Best of our wild blogs: 30 Nov 11

Pulau Ubin - among the World's 10 Most Secret Islands
from wild shores of singapore

solar croc @ SBWR
from sgbeachbum

Sunny day out at Beting Bronok
from wonderful creation

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Jakarta Will Erect Seawalls To Stem Waters

Dofa Fasila Jakarta Globe 29 Nov 11;

In the wake of days of tidal flooding in North Jakarta, Governor Fauzi Bowo says he has short-term and long-term plans to deal with the problem facing the capital’s ever-expanding coastal residential areas.

The short-term plan is to raise the height of seawalls, and the long term plan is to, well, build higher sea walls.

Since seawalls might promote more development, however, his plan seems at odds with advice from local environmental groups, who in the past decade have said the building of residential enclaves and hotels on coastal mudflats has exacerbated tidal flooding in Jakarta.

Fauzi’s seawall plan is also at odds with the recommendations from the World Delta Summit last week in the capital, where experts warned not to ignore the natural function of mudflats in cities built on river deltas, such as Jakarta.

“That’s why it’s important to designate delta areas as an integrated part of a city’s wider spatial planning, not as an independent sector,” Jan Sopaheluwakan, a researcher with the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), said during the conference.

But according to Jakarta’s deputy head of public works, Novizal, the flooding stems from too little development, not too much.

“At Pantai Mutiara [in North Jakarta], there are still many reclaimed land subdivisions which have not been built on,” he claimed. “When the tide comes in, the water can enter via the undeveloped blocks. If all the subdivisions were built on, then Pantai Mutiara and its surrounding areas would be safe from flooding.”

In the short term, Fauzi said the city would respond to the floods, which are affecting residents along Jalan R.E. Martadinata and in the upscale Pantai Mutiara area, by raising the seawalls. The tactic, he said, would give the city and central governments time to approve a new approach that he dubbed the Jakarta Coastal Sea Defence Strategy, which involves the construction of “giant seawalls” along the city’s north coast.

Fauzi said he visited the area currently flooded by about 2.5 meters of seawater, and that local residents had agreed to take the initiative and help raise the existing seawalls by several tens of centimeters.

“I have checked the area to the north of the Pluit water pump, which is always affected by tidal flooding,” Fauzi said on Monday. “Two days ago, that area was safe because the seawalls had been raised to three meters.”

The governor said the latest measures were only temporary and will last for a few years, while his administration expected the Jakarta Coastal Sea Defence plan to help with flood prevention in the next 25 to 100 years.

“I sent the report to the president the other day,” he said. “I think the city administration, with the public works department, can carry out the plan.”

As for funding, he said the giant seawalls would not require any money from the state budget. Instead, the funding will come from private interests who will work with the government.

More recently, NGOs have pointed to GPS data which shows that the rate of land subsidence along Jakarta’s northern edge, for example at Pantai Indah Kapuk, averages 11.5 centimeters per year.

Ironically for developers, experts believe the subsidence is mostly due to excessive groundwater extraction by the very housing estates that are threatened by flooding.

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In Asia, two big population cycles are playing out

Frank Ching Business Times 30 Nov 11

QUIETLY, without much notice, the world's population crept past the seven billion mark on Oct 31, according to the United Nations. The majority of people live on one continent, Asia, with two countries, China and India, accounting for almost 37 per cent of the total.

What is striking is that while it took thousands of years for the population to reach the one billion mark - around 1830 - it took only 100 more years for it to hit two billion and, in the last eight decades, an additional five billion people were added.

In the past, there was a view that too big a population was a drag on economic growth. That certainly was behind China's one-child policy, introduced by Deng Xiaoping after the death of chairman Mao Zedong. Ironically, now, the world's two most populous countries are also its most rapidly developing economies. In fact, the rise of China and India show that a certain population size is necessary to achieve a critical mass for economic development.

In fact, economists project that India's growth will outstrip that of China by about 2020 because, by then, the size of the Chinese labour force would have peaked while India would still have a young population, with a labour force set to grow to nearly a billion workers by 2050. That is the demographic dividend at work, with a rise in the proportion of people of working age along with a fall in the fertility rate. Output per capita rises during this window of opportunity, before an ageing population lowers economic growth.

Of course, population size alone is insufficient for economic growth, as Mao proved during his long years as China's supreme leader. An emphasis on politics over economics meant that the country's working-age people simply did not have the opportunity to develop their potential.

