‘Once in 100 years’ drought seen affecting Argentine grains exports into next year

By Hugh Bronstein

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) -A once-a-century drought has lowered the water level of Argentina’s main grains transport river, reducing farm exports and boosting logistics costs in a trend that meteorologists said will likely continue into next year.

The South American grains powerhouse is the world’s No. 3 corn supplier and No. 1 exporter of soymeal livestock feed, used to fatten hogs and poultry from Europe to Southeast Asia. Farm exports are Argentina’s main source of hard currency needed to bolster central bank reserves sapped by a three-year recession.

Southern Brazil, source of the Parana River, has been hit by severe dryness for three years. This has reduced water levels in the Argentine ports hub of Rosario, Santa Fe province, where about 80% of the country’s agricultural exports are loaded.

“This is about a once-in-a-hundred-years event. That’s the type of frequency we are looking at,” said Isaac Hankes, a weather analyst at Refinitiv, financial and risk business of Thomson Reuters.

On Monday the United Nations climate panel’s report found that climate change is making extreme weather events more common. One meteorologist told Reuters the situation could “even get worse after the rainy season” set to start in late September.

Ships sailing from Rosario are loading 18% to 25% less cargo than normal due to the shallow water, said Guillermo Wade, manager of Argentina’s Chamber of Port and Maritime Activities.

Logistics costs are rising as more soy and corn must be trucked to the Atlantic ports of Bahia Blanca and Necochea, in southern Buenos Aires province, where ships make a final stop to be topped off with cargo before heading out to sea.

The Parana at Rosario was at 0.06 meters on Thursday versus a median 2.92 meters over the last 24 years, according to Argentina Coast Guard data. The measurement is a reference used by ship captains rather than an actual gauge of water depth.

GIMME SOME WATER

The drying trend in Brazil started in 2019. The next year was drier and 2021 has been the driest of the three years, Hankes said. The effect on the river is cumulative.

Over the last 12 months the Parana River basin has gotten only 50% to 75% of normal rainfall.

“We would need something like 130% of normal rainfall between now and February to replenish river levels. Anything less than 100% would be bad news for the river basin, and between now and February we expect maybe 80% of normal rainfall,” Hankes said.

“We do expect to see a wetter trend once we get into October-November, which you would typically see in the wet season anyway. But after that our best indications right now are that we could see a similar pattern to last year,” Hankes added.

The usually rainy Southern Hemisphere spring starts in September and ends in December. But the coming increase in water is expected to only temporarily help refresh the Parana.

“It could even get worse after the rainy season,” said German Heinzenknecht, a meteorologist at consultancy Applied Climatology.

“This shallow level of the waterway is historic, and it is hard to predict when it could be reversed,” Heinzenknecht added.

A top Argentine oilseeds executive with an international exporter with major crushing operation in Rosario agreed that the Parana crisis will probably continue next year. The executive asked not to be named, as per company policy.

“The situation will remain critical until October, improving in the late fourth quarter and first quarter. But from April onward, when Argentina’s soy and corn harvest starts, and the biggest number of cargo vessels are expected, the river at Rosario will be back to a scenario similar to 2021,” the executive said.

(Reporting by Hugh Bronstein, additional reporting by Maximilian Heath; Editing by David Gregorio)

Drought-hit Taiwan plans more water curbs for chip hubs

TAIPEI (Reuters) -Taiwan will tighten curbs on the use of water from June 1 in the major chip making hubs of Hsinchu and Taichung as it battles an island wide drought, if there is no significant rainfall by then, the government said on Wednesday.

Describing the drought as the worst in the island’s history, the economy ministry said in the absence of rain it would raise the drought alert level to its highest, requiring companies in the two science parks to cut water consumption by 17%.

“We need to further tighten water use restrictions in response, in advance of a scenario when rainfall from the plum rain is falling short of expectation,” the ministry said in a statement, referring to the late spring rainy season.

