Tag Archives: Extreme weather

Arctic warming gives US and Europe the chills

The effects of Arctic climate change on the jet stream could mean harsher winters for some of the most highly populated regions of the world.

LONDON, 2 November, 2016 Warming in the Arctic – one of the fastest-warming regions on the planet – could be heightening the chances of extreme winters in Europe and the US.

As the Arctic warms, the stratospheric jet stream that brings occasionally catastrophic ice storms and record snow falls to the eastern United States could also be on the move, according to new research in the journal Nature Climate Change.

The phenomenon is a natural one. Some years the track of the jet stream is wavy, and delivers severe cold weather to the mid-latitudes of the northern hemisphere. Some years the pattern alters, and Europe in particular experiences mild winters. The temperate zones have always experienced occasional extremes. But climate change could be tilting the balance.

Extreme spells

“We’ve always had years with wavy and not so wavy jet-stream winds, but in the last one or two decades the warming Arctic could well have been amplifying the effects of the wavy patterns.

“This may have contributed to some recent extreme cold winter spells along the eastern seaboard of the United States, in western Asia and at times over the UK,” says Edward Hanna, a geographer at the University of Sheffield, UK, and one of a team of British, European and US scientists behind the study.

“Improving our ability to predict how climate change
is affecting the jet stream will help improve
our long-term prediction of winter weather”

The study doesn’t claim to settle the question: notoriously, climate is what you expect but weather is what you get, and it may be impossible to prove that this or that unexpected event happened because the global average temperatures are now at least 1°C higher than they used to be, before the human combustion of fossil fuels began to increase the concentration of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from 280 parts per million to 400 ppm.

But there are changes in the Arctic that are happening because of global warming, and meteorologists have been watching the knock-on effect on the stratospheric winds, especially the jet stream.

In the same issue of the journal one group identified a persistent shift and a weakening in the Arctic winter polar vortex, a meteorological monster that plays a role in temperate zone weather patterns.

Others identified a link between Arctic changes and the speed of the jet stream, and its effect on transatlantic airline timetables.

Yet others have linked Arctic warming to dangerous extremes of heat further south, and yet another group has linked polar climate change to both ice storms and heatwaves.

Arctic signals

The debate continues. The important thing is to monitor the melting sea ice, the rising sea-surface temperatures and the emerging pattern of severe winter weather. If meteorologists can learn to read the signals from the Arctic, then communities could plan more effectively for the consequences.

“Improving our ability to predict how climate change is affecting the jet stream will help improve our long-term prediction of winter weather in some of the most highly populated regions of the world,” Professor Hanna says. “This would be highly beneficial for communities, businesses and entire economies in the northern hemisphere.

“The public could better prepare for severe winter weather and have access to extra crucial information that could help make life-saving and cost-saving decisions.” Climate News Network

The effects of Arctic climate change on the jet stream could mean harsher winters for some of the most highly populated regions of the world.

LONDON, 2 November, 2016 Warming in the Arctic – one of the fastest-warming regions on the planet – could be heightening the chances of extreme winters in Europe and the US.

As the Arctic warms, the stratospheric jet stream that brings occasionally catastrophic ice storms and record snow falls to the eastern United States could also be on the move, according to new research in the journal Nature Climate Change.

The phenomenon is a natural one. Some years the track of the jet stream is wavy, and delivers severe cold weather to the mid-latitudes of the northern hemisphere. Some years the pattern alters, and Europe in particular experiences mild winters. The temperate zones have always experienced occasional extremes. But climate change could be tilting the balance.

Extreme spells

“We’ve always had years with wavy and not so wavy jet-stream winds, but in the last one or two decades the warming Arctic could well have been amplifying the effects of the wavy patterns.

“This may have contributed to some recent extreme cold winter spells along the eastern seaboard of the United States, in western Asia and at times over the UK,” says Edward Hanna, a geographer at the University of Sheffield, UK, and one of a team of British, European and US scientists behind the study.

“Improving our ability to predict how climate change
is affecting the jet stream will help improve
our long-term prediction of winter weather”

The study doesn’t claim to settle the question: notoriously, climate is what you expect but weather is what you get, and it may be impossible to prove that this or that unexpected event happened because the global average temperatures are now at least 1°C higher than they used to be, before the human combustion of fossil fuels began to increase the concentration of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from 280 parts per million to 400 ppm.

But there are changes in the Arctic that are happening because of global warming, and meteorologists have been watching the knock-on effect on the stratospheric winds, especially the jet stream.

In the same issue of the journal one group identified a persistent shift and a weakening in the Arctic winter polar vortex, a meteorological monster that plays a role in temperate zone weather patterns.

Others identified a link between Arctic changes and the speed of the jet stream, and its effect on transatlantic airline timetables.

Yet others have linked Arctic warming to dangerous extremes of heat further south, and yet another group has linked polar climate change to both ice storms and heatwaves.

Arctic signals

The debate continues. The important thing is to monitor the melting sea ice, the rising sea-surface temperatures and the emerging pattern of severe winter weather. If meteorologists can learn to read the signals from the Arctic, then communities could plan more effectively for the consequences.

“Improving our ability to predict how climate change is affecting the jet stream will help improve our long-term prediction of winter weather in some of the most highly populated regions of the world,” Professor Hanna says. “This would be highly beneficial for communities, businesses and entire economies in the northern hemisphere.

“The public could better prepare for severe winter weather and have access to extra crucial information that could help make life-saving and cost-saving decisions.” Climate News Network

Climate query as US tornado risk rises

Scientists say the climate behaves too capriciously for them to know for sure whether global warming caused by burning fossil fuels is to blame for a growing tornado threat.

LONDON, 7 March, 2016 – Tornadoes in the US are getting worse, with the numbers in any one outbreak and the hazard of ever more frequent outbreaks both on the increase.

And although climate change driven by global warming from human causes is under suspicion, nobody really knows for sure whether that is driving the pattern of change.

But change is certainly happening. New research published in Nature Communications has examined the pattern of outbreaks and found that the average number of tornadoes in any one outbreak has increased since 1954, and the chance of extreme – and therefore extremely destructive – outbreaks has also increased.

An outbreak is a large-scale weather event that can last for days, span huge regions and spawn multiple tornadoes. Continental America is used to these outbreaks, which is why a band of territory that spans central Texas, Illinois and Indiana, and embraces parts of Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado and South Dakota, is known as Tornado Alley.

Devastating whirlwinds

The plains flanked by the Rockies and the Appalachian mountain chains are a corridor up which sweeps hot, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico, to meet cold, dry air from the mountains and the north. The encounter sets up the conditions for colossal thunderstorms, accompanied by devastating whirlwinds.

The largest recent outbreak was in 2011. It spawned 363 tornadoes across the US and Canada, claimed more than 350 lives, and did $11 billion worth of damage.

Around 1,000 tornadoes are reported in the US each year, with the top two per cent causing most of the death and devastation.

Winds can reach 300 kilometres an hour in a space a mile wide, destroying anything in the way. They uproot houses, blow cars into the air, turn towns into rubble, strip bark from trees and, in one reported instance, even tear asphalt off a highway.

Research such as this matters because it could help societies prepare better. One consistent prediction within climate research is that, as average global temperatures rise in response to greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel combustion, so does the likelihood that meteorological disasters could become more frequent, or more violent, or both.

“It could be global warming, but our usual tools are not up to the task of answering this question yet”

But although that seems to be the case over the last two decades – the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) reported last year that the number of weather-related disasters had almost doubled – it does not mean that warmer years must be more calamitous.

Last year was declared the warmest since records began, and UNISDR reported 32 major droughts that affected more than 50 million people, but only 996 deaths in recorded storms, compared with the annual average of more than 17,000 in the preceding decade.

Caprice plays a powerful role in climate events − and that includes tornadoes, particularly in the US.

There is evidence that the tornado season is commencing ever earlier. Between 2005 and 2014, tornadoes claimed on average 110 lives in the US each year, and caused between $500m and $9.6bn worth of damage.

