Monday, November 28, 2011

Wind and waves clobbered the coast of Norway - The “extreme weather system” known as “Berit” hit Norway's northwest coast hard on Friday and through the night into Saturday morning, moving north from Hordaland and Møre og Romsdal up to Lofoten and beyond. Waves as high as 30 meters, hurricane-force winds and RECORD-HIGH TIDES generated plenty of drama but no casualties. Meteorologists opted for the “extreme weather” description instead of just a “storm,” because of the various aspects of “Berit,” which had been forecast since mid-week. Many linked the lack of injuries and casualties to the forecasts that allowed many to take precautions in advance.
Several wooden holiday and fishing cabins known as rorbuer were nonetheless destroyed on Lofoten, and some island communities were left isolated on Saturday. Several yachts and other boats were swamped at Sømna in Nordland, where also homes and businesses were flooded. Oil company Statoil decided to shut down production at several oil fields and send workers home because of the high seas and hurricane conditions. “It was blowing over hurricane strength and the platforms were moving quite a lot. They registered waves over 14 meters and expected that to increase.”
The waves crashed over the historic Kråkenes Fyr (lighthouse), perched on a cliff over the sea just south of Stad, where winds also reached hurricane strength. Lofoten got hit the hardest, though, suffering the most material damage. Seas rising to record high levels were recorded at Bodø (nine centimeters over the last record of 404cm logged in 1979), Kabelvåg (428 centimeters) and Harstad (321 centimeters). “This is UNUSUALLY HIGH.” Many ferry routes were cancelled as were some sailings of the Hurtigruten vessels that ply the coast from Bergen to Kirkenes. The unusually rough seas affected routes between Lofoten and Stad.
By Saturday afternoon, an estimated 2,500 residents along the coast were isolated including those living on the islands of Røst and Værøy, west of Bodø. The extreme weather destroyed both Værøy’s helicopter landing pad and ferry terminal, leaving residents cut off until repairs could be made. Røst was without power and facing food shortages, as supplies ran low in local stores, but island residents are accustomed to rough weather.
Troms and Finnmark counties seemed to be avoiding the worst of the wind and waves, but seas were rising in the far north as well, with coastal areas expected to be reporting record high levels as well. Cellars needed to be pumped out in Harstad, with water levels high also in Tromsø and Honningsvåg.

**Strength does not come from physical capacity.
It comes from an indomitable will.**
Mohandas Gandhi

This morning -

Yesterday -
11/27/11 -

Absent Haiti quake panel slows reconstruction - Almost two years after an earthquake devastated Haiti, less than half of the $4.6 billion in pledged aid has been disbursed and political squabbling is threatening to bring coordinated reconstruction efforts to an abrupt halt. An ambitious panel tasked with overseeing efforts to rebuild Haiti, co-chaired by former U.S. President Bill Clinton, was created three months after the January 2010 quake destroyed much of its capital, toppling hundreds of thousands of homes and throwing more than a million homeless into squalid camps.
But the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, or IHRC, disappeared in October after Haitian officials failed to renew its mandate or to create a Haitian-run agency to assume its role of coordinating reconstruction efforts.
Haitian officials say that 120 projects submitted to the disbanded panel remain on hold and experts fear that without the IHRC or a version of it, new donations will stop or dwindle and already pledged money won't come in because donors fear that the money will be squandered. Former board members on the panel also fear that reconstruction efforts will go adrift.
Creating a new commission won't be easy for the same reason the original one's 18-month mandate died: A proposal must go before Parliament for approval. And lawmakers routinely spar with Haitian President Michel Martelly, a pop star-turned-president. International donors say the need for a new commission is urgent.
Modeled after a commission for post-tsunami Indonesia, the reconstruction panel sought to shy away from the haphazard practice of bilateral negotiations in an effort to rebuild the nation from scratch. It also wanted countries including the United States, France and Venezuela to sit literally at the same table with Haitian leaders and avoid a duplication of projects. Board members met every two months or so, the bulk of the meetings taking place at high-end hotels away from the piles of rubble and the hundreds of thousands people still holed up in precarious settlements vulnerable to flooding and stormy weather long after the quake.
Aid groups say hundreds of the quake camps have closed, through a combination of forced removal and payments, but the mountainside shanties ringing Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, seem to be swelling with blue and orange tarp-covered structures. Despite the efforts, the panel drew heaps of criticism. It was sluggish. It was bureaucratic. It had too many foreigners involved.
Some reconstruction work is taking place. This month, they finished clearing out a town square that relief agencies say once housed as many as 11,000 people. It was one of the last projects the IHRC approved before it disbanded. And on Monday, the president and Clinton are scheduled to tour the construction site of a $225 million industrial park in northern Haiti that's supposed to create 20,000 jobs, another IHRC project.
But effective reconstruction is unlikely to happen without the grand master plan as championed by Clinton and the panel. "Donors will give money but they may revert to the same old practices where they unilaterally decide what to do. There will be reconstruction but it will take us 20 years instead of 10."
Questions dog Haiti fund - In the months following the devastating earthquake in Haiti, a charity run by hip-hop star Wyclef Jean spent a pittance of the money it took in on disaster relief and doled out millions in questionable contracts.

