Archive for ‘Rising Sea Levels & Erosion’

12

Biologist Warns Of Danger From Rising Sea Levels

Saturday, July 3rd, 2010

In his new book, Flooded Earth, Peter D. Ward argues that even if humans stopped all carbon dioxide emissions today, the oceans will still rise up to 3 feet by 2050, wreaking havoc on many coastal cities and their infrastructure. In the worst case scenario, Ward tells host Guy Raz, the world may see water levels rise as much as 65 feet by 2300 causing massive human migration and a spread of tropical diseases.

Transcript

GUY RAZ, host:

Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I’m Guy Raz.

Peter Ward is a biologist at the University of Washington. He’s not a historian but in his new book, “The Flooded Earth,” he writes as a historian, but a historian describing the year 2120. And here’s what happened to the city of Miami.

Professor PETER WARD (Biology and Earth and Space Sciences, University of Washington; Author, “The Flooded Earth”): (Reading) Miami had become an open city. It was also an island, although to the north it was still contiguous with the vast peninsula that had been Florida. The flooding had cut off all freeway and railroad ties while the airport itself was now a vast a lake. All this was because the level of the world’s oceans had risen 10 feet.

The reason for this vast geographic change, one that rendered every school child’s world atlas obsolete, was readily apparent: Greenland had lost its ice cover.

RAZ: That’s Peter Ward reading from his new book, “The Flooded Earth.” It paints a pretty bleak picture of how life on this planet will begin to change dramatically – as early as 2050, as sea levels continue to rise. Peter Ward joins me from KUOW in Seattle.

Welcome to the program.

Prof. WARD: Thank you so much for having me.

RAZ: You paint a picture of Miami. The city becomes kind of an archipelago of little islands, many islands, barely habitable. Is that really going to happen based on your projections?

Prof. WARD: It may not happen that early – that’s the worst case scenario – but it will absolutely happen if we continue to be producing emissions at the rate that we are. I’ve now spent two field seasons in Antarctica. I’ve been able to look there at the recession of the glaciers and also of the ice sheets.

Remember, everybody worries about icecap, but ice floating on the sea, even if it all melts, has no direct effect on…

RAZ: Right. It’s like ice in a glass. If ice melts…

Prof. WARD: Exactly.

RAZ: …it doesn’t change the level.

Prof. WARD: But, see, ice on land – and the two critical places are Greenland and Antarctica. I mean, those are really what we must worry about. I almost want to print out T-shirts: Keep the Ice Sheets, because we need to stabilize these.

RAZ: You focus on mass extinction of humans, of animals. You’re saying that sea levels will rise – they rise every day, they’re rising as we speak. What’s the best case scenario by the end of this century in terms of how high the sea will rise?

Prof. WARD: Best case scenario that I can see is going to be a little less than three feet.

RAZ: So if we do nothing now, if we freeze…

Prof. WARD: We do nothing.

RAZ: …mm-hmm. We do nothing, we freeze or emissions now, the seas will still rise by about three feet by the end of this century.

Prof. WARD: Three feet. And from all the engineers I’ve talked to – and it’s been an interesting ride for me – civilization can deal with up to a five-foot sea level rise without major dislocation. But anything above five feet and you’re talking tremendous economic and biological dislocation.

RAZ: Worst case scenario?

Prof. WARD: Worst case scenario would be five feet by 2100. But the problem with the five-foot rise, a sea level rise is something that doesn’t take place at a constant level. It’s accelerating. So once you have a five-foot rise by 2100, you might have a 50-foot rise by 2200.

So the five-foot rise would be catastrophic economically but it would also really be pointing the gun to the head of all of the coastal cities. Sooner or later, within a century or two after that, you’re going to be dealing with triage, trying to figure out what do we save and what don’t we.

RAZ: Where in the U.S. are we likely to see the effects? I mean, we think about, let’s say, the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, and we can imagine what that looks like on a map, right? Will that look the same in 100 years?

