Best of our wild blogs: 22 May 15

Celebrate World Environment Day with a coastal cleanup @ Tanah Merah 7!
News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

Javan Myna caught a Spotted House Gecko
Bird Ecology Study Group

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NParks to study effects of exercise, green spaces

NEO CHAI CHIN Today Online 22 May 15;

SINGAPORE — To quantify the benefits of green spaces, the National Parks Board (NParks) will be embarking on two studies with researchers here.

The first aims to quantify the benefits of exercise in parks, while the second will investigate the effects of parks and gardening on the elderly.

Posting on his ministry’s blog yesterday, Minister for National Development Khaw Boon Wan wrote: “We hope to gain further insights on such ... effects through research. But Singaporeans know instinctively all along that green spaces promote physical and mental well-being. Who does not want to live in or near a garden? That is why we set out to ensure 80 per cent of homes in Singapore are within a 10-minute walk from a park and aim to raise this to 90 per cent by 2030.”

The study on benefits of physical activity in parks will be led by Assistant Professor Falk Mueller-Riemenschneider of the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health at the National University of Singapore (NUS). He said the first phase of the study, consisting of questionnaires and focus-group discussions on participants’ use of parks, potential strategies to promote activities in parks and the features they would like to see in these spaces that will encourage them to become more active, is under way.

The second phase will consist of a randomised controlled intervention study. “Our objective is to investigate whether a park prescription, with or without a tailored exercise programme in the park can, on one hand, increase physical activity level and, on the other hand, increase general well-being,” he said.

Asst Prof Mueller-Riemenschneider said the study is not intended to distinguish between positive effects that come from exercise and those arising from a parks setting. Rather, it is to show the benefits of combining both. The researchers will also assess how much time individuals spend in parks and the amount and type of physical activities conducted there.

The 240 participants in the second phase of the study will be recruited among individuals aged 40 to 65 who have undergone community health screening by Khoo Teck Puat Hospital. The researchers hope to recruit those who have been identified as generally healthy but sedentary. Asst Prof Mueller-Riemenschneider, the study’s principal investigator, said it should be concluded by 2017.

The study on the effects of gardening and parks, expected to take place over two years, will also involve a randomised controlled trial. To be led by Asst Prof Roger Ho of NUS medical school’s Psychological Medicine Department, the study will involve about 70 participants who will undergo neuropsychological testing and complete psychological questionnaires.

Recent studies have found that those who move to greener urban areas are associated with improved mental health, said NParks, which manages more than 350 parks that cover over 2,000ha. Research has also found that people are happier when there are more green spaces in their neighbourhoods.

NParks to quantify the benefits of greenery with research studies
Two research studies will done in collaboration with National University of Singapore and Khoo Teck Puat Hospital Singapore, says Minister for National Development Khaw Boon Wan.
Channel NewsAsia 21 May 15;

SINGAPORE: NParks is embarking on two research studies to better understand and quantify greenery’s benefits, said Minister for National Development Khaw Boon Wan on Thursday (May 21).

In a blog post, Mr Khaw said that the research is done in collaboration with National University of Singapore (NUS) and Khoo Teck Puat Hospital Singapore (KTPH).

The two research studies in particular are park prescription, which will examine the positive effects of physical activity in parks with clinical research; and horticultural therapy, which will investigate the effects of parks and gardening on the mental health of the elderly.

Mr Khaw also emphasised that NPark has set out to ensure that 80 per cent of homes in Singapore are within a 10-minute walk from a park because “green spaces promote physical and mental well-being”, and that this will be raised to 90 per cent by 2030.

“Mr Lee Kuan Yew greened up Singapore as he felt strongly that 'a blighted urban landscape, a concrete jungle destroys the human spirit. We need the greenery of nature to lift our spirits'," said Mr Khaw.

