Climate Chaos

From the catastrophic Canadian wildfires to the devastation left behind by the Himachal floods, the earth has now started ‘to boil’.


Swollen Beas River in Mandi District | Source: PTI

Sweety Mohanta

The torrential rains caused flash floods and left behind devastation and destruction in several regions of North India, with more than 150 houses destroyed and over 600 more partially damaged. People were left stranded and rescue attempts were hampered as houses were inundated, roads and bridges destroyed, and communication networks interrupted.

The Yamuna breached the danger level again on July 27 in the National Capital Region of Delhi. The water level had risen to a record 208.66 metres on July 13 as a result of heavy rains in neighbouring Haryana, causing the Hathnikund Barrage to discharge more than 2 lakh cusecs of water. This is the highest level since 1978. Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, and Punjab suffered much as swathes of land witnessed record rainfall in July.

This severe climate crisis is not limited to India, as weather records were broken across the world. Scientists have long cautioned that the severity of climate change is increasing the frequency of catastrophic weather. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) foresaw a 20% increase in extreme rainfall events in its sixth assessment report (AR6), which also cautioned that summer and monsoon precipitation will become more common.

“The era of global warming has ended; the era of global boiling has arrived,” United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said recently.

The hottest year on record

Last month, major climatic indicators such as the worldwide sea ice extent and the global air and sea surface temperatures both broke records. Many places endured blistering heat. Countries in West and East Asia, and Southern Europe saw record-breaking temperatures.

The heat has had terrible effects in some locations, causing enormous wildfires in Canada that led to pollution and mounting death tolls from a prolonged heat wave in Mexico. There have been catastrophic wildfires and temperatures up to 14 °C above average for June in large parts of Canada. The amount of carbon released into the atmosphere in June as a whole exceeded the maximum amount typically released throughout the entire wildfire season, which lasts until late August according to data from the European Union's Copernicus Air Monitoring System.

Global sea ice levels also deviated greatly from previous years’ average. According to NASA's Snow and Ice Data Center, June 2023 had the thirteenth lowest average extent of Arctic sea ice in satellite records. Sea ice levels were at an all-time low as well for the month in Antarctica, where the winter begins in June. During the autumn and winter seasons, the creation of new sea ice may be slowed by a little temperature increase, caused by mixing from deeper ocean layers or warmer ocean surface water moving toward the north.

Image credits: North Pole in 2020 | Source: Markus Rex, Alfred Wegener Institute, via AP

The El Nino Effect

The equatorial Pacific Ocean is the source of the climate phenomenon known as El Nino, which affects weather patterns all across the world. This indicates that the temperature is likely to increase further. Normally, winds that travel from east to west confine warm water to the western Pacific, pushing it toward Indonesia and Australia. However, when there is an El Nino, the winds can even change course and slow down, allowing the warmer water to travel to South America from the east. Mexico has been experiencing weeks of excessive heat, with temperatures reaching 49 °C. The southern part of the United States has experienced a heatwave as well.

The Disappearing Corals

Since 1975, the average coral cover on the majority of Florida Keys reefs has decreased from 30-50% to less than 3%. According to sedimentologist William Precht, this is a result of coral diseases, coral bleaching incidents, storms, and the effects of cold water throughout the winter. Precht asserts that coral can only endure in a relatively narrow range of water temperatures. Temperatures now routinely rise into the upper 80s as a result of human-caused climate change.

Image credits: Coral Reef Watch Daily 5km SST Anomalies | Source: NOAA

However, the water is currently significantly hotter, with an average temperature of around 32.2°C and isolated areas reaching 35°F or an absurd 36°F. This is "off the charts" even for a sweltering location like South Florida in July. Due to greenhouse warming brought on by humans, water temperatures in the Atlantic Basin have risen by an average of a few degrees over the previous few decades. This is due to the ocean's ability to hold roughly 90% of the surplus heat caused by climate change. Major ocean heat waves are now occurring twenty times more frequently worldwide.

According to Berkeley Earth, a US based non-profit organisation focusing on environmental data science and analysis, June 2023 broke the previous record of June 2022 as the warmest June since directly measured instrumental records began in 1850. This year is also progressing to become a new record warm year.

Image credits: Berkeley Earth | Source: Berkeley Earth

Eric Holthaus, a meteorologist and the founder of a weather service called "Currently in Minneapolis” says, “The good news is that we know what we need to do. It’s not like it’s some alien invasion or black hole that’s approaching us or something.” He further adds, “What’s needed, as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has been demanding, is sustained and substantial reductions in fossil-fuel emissions as quickly as possible.”

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