Archive for the ‘climate change’ Category

What does it take to empower citizens vv climate change?

Thursday, April 19th, 2012

Jacqueline McGlade, head of the European Environment Agency asks How do we empower citizens in the face of climate change?.

People power is at the heart of the effort to beat climate change, says Professor Jacqueline McGlade, head of the European Environment Agency. In this week’s Green Room, she says that the task is so great, and the timescale so tight, that we can no longer wait for governments and businesses to act.

To address this urgent need the European Environment Agency (EEA) is working with the European Union, developing new systems to engage citizens as suppliers and users of environmental data.

I think this is a fantastic initiative but this is going to be more challenging than EEA thinks. Especially if they wish to tie this to citizen empowerment–significant ability for citizens to influence the direction of science and policy. The data requires a great deal of formal coordination. You don’t want to dump any scientific observation into one general site. The reporting needs to be structured and tailored to specific scientific problems. As we’ve seen in species sites (e.g., e-flora) you may need genus and species names. Water quality reporting may require flow rate, sedimentation and temperature readings.

All science is not equal: citizen engagement with atmospheric science is not going to be as easy as biological reporting. No disrespect to biology. Indeed, I think it’s a credit to biology that there’s greater citizen understanding of that set of scientific practices. A lot of training is needed to correctly report the science. Brian Klinkenberg reports that different strategies are needed for errors in location reporting versus errors in content (attribute) reporting. Providing the correct taxonomy alone is challenging. Brian reports that citizens get the number of spots–the species id–on a ladybug wrong 70% of the time. Even providing observations on water/beach conditions is hard. We can use all the tech we want. Uploading photos to a website alone; this does not equal empowerment.

Don’t engineer the planet to adapt to climate change; do it to humans

Monday, March 26th, 2012

Ran across this provocative article adaptation strategies for climate change adaptation. If we cannot halt the emission of GHGs into the atmosphere (even if we could, we can do little about the lag), if the adaptation (e.g,. sea walls) doesn’t work then perhaps we should try human engineering. It’s based on the idea that we might geoengineer the world to prevent or dampen the impacts of climate change. But the world may ultimately be the wrong target. In all the time since the Kyoto Accord, emissions have actually increased and Canada has even dropped out. Perhaps instead we should engineer humans. The article is a thought-experiment, an ethical exercise in whether we should consider it.

BTW, the authors’ suggestions?

  • Create an aversion to red meat.
  • Make humans smaller.
  • Reduce birth rates through cognitive enhancements.
  • Pharmacological enhance emotions of altruism and empathy (i.e., make us appreciate other humans and animals more)

Remote Sensing satellites track impact of climate change

Monday, March 26th, 2012

Satellite images have helped scientists assess the impact of climate change on ecosystems by looking at areas untouched by human activity, showing that climate change predictions are already underway in some parts of Africa.”

Climate change apps

Saturday, March 17th, 2012

Another cool geospatial web 2.0 app about climate change impacts of sea level rise.

Hockey v. Hockey Stick

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

Canadian hockey may be disappearing but climate change hockey stick remains. Unfortunately.

Kudos to Concordia U. and fellow member of GEC3, Damon Matthews, who is an author of the study, Observed decreases in the Canadian outdoor skating season due to recent winter warming in Environmental Research Letters.

Twitter to the rescue of climate change arguments

Friday, November 5th, 2010

From PopSci:

Getting into a climate change debate on Twitter could be even more exhausting than it sounds now that a software developer named Nigel Leck has automated the process. Tired of arguing with climate change deniers in 140 character quips, the programmer wrote a script to do it for him. Chatbot @AI_AGW scans Twitter every five minutes searching for hundreds of phrases that fit the usual denier argument paradigm. Then it serves them up some science.

preserving North American indigenous cultures with GIS

Monday, December 28th, 2009

Thanks, NM for this post…

GIS is the branch of geography that generates the most interest from the wider public these days, with geographic apps ranging from Google Maps to trip advisor. Yet when it comes to talk up about its integration in indigenous communities, this optimism suddenly turns into mistrust because of the history of Western imposition of culture (including technology!) on traditional cultures. Nevertheless, it has been proved in many of those same communities that it can constitute an effective tool for perpetuating their cultures.

