‘EXPECT MORE WILDFIRES’: EXPERTS

As the world heats up, we can expect more unwanted wildfires, warn the experts KnysnaPlett Herald : Tuesday, 07 August 2018, 08:19 All over the world, from Portugal to California, Mexico, Australia, Indonesia and South Africa, wildfires are killing more people and livestock and burning more property to the ground. Photos: Supplied KNYSNA NEWS – The world is getting hotter and drier and there are more wildfires than there have ever been. All over the world, from Portugal to California, Mexico, Australia, Indonesia and South Africa, wildfires are killing more people and livestock and burning more property to the ground. Scientists who study the weather believe that as the world gets hotter and drier, wildfires will take place more often and cause more damage. This is as likely to happen in the Western Cape as it is anywhere else. Effects felt all over And it’s not only the scientists who are saying that the world’s climate is changing and that there is what we have come to know as “global warming”. “People everywhere are feeling the effects of this change,” says Tessa Oliver, project manager for risk reduction at Landworks – acknowledged experts in land management and fire awareness strategies. “Who can forget the devastating wildfire that consumed Knysna, Brenton-on-Sea and the surrounding area in June last year,” Oliver adds. That wildfire – the worst in South Africa’s history, fanned by 100km winds – left several people dead, flattened close to 1 200 homes, damaged 360 more from Sedgefield to Plettenberg Bay and destroyed 7500ha of plantations as well as burning down 17 800ha of fynbos and indigenous forest. Communities, especially those living in homes that are on the border between towns and wilderness areas, are the most at risk from unwanted wildfires. Lack of awareness a challenge “The challenges faced by these communities include a lack awareness of what they can do to protect themselves,” says Oliver. Landworks has been appointed by the SA Insurance Association to conduct a “pilot” fire awareness project in Swellendam, Knysna and other vulnerable areas to alert and sensitise people to the risk that wildfires pose to their lives, their communities and their property, and empower them to help reduce that risk. The project will also create awareness about illegal burning and “mischief” ignitions that are being experienced according to local fire experts in the region. “There is no doubt that a significant factor in the intensity of the Knysna wildfire was the proliferation of alien invasive plants,” says wildfire expert Paul Gerber, fire adviser to the department of agriculture, forestry and fisheries. Aliens a major driving force These plants introduced to South Africa from other countries are usually bigger and faster growing...

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How cities can work with nature when droughts take their toll

August 1, 2018 3.22pm SAST Authors Kevin Winter Senior Lecturer in Environmental & Geographical Science, University of Cape Town Peta Brom PhD candidate in Urban Ecology, University of Cape Town Disclosure statement Peta Brom receives funding from South African Systems Analysis Center (SASAC) Kevin Winter does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment. Partners University of Cape Town provides funding as a partner of The Conversation AFRICA. The Conversation is funded by Barclays Africa and eight universities, including the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Rhodes University, Stellenbosch University and the Universities of Cape Town, Johannesburg, Kwa-Zulu Natal, Pretoria, and South Africa. It is hosted by the Universities of the Witwatersrand and Western Cape, the African Population and Health Research Centre and the Nigerian Academy of Science. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is a Strategic Partner. more Republish this articleRepublish our articles for free, online or in print, under Creative Commons licence. A residential rain garden in Portland’s Tabor to the River project. City of Portland Government  Email  Twitter  Facebook55  LinkedIn  Print Models of the earth’s changing climate suggest that extreme weather events, including droughts, will become more frequent. As city populations grow, it will be harder for governments to provide enough water for everyone. According to the World Resources Institute, the northern and southern parts of Africa will experience high to extremely high water stress if business as usual water usage continues until 2040. Faced with a drought, it’s tempting for city managers to reduce the amount of space that needs water. Parks, public areas and private gardens are usually the first to go. But there are good reasons to keep nature in cities, and there are ways to do it. Municipalities typically respond to a drought by limiting water use, and then to look at ways to cover spaces with artificial surfaces like paving instead of lawns and plants. But there are four reasons why that is a bad idea. Impervious surfaces seal the soil. Surface water can’t filter down to recharge the groundwater, and normal biological processes in the upper layers of soil are interrupted. Instead, rainwater goes into the storm-water system. Covering up nature reduces biodiversity and habitat quality. Urban nature becomes poorer and there’s less of it. Concrete, tar and masonry raise the temperature of built-up areas. Green open spaces mitigate this so-called urban heat island effect. Enjoying nature gives people the opportunity to be healthy and well. Beneficial urban nature Nature in cities is good for people – and good for nature itself. Cities with continuous corridors and larger natural areas in excess of 50 hectares support greater...

