Climate change key suspect in the case of India’s vanishing groundwater

In three short months during monsoon season, India historically receives 75 percent of their annual precipitation. Imagine awaiting this promised, bountiful rainfall and receiving 14 percent less than average. This is what happened in 2015 – and it compounded decades of drought. India is suffering a water scarcity crisis but, until recently, most people believed that over pumping groundwater was the number one reason behind it. Now, a new study published by the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Gandhinagar in Nature Geoscience, shows that variable monsoon precipitation, linked to climate change, is likely the key reason for declining levels of groundwater.

India’s rainfall has decreased since the 1950s. When rainfall decreases, so does the water table. By observing climate patterns and well depths, researchers found that groundwater storage dropped in northern India about two centimeters per year between 2002 and 2013. Today, groundwater irrigates over half of India’s crops, but aquifer levels are falling, threatening both water and food security.

India’s groundwater problem is detectable from space. From 2002-2013, a satellite from NASA mapped aquifers around the world. The Gravity Recovery Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite detects the Earth’s mass below it and uses this data to measure groundwater pumping. GRACE reported that 54 percent of 4,000 measured groundwater wells are declining, some dropping by more than three feet per year.

A warming world has made India’s monsoon season less predictable. During the past century, the Earth warmed 1.5 degrees, largely due to humans’ unprecedented burning of fossil fuels. What appears to be a small change in temperature is causing drastic upheavals in natural patterns. Increased atmospheric temperatures are changing wind currents and causing more frequent and intense storms. In some cases, this is also redistributing rain and intensifying drought.

In India, warmer air over the Indian Ocean has altered the path of monsoons – leaving Indian farmers high and dry the past two years in a row.

There is no singular definition for water scarcity that takes into account the availability, accessibility, and quality of potable water. However, the Falkenmark Indicator (FI) is a popular tool that measures water runoff and population to determine levels of water stress. According to the FI, a country is considered ‘water scarce’ when they have less than 1,000 cubic meters of usable water per person annually. In 2015, analysis using FI categorized India as having ‘absolute scarcity’, with less than 500 cubic meters of water per person annually.

So little water affects security. Last September, protesters set 56 busses on fire in Bengaluru when the Supreme Court ordered that Karnataka must release more water from Cauvery Dam to be used by a bordering state. Retrofitted oil trains deliver millions of liters of water to Lature, a district east of Mumbai. Madhya Pradesh, a state in Central India, deployed armed guards to protect one of its reservoirs after farmers from a neighboring state attempted to steal water last year.

Farmers are on the frontlines of the water crisis with India seeing a serious uptick in farmer suicides. Some estimates put the number of related suicides at 500 in 2015, but the central government only publicly acknowledges that 13 farmers’ suicides were related to water shortages. According to the Government of India, 52 percent of agricultural households were in debt in 2014. Heavy debts have resulted in an exodus of farmers, who are now seeking daily labor in large cities.

“Farmers invest their own borrowed money for sinking bore wells to develop agriculture,” said Secretary R.H. Sawkar of the Secretary, Geological Society of India (GSI). Bore wells are similar to tube wells, long shafts that are drilled into the earth. Electric pumps are used to draw the groundwater through the tube to the surface. Most rural farmers pay a flat fee for unlimited electricity to pump from tube wells, leading to over-pumping.

But farmers don’t have the money, tools, or know-how to drill deeper wells that can access sinking water tables. This creates a serious dilemma in areas where levels drop by almost a meter per year.

“Only rich farmers can effectively pump groundwater from deep aquifers and the urban rich can buy extra water for their luxuries like car washing, [maintaining] lawns near their residence and [using] bottled water for drinking purpose,” said Sawkar.

There are over 20 million tubewells in India today, a technology that enabled the Green Revolution in India. The Green Revolution was a global shift in agricultural production, beginning in the 1930s; it mechanized farming for developing nations and utilized new technologies, like pesticides and genetically modified crops, to feed a booming population. Developing countries could suddenly grow more food on the same amount of land.

When India gained independence in 1947 the central government – along with the Rockefeller and Ford foundations –brought the Green Revolution to India. This meant cultivation of genetically adapted, high-yielding seeds, a deluge of fertilizers, and flood irrigation. Tube-wells proved to be the best way to irrigate more land, since they reached untapped groundwater. But today, annual groundwater pumping removes at least 24 times what was consumed in the 1950s.

“India also inherited Britain’s water policies that were based on water abundance. Any landowner had the right to pump as much groundwater as they wanted… India doubled ag[riculture] productivity between 1972 and 1992 under this system,” said Trevor Birkenholtz, political ecologist at the University of Illinois Urbana-Chapmaign. “In short, there was no groundwater law.”

Laissez-faire pumping is today reflected in the fact that farmers pay a single flat fee for electricity to power tubewell pumps.