The idea is fairly simple. By going into North American Native communities, researchers have been able to collect certain types of information on the environment and pinpoint it in GISs, which can then be used to educate the community. This information includes photographs, videos, stories and other traditional knowledge elements in both English and the local language. An example of this is the Names-Places Project, which has been active in Idaho with the Coeur d’Alene Tribe for more than fifteen years and for which Elders have shared their knowledge about the environment.

According to senior archeologist Ben Hjermstad, who works with Saskatchewan’s First Nations, it is a good way to contribute to youth education. “It is showing them how people have used the land for hundreds of generations” as he says, while also creating “a link between the Elders of the nation and the youth”. GIS also can be a useful tool for land management for indigenous peoples as it displays both scientific and cultural information about the landscape, thereby giving them greater ability to negotiate when a development project is proposed to the community. For instance, if a project of forestry activity comes up in the nation, they will know whether or not the area is already reserved for gathering traditional medicinal plants or if it contains burial grounds.

It is clear that such a body of cultural information might end up in the hands of malicious people if it were to be available to everyone. This is why a confidentiality agreement, which stipulates that the information displayed on the maps is the local communities’ property, exists between First Nations and the people who help create the maps, and why indigenous communities are glad that they can password-protect those maps.

Many indigenous peoples like the idea that there is a way to digitally take stock of their environment, but their satisfaction lies in the fact that this information can also be cultural. Indeed, this method may enable them to perpetuate a rich culture that is intertwined with a deep respect for nature. “The land is our heaven and our wealth” says Innovative GIS Solutions president Jhon Goes In Center, a Lakota Indian in Fort Collins, Colorado. Moreover, the fact that such work can be made available in both English and indigenous languages, that is in the languages the people who both study and live the effects of land exploitation, might also show an open-mindedness that will prove increasingly fruitful as issues such as climate change must be addressed.

assessing sea level rise using geographic information systems

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

Increased attention is given to environmental issues at the meeting of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. As carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere due to anthropologenic activities, more and more solar radiation gets trapped inside Earth’s atmosphere, increasing the average temperature. This had a direct impact on continental glaciers as well as alpine glaciers, causing them to melt and flow into the oceans. A large part of Earth’s freshwater (about 70%) is stored in glaciers, which is why their melting has the potential to increase sea levels of several meters. This rise can cause many problems for people living on islands or in coastal regions. As water rises, part of land will be completely submerged and others will get severely eroded due to the increase in wave energy and increased storm magnitudes. Expensive operations like community relocation or community protection will have to be put in place in order to avoid human losses. To be able to assess the need for action, several methods have been developed, using GIS.

Scientists at the University of Kansas have developed a technique for analysing the internal structure of glacial ice, which will then help them assess the status of the glacier. When more ice melts from the glacier than is accumulated due to precipitation, the glacier shrinks. This is the current state of most of he world’s glaciers. Although they have rates of decrease that seem insignificant at a human time scale, these rates are very fast when analysed at a geological time scale. By looking at glacial profiles using radar, not ice cores, the analysis becomes less time-consuming and data easier to gather although the costs may be higher.

In Australia, GIS is incorporated in a climate model to allow for the fast first analysis of impacts of sea level rise at the scale of a beach. This method is cost-effective as it does not involve expensive aerial photography on a range of years. It allows a management committee to have an overview of the upcoming situation without spending large amounts of money that could be better invested in damage control.

