Best of our wild blogs: 17 Dec 15

Ship collision off the Marine Park on 16 Dec 2015: no oil spill
wild shores of singapore

The Paris Agreement: what it means for Singapore and what more can we do
Green Future Solutions

Creature of the Month – Leaf-footed Bug
Bugs & Insects of Singapore

NASA image reveals toxic pall of carbon monoxide from Indonesian fires
Mongabay Environmental News

Split Identity: The Flower Crab is Actually Four
News from Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

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Paris pact will push Singapore to cut greenhouse gas emissions: Masagos

Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli says the historic agreement to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius by 2030 can be achieved through the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions.
Channel NewsAsia 16 Dec 15;

SINGAPORE: The Paris climate agreement will push Singapore to carry out efforts to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, said Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli.

Singapore had already pledged to reduce emissions intensity by 36 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030 prior to the climate talks. Mr Masagos, who had attended the recent Paris climate talks, said that both the country and its citizens will have to make changes in their consumption habits, as well as reduce the amount of waste produced.

The Paris climate talks ended with nearly 200 countries adopting a historic agreement to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius by 2030.

Mr Masagos noted that this can be achieved through what is known as the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), which are commitments made by the countries involved to reduce emissions.

“The INDC will require each country to put up all the initiative they can within the country to contribute towards this reduction of global temperatures below 27 degrees Celsius that we're trying to achieve together,” he said. “Which means that every five years there will be a review of what they have done, whether they have achieved what they set out to achieve and indeed whether these commitments can be further increased.”

- CNA/ek

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Freighter sinks in Singapore Strait after collision with chemical tanker; 6 still missing

Today Online 17 Dec 15;

SINGAPORE — A freighter bearing the Antigua and Barbuda flag sank in the Singapore Strait last night (Dec 16) after a collision with a Cayman Islands-registered chemical tanker.

Six out of 12 members of the freighter’s crew have been rescued, while search and rescue operations for the remaining freighter crew members are still on-going, said the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) in a statement past midnight today. There was no Singaporean crew member on either vessel.

The incident had occurred at 8.14pm in Indonesian waters, 11km north-west of Batam. The freighter, named “Thorco Cloud”, was carrying 560 metric tonnes of bunker fuel. The chemical tanker, named “Stolt Commitment”, sustained minor damage, but is in stable condition, said the MPA.

Two patrol craft were deployed by the MPA for search and rescue operations. The Police Coast Guard (PCG) also deployed five boats.

Indonesian authorities were also alerted of the incident by the MPA and have commenced search and rescue operations. The MPA is assisting the Indonesian authorities to survey and mark the sunken freighter to ensure navigational safety.

Five of the freighter crew members were rescued by the PCG, with the other crew member rescued by the chemical tanker.

Two Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) vessels were also dispatched. The SCDF has conveyed the six rescued crew members to Singapore General Hospital.

Meanwhile, the MPA has issued navigational broadcasts to vessels in the vicinity to keep clear of the area and to report any sightings of the missing crew members.

There is no disruption to shipping traffic or reports of any oil spills in the Singapore Strait currently, said the MPA. Still, the MPA has readied anti-pollution craft on standby.

6 missing after freighter collides with chemical tanker in Singapore Strait
The freighter, which was bearing the Antigua and Barbuda flag, was carrying 560 metric tonnes of bunker fuel when it collided with a Cayman Islands-registered chemical tanker.
Channel NewsAsia 17 Dec 15;

SINGAPORE: Six crew members of a freighter are missing after the ship sank following a collision in the Singapore Strait, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) said.

The freighter, which was bearing the Antigua and Barbuda flag, collided with a Cayman Islands-registered chemical tanker on Wednesday night (Dec 16), the MPA said in a statement issued past midnight on Thursday.

Six out of 12 members of the freighter’s crew were rescued and taken to the Singapore General Hospital, and search and rescue operations are ongoing for the missing six.

There was no Singaporean crew member on either vessel.

The incident occurred at 8.14pm in Indonesian waters, 11km north-west of Batam island. The freighter, named “Thorco Cloud”, was carrying 560 metric tonnes of bunker fuel. The chemical tanker, named “Stolt Commitment”, sustained minor damage and is in stable condition, said the MPA.