Prof. WARD: In some senses. The place that will be most mitigated in terms of geography will be the entire Gulf region. I mean, that poor benighted place where we have all that nasty oil going to shore, that is the area where sea level will have the greatest impact.

RAZ: So when you talk abut the Gulf, are you talking about, for example, the Mississippi Delta?

Prof. WARD: Yes. The Mississippi Delta and every other delta on this planet is an endangered species. Deltas are completely tied into sea level. Even a one-foot rise in sea level tremendously affects the sedimentology of delta formation.

And here’s why deltas are so important: an enormous proportion of the world’s rice comes from the deltas in the tropical areas of the planet. When we have a rise even of a foot in sea level, we have many feet of lateral salt migration, the problem isn’t the vertical rise of the sea. It is the fact that salt has this nasty habit of migrating sideways. And sideways into soil kills off agricultural crops.

Salt and plants that produce crops just don’t mix. Mangroves, if we could eat mangroves, we’d be in great shape. But we’re looking at this confluence, and this is why I’m so disturbed. We’re looking at a global population that’s going from 6.6 billion to nine billion. We’re looking at a sea level rise from one to three feet, and we’re looking at a reduction in arable land because of that sea level, so the equation is more people less food.

RAZ: You say that there are three possible outcomes of global warming. One, that scientists are wrong and that the icecaps won’t actually melt; the second that the icecaps will melt but humans will adapt and they’ll begin to cooperate; and the third is kind of a, I would call, “Mad Max” scenario where the ice caps melt and you have something akin to global anarchy. Which of these do you see as the most likely outcome?

Prof. WARD: I hope it’s number two. I mean, this is just a hope. And we’re looking back at history to try to understand how things happened and yet we’ve never had an industrial civilization of our level in history encountering rising sea level.

The fastest rise we know of in the past from Ice Age melting, though, is about five meters a century. So that’s 15 feet in one century. We know from geological records it can go that fast. And this was in consequence to changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide far less than what we’re doing now.

RAZ: And that would’ve been the results of volcanoes, for example?

Prof. WARD: What we’re doing to the atmosphere now is very similar to what I studied in the deep past, which is that the Permian extinction and the Triassic extinction, when there were enormous volcanic vents of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at rates that seem to be akin to what we’re doing now.

Now, we just came through a horrible global recession and yet emissions globally did not reduce to where we hope they were. Even with the recession, emissions keep going up. Carbon dioxide levels keep going up. If we return to full employment, with all these extra people, what happens? Higher emissions, less ice sheet, higher sea level.

RAZ: Peter Ward, all of the scenarios you lay out are quite shocking and they’re fascinating, but I wonder at what point does all you say become tangible, become something that people can actually see and be affected by, because, you know, one could argue that until that point, this is just theoretical and it’s difficult to get people to respond and to make changes.

Prof. WARD: Look, what if we’re wrong about the sea level rise? What will we have done to mitigate it? We will have searched for alternative forms of energy all good. We will have tried to do defenses on our coastlines, and with rising temperatures we’re going to get stronger hurricanes; all good. So even if the sea level doesn’t rise, the attempts to defense it are actually very powerful and positive things.

The alternative, doing nothing, well, maybe we’ll get away with it. Maybe we’ll dodge the bullet, but what if we don’t?

RAZ: That’s Peter Ward. He is a professor of biology and Earth and space sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle and author of the new book, “The Flooded Earth.”

Peter Ward, thank you so much.

Prof. WARD: Thank you.

Source: Biologist Warns Of Danger From Rising Sea Levels - npr.org

Date: 03 July 2010

Sweet Hall marsh offers evidence on water levels

Sunday, June 20th, 2010

In Sweet Hall marsh, the ghosts tell tales.

Dead, bone-white trunks known as ghost trees say the marsh along the Pamunkey River is changing.

Scientists suspect the trees were exposed to too much water, and possibly salt water, because the sea level — and hence, the river level — is rising.

The rising sea is a well-documented effect of global warming. When water warms, it expands. The sea level is rising faster in southeastern Virginia than any other place on the East Coast, in part because the land is also sinking.

