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Caribbean Builds Resilience Through Enhanced Data Collection

By Zadie Neufville

The following was published by IPS on July 31, 2018.
By the end of September 2018, the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC) would have installed the last of five new data buoys in the Eastern Caribbean, extending the regional Coral Reef Early Warning System (CREWS) network as it continues to build resilience to climate change in the Caribbean.

At the same time, the centre is also installing an additional 50 Automatic Weather Stations (AWS) across nine countries to expand the existing network of hydro-meteorological stations- yet another push to improve data collection in the region. The data will help scientists to better evaluate potential risks and impacts, and provide the information national leaders seek to build more resilient infrastructures to mitigate climate risks.

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Trainees get hands-on training in assembling the ASW antennae.

Enhancing the data collection and availability is central to the centre’s mandate to prepare the Caribbean’s response to climate change, Dr Ulric Trotz science advisor and deputy executive director told IPS.

He noted: “Experts here are using the critical data they collect, to enhance models, design tools and develop strategies to mitigate and build resilience to the devastating impacts – rising seas, longer dry spells, more extreme rainfall and potentially higher impact tropical cyclones – associated with climate variability and change.”

Reporting in “Volume 1 of the Caribbean Climate Series,” released ahead of the 23rd Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change  in Germany in 2017, researchers at the University of the West Indies Climate Studies Group, Mona Campus, Jamaica, pointed out that the Caribbean is already experiencing the impacts associated with changes in climatic conditions.

According to the report, nights and days are warmer; air and sea surface temperatures are higher and there are longer and more frequent periods of droughts. Not surprisingly, after the 2017 hurricane season, researchers also reported increasing intensity in rainfalls and more intense hurricanes with stronger winds and lots more rain.

“Even if global warming beyond the 1°C already experienced were limited to only a further half a degree, there would still be consequences for the Caribbean region,” the report said.

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Installing the various instruments that make up the Automatic Weather Station (AWS)

Trotz explained: “These data gathering systems, which were acquired with funding from the USAID Climate Change Adaptation Programme, are increasing the volume of real-time data and enhancing the reliability and accuracy of weather and climate forecasting in the region”.

In addition to the super computers installed at CCCCC’s Belize location, the University of the West Indies’ Mona Campus and Caribbean Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology (CIMH)-under previous projects- the newly installed data points, are already enhancing the capacity of regional scientists to monitor and process the atmospheric and other environmental variables that are affected by the changes in climatic conditions.

The data collection efforts support evidence-based decision-making, and improve the accuracy of the projections from the regional and global climate models while building the region’s resilience to the impacts of climate variability and change. In the end, the information provided in the 1.5 Report which will form part of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change global assessment report AR6 as well as all other Caribbean forecasts and models promises to be more accurate and reliable.

“The data collected from these stations form the baseline for all climate modelling, ensuring that we have a good baseline data to suffice our regional climate services models for regional forecast and predictions. The network strengthens the baseline for climate change projection models thereby increasing the confidence in the results that are used in the decision-making for climate change mitigation and adaptation,” Albert Jones, instrumentation technician at the 5Cs, told IPS.

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Hydro-Met Technicians and Meteorologists were trained at the CIMH with funding from USAID.

The retired weather forecaster explained, that the new AWSs are not only improving data collection, they are also expanding the capability and roles of local Met Offices from their historic roles of providing information for primarily aviation purposes.

The importance of these systems cannot be understated, particularly in countries like Guyana and Suriname where deficiencies in the data seriously hamper the coverage of areas with significant differences in the topography and climatic conditions. This is especially significant where comparisons of hinterland and elevated forested areas to the low-lying coastal flood plains are critical to development of lives and property.

The centre, which celebrates its 14th year of operation in July 2018, has worked with several donors over its existence to improve the collection of data in a region that largely depended on manual systems and where historical data has been hard to come by. The latter is an essential input for validation of the regional models required for the production of region-specific climate scenarios, which are utilised in impact studies across all of the affected sectors in the region. These, in turn, form the basis of crafting the adaptation responses required to build climate resilience in specific sectors.

Popularly known as the 5Cs, the climate change centre carries out its mandate through a network of partners including government meteorologists, hydrologists, university professors and researchers. Scientists and researchers in Universities across the region and at specialist institutions like the Barbados-based CIMH, do the data crunching.

“We are building climate and weather early warning systems to build resilience, so it is important that we collect and turn this data into useful information that will benefit the society,” CIMH’s principal Dr David Farrell told hydro-met technicians at a USAID sponsored training on the grounds of the institute in March.

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Dr Mark Bynoe, head of the Project Development & Management Division of the 5Cs  (left) and Dr. David Farrell principal of the CIMH sign the agreement for the maintenance of the AWS being installed across the Eastern Caribbean.

He noted that in designing the system, the CIMH- that has responsibility for maintaining the network- identified and reduced existing deficiencies to improve the quality of data collected.

And as global temperatures continue to soar, the World Meteorological Organisation 2018 report noted that 2017 was “was one of the world’s three warmest years on record.”

It said: “A combination of five datasets, three of them using conventional surface observations and two of them re-analysis, shows that global mean temperatures were 0.46 °C ± 0.1 °C above the 1981–2010 average, and about 1.1 °C ± 0.1 °C above pre-industrial levels. By this measure, 2017 and 2015 were effectively indistinguishable as the world’s second and third warmest years on record, ranking only behind 2016, which was 0.56 °C above the 1981−2010 average.”

