Worst Weather Ever: Has It Become a Cliché Yet?

Satellite image of Poyang Lake on November 15, the day after the lake’s water level fell below eight meters. NASA image courtesy LANCE MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC.

Satellite image of Poyang Lake on November 15, the day after the lake’s water level fell below eight meters. NASA image courtesy LANCE MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC.

The troubles of Poyang Lake, China’s largest freshwater lake, are getting drowned out by the clamor generated by the superstorms Typhoon Haiyan and Cyclone Phailin. A crisis is still a crisis, however, even if it is not punctuated by 150mph winds and catastrophic flooding.

The problem is, Poyang’s waters are receding earlier in the season now.  The local government reported that the lake now enters its dry season more than seven weeks earlier than it did in the second half of the 20th century. The region receives 60 percent less precipitation, and the lake’s water level is reaching a historic low. More than a million people have suffered drinking water shortages as a result this autumn, and the lake’s fishing industry has literally been grounded.

Poyang Lake is the focus of my latest post for National Geographic; to read more please visit: http://on.natgeo.com/19IZ8RG.

 

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Migration By Any Means Necessary

A Siberian Crane at the International Crane Foundation’s facility in Baraboo, WI (Credit: Dan Klotz).

A Siberian Crane at the International Crane Foundation’s facility in Baraboo, WI (Credit: Dan Klotz).

The airplane passenger of the month for October was an unusual breed of traveler, one who gratefully received first-class airfare even though the ticket sent him more than 2,000 km out of his way. He was trying to head south for the winter, got lost along the way, and has ended up with winter accommodations near Moscow—not quite the ideal warm-weather destination.

But this is no ordinary traveler. He and five of his pals tried this trip last year as well, and received an escort from the President of Russia, who was flying an ultralight plane of all things!

The passenger’s name is Raven, even though he is a Siberian Crane. His species is the focus of my latest post for National Geographic; to read more please visit: http://on.natgeo.com/1foj1Tm

Do Factory Farms Need a Pooper-Scooper Law?

Pooper-scooper signage in the Washington DC metropolitan area. Credit: Dan Klotz

Pooper-scooper signage in the Washington DC metropolitan area. Credit: Dan Klotz

In 1978, New York embraced a major public health and environmental innovation.  The idea, which became known as the “Pooper-Scooper Law,” was that all dog owners must collect their pets’ waste and deposit it in the trash so that it didn’t muck up the urban environment.

Industrial-scale livestock operations—known as factory farms—annually generate 500 million tons of manure in the United States, more than three times the amount generated by people in the U.S. Should all that manure go directly into our environment? More at National Geographic’s NewsWatch blog, http://on.natgeo.com/19Nj6xa.

Explosive Agriculture and That Larger April Fireball

Corn tassels. Credit: Huw Williams.

Corn tassels. Credit: Huw Williams.

In mid-April, a humongous explosion rocked the Texas town of West when a fire broke out at an agriculture retail facility storing ammonium nitrate. The blast killed 14 people, injured more than 200, and left a crater 93 feet wide and 10 feet deep. If this and other forms of ammonia are so explosive before being used as fertilizer, what happens when it is used in agriculture? More at National Geographic’s NewsWatch blog, http://on.natgeo.com/10oCQjh.

Can National Happiness Survive on an Organic Diet?

Stepped farming in Paro, Bhutan (Credit: Soham Banerjee)

Stepped farming in Paro, Bhutan (Credit: Soham Banerjee)

The small kingdom of Bhutan is known for establishing the “gross national happiness” tool, a “multidimensional measurement” that looks at its citizens’ quality of life and well-being. Lately, it has been making waves for its government’s ambition to become the first 100% organic country in the world. More on National Geographic’s NewsWatch blog. http://on.natgeo.com/15kgyW0

The Farm Bill Rollercoaster Gets Ready to Roll

Credit: National Archives no. 514376 44-PA-871

This week, the Senate began debating the “Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012,”the latest name for the Farm Bill. This legislation comes up for renewal every five years, and the back-and-forth always been larger than life and somewhat crazy. More at National Geographic’s NewsWatch blog. http://bit.ly/KvoPiw

Celebrating an Anniversary in the Arctic Circle

The International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas in Syria. Credit: Global Crop Diversity Trust/Britta Skagerfalt

Rarely do you celebrate an anniversary with raw chick peas and fava beans.

But these seeds, from the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), highlighted the fourth anniversary shipment for the Svalbard Global Seed Vault—located on the colder side of the Arctic circle in Norway.  The Global Crop Diversity Trust maintains the seed vault in partnership with the Norwegian government and the Nordic Genetic Resources Center, as a back-up to the living crop diversity collections housed in “genebanks” around the world.

I helped publicize this shipment as part of my work for Burness Communications; click here to read more.