New wildfire soot variety could upset all global warming estimates


Subhra Priyadarshini

Soot from wildfires across the world could actually be causing far more warming than our climate models account for. Hidden away from all scientific estimates is a newly-discovered form of soot – the ‘superaggregates’ – emitted from wildfires. Scientists have found that this kind of soot causes 90 per cent more warming than conventional sub-micrometer soot particles.

Current climate models make calculations of wildfire emissions based on sub-micrometer soot particles. The new findings suggest that if we were to reassess the warming from wildfires alone, the figure would go up many times.
The Nagarhole forest wildfire of 2012 that burnt thousands of acres to ashes.

The superaggregates came into light when scientists from the Desert Research Institute in Nevada-Reno, USA, were studying the massive 2012 wildfire in the Nagarhole National Forest of Karnataka. Studying aerosol samples over the Indian Ocean at the Maldives Climate Observatory on Hanimaadhoo Island, they found a new type of soot particle almost 10 times longer than normal and far more compact in shape than the sub-microscopic variety.

“We call these particles superaggregates because of their super-micron size. Conventional soot particles from diesel vehicles, cook stoves and other ‘contained’ combustion sources are sub-micron size aggregates,” one of the lead researchers Rajan Chakrabarty, presently a faculty member at the Washington University in St. Louis told Nature India.
Though ten times longer than conventional aggregates, the superaggregates have similar mass density. “This means although larger in size, these superaggregates can remain aloft in the atmosphere for the same lifespan (approximately a week) as conventional aggregates,” Chakrabarty said. This also means they get deposited on human lungs the very same way as conventional particles.
According to the scientists, the superaggregate form of soot has not been observed from wildfires before this study.
When they analysed the radiative properties, the scientists found that compared to spherical soot particles, these superaggregates could lead to 90% more warming in the atmosphere.
After detecting soot superaggregates from the 2012 Nagarhole sanctuary fire, the scientists went back to look at smoke samples from the 2010 Millerton Lake fire in Northern California, the 2011 Las Conchas fire in New Mexico, and some more wildfires near Mexico City. Not surprisingly, they found superaggregates in those samples too.
The scientists say though wildfires contribute significantly to global soot emissions, their aerosol formation mechanisms and particle properties are poorly represented in climate models. Superaggregates – previously unrecognized pollutants – could have considerable impact on climate and human health, they add.
“The higher heating effect of these particles, compared to volume-equivalent spheres, could change current estimates of climate forcing by models,” Chakrabarty added. He said multi-front future research in this area could lead to development of mechanical filtration systems to control public health impacts of soot superaggregates during large-scale wildfires.


1. Chakrabarty, R. K. et al. Soot superaggregates from flaming wildfires and their direct radiative forcing.Sci. Rep. (2014) doi: 10.1038/srep05508

Extra-terrestrial solar event triggered Uttarakhand cloudburst


Subhra Priyadarshini

Unplanned human activities in the Himalayan terrain coupled with some unusual extra-terrestrial events triggered the massive cloudburst over Kedarnath resulting in the catastrophic 2013 floods in Uttarakand region of India, according to new research.

Using NASA satellite data, Saumitra Mukherjee from the School of Environmental Sciences at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) suggests that a sudden rise in ‘proton flux’ from the Sun was responsible for the catastrophe. The change in land use pattern (such as construction of reservoirs on the Ganges and Alaknanda rivers) added fuel to fire and created havoc in Uttarakhand.
“The rise in proton flux – an unusual solar event where protons emitted by the Sun are accelerated to very high energies – was responsible for the anomalous rise in atmospheric temperature. High concentration of aerosol trapped in the atmosphere and glaciers in Indo-China border initiated a nucleation process in the concentrated water vapour to trigger formation of clouds for the torrential rain and cloud burst on 16 and 17 June 2013,” Mukherjee told Nature India.
Saumitra Mukherjee (right) with SEVAN scientists Karen Arakelyan (left) and David Pokhcaryan (middle)

NASA’s Sun Observatory Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) satellite recorded a steep rise in solar proton flux above 10 MeV for 12 days from May 15 to 26). During the same period, the cosmic ray intensity was also recorded at an all-time high at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), which represents the regional cosmic ray data in the Space Environment Viewing and Analysis Network (SEVAN) of the Asian office of Aerospace Research.

