Category Archives: Earth Changes

No end in sight to wet UK weather

 

Swollen River Otter near Honiton, Devon (Courtesy: Gary Holpin)

The Environment Agency said there was a low to medium risk of surface water and river flooding across much of England and Wales Saturday.

 

Forecasters have warned there will be no respite from the wet weather this week as flood-hit communities across the UK count the cost of recent torrential downpours.

Many homes were left under water and one driver died when his car left the road after a month’s worth of rain fell in just 24 hours in many parts of the country.

Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman met flood victims in Devon, where a huge clean-up operation was under way after the area saw the worst of the weekend’s bad weather.

Ms Spelman spoke of the importance of flood prevention schemes during the visit to Ottery St Mary, near Exeter, which had a number of defences put in place after previous flooding. She said she had been given assurances that all Olympic sites would be resilient to flood after flooding at a park-and-ride car park in Weymouth, Dorset, which will be used to transport spectators to sailing events.

At Wimbledon, rain stopped play during Roger Federer’s Centre Court victory over Andy Murray and the men’s singles final only resumed after the roof was closed.

But drivers and fans at the British Grand Prix were able to enjoy a dry race, despite two days of rain causing havoc on and around the Silverstone circuit and turning car parks into mudbaths.

Matt Dobson, senior forecaster with Meteogroup, the weather division of the Press Association, said England and Wales were unlikely to see any sunny weather during the next 10 days, although the forecast for Monday was more promising.

“Tomorrow we are looking at more scattered showers but it should be a little bit better than it has been over the past few days,” he said.

“Looking ahead it is a very unsettled week with no respite from the wet weather. There will be heavy downpours on Tuesday and Thursday, particularly across England and Wales, and no sign of any sunny weather for the next 10 days.”

Mr Dobson said scattered heavy showers were affecting east Wales and the West Midlands, with heavy thunderstorms over Herefordshire and Worcestershire. There would also be heavy showers in Oxfordshire and Northamptonshire, moving towards London and the south coast and a risk of thunderstorms over central and eastern England on Monday.


Resorts sue over gloomy weather

holiday resort
A weather website that has forecast bad weather for the next three months of the northern summer is frightening away holidaymakers, resorts have complained. Picture: Supplied Source: Supplied
BELGIUM’S seaside resorts are threatening to sue a top weather site they say is scaring away tourists with forecasts of a gloomy northern summer. The resorts slammed MeteoBelgique.be, one of Belgium’s most consulted weather pages, for posting a general weather overview for the three summer months, when most sites only offer a ten-day forecast”It’s very hard to predict the weather so far in advance. So why make people panic?” said Hoorens Geert, in charge of tourism for the Belgian coast, quoted by the Belgian daily La Meuse.The site said in a June blog post the weather would remain erratic over the coming months, especially in late July and early August, after an early northern summer marked by little sunshine and heavy rainfall.

The post included a reminder that “a dry, hot summer in Belgium, if that happens, like in 2003 and 2006, remains an exception that proves the rule.”

“No, we are not in a Mediterranean climate where the summers are warm and rainfall is minor. It’s important to remember…” the weather site wrote in June.

But Belgian resorts say the forecast is chasing away their customers, with the head of tourism at Knokke confirming there had already been cancellations.

“The damage could be significant” on an economic level, Daniel Despiegelaer said in an interview with the public television station RTBF, adding that the coastal resorts plan to talk over the possibility of filing a complaint.

“Our daily tourism totals about 200,000 people who each spend 35 euros ($42). If they don’t come, that’ll mean a loss of five to seven million” euros, Geert said.

Meteo Belgique addressed the criticism on its site, explaining that its seasonal trends “are not set-in-stone forecasts: we could never predict the weather Ostend will experience in one month and three days at 7:20 pm!”

“That said, it’s possible to identify weather trends for that period,” they added.

The site estimates that the reliability of its forecasts “is now close to 70 per cent” for the first month and “between 60 and 55 per cent” for the second and third months.

Maybe with c0ming Earth Changes we will see more & more of this.