Also, as professor Chu Shulong of Tsinghua University wrote recently, population growth 'should also be accompanied by improvement of population quality at the same time, including education, skills, income, and consumption. In that case, population growth can generate active effects for economic development.'

In the last three decades, the vast Chinese workforce combined with low wages was perfect for processing and assembly, attracting capital and manufacturing industries from both Asia and the West. But, of course, this could not last, and there are many who believe that China is approaching - or has already passed - the Lewis Turning Point, when a surplus of cheap labour runs dry, and employers turn to other low-cost countries.

The age-old struggle to get enough food to eat in China is reflected in the salutation that Chinese still use when addressing each other every day: 'Have you eaten yet?'

As recently as 1995, environmentalist Lester Brown issued a warning in an essay titled 'Who will feed China?'. He asserted that 'food scarcity and the associated economic instability are far greater threats to security than military aggression'.

Ironically, while environmentalists worry about sustainability when contemplating a globe with seven billion people, individual countries, such as Russia and Japan, worry about declining populations and what that means for the country's economy and, indeed, its very survival.

Food sufficiency is not a problem for China today, but it is certainly true that the world's seven billion people cannot all live western lifestyles. Already, automobiles fill the streets of China where once they teemed with bicycles. No doubt, the Chinese would be healthier if they continued to ride their bikes and stuck to a diet dominated by vegetables rather than meat.

Andrew Sheng, former chairman of the Hong Kong Securities and Futures Commission and now president of the newly formed Fung Global Institute think tank, has pointed out: 'The average Chinese and Indian cannot live the average American way of life without destroying our natural resources.'

That is simply common sense. The earth's natural resources are simply insufficient. In fact, it would be a nightmare if average Chinese and Indians started to live the American Dream.

But how can anyone tell Chinese and Indians and others that the good life is reserved for westerners and that they will never get to live it? Can anyone morally justify a two-tier world, with first-class citizens in America and Europe and second-class citizens elsewhere?

This is not a case of pitting the developed against the developing world, the haves against the have-nots. Judging by the proliferation of the 'We are the 99%' movements around the world today, unless its leaders get their act together, the people are likely to find new leaders who will.

The writer is a Hong Kong-based journalist and commentator. Follow him on Twitter: @FrankChing1

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Asia Must Address Climate Issues Fast: ADB

Rosemarie Francisco PlanetArk 30 Nov 11;

Asian cities are increasingly at risk from rising sea levels and severe droughts and governments need to develop integrated urban plans that address urgent issues on water supply, flooding, transportation, and solid waste, a climate change expert said.

In the short term, cities can minimize the risk of destructive floods, such as in Bangkok, by improving drainage and sanitation systems and imposing a solid waste management scheme that promotes efficient garbage collection and reduces the use of plastics, WooChong Um of the Manila-based Asian Development Bank (ADB) told Reuters on Tuesday.

"It's very clear. There is clear evidence that the storms and typhoons are getting more intense and more frequent," said Um, deputy director general of the ADB's regional and sustainable development department.

"And it is happening not just in one place but everywhere, Ondoy, Thailand, and who knows where the next one will be," he said, referring to Typhoon Ketsana, which inundated around four-fifths of Manila in 2009, killed nearly 750 people, and damaged $1 billion worth of infrastructure and private properties.

"So it is kind of a wake up call for all the countries to do the necessary actions so that they are prepared," Um said.

Asia and the Pacific had seen more than 30 million people displaced by environmental disasters in 2010, according to data from the ADB. The region is home to more than 4 billion people.

The region also accounted for 34 percent of recorded disasters, 90 percent of people affected, 32 percent of deaths and 33 percent of economic losses worldwide from natural disasters from 2005 to 2010.

Private sector demands for governments to address disaster risks would have the most impact on speeding up climate-related infrastructure development, Um said.

"The Bangkok one (flooding) really demonstrated the disruption in the value chain," he said. "If the private sector makes it very clear, what are constraints that's causing investors from coming in ... If it is said by the industries themselves, then there is a bigger impact."


Climate-related infrastructure projects could have a better success rate if undertaken via a public-private partnership, David McCauley, ADB's lead climate change specialist, told Reuters in Singapore.

"There's an incentive to work more closely with the private sector to address these risks, in terms of infrastructure."

"Those sorts of decisions are best made more on a public-private basis, and I don't think there has been adequate incentive or direction for that in the past," McCauley added.

Flooding in Thailand since late July claimed 562 lives and swamped about 900 factories in industrial areas north of Bangkok, disrupting supply chains of international firms such as Toyota Motor Corp, Sony Corp and Lenovo Group Ltd.

