Archive | Drought

Storm May Have Killed Half a Billion Trees

WASHINGTON, July 12 (UPI) — A violent storm that swept through Brazil’s Amazon rain forest in 2005 may have killed half a billion trees in just two days, a new study says.

Storms have been understood as one cause of Amazon tree loss, but a new study funded by NASA and Tulane University says the losses are much greater than previously suspected, a release by the American Geophysical Union said Monday.

A peak in tree loss in 2005 had been attributed to a severe drought that year, but the new study says a single 600-mile line of thunderstorms moving through the Amazon from Jan. 16 to Jan. 18 snapped or uprooted millions of trees with 90 mph winds.

“We can’t attribute [the increased] mortality to just drought in certain parts of the basin — we have solid evidence that there was a strong storm that killed a lot of trees over a large part of the Amazon,” said Jeffrey Chambers, a forest ecologist at Tulane University.

“If a tree dies from a drought, it generally dies standing. It looks very different from trees that die snapped by a storm,” Chambers said.

In some of the affected areas, almost 80 percent of the trees had been killed by the storm, the study said.

The study estimates between 441 and 663 million trees were destroyed across the entire Amazon basin, representing a loss of 23 percent of the estimated annual carbon accumulation of the Amazon forest.

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Climate Change Affects Meadows' Ecosystems

AMES, Iowa, July 7 (UPI) — Studying drought effects on a pristine ecosystem could show how climate change may affect flora and fauna diversity, an Iowa State University researcher said.

Researcher Diane Debinski has studied meadows in the Rocky Mountains’ Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem since the 1990s, finding that if the area’s climate becomes drier as the Earth’s temperature rises, it could change the types of plants and animals living there, the Ames, Iowa, university said Tuesday in a release.

To study the potential effects of climate change, Debinski conducted large-scale, long-term observational studies of the plant and insect communities in 55 mountainous meadows in the ecosystem. She studied six different types of meadows ranging from dry to wet.

Debinski and colleagues measured changes in the plant community from 1997 to 2007, which included an extended drought, and recently published their findings in the journal Ecology.

Debinski said the shrubs growing in the drier meadows increased, while flowering plants decreased.

“In these meadows, as water became more scarce, that means less moisture for the plants,” she said. “The flowering plants don’t grow as well and therefore don’t provide as much food to the animals. These types of changes in the plants could affect populations of elk, bison, as well as many other smaller animals, including insects.”

Debinski also examined which meadow type was most vulnerable to change, determining medium-moisture meadows — neither wet nor dry — are in the biggest danger of change.

“If wet meadows get a little drier, they’re still wet,” she said. “If dry meadows get a little drier, they are still dry. But the meadows with a medium amount of wetness are the ones that may be changing most.”

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Buckminster Fuller Challenge Winner Named

WASHINGTON, June 2 (UPI) — Operation Hope, which combats drought in Africa, has been named the winner of the 2010 Buckminster Fuller Challenge.

The project — operated by the Africa Center for Holistic Management in Zimbabwe and the Savory Institute in Albuquerque — employs a strategy that transforms parched and degraded Zimbabwean grasslands and savannas into lush pastures with ponds and flowing streams, officials said.

Operation Hope was awarded the $100,000 prize Wednesday during a ceremony at the National Press Club in Washington.

The Buckminster Fuller Challenge is an international competition recognizing initiatives that radically advance human well being and the health of the planet’s ecosystems.

A Berlin company, Watergy, was named runner-up of the 2010 competition for developing and implementing a closed system greenhouse that provides efficient farming capabilities in water-scarce communities.

The other finalists were:

– India’s Barefoot College, which teaches illiterate, rural women in India and Africa to become solar engineers.

– BK Farmyards of New York, which advances urban farming as a viable business and food source for local communities.

– UrbanLab, which has re-conceived the Chicago street-grid as a holistic bio-system that captures, cleans and returns 100 percent of the city’s waste and storm waters to the lakes.

– The Living Building Challenge of Seattle, which has developed the most advanced green building rating system in the world.

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Parts of Texas Might Face More Drought

COLLEGE STATION, Texas, May 13 (UPI) — The Texas state climatologist says it might be another problem dry summer for parts of the Lone Star state, with some areas already facing drought.

Texas A&M University Professor John Nielsen-Gammon, who also serves as the state’s climatologist, said those drought conditions persist even as other sections of the state are awash in rainfall.

Nielsen-Gammon said much of the Texas area from Houston to Beaumont and north to the Lufkin area is far behind in normal rainfall for this time of year.

“A lot of that area has only received one-tenth of the precipitation it should have received in the past few months,” he said, adding if those areas don’t get some rain, it could mean another hard summer.

That’s in stark contrast to the Amarillo-Lubbock and Midland regions, where some areas have received two to three times the normal amount of rainfall for this time of year, he said.

“One of the factors contributing to the Texas drought was the El Nino cycle. In an El Nino, with warm east Pacific sea surface temperatures, winters tend to be wet, while the opposite happens during a La Nina,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “Two consecutive La Nina winters helped to make last year’s drought particularly severe.”

