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News articles on disasters

Mongabay.com news articles on disasters in blog format. Updated regularly.









Earth systems disruption: Does 2011 indicate the "new normal" of climate chaos and conflict?

(12/21/2011) The year 2011 has presented the world with a shocking increase in irregular weather and disasters linked to climate change. Just as the 2007 "big melt" of summer arctic sea ice sent scientists and environmentalists scrambling to re-evaluate the severity of climate change, so have recent events forced major revisions and updates in climate science.


Philippines disaster may have been worsened by climate change, deforestation

(12/20/2011) As the Philippines begins to bury more than a 1,000 disaster victims in mass graves, Philippine President Benigno Aquino has ordered an investigation into last weekend's flash flood and landslide, including looking at the role of illegal logging. Officials have pointed to both climate change and vast deforestation as likely exacerbating the disaster.


Civilization shifting: a new leaderless era

(11/15/2011) For well over a decade global change scientists have ushered calls for urgent alteration in what they refer to as the “Business-as-Usual (BAU) paradigm” to cope with the interlinking social, economic, and environmental issues of the 21st Century. In 2001, one of the world’s largest Earth Science collaborative organizations, the International Geosphere-Biosphere Program (IGBP), published their "A Planet Under Pressure" summary report for policy makers.


IEA warns: five years to slash emissions or face dangerous climate change

(11/13/2011) Not known for alarmism and sometimes criticized for being too optimistic, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has warned that without bold action in the next five years the world will lock itself into high-emissions energy sources that will push climate change beyond the 2 degrees Celsius considered relatively 'safe' by many scientists and officials.


Unanimous agreement among scientists: Earth to suffer major loss in species

(11/09/2011) The thylacine, the dodo, the great auk, the passenger pigeon, the golden toad: these species have become symbols of extinction. But they are only the tip of the recent extinction crisis, and according to a survey of 583 conservation scientists, they are only the beginning. In a new survey in Conservation Biology, 99.5 percent of conservation scientists said a serious loss in biodiversity was either 'likely', 'very likely', or 'virtually certain'. The prediction of a significant loss of species is not surprising—scientists have been warning for decades that if global society continues with business as usual the world will suffer from mass extinction—what is perhaps surprising is the practically unanimous expectation that a global biodiversity decline will occur.


Climate change already worsening weird, deadly, and expensive weather

(11/02/2011) Unprecedented flooding in Thailand, torrential rains pummeling El Salvador, long-term and beyond-extreme drought in Texas, killer snowstorm in the eastern US—and that's just the last month or so. Extreme weather worldwide appears to be both increasing in frequency and intensity, and a new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) connects the dots between wilder weather patterns and global climate change.


11 challenges facing 7 billion super-consumers

(10/31/2011) Perhaps the most disconcerting thing about Halloween this year is not the ghouls and goblins taking to the streets, but a baby born somewhere in the world. It's not the baby's or the parent's fault, of course, but this child will become a part of an artificial, but still important, milestone: according to the UN, the Earth's seventh billionth person will be born today. That's seven billion people who require, in the very least, freshwater, food, shelter, medicine, and education. In some parts of the world, they will also have a car, an iPod, a suburban house and yard, pets, computers, a lawn-mower, a microwave, and perhaps a swimming pool. Though rarely addressed directly in policy (and more often than not avoided in polite conversations), the issue of overpopulation is central to environmentally sustainability and human welfare.


Killer Russian heatwave product of climate change

(10/26/2011) Last year's Russian heatwave and drought resulted in vast wildfires and a morality rate that was 56,000 people higher than the same period in 2009. Now, researchers have published a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) that finds the heatwave would very likely have never happened if not for climate change. The study flies in the face of previous research by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that concluded the heatwave was simply due to natural variation and not a warming world.


Photos: New Zealand oil disaster kills over 1200 birds to date

(10/16/2011) According to the New Zealand government an oil spill from a grounded container ship in the Bay of Plenty has killed 1,250 seabirds with hundreds of others in rescue centers. However, conservationists say the avian death-toll is far higher with most contaminated birds simply vanishing in the sea. "The number of birds being found washed up on the beaches will be a very small proportion of the birds being affected," explained Karen Baird, Seabird Conservation Advocate with NGO Forest & Bird.