Reservoirs in the island’s central and southern regions were at below 5% of capacity, the ministry said, adding that in its drastic efforts to add supplies it had turned to about 160 wells and seawater desalination plants.

The world’s largest contract chipmaker, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co Ltd (TSMC), has factories in both Hsinchu and Taichung.

The chip giant told Reuters it had seen no impact on production and would continue to trim its water use and buy supplies from tanker trucks for some foundries.

Another major chipmaker, United Microelectronics Corp, said it had adopted numerous water-saving measures.

“There is no impact to production,” it added.

No typhoons directly hit the island last year, meaning much less rain. This year rainfall has also been low and the outlook is not good.

Technology companies have long complained about tight water supplies, which became more acute after factories expanded production following a Sino-U.S. trade war.

The drought has also exacerbated problems with electricity management, leading to two major island-wide blackouts in less than a week.

President Tsai Ing-wen pledged this week to look into electricity management, saying the booming economy and extreme weather posed a “great challenge”.

The drought means electricity generated by hydropower plants was insufficient, state-run electricity provider Taipower said.

(Reporting by Yimou Lee and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birseland Clarence Fernandez)

Sea of Slush: Arctic sea ice lows mark a new polar climate regime

By Natalie Thomas and Cassandra Garrison

ARCTIC OCEAN (Reuters) – At the edge of the ice blanketing part of the Arctic Ocean, the ice on Monday looked sickly. Where thick sheets of ice once sat atop the water, now a layer of soft, spongy slush slid and bobbed atop the waves.

From the deck of a research ship under a bright, clear sky, “ice pilot” Paul Ruzycki mused over how quickly the region was changing since he began helping ships spot and navigate between icebergs in 1996.

“Not so long ago, I heard that we had 100 years before the Arctic would be ice free in the summer,” he said. “Then I heard 75 years, 25 years, and just recently I heard 15 years. It’s accelerating.”

As if on cue, scientists on Monday said the vast and ancient ice sheet sitting atop Greenland had sloughed off a 113 square kilometer chunk of ice last month. The section of the Spalte Glacier at the northwest corner of the Arctic island had been cracking for several years before finally breaking free on Aug. 27, clearing the way inland ice loss to the sea, the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland reported.

With climate change driving up Arctic temperatures, the once-solid sea ice cover has been shrinking to stark, new lows in recent years. This year’s minimum, still a few days from being declared, is expected to be the second-lowest expanse in four decades of record-keeping. The record low of 3.41 million square kilometers – reached in September 2012 after a late-season cyclonic storm broke up the remaining ice – is not much below what we see today.

“We haven’t gone back at all to anything from 30 to 40 years ago,” said climatologist Julienne Stroeve at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado. And as climate change continues, scientists say the sea ice is unlikely to recover to past levels.

In fact, the long-frozen region is already shifting to an entirely new climate regime, marked by the escalating trends in ice melt, temperature rise and rainfall days, according to new research published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Those findings, climate scientist Laura Landrum said, were “unnerving.”

All three variables – sea ice, temperatures and rainfall – are now being measured well beyond the range of past observations. That makes the future of the Arctic more of a mystery.

“The new climate can’t be predicted by the previous climate,” Landrum explained. “The year-to-year variability, the change in many of these parameters, is moving outside the bounds of past fluctuations.”

Sea ice coverage minimums, in particular, are now about 31% lower than in the decade after 1979, when satellite observations began. The ice has also lost about two-thirds of its bulk, as much of the thicker ice layer built up over years has long since melted away. The current ice regime actually began about two decades ago, the study found.

This vanishing of sea ice also contributes to the region’s warming, as the icy white expanse is replaced by patches of dark water that absorb solar radiation rather than reflecting it back out of the atmosphere. The process, referred to as Arctic amplification, helps to explain why the Arctic has warmed more than twice as fast as the rest of the world over the last four decades.

