahati, Assam’s capital, climate change will result in the Brahmaputra valley region experiencing more flood events. The Institute says that not only will river peak flows increase: so will the incidence of pre-monsoon flooding, endangering key phases of the agricultural cycle. Talk of climate change is not of great interest to Krishna, digging holes for her sweet potato plants. She has more immediate things to worry about. “Life is getting harder. Every time the floods come, I wonder what will happen. But where else can we go?” – Climate News Network        

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE The Brahmaputra river is one of the world’s mightiest rivers, with millions dependent on its waters. The river also brings misery, with flooding and erosion major problems: climate change is likely to bring more hardship. Kieran Cooke, one of the editors of the Climate News Network, has been in Assam in northeast India, meeting villagers living on the Brahmaputra’s banks. Laupani village, Assam, 10 March – The holes are dug laboriously in the dusty, sandy soil. Krishna Maya Sharma stops her work to wipe the sweat from her lined face. “In the old days we would plant paddy here and have enough to sell at market” says Krishna, a 42 year old mother of six children. “Now the soil is so bad, sweet potato is the only thing that will grow. The rest of our land is ruined.” Laupani is a village in the north of the tea state of Assam, spread along the banks of the Brahmaputra river. In the distance, the pink evening light shines on the snow capped ridges of the eastern Himalayas. The Brahmaputra, its waters rising more than 5,000 metres up on the Tibetan Plateau and flowing for about 3,000 kilometres through China, India and Bangladesh before joining up with the Ganges and out into the Bay of Bengal, is one of the world’s major rivers, 10 kilometres wide in places.

Widespread flooding

According to a recent report by India’s Third Pole organisation, the Brahmaputra carries a volume of water exceeded only by the Amazon and Congo rivers – and greater than the combined flow of Europe’s 20 largest rivers. The river is a lifeline to millions, delivering vital nutrients to the soils of the plains but its fast flowing waters also cause widespread misery to people like Krishna. Floods are frequent. There is widespread erosion and massive amounts of sand washed out of the river’s banks are deposited on surrounding fields, making once verdant areas into what looks like an enormous beach. The floods also bring invasive plant species that colonise agricultural lands. More than 40% of Assam’s geographical area is designated as being flood prone: more than 1.5 million people were displaced by floods in 2012, lives were lost and whole villages were washed away.

Sand accumulations

“The waters were so deep and stayed so long that the grass was destroyed and our cattle died because they had no fodder” says Krishna. “The sand means our land is no good anymore – my husband has given up being a farmer and is working in construction. Many young men go away to try and find jobs, there is nothing for them here.” Locals – the majority of whom are poor, subsistence farmers – say river flows are becoming more unpredictable, with erosion and what’s called sandcasting becoming worse. In part the flooding caused by the Brahmaputra’s waters is a natural phenomenon which has been going on for centuries. As the river’s waters cascade down from the Tibetan Plateau and Himalayas, millions of tons of sediment is washed onto the alluvial plains of Assam and others states in India’s northeast.

Earthquake danger

There are other forces at work: the region is a highly seismic zone. In 1950 the Brahmaputra river basin suffered one of the most violent earthquakes ever recorded. The geology of the area was changed and the river level was raised dramatically, by between eight and 10 metres in places. Climate change is another factor, with a combination of rising temperatures and accumulations of what’s known as black carbon or soot in the high Himalayas and on the Tibetan Plateau causing glaciers which feed into upper reaches of the Brahmaputra to melt. Increasingly unpredictable rainfall patterns, with periods of intense downpours, are also contributing to more volatile river flows. Professor Jogendra Nath Sarma is a locally based geologist who has been studying the Brahmaputra for years. “Over time different rivers in the Brahmaputra basin have merged, braiding over a very wide area. Thousands of square kilometres of land has been eaten away. Rampant deforestation is another big contributor to land erosion. “ In the past, says Professor Sarma, people would migrate to higher ground during the flood season but now, due to population growth and large scale immigration, there is nowhere for them to go.