The MPA deployed two patrol craft for search and rescue operations, while the Singapore Civil Defence Force deployed two vessels. Singapore’s Police Coast Guard deployed five boats, which rescued five of the crew members. A sixth was rescued by the chemical tanker.

Indonesian authorities were alerted to the incident by the MPA and have also commenced search and rescue operations. MPA said it is assisting the Indonesian authorities to survey and mark the sunken freighter to ensure navigational safety.

MPA has also issued navigational broadcasts to vessels in the vicinity to keep clear of the area and to report any sightings of the missing crew members.

There is no disruption to shipping traffic or reports of any oil spills in the Singapore Strait currently, the MPA said, adding that it has anti-pollution craft on standby.

- CNA/cy

Bunker Freighter Sinks After Collision in Singapore Strait
Chanyaporn Chanjaroen Bloomberg 17 Dec 15;

(Bloomberg) -- A vessel carrying 560 metric tons of bunker fuel sank after a collision with chemical tanker in the Singapore Strait late Wednesday, the city-state’s Maritime and Port Authority (MPA) said.

Shipping traffic in Strait remains undisrupted and there are no reports of any oil spill so far, the MPA said in its early Thursday statement.

The freighter “Thorco Cloud,” bearing the Antigua and Barbuda flag, collided with Cayman Islands-registered chemical tanker “Stolt Commitment” in Indonesia waters six nautical miles (11 kilometers) north-west of Batam, according to the statement posted by the MPA on a government website.

A total of six crew members from both ships were rescued but another six were missing as of 12:15am when the MPA’s statement was issued.

Search and rescue efforts by Singapore and Indonesia continue. The MPA media team was not reachable outside office hours.

Singapore Strait collision sinks freighter; six crew still missing

An Indonesia rescue team approaches the sunken Antigua and Barbuda flagged freighter MV Thorco Cloud which sank after colliding with a tanker the night before, in the Singapore Strait off the Indonesian island of Batam December 17, 2015 in this photo taken by Antara Foto.

Six crew members are still missing after a general cargo freighter sank in the Singapore Strait following a collision with a chemical tanker at 8:14 p.m. (7.14 a.m. ET) on Dec. 16.

The 10,385 deadweight tonne (dwt) cargo freighter Thorco Cloud, operated by Danish shipper Thorco Shipping and registered in Antigua and Barbuda, had a crew of 12.

Singapore's Police Coast Guard, supported by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA), rescued five of the crew members, while the chemical tanker picked up a sixth, the MPA said. The rescued seamen were sent to Singapore General Hospital for observation, it said.

Search and rescue operations continued for the six missing crew members, said an MPA spokesman in an update.

To ensure shipping safety, the MPA deployed a buoy tender and a hydrographic survey vessel to cordon off the area. So far there have been no shipping disruptions, the spokesman said.

The incident, which took place in Indonesian waters six nautical miles northwest of Batam, left the Cayman Islands-registered chemical tanker Stolt Commitment with minor damage and in stable condition, said the MPA.

The 37,438 dwt tanker is owned by Stolt Tankers, part of Norwegian bulk liquid transportation and storage company Stolt-Nielsen Ltd.

Indonesian authorities have also commenced search and rescue operations and Singapore is ready to render assistance if required, the MPA said.

The sunken cargo freighter was carrying 560 metric tonnes of bunker fuel.

"While there are currently no reports of any oil spill, MPA has also put on standby anti-pollution craft," the spokesman said.

The Singapore Strait, one of the world's busiest commercial shipping routes, is a 105-km long, 16-km wide passage between the Strait of Malacca to the South China Sea.

(Editing by Tom Hogue)

Bodies of three Filipinos repatriated from Batam
Antara 19 Jan 16;

Batam, Riau Islands (ANTARA News) - Three bodies of passengers of MV Thorco Cloud, which sank in the waters between Batam and Singapore on December 16, 2015, have been repatriated to the Philippines after undergoing autopsy in a hospital, a spokesman stated.

"The three bodies of the Filipinos were found several days after the accident, and process of their autopsy has been completed," head of the Riau Islands Provincial police medical doctor Adjunct Senior Commissioner Djarot Wibowo stated here on Monday.

The three victims were identified as Sumaculub Jose Myrvin Delos Santos, Gabay Nino, and Dobo Rodulfo Damante, he said, adding that the victims were found floating.

