Thursday, February 27, 2014

Global Drought: Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia - Past and Present - Impacts and Implications, February, 2014

Despite the intense focus, the United States is not the only country experiencing major drought, and other situations are even more dire - but receiving less attention in the US media.

What follows is a synopsis of global drought conditions and their impacts by time period and region, and then an implication summary.

The primary tool for the imagery that follows is the NOAA NCDC Global Climate Portal website which displays The Global Precipitation Climatology Centre drought index (GPCC_DI), which is a combination of the Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI) in the DWD modification according to Pietzsch et al. (2011) and the Standardized Precipitation Evapotranspiration Index (SPEI) according to Vicento-Serrano et al. (2009).

Precipitation Anomaly, January 2014

To start off, here is the precipitation anomalies globally for January 2014 from the Columbia University/ NCDC CAMS.

What is noticeable is the drought in Australia, China, Brazil, Europe/Russia, and Turkey in addition to the US. These areas are highlighted in the Global Climate Portal Imagery that follows by region that follows below and we will look at drought severity by hemisphere.

Drought: Africa, Europe, Asia and Australia

January, 2014 
January, 2014 saw precipitation shortfalls across wide areas of Eastern Europe and portions of the Middle East. While the focus in the Ukraine, for example has been on the protests, it is the lack of precipitation that may have a major impact on winter wheat production and spring planting. Turkey has also experienced sever drought last month. 

Portions of Iran and Pakistan and India, which also grow winter wheat, are experiencing crop stress due to dryness. Australia has experienced major heatwaves and resulting drought that are devastating their cattle production capacity in Eastern Australia. China has experienced dryness as well, that if it continues may have a detrimental impact on wheat production Hints of dryness and drought appear in Southeast Asia, such as Thailand and Vietnam, which are also creating water security stress.

December 2013-January 2014
Looking back 60 days of drought impact similar areas have precipitation shortfall, which makes it apparent that the droughts have been more than just a brief impact, especially for Southeastern Europe, Russia and Turkey. India, Bangladesh and Myanmar along with Australia have been living with longer term impacts.

November 2013-January 2014
The drought in Europe and Turkey is seen to have last at least the last 90 days, with widespread drought in North and Central Africa through the longer time period. Australia's severe drought in the east is seen to have been developing early in their summer. China has also had significant precipitation shortfalls through the winter.

August 2013-January 2014
When one considers the last six months of precipitation, the lack of precipitation and the severity of the length of the current drought is more sobering. Eastern Australia's fires even during their spring have their roots in the dryness of the last 6  months, as do the problems in Europe and Turkey. Areas of China also reveal the length of dryness in rice production areas.

May 2013-January 2014
The drought perspective of the last nine months is a further depiction of the entrenched drought cycles in Australia, across northern Africa, in southern China, which has not recovered since early last year.

February 2013-January 2014
The year long perspective shows the ongoing dryness in Australia's east, in China and across Africa. Namibia has been terribly dry and it has destroyed its local agricultural economy. Zimbabwe has suffered as well, with it not being able to grow enough wheat or corn to feed its population,. Areas of northern Europe finally reflect its year-long shortfall of rain and snow as well.

February 2012-January 2014
A two-year long view reveals the facts that even though many areas of Africa, Asia and Australia have received rain in the shorter periods, they are still in long term drought. For example, most of the Nile River valley has not recovered to normal precipitation over the last two years, similarly with southern Africa. Areas of Southeast Asia also remain in long term precipitation deficits, challenging the Mekong as a water source for agriculture and transport. The recent media reports from some of these areas vividly describe these situations.

Africa, Europe, Asia and Australia: Drought Impacts

In Africa, portions of Zimbabwe were on the verge of starvation, however the global community only donated $4 million of $60 million needed to cover the crop shortfall. 

"Sory Ouane, the head of WFP in Zimbabwe, said that despite contributions from donors such as the United States, Britain, Japan and the U.N.'s Central Emergency Relief Fund, the need for funding remains desperate.

