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Posts Tagged ‘temperature

Three months of swinging Celsius

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The middle of February is when the chill begins to abate. The middle of May is when the monsoon is longed for. In our towns, district headquarters and cities, that climatic journey of 90 days is one of a steady rise in the reading of the temperature gauge, from the low 20s to the mid 30s.

This large panel of 90 days of daily average temperatures shows, in 57 ways, the effects of the rains that almost every district has experienced during the last two months. For each city, the curved line is the long period ‘normal’ for these 90 days, based on daily averages. Also for each city, the second line which swings above and below the ‘normal’ is the one that describes the changes in its daily average from February to May 2015.

[You can download (1.52MB) a full resolution image of the panel here.]

Where this second line crosses to rise above the normal, the intervening space is red, where it dips below is coloured blue. The patches of red or blue are what tell us about the effects of a lingering winter, or rains that have been called ‘unseasonal’ but which we think signal a shift in the monsoon patterns.

The 90-day temperature chart for Goa, with daily averages nearer the long period normal over the latter half.

The 90-day temperature chart for Goa, with daily averages nearer the long period normal over the latter half.

Amongst the readings there is to be found some general similarities and also some individual peculiarities. Overall, there are more blue patches than there are red ones, and that describes how most of the cities in this panel have escaped (till this point) the typical heat of April and May. The second noteworthy general finding is that these blue patches occur more frequently in the second half of the 90 days, and so are the result of the rainy spells experienced from March to early May.

Hisar (in Haryana) has remained under the normal temperature line for many more days than above or near it. So have Gorakhpur (Uttar Pradesh), Pendra (Chhattisgarh), Ranchi (Jharkhand), Nagpur (Maharashtra) and Jharsuguda (Odisha).

On the other hand in peninsular and south India, the below ‘normal’ daily average temperature readings are to be found in the latter half of the time period, coinciding with the frequent wet spells. This we can see in Kakinada, Kurnool and Anantapur (Andhra Pradesh), Bangalore, Gadag and Mangalore (Karnataka), Chennai, Cuddalore and Tiruchirapalli (Tamil Nadu) and Thiruvananthapuram (Kerala). [A zip file with the charts for all 57 cities is available here (1.2MB).]

What pattern will the next 30 days worth of temperature readings follow? In four weeks we will update this bird’s eye view of city temperatures, by which time monsoon 2015 should continue to give us more blues than reds. [Temperature time series plots are courtesy the NOAA Center for Weather and Climate Prediction.]

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North India 2014, much dust, more heat, late rain

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NOAA_CPC_panels_201405_25_to_31

The sweltering of North India, aggravated by manic urbanisation, just as manic use of personal automobiles, the steady thinning of tree canopies, and small businesses forced to buy diesel generators – in the tens of thousands, each emitting hot fumes that further trap already heated layers of sooty air – is an annual pre-monsoon epic that no-one has the energy to write.

This panel of four maps shows us where India baked during the last week of 2014 May (and now, Delhi has experienced a record its residents did not want). The high temperature belts (top left map), 40-45 Celsius, covered most of central and north-western India (Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Gangetic Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab and Delhi). Minimum temperatures (top right), 20-15 Celsius, are seen in two pockets – south interior Karnataka and in the North-East over Manipur and Mizoram.

These temperature maps may be read with the rainfall for the same period, 2014 May 25-31, to correlate particularly the temperature anomalies (how much higher or lower the normal maxima and minima have departed) with where it has rained. The rainfall map (lower left) shows rain having fallen over south Karnataka, but also north West Bengal and eastern Bihar, coastal Odisha and southern Haryana. These appear to relate to a group of anomalies (lower right): the first being interior Tamil Nadu, north-eastern Karnataka and adjacent Andhra Pradesh; the second being eastern Uttar Pradesh and adjacent Bihar. [You can get the four maps in this zip file.]

Read these from top left - 21, 22 and 23 June. Lower row - 24, 25 and 26 June. The green shading is the rain-bearing cloud cover. After 20 June the peninsula will have rain in most meteorological zone but North and north-west India will still await the monsoon system.

Read these from top left – 21, 22 and 23 June. Lower row – 24, 25 and 26 June. The green shading is the rain-bearing cloud cover. After 20 June the peninsula will have rain in most meteorological zone but North and north-west India will still await the monsoon system.

