Climate Change Correspondent, Asia, Singapore
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Aug 10, 2010

Rising temperatures threaten rice yield growth: study

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Rising temperatures could slow the growth of rice production unless farmers adapt by changing management practices and switch to more heat-tolerant varieties, scientists say.

Rice is among the world’s most important crops and a staple for people in Asia and Africa, with Asia producing and consuming more than 90 percent of the world’s output.

Aug 6, 2010

Australia firm signs forest CO2 deal with Malaysia tribes

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – An Australian carbon services company has signed a deal with nine Malaysian tribal leaders to certify carbon offsets from a project aimed at preserving more than 100,000 hectares of tropical forest.

The deal allows the tribes in Sarawak state on the island of Borneo to earn a share of the proceeds from the sale of carbon offsets to help them manage and protect the forest over a period of 20 years, payments potentially worth millions of dollars.

Jul 22, 2010

Scientists dig deep into ocean warming conundrum

SINGAPORE, July 22 (Reuters) – In the remote, frigid abyss of the deep oceans, temperatures are slowly rising.

Not by much, but spread over the vast depths of the deep the change is significant, adding to sea level rise and possibly heralding even greater impacts for mankind and the planet.

While scientists aren’t yet certain if the warming is caused by climate change, they are scrambling to learn more about what’s going on.

This is because the layer starting roughly 2 kilometres (one mile) from the surface makes up about half the world’s oceans and plays a key role in regulating the planet’s climate.

"A decade or so ago we had this picture in our minds that deep oceans were pretty stable and that things didn’t change much there," said oceanographer Steve Rintoul of Australia’s state-backed science and research body CSIRO.

"What’s changed in the last decade is that we’ve started to accumulate enough measurements to show there are widespread changes happening in the deep ocean. And those include really remarkably widespread warming of the deepest layers of the ocean," he told Reuters from Hobart, Tasmania.

Water expands as it gets warmer and this, along with the melting of glaciers and ice caps, is a major force behind rising sea levels.

Seas, on average, are rising at a rate of 3 millimetres a year but some studies suggest they could rise by up to a metre by 2100, inundating low-lying coastlines.

"The heat storage aspect is important because over the past 50 years, about 90 percent of the extra heat stored by the earth is now found in the ocean," said Rintoul. The deep ocean takes up 10 to 20 percent of this.

Scientists say that extra heat is being trapped by greenhouse gases released by agriculture, deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels.

WARMER WATERS

The greatest warming of the deep oceans has been recorded near Antarctica and the North Atlantic.

These are the two regions where very cold, salty water sinks from the surface to the depths in a motion that helps drive a global circulation of ocean currents that regulates the climate, for example by giving northern Europe its mild weather.

The water that sinks off parts of Antarctica heads north into different ocean basins as it branches out. It can take centuries to make its way back to the surface.

"We’re seeing warming. We’ve only seen this pattern for a decade or two now," said Gregory Johnson, an oceanographer of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

He pointed to the difficulties of taking measurements in the crushing depths, which have limited scientists to taking samples every decade on costly voyages that transect an area of ocean.

"When we go out and do these measurements, we go out and stop the ship and lower the instrument down to the bottom and bring it back. It’s sort of like going across the ocean at a slow jog because you spend more than half your time stopped and sampling".

He said the observed warming rate for the deep layers of the Southern Ocean, between Australia and Antarctica, was about 0.03 degrees Celsius per decade.

"It seems very small but it’s actually a huge amount of energy uptake. Compared with mankind’s global energy consumption rate, it’s three times that rate going into the deep ocean," he told Reuters from Seattle.

"That’s about four Hiroshima bombs every 5 seconds, or five hairdriers for all 6.8 billion people on the planet going continuously," he said.

CARBON IMPACT

Some areas, such as the Southern Ocean, have been sampled more than others.

And what scientists have found is worrying.

The water sinking off Antarctica is becoming fresher and therefore less dense, though it’s unclear if this will lead to long-term changes in the speed of deep ocean currents.

Changes in wind patterns are also causing more deep, carbon-rich water to come to the surface.

The oceans are a major carbon "sink", soaking up large amounts of the main greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, including about a quarter of all the CO2 emitted by human activity.

Oceans store about 50 times the CO2 in the atmosphere. And most of this is stored in intermediate and deep ocean waters.

"There are huge amounts of carbon stored in those waters below the 2,000 metre mark," said Bernadette Sloyan of the CSIRO’s Marine and Atmospheric Research division in Hobart.

"And changing the temperature changes the ability of the ocean to hold and store that carbon as a reservoir," she said.

Mankind’s fossil fuel emissions are the equivalent of about six billion tonnes of carbon annually, a fraction of the estimated 38 to 40 trillion tonnes of carbon stored in the intermediate and deep ocean layers.

At present, while the ocean naturally releases carbon dioxide gas in upwelling currents off Antarctica and in parts of the tropics, the world’s oceans overall soak up more than they emit.

PUTTING THE HEAT ON

But scientists say that could change.

"The changes we project will happen in the Southern Ocean will tend to make the ocean less effective at storing CO2," said Rintoul.

The deep oceans are also a major source of nutrients, such as iron, that ocean ecosystems need to survive.

"Changes in the circulation of the ocean and deep ocean and how it interacts with the upper ocean will have significant impacts on bringing nutrients back up to allow ecosystems to keep thriving," Sloyan said.

For now, scientists are trying to speed up measurements to figure out if mankind has woken up a monster in the deep.

Rintoul and Johnson said more study was needed to pin down any direct climate change connection.

"At the moment we can’t really say that the pattern of deep warming that we see is a signal of human-caused climate change," said Rintoul.

"And the reason we can’t say that is partly because we only have a few decades of observations and also because we don’t really understand the processes that control variability in the deep ocean as well," he said.

