Geology for Global Development

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Planning for future cyclone Idais; Cloud seeding in the Philippines; Climate Change Getting you Down? This and more in Jesse Zondervan’s March 2019 #GfGDpicks #SciComm

rain drops on leaf

Each month, Jesse Zondervan picks his favourite posts from geoscience and development blogs/news which cover the geology for global development interest. Here’s a round-up of Jesse’s selections for the last month:

The UN World Meteorological Organization called cyclone Idai, which hit Mozambique this month, “possibly the worst weather-related disaster to hit the southern hemisphere”. Civil Engineering professor Ryan P. Mulligan discusses what climate science tells us about the future of storms like this.

Cyclone Idai paralysed the city of Beira and is a reminder that communities can really benefit from more investment in disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation.

On that note, the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction announced that experts and representatives from 33 countries agreed to establish a Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI). The coalition targets the challenge of safeguarding infrastructure against climate change enhanced disaster risks, as our dependency on infrastructure increases in the 21st century.

Cloud Seeding

As Dr. Michael A. Bengwayan discusses whether cloud seeding is a viable solution for drought, the Filipino Department of Agriculture announces it will start using the geoengineering technique in areas hit by El Niño.

Rather than geoengineering the climate, cloud seeding is a softer approach to force water out of clouds, which need to be present before cloud seeding can work. The Philippines might offer an insightful example.

Further topics include the exciting climate solutions pioneered by African leaders, laid bare by an expedition on Mount Kenya; and coping strategies for climate change anxieties.

Cyclone Idai

Coalition for Resilient Infrastructure takes off by Denis McClean at UNISDR

Hurricanes to deliver a bigger punch to coasts by Ryan P. Mulligan at The Conversation

Cyclone Idai: why disaster awareness and preparedness matters at the United Nations Environment

Climate Adaptation

Mount Kenya: A View of Climate Impacts and Opportunities at The World Bank

Cloud Seeding, Will It Save Us From Drought? – OpEd by Dr. Michael A. Bengwayan at Eurasia Review

Filipino Department of Agriculture to start cloud seeding by Eireene Jairee Gomez at Manila Times

Climate Change Getting You Down? Here Are Some Coping Strategies by Sarah Fecht at State of the Planet

How to make effective climate policies? Make citizens lead by Kiara Worth at the Tyndall Centre

Novel tool unveiled for climate risk profiling and adaptation at the Climate and Development Knowledge Network

Climate change

Mapped: How climate change affects extreme weather around the world at Carbon Brief

Disaster Risk

78% of older teenagers in Japan anxious about natural disasters, survey says by Magdalena Osumi at the Japan Times

Himalayan hydro developers wilfully ignore climate risks by Beth Walker at India Climate Dialogue

The Dangers of Glacial Lake Floods: Pioneering and Capitulation by Jane Palmer at American Geophysical Union’s Eos

External Opportunities

Deadline for Submitting Voluntary Commitments approaching at UNISDR

Summer 2019 Internship Opportunities at the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment

Summer 2019 Earth Institute Internship Opportunities

African Climate Risks Conference 2019

Vacant PhD positions in Sustainability Science at Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies

 

Check back next month for more picks!

Follow Jesse Zondervan @JesseZondervan. Follow us @Geo_Dev & Facebook.

The ethical questions behind the school climate strike. Do we have a place in earth’s ecosystems? Jesse Zondervan’s February 2019 #GfGDpicks #SciComm

The ethical questions behind the school climate strike. Do we have a place in earth’s ecosystems? Jesse Zondervan’s February 2019 #GfGDpicks #SciComm

Each month, Jesse Zondervan picks his favourite posts from geoscience and development blogs/news which cover the geology for global development interest. This month’s picks include: The ethical questions behind the school climate strike; Military worries about the fight against sea-level rise – how will you help? Do we have a place in earth’s ecosystems?

School climate strikes

As school climate strikes inspired by Greta Thunberg spread across the world in the past month, adults are starting to ask ethical questions.

If one would prefer climate activism to focus on conventional electoral politics, rather than civil disobedience, Rupert Read argues one should question the premise that our societies are fully democratic. If adults have failed, how can we support and listen to our children rather than telling them what to do?

The idea that young people are the key to making positive change to the way we live in our environment is not a new one, but did you ever wonder why? Steve Cohen at Columbia University’s Earth Institute considers how the experiences of the next generation support a survivalist ethic and a change in environmental politics.

