Water shortages rising across globe, but especially in India

May 18, 2009

water-scarcity-Inda

Jaymi Heimbuch reports on a recent report from Grail Research on water shortages across the globe.

From her summary at TreeHugger:

Key findings from the study include:

By 2025, India, China and select countries in Europe and Africa will face water scarcityif adequate and sustainable water management initiatives are not implemented, and an estimated 3 Billion people will be living below the water stress threshold.

Although low and middle income developing countries currently have low per capita water consumption, rapid growth in population and inefficient use of water across sectors is expected to lead to a water shortage in the future. Developed countries will need to focus on reducing consumption through better management and practices.

By 2050, per capita water availability in India is expected to drop by about 44% due to growing populations and higher demand, as well as higher pollution levels.

The report takes a fascinating look at how water demands are changing, the policies currently in place, projected policies, and the future of fresh water across the planet, but with a very specific look at India. The numbers, while frightening, also show where change is possible and disaster avoidable…if the warning signs are heeded.


GPS accuracy could start to drop in 2010

May 17, 2009

gps

A new US GAO report has found that organisational factors in the US Air Force’s contracting and budget management process may result in decreased accuracy or even failure of the global GPS system, starting in 2010.

From the report:

The Global Positioning System (GPS), which provides positioning, navigation, and timing data to users worldwide, has become essential to U.S. national security and a key tool in an expanding array of public service and commercial applications at home and abroad. The United States provides GPS data free of charge. The Air Force, which is responsible for GPS acquisition, is in the process of modernizing GPS. In light of the importance of GPS, the modernization effort, and international efforts to develop new systems, GAO was asked to undertake a broad review of GPS.

The report reviewed the Air Force’s replacement programme for the ageing GPS satellites and that,

“If the Air Force does not meet its schedule goals for development of GPS IIIA satellites, there will be an increased likelihood that in 2010, as old satellites begin to fail, the overall GPS constellation will fall below the number of satellites required to provide the level of GPS service that the U.S. government commits to. Such a gap in capability could have wide-ranging impacts on all GPS users, though there are measures the Air Force and others can take to plan for and minimize these impacts.”

It concludes, “it is uncertain whether the Air Force will be able to acquire new satellites in time to maintain current GPS service without interruption. If not, some military operations and some civilian users could be adversely affected.”

Commentary

We have become so dependent on GPS in many ways over the last 5 to 10 years.  Crowd sourced crisis mapping, rapid disaster response, and large force co-ordination all depend on GPS and location awareness abilities.

I would love to see a scenario play out whereby aid, development and military organisations invest increasing resource on such advanced location aware technologies, only to have them fail or decay.  What would such a scenario look like?

Obviously the US military won’t let the system fail.  A commentary on TidBITS writes that, “even if the satellite constellation drops below 24 satellites, that doesn’t mean that GPS service will fail altogether. It does mean that the level of accuracy that both military and civilian users have become accustomed to – which is actually higher than promised – may degrade significantly.”

Alternative systems also may come online in the coming years.  The EU is developing a civilian GPS system called Galileo, scheduled to come online in 2013, and the Russian GLONOSS system may be repaired as well (the system was developed in 1995, but fell into disrepair due to lack of funds.  It has been promised to come back online by 2010, but there are doubts about this).

It is likely that the US Air Force will fix the system before disruptions become critical.  It is also likely, however given the history of bureaucracy and budgetary inflation at the Pentagon (see the F-111, B-1, or F-15 debacles for case studies), that these repairs won’t be done in a timely or efficient manner, but only at great expense and with great fanfare and inefficiency after the fact.


Sea level rise threat from West Antarctic ice sheet may be lower than previously believed

May 15, 2009

A new paper in Science suggests that the potential contribution to sea level rise from a collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet has been “greatly overestimated.”

The paper suggests that should the ice sheet collapse, global sea levels will rise will only 3.3 metres, not the five or six previously thought.

The Atlantic and Pacific seaboards of the US, even in the case of a partial collapse, would experience the largest increases, threatening cities such as New York, Washington DC and San Francisco.

Whew, I feel safe now.  Interestingly, paper does not revise estimations of how probable such a collapse might be.  It does offer what appears to be a more complex and possibly realistic assessment of the mechanics of such a collapse, should it occur.

Instead of assuming a complete disintegration of the whole WAIS, Bamber and colleagues used models, based on glaciological theory, to simulate how the massive ice sheet would respond if the floating ice shelves fringing the continent broke free. Vast ice shelves currently block the WAIS from spilling into the Weddell and Ross Seas, limiting total ice loss to the ocean.