In 1925, one tornado that raced across Missouri, Illinois and Indiana killed 695 people and injured 2,027. In one 24-hour spell in 1974, a total of 148 tornadoes swept across 12 states from Michigan to Alabama, killing 309 people, injuring 5,300 and doing damage costing $600 million.

Future hazards

So tornadoes were destructive long before any concerns about global warming. And the new study – sponsored by, among other research agencies, a re-insurance giant – is concerned with any statistical or mathematical logic in tornado patterns that might provide a guide to future hazards.

“The science is still open,” says the study’s leader, Michael Tippett, senior prediction research scientist at Columbia University’s International Research Institute for Climate and Society.

“It could be global warming, but our usual tools, the observational record and computer models, are not up to the task of answering this question yet.”

That is because, although warming might favour the conditions for tornado formation, there is no certainty that any tornadoes will form, or cluster in an outbreak.

“When it comes to tornadoes, almost everything terrible that happens happens in outbreaks,” Tippett says. “If outbreaks contain more tornadoes than average, then the likelihood they’ll cause damage somewhere increases.”

But, ominously, while the total number of potentially dangerous tornadoes each year has not increased, the average number of tornadoes spawned in any one outbreak has risen by 50%. The average used to be 10, but now it is 15.

The conclusion is that the increase could be described by a mathematical tool called Taylor’s power law of scaling. And Joel Cohen, co-author of the study and director of the Laboratory of Populations based at both Rockefeller University and Columbia’s Earth Institute, says the number used to describe the rate of growth is “truly exceptional. It means that when it rains, it really, really, really pours.” – Climate News Network

Scientists say the climate behaves too capriciously for them to know for sure whether global warming caused by burning fossil fuels is to blame for a growing tornado threat.

LONDON, 7 March, 2016 – Tornadoes in the US are getting worse, with the numbers in any one outbreak and the hazard of ever more frequent outbreaks both on the increase.

And although climate change driven by global warming from human causes is under suspicion, nobody really knows for sure whether that is driving the pattern of change.

But change is certainly happening. New research published in Nature Communications has examined the pattern of outbreaks and found that the average number of tornadoes in any one outbreak has increased since 1954, and the chance of extreme – and therefore extremely destructive – outbreaks has also increased.

An outbreak is a large-scale weather event that can last for days, span huge regions and spawn multiple tornadoes. Continental America is used to these outbreaks, which is why a band of territory that spans central Texas, Illinois and Indiana, and embraces parts of Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado and South Dakota, is known as Tornado Alley.

Devastating whirlwinds

The plains flanked by the Rockies and the Appalachian mountain chains are a corridor up which sweeps hot, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico, to meet cold, dry air from the mountains and the north. The encounter sets up the conditions for colossal thunderstorms, accompanied by devastating whirlwinds.

The largest recent outbreak was in 2011. It spawned 363 tornadoes across the US and Canada, claimed more than 350 lives, and did $11 billion worth of damage.

Around 1,000 tornadoes are reported in the US each year, with the top two per cent causing most of the death and devastation.

Winds can reach 300 kilometres an hour in a space a mile wide, destroying anything in the way. They uproot houses, blow cars into the air, turn towns into rubble, strip bark from trees and, in one reported instance, even tear asphalt off a highway.

Research such as this matters because it could help societies prepare better. One consistent prediction within climate research is that, as average global temperatures rise in response to greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel combustion, so does the likelihood that meteorological disasters could become more frequent, or more violent, or both.

“It could be global warming, but our usual tools are not up to the task of answering this question yet”

But although that seems to be the case over the last two decades – the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) reported last year that the number of weather-related disasters had almost doubled – it does not mean that warmer years must be more calamitous.

Last year was declared the warmest since records began, and UNISDR reported 32 major droughts that affected more than 50 million people, but only 996 deaths in recorded storms, compared with the annual average of more than 17,000 in the preceding decade.

Caprice plays a powerful role in climate events − and that includes tornadoes, particularly in the US.

There is evidence that the tornado season is commencing ever earlier. Between 2005 and 2014, tornadoes claimed on average 110 lives in the US each year, and caused between $500m and $9.6bn worth of damage.

In 1925, one tornado that raced across Missouri, Illinois and Indiana killed 695 people and injured 2,027. In one 24-hour spell in 1974, a total of 148 tornadoes swept across 12 states from Michigan to Alabama, killing 309 people, injuring 5,300 and doing damage costing $600 million.

Future hazards

So tornadoes were destructive long before any concerns about global warming. And the new study – sponsored by, among other research agencies, a re-insurance giant – is concerned with any statistical or mathematical logic in tornado patterns that might provide a guide to future hazards.

“The science is still open,” says the study’s leader, Michael Tippett, senior prediction research scientist at Columbia University’s International Research Institute for Climate and Society.

“It could be global warming, but our usual tools, the observational record and computer models, are not up to the task of answering this question yet.”

That is because, although warming might favour the conditions for tornado formation, there is no certainty that any tornadoes will form, or cluster in an outbreak.

“When it comes to tornadoes, almost everything terrible that happens happens in outbreaks,” Tippett says. “If outbreaks contain more tornadoes than average, then the likelihood they’ll cause damage somewhere increases.”

But, ominously, while the total number of potentially dangerous tornadoes each year has not increased, the average number of tornadoes spawned in any one outbreak has risen by 50%. The average used to be 10, but now it is 15.

The conclusion is that the increase could be described by a mathematical tool called Taylor’s power law of scaling. And Joel Cohen, co-author of the study and director of the Laboratory of Populations based at both Rockefeller University and Columbia’s Earth Institute, says the number used to describe the rate of growth is “truly exceptional. It means that when it rains, it really, really, really pours.” – Climate News Network

Climate cash flow to poorer nations still too slow

Rich countries are failing to fulfil pledges to make billions of dollars available to help the developing world tackle climate change.
LONDON, 12 October, 2015
– World leaders are not delivering fully on agreements made at successive climate negotiations to channel US$100 billion annually from rich countries to poor in order to tackle and adapt to climate change. An analysis of cash flows by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) − which links the world’s wealthier countries − finds the target due to be reached by 2020 is still far from being met. The OECD says that, at present, the rich countries are channelling on average about $57bn each year to help poorer nations limit carbon emissions and deal with extreme weather events and rising sea levels.

Complex business

It has spent several months trying to gauge climate-related cash flows from rich to poor countries − a complex business involving analysis of foreign aid budgets, loans from public and private bodies, and other sources of cash. “Our estimates paint an encouraging picture of progress,” says Angel Gurria, the OECD secretary-general. “We are about halfway in terms of time and more than halfway there in terms of finance, but clearly there is still some way to go.” However, whether or not the wealthier countries are making sufficient commitments will be a key item on the agenda at the major negotiations on climate change being held in Paris in late November and early December this year.

“If we collectively chicken out of this, we’ll all turn into chickens and we’ll all be fried, grilled, toasted and roasted”

The developing world and poorer countries have made it clear that they will not sign up to a new deal in Paris to limit emissions and take other measures aimed at preventing catastrophic climate change unless the wealthier nations agree to a substantial transfer of financial resources. Various groups, including the charities ActionAid and Oxfam, have questioned the findings of the OECD report. ActionAid says much of the finance so far committed by the industrialised world is in the form of concessionary loans or finance market-related credits. “The ultimate beneficiaries of these forms of finance are actors in the rich countries – not developing countries, much less poor and vulnerable communities,” it says. Oxfam says not enough of the cash being made available by the developed world is being used to help the poor adapt to change in climate. “The clear message from the OECD report is that the poorest countries and communities are still being short-changed in climate finance,” it states. While admitting that its report was not a perfect estimate of climate-related cash flows, the OECD says it has helped clarify exactly how climate financing can be measured.

