Saturday, November 19, 2011

Weather disasters increasing from climate change, says UN


A definitive UN science report released today confirms the link between climate change and extreme weather events, including punishing heat waves, droughts, and torrential rains and resulting floods.
The report warns that the U.S. will suffer heat waves, droughts, and more powerful hurricanes like Irene, with vulnerable people and places likely to suffer most from extreme weather, including low-lying island States facing sea level rise and stronger storm surges, and drought-prone countries in Africa.
New York released its own climate study this week, predicting that with expected sea level rise and stronger storms, future hurricanes could flood the tunnels into Manhattan within an hour and put one-third of the city underwater, with climate induced impacts beginning  within a decade.  The cost of US weather disasters in 2011 is already  approaching $50 billion, according to the National Climate Data Center.
It is now certain that human emissions of greenhouse gases and warming aerosols like black carbon are increasing the frequency and intensity of extreme weather by putting more heat energy into the
climate system.
'These climate change impacts have become so clear and so close now that we need fast, aggressive mitigation if we hope to avoid
the worst consequences,' said Durwood Zaelke, President of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development.
'Fast mitigation is the best adaptation,' Zaelke added. 'Fast  mitigation means cutting short-lived climate forcers, including black carbon, ground-level ozone, and hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, used in refrigeration.  Cutting these non-CO2 climate forcers can be done quickly and inexpensively using existing technologies and in most cases existing laws and institutions.'
This can cut the rate of global warming in half for several decades and the rate of warming in the Arctic by two-thirds, according to a report by the UN Environment Program and the World Meteorological Organization.
Vulnerable island States, along with the U.S., Mexico, and Canada, are calling on the Montreal Protocol ozone treaty to reduce HFCs.  The parties will be discussing an HFC phase-down next week at their annual meeting in Bali, Indonesia.
Zaelke stated, 'States and cities need to start thinking how they will pay for adaptation and for cleaning up after extreme weather events, including following the precedent set by states in their battle with tobacco companies, which included lawsuits to recoup health
care costs the states were paying to care for victims of tobacco
injuries.'  The lawsuits resulted in a historic $350 billion national
tobacco settlement.
Addressing climate change also requires cutting emissions of CO2, the principal greenhouse gas, protecting and expanding forests and other 'carbon sinks' that remove and store CO2, and developing other CO2 removal strategies to draw down excess CO2 from the atmosphere on a time scale of decades, rather than the millennial time scale of the natural CO2 removal process.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Sea level worry

From: Fiji Times Online. By: Ioane Burese

THE sea level is expected to continue to rise in Fiji - it's something coastal communities and resort owners need to deal with.

Scientists from the Pacific Climate Change Science Program in Melbourne, Australia, in their latest report on Current and Future Climate of Fiji, told regional journalists in Australia for leadership and climate change reporting that the rise is predicted to be between three and 16 centimetres.

The sea level rise combined with natural year to year changes will increase the impact of storm surges and coastal flooding. As there is still much to learn, particularly how large ice sheets such as Antarctica and Greenland contribute to sea level rise, scientists warn larger rises than predicted could even be possible.

They predict the acidity level of sea waters in the Fiji region will continue to increase over the 21st century with the greatest change under the high emissions scenario by 2030 affecting fish and sea life negatively.

The impact of increased acidification on the health of reef ecosystems is likely to be compounded by other stressors including coral bleaching, storm damage and fishing pressure.

On a global scale, while projections indicate there is likely to be a decrease in the number of tropical cyclones, scientists predict an increase in the average maximum wind speed of cyclones by between two and 11 per cent and an increase in rainfall intensity of about 20 per cent within 100kms of the cyclone centre.

In the Fiji region, projections indicate a decrease in the frequency of tropical cyclones by the late 21st Century and an increase in the proportions of the more intense storms, so more cyclone-proof buildings will have to be constructed to withstand these weather changes.

Projections for all emission scenarios indicate the annual average of air temperatures and sea surface temperature will continue to increase.

By 2030, under a high emissions scenario, this increase in temperature is projected to be in the range of 0.4 to 1.0 degrees celsius, placing a higher risk on the health of the population.

Increases in the average temperature will also result in the rise in the number of hot days and warm nights meaning a significant decline in cooler weather.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Artists of ‘Water Is Rising’ sing and dance against climate change

Pacific Islanders tour with their arts to spread word

From: The Boston Globe ; By Laura Bleiberg

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JORGE VISMARA: Dancers from the Pacific Islands of Tokelau mourn the threat to their civilization by rising water

ALISO VIEJO, Calif. - Plenty of performers go abroad on missions of cultural diplomacy aimed subtly at shoring up relations between their own nation and others. And then there are the three dozen dancers and singers of “Water Is Rising,’’ a show that is not coy about its purpose.