This was just before the anomalous rise in atmospheric temperature in the Himalayan region, which Mukherjee says was initiated by the release of heat energy from the trapped proton drift. “After this event anomalous rise in cosmic ray was recorded. Rise in cosmic rays was instrumental in condensation of the clouds leading to the cloudburst in Kedarnath,” he explains.
The scientist suggests that it took 20 days and 6 hours for the mechanism (of heat transfer to cloud appearance) to initiate the cloudburst in Kedarnath. The heat from the Sun was captured in the ‘Van Allen’s belt’ (between the Sun and Earth), which further accelerated the protons. This extra-terrestrial influence led to rise in temperature to release the aerosol trapped in the glaciers and atmosphere in the Indo-China border to initiate the cloudburst.
Generally, increase in aerosol heating over the Indo-Gangatic plains in the pre-monsoon period leads to a strengthening of the Indian monsoon. The heat transfer from the protons to the atmosphere has affected not only the atmospheric water vapour but has been responsible for melting of glaciers which feed the river Ganges.
Mukherjee says the influence of the Sun, along with anthropogenic activities, on climate change needs more study, especially its manifestation in torrential rains. “This is a radical departure from previous principles but is consistent with existing observations,” he adds.  Mukherjee says his hypothesis does not change the general conclusion that increased proton flux from the Sun reserves trapped heat in geospecific locations which influence temporary change in the atmosphere.
The Kedarnath extreme weather event is a clear manifestation of climate change, he adds.
The devastating flood in Uttarakhand in was a combined impact of cloudburst in Uttarakhand, quick melting of glaciers at high altitude due to beating of ice sheet by raindrops and breaching of natural embankment of Chorabari Tal (north of Kedarnath) due to accumulation of excess surface runoff. Within 48 hours, 280 mm rainfall was recorded and about five feet of snow precipitated at higher altitudes.
Apart from Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, northeast Rajasthan and Delhi also received torrential rainfall. In Delhi, it was an advent of early monsoon that broke the past record of 150 years.


1. Mukherjee, S. Extra terrestrial remote sensing and geophysical applications to understand Kedarnath cloudburst in Uttarakhand, India. J. Geophys. Remote Sens. (2014) doi:  10.4172/2169-0049.1000124

Climate change policy: What’s new for Asia?

CDKN-IPCC-Whats-in-it-for-South-Asia-AR5_Page_01At a workshop discussing what the take homes for Asian countries might be from the latest assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) — AR5 — it was pointed out that there wasn’t enough science coming out of developing countries to feed the database on emissions or warming in the larger climate change debate. Local scientists need to conduct more climate change related experiments, write more scientific papers and bolster regional science in order to make a case for these developing countries in the international discourse on climate change.

“We also need more authors from the developing world to participate in writing the chapters for the IPCC reports,” says Jonathan Lynn, Head of Communication at the IPCC. Lynn says though there is substantial science emanating from India now, some other small Asian countries such as Indonesia lag far behind. The IPCC collates scientific data from across the world to make predictions for future scenarios with the help of scientists, economists, policy makers and government representatives. Most of the work done by scientists in this process is voluntary and not paid for. Developing country scientists, who also do consultancy work for a living, would expect such work to pay off for their time — this could be one of the reasons why not many developing country scientists are interested in the job, Lynn says.

The IPCC assessment reports try to turn all available scientific evidence into something that would make sense to policy makers and businesses — therefore, the authors have explained the science at hand this time in terms of “risk management” parameters. “And since there are questions of ethics and equity involved in this highly political debate, we now have philosophers in the IPCC team to make sure those aspects are taken care of,” Lynn says.

Joyashree Roy, an economist from the Jadavpur University in Kolkata is the lead author of the industry chapter in IPCC’s assessment report five. She says Asia needs to urgently decouple the high energy sector from emissions. “Almost 44 per cent of the global emissions are from the energy and industry sectors of China and India — there lies an opportunity for south Asia. Can we think of a low emission-high energy scenario?”

Roy says population and economic growth are responsible for the surge in energy demand as well as emissions in south Asia.

