Just posted a piece on the IRI home page about the latest La Niña. The map I show here tells us where and when in the world we can expect shifts in rainfall due to La Niña. We also produced a set of three video interviews of IRI scientists Lisa Goddard, Brad Lyon, Dave Dewitt and Paul Block, who share their knowledge of the La Niña – El Niño phenomenom, aka ENSO.
La Niña and Rainfall. For high res PDF (3.2mb)
As of mid-January, moderate-to-strong La Niña conditions continue to exist in the tropical Pacific. Scientists at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society expect these to linger, potentially causing additional shifts in rainfall patterns across many parts of the world in months to come. These shifts, combined with socioeconomic conditions and other factors, can make some parts of the world more vulnerable to impacts. However, La Niña conditions do allow the IRI and other institutions to produce more accurate seasonal forecasts and help better predict extreme drought or rainfall in some parts of the world. This enhanced predictability could help societies improve preparedness, issue early warnings and reduce any potentially negative impacts from La Niña.
“Based on current observations and on predictions from models, we see at least a 90% chance that La Niña conditions will continue through March 2011,” says IRI’s chief forecaster, Tony Barnston.
The term La Niña refers to a period of cooler-than-average sea-surface temperatures in the eastern and central equatorial Pacific Ocean that occurs as part of natural climate variability. This situation is roughly the opposite of what happens during El Niño events, when waters in this region are warmer-than-normal (see our past story on El Niño). Both are part of a larger climate cycle known as the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, or ENSO. Because the Pacific is the largest ocean on the planet, any significant changes in average conditions there, such as those that occur during La Niña or El Niño, can have consequences for temperature, rainfall and vegetation in faraway places.
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From the IRI web site
A massive scale-up in the distribution of insecticide-treated mosquito nets and other control programs are helping to protect more than half a billion people in sub-Saharan Africa against malaria, according to the World Health Organization. In its latest World Malaria Report, the organization cited these efforts as contributing to significant but fragile decreases in malaria cases and deaths in the region.
Worldwide, the WHO estimates deaths from malaria in 2009 were 781,000, about 200,000 fewer than they were in 2000. The most significant gains were made in Africa, where the disease extracts the heaviest burden on society. There, eleven countries saw cases and deaths drop by at least half between 2008 and 2010. Additionally, in 32 countries outside of Africa where malaria is considered to be endemic–occurring year-round–the number of confirmed cases also dropped by more than half. However, some countries, such as Rwanda, São Tomé and Príncipe, and Zambia showed a worrying reversal to this trend in malaria cases in 2009, highlighting the need for constant vigilance and careful assessment of the roles that socioeconomic and environmental factors, including climate, play in driving these changes.
“The news coming out of the WHO report is overall very encouraging, but we still need to know if any of the changes in malaria trends are really a result of the interventions and not due to other factors, such as a drought,” says Madeleine Thomson, a senior research scientist at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society, which is also a PAHO/WHO Collaborating Centre for Climate Sensitive Diseases. “Knowing this would improve the quality of our impact assessment,” she says.IRI related | Comment (0)
Latest from the IRI:
Earlier this month, U.S. President Barack Obama and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced a new era of collaboration on agricultural research in the face of climate change. In fact, efforts have been underway since 2009: the Earth Institute’s International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) has been working for the past two years with India’s Ministry of Agriculture and other institutions to improve forecasts of the seasonal monsoon rains that water much of the nation’s farms, and to help farmers manage drought.
“Cooperation between Indian and American researchers and scientists sparked the Green Revolution,” said Obama during a Nov. 8 joint session of India’s Parliament in New Delhi. “Now, as farmers and rural areas face the effects of climate change and drought, we’ll work together to spark a second, more sustainable Evergreen Revolution.” He and Singh later issued a joint pledge to pursue initiatives on clean energy, health and jobs, as well as agriculture and climate.
Shiv Someshwar, director of the IRI’s Asia and Pacific regional program, said that the two leaders “sent a clear signal that scientific and technological advancements in managing weather and climate risks are critical for making rural communities more resilient. The dual emphasis on better climate prediction and its uptake by farmers and policy makers is exactly right. The IRI’s work with Indian partners over the past two years has been built on this very premise.”
More than 60 percent of farmland in India lacks irrigation, and thus depends on monsoonal rains, which come roughly from late May to early October. A failed monsoon often means complete loss of a crop, and even below-average rainfall often results in increased food prices and hurts economic growth. The government spends massive sums on drought relief–according to the agriculture ministry, about $5 billion during the last major drought, in 2002. A lesser, but still damaging, drought took place in 2009.
These costs have sparked interest in identifying ways to plan ahead, particularly as concern grows over the potential for climate change to affect monsoon cycles. IRI’s effort is funded by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and India’s Ministry of Agriculture, which together plan to issue detailed forecasts to farmers starting in the 2011 rainy monsoon season. The IRI project, known as the Extended Range Forecast System for Climate Risk Management in Agriculture, is aimed not only improving the forecasts, but helping farmers and policy makers prepare early for adverse conditions. In addition to conducting field-based research, IRI has co-hosted training events in India and sponsored Indian scientists for research visits to the United States to improve their forecasting and risk-management abilities. Partners include the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi; India Meteorological Department; National Center for Medium-Range Forecasting; Indian Council of Agricultural Research, and a number of state agricultural universities. For full details, visit the project home page or download this flyer.