For the general public, a Google Maps application has been developed to visualize sea level rise. Users can choose three values of sea level rise, each of which corresponds to a colour. When the user runs the app, a series of coloured dots appear on the landmasses displayed on Google Maps. The use of this app requires no computing skills and is very fast. It is perfect for educational purposes or for aspiring environmentalists, although it is insufficiently accurate to use for spatial analysis that would eventually lead to decision making.

thanks to CA, Intro to GIS, for the post.

Canada sucks when it comes to the digital innovations

Tuesday, December 9th, 2008

h/t to gizmo for pointing this out to me. For a mild-mannered broadcaster, one of their blogs is blunt and absolutely correct.

Here are three things that suck about being Canadian right now:

  1. Last week the CRTC sided with Bell against a group of small Internet Service Providers who want to offer their customers unthrottled connections where what they download is their own business and not subject to interference.
  2. In last week’s throne speech the Conservative government renewed their intention to “modernize” Canadian [Crown] copyright law. Their effort to do so last session was Bill C-61, a woefully unbalanced and retrograde piece of legislation that led to the greatest citizen backlash to any proposed bill in recent memory. Yet there has been no indication from new Industry Minister Tony Clement that a much-needed public consultation will take place. The best he has offered is the possibility of a “slightly different” version of the bill.
  3. Twitter has just announced that they are killing outbound SMS messaging in Canada due to exorbitant and constant rate hikes from Canadian cell providers (former Industry Minister Jim Prentice vowed to get tough on SMS price gouging, then backpeddled). Cell phone rates in Canada are among the highest in the world, and the result is that mobile penetration is pathetically low and that emerging new cultural platforms like Twitter are being hobbled.

These decisions absolutely blow my mind. In this post, I’ll address the implications for #1. Our weakling telephone companies are able to restrict trade in a massive way, squeezing out third party purchasers of broadband. So much for the mom-and-pop ISP. The telecoms can use existing deficiencies in fibre optics as an excuse to packet-shape. But they’ve eliminated the incentive to ever increase the transmission pipes. More importantly, the CRTC action has enormous free speech implications because Bell/Sympatico can sloooow down any criticism of its practices. Additionally, telecoms essentially can eliminate innovations in P2P. Sure the overwhelming use of P2P always will be illegal activities. However, P2P is also becoming a standard for sharing large and legitimate datasets. Climate change or bioinformatics information are good candidates for P2P. Has the Canadian federal government been deaf to the whole net neutrality debate?

Canada’s Forests and climate change

Monday, December 1st, 2008

Do forests contribute to Canada’s GHG emissions?

In Canada, the responsibility for forests is shared among federal, provincial and territorial governments. The forest sector needs to further transform, and the impacts of a changing climate have to be considered in every aspect of the management of Canada’s forests. Reports from the IPCC and the Canadian research community have clearly documented the potential effects of a warming climate on Canada’s forests: large-scale fires in western and northern forests are likely to increase, earlier snowmelt in western areas may also affect late-season stream flows, and forest insect populations that were limited in their distribution by cold winter temperatures now seem more likely to spread.

Forest ecosystems store large quantities of carbon in living trees (approximately 50% of wood weight is carbon), surface litter and soils, and because carbon is released when forests burn and when organic matter decomposes, forest ecosystems are an important factor when considering greenhouse gas emissions. Depending on the stage of development of its different stands of trees, a forest is either a net sink of carbon (it removes carbon from the atmosphere) or a net source of carbon. One of the key points W. Kurz made during his lecture was that Canada has now a mature forest, becoming more of a source of carbon than a carbon sink. So “conservation” as it is generally understood might even make things worse; logging, far from being the one thing to avoid, is the answer to both providing the timber and other products the market is in need for and also to allow afforestation in the logged areas in order to maintain the balance between carbon capturing and release.

So are Canada’s forests an advantage when it comes to climate change or an impediment in the mitigating actions? The answer relies heavily on what we intend to do with such a natural resource, and this is why forest management plays such a key role.

Assessing the Effects of Climate Change on Glaciated Climbing Routes

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

From GM, Intro to GIS.

