Amazon canopy at dawn, Brazil.

Amazon rainforest trees “living faster and dying younger” while absorbing less carbon

The most extensive land-based study of the Amazon to date reveals it is losing its capacity to absorb carbon from the atmosphere. From a peak of two billion tonnes of carbon dioxide each year in the 1990s, the net uptake by the forest has halved and is now for the first time being overtaken by fossil fuel emissions in Latin America.

The results of this monumental 30-year survey of the South American rainforest, which involved an international team of almost 100 researchers and led by the University of Leeds, were published last month in the journal Nature.

Measuring Amazon trees, Peru. Credit: Roel Brienen

Over recent decades the remaining Amazon forest has acted as a vast ‘carbon sink’ – absorbing more carbon from the atmosphere than it releases – helping to put a brake on the rate of climate change. But this new analysis of forest dynamics shows a huge surge in the rate of trees dying across the Amazon.

Lead author Dr Roel Brienen, from the School of Geography at the University of Leeds, said: “Tree mortality rates have increased by more than a third since the mid-1980s, and this is affecting the Amazon’s capacity to store carbon.”

Initially, an increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – a key ingredient for photosynthesis – led to a growth spurt for the Amazon’s trees, the researchers say. But the extra carbon appears to have had unexpected consequences.

Study co-author Professor Oliver Phillips, also from the University’s School of Geography, said: “With time, the growth stimulation feeds through the system, causing trees to live faster, and so die younger.”

Recent droughts and unusually high temperatures in the Amazon may also be playing a role. Although the study finds that tree mortality increases began well before an intense drought in 2005, it also shows that drought has killed millions of additional trees.

RAINFOR team monitoring the Amazon canopy, Peru. Credit: Kuo-Jung Chao

Dr Brienen said: “Regardless of the causes behind the increase in tree mortality, this study shows that predictions of a continuing increase of carbon storage in tropical forests may be too optimistic.

“Climate change models that include vegetation responses assume that as long as carbon dioxide levels keep increasing, then the Amazon will continue to accumulate carbon. Our study shows that this may not be the case and that tree mortality processes are critical in this system.”

The study involved almost 100 scientists, many working for decades across eight countries in South America. The work was coordinated by RAINFOR, a unique research network dedicated to monitoring the Amazonian forests.

To calculate changes in carbon storage they examined 321 forest plots across the Amazon’s six million square kilometres, identified and measured 200,000 trees, and recorded tree deaths as well as growth and new trees since the 1980s.

“All across the world even intact forests are changing”, added Professor Phillips. “Forests are doing us a huge favour, but we can’t rely on them to solve the carbon problem. Instead, deeper cuts in emissions will be required to stabilise our climate.”

Videos: http://www.rainfor.org/en/videos

A map of the plots in the Amazon where tree measurements were taken for the study. Credit: Georgia Pickavance, RAINFOR / GLC2

More information:
[1] The RAINFOR project website: http://www.rainfor.org/en

Tiny microbes on glaciers cause positive feedback for climate change

Tiny microbial activity on glaciers in the Arctic is reducing heat reflected back into the atmosphere. This effect has previously been overlooked but is expected to increase the effects of climate change in the polar regions.

Over the past few years Professor Liane G. Benning and PhD student Stefanie Lutz, members of the Cohen geochemistry research group in the School of Earth and Environment, have been busy making trips to Svalbard and Iceland to measure the ‘albedo’, the reflectivity, of glaciers and how microbial gardens might effect the amount of sunlight reflected by the glacier.

They discussed their recent trip to Svalbard with BBC’s Paul Hudson on his Weather Show radio channel. As well as talk about watching a solar eclipse from the the North, polar bear attacks, northern lights and news on a big new grant to study glaciers in Greenland!

Remembering the Colombia 1985 volcanic disaster

One of the most tragic volcanic events of the 20th century occurred in Colombia, in 1985, when an eruption of Nevado del Ruiz produced lahars that swept down river valleys and destroyed communities in its path. Over 20,000 people perished.

Mount Rainier and other volcanoes of the Pacific Northwest’s Cascade Range are similar to Nevado del Ruiz in many respects—massive amounts of snow and ice, a long history of lahars, and narrow valleys leading to populated areas. Could what happened at Nevado del Ruiz happen in the Pacific Northwest? And if it did, are we prepared?

In 2013, the US-Colombia Bi-national Exchange was created to help scientists, emergency managers and first responders in both countries to learn from the events in Colombia and to work toward improving disaster preparedness in communities located near volcanoes. The Exchange allows the Colombian officials to observe and learn about U.S. emergency response systems and for U.S. personnel to absorb the hard-earned lessons from the Colombians’ experiences with volcanic crises.

