Monday, March 18, 2013

Spiders in the trees

Following on the earlier story about rats in New York, there is also an example of a flood's effects on spiders in Pakistan. National Geographic has a photograph and here's the original caption:

"An unexpected side effect of the 2010 flooding in parts of Sindh, Pakistan, was that millions of spiders climbed up into the trees to escape the rising flood waters; because of the scale of the flooding and the fact that the water took so long to recede, many trees became cocooned in spiderwebs. People in the area had never seen this phenomenon before, but they also reported that there were fewer mosquitoes than they would have expected, given the amount of standing water that was left. Not being bitten by mosquitoes was one small blessing for people that had lost everything in the floods."

Thursday, March 7, 2013

FEWS in the news (Indonesia)

The most widely read post on this blog is a photo essay of one of the dirtiest spots on the dirtiest rivers in the world, the Citarum River upstream of Jakarta. I also interviewed a few of the people who live along the river and those who are involved with monitoring floods before they reach the city and managing the dams upstream

 A man collects garbage washed together by Jakarta’s massive January 2013 flood (AFP Photo/Bay Ismoyo)

At the time, two years ago, there was effectively no official quantitative flood forecasting system for Jakarta, which is incredible for a city of ten million people. That has recently changed.

In January a major flood inundated large parts of the city, including unprecedented flooding of the central business district. It put a new forecasting system to the test.

Original caption: A woman stands in her food stall in the flooded business area in Jakarta January 17, 2013. Heavy monsoonal rains triggered severe flooding in large swathes of the Indonesian capital Jakarta on Thursday, with many government offices and businesses forced to closed because staff could not get to work. Weather officials warned the rains could get worse over the next few days and media reports said that thousands of people in Jakarta and its satellite cities had been forced to leave their homes because of the torrential downpours this week. REUTERS/Enny Nuraheni

From a dutch water sector news site article: "The Flood Management Information System (FMIS) that had been installed by HKV Consultants and research institute Deltares late 2012 was put to the test. The system is operated by the DKI Jakarta Public Works and connected the city’s telemetry to a flood forecasting model. The flood information is disseminated to disaster organizations. The implementation of the FMIS-system is part of a World bank flood mitigation project. The first phase was completed in December 2012."

The article also includes photos of the disaster control room.
Most remarkably, it has a screen shot of the river forecasting software.

This is quite possibly the first time that I have ever seen a time series chart of river flows and forecasts in a news article. This is also the unmistakable interface of Deltares' Delft-FEWS (Flood Early Warning System) software used operationally in the US, UK and almost 20 other countries. 

Today is actually the last day of a two week workshop to finalize the specifications for delivering a Delft-FEWS system to the Bureau of Meteorology in Australia. For the interested, I asked a Deltares representative what hydrologic model was being used in Jakarta and he replied the Sacramento model, the same as is used at the US National Weather Service. 

Better monitoring and forecasting are part of a broader flood prevention program in Jakarta. It also includes large infrastructure projects such as canals but also "soft" solutions such as improved management of garbage

Of course, Google also got in the action launching its own crisis response website for the January floods. There are also various reports from relief agencies about impacts from the flood here here and here.

Already the system is being tested again with another series of floods this week. Already 16,000 people have been affected by the March flooding (compared with 250,000 in January) although the management options are more limited because the reservoirs are now fuller than they were in January.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Rats! (Hurricane Sandy)

When a city floods, what happens to its rodents?

Tough as nails: New York City street rats

The AP asks "Did New York's rats relocate after Sandy?" Experts are of two minds. The city health department collects extensive surveys of rats and found that, although large storms can flush out rats, many also drown. In the end "the net effect of large storms is often a decrease in the rat population".

Some fear that the rats relocated into new territory and there has been a rise in calls to exterminators. According to a pest control expert "'They are adaptable. They can swim. They can move distances,' he said, citing radio telemetry studies showing that rats can move several miles if displaced by environmental conditions."

But this being New York, even the rats are resilient. "I have seen them dive over 70 feet (21 metres), swim 500 yards (450 metres), give me the finger and head for the hills," a rat hunting expert said, "Hurricane Sandy is not going to affect these critters."

The article mentions a serious blow to the rodent population, however- the loss of thousands of research mice in the basement of New York University's Langone Medical Center.

Original caption: In this Jan. 18, 2013 photo provided by the NYU Langone Medical Center, a researcher holds a laboratory mouse in a research building at the hospital's complex in New York. During Superstorm Sandy on Oct. 29, 2012, a storm surge flooded the basement housing some 7,000 cages of mice used for studying cancer, diabetes, brain development and other health issues. Each cage held up to five of the little rodents, and even four months later, nobody knows exactly how many perished. 

AP reports: "Now, about 50 scientists at the NYU Langone Medical Center are going through the slow process of replacing them. What they lost in a few minutes one terrible night in October will take more than a year to recover, at a cost of tens of millions of dollars."

Far from the gritty streets, these mice are kept in ultra-sterile labs and their lives are closely controlled. For some researchers it's a devastating setback. One scientist remarked about having to start over "The silver lining of the whole storm, what little there is, is the fact it allows me to refocus myself," he said. Now he can "go after what is interesting to me now, not what was interesting to me two years ago."