Dust

Towers of dust spiraled upward. The cloudless sky disappeared. Nafareah felt her chest tightening, stinging. She didn’t bring a particle mask—too hard to come by these days.

Another dust storm approached. This wasn’t an ideal time to search the dunes, but the scout team’s report was clear: water, plenty of it, is below the ground’s surface.

The team’s probes could be off, Nafareah thought. It’s possible that they didn’t calibrate them. But they have no other leads, anyway. This could be the only source of water for months.

The team would extract Nafareah from the probing location in one hour. At her current pace, she would be too late. The dust was remorseless. It scraped across her face like sandpaper.

Nafareah’s bloodshot eyes met his eyes for only a moment—a man in a white tunic. She could read his facial expression: he knows about the water.

The groundwater extraction drill was too heavy. She couldn’t outrun him. But she couldn’t leave the drill, either.

“What are you doing here? Who are you?” Nafareah’s voice bounced off the dunes.

“Same as you—surviving,” the man in white dragged his feet forward, keeping his eyes glued to hers.

Nafareah sidestepped to her right. She wrapped an olive green scarf around her nose and mouth. The dust storm intensified. Visibility declined. She could only see 10 feet in front of her.

“You didn’t answer my first question.” Nafareah pulled a knife from the leather sheath strapped to her waist, careful not to reveal her movement.

 

“There’s nothing here—nothing left. Why do you still take from us?” The man in white stood sentinel.

“Everyone takes from everyone now. There isn’t a choice anymore. Maybe before it all but not now.”

“No. Before, too. Our land was pillaged. Robbed. All of our resources were stolen before we even had a chance. Now, we have even less. And those that stole from us before are again to blame. We can’t breathe, we can’t drink the water, we can’t have peace.”

Nafareah listened, not revealing a word. Her heart felt heavy.

“It’s the same situation where I come from. It’s the same where many of us come from. We all know hardship—all that’s been taken from us. We know there is clean water here. We know how to collect it. Please, let me show you. We can collect it together. You have family? Let us share it with you and your family.”

Nafareah’s hands shook. Her whole body shook. Blood rushed to the muscles in her arms and legs.

The man in white inched closer. She watched him fumble around in his pocket. Whatever he pulled was shrouded in dust.

The wind picked up speed. All visibility disappeared. Nafareah no longer saw white—only dust.

“Are you th—” A hand gripped Nafareah’s shoulder. She pivoted to her left and thrust her knife forward. She felt a warmth rush down her hand. Red radiated outward from the man in white’s abdomen. He let out a gurgle that Nafareah would never forget.

A yellowed photograph drifted into the dust: the man in white and two

children with slight smiles standing before a dinner table.

Nafareah strained to read the words on the picture’s border, but she could not see them.

When the dust cleared, the words became visible. It read he and his children’s names: Yasin, Chaima and Yani.

Fault

The boy felt a tremor beneath him like a train running deep below the earth. The shaking nearly threw him out of his bed. He had never experienced this feeling before. The boy rolled over and turned on the green lava lamp on his bedside table: What is happening?

The earth began to creak and moan, swaying back and forth. His heart began racing—it seemed almost as loud as the earth under him. Then the kitchenware began to fall. The noise of shattered dishes and glasses pierced his ears. This made him cringe.

He desperately wanted his mother with him. He felt like he couldn’t breathe. It felt like his throat had closed and he could no longer swallow. The boy’s body became numb. Tears flowed from his small hazel eyes.

She had talked to him about these “shakes” before. “Crawl under your bed and stay until you stop hearing the loud noises. You’ll be safe—I promise,” she had reassured him. “These things are ordinary—for us at least—because of where we live.”

He enjoyed living in the Oakland Hills. The fiery pink sunsets and watching the fog roll in on hot summer days were some of his favorite things. The shipping cranes were pleasing, too. He loved to pretend that they were dinosaurs emerging from the bay to search for prey.

The boy grabbed his stuffed black cat beside him and shoved off his tattered duvet. He dangled his feet off the bed, searching for the ground.  Although somewhat bumbling, his feet finally reached the cold wooden floor.

 

Falling into a push-up position, the boy quickly crawled under his bed amid the nebulae of dust bunnies.

He heard a slight movement. The sound of a door creaking open. His door. Light penetrated through the cracked opening. The boy’s mind raced with thoughts and anxieties. The gears moving inside his head generated infinite scenarios.

What if this is different?

What if this isn’t a “shake”?

What if his home has been infiltrated?

What if something has come to kill him?

What if those cranes were dinosaurs and they’ve thrashed about and eaten his mother?