Doubtful future

The future does not look good. According to models produced by scientists at the Indian Institute of Technology in Guwahati, Assam’s capital, climate change will result in the Brahmaputra valley region experiencing more flood events. The Institute says that not only will river peak flows increase: so will the incidence of pre-monsoon flooding, endangering key phases of the agricultural cycle. Talk of climate change is not of great interest to Krishna, digging holes for her sweet potato plants. She has more immediate things to worry about. “Life is getting harder. Every time the floods come, I wonder what will happen. But where else can we go?” – Climate News Network        

Once in a century floods due every ten years

For immediate release Some parts of the world face frequent catastrophic floods by the end of this century while other regions could get less hazardous. LONDON, 10 June – Floods during the 21st century are expected to get worse. Really calamitous floods that, during the 20th century were considered once-in-a-century events could come round ever 10 years or so by the end of the 21st century, according to Japanese scientists. Yukiko Hirabayashi of the University of Tokyo and colleagues report in Nature Climate Change that they looked at the likely pattern of hazard in 29 of the world’s great river basins. They considered the risk in those places where greater numbers of people were settled, and used 11 global climate models to project flood dangers by the end of this century. They warn that the frequency of floods will increase in Southeast Asia, Peninsular India, eastern Africa and the northern half of the Andes of South America. More at stake Conditions in northern and eastern Europe – the scene of recent and current calamitous flooding – could get less hazardous, along with Anatolia, central Asia, North America and southern South America. The predictions, of course, come with the usual caveat: that the real exposure to flooding will depend to a great extent on what governments finally decide to do about greenhouse emissions, how much the world warms, what water management or flood control plans are put in place and on population growth in the regions at risk. But those lower latitude countries where both population and economic investment are on the increase will have more at stake in the decades to come, and should prepare for greater flood risks.  Floods in the last three decades have claimed 200,000 lives and caused around $400 billion in economic damage: they have also cost an estimated three billion people their homes, farms, businesses and livestock. Great river basins The most recent assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said that overall, there was a “low confidence in projections of changes in fluvial floods. Confidence is low due to limited evidence and because the causes of regional changes are complex.” The Tokyo team took a detailed look at all the available data for the world’s great river basins, from the Yukon, the Mackenzie and the Columbia in the North American west to the Mississippi and the St Lawrence; the Rhine, the Danube and the Volga in Europe; the Ob, the Yenisei and the Amur in Siberia; the Orinoco, Parana and Amazon in South America; the Euphrates, the Indus, the Ganges, the Mekong and the Yangtze in Asia: the Niger, Nile, Zambezi and Congo in Africa and even the Murray in Australia. Their projections are just that: projections, to be tested by outcomes long after some of the authors have died. The researchers acknowledge the limitations in their methodology “The 20C 100-year flood event is projected to occur about every 10-50 years in many of these rivers in the 21C. Such a large change in return period is caused by a 10-30% increase in flood discharge,” they warn. “Major attention should be paid to low-latitude countries where flood frequency and population are both projected to increase.” – Climate News Network

For immediate release Some parts of the world face frequent catastrophic floods by the end of this century while other regions could get less hazardous. LONDON, 10 June – Floods during the 21st century are expected to get worse. Really calamitous floods that, during the 20th century were considered once-in-a-century events could come round ever 10 years or so by the end of the 21st century, according to Japanese scientists. Yukiko Hirabayashi of the University of Tokyo and colleagues report in Nature Climate Change that they looked at the likely pattern of hazard in 29 of the world’s great river basins. They considered the risk in those places where greater numbers of people were settled, and used 11 global climate models to project flood dangers by the end of this century. They warn that the frequency of floods will increase in Southeast Asia, Peninsular India, eastern Africa and the northern half of the Andes of South America. More at stake Conditions in northern and eastern Europe – the scene of recent and current calamitous flooding – could get less hazardous, along with Anatolia, central Asia, North America and southern South America. The predictions, of course, come with the usual caveat: that the real exposure to flooding will depend to a great extent on what governments finally decide to do about greenhouse emissions, how much the world warms, what water management or flood control plans are put in place and on population growth in the regions at risk. But those lower latitude countries where both population and economic investment are on the increase will have more at stake in the decades to come, and should prepare for greater flood risks.  Floods in the last three decades have claimed 200,000 lives and caused around $400 billion in economic damage: they have also cost an estimated three billion people their homes, farms, businesses and livestock. Great river basins The most recent assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said that overall, there was a “low confidence in projections of changes in fluvial floods. Confidence is low due to limited evidence and because the causes of regional changes are complex.” The Tokyo team took a detailed look at all the available data for the world’s great river basins, from the Yukon, the Mackenzie and the Columbia in the North American west to the Mississippi and the St Lawrence; the Rhine, the Danube and the Volga in Europe; the Ob, the Yenisei and the Amur in Siberia; the Orinoco, Parana and Amazon in South America; the Euphrates, the Indus, the Ganges, the Mekong and the Yangtze in Asia: the Niger, Nile, Zambezi and Congo in Africa and even the Murray in Australia. Their projections are just that: projections, to be tested by outcomes long after some of the authors have died. The researchers acknowledge the limitations in their methodology “The 20C 100-year flood event is projected to occur about every 10-50 years in many of these rivers in the 21C. Such a large change in return period is caused by a 10-30% increase in flood discharge,” they warn. “Major attention should be paid to low-latitude countries where flood frequency and population are both projected to increase.” – Climate News Network

