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Category — Drought

Flow chart unclear for glacial rivers

Kieran Cooke


Confluence of the glacial Indus and Zanskar rivers flowing from Tibet. Image: Sundeep Bhardwaj via Wikimedia Commons

Glaciers in the high Himalayas and on the Tibetan Plateau are a vital source of water for millions of people in Asia, but scientists question what will happen to supplies if the rate of melting continues to rise due to climate-related factors

A new study examining river basins in the Asia region suggests that amounts of water supplied to the area by glaciers and rainfall in the Himalayas will increase in the coming decades.

At first reading, that looks like good news, as an estimated 1.3 billion people in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, China and elsewhere are dependent for their water supplies on rivers fed by glaciers and snowmelt.

But the less welcome news is that scientists are unsure what will happen after 2050 if the rate at which glaciers melt continues to increase as a result of climate change.

Scientists say rising temperatures and more intense rainfall patterns in the higher Himalayas are causing the retreat of the majority of glaciers in the region. [Read more →]

June 19, 2014   No Comments

Rainforest tribes seek World Cup spotlight

Kieran Cooke


Kayapò tribal leaders from the Amazon rainforest put their case to the media. Image: Sue Cunningham/SCP

Tribal leaders from the Amazon rainforest are using the glare of publicity on the football World Cup in Brazil to highlight an impassioned plea for recognition of their lands and an end to dam building and deforestation

Chief Raoni Metuktire, head of the Kayapò indigenous group from the Xingu region, deep in the Amazon rainforest, sits in a packed lecture hall in London. With his jutting lip plate and large feather headdress, the elderly, gently-spoken tribal leader is an imposing presence.

“When I’m gone I want my children and grandchildren to live in the forest as I have done,” he says. “I ask for your help. In the past, we didn’t knock down the trees, destroy the land and build dams, but now all that is happening.

“The climate in the forest is changing: it is a lot hotter than it used to be, and the pattern of the winds is altering.” [Read more →]

June 17, 2014   No Comments

South Asian monsoon is on the change

Tim Radford


South Asia depends on the monsoon: Changes could have profound consequences. Image: Shajiarikkad via Wikimedia Commons

There is evidence that south Asia’s summer monsoon, a vital source of water for millions of people, is changing. But scientists say it is too soon yet to blame the warming climate.

Climate change may be having an effect on one of the world’s most important weather systems. A study of the monsoon season over the last sixty years reveals that the intensity of extremes of precipitation and the number of very dry spells have both been increasing.

The Indian subcontinent gets more than four-fifths of its annual rainfall in that great, sustained seasonal cloudburst called the south Asian summer monsoon. Since 60% of India’s people live by agriculture, and 70% of the country’s exports are agricultural products, a lot rides on the monsoon.

Extremes of rainfall can bring catastrophic flooding, death, disease and homelessness. Dry seasons can bring a threat to India’s economy, and to national and even to global food security.

So a pattern of wetter wet spells and longer dry spells would – if sustained – create problems for the one-sixth of the world’s population that depends on the timing and strength of the monsoons.

Deepti Singh of Stanford University in California and colleagues report in Nature Climate Change that they used statistical tools to compare rainfall patterns over two contrasting periods, from 1951 to 1980, and from 1981 to 2011. [Read more →]

May 2, 2014   No Comments

Drought adds to Syria’s misery

Kieran Cooke


A Roman water cistern in Syria: Many reservoirs today are less than half full, despite heavy winter snowfall. Image: James Gordon from Los Angeles, California, USA via Wikimedia Commons

Thousands have died and millions have been displaced by the conflict in Syria. Severe drought in the region – part of what many believe is an ongoing, climate change-related dry period – is heaping added misery on people.

The conflict in Syria has devastated much of the country’s agricultural sector. But while the fighting has left large tracts of farmland abandoned, irrigation systems smashed and livestock neglected, other forces have also been at work.

Syria – and much of the Eastern Mediterranean region – is in the grip of one of the longest periods of drought on record. The World Food Programme (WFP) says the recent rainfall season in Syria, which usually lasts from October to April, produced less than half the long term average precipitation.

When the harvest of wheat – the staple food – is brought in next month it’s likely to be 30% down on last year – and less than half its pre-conflict level.