What these don’t show, but which the longer range forecast Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (Pune, Maharashtra) has on record, is that monsoon 2014 will not touch northern India until the fourth week of June. Rain-bearing cloud and wind systems will cover, in this forecast, peninsular India by around the 16th or 17th of June, but it will be another week before they deliver some relief to the cemented and asphalted surfaces of the National Capital Territory and its parched surroundings.

These very helpful maps are used by the Pune-based met researchers as part of their monsoon monitoring and forecasting partnership with several international climatoloigcal research institutes, chief amongst them the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the USA through its Climate Prediction Centre.

The Tropmet – as the Pune group is usually called – has bequeathed to us a definition (perhaps for this season only, subject to revision when climate change asserts itself) of monsoon rain that is in part scientific and in part geographic, which I think is a good sign (the Indian Meteorological Department will disagree, but we know better). The faster Tropmet decides to communicate in language appreciated, and understood, by Bharatiya citizens, the more said citizens will find an interest in correcting the misconceptions of scientists.

Tropmet says: “Rainfall within the summer monsoon season is mainly punctuated by the northward propagating monsoon intraseasonal oscillations (MISOs) with timescales of 30-60 days that manifests as spells of heavy rainfall and periods of quiescent rainfall, instead of a continuous deluge.” In the Konkan, we like our continuous deluge and the old-timers would have sixteen names for different sorts of deluge (and an equally rich chest of monsoon nouns for other sorts of rain).

Human influence on climate system is clear, says IPCC summary

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IPCC_AR5_blue_strip_smallMajor update: On 30 September 2013 the IPCC released the Final Draft Report of the Working Group I contribution to the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report Climate Change 2013. This is commonly called ‘The Physical Science Basis’. It consists of the full scientific and technical assessment undertaken by Working Group I.

The Final Draft consists of 19 documents – 14 chapters, three annexes, a technical summary and a changes summary. These you will find via this list:

01 Technical Summary (6.05 MB)
02 Ch01 Introduction (2.66 MB)
03 Ch02 Observations: Atmosphere and Surface (10.40 MB)
04 Ch03 Observations: Ocean (18.10 MB)
05 Ch04 Observations: Cryosphere (5.18 MB)
06 Ch05 Information from Paleoclimate Archives (4.78 MB)
07 Ch06 Carbon and Other Biogeochemical Cycles (8.90 MB)
08 Ch07 Clouds and Aerosols (3.48 MB)
09 Ch08 Anthropogenic and Natural Radiative Forcing (2.83 MB)
10 Ch09 Evaluation of Climate Models (6.81 MB)
11 Ch10 Detection and Attribution of Climate Change: from Global to Regional (4.39 MB)
12 Ch11 Near-term Climate Change: Projections and Predictability (5.45 MB)
13 Ch12 Long-term Climate Change: Projections, Commitments and Irreversibility (25.50 MB)
14 Ch13 Sea Level Change (6.17 MB)
15 Ch14 Climate Phenomena and their Relevance for Future Regional Climate Change (7.74 MB)
16 Annex I: Atlas of Global and Regional Climate Projections (36.50 MB)
17 Annex II: Glossary (0.80 MB)
18 Annex III: Acronyms and Regional Abbreviations (0.50 MB)
19 Changes to the Underlying Scientific/Technical Assessment (0.20 MB)

Map of the observed surface temperature change from 1901 to 2012 derived from temperature trends. The globally averaged combined land and ocean surface temperature data as calculated by a linear trend, show a warming of 0.85 [0.65 to 1.06] °C, over the period 1880–2012. For the longest period when calculation of regional trends is sufficiently complete (1901–2012), almost the entire globe has experienced surface warming. Source: IPCC

Map of the observed surface temperature change from 1901 to 2012 derived from temperature trends. The globally averaged combined land and ocean surface temperature data as calculated by a linear trend, show a warming of 0.85 [0.65 to 1.06] °C, over the period 1880–2012. For the longest period when calculation of regional trends is sufficiently complete (1901–2012), almost the entire globe has experienced surface warming. Source: IPCC

Early statements and releases from the Twelfth Session of Working Group I which was held from 2013 September 23-26 in Stockholm, Sweden. The press release about the human influence on the climate system is here, which has said “this is evident in most regions of the globe”.

The IPCC has also provided headline statements from the Summary for Policymakers of the Working Group contribution to AR5. At the Session, the Summary for Policymakers (SPM) of the Working Group I contribution to the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (WGI AR5) was approved and the underlying scientific and technical assessment accepted. (See the earlier post on the AR5 process.)