With studies pointing to a warmer Caribbean and an increase in the frequency of extreme events, regional scientists are committed to improving the way they use data to guide governments on the actions that will lessen the expected impacts. In 2017, extreme weather events in the form of Hurricanes Irma and Maria claimed lives, destroyed livelihoods and infrastructure, throwing islands like Barbuda, Dominica and the Virgin Islands back several decades.

In identifying extreme weather events as “the most prominent risk facing humanity”, the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2018 noted: “Fuelled by warm sea-surface temperatures, the North Atlantic hurricane season was the costliest ever for the United States, and eradicated decades of development gains in small islands in the Caribbean such as Dominica. Floods uprooted millions of people on the Indian subcontinent, whilst drought is exacerbating poverty and increasing migration pressures in the Horn of Africa.”

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Albert Jones examines an AWS before the start of training for Hydro Met technicans and Meteorologsts

The CREWS network is part of a global system to improve the monitoring and management of coral reefs as environmental and climatic conditions increase coral bleaching and death. The centre works in collaboration with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric and Administration to install monitoring stations that collect data on climate, marine and biological parameters for use by scientists to conduct research into the health of coral reefs in changing climatic and sea conditions.

Under previous funding arrangements, CREWS stations were also installed in Belize, Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, the Dominican Republic, as well as other parts of the region.

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Building Climate Resilience in Coastal Communities of the Caribbean

By Zadie Neufville

The following was published by IPS on Aug 24, 2017
Ceylon Clayton is trying to revive a sea moss growing project he and friends started a few years ago to supplement their dwindling earnings as fishermen.

This time, he has sought the support of outsiders and fishermen from neighbouring communities to expand the operations and the ‘unofficial’ fishing sanctuary. Clayton is leading a group of ten fishers from the Little Bay community in Westmoreland, Jamaica, who have big dreams of turning the tiny fishing village into the largest sea moss producer on the island.

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Ceylon Clayton carries a crate of sea-moss onshore. He leads a group of men who are building a seaweed farming business in Westmoreland. This alternative livelihoods project is one of many that make up the 14 coastal protection projects being implemented across the region by the 5Cs. 

To protect their ‘nursery’ and preserve the recovery, the fishermen took turns patrolling the bay, but two years ago, they ran out of money. He is also one of the many thousands of fishers in the Caribbean who are part of an industry that, along with other ecosystem services, earns around 2 billion dollars a year, but which experts say is already fully developed or over-exploited.

The men began farming seaweed because they could no longer support their families fishing on the narrow Negril shelf, and they lacked the equipment needed to fish in deeper waters, he said.

As Clayton tells it, not long after they began enforcing a ‘no fishing’ zone, they were both surprised and pleased that within two and a half years, there was a noticeable increase in the number and size of lobsters being caught.

“When we were harvesting the sea moss we noticed that there were lots of young lobsters, shrimp and juvenile fish in the roots. They were eating there and the big fish were also coming back into the bay to eat the small fish,” Clayton told members of a delegation from, the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC) also called 5Cs, the German Development Bank (KfW) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) who came to visit the site in May.

To protect their ‘nursery’ and preserve the recovery, the fishermen took turns patrolling the bay, but two years ago, they ran out of money.

“We didn’t have the markets,” Clayton said, noting there were limited markets for unprocessed seaweed and not enough money to support the patrols.

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Members of the members of the delegation from the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC) also called 5Cs, the German Development Bank (KfW) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) pose with Jamaican officials at the launch of the UDC project.

The seaweed is thriving and teeming with marine life; fishing in around Little Bay and the neighbouring villages has also improved, Clayton said. Now he, his wife (also a fisher) and eight friends want to build on that success and believe the climate change adaptation project being implemented by the 5Cs is their best chance at success. They’ve recruited other fishers, the local school and shopkeepers.

Showing off the variety of juvenile marine animals, including baby eels, seahorses, octopi, reef fish and shrimp hiding among the seaweed, the 30 plus-years veteran fisherman explained that the experiment had shown the community the success that could come from growing, processing and effectively marketing the product. The bonus, he said, would be the benefits that come from making the bay off-limits for fishing.

This alternative livelihoods project is one of many that make up the 14 coastal protection projects being implemented across the region by the 5Cs. Aptly named the Coastal Protection for Climate Change Adaptation (CPCCA) in Small Island States in the Caribbean Project because of its focus, it is being implemented with technical support from IUCN and a €12.9 million in grant funding from the KfW.

“The project seeks to minimise the adverse impacts from climate change by restoring the protective services offered by natural eco-systems like coastal mangrove forests and coral reefs in some areas while restoring and building man-made structures such as groynes and revetments in others,” the IUCN Technical consultant Robert Kerr said in an email. Aside from Jamaica, Grenada, Saint Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines are also beneficiaries under the project.

The Caribbean is heavily dependent on tourism and other marine services, industries that the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPPC) last report indicate are expected to be heavily impacted by climate change. Most if not all states depend on the fisheries and the regional tourism industry – which grew from four million visitors in 1970 to an estimated 25 million visitors today – earn an estimated 25 billion dollars in revenue and supports about six million jobs.