Self-propelled gliders being developed to take deep water samples will help. Engineers are also working to expand a network of floats, which can presently sink to 2,000 metres to take data readings, with new models that can go even deeper.

"It’s said we know more about Mars than we know about the deep ocean. It’s absolutely true," Sloyan said. (Reporting by Michael Urquhart)







Jul 20, 2010

Indonesia facing crisis over loss of species -scientists

SINGAPORE/JAKARTA, July 20 (Reuters) – Indonesia, one of the world’s richest nations in terms of species, is losing hugely valuable resources and services through the destruction of forests, coral reefs and watersheds, scientists said on Tuesday.

The natural environment provides services critical to economies, from clean water, rich fishing grounds from coral reefs to clean air filtered by forests, services that aren’t fully taken account of in modern economics. [ID:nLDE66B1MA]

But deterioration of these services through loss of species robs the planet of rich resources, scientists say, that can help ensure mankind can grow sufficient food as well as exploit a vast gene pool to make new drugs and even beauty treatments.

In Indonesia, the loss of biodiversity has reached crisis levels, scientists at a major tropical biodiversity meeting in Bali this week say.

"The reason Indonesia is going through such a major crisis is because the biodiversity of Indonesia is extremely rich. It’s probably the second most important country after Brazil in terms of biodiversity," said senior scientist Terry Sunderland.

"The other great value of Indonesia’s biodiversity is that many of the species that occur here are endemic," said Sunderland of the Center for International Forestry Research based in Bogor, Indonesia.

"Because there are 17,000 islands, you have these unique ecosystems throughout the archipelago which combined have a huge number of species so the biodiversity value of the country as a whole is enormous."

But logging of forests and rapid expansion of pulp and paper and oil palm plantations has created vast monocultures with little resilence to disease or climate change.

Bronwen Powell, a PhD candidate and specialist on forests and nutrition who presented at the Bali conference, said deforestation could increase human exposure to diseases carried by primates and drive important medicinal plants to the point of extinction.

"A huge number of the world’s pharmaceuticals were discovered as compounds in plants," she said. "As forests are lost, the knowledge that goes with those plants is lost as well. We are potentially losing the cure for cancer."

About half the country of 240 million people remains forested and the government has ramped up efforts to save the remainder, including an agreement on a two-year moratorium from next January on the clearing of natural forests.

The United Nations says annual losses from deforestation and damage to forests alone is estimated at between $2 trillion and $4.5 trillion globally.

Sunderland said the basic equivalent of the market value of biodiversity if you include pharmaceuticals, agriculture and food, health and beauty products was about $500 billion, roughly the equivalent to the petrochemical industry.

Slowing the loss of the planet’s plant and animal species and putting a value of them has risen up the global political agenda, with 2010 the International Year of Biodiversity.

A major meeting in Japan in October is expected to agree new targets including a 2050 vision.

World leaders agreed in 2002 to achieve a significant reduction in biodiversity loss by 2010. But the United Nations has said the target hasn’t been met and that current trends are placing the planet on a path to possible ecosystem collapse. (Editing by Sugita Katyal)



Jul 14, 2010

Cooling caused wars and drought in China

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – As Chinese policymakers grapple with an expected increase in extreme weather due to global warming, a study has found that periods of cooling between AD 10 to 1900 also caused a wave of disasters, war and upheaval.

Droughts and locust plagues caused by cooler spells probably triggered internal wars, the authors said.

Jul 14, 2010

Cooling caused wars and drought in China – study

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – As Chinese policymakers grapple with an expected increase in extreme weather due to global warming, a study has found that periods of cooling between AD 10 to 1900 also caused a wave of disasters, war and upheaval.

Droughts and locust plagues caused by cooler spells probably triggered internal wars, the authors said.

Jul 14, 2010

Indian Ocean sea level rise threatens millions – study

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Sea levels are rising unevenly in the Indian Ocean, placing millions at risk along low-lying coastlines in Bangladesh, Indonesia and Sri Lanka, scientists say in a study.

Researchers from the University of Colorado and the National Center for Atmospheric Research say the rising sea levels are caused in part by climate change and are triggered by warming seas and changes to atmospheric circulation patterns.

Jul 14, 2010

Indian Ocean sea level rise threatens millions

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Sea levels are rising unevenly in the Indian Ocean, placing millions at risk along low-lying coastlines in Bangladesh, Indonesia and Sri Lanka, scientists say in a study.

Researchers from the University of Colorado and the National Center for Atmospheric Research say the rising sea levels are caused in part by climate change and are triggered by warming seas and changes to atmospheric circulation patterns.

Jul 8, 2010

Climate scientists praise report on hacked email scandal

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Leading climate scientists on Thursday welcomed a British report that cleared researchers of exaggerating the effects of global warming and said they hoped it would restore faith in the fight against climate change.

The University of East Anglia, in eastern England, launched an inquiry after more than 1,000 emails hacked from its climate research unit were put on the Internet.

Jul 8, 2010

Where next for climate policy in Australia?

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Australia faces an election within months and new Prime Minister Julia Gillard has said she will announce additional steps on fighting climate change before the poll.

Climate change will be an election issue and analysts say Gillard must do something to win back voters angry over the government’s shelving of an emissions trading scheme in April.

    • About David

      "I report on climate policy, climate science and the carbon market (CDM, emissions trading) in Asia. I'm based in Singapore. It's a great story in a fast-growing and fast-changing region. I've been writing about climate change since university in Canberra, where I did a life sciences degree, with a communications major on the side. I started writing science articles for newspapers and, soon after completing my studies, joined as a cadet on The Canberra Times. After a few years there, it was off to London and then Hong Kong."
      Joined Reuters:
      1994
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