He decided he would have to run. He would have to leave his room behind. His mother should be home by now. Where was she?

The earth was still shaking vigorously. He would have to move carefully, balance himself

The boy slid his body toward the edge of the rusted bed-frame, avoiding the metal slats above his head. He surreptitiously peaked his head out from under the bed and quickly glanced around his room. Nothing there.

He sprang to his feet and sprinted past the bedroom door. As soon as he reached the hallway outside his room, the lights shut off. He stopped abruptly. He stood still, but the earth still moved him. Terror penetrated his mind. Coldness saturated his body.

The boy began to wildly move his arms around in front of himself. Feeling for something, anything, reaching for light. He feels the wooden picture frame hanging on the wall. He grasps the wall’s corner. Slow, move slowly.

The boy feels through the darkness and into the living room.

Still shaking.

He hears a whisper—a voice beckoning. His mother. What is she saying?

She knows he is there.

“Momma,” the boy mumbles. He hears the same soft whisper. It comforts him. He finds solace in it.

Follow the voice—the beacon. The boy scoots his feet across the carpet, grasping anything tangible.

The coffee table. The corduroy couch. The storage cabinet.

No, where is the storage cabinet?

He inches forward as if walking along the edge of a cliff. He feels the soft wood of the cabinet press against the skin of his big toe. It has fallen. The boy bends down and glides his hand across it. Closer now.

His hand skims over the cold metal knobs of the cabinet drawer, searching. He stops. Liquid. Thicker than water.

Still shaking.

The boy drops to his knees. He tries to move his hand under the cabinet, but what he feels freezes him. The cold skin of his mother.

He moves his hands up across the sleeve of her cotton shirt and holds her head between his tiny hands.

“Momma…”

“Brave of you to come find me, honey,” his mother coughs weakly. “I was runnin’ to your room after the earthquake started. Looks like I didn’t quite make it there. Wanted to make sure we were together.”

“It’s okay, Momma, I’m with you now.” The boy presses his wet face against his mother’s head and holds her tightly in the darkness.

He respires his anxieties and fears, and they disappear into the ether. The earth is finally still.

Climate change threatens future stability of rice ecosystems

New research claims climate and land-use change will greatly lower rice yields by the end of the century.

Rice yields in the Philippines and Vietnam could decline 30% by the year 2100.

“Because of a temperature increase in the Philippines and Vietnam of up to 4°C, rice yields can be kept steady only at the expense of natural vegetation, which would likely reduce native habitat and biodiversity,” say the authors of the new study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

The researchers created simulation models (from 2000-2099) comprising seven study areas to arrive at these conclusions. For climate change, two future scenarios were considered: a 1.5°C-2°C trajectory and a 3°C-4°C trajectory. For land use change, three future scenarios were chosen: low rice conversion, high rice conversion, and one based on global economic trends. The scientists then determined how these models affected ecosystem services—benefits humans gain from the environment—provided by rice ecosystems.

Along with rice yields, the study predicted a climate-induced decline in two other ecosystem services: carbon storage and carbon sequestration.

Carbon storage, a plant’s ability to store carbon long-term, is estimated to decrease 15% by the end of the century. This loss of storage capacity is caused by less photosynthesis (absorbing carbon) and more respiration (releasing carbon). Just like the proteins in our bodies, proteins driving photosynthesis slow down at high temperatures.

Land-use change also worsened carbon storage. As land is converted to rice fields, forests are decimated and the stored carbon is released

The outcome of climate and land-use change on carbon sequestration is more nuanced, though. Sequestration can be thought of as a carbon scale: photosynthesis as a weight on one side and respiration as a weight on the other side. Overall, by the end of the century, respiration outweighed photosynthesis—carbon sequestration declined by 12%.

However, when land-use change was added in high amounts, carbon sequestration shot up. To rapidly grow, crop plants—like rice—imbibe large amounts of carbon, while releasing little. This is in contrast to older forests, which absorb less carbon as their growth slows.

Another ecosystem service, irrigation water, was projected to increase by 10%-20%. Despite this, rice yields still markedly decreased. Although more land-use somewhat offsets the effects of climate change on yields in the early 21st century, those offsets are later negated in the latter half of the century by rising temperatures.

As rice is a staple food for 3.5 billion people—nearly half of the world’s population—declining yields could have prodigious consequences. Rice cultivation is the main source of income for over 100 million households across the world.

Cultural identity is at stake, too. These ecosystems shape farmers’ values, spiritual experiences, and connection to the natural environment.

“Locally specific land use policies and development plans have to consider more than the availability of rice,” the researchers say. “Cultural services to maintain future human wellbeing must be included.”