The findings of the IPCC’s report is further strengthened by that of the Caribbean Marine Climate Change Report Card (2017) which stated: “The seas, reefs and coasts on which all Caribbean people depend are under threat from coral bleaching, ocean acidification, rising sea temperature, and storms.”

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Net-mending in Portland Cottage in the CCAM Project in the Portland Bight protected area,  Clarendon.

“The project is a demonstration of Germany’s commitment to assisting the region’s vulnerable communities to withstand the impacts of climate change,” said Dr. Jens Mackensen KfW’s head of Agriculture and Natural Resources Division for Latin America and Caribbean.

All the Jamaican projects are in protected areas and are managed by a mix of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), academic and local government organisations. The Westmoreland Municipal Corporation (WMC) is managing the seaweed project and two other components – to reduce the flow of sewage into the wetlands and install mooring buoys and markers to regulate the use of the sea – that focus on strengthening the ecosystem and improving the climate resilience of the Negril Marine Protected area.

The University of the West Indies’ Centre for Marine Sciences is managing the East Portland Fish Sanctuary project; the Caribbean Coastal Area Management (C-CAM) Foundation works in the Portland Bight area and the Urban Development Corporation (UDC), a quasi-government agency is managing infrastructure work on the Closed Habour Beach also called Dump Up beach in the Montego Bay area.

Clayton’s plan to include a processing plant at the local school and a marketing network in the small business community has impressed 5C’s executive director Dr. Kenrick Leslie and McKensen.

Sea moss is a common ingredient in energy tonics that target men, the locals explain. In addition, WMC’s project manager Simone Williams said, “The projects aim to protect and rehabilitate the degraded fisheries habitat and ecosystems of Orange Bay, streamline usage of the marine areas and improve quality of discharge into marine areas.”

In Portland Bight, an area inhabited by more than 10,000 people, and one of the most vulnerable, C-CAM is working to improve awareness, build resilience through eco-systems based adaptation, conservation and the diversification of livelihoods. Important, CCAM Executive Director Ingrid Parchment said, because most of the people here rely on fisheries. The area supports some 4,000 fishers – 300 boats from five fishing beaches. They have in the past suffered severe flooding from storm surges, which have in recent times become more frequent.

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The Portland Bight area supports some 4,000 fishers – 300 boats from five fishing beaches

And in the tourist town of Montego Bay, the UDC is undertaking structural work to repair a groyne that will protect the largest public beach in the city – Dump-up or Closed Harbour Beach. Works here will halt the erosion of the main beach as well as two adjacent beaches (Gun Point and Walter Fletcher) and protect the livelihoods of many who make their living along the coast. When complete the structure will form the backbone of further development for the city.

UWI’s Alligator Head Marine Lab is spearheading a project to reinforce protection of vulnerable seaside and fishing communities, along the eastern coast of Portland, a parish locals often say has been neglected, but with links to James Bond creator, Ian Fleming has great potential as a tourism destination.

Here, over six square kilometres of coastline is being rehabilitated through wetlands and reef rehabilitation; the establishment of alternative livelihood projects; renewable technologies and actions to reduce greenhouse gases and strengthen climate resilience.

In St Vincent and the Grenadines, the CPCCA is helping the Ministry of Works to rehabilitate the Sandy Bay Community, and the coastal Windward Highway where storm damage has caused loss of housing, livelihoods and recreational space, Kerr said.

The local census data puts unemployment in Sandy Bay as the country’s highest and, as Kerr noted, “With the highest reported level of poverty at 55 percent, the Sandy Bay Community cannot afford these losses.”

CPCCA is well on its way and will end in 2018, by that time, Leslie noted beneficiaries would be well on their way to achieving their and the project’s goal.

Caribbean Eyes Untapped Potential of World’s Largest Climate Fund

by Zadie Neufville

The following was published by IPS on April 12, 2018
The Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC) also known as the 5Cs, is looking for ways to boost the region’s access to the Green Climate Fund (GCF).

The Centre is on the hunt for proposals from the private and public sector organisations around the region that want to work with the Centre to develop their ideas into successful projects that are in line with their country’s national priorities to build resilience to climate change.

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Deputy Executive Director at the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (5Cs) Dr. Ultic Trotz (left) in conversation with farmers at a unique agroforestry project in Belize, one of many implemented by the Centre to boost the region’s resilience to the effects of climate change. Photo Credit: Zadie Neufville

The 5Cs, the agency with responsibility for coordinating climate action in the Caribbean, has doubled its efforts in wake of the 2017 Hurricane Season which saw the devastation of several islands and which exacerbates the need for climate proofing critical infrastructure and building resilience.

“We welcome proposals from all areas and industries,” said, Dr. Kenrick Leslie executive director of the Centre, noting that as an accredited entity: “We are able to assist organisations to access Green Climate Fund (GCF) grants for climate adaptation and mitigation projects of up to 50 million dollars per project”.

The GCF has approved a couple hundred million in preparation funding for several countries across the region, but the 5Cs boss is particularly proud of the achievements of his tiny project development team.

On March 13, the Bahamas became the second of the four countries for which the Centre is the Delivery Partner, to launch their GCF readiness programme. In 2017, three countries – the Bahamas, Belize, and Guyana, and more recently St. Lucia – were approved for grants of 300,000 to build in-country capacities to successfully apply for and complete GCF-funded projects that align with their national priorities, while simultaneously advancing their ambitions towards becoming Direct Access Entities (DAEs).

