Drought in the Amazon

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Manaus, capital of the state of Amazonas, and the entire eastern region of the state are suffering the worst drought in more than a century. A government scientist who calls it an “atypical” drought says it is chiefly caused by warmer ocean temperatures.

Scientist Carlos Nobre, of the National Institute of Space Research (INPE), said, “When it comes to the Rio Negro, in Manaus, this drought has no parallel in the last 103 years. That is, since 1902, when the level of the Rio Negro began to be measured,” he said.

In the eastern part of the region, this is the worst drought in the last 50 or 60 years, he estimates. The governor of Amazonas state has declared a crisis due to the drought. Environmental News Service

Coho Salmon Disappear

“The lack of rain this winter has contributed to what fisheries biologists say is, so far, the worst return of coho salmon in the recorded history of Marin County’s Lagunitas Creek watershed, one of California’s most critical ecosystems for the endangered fish.

Only a smattering of coho were spotted and only 20 egg nests, or redds, were seen in the two main tributaries – Lagunitas and San Geronimo creeks – during the annual winter survey of fish, watershed biologists said this week.

The paltry showing of redds represents an 89 percent drop in the number of returning offspring of parents that gave birth in the lush western Marin watershed three years ago. Last year at this time, 148 redds had been counted, then the lowest number in the 14 years that records have been kept…

…the primary cause is the unusually dry weather in Northern California, which has prevented salmon from swimming up the creeks. The rains in December were barely enough to breach sandbars on most beaches, forcing salmon up and down the coast to circle in the open ocean where they are vulnerable to sea lions and other predators.”

Coho Disappear

California Fire News Improving

Buried away in section B of the Chron, after weeks of front page headlines, was the news that the three big fires in California have much quieted.

The Butte fire which threatened Paradise and pushed 6,500 out of their homes has retreated and the people allowed to return. The Big Basin fire in Big Sur is retreated to higher hills after threatening just about everything. Highway One is re-opened. The Tassajara Zen retreat barely escaped with just four out-buildings burned. The Goleta fire has been 80% contained with a few evacuation warnings still in effect.

With all the other chaos in the air, from collapsing mega-banks to agony in Iraq and Afghanistan it’s unlikely that the lessons of these fires will be burned into our collective consciousness. Except for those who were directly affected they will be lost in hazy memory by August. Too bad. As the Continental Army died by the thousands in New York during the summer of 1776, Washington, Greene and others could read the signs: cleanliness, cleanliness, cleanliness was the order of the day. Without it, the Republic would be lost. We might use the same: clean the air, clean the air, clean the air — of all sorts of impurities but above all CO2, should be the morning motto of everyone who loves the world.

Stiff punishments were handed out for shitting in the trenches. We should do the same.

Big Sur: A Smoking Ruins

More photos of Big Sur. Everybody is on the way out.

The blaze had swept within a half mile of at least one major resort — the Ventana Inn and Spa — by mid-morning, as winds whipped the coast, humidity dropped and the fire grew by more than 8,000 acres overnight.

Fire Map

No commentary jumping out anywhere about the contribution climate change might have in all of this. So let me make sure we know what is known.

From Science Magazine:

“Since 1986, longer, warmer summers have resulted in a fourfold increase of major wildfires and a sixfold increase in the area of forest burned, compared to the period from 1970 to 1986. A similar increase in wildfire activity has been reported in Canada from 1920 to 1999 (5).

Westerling et al. used the most comprehensive data set of wildfire occurrences yet compiled for the western United States to analyze the geographic location, seasonal timing, and regional climatology of the 1166 recorded wildfires with an extent of more than 400 ha. They found that the length of the active wildfire season (when fires are actually burning) in the western United States has increased by 78 days, and that the average burn duration of large fires has increased from 7.5 to 37.1 days. Based on comparisons with climatic indices that use daily weather records to estimate land surface dryness, Westerling et al. attribute this increase in wildfire activity to an increase in spring and summer temperatures by ~0.9°C and a 1- to 4-week earlier melting of mountain snowpacks. Snow-dominated forests at elevations of ~2100 m show the greatest increase in wildfire activity.”

