Sunday, January 3, 2010

China's Colorado River Also Sometimes Doesn't Reach the Sea

Once again we are covering reasonably predictable "knock on effects" of climate change.

Prior to the building of such grand projects as the Hoover Dam, the Colorado River was a truly typical major river in very many ways.

It was characterized by seasonal flooding, especially in spring. Yet for much of its journey from the snowpacks in the Rocky Mountains to the Sea of Cortez, the Colorado River cannot flood, as floods in the past have carved deep canyons which more than sufficed to contain the flood flows.

The amount of water that is delivered by the Colorado is absolutely staggering to the imagination, especially at flood, and early settlers often remarked at the contrast between the awesome aridity of the desert lands surrounding the top of the Grand Canyon and the roiling flood thousands of feet below. Any of them must have thought "if only there were some way to get that water up here, the desert could be made to bloom".

Eventually, people did manage to bring the water up to the top, not with pumps, but with megascale engineering projects. A surprisingly large number of extremely large dams impound the flow of the Colorado, and the Colorado River Compact of 1922 regulates the allocation of diversions from the flow. The total flow allocated for the upper basin in 1928 was some 7.5 million acre·ft/year, with an equal amount reserved for uses in the lower basin. California alone is allocated some 4.40 million acre·ft/year. A 1944 agreement allocates a final 1.5 million acre ft/year to Mexico.

For some decades now, it's a very unusual year when any of the Colorado River water actually makes it to the Sea of Cortez.
[ ... ]
In recent years, the compact has become the focus of even sharper criticism, in the wake of a protracted decrease in rainfall in the region. Specifically, the amount of water allocated was based on an expectation that the river's average flow was 16.4 million acre feet per year (641 m³/s). Subsequent tree ring studies, however, have concluded that the long-term average water flow of the Colorado is significantly less. Estimates have included 13.2 million acre feet per year (516 m³/s)[3], 13.5 million acre feet per year (528 m3/s)[4], and 14.3 million acre feet per year (559 m3/s)[5]. Many analysts have concluded that the compact was negotiated in a period of abnormally high rainfall, and that the recent drought in the region is in fact a return to historically typical patterns. The decrease in rainfall has led to widespread dropping of reservoir levels in the region, in particular at Lake Powell, created by the Glen Canyon Dam in 1963 [...] ("Colorado River Compact", Wikipedia, downloaded 2010 January 3)
3. H. G. Hidalgo, T. C. Piechota, and J. A. Dracup, 2000: Alternative principal components regression procedures for dentrohydrological reconstructions, Water Resources Research v. 36, p. 3241-3249
4. C. W. Stockton and G. C. Jacoby, 1976: Long-term surface-water supply and streamflow trends in the Upper Colorado River Basin. Lake Powell Res. Proj. Bulletin no 18, National Science Foundation, Arlington, VA
5. C. A. Woodhouse, S. T. Gray, and D. M. Meko, 2005: Updated streamflow reconstructions for the Upper Colorado River Basin, Water Resources Research v. 42, W05415, doi:10.1029/2005/WR004455, 2006

Cycles of variations in precipitation are certainly not unknown in the Southwestern USA; it's widely believed that a native civilization known as the Ancient Puebloans or Anasazi migrated into the area during a cycle of consistent snowfalls which raised the water table of the plateaus they settled. As long as the water table remained high enough, their fortified and inaccessible Cliff Dwellings kept them relatively safe from invaders and allowed them to engage in gainful commerce with neighboring populations. The Cliff Dwellings all shared the feature of being built into cliffside caves that had "permanent" springs fed by the water tables of the mesas they farmed and hunted.

Yet eventually the precipitation patterns changed, and the Anasazi were forced to abandon their safe cliffside fastnesses when the water table no longer fed the springs in the caves.

And once the Anasazi were forced, by thirst, out of their impregnable fortresses in the cliffs, cannibalistic invaders from Mexico ate them, or, arguably, as their civilization collapsed along with other nearby civilizations (Hohokum Civano phase collapse), they were driven to eating each other.

In either case, as a culture, they no longer exist.

