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Algeria suffers from devastating wildfires

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Algeria suffers from devastating wildfires but faces big challenges in addressing them by António Bento-Gonçalves, University of Minho shed the light on the central area of North Africa whereas, wildfires sweep every summer, the Atlas of its millennium forestry ground cover. Life despite that carries on regardless.

In effect, there are many localities in rural areas, that were waiting for their share of development projects, which have been promised in the wake of the policy of aid and support for grey areas. “We are a grey area, and yet we are forgotten!”, exclaims a local resident.

All this was prior to the sudden fires wreaking havoc. “It is a great disaster, people have suffered great damage to their property, some have lost everything,” continues our interlocutor, who insists on the fact that despite the exodus that had experienced the rural areas, the inhabitants have remained faithful to their tradition in this land. “Some have certainly left, but others, and there are many, have returned,” said the native of this locality, an official of the local authority.

Read more on a BBC‘s Viewpoint: Algerian blame games expose deep political crisis.

Anyway, let us read the ‘Conversation’.

Algeria suffers from devastating wildfires, but faces big challenges in addressing them

Smoke rises from a wildfire in the forested hills of the Kabylie region, east of the capital Algiers, on August 10, 2021. RYAD KRAMDI/AFP via Getty Images

Dozens of forest fires have raged through forest areas across northern Algeria. So far at least 90 people have reportedly died as a consequence. Natural hazard expert, António Bento-Gonçalves, provides insights into wildfires in Algeria and what must be done to manage them better.

How often do wildfire incidents take place in Algeria and which areas are most affected?

In recent years major fires, with devastating consequences, have occurred in various parts of the world. This year the Mediterranean region was affected by heatwaves between July and August which caused major fire incidents in several countries including Greece, Turkey, Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria.

I’ve carried out research on wildfires in Algeria and looked into what causes them.

In Algeria, forests and scrubland occupy a total area of around 4 million hectares. This makes a huge part of the country susceptible to fire. For instance, between 1876 and 2005 (the longest complete data series) it’s estimated that almost 40,000 hectares burned each year, representing approximately 1% of all existing woodlands of the country.

Over a period of 25 years, from 1985 to 2010, Algeria recorded 42,555 fires that burned a total area of 910,640 hectares.

The municipalities (known as “wilayas”) most affected are in the North – the most forested parts of the country – and in the West. These areas are more populated, hilly (with steep slopes) and a pronounced Mediterranean climate – a very dry and hot season in summer, but sufficiently wet in winter to allow for rapid vegetation growth.

What causes them?

Wild fires spread the fastest in places that are hard to reach and in the right conditions. Large parts of Algeria tick these boxes. With very limited access and steep slopes, detection and effective first intervention by firefighters is very difficult. In addition there’s usually very dry undergrowth and forests are composed of flammable species.

Added to this, Algeria’s forested areas are subject to multiple human pressures which create conditions that are favourable to the spread of fires. These include the the use of fast-growing but more flammable forest species or the frequent use of fire for pasture regeneration. In addition, having long periods of hot and dry weather increase fire risk.

Forest fires in Algeria were historically caused by people. However, recent official information on the causes of fires is characterised by high rate of fires of “unknown origin”, representing between 40% to 70% of all fires. Essentially, we know they’ll be caused by people, but there’s no specific data on what activity that caused them or motivations behind them.

Why do we not know? This is related to difficulties in monitoring by the General Directorate of Forests. Between 1980 and 2000, when the causes of fires of unknown origin were higher, this was due to instability. Algeria had a civil war that lasted from 1991 to 2002 and prevented government agencies, including the Directorate of Forests, from working properly. This made it difficult to have a good understanding of what caused the fires.

How are they managed and are there prevention measures in place?

Generally, policies put in place to combat forest fires are organised around several points: information and education of the population, development and maintenance of rural and forest areas, surveillance of wooded areas, and improvement of the means of fire fighting.

However, not knowing exactly what type of human activity causes the fires limits what can be done to prevent them. Instead, policies tend to be more reactionary – they focus on dealing with fires when they break out.

