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Jul

05
2015

The Heat Felt Round The World

Jodde     Blog     0

In Europe and northern Africa, a severe heat wave, with temperatures exceeding 40ºC (104ºF) is raging on.   The heat may make its way as far north as Scandinavia.  We have described how heat can be dangerous before.  It can cause heat stroke and heat exhaustion, and can cause sudden cardiac death subsequent to shock.  If one’s body temperature rises to 41ºC (105.8ºF), whether it be due to fever or ambient temperatures, the victim is in critical danger.  Basal metabolism raises body temperature by 1.1ºF (.6ºC) if dehydration has already occurred, or sweating is ineffective such as in very humid environments..  Those who have skin diseases are at particularly high risk, as the skin is the primary heat regulation organ.  Those with other diseases, such as COPD or asthma are also at greater risk, because the lungs function to dissipate heat in temperatures below body temperature.  Extreme heat, in excess of 40ºC(104ºF) can even denature proteins.  They are also that for which DNA codes.  Denaturing proteins means unfolding them.  Proteins are long chains of amino acids that fold in such a way as to perform a specific function.  When you cook a piece of steak, as you maybe did on Canada Day or the 4th of July, it turns brown and gets harder the more done it is.  What is actually happening is that the steak’s proteins are slowly denaturing and reacting with sugars.   It is not surprising then, that heat waves can be very deadly indeed.   In 2010, a severe heat wave in Russia killed an estimated 50,000 people, and 70,000 were killed in 2003, according to a new study that suggests they are on the rise.

Not only do heat waves have a devastating effect on the human body, but they also raise the risk of wild fires.  In fact, there are wildfires currently burning in Spain and Portugal.  Over 1,300 people have been forced from their homes, and about 8,000 hectares (19,770 acres) have burned at the time of writing.  Several cars have been gutted, although fortunately, we have no reports of death or injuries at this time.  Currently, there are severe heat waves on four continents.  You will recall in our last report, that there is no habitable continent without drought.  With such severe drought and heat waves, both linked to wildfire outbreaks, 2015 could become known as the year the world reignited.

Unfortunately, the tragic events we reported on are in no way a full reflection of what has been going on in the world.  If you would like to see all of our headlines from the past week, please click here.


Jun

24
2015

Drought And Floods

Jodde     Blog     0

Last week brought us disturbing, deadly weather. Several countries around the world are experiencing at least some degree of drought. While the drought in California is so bad that its farmers have to fight for their alleged right to water in The Supreme Court of The United States, North Korea claims to have been hit with its worst drought in more than a century. North Korea is experiencing drought, but the severity of it must be taken with a grain of salt, as its news agency has allegedly been less than completely honest over the years.   According to the Korean Central News Agency, more than a quarter of rice paddies are parched.  That means drought stressed plants and little to no yield. They certainly are in drought though, and food and electricity are declining resources. Toronto, Ontario, and Alberta, Canada are in drought, which is relatively rare. Toronto’s drought, while not as severe as California’s, is a severe threat to the city’s homeless. More homeless people die from dehydration in the summer months than freeze to death in the winter. The drought makes it especially hard to deliver water to the most vulnerable. Columbia is also facing a water shortage, and Puerto Rico is suffering a severe drought on par with California’s.  The drought in Eastern Australia seems endless. Drought in India was so severe that it led farmers to suicide in the month of May. The truly alarming thing is that we are seeing drought on every habitable continent.

 

Meanwhile, there is also the opposite extreme. In Tbilisi, Georgia, a massive deluge killed at least five people. Further to this tragedy, a number of zoo animals escaped due to high water levels. Some animals are still missing. It is not clear that none of those missing animals are predators. If any of them are and have survived, they are displaced, almost certainly scared predators, making them especially dangerous.  Recent flooding in Texas has had devastating results, due to tropical storm Bill. Wanganui, New Zealand faced severe flooding last week, the effects of it visible from space. We know of no loss of life, but several people lost everything they had in their homes. When a flood hits, it is not clean water that inundates people’s homes. It is muddy contaminated water.   Contaminants and disease causing agents like mold can quickly take hold, so once it is safe to clean a flooded home, one must wear a gas mask and avoid contact with the water. It usually takes a few days before it is safe to reenter a home, as there may be compromised utilities like gas and electrical lines, which need to be inspected before clearance is given. During that time, one’s treasured possessions, like photos, books, furniture or electronics can be soaked through with this muddy water. It goes without saying that such a state of affairs can result in a total loss, and unfortunately, this has happened to a number of people in New Zealand recently.

