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06/25/2013

Cataclysmic flooding in India sign of global warming, warns new study

Floods

A vehicle moves along a damaged road caused by landslides, in Gauchar, in northern Indian state of Uttarakhand on June  25, 2013. (AP photo)

The past week’s cataclysmic floods in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand are yet another a stark reminder of things to come with global warming, say researchers.

Rainfall patterns in India might become much more variable due to climate change, potentially putting millions of farmers at risk, says a study by scientists of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

The study contends that Indian monsoon is a complex system which is likely to change under global warming. Of course, weather varies from month to month, year to year but how much and whether we can deal with it is the question, says the study.

Extreme rainfall, for instance, increases the risk of deaths, flooding and crop failure.

In a country like India where a majority of farmers still depend on steady monsoon rains for their crops, it doesn’t look good.

“Increased variability — this rather technical term translates into potentially severe impacts on people who cannot afford additional loss,” Anders Levermann, one of the study’s authors told Science Daily.  

In India, as much 80 per cent of the annual rainfall occurs during the monsoon season from June to September. Climate change scientists say factors that could play havoc with rainfall predictability include the higher holding capacity of moisture of the warmer air, but also more complex phenomena like cooling in the higher atmosphere which brings about changes in current pressure and consequently rainfall patterns.

The Indian meterological department reported a record rainfall of 385 millimetres in the first two weeks of June; it was 440 per cent over the usual rainfall in the monsoon season. Over 5,000 people are feared dead and over 33,000 people were rescued by the Indian army; latest reports suggest that another 20,000 or so are still stranded.

Raveena Aulakh is the Toronto Star's environment reporter. She is intrigued by climate change and its impact, now and long-term, and wildlife. Follow her on Twitter @raveenaaulakh

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