Climate and public-health communities are learning to speak each other’s language to improve decision making. Learn more: Watch a short video that the IRI communications crew put together. We used a Nikon D90 and Panasonic LX-3 for photos and some of the videos. We made the interviews with our trusty Canon Vixia.
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For the third year in a row, public-health professionals and climate scientists from around the world are visiting Columbia University’s Lamont campus, where the International Research Institute for Climate and Society is based, to learn how to use climate information to make better decisions for health-care planning and disease prevention. They’re taking part in the third Summer Institute on Climate Information for Public Health, organized by IRI, in partnership with the Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN) and Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health.
World leaders have grown increasingly concerned with finding ways to adapt to climate change and climate variability, which threatens the stability of many facets of life, such as energy, food, and water. Climate also affects the fundamental requirements for good health. The public health community recognizes the need to better understand climate’s role as a driver of infectious diseases such as malaria and meningitis, as well as its potential to change the geographic distribution of disease.
“Droughts, floods, changing rainfall and temperature patterns-these all can have severe impacts on public health, especially in developing countries,” says senior research scientist Madeleine Thomson. “They also often disrupt food production and limit access to safe drinking water, which in turn can make people sick and undernourished,” she says.
By understanding climate, its associated impacts and its potential predictability, decision makers can start responding proactively. “The IRI has its roots in strong climate science, with a goal to enhance society’s ability to understand and manage climate-related risks. That’s why we’re excited to again host a summer institute, bringing together a talented group of participants and our expert staff to explore the most effective ways to use climate information in decision making,” Thomson says.
Read the full story at the IRI web site.Filed under IRI related | Comment (0)
Forecasts by the International Research Institute for Climate and Society and other institutions show that a weak El Niño has developed in the equatorial Pacific, and is likely to continue evolving with warmer-than-normal conditions persisting there until early 2010.
Given this,the IRI is trying to use the opportunity to educate people about El Niño and its cooler sister, La Niña. We decided to do this by addressing some common misconceptions that our scientists come across when talking with people about these important climate phenomena. Such “list” stories are quite effective on the web and are favorites for people to spread via sharing and social networks.
I also kicked off a series of brief audio interviews with our top scientists to discuss how El Niño affects food production, health, water availability and other social concerns. By releasing these over a few months, I can keep communicating to journalists, policy makers, etc., that IRI staff has a deep and broad level of knowledge on the topic. Below are the first few paragraphs of the story. Enjoy, and share!
Forecasts by the IRI and other institutions show that a weak El Niño has developed in the equatorial Pacific, and is likely to continue evolving with warmer-than-normal conditions persisting there until early 2010.What exactly is this important climate phenomenon and why should society care about it? Who will be most affected? We address these questions as well as clear up some common misconceptions about El Niño, La Niña, and everything in between!
First, the basics.
El Niño refers to the occasional warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean around the equator. The warmer water tends to get only 1 to 3 degrees Celsius above average sea-surface temperatures for that area, although in the very strong El Niño of 1997-98, it reached 5 degrees or more above average in some locations. La Niña is the climatological counterpart to El Niño– a yin to its yang, so to speak. A La Niña is defined by cooler-than-normal sea-surface temperatures across much of the equatorial eastern and central Pacific. El Niño and La Niña episodes each tend to last roughly a year, although occasionally they may last 18 months or longer.
The Pacific is the largest ocean on the planet, so a significant change from its average conditions can have consequences for temperature, rainfall and vegetation in faraway places. In normal years, trade winds push warm water-and its associated heavier rainfall-westward toward Indonesia. But during an El Niño, which occurs on average once every three-to-five years, the winds peter out and can even reverse direction, pushing the rains toward South America instead. This is why we typically associate El Niño with drought in Indonesia and Australia and flooding in Peru. These changing climate conditions, combined with other factors, can have serious impacts on society, such as reduced crop harvests, wildfires, or loss of life and property in floods. There is also evidence that El Niño conditions increase the risk of certain vector-borne diseases, such as malaria, in places where they don’t occur every year and where disease control is limited.
During either an El Niño or a La Niña, we also observe changes in atmospheric pressure, wind and rainfall patterns in different parts of the Pacific, and beyond. An El Niño is associated with high pressure in the western Pacific, whereas a La Niña is associated with high pressure in the eastern Pacific. The ‘seesawing’ of high pressure that occurs as conditions move from El Niño to La Niña is known as the Southern Oscillation. The oft-used term El Niño-Southern Oscillation, or ENSO, reminds us that El Niño and La Niña episodes reflect changes not just to the ocean, but to the atmosphere as well.
ENSO is one of the main sources of year-to-year variability in weather and climate on Earth and has significant socioeconomic implications for many regions around the world. The development of a new El Niño episode in recent months offers an opportunity to clear up some common misconceptions about the climate phenomenon:
El Niño periods cause more disasters than normal periods. On a worldwide basis, this isn’t necessarily the case. But ENSO conditions do allow climate scientists to produce more accurate seasonal forecasts and help them better predict extreme drought or rainfall in several regions around the globe. (Read a 2005 paper on the topic here.)
On a regional level, however, we’ve seen that El Niño and La Niña exert fairly consistent influences on the climate of some regions. For example, El Niño conditions typically cause more rain to fall in Peru, and less rain to fall in Indonesia and Southern Africa. These conditions, combined with socioeconomic factors, can make a country or region more vulnerable to impacts.
“On the other hand, because El Niño enhances our ability to predict the climate conditions expected in these same regions, one can take advantage of that improved predictability to help societies improve preparedness, issue early warnings and reduce possible negative impacts,” says Walter Baethgen who runs IRI’s Latin America and the Carribbean regional program.
El Niño and La Niña significantly affect the climate in most regions of the globe. Actually, they significantly affect only about 25% of the world’s land surface during any particular season, and less than 50% of land surface during the entire time that ENSO conditions persist.
Regions that are affected by El Niño and La Niña see impacts during the entire 8 to 12 months that the climate conditions last. No. Most regions will only see impacts during one specific season, which may start months after the ENSO event first develops. For example, the current El Niño may cause the southern U.S. to get wetter-than-normal conditions in the December to March season, but Kenyans may see wetter-than-normal conditions between October and December.
El Niño episodes lead to adverse impacts only. Fires in southeast Asia, droughts in eastern Australia, flooding in Peru often accompany El Niño events. Much of the media coverage on El Niño has focused on the more extreme and negative consequences typically associated with the phenomenon. To be sure, the impacts can wreak havoc in developing and developed countries alike, but El Niño events are also associated with reduced frequency of Atlantic hurricanes, warmer winter temperatures in northern half of U.S., which reduce heating costs, and plentiful spring/summer rainfall in southeastern Brazil, central Argentina and Uruguay, which leads to above-average summer crop yields.
Read the rest of the story and listen to an audio interview with IRI’s Director-General, Steve Zebiak.Filed under IRI related | Comment (0)