Earth Science News  





. Sudden Ecosystem Flips Imperil World's Poorest Regions

Ecosystem flips can have significant and sometimes devastating effects on human well-being, as global populations suddenly lose resources they are dependent on, said the researchers. Some of the most vulnerable areas on Earth are places like the drylands of sub-Saharan Africa.
by Staff Writers
Montreal, Canada (SPX) Apr 03, 2008
Modern agriculture and land-use practices may lead to major disruptions of the world's water flows, with potentially sudden and dire consequences for regions least able to cope with them researchers at the Stockholm University-affiliated Stockholm Resilience Centre and McGill University have warned.

In a paper published April 1 in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution, Dr. Line J. Gordon of the Stockholm Resilience Centre and the Stockholm Environment Institute and Dr. Garry Peterson and Dr. Elena Bennett of McGill University argue that global water management has been focused too much on the "blue water" side of the hydrological cycle, neglecting the largely invisible changes humanity has had on so-called "green water."

"Blue water is the part of the cycle we can see, like streams and rivers," said Gordon, an assistant professor at the Stockholm Resilience Centre and the Stockholm Environment Institute. "This is as opposed to 'green water' in soil moisture, or evapotranspiration from plants, which agriculture can affect in significant ways."

"Resilience" describes the capacity of social-ecological systems to withstand climactic or economic shocks, and to then rebuild and renew themselves. In their paper, the researchers look at the likelihood of that vital resilience being lost in the aftermath of catastrophic changes to the hydrological cycle that could be caused by agriculture and land-use practices.

"Our main point is that these effects aren't necessarily going to result in gradual change," explained Peterson, McGill's Canada Research Chair in Social-Ecological Modelling, and assistant professor in the Department of Geography and the McGill School of Environment. "They can result in surprising, dramatic changes, what we call 'ecosystem flips' or 'ecosystem regime changes,' which can be very difficult or even impossible to reverse."

According to Peterson, recent outbreaks of toxic algae blooms in Quebec lakes and off Sweden's Baltic Sea coast are prime examples of ecosystem flips, the consequence of nutrients from fertilizers permeating the soil and running off into streams, lakes and oceans.

"As you get more and more nutrients in the soil you eventually get to a point where you can even completely stop farming and all the nutrients will still be there," explained Bennett, an assistant professor at McGill's Department of Natural Resource Sciences and the School of Environment. "You go past a tipping point where it's very difficult to reverse."

Ecosystem flips can have significant and sometimes devastating effects on human well-being, as global populations suddenly lose resources they are dependent on, said the researchers. Some of the most vulnerable areas on Earth are places like the drylands of sub-Saharan Africa.

"In some of these regions we risk two types of ecosystem flips, one that causes rapid soil degradation with dramatic effects on yields and farmers' livelihoods, and another that affects rainfall and therefore also vegetation growth," Gordon said.

"These are the places where populations are growing the fastest, people have the least amount of water per capita and are the poorest of any of the biomes of the world. They are also the regions most likely to be affected by climate change," Peterson added.

As global demands for agriculture and water continue to grow, concluded the authors, it is increasingly urgent for scientists and managers to develop new ways to build resilience by anticipating, analyzing and managing changes in agricultural landscapes. Managing the green water component of the hydrological cycle is also important, as well as encouraging more diverse agricultural practices.

Community
Email This Article
Comment On This Article

Related Links
McGill University
Water News - Science, Technology and Politics




Tempur-Pedic Mattress Comparison

Newsletters :: SpaceDaily Express :: SpaceWar Express :: TerraDaily Express :: Energy Daily
XML Feeds :: Space News :: Earth News :: War News :: Solar Energy News
Worldwide Water Shortage On Horizon
Albuquerque NM (SPX) Apr 03, 2008
A crisis is looming over water shortages worldwide. By 2025 more than half the nations in the world will face freshwater stress or shortages and by 2050 as much as 75 percent of the world's population could face freshwater scarcity. So say Mike Hightower and Suzanne Pierce, water experts at Sandia National Laboratories, in an article they wrote that appeared in a recent issue of Nature.

.
Get Our Free Newsletters Via Email
  



  • Disasters In Small Communities: Researchers Discuss How To Help
  • Raytheon Develops Advanced Concrete Breaking Technology For Urban Search And Rescue
  • Floods, cyclones, devastate southern Africa: UN
  • Louisiana System Built Homes Completes First Fortified For Safer Living Home

  • Emission Reduction Assumptions For CO2 Overly Optimistic
  • Models Look Good When Predicting Climate Change
  • Poor nations fear being left in cold on global warming
  • Negotiators gather to push new UN climate treaty

  • Boeing Submits GOES R Proposal To NASA
  • Satellites Can Help Arctic Grazers Survive Killer Winter Storms
  • CrIS Atmospheric Sounder Completes Vibration Testing
  • NASA Goddard Delivers Aquarius Radiometer To JPL

  • Startech Environmental Plasma Converter Installation First In Europe
  • Increasing Installed Capacity Drives European Wind Services Market
  • Fueling Ethanol Production While Protecting Water Quality
  • Malaysia scraps controversial coal power plant on Borneo island

  • Community-Acquired MRSA Spreads
  • Climate And Cholera
  • AIDS May Partly Be The Consequence Of An Evolutionary Accident
  • Vaccine For Ebola Virus

  • Economic Boom And Olympic Games Pose Threat Of Biological Invasion Of China
  • Some Migratory Birds Can't Find Success In Urban Areas
  • Warming World Holds New Threats For Aussie Wildlife
  • Study Questions Cost Of Complexity In Evolution

  • NASA Launches Airborne Study Of Arctic Atmosphere And Air Pollution
  • Ballast-Free Ship Could Cut Costs While Blocking Aquatic Invaders
  • Albania sitting on communist-era powder keg
  • China to spend more on cutting pollution: report

  • Preschool Kids Do Better On Tasks When They Talk To Themselves
  • Neurons Hard Wired To Tell Left From Right
  • Researchers Urge Ethics Guidelines For Human-Genome Research
  • Upright Walking Began 6 Million Years Ago

  • The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2007 - SpaceDaily.AFP and UPI Wire Stories are copyright Agence France-Presse and United Press International. ESA Portal Reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement,agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by SpaceDaily on any Web page published or hosted by SpaceDaily. Privacy Statement