Study: Amazon Droughts Can Be Predicted in Advance
By Jennifer Ann Thomas
For the first time, researchers have developed a model capable of anticipating drought periods in the Amazon up to 18 months in advance. The study was conducted by scientists from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), in Germany, as part of the Tipping Points in the Earth System (TiPES) project, led by physicist Catrin Ciemer and published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.
The model was developed based on surface temperature analysis of the Atlantic Ocean. The relation between the humidity of the oceans and the rainfall regime in the Amazon is part of the intrinsic functioning of the biomes. Any variation in temperature, as a result of global warming, is enough to trigger a series of consequences.
According to physicist and study co-author Niklas Boers, the early-warning system developed by the group is based on a very simple mechanism: "We discovered that every two years the surface temperatures in the north and south tropical Atlantic develop a dipole, a phenomenon that occurs when temperatures increase in one region and decrease in another."
The drought forecast alert is issued when this pattern begins to develop. "The dipole modifies the direction of the trade winds, which take moisture from the Atlantic Ocean to South America. This change of direction is responsible for causing droughts mainly in the center-south of the Amazon," Boers said. From the model they developed, the researchers were able to trace back six of the seven main drought events that have occurred in the Amazon since the 1980s.
Average monthly sea surface temperature (in degrees Celsius, red scale) and average continental rainfall in South America (in millimeters/month, blue scale) from 1981 to 2016. Sea surface temperatures and precipitation are generally higher around the equator. On the left, the area where El Niño – Southern Oscillation (ENSO) occurs; dotted lines indicate the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) in January and July, responsible for transporting heat and humidity from the oceans around the tropics.
Carlos Nobre, a renowned Brazilian climate scientist who was not involved in the study, said global warming is making the northern cycle of warmer waters stronger and more present. In the future, he said, we should expect the southern Amazon to become less humid. "The mega droughts of 2005, 2010 and the ongoing one are directly associated with the increase in temperatures in the north tropical Atlantic Ocean," Nobre said.
"However, unlike in previous years, the current mega drought began in May and June, not interfering in the rains during the summer season. It is too early to say that the warmer waters will continue throughout the months and if they will cause a continued drought until the next rainy season."
In a context of global warming, there is a close connection between rising ocean temperatures and environmental balance, and the repercussions are felt deep into the forest: what happens on the high seas can impact life in the Amazon.
Janaína Bumbeer, an oceanographer and science and conservation analyst with the Boticário Group Foundation for Nature Protection, said it's not enough to only understand a single aspect of ecology — it's necessary to understand phenomena in a systemic way. "The relation between the ocean temperature, the climate and the winds is very delicate," said Bumbeer, who was not involved in the new study. "Any increase of 1° Celsius [1.8° Fahrenheit] affects the rainfall regime on the continent." The greater the frequency of anomalies in the seas, she said, the more recurrent the extreme climatic events.
Faced with the effects of climate change, there is a risk that the Northern Hemisphere will heat up faster than the South, which would stimulate the occurrence of the Atlantic dipole and lead to a more intense frequency of droughts in the Amazon.
Even with the possibility of predicting a drought period in the region, there is little to be done to actually mitigate the direct impacts on the forest. People who live in the Amazon, especially rural farmers, traditional communities, Indigenous people, and those who depend on river transportation to get around (water levels can become so low that navigability becomes impossible) will be the ones who will benefit from the information, the researchers say. "Indirectly, [with the drought forecast alert] it is possible to have a positive influence on the Amazon ecosystem. The more in advance farmers and traditional communities can plan, the less traumatic the interference of the climate will be," Boers said.
With drought comes another concern: an increase in fires, directly associated with illegal deforestation. According to data from Brazil's National Space Research Institute (INPE), in September of this year, 31,017 hot spots were recorded, the second-worst September in a decade and a 60% increase from the same month last year. Because the Amazon is a humid tropical forest, fire is not part of the biome's natural dynamics, as it is in the temperate forests of the U.S. West Coast. In the Amazon, fires are usually associated with human actions. And in periods of drought, hotspots have the right conditions to grow in extent and to cause greater impacts on the ecosystem.
"There are innumerous evidence on the possibility of the forest becoming a savanna through the effects of human action," Boers said. "The biome is already very close to the tipping point."
Such a large-scale effect would lead to an increase in carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere, which would further accelerate global warming. The study's underlying message is that all natural phenomena are interconnected. And it demonstrates that as humanity persists on the current economic model of consumption, the effects on the planet will only get worse, to the point of endangering the world's largest tropical forest and its rich biodiversity.
Reposted with permission from Mongabay.
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By Gwen Ranniger
In the midst of a pandemic, sales of cleaning products have skyrocketed, and many feel a need to clean more often. Knowing what to look for when purchasing cleaning supplies can help prevent unwanted and dangerous toxics from entering your home.