The fight against sea-level rise

If the urgency displayed by our children leaves you hungry to roll up your own sleeves, paradoxically it may appear you could help by joining the army to help fight sea-level rise. At a conference on climate change and security at The Hague defence leaders from around the world expressed worry not only for a risk for conflict risks but also of stress on military capacity in all countries with a coastline, not just the poorer nations.

Alternatively, if you have a more entrepreneurial spirit, I would recommend looking at entrepreneurial opportunities for addressing climate change in the developing world.

Sea-level rise and it’s cost is a hot topic this month, with climatologist Radley Horton testifying on capitol hill about sea level rise.

“There has been a lot of focus on whether worst-case scenario for 2100 is 4.3 feet, six feet, or even eight feet of sea level rise,” he said. “Even the most optimistic scenario imaginable—of one foot of sea level rise by 2100—would have direct and profound impacts.”

Indeed, the house market has already responded and cost US coastal home owners nearly 16 billion in property value. Buyout programs in flood-prone areas are becoming more common, even as they come with their own shortcomings.

The insurance industry recognises that investors, lenders, insurers and policymakers undertake significant risk management efforts to minimise rising losses from climate-related hazards. Might more geoscientists be needed here?

As usual, I have many more interesting topics on offer for you, such as: humans have been present in ecosystems for a long stretch of time, so is there a place for us? Check out all stories below!

School climate strikes – an ethical debate

School climate strikes: why adults no longer have the right to object to their children taking radical action by Rupert Read at The Conversation

Youth Strike for Climate and the Ethics of Climate Policy by Steve Cohen at State of the Planet

Climate Adaptation

How Entrepreneurs Can Help Developing Countries Hard Hit by Climate Change by Georgina Campbell Flatter at Entrepeneur

Prepare now for accelerating climate threats, military officials warn by Laura Goering at Thomson Reuters Foundation

There’s a place for us: New research reveals humanity’s roles in ecosystems from the Santa Fe Institute at ScienceDaily

Sand from glacial melt could be Greenland’s economic salvation from University of Colorado Boulder at ScienceDaily

Climate Change Is Having a Major Impact on Global Health by Tanya Lewis at Scientific American

How pollution and greenhouse gases affect the climate in the Sahel by Alessandra Giannini at The Conversation

Investors and lenders need better tools to manage climate risk to homes, mortgages and assets, finds new research at the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership

The fight against sea-level rise

Lamont Climatologist Testifies on Capitol Hill About Sea Level Rise by Marie Denoia Aronsohn at State of the Planet

Rising Seas Soaked Home Owners for $16 Billion over 12 Years by Thomas Frank at E&E News

Leave No House Behind in Flood Buyout Programs, Group Says by Daniel Cusick at E&E News

What rising seas mean for local economies from Stanford University at ScienceDaily

Predicting impacts of climate change

The Ocean Is Running Out of Breath, Scientists Warn by Laura Poppick at Scientific American

Disaster Risk

Large-scale hazard indication mapping for avalanches at the Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF

Norway’s Arctic islands at risk of ‘devastating’ warming: report by Alister Doyle at Thomson Reuters

Observing Volcanoes from Space by Emily Underwood at EOS Earth and Space Science News

The U.S. May Finally Get an Early Warning System For Volcanoes by Robin George Andrews at Earther

Deep sea mining

Deep sea mining threatens indigenous culture in Papua New Guinea by John Childs at The Conversation

 

Check back next month for more picks!

Follow Jesse Zondervan @JesseZondervan. Follow us @Geo_Dev & Facebook.

The importance of wetlands

The importance of wetlands

World Wetlands day is celebrated on 2nd February, marking the adoption of the Convention on Wetlands, also known as Ramsar Convention, in the Iranian city of Ramsar on 2nd February 1971. It “provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources.

Today 170 countries have adopted it and 2,341 Ramsar sites covering over 2,5 million km² are designated as Wetlands of International Importance. But what are wetlands and why should we care about them? I’ll address these questions and other important points in this article.

First, what are wetlands?

Basically, a wetland is an area of land that is covered with water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary. This water can be salt, fresh or somewhere in between, and have a maximum depth of six metres. Mangroves, marshes, ponds, peatlands, swamps, deltas, estuaries, low-lying areas that frequently flood are all wetlands and they can be found on every continent. Some of the largest ones are the Sundarbans mangrove forest in the Ganges-Brahmaputra delta in Bangladesh, the Amazon River basin (figure below), and the Pantanal, both in Brazil.

Wetlands cover about 3% of world’s surface. A web-based map shows the global distribution of wetlands and peat areas. It was launched in 2016 by researchers from Sustainable Wetlands Adaptation and Mitigation Program – SWAMP and is based on satellite images acquired by the  Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument.