The closing paragraph reads:

“Wildfires add an estimated 3.5 × 1015 g to atmospheric carbon emissions each year, or roughly 40% of fossil fuel carbon emissions (13). If climate change is increasing wildfire, as Westerling et al. suggest, these new sources of carbon emissions will accelerate the buildup of greenhouse gases and could provide a feed-forward acceleration of global warming.”

The full report, in Science, is here.

More and More Fires in CA

Wildfires were scattered around Northern California on Sunday in the heart of wine country and in remote forests, the latest in what has become an unusually destructive year.

State officials said lightning started more than 500 fires during the weekend.

One had spread across 5.5 square miles by early Sunday, after starting Saturday afternoon in Napa County and quickly moving into a mostly rural area of Solano County.


More Fires in CA

Just when the big Santa Cruz mountain fire died down, another further north started up. When it was under control another near Watsonville began. 500 people evacuated. Highway 5 shut down.

“A series of fires burned 300-500 acres north of Watsonville on Friday afternoon, chasing 400 people from their homes and closing a 5-mile stretch of northbound Highway 1 in a scene that one witness called apocalyptic. ”

Watsonville Fire

And of course, with so many able-bodied off fighting a war, the lack for fighting fires is getting close to pretty damned scary.

The number of employed Forest Service firefighters is 8.5 percent below the 4,432 seasonal workers authorized for Region 5, which includes California, Hawaii and the U.S.-affiliated Pacific Islands, according to Feinstein.

She [Senator Feinstein] also expressed concern that only 186 of the agency’s 276 engines were available to respond to fires and that a new C-130J aircraft will not be available this year for air tanker duty.

The vacancies come at a time when the economic impact of soaring gas prices is being felt throughout the economy, including the firefighting budget. There has been less money available for firefighter training in California, which is facing a budget deficit of some $15 billion.

Hire Everyone Qualified


“California just came through its driest March-April rain period – 2.3 inches of precipitation in the Sierra – since records began being collected in 1859. The biggest reservoir in the state, Lake Shasta, is at 75 percent of its average capacity for this time of year. The second-biggest reservoir, Lake Oroville, is at 59 percent.

State officials warned today that widespread water rationing was a very real possibility this summer. Another few years like this, experts say, and we might start running drastically short of water.”

And the options are not pretty.

Bay Area Water

Water isn’t only an issue for those who have long depended on glacier melt [see below] or those who live in tidal wetlands like Bangla Desh. Even in the comparatively lush Bay Area, with Sierra snow and heavily capitalized water systems, weather changes will mean life changes.

“All the research around the impact of climate change in California shows potential prolonged droughts, drier winters, more wild swings between drier years and wet years,” said Tony Winnicker, spokesman for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which provides water to residents of the city as well as communities on the Peninsula. “As water agencies and as consumers, we need to manage our water more wisely. There will never again be a period in California where we don’t have to think about water conservation.”

… Unless rains soak the Bay Area in the next several weeks, the district expects to have about 425,000 acre-feet of water by early fall – 175,000 acre-feet below its optimal 600,000 acre-feet. The board will vote on whether to impose rationing May 13. One acre-foot is the amount of water it would take to flood an acre to a level of one foot. One acre-foot of water equals about 325,000 gallons, which can supply a household of four for one year.

Planning for Drought

Cyprus Rainfall Has Fallen by about 20 percent over the past 35 years.

Drought-hit Cyprus to ship water from Greece

NICOSIA, April 21 (Reuters) – Cyprus, facing its worst drought in a decade, will start importing water from Greece within the next two months, Agriculture Minister Michalis Polinikis said on Monday.

Drought? What Me Worry?

“A day after Gov. Sonny Perdue asked God to forgive Georgia for being wasteful with its water, county officials in the wealthy suburbs northeast of Atlanta confirmed Wednesday just how profligate one consumer had been.

A homeowner in Marietta, Ga., used 440,000 gallons in September, or about 14,700 gallons a day. By comparison, the average consumption in the United States is about 150 gallons a day per person, and in the Atlanta metropolitan area about 183 gallons.”

Drought? Not My Problem

So far, the appeal to God hasn’t worked too well, either….