The polar north will also likely see more days of rain rather than snow, which would further eat into the ice. For the new research, Landrum and her colleague Marika Holland at the National Center for Atmospheric Research analyzed sea ice, air temperature and precipitation data since 1950 to project climate scenarios up to the end of the century. They used computer simulations in the analysis and assumed the world’s release of greenhouse gas emissions would continue at a high trajectory.

Back in the Arctic Ocean aboard the Greenpeace Ship Arctic Sunrise research ship, biologist Kirsten Thompson of the University of Exeter said the new study was important in underlining “how fast and how profoundly the Arctic is changing.”

For Thompson, that means big change for the region’s wildlife, from polar bears and insects to the whales she focuses on studying. “All their distributions are changing,” Thompson said. “We might find in the Arctic there will be winners and losers,” as new species enter the region and out compete indigenous animals.

“Other species certainly will not be able to survive in the future.”

(Reporting by Natalie Thomas in the Arctic Ocean and Cassandra Garrison in Buenos Aires; Editing by Katy Daigle and Lisa Shumaker)

Rain will not extinguish Amazon fires for weeks, weather experts say

A tract of the Amazon jungle burning is seen in Canarana, Mato Grosso state, Brazil August 26, 2019. REUTERS/Lucas Landau

By Jake Spring

BRASILIA (Reuters) – Weak rainfall is unlikely to extinguish a record number of fires raging in Brazil’s Amazon anytime soon, with pockets of precipitation through Sept. 10 expected to bring only isolated relief, according to weather data and two experts.

The world’s largest tropical rainforest is being ravaged as the number of blazes recorded across the Brazilian Amazon has risen 79% this year through Aug. 25, according to the country’s space research agency.

The fires are not limited to Brazil, with at least 10,000 square kilometers (about 3,800 square miles) burning in Bolivia near its border with Paraguay and Brazil.

While Brazil’s government has launched a firefighting initiative, deploying troops and military planes, those efforts will only extinguish smaller blazes and help prevent new fires, experts said. Larger infernos can only be put out by rainfall.

The rainy season in the Amazon on average begins in late September and takes weeks to build to widespread rains.

The rain forecast in the next 15 days is concentrated in areas that need it least, according to Maria Silva Dias, a professor of atmospheric sciences at University of Sao Paulo. Less precipitation is expected in parts of the Amazon experiencing the worst fires, she added.

The far northwest and west of the Brazilian Amazon rainforest will see more rain in coming weeks but the eastern parts will remain very dry, Refinitiv data show.

Even areas with more rain will only get isolated showers, the experts said.

“In some points you could put out some fires, certainly, but these are isolated points, it’s not the whole area,” Dias said.

“The whole area needs it to rain more regularly, and this will only happen further down the line, around October.”

Enough rain has to be concentrated in a short enough period to put out a fire, otherwise, the water will just evaporate, Dias said.

She estimated it would take at least 20 millimeters of rain within 1-2 hours to put out a forest fire, with more required for more intense blazes.

The state of Acre, in the west of Brazil on the border with Peru, is expected to get more fire relief from rains than most of the Amazon. The number of fires in Acre has more than doubled so far this year compared with the year-ago period, with 90 fires registered from Aug. 21-25 alone, according to INPE data.

The western half of the state will get 57.6 mm over the next 15 days, while the east of the state will get 33.5 mm, Refinitiv data show.

Rondonia and southern Amazonas state are expected to get 15-29 mm across the area in the next 15 days.

“In some areas it could reduce the fires, not in general,” said Matias Sales a meteorologist for Brazil weather information firm Climatempo.

The 15-day rain forecast is at or below the average for this period in previous years, according to Climatempo.

The eastern Amazon will stay dry over the next 15 days, with little or no rain in parts of Mato Grosso, Para and Tocantins where fires are up 54% to 161% compared with last year.

