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Freak weather conditions in India attributed to global warming

Rises in temperature can disrupt weather patterns in a big way, leading to floods, harming human life and property and drastically affecting foodgrain production

The weather in India, especially that experienced in July this year, has been quirky. In northern India, the absence of the usual seasonal showers has turned large areas of the land barren. In contrast, Bihar experienced twice the normal rainfall, resulting in massive floods.

A five-degree-Celsius increase in the temperature has caused giant fractures in the Gangotri glacier in the Himalayas, indicating massive ice melts. Though the melts may help replenish the already depleting water resources in the Punjab, where rains have been scanty, in the long run they can be very dangerous, causing massive floods.

Declining snow cover over the Himalayas can drastically modify the ecology of the region, bringing about desertification and affecting the progress of the monsoons across the sub-continent.

Other countries too have experienced freak weather conditions. Central China and much of Australia are experiencing dry spells, while south-eastern China has seen massive flooding due to heavy rains. The worst drought of the century stalks parts of the US, and in Russia there has been an unprecedented heat wave.

Researchers all over the world are trying to make sense of the freak weather. Professor Rajendra Pachuri, who heads the UN's Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), directly attributes the freak weather, especially in India this year, to global warming.

The IPCC has been analysing scientific information on climate change across the globe. Its most recent assessment confirms that there is strong evidence to prove that surface temperatures will go up by 1.4 to 5.8 degrees Celsius over the next few decades. In contrast, the rise in temperature during the entire 20th century was a mere 0.4 degrees Celsius.

Rises in temperature can disrupt weather patterns in a big way, harming not only human life and property but also affecting foodgrain production. It is estimated that rice production in India will fall by 15 per cent over the next decade, due to adverse climatic conditions.

Warming can melt huge ice shelves in the Arctic and the Antarctic, raising sea levels by over a metre or two, thus submerging the coastlines of many countries. Coastal cities like Mumbai, Miami and New York will be affected, causing huge losses in prime economic zones. Estimates by the Tata Energy Research Institute put the economic losses for the submergence of Mumbai's low-lying areas at Rs 2,28,700 crore.

Not all meteorologists, however, agree that global warming is responsible for this year's erratic weather. G B Pant, director of the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, says that records show that the country does periodically experience bad monsoons and that this was one such year.

Other weather experts feel that it is time the Indian Meteorological Department re-evaluates its statistical model used to forecast the monsoons. Although the model has proved worthwhile all these years, it failed to predict this year's monsoons. Besides investing in giant supercomputers to run climate-prediction models, India also needs to focus research on global warming and its impact on the monsoons, says reputed meteorologist Professor T N Krishnamurti.

Despite advance warnings about the impact of global warming, countries are still reluctant to battle the phenomenon.

Global warming is attributed to the doubling of carbon dioxide levels, caused by the large-scale consumption of fossil fuels such as coal, petroleum and natural gas. These gases envelop the planet and reflect back heat radiated from the sun. This in turn raises the earth's temperature to extremely high levels.

Source: India Today, August 12, 2002