Clouds 'cool Earth less than thought'

EMBARGOED until 2301 GMT on Thursday 16 May
The ability of clouds to reflect sunlight back into space and so help to cool the Earth appears to have been over-estimated, researchers say, in a study especially significant for major polluters.

LONDON, 17 May – Extra cloud cover caused by emissions of industrial pollutants is known to reduce the effects of global warming, but its impact in reducing temperatures has been over-estimated in the climate models, new research has found.

This is particularly significant for China and India, because it has been believed that these two giant countries would be partly shielded from the effects of climate change by their appalling industrial pollution. The Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Germany believes this potential cooling effect has been exaggerated.

The Institute’s study looked at the behaviour of sulphate particles in the air created by the reaction of oxygen with sulphur dioxide released from factory chimneys and other sources of pollution.

In humid conditions the sulphates attract water droplets and form clouds. This increase in the cloud cover reflects more sunlight back into space and so cools the earth.

The Max Planck researchers went to study a cloud formed at the top of a mountain, taking samples at various times to see how the sulphates reacted progressively.  What was crucial was how the sulphates were formed in the first place.

Current climate models assume that hydrogen peroxide and ozone have a large role in creating the sulphates, but the new research shows that the catalysts for the chemical reaction are more likely to be metal ions like iron, manganese, titanium or chromium.

The key factor is that all of these are heavier than hydrogen peroxide and ozone, and because of this are more likely to fall out of the cloud through the pull of gravity, thus considerably reducing the cooling effect of the original pollution.

Less time aloft

 

Eliza Harris and Bärbel Sinha, with a number of other scientists, captured the air samples and examined the isotopes in a mass spectrometer.

Harris, who was recently awarded the Dieter Rampacher Prize as the youngest doctoral candidate of the Max Planck Society, said: “The relative reaction rates of isotopes are like fingerprints, which tell us how the sulphate was formed from the sulphur dioxide.

“As my colleagues and I compared the basic assumptions of climate models with my results we were very surprised, because only one of twelve models considers the role of transition metal ions in the formation of sulphate”, said Harris, who is now working at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the USA.

Because of the extra size of the sulphates and hence their greater weight, compared with the previous assumptions, she believes that climate models have over-estimated the cooling effect of the sulphate aerosols by assuming they would stay airborne longer.

So far the findings have not been factored into calculations on the regional effect of climate change. Harris says that in Europe, where pollution from industrial processes is already on the decline, the change in the calculations on warming would be relatively small.

However, in the growing industrial giants like India and China, where coal-fired power stations and other forms of industrial pollution are throwing out sulphur dioxide at an ever-greater rate, then the effect could be considerable. Further research on this is continuing. – Climate News Network

EMBARGOED until 2301 GMT on Thursday 16 May
The ability of clouds to reflect sunlight back into space and so help to cool the Earth appears to have been over-estimated, researchers say, in a study especially significant for major polluters.

LONDON, 17 May – Extra cloud cover caused by emissions of industrial pollutants is known to reduce the effects of global warming, but its impact in reducing temperatures has been over-estimated in the climate models, new research has found.

This is particularly significant for China and India, because it has been believed that these two giant countries would be partly shielded from the effects of climate change by their appalling industrial pollution. The Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Germany believes this potential cooling effect has been exaggerated.

The Institute’s study looked at the behaviour of sulphate particles in the air created by the reaction of oxygen with sulphur dioxide released from factory chimneys and other sources of pollution.

In humid conditions the sulphates attract water droplets and form clouds. This increase in the cloud cover reflects more sunlight back into space and so cools the earth.