IPCC_AR5_WG!_strips1For the Fifth Assessment Report, the scientific community has defined a set of four new scenarios. These are called Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs). These four RCPs include one ‘mitigation scenario’ leading to a very low radiative forcing level (RCP2.6). (Radiative forcing is the change in net irradiance; it is used to assess and compare the anthropogenic and natural drivers of climate change). There are two ‘stabilisation scenarios’ (RCP4.5 and RCP6), and one scenario with very high greenhouse gas emissions (RCP8.5). The RCPs can thus represent a range of 21st century climate policies.

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How warm-hot-wet was 2012 September where you live?

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Land-ocean temperature anomalies in 2012 September. Map: NOAA-NCDC

Wondering what global warming has to do with violent rainstorms, hurricanes, typhoons, cyclones and other enormous destructive and very wet (and cold) weather phenomena you may have experienced in 2012 September? Here is an answer, provided by the ever-watchful (and woefully under-appreciated) National Climatic Data Center of the USA’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

In its ‘State of the Climate’, global analysis for 2012 September, the NOAA-NCDC has said:

(1) The average combined global land and ocean surface temperature for September 2012 tied with 2005 as the warmest September on record, at 0.67°C (1.21°F) above the 20th century average of 15.0°C (59.0°F). Records began in 1880.
(2) The globally-averaged land surface temperature for September 2012 was the third warmest September on record, at 1.02°C (1.84°F) above average. The globally-averaged ocean surface temperature tied with 1997 as the second warmest September on record, at 0.54°C (0.97°F) above average.
(3) The average combined global land and ocean surface temperature for January–September 2012 was the eighth warmest such period on record, at 0.57°C (1.03°F) above the 20th century average.

This was the third warmest September over land in the Northern Hemisphere and fourth warmest in the Southern Hemisphere. In the higher northern latitudes, parts of east central Russia observed record warmth, as did parts of Venezuela, French Guiana, and northern Brazil closer to the tropics. Nearly all of South America was much warmer than average as were western Australia and central to eastern Europe. Far eastern Russia, a few regions in southern Africa, and parts of China were cooler than average.

Major significant climate anomalies and events in 2012 September. Map: NOAA-NCDC

Moreover, this was the second warmest summer (June–August) for Hungary since national records began in 1900; Australia experienced its third warmest September since records began in 1950, with the nationally-averaged maximum temperature 1.94°C (3.49°F) above the 1961–1990 average; in Argentina the monthly-averaged daily, maximum, and minimum temperatures were all above normal (and remember both Australia and Argentina are both wheat producers and exporters); Japan observed record warmth during September, the greatest warmth was observed across northern Japan (regions of Hokkaido and Tohuko), which was 3.7°C (6.7°F) above average; in Britain, the average September temperature was 0.7°C (1.3°F) below the 1981–2010 average and was the coolest September for the region since 1994 (that’s certainly linked to the Arctic sea ice melting at a record rate this year).

Written by makanaka

November 2, 2012 at 15:46

Much red, little blue in USA’s record warm March 2012

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Land surface temperatures in USA in 2012 March, red for warm anomalies and blue for cool. Image: Earth Observatory, NASA

NASA’s Earth Observatory has an image-story on how a huge, lingering ridge of high pressure over the eastern half of the United States brought summer-like temperatures to North America in March 2012. The warm weather broke records across the central and eastern United States and much of Canada.

The unseasonable warmth broke temperature records in more than 1,054 locations between March 13–19, as well daily lows in 627 locations. Cities as geographically diverse as Chicago, Des Moines, Traverse City (Michigan), Myrtle Beach, Madison (Wisconsin), Atlantic City, New York City, and Duluth, (Minnesota) all broke records for high temperatures in recent days.

The intensity and scope of the heat wave is clearly visible in this map of land surface temperature anomalies. Based on data from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument on the Terra satellite, the map depicts temperatures compared to the average of the same eight day period of March from 2000-2011. Areas with warmer than average temperatures are shown in red; near-normal temperatures are white; and areas that were cooler than the 2000-2011 base period are blue.

Written by makanaka

March 28, 2012 at 14:48

Climate change in the USA and the new plant growers’ map

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The US government’s map of planting zones, usually seen on the back of seed packets, has changed. An update of the official guide for gardeners reflects a new reality, that of climate change and shifting meteorological zones. Some plants and trees that once seemed too vulnerable to cold can now survive farther north than they used to.