Unfortunately, the tragic events we reported on are in no way a full reflection of what has been going on in the world.  If you would like to see all of our headlines from the past week, please click here.

 


Jun

14
2015

Devastating drought and beetle blitz

Jodde     Blog     0

The massive drought in California is still expected to continue at least until this winter. The state has been forced to adopt unprecedented water restrictions, and that’s only part of the story. While California’s drought is extraordinary, and extraordinarily dry, the majority of western North America received incredibly little snow. As a result, the eastern parts of Oregon and Washington are worried about where their water is coming from. The drought has already netted billions of dollars of damage to California’s agriculture, and that loss will inevitably be passed onto consumers. Many experts are warning of a surge in beef prices.

Drought may even be affecting Canada, with Alberta’s grain prices rising due to the prediction of drought and record low snowpack this year. California and the western Canadian provinces share another issue as well, namely Western pine beetle infestations.   There are a few factors that may make this year’s pine beetle infestation worse than usual. Firstly, the winter was relatively warm. Cold weather often controls pine beetle populations. It takes several days of temperatures around -40ºF/C to adversely affect beetle population. Therefore, there are more beetles, and they regularly coordinate attacks on individual trees. These coordinated attacks can overwhelm even healthy trees.   Sometimes trees are able to fight off a pine beetle attack if they are invaded by relatively few beetles and are healthy. Think of it like the human immune system. If you come in contact with one bacterium, you probably won’t get sick. If you come in contact with several million of them, you probably will. Trees are suffering from water stress in California, leaving them especially vulnerable. The pine beetles attacks what’s called the phloem, living bark under the mostly dead external layers. The phloem can be though of as a tree’s vascular system.  It transfers sugars and other metabolites from the leaves to other organs. Resin is one such metabolite, and trees use it as a defence against insects and even small herbivores.  Drought stressed trees have a harder time making resin to trap invading beetles and can be overwhelmed by a single beetle attacking.

Not only is California experiencing deep drought, and tree death, but also intense heat. The heat is dangerous for humans and other animals, vis à vis heat stroke and exhaustion. Sadly, warmer water, which is a problem in California too, is very dangerous for sea lion pups as well. Tragically, warmer water forces adult sea lions to swim farther from the shore to find fish, as fish like cooler water. Their abandoned pups have been getting stranded this year in unprecedented levels. In fact, five times more sea lions were taken into a rescue facility than are typically rescued in any given year.   What can be dangerous about sea lion strandings is that they can become aggressive when they interact with humans. Thousands of tuna crabs have also been stranded in California, and while that is clearly a bad thing for the crabs, it possibly heralds an end to California’s drought. California is hoping that the winter will bring with it much needed rain, but these hopes did not materialize last year.

Unfortunately, the tragic events we reported on are in no way a full reflection of what has been going on in the world.  If you would like to see all of our headlines from the past week, please click here.

 


Jun

05
2015

Horrific tragedies in Asia and Africa

Jodde     Blog     0

May 30 - June 5, 2015

 

Flooding in Dunedin, New Zealand’s second largest city has shut down schools and submerged power stations, keeping 150 properties in the dark. The late fall flood, caused by severe rainfall left residents stranded in the face of road closures. A number of schools and businesses evacuated their students and customers. A combined human and natural disaster, meanwhile, is wreaking havoc in Accra, Ghana. A deluge there carried a factory’s fuel to a nearby fire. That triggered a tremendous explosion at a gas station that cut short the lives of 73 people. Tragically, they were there because the flooding had already forced them to abandon their homes. Fortunately this horrific event had survivors, but they were trapped in a shed behind a gas station.

In other news, a Chinese ferry carrying about 450 passengers sank in the Yangtze River this week. As far as investigators currently know, the cause of the disaster was inclement weather. There were very few survivors, with more than 300 missing and presumed dead. 103 bodies have been recovered at the time of writing. Some bodies were recovered, and the recovery effort continues with the ship having been recently salvaged. At the tail end of last year, 162 people died in the Java Sea, when a combination of terrible weather and (likely) human error brought down Air Asia flight 8501. Bad weather makes transportation infrastructure deadly.