- CNA/ct

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Expect thundery showers before drier, hotter weather hits next month

Feng Zengkun The Straits Times AsiaOne 22 May 15;

SINGAPORE is likely to have more showers for the rest of this month, but the weather after that could become drier and hotter than usual.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) said in its latest forecast that the country can expect four to five days of short, thundery showers in the late morning and early afternoon in the second half of this month.

In addition, there may be one to two days of downpours with gusty winds in the pre-dawn hours and morning, as well as slight haze on a few days.

Singapore and other southern ASEAN countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia typically have drier weather from next month to September.

However, this year, Singapore is more likely than not to be hit by a weather phenomenon called El Nino, which could make the country even hotter and drier during those months.

During an El Nino, a warm pool of water in the western Pacific Ocean moves eastwards, triggering thunderstorms that move away from South-east Asia towards the United States and South America.

During the "strong" El Nino in 1997, Singapore's rainfall from June to September was about half the usual average.

This year, there is a 60 to 70 per cent chance of a "weak" El Nino developing by the Northern Hemisphere summer, which is from late June to late September, the NEA said. The forecast was based on the Meteorological Service Singapore's assessment of computer-model outlooks from international climate centres.

Some of the models also point to the possibility of a moderate El Nino towards the end of this year.

The NEA cautioned, however, that the predictions could be off the mark, since the models cannot "skilfully" capture El Nino at this time of the year.

Weather experts said that between March and this month, as the Northern Hemisphere transitions to summer, the ocean-atmosphere system in the part of the Pacific Ocean relevant to El Nino is in transition. This makes it difficult for computer models to predict El Nino.

Assistant Professor Winston Chow from the National University of Singapore's department of geography said: "The ocean-atmosphere system becomes more stable once summer happens.

"Once the relevant data such as sea surface temperatures and wind speed and direction from the end of this month onwards is fed into the models used to forecast El Nino, the predictions should become more confident."

However, Nanyang Technological University's Associate Professor Koh Tieh Yong said data showed there has already been a weak El Nino since last September, and he believes the El Nino will remain weak until at least the end of next month.

Prof Koh agreed with Prof Chow that predictions for the longer term are too uncertain at this point.

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Conservation, planning may get high-tech boost with 3D, drones

ALFRED CHUA MING FENG Today Online 21 May 15;

The 3D models are created using photogrammetry, which involves the capturing of photos from different angles using high-speed digital photography. The photos are then used to calculate size and shape, and the 3D model is stitched together and edited with computer software.

This is the first time the URA is using a combination of drones and photogrammetry technology. It has used drones to capture aerial 2D images since 2013 for areas around Singapore such as the Jurong Lake District and the Rail Corridor.

Commenting on the use of drone technology, Mr Kelvin Ang, director of conservation management at URA said: “It offers us a safe, affordable and timely way to get information to monitor the state of our built heritage. With more information, we can work better with the community to better understand how to maintain the buildings for the future.”

In a press release today (May 20), the URA added: “Creating fine-grained 3D digital models of our built heritage potentially offers a new dimension to document our conserved buildings in more intricate and accurate detail. Planners can use these digital models to plan and carry out research, guide restoration, as well as monitor and manage the state of our built heritage in a more effective way.”

Not only is using drones cheaper and less manpower-intensive than previous methods to create 3D models, it also saves conservation planners from having to physically scale a building to see the rooftops and other aspects of conserved buildings, such as architectural motifs.

“Sharing these 3D digital models with the public also enables them to have a deeper appreciation of our built heritage,” added the URA.

The authority started the effort with a trial at the National University of Singapore Baba House in February in a partnership with tech company Avetics. In addition, the agency said it is exploring the creation of 3D digital models of the urban environment using drone technology, so as to help in urban planning.

In the coming months, the URA will carry out another trial to to capture accurate details of the profile, terrain, and contours of the Pearl’s Hill district and Chinatown area.

Said Mr Ang: “Being able to use 3D technology allows us to plan in a way that is closer to how citizens experience the city. We can understand our landscape better, and therefore make more informed decisions.”