As this report on Yahoo News pointed out, it’s the first time since 1990 that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has updated the map and much has changed. Nearly entire states, such as Ohio, Nebraska and Texas, are in warmer zones. The new guide, unveiled this week, also uses better weather data and offers more interactive technology. For the first time it takes into factors such as how cities are hotter than suburbs and rural areas, nearby large bodies of water, prevailing winds, and the slope of land.

The 2012 USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map is the standard by which gardeners and growers can determine which plants are most likely to thrive at a location. The map is based on the average annual minimum winter temperature, divided into 10-degree F zones. For the first time, the map is available as an interactive GIS-based map, for which a broadband Internet connection is recommended, and as static images for those with slower Internet access. Users may also simply type in a ZIP Code and find the hardiness zone for that area.

The 26 zones, however, are based on five degree increments. In the old 1990 map, the USDA mentions 34 different US cities on its key. Eighteen of those, including Honolulu, St. Louis, Des Moines, St. Paul and Fairbanks, are in newer warmer zones. Agriculture officials said they didn’t examine the map to see how much of the map has changed for the hotter. However, the Yahoo News report said Mark Kaplan, the New York meteorologist who co-created the 1990 map and a 2003 update that the USDA didn’t use, said the latest version clearly shows warmer zones migrating north. [See the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map here, with zip code form, interactive mapping and downloads.]

Hardiness zones are based on the average annual extreme minimum temperature during a 30-year period in the past, not the lowest temperature that has ever occurred in the past or might occur in the future.

The USDA has said gardeners should keep that in mind when selecting plants, especially if they choose to “push” their hardiness zone by growing plants not rated for their zone. In addition, although this edition of the USDA PHZM is drawn in the most detailed scale to date, there might still be microclimates that are too small to show up on the map.

Microclimates, which are fine-scale climate variations, can be small heat islands – such as those caused by blacktop and concrete – or cool spots caused by small hills and valleys. Individual gardens also may have very localised microclimates (your entire yard could be somewhat warmer or cooler than the surrounding area, the USDA explained, because it is sheltered or exposed).

The 1990 map was based on temperatures from 1974 to 1986; the new map from 1976 to 2005. The nation’s average temperature from 1976 to 2005 was two-thirds of a degree warmer than for the old time period, according to statistics at the National Climatic Data Center. So far, according to the reports on the new zones map, the USDA is not actively associating its map with the effects of climate change on the USA.

Many species of plants gradually acquire cold hardiness in the fall when they experience shorter days and cooler temperatures. This hardiness is normally lost gradually in late winter as temperatures warm and days become longer. A bout of extremely cold weather early in the fall may injure plants even though the temperatures may not reach the average lowest temperature for your zone. Similarly, exceptionally warm weather in midwinter followed by a sharp change to seasonably cold weather may cause injury to plants as well. Such factors are not taken into account in the USDA PHZM.

David W. Wolfe, professor of plant and soil ecology in Cornell University’s Department of Horticulture said the USDA is being too cautious and has disagreed about the Agency ignoring the climate change connection. “At a time when the ‘normal’ climate has become a moving target, this revision of the hardiness zone map gives us a clear picture of the ‘new normal,’ and will be an essential tool for gardeners, farmers, and natural resource managers as they begin to cope with rapid climate change,” Wolfe has said.

Still, the USDA has emphasised that all PHZMs are guides. They are based on the average lowest temperatures, not the lowest ever. Growing plants at the extreme of the coldest zone where they are adapted means that they could experience a year with a rare, extreme cold snap that lasts just a day or two, and plants that have thrived happily for several years could be lost. Gardeners need to keep that in mind and understand that past weather records cannot be a guarantee for future variation in weather.

World on the Edge, writes Lester Brown, Earth Policy

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In his introduction to the upcoming title, Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute says that we are facing issues of near-overwhelming complexity and unprecedented urgency. “Our challenge is to think globally and develop policies to counteract environmental decline and economic collapse. The question is: Can we change direction before we go over the edge?”

The edge is what Pakistan and Russia did go over in 2010. In the summer of 2010 record-high temperatures hit Moscow and torrential rains caused immense devastation in Pakistan.

NASA Earth Observatory, Russia fires

NASA Earth Observatory, Russia fires

At first it was just another heat wave, says the first chapter of the book, but the scorching heat that started in late June continued through mid-August. Western Russia was so hot and dry in early August that 300 or 400 new fires were starting every day. Millions of acres of forest burned. So did thousands of homes. Crops withered. Day after day, Moscow was bathed in seemingly endless smoke. The elderly and those with impaired respiratory systems struggled to breathe. The death rate climbed as heat stress and smoke took their toll.