The Max Planck researchers went to study a cloud formed at the top of a mountain, taking samples at various times to see how the sulphates reacted progressively.  What was crucial was how the sulphates were formed in the first place.

Current climate models assume that hydrogen peroxide and ozone have a large role in creating the sulphates, but the new research shows that the catalysts for the chemical reaction are more likely to be metal ions like iron, manganese, titanium or chromium.

The key factor is that all of these are heavier than hydrogen peroxide and ozone, and because of this are more likely to fall out of the cloud through the pull of gravity, thus considerably reducing the cooling effect of the original pollution.

Less time aloft

 

Eliza Harris and Bärbel Sinha, with a number of other scientists, captured the air samples and examined the isotopes in a mass spectrometer.

Harris, who was recently awarded the Dieter Rampacher Prize as the youngest doctoral candidate of the Max Planck Society, said: “The relative reaction rates of isotopes are like fingerprints, which tell us how the sulphate was formed from the sulphur dioxide.

“As my colleagues and I compared the basic assumptions of climate models with my results we were very surprised, because only one of twelve models considers the role of transition metal ions in the formation of sulphate”, said Harris, who is now working at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the USA.

Because of the extra size of the sulphates and hence their greater weight, compared with the previous assumptions, she believes that climate models have over-estimated the cooling effect of the sulphate aerosols by assuming they would stay airborne longer.

So far the findings have not been factored into calculations on the regional effect of climate change. Harris says that in Europe, where pollution from industrial processes is already on the decline, the change in the calculations on warming would be relatively small.

However, in the growing industrial giants like India and China, where coal-fired power stations and other forms of industrial pollution are throwing out sulphur dioxide at an ever-greater rate, then the effect could be considerable. Further research on this is continuing. – Climate News Network

India's climate change challenge

EMBARGOED until 0001 GMT on Wednesday 30 January
India has made giant strides in increasing rice production, both to feed its own people and for export. But the price has been massive water consumption, and rising greenhouse gas emissions.

LONDON, 30 January – India has to find a new model of development if the twin challenges of job creation and climate change are to be met, says an Oxford University academic, Professor Barbara Harriss-White, of the Oxford Department of International Development.

“At present economic development in India is looked at very much in terms of catching up with Europe and East Asia”, says Professor Harriss-White, a South Asia expert and part of an Oxford-based team investigating greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) in India’s informal economy – a sector, she says, which accounts for about 60% of the country’s GDP and for nine out of every ten jobs, yet one that has been “completely neglected” in debates about climate change.

“The position held by the overwhelming majority in India is that the country – which derives 70% of its energy from coal – has the right to pollute based on its relatively small contribution to the historical stock of CO2 in the atmosphere. Understandably, development and poverty reduction are the priorities.

“Yet the country’s natural resources are degrading at an alarming rate – a transition to development based on low carbon has to be initiated. And despite the economic growth of recent years, at least 260 million people are malnourished, 45% of them children.

Prodigious increase

“Meanwhile 16 million people are entering the jobs stream each year – most facing the prospect of poor quality jobs, or no jobs at all. All this presents an enormous challenge.”

Professor Harriss-White and her team are at present looking at GHG emissions in rice production and distribution systems. Much of the activity in this sector takes place in the so-called informal economy, based on part-time or seasonal jobs and loose marketing structures.

Over the last 30 years India has nearly doubled its rice production, mainly through the introduction of new, high-yielding varieties. While 95% of production is consumed domestically, India recently supplanted Thailand as the world’s biggest rice exporter.

But the increase in rice output has led to a massive over-exploitation of water resources, with millions of farmers using electric pumps to harness well waters for their rice fields.

Gone forever

The Oxford team have found there are GHG emissions in each phase of rice production and its marketing: for example when fields are cultivated and flooded large amounts of soil methane are released. Bullocks also produce a lot of methane.

But it’s the coal needed to produce the energy to lift the water that’s the biggest problem. Over-exploitation of water resources has not only led to more GHG emissions but could result in future rice shortages.

Professor Harriss-White says: “In many areas we’ve studied in the east of the country rice production has reached a plateau. This is due both to a lack of new rice strains coming on to the market and to the stress on water resources.

“Many farmers are having to drill bore holes right down to fossil layers for water – and those waters won’t be replenished.” Changes in climate are also likely to have an adverse impact on India’s rice production.