"Bangkok has a land subsidence problem from over extraction of ground-water, Jakarta has it even worse. It's literally sinking at the same time as the over-land flooding is increasing and the sea is rising," McCauley said.

Um said the ADB is working with the Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia in preparing country risk assessments that would identify climate and disaster threats, rehabilitation costs, and financing options such as catastrophe bonds.

Asian nations need to forecast their population growth and identify the infrastructure required so as not to choke their megacities and minimize climate risks. By 2020, more than half of the world's 25 megacities will be located in Asia, most of them situated near the coasts, Um added.

Governments must also prioritize the development of rural areas and second-tier cities to lessen migration into urban centers and lower the risk of disasters such flooding, he said.

(Editing by Yoko Nishikawa)

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The acid truth about our oceans: experts urge action to limit ocean acidification

IUCN 29 Nov 11;

Ocean acidification can no longer remain on the periphery of the international debates on climate change and the environment and should be addressed by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and other global environmental conventions, urges IUCN and the International Ocean Acidification Reference User Group (RUG) at the climate change summit in Durban.

In the run up to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, which will take place in Rio de Janeiro in June next year (Rio+20), world experts from RUG call for decision makers to urgently address the critical issue of ocean acidification.

“The increasing amounts of carbon dioxide that we emit into the atmosphere every day are changing our oceans, steadily increasing their acidity, and dramatically affecting marine life,” says Professor Dan Laffoley Marine Vice Chair of IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas and Chair of RUG. “This may also have severe impacts on human life in the future. Only by reducing our CO2 emissions and enhancing the protection of oceans to strengthen their ability to recover, can we effectively address this issue. Policy makers in Durban, and in Rio in June next year, need to recognize this and take appropriate actions.”

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, particularly CO2, which is the main driver of climate change and the main cause of ocean acidification, is one of the goals of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. But the latest RUG publication calls for a broader strategy to reduce ocean acidification, alongside those tackling other threats to the marine environment such as overfishing and pollution.

According to the experts, although both climate change and ocean acidification are caused by excessive amounts of CO2 emissions, and so should be tackled together, not all approaches used to address the former will be effective in the fight against the latter.

"For example, ‘geoengineering' solutions, such as reflecting solar radiation, which are often suggested to deal with climate change, will not address the progressive acidification of the ocean," says Dr John Baxter of the Scottish Natural Heritage and Deputy Chair of the RUG. "Both climate change and acidification need to be taken into account when designing solutions to these challenges."

Each year, the ocean absorbs approximately 25% of all the CO2 we emit. Its acidity has increased by 30% since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and acidification will continue at an unprecedented rate in the coming decades. This can have a negative impact on marine organisms, especially the 'calcifying’ ones such as shellfish, molluscs, coral reefs and various types of zooplankton and phytoplankton. Increasing ocean acidity requires them to use more energy to build their shells, which has potentially severe ecological consequences. If the current acidification rate continues, it could lead to extinctions of some species and impact others that feed on them.

“Through its ability to absorb large amounts of CO2, the ocean plays a crucial role in moderating the rate and severity of climate change”, says Dr Carol Turley from the Plymouth Marine Laboratory and the Knowledge Exchange Coordinator for the UK Ocean Acidification Research Programme, one of the partners of the Reference User Group. “But in many ways our ocean is also a victim of its own success, as this capacity jeopardizes its future health, its biodiversity and its ability to continue to provide us with food and sustainable economic development. Ocean acidification requires urgent and effective action now, before it’s too late. The obvious action is to reduce CO2 emissions to the atmosphere."

Ocean Acidification: Acting on Evidence. Messages for Rio+20 2.10MB

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Past decade ties for world's hottest: UN agency

Marlowe Hood AFP Yahoo News 29 Nov 11;

Thirteen of the warmest years recorded have occurred within the last decade and a half, proving that global warming is a reality, the UN's World Meteorological Organisation said on Tuesday.

The year 2011 caps a decade that ties the record as the hottest ever measured, the WMO said in a provisional report on climate trends and extreme weather events, unveiled at UN climate talks in Durban.

"Our science is solid and it proves unequivocally that the world is warming and that this warming is due to human activities," WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said in a statement, adding that policy makers should take note of the findings.

"Concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have reached new highs and are very rapidly approaching levels consistent with a 2 to 2.4 Celsius rise in average global temperatures."

Scientists believe that any rise above the 2.0 threshold could trigger far-reaching and irreversible changes over land and in the seas.

