Category Archives: Greenlash

Pollution risks Yangtze’s ‘death’

From BBC news, Pollution risks Yangtze’s ‘death’, briefly describes China’s fears that how large scale eutrophication and pollution is impacting human wellbeing and economic growth prospects along the Yangze.

YangtzeThe Yangtze, China’s longest river, is “cancerous” with pollution, reports in the country’s state media have said.Environmental experts fear pollution from untreated agricultural and industrial waste could turn the Yangtze into a “dead river” within five years.

That would make it unable to sustain marine life or provide drinking water to the booming cities along its banks.

The Yangtze rises in China’s western mountains and passes through some of its most densely populated areas.

The government has promised to clean up the Yangtze, which supplies water to almost 200 cities along its banks.

But experts speaking in China’s state media say that unless action is taken quickly, billions of tonnes of untreated industrial and agricultural waste and sewage are likely to kill what remains of the river’s plant and wildlife species within five years.

China’s rapid economic development means that many of the nation’s waterways are facing similar problems.

Last year the authorities announced that the country’s second-longest river, the Yellow River, was so polluted that it was not safe for drinking.

Correspondents say that 300 million people in China do not have access to safe drinking water.

They say that government efforts to clean up the country’s polluted lakes and waterways are being thwarted by lax enforcement standards.

Mapping Sea Level Rise

Sea Level Rise Jonathan Overpeck and others have a paper Paleoclimatic Evidence for Future Ice-Sheet Instability and Rapid Sea-Level Rise in Science (24 March 2006) that suggests that sea level rise due to anthropogenic climate change could occur much faster than people have previously expected. Possibly an increase of 5 to 10 m of several centuries. (For news articles see BBC, NYTimes, & Toronto G&M).

To visualize the consquences of sea level rise:

WorldChanging points to Flood Maps. A site that mashes up NASA elevation data with Google Maps, and offers a visualization of the effects of a single meter increase all the way to a 14 meter rise. Some examples are: Vancouver with 6m sea rise, New Orleans, and the Netherlands.

Also, Jonathan Overpeck‘s lab also has a visualization of the consquences of sea level rise for the US and the world.

Richard Kerr writes in a news article in Science, A Worrying Trend of Less Ice, Higher Seas:

The ice sheet problem today very much resembles the ozone problem of the early 1980s, before researchers recognized the Antarctic ozone hole, Oppenheimer and Alley have written. The stakes are high in both cases, and the uncertainties are large. Chemists had shown that chlorine gas would, in theory, destroy ozone, but no ozone destruction had yet been seen in the atmosphere. While the magnitude of the problem remained uncertain, only a few countries restricted the use of chlorofluorocarbons, mainly by banning their use in aerosol sprays.

But then the ozone hole showed up, and scientists soon realized a second, far more powerful loss mechanism was operating in the stratosphere; the solid surfaces of ice cloud particles were accelerating the destruction of ozone by chlorine. Far more drastic measures than banning aerosols would be required to handle the problem.

Now glaciologists have a second mechanism for the loss of ice: accelerated flow of the ice itself, not just its meltwater, to the sea. “In the end, ice dynamics is going to win out” over simple, slower melting, says Bindschadler. Is glacier acceleration the ozone hole of sea level rise? No one knows. No one knows whether the exceptionally strong warmings around the ice will continue apace, whether the ice accelerations of recent years will slow as the ice sheets adjust to the new warmth, or whether more glaciers will fall prey to the warmth. No one knows, yet.

Mapping anoxic zones – pt 2

Global International Waters Assessment is a systematic assessment of the environmental conditions and problems in large transboundary waters, comprising marine, coastal and freshwater areas, and surface waters as well as ground waters. Involving over 1,500 expert it has assessed 66 of the world’s major river basins and recently published a synthesis report. These publications are freely available online. The synthesis report‘s section on pollution provides a map of eutrophication impact.

Fig 14 GIWA

As mentioned in a earlier post on mapping dead zones, eutrophication can produce large coastal hypoxic zones. The GIWA regional assessments reported that dead zones:

… have become increasingly common in the world’s lakes, estuaries and coastal zones, with serious impacts on local fisheries, biodiversity and ecosystem functions. Extensive dead zones have been observed for many years in the Baltic Sea, Black Sea and Gulf of Mexico. The GIWA assessment has compiled information on dead zones in the Southern Hemisphere, including several lagoons in the Brazil Current region, coastal locations in the Humboldt Current region, and in the Yangtze River estuary located in the East China Sea region.