Why should we care about wetlands?

Wetlands are rich but also fragile environments. They can provide water, fish/biodiveristy, recreational areas and help to regulate the climate.

  • Biodiversity: Wetlands function as wildlife refuge, supporting high concentration of mammals, birds, fish and invertebrates, being nurseries for many of these species.
  • Resources: Further, they can be a huge resource for humans, supporting rice paddies (Figure 2), a staple food. They also help purify water by trapping pollutants and heavy metals in the soil and neutralizing harmful bacteria by breaking down suspend solids in the water.
  • Geohazards: Wetlands provide flood control and storm protection in coastal areas acting like a sponge during storm events such as hurricanes, reducing their power of destruction.
  • Climate change: Here is another important point that I would like to highlight about wetlands. They play an important role in climate change mitigation and adaptation, since they store huge amounts of carbon. If you are curious about this topic, see this post where Heather [a regular contributor to the GfGD Blog] discusses how carbon is stored in peat soils in the tropics and the main threats to these areas.

Wetlands in Amazon river basin during the dry season (Oct 2017), close to Santarém, Brazil – Photo: Bárbara Zambelli

Threatened environment

Despite their social and ecological importance, wetlands are continuously being degraded and even destroyed worldwide. According to this research the world has lost 64-71% of their wetlands since 1900 AD. Here is a list of the main threats towards wetlands:

  • Pollution: Generally located in low-lying areas, they receive fertilizers and pesticides from agricultural runoff, industrial effluents and households waste or sewage. These pollutants have detrimental effects on water quality and threaten the fauna and flora of wetlands. As I mentioned before, wetlands work as water filters, therefore there is a growing concern about how pollution will impact drinking water supplies and wetland biological diversity.
  • Agriculture and urbanization: One of the biggest threats to this environment is its drainage to make room for agriculture and human settlements. Such activities are an increasing threat and they destroy the ecosystem and all the benefits wetlands can provide.
  • Dams: The construction of a dam alters the natural flow of water through a landscape. This alteration may lead to an increase or decrease of water flow through a wetland, being potentially harmful for wetland ecosystems. Thus, it is essential to choose the location of a dam wisely, to reduce the impact on existing ecosystems.
  • Climate change: Climate change is shifting the world’s temperature and precipitation patterns. Wetlands are getting lost due both too much and too little water. Shallow coastal wetlands such as mangroves are being swamped because of sea level rise. In areas affected by droughts, estuaries, floodplains and marshes are drying up. Wetlands and climate change are the theme of World Wetlands Day in 2019.

Opportunities – taking action

Wetlands are a critical environment and their effective management can give a substantial contribution to biodiversity conservation and restoration, maintaining its bioecological characteristics and allowing the using of resources economically.

According to SWAMP, “carbon-rich mangroves and peatlands are high priorities in climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies throughout the world.”

With their partners, SWAMP have developed a collaborative agenda expected to raise the awareness about sustainable management of wetlands in changing world and livelihoods of local communities. The Ramsar Convention, an international agreement, is still important today because it supports environmental policy development and it encourages countries to commit to it. It is also valuable as an international forum for gathering and sharing knowledge about sustainable wetlands management. Also international NGOs such as Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) and Wetlands International play an important role.

Finally, regarding the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), recently Ramsar published a briefing note of how wetlands can contribute to their achievement. Access it hereto find out more details.

Bárbara Zambelli Azevedo: Phosphorus Crisis – A Food Crisis?

Take a look and try to identify anything around you that has phosphorus as a component.

Phosphorus – the P element – is critical for life, like oxygen, nitrogen and carbon, being present in every plant, animal and bacteria. It constitutes cell walls, DNA, RNA and ATP, which transports energy to the brain. Our bones and teeth include phosphorus.

Now look again and you might see that phosphorus is more present in your daily life than you first imagined.

We obtain our phosphorus by eating plant- and animal-based food. Cattle obtain their phosphorus from feed, grazing and supplements. On the other hand, plants obtain phosphorus from the soil by their roots, transporting, absorbing and storing it to where it is needed. If a plant doesn’t get enough P, their growth is strongly affected, the formation of fruits and seeds decreases and crops yield less.

Image 1: Coffee crops in Minas Gerais, Brazil (photo: Bárbara Zambelli)

Image 2: Banana crops in Gran Canária, Spain (photo Bárbara Zambelli)

The phosphorus (P) present in soils is either natural or added by the use of fertilisers, manure and organic residues. Natural P exists on soils as a result of phosphatic bedrock weathering. As a geological feature, it is not evely distributed on the Earth’s surface and it can take a long time to form, such as a million years.