With 3D models of city landscapes, planners can simulate various scenarios, and analyse different elements like transportation and wind tunnels.

Today, the URA also launched a month-long exhibition — partnering 15 organisations such as Gardens By The Bay and the Maritime and Port Authority — on how drones are changing the way the world is seen.

The free exhibition, which will run until June 25 at the URA Centre Atrium, showcases drones that can swim, or respond to voice control, and fall into three sections: 3D digital modelling, aerial imaging and environmental and infrastructure monitoring.

In his opening address at the launch, URA chairman Peter Ho said drone technology is helping to open up new possibilities for various uses.

“With the increasing use of drones and the immense possibilities they offer, I envisage a drone eco-system in the future in which infrastructure is developed to support their varying applications and the test-bedding of potential applications,” he added.

Heritage experts TODAY spoke to generally applauded the move to use drones to boost conservation efforts, but some cautioned against potential pitfalls.

Dr Nazry Bahrawi, a lecturer at Singapore University of Technology and Design, said: “While it is a laudable move in terms of the technological and cost benefits it brings, it also presents us an opportune time to open up the debate about the ethics of the usage of technology.”

URA explores creating 3D digital models of city area using drones
URA and local drone start-up Avetics have already worked on a trial to create a 3D digital model of the NUS Baba House at Neil Road, while more trials are planned for the Pearl's Hill district and Chinatown area.
Channel NewsAsia 21 May 15;

SINGAPORE: Digital models of the Republic's heritage sites and city areas created using aerial images by drones could be here to stay, if trials conducted by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) are successful.

The URA said the technique is called photogrammetry, which is the science of making measurements from photographs. It had already partnered with local drone set-up Avetics to create a 3D digital model of the NUS Baba House at Neil Road, the agency said in a press release on Thursday (May 21).

A drone can also be used to capture the details of motifs along the NUS Baba House's air well. (Photo: URA)

"Creating fine-grained 3D digital models of our built heritage potentially offers a new dimension to document our conserved buildings in more intricate and accurate detail," URA said. "Planners can use these digital models to plan and carry out research, guide restoration, as well as monitor and manage the state of our built heritage in a more effective way."

The drone will fly for 15 to 30 minutes and take more than 300 photographs during that time. Each image taken is tagged with location coordinates.

"With the drone, you can make use of airspace around the building and fly all around it; take photographs from all angles, and put it back into a 3D building. The advantage is really time savings, colour and accuracy," said Avetics CEO Zhang Wei Liang. The planning process and public viewing, took the drone operators just two days.

For instance, conservation planners need not physically scale a building to see the rooftops and other aspects such as architectural motifs of conserved buildings, it said.


There are also plans in the coming months to collaborate with industry players to create 3D digital models of the Pearl’s Hill district and Chinatown area, the agency added.

If successful, planners can potentially use the models to facilitate faster and more accurate 3D analysis for various urban planning and design scenarios, URA said.

"3D information will let us plan in a way that is closer to how our citizens will experience the city. For example, do we understand the terrain of an area, where the trees are, what are the views etc? And where the buildings are located, so that we can better plan that wind is harnessed for greater comfort at a street level," said Mr Kelvin Ang, director for Conservation Management at URA.

A playground in Singapore through the lens of an aerial drone. (Photo: Avetics & Stefen Chow)

URA CEO Ng Lang said: “The current rapid advancement in disruptive technology offers exciting opportunities to explore new ways to plan, develop, and manage the city.

“Drone technology is one example. It allows us to conveniently capture and generate high-quality, precise 3D digital models of buildings that we used to take weeks to do, and at a lower cost.”


URA also launched its exhibition, Drones: Changing The Way We See The World, on Thursday, which showcases the advancement of Unmanned Vehicle (UV) technology, its applications as well as potential uses and future possibilities.

The exhibition will focus on three aspects of drone application – aerial imaging, 3D digital modelling and environmental and infrastructure monitoring, it said.