"It is a huge deficit that we are facing in the country, because we had planned for this program $86 million.  So far we have only managed to raise half of this ...  But no aid [contribution] is small at all -- this $4.2 million by the Japanese government is an important relief for us," Ouane noted." See:

Australia is facing the ruin of its cattle operations in the East, "The Australian government will provide a A$320 million ($289 million) assistance package to help farmers ravaged by years of drought across the east coast, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Wednesday.

"With pockets of Queensland and New South Wales recording the lowest ever rainfall levels, farmers in the world's third-biggest beef exporter have been forced to slaughter starving cows at record rates, pushing prices to lows, and adding political pressure for federal assistance." 

In Australia, "An area larger than France and Germany combined has been classified as drought-stricken by the government.

"The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences warned this month that the country's summer crop could fall by 25% to 4 million tons in 2013-14, with Queensland and northern New South Wales hit particularly hard." See:
The situation in Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia is becoming critical, and is expected to worsen with an El Nino:

"It has now been more than 40 days since the city recorded more than 1 mm (0.04 of an inch), making it one of the longest stretches for dry weather in the recorded history of the city.
"For more perspective on the severity of the drought, Singapore has reported less than 75 mm (3 inches) of rain since Jan. 1, which is less than 20 percent of the normal 404 mm (15.92 inches) that falls through Feb. 24.
"The drought has begun to impact agriculture across both Malaysia and Thailand, including the crops of rice and rubber.
'Drinking water shortages have also become a concern and could result in hundreds of thousands of people seeing their water supplies run dry in the coming weeks if rain does not return." See:
Kuala Lumpur has also begin water rationing and the concern over forest fires is increasing across the region. See:

Turkey's drought is affecting farming and also the water supply for Istanbul, with little relief in sight. The country may be facing a significant need to import grain this summer.

"Water levels in dams and humidity levels have dropped to alarming levels, with the temperature across Turkey hovering around 10 degrees Celsius above the average and rain and snowfall levels remaining far below seasonal averages. 

The average rainfall in the October-January period was 222 millimeters, 27 percent below the seasonal norm, according to data from Meteorology General Directorate. The sharpest drops were recorded in the Mediterranean and Central Anatolian regions, where the average rainfall was 38 percent below average levels.

The persistence of the drought could slash fruit and vegetable production by a quarter and increase prices at least 20 percent, the head of the Turkish Agriculturists’ Association (TZD) has warned." See:

Even more worrying for the Turkish government is the fact that major reservoirs are beginning to run dry - when they should be filling for the summer.

"Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city, faces a serious threat of drought with water reserve being sufficient for only 100 days due to lack of rain and snow, according to a senior water expert on Wednesday. 

“Having only 100 days of water reserve means that very tight measures should be taken,” Tugba Maden, a water expert in the Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies, told Xinhua in a phone interview.  With a population of 14 million, Istanbul tries to obtain the city’s needs of water from 10 dams built in the Marmara and the Black Sea regions. 
Water levels in these dams have been decreased to the lowest point in six years with 35% in total. Three dams have already run short of water." See:
The Turks are not alone, With the Turkish need to hold water, the Tigris and Euphrates rivers are not  supplying Iraq with needed water for irrigation or drinking supply.
These drought shortfalls - especially in Australia and Southeast Asia are anticipated to worsen as El Nino take effect. The impacts in Europe wait to be seen, however the potential threat of drought, crop shortfalls and potential food inflation do not bode well for the Middle East, Turkey, the Ukraine and potentially - Russia.

The impacts may be a drop in methane release as agricutural activity slows, but the resulting fires in Indonesia, Southeast Asia, and Africa are adding CO2 and methane into the atmosphere.

In an upcoming post I'll deal with ongoing drought in the Americas



Columbia University NCDC CAMS Global Precipitation Anomaly:

Global Precipitation Climatology Centre:

NOAA NCDC Global Drought Portal:

Voice of America:

Wall Street Journal:

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

U.S. Drought Impacts, Water Security, the Coming Western US Fire Season and GHG Emissions - Urgent Concerns

This week's rain is not expected to break California's drought, and will continue to capture news headlines. 