It was created as a direct, personal appeal to America by people from Kiribati, Tokelau, and Tuvalu, atolls and coral islands in the central Pacific Ocean. While it aims to entertain, the production - which comes to Sanders Theatre in Cambridge Saturday night - is also an impassioned plea for help in the fight against climate change.

In a scene from “Water Is Rising,’’ those from the Tuvalu nation sing and dance.

JORGE VISMARA: In a scene from “Water Is Rising,’’ those from the Tuvalu nation sing and dance.

These islands are, at their highest points, 3 meters (about 10 feet) above sea level, and are at risk of being swamped by rising sea levels.

“We sacrifice ourselves, to leave our families,’’ Andrew Semeli, a performer in the Pa Laumilo company from Tuvalu, said last month in California, where the show’s 12-city tour began. “We come here, with a strong message for everyone to do something that will help their own self and, at the same time, they will help us as well.’’

The producer and artistic director of “Water Is Rising’’ is an American, Judy Mitoma, who founded and directs the Center for Intercultural Performance at the University of California Los Angeles. Much of the funding for the tour, too, comes from American sources, including the New England Foundation for the Arts’ National Dance Project.

But the artists of “Water Is Rising’’ are everyday people from the islands. Resplendent onstage in ornamental costumes made from palm fronds, shells, and pandanus leaves soaked in ocean water, they are not performers by profession. The youngest is 17, the oldest 60.

They are fishermen, farmers, teachers, merchants, stay-at-home mothers, students. Some are unemployed. Semeli is a parliamentary aide. But they are all performers, too, because it is a normal part of their culture to be steeped in their islands’ music, stories, and dances.

Semeli said he realizes that global warming is a controversial topic in the United States, with even presidential candidates disputing evidence that the islanders consider incontrovertible.

Jorge Vismara: The artists performing “Water Is Rising” are everyday people from the Pacific islands.

“Yes, I used to browse over the articles on the Internet. Most of the people, they don’t believe what the scientists say about global warming,’’ Semeli said. But to him, that’s one reason the tour is so important: “We know and we have witnessed the sea-level rise taking away most of our lands.’’

Mikaele Maiva, artistic director of the Kai Te Gali Mai Nukunonu company from Tokelau, said he hopes climate-change skeptics will come to see “Water Is Rising.’’

“I can understand that it’s difficult for them to understand because they’re protected by their mountains,’’ he said, alluding to the Southern California landscape.

“They have their governments. They have their big houses. They have their shops. They have their supermarkets. They probably don’t worry about anything, I guess. But on the island - we face it,’’ Maiva said. “Every day of our life.’’

The first half of “Water Is Rising’’ serves as an introduction to each group of islands: the Republic of Kiribati, population 100,000; Tuvalu, population 12,000, which makes it one of the world’s smallest nations; and Tokelau, population 1,200, which is part of New Zealand.

All of the artists sit together onstage, taking turns performing traditional dances and songs with lyrics about daily life, such as sharing the fishing catch so children will have enough to eat. Photographs of the islands and English surtitles are displayed on an overhead screen.

“Historically,’’ explained Mitoma, who is an emeritus professor of dance studies at UCLA, “you establish who you are to the other group by singing your own song.’’

In the second half of the show, each group presents new songs, composed in a traditional style, but having to do with climate change and its effect on their communities. For the finale here, they joined together to sing “Amazing Grace’’ and a hymn asking for God’s protection and blessing.

As Mitoma noted, “Water Is Rising’’ tries to duplicate the folk arts as they would be experienced on the islands. The biggest difference is that, at home, the islanders compete against one another, rather than perform for each other - like a team version of “Dancing With the Stars,’’ but as part of a centuries-old tradition.

“Water Is Rising’’ is less polished, and certainly less spectacular, than the big-name touring folk-dance companies, such as the Moiseyev Dance Company or Ballet Folklórico de México de Amalia Hernández, with their government-supported budgets and ballet-trained professionals. But “Water Is Rising’’ is also far more poignant.

Mitoma had confidence, too, that the arts of Kiribati, Tuvalu, and Tokelau were eye-catching enough in their authentic form to appeal to American sensibilities.

They first came to her attention 30 years ago, at the Festival of Pacific Arts, one of the longest-running celebrations of indigenous cultures. Mitoma has since gone to the festival regularly, and said the arts of these three places are unique in the Pacific.

“They spoke of a worldview that seemed very different from the other groups; kind of joyful, celebratory, unpretentious,’’ she said. “The fact that there is no tourism there, they are not used to developing the work for the outsider. So because they perform with and for each other, they have developed a vocabulary that’s nuanced for their own cultural style. They’re not imitating Tahiti or Hawaii, which tend to be iconic.’’