The URA has been using aerial images to simulate future developments in the planning of Jurong Lake District. (Photo: URA)

In particular, URA has been using drones to capture aerial images and videos for areas such as Jurong Lake District and Marina Bay. The images are used to map and document changes in Singapore’s urban landscape.

At the launch of the exhibition, URA chairman Peter Ho also pointed out that Shell uses drones to inspect their flare stacks in Jurong Island, helping them to save both time and manpower, while reducing safety risks.

"Within our neighbourhoods, you can fit drones with thermal sensors to help detect mosquito breeding grounds," he added.

Drones have also been used in emergency operations - the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) recently announced the use of aerial drones and other UVs for safer and more efficient fire-fighting.

The exhibition will run from May 21 to Jun 25 at the Urban Lab, URA Centre Atrium, and admission is free.

- CNA/ct

Govt agencies turn to drones to boost their operations
Amos Lee The Straits Times AsiaOne 22 May 15;

DRONES could soon be buzzing about more here, as government agencies start tapping unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for various projects.

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore, for instance, is working with local engineering firm Hope Technik to develop a Water Spider drone to better assess oil spills.

Also, last month, the Singapore Civil Defence Force announced the use of aerial drones for safer and more efficient firefighting. Drones are becoming more popular because they are getting cheaper to make.

Said Mr Mark Yong, chief executive of Garuda Robotics, which builds drones: "They are cheaper to manufacture today, and cost from a third to half the price of those made just a few years ago."

A simpler model could cost about $1,300 now, he noted.

At the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) Centre in Maxwell Road yesterday, the benefits were highlighted at an exhibition called Drones: Changing The Way We See The World.

The URA also announced a collaboration with various drone development firms to aid in urban planning.

One new application would see the creation of 3D digital models of heritage buildings using aerial images captured by drones.

Mr Zhang Weiliang, CEO of Avetics, which created the software for the 3D modelling, said most people think of drones as photo-taking devices.

"Here, we combine them with land survey and engineering," he explained.

URA planners can then use the models to monitor restoration and conservation efforts in a new way.

The models can also be uploaded on the Web and made accessible to the public.

In addition, the National Environment Agency could use drones to conduct building inspections and check for mosquito breeding grounds in higher or more dangerous places.

This would help to reduce the number of man-hours spent climbing up to rooftops, as well as cut costs.

Noted Mr Yong: "Drones are not just for flying and fun, and we are making them useful by collecting data."

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Malaysia: Johor set to become southern region economic hub

The Star 22 May 15;

JOHOR BARU: Johor is set to become a southern region economic hub after the Klang Valley with the implementation of the 11th Malaysia Plan, says Mentri Besar Datuk Mohamed Khaled Nordin.

He said the state would also benefit from the High Speed Rail line that connects Kuala Lumpur and Jurong in Singapore.

“Other aspects in the plan such as providing affordable homes, schools, a hospital and reviving the Gemas-Johor Baru double-tracking project will have a positive impact on the state’s growth as well,” he said in a statement here yesterday.

Mohamed Khaled also said the implementation of the LNG regasification terminal in Pengerang, which generates power to the Pengerang Integrated Petroleum Complex (PIPC) project, is set to change the country’s oil and gas landscape.

Johor Public Works, Rural and Regional Development Committee chairman Datuk Hasni Mohamad said the state was ready to get the Gemas-Johor Baru double-tracking project up and running.

He said the state had done all the necessary relocation of residents, compensation and realignment for the project and was awaiting instructions from the Federal Government.

“The double-tracking project should not be delayed any further as it will disrupt the state’s flood mitigation efforts, especially in the Genuang and Segamat areas.

“We can also construct an underpassage for water to flow as the area is prone to floods,” he added.

He said there was a minor setback with some families living near the proposed double-tracking route in Kluang being unhappy about the relocation site, adding that the state was working with them to address the matter.

