Extreme rainfall in Garhwal Himalayas
The extreme precipitation in Garhwal Himalayas in the latter half of June 2013 may not just be another case of one-time exception of devastating rainfall and may or may not take place again in the near future. Pilgrimage to the Char Dham, (Gangotri,Yamunotri, Kedarnath, Badrinath) might commence next summer as before. However, one has to take into account certain issues before one dismisses the events of mid June this year as just another case of extreme weather, which may replicate in the near future too. That would not, one feels, a scientific approach for analysing the event.
This reporter, does not remember any event in the pilgrimage centres in Garhwal in the last seventy years or more that can be compared to what happened there in mid June 2013.He had gone through most of the travelogues written by well known Bengali writers. The first book in the line was Himalaya by Rai Jaladhar Sen Bahadur, an influential Bengali VIP during the British rule when Kolkata was the capital of British India.
Many Bengali novelists in their books have written about the Himalayas, particularly the Garhwal Himalaya. Among them was Shri Uma Prasad Mukherjee, younger brother of the Jan Sangh founder Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee. He has not written about any event of extreme weather caused by excessive rainfall. This reporter also feels that the veteran Hindi writer Rahul Sankrityayan has not made any remark on excessive rainfall in the Himalayas.
One, therefore, feels that this Garhwal cloudburst is the first such event in recorded human history. Let us now move to Mumbai. Here is the description of the events there in the summer of 2005 in the volume Extreme Weather published by Reader’s Digest in 2005: “On July 26-27, 2005, a record 944 millimetre (mm) of rain hit Mumbai in Western India in a single 24-hour period, and the resulting floods killed more than 1,000 people. The deluge closed India’s main stock exchange, banks, business and schools and paralysed air travel and trains. Thousands of kilometers of roads were flooded and many were washed away. The cost of the deluge was estimated at over $3 billion.
Normally, Mumbai sees average 610 mm of rain for the whole of July. The monsoon delivers 70 to 80 per cent of India’s rainfall. For well over a billion people who live in the Indian sub-continent, if the monsoon fails to arrive, it can spell disaster, ruining harvests, devastating national economies and creating humanitarian crisis. This happened, for example, between 1899 and 1901. There was no monsoon and about 15 per cent of the population of Gujarat in Western India died from famine.”
Could these incidents be considered events signifying climate change? In the summer of 2004,Noire Ikalukjuaq, Mayor of Arctic Bay in northern Canada, came across a wasp. I didn’t know what it was at the time “I saw it” he recalled. “Wasps have never been seen in the Arctic Circle until now. Could it be a freak occurrence, or is it a sign of global warming?”
In Africa, the snowy cap of Mount Kilimanjaro is disappearing. In Europe, many birds are no longer migrating because the winters are now so mild. In the seas the tropical corals are dying because the waters are too warm; and in Antarctica grasses are colonising land that was once covered in snow. When taken together events like these have persuaded most scientists that the world’s climate is changing; the Earth is heating up, although exactly why and how fast this is happening, and how best to deal with it, is still a matter of debate.
The Volume Extreme Weather says in this connection : “The Earth’s climate may have followed a natural cycle of freeze and thaw over millions of years, but while attempting to predict future climate change, a relatively new phenomenon has to be taken into account ; Mankind.” The presence of humans on the planet has had a huge impact on the environment, and one of the most pressing concern is the effect that man-made atmospheric pollution is having on the earth’s temperature. Over the past hundred years or so, the average temperature has been rising at an unprecedented rate and it is no coincidence that this corresponds with industrialisation of many countries.
In 1827, French scientist Jean-Bapsiste Fourier discovered that some atmospheric gases let in the sun’s rays and warmth but prevent the heat escaping back into space. He called the phenomenon the greenhouse effect because of the similarity in the way the greenhouse warms up. The greenhouse effect is an entirely natural process and the one that is essential to life; it is what keeps the earth warm enough to support life – without the greenhouse effect the average temperature would be minus 18 degrees centigrade.
“At the same time, the main gases involved—water vapour, carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxides—have always occurred in the atmosphere. The problem is that humans are pumping them out in excess. The atmosphere’s ability to trap heat thus becomes greater leading to raised temperature. The consequences could be devastating.”
“Talk to almost anyone, anywhere in the world, and they are bound to have a story about freak weather. As the earth grows hotter, the weather is becoming more extreme, and hardly a month goes by without a weather record being broken somewhere on the globe. The ten warmest years on record have happened since 1990 and before the nineties the second warmest years were the 1980s.Global temperatures have risen 0.6 C since the 1860s.This may not sound very much, but our climate is so finely balanced that even a tiny change in the overall temperature can tip the planet into upheaval. The impact of global warming can be seen in rising sea-level, floods, storms, drought, melting ice, record-breaking heat-waves, changes in plants and wild life and outbreak of diseases. Almost every facet of human activity is affected, from tourism to farming to healthcare.
Finally, all weather is driven by the sun’s energy which heats up the air, land and sea. This sets in motion powerful forces in earth’s atmosphere. Water evaporates from the oceans, and rises to form clouds. Air masses and air currents move around, directing wind and rain, and creating extremes of weather that we may predict, but are powerless to control.”