Archive | Drought

Study: New Crop Failure Strategies Needed

LEEDS, England, Oct. 7 (UPI) — Large-scale crop failures like that which caused the recent Russian wheat crisis are likely to become more common with climate change, a British study shows.

However, researchers at the University of Leeds say improved farming and the development of new crops could lessen the worst impacts of these events on world agriculture, a university release said.

A summer of drought and wildfires dramatically hit harvests across Russia this year, leading the government to institute a ban on wheat exports. But the authors of the new study argue that adaptation to climate change is possible through a combination of new crops that are more tolerant to heat and water stress, and by changes in farming practices and investment.

“Due to the importance of international trade, crop failure is an issue that affects everyone on the planet, not just those in crop-growing regions,” Andy Challinor from the University of Leeds School of Earth and Environment said.

“More extreme weather events are expected to occur in the coming years due to climate change and we have shown that these events are likely to lead to more crop failures,” he said.

“It is highly unlikely that we will find a single intervention that is a ‘silver bullet’ for protecting crops from failure,” Challinor said. “What we need is an approach that combines building up crop tolerance to heath and water stress with socio-economic interventions.”

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Eastern U.S. Could See Weather 'flip-flop'

STATE COLLEGE, Pa., Sept. 23 (UPI) — The eastern United States could experience a major weather pattern change from drought to drenching as September moves into “Troptober,” forecasters say.

Many areas from Florida to Maine, westward through the Appalachians and into part of the Ohio and Tennessee valleys could experience flooding and disruption to daily activities in the coming weeks, Accuweather.com reported Thursday.

Harmless and even beneficial pockets of rain will break out in the southeastern U.S states, forecasters predict, but then the tropics will take center stage in the weather show.

A barrage of tropical storms is forecast in the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico and neighboring Atlantic through the first half of October. The storms will threaten parts of the eastern United States.

Repeating downpours could add up to a foot of rain in some locations, forecasters say.

One tropical system alone can drop several inches of rain and erase a drought or abnormally dry pattern in these areas, and there is the potential for several such systems to move northward, Accuweather.com said.

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Tiniest Creatures Defend Trees

GAINSVILLE, Fla., Sept. 2 (UPI) — Researchers say one of Africa’s smallest creatures — the ant — is up to the job of protecting trees from one of the continent’s largest animals — elephants.

University of Florida biology Professor Todd Palmer says hordes of angry ants will crawl up into elephant trunks to repel the ravenous pachyderms from devouring tree cover throughout drought-plagued East African savannas, a university release says.

“It really is a David and Goliath story, where these little ants are up against these huge herbivores, protecting trees and having a major impact on the ecosystems in which they live,” Palmer said. “Swarming groups of ants that weigh about 5 milligrams each can and do protect trees from animals that are about a billion times more massive.”

Rainfall, soil nutrients, plant-eating herbivores and fire are the main regulators of the mixture of trees and grasses that make up savanna ecosystems, he said.

“Our results suggest that plant defense should be added to the list,” he said. “These ants play a central role in preventing animals that want to eat trees from doing extensive damage to those trees.”

Conducting research in the central highlands of Kenya, Palmer said he noticed elephants rarely ate a widespread tree species known as Acacia drepanolobium where guardian ants aggressively swarm anything that touches the trees.

But they would feed on other trees that did not harbor these ants, he said.

When it came to tree species that had ants on them, “the elephants avoided those trees like a kid avoids broccoli,” Palmer said.

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Dry Weather Reveals Ancient British Sites

LONDON, Aug. 30 (UPI) — Long-hidden buried archaeological sites in Britain, not visible for more than 30 years, have been spotted by their distinctive “cropmarks,” researchers say.

A dry summer in Britain has made them apparent, as crops growing over buried archaeological features develop at different rates from those nearby, revealing the patterns to aerial surveys, the BBC reported Monday.

Hundreds of sites, some not visible since a 1976 drought, have been discovered and photographed by the surveys. The survey has also found sites not known before, like Roman and prehistoric settlements at a site near Bradford Abbas in Dorset.

A Roman camp was revealed in June after three sides became visible in sun-parched fields of barley, the BBC said.

“It’s hard to remember a better year,” English Heritage senior investigator Dave MacLeod said. “Cropmarks are always at their best in dry weather, but the last few summers have been a disappointment.

“This year we have taken full advantage of the conditions,” he said. “We try to concentrate on areas that in an average year don’t produce much archaeology.”

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Drought Strikes Mali Nomads Hard

TALATAYE, Mali, Aug. 27 (UPI) — Nomadic tribes in the desert regions of northern Mali are facing one of the worst droughts in 20 years, authorities in that African nation say.

More than a quarter of the district’s population has already migrated elsewhere, toward he Niger river, into neighboring Niger and even as far as Burkina Faso far to the south, Inter Press Service reported Friday.

“Since the end of last year’s rainy season, many herders understood that this was going to be a drought year,” Mohamed Assaleh, mayor of the northern town of Talataye, said. “Grass hasn’t grown anywhere in the district. So they have decided to search for pastures further afield.”

Talataye’s population, estimated at 30,000, survives mainly from herding cattle, camels, sheep and goats. Drought is a recurring threat, and the herders presently face acute shortages of water and pasture.

“It’s unclear how many herds remain in Talataye versus how many have been displaced,” Assaleh said. “Wherever they go, the animals die in large numbers, especially sheep, cows and donkeys.

“A few camels and goats survive in places where there are a few trees.”

The Malian government sent about 400 tons of sorghum for distribution in the district of Talataye, but it’s little help, Assaleh said.

“It’s sorely needed support … but is not part of the customary diet,” Assaleh said.