1. Fragrance – Avoid It<p>One of the fastest ways to narrow down your product options is immediately eliminating any product that promotes a fragrance, or parfum. That scent of "fresh breeze" or lemon might initially smell good, but the fragrance does not last. What does last? The concoction of various undisclosed and unregulated chemicals that created that fragrance.</p><p>Many fragrances contain phthalates, which are linked to many health risks including reproductive problems and cancer.</p>
2. With Bleach? Do Without<p>Going scent-free should have narrowed down your options substantially – now, check the front of the remaining packaging. Any that include ammonia or chlorine bleach ought to go, as these substances are irritating and corrosive to your body. While bleach is commonly known as a powerful disinfectant, there are safer alternatives that you can use in your home, such as sodium borate or hydrogen peroxide.</p><p>While you're at it, check if there are any warnings on the label – "flammable," "use in ventilated area," etc. – if the product is hazardous, that's a red flag and should be avoided.</p>
3. Check the Back Label<p>Flip to the back of the remaining contenders and check out that ingredient list. Less is more, here. Opt for a shorter ingredient list with words you recognize and/or can pronounce.</p><p>You may notice many products do not have ingredient lists – while this doesn't necessarily mean they contain toxic ingredients, transparency is key. Feel free to look up a list online, or stick to products that are open about their ingredients.</p>
4. Ingredients to Avoid<p>We already mentioned that cleaners containing fragrance or parfum, and bleach or ammonia should be avoided, but there are other ingredients to look out for as well.</p><ul><li>Quaternary ammonium "quats" – lung irritants that contribute to asthma and other breathing problems. Also linger on surfaces long after they've been cleaned.</li><li>Parabens – Known hormone disruptor; can contribute to ailments such as cancer</li><li>Triclosan – triclosan and other antibacterial chemicals are registered with the EPA as pesticides. Triclosan is a known hormone disruptor and can also impact your immune system.</li><li>Formaldehyde – Causes irritation of eyes, nose, and throat; studies suggest formaldehyde exposure is linked with certain varieties of cancer. Can be found in products or become a byproduct of chemical reactions in the air.</li></ul>
Cleaning Products and Toxics: The Bottom Line<p>Do your research. There are many cleaning products available, but taking these steps will drastically reduce your options and help keep your home toxic-free. Protecting your home from bacteria and viruses is important, but make sure you do so in a way that doesn't introduce other health risks into the home.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.ehn.org/how-to-shop-for-cleaning-products-while-avoiding-toxics-2648130273.html" target="_blank">Environmental Health News</a>. </em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649054624#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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Returning the ‘Three Sisters’ – Corn, Beans and Squash – to Native American Farms Nourishes People, Land and Cultures
By Christina Gish Hill
Historians know that turkey and corn were part of the first Thanksgiving, when Wampanoag peoples shared a harvest meal with the pilgrims of Plymouth plantation in Massachusetts. And traditional Native American farming practices tell us that squash and beans likely were part of that 1621 dinner too.
Abundant Harvests<p>Historically, Native people throughout the Americas bred indigenous plant varieties specific to the growing conditions of their homelands. They selected seeds for many different traits, such as <a href="https://emergencemagazine.org/story/corn-tastes-better/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">flavor, texture and color</a>.</p><p>Native growers knew that planting corn, beans, squash and sunflowers together produced mutual benefits. Corn stalks created a trellis for beans to climb, and beans' twining vines secured the corn in high winds. They also certainly observed that corn and bean plants growing together tended to be healthier than when raised separately. Today we know the reason: Bacteria living on bean plant roots pull nitrogen – an essential plant nutrient – from the air and <a href="http://www.tilthalliance.org/learn/resources-1/almanac/october/octobermngg" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">convert it to a form that both beans and corn can use</a>.</p><p>Squash plants contributed by shading the ground with their broad leaves, preventing weeds from growing and retaining water in the soil. Heritage squash varieties also had spines that discouraged deer and raccoons from visiting the garden for a snack. And sunflowers planted around the edges of the garden created a natural fence, protecting other plants from wind and animals and attracting pollinators.</p><p>Interplanting these agricultural sisters produced bountiful harvests that sustained large Native communities and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/eam.2015.0016" target="_blank">spurred fruitful trade economies</a>. The first Europeans who reached the Americas were shocked at the abundant food crops they found. My research is exploring how, 200 years ago, Native American agriculturalists around the Great Lakes and along the Missouri and Red rivers fed fur traders with their diverse vegetable products.</p>
Displaced From the Land<p>As Euro-Americans settled permanently on the most fertile North American lands and acquired seeds that Native growers had carefully bred, they imposed policies that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1086/ahr/87.2.550" target="_blank">made Native farming practices impossible</a>. In 1830 President Andrew Jackson signed the <a href="https://guides.loc.gov/indian-removal-act" target="_blank">Indian Removal Act</a>, which made it official U.S. policy to force Native peoples from their home locations, pushing them onto subpar lands.</p><p>On reservations, U.S. government officials discouraged Native women from cultivating anything larger than small garden plots and pressured Native men to practice Euro-American style monoculture. Allotment policies assigned small plots to nuclear families, further limiting Native Americans' access to land and preventing them from using communal farming practices.</p><p>Native children were forced to attend boarding schools, where they had no opportunity to <a href="https://doi.org/10.5749/jamerindieduc.57.1.0145" target="_blank">learn Native agriculture techniques or preservation and preparation of Indigenous foods</a>. Instead they were forced to eat Western foods, turning their palates away from their traditional preferences. Taken together, these policies <a href="https://kansaspress.ku.edu/978-0-7006-0802-7.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">almost entirely eradicated three sisters agriculture</a> from Native communities in the Midwest by the 1930s.</p>
Reviving Native Agriculture<p>Today Native people all over the U.S. are working diligently to <a href="https://www.oupress.com/books/15107980/indigenous-food-sovereignty-in-the-united-sta" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reclaim Indigenous varieties of corn, beans, squash, sunflowers and other crops</a>. This effort is important for many reasons.</p><p>Improving Native people's access to healthy, culturally appropriate foods will help lower rates of <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/aian-diabetes/index.html" target="_blank">diabetes</a> and <a href="https://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/ethnicity-health/native-american/obesity" target="_blank">obesity</a>, which affect Native Americans at disproportionately high rates. Sharing traditional knowledge about agriculture is a way for elders to pass cultural information along to younger generations. Indigenous growing techniques also protect the lands that Native nations now inhabit, and can potentially benefit the wider ecosystems around them.</p>
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