2011 Hottest year on record for Perth Australia

Audience submitted image

         The Bureau of Meteorology says 2011 was the warmest year on record in Perth and the south west.
Temperatures from 2009 to 2011 are also in the top four hottest years since records began.
The bureau’s Neil Bennett says a hot first three months of last year contributed towards breaking 2010’s record average temperature of 25.3 degrees.
“Certainly, during the year we saw some pretty warm temperatures right the way through and in fact when we looked at the whole year as a total and looked at the mean’s daily maximums, Perth recorded 25.7 in 2011,” he said.
Mr Bennett says a number of months within 2011 were among the warmest ever recorded.
“March was the warmest March on record, April the fifth warmest, August the second warmest and October the third warmest, so when you’ve got all of those coming together it’s not surprising that we broke the record,” he said.

Africans Must Adapt to Drought in Warming World: Report

The Kariba dam in Zimbabwe.

A new report cautions African countries to look beyond dams (like this one in Zimbabwe) to deal with water supply issues for an uncertain future.
Climate change will call for more flexible solutions to water challenges.

Flexible farming methods and the ability to quickly change tactics to deal with unpredictable swings in rainfall will be vital if African nations are to survive climate change in the coming decades, scientists say.

“Adaptability I think will be the key,” said Mark Mulligan, a geographer at King’s College London in the United Kingdom.

“There’s the assumption that we know what the future will be like. We do—more or less—for temperature, but we really don’t for rainfall,” he said.

Global warming is expected to raise temperatures around the globe in the coming decades. Perhaps less intuitively, it will also increase rainfall in other parts of the world because as the temperature goes up, evaporation speeds up, and the air’s ability to retain moisture rises.

More evaporation creates a hydrological cycle that is turbocharged with energy, leading to more rainfall. However, the geographical distribution of rainfall will change in a warmer world, greening some current arid zones and triggering droughts in other areas such as the American southwest.

Affecting Africa

According to a five-year global research project conducted on behalf of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), climate change is expected to lead to unpredictable changes in rainfall patterns in most African river basins.

This could present opportunities for improved agriculture in some dry regions that get wetter, or—if farmers are not well prepared—could lead to less food production and increased poverty as agriculture struggles to adapt.

“Climate change introduces a new element of uncertainty precisely when governments and donors are starting to have more open discussions about sharing water resources and to consider long-term investments in boosting food production,” Alain Vidal, director of the CGIAR’s Challenge Program on Water and Food (CPWF), said in a statement.

“To help prevent this uncertainty from undermining key agreements and commitments, researchers must build a reliable basis for decisions, which takes into account the variable impacts of climate change on river basins,” Vidal said.

To counter such uncertainty, nations must remain nimble and provide an enabling environment for their farmers to adapt to a highly uncertain and geographically variable “changescape,” said Mulligan, who was the lead author of a report published in January in the journal Water International that detailed the CGIAR findings.

“The key is to be thinking about flexible arrangements that are fine-tuned to local geographical conditions and that can change quickly and effectively as the future unfolds,” Mulligan said.

“Because we’ve had 10,000 years of [climate] stability, we’ve grown accustomed to assuming that things don’t change and so we now support very high populations that are dependent on sophisticated agricultures, markets and infrastructures that may not adapt well to the period of environmental instability that is ahead of us,” he said.

“Bottom up” Solutions

For example, large dams that retain water to supply urban areas, for irrigation projects, and to generate hydropower—of which there are at least 36,000 around the world—are usually designed on the basis of historical river flow data that climate scientists warn could become obsolete in a warming world where river courses can change.

Because large dams are significant and long-term investments they cannot easily be adapted to respond to the implications of changing climate, Mulligan said.

A more flexible solution, he argues, is rainwater harvesting: the construction of a series of small, farm-scale rainwater harvesting schemes, or “micro-dams,” that capture rainfall for agricultural use near the point at which it will be used rather than trapping it at a single large dam and then pumping it elsewhere.