Another IPCC author Navroz Dubash from New Delhi-based thinktank Centre for Policy Research points to an inherent dichotomy in the report — the number of countries which have adopted mitigation strategies or have a national action plan for climate change has gone up many times, especially in Asia post-2005. Simultaneously, the emission rates of Asia have zoomed and the world as a whole is hurtling at great speed into a carbon-based future. How is that possible, you wonder. “Well, there have been a slew of national policies in the last few years but they will take around 3-4 years to bear fruit. The more optimistic outlook would be to review the scenario in a couple of years and see if these policies have led to significant action,” he says.

Dubash says India will also benefit from the new stand of IPCC where ‘co-benefits’ of climate-friendly policies are being seen in new light. Earlier, IPCC talked of climate change mitigation plans as the main goal with parameters such as development or health as co-benefits. ”The idea now is that the concept of co-benefits could work both ways, meaning if a development project brings in climate change mitigation as a spin-off, it should be totally acceptable. This concept is at the core of India’s national plan and now IPCC has sanctified it — so there’s a huge opportunity.”

According to A R Paneerselvan, advisor to the executive director of Panos South Asia, an organisation informing public and policy debates on environment issues, there are talks of a south Asian intiative for climate related insurance. The insurance would cover farmers against any vulnerability stemming from climate change. The initiative is still at a nascent stage and there’s pressure from the cash crop sector in south Asian countries to make a case for climate-related insurance, he says.

As for IPCC’s fifth assessment report and what’s in it South Asia, London-based Climate and Development Network brought out a good primer that explains just this. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) chairperson Rajendra Kumar Pachauri also spoke about what it means for India at an outreach programme in New Delhi today.


New seeds of hope for Nepal’s farmers

By Om Astha Rai

Climate-resilient varieties of rice could help to protect crop yields from the ravages of droughts and floods caused by the increasingly erratic weather patterns in South Asia.

KATHMANDU, 30 July, 2014 − Farmers badly affected by changing weather patterns in South Asia now have the opportunity to improve food security by planting new varieties of rice capable of withstanding the impact of both severe droughts and floods.

This is particularly good news for countries such as Nepal, where around 65% of its more than 26 million people are involved in agriculture. Rice is the country’s most important crop, planted on more than 50% of its arable land.

And it comes at a time when new research using satellite imaging has highlighted the growing need to change agricultural practices in South Asia as higher average temperatures cause the reduction of crop yields on the Indo-Gangetic plain.

Scientists say the new seeds, developed by the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines and approved by the Nepal Agricultural Research Council (NARC), are vital in order to deal with changing weather patterns − in particular, the increasingly erratic behaviour of the all-important South Asia monsoon.

“These new varieties can really change the future of the country’s farmers,” says Dr Dil Bahadur Gurung, NARC’s executive director. “The new rice can, in most cases, beat the effects of droughts and floods.

Reduce impact

“All these varieties have been tested in Nepal’s soil and climate over and over again. If all the country’s farmers replace their traditional varieties with these new ones, the impact of climate change on our agriculture could be reduced considerably.”

Local scientists say the timing of the South Asia monsoon − the only source of irrigation for the majority of Nepali farmers − is changing.

“Each year, we see the monsoon arriving later,” says Mani Ratna Shakya, a leading meteorologist in Nepal. “The duration of the monsoon is also getting shorter as each year passes.”

According to Nepal’s Meteorological Forecasting Division, the monsoon − which usually arrives in Nepal during the first week in June − came 10 days late this year.

Droughts are becoming more frequent. This year, the monsoon is generally judged to be very weak, leaving a vast area of arable land parched, particularly in western parts of Nepal. And often, when the rains eventually do arrive, they are torrential, causing flash floods.

So far, NARC has approved six drought-tolerant varieties of rice, under the name Sukkha − meaning dry.

“Ordinary rice varieties dry out and die in droughts,” says Hari Krishna Uprety, a paddy expert at NARC. “The new seeds survive droughts even in the early stage of growth. And uncertainty about the onset of monsoon has made these varieties even more important.”

Hari Krishna Uprety, NARC paddy expert, with new rice seed varieties Image: Om Astha Rai
Hari Krishna Uprety, NARC paddy expert,
with the new rice seed varieties
Image: Om Astha Rai

The new varieties still need water, of course, but they become more drought tolerant by being able to store energy during the early stages of their growth.

Two rice varieties capable of surviving flood conditions for up to two weeks have also been approved by NARC.