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How the first trees grew so tall with hollow cores – new research

How the first trees grew so tall with hollow cores – new research

Author Christopher M. Berry Senior Lecturer in Palaeobotany, Cardiff University Disclosure statement Chris Berry receives funding from NERC (Natural Environment Research Council) UK and National Geographic. Partners Cardiff University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation UK. The Conversation is funded by Barclays Africa and seven universities, including the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Rhodes University and the Universities of Cape Town, Johannesburg, Kwa-Zulu Natal, Pretoria, and South Africa. It is hosted by the Universities of the Witwatersrand and Western Cape, the African Population and Health Research Centre and the Nigerian Academy of Science. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is a Strategic Partner. more Republish this articleRepublish our articles for free, online or in print, under Creative Commons licence.   Imagine a world without trees, and then try to think about the changes that would need to happen for these trees to evolve from the small primitive plants that came before them. I spend as much time as I can trying to find evidence for this transition, which is currently estimated to have happened between 390-380m years ago, in the Mid-Devonian Epoch. One plant type, the extinct cladoxylopsids – an ancient plant group now only found as fossils – has continually demanded my attention. Despite these fossils first being found in the 1850s, understanding of the plants was highly confused for decades. This is a common problem in the study of fossil plants, because the living plants fall apart when they die, and it is often hard to determine which parts of which fossils should be joined back together. But during the 2000s we had major successes in reconstructing Devonian cladoxylopsids, culminating in a series of extraordinary discoveries of complete or almost complete fossil trees in Scotland, Gilboa, New York and Germany. The picture that emerged of the earliest types of cladoxylopsid – by then recognised to be the first forms of tree to appear – was of a long tapering trunk, up to at least eight metres high, with distinctive short branches attached around the top to form a crown. From a distance, the trees would have looked like palms, with bases up to a metre in diameter. There were no leaves as such, just branched twig-like appendages which presumably had a photosynthetic function in the carbon dioxide rich atmosphere of those times. An artist’s impression of what cladoxylopsid trees looked like alive.In cladoxylopsids, however, the xylem grew in a ring of individual parallel strands around the outside of the trunk. Inside this zone, more xylem strands formed a complex network with many interconnections both to each other and to the outer parallel strands. The majority of the inside of the trunk was completely hollow. This unusual structure is confusing, and raises questions...

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Petrichor: why does rain smell so good?

Petrichor: why does rain smell so good?

By Mary HaltonScience reporter, BBC News 27 July 2018 Image copyright SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY It turns out it’s not just gratitude that makes rain smell so appealing after a long period of dry weather. There’s actually some chemistry involved too. Bacteria, plants and even lightning can all play a role in the pleasant smell we experience after a thunderstorm; that of clean air and wet earth. Known as petrichor, the scent has long been chased by scientists and even perfumers for its enduring appeal. Wet earth First named by two Australian researchers in the 1960s, the warm, earthy fragrance we experience when rain hits dry ground is produced by bacteria. Image copyright SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY “These critters are abundant in soil,” explained Prof Mark Buttner, head of molecular microbiology at the John Innes Centre. “So when you’re saying you smell damp soil, actually what you’re smelling is a molecule being made by a certain type of bacteria,” he told the BBC. That molecule, geosmin, is produced by Streptomyces. Present in most healthy soils, these bacteria are also used to create commercial antibiotics. Drops of water hitting the ground cause geosmin to be released into the air, making it much more abundant after a rain shower. “Lots of animals are sensitive but human beings are extremely sensitive to it,” added Prof Buttner. Image copyright SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY Isabel Bear and RG Thomas, the researchers who first named the scent petrichor, found that as early as the 1960s it was being captured to sell as a scent called “matti ka attar” in Uttar Pradesh, India. Now, geosmin is becoming more common as a perfume ingredient. “It’s a really potent material and it smells just like the concrete when the rain hits it,” said perfumer Marina Barcenilla. “There’s something very primitive and very primal about the smell.” “Even when you dilute it down to the parts per billion range, [humans] can still detect it,” she added. Yet we also have an odd relationship with geosmin – while we are drawn to its scent, many of us dislike its taste. Image copyright SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARYImage caption Geosmin also gives beets their distinctive earthy flavour Even though it is not toxic to humans, the tiniest amount can put people off mineral water or wine when it is present. “We do not know why we dislike geosmin,” commented Prof Jeppe Lund Nielsen from Aalborg University in Denmark. “It is not toxic to humans in typical found ranges, but somehow we associate it with something negative,” he added. Petrichor: The term: Coined by scientists Isabel Joy Bear and Richard Thomas in their 1964 article “Nature of Argillaceous Odour”, published in the journal Nature. The word was coined from Greek petros, meaning “stone”, and ichor,...