U.S. and global drought is a major concern, especially as we enter the Northern Hemisphere growing season.

As the San Francisco Gate reports:

"Despite this week's forecast, the weather systems are unlikely to make a significant dent in the state's water deficit. Even if San Francisco gets 2 inches over the coming days - an optimistic projection - the city will still be at 50 percent of average rainfall for this time of year, Benjamin said.

"It all goes in the plus column," he said. "But it is still far outweighed by the negative column."
The Sierra snowpack - often referred to as the state's largest reservoir - has just 23 percent of the moisture content that is normal for this time of year, said Ted Thomas, a spokesman for the California Department of Water Resources. The next measurement of the snowpack is scheduled for Thursday." Source:
The four following images illustrate the current U.S. drought problem.

Currently much of the U.S. is suffering from longer term precipitation shortfalls. Some areas have not yet recovered from the 2012 drought. First is the U.S. 180 day precipitation departure from the norm from Feb 26, 2014:

The most severe winter precipitation shortfalls, some over 20 inches, are clustered along the West Coast, reflecting a practically non-existent winter rain/snow season. Yet further significant shortfalls are also apparent in the south central and southeastern U.S.

NBC News states the following statistics for major California metropolitan areas:

5.85 inches: The amount of rain the that San Francisco has received since July 2013, only 35 percent of its usual quota for the time of year.
9.52 inches: The rain deficit of the Los Angeles region, which received 0.23 inches so far this month.

When viewed as percent of normal, the impacts are more standardized and are more apparent across the US, drawing attention to the gap in precipitation and resulting lack of soil moisture as the US approaches its growing season:

"This recent dry spell accentuates a continuing background condition of prevailing drought across much of the Southwestern US, notes Christopher Williams, a specialist in US drought conditions and an assistant professor at Clark University’s Graduate School of Geography in Worcester, Mass.

Precipitation is below 20 percent of normal and signs of the drought impact run across the region, including low river flows, low snow packs, low reservoir levels, and out-of-season wildfires.

“Wintertime shortages are particularly worrisome,” adds Mr. Williams via e-mail, “because winter is a key time of year for building up water supplies that carry the West through the rest of the year.” What is worse, he says, “shortfalls extend well beyond the state of California itself, reaching nearly all of the remote regions on which the California water supply network relies, particularly the Colorado River Basin.” Source:

The current drought severity is more clearly portrayed in last week's US Drought Monitor map:

What this map depicts is the severity of drought across the U.S. with areas such as Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska - some states still in long term drought since 2012. The current soil moisture shortfalls will only be made up by increased snow packs, rainfall in the spring season, or pumping ground water, which is dramatically decreasing aquifer levels in some states.

According to NBC News, its been 434 years since a drought this bad hit California. A paleoclimatologist at UC Berkeley who tracks long-term climate patterns by counting tree rings reckons the region hasn’t been this dry since the year 1580.

The larger concern is that this is not just a California problem, the entire Southwest is suffering form increasing water restrictions as the Colorado River flow drops and major reservoirs decline.

As detailed in a January 5, 2014 article:

"LAKE MEAD, Nev. — The sinuous Colorado River and its slew of man-made reservoirs from the Rockies to southern Arizona are being sapped by 14 years of drought nearly unrivaled in 1,250 years.
"Reclamation officials say there is a 50-50 chance that by 2015, Lake Mead’s water will be rationed to states downstream. That, too, has never happened before.

