Tuesday, January 30, 2007

In the Philippines El Nino Means Drought and Huge Carbon Release

According to Columbia University's International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) El Nino cycles are associated with drought in the Philippines.

"Droughts are not generally associated with the Philippines, a country known for its steamy tropical marine climate. But during El Niño cycles, much of the country experiences moderate-to-severe dry periods that can last for a season or more."

This causes a range of problems, both social and environmental.

"[In] Manila, home to more than 10 million people, it is drought — not typhoons — that has led to rising tensions between urban dwellers and farmers who work just outside the city."

"According to the IRI, during El Niño, the water inflows into the Angat reservoir are often significantly decreased, placing substantial duress on the domestic water supply and irrigation needs of farmers."

Whilst the verdict is still open on how the El Nino effect will be altered by climate change, the prevailing view seems to be that the base state of the atmosphere--the normal mode--will become more El Nino like. According to RealClimate there is still much uncertainty as to how this will effect the events themselves, will the fluctuations remain the same (which would lead to more extreme floods and droughts if the atmosphere is already El Nino like) or will the events be tempered (leading to similar levels of extreme events)?

One very recent paper in the journal Nature suggests that extreme droughts and floods will indeed become more prevalent. According to RedBolivia:

Climate experts say new evidence suggests Indonesia's seasonal rains will diminish as global temperatures continue to rise.

That could mean a devastating blow to the country's tropical agriculture and spark more haze-producing wildfires each year.

A new study used samples of coral to track rainfall patterns from more than 6,000 years ago. The study was published a few days ago in the journal Nature.

Study co-author Nerilie Abram says the new data suggest an unexpected link between monsoons and droughts in countries surrounding the Indian Ocean.

"And so the implication is that with monsoon strengthening we expect that parts of Asia and India, where you receive monsoon rainfall, are likely to get wetter. But the knock-on effect is that parts of Indonesia and Australia are likely to get dryer," said Abram.

This year's drought in Indonesia is caused partly by a natural cycle of cooling in the Indian Ocean much like the El Nino phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean.

Despite this latest piece of science leading us to suspect a link between climate change and ever stronger droughts in Indonesia the media are by and large continuing there miserable failure to connect the dots. The International Herald Tribune writes that inflation is up in Indonesia but completely fails to mention any possible link between climate change and this economic effect! Another issue where there is no definitive evidence of a climatic cause but where this link is extremely likely and where key drivers are certainly environmental rather than political is the situation in Dar fur, but this is miraculously under reported.

Drought in Indonesia is, however, not simply worrying for the farmers and the nations economy but for the global community. Thanks to rampant deforestation of old growth rain forest and the expansion of agriculture--particularly palm oil plantations into the heart of Indonesia--the number of forest fires has increased dramatically. These fires are not, however limited to the dessicated fringes of rain forest but in many cases have led to the burning of the peat substrate on which the rain forests and newly planted crops reside. Palm oil production in particular is having disastrous effects on the global carbon cycle, high carbon bogs have to be drained in order to create palm oil plantations. Greenhouse gas emissions from this process across Indonesia have insured that in times of extreme drought due to strong El Nino Indonesia has--according to many estimates--supplanted the US for a time as the worlds largest contributor to climate change. Palm oil is, ironically, being used more and more as a source of that green fuel Biodiesil!

Further Reading:

Palm Oil and Peat Fires in Indonesia: Biofuelwatch
Indonesia, Peat Fires and Climate Change: New Scientist
Dar fur and Climate Change: Climate Change News

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