Water Wars

Discussion in 'Current Affairs, News and Analysis' started by HectortheInspector, Oct 21, 2009.

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  1. It seems that the Mosul Dam is raising its ugly head again. The repair work isn't finished, but the Iraqi government hasn't committed to the second phase.

    Mosul Dam risks devastating failure as Iraq government keeps stalling
    The Iraqi government has delayed a decision on whether to renew a contract with an Italian engineering firm managed by the Corps of Engineers when it expires after this year. It may try to make the critical repairs itself to save money at a time when it is feeling a cash squeeze because of the cost of the war to expel the Islamic State from the country.

    Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, commander of the Army Corps, told USA TODAY he fears the government is "going to be too optimistic" about the level of repairs needed and may not renew the contract.

    The government is running out of time to make a decision. “I’m kind of expecting in another couple of months we’ll either get a decision or probably not get a decision, which means by default then ... we’ll unplug,” Semonite said.
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  2. South Africa, and Cape Town in particular, looking very bad
    Cape Town Water Shortage Reaches Crisis as Dam Levels Sink

    The level of usable water in dams that supply South Africa’s second-largest city and top tourist attraction dipped below the 10 percent mark this week, down from 20 percent a year a ago. While Capetonians cut average daily summer consumption to 666 million liters (176 million gallons), from 1.1 billion liters a year ago, that’s still shy of the city’s 600-million-liter target.

    “To run out of usable water is to be presented with a crisis of catastrophic proportions,” Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille said in an address to the city council on Wednesday. “We cannot be sure whether it will rain this winter. We have gone through May with nothing much to show with regard to rainfall. June might be better, but the point is we do not know.”
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  3. It seems to be the best they could have done given the circumstances.
  4. The Russians are taking the issue seriously, which is more than some countries are.
    A major problem is, as the story notes, that climate change isn't simply a general rise in temperature. It involves more extremes and more storms. This is because there is more energy in the atmosphere to drive them.

    One interesting possibility that came up in the news a while ago in Canada is that changes in climate may lead to many northern forests being turned into grasslands. The problem is that more extremes means more droughts, which in turn means more forest fires. Forest fires on that scale are impossible to prevent altogether, as the forests are too vast. You can only limit the damage to your industry and infrastructure, as for example was the case when fires shut down much of the oil industry in Alberta not that long ago.

    Forest fires are a natural part of the boreal forest cycle, and necessary for may types of trees to reproduce. However, once fires become too frequent, the balance tips in favour of grasslands instead of forest. Once the fires become too common, the trees cannot regenerate fast enough to maintain a forest before the next fire kills them again, and grass takes over in place of the trees.

    As well as the obvious effects on the forest products industry (lumber and pulp and paper), this has secondary climate effects in itself, as forests tend to moderate the climate more than grasslands do. This is related to differences in how sunlight is reflected back into space from the different vegetation. The ultimate effects of that are not really known at this time. However, those effects could extend well beyond the areas where the forests currently exist.

    The above was discussed with respect to Canada, but Russia has similar climate and geography which may see comparable effects. The secondary effects of those may in turn extend into adjacent parts of Asia and Europe.
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  5. The Russians may be starting to take it seriously, but are they acting to make their systems resilient? I doubt it, simply because it is going to be very, very expensive, and in Vlad's kleptocracy, there is a more pressing need to buy tanks and find safe homes for taxpayers cash in foreign bank accounts.

    The assumption was that 'global warming' meant a steady increase in temperatures, evenly distributed. I believe that the Russians were expecting to start wheat farming in higher latitudes. Instead, we are seeing a 'weirding' of the weather, with more frequent, and more extreme fluctuations. I suspect that a major problem for Russia is going to be the melting permafrost. There's a lot of water (and methane) trapped in these areas, and as it releases, there is going to be a lot more greenhouse gas, but also local flooding, subsidence, and soil erosion, especially if the steppes are opened to intensive agriculture.

    Slow-motion wrecks: how thawing permafrost is destroying Arctic cities

    There is probably an ecological niche for large steppe grazers that could be reintroduced to help control the grass, along with managed forestry. Mammoths and woolly rhino used to do this, but you would probably have to use bison nowadays.
  6. Nobody anywhere is doing much to prepare for it at this time. They're just at the stage of thinking about it. The point I was making was that the Russians have realised that they will need to do something to adapt. Some countries are still at the stage of sticking their heads in the sand.

    The way that will take place will likely be in adjusting the climate model that civil engineers use when planning development regulations and building codes. It's the same sort of thing that many countries do when they come to realise that the major city which grew up from nothing in the past century is actually sitting in an earthquake zone. That sort of thing is usually transparent to most of the public.

    There are Russian scientists working to clone mammoths. It's a cool idea, but more of a novelty than a genuine need.

    As for agriculture expanding north, that will depend upon a lot of factors other than just temperature and rainfall. For example, in much of Canada the northern limit of agriculture is determined by underlying geology, not temperature. The climate can get as warm as it wants, but if the geology isn't there to support agriculture, then it isn't going to happen. To put it simply, much of that forest lies over very thin to non-existent soil, or the wrong type of soil for farming. The soil that had been there disappeared during the ice ages, and the geology determines how long it takes for the mineral component to regenerate from the underlying rock. For some types of geology, 10,000 years is not enough to make an impression. That's why the boundaries of the farming regions follow the boundaries of the geological provinces, not the boundaries of climate regions.

    I'm not familiar enough with Russian geology to be able to comment on to what extent agriculture there faces similar limits. However, it is fundamentally wrong for anyone to assume that agriculture can simply move north as the climate warms. In some cases it may, but in many cases as I've stated above, climate isn't the limiting factor now.
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  7. The most frequently quoted document is from 2002, http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/natc/rusnce3.pdf
    Ch VI.1 refers.
    The overall balance of possible consequences of climate change can be estimated as positive for national agriculture. At the same time, taking advantage of positive factors requires an advanced adaptation of agriculture to anticipated changes.
    The Russians were aware of climate impacts then but were looking at the upside. If they are starting to realise that there is NO upside, then they are, ironically, now somewhat more advanced in their thinking than the US President...
  8. The parts of the document relevant to agriculture seem to be mainly focussed on mitigating the negative effects. There was a brief mention of the possibility of expanding agriculture in places where the soil would support it, but there was no attempt to estimate how much this would amount to. Mostly, it looked at whether the effects of longer growing seasons in some existing areas would offset the increased dryness (and other factors) in others.

    The point I was making is that too many people wave their hands and say that agricultural zones will simply migrate north to compensate for drier climate to the south. In reality, it's not that simple because in many cases climate is not the limiting factor now, geology is, and that doesn't change with the climate.
  9. Yes, I agree, especially as you realise that some of that terrain hasn't really been ice free since the last Ice Age. There's all kinds of things likely to emerge from it. (There was a recent anthrax outbreak linked to an old carcass emerging from the ice.)
    Melting Permafrost Raises Fears of Decades-old Pathogens
    My point was that there was a lot of rather overoptimistic 'adaptation' thinking in circulation until recently, and that it had a ready audience in political circles (not just in Russia).. Nowadays, there's some more realistic appreciation, but I can't say that we are seeing any more money going into adaptation or resilience.#
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  10. Which will be a problem for everyone.