Funding estimates

What is and what is not defined as climate finance is a difficult task. For example, Australia and Japan say that funding given to the developing countries for more efficient coal plants should be considered as a form of climate finance. The OECD − whose report was released in Lima, Peru, and coincided with a World Bank/International Monetary Fund (IMF) meeting − does not include such funding in its estimates. Leading financiers are becoming increasingly vocal about the dangers of climate change. Christine Lagarde, the head of the IMF, told delegates that urgent action is needed to combat global warming. “If we collectively chicken out of this, we’ll all turn into chickens and we’ll all be fried, grilled, toasted and roasted,” she warned. – Climate News Network

Rich countries are failing to fulfil pledges to make billions of dollars available to help the developing world tackle climate change.
LONDON, 12 October, 2015
– World leaders are not delivering fully on agreements made at successive climate negotiations to channel US$100 billion annually from rich countries to poor in order to tackle and adapt to climate change. An analysis of cash flows by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) − which links the world’s wealthier countries − finds the target due to be reached by 2020 is still far from being met. The OECD says that, at present, the rich countries are channelling on average about $57bn each year to help poorer nations limit carbon emissions and deal with extreme weather events and rising sea levels.

Complex business

It has spent several months trying to gauge climate-related cash flows from rich to poor countries − a complex business involving analysis of foreign aid budgets, loans from public and private bodies, and other sources of cash. “Our estimates paint an encouraging picture of progress,” says Angel Gurria, the OECD secretary-general. “We are about halfway in terms of time and more than halfway there in terms of finance, but clearly there is still some way to go.” However, whether or not the wealthier countries are making sufficient commitments will be a key item on the agenda at the major negotiations on climate change being held in Paris in late November and early December this year.

“If we collectively chicken out of this, we’ll all turn into chickens and we’ll all be fried, grilled, toasted and roasted”

The developing world and poorer countries have made it clear that they will not sign up to a new deal in Paris to limit emissions and take other measures aimed at preventing catastrophic climate change unless the wealthier nations agree to a substantial transfer of financial resources. Various groups, including the charities ActionAid and Oxfam, have questioned the findings of the OECD report. ActionAid says much of the finance so far committed by the industrialised world is in the form of concessionary loans or finance market-related credits. “The ultimate beneficiaries of these forms of finance are actors in the rich countries – not developing countries, much less poor and vulnerable communities,” it says. Oxfam says not enough of the cash being made available by the developed world is being used to help the poor adapt to change in climate. “The clear message from the OECD report is that the poorest countries and communities are still being short-changed in climate finance,” it states. While admitting that its report was not a perfect estimate of climate-related cash flows, the OECD says it has helped clarify exactly how climate financing can be measured.

Funding estimates

What is and what is not defined as climate finance is a difficult task. For example, Australia and Japan say that funding given to the developing countries for more efficient coal plants should be considered as a form of climate finance. The OECD − whose report was released in Lima, Peru, and coincided with a World Bank/International Monetary Fund (IMF) meeting − does not include such funding in its estimates. Leading financiers are becoming increasingly vocal about the dangers of climate change. Christine Lagarde, the head of the IMF, told delegates that urgent action is needed to combat global warming. “If we collectively chicken out of this, we’ll all turn into chickens and we’ll all be fried, grilled, toasted and roasted,” she warned. – Climate News Network

Monsoon brings late relief to scorched India

Meteorological researchers in India suspect that climate change is a contributory factor to the changing weather patterns that have caused  the late arrival of the monsoon after a summer of swelteringly dry heat that has broken temperature records

Kolkata, 24 June, 2014 − At last, the rains have come. The summer monsoon arrived in West Bengal last week – almost two weeks later than usual − and brought relief to Kolkata and other cities and states across India that have been enduring an unusually hot summer. A temperature of 41.5˚C was recorded in Kolkata in late May – the highest in 10 years – while temperatures in New Delhi  earlier this month exceeded 43˚C for seven consecutive days, and at one stage reached 48˚C. Other cities and states have had record temperatures, and many lives have been lost due to the heat. Livelihoods have also suffered. Kolkata is famous for its bustling streets and pavements crowded with hawkers, but throughout recent months there has been a deserted look to the city. “We have had to close our stalls earlier than usual and there’s been hardly any customers,” says Asraf Ali, a street hawker. “People from neighbouring districts, who are our main customers, have not been coming into the city due to the terrible heat.”

Absence of humidity

One thing that’s been worrying residents of Kolkata is an unusual period of what is called “dry heat” – an absence of humidity. Locals say this has made daytime conditions even more scorching. Aminul Hasaan, a worker in one of Kolkata’s notoriously polluting leather tanning factories, says: “I was working so hard, and usually I sweat so much. But in the weeks before the monsoon I felt my forehead was always dry. It made me feel sick.” Anshujyoti Das, who works for Express Weather, a private weather research organisation that aims to provide location-specific weather forecasts, says the dry heat indicates certain changes in weather patterns. He says: “We cannot claim that this is the direct result of climate change, but we can’t brush the issue under the carpet. We must conduct studies to ascertain the reasons behind such unusual weather patterns.” One possible cause for the dry conditions is thought to be the absence of the north-westerly storms that usually lash Kolkata and surrounding areas in the run-up to the monsoon. On average, five to seven such storms hit in April and May, but this year only one was recorded. There was also an absence of moisture-laden winds blowing from the south. Due to the conditions, the local government authorities extended summer vacations at 57,000 primary schools and more than 18,000 secondary schools. And the city police in Kolkata decided that traffic constables aged 55 and above should be relieved of their duties because of the extreme heat. Dilip Adak, a senior officer at Kolkata’s traffic department, said: “We try to help [traffic policemen] by providing oral rehydration kits and umbrellas, but often that is not enough.”

Driving up prices

About half of India’s 1.25 billon people are involved in agriculture and are dependent on the summer monsoon rains. The late arrival of the monsoon can have a serious impact, driving up prices of many agricultural goods. The latest report from the Indian Meteorological Department shows that the monsoon has not only arrived late but is less intense than normal, with many areas receiving well below average rainfall. Climate change and the influence of an El Niño – a periodic warming of waters in the western Pacific that affects prevailing trade winds, with serious consequences on both sides of the Pacific and Indian Oceans – are seen as important influences on the behaviour of the monsoon– Climate News Network

• Shiba Nanda Basu is a reporter with The Statesman newspaper, Kolkata, India.

• Additional reporting by Kieran Cooke.

Meteorological researchers in India suspect that climate change is a contributory factor to the changing weather patterns that have caused  the late arrival of the monsoon after a summer of swelteringly dry heat that has broken temperature records

Kolkata, 24 June, 2014 − At last, the rains have come. The summer monsoon arrived in West Bengal last week – almost two weeks later than usual − and brought relief to Kolkata and other cities and states across India that have been enduring an unusually hot summer. A temperature of 41.5˚C was recorded in Kolkata in late May – the highest in 10 years – while temperatures in New Delhi  earlier this month exceeded 43˚C for seven consecutive days, and at one stage reached 48˚C. Other cities and states have had record temperatures, and many lives have been lost due to the heat. Livelihoods have also suffered. Kolkata is famous for its bustling streets and pavements crowded with hawkers, but throughout recent months there has been a deserted look to the city. “We have had to close our stalls earlier than usual and there’s been hardly any customers,” says Asraf Ali, a street hawker. “People from neighbouring districts, who are our main customers, have not been coming into the city due to the terrible heat.”