The Yangtze River of China, another of the greatest rivers of the world, is reported to have occasionally run dry. This was reported in the coastal Jiangsu province in 1342, and also in 1954.

As with the American Colorado river, the Yangtze is beset with flooding, though the flood patterns are somewhat different, with floods originating at times in the upper reaches, which are mountainous and fed by Glacier melt as well as direct precipitation, and at times the floods originate in the lower reaches, and at times it seems that the entire river floods from source to gulf.

The completion of the immense Three Gorges Dam will certainly do a great deal to regulate the downstream damage of floods originating in the upper reaches, and in the mere two years since the installation of the final hydroelectric generating turbine, the dam has repaid a full one-third of the total project cost simply through electrical power generation, an amazing 348.4 terawatt-hours by September 2009.

Yet it's worth pointing out that this immense investment can't always pay off at this rate, simply because the Himalayan Glaciers are melting, and that's where the upper reaches of the Yangtze gets most of its water.
The "Water Tower of Asia", composed of over 15,000 Himalayan glaciers, has been melting into the nine rivers forever. However, the rate at which they are melting today indicates that they will dry up.

The United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change declares that "Glaciers in the Himalaya are receding faster than in any other part of the world" and that "If the present rate continues, the likelihood of them disappearing by the year 2035 and perhaps sooner is very high if the Earth keeps warming at the current rate".

It must be noted in passing that the IPCC's declaration may be a bit premature, and at least is criticized by many as being "not supportable by the state of existing science", but then again, it's always best to be prepared for the worst and then be pleasantly surprise when the worst does not occur.

Otherwise, like most of the USA, you could be blithely drifting into the future with a defense posture and strategic position best compared to being a beauty-queen on fertility pills sleeping drunk in public with no clothes on.

Some scientific thought does indeed support the notion that Himalayan glacial melt is accelerating, due to soot particulates increasing solar absorption of glacier faces.

Other interpretations of science declare that in any case, rivers such as the Ganges get only about 5-percent of their annual flow from glacial melt, and that the rest comes from the periodic inundations by the Monsoon storms. This last may be true... but it may also be more the case that around half of the dry season flows are contributed by glaciers. In any case, the Monsoon typically brings massive flooding to these rivers, so perhaps declaring the glacial contribution to the annual flow may be technically accurate, but very misleading. Regardless of that, with sufficient reservoir capacity to moderate the differences between drought and flood seasons, a continuous release might be made to support agriculture, as is done in the US Colorado basin.

Of course, the problem with such managed systems is that you have to have something to manage. See above where we detail critique about whether or not the allocations of Colorado River water were calculated in years of unusually high precipitation.

In the worst imaginable case in the US -- not really likely but actually possible -- no precipitation falls in the Rocky Mountains, all extant snow melts, and eventually all of the water in the reservoirs is pumped to the destination. Every city along the path of the Colorado River either brings water in by truck, or the cities are abandoned to thirst. Even Los Angeles will have to be evacuated.

This would be putting nearly 50 millions on the move, looking for someplace where the water supply is reliable.

In the worst imaginable case in Asia, the glaciers melt and the monsoons fail and the reservoirs are exhausted, and about 1.5 billions on "the China side of Asia" would be uprooted, along with about 1.5 billions on the India/Pakistan side.

That's 3-billion people. That's half the world's population.

Even if you used every last known drop of oil to fuel every ship ever built, it's not possible to evacuate all of them to someplace with a reliable water supply, such as the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States.

That doesn't mean that nobody's going to try.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

In China, the Marching Sands Portend Doom

In recent postings, we have focused on the impending climate catastrophes -- and consequent massive population migrations -- resulting from Andean Glacier Melt-Off.

It's not just Latin America, of course, and it's not even just the US Southwestern desert cities which depend on Rocky Mountain snowpacks and glacier melts to bring water thousands of miles to them via the Colorado River.

In China, the fearsome Gobi Desert is expanding, and expanding rapidly.

[ ... ]
Few people think of China as a desert nation, yet it is among the world's largest. More than 27%, or 2.5 million square kilometers, of the country comprises useless sand (just 7% of Chinese land feeds about a quarter of the world's population). A Ministry of Science and Technology task force says desertification costs China about $2-3 billion annually, while 800 km of railway and thousands of kilometers of roads are blocked by sedimentation. An estimated 110 million people suffer firsthand from the impacts of desertification and, by official reports, another 2,500 sq km turns to desert each year.