Trinidad and Tobago on cusp of big earthquake - Trinidad and Tobago requires “serious political will” from Government and an almost equal contribution from civil society to provide funding and resources urgently to pre-finance and prepare for earthquakes and major disasters. “It requires Government and us as a people to make decisions quickly, and to act quickly."
“We have been monitoring seismic hazards for some time and we are exposed to the hazards, and can be impacted by a large magnitude earthquake. As professionals in the field, we don’t think as country or a region we have gotten it right...we think they are moving too slow.” The issue of proper land planning and usage was reinforced by last weekend’s severe flooding in north-west Trinidad, which many attributed to the ill-advised removal of vegetation on hillsides by developers for housing.
Addressing the issue earthquakes, “To get to the stage where we are resilient to seismic hazard, it will take years. We need to start, but we are taking too long to start. An earthquake may occur before anything could be done.” Most Caribbean islands have building codes that may not be up to date, but are regulated in terms of enforcement mechanisms. The earthquake of January 12, 2010, in Haiti, “should have, as a region, made us aware of the problems.” How Chile manages seismic hazards, “should have indicated to us what we should move from and what we should move to in terms of our building stock.” Chile's seismic design code had “tremendous success” in the 7.8 magnitude earthquake of 1985 in the central zone of Chile. After this earthquake, the code was updated to include seismic macro zones. The seismic data obtained from the seismic macro zones helped to define the code in use during the 2010 earthquake. “It worked very well,."
“What we put in place now should stand. The resources that we are using to put these things in place are not renewable resources. When we spend that money foolishly investing in something that is going to fall down the next time we have a major earthquake, we must ask ourselves ‘Where are the resources coming from?’”
The priority is to conduct risk assessment in critical facilities and public buildings, such as hospitals and schools, that have high levels of occupancy, and economic installations. “The truth is that no assessment has been done to determine how safe public buildings are.”
Earthquakes in developing countries tend to be quite costly in terms of the amount of repairs that need to be done to infrastructure afterwards, business opportunities lost and the impact on human societies based on lives lost. Some of the preliminary estimates that have been done indicate that an earthquake could wreak damage in the tune of US$6 billion in San Fernando alone. Residential housing stock alone in Port-of-Spain could be in the sum of TT$10 million. The level of shaking of the earthquake and the depth determines the extent of damage, the experts said. A shallow 5.8 magnitude earthquake destroyed Managua in 1972 because it occurred at a depth of seven kilometres right under the Nicaraguan city. “We have a shallow earthquake in the magnitude range of 6.1 to 6.5 on the Richter scale occurring every ten or so years somewhere around Trinidad that could destroy a city within seconds. All of these earthquakes, had they occurred under Port-of-Spain, would have been completely devastating. It is just that they have been slapping at our heels, occurring off the island. It just takes one such earthquake to occur under Port-of-Spain or San Fernando and it would be a completely different story.” In San Fernando, the SRC has uncovered in recent times geologic structures in the Central Range Fault that “may be accumulating strain and could rupture sometime in the future”. These geological structures cut right through some of the most productive regions of the island, including Point Lisas, San Fernando’s residential areas and Point-a-Pierre. In the event of a large earthquake, these communities will suffer strong shaking and are likely to experience huge amount of damage. "We need to take some personal responsibility for our own safety, given that we would be living in structures that may not live up to a massive earthquake. So we need to have our disaster bag, medical kit batteries, torch- lights and have them stocked. Have family plan at every time. Earthquake has no respect for season. They can occur at any time of the year.”