Absence of humidity

One thing that’s been worrying residents of Kolkata is an unusual period of what is called “dry heat” – an absence of humidity. Locals say this has made daytime conditions even more scorching. Aminul Hasaan, a worker in one of Kolkata’s notoriously polluting leather tanning factories, says: “I was working so hard, and usually I sweat so much. But in the weeks before the monsoon I felt my forehead was always dry. It made me feel sick.” Anshujyoti Das, who works for Express Weather, a private weather research organisation that aims to provide location-specific weather forecasts, says the dry heat indicates certain changes in weather patterns. He says: “We cannot claim that this is the direct result of climate change, but we can’t brush the issue under the carpet. We must conduct studies to ascertain the reasons behind such unusual weather patterns.” One possible cause for the dry conditions is thought to be the absence of the north-westerly storms that usually lash Kolkata and surrounding areas in the run-up to the monsoon. On average, five to seven such storms hit in April and May, but this year only one was recorded. There was also an absence of moisture-laden winds blowing from the south. Due to the conditions, the local government authorities extended summer vacations at 57,000 primary schools and more than 18,000 secondary schools. And the city police in Kolkata decided that traffic constables aged 55 and above should be relieved of their duties because of the extreme heat. Dilip Adak, a senior officer at Kolkata’s traffic department, said: “We try to help [traffic policemen] by providing oral rehydration kits and umbrellas, but often that is not enough.”

Driving up prices

About half of India’s 1.25 billon people are involved in agriculture and are dependent on the summer monsoon rains. The late arrival of the monsoon can have a serious impact, driving up prices of many agricultural goods. The latest report from the Indian Meteorological Department shows that the monsoon has not only arrived late but is less intense than normal, with many areas receiving well below average rainfall. Climate change and the influence of an El Niño – a periodic warming of waters in the western Pacific that affects prevailing trade winds, with serious consequences on both sides of the Pacific and Indian Oceans – are seen as important influences on the behaviour of the monsoon– Climate News Network

• Shiba Nanda Basu is a reporter with The Statesman newspaper, Kolkata, India.

• Additional reporting by Kieran Cooke.

India’s lethal heat wave strikes again

Large numbers of people die in India each year because of heat waves − and as climate change takes hold and the country swelters again, doctors are warning the public to take extra precautions Chennai, 28 May − Kumar Srinivasan, a 34-year-old policeman, is struggling to cope with the heat as he controls traffic at a busy city-centre road junction in Chennai, South India. “I feel like a roasted chicken,” he says. “But it’s actually worse, since I am alive while the chicken would have gone to rest in heaven.” India is sizzling under hot winds as many parts of the country suffer temperatures hovering above 40˚C. And officials in the National Weather Forecasting Center of the India Metrological Department have warned that “heat waves to severe heat wave conditions would prevail in isolated parts of the country in the last week of May”. As the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports confirm that India will continue to get hotter because of climate change, doctors are concerned that the public needs to be warned of the danger they are in. Excess heat is already claiming many lives. Research published earlier this year in the journal Plos One showed that in May 2010, when the Indian city of Ahmedabad in the state of Gujarat experienced a heat wave with record-breaking maximum temperatures of 46.8˚C, an estimated 1,344 deaths occurred − 43% higher than expected.

Road fatalities

Another chilling statistic in 2012, recently published by the National Crime Records Bureau, is that 5.4% of the total 22,960 road fatalities in India were attributable to heat strokes. That is more than 1,000 people. The Indian government has done its bit to make the summer slightly more bearable for policemen such as Srinivasan, providing them with packets of aerated fruit juices and buttermilk (yoghurt diluted in water), as well as sunglasses. “I am just waiting for the summer to be over, or for some of the summer showers that sometimes happen during June,” Srinivasan says before stepping out of the shade of his little booth to start directing traffic manually again in the scorching heat because a power failure has cut out the traffic lights. Indian politicians, trying to woo voters, put up water pandals (small stalls made of dried palm/coconut leaves) to supply water, and even buttermilk at times, to the public during the recent election period. In fact, the Indian elections are deliberately timetabled to avoid the worst part of summer, and the entire election process this time was completed by the second week of May, when the sun was beginning to get harsh.. Doctors at the government’s Rajiv Gandhi General Hospital in Chennai have asked the public to take preventive measures to avoid heat strokes – including wearing light-coloured, loose-fitting cotton clothes, staying hydrated, and avoiding strenuous exercise during the day.

“The maximum temperature will reach 40˚C  in many places in Tamil Nadu . . .  It’s going to be sweltering hot.”

And the Regional Meterological Centre (RMC) in Chennai has been publishing weather projections for the state of Tamil Nadu on its website, keeping people informed with with regular updates of  projections of average temperatures for one week for every district in the state. S.R. Ramanan, director of the RMC, told Climate News Network: “The maximum temperature will reach 40˚C  in many places in Tamil Nadu in the coming days.  It’s going to be sweltering hot.” While rich and middle-class Indians go for upgraded refrigerators, air conditioners and coolers, the poor households have to settle for earthen pots to keep drinking water cool. The plight of people is the same, or even worse, in most parts of tropical India during the hostile summers, particularly since fast-moving urbanisation is taking its toll on trees, which are being chopped down to make way for new high-rise buildings, roads and shopping malls

Loss of shade

The loss of the natural shade of avenue trees means that it’s not just humans who are suffering. The bovine population roams around the streets looking for any tiny puddle of urban gutter water to quench their thirst, and the government’s forest department has had to build concrete tanks and fill them with water to try to prevent animals from suffering dehydration. Many milkmen live in urban areas and do not take enough care of their cows to protect them from the summer heat, and the Tamil Nadu Veterinary and Animal Sciences University has also found that many aged animals suffer kidney failures in the summer season because of dehydration. Meanwhile, as more people die every year in India due to heat strokes, social activists are calling for the government to take up initiatives to protect people and spread awareness about preventive measures. “Curbing privatisation of water and ensuring supply of good quality drinking water for the residents is a major step to avoid dehydration and heat strokes,” said Chennai social activist A.Devaneyan. “The government health department should conduct awareness campaigns to inform people about taking additional care of elders and children during the summer.” Devaneyan pointed out that the rising number of players in the bottled drinking water industry has also led to rising prices. He said: “A one-litre bottle now costs 20 rupees. How many can afford that?” Not surprisingly, the popularity of the Tamil Nadu state chief minister, Ms Jayalalithaa Jayaram, also rose after she recently ordered her government to supply water at 10 rupees per bottle − half the price of the “private” water. – Climate News Network.

  • Pramila Krishnan is based in Chennai as Principal Correspondent of the Deccan Chronicle, an English-language newspaper in India.

Large numbers of people die in India each year because of heat waves − and as climate change takes hold and the country swelters again, doctors are warning the public to take extra precautions Chennai, 28 May − Kumar Srinivasan, a 34-year-old policeman, is struggling to cope with the heat as he controls traffic at a busy city-centre road junction in Chennai, South India. “I feel like a roasted chicken,” he says. “But it’s actually worse, since I am alive while the chicken would have gone to rest in heaven.” India is sizzling under hot winds as many parts of the country suffer temperatures hovering above 40˚C. And officials in the National Weather Forecasting Center of the India Metrological Department have warned that “heat waves to severe heat wave conditions would prevail in isolated parts of the country in the last week of May”. As the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports confirm that India will continue to get hotter because of climate change, doctors are concerned that the public needs to be warned of the danger they are in. Excess heat is already claiming many lives. Research published earlier this year in the journal Plos One showed that in May 2010, when the Indian city of Ahmedabad in the state of Gujarat experienced a heat wave with record-breaking maximum temperatures of 46.8˚C, an estimated 1,344 deaths occurred − 43% higher than expected.

Road fatalities

Another chilling statistic in 2012, recently published by the National Crime Records Bureau, is that 5.4% of the total 22,960 road fatalities in India were attributable to heat strokes. That is more than 1,000 people. The Indian government has done its bit to make the summer slightly more bearable for policemen such as Srinivasan, providing them with packets of aerated fruit juices and buttermilk (yoghurt diluted in water), as well as sunglasses. “I am just waiting for the summer to be over, or for some of the summer showers that sometimes happen during June,” Srinivasan says before stepping out of the shade of his little booth to start directing traffic manually again in the scorching heat because a power failure has cut out the traffic lights. Indian politicians, trying to woo voters, put up water pandals (small stalls made of dried palm/coconut leaves) to supply water, and even buttermilk at times, to the public during the recent election period. In fact, the Indian elections are deliberately timetabled to avoid the worst part of summer, and the entire election process this time was completed by the second week of May, when the sun was beginning to get harsh.. Doctors at the government’s Rajiv Gandhi General Hospital in Chennai have asked the public to take preventive measures to avoid heat strokes – including wearing light-coloured, loose-fitting cotton clothes, staying hydrated, and avoiding strenuous exercise during the day.