Unfortunately, the tragic events we reported on are in no way a full reflection of what has been going on in the world.  If you would like to see all of our headlines from the past week, please click here.

 


May

29
2015

Heat, drought, and early fire

Jodde     Blog     0

India, victims of severe flooding last September, is now straining under outrageous heat.  Temperatures so far have been upward 47ºC (116.6ºF).  The heat, more reminiscent of Death Valley, 42ºC or 110ºF at the time of writing.  The number of most concern, unfortunately, is how many people have died.  Currently the death toll from the latest heat wave exceeds 1,400.  The government has set up ‘water camps” as a solution.  It is giving away free water and buttermilk, and encouraging people to drink.  The heatwave is expected to last into next week.  At least the monsoon is expected to come on time this year.  However, it can take a long time for the monsoons to reach all of India, so the monsoons might not be help many Indians need.

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A vineyard in Lake Country, BC, near Kelowna ©Jodde Mason 2015

Heat, drought, and fire tend to go together, and BC is experiencing dramatic heat and an early   start to the fire season.  Kelowna, a small town in mainland BC known for wine and tourism is at great risk because of the fire season.  We talked before about how smoke can ruin a crop of grapes.  The smoke flavour can get into immature grapes and there is no way of purging it, and it is not a nice smoky taste, which is usually due to smoking a fragrant wood like cherry after the wine is bottled (although even this is not known to make good tasting wine.)  Wine picks up its most subjective flavours of what is around it.  When people talk about tasting say strawberry or lemon in a wine, they are talking about trace quantities of chemicals that resemble these flavours closely enough.  Super tasters will detect these flavours readily, while those with average or poor tasting abilities will usually miss them.  The precursors to these chemicals are found in soil and created during fermentation.  As a side note, the taste of oak, very mild smoke, or vanilla, it is usually from the cask.  If it is undrinkable and tastes like a forest fire, it is probably from smoke compounds that have infiltrated the grape.  Suffice to say that fire is bad news for grapes, and with an impending drought and its attendant higher than usual fire risk, vineyards like this one seen on the left could be in trouble this year.  Of course, drought in and of itself is also a problem for grapes.  All in all this year will probably bering as sparse harvest.  Kelowna and nearby towns are situated on a gigantic lake called Okanagan Lake.  For this reason, coupled with its wine growing, it is a popular tourist destination for western Canadians.  However, the lake is not treated and its water is not potable.  Lake Country, as it is called, is certainly vulnerable to drought.  It would take a wet sprint to avert drought at this point, but according to forecasters, this is not likely.  At the time of writing, there has only been one wild fire in the region, but the full effects of drought there have yet to be felt.

 


May

06
2015

Strange landslide, tragedy, and new nuclear threat in Ukraine

Jodde     Blog     0

Japan’s Hokkaido prefecture has some of the oldest culture in the world.  Now, it has some of the newest land, due to a  bizarre landslide that thrust several tons of seabed to the surface.  The resulting land formation covers an area 12 sq. km (7.4 sq. mi).  The landslide is believed to have been caused by a large volume of melted snow.  Professor Hiroshi Fukuoka believes a further contributing factor to the landslide was “the ground has become fragile on some of the coasts that have become cliffs. That is because of exposure to waves.”

Meanwhile, Floridians were no doubt seeking exposure to waves as temperatures soared past 97ºF (36.1ºC) in Coral Gables.  The stifling heat was record breaking.  In Boca Raton, it was 99ºF (37.2º.)  Any temperature higher than 90ºF (32ºC) can be dangerous.  Outdoor work or exercise should be avoided in such conditions.

While cold can be dangerous, it can also be necessary for survival.  Ice roads that support the oil industry in Canada often shut down early, which forces drilling rigs to close.  Polar bears and Inuits depend on thick Arctic ice for food.  Scientists who study Arctic sea ice risk their lives to provide the world with vital information.  Now RCMP suspect that two of them, sadly, made the ultimate sacrifice in the pursuit of knowledge.  Scientists that die for their work are often not labelled as heroes, but I submit that perhaps they should be.  A pilot spotted the missing team near an area of open water.  Their sled dog was found sitting nearby.  Their equipment was intact, and they had sent out an emergency distress message.