Geologists monitoring Yellowstone's underground shifts - Geologists are getting a better feel for what’s going on beneath Yellowstone’s 2.2 million acres of ever-shifting earth thanks to advances in technology. Last week, park officials released Yellowstone’s “vital signs” report, documenting more than 24 natural resource indicators that affect the park’s ecological and environmental stability, from wildlife disease to climate change. The report also noted the park’s geological activity. The ground near the White Lake recording station has swelled 25 centimeters — more than 10 inches — since 2004, while more than 3,200 earthquakes rattled the park in 2010 — the LARGEST CONCENTRATION OF TREMORS RECORDED SINCE 1985. Knowing what it all means, however, remains something of a mystery.
“Yellowstone seems to breathe. That’s the best way to describe it. It goes through cycles of uplift and subsidence. That detailed pattern of ground deformation, well, we’re still in the process of figuring that out.”
Scientists attributed the increase in geological events to improving technology. Scientists can now detect earthquakes that passed unnoticed just 30 years ago. Deformations in the ground can be measured down to the millimeter. To say there are more earthquakes now than before is akin to saying people get more phone calls now than they did 30 years ago. Technology makes the difference. Yellowstone has bulged and shifted in various places over the years. Between 1996 and 2002, an area near Norris Junction lifted 12 centimeters as Yellowstone’s central caldera sank. “There might be a slow inhalation in one area and an exhalation in another. We need more data to really confirm the exact pattern and cause. But there are two great ideas out there that try to explain the deformation.” The deformation may be related to Yellowstone’s vast hydrothermal system. Like a blister under the skin, the park bulges and shifts under pressure. Molten rock underlies the second theory. As the red-hot balloon of magma and gas moves toward the surface it causes the ground to lift. “As an independent scientist, I can say both models have problems. There’s a lot of great work and scientific debate going on to understand what this ground deformation is really telling us.”
The park is not only rising and falling, it’s also moving side to side. Over a four-month period in 2010, Yellowstone endured a swarm of 2,500 earthquakes. The temblors varied up to magnitude 3.8, which was recorded on Jan. 20. “But if you put all the 2010 quakes into a single earthquake, it would only be equal to a magnitude 4.4.” In comparison, the single strongest quake in the 1985 swarm measured 4.5. That swarm of quakes 26 years ago packed more energy than the latest swarm — so much so people began leaving the West Yellowstone area. “They got tired of being rattled. With this 2010 swarm, we had 16 earthquakes felt in the Old Faithful area. Swarms are just a way of life in Yellowstone.” Yellowstone has experienced about 90 swarms since the mid-1990s alone. While some look at the figures and suggest that the world’s largest volcanic feature is beginning to stir, scientists cautioned about jumping to such conclusions. If a big volcanic eruption were coming, geologists would see it coming well in advance. And that’s not what the data is telling them. It’s not impossible that Yellowstone could experience a small eruption with little notice. The elements are there — earthquake swarms, ground deformations, thermal venting and volcanic gases. Yet the events aren’t occurring at the magnitude needed for something big, and they’re not occurring over the same spot. Yellowstone has seen 80 lava flows since the last giant eruption 640,000 years ago, and each of those technically classifies as an eruption. “Those areas of smaller eruptions are the most likely type that would occur. There’s always the possibility of a Hawaiian-type volcano that would only affect a small region of Yellowstone. But it wouldn’t have any regional catastrophic effects.”