In recent years, public authorities strengthened the resources of the General Directorate of Forests for the prevention and fight against forest fires. In particular, by acquiring first intervention equipment, such as forest fire trucks, preparing more aircraft for firefighting, and a radio network for rapid communication in the event of fire outbreak.

In addition, more collaborative work is being done in the region to improve intervention and surveillance.

What else can be done to better prepare and manage wildfires in Algeria?

Policies to prevent and protect against forest fires have been implemented gradually since the 1980s, but the country faces many challenges in effectively rolling them out.

Algeria is a huge country – with a size exceeding 2.38 million km2, it’s the biggest country in Africa. With a massive territory to manage, all actions – to prevent, to detect and to fire fight – aren’t enough. Operations are also very complex due to the very uneven, hard to access, terrain.

There’s also a high population density around and inside the forest massifs. This means its hard to control the actions that people take which are a fire hazard.

Added to this, forestry officials lack authority and resources to perform their duties.

To effectively combat fires, there must be political, social and economic stability in the country. And the causes of the fires must be clearly known. Without this, it’s impossible to win the battle against forest fires.

There is, however, hope. New technologies, such as Remote Sensing and Geographic Information Systems, could improve data acquisition and thus the prevention of fires.

Other actions that must be taken include; the strengthening of education and awareness-raising and improvements in the equipment used to monitor, detect and fight forest fires.

Finally, policymakers must focus on strengthening cooperation and mutual assistance between all the Mediterranean countries. Fire knows no borders and no single country is capable of having all the necessary resources.

António Bento-Gonçalves, Associated Professor, Department of Geography, University of Minho

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Sudan’s ‘forgotten’ pyramids risk being buried

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This article republished from The Conversation is about Sudan’s ‘forgotten’ pyramids that risk being buried by shifting sand dunes and take with them all related history.

Rampant desertification expansion towards the north does not meet any counter-movement. But, conversely, in the south, one ambitious African-led reforestation project is leading the way.
To combat sand movement and desertification by increasing the vegetation cover along the southern edge of the Saharan desert, a Green Wall is proposed. It is being implemented throughout the continent from ocean to ocean.
In the southern edge of the MENA region, we sadly do not share the same concern and do not consecrate to date more than little attention paid to it. Is it the force of habit or what else?

Sudan’s ‘forgotten’ pyramids risk being buried by shifting sand dunes

Ahmed Mutasim Abdalla Mahmoud, University of Nottingham

The word “pyramid” is synonymous with Egypt, but it is actually neighbouring Sudan that is home to the world’s largest collection of these spectacular ancient structures.

Beginning around 2500BC, Sudan’s ancient Nubian civilisation left behind more than 200 pyramids that rise out of the desert across three archaeological sites: El Kurru, Jebel Barkal and Meroe, in addition to temples, tombs and royal burial chambers.

Nubian archaeological sites in modern-day Sudan and Egypt. Google Maps

Despite being smaller than the famous Egyptian pyramids of Giza, Nubian pyramids are just as magnificent and culturally valuable. They even offer a crowd-free experience for intrepid tourists.

Built of sandstone and granite, the steeply-sloping pyramids contain chapels and burial chambers decorated with illustrations and inscriptions carved in hieroglyphs and Meroitic script celebrating the rulers’ lives in Meroe – a wealthy Nile city and the seat of power of Kush, an ancient kingdom and rival to Egypt.

Located about 220km north of the capital Khartoum, the cultural gem of Meroe is now one of Sudan’s most significant Unesco world heritage sites. However a lack of preservation, severe weather conditions and negligent visitors have all taken their toll on its monuments. Back in the 1880s, for instance, the Italian explorer Giuseppe Ferlini blew up several pyramids in his search for Kushite treasure, leaving many of the tombs missing their pointy tops. Many more of Sudan’s other pyramids were subsequently plundered and destroyed by looters.

Shifting sands

These days sandstorms and shifting sand dunes pose the biggest threat to Sudan’s ancient heritage sites. This phenomenon is nothing new, and was even chronicled thousands of years ago. An inscription found in a temple from the 5th century BC describes a Kushite king giving an order to clear out sand from the pathway:

His Majesty brought a multitude of hands, to wit, men and women as well as royal children and chiefs to carry away the sand; and his Majesty was carrying away sand with his hand(s) himself, at the forefront of the multitude for many days.

