Tag Archive | Hazard mitigation

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

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Herramienta de predicción climática muestra su eficacia

THis article was originally published by SciDev.com on July 13, 2015

Herramienta de predicción climática muestra su eficacia

By Zadie Neufville

[KINGSTON] Los agricultores del Caribe pueden planificar sus días de siembra evitando los periodos de sequía gracias a la Herramienta de Predictibilidad Climática (CPT por su sigla en inglés).
 
Utilizada por el Servicio Meteorológico de Jamaica para hacer su primer pronóstico oficial de sequía en noviembre de 2013, actualmente es empleada por 23 países del Caribe y América Central para monitorear sequías y otros eventos climáticos, y se espera que pronto otras regiones también la aprovechen.
 
Usando Google Earth y mapas GPS localizados, la CPT produce pronósticos climáticos estacionales usando el modelo de circulación general y las temperaturas de la superficie del mar. 

“Es una herramienta extremadamente importante para la predicción del cambio climático, específicamente para la agricultura, la pesca y sectores hídricos que requieren proyecciones de lluvias”.

Jeffery Spooner, Oficina de Meteorología de Jamaica

“Es una herramienta que proporciona alertas tempranas de sequía en localidades específicas con tres a seis meses de anticipación, de modo que los agricultores pueden planificar sus siembras alrededor de los períodos más secos”, explica a SciDev.Net Glenroy Brown, técnico en meteorología.
 
El diseñó la CPT junto con Simon Masson, científico climático de la Universidad de Columbia.
 
Basada en Windows, la CPT combina una serie de aplicaciones para generar pronósticos de uno a cinco días, específicos para un país y localidad. La información se descompone y simplifica aún más mediante codificación por colores y mensajes de texto que son enviados a agricultores y otros usuarios.
 
Fue usada primero para predecir una ‘alta probabilidad’ de lluvias inferiores al promedio en los tres meses que siguieron a la “peor sequía” que experimentó Jamaica en más de 30 años.
 
Nuevamente se usó en febrero de 2014 para predecir una sequía en el este de la isla, donde la precipitación promedio fue entre 2 y 12 por ciento. Se esperaba que la sequía durara hasta bien entrado setiembre.
 
Durante ese periodo la producción agrícola cayó 30 por ciento. Más de 500 agricultores recibieron mensajes de alerta por texto y se enviaron aproximadamente 700.000 boletines a funcionarios de extensión agrícola.
 
Sheldon Scott, de la Autoridad de Desarrollo Agrícola Rural de Jamaica (RADA por su sigla en inglés) afirma que los agricultores que usaron la información vía SMS pudieron eludir los peores impactos de la sequía.

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“Campos enteros de cultivos se estaban muriendo. Los impactos fueron visibles entre los agricultores que usaron la información y los que no lo hicieron, porque los primeros pudieron manejar los factores de mitigación de forma más eficaz”, refiere.
 
RADA continúa usando la CPT para mejorar sus servicios de extensión. La comprobación de sus beneficios hace que más pequeños agricultores que dependen de las lluvias usen la información que brinda, precisa Scott.
 
La CPT ha sido modificada para brindar indicadores de alerta temprana sobre velocidad de los vientos y decoloración de los arrecifes coralinos entre otras aplicaciones.
 
Jeffery Spooner, Jefe del Servicio Meteorológico de Jamaica dice que la CPT es “una herramienta extremadamente importante para la predicción de cambios climáticos, específicamente para la agricultura, la pesca y sectores hídricos que requieren proyecciones de lluvias”.

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Este artículo fue publicado originalmente en SciDev.Net. Lea la versión original aquí.

Human Activity and Climate Change Threaten Tourism in Jamaica

Story published by IPS on June 6, 2012
Experts here fear that that the impact of climate change on Jamaica’s fragile ecosystems will worsen the ravages of human activity and destroy the country’s tourism industry.