Each ‘readiness’ project is expected to run for between 18-months and 2 years and include developing operational procedures for Governments and the private sector to engage effectively with the GCF; providing training about its processes and procedures, how to access grants, loans, equities and guarantees from the GCF; and the development of a pipeline of potential project concepts for submission to the Fund. These activities are not one-off measures, but will form part of an ongoing process to strengthen the country’s engagement with the Fund.

Guyana’s ‘readiness’ project began in October 2016 and is expected to end in April this year; while the Bahamian Ministry of Environment and Housing and the Centre’s recent hosting of a project inception workshop, marked the start of that programme. The Belize project is expected to begin next month and St Lucia’s will kick-off in May, and run for two years. The readiness projects are being funded by the GCF at a cost of approximately 300,000 dollars each.

Aside from these readiness grants, the Centre secured 694,000 dollars in project preparation facility (PPF) grants for a public-private partnership between the Government of Belize and the Belize Electricity Company.

The project is intended to enable Belize to utilise the indigenous plant locally known as wild cane (scientific name Arundo donax) as a sustainable alternative source of energy for electricity generation. The grant will provide the resources needed to conduct the necessary studies to ascertain viability of the plant, with the intention of facilitating large-scale commercial cultivation for energy generation purposes.

In addition, the Centre partnered with the Barbados Water Authority (BWA) to develop the proposal for the Water Sector Resilience Nexus for Sustainability Project (WSRN S-Barbados) for which the GCF announced 45.2 million dollars in funding – some of which is in counterpart funding – at the 19th meeting of the Board in Korea in March this year.

BWA’s Elon Cadogan noted that the project would directly impact 190,000 people on an island which has been described as “one of the most water-stressed” in the Caribbean. The frequency of lock-offs has been costly for the country.

“Schools have had to close due to lack of water and the potential unsanitary conditions are likely to increase health treatment costs. In addition, there have been some cancellations of tourist stays and bookings,” Dr Cadogan, who is the project management officer at the BWA said.

Because of its unique operating structure, the Centre is able to call on its many partners to speedily provide the required skills to complete the assessments required to bring a project to the submission stage for further development or full project funding. In the case of the Arundo donax project, the Centre provided several small grants and with the help of the Clinton Foundation, completed a range of studies to determine the suitability of the grass as an alternative fuel.

For the Barbados project, the 5Cs worked with the University of the West Indies (UWI) and South Florida University (SFU) and the BWA to complete the submissions on time.  With the Centre’s own GCF accreditation completed within six months, the 5Cs is turning its attention to assisting countries with their own.

Head of the Programme Development and Management Unit (PDMU) and Assistant Executive Director at the Centre Dr. Mark Bynoe said that even as the Centre continues its work in project development and as a readiness delivery partner, the focus has now shifted.

“We are now turning our attention to aiding with their GCF accreditation granting process and the completion of their National Adaptation Plans (NAPS). Each country has an allocation of 3-million-dollar grant under the GCF window for their NAP preparation,” he said.

The GCF is the centrepiece of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) efforts to raise finance to address climate change related impacts. It was created to support the efforts of developing countries to respond to the challenges posed, and opportunities presented, by climate change through a network of National Designated Authorities (NDAs) and Accredited Entities (AEs).

As a readiness delivery partner, the Centre will provide the necessary oversight, fiduciary and project management, as well as monitoring and evaluation of these ‘readiness’ projects, skills that are critical to ensuring that those projects are speedily developed and submitted for verification and approval.

Every success means the Centre’s is fulfilling its role to deliver transformational change to a region under threat by climate change.

Climate Scientists Use Forecasting Tools to Protect Caribbean Ways of Life

by Zadie Neufville

The following was published by InterPress Service on Aug 7, 2017

KINGSTON, Jamaica: Since 2013, Jamaica’s Met Office has been using its Climate Predictability Tool (CPT) to forecast ‘below average’ rainfall or drought across the island. The tool has allowed this northern Caribbean island to accurately predict several dry periods and droughts, including its most destructive episode in 2014 when an estimated one billion dollars in agricultural losses were incurred due to crop failures and wild fires caused by the exceptionally dry conditions.

In neighbouring Cuba, the reputation of the Centre for Atmospheric Physics at the Institute for Meteorology (INSMET) is built on the development of tools that “provide reliable and timely climate and weather information” that enables the nation to prepare for extreme rainfall and drought conditions as well as for hurricanes.

Regional scientists believe the extended dry periods are one of several signs of climate change, now being experienced across the region. Dr. Ulric Trotz, Deputy Director and Science Adviser at the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC) – known regionally as the Five Cs – believes climate change is threatening the “Caribbean’s ways of life”.

The drought tools allow regional authorities to guide farmers so they avoid losses

Dr. Trotz noted, “Some countries in the Caribbean like Barbados and Antigua are inherently water scarce. It is expected that climate change will exacerbate this already critical situation. We have seen in recent times the occurrence of extended droughts across the Caribbean, a phenomenon that is expected to occur more frequently in the future.

“Droughts have serious implications across all sectors – the water, health, agriculture, tourism -and already we are seeing the disastrous effects of extended droughts throughout the Caribbean especially in the agriculture sector, on economies, livelihoods and the well-being of the Caribbean population,” he said.