The full press release can be found here.


Hans Rosling Video Gapcast: Swine Flu News versus Death Ratio

May 11, 2009

Hans Rosling, of Gapminder fame, recently posted a humorous and perspective-inducing video comparing the number of deaths from swine flu to those from tuberculosis.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

The famous Swedish statistician compares the amount of media coverage for swine flu to that of tuberculosis, normalised by the number of deaths caused by each in a two week period.

Obviously swine flu has pandemic potential and could still make a break for the big time, in substance if not in coverage alone.  But this is nonetheless a lovely measure of calm in the midst of an otherwise pandemic-crazy,  catastrophe prone outlook.

Many thanks to Infosthetics for the tip.


OECD eXplorer online: beautiful and useful data visualization tool

April 7, 2009

oecd

The OECD recently announced a new version of its OECD eXplorer [stats.oecd.org], a well concieved and useful web-tool for analyzing regional statistics. The new online geographic visualization focuses on regional and state, has a range of powerful features, and a very useful and attractive user interface.  

The data is based on OECD Regional Database, containing 30 indicators measuring demography, economic and labour market performance, education, healthcare, environmental outputs and knowledge-based activities.

The tool lets you view trends over time through animation, explore the structure of regional economies through a scatterplot and a parallel coordinate panel, presenting very compelling stories bout the statistics through interactive visualization.  You can even load and explore your own data, write your own stories and share them with others.


Climate: 1, Geoengineering: 0, Ocean iron fertilization experiment doesn’t work as planned

March 29, 2009
Satellitenaufnahme der Chlorophyllkonzentrationen

Satellite image of sea-surface chlorophyll concentrations with our bloom encircled. Note much larger natural bloom on the upper right and the generally higher values in the southeast than elsewhere. Graphic: NASA (http://oceancolor.gsfc.nasa.gov)

The verdict from one of the first real world geoengineering experiments?  It didn’t work (but they learned a lot).

A team of scientists from the German National Institute of Oceaonography and the Alfred Wegener Institute recently attempted one of the first large scale experiments in oceanic geoengineering.  

The team fertilized a 300 square kilometre patch of ocean with six tonnes of dissolved iron in an effort to sequester excess CO2.  The idea was that certain kinds of plankton eat the iron, die, then sink to the bottom of the ocean, taking tonnes of CO2 with them.  Unfortunately it didn’t work as expected.

From the press release:

The cooperative project Lohafex has yielded new insights on how ocean ecosystems function. But it has dampened hopes on the potential of the Southern Ocean to sequester significant amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) and thus mitigate global warming.

Why did it dampen hopes?  Christine Lepisto has an excellent summary over at Treehugger.  She writes:

The experiment started out following scientists’ predictions. After the addition of the iron source to the swirling current, phytoplankton biomass doubled, as can be seen by the orange-reddish swirl in the NASA image above. But the growth was mainly a soft and tasty algae called Phaeocystis. Other little creatures, known as copepods, moved in quickly to gobble up the algae, soon followed by shrimp-like amphipods which lunched on the copepods. Ultimately, these amphipods end up in the bellies of squid and fin whales, so maybe iron fertilization could be a geo-engineering solution for supporting these top-of-the-food-chain species. But certainly, the experiment did not result in tons of CO2 safely sequestered on the ocean floor, proving the iron fertilization hypothesis not yet ripe for geo-engineering scale games with mother nature.

The experiments were not a failure from a scientific point of view, the press release notes that a tremendous amount of new data and information was gained.  But it does suggest that iron fertilisation is unlikely to be a solution to our climate change concerns.

This experimental data confirms many of the anxieties of commentators writing about geoengineering, which we have previously covered here (“Irreversible Climate Change, Meet Unstoppable Political Force”).


Free guide to GIS mapping for aid organisations

March 27, 2009

mapaction

MapAction just published a free guide to GIS mapping for aid organisations.

The guide covers quite a comprehensive range of topics, from basic mapping concepts, through to data entry, up to issues of data sharing and representation.

From the introduction:

The guide was written to meet the need for practical, step-by-step advice for aid workers who wish to use free and open-source resources to produce maps both at field and headquarters levels. The first edition contains an introduction to the topic of GIS, followed by chapters focused on the use of two recommended free software tools: Google Earth, and MapWindow. However much of the guidance is also relevant for users of other software. In addition there is a chapter on using GPS to collect data during humanitarian emergencies.

The full report can be found here.  This is the first time we’ve come across MapAction as an organisation.  Has anyone worked with them before?  Does anyone know how this relates to the Crisis Mappers group?