The 2002-2011 period equals 2001-2010 as the warmest decade since 1850, the report said.

2011 ranks as the 10th warmest year since 1850, when accurate measurements began.

This was true despite a cooling La Nina event -- one of the strongest in 60 years -- that developed in the tropical Pacific in the second half of 2010 and continued until May 2011.

The report noted that the cyclical climate phenomenon, which strikes every three to seven years, helped drive extreme weather events including drought in east Africa, islands in the equatorial Pacific and the southern United States.

While La Nina, and its meteorological cousin El Nino, are not caused by climate change, rising ocean temperatures caused by global warming may affect their intensity and frequency, scientists say.

Average surface temperatures over land were above long-term averages in most regions.

"There is no single country that has reported 2001-2010 mean temperatures that are colder than their national long-term average from 1961-1990," WMO Deputy Secretary General R.D.J. Lengoasa told journalists in Durban, citing a forthcoming review of weather trends over the last ten years.

For 95 percent of 80 countries that had submitted relevant data, 2001-2010 was the warmest decade on record, he added.

Forty percent had seen national heat records broken in 2001-2010, as compared to 15 percent in the 1991-2000 period, and 10 percent in the 1981-1990 period.

"Urgent action is needed to prevent the worst climate change scenarios in the coming decades," Lengoasa said.

Sea ice in the Arctic shrank to its second lowest surface area after 2007, and has reached record levels of thinness.

Extreme weather events in 2011 -- some influenced by La Nina -- hit regions unevenly.

In eastern Africa, where agriculture is almost entirely rain-fed, severe drought affected many countries, especially Kenya, Somalia and parts of Ethiopia.

Some 13 million people required emergency aid, according to the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

In East Asia, rainfall during the 2011 monsoon season was far above average, with Thailand and Laos most affected. Floods claimed nearly 1,000 lives across Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar.

Fourteen weather-climate events in the United States each caused at least one billion dollars in losses.

In central and south America, rainfall exceeding 200 millimetres (eight inches) in a few hours left at least 900 dead in the mountains north of Rio de Janeiro, one of the deadliest natural disasters in Brazil's history.

For the second year in a row, Pakistan saw severe flooding, though more localised -- in the south -- than in 2010.

A separate report also released Tuesday showed that Pakistan, Guatemala and Colombia were the countries worst hit in 2010 by extreme weather events.

Over a 20-year span, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Honduras were shown to be most vulnerable to Nature's violent outbursts, said the report, by European NGO Germanwatch.

WMO: 2011 One Of Hottest Years On Record
Jon Herskovitz PlanetArk 30 Nov 11;

The world is getting hotter, with 2011 one of the warmest years on record, and humans are to blame, a report by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said on Tuesday.

It warned increasing global average temperatures were expected to amplify floods, droughts and other extreme weather patterns.

"Our science is solid and it proves unequivocally that the world is warming and that this warming is due to human activities," WMO Deputy Secretary-General Jerry Lengoasa told reporters in Durban, where almost 200 nations are gathered for U.N. climate talks.

The WMO, part of the United Nations, said the warmest 13 years of average global temperatures have all occurred in the 15 years since 1997. That has contributed to extreme weather conditions that increase the intensity of droughts and heavy precipitation across the world, it said.

"Global temperatures in 2011 are currently the tenth highest on record and are higher than any previous year with a La Nina event, which has a relative cooling influence," it said

This year, the global climate was influenced heavily by the strong La Nina, a natural phenomenon usually linked to extreme weather in Asia-Pacific, South America and Africa, which developed in the tropical Pacific in the second half of 2010 and continued until May 2011.

One of the strongest such events in 60 years, it was closely associated with the drought in east Africa, islands in the central equatorial Pacific and the United States, as well as severe flooding in other parts of the world.

The WMO report was released to coincide with U.N. climate talks which run until December 9 in Durban aimed at trying to reach agreement on cutting planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.

Prospects for a meaningful agreement appear bleak with the biggest emitters the United States and China unwilling to take on binding cuts until the other does first. Major players Japan, Canada and Russia are unwilling to extend commitments that expire next year and the European Union is looking at 2015 as a deadline for reaching a new global deal.

The WMO report said the extent of Arctic sea ice in 2011 was the second lowest on record, and its volume was the lowest.

It said the build-up of greenhouse gases put the world at a tipping point of irreversible changes in ecosystems.

"Concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have reached new highs," WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said in a separate statement.