The average July temperature in Moscow was a scarcely believable 14 degrees Fahrenheit above the norm. Twice during the heat wave, the Moscow temperature exceeded 100 degrees Fahrenheit, a level Muscovites had never before experienced. Watching the heat wave play out over a seven-week period on the TV evening news, with the thousands of fires and the smoke everywhere, was like watching a horror film that had no end. Russia’s 140 million people were in shock, traumatized by what was happening to them and their country.

Mohammad Rezwan, 24, swims one hour every other day to get food from at a World Food Programme distribution in Kashmore, Pakistan. Photo: IRIN News

Mohammad Rezwan, 24, swims one hour every other day to get food from at a World Food Programme distribution in Kashmore, Pakistan. Photo: IRIN News

Even before the Russian heat wave ended, there were reports in late July of torrential rains in the mountains of northern Pakistan. The Indus River, the lifeline of Pakistan, and its tributaries were overflowing. Levees that had confined the river to a narrow channel so the fertile floodplains could be farmed had failed. Eventually the raging waters covered one fifth of the country. The destruction was everywhere. Some 2 million homes were damaged or destroyed. More than 20 million people were affected by the flooding. Nearly 2,000 Pakistanis died. Some 6 million acres of crops were damaged or destroyed. Over a million livestock drowned. Roads and bridges were washed away.

Although the flooding was blamed on the heavy rainfall, there were actually several trends converging to produce what was described as the largest natural disaster in Pakistan’s history. On May 26, 2010, the official temperature in Mohenjodaro in south-central Pakistan reached 128 degrees Fahrenheit, a record for Asia. Snow and glaciers in the western Himalayas, where the tributaries of the Indus River originate, were melting fast. As Pakistani glaciologist M. Iqbal Khan noted, the glacial melt was already swelling the flow of the Indus even before the rains came.

How June 2010 blazed new climate records, and the story of Rongbuk glacier

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NOAA, National Climatic Data Center, State of the Climate, Global Analysis, June 2010It’s been another searing half year from January 2010 to June. Global temperature records have been surpassed all over the place. Both land and sea temperatures have climbed upwards to match previous highs, and in some places to top them. Here are the global highlights for June 2010 from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA), National Climatic Data Center, State of the Climate, Global Analysis, June 2010:

* The combined global land and ocean average surface temperature for June 2010 was the warmest on record at 16.2°C (61.1°F), which is 0.68°C (1.22°F) above the 20th century average of 15.5°C (59.9°F). The previous record for June was set in 2005.
* June 2010 was the fourth consecutive warmest month on record (March, April, and May 2010 were also the warmest on record). This was the 304th consecutive month with a global temperature above the 20th century average. The last month with below-average temperature was February 1985.
NOAA, National Climatic Data Center, State of the Climate, Global Analysis, June 2010* The June worldwide averaged land surface temperature was 1.07°C (1.93°F) above the 20th century average of 13.3°C (55.9°F)—the warmest on record.
* It was the warmest April–June (three-month period) on record for the global land and ocean temperature and the land-only temperature. The three-month period was the second warmest for the world’s oceans, behind 1998.
* It was the warmest June and April–June on record for the Northern Hemisphere as a whole and all land areas of the Northern Hemisphere.
* It was the warmest January–June on record for the global land and ocean temperature. The worldwide land on average had its second warmest January–June, behind 2007. The worldwide averaged ocean temperature was the second warmest January–June, behind 1998.
* Sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean continued to decrease during June 2010. According to NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, La Niña conditions are likely to develop during the Northern Hemisphere summer 2010.

NOAA, National Climatic Data Center, State of the Climate, Global Analysis, June 2010The ‘State of the Climate, Global Analysis’ for June 2010 said that warmer-than-average conditions dominated the globe during the month, with the most prominent warmth in Mexico, northern Africa, and most of Europe, Asia, South America, and the USA. The world land surface temperature June 2010 anomaly of 1.07°C (1.93°F) was the warmest on record, surpassing the previous June record set in 2005 by 0.12°C (0.22°F).

The warm conditions that affected large portions of each inhabited continent also contributed to the warmest June worldwide land and ocean surface temperature since records began in 1880. The previous June record was set in 2005. Separately, the worldwide ocean surface temperatures during June 2010 were 0.54°C (0.97°F) above the 20th century average—the fourth warmest June on record. Warmer-than-average conditions were present across most of the Atlantic, Indian, and the western Pacific oceans.