But today the threat has been exacerbated by climate change, which has made the land more arid and sandstorms more frequent. Moving sands can engulf entire houses in rural Sudan, and cover fields, irrigation canals and riverbanks.

Sand creeps over a pyramid at the northern royal cemetery of Meroe. Ahmed Mahmoud, Author provided

While some archaeologists believe sand movement helps to preserve ancient artefacts from thieves, it is known to be detrimental to excavated sites, reburying them beneath the desert. Sand blown by the wind also erodes delicate stonework and sculptures.

Fighting back against desertification

The best way to combat sand movement and desertification is to increase the vegetation cover, and one ambitious African-led reforestation project is leading the way.

Bringing together more than 20 nations, the Great Green Wall is a multi-billion dollar movement to stop the spread of the Sahara Desert by restoring 100 million hectares of land across the continent from Senegal in west Africa to Djibouti in the east. The intention is to cultivate the largest living barrier of trees and plants on the planet, with Sudan having the longest stretch of the “wall”.

The great green wall will run through the Sahel region to the south of the Sahara. sevgart / wiki, CC BY-SA

Only 4% of the target area has been covered so far, with big variations from country to country. When it is more complete, this experimental project will hopefully limit the frequency of dust storms and slow the movement of sand onto fertile lands and Unesco sites in northern Sudan. It will also contribute to tackling the extreme heatwaves in semi-arid areas such as the capital Khartoum, where the temperature goes well above 40°C during summer.

However, monitoring the impact of the project, which spans 5,000 miles across Africa, requires “big picture” data. This comes from the latest satellites and remote sensing technologies.

Sand-tracking satellites

Satellite imagery can provide valuable information about sand movement. For instance satellites are used to monitor the dust storms that transport sand from the Sahara across the Atlantic Ocean to supply the Amazon rainforest with essential fertilising nutrients.

Dust storm over Sudan, August 2017. NASA MODIS

But what about on a smaller scale? How do you predict if and when sand will submerge a field, a watering hole – or a pyramid?

In my own research I have previously used multiple overlapping images taken from aeroplanes to generate digital elevation models for sand dunes in northern Sudan. That led to my current PhD research which focuses on monitoring the movement of sand dunes using satellite optical and radar images, airborne laser imagery and other techniques. My research also investigates the influence of factors such as wind speed and direction, presence of vegetation and topography.

Colleagues and I ultimately want to develop our understanding of how sand dunes grow in size and how they migrate across the desert. This will enable us to monitor the effectiveness of interventions such as vegetation barriers, helping to combat desertification and climate change and to ensure people in Sudan are able to grow enough food. And we may even be able to predict when and where those pyramids will be buried – and what we can do to prevent it.

Ahmed Mutasim Abdalla Mahmoud, PhD Researcher, Sand Movement in Sudan, University of Nottingham

Read the original article.


Summer Could Last Six Months by 2100, Study Finds

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Yale Environment 360 informs that if things are kept the same, Summer could last six months by 2100, based on a recent Study findings.

The picture above is for illustration and of the effect of this climate change on the UAE’s everyday life as per Year-round sunshine has its downsides, as the climate and seasons in the UAE make clear. It has already been noticed that Hot, Strange and Dangerous Summer across the Planet is increasingly being felt, but this story must a first.

Summer Could Last Six Months by 2100, Study Finds

If emissions continue unchecked, summers in the Northern Hemisphere could last nearly six months by 2100, according to a new study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. Scientists say the shift in seasons will likely have significant impacts on agriculture, the environment, human health, and the timing of species’ activities such as breeding, feeding, and migration.

The research, led by scientists at the State Key Laboratory of Tropical Oceanography in China, analyzed six decades of historical daily climate records, and used climate models to project future trends. It defined summer as the “onset of temperatures in the hottest 25 percent during that time period, while winter began with temperatures in the coldest 25 percent.”

On average, the study found, the number of summer days in the Northern Hemisphere jumped from 78 to 95 between 1952 and 2011. Winter, meanwhile, shrank from 76 to 73 days over the same period. Spring contracted from 124 to 115 days, and autumn from 87 to 82 days.