"They are very rapidly approaching levels consistent with a 2-2.4 degree Centigrade rise in average global temperatures which scientists believe could trigger far reaching and irreversible changes in our Earth, biosphere and oceans."

Russia experienced the largest variation from average, with its northern parts seeing January to October temperatures about 4 degrees C higher in several places, it said.

U.N. scientists said in a separate report this month an increase in heat waves is almost certain, while heavier rainfall, more floods, stronger cyclones, landslides and more intense droughts are likely across the globe this century as the Earth's climate warms.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said global average temperatures could rise by 3-6 degrees Celsius by the end of the century if governments failed to contain emissions, bringing unprecedented destruction as glaciers melt, sea levels rise and small island states are submerged.

(Editing by Maria Golovnina and Janet Lawrence)

Human Role in Global Warming Unequivocal, Say World's Meteorologists
Environment News Service 29 Nov 11;

DURBAN, South Africa, November 29, 2011 (ENS) - Global temperatures in 2011 are currently the 10th highest on record and are higher than any previous year with a La Niña event, which has a cooling influence. The 13 warmest years have all occurred in the 15 years since 1997.

The extent of Arctic sea ice in 2011 was the second lowest on record, and its volume was the lowest.

These facts are drawn from the provisional annual World Meteorological Organization Statement on the Status of the Global Climate, which gives a global temperature assessment and a snapshot of weather and climate events around the world in 2011. It was released today at the United Nations climate conference in Durban, South Africa.

"Our role is to provide the scientific knowledge to inform action by decision makers," said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud. "Our science is solid and it proves unequivocally that the world is warming and that this warming is due to human activities," he said.

"Concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have reached new highs," warned Jarraud. "They are very rapidly approaching levels consistent with a 2 to 2.4 degree Centigrade rise in average global temperatures, which scientists believe could trigger far reaching and irreversible changes in our Earth, biosphere and oceans."

Global temperatures in 2011 have not been as warm as the record-setting values seen in 2010 but have likely been warmer than any previous strong La Niña year, based on preliminary data compiled by the World Meteorological Organization.

The global combined sea surface and land surface air temperature for January-October 2011 is estimated at 0.41°C plus or minus 0.111°C (0.74°F plus or minus 0.20°F) above the 1961-1990 annual average of 14 degrees Celsius (57.2 degrees Fahrenheit).

The 10-year average for the period 2002-11, at 0.46 degrees Celsius above the long-term average, equals 2001-10 as the warmest 10-year period on record.

Final annual figures for 2011 will be available once November and December data are available in early 2012.

Global climate in 2011 was heavily influenced by the strong La Niña event which developed in the tropical Pacific in the second half of 2010 and continued until May 2011.

This event, which on most measures was one of the strongest of at least the last 60 years, was closely associated with many of the year's notable regional climate events, including drought in east Africa, the central equatorial Pacific and the southern United States, and flooding in southern Africa, eastern Australia and southern Asia.

Strong La Niña years are typically 0.10 to 0.15 degrees Celsius cooler than the years preceding and following them. 2011's global temperatures followed this pattern, being lower than those of 2010, but were still warmer than the most recent moderate to strong La Niña years.

La Niña conditions have redeveloped in recent weeks but are not expected to approach the intensity seen in late 2010 and early 2011.

Surface air temperatures were above the long-term average in 2011 over most land areas of the world.

The largest departures from average were over Russia, especially in northern Russia where January-October temperatures were about 4°C above average in places. The spring was especially warm in this region with some stations more than 9°C above average for the season, while European Russia had another hot summer - the third-hottest on record in Moscow - although not as extreme as that of 2010.

The hot summer conditions extended into other northern countries, with Helsinki, Finland having its hottest summer in nearly 200 years of data, and Armenia setting an all-time national record (43.7°C).

Spain has had its hottest January-October period on record and several other western European countries approached records.

January-October 2011 was 1°C or more above average over large parts of Europe, southwest Asia and northern and central Africa, as well as the southern United States and northern Mexico, most of eastern Canada, and Greenland.

The Central American region is on course to have its hottest year in at least 140 years.

The most significant area of below-normal temperatures in 2011 was in northern and central Australia where temperatures were up to 1°C below average in places, largely the result of above-average cloudiness and heavy rain early in the year.

Other regions to experience below-normal temperatures in 2011 included the western United States and south-western Canada, and parts of east Asia including the Indochina Peninsula, eastern China and the Korean Peninsula.

