Best of our wild blogs: 12 Aug 14

Workshop on Free Web Tools for Green and Social NGOs (3 Sep 2014)
from Green Future Solutions

Green Drinks: Aquaculture in Singapore and Beyond
from Green Drinks Singapore

Coral health check at Terumbu Raya
from wonderful creation and wild shores of singapore

acorn worm, casting @ semakau - Aug 2014
from sgbeachbum

Simple Serenity at Southern Semakau
from wonderful creation

Birds collection of Stamford Raffles
from Francis' Random Yaks, Articles & Photos

Half of Riau's oil palm plantations are illegal
from Rhett A. Butler

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Restored Bukit Timah Nature Reserve to offer 'new experience': Khaw

Channel NewsAsia 11 Aug 14;

SINGAPORE: In a blogpost on Monday (Aug 11), National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan said the National Parks Board (NParks) will work to reopen the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve as soon as possible, and promised the restoration works will offer a "whole new experience for Singaporeans".

It was announced in June that the Nature Reserve will be closed from Sep 15, 2014, for six months to repair affected slopes and trails, and Mr Khaw wrote on his blog that NParks will start with the most commonly used parts of the Reserve and try to reopen the grounds to visitors as soon as possible.

"NParks will start with stabilising the slope along the main tarmac road next to the visitor centre. These works are expected to be completed within six months," he said.

Following the six-month closure, the main tarmac road will be reopened on weekends so visitors can go up to the summit. However, the road will be closed on weekdays so that vehicles carrying construction equipment can use it, he added.

Mr Khaw also addressed questions on whether the trails will still appear natural after the repair works are completed. He wrote: "While boardwalks will need to be installed in some areas to prevent further erosion, this will be done in a sensitive manner. The boardwalks will be cantilevered above the ground and, in fact, the wooden planks used to construct the boardwalks will be hand carried, piece by piece, into the narrow paths of the Reserves.

"Natural vegetation along the trails will be restored and we hope that these efforts will help the forest trails recover."

Meanwhile, the mountain biking trail around the periphery of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve will not be affected, and stay open throughout the restoration process, he added.

On the visitor centre, Mr Khaw said another team will look into enhancing the facility. "This way, when the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve fully reopens, it will be a whole new experience for Singaporeans."

- CNA/kk

Nature reserve repairs to be done 'sensitively'
Janice Heng The Straits Times AsiaOne 14 Aug 14;

Upcoming repair works on Bukit Timah Nature Reserve's walking trails will be done "in a sensitive manner", said National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan in a blog post yesterday.

As announced in June, the reserve will be closed for six months from Sept 15 as the National Parks Board (NParks) carries out restoration work on its eroded slopes and trails.

Access will remain limited for a further 18 months. But the mountain biking trail around the periphery will remain open throughout.

Mr Khaw sought to allay worries about whether the walking trails "will still appear natural" afterwards.

Boardwalks will need to be installed in some areas to prevent further erosion, but they will be cantilevered to minimise contact with the ground.

The wooden planks used to construct them will also be "hand carried, piece by piece, into the narrow paths of the reserves".

Nature Society (Singapore) president Shawn Lum welcomed the efforts to minimise the impact of repairs, but added that ecology and conservation groups had not been too worried about this.

Rather, the community had supported the plans. "There was real concern that if erosion were to continue, it would impact the actual ecosystem." Biodiversity researcher David Bickford agreed. "Getting the measures in (place) will have an impact, but significantly less than if they weren't carried out in the first place."

Mr Khaw noted that the reserve, with 400,000 visitors each year, has "undergone natural wear and tear". Landslides on some slopes have made it hard for plants to flourish, while erosion of trails has exposed tree roots and affected trees' stability.

Repair works will be done in phases to minimise inconvenience.

First, NParks will stabilise the slope along the main tarmac road next to the visitor centre. This is expected to be completed within six months.

After next March, the main tarmac road leading to the summit will be reopened on weekends.

But it will be closed on weekdays, for the use of vehicles carrying construction equipment. "All this planning is with the safety of visitors in mind," said Mr Khaw.

The visitor centre will also be upgraded.

For Dr Lum, the bigger worry comes after the repairs are finished. "Will we, as a community, take care of the reserve?"

He hopes that visitors themselves will minimise their impact, such as by keeping to the trails.
- See more at:

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Malaysia: Call to protect elephants

yuen meikeng The Star 12 Aug 14;

PETALING JAYA: The Government should immediately come up with a plan to solve the problem of elephants losing their habitat to protect the endangered species in Malaysia, said the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Malaysia.