Bird-killing oil spill New Zealand's 'worst environmental disaster'

(10/12/2011) An oil spill from a grounded container ship in New Zealand's Bay of Plenty is threatening to worsen as authorities fear the ship is breaking up. Already, 350 tons of oil from the ship, the MV Rena, has leaked out with some reaching nearby beaches including a popular holiday spot, Papamoa Beach. To date the spill has killed over 200 birds, including little blue penguins, shags, petrels, albatrosses and plovers. If the ship breaks up and sinks, authorities fear it could release its remaining 1,400 tons into the marine ecosystem.


World's newest nation faces prospect of famine

(10/06/2011) As East Africa reels from a devastating famine, which is hitting Somalia the hardest, there are new fears that another African nation could soon slip into a similar situation. On July 9th of this year, South Sudan became the world's newest nation; however a few months later drought, conflict, refugees, and rising food prices could push the eastern region of South Sudan into a famine, warned officials from the fledgling nation yesterday.


Deepwater oil spill likely to hurt fish populations over decades

(09/28/2011) Oil pollution doesn't have to kill fish to have a long-term impact, according to a recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Researchers found that Gulf killifish (Fundulus grandis) that had been exposed to very low to non-detectable levels of oil contamination from the Deepwater oil spill last year, still showed developmental problems that are likely to impact fish populations for decades to come.


World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse

(08/30/2011) World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse clearly describes in terms of national and social security how the looming current threat to our collective global future is not from catastrophic war as many describe in hindsight the 20th Century, rather from cataclysmic climate change, biodiversity loss, and water degradation.


Photos: World Food Program works to save lives in East Africa famine

(08/28/2011) Over 12 million people across East Africa are imperiled by a hunger crisis brought on by extreme drought. The worst of the crisis is in Somalia, where famine has been declared in 5 areas of Somalia to date—the first famine to be declared by the UN in three decades. Somalia is unique, because here the drought has been exacerbated by a long-failed government and militants. Refugee camps have been set up in Kenya and Ethiopia, but are strained. A number of aid groups are working on the ground to provide emergency food and medical attention to hunger victims, but funding is still below what is needed. The largest group is probably the UN's World Food Program (WFP). Mongabay.com spoke to Dena Gubaitis, Communications Officer for the WFP, for background on the famine and how relief efforts are going on the ground.


Climate change may fuel increase in warfare, finds study

(08/24/2011) Civil war is twice as likely in tropical countries during particularly hot and dry years, according to a new study in Nature. The researchers found that El Niño conditions, which generally cuts rainfall and raises temperatures in the tropics, may have played a factor in one-fifth of the world's total conflicts during the past 50 years. El Niño conditions occur every 3-7 years. While the study did not examine global climate change in conjunction with conflict, the study links a warmer world to a more conflict-prone one, as least in the tropics.


Reducing Disaster Risks: Progress and Challenges in the Caribbean Region

(08/23/2011) Disaster management is a global policy problem with a critical land-use change component related to settlement patterns, deforestation, and agriculture development. This is further exacerbated by climate change.


Lessons from the world's longest study of rainforest fragments

(08/15/2011) For over 30 years, hundreds of scientists have scoured eleven forest fragments in the Amazon seeking answers to big questions: how do forest fragments' species and microclimate differ from their intact relatives? Will rainforest fragments provide a safe haven for imperiled species or are they last stand for the living dead? Should conservation focus on saving forest fragments or is it more important to focus the fight on big tropical landscapes? Are forest fragments capable of regrowth and expansion? Can a forest—once cut-off—heal itself? Such questions are increasingly important as forest fragments—patches of forest that are separated from larger forest landscapes due to expanding agriculture, pasture, or fire—increase worldwide along with the human footprint.


Arctic open for exploitation: Obama administration grants Shell approval to drill

(08/08/2011) Less than a year and a half after the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the Obama administration has bucked warnings from environmentalists to grant preliminary approval to oil giant, Royal Dutch Shell, to drill off the Arctic coast. Exploratory drilling will occur just north of the western edge of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in the Beaufort Sea, home to bowhead and beluga whales, seals, walruses, polar bears, and a wide variety of migrating birds.


Oil horror in Nigeria: 30 years, one billion dollars to clean-up

(08/08/2011) Fifty years of oil spills in Nigeria's now infamous Ogoniland region will take up to three decades and over a billion dollars ($1 billion for just the first five years) to restore environments to healthy conditions, according to a new independent report by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). The most thorough study to date has found that widespread pollution has hit the Niger Delta even harder than assumed with devastating impacts on fishing grounds and community health. Last week Shell, one of the biggest operators in Nigeria, admitted to two massive oil spills in 2008 totaling 11 million gallons of crude.


