Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Water Tensions and Middle East Peace

As we learned while traveling the 38th Parallel, tensions about water limits in the Tigris and Euphrates River watersheds are threatening peace in that troubled region.  The June issue of "Smithsonian" has an article,
Lack of Water to Blame for the Conflict in Syria?
which explores the current conflict in Syria and the broader regional tensions in Iraq and Turkey that are driven by too little water leading to refugees moving into cities, and ties to the recent uprising in Syria.

   Just last week an International Rivers conference in Turkey focused on the threats to displaced persons and flooded cultural sites in places like the Brazilian Amazon and at Hasankeyf, Turkey, on the Tigris River.  One of the most compelling stories in our book emerged from out visit to Hasankeyf.  Demonstrators from many nations attending the conference protested at the gates of the Ilisu Dam construction site:  See this report from May 21

As the Smithsonian article mentioned, NASA's GRACE satellite is providing documentation of the serious depletion of groundwater aquifers in the Middle East, and also in the Ogallala aquifer of the Great Plains in the U.S., and in California's San Joaquin Valley, all stories that we encountered along our travels.  You can read more about the scientific measurements from space that help explain so many on-going human and environmental challenges here.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Glacial Melting in the Karakorum and Pamir Mountains of China

"Climate Change May be Baring Mount Everest" is the headline in a LA Times article of May 14, 2013.  Imbedded in that article is a link to a Nature article from last year about "Tibetan Glaciers Shrinking Rapidly."  Both stories help clarify the conditions we saw at Oytagh glacier and along the Karakorum Highway in southwestern China during our 38th Parallel travels.  We told that story in a post back in May 9, 2011 after visiting the rapidly shrinking Oytagh glacier. 
    What could be emphasized more in the news stories is the human concern that comes with glacial melting in that region.  To reach the mountains we had traveled along the southern edge of the Taklimakan Desert, the southern route of the famous Silk Road which connects a series of oasis towns where water has been critical to locals and travelers for thousands of years.  The source of water that creates those oases is the melting snow and ice from the nearby mountains.
   The recent research reported in the news stories notes the complexities of documenting impacts in that part of the world, where increased rainfall is coming to some regions influenced by westerly winds out of Europe as a result of global warming, while less falls in other sections of the Tibetan Plateau where the Indian monsoon is the weather-deliverer.  The monsoon has been weakening in recent decades.
   This week we learned that measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide are close to the 400 parts per million concentration and continuing to rise.  "The weekly average reading at Mauna Loa was 399.52...up nearly 22 points from a decade ago, according to the NOAA."  With so little effective action occurring globally to address this trend, the coming decades are going to be very challenging around the world.