In the marsh, there are other signs the rising water is causing changes. For example, duck hunters complained a decade ago that giant cordgrass, the tall plants they used to hide in during winter, was disappearing.

“Instead of being in the middle of a forest of standing vegetation, you’re in the middle of a mud flat or open water,” said Carl Hershner, a wetlands expert with the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

Under a big sky — nothing in sight but the winding Pamunkey, the arrowhead-shaped leaves of marsh plants along the river, and the trees in the distance — Hershner and other VIMS scientists inspected the site recently from a bouncy, bare-bones boardwalk.

Freshwater marshes such as Sweet Hall are important. Among other things, they are nurseries for young striped bass, shad and herring. And, judging from this 950-acre marsh just west of West Point, they are also beautiful.

In 2007, VIMS researchers turned the marsh into a “sentinel site” for climate change research. In coming years and decades, they hope to document scientifically the changes that people have noticed anecdotally.

On this day, two VIMS scientists placed vertical fiberglass rods through a horizontal aluminum plate and measured the distance to muddy soil.

A marsh can keep up with slowly rising waters. Suspended dirt falls out of the water, and plants take root in it.

But if the water rises too fast — and that’s the fear here — the marsh will, in effect, drown. The fiberglass measuring rods could help tell that story.

Pollution and storms can also cause changes.

“There are a lot of stressors on the marsh, but sea-level rise is that long-term one we’re concerned about,” said VIMS scientist William Reay.

Reay directs the National Estuarine Research Reserve in Virginia, an array of wild lands on which scientists conduct studies. The marsh is part of that system.

“We want to know, is climate change a factor here,” Reay said. “We believe it will be.”

Source: Sweet Hall marsh offers evidence on water levels – Forests.org

Date: 20 June 2010

Yellow sub finds clues to Antarctic glacier’s thaw

Sunday, June 20th, 2010

A yellow submarine has helped to solve a puzzle about one of Antarctica’s fastest-melting glaciers, adding to concerns about how climate change may push up world sea levels, scientists said on Sunday.

The robot submarine, deployed under the ice shelf floating on the sea at the end of the Pine Island Glacier, found that the ice was no longer resting on a subsea ridge that had slowed the glacier’s slide until the early 1970s.

Antarctica is key to predicting the rise in sea levels caused by global warming — it has enough ice to raise sea levels by 57 metres (187 ft) if it ever all melted. Even a tiny thaw at the fringes could swamp coasts from Bangladesh to Florida.

The finding from the 2009 mission “only adds to our concern that this region is indeed the ‘weak underbelly’ of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet”, co-author of the study Stan Jacobs at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory said in a statement.

West Antarctica’s thaw accounts for 10 percent of a recently observed rise in sea levels, with melting of the Pine Island glacier quickening, especially in recent decades, according to the study led by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Loss of contact with the subsea ridge meant that ice was flowing faster and also thawing more as sea water flowed into an ever bigger cavity that now extended 30 km beyond the ridge. The water was just above freezing at 1 degree Celsius (33.80F).

SATELLITE BUMP

Satellite photographs in the early 1970s had shown a bump on the surface of the ice shelf, indicating the subsea ridge. That bump has vanished and the 7 metre (22 foot) submarine found the ridge was now up to 100 metres below the ice shelf.

Adrian Jenkins, lead author at BAS, said the study raised “new questions about whether the current loss of ice from Pine Island Glacier is caused by recent climate change or is a continuation of a longer-term process that began when the glacier disconnected from the ridge”.

Pierre Dutrieux, also at BAS, said the ice may have started thinning because of some as yet-unknown mechanism linked to climate change.

“It could be a shift in the wind, due to a change in climate, that pushed more warm water under the shelf,” he told Reuters.

The U.N. panel of climate scientists projected in 2007 that world sea levels could rise by between 18 and 59 cm (7-24 inches) by 2100, excluding risks of faster melting in Antarctica and Greenland.