Since the current El Nino in the Pacific appears to be abating, it could mean warmer and drier weather for much of Texas and the U.S. Southwest next winter, he added.

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Oregon Grasshopper Plague Expected Again

ROARING SPRINGS, Ore., May 11 (UPI) — Oregon scientists and farmers are predicting a devastating plague of grasshoppers this summer, perhaps worse than western U.S. states experienced last year.

Last summer, Oregon was stormed by 2-inch-long, clear-winged grasshoppers, The Oregonian newspaper in Portland, Ore., reported.

The grasshoppers ate plants over tens of thousands of acres of in Harney County in 2009 and this summer the ravaged area could double to 140,000 acres in the county, entomologists said.

“Most people slowed down out of curiosity and awe” as grasshoppers carpeted Oregon Highway 205 that goes through Roaring Springs, rancher Elaine Davies told The Oregonian.

Hungry grasshoppers beginning to hatch in New Mexico and Arizona could make 2010 the worst grasshopper plague since the mid-1980s, said Charles Brown of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Natural population cycles and widespread drought conditions allow the grasshoppers to thrive, Brown said.

Treating the Roaring Springs Ranch’s grasshopper egg beds with Dimilin, a growth regulator that kills grasshoppers immediately after hatching, probably will cost $4,000 but will save 20,000 acres of grass, ranch’s foreman Stacy Davies said to the newspaper.

Dimilin is more effective than battling mature grasshoppers later in the season with Malathion, which isn’t as environmentally friendly, could cost $25,000, and could be riskier for grass for cattle grazing.

Dimilin applications in Oregon in 2008 reduced acreage affected by grasshoppers from 1 million to 150,000 in 2009, entomologist Helmuth Rogg of the Oregon Department of Agriculture in Salem said in The Oregonian report.

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UPI NewsTrack Health and Science News

Lack of sunlight increases MS risk

MELBOURNE, April 30 (UPI) — Babies whose mothers don’t get enough sunlight during the early part of pregnancy are more likely to develop multiple sclerosis, scientists in Australia said.

A lack of sunlight — the main source of Vitamin D — during the first three to four months of pregnancy can affect how a baby’s central nervous and immune system develops, said scientists from the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne and Australian National University in Acton.

Babies born in November and December, during the Australian summer, had their early months in the winter and so were 32 percent more likely to develop MS than babies whose early months were in the summer and were born in May and June, during the Australian winter, the scientists said. Their results from studying 1,524 patients with MS born between 1920 and 1950 appeared recently in an online edition of the British Medical Journal.

“These results add to the weight of existing evidence suggesting vitamin D plays a role in the development of MS,” Doug Brown, an MS researcher, told The Times of London in a story published Friday.

Bee colonies experience winter drop

WASHINGTON, April 30 (UPI) — A dramatic loss in domestic bee colonies is being blamed on starvation, pesticides, poor weather and weak colonies, U.S. apiary experts said.

Losses of domestic, managed colonies totaled 33.8 percent from October 2009 to April, said a survey released Thursday by the Apiary Inspectors of America and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. There was a 35.8 percent overall colony loss in the winter of 2007-2008.

The losses threaten the future of U.S. crop pollination and the domestic honey industry, said Jerry Hayes, a hive inspector with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

The loss of hives, known as Colony Collapse Disorder, likely was caused by a combination of factors, including environmental stresses, nutrition problems, pathogens and parasites, the survey said.

The survey reported only winter losses and not the number of colonies that fail during the summer, which can be significant, Hayes told The Miami Herald in a story reported Friday.

Genome tests offer crystal ball to future

PALO ALTO, Calif., April 30 (UPI) — A genome report soon will cost no more than $1,000, enabling more people to learn about the health risks encoded in their genes, U.S. researchers said.

The price of a full genome report has dropped to below $10,000 and will continue to drop, WebMD reported Friday.

Stephen Quake, 40, a bioengineer at Stanford University, said he underwent genome testing to learn whether he had any of the risk factors that caused a 19-year-old relative to die suddenly in his sleep.

Stanford researchers determined Quake carries three gene variants linked to sudden cardiac death and is at increased risk for clogged arteries, type 2 diabetes and some cancers.

“It is all bad news,” Quake told WebMD, saying every person who examines their genome will find they carry risk genes for more than one serious or deadly disease.

The helpful news is that genome analysis can guide doctors in prescribing preventative treatments, WebMD reported. In Quake’s case he learned he’s genetically more likely to respond to low doses of cholesterol-lowering drugs with a lower risk of side effects.

Pokeberry valuable in solar production

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C., April 30 (UPI) — A purple berry used by U.S. Civil War soldiers to write letters home could be used to advance solar power in poor rural areas, scientists said.

Pokeberries proliferate even during drought and in rocky, infertile soil, said David Carroll, director of Wake Forest University’s Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Materials.

When applied to fiber-based solar cells, the berry’s dye acts as an absorber, helping the cell’s fibers capture more sunlight to convert into power, Carroll said in a release from the university Thursday.