This is nothing new, of course. In the 4th century B.C. Chinese philosopher Mencius (Mengzi) wrote about desertification and its human causes, including tree-cutting and overgrazing. Experts argue over the reasons and consequences, but all agree that Chinese deserts are on the move. Sand from the distant Gobi threatens even Beijing, which some scientists say could be silted over within a few years. Dunes forming just 70 km from the capital may be drifting south at 20-25 km a year. Conservative estimates say 3 km a year. And despite massive spending on land reclamation and replanting, China is falling behind.

In the northwest, where the biggest problems lie, desertification has escalated from 1,560 sq km annually in the 1970s to 2,100-2,400 sq km in the 1990s. [ ... ] ("Beijing's Desert Storm", Gluckman, Ron, "", July 14, 2008, downloaded 2010 January 2)

Now, the Chinese -- as a people -- are not known for their failure to think ahead.

They are also notably good at figures and at business. When we examine the fact that only 7-percent of China feeds about 25-percent of the world's population, we may reasonably wonder what will happen if the arable lands in China are reduced to only 6-percent. At the present rate of yield, that one-percent reduction in arable lands would reduce by almost 4 percent the number of people fed by that land. Considering that the 25-percent of the world's population is 1.5-Billions of people, that's about 20-million less people that China's arable lands can feed.

So, what will happen? Will all of China reduce their consumption of food by 4-percent so that those undersupplied can eat? Chinese people are not known for being overweight; many are already near the lower limit of caloric intake to allow them to live and work. Starvation may become endemic again, and perhaps even epidemic. Even as China's vaunted "two parents, one child" program begins to make inroads into the immense overpopulation problems in the People's Republic of China, now the food supply dwindles as if to enforce the mandate of the Party.

More to come... and we're stuck doing Indochina and China for the forseeable future.

As for the forseeable future... what may one reasonably expect? And one must ask, what would you do if you were in their position? And what decisions would you make? And if you are not in their position, but in a position where you must expect that their position requires them to take your position from you, what defenses will you raise? Or can the situation reasonably be expected to be made controllable, so that by working together all may find a useful solution?

This calls for a great degree of speculation, of course, and one must always ask if what one hears from another party is what one observes from another party. For after all, "actions speak more loudly than words", and everyone knows that when the criminal comes to rob you, though he shows his teeth, you should not mistake this for a friendly smile.

So, we may ask, what are your intentions? -yet while we may choose to trust, assuredly we shall verify. In the meanwhile, it's good advice to guard the guardians when they are not at their posts. If the guardians cannot stand their watches, then only a fool sleeps when there are no eyes upon the frontiers, or even merely upon the streets. Yet all must sleep, sooner or later, and the enemy is wakeful at all times, or at least they know enough to sleep while we are awake, and to waken when they see us sleep. Yet though we may sleep in shifts, so that there is always a cadre to survey the frontiers and watch over our streets, what good will this do, if the enemy can make certain that only the blind are left to man the watchtower?

As the Roman Tacitus observed about the art of camouflage, practiced by the nation of the Lygians who fought only by night:
Ceterum Harii super vires, quibus enumeratos paulo ante populos antecedunt, truces insitae feritati arte ac tempore lenocinantur: nigra scuta, tincta corpora; atras ad proelia noctes legunt ipsaque formidine atque umbra feralis exercitus terrorem inferunt, nullo hostium sustinente novum ac velut infernum adspectum;

nam primi in omnibus proeliis oculi vincuntur.

"In all battles the eyes are vanquished first."

And as Sun Tzu said, "deception is at the heart of all warfare".

Friday, January 1, 2010

In Peru, Some People Migrate the Wrong Direction

Peru is home to the second-largest desert city in the world, ranked behind only Cairo. Lima, Peru, has some 9-millions in population, and is the 5th-largest city in South America. Yet like the majority of Peruvian cities, it is west of the majestic Andes mountain range, and situated in the coastal desert.