Also, because the pattern of rainfall change across Africa is essentially unpredictable, CGIAR advocates a bottom-up approach to adaptation, in which solutions are highly specific to local geographical conditions rather than being defined on the basis of regional or national-scale generalities.

The role of African governments, Mulligan said, will be to facilitate locally driven adaptation and to stay out of the way of sustainable development.

“The impact of climate change on water and food security will be different in different parts of a river basin, even on different sides of a hill,” he added.

“So the real adaptation will have to come from the farmers up. They’ll be able to react in a way that is specific to their specific environment and needs.”

Ker Than for National Geographic News

Heavy Rainfall Can Cause Huge Earthquakes

People cross a makeshift bridge over floodwater from Typhoon Morakot in Taiwan.

Stranded villagers cross a bridge over Typhoon Morakot’s floodwaters in southern Taiwan in 2009.

Photograph by Peter Parks, AFP/Getty Images

Heavy rainfall can trigger earthquakes in what one scientist calls “disaster triggering disaster.”

Shimon Wdowinski, of the University of Miami in Florida, first noticed a connection between storms and earthquakes last year.

The devastating magnitude 7.0 earthquake that hit Haiti in early 2010 came only 18 months after Haiti had been deluged by several hurricanes and tropical storms.

And  another large earthquake, a magnitude 6.4 temblor that rocked Taiwan in  2009, occurred only seven months after the area had been hit by Typhoon  Morakot, which dropped 9.5 feet (2.9 meters) of rain in five  days. Hurricanes are called typhoons in parts of Asia.

To put that in perspective, “that’s about five times the average [annual] rainfall of San Francisco … in five days,” Wdowinski said last week at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.

Quakes Triggered by Rain-Induced Erosion

To  test the rainfall-earthquake link, Wdowinski dug through the past  50 years of earthquake and weather records for Taiwan, an island that  experiences a lot of severe rainstorms and earthquakes.

He  found that a magnitude 7.6 earthquake had struck in 1999, only three years  after Typhoon Herb soaked Taiwan with 6.6 feet (2 meters) of rain.

Overall,  his analysis revealed that Taiwan’s large earthquakes—deemed as  magnitude 6 and higher—were five times more likely to occur within four  years after such storms than if the storms had had no effect.

The weight of the water itself does not trigger the earthquake—rather, it’s the ensuing erosion from landslides, which subsequent storms steadily wash into the sea.

“There’s  less stress [on the underlying rocks], and it’s easier for the fault to  move,” he said. “These are small changes, but are apparently enough to  trigger the earthquake.”

However, this doesn’t mean typhoons spark earthquakes in regions where quakes wouldn’t otherwise occur, Wdowinski noted.

“The typhoon just determines the timing” of the quake, he said. The main driver that causes earthquakes is the slow process of plate tectonics.

Himalaya Monsoons Linked to Quakes

Other  scientists are finding similar effects in the Himalaya, where summer  monsoons dump heavy rainfall onto the Indian side of the mountain range.

The Himalaya were created by the movement of the Indian Plate, which is  ramming northward into Eurasia, producing a giant fault zone marked by  the mountains.

When the monsoons hit, a lot of water flows into the Indian lowlands, said Thomas Ader, a Ph.D. student at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

The  water’s enormous weight causes the Indian plate to bend slightly under  the pressure. That, in turn, causes the edge of the plate to move  slightly.

“Imagine having a big book and bending it in the middle,” Ader said. “The pages want to slide against each other at the edges.”

(During  Asia’s wet season, the bending offsets the  building tectonic strain on the fault, reducing the short-term risk of  earthquakes.

But in winter, the effect reverses as the lowlands dry out, letting the plate unbend, and the earthquake rate rises.

To date, there’s no way to use the research for earthquake predictions.

Still, Wdowinski noted in a follow-up email, “It might be useful to issue a general forecast for a higher earthquake risk in central Taiwan after the next very wet typhoon.”

Richard A. Lovett

National Geographic News


Call for Arctic geoengineering as soon as possible

Photo: Arctic Circle ice breaking up

It’s the most urgent call for geoengineering yet: begin cooling the Arctic by 2013 or face runaway global warming. But the warning – from a voice on the scientific fringe – may be premature, according to experts contacted by New Scientist.