Famine spreads: 29,000 young children perish

(08/04/2011) As the UN announces that famine has spread in Somalia to three additional regions (making five in total now), the US has put the first number to the amount of children under 5 who have so far perished from starvation in the last 90 days: 29,000. Nearly half of the total population of Somalia is currently in need of emergency food assistance. Yet, the al Qaeda-linked group al-Shabaab, which controls parts of Somalia, has made bringing assistance to many of the malnourished incredibly difficult, if not impossible. The famine in Somalia has been brought-on by lack of governance combined with crippling droughts throughout East Africa, which some experts have linked to climate change. High food prices worldwide and a lagging response by the international community and donors have made matters only worse.


Tens of thousands starving to death in East Africa

(07/20/2011) As the US media is focused like a laser on theatric debt talks and the UK media is agog at the heinous Rupert Murdoch scandal, millions of people are undergoing a starvation crisis in East Africa. The UN has upgraded the disaster—driven by high food prices, conflict, and prolonged drought linked by some to climate change—to famine in parts of Somalia today. Mark Bowden, UN humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, has said that tens of thousands Somalis have died from malnutrition recently, "the majority of whom were children."


Shareholders to Chevron: company showing 'poor judgment' in Ecuador oil spill case

(05/26/2011) After being found guilty in February of environmental harm and ordered to pay $8.6 billion in an Ecuador court of law, Chevron this week faced another trial: this time by shareholders in its Annual General Meeting in California. While Chevron has appealed the Ecuador case and a US court has put an injunction barring the enforcement of the ruling in the US, notable Chevron investors say the company has gone astray in its seemingly endless legal battle with indigenous groups in the Ecuadorian Amazon.


Has the green energy revolution finally arrived?

(05/17/2011) When historians look back at the fight to combat climate change—not to mention the struggle to overcome our global addiction to fossil fuels—will 2011 be considered a watershed moment? Maybe. In the last couple months, three countries—each in the top ten in terms of GDP—have suddenly made major renewable energy promises. Germany, Japan, and, just today, Britain are giving speeches and producing plans that, if successful, could be the global tipping point needed to move beyond fossil fuels to, one day, a world run entirely on green.


Reforestation program in China preventing future disasters

(05/13/2011) China's response to large-scale erosion with reforestation is paying off according to a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS). The 10-year program, known as Sloping Land Conversion Program (SLCP), is working to turn some 37 million acres back into forest or grasslands after farming on steep slopes in the Yangtze and Yellow River basins had made them perilously susceptible to erosion and flooding.


Burning up: warmer world means the rise of megafires

(05/12/2011) Megafires are likely both worsened by and contributing to global climate change, according to a new United Nations report. In the tropics, deforestation is playing a major role in creating giant, unprecedented fires.


Are US floods, fires linked to climate change?

(04/28/2011) The short answer to the question of whether or not on-going floods in the US Midwest and fires in Texas are linked to a warming Earth is: maybe. The long answer, however, is that while it is difficult—some argue impossible—for scientists to link a single extreme weather event to climate change, climate models have long shown that extreme weather events will both intensify and become more frequent as the world continues to heat up. In other words, the probability of such extreme events increases along with global average temperature.


The great penguin rescue: far-flung community cooperates, sacrifices to save 4,000 penguins from oil spill

(04/18/2011) One of the world remotest communities, the UK's Tristan da Cunha archipelago, has come together to save 4,000 endangered penguins following a devastating oil spill, reports the Guardian. Last month a freighter ran aground on Nightingale Island releasing 1,500 tons of oil, potentially devastating the local population of northern rockhopper penguins (Eudyptes moseleyi), which are listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List. However, fortunately for the penguins, the tiny community of 260 people living on the Tristan da Cunha archipelago were unwilling to give up on the oiled birds.


Japan disaster to put logging pressure on rainforests in Indonesia, Malaysia

(04/05/2011) The tragic earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan last month is likely to boost wood imports into the recovering nation, adding increased pressure on the already imperiled rainforests of Southeast Asia. Even before the disaster, Japan was the world's number one importer of wood chips and plywood and the second largest importer of logs. Japan usually imports plywood from China, Malaysia, and Indonesia, however the forests of Southeast Asia are facing tremendous loss due to logging and clearing for industrial-scale agriculture, such as palm oil.