In other news, a wild fire is burning in possibly the worst place it could in the world: Chernobyl.  The nuclear danger is obvious, but what makes the problem especially bad is the amount of non-nuclear fuel around in the area.  Because of the high radiation levels, bacteria and fungi that break down dead plant matter, known as decomposers, cannot prosper.  In other words, there is limited decay.  Of course, the best fuel for fire is dead leaves and trees, but normally dead trees eventually decompose, making way for moss and eventually becoming soil, but this is not the case here, or more accurately, it hasn’t been yet.  There are living trees around also that contribute fuel for fires.  Furthermore, this fire is extremely serious as Ukraine is “catastrophically” ill-equipped to handle this sort of disaster.  Alarmingly, it is only 10 miles (16km) from the reactors, and only three miles from spent fuel repositories.  Damage to these structures could result in high doses of radiation in Ukraine.

Unfortunately, the tragic events we reported on are in no way a full reflection of what has been going on in the world.  If you would like to see all of our headlines from the past week, please click here.

 


Apr

24
2015

Fires, Landslides and Drought

Jodde     Blog     0

In California this week, a cooking fire went wild, scorching 1.4 square miles (3.62 square km) and forcing the evacuation of 300 homes.  We have no word of any injury or property damage at this point, but the surprising thing about this fire is just how early it came.  Fire season does not typically arrive until June.  However, California is in crisis due to their prolonged drought.  State climatologist, Michael Anderson showed that conditions are similar to the Dust Bowl, as we argued last week.  The drought so far has cost farmers $1.5 billion in economic losses.  In the face of that, California’s fire season does not abate.  Fires do not usually happen in the spring, because vegetation is covered in moisture, making poor fuel.  Alberta, meanwhile, is off to an intense fire season start, with 15 currently burning in the province.  The situation could get worse in the summer, due to a low snowpack.  We will certainly be keeping an eye on that situation.

India recorded high temperatures this week, a scorching 43.7ºC (110.7ºF) the hottest so far.  The Ahmedabad Municipal Council shut down all outdoor labour in response to the heat.  The elderly are particularly vulnerable in the face of such high temperatures.  When it is that hot, drinking plenty of water and staying in air conditioning or government cooling enters is imperative.  Outdoor exercise should be avoided as heat stroke and heat exhaustion are real possibilities.  Heat stroke, if not treated properly can be fatal.

A landslide in Bangladesh has claimed the lives of two people.  The landslide was likely triggered by rain, as several districts in Bangladesh have received five times the expected rainfall for last week.  Two additional landslides blocked traffic in two different US states, although no injuries were reported with regards to either event.

Unfortunately, the tragic events we reported on are in no way a full reflection of what has been going on in the world.  If you would like to see all of our headlines from the past week, please click here.

 


Apr

17
2015

Deepening Drought and Shallow Snowpacks

Jodde     Blog     0

According to the Japan Meteorological Agency, this March has been the hottest worldwide on record.  For much of the United states, it is also a devastatingly dry year. Nine US states are reporting record low snowpacks.  To make matters worse, 72% of the Western US, bounded by Washington and New Mexico, is experiencing drought conditions, but these areas are not experiencing exceptional drought, the most severe.  Because snow melts slowly, it supplies reservoirs throughout the warm season, but what little snow there is has started melting earlier than usual.  Much of Nevada is under severe or exceptional drought, and while drought has not yet affected Montana, even this state has abnormally dry conditions, making fires more likely.

So far, these are conditions reminiscent of the Dust Bowl in the 1930′s.  Possibly the only difference is that we now have extensive irrigation and can farm dry land.  This is likely the sole reason California’s farmers are immune to water restrictions.  We need crops so that we don’t lose our topsoil, and with it the ability to produce more crops.  This is the problem that Haiti faces.  It has lost most of its topsoil, and soil is incredibly slow to regenerate.  In Haiti’s case, it was not drought that was the problem, but the fact that Haiti did not have enough trees, though it started out being very verdant.  Because the trees kept the soil from blowing away, the removal of the trees caused an irrecoverable loss of soil.  The states affected by the Dust Bowl lost up to 75% of their topsoil, and for all intents and purposes it’s gone forever.  If the water problems become so great that there is just no water for the farmers to use, the western states could be in similar trouble.  No crops mean nothing to anchor soil, and soil is only created at a rate of one inch every five hundred years.  Recently, a massive dust storm caused a massive pileup on I-80, killing one person and injuring 13 others.  The dust was kicked up by unusually high winds, and in addition to causing traffic chaos, it also greatly harms those with respiratory issues.