Erratic climate

Although the experts are backing the introduction of the new seeds in order to combat an increasingly erratic climate, persuading farmers to change their cultivation methods is a difficult task.

Farmers are often reluctant to replace traditional rice varieties, which in Nepal tend to be specific to each part of the country, depending on soil conditions, elevation, and other factors.

The new seeds are no more expensive than the traditional ones, and farmers even get a 30% discount on seeds approved by NARC, but a factor that could hamper uptake is that distribution is through the National Seed Company, which is not yet reaching out to farmers in every village.

But scientists warn that the new varieties must be planted – not only to combat changes in climate, but also to feed growing populations. – Climate News Network

• Om Astha Rai is a reporter with Nepalese national newspaper, Republica Daily.



Nepal wins hearts and minds with biogas boom

By Om Astha Rai

Villagers in Nepal are increasingly being persuaded that small biogas installations using human waste to provide fuel are not only desirable but are also helping to reduce deforestation of the Himalayas and carbon emissions. 

KATHMANDU, 2 July, 2014 − Sunita Bote, a 30-year-old housewife from the small village of Kumroj in eastern Nepal, was far from convinced when energy specialists from the capital city, Kathmandu, talked about the benefits of constructing a small biogas plant near her house.

“At first, I shuddered at the thought of connecting my cooking stove with a toilet’s septic tank,” Sunita recalls.

But she was eventually persuaded – and now realises the multiple benefits of the biogas system. The plant not only produces enough energy for cooking for her family of seven, it also gets rid of both human and animal waste.

“It is no longer seems disgusting to me,” Sunita says. “Instead, it has eased my household chores.”

Most of Sunita’s neighbours feel the same way, and Kumroj has now been named by the government as Nepal’s first model biogas village, with more than 80% of households having their own biogas installations.

Frequent blackouts

Nepal, a landlocked country of just over 26 million people, has big energy problems. Its cities and towns, reliant on imported fossil fuels for energy, suffer frequent electricity blackouts due to ageing infrastructure and shortages of funds.

With its mountain ranges and many rivers, there is great potential for hydropower, but tight budgets mean there has as yet been little investment in these big, capital-intensive projects.

However, the energy outlook is slowly changing. Instead of building big hydropower plants, local groups − helped by NGOs and outside funders − are constructing micro hydro projectsall over the country. So far, more than 1,000 such plants have been built. There has also been investment in developing solar power.

Meanwhile, thousands of biogas projects are being put in place in backyards and fields throughout the country.

Fuel needs

According to the Alternative Energy Promotion Centre (AEPC), a government agency responsible for promoting renewable energy, there are now more than 300,000 biogas plants providing for the fuel needs of nearly 6% of Nepal’s households.

“At first, people were wary about getting energy from their toilet septic tanks,” says Professor Govinda Pokharel, vice-chairman of the government’s National Planning Commission and, until recently, a director of AEPC.

“It was human faeces that caused the trouble. People, especially those who were not educated and were living in remote villages, were against the idea of using their faeces for cooking food. In some cases, those who installed biogas plants were even ostracised by their neighbours. But attitudes have changed. When animal dung is mixed with human faeces, greater power is generated.”

Traditionally, wood has been the main source of fuel for cooking and heating. But deforestation – with the resulting landslides and floods – has been a big problem.

Trees saved

The Biogas Sector Programme, a Kathmandu-based organisation that promotes the use of biogas, says every biogas plant can save 1.25 trees each year, That means that, due to biogas, nearly 400,000 trees a year throughout the country are saved from being chopped down.

Biogas not only replaces wood for fuel, it can also help reduce carbon emissions. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) calculates that a standard biogas plant saves greenhouse gas emissions of between three and five tons each year, compared with other energy sources such as wood.

The AEPC says that Nepal, through the use of biogas and by not cutting tree cover, is helping to reduce the country’s overall emissions by more than one million tons a year. “It may not be a huge contribution at the global level, but it is not negligible either,” Prof Pokharel says.

There are plans to install at least 26,000 biogas plants around the country each year. “The more we install, the more we save trees,” Prof Pokharel says, “And the saving of each tree is important in combating climate change.” – Climate News Network

• Om Astha Rai is a reporter with Nepalese national newspaper, Republica Daily.