NOAA, National Climatic Data Center, State of the Climate, Global Analysis, June 2010“June 2010 was the fourth consecutive month with reported warmest averaged global land and ocean temperature on record (March, April, and May 2010 were also the warmest on record),” said the Global Analysis for the month. “When averaging the last three months, the combined global land and ocean surface temperature during April–June 2010 (three-month period) ranked as the warmest April–June on record, with an anomaly of 0.70°C (1.26°F) above the 20th century average. The previous April–June record was set in 1998, which had an anomaly of 0.66°C (1.19°F) above the 20th century average.”

The areas with the wettest anomalies during June 2010 included southern India, southern China, southern Europe, the midwestern USA, and parts of northwestern South America. The driest anomalies were present across northern India and across parts eastern Asia, northeastern South America, and Australia. There was climate havoc in China. According to the Beijing Climate Center (BCC), the provinces of Guizhou, Fujian, and Qinghai had above-average precipitation during June 2010, ranking as the second wettest June since national records began in 1951.

The BCC also reported that ten provinces in southern China were affected by storms that brought heavy rainfall across the area—resulting in record breaking daily rainfall in some places of Jiangxi and Fujian. The copious rainfall prompted floods that killed nearly 200 people. Meanwhile, the province of Jiangsu had its driest June on record, while Shanxi had its second driest on record. Overall, the monthly averaged precipitation in China during June 2010, 95.0 mm (3.7 inches), was near the 1971–2000 average.

Asia Society-The 1921 photograph taken by George Mallory of the Rongbuk Glacier and the northern slope of Mount Everest in the distance, Tibet Autonomous Region

Asia Society-The 1921 photograph taken by George Mallory of the Rongbuk Glacier and the northern slope of Mount Everest in the distance, Tibet Autonomous Region

The impact of a succession of record warm Junes is described in photographic detail by an eye-opening exhibit of the Asia Society. (The Telegraph of Britain had an early report on the startling photos.) The two pictures show an alarming retreat in ice over more than 80 years.

The first was taken in 1921 by British mountaineer George Mallory. The Asia Society commissioned the same picture to be taken of the main Rongbuk glacier on the northern slope of Mount Everest in Tibet in 2007.

The new picture by mountaineer David Breashears show that the glacier is shrunk and withered. Breashears retraced the steps of the 1921 British Mount Everest Reconnaissance Expedition Team, using photos taken then by surveyor and photographer Maj Edward Wheeler and amateur photographer George Mallory, who later died attempting to reach the Everest summit in 1924.

Asia Society-The 2007 photograph taken by David Breashears of the Rongbuk Glacier taken from the same place as Mallory's 1921 photograph

Asia Society-The 2007 photograph taken by David Breashears of the Rongbuk Glacier taken from the same place as Mallory's 1921 photograph

The Himalayan glaciers are melting at an alarming rate, as is starkly documented in photographic comparisons between archival images and recent photographs taken by mountaineer David Breashears in the new Asia Society Museum exhibition Rivers of Ice: Vanishing Glaciers in the Greater Himalaya. “That melting also has a profound impact on the local communities the Himalayan glaciers serve, and has emerged as a primary bellwether of global climate change,” said the Asia Society.

The surface area of glaciers in these high altitude valleys is often covered by layers of debris or snow. To determine the full measure of loss in the ice mass in these photos, look not only at how far the glaciers have receded, but at the surrounding valley walls. In many cases, the loss in depth is upwards of 300 vertical feet.

Warmer seas, hotter land, stranger rain

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Temperature anomalies for April 2010 are shown on the dot maps below. The dot map on the left provides a spatial representation of anomalies calculated from the Global Historical Climatology Network (GHCN) dataset of land surface stations using a 1961–1990 base period. Image from State of the Climate, Global Analysis, April 2010, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Climatic Data Center

Temperature anomalies for April 2010 are shown on the dot maps below. The dot map on the left provides a spatial representation of anomalies calculated from the Global Historical Climatology Network (GHCN) dataset of land surface stations using a 1961–1990 base period. Image from State of the Climate, Global Analysis, April 2010, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Climatic Data Center

The signals in 2010 have been loud and clear and very very worrying.

I’ve taken these graphs and images from (1) the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Climatic Data Center and (2) the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme climate change index. Together they present the very worrying picture about climate in 2010.