“The maximum temperature will reach 40˚C  in many places in Tamil Nadu . . .  It’s going to be sweltering hot.”

And the Regional Meterological Centre (RMC) in Chennai has been publishing weather projections for the state of Tamil Nadu on its website, keeping people informed with with regular updates of  projections of average temperatures for one week for every district in the state. S.R. Ramanan, director of the RMC, told Climate News Network: “The maximum temperature will reach 40˚C  in many places in Tamil Nadu in the coming days.  It’s going to be sweltering hot.” While rich and middle-class Indians go for upgraded refrigerators, air conditioners and coolers, the poor households have to settle for earthen pots to keep drinking water cool. The plight of people is the same, or even worse, in most parts of tropical India during the hostile summers, particularly since fast-moving urbanisation is taking its toll on trees, which are being chopped down to make way for new high-rise buildings, roads and shopping malls

Loss of shade

The loss of the natural shade of avenue trees means that it’s not just humans who are suffering. The bovine population roams around the streets looking for any tiny puddle of urban gutter water to quench their thirst, and the government’s forest department has had to build concrete tanks and fill them with water to try to prevent animals from suffering dehydration. Many milkmen live in urban areas and do not take enough care of their cows to protect them from the summer heat, and the Tamil Nadu Veterinary and Animal Sciences University has also found that many aged animals suffer kidney failures in the summer season because of dehydration. Meanwhile, as more people die every year in India due to heat strokes, social activists are calling for the government to take up initiatives to protect people and spread awareness about preventive measures. “Curbing privatisation of water and ensuring supply of good quality drinking water for the residents is a major step to avoid dehydration and heat strokes,” said Chennai social activist A.Devaneyan. “The government health department should conduct awareness campaigns to inform people about taking additional care of elders and children during the summer.” Devaneyan pointed out that the rising number of players in the bottled drinking water industry has also led to rising prices. He said: “A one-litre bottle now costs 20 rupees. How many can afford that?” Not surprisingly, the popularity of the Tamil Nadu state chief minister, Ms Jayalalithaa Jayaram, also rose after she recently ordered her government to supply water at 10 rupees per bottle − half the price of the “private” water. – Climate News Network.

  • Pramila Krishnan is based in Chennai as Principal Correspondent of the Deccan Chronicle, an English-language newspaper in India.

Climate worries insurers and military

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Powerful voices in finance and the armed forces raise concerns about the risks of increasingly extreme weather events causing billions of dollars of damage and potentially igniting humanitarian disasters and regional conflicts LONDON, 15 May − The risks associated with climate change have got some very important people worried − the people who pick up the bills, and those who clear up the mess or try to prevent it happening. The world’s biggest and oldest insurance market, Lloyd’s of London, has published a report that urges insurers to include climate risks in their models. It says: “Scientific research points conclusively to the existence of climate change driven by human activity. “Nevertheless, significant uncertainty remains on the nature and extent of the changes to our climate and the specific impacts this will generate. Many of the effects will become apparent over the coming decades and anticipating them will require forward projections, not solely historical data.” Quoting the Munich Re insurance group , the World Bank says damage and weather-related losses around the world have increased from an annual average of $50bn in the 1980s to nearly $200bn over the last decade.

Causing havoc

The Lloyd’s report was published the day after the US National Climate Assessment (NCA) warned Americans that climate change is already causing havoc across the country. John Holdren, the White House science adviser, said the NCA was the “loudest and clearest alarm bell to date signalling the need to take urgent action to combat the threats to Americans from climate change”. The most expensive year on record for natural disasters was 2011, when insured losses cost the industry more than $126bn. In 2012, Superstorm Sandy caused $35bn of insured losses, making it the most expensive hurricane in US history after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The Lloyd’s report says a 20cm rise in sea level at the southern tip of Manhattan Island increased Sandy’s surge losses by 30% (up to $8bn) in New York alone. John Nelson, chairman of Lloyd’s, told the Guardian newspaper in London: “The destruction Sandy brought to the eastern US seaboard was responsible for claims of up to $300m in lost fine art, a consequence of the many expensive US beachfront homes damaged.” Typhoon Haiyan, which devastated much of the Philippines and other parts of south-east Asia in November 2013, was one of the strongest tropical cyclones on record. Trevor Maynard, head of exposure management and reinsurance at Lloyd’s, said: “Climate change is very much here to stay. Hurricanes are getting stronger worldwide, and especially over the north Atlantic. . .  At the moment we are heading for a rise of four degrees by the end of the century.”

Mission reality

IT’S NOT ONLY the insurers who believe that climate change is a real and growing risk. Increasingly, the prospect is preoccupying military planners. Mark Wright, a Pentagon spokesman, said: “This is a mission reality, not a political debate. The scientific forecast is for more Arctic ice melt, more sea-level rise, more intense storms, more flooding from storm surge, and more drought.” A former US Navy officer, retired Vice-Admiral Lee Gunn, is reported by NBC News as saying that the 2011 Arab Spring uprising could in part be traced to a winter drought in China, plus record heat waves and flooding in several other countries, including Russia. Gunn concluded: “There was a drought and a wheat shortage that resulted in an increase in wheat prices and, therefore, an increase in bread prices − a staple in North Africa.” NBC says US security experts are also concerned by possible threats to the rice harvest in south-east Asia, and specifically in Vietnam. They say the melting of the Himalayan glaciers would add to sea-level rise, ruining rice production and ravaging Bangladesh. If it did, they believe, that could create a flow of refugees into India, and also threaten fresh water resources in India and Pakistan. Dennis McGinn, the US Navy assistant secretary for energy, installations and environment, told NBC that there were also worries in military circles about unstable governments and fragile societies. “The last thing in the world these nations need are the severe and more frequent effects of bad weather, including crop failures,” McGinn said. “Therein is a recipe for the kind of instability that will inevitably involve the United States in humanitarian assistance, disaster relief or, indeed, in a regional conflict.”

A further report, by 16 retired generals and admirals, says climate change is a direct threat to national security and the US economy. The authors, members of the Military Advisory Board of the not-for-profit CNA Corporation, blame rising temperatures for, in part, worsening international tension. 

Their study says that the impacts of climate change are already intensifying instability in vulnerable regions, especially the resource-rich and rapidly changing Arctic. It says the projected impacts within the US will threaten its homeland security and major sectors of its economy. − Climate News Network

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Powerful voices in finance and the armed forces raise concerns about the risks of increasingly extreme weather events causing billions of dollars of damage and potentially igniting humanitarian disasters and regional conflicts LONDON, 15 May − The risks associated with climate change have got some very important people worried − the people who pick up the bills, and those who clear up the mess or try to prevent it happening. The world’s biggest and oldest insurance market, Lloyd’s of London, has published a report that urges insurers to include climate risks in their models. It says: “Scientific research points conclusively to the existence of climate change driven by human activity. “Nevertheless, significant uncertainty remains on the nature and extent of the changes to our climate and the specific impacts this will generate. Many of the effects will become apparent over the coming decades and anticipating them will require forward projections, not solely historical data.” Quoting the Munich Re insurance group , the World Bank says damage and weather-related losses around the world have increased from an annual average of $50bn in the 1980s to nearly $200bn over the last decade.