Flooding affected many parts of the world in 2011, both flash floods and longer-lived events. In terms of loss of life, the most extreme single event occurred in Brazil on January 11-12, when a flash flood, caused by rainfall which exceeded 200 millimeters in a few hours, in mountainous terrain about 60 kilometers north of Rio de Janeiro caused at least 900 deaths. This was one of the worst natural disasters in Brazil's history.

It was a year of extremes in the United States, with 14 separate weather/climate events which caused losses of US$1 billion or more each.

Extreme drought affected parts of the southern United States and adjacent parts of northern Mexico. The core of the drought was in Texas, where state-wide averaged rainfall for January-October 2011 was 273 millimetres (56 percent below normal), well below the previous record of 327 millimeters set in 1956.

The drought region also had an exceptionally hot summer, with Texas's June through August mean temperatures (30.4°C (86.7°F), being 3.0°C (5.4°F) above the long-term average and the highest ever recorded for any American state. In addition to agricultural losses and water shortages, impacts of the drought included severe wildfires and dust storms.

Many northern and central parts of the United States experienced heavy rain and flooding in 2011. The January-October period was the wettest on record for several northeastern states and for the northeast region as a whole, with precipitation totals widely 30-50 percent above normal.

The most severe floods in this region, reaching record levels in places, were associated with Hurricane Irene in August and Tropical Storm Lee in September.

Spring and early summer were extremely wet in many central areas, particularly the Ohio Valley and the upper Midwest of the United States and the Prairie provinces of Canada, which experienced some of the worst flooding on record. There was also substantial spring flooding in the north-eastern United States and the Canadian province of Quebec. The heavy spring rains, combined with the melting of a heavy winter snowpack in northern areas, caused major downstream flooding during May and June. Parts of the Mississippi River experienced the worst floods since 1933, and there was also major flooding in the Missouri River and several Canadian rivers.

It was also one of the most active tornado seasons on record, with numerous major outbreaks, particularly in April and May. A tornado caused 157 deaths in Joplin, Missouri in May, the deadliest single tornado in the United States since 1947. To date, 2011 has had the third-greatest number of tornadoes since 1950, after 2004 and 2008, and 537 deaths, the fourth-greatest number of deaths on record. There were also a number of major snowstorms, including the most significant October snowstorm on record in the northeastern states.

This preliminary information for 2011 is based on climate data from networks of land-based weather and climate stations, ships and buoys, as well as satellites. The data are continuously collected and disseminated by the National Meteorological and Hydrological Services of the 189 governments that are Members of WMO and several collaborating research institutions. The content of the WMO statement is verified and peer-reviewed by experts from other international, regional and national climate institutions and centers before its publication.

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Warning on Danube drought as shipping halted

AFP Yahoo News 29 Nov 11;

A major drought along the lower Danube has highlighted the river's reduced ability to buffer extreme weather events and has hampered navigation, environmental group WWF said on Tuesday.

The Danube is currently seeing its lowest levels since 2003, with bigger ships often being blocked by multiple sand bars, according to Bulgaria's Danube exploration agency.

Traffic on the river was disrupted on Tuesday when water levels on a 40 kilometres (25 mile) stretch in Serbia were too low because of lack of rainfall, media said.

The WWF said human intervention such as gravel extraction, dredging and dams has contributed to the gradual loss of wetlands that can soak up water during rainy periods and release it slowly during drier times.

A WWF bird-watching expedition during the summer found as a result a drastic drop in bird populations along the lower stretch of the river in Bulgaria and Romania.

"The current dry conditions highlight the need to minimize the impact of structural interventions (...) as they reduce the resilience of water ecosystems," WWF Danube-Carpathian programme director Andreas Beckmann said.

He raised the need to rethink plans for new infrastructure works to eliminate rapids and improve navigation as well as the planned construction of new hydropower stations on the river.

According to Beckmann, these may affect the ecological status of freshwater ecosystems along the whole 1,000-kilometre (620-mile) lower stretch of the Danube.

Besides, "the feasibility of hydropower and navigation projects relies on predictable water levels while climate change is expected to lower predictability," another WWF expert, Irene Lucius, warned.

On Tuesday around 100 ships carrying more than 1,000 tonnes were blocked where the Danube enters Serbia at Bezdan because water levels were 56 centimetres (22 inches) lower than normal, the Beta news agency reported. Around 40 kilometres farther downstream the level is 16 centimetres lower, the agency said.

For traffic to resume water levels would have to rise by at least 50 centimetres, an unlikely event in the coming days as no rain is forecast.

The Danube, Europe's second largest river, originates in Germany and flows through central and eastern Europe before emptying into the Black Sea.

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