Alpinism is a discipline steeped in history and tradition, iconic images of redoubtable landscapes, and bone chilling cold. However, climate change is rapidly altering the glaciated ranges of the world, essentially changing the alpinist’s playing field. Now, the collective history of climbs contained in glaciated ranges and the future prospects of the discipline itself are beginning to melt away.
Already climbers are noticing the effects of climate change on established climbing routes. Glacial recession is in some cases is changing the nature of “classic routes”, making them more dangerous or even impassable.

GIS along with crowdsourcing may prove to be a useful tool in assessing the extent of glacial recession in relation to existing climbing routes. To this end, it could assist alpinist in trip planning by providing information about recent glacial change in areas that, because of their remoteness, may not have current information.

Ideally, a series of DEM’s or remotely sensed images could be collected for an area of interest (e.g. one image every 5 years for the last 20 years). Next, individual images would be used as a base landscape layer in a GIS. A climber, familiar with the area, could digitize his or her climbing routes (this task would be simplified by using the landscape layer as a digitizing base because many climbing routes follow obvious landscape features like ridges). By overlaying the digitized climbing routes layer onto the various landscape layers, any significant change in glaciers that intersects climbing routes would become obvious. Temporal changes could be assessed by comparing the climbing routes layer with multiple DEM’s or remotely sensed images. If more precision were desired, glaciers could be converted into polygons in a vector GIS, or to a land area type in a raster; with Boolean algebra, for example, all the glaciers that intersect climbing routes could be isolated.

From here analysis could begin to quantify glacial change in relation to climbing routes. For most alpinist the most utility would come from the simpler overlay operation. This output would allow climbers, who are generally perceptive to landscape features on a map, a tool to asses relevant changes evident in glacial extent.

As alpinism begins to reorient itself within the context of a warmer climate, GIS, with the Internet, could emerge as a kind of “new school” interactive guidebook: an alpinisim specific Geoweb application perhaps. A web site that featured the spatial output of the previously mentioned process could be made interactive. Climbers that have recently climbed a featured route could add pushpins (like Google maps) that include details about sections of routes that have been altered by glacial recession. In this way, GIS output coupled with user-generated content could improve the scope of information available by combining climbers’ anecdotes with spatial data: a kind of participatory GIS.

I have not found any one person, group or organization doing this exact type of analysis, but there are some examples that closely resemble the general idea. The USDA Forest Service, Mt. Shasta Avalanche Center and Wilderness Department, have GIS maps of climbing routes on Mt. Shasta. Also, the US National Parks Service, has an interesting GIS of climbing routes on Denali and Mt. Foraker.

GIS and Coral Reef Management and Conservation on the American Samoa

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

From another student in Intro GIS.

The independent state of Samoa, located in the South Pacific Ocean, possesses an incredible rich coral reef system. However, the reef is in poor shape because of environmental catastrophes and anthrogenic effects. The reef was damaged not only by the two large hurricanes (Ofa and Val) in the early 1990s, but also by a subsequent infestation of starfish and by coral bleaching. Human impacts–there’s a large footprint in terms of mining, construction, agriculture and sewerage–are also harming the coral reef.

Research to improve the health of the ecosystem are crucial. One big problem of Samoa is its remote location that makes data collection difficult. Researchers at the Oregon State University are currently working on the creation of benthic maps, web-based information System and education modules on GIS for the population of Samoa.

In a presentation, Dr. Dawn Wright, from the Oregon State, explains the use of geospatial technologies on Samoa and their usefulness for reef coral conservation and management. The first important technology is a multibeam investigation to figure out the bathymetry of the coral reef communities. The second technology is GIS, which would permit, as said before, the mapping of resources to improve management and decision-making.

Many reasons promote further research in mapping technologies on Samoa. Researchers like Dr. Wright want not only to identify the geological characteristics of the ocean floor, but also to identify the organisms that live in the Samoan coral reefs environment. Also, an algae bloom was identified in 1996, implying a nutrient boost in the coral reef environment that needs to be identified and monitored. Moreover, it is important to identify which sites are of high importance to prioritize their conservation.