On floods, state Health and Environment Committee chairman Datuk Ayub Rahmat said Johor needed about RM5bil to tackle the problem.

Johor has received RM500mil for three flood mitigation projects in Segamat, Gemas and Muar.

“All the projects are ongoing and slated to be completed in phases by the end of next year,” he added.

Ayub said the RM500mil allocation was approved by the Federal Government following major floods which hit the state in 2006, 2007 and 2011.

“Although we have already received part of the allocation, we hope for more funds under the 11MP to carry out projects in other districts,” he said in an interview yesterday.

Other districts that also need funds are Batu Pahat, Kluang, Mersing and Kota Tinggi.

“We are studying the long-term solutions to prevent recurring floods by upgrading the drainage system statewide,” Ayub said.

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11th Malaysia Plan - Caring for the climate

The Star 22 May 15;

PREVENTING climate change and reducing its effects are the main targets in the fourth strategic thrust of the 11th Malaysia Plan.

Referring to the massive floods in the peninsula last December, the report admitted that climate change has caused an increase in the “frequency and intensity of natural disasters”.

As a remedy, the Government’s plan for the next five years is to discard the “grow first, clean up later” mentality and to pursue development in a more sustainable manner right from the start.

Of all the goals set, two exceptionally ambitious ones stand out: to reduce greenhouse gas emission intensity of GDP by 40%, and to protect more than twice the number of those who live in flood-prone areas compared to the standards achieved in the previous Malaysia Plan.

To realise the plan to reduce carbon footprints, the Government will provide incentives in the form of carbon tax, green tax and green bonds.

Businesses will be encouraged to adopt newer forms of renewable energy and by 2020, it is expected to contribute to 7.8% of the total installed energy capacity in the peninsula and Sabah.

As for flood mitigation plans, a combination of awareness programmes and a disaster risk management framework will be used to achieve the target of protecting two million Malaysians from floods.

The framework will comprise programmes to reduce the impact of natural disasters and to speed up response time to communities that are prone to natural disasters.

Restoring jungles and protecting endangered animals and plants from extinction are some of the plans that the 11th Malaysia Plan has in store for the environment.

The Government promises to conserve Malaysia’s biodiversity so that future generations can have access to the same resources today.

Advance reproductive technology will be used to help increase the numbers of several species, including the tiger, sambar deer, elephant and gaur as well as plants such as slipper orchid and asam batu.

The health of Malaysian rainforests, being the natural habitat of the above species and which act as important water catchment areas, are the primary concern of the Forestry Department.

The department solicits the help of the orang asli to protect forest reserves by providing them with alternative ways of earning money.

It was reported that the department managed to lift the indigenous people of the Kelawat Forest Reserve out of poverty.

With training programmes on language and entrepreneurship, the orang asli managed to increase their household incomes by 80% through the sale of rubber latex and fruits in 2014.

Plan protects Malayan tigers too
The Star 22 May 15;

PETALING JAYA: The animal that symbolises Malaysia – the Malayan tiger – has leapt into the 11th Malaysia Plan.

With not more than 350 of this large cat still ­roaming our forests, the Government plans to increase its numbers along with other endangered species such as the elephant, sambar deer (rusa) and the gaur (seladang).

One such existing initiative that will be intensified is the 1Malaysia Biodiversity Enforcement Operation Network (1MBEON), which aims to curb wildlife poaching.

Spearheading the programme are the National Resources and Environment (NRE) Ministry as well as the Defence Ministry.

The NRE’s Department of Wildlife and National Parks director of ex-situ conservation division Fakhrul Hatta Musa revealed that the programme has managed to cripple several poaching syndicates since its inception last year.

“Our aim is to stop poachers from harming ­protected wildlife,” Fakhrul Hatta said.

Fakhrul Hatta explained that 40 officers from the NRE and 60 army personnel patrol the forest reserves in Malaysia.

So far, the programme has conducted five ­operations, successfully nabbing at least 10 poachers.