With major industries like fisheries, tourism and agriculture already impacted, the region continues to look for options. Both the Cuban and Jamaican experiences with forecasting tools means their use should be replicated across the Caribbean, Central and South America as scientists look for ways to battle increasingly high temperatures and low rainfall which have ravaged the agricultural sector and killed corals across the region.

Charged with the Caribbean Community (CARICOM)’s mandate to coordinate the region’s response to climate change, the ‘Five Cs’ has been seeking financial support investigating and pooling regional resources to help countries cope with the expected impacts since its birth in 2004. These days, they are introducing and training regional planners in the application and use of a suite of tools that will help leaders make their countries climate-ready.

The experts believe that preparing the region to deal with climate change must include data collection and the widespread use of variability, predictability and planning tools that will guide development that mitigate the impacts of extreme climatic conditions.

The recent Caribbean Marine Climate Report card reflects the findings of the latest Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, pointing to the need for countries to ramp up their adaptation strategies. Both highlight the many significant risks climate change is expected to bring to regional economies that depend heavily on eco-systems based industries; where major infrastructure are located along the coasts and where populations are mainly poor.The report points to the threats to biodiversity from coral bleaching; rising sea temperature and more intense storms which could destroy the region’s economy, and in some cases inundate entire communities.

The tools not only allow the users to generate country specific forecast information, they allow Met Officers, Disaster Managers and other critical personnel to assess likely impacts of climatic and extreme weather events on sectors such as health, agriculture and tourism; on critical infrastructure and installations as well as on vulnerable populations.

Jamaica has more than a million motor vehicles contributing to increased emissions and traffic jams like this one at the Highway 2000 off ramp at Marcus Garvey Drive.- Gleaner photo

Training is being rolled out under the Climate Change Adaptation Program (CCAP) in countries of the Eastern and Southern Caribbean, with funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). CCAP was designed to build on both USAID’s Regional Development Cooperative Strategy which addresses development challenges in the countries in that part of the region, as well as the CCCCC’s Regional Framework for Achieving Development Resilient to a Changing Climate and its associated Implementation Plan, which have been endorsed by the Heads of Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries.

Regional experts and government officers working in agriculture, water resources, coastal zone management, health, physical planning and disaster risk reduction from Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago are being taught to use a variety of tools.

The program aims to build resilience in the development initiatives of the countries as they tackle climate change-induced challenges, which are already being experienced by countries of the region.

At a recent workshop in Rodney Bay, St. Lucia, trainees were confident that the tools could become critical to their developmental goals. St Lucian metrological forecaster Glen Antoinne, believes the tools could be “useful for St Lucia because they are directly related to our ability to forecast any changes in the climate”.

He looks forward to his government’s adoption of, in particular, the weather tools to  “support the climatology department in looking at trends, forecasting droughts and to help them to determine when to take action in policy planning and disaster management”.

The tools work by allowing researchers and other development specialists to use a range of climatic data to generate scientific information and carry out analysis on the likely impacts in the individual countries of the region. They are open source, to remove the need for similar expensive products being used in developed world, but effective, said INSMET’s Dr. Arnoldo Bezamilla Morlot.

“We saw the need to develop a drought tool that was not only easy to use, but free to the countries of the Caribbean so they would not have to spend large amounts of money for software,” he said.

“The more countries use the data, the more information that is available for countries and region to use,” Morlot continued, pointing out that the data is used to generate the information that then feeds into the decision making process.

Heavy rains and high waves from Hurricane Ivan in 2004 battered coastal towns, marooned the Kingston’s International Airport, destroyed several roads and bridges .- Jamaica Gleaner Photo.

CCAP also includes activities aimed at the expansion of the Coral Reef Early Warning System for the installation of data gathering buoys in five countries in the Eastern Caribbean providing data which, among other things will be used for ecological forecasts on coral bleaching and other marine events.

The project also provides for the strengthening of the hydro meteorological measurement systems in participating countries. This will allow for better monitoring of present day weather parameters and for generating data to feed into the climate models and other tools.

Among the tools being rolled out under the project are the Caribbean Assessment Regional DROught (CARiDRO) tool; the Caribbean Weather Generator, and the Tropical Storm Model which were designed to help experts to develop scenarios of future climate at any given location and to use these to more accurately forecast the impacts, and inform mitigating actions.

There are accompanying web portals and data sets that were developed and are being introduced to help countries to enhance their ability to reduce the risks of climate change to natural assets and populations in their development activities.

These online resources are designed to provide locally relevant and unbiased climate change information that is specific to the Caribbean and relevant to the region’s development. Their integration into national planning agendas across the region is being facilitated through regional and country workshops to ensure effective decision-making while improving climate knowledge and action.

“The resulting information will help leaders make informed decisions based on the projections and forecasting of likely levels of impact on their infrastructure and economies,” Lavina Alexander from St Lucia’s Department of Sustainable Development noted, pointing to that country’s recent experiences with hurricanes and extreme rainfall events.

As one of the tool designers, Morlot believes that by providing free access to the tools, the project is ensuring that “more countries will begin to collect and use the data, providing regional scientists with the ability to make more accurate forecasts of the region’s climate.”

Putting all the information and tools in one place where it is accessible by all will be good for the region, he said.