Scientists, decision-makers, emergency officials, community leaders, teachers, parents, students—everyone has a responsibility to prepare for the next eruption. Your role in preparedness begins with learning about the hazards where you live, work or go to school, evacuation routes and how to access information during a crisis. Ask local and state emergency officials and schools about their plans and be ready to follow their guidance. Finally, gather basic emergency provisions and create a plan to reunite with family members if you are separated. The volcano may erupt, but the tragedy doesn’t have to happen. And that is the point.

New long term earthquake forecast for California

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) have released a new long term earthquake forecast for the U.S. state of California. The new study revises previous estimates for the chances of having large earthquakes over the next several decades.

USGS scientists working on the project estimate the frequency of a magnitude 6.7 earthquake, the size of the destructive 1994 Northridge earthquake, to occur around every 6.3 years. This is slightly larger than previous estimates of 4.8 years.

However, in the new study, the estimate for the likelihood that California will experience a magnitude 8 or larger earthquake in the next 30 years has increased from about 4.7 percent to about 7 percent.

Uniform California Earthquake Rupture Forecast (Version 3). Source: USGS

Uniform California Earthquake Rupture Forecast (Version 3).
Source: USGS

More Information:
[1] http://www.usgs.gov/newsroom/article.asp?ID=4146&from=rss#.VQvy5ESA9vx
[2] http://www.wgcep.org/UCERF3

Tropical Cyclone 14S. source: NRL/NASA

Asian countries urged to team up on storm science

By Mike Ives

[HANOI] Teaming up on storm monitoring would make Asian nations more resilient to floods and landslides, a UN agency has said in an annual review of the region’s response to natural disasters.

The report was released last week (24 February) by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP).

“Regional cooperation needs to be broadened beyond traditional approaches,” Francyne Harrigan, UNESCAP’s communications chief, told SciDev.Net by email. For example, she said, there could be more cooperation on seasonal weather forecasts and the development of climate models to predict the risk of river floods.

The report documents the impact of the 119 natural disasters in the region last year, which killed 6,050 and caused US$59.6 billion in damage. Tropical cyclone Hudhud alone, which hit India in October, caused US$11 billion worth of damage, it says.

Storm-warning systems and timely evacuations were instrumental in preventing further deaths across the region, the report says. But regional disaster preparedness could be improved through better scientific analysis and mass communication of impending disasters, and by establishing “regional cooperation mechanisms” to address preparation for floods and landslides.

storm_NASA

Tropical Cyclone 01B over Sri Lanka. Source: NASA

The report says joint monitoring should focus more on slow-onset disasters such as droughts, even if the severity of their impact has fairly predictable general impacts and can be difficult to quantify.

Harrigan said countries should establish national disaster preparedness agencies and that the cooperation mechanisms could fill national capacity gaps. She said one model for such an approach is the Thailand-based Regional Integrated Multi-Hazard Early Warning System for Africa and Asia (RIMES), which has helped Bangladesh forecast floods further in advance.

Regional cooperation on disaster preparedness has already improved over the past decade in tandem with growing national monitoring capacity in disaster-prone countries such as the Philippines and Vietnam, says Aslam Perwaiz, head of disaster risk management systems at Thai NGO the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center.

But responsibility for storm monitoring within Asian countries typically falls to just one or two ministries, and it would be better if other ministries, particularly ones that deal with finance and planning, played more active roles, he says.

Perwaiz adds that there is still a glaring lack of regional cooperation on disaster response and reconstruction, especially during political strife.

> Link to the UNESCAP report

This article was originally published on SciDev.Net. Read the original article.

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Jobs at the International Seismological Centre (ISC)

ISCOur friends at the International Seismological Centre (ISC) have asked us to advertise the following three job adverts. Note that the closing date is 26th April for two of the three posts.

SENIOR ANALYST / SEISMOLOGIST
Job reference number: SA-2015
Application deadline: April 26, 2015
Expertise: seismic bulletins, seismicity, tectonics
Start Date: August 2015
Benefits: £29-35K per annum gross, 6 weeks paid annual leave, attending an international conference annually.
Location: Thatcham, Berkshire, U.K.
Term: 3 years with a strong possibility of continuation.
Employer description: International Seismological Centre (ISC) is a non-profit organization, collecting and analysing earthquake bulletin data for distribution worldwide.
Job description: Analysing and revising the earthquake parameters in the ISC Bulletin, advising members of the analysis team and taking part in the ISC development projects.
Job requirements: We are looking for a university graduate with solid experience in observational seismology at a local, regional and global scale; knowledge of world seismicity patterns and general tectonics; dedicated meticulous attitude to data; an ability to work as part of a friendly international team and a good command of English.
To apply: please send your CV and a covering letter focussed on your experience relevant to the job requirements and the names and e-mail addresses of two referees to admin@isc.ac.uk quoting the specific job reference number SA-2015. Applications failing to address the above requests will not be considered.

