Our Common Good
rhamphotheca:

Forests Worldwide near Tipping Point From Drought
by Monga Bay staff
Forests worldwide are at “equally high risk” to die-off from drought conditions, warns a new study published this week in the journal Nature.  The study, conducted by an international team of scientists, assessed the specific physiological effects of drought on 226 tree species at 81 sites in different biomes around the world. It found that 70 percent of the species sampled are particularly vulnerable to reduction in water availability. With drought conditions increasing around the globe due to climate change and deforestation, the research suggests large swathes of the world’s forests — and the services they afford — may be approaching a tipping point.  Water is critical to trees, transporting nutrients, providing stabilizing, and serving as a medium for the metabolic processes that generate the energy needed for a tree to survive.
(read more: MongaBay)                       (photos: Rhett Butler)

It is finally starting to freeze at night on a regular basis - but I have been watering my yard and trees all week - because what we have not had is rain or snow.  My house is surrounded by trees and I don’t want them dying or falling on my house.  It may be winter, but our drought continues.

rhamphotheca:

Forests Worldwide near Tipping Point From Drought

by Monga Bay staff

Forests worldwide are at “equally high risk” to die-off from drought conditions, warns a new study published this week in the journal Nature.

The study, conducted by an international team of scientists, assessed the specific physiological effects of drought on 226 tree species at 81 sites in different biomes around the world. It found that 70 percent of the species sampled are particularly vulnerable to reduction in water availability. With drought conditions increasing around the globe due to climate change and deforestation, the research suggests large swathes of the world’s forests — and the services they afford — may be approaching a tipping point.

Water is critical to trees, transporting nutrients, providing stabilizing, and serving as a medium for the metabolic processes that generate the energy needed for a tree to survive.

(read more: MongaBay)                       (photos: Rhett Butler)

It is finally starting to freeze at night on a regular basis - but I have been watering my yard and trees all week - because what we have not had is rain or snow.  My house is surrounded by trees and I don’t want them dying or falling on my house.  It may be winter, but our drought continues.

The stubborn drought that has gripped the Midwest for much of the year has left the Mighty Mississippi critically low — and it will become even lower if the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers presses ahead with plans to reduce the flow from a Missouri River dam.

Mississippi River interests fear the reduced flow will force a halt to barge traffic at the river’s midpoint. They warn the economic fallout will be enormous, potentially forcing job cuts, raising fuel costs and pinching the nation’s food supply.

"This could be a major, major impact at crisis level," said Debra Colbert, senior vice president of the Waterways Council, a public policy organization representing ports and shipping companies. "It is an economic crisis that is going to ripple across the nation at a time when we’re trying to focus on recovery."

[…]

Trade groups for river interests are asking Barack Obama’s administration for a presidential declaration that would force the corps to maintain the existing Missouri River flow and expedite removal of the rock formations.

Without the declaration, Farhat said there’s little the corps can do, given the congressional mandate, to work on behalf of the Missouri River basin.

As someone who gets water to my property from the Missouri River, this is a concerning issue.  States below us were draining the aquifer we used to rely on faster than it could refill and all our wells started pumping sand.  Wells would be drilled deeper and work until the acquirer dropped deeper.  So pipelines across the state brought the Missouri River water to us.

I love that this morning I look out my window and see a bit of snow, but we are still in extreme drought.  The last time we got a little rain, it soaked into the soil so fast, no mud was ever made.  Years ago, I jokingly predicted that clean water would eventually become the new gold standard.  Not laughing at that idea now.

AP: Drought Worsens For More Than Half Of Country — But Only Because It Didn’t Rain!  (via ThinkProgress)

AP: Drought Worsens For More Than Half Of Country — But Only Because It Didn’t Rain!  (via ThinkProgress)

Scientists who study forests say they’ve discovered something disturbing about the way prolonged drought affects trees.

It has to do with the way trees drink. They don’t do it the way we do — they suck water up from the ground all the way to their leaves, through a bundle of channels in a part of the trunk called the xylem. The bundles are like blood vessels.

When drought dries out the soil, a tree has to suck harder. And that can actually be dangerous, because sucking harder increases the risk of drawing air bubbles into the tree’s plumbing.

The Iowa Climate Statement updates the 2010 report, reflecting the year’s lingering drought and the belief that it signifies what many scientists have predicted — increasing instability in weather patterns will lead to extremes during both wet and dry years.

Iowa has experienced such extremes in recent years; in 2008, flooding caused an estimated $10 billion in damage, making it the worst disaster in the state’s history.

More broadly, this year’s drought brought about parched croplands, reducing corn yields across the nation’s Grain Belt, from South Dakota to Indiana. And last month’s Superstorm Sandy — a combination of a hurricane, a wintry storm and a blast of arctic air — devastated parts of the Eastern seaboard and killed more than 100 people.