The scientists projected that if these trends continue, summer will last almost six months out of the year, winter will shrink by two months, and spring and autumn will shrink as well. With the extension of summer comes more intense heat waves and extreme weather events like droughts and wildfires.

“Summers are getting longer and hotter while winters shorter and warmer due to global warming,” Yuping Guan, a physical oceanographer at the State Key Laboratory of Tropical Oceanography and lead author of the new study, said in a statement. “Numerous studies have already shown that the changing seasons cause significant environmental and health risks.”

Malta can truly kick-start a green revolution

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The start to a green revolution – Cyrus Engerer and Stephanie Fabri elaborate on how Malta can truly kick-start a green revolution.

Malta can truly kick-start a green revolution

By Cyrus Engerer and Stephanie Fabri

As the world struggles with COVID-19, the challenges of climate change and wider environmental problems loom large. It is clear that the economic response to the impact of COVID-19 must benefit the environment while plans to address climate change and environmental issues must benefit the economy and society. The only way these twin imperatives can be met is through a green revolution that transcends our economy and society.

This was our task when we both chaired the first Intelligent Planning Consultative Forum that was established by Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia. The aim of the forum was to bring together all stakeholders involved in the planning and construction sectors to start coming up with ways in which we can transform and transition planning and construction which is smart, green and sustainable.

The result of this forum and the discussions we led is the green policy document on green walls and roofs together with the recently-launched scheme by the government to incentivise such improvements.

This incentive scheme should be seen as the first step towards having greener and more sustainable buildings. The benefits of such interventions are major given that they result in low energy consumption and decreased carbon emissions while mitigating the effects of roof flooding. This happens as the green infrastructure, walls or roofs, acts as a protective layer for buildings, absorbing heat and excess water.

Additionally, the utilisation of local fauna in such projects would create various pollination havens across the island, helping to restore natural biodiversity – a key aim of the EU’s 2030 biodiversity strategy. The utilisation of Maltese fauna could have the additional benefit of requiring minimal maintenance and reduce the consumption of water.

Such initiatives also have macro effects including the creation of additional value-adding activities and green jobs. Together with other initiatives and incentives, the demand for such products could even help kickstart a whole new industry focused on green construction.One of Malta’s biggest opportunities in the Green Deal is greening the construction sector

In fact, one of Malta’s biggest opportunities in the Green Deal is greening the construction sector which remains a significant contributor to economic growth. The EU recently launched the New European Bauhaus and, in a statement, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said that “the New European Bauhaus is about how we live better together after the pandemic while respecting the planet and protecting our environment. It is about empowering those who have the solutions to the climate crisis, matching sustainability with style”.

This is something we believe can truly support the country in its next phase of design, planning and construction. Malta and Europe have a number of common challenges. Whereas the original Bauhaus was focused on new designs, the biggest challenge we face is of renovation, regeneration and retrofitting.

We are surrounded by buildings and infrastructures, home to both embodied carbon and embedded histories. A design and architecture for this problem requires a quite different sensibility. It implies a refining in place, understanding repair and retrofit cultures and developing new logics predicated on care and maintenance.

These approaches, in line with the EU Recovery Strategy, necessitate new ways of unleashing the societal value latent in people and place. Producing anew in this way is far more challenging than simply making new things –although new things will emerge.

Malta has a unique potential in this and, if leveraged properly, we can truly kick-start a green revolution in our planning and building industries. We are confident that the new phase of the Intelligent Planning Consultative Forum will look into this and, together with the environment minister, a new era of Malta’s planning and construction industry can commence, one that is smart, green and sustainable.

The green wall and roof initiative and support scheme is a step in the right direction.

Cyrus Engerer is a Labour MEP and Stephanie Fabri is an economist and a lecturer at the University of Malta.

Why the Mediterranean is a climate change hotspot

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The Massachusetts Institute of Technology asking Why the Mediterranean is a climate change hotspot came up with A new analysis uncovers the basis of the severe rainfall declines predicted by many models.

17 June 2020

Although global climate models vary in many ways, they agree on this: The Mediterranean region will be significantly drier in coming decades, potentially seeing 40 percent less precipitation during the winter rainy season.