Disease Burden Growing as Vector Insects Adapt to Climate Change

by Zadie Neufville

The following article was published by InterPress Serice (IPS) on April 18, 2017
KINGSTON, Jamaica, (IPS)
– There were surprised gasps when University of the West Indies (UWI) Professor John Agard told journalists at an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) meeting in late November 2016 that mosquitoes were not only living longer but were “breeding in septic tanks underground”.

For many, it explained why months of fogging at the height of Zika and Chikungunya outbreaks had done little to reduce mosquito populations in their various countries. The revelation also made it clear that climate change would force scientists and environmental health professionals to spend more time studying new breeding cycles and finding new control techniques for vector insects.

The Aedes Aegypti mosquito no longer breed breeds primarily in clean water and have evolved to breed in septic tanks and pit latrines they fly out to feed.

Jump to March 31, 2017 when the UWI and the government of Jamaica opened the new Mosquito Control and Research Unit at the Mona Campus in Kingston, to investigate new ways to manage and eradicate mosquitoes. Its existence is an acknowledgement that the region is looking for improved management and control strategies.

Agard was reporting on a study by the late Dave Chadee, a co-author on the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report and UWI professor. The study examined evolutionary changes in the life cycle of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which spreads the yellow and dengue fevers as well as the chikungunya and Zika viruses.

“We found out that in higher temperatures, the mosquito’s breeding cycle shortens. They go through more cycles during the season and they produce more offspring. The mosquitoes, however, are a little smaller,” Agard told journalists.

Even more worrisome were Chadee’s findings on the longevity of the “evolved” mosquitoes – 100 days instead of the 30 days they were previously thought to survive. The study also found that mosquitoes that survived longer than 90 days could produce eggs and offspring that were born transmitters, raising new concerns.

Alarming as these findings were, they were only the latest on the evolutionary strategies of vector insect populations in the Caribbean. A study published in February 2016 revealed that the triatomino (or vinchuca), the vector insects for Chagas disease, were breeding twice a year instead of only in the rainy season. And before that in 2011, Barbadian Environmental officers found mosquitoes breeding in junction boxes underground.

Sebastian Gourbiere, the researcher who led the Chagas study, pointed to the need for regional governments to re-examine their vector control methods if they are to effectively fight these diseases.

“The practical limitations that the dual threat poses outweigh the capabilities of local vector teams,” he said in response to questions about the control of Chagas disease.

Caribbean scientists and governments had already been warned. The IPCC’s AR 5 (2013) acknowledged the sensitivity of human health to shifts in weather patterns and other aspects of the changing climate.

“Until mid-century climate change will act mainly by exacerbating health problems that already exist. New conditions may emerge under climate change, and existing diseases may extend their range into areas that are presently unaffected,” the report said.

Gourbiere agrees with Agard and other regional researchers that there is need for solutions that are primarily focused on vector controls: eradication and effective controls of the Aedes aegypti could also eliminate the diseases they spread.

The failure of the newest vector control strategies also forced health professionals to revisit the old, but proven techniques developed with the guidance of researchers like Chadee, whose work on dengue and yellow fever, malaria and most recently the Zika virus had helped to guide the development of mosquito control, surveillance and control strategies in the Caribbean.

And while Zika brought with it several other serious complications like microcephaly, which affects babies born to women infected by the virus, and Guillain Barré Syndrome, the threats also exposed more serious concerns. The rapid spread of the viruses opened the eyes of regional governments to the challenges of emerging diseases and of epidemics like ebola and H1N1.

But it was the World Health Organisation (WHO) that raised concerns about the status and possible effects of the Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) – a group of communicable diseases including the Zika virus – which affect more than a billion people in 149 countries each year but for which there are no treatments.

NTDs include Dengue, Chic-V and Chagas Disease and until the last outbreak in 2014 that killed more than 6,000 people, Ebola was among them. In the previous 26 outbreaks between 1976 and 2013, only 1,716 people in sub-Saharan African nations were infected, WHO data showed.

Now the Caribbean is changing its approach to the study and control of vector insects. So while there are no widespread infections of Chagas disease, UWI is preparing to begin its own studies on the triatomino and the disease it transmits.

An addition to UWI’s Task Force formed just over a year ago to “aggressively eliminate” breeding sites for the Aedes aegypti mosquito, the Mosquito Unit is expected to build on Professor Chadee’s groundbreaking research.

“From dealing with the consequences of Chikungunya, Dengue and Zika on our population to managing the potentially harmful effects of newly discovered viruses, the benefits of establishing a unit like this will produce significant rewards in the protection of national and regional health,” UWI Mona Professor Archibald McDonald said at the launch.

Zika had been infecting thousands of people in Asia and Africa for decades before it made its devastating appearance in Brazil and other parts of Latin America and the Caribbean. Zika also made its way to the US and several European nations in 2016, before being confirmed in Thailand on Sept 30.

Mapping Zika

Not surprising, as in its 3rd AR, and most recently in the 5th AR the IPCC projected increases in threats to human health, particularly in lower income populations of mainly tropical and sub-tropical countries. Those findings are also supported by more recent independent studies including Mapping global environmental suitability for Zika virus, published by the University of Oxford (UK) in February 2016.

By combining climate data, mosquito prevalence and the socio-economic makeup of each region, researchers found the likelihood of the Zika virus gaining a foothold worldwide to be “extremely high”. The team led by Moritz Kraemer also concluded that Zika alone could infect more than a third of the world’s population.