Causing havoc

The Lloyd’s report was published the day after the US National Climate Assessment (NCA) warned Americans that climate change is already causing havoc across the country. John Holdren, the White House science adviser, said the NCA was the “loudest and clearest alarm bell to date signalling the need to take urgent action to combat the threats to Americans from climate change”. The most expensive year on record for natural disasters was 2011, when insured losses cost the industry more than $126bn. In 2012, Superstorm Sandy caused $35bn of insured losses, making it the most expensive hurricane in US history after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The Lloyd’s report says a 20cm rise in sea level at the southern tip of Manhattan Island increased Sandy’s surge losses by 30% (up to $8bn) in New York alone. John Nelson, chairman of Lloyd’s, told the Guardian newspaper in London: “The destruction Sandy brought to the eastern US seaboard was responsible for claims of up to $300m in lost fine art, a consequence of the many expensive US beachfront homes damaged.” Typhoon Haiyan, which devastated much of the Philippines and other parts of south-east Asia in November 2013, was one of the strongest tropical cyclones on record. Trevor Maynard, head of exposure management and reinsurance at Lloyd’s, said: “Climate change is very much here to stay. Hurricanes are getting stronger worldwide, and especially over the north Atlantic. . .  At the moment we are heading for a rise of four degrees by the end of the century.”

Mission reality

IT’S NOT ONLY the insurers who believe that climate change is a real and growing risk. Increasingly, the prospect is preoccupying military planners. Mark Wright, a Pentagon spokesman, said: “This is a mission reality, not a political debate. The scientific forecast is for more Arctic ice melt, more sea-level rise, more intense storms, more flooding from storm surge, and more drought.” A former US Navy officer, retired Vice-Admiral Lee Gunn, is reported by NBC News as saying that the 2011 Arab Spring uprising could in part be traced to a winter drought in China, plus record heat waves and flooding in several other countries, including Russia. Gunn concluded: “There was a drought and a wheat shortage that resulted in an increase in wheat prices and, therefore, an increase in bread prices − a staple in North Africa.” NBC says US security experts are also concerned by possible threats to the rice harvest in south-east Asia, and specifically in Vietnam. They say the melting of the Himalayan glaciers would add to sea-level rise, ruining rice production and ravaging Bangladesh. If it did, they believe, that could create a flow of refugees into India, and also threaten fresh water resources in India and Pakistan. Dennis McGinn, the US Navy assistant secretary for energy, installations and environment, told NBC that there were also worries in military circles about unstable governments and fragile societies. “The last thing in the world these nations need are the severe and more frequent effects of bad weather, including crop failures,” McGinn said. “Therein is a recipe for the kind of instability that will inevitably involve the United States in humanitarian assistance, disaster relief or, indeed, in a regional conflict.”

A further report, by 16 retired generals and admirals, says climate change is a direct threat to national security and the US economy. The authors, members of the Military Advisory Board of the not-for-profit CNA Corporation, blame rising temperatures for, in part, worsening international tension. 

Their study says that the impacts of climate change are already intensifying instability in vulnerable regions, especially the resource-rich and rapidly changing Arctic. It says the projected impacts within the US will threaten its homeland security and major sectors of its economy. − Climate News Network

Mild climate spurs Genghis Khan's cavalry

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Scientists have unearthed possible evidence that climate change played a role in the expansion of the Mongol empire of Genghis Khan. They say an exceptionally warm period promoted grass growth, vital for the Mongols’ legendary horses.

LONDON, 12 March – Climate change – already implicated in the fall of Bronze Age civilisations in the Mediterranean and in the Indus Valley  – may also account for the rise of one of the most fearsome empires in history.

US researchers mapping the pattern of rainfall in medieval Mongolia think they may have identified a season of plenty that put Genghis Khan on the road towards world domination.

Archaeologists and climate scientists have identified sustained drought as a reason for the fall of the Minoan civilisation in Crete, and the decay of the Harappan culture in 1,000 years earlier. But a team from Columbia University report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that annual growth rings in a trove of stunted larches and Siberian pines in the Khangai mountains of Mongolia tell a different story.

Rings record

The seasonal growth rings record a chronicle of harsh dry centuries dating back to 658AD. But between the years 1211 to 1230, something unusual happened.

Rain fell, and central Mongolia had one of the wettest periods in its history. The same period was unusually warm. Since those years coincide with the rise of the Mongol empire the connection suggested itself immediately: the Mongols were herdsmen and nomads.

Wet and warm weather means plenty of grass. Suddenly, tribesmen who wandered far to find grazing space had a surplus of feed, and soon of animals, including a glut of war horses and cattle.

The Mongol cavalry were famous for their horsemanship. “The weather may literally have supplied the Mongols with the horsepower they needed to do what they did,” says Neil Pederson of Columbia’s Lamont Doherty Observatory.

All conquering

For a brief period, the Mongols, led by a commander of remarkable military and political genius, and then by his descendants, conquered and ruled most of modern Russia, Korea, China, Persia, India, the Middle East and eastern Europe.

There is never just one reason for a civilisation’s rise or fall, and historians have also argued that the Mongol invasions might have been driven instead by hunger and poverty in the Mongol heartland.

So the researchers would like to back up their tree ring evidence with studies of lake sediments, analyses of historical documents and so on, to establish that the steppes really could have provided for the great khan and his horde. The jury is still out.

The tree rings also show that after the first growth of the Mongol empire, the climate returned to its normal cold dry state. In the last 40 years, temperatures have risen. And since 1990, the country has experienced a series of devastating summer droughts often followed by a more than usually long cold winter.

Modern day drought

After the last such, an estimated eight million animals died, herdsmen became impoverished, and the poorest have moved to the capital of Ulaanbaatar, which is now home to half of the nation’s 3 million people.

“That last big drought is an example of what may happen in the future, not just in Mongolia but in a lot of inner Asia,” says Pederson. “The heat is a double whammy – even if the rainfall doesn’t change, the landscape is going to get drier.”

The potential consequences for modern Mongolia, the authors warn, could be severe.- Climate News Network

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Scientists have unearthed possible evidence that climate change played a role in the expansion of the Mongol empire of Genghis Khan. They say an exceptionally warm period promoted grass growth, vital for the Mongols’ legendary horses.

LONDON, 12 March – Climate change – already implicated in the fall of Bronze Age civilisations in the Mediterranean and in the Indus Valley  – may also account for the rise of one of the most fearsome empires in history.

US researchers mapping the pattern of rainfall in medieval Mongolia think they may have identified a season of plenty that put Genghis Khan on the road towards world domination.

Archaeologists and climate scientists have identified sustained drought as a reason for the fall of the Minoan civilisation in Crete, and the decay of the Harappan culture in 1,000 years earlier. But a team from Columbia University report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that annual growth rings in a trove of stunted larches and Siberian pines in the Khangai mountains of Mongolia tell a different story.

Rings record

The seasonal growth rings record a chronicle of harsh dry centuries dating back to 658AD. But between the years 1211 to 1230, something unusual happened.

Rain fell, and central Mongolia had one of the wettest periods in its history. The same period was unusually warm. Since those years coincide with the rise of the Mongol empire the connection suggested itself immediately: the Mongols were herdsmen and nomads.

Wet and warm weather means plenty of grass. Suddenly, tribesmen who wandered far to find grazing space had a surplus of feed, and soon of animals, including a glut of war horses and cattle.

The Mongol cavalry were famous for their horsemanship. “The weather may literally have supplied the Mongols with the horsepower they needed to do what they did,” says Neil Pederson of Columbia’s Lamont Doherty Observatory.

All conquering

For a brief period, the Mongols, led by a commander of remarkable military and political genius, and then by his descendants, conquered and ruled most of modern Russia, Korea, China, Persia, India, the Middle East and eastern Europe.

There is never just one reason for a civilisation’s rise or fall, and historians have also argued that the Mongol invasions might have been driven instead by hunger and poverty in the Mongol heartland.

So the researchers would like to back up their tree ring evidence with studies of lake sediments, analyses of historical documents and so on, to establish that the steppes really could have provided for the great khan and his horde. The jury is still out.

The tree rings also show that after the first growth of the Mongol empire, the climate returned to its normal cold dry state. In the last 40 years, temperatures have risen. And since 1990, the country has experienced a series of devastating summer droughts often followed by a more than usually long cold winter.