An analysis by researchers at MIT has now found the underlying mechanisms that explain the anomalous effects in this region, especially in the Middle East and in northwest Africa. The analysis could help refine the models and add certainty to their projections, which have significant implications for the management of water resources and agriculture in the region.

The study, published last week in the Journal of Climate, was carried out by MIT graduate student Alexandre Tuel and professor of civil and environmental engineering Elfatih Eltahir.

The different global circulation models of the Earth’s changing climate agree that temperatures virtually everywhere will increase, and in most places so will rainfall, in part because warmer air can carry more water vapor. However, “There is one major exception, and that is the Mediterranean area,” Eltahir says, which shows the greatest decline of projected rainfall of any landmass on Earth.

“With all their differences, the models all seem to agree that this is going to happen,” he says, although they differ on the amount of the decline, ranging from 10 percent to 60 percent. But nobody had previously been able to explain why.

Tuel and Eltahir found that this projected drying of the Mediterranean region is a result of the confluence of two different effects of a warming climate: a change in the dynamics of upper atmosphere circulation and a reduction in the temperature difference between land and sea. Neither factor by itself would be sufficient to account for the anomalous reduction in rainfall, but in combination the two phenomena can fully account for the unique drying trend seen in the models.

The first effect is a large-scale phenomenon, related to powerful high-altitude winds called the midlatitude jet stream, which drive a strong, steady west-to-east weather pattern across Europe, Asia, and North America. Tuel says the models show that “one of the robust things that happens with climate change is that as you increase the global temperature, you’re going to increase the strength of these midlatitude jets.”

But in the Northern Hemisphere, those winds run into obstacles, with mountain ranges including the Rockies, Alps, and Himalayas, and these collectively impart a kind of wave pattern onto this steady circulation, resulting in alternating zones of higher and lower air pressure. High pressure is associated with clear, dry air, and low pressure with wetter air and storm systems. But as the air gets warmer, this wave pattern gets altered.

“It just happened that the geography of where the Mediterranean is, and where the mountains are, impacts the pattern of air flow high in the atmosphere in a way that creates a high pressure area over the Mediterranean,” Tuel explains. That high-pressure area creates a dry zone with little precipitation.

However, that effect alone can’t account for the projected Mediterranean drying. That requires the addition of a second mechanism, the reduction of the temperature difference between land and sea. That difference, which helps to drive winds, will also be greatly reduced by climate change, because the land is warming up much faster than the seas.

“What’s really different about the Mediterranean compared to other regions is the geography,” Tuel says. “Basically, you have a big sea enclosed by continents, which doesn’t really occur anywhere else in the world.” While models show the surrounding landmasses warming by 3 to 4 degrees Celsius over the coming century, the sea itself will only warm by about 2 degrees or so. “Basically, the difference between the water and the land becomes a smaller with time,” he says.

That, in turn, amplifies the pressure differential, adding to the high-pressure area that drives a clockwise circulation pattern of winds surrounding the Mediterranean basin. And because of the specifics of local topography, projections show the two areas hardest hit by the drying trend will be the northwest Africa, including Morocco, and the eastern Mediterranean region, including Turkey and the Levant.

That trend is not just a projection, but has already become apparent in recent climate trends across the Middle East and western North Africa, the researchers say. “These are areas where we already detect declines in precipitation,” Eltahir says. It’s possible that these rainfall declines in an already parched region may even have contributed to the political unrest in the region, he says.

“We document from the observed record of precipitation that this eastern part has already experienced a significant decline of precipitation,” Eltahir says. The fact that the underlying physical processes are now understood will help to ensure that these projections should be taken seriously by planners in the region, he says. It will provide much greater confidence, he says, by enabling them “to understand the exact mechanisms by which that change is going to happen.”

Eltahir has been working with government agencies in Morocco to help them translate this information into concrete planning. “We are trying to take these projections and see what would be the impacts on availability of water,” he says. “That potentially will have a lot of impact on how Morocco plans its water resources, and also how they could develop technologies that could help them alleviate those impacts through better management of water at the field scale, or maybe through precision agriculture using higher technology.”

The work was supported by the collaborative research program between Université Mohamed VI Polytechnique in Morocco and MIT.


Story Source: Materials provided by Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Original written by David L. Chandler.