Source: Yellow sub finds clues to Antarctic glacier’s thaw - AlertNet

Date: 20 June 2010

Experts Warn Climate Change Is Beginning to Disrupt Agriculture

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

With the added environmental stresses of climate change, prices of staple crops could double

Every nation — developed and otherwise — is dependent upon a stable agricultural sector, and climate change threatens that stability, a panel of experts said yesterday.

World population is expected to swell by 50 percent by 2050. This alone is a challenge for the world’s supply of vital grains, said Gerald Nelson, an agricultural economist and fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute. But then you have to tack on the impacts of climate change.

Global agriculture, he said, could adapt to climate change for about $7 billion annually, with most of the resources being devoted to research, new irrigation techniques and training small farmers for rises in sea level.

Agricultural management directly affects how the three major greenhouse gases — carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide — are cycled through the environment. According to United Nations Environment Programme, “Agriculture, deforestation and other forms of land use account for nearly one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions.”

Source: Experts Warn Climate Change Is Beginning to Disrupt Agriculture - Scientific American

Date: 17 June, 2010

Report finds delta among most vulnerable rivers

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

The river system that makes up the backbone of the state’s economy ranks as one of the most imperiled watersheds in the nation, putting at risk drinking water for millions of Californians as well as billions of dollars worth of crops and urban infrastructure, according to an annual report on the country’s most important waterways.

The Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, whose fingers extend from the slopes of Mount Shasta in the north to vast farm fields near Fresno in the south, is “extremely vulnerable to catastrophic failure” from over-pumping and declining ecosystems, according to American Rivers, a Washington, D.C., conservation group.

And increasingly, surging storm waters and rising sea levels induced by global climate change threaten to ravage the delicate network of levees and channels that route water through the confluence of the two rivers and protect low-lying cities such as Sacramento, Lathrop and Stockton.

Source: Report finds delta among most vulnerable rivers – SFGate

Date: 02 June, 2010

Ocean Stored Significant Warming Over Last 16 Years, Study Finds

Saturday, May 22nd, 2010

The upper layer of the world’s ocean has warmed since 1993, indicating a strong climate change signal, according to a new study. The energy stored is enough to power nearly 500 100-watt light bulbs per each of the roughly 6.7 billion people on the planet.

“We are seeing the global ocean store more heat than it gives off,” said John Lyman, an oceanographer at NOAA’s Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research, who led an international team of scientists that analyzed nine different estimates of heat content in the upper ocean from 1993 to 2008.

“The ocean is the biggest reservoir for heat in the climate system,” said Josh Willis, an oceanographer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and one of the scientists who contributed to the study.

“So as the planet warms, we’re finding that 80 to 90 percent of the increased heat ends up in the ocean.”

A warming ocean is a direct cause of global sea level rise, since seawater expands and takes up more space as it heats up. Scientists say that this expansion accounts for about one-third to one-half of global sea level rise.

Combining multiple estimates of heat in the upper ocean — from the surface to about 2,000 feet down — the team found a strong multi-year warming trend throughout the world’s ocean. According to measurements by an array of autonomous free-floating ocean floats called Argo as well as by earlier devices called expendable bathythermographs or XBTs that were dropped from ships to obtain temperature data, ocean heat content has increased over the last 16 years.

Source: Ocean Stored Significant Warming Over Last 16 Years, Study Finds – Science Daily

Date: 22 May 2010

Cagayan, Palawan, Iloilo vulnerable to sea level rise

Saturday, May 22nd, 2010

MANILA, Philippines – The world-famous sweet Guimaras mangoes might soon become an endangered variety as global warming could submerge Iloilo province, together with Cagayan and Palawan, the Climate Change Commission (CCC) warned yesterday.

The commission, chaired by President Arroyo, warned that many parts of the country, including the regions where the mangoes are grown, are “seen to go underwater due to climate change” due to the rise in sea level by at least a meter.

Citing a study of the University of the Philippines Los Baños, CCC vice chairman Secretary Heherson Alvarez said Iloilo ranks third among the provinces in the country that are most susceptible to the rise in sea level.