Vanishing mangroves are carbon sequestration powerhouses

(04/05/2011) Mangroves may be the world's most carbon rich forests, according to a new study in Nature Geoscience. Measuring the carbon stored in 25 mangrove forests in the Indo-Pacific region, researchers found that mangroves forests stored up to four times as much carbon as other tropical forests, including rainforests. "Mangroves have long been known as extremely productive ecosystems that cycle carbon quickly, but until now there had been no estimate of how much carbon resides in these systems. That's essential information because when land-use change occurs, much of that standing carbon stock can be released to the atmosphere," explains co-author Daniel Donato, a postdoctoral research ecologist at the Pacific Southwest Research Station in Hilo, Hawaii.


Bats worth billions

(04/03/2011) US agriculture stands to lose billions in free ecosystem services from the often-feared and rarely respected humble bat. According to a recent study in Science bats in North America provide the US agricultural industry at least $3.7 billion and up to a staggering $53 billion a year by eating mounds of potentially pesky insects. Yet these bats, and their economic services, are under threat by a perplexing disease known as white-nose syndrome (WNS) and to a lesser extent wind turbines.


Pictures: Google Earth updates post-tsunami imagery

(03/31/2011) Google Earth has updated satellite imagery for areas most affected by the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The images reveal large-scale devastation of coastal areas in the Sendai region of Japan.


Last year's drought hit Amazon hard: nearly a million square miles impacted

(03/29/2011) A new study on its way to being published shows that the Amazon rainforest suffered greatly from last year's drought. Employing satellite data and supercomputing technology, researchers have found that the Amazon was likely hit harder by last year's drought than a recent severe drought from 2005. The droughts have supported predictions by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) that climate change, among other impacts, could push portions of the Amazon to grasslands, devastating the world's greatest rainforest. "The greenness levels of Amazonian vegetation—a measure of its health—decreased dramatically over an area more than three and one-half times the size of Texas and did not recover to normal levels, even after the drought ended in late October 2010," explains the study's lead author Liang Xu of Boston University.


New land snail invading Singapore requires swift action

(03/28/2011) An African land snail Limicolaria flammea has been discovered by researchers in six locations in Singapore, perhaps heralding a new invasion of alien land snails in Southeast Asia. Although snails may seem largely innocuous creatures, past invasions have resulted in agricultural and economic damage. The global invasion of the giant African land snail (Achatina fulica) has been called one of the world's top 100 worst alien species. Writing in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Science, researchers examine the issue and provide suggestions as to how Singapore authorities can quickly rid the nation of Limicolaria flammea.


Photos: penguins devastated by oil spill

(03/22/2011) Disturbing photos show northern rockhopper penguins (Eudyptes moseleyi) hit hard by an oil spill from a wrecked cargo ship on Nightingale Island in the Southern Atlantic. Already listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List, the oil spill threatens nearly half of the northern rockhopper population according to BirdLife International. Already conservation workers say 'hundreds' of penguins have been oiled. Located the remote Southern Atlantic, Nightingale Island is a part of the UK's Tristan da Cunha archipelago. The island's are home to a variety of birdlife, including species that survive no-where else but on the archipelago.


US approves first deepwater drilling in Gulf since BP disaster as oil tar balls reappear on coast

(03/22/2011) Yesterday the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement awarded Royal Dutch Shell PLC the first deep-water exploration permit since the BP disaster last year, which sent some 4.9 million barrels of oil and up to 500,000 tons of methane into the Gulf of Mexico over three months.


Hundreds of endangered penguins covered in oil after remote spill

(03/21/2011) Conservation workers have found hundreds of oiled northern rockhopper penguins (Eudyptes moseleyi) after a cargo vessel wrecked on Nightingale Island, apart of the UK's Tristan da Cunha archipelago. Northern rockhopper penguins are listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List. According to a press release by BirdLife International, the spill threatens nearly half of the world's northern rockhopper population.


Earthquake shifted peninsula in Japan 17 feet

(03/20/2011) The massive March 11 Tōhoku earthquake shifted Japan's Oshika Peninsula 5.3 meters (17 feet) in a east-southeasterly direction toward the epicenter, reports Kyodo.


Pictures of tsunami devastation, including a house floating in the open ocean

(03/17/2011) The U.S. Navy released shocking pictures showing widespread devastation in Japan following last week's 9.0-magnitude earthquake and accompanying tsunami. The photos include a house floating in the open ocean, scenes of destruction in Ofunato, and piles of vehicles and debris, among others.


Before-and-after tsunami satellite pictures

(03/15/2011) Google released satellite images revealing the devastation caused by the March 11 tsunami in Japan.


Is Japan's tsunami linked to climate change?