Astonishingly, in the coastal desert of Peru, there is a booming new industry, that of production of agriculture for export. Almost all of this is dependent on irrigation, though mostly that irrigation is of the traditional type, with little use of the modern drip irrigation of the type pioneered in Israel where it has "made the Negev bloom".

It's possible that the coastal-desert agricultural producers, increasingly plagued by water shortages, will quickly adapt and adopt these extremely efficient modern drip-irrigation methods. But what of the poor indigenous Quechua farmers of the high altitudes?
[ ... ]
"If the snow disappears, the people will disappear, too," Sánchez-Guardamino says. "If the snow disappears, we will be left without water. The pastures and the animals will disappear. Everything is interconnected. The problem of the melting of the glaciers is that the source of life is drying up."

Andean farmers struggle to understand the changes. Some say the mountains are turning black because they are angry or sad. Some blame pollution. Carmina Sicusta has another explanation.

"The earth itself is sick," she says.

Sicusta, 48, lives in Amaru, a village of small adobe houses on a mountainside above Pisaq, a picturesque town near Cusco that is best known for Inca ruins and a Sunday market that draw tourists from around the world.

In the past decade or so, Amaru's farmers have watched the pattern of hillside fields change. On the frigid hilltops, the tundra-like pasture suitable only for llamas is receding. Fields of grain blanket high hillsides that were once too cold for anything but animals. Families that used to own dozens of llamas now have only a handful.

"The earth is warming. The waters are warming. The springs are drying up," Sicusta says in Quechua, looking up from her weaving. "There is going to be a shortage of food. Our children will have less to eat."
[ ... ] ("Altered climate forces cultural shift high in Andes"), Fraser, Barbara, the Daily Climate, October 5, 2009, downloaded 2010 January 1

Some 2/3rds of Peru's 29-millions of people live on the western slopes of the Andes.

In the same way that eastward winds blow over mountains in the northern hemisphere, to drop most of their moisture on the western slopes or deposit it as snowpack near the peaks of the highest mountains, in the southern hemisphere the process is reversed. Westward winds crossing the immense height and length of the Andes mountain range -- the spine of all of South America -- rain out or build snowpack on the eastern side of the mountains.

Only 2 percent of the precipitation reaching Peru runs off to the west. On the eastern side of the mountains, as much as 80 inches per year may fall as rain. The greatest number of people live where there is the least water.

There a certain amount of speculation about ways to get some of that water east of the mountains to the west of the mountains:

[ ... ]
But plans to redistribute water by rerouting rivers or drilling through the Andes raise questions for which neither politicians nor scientists have easy answers. How much water can be piped from reservoirs in the Andean highlands or Amazonian cloud forest without damaging those ecosystems? Who has priority — thirsty cities or food producers? Subsistence farmers or export agribusinesses? Poor rural communities or revenue-generating mines? Agriculture or hydroelectricity?

[ ... ]
[T]he tension continues between export agribusinesses on Peru's southern coast and the small farmers upstream. Large-scale farmers on the coast have more efficient irrigation systems, but the profusion of wells is pumping water out of the aquifer nearly twice as fast as it can recharge, according to Javier Chiong of the Ministry of Agriculture in Ica.

Large farmers downstream are calling for a major infrastructure project to channel water from the highlands, dispersing some of it through canals in the desert to recharge the aquifer. Small farmers and llama herders upstream say the scheme could dry the Andean bogs, an ecosystem about which little hydrological data exist.

"There's a lack of planning," said Gotuzzo of the Farmers Association of Ica. "And it's the poor people who will suffer the most. The rich will be able to solve their problems."
[ ... ] ("Glaciers go, leaving drought, conflict and tension in Andes", Fraser, Barbara, the Daily Climate, May 19, 2009, downloaded 2010 January 1)

The award-winning film, Sin Nombre (Without Name) is a gripping depiction of some of the realities of Central America.

Despite no ongoing worries in Central America about the melting of tropical glaciers disrupting the water supply, there are still many reasons that people want to leave such places as Honduras and El Salvador.

This film does an excellent job of depicting the journey north, even as it explores young love between a teenage girl traveling to New Jersey with her father and uncle to meet and live with her step-family, and a young MS-13 gangster on the run from conflicts with his home "clique".