According to him, the three bodies would be flown from Batam through Jakarta to the Philippines.

Earlier, six persons of the ill-fated ship were reportedly went missing, before rescuers found the three floating bodies.

MV Thorco Cloud V2FU6 sank after colliding with "MV Stolt Commitment" on Wednesday night (Dec 16, 2015) in the waters in the borderline between Batam and Singapore.

Although the accident occurred in the waters of the bordering area, but the scene tends to be closed to Indonesia.

Another six persons survived, Wibowo noted, explaining that another three foreign national victims of different sinking ship also went missing.

In the meantime, chief of Batam chapter of the Indonesian Coast and Sea Guard Unit or KPLP Gajah Rooseno explained that three missing victims were supposed to have been trapped in the engine room when the accident occurred that made them failed to survive.(*)

Related link
Ship collision off the Marine Park on 16 Dec 2015: no oil spill wild shores of singapore blog

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Singapore's famed Instagram Tree felled

Diane Leow, Channel NewsAsia 16 Dec 15;

SINGAPORE: It sat atop a grassy plain at Punggol Waterway Park and even as a shadow of its former self, what was popularly known as Instagram Tree drew shutterbugs from all over the island.

The tree has its own location on Google Maps, under "Punggol Lone Tree". A search of #InstagramTree on the social network shows at least a thousand photos captured at that spot, be it for #OOTD (outfit of the day) posts, or "emo" musings on the meaning of existence and the transience of life.

But on Wednesday (Dec 16), workers removed what was left of the once-lush and much-loved tree. The Housing and Development Board (HDB) said it was dead and had to go in the "interest of public safety". It was reportedly struck by lightning in July.

According to Mr Goh Si Gium, an executive committee member at Nature Society (Singapore), the tree is an Albizia tree from eastern Indonesia. Over the past few months, its crown withered and its carcass became overrun with creepers.

So how did the tree branch out into an online phenomenon? Social media expert Nicholas Shields explained: "It’s just a tree in an empty lot of land. That is until you allow a bit of creativity with your camera to turn it into a solitary tree in the widest plain in Singapore. It’s all about trick of the eye, I think that’s what most people love about it."

The tree also provided refuge from the hustle and bustle of Singapore, he added. "We are always craving some solace, some escape and this tree, as silly as it sounds, gives us that," said the 987fm Senior Music Director.

He noted that the announcement of the tree's removal was met with sadness and a rush to capture one last snapshot with the icon. "A lot of people have either taken their engagement photos at the tree, or know someone who has taken engagement, wedding, couple photos, school projects, adverts etc. at the tree."


Wedding photographer Alex Goh recalled using the tree as a backdrop in June for a pre-wedding shoot.

"Trees have always been a symbol of growth and elegance for me," said Mr Goh, on why he chose that particular location. "The lone tree was free of any distracting elements in its surroundings. Hence, I was able to focus on the couple and their interaction around the tree."

Mr Goh added that in the concrete jungle that is Singapore, one would be hard-pressed to find a similar spot. Now that the tree is gone, shots captured there are all the more special, and valuable, he said.

Mr Haolun Li, photographer and founder at Framewerks Photography, told Channel NewsAsia before the tree was felled that he was disappointed it had to be uprooted.

"It is getting more difficult to find rustic and untouched places like this tree in Singapore. Even if the tree was struck by lightning, I would love to be back there again to photograph a couple, as the location just gives off an aura of character which few places have," said Mr Li. He managed to snap photos for a couple there in May.


Over the weekend, a handful of youngsters were spotted milking the tree for all its worth as a photo opportunity. Some even ignored the safety cordon around the tree and flippantly posed with a sign erected by HDB warning of danger from falling parts.

Some residents told Channel NewsAsia they did not know the familiar figure would soon be gone.

"I didn't notice anything special about this tree at all, but now and then I see young people coming up to take photos, so I thought this tree must be special," said Mr Chew Fook Hong, who has lived in Punggol for the last 15 years. "Every time I jog past this tree I'll look at it, and I feel good about it.

"I think it's a pity," he said. "This tree is a bit special, because it's solitary. I like to look at it when I jog past. I don't see any solitary trees around except for this one, and it's quite unique actually."