Anthropogenic Modification of Vapours Flows and Tipping Points in the Earth System

Compare the map of soil moisture – atmosphere couplings against Gordon et al’s 2005 map of changes in vapour flows in the Human modification of global water vapor flows from the land surface.

PNAS Vapour Flows

Figure shows spatial distribution of net changes in vapor flows between potential vegetation and actual deforested and irrigated vegetation in mm/yr. The aggregated global change as compared with the potential vegetation is small (400 km3/yr), but the map illustrates the large spatial redistribution of water vapor flows from the land surface at the global scale.

Note that the location of increases in vapor flows in irrigation matches up with several of the hotspots identified in the map of soil moisture – atmosphere couplings – central Great Plains of North America, and India. Change occurs also in less intense hot spots appear in South America and China. Consquently, the combination of these two papers predicts that irrigation should have altered the local climate in these regions more than in other regions.

Anoxic zones – mapping ecosystem tradeoffs (a start)

Current industrial agricultural practices, particularly the overuse of fertilizer and its sloppy management, frequently create a tradeoff between agricultural production and coastal eutrophication. That is increases in agricultural yields have produced low oxygen zones around the world. The UNEP Global Environmental Outlook 2003 maps the location of coastal anoxic zones world wide (somewhat confusingly the worst cases – the persistent ones are coloured yellow, next worst red and orange, and least worst blue).
Global distribution of oxygen-depleted coastal zones.

Global distribution of oxygen-depleted coastal zones. The 146 zones shown are associated with either majorpopulation concentrations or with watersheds that deliver large quantities of nutrients to coastal waters.


  • Annual – yearly events related to summer or autumnal stratification
  • Episodic – events occurring at irregularintervals greater than one year
  • Periodic – events occurring at regular intervals shorter than one year
  • Persistent –all-year-round hypoxia

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Inequality of Climate Change Impacts

Jonathan Patz et al have recently published a review paper on the Impact of Regional Climate Change on Human Health, in a special feature on regional climate change in the Nov 16th issue of Nature.

The article shows that climate change is already a substantial factor shortening people’s lives. The authors estimate that climate change kills an excess 154 000/yr. This mortality compares with 6 million deaths/yr caused by childhood and maternal malnutrition (the largest proportion of mortality) and with 109 000 deaths/yr from carnciogen exposure (data from Rodgers et al 2004 Distribution of Major Health Risks: Findings from the Global Burden of Disease Study. PLOS Medicine pdf)

Climate change deaths are estimated to occur primarily due to increases in malnutrition (77 000 deaths), diarrhoea (47 000 deaths), and Malaria (27 000 deaths). However, the health impacts of climate change vary greatly across the world. In general the areas, least responsible for changing the climate, are suffering the most deaths from climate change. These deaths are concentrated in poor countries, with about half of these deaths occuring in poor countries in S and SE Asia (specifically Bangladesh, Bhutan, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, India, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal), which are home to 1.2 billion people.

The mismatch between the countries most responsible for producing climate change and its impact is shown in the two maps below. The first map shows CO2 emissions/capita in 1998 from WRI data, while the second shows the estimated numbers of deaths per million people that could be attributed to global climate change in the year 2000 (From Patz et al). The mismatch be further exagerated if the cumulative CO2 emissions/capita of nations, a better indicator of national responsibility for climate change, were shown.

national level co2 emissions per capita 1998 Drawing from data from the World Health Organization, the map was also created by Patz's team. Map courtesy the Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment.

[click on a map to see a larger version]

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Tipping Points in the Earth System – an icon of climate change?

tipping pts in the earth system

Martin Kemp writes in Nature – Science in culture: Inventing an icon

Any public campaign benefits from having an iconic image — something that captures the essence of the message and engraves it indelibly on our memories. But it is almost impossible to predict which images will actually stick, so creating one on demand is extraordinarily difficult. …

Even so, finding an iconic image was one of the goals of a meeting, Changing the Climate, held in Oxford, UK, on 11 and 12 September. Researchers and practitioners of the visual, literary, musical and performing arts came together to publicize the predicted perils of climate change, and there was much talk about a memorable image that would encapsulate the initiative…

The data must come from the best science available, but the presentation for maximum impact is a matter of invention in art and design. Of the images produced by the scientists, one in particular seemed to have the potential to combine iconicity with complexity. This is the ‘Tipping Points Map’ devised by Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany and research director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia, UK. This global map, shown here, outlines what Schellnhuber has identified as regions where the balance of particular systems has reached the critical point at which potentially irreversible change is imminent, or actually occurring.
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