Thursday, November 29, 2007

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Japan's Cherry Trees Bloom in Fall; Warming to Blame?

November 27, 2007

Ornamental cherry trees all over the Japanese archipelago have been blossoming unseasonably this fall, according to local media reports.
A few sakura trees—as they are known in Japan—bloom in fall most years.
But with more blossoms appearing earlier this year, there is concern that climate change is affecting a much-loved national symbol of spring.

The popular Somei Yoshino variety of cherry tree produces buds in mid-summer, but a hormone in the leaves causes the buds to hibernate.
When the leaves fall from the tree in spring, the flowers blossom, creating for a few short days a brilliant cloud of white to pale pink blooms.
If the tree loses its leaves prematurely for any reason while the weather is warm, the buds may bloom early—and once they have bloomed, they won't flower again that year.

According to Hiroyuki Wada, chief researcher at the Flower Association of Japan, this year a number of factors have contributed to cherry trees' early leaf loss.
One was an unusually dry, hot summer followed by a severe typhoon that stripped many trees of their leaves.

Another was a warm, late fall that allowed leaf-eating cherry caterpillars and fall webworms to flourish.
With their leaves stripped and the temperatures balmy, many sakura trees were "tricked" into thinking fall was actually spring.

Climate Change Link
Wada believes that climate change could be the root cause of the phenomenon.
"There is probably a connection with global warming," he said.
Typhoons seem to be getting stronger and making landfall more often, he noted, while summer rains are less frequent but heavier.
There are reports that other plants such as azaleas and the Japanese ume plum trees are also blooming off season.
And Wada has heard that Tokyo parks are battling with weeds previously only found in hotter parts of Japan and overseas.
In 2005 the Japan Meteorological Agency issued a report about how rising temperatures are affecting Japanese plants and animals.
The agency found that spring cherry trees are now flowering on average about four days earlier than they did 54 years ago, when record keeping began.
The report also found that Japanese maple leaves are now changing colors 15 days later.But Hiroyuki Uehara, chief of the applied weather information section at the Japan Meteorological Agency, is still cautious about a link between these trends and climate change.

"I think that one possible reason may be global warming, although it is not clear how temperature variations actually affect such phenomena," he said.
"All we can do is provide long-term observation data."
Fragile Icon
Meanwhile, the Japanese people are particularly sensitive to any threat to this cultural icon, Wada said.
In addition to the widespread Somei Yoshino, about 350 varieties of ornamental cherry tree grow in Japan.
The tiny flowers symbolize the fragile transience of life and are featured in everything from J-pop music to pottery to kabuki theater. Viewing parties across the country celebrate their blossoms each spring.
And a famous festival in Washington, D.C., honors Japanese culture around the time that the city's cherry trees—a gift from the people of Tokyo in 1912—come into bloom.
Traditionally, Japan's earliest blossoms appear between January and February on the southern island of Okinawa (see a map of Japan). Tokyo's trees usually open up in late March.
"When I was a student in Tokyo in the early 1980s, sakura bloomed around the first of April," Wada recalled. "Now it is closer to March 20."
He pointed out that the cherry blossom season traditionally coincides with the start of Japan's school and business year, making the flowers a symbol of a fresh new start.
"Sakura was linked to that turning point in people's lives," Wada said. "If the time of the [cherry blossom] season changes, so will Japanese sensibility."

Rising Sea Disrupts Flights in Indonesia

November 27, 2007

Global warming is partly to blame for flooding in Jakarta that has forced thousands of evacuations and cut off a highway to the international airport, Indonesia's environment minister said Tuesday.

Authorities pumped out some of the water, which was 23 feet (7 meters) deep in the worst hit areas and washed more than a mile (1.6 kilometers) inland Monday, said Iskandar, an official at Jakarta's flood crisis center. At least 2,200 houses were inundated, some with chest-deep water.

"I haven't seen it this bad in several years," said Toki, a police officer who was directing traffic around a flooded area near Sukarno-Hatta International Airport, where thousands of passengers were stranded.

Indonesia's environment minister, Rachmat Witoelar, said part of the problem is global warming, which causes sea levels to rise and may make coastal cities like Jakarta especially vulnerable to flooding and monsoon storms.

Authorities also ignored warnings about exceptionally high tides, part of an 18-year cycle, flood expert Jan Japp Brinkman told the Jakarta Post newspaper, adding that the situation was exacerbated by the failure to fix a sea barrier breached more than a week ago.

The flooding came as Indonesia prepared to host next month's UN climate change conference, which aims to start negotiations on a replacement for the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas emissions.

A sprawling archipelago, Indonesia is among the largest contributors of carbon dioxide emissions, due to its rapid pace of deforestation. Experts say the country is also at risk of becoming one of the biggest victims of global warming.