“This is part of a wider pattern of drier than average conditions which has dominated across the eastern Mediterranean from southern Turkey to western Syria, Lebanon and Jordan”, says the WFP. [Read more →]

April 21, 2014   No Comments

Warming Temperatures Could Dry Out One Third of Planet

Warming Temperatures Could Dry Out One Third of Planet (via Climate Central)

By Andrea Thompson Follow @AndreaTWeather Warming temperatures, scientists say, can tip places into drought conditions by increasing evaporation and sapping soil of its moisture. A new study suggests up to a third of the Earth’s land area could be subject…

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April 2, 2014   No Comments

California goes nuts for water

Kieran Cooke


California’s almond orchards may not look so green before long: Growers now have to find their own water sources. Image: US Dept of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service via Wikimedia Commons

While recent rainfall has brought welcome relief to California, the amount of precipitation has not been nearly enough to put an end to what is its worst drought on record.  The state’s $45 billion agricultural sector has been particularly hard hit.

Almonds are good for you. That’s the message California’s enterprising nut growers have been giving to the world – and they have been remarkably successful in their marketing efforts.

The world appetite for almonds is growing by the day – and nut farmers in the west of the US have been cashing in. According to the Almond Board of California the state now produces more than 80% of total world almond output: California’s almond crop has more than doubled since 2006 to 1.88 billion pounds last year.

The trouble is almonds – and other nut crops grown in California – need plenty of water, and right now water is in very short supply. A drought emergency is in force. The snow pack in the Sierra Nevada mountain range – a key source of the state’s water – was recently recorded as being only 24% of its normal capacity for the time of year.

At the end of January, California’s State Water Project – the largest state-built water and power development and distribution system in the US, responsible for supplying water to two-thirds of the state’s 38 million people – stopped supplying local agencies in many areas.

Scientists are busy analysing whether the drought is linked to changes in climate: President Obama, announcing a drought federal aid package, said the state provided an example of what might be in store for the rest of the country as climate change intensifies. [Read more →]

March 28, 2014   No Comments

Drought intensifies in western US

Kieran Cooke


Low water in California’s San Gabriel dam after two years of drought. Image: Shannon1 via Wikimedia Commons

In recent days California has announced its most severe water restrictions ever as drought continues to hit the state. Scientists say the region’s rainfall has been declining over the years and the consequences are serious.

January is the month when Californians put on their rain jackets – but not this year.

It’s the month which is usually wettest in the western US, when rivers and reservoirs are replenished: this year there was virtually no rain through January in much of the region, following on from an exceptionally dry period through much of 2013.

A vast area of land in the western region of the American land mass, stretching from the province of Alberta in Canada across to parts of Texas in the US and on down into Mexico, is suffering as reservoirs and rivers dry up. A state of emergency has been declared in several areas, including California.

Dr Wallace Covington is director of the Ecological Restoration Institute at Northern Arizona University. “What we’re seeing across this region is an intensification of long-established aspects of climate change”, Covington told Climate News Network.

“I hate to sound pessimistic but all around in these large watersheds we’re seeing a degradation of water structure and function. There’s increased erosion leading to desertification, and with the dry conditions and generally stronger winds the forest fire season is being extended.” [Read more →]

February 3, 2014   No Comments

It’s getting hotter in Oz

Kieran Cooke


Drought leaves its mark on Australia – as here in 2010, and in subsequent years. Image: Philip Capper, of Wellington, New Zealand, via Wikimedia Commons

As happened in January last year, much of Australia has been enduring a sweltering heatwave over the first days of 2014, with temperatures in excess of 40°C in many areas. Meanwhile 2013 has been confirmed as the country’s hottest year on record.

It’s official – Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology says 2013 ranked as the country’s warmest year since records began more than a century ago, with the annual national mean temperature 1.2°C above the average.

Along the way, several new temperature records were set: the summer was the warmest on record as was Australia’s spring, while winter was ranked third in the historical warming stakes.

“The past year was characterized by persistent and widespread warmth”, says the Bureau.

“Mean temperatures across Australia have generally been well above average since September 2012. Long periods of warmer than average days have been common, with a distinct lack of cold weather.”

January 7th last year ranks as the hottest single day on record across the country, when the national daily average maximum temperature reached 40.3°C.

Later that month Sydney — usually relatively cool compared with inland areas and cities such as Darwin in the Northern Territory – smashed its own temperature record with the mercury climbing to 45.8°C.  Meanwhile 31 August was the warmest winter day on record across the country. [Read more →]

January 6, 2014   No Comments