(03/11/2011) Could the earthquake that triggered Japan's devastating tsunami be linked to climate change? The short answer is probably not, but recent research suggests that changing climate has the potential to influence earthquakes in some parts of the world


Women are key to global conservation

(03/03/2011) In 1991, my nine-year-old daughter Rachel traveled with me to Guatemala where we were struck by the heartbreaking rural poverty and mudslides worsened by widespread deforestation. We vividly remember holding a three-year-old child who was so listless and malnourished he could scarcely lift his arms. The worry and fatigue on his mother's face and the child's condition affected us both profoundly, despite Rachel's relative youth.


Dead baby dolphins washing ashore in Gulf of Mexico

(02/28/2011) Every year a few baby dolphins in the Gulf don't make it and are found on the shores of the Gulf, but this year something is different. To date, 24 baby dolphins have been found dead in Alabama and Georgia, some are stillborn, others aborted fetuses. Researchers, who say death-toll is ten times the average, are currently studying the dead porpoises for clues to cause. These could include colder-than-average waters, algal blooms, disease, or the incident in the back of everyone's mind: the BP oil spill last year.


Gulf of Mexico bottom still coated in oil, recovery long way off

(02/21/2011) Samantha Joye of the University of Georgia has seen the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico and the view wasn't pretty. Speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Joye told the conference that she found places where oil lay on the Gulf floor nearly 4 inches (10 centimeters) thick. Joye's findings contradict rosier pictures of the overall damage caused by the 2010 BP oil spill, including a recent statement by Kenneth Feinberg, the US government czar for oil compensation, that the Gulf would largely recover by next year.


Chevron found guilty, ordered to pay $8.2 billion in epic oil contamination fight

(02/14/2011) It was the environmental legal battle that some believed would never end (and they may still be right). But today in Lago Agrio, Ecuador, after 18 years of an often-dramatic court case, Chevron was found guilty of environmental harm and ordered to pay $8.2 billion in damages, however the oil giant says it will appeal the ruling. The lawsuit was filed by indigenous groups in the Ecuadorian Amazon who argue that poor environmental safeguards from Texaco in the 1970s and 80s led to widespread oil contamination and high rates of diseases, including cancer, among the populace. In 2001 Chevron purchased Texaco and inherited the legal fight. For its part, Chevron has dubbed the ruling "illegitimate" and with an appeal will drag the case on longer.


Food crisis 2011?: drought in China could push food prices even higher

(02/09/2011) The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has warned that a drought in China could devastate the nation's winter wheat crop and further inflate food prices worldwide. Already, food prices hit a record high in January according to the FAO. Rising 3.4 percent since December, prices reached the highest point since tracking began in 1990. While many fear a food crisis similar to the one in 2008-2007, experts say the world has more food in reserve this time around and gasoline, at least for now, remains cheaper. However, if China loses its winter wheat that could scuttle any hopes of avoiding another price rise in crop staples.


Numerous causes, including climate change, behind record food prices

(02/07/2011) Food prices hit a record high in January according to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), threatening the world's poor. Rising 3.4% since December, the FAO stated that prices reached the highest point since the agency began tracking food prices in 1990. Given the complexity of world markets and agriculture, experts have pointed to a number of reasons behind the rise including rising meat and dairy consumption, the commodity boom, fresh water scarcity, soil erosion, biofuels, growing human population, and a warming world that has exacerbated extreme weather events like last year's heatwave in Russia.


Australia's floods threaten Great Barrier Reef

(01/18/2011) The floods ransacking the Queensland coast have cost 20 lives and $500 million worth of property damage. Now, huge volumes of water are pouring into the ocean, threatening the Great Barrier Reef, which extends for thousands of kilometers off the coast. Although it may take years to know the full consequences of the flooding, Australian scientists are already warning of serious damage. For now, the biggest problems are concentrated on the southern part of the reef, where three overflowing rivers—the Burdekin, the Fitzroy, and the Burnett—have released millions of gallons of heavily polluted water into the sea. So far, prevailing winds have confined the majority of the floodwaters to within 65 kilometers of shore. But in time, the damage may grow to affect the entire reef system.


Did Haiti's deforestation, hurricane trigger deadly earthquake?

(01/04/2011) Erosion caused by hurricanes and large-scale deforestation may have contributed to last year's devastating earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people in Haiti, according to a geologist at the University of Miami.


Tsunami strikes Indonesia

(10/26/2010) A tsunami has killed more than 100 people in Indonesia following an earthquake on the same fault line that triggered the massive 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.


Death toll rises in New Guinea flash floods linked to deforestation

(10/09/2010) The death toll from flash floods in Wasior, West Papua has now topped 100, reports the Jakarta Post.



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