This is in line with World Elephant Day today, which aims to honour elephants, spread awareness of the critical threats they face and support solutions to ensure their survival.

WWF-Malaysia chief executive officer Datuk Dr Dionysius S.K. Sharma said there was an immediate need for the Government to implement a robust and effective plan to stop the loss of elephant habitat.

“In Sabah, elephants lose their habitats due to the development of plantations.

“Some elephants also mistake oil palm plantations for forests and feed on the crops.

“While some companies report this to the Wildlife and National Parks Department, there are some that chase the elephants away using illegal means,” he said.

Dr Dionysius said some companies chase away elephants by using firecrackers and installing electric fences.

In January last year, 14 elephants were found dead at a forest reserve in Sabah’s interior after they were believed to have been poisoned.

There are about 1,500 Borneo elephants in east Malaysia and about 2,000 other elephants in peninsular Malaysia.

Less than 400,000 African elephants and less than 40,000 Asian elephants are left in the world.

This year is the third annual World Elephant Day since it was launched on Aug 12, 2012 by the Elephant Reintroduction Foundation and Canadian documentary filmmaker Patricia Sims.

According to a press release on the event, it is estimated that 100 African elephants are slaughtered daily for illegal wildlife trade and poaching for ivory had reached “unprecedented levels”.

“Some 20% of Africa’s elephants may be killed in the next 10 years if poaching continues at current levels.

“Others believe that African elephants may be extinct in the wild by 2025,” the statement said.

Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) president Prof Dr Maketab Mohamed also called for a stop to the destruction of elephant habitats, especially along the Central Forest Spine so that herds can move and feed undisturbed by humans.

“Conservation of our flora and fauna is no rocket science. The willingness to do it must come with the political will and there can be no two ways about it,” he said.

Jumbo found dead in orchard
The Star 12 Aug 14;

KOTA TINGGI: An elephant was found dead at the Dusun Panti Felcra scheme with its right foreleg caught in the fork of a jackfruit tree branch.

According to settler Mohd Nasir Hashim, 57, a worker at the orchard found the elephant at about 9am last Thursday.

The elephant could have died after struggling all night long to free its leg, he said, adding that officials from the Johor Wildlife and National Parks Department in Bandar Penawar buried the carcass at the orchard. — Bernama

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Malaysia: Government seeks to eliminate illegal forest activities

New Straits Times 12 Aug 14;

KUALA LUMPUR: The government has stepped up efforts to integrate all enforcement agencies to achieve zero forest encroachment.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri G.
Palanivel said it had designed strategies and action plans to improve a standardised integrated enforcement action.

He said the ministry would first ensure that the outer boundaries of reserve forests were clear and identifiable.

“This could help enforcement agencies to detect and prevent illegal activities at an early stage,” he said yesterday.

He said the ministry’s research institute was working towards shifting the practice of manual forest enforcement to high-tech visual enforcement.

The ministry, he said, was involving agencies. such as Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, police, Rela, Immigration Department and the armed forces, to combat illegal activities in forests, especially those involving illegal immigrants.

He said the integrated operation at the federal and state levels would be intensified through the 1NRE enforcement team and centralised enforcement team.

Palanivel said the ministry was actively involved in programmes to expand green areas and work towards achieving the government’s commitment at an international level to maintain wooded areas at 50 per cent of the country’s land area at least.

“Efforts are being made to educate society, especially the younger generation, to get involved in activities that combat illegal logging and forest encroachment.

“The government is confident that these illegal activities could be prevented with the cooperation of Malaysians, who could be the eyes and ears of enforcement agencies.”

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Malaysia: Our blood cockles are dying. Can we stop the killing?

lim chia ying The Star 11 Aug 14;

Selangor fishermen are no longer assured of bountiful cockle harvests. Sea pollution is to blame for the disappearing clams, they say.

In May 2012, fisherman Kahar Buntal had a shock when he hauled up his harvest of blood cockles from the sea – it was mostly empty shells. This happened throughout the entire season which spanned six months. “The yield for that year was low. We estimated that half of the harvest was dead,” recalls the 62-year-old from Bagan Sungai Buloh, a fishing settlement in Jeram, off Kuala Selangor.

“In past seasons, almost 90% of the harvest was healthy cockles. But that isn’t the case anymore these days. The dwindling population and slow growth rate are signs of deteriorating water quality in the cockles’ breeding environment. We couldn’t harvest anything last year because of the cockles’ delayed growth. It took one year and two months for them to reach the size that previously took just seven or eight months,” Kahar laments.