“If Lake Mead goes below elevation 1,000” — 1,000 feet above sea level — “we lose any capacity to pump water to serve the municipal needs of seven in 10 people in the state of Nevada,” said John Entsminger, the senior deputy general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority.
“There is no planning for a continuation of the drought we’ve had,” said one expert on the Colorado’s woes, who asked not to be identified to preserve his relationship with state officials. “There’s always been within the current planning an embedded hope that somehow, things would return to something more like normal.”
"Unfortunately, the Colorado during most of Lake Mead’s 78-year history was not normal at all.
"Studies now show that the 20th century was one of the three wettest of the last 13 centuries in the Colorado basin. On average, the Colorado’s flow over that period was actually 15 percent lower than in the 1900s. And most experts agree that the basin will get even drier: A brace of global-warming studies concludes that rising temperatures will reduce the Colorado’s average flow after 2050 by five to 35 percent, even if rainfall remains the same — and most of those studies predict that rains will diminish.
"Lake Mead currently stands about 1,106 feet above sea level, and is expected to drop 20 feet in 2014. A continued decline would introduce a new set of problems: At 1,075 feet, rationing begins; at 1,050 feet, a more drastic rationing regime kicks in, and the uppermost water intake for Las Vegas shuts down. At 1,025 feet, rationing grows more draconian; at 1,000 feet, a second Las Vegas intake runs dry.
Lake Powell is another story. There, a 100-foot drop would shut down generators that supply enough electricity to power 350,000 homes.
"“We can’t depend on history to project the future anymore,” Carly Jerla, a geological hydrologist and the reclamation bureau’s Colorado River expert, said in an interview. The drought could end tomorrow, she said — or it could drag on for seven more years."

Immediate Drought Impacts

Agricultural impacts are already being felt in the US and may increase if the precipitation pattern does not change. The U.S. government has already declared significant areas of the Western U.S., as agricultural disaster areas, as depicted in the FSA Disaster Declaration map for February 26, 2014:

Despite this agricultural situation, neither California nor the US government are allocating water to agriculture this year in California.

According to the BBC, California's water agency has announced it may for the first time be unable to deliver water to local agencies, amid a worsening drought and has proclaimed a "zero allocation" for this water year. Two-thirds of state residents and 1m acres (404,500 hectares) of farmland get part or all of their drinking and irrigation supplies from the agency.

Tim Quinn, executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies, was quoted in a recent New York Times article as saying, “I have experienced a really long career in this area, and my worry meter has never been this high,” 

“We are talking historical drought conditions, no supplies of water in many parts of the state. My industry’s job is to try to make sure that these kind of things never happen. And they are happening.”

The U.S. Government has also denied water allocation - primarily used for farming irrigation. 

"Central Valley farmers took a crippling blow Friday, February 21, 2014, when U.S. officials made the unprecedented announcement that they would get no irrigation water from the federal government this year because of the drought.

"California's unusually dry weather is forcing producers of fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains to make tough decisions about which crops to plant, and which ones not to plant due to a lack of water, leaving harvests that are likely to fall short of demand.
"A recent estimate by an industry group, the California Farm Water Coalition, suggested that as much as 600,000 acres of land, or about 8 percent of the state's total, could be left fallow in the coming year." Source:

The Fire Season has Already Started

What this sets the stage for is a record fire season. 

"We've had nearly 600 wildfires since January 1 in California," said Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. "In a normal year that figure would be closer to 150 fires." Source:
"All the pieces are in place for a really bad season of wildfires," said Malcolm North, a research ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service. "We're likely to set a record for fires this year."

It could be part of a very long fire season, perhaps one that lasts year round. 

"In the last four decades, the average fire season has grown by 78 days — more than a fifth of a year. If temperature trends continue, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns, the fire season across Canada, Russia and the United States could expand by another month over the next five decades." Source: 

Even more concerning is the fact that as global warming continues the fires areas increase at an alarming rate:

"In general, each degree C of global temperature increase can be expected to produce 200-400% increases in the area burned by wildfire in parts of the western United States." Source:

Green House Gas Impacts

As the farmland dries we may have a decrease in methane emissions, but the resulting tree deaths, drought and fires will likely increase CO2 and CH4 release this year in the US.

More on the global drought situation in the next posting and global CO2 and methane emissions.



BBC News:

NBC News:

NWS Advanced Hydrological Prediction Service:

New York Times: also,

San Francisco Gate:  also,

US National Drought Monitor:

USDA FSA 2014 Disaster Declarations:

Washington Post:

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Global Forest Watch and Deforestation - An Increasing CO2 and CH4 Source

On Thursday, February 20, the World Resources Institute, Google and a consortium of partners announced the launch of Global Forest Watch, a new tool to track global deforestation and reforestation. It maps the changes in forest cover from 2000 to 2012. The new site is:

What the site does is combine the information capabilities of Google Maps and Google Earth Engine, research done by the University of Maryland, and Landsat imagery at 30 meters resolution to track tree loss and reforestation by year from 2000-2013. The global information will be updated annually, except tropical forest information which will be updated monthly in the future.