The same revolution that once sustained India’s growing population is partly to blame for the cracked and barren landscape that farmers try to cultivate today. According to the World Bank, India’s population tripled since the 1960s, hitting 1.3 billion in 2015. As India continues to battle climate change and overpumping, an equitable distribution for groundwater, if it ever comes, will take considerable intervention.

“This requires strong political will to address this issue, which is lacking,” Sawker said.

Groundwater law and rulemaking falls under the purview of individual states in India. Researchers say that the central government will have a difficult time overcoming this decentralized system, if they wish to establish national water laws. To date very few politicians have fought to limit water pumping.

“No politician wants to be the one that tells farmers – who vote at rates upwards of 85 percent – that they can no longer pump groundwater at current rates,” said Birkenholtz.

It’s more likely that authorities will mandate drip irrigation or restrict the supply of electricity, perhaps through metering, to limit pumping. Using drip irrigation and gaining “more crop per drop” is an efficient alternative to flood irrigation.

Unfortunately, groundwater pumping is only half of the problem. Taking on climate change is equally important in solving India’s water scarcity. Climate change weakens monsoons, groundwater fails to recharge, wells run dry, and families go without water. The future of India’s water security, in part, rests on international agreements to combat climate change like the United Nations Paris Agreement.

“Weather is uncertain by nature, and the impacts of climate change are extremely difficult to predict at a regional level,” explained Wada. “But our research suggests that we must focus more attention on this side of the equation if we want to sustainably manage water resources for the future.”

Today, India accounts for 4.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Under the Paris Agreement, the country has committed to generating at least 40 percent of its electricity from renewable sources and decreasing carbon emission intensity related to GDP by 33-35 percent by 2030. This means India’s emissions will likely rise, depending on the level of its economic growth.

— source news.mongabay.com by Kayla Walsh

Global warming kills gut bacteria in lizards

Scientists from the University of Exeter and the University of Toulouse found that warming of 2-3°C caused a 34% loss of microorganism diversity in the guts of common lizards (also known as viviparous lizards). In the experiments, lizards were put in temperature-controlled enclosures and samples of their gut bacteria were tested to identify which bacteria were present.

The diversity of bacteria was lower for lizards living in warmed conditions, and the researchers found this had an impact on their survival chances. By raising the temperature by 2-3°C in their experiment, the researchers reflected warming predicted by current climate change models. The paper, published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, is entitled: “Climate warming reduces gut microbiota diversity in a vertebrate ectotherm.”

— source exeter.ac.uk

Who is the biggest climate change villain?

Here is an exclusive the Guardian has held back from its readers for 26 years. It is finally published on its pages today.

In 1991 the Shell oil company produced a half-hour film, Climate of Concern, for showing in schools and universities, that set out the dangers of climate change, apparently with unnerving accuracy. The Guardian calls the film “prescient”.

The paper makes the point that Shell knew from scientists precisely what havoc our addiction to oil would wreak on the planet. Despite its own warnings, Shell carried on extracting oil regardless.

But the Guardian misses the real story, probably because the villain of the piece is less Shell and the major oil companies than it is the Guardian and other liberal media.

The giveaway is provided in this line in the article:

The serious warning was “endorsed by a uniquely broad consensus of scientists in their report to the United Nations at the end of 1990”, the film noted.

Shell did not rely on its own private team of climate scientists hidden away in an underground bunker that it alone could tap for information. Planet-destroying climate change was public knowledge at the time the film was made, which was presumably why Shell made the film publicly available.

A “broad consensus of scientists” were warning us of the dangers. So why were most of us so misinformed, so unconcerned about the precipice we were hurtling towards? Who was failing to amplify the fears of scientists – and, for that matter, continues to fail to warn of the true gravity of the problem?

After all, there is nothing surprising in the fact that Shell, an oil corporation, makes profits from oil. Nor from the fact that it continued to do so even after it knew oil consumption would burn up the planet. Corporations are required to make profits for their shareholders. Corporate “ethics” are, and have always been, window-dressing to allay the consciences of liberal audiences.

The real issue is why the warnings scientists were making more than a quarter of a century ago were not being echoed by the supposed watchdogs of power: liberal media like the Guardian.

The paper should have run this story back in 1991. It should not have been left to Shell to warn of the dangers of climate change. The Guardian and the liberal media should have been doing so. The data that was published by the UN at that time was just as available to the newspaper as it was Shell. The Guardian should have been shouting this from the rooftops.

And here we get to the crunch. The Guardian ignored climate change because it too is a corporation. It needs advertising to prosper, just like Shells needs cars and planes. And the corporations that make cars and that fly planes are big advertisers in papers like the Guardian.

Serious and sustained warnings about climate change back in the early 1990s might have given us time to make the dramatic changes to our economies needed to wean us off our oil addiction. It might have put pressure on companies like Shell to reform their ways, to invest in other, safer technologies.