Modern day drought

After the last such, an estimated eight million animals died, herdsmen became impoverished, and the poorest have moved to the capital of Ulaanbaatar, which is now home to half of the nation’s 3 million people.

“That last big drought is an example of what may happen in the future, not just in Mongolia but in a lot of inner Asia,” says Pederson. “The heat is a double whammy – even if the rainfall doesn’t change, the landscape is going to get drier.”

The potential consequences for modern Mongolia, the authors warn, could be severe.- Climate News Network

 

Mild climate spurs Genghis Khan’s cavalry

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Scientists have unearthed possible evidence that climate change played a role in the expansion of the Mongol empire of Genghis Khan. They say an exceptionally warm period promoted grass growth, vital for the Mongols’ legendary horses. LONDON, 12 March – Climate change – already implicated in the fall of Bronze Age civilisations in the Mediterranean and in the Indus Valley  – may also account for the rise of one of the most fearsome empires in history. US researchers mapping the pattern of rainfall in medieval Mongolia think they may have identified a season of plenty that put Genghis Khan on the road towards world domination. Archaeologists and climate scientists have identified sustained drought as a reason for the fall of the Minoan civilisation in Crete, and the decay of the Harappan culture in 1,000 years earlier. But a team from Columbia University report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that annual growth rings in a trove of stunted larches and Siberian pines in the Khangai mountains of Mongolia tell a different story.

Rings record

The seasonal growth rings record a chronicle of harsh dry centuries dating back to 658AD. But between the years 1211 to 1230, something unusual happened. Rain fell, and central Mongolia had one of the wettest periods in its history. The same period was unusually warm. Since those years coincide with the rise of the Mongol empire the connection suggested itself immediately: the Mongols were herdsmen and nomads. Wet and warm weather means plenty of grass. Suddenly, tribesmen who wandered far to find grazing space had a surplus of feed, and soon of animals, including a glut of war horses and cattle. The Mongol cavalry were famous for their horsemanship. “The weather may literally have supplied the Mongols with the horsepower they needed to do what they did,” says Neil Pederson of Columbia’s Lamont Doherty Observatory.

All conquering

For a brief period, the Mongols, led by a commander of remarkable military and political genius, and then by his descendants, conquered and ruled most of modern Russia, Korea, China, Persia, India, the Middle East and eastern Europe. There is never just one reason for a civilisation’s rise or fall, and historians have also argued that the Mongol invasions might have been driven instead by hunger and poverty in the Mongol heartland. So the researchers would like to back up their tree ring evidence with studies of lake sediments, analyses of historical documents and so on, to establish that the steppes really could have provided for the great khan and his horde. The jury is still out. The tree rings also show that after the first growth of the Mongol empire, the climate returned to its normal cold dry state. In the last 40 years, temperatures have risen. And since 1990, the country has experienced a series of devastating summer droughts often followed by a more than usually long cold winter.

Modern day drought

After the last such, an estimated eight million animals died, herdsmen became impoverished, and the poorest have moved to the capital of Ulaanbaatar, which is now home to half of the nation’s 3 million people. “That last big drought is an example of what may happen in the future, not just in Mongolia but in a lot of inner Asia,” says Pederson. “The heat is a double whammy – even if the rainfall doesn’t change, the landscape is going to get drier.” The potential consequences for modern Mongolia, the authors warn, could be severe.- Climate News Network  

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Scientists have unearthed possible evidence that climate change played a role in the expansion of the Mongol empire of Genghis Khan. They say an exceptionally warm period promoted grass growth, vital for the Mongols’ legendary horses. LONDON, 12 March – Climate change – already implicated in the fall of Bronze Age civilisations in the Mediterranean and in the Indus Valley  – may also account for the rise of one of the most fearsome empires in history. US researchers mapping the pattern of rainfall in medieval Mongolia think they may have identified a season of plenty that put Genghis Khan on the road towards world domination. Archaeologists and climate scientists have identified sustained drought as a reason for the fall of the Minoan civilisation in Crete, and the decay of the Harappan culture in 1,000 years earlier. But a team from Columbia University report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that annual growth rings in a trove of stunted larches and Siberian pines in the Khangai mountains of Mongolia tell a different story.

Rings record

The seasonal growth rings record a chronicle of harsh dry centuries dating back to 658AD. But between the years 1211 to 1230, something unusual happened. Rain fell, and central Mongolia had one of the wettest periods in its history. The same period was unusually warm. Since those years coincide with the rise of the Mongol empire the connection suggested itself immediately: the Mongols were herdsmen and nomads. Wet and warm weather means plenty of grass. Suddenly, tribesmen who wandered far to find grazing space had a surplus of feed, and soon of animals, including a glut of war horses and cattle. The Mongol cavalry were famous for their horsemanship. “The weather may literally have supplied the Mongols with the horsepower they needed to do what they did,” says Neil Pederson of Columbia’s Lamont Doherty Observatory.

All conquering

For a brief period, the Mongols, led by a commander of remarkable military and political genius, and then by his descendants, conquered and ruled most of modern Russia, Korea, China, Persia, India, the Middle East and eastern Europe. There is never just one reason for a civilisation’s rise or fall, and historians have also argued that the Mongol invasions might have been driven instead by hunger and poverty in the Mongol heartland. So the researchers would like to back up their tree ring evidence with studies of lake sediments, analyses of historical documents and so on, to establish that the steppes really could have provided for the great khan and his horde. The jury is still out. The tree rings also show that after the first growth of the Mongol empire, the climate returned to its normal cold dry state. In the last 40 years, temperatures have risen. And since 1990, the country has experienced a series of devastating summer droughts often followed by a more than usually long cold winter.

Modern day drought

After the last such, an estimated eight million animals died, herdsmen became impoverished, and the poorest have moved to the capital of Ulaanbaatar, which is now home to half of the nation’s 3 million people. “That last big drought is an example of what may happen in the future, not just in Mongolia but in a lot of inner Asia,” says Pederson. “The heat is a double whammy – even if the rainfall doesn’t change, the landscape is going to get drier.” The potential consequences for modern Mongolia, the authors warn, could be severe.- Climate News Network  

Climate threat to Southern Africa's crops

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Southern Africa could be among areas hardest hit by climate change. A rapidly expanding population is likely to add to future problems, says a new study.

LONDON, 11 September – The study, published by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), and with contributions from scientists in countries across the southern Africa region, uses available data and a variety of models to examine likely agricultural developments, particularly related to crops, in the period to 2050.

Agriculture is the primary source of employment and income for most of the rural population in southern Africa. In Malawi about 40% of gross domestic product (GDP) comes from agriculture.  In Zimbabwe, about 80% of the population depends directly on agriculture.

More than 50% of agricultural land in the area is devoted to cereal crops, with maize accounting for more than 40% of the total harvested area. Millet and sorghum are also important crops, especially in drier areas. Some countries in the region, such as Botswana and Lesotho, already struggle to meet demand for maize and sorghum and have to import large amounts, mainly from South Africa.

The study says climate change, with rising temperatures and increasingly erratic rainfall patterns across much of the region, will likely cause a decline in average maize and sorghum yields. However, some areas, such as southern Mozambique, will see a growth in harvests. Wheat harvests could be particularly vulnerable to rising temperatures.

Extreme weather events – such as droughts, floods and changes in the frequency and intensity of dry spells – already negatively affect agriculture in most parts of Africa, says the study.

“Higher temperatures tend to reduce yields of crops by reducing soil moisture content and the length of the growing season, and in most places they tend to encourage weed and pest proliferation.”

Most farming in the region is carried out by smallholders who depend on rainfall to water their crops. “Greater variations in precipitation patterns increase the likelihood of crop failures and long-run production declines,” says the study.

Across much of southern Africa, increasing numbers of people are migrating from rural to urban areas in search of work. This movement of people could intensify with changes in climate, the study says.

Adaptation is key

Increased adaptation measures such as planting more drought-resistant crops will help mitigate the impact of climate change. Rising incomes across much of the region will help alleviate some of the problems expected.