Some findings are startling. According to the International Business Times article, and Global Forest Watch website, over 230 million hectares of forest were lost between 2000-2012. This is an area just slightly smaller than Sudan or Algeria, or a bit larger that the Democratic Republic of Congo. The losses were primarily caused by forestry, agriculture, drought or forest fire activity.

However, about 80 million hectares, an area slightly larger that Turkey, were reforested during the same period through plantings or natural forest regrowth. For country sizes in sq km, see World Bank Data:

An example of the complex portrayal of deforestation and reforestation is that in the southeastern United States from 2000-2012. 

Here the losses in pink, and reforestation in blue are readily apparent.

Another feature is being able to measure deforestation and reforestation in a given area by year. However, the shorter time periods do not seem to track the changes nor calculate areas consistently. The longer time frames capture more representative, yet not exact, change for larger areas.

While the conversation in articles has been about monitoring of illegal logging, mining or land clearing for agriculture, etc, the imagery is also a very useful tool for determining areas lost to forest fire or drought. That knowledge may provide a basis for estimates of the impact on CO2 and CH4 release or sequestration in forests, and also  black soot produced by fires.

One element that may be useful is the total carbon forest stock function, but it is limited to tropical regions, which is unfortunate. Being able to see similar calculations for the Arctic would be helpful. Also, the site has a country by country analysis page.

Another capability that would improve the site is being able to overlay fire areas, and also drought mapping, perhaps those will be future additions.

Implications for CO2 and CH4 release

This tool provides a way to track annual loss of forest due to drought and fire. Drought has been demonstrated to cause increases in CO2 release, in addition to fires in the Amazon. See: 

Drought sensitivity of Amazonian carbon balance revealed by atmospheric measurements, 

Methane release has been linked to soil moisture due to snow melt or rainfall, thus further moisture may increase methane release. However, previous studies suggest that forest may be a source of CH4 in higher quantities than previously suggested. See: 

Methane emissions from upland forest soils and vegetation
Tree Physiology 28, 491–498, © 2008 Heron Publishing—Victoria, Canada
1 Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, P.O. Box 28, Edgewater, MD 21037-0028, USA
2 Corresponding author (
3 National Center for Atmospheric Research, P.O. Box 3000, Boulder, CO 80307-3000, USA
Received May 15, 2007; accepted October 8, 2007; published online February 1, 2008

If we are entering an El Nino by this fall, the warmer temperatures or drought may trigger higher CO2 release globally and may bring much needed rain to Brazil.

More on global drought in the next post.

Other Sources: 

International Business Times/IBT:


Wall Street Journal/WSJ:

High-Resolution Global Maps of 21st-Century Forest Cover Change
Vol. 342 no. 6160 pp. 850-853 DOI: 10.1126/science.1244693

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Meandering Jet Streams: Jennifer Francis, "More of the Same, More Frequently"

While I was preparing this follow-up to the "Bi-polar Jet Stream" post of February 8, 2014, the BBC just reported a summary of a new study presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Chicago.

The study summarizes research on the increasing warming in the Arctic and its creation of a wavier jet stream and concludes the resulting Rossby Waves may be a longer term change.

According to the BBC's reporting, Jennifer Francis stated, "This does seem to suggest that weather patterns are changing and people are noticing that the weather in their area is not what it used to be."

Additionally, in regard to the recent extremes in the US and Europe, she commented, "We can expect more of the same and we can expect it to happen more frequently."

See the BBC, 'Wavier jet stream 'may drive weather shift'

Here is the current Northern Hemisphere patterns that seem to support the report. The following are the wind patterns for February 15, 2014. The image is below the comments. 

