Saturday, October 15, 2011
Lake Erie's Toxic Algae Bloom Seen From Space
Toxic algae is sucking the oxygen out of Lake Erie.
The lake is currently undergoing one of the worst algae blooms in decades, turning the water a scummy bright green. According to NASA, blooms like this did occur in the 1950's and 60's, but now phosphorus from farms, sewage, and industry have fertilized the waters.
After the 60's, increased regulations and improvements in agriculture and sewage treatment limited the phosphorus and helped to control the blooms. However, the shallower Western basin near Detroit has been more susceptible to the algae than other deeper areas.
The exact reason behind the bloom is a bit unclear, but scientists believe it could be linked to increased rainfall and, believe it or not, mussels. It seems the types of mussel, zebra and quagga that have invaded the lake feed on phytoplankton instead of algae, making it even easier for the blooms to occur, according to NASA.
While the algae doesn't directly kill fish, it's still not good. As the algae dies, it's broken down by bacteria which uses oxygen from the water. This oxygen removal creates areas where fish can't survive. In addition, if consumed, it can also create flu-like symptoms in people or even kill pets.
Former Vice President Al Gore spoke Thursday in Detroit on the matter, associating climate change with the algae problem. "We're still acting as if it's perfectly OK to use this thin-shelled atmosphere as an open sewer. It's not OK," he said. "We need to listen to the scientists. We need to use the tried and true method of using the best evidence, debating and discussing it, but not pretending that facts are not facts."
While in the past, some have criticized Gore, claiming that he's made exaggerated statements about the environment, yesterday's speech drew upon some pretty hard scientific evidence, leading many leaders at the International Joint Commission to listen a bit more intently.
This past summer, an algae bloom spread across a beach in China, dying everything in its path "a shocking bright green."
End of excerpt
Video of Al Gore's plenary speech at the Great Lakes Biennial
The conditions we see in Lake Erie now are a call to action. It is said that the condititons in Lake Erie usually dictate the future for the other four. After expending so much time and effort to make such inroads in cleaning up the mistakes of the past, it would be a true tragedy to see it all reversed.
Water levels in the lakes are important as well in regards to maintaining their health. Water levels have been down and with Lake Erie being the most shallow of them all, this too (water evaportation due to increasing temperatures) can have an effect on algae blooms as well as overflows due to less but more extreme rainfalls that move fertilizer downstream.
India and Pakistan At Odds Over Shrinking Indus River.
By William Wheeler
For National Geographic News
Published October 12, 2011
This story is part of a National Geographic News series on global water issues.
Nearly 30 percent of the world's cotton supply comes from India and Pakistan, much of that from the Indus River Valley. On average, about 737 billion gallons are withdrawn from the Indus River annually to grow cotton—enough to provide Delhi residents with household water for more than two years. (See a map of the region.)
"Pakistan's entire economy is driven by the textile industry," said Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. "The problem with Pakistan's economy is that most of the major industries use a ton of water—textiles, sugar, wheat—and there's a tremendous amount of water that's not only used, but wasted," he added.
The same is true for India.
That impact is an important part of a complex water equation in countries already under strain from booming populations. More people means more demand for water to irrigate crops, cool machinery, and power cities. The Indus River, which begins in Indian-controlled Kashmir and flows through Pakistan on its way to the sea, is Pakistan's primary freshwater source—on which 90 percent of its agriculture depends—and a critical outlet of hydropower generation for both countries.
(Related: "Discover Fair Trade Cotton")
Downstream provinces are already feeling the strain, with some dried-out areas being abandoned by fishermen and farmers forced to move to cities. That increases competition between urban and rural communities for water. "In areas where you used to have raging rivers, you have, essentially, streams or even puddles and not much else," said Kugelman.
In years past, the coastal districts that lost their shares of the Indus' flows have become "economically orphaned," the poorest districts in the country, according to Pakistani water activist Mustafa Talpur. Because Pakistani civil society is weak, he says, corruption and deteriorating water distribution tend to go hand in hand.
In the port city of Karachi, which depends for its water on the Indus, water theft—in which public water is stolen from the pipes and sold from tankers in slums and around the city—may be a $500-million annual industry.
In the balance is the fate not only of people, but important aquatic species like the Indus River dolphin, which is now threatened to extinction by agricultural pollution and dams, among other pressures. Scientists estimate that fewer than 100 individuals remain.
Threat to Peace?
One of the potentially catastrophic consequences of the region's fragile water balance is the effect on political tensions.
In India, competition for water has a history of provoking conflict between communities. In Pakistan, water shortages have triggered food and energy crises that ignited riots and protests in some cities. Most troubling, Islamabad's diversions of water to upstream communities with ties to the government are inflaming sectarian loyalties and stoking unrest in the lower downstream region of Sindh.
But the issue also threatens the fragile peace that holds between the nations of India and Pakistan, two nuclear-armed rivals. Water has long been seen as a core strategic interest in the dispute over the Kashmir region, home to the Indus' headwaters. Since 1960, a delicate political accord called the Indus Waters Treaty has governed the sharing of the river's resources. But dwindling river flows will be harder to share as the populations in both countries grow and the per-capita water supply plummets.
Some growth models predict that by 2025, India's population will grow to triple what it was—and Pakistan's population to six times what it was—when the Indus treaty was signed. Lurking in the background are fears that climate change is speeding up the melting of the glaciers that feed the river.
Mountain glaciers in Kashmir play a central role in regulating the river's flows, acting as a natural water storage tank that freezes precipitation in winter and releases it as meltwater in the summer. The Indus is dependent on glacial melting for as much as half of its flow. So its fate is uniquely tied to the health of the Himalayas. In the short term, higher glacial melt is expected to bring more intense flooding, like last year's devastating deluge.
Both countries are also racing to complete large hydroelectric dams along their respective stretches of the Kashmir river system, elevating tensions. India's projects are of a size and scope that many Pakistanis fear could be used to disrupt their hydropower efforts, as well as the timing of the flows on which Pakistani crops rely.
(Related: "Seven Simple Ways to Save Water")
End of excerpt.
This is the perfect storm between population, climate change and political corruption. A true dichotomy in a land that with excessive flooding still thirsts. The Indus River is the most important river in Pakistan and also the longest river. Without its flow Pakistan has no life. The system is fed mainly by the glaciers of the Himalayas which are now seeing melting as well due to climate change. Extensive deforestation, industrial pollution and climate change are affecting the vegetation and wildlife of the delta as well as a rash of dams being built that only exacerbates the deforestation and affects the flow of the river.
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