The study identified Cagayan province as the most vulnerable, followed by Palawan.

“We are extremely vulnerable because we are in the southwestern Pacific area where there is an occurrence of many depressions, (which) mature into storms, and violent storms sometimes enter the archipelago,” Alvarez said.

The Philippines has been calling for a deep and early cut of carbon dioxide emissions by Annex-1 countries under the Kyoto Protocol in order to moderate, if not avert, the accelerating destructive storms brought about by climate change.

“If people will not unite for a deep and early cut of carbon dioxide, the entire country will go under the surface because of the frequency of extreme weather disturbances entering the Philippines every year,” Alvarez said.

Aside from the possible sinking of many parts of Iloilo, he said climate change has started affecting mango production on the island of Guimaras, resulting in losses to mango farmers.

In 2009, the National Mango Research and Development Center (NMRDC) reported that erratic weather patterns attributed to climate change have already taken its toll on the production of the “sweetest” mango in the world.

The decline in mango production, according to the center, was shown in price increases despite the peak season last year.

Rhod Orquia, an NMRDC researcher, said mango production in Guimaras is being threatened by climate change since the shifting trend in the onset of rains already affects the planting process and harvesting schedule of mangoes.

Guimaras has more than 200,000 mango trees planted by 7,000 farmers.

Source: Cagayan, Palawan, Iloilo vulnerable to sea level rise - philstar

Date: 22 May 2010

Climate appeal by Pacific islands

Friday, May 21st, 2010

Pacific island nations have compared global warming to an invading army in a plea for the UN Security Council to break the stalemate in negotiations over a legally binding global climate treaty.

The 11 nations that make up the Pacific Small Island Developing States wrote to members of the UN’s most powerful body to argue that the threat they face from a warmer world and rising sea levels is comparable to armed conflict.

The 15-nation Security Council oversees threats to international peace and security.

“Climate change can devastate a country just as thoroughly as an invading army,” Nauru’s UN Ambassador Marlene Moses said as chair of the island nations’ group.

Ms Moses said the Security Council must step in because the UN-led negotiations for mandatory cuts in greenhouse gases and assistance for the most vulnerable nations is stalled.

“If (the) international community fails to take immediate action, then it will be complicit in the extinction of entire nations,” she said.

The group said climate change is contributing to severe food and water shortages in the Pacific and already making refugees of people in Vanuatu, Micronesia, Papua New Guinea, Tuvalu and the Solomon Islands.

The group’s letter, sent by UN ambassadors from the 11 Pacific island nations, was pointedly critical of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change that sponsored the last major climate summit in Copenhagen, Denmark last December.

A last-minute political agreement fell short on specific steps to cool the planet, but urged deeper cuts in emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases blamed for warming the globe. It also set up the first significant programme of climate aid to poorer nations and adopted a goal of holding the rise in global temperatures below two degrees Celsius.

A promised 30 billion US dollar (£21bn) fund over the next three years, scaling up to 100 billion US dollars (£69bn) a year by 2020, was a key element.

Source: Climate appeal by Pacific islands – Belfast Telegraph

Date: 21 May 2010

Coastal erosion in Marawila, two houses washed away

Saturday, May 15th, 2010

Two houses were washed away and 57 houses in risk in Mudukattuwa, Marawila, Puttalam district Disaster Management Coordinator Brig. Manoj Mudannayake said.

He said that the risk is growing rapidly with the present weather conditions and rising sea levels.

Last year 55 houses were fully and partially washed away displacing hundreds who are still in temporary shelters.

The Coast Conservation Department has made arrangements to put up coastal barriers but already two houses have been washed away.

Source: Coastal erosion in Marawila, two houses washed away – Times online

Date: 15 May 2010

Salt killing crops, driving migration in storm-hit southern Bangladesh

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

Worsening sea water storm surges and overuse of irrigation have left fields, wells and ponds in parts of southern Bangladesh too salty to grow crops, leading to a growing exodus of farmers from the region.