Even with their unique means of expression, the arts share certain elements. Traditional chants are sung a cappella, or accompanied by pounding on a large wooden box called a boaki or pokihi.

The dances from Kiribati are known for their loud and vigorous stamping and clapping. The singing had a noticeably nasal vocal intonation. The men wore straight skirts of woven mats that were secured with belts handmade using hair of female relatives, a symbol of being wrapped in family love.

The songs from Tuvalu had distinctive harmonies. Fast, upbeat melodies were concluded with enthusiastic yells and accented yips of joy. Women swished their hands with slight, distinctive gestures.

The dancers from Tokelau wore skirts of shredded leaves, and the women rocked their hips gently. The fishing song was accompanied by a dance for men only, and body motions illustrated the tasks described by the lyrics.

Maiva, the artistic director from Tokelau, likes to say that the highest point there is the top of the tallest palm tree. The islanders, he said, are in the process of converting to renewable energy sources and have constructed a sea wall, which requires constant repairs.

He hopes the performers of “Water Is Rising’’ can serve as inspiration to Americans before it’s too late.

“I’d like them to see that even though we are so small and we are vulnerable, we don’t give up,’’ Maiva said. “I’d like them to start realizing that and do something.’’

Laura Bleiberg can be reached at

Sunday, November 13, 2011

NASA spots a New York City-sized iceberg as it breaks off Antarctic glacier

From: The Washington Post. By: Andrew Freedman

Close-up image of the crack spreading across the ice shelf of Antarctica’s Pine Island Glacier. See more photos. (NASA/DMS)

NASA researchers flying low over Antarctica’s vast, frozen landscape recently stumbled across a rare event in progress: the calving of a massive iceberg from one of Antarctica’s largest and fastest-moving glaciers. The scientists, who were taking part in NASA’s “Operation IceBridge,” were able to fly a follow-up mission above the Pine Island Glacier to gather unprecedented airborne measurements of an ongoing iceberg calving event. Typically, scientists can only learn of such events after they take place.

Since 2009, NASA scientists have been flying research aircraft loaded with sophisticated sensing equipment above Antarctic and Arctic ice, providing crucial data on ice sheet dynamics. This data is of great interest to the climate science community, considering the massive sea level rise that would occur if land-based ice sheets were to rapidly melt in coming decades.

Numerous studies have been published in the past several years that have raised alarms about the accelerating pace of ice loss in West Antarctica and Greenland. Operation IceBridge is meant to fill data gaps caused by a lag between two different ice-tracking satellites, thereby keeping data flowing to inform ongoing studies.

According to NASA, the last significant Pine Island Glacier calving event took place in 2001. It’s estimated that this one, an 18-mile long crack in the ice that was first spotted on Oct. 14 by a NASA DC-8 crew, probably began to form back in early October. Pine Island Glacier terminates in the sea, and has an “ice tongue” that juts out into the water. This makes the ice vulnerable to melting due to both rising air and water temperatures, although this calving event may have been a largely natural occurrence.


NASA Operation IceBridge discovers massive crack in ice shelf.
Pine Island is one of the largest and fastest-moving glaciers in Antarctica. It has captured scientists’ attention for years because of the rate at which its ice is thinning. The ice shelf thins, the grounding line retreats and the speed of the glacier increases. As it sits on bedrock below sea level -- West Antarctica is the last place with such so-called “marine glaciers” -- and drains about 10 percent of the West Antarctica ice sheet, scientists are concerned about the impact Pine Island’s continued thinning will have on sea level.
Ice shelves naturally calve icebergs to shed ice that flows from the landmass to the sea. However, given Pine Island’s prominence as a target of study for glaciologists, the crack is at the very least an interesting observation.
“It’s part of a natural cycle, but it’s still very interesting and impressive to see up close,” said IceBridge project scientist Michael Studinger. “It looks like a significant part of the ice shelf is ready to break off.”

The NASA team found that the rift had a diameter as large as 820 feet at its widest point, and that once it breaks free and becomes an iceberg, it will have about 340 square miles of surface area - larger than New York City. The iceberg will have a total thickness of about 1,600 feet, most of it found underneath the water. After the iceberg breaks off, the Pine Island Glacier’s ice shelf will have receded farther than at any point since the 1940s, when this location was first mapped.

Research shows that the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica are melting at an accelerating pace, and may soon become the biggest contributor to sea level rise. If current rates of ice loss were to continue, sea level could rise by as much as a meter or more before the end of this century, according to this Climate Central story.