Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Bushfires...the bad news just keeps coming lah!

Bushfires 'to burn up climate.... AUSTRALIA is sitting on a time bomb when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions: bushfires.

Researchers said bushfires can release as much carbon pollution as the whole of industry combined.

While bushfires are not officially counted towards Australia's emissions, researchers said they will be in the future and it could cost billions.

The Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre says the problem will snowball because climate change will cause more bushfires, which will release more carbon pollution, which makes climate change worse.

"Bushfires pose an enormous threat to Australia's carbon balance," said Mark Adams, a centre researcher who is based at the University of Sydney.

"In a bad fire year ... the scale of emissions from forest fires in southern Australia was of the same order as industrial emissions."

A bad fire could release 30 million tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere.

"That is far far more than we're ever going to be able to sequester from planting trees or promoting carbon capture," he said, in reference to burying emissions from coal-fired power stations underground.

Authorities should actively manage forests into the future to minimise the threat of bushfires, Prof Adams said.

Burn-offs had to be used to reduce fuel loads and the intensity of fires.

He predicted the international community would include emissions from forests in a post-Kyoto climate pact, which could be signed as early as this year.

"Not to do so is to ignore one of the biggest threats to the global atmospheric pool of CO2," he said.

The centre also has warned that many householders and communities are not ready for a bushfire, and current management practices won't work into the future.

More people are moving to fire-prone areas on urban fringes but don't realise the risks, the centre said.

And more fires are on the way as southern Australia becomes hotter and drier because of climate change.

Adelaide swelters through record night

A few hornbags just to show how hot things are really getting!

January 29, 2009, 9:44 am

Adelaide has sweltered through its hottest night on record with the temperature only dipping to 33.9 degrees.

After a top temperature on Wednesday of 45.7c, the weather bureau said the overnight minimum came just after midnight (CDT).

The previous record was the 33.5c recorded on January 1, 1982.

By 5am the mercury had climbed back to 37c, on the way to a forecast top for Thursday of 44.

It will be Adelaide's third day in a row above 40c, with the city expected to have three more before the temperature dips into the high 30s.

That will be the longest run of consecutive days above 40c for more than 100 years.

Emergency services remained on high alert with a number of fires sparked by the conditions over the past 24 hours.

Public transport services were also thrown into chaos with the heat buckling both tram and train lines.

A number of blown transformers across the city has also cut power to some residents.

With the hot conditions persisting, SA Unions on Thursday urged employers to be flexible and to allow workers respite, particularly those without air-conditioning.

State secretary Janet Giles said it also made commonsense that there should be no outdoor work in such conditions.

"On days like these, the construction industry practically closes down, and for good reason," she said.

"Really good employers understand the toll that the heat can take and should even allow workers the flexibility to collect their children from school or tend to the needs of elderly relatives."

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Sell the beach house: Antarctica is melting

January 22, 2009 - 7:42AM

MORE of Antarctica is heating up than scientists had thought.

A large part of West Antarctica, not just the peninsula area, has warmed during the past 50 years, a study shows.

The issue of climate change on the frozen continent has been controversial because East Antarctica has been cooling and temperature records are sparse.

Eric Steig, of the University of Washington, said his research showed that, overall, warming had outweighed cooling.

"The thing you hear all the time is that Antarctica is cooling. But it's more complex than that," Professor Steig said. "Antarctica isn't warming at the same rate everywhere and, while some areas have been cooling for a long time, the evidence shows the continent as a whole is getting warmer."

Warming in West Antarctica exceeded 0.1 degrees a decade during the past 50 years, similar to the rest of the world, the study, published in the journal Nature, said.

"Significant warming extends well beyond the Antarctic Peninsula to cover most of West Antarctica, an area of warming much larger than previously reported," Professor Steig said.

The research was based on 50 years of temperature measurements from weather stations, 25 years of satellite observations and a statistical analysis of the link between the two sets of data.

Professor Barry Brook, of the University of Adelaide, said the finding was alarming because it suggested the ice sheet in West Antarctica was at greater risk of melting.

Along with the Greenland ice sheet, a complete melt of both sheets would raise sea levels by 14 metres.