Paving the way for further discussions, Dr. Wright explains that GIS is important because it permits the study of the structure, the change and the function of the coral reefs. This allows for real-time management because of the ability to follow the physical modifications on a regular basis. She also explains that other scientists in other regions were able to analyze coral reef ecology using GIS.

The US Center for Coastal Management and Assessment is tasked with advancing research on coastal and marine ecosystems. (The CCMA is part of NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS)). Its biogeography branch is tasked with gathering information about living marine habitats, including reefs. The CCMA Biogeography Branch decided in 2004 to map the coral reef and other benthic habitats’ distributions in American Samoa. The project includes a CD-ROM with maps, satellite imagery and GIS technologies. The most recent completed work is impressively precise and detailed. It includes 34 benthic zones with 51 square miles of ocean floor maps.

I won’t comment but … ;)

Saturday, November 8th, 2008

Never say Never, this is soooo classic… I put often myself in trouble when I am saying that. haha!  I sent an email to you guys last week mentioning that I would not comment on the seminar/debate that I went too (The Lorne Trottier Public Science Symposium Series-Origin of Ethics given last Thursday, November 6th 2008).  I know… It will not count as an essay or comment for 650 because I was alone of our class. Anyway, this is not where I want to go.

This morning, I had suddenly inspiration and thought that it would be relatively important to share the stuff that I had in mind with you!  The inspiration came from the Today (Saturday November 8th 2008) Montreal Gazette’s front page where you can read an article on the ECO-SYSTEM ECOLOGY + ECONOMY.  Our professor at McGill, Dr. Peter G. Brown, is cited in many places in this article and he suggested that we should take advantage of the current financial crisis to change our current economic system to a more efficient one, the “environmental economics”.  Simply because our planet is finite and not infinite as most economists think.

The link that I would like to make here with the debate (Origin of Ethic) is the fact that one debater proposed a solution about a problem raised by Peter Brown in the Montreal Gazette’s article.  Dr. Brown explained that the failure of Dion’s Green Shift has been caused by the Free Rider problem “where people don’t want to pay for something that benefits everybody.   

The solution proposed by the debater was simple.  Professor Mafred Milinski (Executive Director, Max-Planck-Institute for Evolutionary Biology, Plön, Germany) observed a similar phenomenon (Free Rider).  He suggested that this behaviour partially explained the Tragedy of the Common phenomenon (Hardin 1968) where free access to a public resource leads to overexploitation and therefore collapses.  Dr. Milinski’ words were “Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all”.  The solution came from one of his experiments (Milinski et al. 2006).  Dr. Milinski did an experiment about preserving the global climate as a public good.  His “game” was to compare who would cooperate and who will not (saving the public good).  He found that humans are prepared to give (e.g. money) to people as long as they have positive reputations of helping.  This is similar to the indirect reciprocity phenomenon which state that “Give and you shall receive” (Nowak and Sigmund 2005).  He also observed that people who gave money were people who were well informed in climate research.  He also mentioned that reliable expert information has an effect too.  This effect is even more important when the information is public (recognisable by everyone).  Investments or donations on the climate change problem can increase when people can see them, can recognise them.  Do not be an anonym person when you make donations!  Finally, he concluded by mentioning this: 

“Humans are prepared to behave altruistically when they know that it can be recognized and when they gained in other situation by this value that they can transfer from one situation to the next which is reputation.  As soon as the reputation comes in, in a moment, people switch from selfish behaviour to altruistic behaviour. ”

Interesting, don’t you think?



If you want to read the Montreal Gazette’s article (free = you need VPN connection), go… McGill Website/ clic Library and Collection tab/ clic Newspapers/ clic Pressdisplay/ Select Montreal Gazette and go to the article by knowing that it is published Saturday Nov 8th 2008.