Each operation, he said, lasts 18 days with the budget for food, staff allowance and transportation costs setting his department back by RM50,000 each time.

“We always need more officers to have more ­regular patrols,” he said.

So far, 1MBEON has managed to save wildlife with an estimated street value of RM500,000 from being poached.

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Indonesia: Jokowi asked to handle pollution in Lake Toba

Apriadi Gunawan, The Jakarta Post 22 May 15;

A number of NGOs affiliated with the Jalin D’toba forum have urged President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to address environmental damage and water pollution in seven regencies around Lake Toba.

“We have submitted data on the damaged ecosystem in the Lake Toba area, including water pollution and deforestation. We are now waiting for the President to voice his commitment to restoring the damaged environment around Lake Toba,” Jalin D’toba coordinator Murni Huber told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.

Murni said the Batak community had long complained about environmental destruction and water pollution in Lake Toba.

However, she said, the government had yet to show any signs that it would restore the damaged area.

Murni said the community had reported water pollution in six locations, namely Panatapan and Haranggaol in Simalungun regency, Simalombu and Pangururan in Samosir regency, Ajitaba in Toba Samosir and Silalahi in Dairi regency.

Phytoplankton and zooplankton specimen analysis conducted by the Environmental Health Technical Center in 2013 and 2014 at a number of points categorized water in Lake Toba as contaminated.

Humbang Hasundutan resident Kristina Simamora said the damaged Lake Toba ecosystem had seriously affected the lives of residents living around Lake Toba.

Kristina cited that deforestation had affected rice production on account of soil runoff during rain, thus causing yields to drop by around 30 percent.

She further said fish production had also dropped due to worsening water quality in Lake Toba, as most of the fish had died from the effects of excessive fish fodder.

In February this year, the North Sumatra Council held a hearing with community groups and a number of companies blamed for polluting the ecosystem around Lake Toba.

In the meeting, the council recommended the establishment of a special committee, calling on companies operating around Lake Toba to halt logging activities, returning customary land rights and ending all forms of intimidation against the people, as well as urging all companies to apply for operating permits.

Separately, PT Aquafarm Nusantara, one of the biggest floating net cage (keramba) fishery companies in Lake Toba, acknowledged the food pellets they scattered in a number of keramba in Lake Toba had caused a decrease in water quality, but not significantly.

“There is impact, but it’s not fair to place the blame on us alone,” said Saruhum, from the Swiss-based Aquafarm Nusantara.

Similarly, West Sumatra is also facing pollution problems in Lake Maninjau in Agem regency due to the operations of fishing companies with their karamba. Last year, hundreds of tons of fish died in the lake.

The West Sumatra Environmental Management Agency recently urged the Agam administration to remove 10,000 keramba from the lake to prevent further damage to the environment.

The lake is currently home to more than 16,000 keramba owned by local residents and entrepreneurs, despite a maximum capacity of 6,000 cages.

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El Niño could bring drought and famine in west Africa, scientists warn

Global weather system that plays havoc with weather across the world could exacerbate region’s dry spell and devastate Sahel as it did in 1972
Karl Mathiesen The Guardian 21 May 15;

A global weather phenomenon could cause a famine in the Sahel this year by combining with already dry conditions to create a “double whammy” for the region, scientists and aid groups have warned.

Professor Adam Scaife, a long term forecaster at the UK Met Office Hadley Centre, said models now agreed an El Niño event was likely and the first impacts may be felt as early as June.

El Niño is caused by a reversal of trade winds in the Pacific that allow warm water to spread east, across the ocean. The two to seven year cycle plays havoc with weather across the world.

“[A] place that’s really important to stress is west Africa, where there is increased risk of drought during El Niño. That is exacerbated this year by some conditions [including] cooling of the North Atlantic,” he said.

In west Africa, Scaife said conditions were aligning in a similar way to the massive 1972 drought that devastated the Sahel with famine. During this event, drying from El Niño tipped the region into full blown drought.