Why should we worry about phosphorus?

Phosphorus is a non-renewable resource that cannot be replaced or synthesized for plant nutrition. Moreover, it is one of the most reactive nutrients in the soil, being easily transformed into forms that are unavailable to plants. A study shows that about 90% of all the phosphorus mined worldwide is used for food production. According to USGS, 88% of all reserves are under control of 5 countries: Morocco, China, Algeria, Syria and South Africa. Morocco is by far the country with the largest reserve, holding 74% of the world’s phosphate reserves. Therefore, most of the countries rely on phosphorus imports to sustain agriculture. The scarcity scenario is not only physical but also geopolitical, economical and managerial.

Image 3: phosphorus mine (photo: Alexandra Pugachevsky, source)

The world’s population is growing steadily, projected to reach 9.7 billion people by 2050. In this sense, feeding almost 2 billion new mouths by 2050 is an increasing challenge. Growing food demand equals growing phosphorus demand.

The reserves of phosphorus will be depleted sooner or later. Some authors argue that the ‘phosphorus peak’ will happen pretty soon, in 2030, while others says that it won’t happen before 2100. There is no consensus because different studies are based on different methodologies and assumptions about demand and uncertainties about supply.

In this manner, to achieve SDG 2 and assure that everyone has access to safe and affordable food until 2030, we must change the way we use, source and distribute phosphorus among the global food production.

Another important issue is the biofuels production. With an increasing pressure to reduce oil consumption and greenhouse gases emissions, accordingly to the Paris Agreement on COP21, many countries are turning to biofuels, such as alcohol made from maize or sugarcane. These crops also needs phosphorus and use land that could be used for agricultural purposes.

What about the environment?

While phosphorus is a scarce resource vital for agriculture, it is also a pollutant of waterbodies. Not all phosphorus used as fertiliser is absorbed by plants. Some phosphorus stays on the soil and is later carried to streams, rivers and lakes. This anthropogenic input of phosphorus generates an anomalous concentration of P nutrient in water bodies, encouraging the growth of blue and green algal and causing algal blooms. The increase of nutrients and then algae and higher plants is called eutrophication.

Eutrophication can be toxic or deeply change the ecology of the waterbody. It produces many undesirable effects regarding human society, such as drinking water problems, decrease of seafood production and presence of toxins in drinking water and seafood.

Image 4: eutrophication at a wastewater outlet in Potomac River, Washngton D.C. (photo: Alexandr Trubetskoy, source)

Another environmental problem concerns mining tailings. Phosphatic rocks, as a result of its chemical composition, may contain notable amounts of naturally occurring radioactive materials. The process of converting the phosphorus ore to phosphoric acid (that can be used as fertiliser) or elemental phosphorus produces phosphogypsum as a primary waste by-product. These processes concentrate in the waste most of the naturally occurring thorium and uranium and its decay products, such as radium and radon. If proper attention is not given to this waste, it risks contaminating the air with radon gas (radioactive), and groundwater, affecting farmers and the wider population.

What can we do?

We have to think in ways to reduce the consumption, reuse and recycle.

A simple way for reduce phosphorus consumption is actually not a brand new idea. The answer relies on the symbiotic association between a small fungus and plants’ roots called ‘mycorrhizal’. The symbiose, which is a win-win relation, occurs when the fungus bounds to the roots. This fungus grows faster and it is more efficient on searching for phosphorus than the plants’ roots. So it provides phosphorus that were on the soil but could not be absorbed by the plant and, in return the plant nourishes it. Therefore, by using mycorrhizal association it possible to reduce the amount of phosphorus fertilisers needs of a crop, by enhancing its P absorption by the plant. In this video, Dr Mohamed Hijri explore use of mycorrhiza to optimise phosphorus use for agricultural purposes. Another way of reducing consumption would be encouraging diets that has fewer aliments that are phosphorus intenses, like meat and dairy products.

About reuse, we can think on reducing losses on the food chain, rubbish bin and animal manure, for example. Those are all sources of phosphate that cannot be overseen.

Concerning recycling, it is important to highlight the safe use of wastewater for agricultural purposes. The UN-Water has a project on this issue can be downloaded here. Its usage is already bigger than expected! Almost 100% the phosphorus eaten in food is excreted. The sewage treatment as a way to recover phosphorus present in human screta for agriculture, although controversial, is already being done in Sweden for example. Since the population is growing and a big part of it will settle down in peri-urban areas in mega-cities in the next few years, a big attention must be given to these places. They are becoming a ‘hotspot’ for phosphate production.

To know more about the phosphorus crisis and opportunities click here, here and here.