Literature Cited


Hardin, G. 1968. Tragedy of Commons. Science 162:1243-&.

Milinski, M., D. Semmann, H. J. Krambeck, and J. Marotzke. 2006. Stabilizing the Earth’s climate is not a losing game: Supporting evidence from public goods experiments. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 103:3994-3998.

Nowak, M. A. and K. Sigmund. 2005. Evolution of indirect reciprocity. Nature 437:1291-1298.

Healthy People 2100: Health Risks of Climate Change

Monday, September 15th, 2008

I attended Dr. Kristie Ebi’s seminar “Healthy People 2100: Health Risks of Climate Change” on Thursday, 11.09.2008. To me it was an impressive presentation and I’ll never forget some of the images she included, particularly the one showing the trucks used to deposit the victims of the 1995 Chicago heat wave. In the coming years we ought to expect even more extreme weather events, including severe droughts, heat waves, floods, hurricanes, the rising of sea water levels. The consequences on health would most certainly be a rise in the number of cases of malnutrition, diarrhea, infectious diseases – including those transmitted by vectors.

One of the most important points Dr. Ebi made was that the countries responsible for the global warming are not the ones suffering the worst consequences. She projected a map of the world which proportionately showed which areas are likely to suffer the most drastic consequences. The African continent and south-estern Asia were the areas that stood out by far. North America, one of the biggest source of greenhouse gas emmisions, was projected to suffer the least. This goes out to show a potential reason why it’s so hard to convince decision makers to take action: they don’t see poverty and illness first-hand. And they think that they can avoid being affected by the consequences of global warming. It is certainly much more financially profitable to go on a “business as usual” path than to change your ways, start thinking of the consequences and start taking action toward mitigation and sustainability.  Even the few actions that are being taken are done without thinking of the human health consequences, without asking for advice from the authorities in the field – the example of changing the course of a river in China.

In conclusion, Dr Ebi’s presentation was a picture of the present situation and a projection of what to expect in the future. If I were to criticize it, I’d say that knowing the topic of this presentation I expected it to be more focused on the health related issues and potential solutions for the future.

Adaptation, Extinction and Global Change – Graham Bell

Monday, September 15th, 2008

Professor Bell’s seminar on the effects of climate change on species was intriguing.  It was presented both in scientific terms and after in common easily understood terms.  In addition the seminar was easy to listen to as it mixed scientific evidence with humor.

Bell began his talk with an explanation of variation of global conditions, and suggestions on how change begins slowly but becomes more extreme in the future.  Bell then describes the ways species may respond to such global changes.  They may alter certain traits or adapt, wait until conditions return to what the species is compatible with (dormancy), or they may migrate or change their area of accessible habitat.  If the species is unable to cope with these changes it will go extinct.

Finally the potential results of climate change are stated with regards to diversity complexity and evolutionary change.  The main possible affects appear to be changes in community structure and species adaptations.  Bell illustrates the potential adaptations of climate change using the example of an experiment with algae and their response to CO2 levels.  The article Phenotypic consequences of 1,000 generations of selection at elevated COin a green alga by Collins and Bell is related to this example.

Some of the final messages given by this seminar are the potential for species to adapt (which increases with more gradual change), and the possibility that for certain species, decline may reach a trough and return to normal through evolutionary rescue.  However the speed of global changes is occurring at a faster rate than before.

Bell’s seminar had me reflect on several things, mostly concerning what the species changes might mean for our future world.  Adaptation suggests a differing biological and ecological construct of the world as we know it.  Migration and habitat change may have implications concerning loss of diversity in certain areas (where species can no longer return to relatively hostile conditions) or increase in diversity with immigration of foreign species (provided that the invaders do not out compete the natives).  Dormancy would suggest a need for conditions to return to normal for us to recognize the world as we see today.  The ability to forsee the effects of climate change are further complicated by the relationships between communites and the species within them; a potential positive mutation for species A may negatively impact species B with returning negative impacts for species A.  The opposite may occur for a negative mutation.

