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Category — Disaster Response & Mitigation

If it walks like a duck, it probably is climate change

Phil Rothwell


The morning after the storm: Aberystwyth in west Wales has borne the brunt this turbulent winter. Image: Ian Capper via Wikimedia Commons

As debate rages over the part climate change may be playing in Britain’s wet and stormy winter, one of the UK’s foremost experts on flood defence says we need to acknowledge reality – fast.

We are in danger of losing sight of some glaringly obvious truths about this exceptionally wet and stormy winter which much of the United Kingdom is enduring:

  • Scientists should acknowledge that the current record-breaking weather, in the UK and globally, is being caused by a changing climate
  • We don’t need party political bickering over flood funding, we need the right budget guaranteed for the future and agreed through political consensus
  • We need a land use policy that reduces reliance on expensive flood engineering and moves toward natural catchment management, flood-friendly farming, and village, town and city location and design that reduces risk, not increases it
  • We need a media and political framework that consigns climate change scepticism to the spike and the cutting room floor.

After the wettest and stormiest period in our history and following 2012, a year when we had both the most severe drought and wettest winter on record up until then, the almost complete failure of those in authority to acknowledge anything other than a faint link to climate change is beyond credibility and fundamentally and fatally damages a logical response.

Such a politically motivated head-in-the-sand attitude is severely damaging to any long-term approach to managing such events, let alone their cause.  As I write this President Obama is visiting California to see the impact of the most testing drought in its history, New York is in the grip of deep snow and ice, and the Philippines once again see major flooding. The Somerset Levels and the floods in the Thames Valley are just a pimple on the surface of the world’s problems. But they need a bit more than a knee-jerk political gesture.

“Over a million properties in Britain’s major conurbations have not flooded this winter because of action over the last few years to protect them”

In the 2007 floods in the UK 10 times as many properties were affected, mainly in urban areas in the north. The limited and largely rural impacts of the current winter, appalling for a few,  are in fact testimony to a successful flood risk management strategy. [Read more →]

February 18, 2014   No Comments

Green roofs effective for cities’ heat problems

Tim Radford


A hot day in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square: Cities are usually hotter than the countryside. Image: Tactesh882 via Wikimedia Commons

Climate change aside, cities tend to be warmer than the surrounding ciuntryside. Now researchers in the US have found ways that may lessen the effects of both problems.

Even without global warming, atmospheric temperatures are likely to rise later in the century: the expansion of the cities will see to that.

Climate scientists and meteorologists long ago recognised the “heat island” effect created by the cities, and made sure routine measurements were not distorted by urban sprawl. But Matei Georgescu of Arizona State University and colleagues think that as populations grow, and cities begin to spread, temperatures will rise anyway.

So, they report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they have tested a few strategies to mitigate the rise of city temperatures and perhaps at the same time turn down the rate of rise in greenhouse temperatures as well.

The argument goes like this: roofs, paved roads, pipes, wiring, traffic, central heating and air conditioning, industry and commerce and other such urban trappings could raise temperatures by 1°C to 2°C.

And cities are certain to expand: the population of the US is expected to grow to somewhere between 422 million to 690 million by 2050, with up to 260,000 square kilometers of land newly covered by roofs and roads. [Read more →]

February 15, 2014   No Comments

Suzuki – Schindler – Fukushima – Dire Warning? You decide…

December 10, 2013   No Comments

What happens when the world dries out

Tim Radford


African bush elephants in Samburu National Reserve, Kenya: How much aridity can they tolerate? Image: Vicente Polo

A warming world carries many threats, and now scientists have discovered that a change in atmospheric conditions could have serious consequences for soil chemistry

A warmer, drier world will be bad news for those people who already live on the edge. Higher temperatures will do more than evaporate the soil moisture: they will alter the natural soil chemistry as well.

Manuel Delgado-Baquerizo of the Universidad Pablo de Olavide, in Seville, Spain, and fellow scientists report in Nature that they looked  at soil samples from 224 dryland ecosystem plots in every continent except Antarctica.

Drylands matter: they account for more than 40% of the planet’s land surface and they support more than 38% of its population. Drylands add up, in the dusty language of science, to the largest “terrestrial biome” of all.

And even though on average more warmth will mean more evaporation, and therefore more water vapour in the atmosphere and more precipitation in some of those zones that already have ample rainfall, the pattern could be different in the arid lands.