Ash from Chile's Puyehue volcano caused flight delays and cancelations Saturday out of Uruguay after a week of frustrations for air travelers in Argentina.

In the Pacific -
Tropical cyclone 05a was located approximately 360 nm south-southwest of Mumbai, India.


Quarter of world's farmland degraded - The United Nations has completed the first-ever global assessment of the state of the planet's land resources, finding in a report that a quarter of all farmland is highly degraded and warning the trend must be reversed if the world's growing population is to be fed. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that farmers will have to produce 70% more food by 2050 to meet the needs of the world's expected nine billion-strong population. That amounts to one billion tons more wheat, rice and other cereals and 200 million more tons of cow and other livestock. But as it is, most available farmland is already being farmed, and in ways that actually decrease its productivity through practices that lead to soil erosion and wasting of water. That means that to meet the world's future food needs, a major "sustainable intensification" of agricultural productivity on existing farmland will be necessary."
The report found that climate change coupled with poor farming practices had contributed to a decrease in productivity of the world's farmland following the boon years of the Green Revolution, when crop yields soared thanks to new technologies, pesticides and the introduction of high-yield crops. Thanks to the Green Revolution, the world's cropland grew by just 12 per cent but food productivity increased by 150 per cent between 1961 and 2009. But the UN report found that rates of growth have been slowing down in many areas and today are only half of what they were at the peak of the Green Revolution. It found that 25 per cent of the world's farmland is now "highly degraded", with soil erosion, water degradation and biodiversity loss. Another eight per cent is moderately degraded, while 36 per cent is stable or slightly degraded and 10 per cent is ranked as "improving". The rest of the Earth's surface is either bare or covered by inland water bodies.

Climate set to worsen food crises -Storms and drought that have unleashed dangerous surges in food prices could be a "grim foretaste" of what lies ahead when climate change bites more deeply, Oxfam says. In a report, the British charity pointed to spikes in wheat, corn and sorghum, triggered by extreme weather, that had driven tens of millions into poverty over the past 18 months. "This will only get worse as climate change gathers pace and agriculture feels the heat. When a weather event drives local or regional price spikes, poor people often face a double shock. They have to cope with higher food prices at a time when extreme weather may have also killed their livestock, destroyed their home or farm."
In 2010, a heatwave in Russia and Ukraine sparked a rise of 60 to 80 per cent in global wheat prices in three months, reaching 85 per cent in April 2011. In July 2011, the price of sorghum was 393 per cent higher in Somalia, while corn (maize) in Ethiopia and Kenya was up to 191 and 161 per cent higher respectively compared to the five-year average, reflecting the impact of drought in the Horn of Africa. Rainstorms and typhoons in South-East Asia, meanwhile, have driven up the price of rice in Thailand and Vietnam. In September and October, the cost of this staple was 25-30 per cent higher there than a year earlier. In February, the World Bank estimated that 44 million people in developing economies had fallen into extreme poverty as a result of spiralling food prices.
"For the poorest who spend up to 75 per cent of their income on food, price rises on this scale can have consequences as families are forced into impossible trade-offs in a desperate bid to feed themselves." It pointed to a just-published investigation by the UN's panel of climate scientists, which said man-made global warming had already boosted heatwaves and flood-provoking rainfall and was likely to contribute to future disasters. "More frequent and extreme weather events will compound things further, creating shortages, destabilising markets and precipitating price spikes, which will be felt on top of the structural price rises predicted by the models."