Graham Bell- Climate Change and Evolution of Ecosystems and Species

Sunday, September 14th, 2008

On the 11 of September at the Redpath Museum, I attended an environmental seminar about climate change, evolution and ecosystems, given by Dr. Graham Bell, professor and researcher with the Department of Biology, McGill. In his seminar, Dr. Graham Bell explained the possible impacts of anthropogenic driven climate change –warmer temperatures, shifting biomes, increased precipitation, etc.- on the ability of species and ecosystem to adapt, evolve and/or become extinct. Species and ecosystems will, as Bell explains, cope with changes in climate in the following ways; plasticity, dormancy, migration, range shift, adaptation and extinction. I think Bell did a wonderful job at presenting not only the well know examples of species that have gone extinct due to human and climate related changes, but also gave examples of species being able to adapt to climate and anthropogenic stressors: certain plant species adapting to and living with heavy metals in the soils of a contaminated copper mine, moths changing color from mottled white to black to camouflage with black soot covered trees.

Another interesting focus of Bell’s seminar was the three major complications of CO2 for the global environment. 1. Biological diversity: Bell explained how this involves loss of diversity as well as ecological replacement of native species with alien species better suited to the changed climate and ecosystem. There was a point that Bell made here that I strongly liked and agreed with: Bell stated that the more species of any given living thing (butterflies, fish corn, etc.) the more likely it is that one or more species will be able to survive and adapt to climate changes, thus living to evolve into more diversified species once again. This implies the significance of preserving a diversity of species (not just one, mainline species of corn that we use to eat, for example) in order to raise chances of species survival. 2. Ecological complexity: Due to the high complexity and interconnectedness of ecosystems, climate could shift the whole structure of ecosystem community stability, productivity, etc. 3. Evolutionary change: Here, Dr. Graham Bell gave an example of Phytoplankton response to CO2 over many generations, the same research presented in the article we chose for ENVR 650 to read. I think an important point to come from this example, one that Bell mentioned as well- is that while the future impacts of climate change and increased levels of CO2 for ecosystems and species is largely unknown and there needs to need more field research looking into this, there is definitely going to be significant changes in climate and ecosystems that will surely effect the global environment as we know it.

This seminar was, in my opinion, wonderful. Bell has an ability to describe complex issues and environmental systems in a way that anyone can understand and relate to. He presented his arguments in a clear, rational way, always giving evidence for the effects of anthropogenic climate change, but at the same time leaving the audience with both sides of the story (ie. That warming could bring certain benefits, for example higher productivity in agriculture). Above this, he is a captivating speaker, funny and approachable despite his amazing breadth of knowledge. Bell ended with a strong point; that it is not a new phenomenon in the history of the planet for climate to change, but that it is the human driven rate of change that threatens the planet’s delicate ecosystems, ecological processes and species’ adaptability.

Health risks of climate change

Friday, September 12th, 2008

On Thursday the 11th of September at 3:30, in the Leacock building of McGill university, I attended a seminar on ” Health risks of climate change ” given by Dr. Kristie Ebi.

She drew a rather critical portrait of the earth situation. In her opinion, even if we stopped emitting greenhouses gases, we still could have 50 years of climates rising to come. Climate changes have many impacts on human health. One particular example she gave was the increasing number of catastrophes such as hurricanes (e.g., Katrina) and major heat waves (like the one that hit Europe in August). The problem also resides in the fact that the cities are not prepared to face such treats. During the major heatwave that hit Chicago, they stored the affected person in refrigerator vans because they had no where to put such a large amount of people. However, she explained that the required changes will not be easy to accomplish. For example, in prevision of sea level rise and future hurricanes, some flood lines have to be moved. This will not please the entrepreneurs nor the owner of the fields who suddenly would find themselves in a flooding zones. Insurance policies will increase.