All images: 


At 10 hpa/mb, the jet seems to be re-consolidating around one focal point off of Western Greenland, with continuing higher speeds.

The 70 hpa/mb, reveals a more disrupted flow, with two centers, one near Greenland and the other over central Asia, the other "cold pole" for current Arctic temps.

The 250 hpa/mb repeats a mangled mess similar to the one on the 8th. The current wave over the Atlantic, dips all the way into North Africa before rushing north again over Scandanavia.

A very similar pattern appears at 500 hpa/mb, with the jet stream not only winding across the planet, but also splitting into numerous strands looping around highs and lows over the Northern Hemisphere.

The 700 hpa/mb jet is not as strong but just ans winding around the Northern Hemisphere. The winds over the CAB are still apparent, pulling the warmer air from the Atlantic side toward the Pacific.

The 850 hpa/mb layer shows the strenght of the winds driving the next major storm towards the UK, along with the most recent low pressure to hit the island.

The 1000 hpa/mb wind pattern depicts the interaction of the Azores high and the low pressure just leaving North America and aiming towards Europe.

The surface wind pattern is similar to the 1000 mb layer, but illustrates the impacts of these winds across the Atlantic, the UK, and also in to the European countries.

US Methane Release Under Reported by EPA

On November 25, 2013, a paper published in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences reported that the EPA was underestimating the amount of CH4 released annually in the US by approximately 50%. See: Anthropogenic Emissions of Methane in the United States,

The study, based upon 2007-2008 methane emissions, concluded that fossil fuel extraction and refining, plus cattle farming were the major under-reported contributors. It estimated that 50-70% more CH4 entered the atmosphere annually than being presumed by the US EPA. The greatest divergence in the reported vs new estimate was in the South Central United States - Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. 

According to Tom Revell's article Anna Michalak, a co-author of the study said, “Something is very much off in the inventories.”... “The total US impact on the world’s energy budget is different than we thought, and it’s worse.

As the study is based on CH4 emissions readings from 2007-2008, these revised figures do not reflect the impact that the fracking boom may have also had on methane emissions.

This week another paper, which reviewed 200 papers on US methane totals and sources of release, substantiated these conclusions, that the EPA estimates of annual methane release were approximately 50% too low.

“People who go out and actually measure methane pretty consistently find more emissions than we expect,” said lead author Adam Brandt, an assistant professor of energy resources engineering at Stanford University. “Atmospheric tests covering the entire country indicate emissions around 50 percent more than EPA estimates — and that's a moderate estimate.” See:
Much of this higher estimate is attributed to the US natural gas boom, with most problems concentrated at a few emission points.


"Eric Kort attributed the higher amount of released methane, in part, to a very small number of faulty vessels holding natural gas, which can allow significant amounts of methane to leak out into the atmosphere. Kort referred to these leaks as “super-emitters.”

"According to one study of natural gas components, “A fraction much smaller than 1 percent is responsible for more than half of the emissions,” Kort said. “You know when you look at these individual studies that a kind of super-emitter problem exists, where a small fraction of sources are responsible for a large amount of the emissions.”" "See:
As Kort commented, “We’re trying to improve our ability now to use different space and airborne observations to identify regions where emissions are larger than accounted for to identify what source is the cause for that — if it’s coming from cows or oils or gas.” See:
This last comment leads to an example of what space-based CH4 monitoring can tell us about US emissions trends. 
What is revealed are the major annual increases in CH4 ppb releases in the Southwest and Central US during 2008-2013.The AIRSv6 0-4 km CH4 annual increases correlate with areas substantially associated with the natural gas and oil or cattle production discussed in the articles. Another source for the annual ppb increases may be forest fires in the US West, and tree kills due too pine beetle infestation. The 2012 drought may have also had an impact.
 Source: Leonid Yurganov

However when the US ppb/yr increases are compared to global annual CH4 ppb trends, it  reveals that Australia, South Africa and Asia/China had higher rates of increase, perhaps due to a mix of drought, flooding and increasing pollution rates in China.
Source: Leonid Yurganov.
I'll post more on space-based methane monitoring in following posts.