For the first four months of 2010, I’ve taken two of the several salient observations made by NOAA-NCDC for each month. Here they are:

January
* The combined global land and ocean average surface temperature for January 2010 was 0.60°C (1.08°F) above the 20th century average of 12.0°C (53.6°F). This is the fourth warmest January on record.
* The global land surface temperature for January 2010 was 0.83°C (1.49°F) above the 20th century average of 2.8°C (37.0°F). Land areas in the Southern Hemisphere were the warmest on record for January.

From the climate change index of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP) of the International Council for ScienceFebruary
* In the Southern Hemisphere, both the February 2010 average temperature for land areas and the Hemisphere as a whole (land and ocean surface combined), represented the warmest February on record. The Southern Hemisphere ocean temperature tied with 1998 as the warmest February on record.
* The combined global land and ocean average surface temperature for December 2009 – February 2010 was the fifth warmest on record for the season, 0.57°C (1.03°F) above the 20th century average of 12.1°C (53.8°F).

March
* The combined global land and ocean average surface temperature for March 2010 was the warmest on record at 13.5°C (56.3°F), which is 0.77°C (1.39°F) above the 20th century average of 12.7°C (54.9°F). This was also the 34th consecutive March with global land and ocean temperatures above the 20th century average.
* The worldwide ocean surface temperature was 0.56°C (1.01°F) above the 20th century average of 15.9°C (60.7°F) and the warmest March on record.

From the climate change index of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP) of the International Council for Science

From the climate change index of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP) of the International Council for Science

April
* The combined global land and ocean average surface temperature for April 2010 was the warmest on record at 14.5°C (58.1°F), which is 0.76°C (1.37°F) above the 20th century average of 13.7°C (56.7°F). This was also the 34th consecutive April with global land and ocean temperatures above the 20th century average.
* The worldwide ocean surface temperature was 0.57°C (1.03°F) above the 20th century average of 16.0°C (60.9°F) and the warmest April on record. The warmth was most pronounced in the equatorial portions of the major oceans, especially the Atlantic.

What’s a lot worse is the bland monsoon forecasts by the Indian Meteorological Department, which as an institute appears to pay little attention to the global forces shaping our subcontinental climate.

State of the Climate, Global Analysis, April 2010, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Climatic Data Center

Land temperature anomalies. From State of the Climate, Global Analysis, April 2010, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Climatic Data Center.

Take this announcement: “The 2010 monsoon is running ahead of schedule, as the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) has said rain was recorded in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands before its normal arrival at this first landmark on the south-west monsoon’s progression across the sub-continent. Rainfall is likely to be 98% of the long-term average said the IMD. “Rainfall for the country as a whole is is likely to be normal,” said an IMD spokesperson and qualified this forecast by noting that the model has an error margin of 5%.”

They made a very similar pre-monsoon announcement in 2009, and by early July, when it was obvious to all that the rains were going to fall way under the seasonal average, the IMD amended its forecast. They’ve been talking about delivering district-level forecasts to farmers for the monsoon in 2010. When they won’t look macro, how on earth are they going to understand micro?

The advance guard of climate change

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Winter sky over the Deccan plateau, India

Winter sky over the Deccan plateau, India

From late 2003 to early 2005 I was part of a small group in south Nagaland (in India’s north-east region) conducting a study on natural resource management and the prospects for tourism in the region. The study was funded by a Indian central government ministry, was ‘supervised’ by the state government and was made possible by the village community of Khonoma, in the Naga hills.

At around the mid-point of our study, when the time had come for the paddy seedlings to be transplanted, that the convergence of climate change and scarce labour resources became obvious. The seedlings were not ready to be moved at the time of year they were usually expected to be. By the time they were, the extra labour each rice farming family had mobilised in preparation for the hard work ahead, had their regular jobs and occupations to return to. The hill villages were in turmoil. Practically every single family that had a plot of terraced rice field to attend to was caught in a dilemma.

If they insisted that those who had come to the villages to help them – daughters, sons, cousins or aunts – stay back to complete the work, those helpful souls would certainly lose salaries and wages. If they let them return, they would have to look for very scarce hired labour, whose per day wage was high and which would certainly rise given the scarcity of hands available and time. It was for most families a Hobson’s choice, and by either reckoning only made the socio-economic cost of rice cultivation dearer. This was the most dramatic impact of climate change that I saw at the time, for the shift in transplanting season was considered very odd indeed by the villages, almost unprecedented.