Below are Obama’s remarks about agriculture. (The entire transcript of his speech is here):
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Together, we can strengthen agriculture. Cooperation between Indian and American researchers and scientists sparked the Green Revolution. Today, India is a leader in using technology to empower farmers, like those I met yesterday who get free updates on market and weather conditions on their cell phones. And the United States is a leader in agricultural productivity and research. Now, as farmers and rural areas face the effects of climate change and drought, we’ll work together to spark a second, more sustainable Evergreen Revolution
Together, we’re improving Indian weather forecasting systems before the next monsoon season. We aim to help millions of Indian farmers — farming households save water and increase productivity, improve food processing so crops don’t spoil on the way to market, and enhance climate and crop forecasting to avoid losses that cripple communities and drive up food prices.
And as part of our food security initiative, we’re going to share India’s expertise with farmers in Africa. And this is an indication of India’s rise — that we can now export hard-earned expertise to countries that see India as a model for agricultural development. It’s another powerful example of how American and Indian partnership can address an urgent global challenge.
I am very happy to report that my colleague, Alessandra Giannini, a research scientist at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society, has been awarded a National Science Foundation CAREER award to advance our understanding of climate model projections in the African Sahel, a semi-arid region south of the Sahara Desert that stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea.
[I also shot a quick video interview with Ale. Had much fun with it. I used our trusty Kodak zi8 HD record with a lapel mic. The interview part took about an hour, and then I used iMovie to edit a better-than-rough cut in about 3 hours. IRI's design guru, Jason, added the final polish. Click on the embedded movie to listen to Ale discuss her work, as well as her thoughts on becoming a scientist. Now for the rest of the story...]
The Faculty Early Career Development Program, known as CAREER, is the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious award for junior professors that are exemplary “teacher-scholars” who can integrate education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations.
At the heart of Giannini’s research is a quest to understand why 21st century climate-change projections diverge in the Sahel and other parts of the developing world.
“Anthropogenic climate change is expected to affect less-developed societies with greater severity, yet it’s in the tropics, where these societies are located, that projections of change, especially of changes in regional rainfall, have the greatest uncertainty” , says Giannini.
The global models that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change uses in its assessments are inconsistent for the Sahel. Some of the models project the region to become wetter than it is currently, while others project it to be dryer, she says. “Having a better grasp of the situation is critical, because this region is highly vulnerable to rainfall variability and change.”
In the 1970s and 80s, the Sahel suffered from devastating droughts and famines that killed hundreds of thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to migrate elsewhere. Giannini and her colleagues at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and at Texas A&M University conclusively demonstrated that those droughts could have been caused not by deforestation and land-use change, but by changes in global ocean temperatures. They published their results in the journal Science in 2003.
The CAREER award will fund Giannini’s work for five years, and includes support for a doctoral student in climate science. In their research, Giannini and the student will analyze output from global models that diverge in order to try to identify any mechanisms attributable to natural variability, land use change or global warming. They will then look for the ‘fingerprints’ of such mechanisms in actual observations of the Earth’s atmosphere collected by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Atmospheric Radiation Measurement Mobile Facility (AMF) in Niamey, Niger – in the heart of the Sahel. The AMF is a portable laboratory equipped with a suite of instruments designed to collect data on clouds and other components of the atmosphere. Finally, they will test sensitivity in the models’ behavior to such mechanisms with carefully crafted simulations.
Reaching out to the Columbia Community
Giannini’s CAREER award also funds a particularly interesting educational component. She will be working with Columbia’s Institute of African Studies to develop lessons and materials that benefit community organizations and public schools in Harlem, a historically African-American neighborhood near Columbia University with a sizable immigrant population from West African countries such as Senegal and Mali. Her aim is to teach climate-change science to high-school students from an environmental justice perspective, using air pollution as a way to connect local and global issues.
“I applaud Dr. Giannini’s willingness to share knowledge, broaden connections between people and ideas and create opportunities for participatory growth,” says Mamadou Diouf, the director of the Institute of African Studies.
Giannini wants to open up dialogue with immigrant community organizations in Harlem to share perspectives on climate change and its impacts. “Of great interest to me is to understand how they understand and explain drought, which may have ultimately led them to leave their countries. It’s a mutual education – reaching a common understanding can help the IRI build projects in the region so it and its partners can act in the best informed way possible, with local support, to help avert the worst consequences of future change.”
Immigrants routinely contribute to the survival of their communities of origin through remittances. Ultimately, Giannini hopes that scientific knowledge will empower them to learn from the past in order to shape a different future – a future that confronts head-on the same problems of poverty eradication and sustainable development that form the core of the mission of the IRI.
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