He started harvesting cockles in 2007 and is one of 20 licensed cockle collectors in Bagan Sungai Buloh. Alongside areas in Sekinchan and Bagan Nakhoda Omar, the 40ha site is part of the northern Selangor mudflats that harbour Peninsular Malaysia’s main cockle culture area.

Scientifically known as Anadara granosa, blood cockles feed a market demand that's reflective of the public’s voracious appetite for them, whether tossed in char kway teow or lightly blanched. What worries Kahar and other fishermen is that supply can no longer keep up with demand, based on his seasonal rakes that show declining numbers of clams and moderately high mortality.

“In the past, we could harvest at least 30 sacks of cockles weighing 68kg each in a day. Now our yields are halved to about 16 or 17 sacks. The situation went downhill in 2012 after pollution became really bad. Last year, the black water reeked, and my hands itched after coming into contact with the water,” says Kahar.

His son, Mohd Fadillah Kahar, 28, also a cockle collector, says even till today, the smell is especially nauseating during low tide.

Stunted growth

Wild cockles require a healthy environment to thrive, from the mangrove mudflats that's a source of rich nutrients to clean waters bereft of contaminants.

Universiti Putra Malaysia biologist Dr Ahmad Ismail, an expert in eco-toxicology, has been studying coastal pollution over the last 25 years using cockles as a bio-indicator for heavy metals pollution in the intertidal environment (the area between the low tide and high tide line). He says there's no monitoring or sampling being done right now on hazardous chemicals that might have accumulated in blood cockles, which could have affected their breeding and growth rate.

He explains that coastal wildlife such as migratory shore birds and small marine invertebrates such as snails and mussels are sensitive towards changes in their habitat. He believes the pollution comes from rivers since currents flow directly into the cockle beds, which are usually found on intertidal flats.

During a boat trip, the fishermen demonstrate their deft cockle harvesting skills using a steel cage tied to a long mangrove wood pole. A pedal is fitted to the pole for them to step on, which then thrusts the cage into the water to scoop up the clams. The fishermen can tell if the cage has raked up a bounty of cockles from the bubbling sound generated by the shellfish, as well as by the weight of it.

The cockles are automatically sorted by size – the small ones will fall out through the gap between the bars on the cage. These are thrown back into the sea to mature further. An unsightly part of the harvests is the litter that are inadvertently heaved up; most notable are plastic bags.

“We think pollution is causing the decline in the cockles,” says Mohd Fadillah. “Previously, there were prawn aquaculture farms not too far from here. Effluent containing chemicals used to clean the ponds were discharged into the same sea water that we fish in. There used to be several breeders, but some have ceased operating. The aquaculture activity has to stop in order for the water to return to its initial state.

“It doesn’t help too that nowadays, the soft sediment layer in the seabed that cockles depend upon for growth has been washed away by strong waves and heavy surface runoffs. Boats that navigate here, too, could have changed the seabed surface.”

He says factories in the vicinity could have compounded the problem of unmonitored discharge.

Need for monitoring

Dr Ahmad says the fishermen’s claims should be addressed, starting with proper assessment and sampling that can be made on water quality as well as on cockle seedlings and their growth rate.

“If pollution is detected from these samples, then the authorities have to come in. Elements such as arsenic, lead, cadmium, copper and zinc have to be looked into due to their toxicity, to see if they are within permissible limits or at elevated levels. Anthropogenic activities have to be taken into account, too, as they will contribute to the accumulation of hazardous chemicals in the environment.

“Right now, what we lack is specific data on the impact of pollution towards cockles. Rhis despite the alarm bells that have rung since 2012 on how cockle harvesters in Sungai Yu, Kuala Selangor, have suffered from chemical pollution in rivers that had threatened to destroy the lucrative cockle industry.”

In 2012, Selangor Times reported that cockle spats in Sungai Yu had died over a span of two months the previous year, and a 12km stretch of cockle bed from Pasir Penampang to Sasaran was ruined. The harvest in 2012 was reduced to one fifth of what it was two years earlier when the pollution was not as bad. What followed was the appointment of Japanese experts by the Agriculture and Agro-Based Ministry to examine the waters, which was found to be polluted.

However, no concrete action was taken to address the issue.

Dr Ahmad says a challenge remains, in the absence of monitoring effort and co-operation between agencies, which would have prevented the current state of affairs. “Right now, what we can do is train the fishermen to monitor basic biology and ecology parameters. For more extensive research to be carried out, funding is required. What’s really urgent now is for the authorities to establish the next step in order to save the cockle industry.”