Extracting riverbed sand in North Goa, India

Extracting riverbed sand in North Goa, India

We know now that local observations of direct effects of climate change by tribal populations and indigenous peoples corroborate scientific predictions. In a very real sense, indigenous peoples are the advance guard of climate change. They observe and experience climate and environmental changes first-hand, and are already using their traditional knowledge and survival skills – the heart of their cultural resilience – to respond. Moreover, they are doing this at a time when their cultures and livelihoods are already undergoing significant stresses not only due to the environmental changes from climate change, but from the localised pressures and economic impulses of global trade and movement of capital.

The United Nations University’s Institute of Advanced Study has just released an advance copy of what promises to be a goldmine of such observation. The volume is entitled ‘Advance Guard: Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation, Mitigation and Indigenous Peoples – A Compendium of Case Studies’. The 402 case studies summarised in this densely packed volume mention a host of specific vulnerabilities and early effects of climate change being reported by indigenous peoples (and these include cultural and spiritual impacts): demographic changes, including displacement from their traditional lands and territories; economic impacts and loss of livelihoods; land and natural resource degradation; impacts on food security and food sovereignty; health issues; water shortages; and loss of traditional knowledge.

: Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation, Mitigation and Indigenous Peoples

The cover graphic of the UNU-IAS compilation 'Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation, Mitigation and Indigenous Peoples'

Impacts are felt across all sectors, including agriculture and food security; biodiversity and natural ecosystems; animal husbandry (particularly pastoralist lifestyles); housing, infrastructure and human settlements; forests; transport; energy consumption and production; and human rights. The entire range of effects on habitats and their biomes are supplied: temperature and precipitation changes; coastal erosion; permafrost degradation; changes in wildlife, pest and vector-borne disease distribution; sea-level rise; increasing soil erosion, avalanches and landslides; more frequent extreme weather events, such as intense storms; changing weather patterns, including increasing aridity and drought, fire and flood patterns; and increased melting of sea-ice and ice-capped mountains.

“In spite of these impacts,” states the UNU-IAS compilation, “indigenous peoples also have a variety of successful adaptive and mitigation strategies to share. The majority of these are based in some way on their traditional ecological knowledge, whether they involve modifying existing practices or restructuring their relationships with the environment. Their strategies include application and modification of traditional knowledge; shifting resource bases; altering land use and settlement patterns; blending of traditional knowledge and modern technologies; fire management practices; changes in hunting and gathering periods and crop diversification; management of ecosystem services; awareness raising and education, including use of multimedia and social networks; and policy, planning and strategy development.”

From Asia, I’ve picked out three cases which illustrate just how important it is to observe and learn from these responses:

BANGLADESH | Indigenous forecasting in Maheshkhali, using meteorological indicators and animal behaviour to predict cyclones. Maheshkhali Island is situated off the Bay of Bengal coast with an area of approximately 60 square km. Cyclones are the greatest disaster threat of coastal people. Research has revealed that certain indigenous prediction capacity possessed by the local people always helped them to anticipate cyclones and take necessary precautions. The indigenous cyclone prediction is even more important as it was revealed during interviews with the Maheskhali islanders that they do not understand the modern warning system with its different numerical codes (1-10) and elaboration on wind direction, as explained in the warning bulletins.

Buffalo at work, Kolhapur district, Maharashtra, India

Buffalo at work, Kolhapur district, Maharashtra, India

INDIA | Indigenous forecasting in India using meteorological indicators, plant features and animal behaviour. Researchers from Gujarat Agricultural University have evaluated eight indigenous forecasting beliefs between 1990 to 1998. For each year, the data was tabulated and analysed on the basis of Bhadli’s criteria. Based on the findings the researchers concluded that many of the beliefs are reliable indicators of monsoon. The study has helped to restore the people’s confidence in their own traditional knowledge and skills. As climate change occurs, these traditional forecasting indicators may change. Locals have to continue their observations and adjust their predictions accordingly to ensure that correct coping mechanisms will be applied.

INDONESIA | Customary Iban Community. This study examines the social and institutional practices of a sedentary Iban sub-tribe in the upstream part of the Kapuas system in governing their life. In 2008, the Sungai Utik community acquired a formal, recognition of their institutional capacity to live at the center of one of the most complex ecosystems that is the tropical rainforest of Kalimantan. The Indonesian Eco-label Institute provided the community logging practice of the Sungai Utik Ibans its “seal of ecological appropriateness”. The Sungai Utik life-space is part of the bigger climatic zone just north of the Equator that has been predicted to experience higher precipitation over the course of climate change in this century, particularly in comparison with the last three decades of the last century. It means that the community should learn to adapt to a transformed rainy season—the duration of which and the timing of its start and ending are also subject to change—for the crucial nugal (planting) rituals.