Mdm Arlyn Ahmad, a frequent visitor to Punggol Waterway Park, got off her bicycle to quickly snap a keepsake. "I feel sad, because over here, nothing really lasts forever," she said.

Students Afif Barkerr, Christina Koh and Kun Han Goh braved the erratic, wet and hot weather on Saturday to enshrine the memory of Instagram Tree, after a trip to Coney Island.

"We heard that it's going to be removed, so we thought we'd better come here to get a picture before it's gone," said Ms Koh.

Mr Leroy Tan also made the trip to Punggol with his colleagues Ms Chieh Ruo Qing and Mr Hu Hong Yao. "It's one of the landmarks on the way to Coney Island. Without it, you have one less spot," said Mr Tan, who felt it was a pity that the tree would be chopped down.

Soe Htet, a Myanmar student at Singapore Polytechnic, climbed up the hill with a friend to pose with the tree after waiting out a drizzle.

"I did some research and realised Punggol is quite famous. I thought one day we'd come here, but we never made it," he said. After hearing that the tree had been struck by lighting, his interest was piqued and he wanted to photograph the icon. "(I feel) quite sad, but they say it's bad for the environment. I'm here to commemorate the tree."

Scientist Zviad Tsakadze, a self-professed nature lover, also visited the tree on Saturday morning. Whilst he thought it a pity that the tree had to go, he said it was part of the circle of life. "It's part of nature," he said.

Now that the Insta-famous tree has had its 15 minutes, what next? At least two successors have been identified, Mr Shields shared. "People have suggested some other trees around the island – there’s one at Quayside Isle and a similar-looking tree at Seletar Reservoir."

- CNA/dl

Popular Instagram tree in Punggol removed
Today Online 16 Dec 15;

SINGAPORE – The next time you visit Punggol Waterway Park, an iconic tree that once drew shutterbugs will no longer be there.

The tree, popularly known as #InstagramTree online, was cut down today (Dec 16) as scheduled after arborists had earlier certified the tree was dead. The Housing and Development Board (HDB) announced last week that the tree, which had been struck by lightning in July, would be removed in the interest of public safety.

Some members of the public gathered at Punggol Waterway Park to watch as workers cut down the tree today.

After the HDB's announcement, many also took to social media to bid farewell, including one Instagram user who put up a series of nine photos. Some 200 photos were posted on Instagram with the hashtag #InstagramTree over the past week, bringing the number of posts with the hashtag to more than 1,700.

In the last caption of the nine-photo series, Instagram user @flyingpistachios wrote: "Thank you for being so picturesque. Singapore should erect a statue of you on your very spot in celebration of the most famous tree."

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Wet weather expected for the rest of December

Today Online 16 Dec 15;

SINGAPORE — Wet weather is expected for the rest of the year due to the North-east Monsoon, the Meteorological Service Singapore (MSS) said today (Dec 16).

Over the next two weeks, monsoon conditions are forecast to prevail, with low level winds blowing predominantly from the north-east or north-west.

During this period, thundery showers are expected mostly in the afternoon and early evening for five to seven days. Widespread moderate to heavy rain are also likely on two to three days in the last week of this month.

Occasionally windy conditions and cooler temperatures are also forecast over the next two weeks. The temperature range for the fortnight is forecast to be between 22°C and 33°C.

The meteorological service said the rainfall this month will likely be normal, compared to the same period over the last few years. “Based on long-term statistics, December is the wettest month in the year,” the MSS said.

In the first half of this month, the highest rainfall of 273mm to 327mm was recorded in the southern and central parts of Singapore around the Sentosa and Orchard areas respectively. The lowest daily minimum temperature recorded was between 22.4°C and 22.8°C.

It's going to be a wet Christmas in Singapore
For the next two weeks, thunderstorms are expected mainly in the afternoon and early evening, says the Meteorological Service Singapore.
Channel NewsAsia 16 Dec 15;

SINGAPORE: Expect a wet second half of December, with occasional windy and cooler conditions, met officials said in an advisory on Wednesday (Dec 16).

For the next two weeks, thunderstorms are expected mainly in the afternoon and early evening on five to seven days, said the Meteorological Service Singapore (MSS). Moderate to heavy rain is also expected on two to three days in the second week.