The dry season, which varies among parts of the Amazon but runs several months up to September, has been particularly dry this year, Dias said. Mato Grosso has been parched by a cold front that hit earlier in the year, she said.

Dias said she hoped the military would help to prevent new fires but putting out existing fires is a tougher task.

“The small fires will be extinguished but the big fires will go on for a while,” she said.

(Reporting by Jake Spring; Editing by Richard Chang)

‘Water is life’: unexpected rainfall revives Iraq’s historic marshlands

Iraqi Marsh Arab girls walk near buffaloes at the Chebayesh marsh in Dhi Qar province, Iraq April 13, 2019. REUTERS/Thaier al-Sudani

By Raya Jalabi

CHIBAYISH MARSHES, Iraq (Reuters) – This time last year, most of Iraq’s historic marshlands were dry, desiccated by upstream damming and a chronic lack of rainfall.

Now, local farmers are counting their blessings after unexpected heavy rainfall at the end of 2018 caused the dams to overflow by early January and water came gushing back to the wetlands in southeastern Iraq.

For Yunus Khalil, a farmer raising water buffalo in the central marsh, the lack of water meant he had to sell most of his herd at a loss last year.

“We were terrified the water wouldn’t come back,” Khalil said. “It would’ve been the end for us.”

The marshes, thought to be the biblical Garden of Eden and named a UNESCO world heritage site in 2016, are experiencing their highest water levels since they were reclaimed in 2003, said Jassim al-Asadi, southern director of local NGO Nature Iraq and a native of the marshlands, which stretch to the Iran border.

“God knows how much we suffered last year,” Khalil said. “He protected us.”

Saddam Hussein accused the area’s inhabitants, the Marsh Arabs, of treachery during the 1980-1988 war with Iran and later drained the marshes – which before then had stretched across more than 3,700 square miles (9,583 sq km) – to flush out rebels.

Many residents fled, but after Saddam’s overthrow in 2003, parts of the marshland were reflooded and around 250,000 Marsh Arabs have cautiously trickled back.

Many had moved to farmland in nearby provinces, or went to live in exile in Iran. Their years away brought a change to the vibrant local culture, residents say, and more conservative norms, particularly regarding the role of women who have long worked alongside men in the marshes.

“You used to hear women singing as they pushed their boats through the marshes at dawn,” said Taher Mehsin, a fishermen in his late 60s. “Now, some of the men won’t let their women out of the house.”

NEW PROBLEMS

The area has been home to the Marsh Arabs for millennia, and water is essential to maintaining their way of life.

Though many were eager to return home after two decades away, life in the marshes is tough and revolves around fishing and raising water buffalo. The few schools and government-run health clinics are miles away from the open water, where many people live without electricity.

Residents have to make daily trips on long wooden boats to buy bottled water for themselves and their families as the surrounding waters are too salty to drink.

An Iraqi Marsh Arab man sits on a boat at the Chebayesh marsh in Dhi Qar province, Iraq April 13, 2019. REUTERS/Thaier al-Sudani

An Iraqi Marsh Arab man sits on a boat at the Chebayesh marsh in Dhi Qar province, Iraq April 13, 2019. REUTERS/Thaier al-Sudani

Years of low water levels have caused other problems, including less tall grass for the buffalo to graze on, and a drop in the variety of fish.

The local carp, previously local fishermen’s best seller, hasn’t been seen in the waters here all year. Instead, the fishermen and women now catch just one type of small fish which most don’t recall having seen until recently.

After casting their nets the previous night, they haul their take at dawn to local buyers, who are currently paying around $2.50 (3,000 dinars) a kilo after haggling; a 50 percent drop in price compared to 2017.

“What else can we do?” said Mehsin as he pushed his boat out from the shore, having netted $10 (12,000 Iraqi dinars) for his day’s take.

“Water is life here. Fish and animals can’t live without it, and neither can we.”

(Reporting by Raya Jalabi; Editing by Susan Fenton)