QUANTITATIVE GEOPHYSICIST
Job reference number: EL-2015
Application Deadline and Start Date: This position will remain open until a suitable candidate has been found.
Expertise: methods of earthquake location
Benefits: starting salary of £29-31K per annum gross, 6 weeks paid annual leave, attending an international conference annually.
Location: Thatcham, Berkshire, U.K.
Term: 3 years with a strong possibility of continuation.
Employer description: International Seismological Centre (ISC) is a non-profit organization, collecting and analysing earthquake bulletin data for distribution worldwide.
Job description: Advancing the global earthquake location algorithms and improving the datasets at the ISC.
Job requirements: We are looking for an MSc or PhD graduate in Geophysics or an equivalent field with strong skills in numerical analysis to work under general guidance from experienced seismologists. The successful candidate will have skills in using modern programming languages, including C. Familiarity with global tectonics would be an advantage.
To apply: please send your CV and a covering letter focussed on the job requirements and the names and e-mail addresses of two referees to admin@isc.ac.uk quoting the specific job reference number EL-2015. Applications failing to address the above requests will not be considered.

SEISMOLOGIST
Job reference number: DC-2015
Application deadline: April 26, 2015
Expertise: data collection
Start Date: August 2015
Benefits: £27-31K per annum gross, 6 weeks paid annual leave, attending an international conference annually.
Location: Thatcham, Berkshire, U.K.
Term: 3 years with a strong possibility of continuation.
Employer description: International Seismological Centre (ISC) is a non-profit organization, collecting and analysing earthquake bulletin data for distribution worldwide.
Job description: Enhancing the work of the ISC analysis and data entry teams by communicating with networks, identifying, sourcing, integrating and validating new seismological bulletin datasets from permanent and temporary deployments worldwide as well as scanning scientific literature for possible new sources of data to enhance the ISC Bulletin.
Job requirements: We are looking for a university graduate with experience in observational seismology, excellent communication skills and experience in developing basic computer codes for parsing data into the relational database. Good command of English is required. Working knowledge of other widely spoken languages would be an advantage.
To apply: please send your CV and a covering letter focussed on your experience relevant to the job requirements and the names and e-mail addresses of two referees to admin@isc.ac.uk quoting the specific job reference number DC-2015. Applications failing to address the above requests will not be considered.

Disaster Charter activated for Villarrica volcano

 

A Red Alert has been declared in southern Chile after an eruption at Villarrica Volcano this morning.

Over two thousand people were evacuated from Pucon, and another thousand from Panguipulli, two communities close to the volcano.

While no one has been harmed in the eruption, the situation will continue to be monitored for any further eruption. The ash from the volcano could also pose a hazard to health. Meteorologists currently expect the ash cloud to be blown south and across remote parts of Argentina.

disaster_charterThe Disaster Charter is an agreement between international satellite and remote sensing agencies to provide free access to data and resources to help mitigate the effects of disasters on human life and property.

The Charter can be activated by any national disaster management authority. The activation for Villarrica was requested by the  Chilean agency responsible for civil protection (ONEMI, Oficina Nacional de Emergencia del Ministerio del Interior y Seguridad Pública).

For updates of the ongoing activity check the latest status reports from ONEMI, Chile. Also, follow #Villarrica on twitter for social media updates and more images of the current activity.

Chile’s Villarrica volcano spews fountains of lava

Chile’s Villarrica volcano erupted last night (Tuesday 3rd March) sending fountains of lava shooting into the sky. The eruption began at around 3am local time and is still ongoing.

Locals updated twitter with pictures of spectacular columns of lava and ash spewing out of the volcano crater. The Chilean agency responsible for civil protection (ONEMI, Oficina Nacional de Emergencia del Ministerio del Interior y Seguridad Pública) has declared a red alert indicating the volcano is still active and dangerous.

 

Villarrica is a pgmaps_Volcopular tourist destination and is one of the most active volcanoes in southern Chile. It has been producing gas almost constantly for 30 years since its last eruption in 1984. This recent eruption was preceded by signs of increased unrest around mid-February, which included increased seismicity and explosions around the crater. During an overflight on 16 February volcanologists observed a lava lake and recorded temperatures near 800 degrees Celsius.

The major hazard from this eruption to the local town of Villarrica is from lahars. These are extremely hazardous mudslides and form by the melting of snow and ice from the summit glacier by the intruding or erupting magma.

For status updates of the ongoing activity check the latest status reports from ONEMI, Chile. Also, follow #Villarrica on twitter for social media updates and more images of the current activity.