A Selangor Fisheries Department officer acknowledges the pollution at Bagan Sungai Buloh to be at a drastic level.

“The water condition is clearly bad, though there are certain times that it is fine. However, we have no in-depth data on the water quality and it’s beyond us to enforce pollution control (this comes under the jurisdiction of the Department of Environment). We have had meetings with the respective agencies and stakeholders on this, but no solution has been found,” says the officer, who declined to be named.

"We are monitoring together with the fishermen, who have brought us to the site to highlight their plight. We have relocated some fishermen to new sites identified as suitable (for cockle breeding), but there is limited space, so not everyone can be relocated."

He says productivity of the cockle beds are also hampered by infertile sediment on the seabed. The department is surveying existing cockle farms to determine if they are still suitable for aquaculture.

Last year, a Universiti Selangor research paper Declining Production of Cockles in Relation to Ammonia Concentrations in Sungai Buloh River, Selangor reported that high ammonia levels in the waters of Bagan Sungai Buloh had caused the decline in cockle production there. The research was conducted by Mohd Fadzil Shuhaimi Ramli, Faizal Riza Abu Hasan and Mohd Nasir Saadon of the Science and Biotechnology Faculty.

In samples taken between January and June 2013, they found ammonia concentrations of 0.3mg/L (miligrammes per litre) to 4mg/L, which exceeded the cockles’ maximum tolerance level towards the substance. The paper stated that cockle production was between 300 tonnes and 400 tonnes in periods of low ammonia concentrations, but decreased to 270 tonnes in the presence of higher ammonia levels (figures are from January to June last year).

For the folk at Bagan Sungai Buloh, the mangrove mudflats which the cockles rely on for food have been given periodical clean-ups with the aid of the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) and its rubbish collection efforts. The conservation group has been conducting education awareness programmes in the area since 2009. MNS programme officer Ashok Kumar has been assisting the cockle farmers to understand the effect of a compromised environment on cockles and other marine creatures.

While conservation is the topmost agenda, he helps the fishermen earn extra income through river cruises for visitors, especially during periods when the fishermen have no cockles to harvest. “On the boat tours, the public can learn about biodiversity and see why conservation is important. At the same time, they can experience the hard work of a fisherman,” says Ashok.

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Indonesia: No civil suits for haze pollution - Official

The Jakarta Post 11 Aug 14;

The ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution does not include any punitive measures to be applied in cases in which dense haze from Indonesia affects other countries, an Indonesian official says.

“There is not even one article in the agreement indicating that the country could be hit with a civil suit,” the Environmental Ministry’s deputy to minister for environmental damage control and climate change, Arief Yuwono, said as quoted by Antara news agency.

Arief was speaking to civil servants of the Riau provincial administration in preparation for a meeting with the House of Representatives related to the ratification of the agreement and the coordination of efforts to prevent forest fires.

According to Arief, the agreement states that Malaysia will take responsibility for prevention, Singapore for monitoring, while Indonesia for the mitigation of forest fires.

Under the agreement, both Singapore and Malaysia, as well as other affected countries, agree not to file civil suits against Indonesia when forest fires caused haze.

The government is expected to pass a bill, which is in its final stage of deliberation in the House, to ratify the agreement, before the next government takes office, Antara news agency reported.

Arief explained that Indonesia had an interest in ratifying the agreement to maintain the traditional spirit of cooperation among ASEAN countries — cross-border cooperation, institutional capacity and human resources building, and the provisional efforts for monitoring and quick response.

He said that the agreement did not touch on sovereignty and national resilience issues, but was completely based on cooperation and partnership values.

The Environmental Ministry previously requested approval at the House twice and was unsuccessful because of the concerns of threats to national sovereignty.

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Swamped by Rising Seas, Small Islands Seek a Lifeline

Thalif Deen IPS 11 Aug 14;

UNITED NATIONS, Aug 11 2014 (IPS) - The world’s 52 small island developing states (SIDS), some in danger of being wiped off the face of the earth because of sea-level rise triggered by climate change, will be the focus of an international conference in the South Pacific island nation of Samoa next month.

Scheduled to take place Sep. 1-2, the conference will provide world leaders with “a first-hand opportunity to experience climate change and poverty challenges of small islands.”

According to the United Nations, the political leaders are expected to announce “over 200 concrete partnerships” to lift small islanders out of poverty – all of whom are facing rising sea levels, overfishing, and destructive natural events like typhoons and tsunamis.