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NEW HOPE FOR HONEY CENTRE A HIVE OF ACTIVITY

NEW HOPE FOR HONEY CENTRE A HIVE OF ACTIVITY

Friday, 20 July 2018, 12:02 Dr Imtiaz Sooliman of Gift of the Givers inspects a beehive at Hope for Honeybees. KNYSNA NEWS – “The circle of life” and the “the results of divine intervention” is how Owen Williams of Honeychild Honey describes what he calls the privilege to work with Gift of the Givers in response to the Knysna fires of 2017 – which devastated the Cape honeybee populations between Plettenberg Bay and Knysna. Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, founder, director and chair of Gift of the Givers, was back in Knysna on Friday 6 July to attend the official opening of Hope for Honey’s Info and Education Centre in Rheenendal – just over a year since the fires. It was the culmination of a project spearheaded by Gift of the Givers through the experience and plan of action directed by Honeychild’s Owen Williams, Meagan Vermaas and Grant Livesey, who were tasked to formulate a disaster response to the destruction of the Cape honeybee and assist them in repopulating. In July last year, the fires destroyed hundreds of hives, and according to one scientist, more than 2.2-million bees died, says Williams. Bees ‘traumatised and hungry’ “The bees that survived were traumatised and hungry. They were in search of a hive and forage to survive. We only realised what we had to do following a chance meeting with Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, who overheard Grant speak about sugar. He came back to us and offered us resources, support, logistics, and all we had to do was come up with an action plan”. Backed by scientific data, three additional scientists and a pledge from Gift of the Givers, a plan was put in place and over the past year, major strides have been made in the world of the Cape honeybee. Zak Prins (Hope for Honeybees intern) was handed a certificate in beekeeping for beginners by Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, alongside Owen Williams of Honeychild. Photos: Supplied “The involvement of Gift of the Givers attracted other role players who all contributed in the distribution of feeders, packs, pollen and nectar substitutes and other vital supplies. People all between Plett, Elandskraal, Brenton and Knysna worked together like bees in a hive – it was amazing. Under the banner of Hope for the Honeybees, we assisted beekeepers all across the province following the drought. So it was not just a temporary project, but something sustainable that would help for decades to come and can be implemented almost anywhere in the world. In this regard, Dr Sooliman asked us to do something with this, and that’s how we bore the idea of opening an information and education centre,” says Williams. Project attracts national award He attributes everything to...

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THERE IS LIFE BENEATH KNYSNA’S FAVOURITE PLAYGROUND

THERE IS LIFE BENEATH KNYSNA’S FAVOURITE PLAYGROUND

Thursday, 19 July 2018, 12:01 The Knysna seahorse needs no introduction. Photos: Supplied KNYSNA NEWS – SANParks is escalating the level of awareness initiatives concerning the Knysna estuary, a popular water playground for locals and visitors alike. Of the 249 national estuaries forming part of a study conducted by Jane Turpie and Barry Clarke (2007), the Knysna estuary was ranked above the St Lucia World Heritage Site in terms of biodiversity significance. This was determined by the number of its fish species, birds and botanical data. The estuary, in the Garden Route National Park (GRNP), is home to 43% of South Africa’s plant and animal life, and contributes some 21.6% of the total economic value of the 249 national estuaries. “Estuaries are important nursery areas for juveniles, while adults also spend time in the estuaries feeding. Examples include spotted grunter, dusky kob, white steenbras, Cape stumpnose and leervis),” says SANParks marine ecologist Kyle Smith. They are under a range of pressures including changes to water inflow, pollution (plastics, fertiliser, organic) which can impact the health of the estuary, habitat quality and its suitability for fish and bait species. The Knysna estuary is also South Africa’s most important seagrass site with an estimated 355ha to 420ha of Cape dwarf eelgrass (Maree, 2000; Bandeira and Gell, 2003; CES, 2009). Both the Cape dwarf eelgrass (Short et al., 2007, 2011) and the fauna that it supports in Knysna are of very high conservation importance (Hodgson and Allanson, 2000; Russell et al., 2009), contributing to the estuary receiving the highest ranking in terms of its ecological importance. Dolphins can be seen frolicking in the Knysna estuary from time to time. Some challenges in managing the system, according to GRNP manager Paddy Gordon, include: • More work to ensure pollution stays away from the estuaries and the ocean. While the work of the Knysna Pollution Action carries on every week assessing all sources of pollution and any incidents that may negatively impact the bacteriological quality of the water, more must still be done. • More educational initiatives and a shared environmental education plan and resources. • More research projects are required to understand all aspects of the Knysna estuary which is the world’s one and only estuarine Hope Spot (conservation, tourism, skills, socioeconomic), declared by Dr Sylvia Earle in 2015. SANParks is requesting users of the estuary to exercise caution when using the estuary and note plant life and animals in the estuary. ‘We bring you the latest Knysna, Garden Route news’ Share this:Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in...

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