But the Guardian was nowhere to be seen. It carried on taking money from the car manufacturers and the airline industries, restricting its environmental coverage to plead with readers to use more efficient lightbulbs.

If you think the Guardian failed us then, but is now taking its environmental responsibilities more seriously, you have missed the point of this post. Nothing has changed.

Back in the early 1990s , the Guardian chose to overlook the climate change story. Today, when the evidence cannot be ignored, it and all the other liberal media underplay the story. Survey after survey shows record-breaking temperature shifts, at an accelerating rate that even most scientists failed to predict.

There is a lesson here. The radical climate scientists, the ones whose forecasts have been most accurate and have risked professional marginalisation and possible career damage to explain what is really going on, should be the ones who are now championed by liberal media like the Guardian. But they continue to languish largely unheard because their message grates with advertisers and would damage corporate profits.

As long as we rely on corporate media like the Guardian for our information about the world, our world doesn’t stand a chance.

— source jonathan-cook.net

Antarctic ice rift spreads

The main rift in Larsen C, which is likely to lead to one of the largest icebergs ever recorded, is currently 180 km long. The new branch of the rift is 15 km long. Last year, researchers from the UK’s Project Midas, led by Swansea University, reported that the rift was growing fast. Now, just 20km of ice is keeping the 5,000 sq km piece from floating away.

— source swansea.ac.uk

Scientists Just Confirmed the Great Barrier Reef Bleached

For an unprecedented second year in a row, Great Barrier Reef coral have been decimated by a wave of warm water. Last year’s mass bleaching was fueled in part by a powerful El Niño. Research showed that climate change made warm waters in the Coral Sea up to 175 times more likely. While no similar attribution has been done for this year’s mass bleaching, 2017’s heat is occurring in the absence of El Niño. And there’s one main culprit scientists are pointing to.

A scientist survey reefs off of Orpheus Island. Credit: Greg Torda

— source climatecentral.org

Scientists have just detected a major change to the Earth’s oceans linked to a warming climate

A large research synthesis, published in one of the world’s most influential scientific journals, has detected a decline in the amount of dissolved oxygen in oceans around the world — a long-predicted result of climate change that could have severe consequences for marine organisms if it continues.

The paper, published Wednesday in the journal Nature by oceanographer Sunke Schmidtko and two colleagues from the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel, Germany, found a decline of more than 2 percent in ocean oxygen content worldwide between 1960 and 2010. The loss, however, showed up in some ocean basins more than others. The largest overall volume of oxygen was lost in the largest ocean — the Pacific — but as a percentage, the decline was sharpest in the Arctic Ocean, a region facing Earth’s most stark climate change.

Ocean oxygen is vital to marine organisms, but also very delicate — unlike in the atmosphere, where gases mix together thoroughly, in the ocean that is far harder to accomplish. just 1 percent of all the Earth’s available oxygen mixes into the ocean; the vast majority remains in the air. Climate change models predict the oceans will lose oxygen because of several factors. Most obvious is simply that warmer water holds less dissolved gases, including oxygen.

But another factor is the growing stratification of ocean waters. Oxygen enters the ocean at its surface, from the atmosphere and from the photosynthetic activity of marine microorganisms. But as that upper layer warms up, the oxygen-rich waters are less likely to mix down into cooler layers of the ocean because the warm waters are less dense and do not sink as readily.

The resulting study attributes less than 15 percent of the total oxygen loss to sheer warmer temperatures, which create less solubility. The rest was attributed to other factors, such as a lack of mixing.

Because oxygen in the global ocean is not evenly distributed, the 2 percent overall decline means there is a much larger decline in some areas of the ocean than others.

Moreover, the ocean already contains so-called oxygen minimum zones, generally found in the middle depths. The great fear is that their expansion upward, into habitats where fish and other organism thrive, will reduce the available habitat for marine organisms.

In shallower waters, meanwhile, the development of ocean “hypoxic” areas, or so-called “dead zones,” may also be influenced in part by declining oxygen content overall.

On top of all of that, declining ocean oxygen can also worsen global warming in a feedback loop. In or near low oxygen areas of the oceans, microorganisms tend to produce nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas, Gilbert writes. Thus the new study “implies that production rates and efflux to the atmosphere of nitrous oxide … will probably have increased.”

The new study underscores once again that some of the most profound consequences of climate change are occurring in the oceans, rather than on land. In recent years, incursions of warm ocean water have caused large die-offs of coral reefs, and in some cases, kelp forests as well. Meanwhile, warmer oceans have also begun to destabilize glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica, and as they melt, these glaciers freshen the ocean waters and potentially change the nature of their circulation.

When it comes to ocean deoxygenation, as climate change continues, this trend should also increase — studies suggest a loss of up to 7 percent of the ocean’s oxygen by 2100. At the end of the current paper, the researchers are blunt about the consequences of a continuing loss of oceanic oxygen.

— source washingtonpost.com by Chris Mooney