During Cyclones Sidr and Aila, in 2007 and 2009, sea water was driven into ponds and rivers in Khulna, Bagerhat and Satkhira districts in southern Bangladesh, and some fields remained flooded by sea water long enough to raise levels of salinity in the soil and in underground aquifers used for irrigation.

Now farmers on hundreds of thousands of acres in the region are watching their rice crops wither and die before reaching maturity. In some cases, farmers have sown rice plants several times in a season but seen none survive.

Binoy Singh, a farmer in Surigati village in Bagerhat district, recently lost nearly his entire 10-acre rice crop to salt contamination.

“The pond, the river and the groundwater contain excess salt. Salinity in the land has risen too much. The plants became red and dried up after some days of cultivation,” he said.

“Some two years back we were cultivating rice with water from the river and deep tube wells. But now the salinity of the water from these sources has gone above the permissible level for rice production,” he said.

Last year Singh got a ton of rice from his land. This year he may get less than a tenth of that amount.

“I am very much worried how I will feed my family members this year,” he said.

Worsening storm surges and sea level rise linked to climate change, as well as overuse of irrigation, threaten to make soil salinity a worsening problem across broad areas of southern Bangladesh, a vast and heavily populated river delta region that sits barely above sea level.

In the Tala, Debhata and Kaliganj sub-districts under Satkhira district, salinity in wells 70 to 80 feet deep is now 10 times higher than the tolerable limit for rice cultivation, researchers say.

That poses a grave threat to food security in southern Bangladesh, and is driving displacement as farmers migrate in search of other work to feed their families.

“This is really unfortunate for the people of that area who go hungry many days a year in the absence of food,” said M.A. Rashid, a scientist at the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute in Dhaka.

Institute researchers are installing wells in some of the worst hit areas in an attempt to find out whether there is water suitable for irrigation still available deeper underground. In many areas, farmers now have to dig wells at least 500 feet deep to get water that is safe for irrigation. Earlier such water was available at 200 to 250 feet.

Now “water available at 200 to 250 feet deep is risky for irrigation. If rain water or fresh water is not supplied in the fields after cultivation, rice plants will die after a few days,” Rashid said.

Akmal Sheikh, Abdul Khaleq and Abul Kalam, farmers in Bagerhat district, said they are now losing a second season of crops to salt contamination.

“Last season we experienced a similar problem. We could not cultivate rice in all of our lands and got less output. This time, in the case of Boro rice (produced in the January to May season), the situation is disastrous. Almost all the plants died in the early stage,” they said.

The men said they had spent about $350 to cultivate each acre of land. Most of the farmers in the area depend on loans from private sources with a high rate of interest. Normally, they repay the loan after selling their crop. Those who lose their crops, however, usually have no choice but to sell some of their land to repay the loan.

As excessive salinity makes more crops fail, thousands of farmers are becoming landless and migrating elsewhere within or outside of Bangladesh, residents said. Many farmers tell of neighbours who have left for Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital, or for neighbouring India over the last six months to a year.

Some have fled rather than face legal prosecution for failing to repay loans, or have spent time in local jails, Singh said.

Iftekhar Alam, an engineer and salinity expert with the Bangladesh Agriculture Development Corporation, said excessive use of groundwater for irrigation is also driving the worsening salinity problem in the area.

Overuse of well water for irrigation, he said, is reducing the underground pressure that holds back sea water, allowing it to seep into aquifers.

“This movement of saline water into the mainland through the aquifer is increasing alarmingly. That is why the farmers are getting excess salt in the groundwater,” Alam said.

“Within the next few decades, major parts of the southern reaches of the Padma River may experience underground saltwater intrusion,” he warned.

His organization has so far installed 80 test wells across the country to better understand the reasons behind increasing salinity in groundwater.

Over the last 25 years, sea water from the Bay of Bengal has pushed 40 kilometres inland throughout underground aquifers, replacing fresh water, he said.