The report was signed by 138 scientists and researchers from 27 Iowa colleges and universities. They said they wanted to release the updated report now while the drought is still fresh in the public’s mind.

nbcnews:

Water shortages ahead for most states as drought lingers
(Photo: Tony Gutierrez  /  AP)
KANSAS CITY — The worst drought in more than half a century baked more than two thirds of the continental United States this summer and its harsh effects continue to plague the parched cities and towns of the Great Plains.
Ask the 94,000 people of San Angelo, Texas, who are running out of water. Fast.
The city — once known as “the oasis” of dry west Texas — now says it only has enough water supplies to last one more year. On Oct. 16, it will enforce its highest level of emergency measures to save its water supply.
That first-ever “Drought Level III” declaration will ban any watering of lawns, golf courses and gardens, forbid fresh water use for swimming pools and close commercial car washes.
The city will also push up usage fees aiming to cut water use by at least 30 percent as it awaits a new water pipeline now under construction. The pipeline will not be available for use until mid-2013 or later.
Protests from local businesses has prompted the city to consider some exceptions but those may be temporary, officials say.
“We need to get back to meeting just basic needs,” said Will Wilde, water utilities director for San Angelo. “We don’t want to put people out of business. It may come to that if conditions get extreme in the future. Do you want to keep a green lawn or do you want water to drink?”
Despite recent rains, the drought continues to expand, with severe or worse drought affecting 83.80 percent of the High Plains region, up from 82.81 percent the prior week, according to the weekly Drought Monitor on Thursday.
More than half of Texas is having a drought that is rated severe or worse, and more than 95 percent of Oklahoma is rated as experiencing the more serious category of extreme drought.
Read the complete story.

nbcnews:

Water shortages ahead for most states as drought lingers

(Photo: Tony Gutierrez  /  AP)

The worst drought in more than half a century baked more than two thirds of the continental United States this summer and its harsh effects continue to plague the parched cities and towns of the Great Plains.

Ask the 94,000 people of San Angelo, Texas, who are running out of water. Fast.

The city — once known as “the oasis” of dry west Texas — now says it only has enough water supplies to last one more year. On Oct. 16, it will enforce its highest level of emergency measures to save its water supply.

That first-ever “Drought Level III” declaration will ban any watering of lawns, golf courses and gardens, forbid fresh water use for swimming pools and close commercial car washes.

The city will also push up usage fees aiming to cut water use by at least 30 percent as it awaits a new water pipeline now under construction. The pipeline will not be available for use until mid-2013 or later.

Protests from local businesses has prompted the city to consider some exceptions but those may be temporary, officials say.

“We need to get back to meeting just basic needs,” said Will Wilde, water utilities director for San Angelo. “We don’t want to put people out of business. It may come to that if conditions get extreme in the future. Do you want to keep a green lawn or do you want water to drink?”

Despite recent rains, the drought continues to expand, with severe or worse drought affecting 83.80 percent of the High Plains region, up from 82.81 percent the prior week, according to the weekly Drought Monitor on Thursday.

More than half of Texas is having a drought that is rated severe or worse, and more than 95 percent of Oklahoma is rated as experiencing the more serious category of extreme drought.

Read the complete story.

The tally of the Texas drought’s toll continues. After an extensive survey, the Texas A&M Forest Service today puts the number of rural trees killed by the Texas drought at 301 million. That falls right in the middle of a December 2011 estimate by the service that between 100 and 500 million trees had been killed by the drought.

The survey only applies to trees in rural forest areas. The number of trees in urban settings that were lost to the drought was pegged at over five million earlier this year.

Duane Braesch’s cornfields are prime evidence of how unforgiving the elements have been for him and so many others across the Midwest this summer. To demonstrate the hardship, the 79-year-old Nebraska farmer let The Associated Press show the world what he’s weathered during the worst U.S. drought in decades.

(via How the drought turned crops to crisp | Sandusky Register)

Yesterday, the World Bank announced that global food prices went up substantially in July.

Global food prices soared by 10 percent in July from a month ago, with maize and soybean reaching all-time peaks due to an unprecedented summer of droughts and high temperatures in both the United States and Eastern Europe, according to the World Bank Group’s latest Food Price Watch report.

From June to July, maize and wheat rose by 25 percent each, soybeans by 17 percent, and only rice went down, by 4 percent. Overall, the World Bank’s Food Price Index, which tracks the price of internationally traded food commodities, was 6 percent higher than in July of last year, and 1 percent over the previous peak of February 2011.

Arctic Death Spiral: How It Favors Extreme, Prolonged Weather Events ‘Such As Drought, Flooding, Cold Spells And Heat Waves’ By Joe Romm Aug 2012 

barrywone-blog:

We are headed for record lows in Arctic sea ice area and volume, as I discussed Monday.

The death spiral will start to make headlines in this country when we beat the record low sea ice extent set in 2007 as monitored by our National Snow and Ice Data Center. We are getting close, as the latest data make clear (see figure).