Dunns River, perhaps the best know river on the island because of the famous Dunns River Falls- the most photographed place on the island.

Tourism is one of the few local sectors that experienced growth even as the global economy declined. In Jamaica, tourism grew some 4.2 percent between 2002 and 2007. It provides close to 2 billion U.S. dollars annually, roughly 50 percent of the island’s foreign exchange earnings and about a quarter of all jobs.

The sector is aware of the challenges it faces, Tina Williams, a director in the ministry of tourism, told IPS. She noted that sea level rise is expected to inundate much of the island’s coastal areas, its infrastructure, hotels and attractions.

More intense rainfall and hurricanes and drier and hotter days are also expected to intensify the pressure on local ecosystems and the tourism industry.

But Williams noted that while the sector is not focused specifically on climate change, stakeholders are implementing disaster risk reduction strategies and programmes that they hope will make their product more resilient.

“Climate change will exacerbate all the vulnerabilities the sector faces – landslides, flooding – and with many small owners who are dependent on local agriculture, the industry will no doubt feel the impact,” Williams, who is responsible for overseeing climate change policy in the ministry, told IPS.

The sector’s dependence on natural ecosystems places it on the frontline of the climate change fight. Yet the industry itself has exacted a heavy toll on the local environment, causing irreversible damage in some areas.

Dying reefs
Reports indicate that as much of 30 percent of the island’s original coastal vegetation has been lost. Most of the 1,240 square kilometres of coral reefs, with an estimated 111 species of coral, is mostly dead from a combination of human activities and disease. Of the remaining coral, about 60 percent are at risk, the World Resources Institute noted in a 2010 report.

High levels of nutrients from agricultural run-off and the disposal of sewage in coastal waters have also damaged the reefs. According to government data, the resort towns of Negril, Montego Bay, Ocho Rios and areas along the south coast in the Portland Bight protected area have felt the greatest impact.

Marine biologist Andrew Ross noted that ongoing coral bleaching, overfishing, land clearance and pollution – particularly that of sewage – have all contributed to the decline of reefs.

“Places with regular tourism visitation will see a lot of accidental and/or anchor damage and even some harvesting or collecting for the knickknack shelf,” he said.

But nowhere is the situation more telling than along the Negril coastline. Here, the sand dunes have long given way to concrete houses, hotels and sewage plants. Here, scientists say, the widespread destruction of coastal vegetation, forests and wetlands is providing a glimpse of the ravages climate change is expected to bring.

Panorama of Negril Beach, Jamaica

The true cost of development
Negril’s tourism infrastructure was built at the expense of its coastal wetlands. Coastal mangrove forests and sea grass beds were removed to provide access to the gleaming white sands that tourists love.

Now, the famous white sand that earns roughly half of Jamaica’s tourism earnings is being washed away at rates between a half and one metre per year. According to reports, some areas have lost as much as 55 metres of beach in the last 40 years.

The erosion, scientists from the University of the West Indies (UWI) have found, is the direct result of development. When they removed the wetlands, developers destroyed the carbon-secreting organisms that inhabited the sea grass beds and produced at least half of the sand.

“The significant lack of coral in the beach sand indicate that algal fragments are probably not derived from the reef but rather from algae in the shallow shelf environment of the inner bay,” the 2002 study said.

“Human activities also play a major role” in reef degradation, noted a report from the Risk and Vulnerability Methodology Development Project (RiVAMP) of the United Nation’s Environment Programme (UNEP), even as the report acknowledged that external phenomena were nonetheless important factors.

The report noted that the traditional use of sea grass as compost for farming and its use in traditional drinks have taken away from existing beds. Locals also cut down mangroves to provide fuel wood and as material for housing.

The future of tourism in Jamaica
Even as visitor arrivals are projected to increase to 3.1 million by 2050, climate change could see the numbers fall to 2.7 million by that time, experts have said.

