Friday, March 14, 2008

Dams are slowing down sea level rise

A paper published in the Journal Science by Benjamin Chao and others of National Central University in Taiwan takes an interesting perspective on how the worlds 30,000 dams can be responsible for avoiding a 3 cm sea level rise. The paper argues that water stored in those dams could have prevented the sea level from rising by about 3 cm.

Of course such a direct interpretation of the results will open this study to a number of queries from the scientific community, but it presents a notion that if we were to store enough water (I am not encouraging dams here - as some of these are responsible for a number of environmental catastrophes around the world) we could slow down sea level rise. This would imply restoration of many of the planets degraded lakes, groundwater and river systems.

However, we have witnessed in the recent decade the drying up of a number of lakes and water bodies. Few shocking examples come to mind:

(1) By comparison of satellite images of over 11,000 lakes in Siberia (Russia) taken in the early 1970s with images taken between 1997 and 2004, it was found that more than a thousand lakes have become smaller and over 125 lakes had disappeared in under 30 years. Similarly more than 10,000 of Alaska's lakes (Arctic Circle) have dried up in the last 50 years especially due to global warming.

1973sm 1997sm

These satellite images of lakes in Siberia taken in 1973 (left) and 1997 (right) show a decline in the size and number of lakes in the region. Click for larger view. (Courtesy Laurence Smith, UCLA)


(2) Lake Powell (USA) which feeds the Hoover Dam in the US is slated to run out of water in under 13 years.

Rising demand for human and industrial development places enormous pressure on the planet's freshwater lakes and groundwater aquifers, so the obvious conclusion is that we are removing much of the freshwater of the planet rather than storing them, so the claim that dams are slowing down sea level rise needs further scrutiny. Only by reducing emissions and restoring ecological balance can we slow down sea level rise.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Commonwealth to mobilise its networks on climate change

The Commonwealth, which brings together 53 countries and over 30% of the world's population is indeed an important global organisation which can mobilise significant resources and networks to address the threat of climate change. To bring global attention to the issue of climate change and environmental degradation the Commonwealth Secretariat has decided to leverage its  extensive global network of expertise and resources to support its members, especially those most vulnerable from rising sea levels, expanding deserts, and degrading rainforests. This strategic direction was called for by the 2007 Heads of Commonwealth Meeting held in Uganda, and by the recent Commonwealth Minister of Environment meeting in Kenya.

This increase in momentum comes after the announcement by Commonwealth leaders, notably President James Michel of the Seychelles to start addressing climate adaptation now. In September 2007, President Michel launched the Sea Level Rise Foundation with the express aim of pooling together the world's network on sea level rise and coastal adaptation, as he is convinced that enormous untapped potential can be mobilised to support small islands in the fight against global warming. In his Commonwealth Day message on the 10th March, President Michel has once again highlighted the urgency of climate change and for the world to show leadership. Whilst there has been tremendous efforts recently to reduce greenhouse gases, evidence on the ground indicate that sea level rise is happening and action must be taken now.

Indeed the Commonwealth has the resources and capability to address this global issue with action at the local level. In that respect discussions are ongoing between the Sea Level Rise Foundation and the Commonwealth Foundation to see how the Sea Level Rise Foundation can become the appropriate platform for such initiatives.

As commonwealth members around the world reflect upon this year's theme, let us put our resources, knowledge and technologies together to  preserve the front-liners of humanity - the islands.



Commonwealth Week Poster