The temperature is forecast to be between 22 degrees Celsius and 33 degrees Celsius for the two weeks.

Northeast Monsoon conditions prevailed in the first fortnight for December. The thunderstorms were heaviest on Dec 1, according to MSS, with the highest total daily rainfall recorded in Sentosa. Temperatures also hit up to 34.7 degrees Celsius.

- CNA/ek

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Indonesia: EU supports peatland recovery

Antara 16 Dec 15;

Palembang, S.Sumatra (ANTARA News) - The European Union will support Indonesia in recovering and managing the peat land that had burnt by providing Rp300 billion in 2016.

EU Ambassador to Indonesia and Brunei Darussalam Vincent Guerend said in Kayuagung, South Sumatra on Wednesday, that the aid was the EU countries support to the ASEAN countries decision to make a joint commitment to improve peatland management.

"Most of the aid will be absorbed by Indonesia because it has the largest peatland area in the ASEAN region. The rest will be donated to Malaysia and Thailand," Guerend noted.

He said the EU plans to run three programs related to fire disaster management in Indonesia that will begin in January 2016.

"For the EU, the forest fire in Indonesia is no longer a problem for Indonesia alone. Neither is it just a regional problem. Instead, it is a global problem," he said.

According to Guerend, the EU wants to help Indonesia because the current government is very concerned about the efforts being made to manage peatland, such as setting a moratorium on forest clearance.

The Indonesian government is also committed to reducing carbon emissions by 29 percent through its own efforts and 41 percent through the aid, a stance it expressed at the Climate Change Summit in Paris. It also plans to map peatland areas and to improve forest management.

During his visit to Kayuagung, Guerend directly observed the burnt peatland areas where fires occurred during the dry season, covering an area of 90 hectares.

As per data from the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, plantation concessions on peatlands in Indonesia has reached 8.2 million hectares, with 6.3 million hectares added in the last ten years.

With the third largest forest area and the largest peat bog in the world, sprawled over around 20.6 million hectares, Indonesia can be a carbon storage shed if the ecosystem is well maintained and conserved.(*)

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Indonesia: Oil palm trees cleared from protected forest

Hotli Simanjuntak, The Jakarta Post 16 Dec 15;

The Aceh Tamiang regional administration on Tuesday began cutting down thousands of oil palm trees illegally planted in the Leuser Ecosystem Area in order to protect the conservation forest from the unlawful expansion of oil palm plantations by both individuals and major companies.

Aceh Tamiang Regent Hamdan Sati said his administration had found that 1,070 hectares within the forest had been used to illegally grow oil palm trees in recent years.

The illegal oil palm plantations, located within the jurisdiction of Tenggulun district, according to Hamdan, are owned by residents and private companies who have been destroying the forest for a long time. The law breaking parties have severely damaged the natural environment and caused recurrent floods in the regency.

“We are against activities that damage our water sources. We must reforest the damaged areas [within the protected forest],” Hamdan said.

Aceh Tamiang, some 400 kilometers southeast of the provincial capital of Banda Aceh, is located on the border of Aceh and North Sumatra. According to Hamdani, oil palm is a prime commodity in the regency. However, the profits from oil palm production have not contributed significantly to the regency’s locally generated recurring revenue (PAD).

“We also don’t want the illegal oil palm plantations be maintained for the sake of our PAD. The quicker we restore the forest, the quicker we can benefit from a stable water source and non-timber products produced in the forest,” Hamdan said.

Aceh Tamiang Forestry and Plantation Agency head Alfuadi admitted that the regency had to deal with extended damage in the forest due to illegal plantations. Alfuadi said his agency was currently teaming up with various stakeholders to protect the remaining forests.

“Only through teamwork with other stakeholders can we save the forest and today we have proven that we can replace the illegal oil palm plantations with forest,” said Alfuadi.

The agency, he said, had also worked with Leuser Conservation Forum since the end of last year to clear the forest of illegal oil palm trees.

“We will try to clean all the oil palm trees growing in the protected forest, especially in the Lauser Ecosystem Area,” said Alfuadi.

As of earlier this month, around 100 hectares of illegal oil palm plantation had been cut and reforested by the Krueng Aceh River Basin Area Management Center (BPDAS) and 80 hectares by the Aceh Tamiang Forestry and Plantation Agency.