Jamaican tourism is rooted in its white sand beaches and sun and is location-specific to resort towns such as Negril. Much of the island’s infrastructural development has gone into these resort areas, which also happen to lie within predicted flood zones.

Increasingly, the industry is expanding its offerings to include bird watching, community tourism, nature trails and health tourism.

To lessen the impact and repair some of the damage, the island is undertaking a broad-based climate change adaptation and risk reduction programme, replanting hardwood and mangrove forests as well as sea grass beds. One local NGO, with assistance from corporate Jamaica, is building an artificial reef in the Portland Bight area, as well as in Negril.

Williams noted that the tourism ministry is also working with other agencies to sensitise stakeholders.

Central to the adaptation plan is a Natural Resources Valuation process aimed at developing tools to aid stakeholders in assigning monetary value to natural resources, environmental economist Maurice Mason told IPS.

“We are building formulae that will help us to determine the value of our natural resources whether we want to develop, keep it for future use or just keep it for the satisfaction of having it,” he said.

Mason, who works with the UWI Risk Reduction Centre, noted that the methodologies will provide authorities with the tools to help with decision making that promotes the sustainable use and development of the natural environment.

“It will also aid in the development of alternative employment for the many poor Jamaicans for whom alternative livelihoods must be found if the natural ecosystems are to be preserved and/or sustainably exploited,” Mason said.

The river at Castleton Gardens, Jamaica. Rivers are one of the main sources of water on the island.

Ross, whose company Seascapes Caribbean specialises in the replanting of coral reefs, pointed out that it will take “absolute commitment” to halt the decline of the local environment on which the industry depends.

“We could be talking about a return of the 1970s heyday of us providing the best scuba diving in the world,” he said. “Return of coral also means return of the fisheries and coastal protection, including protection of roads and infrastructure.”

Hazard Mitigation Funds to Rescue Tourist Mecca

The Following was published by IPS on Dec 29.

By Zadie Neufville
In the latest efforts to mitigate the hazards associated with climate change, the Jamaican authorities are turning their attention to Negril, where decades of unplanned development is destroying the local ecosystem and eroding the famous beach.

Studies indicate that in the last 40 or so years, Negril has lost more than 55 metres of beach. And the Negril morass, first drained by government in the 1950s to provide additional agricultural lands, combusts regularly, choking the once sleepy town with smoke from smoldering peat.

The National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), the agency responsible for the management and protection of the island’s 1,022 kilometres of coastline, has begun the replanting of sea grass beds and mangrove forests in Negril as well as Montego Bay and Portland Bight. The agency said these areas have been severely impacted by the large-scale removal of coastal vegetation.

The replanting is one of several activities in an “integrated” multi- sector, multi-donor effort to halt the decline of the ecosystems that are crucial to the preservation of Negril’s prized beaches, project manager Mary Gooden said.

Partially funded by a 4.13 million-euro grant from the European Union, the project is expected to provide alternative livelihoods for those whose activities negatively impact the environment and to enhance the resilience of Negril and other vulnerable coastal areas to the impacts of natural hazards.

Gooden, who works with the Planning Institute of Jamaica, which coordinates climate change mitigation actions on the island, noted that the restoration of Negril’s marine wetlands is expected to boost the ability of the ecosystem to protect of one of Jamaica’s most valuable coastal areas from impacts of severe weather. Healthy wetlands dissipate wave actions and minimise their impacts on the shoreline.

The world famous white sand beaches “have been experiencing severe and irreversible shoreline and retreat” for more than four decades, a 2010 report from the Risk and Vulnerability Assessment Methodology Development Project (RIVAMP) warned.

The problems have been exacerbated by inland activities that continue to impact the reefs: unsustainable fishing practices, and the removal of mangroves to increase the number of hotel rooms and to provide material for charcoal and fish pot production.