Scaife said the current parched conditions combined with further warming and drying from El Niño would be a “double whammy”.

Oxfam’s west Africa regional director Aboubacry Tall said the partial failure of the 2014 rainy season had left between 300,000 and 400,000 people in the Sahel without access to a secure food supply.

Speaking to the Guardian from Sierra Leone, Tall said the first rains of 2015 began to fall just a few days ago and Met Office predictions of a drought as early as June were deeply concerning for people awaiting crop-growing rain in the sub-Saharan areas of northern Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Mali, northern Senegal and Mauritania.

“If this rainy season is disrupted then the consequences would be quite drastic because even this year we have some gaps. If you have a second generalised failure of crops across the region you will certainly have the early set in of a food crisis or possibly a famine in the Sahel,” he said.

On Wednesday, US president Barack Obama linked the violence and terror being wrought in Nigeria by Boko Haram to severe drought in the Sahel. It has been reported that young men have joined the al-Qaeda affiliated group after being displaced by food shortages.

In the neighbouring coastal countries mounting a fragile recovery from ebola, Scaife said the effect of a possible El Niño was less clear. These areas are traditionally wetter and are more resistant to fluctuations in rainfall. “If anything it is more likely wetter on the Guinea coastline,” he said.

This news will come as a relief in countries where people have been driven from their farms and food production has dropped significantly.

“If El Niño was to [cause drought] on top of Ebola in affected countries it would certainly be a significant catastrophe in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. It would put back any hope of recovery by at least another year,” said Tall.

Apart from Africa, El Niño could also bring dry conditions could in Australia and India during the next few months. In California, wet conditions could put an end to the state’s worst drought in 1200 years.

In 2014 many forecasters predicted an El Niño but it never materialised. Scaife said the Met Office modelling did not give the false alarm that led other agencies to make the wrong call.

“There was not unanimous agreement that the risk was increased. This year is different. All of the forecast systems that I’ve looked at show a clear increase in risk of at least a moderate El Niño event,” he said. Earlier this month the Australian Bureau of Meteorology and US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared an El Niño.

In the past week a strong pulse of eastward winds has emerged in the west Pacific. “If anything that’s going to strengthen it even further,” said Scaife.

Professor Eric Guilyardi, from Reading University’s National Centre for Atmospheric Science said the current levels of warming in the Pacific were higher than before the largest recorded El Niño in 1997-98, although this does not guarantee an extreme event.

“[An extreme event] is not the most likely outcome but the risk is increased,” he said.

“What is specific this year is the level of warming at this time of the year is pretty high. We have to go back to 1987 to see such levels of warming at this time of the year,” said Guilyardi.

El Niños are known to temporarily raise the global temperature. Last year was the hottest on record. The global surface temperature was 0.57C above average, despite the aborted El Niño. Scaife said the first months of 2015 were already running an extremely high temperature, with temperatures currently at 0.64C above average.

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Antarctic glaciers once thought stable now thawing fast - study

Reuters Yahoo News 22 May 15;

PARIS (Reuters) - Glaciers in part of Antarctica have started to thaw fast, adding to sea level rise that threatens coasts and cities from New York to Shanghai, a team of scientists said in a study published on Thursday.

Another expert in the field however immediately cast doubt on the conclusions of the study, suggesting it had greatly overestimated the rate of ice loss.

The glaciers along a stretch of coast about 750 km (470 miles) long in the southern Antarctic peninsula, which snakes up towards South America, began to thin suddenly from around 2009, the team which produced the study said.

"This area is starting to lose ice very rapidly ... an area where we didn’t expect it to happen," lead author Bert Wouters, of the University of Bristol in England, told Reuters. The study was published in the journal Science.

The team estimated that water from the glaciers in the region were now adding 0.16 mm (0.006 inch) a year to global sea levels, which are rising at about 3 mm a year overall.