“Another 250 hectares are currently being reforested by three community groups in Tenggulun district and the rest by the Lauser Conservation Forum through natural regeneration,” said forum coordinator Tezar Pahlevi.

According to Tezar, the local community will manage a 250-hectare forested area based on a joint management system with the Aceh Forestry Agency. They will grow plants with beneficial yields, such as aren palm, durian, gelugur, jengkol and petai. Members of the community are required to take care of the trees and benefit from the fruits.

“We want to prove that forest plants are actually more profitable for common people than oil palm. We need vast areas to grow oil palm, but a small area to grow the forest plants,” he said.

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Australia seeks corporate sponsorship for Barrier Reef

The Australian government is seeking corporate sponsorship for the Great Barrier Reef, sparking fears Wednesday that companies could potentially use such investments to hide poor green credentials.
Channel NewsAsia 16 Dec 15;

SYDNEY: The Australian government is seeking corporate sponsorship for the Great Barrier Reef, sparking fears on Wednesday (Dec 16) that companies could potentially use such investments to hide poor green credentials.

The world's biggest coral reef has been under increasing threat from climate change, farming run-off, development and the coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish.

In a brochure entitled 'Partnerships for the Reef', the government-backed Reef Trust said it was interested in sponsorship, joint investment and collaborative arrangements to deliver conservation projects.

It noted these could range from A$1 million (US$719,500) to improve seabird resilience to A$7 million to help control the crown-of-thorns starfish.

"Your role and commitment to protecting and conserving the Great Barrier Reef will be widely acknowledged," it said. "All Reef Trust investments will be recognised in branding of project materials, ranging from online publications and reports to social media activities and reef events."

The Great Barrier Reef stretches more than 2,300 kilometres (1,426 miles) along Australia's east coast in resource-rich Queensland state.

Conservationists have long argued that exploitation of these resources, particularly coal, will risk harming the reef, as the material will have to be shipped out of the area, which is teeming with marine life.

The Australian Greens political party condemned the sponsorship idea, with Senator Larissa Waters asking: "What's next, naming rights, like for football stadiums?

"While private donations for reef protection are welcome they shouldn't be in exchange for advertising rights and they must be on top of adequate public funding, not in place of it," she added in a statement.

"The most alarming part of this proposal is the potential for companies which are threatening the reef to buy positive reef branding to try to avert the reputational damage they deserve."

Waters said potentially letting coal companies sponsor the Great Barrier Reef "would be like letting tobacco companies sponsor hospitals".

Environment Minister Greg Hunt, speaking at the 41st meeting of the Great Barrier Reef Ministerial Forum in Melbourne on Tuesday, said while federal and state governments were working hard to preserve the World Heritage-listed icon and spending millions to do so, ways to diversify funding had to be explored.

He said the corporate sector, investors, philanthropic organisations and individuals could work in partnership on projects designed to improve the reef's health.

- AFP/ec

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Rare tornado rips through Sydney, damaging beachside suburbs

A rare tornado hit Sydney on Wednesday with destructive winds above 200 km an hour (125 mph) and cricket ball-sized hail, bringing down trees and power lines, sheering off roofs and walls and causing flash flooding in Australia's largest city.
Channel NewsAsia 16 Dec 15;

SYDNEY: A rare tornado hit Sydney on Wednesday with destructive winds above 200 km an hour (125 mph) and cricket ball-sized hail, bringing down trees and power lines, sheering off roofs and walls and causing flash flooding in Australia's largest city.

The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) issued the rare tornado warning around midday as the dangerous storm swept up the coast from Sydney's south, forcing some international and domestic flights to be diverted to other cities.

A Reuters witness described widespread damage at an industrial park in the hard-hit Kurnell neighbourhood near the southern beachside suburb of Cronulla.

"We really had no warning. The sky just went really black and we had this massive clap of thunder," said Meredith Sullivan, a 48-year-old worker at the industrial park.

"Then the gusts of winds were just horrific, you could hear the roof starting to lift and debris was starting to fly around. All the cars were pretty much destroyed," she said.

Kurnell, which is close to Sydney's airport, was closed to all but emergency services, who were assessing the damage. Wind gusts as high as 213 kmh (132 mph) were recorded there.