Source: Salt killing crops, driving migration in storm-hit southern Bangladesh – AlertNet

Date: 13 May 2010

During Cyclones Sidr and Aila, in 2007 and 2009, sea water was driven into ponds and rivers in Khulna, Bagerhat and Satkhira districts in southern Bangladesh, and some fields remained flooded by sea water long enough to raise levels of salinity in the soil and in underground aquifers used for irrigation. Now farmers on hundreds of thousands of acres in the region are watching their rice crops wither and die before reaching maturity. In some cases, farmers have sown rice plants several times in a season but seen none survive. Binoy Singh, a farmer in Surigati village in Bagerhat district, recently lost nearly his entire 10-acre rice crop to salt contamination. “The pond, the river and the groundwater contain excess salt. Salinity in the land has risen too much. The plants became red and dried up after some days of cultivation,” he said. “Some two years back we were cultivating rice with water from the river and deep tube wells. But now the salinity of the water from these sources has gone above the permissible level for rice production,” he said. CROP REDUCED 90 PERCENT Last year Singh got a ton of rice from his land. This year he may get less than a tenth of that amount. “I am very much worried how I will feed my family members this year,” he said. Worsening storm surges and sea level rise linked to climate change, as well as overuse of irrigation, threaten to make soil salinity a worsening problem across broad areas of southern Bangladesh, a vast and heavily populated river delta region that sits barely above sea level. In the Tala, Debhata and Kaliganj sub-districts under Satkhira district, salinity in wells 70 to 80 feet deep is now 10 times higher than the tolerable limit for rice cultivation, researchers say. That poses a grave threat to food security in southern Bangladesh, and is driving displacement as farmers migrate in search of other work to feed their families. “This is really unfortunate for the people of that area who go hungry many days a year in the absence of food,” said M.A. Rashid, a scientist at the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute in Dhaka. Institute researchers are installing wells in some of the worst hit areas in an attempt to find out whether there is water suitable for irrigation still available deeper underground. In many areas, farmers now have to dig wells at least 500 feet deep to get water that is safe for irrigation. Earlier such water was available at 200 to 250 feet. Now “water available at 200 to 250 feet deep is risky for irrigation. If rain water or fresh water is not supplied in the fields after cultivation, rice plants will die after a few days,” Rashid said. Akmal Sheikh, Abdul Khaleq and Abul Kalam, farmers in Bagerhat district, said they are now losing a second season of crops to salt contamination. “Last season we experienced a similar problem. We could not cultivate rice in all of our lands and got less output. This time, in the case of Boro rice (produced in the January to May season), the situation is disastrous. Almost all the plants died in the early stage,” they said. The men said they had spent about $350 to cultivate each acre of land. Most of the farmers in the area depend on loans from private sources with a high rate of interest. Normally, they repay the loan after selling their crop. Those who lose their crops, however, usually have no choice but to sell some of their land to repay the loan. MIGRATION GROWING As excessive salinity makes more crops fail, thousands of farmers are becoming landless and migrating elsewhere within or outside of Bangladesh, residents said. Many farmers tell of neighbours who have left for Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital, or for neighbouring India over the last six months to a year. Some have fled rather than face legal prosecution for failing to repay loans, or have spent time in local jails, Singh said. Iftekhar Alam, an engineer and salinity expert with the Bangladesh Agriculture Development Corporation, said excessive use of groundwater for irrigation is also driving the worsening salinity problem in the area. Overuse of well water for irrigation, he said, is reducing the underground pressure that holds back sea water, allowing it to seep into aquifers. “This movement of saline water into the mainland through the aquifer is increasing alarmingly. That is why the farmers are getting excess salt in the groundwater,” Alam said. “Within the next few decades, major parts of the southern reaches of the Padma River may experience underground saltwater intrusion,” he warned. His organization has so far installed 80 test wells across the country to better understand the reasons behind increasing salinity in groundwater. Over the last 25 years, sea water from the Bay of Bengal has pushed 40 kilometres inland throughout underground aquifers, replacing fresh water, he said.
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