The findings noted that shifts in the breeding patterns of the Aedes family of mosquitos allowed it to take advantage of newly ‘favourable conditions’ resulting from climate change. The environmentally suitable areas now stretch from the Caribbean to areas of South America; large portions of the United States to sizeable areas of sub-Saharan Africa; more than two million square miles of India “from its northwest regions through to Bangladesh and Myanmar”; the Indochina region, southeast China and Indonesia and includes roughly 250,000 square miles of Australia.

“Globally, we predict that over 2.17 billion people live in areas that are environmentally suitable for ZIKV transmission,” Dr. Kraemar said.

Aedes albopictus and known as the Asian tiger mosquito, one of the most effective vector insects for mosquito diseases

The Aedes aegypti mosquitoes’ efficiency at spreading diseases in urban areas and population densities are believed to be the main factors driving the rapid spread of the Zika virus. Other studies have found the Zika virus in 19 species of the Aedes family, with the Asian Tiger Mosquito (Aedes albopictus) – which has now spread its range to Europe –  likely another efficient vector.

Back in the Caribbean, Chadee’s findings on the adaptation of the Aedes aegypti mosquito from clean water breeders to breeding in available waters is expected to drive the development of regional strategies that are better suited to the evolving environment of a changing climate.

SPARKS Plugs Gap in Caribbean Climate Research

by Zadie Neufville


The following was published by IPS on March 11, 2017

KINGSTON, Jamaica, Mar 11 2017 (IPS)
– On Nov. 30 last year, a new high-performance ‘Super Computer’ was installed at the University of the West Indies (UWI) during climate change week. Dubbed SPARKS – short for the Scientific Platform for Applied Research and Knowledge Sharing – the computer is already churning out the ‘big data’ Caribbean small island states (SIDS) need to accurately forecast and mitigate the effects of climate change on the region.

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Principal of UWI Mona,  Professor Archibald Gordon.

Experts are preparing the Caribbean to mitigate the devastating impacts – rising seas, longer dry spells, more extreme rainfall and potentially higher impact tropical cyclones – associated with climate change. The impacts are expected to decimate the economies of the developing states and many small island states, reversing progress and exacerbating poverty. Observers say the signs are already here.

The system will help scientists to “better evaluate potential risk and impacts and effectively mitigate those risks as we build more resilient infrastructure.” –UWI Professor Archibald Gordon

Before SPARKS, regional scientists struggled to produce the kinds of credible data needed for long-term climate projections. Only a few months ago, UWI’s lack of data processing capacity restricted researchers to a single data run at a time, said Jay Campbell, research fellow at the climate research group . Each data run would take up to six months due to the limited storage capacity and lack of redundancy, he said noting: “If anything went wrong, we simply had to start over.”

Immediately, SPARKS answered the need for the collection, analysis, modelling, storage, access and dissemination of climate information in the Caribbean. Over the long term, climate researchers will be able to produce even more accurate and reliable climate projections at higher spatial resolutions to facilitate among other things, the piloting and scaling up of innovative climate resilient initiatives.

Scientists in the region are using ‘big data’ to forecast drought and dry sells for farmers and others in the agricultural sector.

So, when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) produces its next global assessment report in 2018, there will be much more information from the Caribbean, making SPARKS a critical tool in the region’s fight against climate change.

Not only has the new computer – described as one of the fastest in the Caribbean – boosted the region’s climate research capabilities by plugging the gaping hole in regional climate research, UWI Mona’s principal Professor Archibald Gordon said, “It should help regional leaders make better decisions in their responses and adaptation strategies to mitigate the impact of climate change”.

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Photo: Zadie Neufville: Caribbean scientists are using ‘big data’ to forecast drought and dry spells for farmers and others in the agricultural sector.

The expert underscore the need for “big data” to provide the information they need to improve climate forecasting in the short, medium and long term. Now, they have the capacity and the ability to complete data runs that usually take six months, in just two days.

The system will help scientists to better “evaluate potential risk and impacts and effectively mitigate those risks as we build more resilient infrastructure,” Gordon said.

As the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) reported in June 2016 as “the 14th consecutive month of record heat for land and oceans; and the 378th consecutive month with temperatures above the 20th century average,” regional scientists have committed to proving information to guide Caribbean governments on the actions they need to lessen the impact of climate change.

The region has consistently sought to build its capacity to provide accurate and consistent climate data. Efforts were ramped up after a September 2013 ‘rapid climate analysis’ in the Eastern Caribbean identified what was described as “a number of climate change vulnerabilities and constraints to effective adaptation”.

The USAID study identified among other things “the lack of accurate and consistent climate data to understand climate changes, predict impacts and plan adaptation measures”. To address the challenges, the WMO and the Caribbean Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology (CIMH), with funding from USAID, established the Regional Climate Centre in Barbados.

The launch of the new computer is yet another step in overcoming the constraints. It took place during a meeting of the IPCC at UWI’s regional headquarters at Mona – significant because it signalled to the international grouping that the Caribbean was now ready and able to produce the big data needed for the upcoming 2018 report.

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UWI Mona Campus, Jamaica

Head of the Caribbean Climate Group Professor Michael Taylor explained in an interview that the credibility and accuracy of climate data require fast computer processing speeds, fast turn-around times as well as the ability to run multiple data sets at higher resolution to produce information that regional decision-makers need.