Governments in many of the countries investigated – Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe – are already undertaking various schemes aimed at helping farmers adapt to climate change.

“Successful agricultural adaptation to climate change is not just about better seeds and practices but building better roads and education systems, which give farmers greater access to markets and the background necessary to make fully informed decisions about new agricultural practices,” says the study.

However, continuing population growth, along with changes in climate, are likely to worsen food insecurity in the region. According to medium range estimates, the overall population of the southern Africa region is expected to increase by about 70% between now and 2050 – from 142 million to more than 240 million people – with Angola, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia all more than doubling their populations. – Climate News Network

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Southern Africa could be among areas hardest hit by climate change. A rapidly expanding population is likely to add to future problems, says a new study.

LONDON, 11 September – The study, published by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), and with contributions from scientists in countries across the southern Africa region, uses available data and a variety of models to examine likely agricultural developments, particularly related to crops, in the period to 2050.

Agriculture is the primary source of employment and income for most of the rural population in southern Africa. In Malawi about 40% of gross domestic product (GDP) comes from agriculture.  In Zimbabwe, about 80% of the population depends directly on agriculture.

More than 50% of agricultural land in the area is devoted to cereal crops, with maize accounting for more than 40% of the total harvested area. Millet and sorghum are also important crops, especially in drier areas. Some countries in the region, such as Botswana and Lesotho, already struggle to meet demand for maize and sorghum and have to import large amounts, mainly from South Africa.

The study says climate change, with rising temperatures and increasingly erratic rainfall patterns across much of the region, will likely cause a decline in average maize and sorghum yields. However, some areas, such as southern Mozambique, will see a growth in harvests. Wheat harvests could be particularly vulnerable to rising temperatures.

Extreme weather events – such as droughts, floods and changes in the frequency and intensity of dry spells – already negatively affect agriculture in most parts of Africa, says the study.

“Higher temperatures tend to reduce yields of crops by reducing soil moisture content and the length of the growing season, and in most places they tend to encourage weed and pest proliferation.”

Most farming in the region is carried out by smallholders who depend on rainfall to water their crops. “Greater variations in precipitation patterns increase the likelihood of crop failures and long-run production declines,” says the study.

Across much of southern Africa, increasing numbers of people are migrating from rural to urban areas in search of work. This movement of people could intensify with changes in climate, the study says.

Adaptation is key

Increased adaptation measures such as planting more drought-resistant crops will help mitigate the impact of climate change. Rising incomes across much of the region will help alleviate some of the problems expected.

Governments in many of the countries investigated – Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe – are already undertaking various schemes aimed at helping farmers adapt to climate change.

“Successful agricultural adaptation to climate change is not just about better seeds and practices but building better roads and education systems, which give farmers greater access to markets and the background necessary to make fully informed decisions about new agricultural practices,” says the study.

However, continuing population growth, along with changes in climate, are likely to worsen food insecurity in the region. According to medium range estimates, the overall population of the southern Africa region is expected to increase by about 70% between now and 2050 – from 142 million to more than 240 million people – with Angola, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia all more than doubling their populations. – Climate News Network

Climate threat to Southern Africa’s crops

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Southern Africa could be among areas hardest hit by climate change. A rapidly expanding population is likely to add to future problems, says a new study. LONDON, 11 September – The study, published by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), and with contributions from scientists in countries across the southern Africa region, uses available data and a variety of models to examine likely agricultural developments, particularly related to crops, in the period to 2050. Agriculture is the primary source of employment and income for most of the rural population in southern Africa. In Malawi about 40% of gross domestic product (GDP) comes from agriculture.  In Zimbabwe, about 80% of the population depends directly on agriculture. More than 50% of agricultural land in the area is devoted to cereal crops, with maize accounting for more than 40% of the total harvested area. Millet and sorghum are also important crops, especially in drier areas. Some countries in the region, such as Botswana and Lesotho, already struggle to meet demand for maize and sorghum and have to import large amounts, mainly from South Africa. The study says climate change, with rising temperatures and increasingly erratic rainfall patterns across much of the region, will likely cause a decline in average maize and sorghum yields. However, some areas, such as southern Mozambique, will see a growth in harvests. Wheat harvests could be particularly vulnerable to rising temperatures. Extreme weather events – such as droughts, floods and changes in the frequency and intensity of dry spells – already negatively affect agriculture in most parts of Africa, says the study. “Higher temperatures tend to reduce yields of crops by reducing soil moisture content and the length of the growing season, and in most places they tend to encourage weed and pest proliferation.” Most farming in the region is carried out by smallholders who depend on rainfall to water their crops. “Greater variations in precipitation patterns increase the likelihood of crop failures and long-run production declines,” says the study. Across much of southern Africa, increasing numbers of people are migrating from rural to urban areas in search of work. This movement of people could intensify with changes in climate, the study says.

Adaptation is key

Increased adaptation measures such as planting more drought-resistant crops will help mitigate the impact of climate change. Rising incomes across much of the region will help alleviate some of the problems expected. Governments in many of the countries investigated – Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe – are already undertaking various schemes aimed at helping farmers adapt to climate change. “Successful agricultural adaptation to climate change is not just about better seeds and practices but building better roads and education systems, which give farmers greater access to markets and the background necessary to make fully informed decisions about new agricultural practices,” says the study. However, continuing population growth, along with changes in climate, are likely to worsen food insecurity in the region. According to medium range estimates, the overall population of the southern Africa region is expected to increase by about 70% between now and 2050 – from 142 million to more than 240 million people – with Angola, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia all more than doubling their populations. – Climate News Network

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Southern Africa could be among areas hardest hit by climate change. A rapidly expanding population is likely to add to future problems, says a new study. LONDON, 11 September – The study, published by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), and with contributions from scientists in countries across the southern Africa region, uses available data and a variety of models to examine likely agricultural developments, particularly related to crops, in the period to 2050. Agriculture is the primary source of employment and income for most of the rural population in southern Africa. In Malawi about 40% of gross domestic product (GDP) comes from agriculture.  In Zimbabwe, about 80% of the population depends directly on agriculture. More than 50% of agricultural land in the area is devoted to cereal crops, with maize accounting for more than 40% of the total harvested area. Millet and sorghum are also important crops, especially in drier areas. Some countries in the region, such as Botswana and Lesotho, already struggle to meet demand for maize and sorghum and have to import large amounts, mainly from South Africa. The study says climate change, with rising temperatures and increasingly erratic rainfall patterns across much of the region, will likely cause a decline in average maize and sorghum yields. However, some areas, such as southern Mozambique, will see a growth in harvests. Wheat harvests could be particularly vulnerable to rising temperatures. Extreme weather events – such as droughts, floods and changes in the frequency and intensity of dry spells – already negatively affect agriculture in most parts of Africa, says the study. “Higher temperatures tend to reduce yields of crops by reducing soil moisture content and the length of the growing season, and in most places they tend to encourage weed and pest proliferation.” Most farming in the region is carried out by smallholders who depend on rainfall to water their crops. “Greater variations in precipitation patterns increase the likelihood of crop failures and long-run production declines,” says the study. Across much of southern Africa, increasing numbers of people are migrating from rural to urban areas in search of work. This movement of people could intensify with changes in climate, the study says.

Adaptation is key

Increased adaptation measures such as planting more drought-resistant crops will help mitigate the impact of climate change. Rising incomes across much of the region will help alleviate some of the problems expected. Governments in many of the countries investigated – Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe – are already undertaking various schemes aimed at helping farmers adapt to climate change. “Successful agricultural adaptation to climate change is not just about better seeds and practices but building better roads and education systems, which give farmers greater access to markets and the background necessary to make fully informed decisions about new agricultural practices,” says the study. However, continuing population growth, along with changes in climate, are likely to worsen food insecurity in the region. According to medium range estimates, the overall population of the southern Africa region is expected to increase by about 70% between now and 2050 – from 142 million to more than 240 million people – with Angola, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia all more than doubling their populations. – Climate News Network