But the death spiral of Arctic ice deserves attention beyond its obvious indication of a warming planet. There is increasing scientific analysis suggesting that the loss of ice in the distant Arctic is helping drive the off-the-charts extreme weather we have been seeing right here in this country in recent years (see “Has Global Warming Caused A Quantum Jump In Extreme Weather?“)

In particular, a 2012 Geophysical Research Letters study, “Evidence linking Arctic amplification to extreme weather in mid-latitudes,” finds that the loss of Arctic ice favors “extreme weather events that result from prolonged conditions, such as drought, flooding, cold spells, and heat waves.”

This is likely to be the story of the decade, especially since we are are on track for large declines in summer Arctic sea ice by 2020 and since the extreme weather is already helping to drive food prices to record levels (see “Climate Story of the Year: Warming-Driven Drought and Extreme Weather Emerge as Key Threat to Global Food Security“)

These videos are a bit on the technical side, so I’m going to reprint excerpts of two more general discussions. Andrew Freedman, senior science writer for Climate Central, had a good post in April, “Arctic Warming is Altering Weather Patterns, Study Shows.” He explains:

Entire story.

The National Interagency Fire Center reports that 2012 just broke the record for most acreage burned by wildfires as of this date (see chart below). The previous record was set in 2006, another mega-drought year.

Two months of dry weather and high heat that stunted plants and shriveled ears likely caused the absorption of excessive amounts of nitrogen, experts say. Instead of being distributed safely through the plant, the chemical built up in the lower portions of the stalk at potentially toxic levels.

Kenny Wagler, a dairy farmer in Nashville, Indiana who also farms 2,500 acres (1,000 hectares) of corn and pasture, is testing his corn for the first time since the last major drought in 1988.

"It’s almost never a factor," said Wagler, who raises about 1,500 dairy cows and cattle, adding that he is testing this year on recommendation from his farm nutritionist.

Nearly half of what he typically harvests to sell as a cash corn crop will be cut for silage this year because most of the plants had no ears of grain.

In the worst-case scenario, silage with high levels of nitrate can be absorbed into an animal’s bloodstream, causing poisoning leading to death.

The absorption causes hemoglobin to be converted to methemoglobin, which is incapable of transporting oxygen and so can be fatal to the animal, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Symptoms of nitrate poisoning include labored breathing, rapid heartbeat, weakness, lack of coordination and blue-gray discolored skin.

Extensive losses of livestock are an unlikely, extreme scenario, beef and dairy experts say.

"Certainly there are instances of dead cattle from nitrate," said Chris Hurt, agriculture economist at Purdue University. "Widespread education has helped reduce the problem."

But nitrate-laced silage would force those farmers to buy extra feed grains in order to sustain their animals.

climateadaptation:

Republicans officially want the federal government to give hand-outs to private businesses. Media too effin’ stupid to report the double-talk.

Here.

The Mississippi River has gone from one extreme to another. Last year it was historic floods that forced evacuations and caused up to $4 billion in economic damage. This year it’s severe drought causing commercial barges to run aground and reducing the flow of trade.
Water levels are 50 feet below last year’s levels along some areas of the Mississippi  River. In some cases, water levels barely reach 5 feet, making it difficult for some barges to reach their destinations. As the severe drought in the South gets worse, barge operators are calling the crisis “near critical.”
  Mississippi River Reaches Historic Lows

The Mississippi River has gone from one extreme to another. Last year it was historic floods that forced evacuations and caused up to $4 billion in economic damage. This year it’s severe drought causing commercial barges to run aground and reducing the flow of trade.

Water levels are 50 feet below last year’s levels along some areas of the Mississippi  River. In some cases, water levels barely reach 5 feet, making it difficult for some barges to reach their destinations. As the severe drought in the South gets worse, barge operators are calling the crisis “near critical.”

  Mississippi River Reaches Historic Lows

A searing heat wave rare even for the Desert Southwest sent temperatures soaring to record levels on Monday, with Needles, California tying its record high for the date of 118°F (47.8°C). The temperature might have gone higher in Needles, but a thunderstorm rolled in at 3:20 pm, and by 3:56 pm PDT, rain began falling at a temperature of 115°F (46.1°C). Most of the rain evaporated, since the humidity was only 11%, and only a trace of precipitation was recorded in the rain gauge. Nevertheless, Monday’s rain at 115° in Needles sets a new world record for the hottest rain in world history.

[…]

According to weather records researcher Maximiliano Herrera, the previous record for hottest rain, which I blogged about in June, was a rain shower at 109°F (43°C) observed in Mecca, Saudi Arabia on June 5, 2012 and in Marrakech, Morocco on July 10, 2010. The 11% humidity that accompanied Monday’s rain shower at 115° in Needles was the lowest humidity rain has ever occurred at anywhere on Earth in recorded history, according to Mr. Herrera.