“Climate research and downscaling methods will no longer be limited to the hardware and software,” he said, trying but failing to contain his excitement.

SPARKS also puts Jamaica and the UWI way ahead of their counterparts in the English-speaking Caribbean and on par with some of the leading institutions in the developed world. This improvement in computing capacity is an asset for attracting more high-level staff and attracting students from outside the region. Crucially, it aids the university’s push to establish itself as a leading research-based institution and a world leader in medicinal marijuana research.

“This opens up the research capability, an area the university has not done in the past. Before now, the processing of big data could only be done with partners overseas,” Professor Taylor said.

Aside from its importance to crunching climate data for the IPCC reports, SPARKS is revolutionising DNA sequencing, medicinal, biological and other data driven research being undertaken at the University. More importantly, UWI researchers agree that a supercomputer is bringing together the agencies at the forefront of the regional climate fight.

What is clear, SPARKS is a “game-changer and a big deal” for climate research at the regional level and for UWI’s research community.

END

SPARKS Launches UWI as a “Big Deal” in Climate Data Computing

UWI Photo

KINGSTON Dec 12, 2016: A new ‘high performance’ or ‘Super Computer’ launched on Nov 30, during climate change week, will help produce the ‘Big Data’ Caribbean small island states (SIDS) need to accurately project and mitigate the effects of climate change on the region.

Effectively, the new system, described as “one of the fastest in the Caribbean,” by Dell’s Peter Chan, gives the Caribbean a massive boost in its climate research capabilities. It has also catapulted The UWI, Mona Campus to ‘computing heavyweight’ status.

Launched in the midst of the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) meeting at the Regional Headquarters of The UWI, the Scientific Platform for Applied Research and Knowledge Sharing or SPARKS as it is called, was acquired as part of the Investment Plan for the five-year Caribbean Regional Track of the Pilot Programme for Climate Resilience (PPCR). SPARKS not only provides much needed computing capacity for climate researchers at The UWI; it also plugs a gaping hole.

At the launch, principal of the UWI’s Mona Campus Professor Archibald McDonald said SPARKS will enhance the region’s standing and recognition for research and as leaders in Climate Research. He noted: “The system will facilitate our scientists to provide climate projection models and high resolution maps for the Caribbean thus giving the region a firmer grasp to understand and manage the impacts of climate change… to evaluate for potential risk and impacts and effectively mitigate those risks as we build more resilient infrastructure”.

Increased processing speeds, faster turnaround times and the ability to run multiple data sets at higher resolution will improve the decision-making process in Jamaica and the Caribbean, Head of the Climate Group Professor Michael Taylor explained in an interview with Mona Magazine.

His excitement is infectious as he outlined the advantages SPARKS brings to The UWI in terms of “faster simulations at higher resolutions, providing more accurate and credible data, and information that will improve climate projections in the short, medium and long term”.

“Climate research and downscaling methods will no longer be limited by the available hardware and software,” he said.

SPARKS is filling the research gap that prevented regional scientists from making more of the kinds of credible long term climate projections which their counter parts in the developed world are able to produce easily and quickly. So when the IPPC produces its next global assessment report there will be much more information from the Caribbean, making SPARKS a critical tool in the regional fight against climate change.

Immediately, SPARKS, answers the need for the collection, analysis, modeling, storage, access and dissemination of climate information in the Caribbean. Long-term: SPARKS will allow climate researchers to produce even more accurate and reliable climate projections at higher spatial resolutions and facilitate the piloting and scaling up of innovative climate resilient initiatives, including the development of information products and services for use at the regional and national levels.

Aside, Jamaica and The UWI, Mona are now way ahead of their counterparts in the English-speaking Caribbean and on par with some of the leading institutions in the developed world. This improvement in computing capacity is an asset for attracting more high-level staff and students from outside the region. “This significantly opens up the research capabilities of the University to include research computing – an area we have not delved in on a wide scale in the past as the processing of big data could only be done with partners overseas,” Professor Taylor said.

Before SPARKS, the University’s data processing capacity restricted climate researchers to a single data run at a time, each taking up to six months; there was limited storage and no redundancy. “If anything went wrong, we simply had to start over,” Jay Campbell, research fellow with the Climate Studies Group at Mona told the distinguished guests at the launch.

In an interview, he noted that aside from the usual specifications, of the computer that sits in Mona Information Technology Services (MITS) building, SPARKS has a capacity equivalent to more of 5,000 CDs and is expandable; it is also able to complete a run that usually takes six months in just over two days.

Aside from its importance to crunching climate data for the IPPC reports, SPARKS will provide support for countless research ranging from the social sciences to botany and mathematics. It is set to revolutionise the DNA sequencing, medicinal, biological and other data driven research now being undertaken at the UWI. And with the impending start of the Mona’s clinical trials of medical marijuana products, Taylor believes the super computer will make for a more exciting time for UWI researchers.

More importantly, UWI climate researchers agree that a supercomputer will pull in additional revenues, and bring together the foremost agencies at the forefront of the regional climate fight.

SPARKS, the result of a partnership between Dell and Fujitsu is valued at US$742,376 or and is funded by Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) through its US$10.39 million grant funding to implement the PPCR). The project is managed through Mona Office for Research and Innovation.

What is clear, SPARKS is a “game-changer” for climate research at the regional level and for the University’s research community
.- Zadie Neufville

WUI Mona Magazine