An another important issue raised in this seminar was the fact the human health is never included in the planing for future development. As a matter of fact, rising temperature affect humans, animals but also pathogens. Epidemics of samonela, malaria, diarrhea, malnutrition and other wonderful infectious vectors will spread further with increased temperature. Furthermore, some solutions to the problem may enable those parasites to access new areas. For example, a plan in China will have a river from the south redirected toward a river in the north. The southern river is contaminated with a pathogen that is currently unable to reach the northern part of the country. For now, it is impossible for the pathogen to move because of the low temperature but with the climate change, it will have access and millions of new people will be subject to infection.

To conclude, it is crucial that the countries prepare for those catastrophes (it was done for the last el nino and the result were impressive) and health should considered when doing so.

Notes from the Where 2.0 conference

Tuesday, May 13th, 2008

I’m currently at Where 2.0 2008, where neogeographer entrepreneurs meet We 2.0 and I’ll post interesting talks, links as they come up.

Jack Dangermond of ESRI mentioned a cool application, which is a joint venture between The Nature Conservancy and U Washington that shows impacts on habitats and species over time as temperature increases and precipitation patterns change.

While I look for the site, take a look at Big Ideas in Conservation: Harnessing IT.

GIS applied to climate change

Wednesday, December 19th, 2007

(written by Intro to GIS student, N. G.)

These days, many people in the world have at least some knowledge about the process of climate change and the potential consequences we and the planet face if we continue to put greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. One of the many tasks scientists have been working on is the process of predicting changes that could occur to the earth’s surface should the polar ice continue to melt at its present rate. GIS can become a very important tool in many of these climatologists’ efforts to track how rises in sea level will impact specific land masses, and its larger impact on the population in these areas.

The GIS Initiative Program run by the National Center for Atmospheric Research offers various climate change scenarios shown through GIS to registered users. In creating various climate change scenarios for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for use in research and conferences, such as the climate change meeting taking place in Bali this week, NCAR has decided to make their datasets available for public download. These models, showing various potential future scenarios of the impact of climate change, help to generate interest in the public and GIS community on the importance of climate change with the easy availability of datasets to manipulate.

The Arctic Institute of North America, located at the University of Calgary calls attention to the Beaufort Sea Project for Climate Change, a project that is using GIS to track various impacts of climate change in the northern Arctic. These activities include tracking the impact of climate change on fish and mammals in the Beaufort Sea as they pertain to the survival of the native groups there, changes in hydrology due to the breakup of ice in the Mackenzie River and the spread of water-bone contaminants due to the melting of the sea ice pack. The transformation of this data into GIS makes the relationships between the variables easy to present and communicate across wide audiences, helping to illustrate the impact of climate change in the Arctic.

Although projects such as these help to provide insight into the impact of climate change on the earth, one must keep in mind that these are only models meant to give predictions to what might happen due to shifts in our climate. Much more study and analysis will need to be done before more accurate statements can be made.

aesop’s fables for a modern age

Wednesday, October 17th, 2007

I had missed this from the May issue of the New Scientist on the 26 myths (or rather misconceptions) of climate change.

I was particularly attracted to the myth about computer models and whether or not we should put our faith in them.

Climate modellers may occasionally be seduced by the beauty of their constructions and put too much faith in them. Where the critics of the models are both wrong and illogical, however, is in assuming that the models must be biased towards alarmism – that is, greater climate change. It is just as likely that these models err on the side of caution.

And I like the following retort to those who see no value in modeling:

Finally, the claim is sometimes made that if computer models were any good, people would be using them to predict the stock market. Well, they are!

I wonder what our fables will be in 100 years time. Will we be telling stories of the little boy or girl who didn’t heed the broad trends shown in the climate change models and that’s why we’re experienced bad weather today? Or perhaps the little girl who was seduced by the beautiful computer model, which explained all the bad (stingy?) choices she subsequently made in her life.