“Rice is vulnerable to climate change,” says Harriss-White. “A rise in temperature means more pests – and a greater likelihood of periods both of flooding and drought. Rice production must adapt to climate change. Most farmers we talk to don’t talk in terms of climate change – instead they talk of the monsoons becoming less reliable.” – Climate News Network

EMBARGOED until 0001 GMT on Wednesday 30 January
India has made giant strides in increasing rice production, both to feed its own people and for export. But the price has been massive water consumption, and rising greenhouse gas emissions.

LONDON, 30 January – India has to find a new model of development if the twin challenges of job creation and climate change are to be met, says an Oxford University academic, Professor Barbara Harriss-White, of the Oxford Department of International Development.

“At present economic development in India is looked at very much in terms of catching up with Europe and East Asia”, says Professor Harriss-White, a South Asia expert and part of an Oxford-based team investigating greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) in India’s informal economy – a sector, she says, which accounts for about 60% of the country’s GDP and for nine out of every ten jobs, yet one that has been “completely neglected” in debates about climate change.

“The position held by the overwhelming majority in India is that the country – which derives 70% of its energy from coal – has the right to pollute based on its relatively small contribution to the historical stock of CO2 in the atmosphere. Understandably, development and poverty reduction are the priorities.

“Yet the country’s natural resources are degrading at an alarming rate – a transition to development based on low carbon has to be initiated. And despite the economic growth of recent years, at least 260 million people are malnourished, 45% of them children.

Prodigious increase

“Meanwhile 16 million people are entering the jobs stream each year – most facing the prospect of poor quality jobs, or no jobs at all. All this presents an enormous challenge.”

Professor Harriss-White and her team are at present looking at GHG emissions in rice production and distribution systems. Much of the activity in this sector takes place in the so-called informal economy, based on part-time or seasonal jobs and loose marketing structures.

Over the last 30 years India has nearly doubled its rice production, mainly through the introduction of new, high-yielding varieties. While 95% of production is consumed domestically, India recently supplanted Thailand as the world’s biggest rice exporter.

But the increase in rice output has led to a massive over-exploitation of water resources, with millions of farmers using electric pumps to harness well waters for their rice fields.

Gone forever

The Oxford team have found there are GHG emissions in each phase of rice production and its marketing: for example when fields are cultivated and flooded large amounts of soil methane are released. Bullocks also produce a lot of methane.

But it’s the coal needed to produce the energy to lift the water that’s the biggest problem. Over-exploitation of water resources has not only led to more GHG emissions but could result in future rice shortages.

Professor Harriss-White says: “In many areas we’ve studied in the east of the country rice production has reached a plateau. This is due both to a lack of new rice strains coming on to the market and to the stress on water resources.

“Many farmers are having to drill bore holes right down to fossil layers for water – and those waters won’t be replenished.” Changes in climate are also likely to have an adverse impact on India’s rice production.

“Rice is vulnerable to climate change,” says Harriss-White. “A rise in temperature means more pests – and a greater likelihood of periods both of flooding and drought. Rice production must adapt to climate change. Most farmers we talk to don’t talk in terms of climate change – instead they talk of the monsoons becoming less reliable.” – Climate News Network

Assam's Women feel Climate Impacts

EMBARGOED until 0001 GMT on Saturday 12 January
Climate change bears down in different ways on distinct groups in society, and some have more to cope with than others – like women in the Indian state of Assam.

LONDON, 12 January – People in Assam, northeast India, are used to coping with extremes in the weather. When the monsoon sweeps in there are floods. When temperatures soar in late summer, there is drought. The trouble is that in recent years, the timetable of such events has gone haywire.

Assam is home to more than 31 million people, 14% of them under six years old. Described by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as part of the highly eco-sensitive and fragile eastern Himalayan region, the territory has been witnessing marked climatic changes over the past 60 years. According to official figures collated by local meteorologists, there has been a steady decline in annual rainfall in the state over the 1950-2010 period, with the trend particularly evident over the past decade. Meanwhile the mean annual temperature has risen by more than 1°C since 1950.

A new study by three organisations working in the northeast, including the Indian Network on Ethics and Climate Change,  investigates how these changes in climate are affecting the more marginalized groups in society, in particular women in rural areas.

The study, involving 900 households in six different locations around the state, found that climate change is having a serious impact on poor women in various ways: increased flooding in some areas has led to soil erosion which in turn has meant farmers have struggled to earn a living. As a result, women are forced to leave the home in search of work, often as cleaners or weavers. With no one in the home, girls have to leave school to look after younger children and do the chores.