John Nissen, a former software engineer who has become alarmed at the possibility of reaching a climate “tipping point” argued for Arctic geoengineering as soon as possible in a poster presentation at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco last week.

“We’ve got to pull out all the stops to prevent a runaway situation,” Nissen says. He suggests using stratospheric aerosols to cool the surface and subsurface below, or increasing the reflectance of low-level clouds by pumping a fine spray of salt water into them.

Although Nissen’s opinion is not in the scientific mainstream, he has the backing of a leading expert on sea ice, Peter Wadhams of the University of Cambridge, who recently suggested that the Arctic ocean may be ice-free at the end of each summer from 2015 onwards. Wadhams says that accelerating climate change in the Arctic has forced him to abandon his scepticism about geoengineering. “One has to consider doing something,” he says.

Gas leak

As the Arctic loses its shield of ice in the summer months, shallow waters over the east Siberian Arctic continental shelf will warm to several degrees above freezing. This is the largest continental shelf on the planet, covering 2.1 million square kilometres, and the sea above it is just 50 metres deep on average. The seabed consists largely of methane-rich permafrost, which began to be submerged about 8000 years ago, as the sea level rose following the last ice age. Without a protective cap of sea ice over the shallow water, the permafrost will warm rapidly and release huge amounts of methane, Nissen fears.

Nissen’s alarm about catastrophic methane release stems in part from the findings of a team led by Natalia Shakhova of the International Arctic Research Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Last year she reported large amounts of methane bubbling from the east Siberian Arctic shelf.

Ice-free when?

However, both the sea-ice projections and the fears about catastrophic methane releases are shrouded in uncertainty. Wieslaw Maslowski of the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, has developed a regional model that suggests an ice-free Arctic Ocean by the end of the summer from 2016 onwards. But global climate models suggest that this won’t happen until 2030 at the earliest.

One contributor to the Arctic Sea Ice Blog, meanwhile, has fitted exponential curves to data on ice volume and projected forward to get a date of 2015 for the complete loss of late-summer sea ice. The problem is that other curves fit the data similarly well, but give much later dates when extrapolated forward. “If you pick one curve over another, I’d like to see a good reason for doing so,” says Axel Schweiger of the University of Washington in Seattle.

Uncertainty analysis

It’s also unclear how much methane, in total, is bubbling from the east Siberian Arctic shelf – and whether the methane release observed by Shakhova and her colleagues is due to present warming or is the result of the permafrost slowly melting since it was inundated beginning eight millennia ago. “There are still more questions than answers,” says Igor Semiletov, a member of the team.

What’s more, says Euan Nisbet of Royal Holloway, University of London, it seems that the largest current releases of methane are coming from the southern hemisphere tropics, rather than the Arctic.

Given the uncertainties, Nissen’s proposal seems unlikely to take off. However, it heightens the need for governments to develop guidelines for future geoengineering that may become necessary. “There is very much an urgent need to addresses governance issues,” says Tim Kruger of the University of Oxford, part of a team that has developed a “code of conduct” for geoengineering research.

16:02 12 December 2011 by Peter Aldhous


Severe storm lashes South Australia

Storm clouds approach as waves form in the sky

Huge hailstones, lightning, strong winds and heavy rain hit most of the state on Saturday.

State Emergency Services (SES)  said they have been have been inundated with calls, while efforts made by SES crews to reach call-out locations had been hindered.

In some areas the roads have been all but impassable because of the size of the trees that have fallen.

Strong winds had torn roofs from farming sheds, and there had been many reports of damage to cars and crops as hailstones the size of golf balls fell in Whyalla, Cleve and Clare.

The amount of hail and the velocity of it, it actually formed solid blocks of ice in the gutters and the water was coming back in under the roof because it couldn’t get out through the normal gutters

The weather bureau has issued storm and gale warnings as the severe weather continues to move across the state.

ETSA crews have been working to restore power to nearly 2000 homes in the west coast region.