“They’re weeds. They grow on every continent but Antarctica,” Carroll said.

Newly developed fiber-based solar cells can produce twice as much power as current flat-cell technology and are less expensive to produce, he said.

“It’s a low-cost solar cell that can be made to work with local, low-cost agricultural crops like pokeberries and with a means of production that emerging economies can afford,” Carroll said.

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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Pokeberry Valuable in Solar Production

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C., April 30 (UPI) — A purple berry used by U.S. Civil War soldiers to write letters home could be used to advance solar power in poor rural areas, scientists said.

Pokeberries proliferate even during drought and in rocky, infertile soil, said David Carroll, director of Wake Forest University’s Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Materials.

When applied to fiber-based solar cells, the berry’s dye acts as an absorber, helping the cell’s fibers capture more sunlight to convert into power, Carroll said in a release from the university Thursday.

“They’re weeds. They grow on every continent but Antarctica,” Carroll said.

Newly developed fiber-based solar cells can produce twice as much power as current flat-cell technology and are less expensive to produce, he said.

“It’s a low-cost solar cell that can be made to work with local, low-cost agricultural crops like pokeberries and with a means of production that emerging economies can afford,” Carroll said.

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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MIT Honors Rainwater System Inventor

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., April 28 (UPI) — B.P. Agrawal of Sustainable Innovations Corp. Wednesday won the Lemelson-Massachusetts Institute of Technology Award for Sustainability.

The $100,000 award honors Agrawal’s invention of technology that improves access to clean water, healthcare and business development in rural India.

“Agrawal’s creation of a community-driven rainwater harvesting system and mobile health clinics (has) the potential to improve the global public health system and better the quality of life for villagers in rural India,” Lemelson-MIT officials said in a statement.

Agrawal’s Aakash Ganga (River from the Sky) rainwater harvesting system is currently installed in six drought-prone villages in Rajasthan, the driest state in India.

“The AG system rents rooftops from homeowners and channels the rooftop rainwater through gutters and pipes to a network of underground storage reservoirs,” officials said. “This network of reservoirs is designed to provide 10-12 liters of water daily to every person in an entire village for a year; to date, it has helped 10,000 villagers gain access to clean water.”

Agrawal is also being recognized for creation of kiosk-based health clinics run by high school educated young women and designed to alleviate the shortage of trained medical staff and improve standardized treatment protocols for common ailments and preventable diseases in India.

He is to accept the award during a June ceremony at the Lemelson-MIT program’s fourth annual EurekaFest at the university.

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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MIT Honors Rainwater System Inventor

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., April 28 (UPI) — B.P Agrawal of Sustainable Innovations Corp. Wednesday won the Massachusetts Institute of Technology 2010 Lemelson-MIT Award for Sustainability.

The $100,000 award honors Agrawal’s invention of technology that improves access to clean water, healthcare and business development in rural India.

“Agrawal’s creation of a community-driven rainwater harvesting system and mobile health clinics (has) the potential to improve the global public health system and better the quality of life for villagers in rural India,” MIT said in a statement.

Agrawal’s Aakash Ganga (River from the Sky) rainwater harvesting system is currently installed in six drought-prone villages in Rajasthan, the driest state in India.

“The AG system rents rooftops from homeowners and channels the rooftop rainwater through gutters and pipes to a network of underground storage reservoirs,” officials said. “This network of reservoirs is designed to provide 10-12 liters of water daily to every person in an entire village for a year; to date, it has helped 10,000 villagers gain access to clean water.”

Agrawal is also being recognized for creation of kiosk-based health clinics run by high school educated young women and designed to alleviate the shortage of trained medical staff and improve standardized treatment protocols for common ailments and preventable diseases in India.

He is to accept the award during a June ceremony at the Lemelson-MIT program’s fourth annual EurekaFest at the university.

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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Drought May Have Led to Khmer's Collapse

NEW YORK, March 31 (UPI) — U.S.-led scientists say they have found evidence suggesting changing environmental factors, including drought, can cause a civilization’s collapse.

The researchers, led by Brendan Buckley of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, say decades of drought, interspersed with intense monsoon rains, may have helped bring about the fall of Cambodia’s ancient Khmer civilization at Angkor nearly 600 years ago.

The scientists reached their conclusion after conducting an analysis of tree rings — the longest tropical tree ring record studied to date.

Historians have offered various explanations for the fall of the Angkor civilization that stretched across much of Southeast Asia between the 9th and 14th centuries. But the scientists said their new findings offer the strongest evidence yet that two severe droughts, punctuated by bouts of heavy rainfall, may have weakened the empire by shrinking water supplies for drinking and agriculture, and damaging Angkor’s vast irrigation system, which was central to its economy.

The kingdom is thought to have collapsed in 1431 after a raid by Siamese from present-day Thailand.

“Angkor at that time faced a number of problems — social, political and cultural,” Buckley said. “Environmental change pushed the ancient Khmers to the limit and they weren’t able to adapt. I wouldn’t say climate caused the collapse, but a 30-year drought had to have had an impact.”

The research appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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