Child marriages on the rise

Increased periods of drought in another area mean there is no fodder for cattle, and milk production, a vital income source, has declined. Farmers find it impossible to work in the intense heat that now often bakes the land. Again, women are forced to leave their homes and find wage-paying work. Such families struggle to get by; the study found the number of child marriages has increased in recent years as  “parents of impoverished families find it an easy way to provide a better future for their girl children.”

Assam is famous for its tea gardens. “The unusual rain pattern is playing havoc with the tea plantations”, says the study. Declines in tea production mean there are fewer jobs available and more people move to the towns and cities. As has happened in other parts of the world, once such a trend of urbanisation is under way, it’s hard to reverse. Some young girls from the tea gardens, says the study, are forced into the flesh trade.

Increased flooding and rising temperatures have led to a rise in disease, particularly malaria. In the tea-growing regions, more pesticides are being used to counteract crop diseases. The result is that garden workers – older ones are paid US$1.50 per day while girls earn half that amount – are noticing more skin infections.

While local authorities and the state government have taken action to limit soil erosion and tackle floods in some areas, there is an urgent need for more to be done, says the study. And with only 40% of the state’s irrigation systems functioning properly, that includes harvesting and sustaining precious water resources. A massive tree planing programme is also required. Far more attention has to be paid to poverty alleviation.

The study shows a people bewildered by what’s happening. “It rains excessively when unexpected and does not rain when it is expected”, one farmer says. – Climate News Network

EMBARGOED until 0001 GMT on Saturday 12 January
Climate change bears down in different ways on distinct groups in society, and some have more to cope with than others – like women in the Indian state of Assam.

LONDON, 12 January – People in Assam, northeast India, are used to coping with extremes in the weather. When the monsoon sweeps in there are floods. When temperatures soar in late summer, there is drought. The trouble is that in recent years, the timetable of such events has gone haywire.

Assam is home to more than 31 million people, 14% of them under six years old. Described by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as part of the highly eco-sensitive and fragile eastern Himalayan region, the territory has been witnessing marked climatic changes over the past 60 years. According to official figures collated by local meteorologists, there has been a steady decline in annual rainfall in the state over the 1950-2010 period, with the trend particularly evident over the past decade. Meanwhile the mean annual temperature has risen by more than 1°C since 1950.

A new study by three organisations working in the northeast, including the Indian Network on Ethics and Climate Change,  investigates how these changes in climate are affecting the more marginalized groups in society, in particular women in rural areas.

The study, involving 900 households in six different locations around the state, found that climate change is having a serious impact on poor women in various ways: increased flooding in some areas has led to soil erosion which in turn has meant farmers have struggled to earn a living. As a result, women are forced to leave the home in search of work, often as cleaners or weavers. With no one in the home, girls have to leave school to look after younger children and do the chores.

Child marriages on the rise

Increased periods of drought in another area mean there is no fodder for cattle, and milk production, a vital income source, has declined. Farmers find it impossible to work in the intense heat that now often bakes the land. Again, women are forced to leave their homes and find wage-paying work. Such families struggle to get by; the study found the number of child marriages has increased in recent years as  “parents of impoverished families find it an easy way to provide a better future for their girl children.”

Assam is famous for its tea gardens. “The unusual rain pattern is playing havoc with the tea plantations”, says the study. Declines in tea production mean there are fewer jobs available and more people move to the towns and cities. As has happened in other parts of the world, once such a trend of urbanisation is under way, it’s hard to reverse. Some young girls from the tea gardens, says the study, are forced into the flesh trade.

Increased flooding and rising temperatures have led to a rise in disease, particularly malaria. In the tea-growing regions, more pesticides are being used to counteract crop diseases. The result is that garden workers – older ones are paid US$1.50 per day while girls earn half that amount – are noticing more skin infections.

While local authorities and the state government have taken action to limit soil erosion and tackle floods in some areas, there is an urgent need for more to be done, says the study. And with only 40% of the state’s irrigation systems functioning properly, that includes harvesting and sustaining precious water resources. A massive tree planing programme is also required. Far more attention has to be paid to poverty alleviation.

The study shows a people bewildered by what’s happening. “It rains excessively when unexpected and does not rain when it is expected”, one farmer says. – Climate News Network