"There is obvious evidence that we have had a tornado go through Cronulla today," BOM meteorologist Alan Sharp told Sydney media.

Social media was swamped by pictures of the huge, dark storm as it engulfed the harbour city, plunging a 25 degree Celsius (77 Fahrenheit) summer's day into darkness.

A shopping centre in Sydney's eastern suburbs was also evacuated after part of its roof collapsed in the storm, media reports showed, and one woman suffered minor injuries.

Some 6,000 homes were reportedly without power south of the city and rescue services received more than 200 calls for help in the city.

"The tornado risk has now subsided but there is a very good chance of more thunderstorm activity for the rest of today," said BOM senior meteorologist James Taylor.

Australia is experiencing an El NiƱo weather pattern, a phenomenon associated with extreme droughts, storms and floods, which is expected to become one of the strongest on record, the U.N. weather agency said earlier this year.

(Additional reporting by Matt Siegel; Writing by Michael Perry; Editing by Paul Tait)

- Reuters

Huge hail, damaging winds lash Sydney after rare tornado warning
Australia's biggest city Sydney was smashed by a tornado-like storm on Wednesday, with hail as big as golf balls and winds gusting at 200 kilometres (124 miles) an hour causing havoc.
Channel NewsAsia 16 Dec 15;

SYDNEY: Australia's biggest city Sydney was smashed by a tornado-like storm on Wednesday, with hail as big as golf balls and winds gusting at 200 kilometres (124 miles) an hour causing havoc.

Two people required treatment -- one for shock and one for a head wound -- in the hardest-hit suburb of Kurnell, an ambulance official said.

One resident of the suburb, where wind gusts of 213 kilometres per hour were recorded, said the storm sounded "like a freight train going through".

"Total destruction," he told Sky News of the aftermath of the tempest, which downed trees and power lines and damaged buildings, including a desalination plant, and flooded roads.

Another man who called in to Sydney talk radio described a scene of extreme damage in Kurnell, images of which showed a truck overturned and building parts flung around.

"My neighbour's roof is gone, the trees are all down in the front yard," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

"There's trees down out the front of his house which have landed in my front yard. It's just a mess."

The weather bureau said warnings for destructive winds, large hail stones and heavy rain were in place for central Sydney, its airport and the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

"Very destructive winds associated with a possible tornado affected the Sydney coast around Kurnell at 10:30 this morning," the bureau said of the earlier lashing.

"We don't get situations like that without it being a tornado," the bureau's Michael Logan added.

"It is what's called a supercell thunderstorm and they're one of the most dangerous thunderstorms we get."

The bureau said surrounding areas to the north and west of Sydney were in line to be affected as the storm, which comes at the start of the southern hemisphere summer, moves north.

The airport remained open, but delays were expected as ground crews struggled to cope with the weather, a spokeswoman said.

- AFP/jb

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Number of severe algal blooms in Lake Erie to double, forecast says

Ohio State University ScienceDaily 16 Dec 15;

By the latter half of this century, toxic algal blooms like the one that cut off drinking water to the city of Toledo in 2014 will no longer be the exception, but the norm, a study suggests. The findings hold implications for hundreds of coastal regions around the world where nutrient runoff and climate change intersect to make toxic algae a problem.

By the latter half of this century, toxic algal blooms like the one that cut off drinking water to the city of Toledo in 2014 will no longer be the exception, but the norm, a study suggests.

While researchers have long suspected that climate change will lead to stronger and more frequent blooms, a new fusion of climate models and watershed models has proven those suspicions right: For Lake Erie, at least, the number of severe blooms will likely double over the next 100 years.

The findings hold implications for hundreds of coastal regions around the world where nutrient runoff and climate change intersect to make toxic algae a problem.

Government agencies need to have more than just historical records at their disposal when they set guidelines to reduce nutrient inputs, said Jay Martin, professor of ecological engineering at The Ohio State University.

For example, Ohio, Michigan, and Ontario, Canada, have agreed to reduce phosphorus runoff by 40 percent over the next 10 years. The reduction is meant in part to lower the chance of another toxic bloom affecting Toledo.

"Right now, we can only make recommendations based on the past, but the climate is not a constant. We need to look to climate models of the future to protect water quality in Lake Erie and around the world," said Martin, who also heads the university's Field to Faucet water quality program.