“We are working with our partners – bilaterally and multilaterally – to help resolve our problems,” said Ambassador Ali’ioaiga Feturi Elisaia, permanent representative of Samoa to the United Nations.

“You don’t have to bring the cheque book to the [negotiating] table,” he added. “It’s partnerships that matter.”

The issues on the conference agenda include sustainable economic development, oceans, food security and waste management, sustainable tourism, disaster risk reduction, health and non-communicable diseases, youth and women.

The list of 52 SIDS covers a wide geographical area and includes Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Bahrain, Nauru, Palau, Maldives, Cuba, Marshall Islands, Suriname, Timor-Leste, Fiji, Tonga and Vanuatu.

The conference is expected to adopt a plan of action, also called an outcome document, ensuring some of the priorities for SIDS. A preparatory committee, co-chaired by New Zealand and Singapore, has finalised the outcome document which will go before the conference for approval.

Responding to a series of questions, Ambassador Karen Tan, permanent representative of Singapore to the United Nations, and Phillip Taula, deputy permanent representative of New Zealand, told IPS SIDS have “specific vulnerabilities, and the difficulties they face are severe and complex. The small size of SIDS creates disadvantages.”

These can include limited resources and high population density, which can contribute to overuse and depletion of resources; high dependence on international trade; threatened supply of fresh water; costly public administration and infrastructure; limited institutional capacities; and limited export volumes, which are too small to achieve economies of scale.

They noted that geographic dispersion and isolation from markets can also lead to high freight costs and reduced competitiveness. SIDS have limited land areas and populations concentrated in coastal zones. Climate change and sea-level rise present significant risks.

The long-term effects of climate change may threaten the very existence and viability of some SIDS, Tan and Taula said in the joint interview. “SIDS are located among the most vulnerable regions in the world in terms of the intensity and frequency of natural and environmental disasters and their increasing impact. And they face disproportionately high economic, social and environmental consequences when disasters occur.”

These vulnerabilities accentuate other issues facing developing countries in general, such as challenges around trade liberalisation and globalisation, food security, energy dependence and access; freshwater resources; land degradation, waste management, and biodiversity.

Asked how many SIDS have been identified by the U.N. as in danger of being wiped off the face of the earth, they said no such assessment has yet been undertaken.

However, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently released its fifth assessment report (AR5), and its Working Group II has recently issued its contribution to that, on ‘Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability’.

The report warned that small islands in general are at risk of loss of livelihoods, coastal settlements, infrastructure, ecosystem services, and economic stability.

For low-lying atoll nations particularly, the high ratio of coastal area to land mass will make adaptation to climate change a significant challenge.

Some small island states are expected to face severe impacts such as submergence, coastal flooding, and coastal erosion, the report added. These could have damage and adaptation costs of several percentage points of gross domestic product (GDP).

The report notes the risk of death, injury, ill-health, or disrupted livelihoods in low-lying coastal zones in small islands.

However, the WGII report also notes that significant potential exists for adaptation in islands, but additional external resources and technologies will enhance response.

Asked if there will be a plan of action adopted in Samoa, they said the outcome document will highlight the challenges that SIDS face and actions that SIDS and their partners will take to address these challenges.

“The theme of the conference, sustainable development of SIDS through genuine and durable partnerships, recognises that international cooperation and a wide range of partnerships involving all stakeholders are critical for the sustainable development of SIDS.”

As host, Samoa has made it clear that “no partnership is too small to count but what is essential is that they have clear targets, outputs, planned outcomes and timelines.”

Meanwhile, Afu Billy, capacity building volunteer at Development Services Exchange in Solomon Islands, told IPS the experiences that would be shared during the conference will be invaluable for small island states as they learn from each other how they are dealing with these issues and also learn from the international community on how they too are addressing these priorities of SIDS.

The fact that the conference will be bringing together governments and non-government stakeholders, including the private sector, provides a learning opportunity and one that will pose collaborative efforts on how everyone can work together in partnership to assist SIDS.

The conference will also create a space for civil society organisations (CSOs) to have an independent voice and also for governments to hear their views, she noted.

This may create further collaborative initiatives between governments and CSOs for sustainable developments in the SIDS.

Asked whether she expects any concrete outcome, Billy said the idea to form partnerships among all stakeholders including the governments to assist SIDS to do things for themselves “is one outcome that we anticipate the conference delivering.”

Any plan of action that the conference adopts should be inclusive of all stakeholders, she added.