The government had not consulted with locals before sending the sorghum, he said.

“It should have been replaced by rice or millet. What is worse is that the animals die eating it. So these donations will neither feed people, nor replace cattle feed,” Assaleh said.

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Wheat Genome Could Fight Food Shortages

LONDON, Aug. 27 (UPI) — British scientists say their research on the genome of wheat could help farmers develop new strains with greater yields to combat food shortages.

Researchers say the recent genome sequencing will help breeders and farmers select traits for a healthy yield and could identify specific genes for useful traits such as tolerance to drought, the BBC reported Friday.

In many countries, droughts and floods have harmed the wheat harvest in recent years.

Russia, one of the biggest producers, banned all wheat exports after severe drought and wildfires destroyed crops around the country recently.

The move raised worldwide concerns about possible wheat shortages and has sent wheat prices soaring.

Major floods in Pakistan and mudslides in China have caused wheat prices to rise even further, and Canada and a number of other countries predict their wheat harvest could be much lower than last year due to weather conditions.

Sequencing the wheat genome is a way to develop more productive, resource-efficient varieties of wheat, said Matthew Reynolds of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center.

“Such varieties are crucial to meet increased demand from growing and more prosperous populations, confront the challenges of climate change and looming scarcities of land, water, and fertilizer and avoid global food shortages and price spikes that particularly harm the poor,” he said.

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Drought Lowers World Plant Productivity

MISSOULA, Mont., Aug. 20 (UPI) — Plant productivity around the world, once on the rise with warming temperatures and a longer growing season, is declining because of droughts, researchers say.

Researchers at the University of Montana analyzed NASA satellite data to discover the global turnaround of productivity, a NASA release said Friday.

Plant productivity is a measure the photosynthesis process green plants use to convert solar energy, carbon dioxide and water to sugar, oxygen and eventually plant tissue.

Researchers Maosheng Zhao and Steve Running said they expected to see similar results as global average temperatures continued to climb. Instead, they found the negative impact of regional drought overwhelmed the positive influence of a longer growing season, driving down global plant productivity between 2000 and 2009.

After a 6 percent increase in the 1980s and 1990s, plant productivity declined 1 percent in the last 10 years.

“We see this as a bit of a surprise, and potentially significant on a policy level because previous interpretations suggested global warming might actually help plant growth around the world,” Running said. “This is a pretty serious warning that warmer temperatures are not going to endlessly improve plant growth.”

Although the 1 percent decline is not large, it could affect food security, biofuels and the global carbon cycle, scientists say.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Landscape Trees Victims of Heat, Drought

LITTLE ROCK, Ark., Aug. 5 (UPI) — Landscape trees in the southern United States are falling victim to a prolonged spell of summers with hot weather and little rain, experts say.

University of Arkansas researchers say the stress of the drought has pushed many trees over the edge and even a forecast of rain in Arkansas in the coming days may not save them, a university release said Thursday.

“Many trees have already been damaged beyond repair,” Jon Barry, extension forester for the university’s Division of Agriculture, said.

“A return to normal rainfall might prolong a stressed tree’s life a little, but many trees have already started dying and nothing will reverse that process.”

Yard trees face handicaps their wild cousins don’t, Barry said.

“One of the reasons yard trees are so vulnerable to drought stress is that they often do not have enough room to develop a good root system,” he said. “Houses, driveways, and sidewalks create dry zones in the soil.”

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African Livestock Under Genetic Threat

NAIROBI, Kenya, July 21 (UPI) — A rapid loss of genetic diversity in native African livestock could create a threat to the continent’s food supply, experts say.

The genetic diversity that maintains drought- and disease-resistant animals providing food and income to 70 percent of rural Africans is being lost at an alarming rate, a release by the International Livestock Research Institute said Tuesday.

Efforts must be made to identify and preserve the unique traits of the continent’s rich array of cattle, sheep, goats and pigs developed over several millennia but now under siege, the ILRI said.

The loss of livestock diversity in Africa is part of a global “livestock meltdown,” the institute said.

According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, some 20 percent of the world’s 7,616 livestock breeds are now viewed as at risk.

“Africa’s livestock are among the most resilient in the world yet we are seeing the genetic diversity of many breeds being either diluted or lost entirely,” Abdou Fall, leader of ILRI’s livestock diversity project for West Africa, said.

Cross-breeding with “exotic” breeds imported from Europe, Asia and the Americas is a major problem, ILRI officials said.

“What we see too often is an effort to improve livestock productivity on African farms by supplanting indigenous breeds with imported animals that over the long term will prove a poor match for local conditions and require a level of attention that is simply too costly for most smallholder farmers,” Carlos Sere, ILRI’s director general, said.

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Australia Turns to Sea for Drinking Water

CANBERRA, Australia, July 12 (UPI) — Australia will spend $13 billion to build desalinization plants to provide up to 30 percent of the country’s drinking water from the sea, authorities say.

Still recovering from the worst drought in its history, blamed in part on climate change, Australia is turning to seawater to deal with looming water shortages, The New York Times reported Saturday.

Other nations, facing possible future shortages, are watching the Australian plan with interest, the Times said.

“We consider ourselves the canary in the coal mine for climate change-induced changes to water supply systems,” said Ross Young, executive director of the Water Services Association of Australia.

The $13.2 billion is “the cost of adapting to climate change,” Young said.

The ambitious plan has plenty of critics.

Homeowners fear it will mean rising water bills, and environmentalists are wary of the plants’ effects on the climate.

“Big waste of money,” said Helen Meyer, 65, a retired midwife in Tugun, where the state of Queensland built a $1 billion desalination plant last year. “It cost a lot of money to build, and it uses a lot of power.”

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