"Even losing a fraction of both would cause a few metres this century, with disastrous consequences," Professor Brook said. "I worry, with the observed polar warming over the last few decades and more in the pipeline due to lags in the climate system, that their large-scale melt is now a fait accompli."

Professor Steig said that the hole in the ozone had contributed to the cooling of East Antarctica but that it could close up by the middle of the century.

"If that happens, all of Antarctica could begin warming on a par with the rest of the world."

Another study, also published in Nature, has found that the seasons are starting about a 1.7 days earlier on average around the globe than during the first half of the century.

AAP reports: "[It's] bad news if you live near the Australian coast," Professor Brook said.

"In some areas where you've currently got housing, you'd probably have to abandon those areas."

He said the sea would penetrate up to one kilometre inland in flat areas such as South Australia's lower lakes.

Large areas which don't see flooding now would get flooded by king tides.

House prices for coastal areas would probably drop, Professor Brook said.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Climate Change, The Environment, Resources And Conflict

RISING sea levels could lead to failed states across the Pacific and require extra naval deployments to deal with increases in illegal migration and fishing, a Defence Force analysis says.

"Environmental stress" has increased the risk of conflicts over resources and food and may demand greater involvement by the military in stabilisation, reconstruction and disaster relief, the analysis, prepared by Defence's strategic policy division, says.

It warns there is a risk of a serious global conflict over the Arctic as melting icecaps allow easier access to undersea oil and gas deposits.

In Australia's northern waters, "climate change is expected to change the location of South-East Asian fishing grounds, causing an increase in illegal fishing," says a summary of the analysis. "This may raise demand for ADF patrols in these regions."

The warnings emerged as a leading NASA scientist, James Hanson, used an open letter to the US president-elect, Barack Obama, to single out Australia's coal exports as a significant cause of climate change.

"Australia exports coal and sets atmospheric carbon dioxide goals so large as to guarantee destruction of much of the life on the planet," Dr Hanson said.

The Defence analysis, titled Climate Change, The Environment, Resources And Conflict, was completed in November 2007 for the head of strategy, Michael Pezzullo, a deputy secretary who has since been appointed to oversee the preparation of the Defence White Paper.

"Environmental changes will reinforce existing concerns regarding land availability, economic development and control over resources," it says.

"Rising sea levels will affect states and islands with low-lying coastlines around the world … Food sources are also vulnerable to environmental changes."

A summary, obtained by the Herald under freedom of information laws, says: "Environmental stress, caused by both climate change and a range of other factors, will act as a threat multiplier in fragile states around the world, increasing the chances of state failure. This is likely to increase demands for the ADF to be deployed on additional stabilisation, post-conflict reconstruction and disaster relief operations in the future."

Defence refused to release the full 12-page analysis, saying its publication could damage Australia's defence capability and international relations.

The paper says climate change may lead to increases in refugees from Pacific islands, but says few are likely to be able to reach Australia.

"From a defence planning perspective, we don't know how quickly these changes will occur, exactly what their impact will be, or how states and societies will react," it says. "Nevertheless, climate change may affect security by increasing stress on fragile states, state and societal competition for resources, environmental threats to ADF infrastructure and increasing the frequency and severity of extreme weather events.

"Climate change is unlikely to increase the risk of major conflict, although there is one exception. The Arctic is melting, potentially making the extraction of undersea energy deposits commercially viable. … Conflict is a remote possibility if these disputes are not resolved peacefully."

The Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, described climate change as a "fundamental" challenge last month when he released his national security statement.

Dr Hanson, head of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said Australia was making "honest efforts" to tackle climate change but failing.

Carbon trading schemes such as that proposed by the Federal Government would slow the rate of greenhouse emissions too slowly, Dr Hanson said.

"This approach is ineffectual and not commensurate with the climate threat," he said. "It could waste another decade, locking in disastrous consequences for our planet and humanity."

Australia is the world's largest exporter of black coal, shipping about 230 million tonnes a year to supply just over a quarter of world export demand, according to the Australian Coal Association.

It is the nation's biggest export earner, but when burned overseas Australian coal generates more than half a billion tonnes of greenhouse emissions each year, or more than all emissions generated within Australia.