Bangladesh to slash its own climate adaptation fund

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation – Wed, 18 Jun 2014 10:30 GMT

Author: Syful Islam

DHAKA, Bangladesh (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Bangladesh plans to cut spending from its own budget on climate change adaptation and rely more in the future on funds from donors, government officials said.

The low-lying South Asian nation, considered one of the countries most at risk from climate impacts such as sea level rise, worsening erosion and erratic rainfall, has been a leader in the developing world in committing its own funds to climate adaptation. Officials allocated $320 million from the country’s budget over five years to a domestic climate adaptation fund, said Finance Minister A.M.A. Muhith in a budget speech to parliament.

But “this allocation will be reduced in the future and instead steps will be taken to increase (funding to) the Bangladesh Climate Change Resilience Fund, established with the assistance of our development partners,” Muhith said in a June 5 speech. That fund has so far received $187 million from international donors, with some of the money going to adaptation projects.

The minister proposed no new funding for the Bangladesh Climate Change Trust Fund (BCCTF), the country’s own adaptation funding initiative, in the next budget.

The change comes as part of an update to the Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan of 2009.


Critics of the decision said the change in strategy comes in part because of questions raised about the alleged misuse of funds from the country’s adaptation trust fund, and the government’s desire to avoid further controversy in the future.

Last October, the Bangladesh chapter of Transparency International said it had found evidence of political influence, nepotism and corruption in the way funds were allocated.

“A significant amount of money had been allocated for the BCCTF in the last five years but the spending was poor. Besides, the way the fund was managed has raised questions for many, which led no fresh allocation in the new budget,” Shamsul Alam, a member of the Bangladesh’s Planning Commission, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation over telephone.

He said one advantage of relying on donor-funded climate adaptation projects it that they help transfer expertise and modern technology on adaptation, something Bangladesh in some cases lacks. “Capacity building of people on the ground is a must to adapt to climate change impacts,” he said.

Asked if donors might feel less willing to channel money to Bangladesh as a result of the government cutback in its own spending, he noted that in the new budget the government has imposed a “green tax” on industries that do not have a waste treatment plant.

That change “proves Bangladesh’s sincerity to climate change adaptation and keeping the environment free of pollution,” he said.

Atiq Rahman, executive director of Bangladesh Center for Advanced Studies (BCAS), told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview that Bangladesh still has a lot to do to adapt to climate change, particularly as it is so vulnerable.

He said the southern part of the country is particularly vulnerable, with 20 million people already lacking sufficient food, safe drinking water and sanitation systems. Drought-prone northern districts will also need large-scale climate adaptation programmes, he said.


Rahman said he thinks the government’s decision to cut its own spending on climate adaptation is the wrong one.

“The BCCTF should be kept well funded and replenished to encourage donors to pay more in the resilience fund. Unless you pay a portion on your own, why will donors feel interested to pay for your adaptation programmes?” he asked.

But greater transparency needs to be put in place in the spending of climate funds, to ensure the money goes to support people in the most need of help.

Hasan Mahmud, a member of parliament and Bangladesh’s former environment minister said adaptation projects costing less than $25 million will suffer the most if Bangladesh’s adaptation trust fund has no resources.

Donors for the most part only sponsor climate resilience projects larger than $25 million, he said in a telephone interview, but many of the projects Bangladesh needs most cost in the range of $5 million to $10 million.

“Big projects are not needed everywhere,” he said.

The government’s decision to create its own adaptation trust fund was highly praised by donor agencies and countries and a major encouragement for them to channel money to Bangladesh, he said.

“Donors felt (the depth of) Bangladesh’s seriousness about adaptation, despite not being responsible for climate change, following formation of the fund. Now the donors may get a wrong message and raise questions about whether we need any more adaptation funds since we have stopped spending from our own,” Mahmud warned.

Syful Islam is a journalist with the Financial Express newspaper in Bangladesh. He can be reached at:

Erratic monsoon keeps a parched Sri Lanka guessing


COLOMBO (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Warm April weather is nothing new in Sri Lanka. Over generations, Sri Lankans have become accustomed to temperatures of up to 34 degrees Celsius during this month, when the sun moves directly overhead. They also know from experience that the baking heat will soon be eased by the arrival of the monsoon in May. But this once-predictable cycle is changing. Weather experts, government officials, farmers and ordinary people seem unsure as to what the monsoon season is likely to bring this year.