From 2002-10, satellite monitoring indicated that the glaciers were gaining snow and ice as fast as they were slipping into the sea. But something happened around 2009, speeding the slide.

The scientists linked the thaw to changes in winds and ocean currents that have been linked by other studies to global warming and a thinning of the ozone layer high in the atmosphere.

But Andy Shepherd, a director of the Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling at the University of Leeds, said their calculations might have overlooked shifts in snowfall.

"I think the new estimates of ice loss computed (from the thinning of the ice) are far too high, because the glaciers in this sector just haven't speeded up that much," he said.

The U.N. panel of climate scientists says sea level rise could accelerate this century to almost a meter from 20 cm in the past century due to rising temperatures.

It says that it is at least 95 percent probable that man-made greenhouse gas emissions, rather than natural swings in the climate, are the main cause of warming temperatures.

(Reporting by Alister Doyle; editing by Andrew Roche)

Sudden and Rapid Ice Loss Discovered in Antarctica
Becky Oskin Yahoo News 22 May 15;

The pace of climate change in Antarctica can now be measured in dog years.

"Out of the blue, it's become the second most important contributor to sea level rise in Antarctica," said lead study author Bert Wouters, a remote sensing expert and Marie Curie Fellow at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom.

The discovery means Antarctica's entire western coast is now losing ice. "This is an important signal that we've got really rapid change going on in Antarctica," said Neil Glasser, a glaciologist at Aberystwyth University in the United Kingdom who was not involved in the study. [Images of Melt: See Earth's Vanishing Ice]

The southern Antarctic Peninsula's 466-mile-long (750 kilometers) coastline borders the Amundsen Sea. Because its glaciers were stable before 2009, this area has been mostly ignored by scientists, Wouters said. But when the peninsula turned up as a potential melting hotspot in a recent analysis of new satellite data, the research team decided to take a closer look, he said.

Wouters and his co-authors combined data from three satellites to measure the surface elevation of glaciers between 2003 and 2014. They found that there was no significant ice loss until 2009, when at least nine glaciers starting thinning. Some of the glaciers are now shrinking by as much as 13 feet (4 m) each year, the study reported. The drawdown also reached some 62 miles (100 km) inland from the coast.

That's comparable to the peninsular glaciers' notorious southern neighbor, Pine Island Glacier, which is thinning by more than 3 feet (1 m) per year.

"The entire region is out of balance, and it was quite unexpected," Wouters told Live Science.

In all, the southern Antarctica Peninsula added about 80 trillion gallons (300 trillion liters) of water to the ocean between 2009 and 2014, the researchers said. If melted completely, the thinning glaciers would raise sea level another 14 inches (35 centimeters), Wouters said.

However, Glasser urged caution in embracing the findings because of the short time span of the anomaly and the lack of fieldwork to confirm the satellite observations. "This is a real snapshot," he said.

For the new study, Glasser's team analyzed only what is happening to the glaciers, not why it's happening. But research published in Science last year offers a possible explanation. The Nov. 10, 2014, study found that, in the Amundsen Sea, a warm, deep ocean current is welling up near the coastline, driven by changes in wind flow around Antarctica. The warm water is likely melting both the underside of the Antarctic Peninsula glaciers and the floating ice shelves that hold them back like doorstops. This attack from below has been implicated in the collapse of Pine Island Glacier and the Antarctic Peninsula's Larsen ice shelves.

Wouters said the southern Antarctic Peninsula's floating ice shelves may have started thinning up to 25 years ago, before the land-based glaciers began shedding ice. "The ice shelves may have passed some tipping point that held the [glaciers] back until 2009," he said.

Also, between 2003 and 2009, the ice loss in the southern Antarctica Peninsula was balanced out by extra snowfall, said Ted Scambos, a glaciologist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado, who was not involved in the study. Now, the thinning has outpaced the snowfall.

"We're seeing enough mass loss to more than make up for that snow accumulation," Scambos told Live Science.

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