All the calculations so far indicate that these drylands will increase in area, and become drier with time. Already 250 million people are trying to scrape an increasingly meagre living from lands which are degrading swiftly, either because they are turning to desert, or because they are overgrazed. [Read more →]

November 3, 2013   No Comments

Insurance study warns Canadians unprepared for carnage of next big earthquake


Earthquakes in Canada greater than 5.0 magnitude since 1700. (Insurance Bureau of Canada)

Insurance industry advances a national strategy on earthquake response 

A new scientific study on the impact of a major earthquake in Canada, released in Ottawa today by Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC), leaves no doubt that Canada is not prepared to handle a major earthquake, which could happen at any time, and that the economic impact would be significant.

IBC commissioned the study by AIR Worldwide, global experts in catastrophe modeling. The study is a peer-reviewed analysis of the impact of two major seismic events: one in British Columbia (western scenario) and the other in the Quebec City-Montreal-Ottawa corridor (eastern scenario).

“The findings will help us raise awareness of the need to plan for, and mitigate the risks of a major earthquake,” said Don Forgeron, IBC President and CEO. “The study is a valuable tool and will be shared with governments, regulators, disaster preparedness organizations, the banking community, the insurance industry, and the public.”

The study modeled two earthquake events. The western scenario shows the effect of a 9.0-magnitude earthquake off the west coast. Overall economic losses in that scenario total almost $75 billion. The eastern scenario shows the effect of a 7.1-magnitude earthquake near Quebec City. In that scenario, overall economic losses total almost $61 billion. Although these two seismic zones cover only a small fraction of Canada by area, 40% of Canadians live within them.

“The risk of a major earthquake affects us all, not just those living in high-risk areas,” said Mr. Forgeron. “Events of this magnitude have a domino effect on the Canadian economy triggered by property damage, supply chain interruption, loss of services, infrastructure failure and business interruption.” [Read more →]

October 30, 2013   No Comments

Temperature rise will fan forest flames

Kieran Cooke


A pall of smoke rises from the wildfire that has raged through Stanislaus National Forest, California. Image: US Department of Agriculture

The forest fires raging through states in the western US are among the worst on record, but latest research indicates that they will get even worse in future as temperatures rise.

As fire crews battle to control the forest fires that have been devastating areas of the western US, a bleak warning has been issued that such fires in future are likely to break out over longer periods and wider areas each year, and create up to twice as much smoke.

Forest wildfires are a regular event in California and other states in the western US, but this year’s conflagrations are being described as some of the worst on record. One fire, which has threatened California’s Yosemite National Park, was at one stage spread over nearly 200,000 acres, or more than 300 square miles.

Environmental scientists at Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) fed data into a number of models to come up with predictions about how such fires will behave in future. The data included not only historical records of fires but also seasonal temperatures, relative humidity levels, and amounts of brush and dry fuel on the forest floor over six “ecoregions” in the western states.

The models were matched with data from the fourth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on possible future atmospheric and climatological conditions for the year 2050. Based on this multi-model approach, the Harvard team was then able to calculate the likely extent of fires in mid-century, and to gauge areas that would be burned.

“We weren’t altogether certain what we would find when we started this project,” says Loretta J Mickley, the study’s co-author and a senior research fellow in atmospheric chemistry at Harvard SEAS. [Read more →]

September 3, 2013   No Comments

Fukushima’s radioactive legacy is just beginning

Fukushima’s Radioactive Legacy is Just Beginning (via Climate Central)

By Paul Brown, Climate News Network LONDON — The discovery at the plant of a leak of radioactive caesium eight times more dangerous than the levels immediately after the Fukushima accident in March 2011 has aroused international concern that Japan…

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September 1, 2013   No Comments

Fukushima’s legacy is just beginning

Paul Brown


Stay back: A radiation hotspot near the Fukushima plant. Image: Abasaa
日本語 via Wikimedia Commons

The highly radioactive water leaking from the wrecked Fukushima plant is part of a problem that Japan will take decades to resolve and which will blight many thousands of lives.

The discovery at the plant of a leak of radioactive caesium eight times more dangerous than the levels immediately after the Fukushima accident in March 2011 has aroused international concern that Japan is incapable of containing the aftermath of the accident.

A Chinese statement expressed shock at the news and urged Japan to be more open about the problem. This prompted Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority to upgrade the leak from a level one incident, “an anomaly”, to a level three: “a serious incident.”

At the same time last week the Authority chairman, Shunichi Tanaka, said: “Mishaps keep happening one after the other.” His staff, he said, were trying to prevent the leak becoming “a fatal or serious accident”.

The latest leakage is so contaminating that a person standing close to a puddle of the water for an hour would receive five times the annual recommended radiation limit for nuclear workers. [Read more →]

August 27, 2013   No Comments