"Maybe 40 percent is not enough of a reduction."

In fact, the study suggests that nutrient reductions alone might not be enough to stop blooms like the one in 2014 from recurring in Lake Erie, said Noel Aloysius, the postdoctoral researcher who presented the team's results Wednesday, Dec. 16, at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.

Aloysius was joined by Hans Paerl of the Institute of Marine Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who presented complementary findings from the United States and China.

Nutrient reductions won't have as much of an impact on Lake Erie as researchers would expect, the Ohio State study suggests.

That's because climate change supercharges algae the way anabolic steroids supercharge athletes, Aloysius explained.

"Our assessment of climate in the region reveals less winter snow, more heavy spring rains and hotter summers," he said. "Those are perfect growing conditions for algae. We can reduce phosphorus by 40 percent, but the algae won't suffer as much as you might hope."

Martin and Aloysius are at the midpoint of a two-year study -- the first to combine global climate change models with a watershed model to predict how climate change will influence algal blooms in an individual coastal region: in this case, the Maumee River Watershed and Lake Erie.

Lake Erie may contain only 2 percent of the total water in the Great Lakes, but it holds 50 percent of the fish, including game fish that support a $1.7 billion tourism industry. It also provides drinking water for 11 million people, and its watershed drains through the heart of Midwest agriculture. In fact, 75 percent of the 6,600-square-mile Maumee Watershed is covered with fields of corn, soybeans and winter wheat.

While the health of Lake Erie is so important to the states and Canadian provinces that surround it, toxic algae is a problem around the world. This study provides forecast methods that could be applied to those areas as well.

One such area is China, where urban populations and agriculture are booming. Paerl, professor of marine sciences at UNC-Chapel Hill, studies Lake Taihu, the third largest freshwater lake in China.

Five times smaller than Lake Erie and nine times shallower, Lake Taihu is more easily overrun by toxic algae -- a great test case for algae problems that the United States will likely experience in decades to come.

"Lake Taihu is a 'looking glass' for how severe algal blooms are likely to get when excessive nutrient loading synergistically interacts with warming," Paerl said. "Our Taihu research has taught us that both phosphorus and nitrogen inputs should be reduced for controlling algal bloom proliferation."

That's because many lakes have already experienced decades of nutrient over-enrichment from accelerating use of chemical fertilizers and expanding wastewater discharge from urbanization worldwide.

These lakes, he said, have a "legacy of storage" of both nutrients in their sediments. Paerl's team is evaluating a variety of algae mitigation and control strategies, including artificial mixing and enhanced freshwater flushing of impacted lakes and reservoirs, as well as the use of algaecides, flocculants and sonic treatments to arrest blooms.

"It should be noted," he said, "that no matter what types of physical or chemical treatments we use to mitigate blooms, they should be accompanied by nutrient input reductions."

To assemble their forecast for Lake Erie, Ohio State researchers selected a series of climate model outputs from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Fifth Climate Change Assessment and coupled them with watershed and bloom prediction models, combining variables like stream flow, rainfall, and temperature with landscape topology, soil types, cropping practices and drainage management. Richard Stumpf at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Centers for Coastal and Ocean Science led the development of the bloom prediction model.

Currently, Martin and Aloysius are working with Ohio State University Extension, the School of Environment and Natural Resources and the School of Communication to get a clearer picture of how stakeholders' anticipate the Maumee Watershed ought to be managed. Then they will incorporate these stewardship plans into the models.

Ultimately, the researchers want to identify farming or water management practices that reduce nutrient runoff without adversely affecting agricultural production.

"Farmers need to be very efficient to make a living," Aloysius said. "If we can help them use less fertilizer, that represents a cost savings, but if the solution involves applying fertilizer in a way that keeps tractors running longer, then they're buying more fossil fuel. So we need to balance financial and environmental costs."

Stuart Ludsin, associate professor of aquatic ecology, is an additional Ohio State collaborator on the project. Field to Faucet is funded by the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, which launched the program in response to the 2014 toxic algae problem in Toledo.

Hans Paerl's work in China is in collaboration with Boqiang Qin, Guangwei Zhu and Xu Hai at the Nanjing Institute of Geography and Limnology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and is supported by the National Science Foundation's Divisions of Environmental Biology and Environmental Engineering and Sustainability.

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