Yet really, the star of the show, in my opinion, is nothing but the journey, and the circumstances in which it takes place.

The train rolls north, packed to the roof and beyond with migrants. They face many perils, ranging from bribe-seeking border-patrols at the southern edge of Mexico, to gangs of thugs who board the train to rob the migrants. Aside from this, sanitation, food, water, all are in short supply.

Yet we see that an entire -- if generally disorganized and unregulated -- culture has sprung up along the tracks to do business with the migrants, whether or not the business is at the moment feeling charitable or predatory. One cannot help but be struck with the whole scale of the enterprise, from the numbers of people camped out at switching yards waiting for their train to come so that they can stow away aboard the northbound freight cars, to the numbers of the people supplementing their incomes by providing the necessities to the weary travelers (or preying upon them).

There's one thing I know about business and culture. There is generally an ability to scale up or scale down as the circumstances and the market demand for services may change.

In Central America, there's only one reasonable place to choose as a destination, it seems. That would be the US, or perhaps even Canada and points beyond, but the US is far more inviting and accommodating in so many ways.

For those in much of South America, however, there are the obvious local destinations. Even in Mexico, there is Mexico DF, with 20-millions of persons and growing all of the time.

In Peru, cities such as Lima are growing rapidly. Indeed, such extremely rapid and generally unplanned growth is a major characteristic of the large cities of Peru:
[...] [Italics mine -th] A third migratory pattern was that people invariably followed in the footsteps of relatives and fellow paisanos. Once a village had a few paisanos established in the city, they were soon followed by others. During the course of Peruvian migration, relatively few persons simply struck out on the migratory adventure alone. Thus, the society of migrants was not a collection of alienated "lost souls," but rather consisted of groups of people with contacts, social roles, and strong cultural and family ties.

This fact produced the fourth dimension of the Peruvian migratory process: the propensity of migrants to organize themselves into effective voluntary associations. The scale and pattern of these associations distinguished the process in Peru from that in most other countries. The organizations have taken several forms, but the two most outstanding examples are found in the squatter settlements and regional clubs that have proliferated in all the largest cities, particularly Lima. The process of urban growth in Lima has produced an urban configuration that conforms to no central plan. Without access to adequate housing of any type, and without funds or available loans, migrants set about developing their own solutions by establishing organizations of their own, occasionally under the sponsorship of APRA. They planned a takeover of unoccupied land at the fringes of the city and, with the suddenness and effectiveness of a military attack, invaded the property, usually on a Saturday night.

Once on the land, the migrants laid out plots with precision and raised temporary housing in a matter of hours. Called by the somewhat deprecatory term barriada, the shantytowns quickly developed both an infrastructural and a sociopolitical permanence, despite initial official disapproval and police harassment. At first, the land invasions and barriada formation provoked enormous unease among traditional limeЯos and especially in the halls of government. The barriadas were wildly characterized as dangerous slums by the Lima middle- and upper classes, which felt threatened by the squatters. Research by anthropologist JosИ Matos Mar Santos and others demonstrated beyond doubt, however, that these "spontaneous settlements" were, in fact, solutions to grave urban problems. Subsequent research by anthropologist Susan Lobo established that such settlements were civilly organized and rapidly assumed positive urban attributes under the squatters' own initiatives.

In 1990 there were over 400 of these large settlements surrounding Lima and Callao, containing at least half of Lima's population. Over time, many of them--such as San MartМn de Porres, Comas, and Pamplona Alta--had become new political districts within the province of Lima, with their own elected officials and political power. [... ]
("Peru: A Country Study", Hudson, Rex A ed., GPO for the Library of Congress, 1992, downloaded 2010 January 1)

I can't help but contrast and compare this with the eruption of spontaneous organizations along the migration routes into the USA, which in the last decade have successfully brought roughly one million people per year illegally into the US.

Will we see comparable settlement patterns when the millions of squatters comprising half of Lima's 9-million person population discover that they should have migrated some place that has plenty of water, instead of into a city in the desert that depends on rivers that depend on vanishing Andean glaciers?

More to come?