Jamaica’s State of the Environment (SOE) report 2010 stated that between 2007 and 2010, 2,560 hotel rooms were added, with Montego Bay and Negril accounting for most of the new development at 29 percent and 12.8 percent, respectively.

In recent decades, Negril has recorded some of the highest rates of coastal erosion in the Caribbean. Studies by the University of the West Indies (UWI) and Smith Warner International for the Negril Coral Reef Protection Society indicate that Negril’s coastline eroded at an average rate of between .5 and one metre a year between 1968 and 2006.

The rapid sand loss, environmentalists say, is a combination of adverse weather conditions, the loss of mangroves, coral bleaching and a proliferation of infrastructure development that ignored coastline setback requirements. The widespread destruction of sea grass beds – believed to be a major source of sea sand supply – is said to be one reason for the rapid sand loss.

In 2008, Smith Warner estimated restoration costs of Negril’s beaches at between 19 and 25 million dollars – a high cost for the debt- ridden country. According to the U.N. Development Programme’s (UNDP’s) Pascal Peduzzi, it will also require extensive restoration of the natural environment.

Negril’s rapid decline and the high-priced rehabilitation forced authorities to adjust Jamaica’s U.N. Adaptation Fund application to make the area its primary focus, Gooden told IPS. The Fund will pay for major engineering infrastructure to protect the remaining beaches and carry out repair work, she said.

Made world famous by the so-called “flower children” of the hippie generation, the approximately seven-kilometre stretch of powdery white sand and crystal clear waters, authorities say, accounts for just over 25 percent of the island’s tourism earnings.

In 2010, tourism was estimated at 20 percent of Jamaica’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), just over 50 percent of the island’s foreign exchange earnings and a quarter of all jobs. Some say that Negril’s ecosystem may actually account for much as 40 percent of GDP.

But the industry that placed Negril on the map, and on which the town depends, has been destroying the fragile marine ecosystem it needs to survive.

In the building boom of the 1980s, the desire for pristine white sand beaches drove developers to remove coastal vegetation and with it, nature’s buffer from the scouring wave action of a storm-tossed Caribbean Sea. Most ignored the Beach Control Act, which stipulates that coastal development must be set back at least 46 metres from the high water mark.

Hotels were built on the sand to provide the beachfront rooms the well-heeled tourists who flocked to Negril in the 1980s wanted. Treatment plants pumped millions of gallons of sewage into to the sea and increasing amounts of fresh water was pumped from the aquifers to satisfy the rapidly growing population.

Peduzzi, who heads UNDP’s Global Change Vulnerability Unit, recommends a comprehensive, cross-sectoral management plan to guide the recovery of the area to prevent destruction of the coastal ecosystems and to protect the resources that support the tourism industry.

“Negril is such a key area for Jamaica that whatever needs to be done must be successful,” he said.

Plans for the restoration of Negril’s ecosystem include sediment trend analysis, hydrological studies, artificial reefs and other “soft engineering approaches to build disaster resilience”, NEPA’s Manager of Strategic Planning and Policies Anthony McKenzie told IPS.

Measures include the replanting of sea-grass beds and the location of data loggers to measure sea surface temperatures. The specially designed artificial reefs are intended to encourage the settlement and growth of coral polyps. The structure is to be fixed to the floor of the sea in an effort to prevent further damage to the fragile ecosystem.

Over the long term, McKenzie explained, breakwaters of 300 to 400 metres long are to be constructed offshore to provide additional protection for beach. Sand will also be pumped into the beach to nourish and rejuvenate those areas which have been eroded.

Diving at Rick's Cafe- Jamaica My Way.com


Other activities include land and rainwater management system and strengthening the capacity of local organisations in about 40 communities. Loans are to be made available to the private sector at less than one percent to protect their property and increase their ability to withstand severe weather impacts.

Gooden noted, however, that it will be the work of citizens to maintain and preserve the ecosystems and the lives they protect. “Our climate is changing and we have to change how we live and treat our environment,” she said.

(END)