Unfortunately, the tragic events we reported on are in no way a full reflection of what has been going on in the world.  If you would like to see all of our headlines from the past week, please click here.

 


Apr

13
2015

Californians look to Poseidon for help, and other drought news

Jodde     Blog     0

Drinking sea water is usually a desperate measure, a last resort, and typically a fatally wrong decision.  Installing a $1B desalinization plant may not be fatally wrong (at least for the species installing it,) but it is certainly a desperate measure.  Desalinization plants work kind of like a colander you would use for cooking spaghetti.  Water goes right through the mesh.  A colander has a pretty coarse mesh, so the water comes out easily with just the work of gravity.  If you want to do a good job though and leave your spaghetti bone dry, you will have to shake it because some of the water sticks to the pasta.  Of course, if you don’t care about its texture, you could just push on the spaghetti until the rest of the water came out.  The finer the mesh, the harder you’d have to push.  Now if you have an incredibly fine mesh, and salt instead of spaghetti, you could push really hard to separate the water from the salt.  The problem is, you have to push really hard, and that takes a tremendous amount of energy.  The whole process is called reverse osmosis.  This has historically not been something California has had in abundance.  While the mammoth plant alluded, which Poseidon Water is nearly finished constructing, is not a direct response to the record drought affecting the state.  That plant is to supply San Diego.  Santa Barbara, a thriving tourism community is considering reactivating their plant, as there is no relief in sight for the drought.

The government is currently imposing water restrictions from 25%-35%.  Anyone caught watering their lawn more than three days a week could face stiff fines.  The drought might even alter the urban landscape of California.  The government is also considering incentives to encourage people to use drought resistant plants instead of lawns.

California may have the worst of the drought in North America, but the snowpacks in Oregon and Washington are also dangerously low.  In Washington, the snowpack is only 7% of what’s expected.  Washington defines drought conditions as as the conditions in which a reservoir holds less than 75% of its usual amount.  All of Oregon meets the standard for Washington’s drought law, with the snowpack statewide being less than 50% of what it should be.

With all the drought, much of it going on for 4 years, we might be in for a horrendous fire season, especially in California.

If you would like to see all of our headlines from the past week, please click here.


Mar

26
2015

As Earth’s warmest winter on record ends, Spring starts with snow storms in North America

Mark     Blog     0

Just as Spring rolled around last week, we learned that Winter 2014 was the warmest winter on record. According to weather.com, “NOAA says that December through February … was 1.42 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th-century average for all land and ocean areas. This tops the previous warmest winter of 2007 by 0.05 degrees Fahrenheit.” Despite the fact that eastern North America experienced a cold winter, western North America, Europe and Asia experienced widespread above-average temperatures.

This was little consolation to residents of the northeast United States, where the first day of Spring was greeted by snow storms. Some areas picked up 6 inches of snow, with temperatures dropping 10—15 degrees Fahrenheit (5.5—8.3 degrees Celsius) below normal temperatures for this time of year. Two people died in a car crash caused by poor driving conditions, and others were injured as cars were seen flipped on their heads in separate incidents. Nearly 600 flights were cancelled, and just as many were delayed, leaving passengers frustrated.

Meanwhile, in Northern Australia, Cyclone Nathan ripped through the coast causing residents to flee inland, and The Spanish city of Castellon experienced heavy rainfall which flooded the city, forcing emergency workers to rescue people from their homes and cars. The storm was expected to move to the Mediterranean Sea which meteorologists predicted would experience gale force winds. This warning became reality a few days later, with Italy, the Balkans, and Turkey bracing for a travel-disrupting storm. The heavy rainfall in Turkey may lead to flooding in several coastal cities.

Heavy rain in northern Brazil and Peru also caused flooding, creating giant sinkholes in Brazil, and landslides in Peru. An incredible video shows a bus full of Brazilian passengers being rescued from a sinkhole moments before the bus is swept away by the fierce river. The landslides in Peru claimed the lives of at least seven people, when an avalanche buried part of a town. Unfortunately, BBC News reported that torrential storm clouds would remain over Brazil and Peru, and that they would reach even the Atacama desert which on average receives only about 15 millimeters of rain per year.

A few days later there was finally some good news for the northeast United States, where at least 6 inches of snow finally began to melt in Boston, which had covered some parts of the city for months.

If you would like to see all of our headlines from the past week, please click here.


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