“There should be emphasis on SIDS doing things for themselves to ensure sustainable development and that stakeholders and partners are seen as ‘friends’ who come to their rescue when they get bogged in a ‘rut’ but then let’s them carry on with what they are doing after being ‘rescued’”.

This is to alleviate or minimise donor dependency but also promote sustainable development.

“We expect better and stronger official development assistance (ODA) to be directed on development effectiveness rather than on a dominant aid effectiveness approach,” she said.

“Finally, we expect that the issue of reducing corruption and increase transparency at all levels will be an overarching subject at the Conference and sound recommendations to alleviate corruption will be adopted and incorporated into the Plan of Action,.”

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

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Extreme weather becoming more common, study says

Rise in blocking-patterns – hot or wet weather remaining stuck over regions for weeks – causing frequent heatwaves or floods
Damian Carrington 11 Aug 14;

A pedestrian hangs on to a trash can along Central Avenue as rainwater flows towards downtown Albuquerque, N.M., August 1, 2014. Heavy rains late Friday night caused the flash flooding and road closures in parts of downtown and in other areas. A man hangs on to a trash can as rainwater gushes towards Albuquerque in New Mexico, US. Heavy rains caused flash flooding and road closures in the city earlier this month. Photograph: Roberto E. Rosales/AP

Extreme weather like the drought currently scorching the western US and the devastating floods in Pakistan in 2010 is becoming much more common, according to new scientific research.

The work shows so-called “blocking patterns”, where hot or wet weather remains stuck over a region for weeks causing heatwaves or floods, have more than doubled in summers over the last decade. The new study may also demonstrate a link between the UK’s recent flood-drenched winter and climate change.

Climate scientists in Germany noticed that since 2000 there have been an “exceptional number of summer weather extremes, some causing massive damage to society”. So they examined the huge meanders in the high-level jet stream winds that dominate the weather at mid-latitudes, by analysing 35 years of wind data amassed from satellites, ships, weather stations and meteorological balloons. They found that blocking patterns, which occur when these meanders slow down, have happened far more frequently.

“Since 2000, we have seen a cluster of these events. When these high-altitude waves become quasi-stationary, then we see more extreme weather at the surface,” said Dr Dim Coumou, at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. “It is especially noticeable for heat extremes.” The intense heatwaves in Russia in 2010, which saw 50,000 people die and the wheat harvest hit hard, and in western Europe in 2003, which saw 30,000 deaths, were both the result of blocking patterns. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded in 2011 that extreme weather would become more common as global warming heats the planet, causing both heatwaves and increasingly severe rain storms.

The rise in blocking patterns correlates closely with the extra heating being delivered to the Arctic by climate change, according to the research which is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academies of Science (PNAS). Coumou and his colleagues argue there are good physical reasons to think there is a causal link, because the jet streams are driven by the difference in temperature between the poles and the equator. As the Arctic is warming more quickly than lower latitudes, that temperature difference is declining, providing less energy for the jet stream and its meanders, which are called Rossby waves.

Prof Ted Shepherd, a climate scientist at the University of Reading, UK, but not involved in the work, said the link between blocking patterns and extreme weather was very well established. He added that the increasing frequency shown in the new work indicated climate change could bring rapid and dramatic changes to weather, on top of a gradual heating of the planet. “Circulation changes can have much more non-linear effects. They may do nothing for a while, then there might be some kind of regime change.”

Shepherd said linking the rise in blocking events to Arctic warming remained “a bit speculative” at this stage, in particular because the difference between temperatures at the poles and equator is most pronounced in winter, not summer. But he noted that the succession of storms that caused England’s wettest winter in 250 years was a “very good example” of blocking patterns causing extreme weather during the coldest season. “The jet stream was stuck in one position for a long period, so a whole series of storms passed over England,” he said.

Coumou acknowledges his study shows a correlation – not causation – between more frequent summer blocking patterns and Arctic warming. “To show causality, computer modelling studies are needed, but it is questionable how well current climate models can capture these effects,” he said.

Prof Tim Palmer, at the University of Oxford, wrote in a PNAS article in 2013 that understanding changes to blocking patterns may well be the key to understanding changes in extreme weather, and therefore to understanding the worst impacts of climate change on society. But he said climate models might have to run down to scales of 1km to do so. “Currently, national climate institutes do not have the high-performance computing capability to simulate climate with 20km resolution, let alone 1km,” he wrote. “[I] look forward to the day when governments make the same investment in climate prediction as they have made in finding the Higgs boson.”

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