Our Future: Asia

Packages from relief helicopters
Packages from relief helicopters

I haven’t posted on the recent flooding in Asia in part because I was out of town when the floods started, in part because of the enormous humanitarian disaster. It’s easier emotionally to focus on a few coal miners than the millions. A larger part though is the fear that this is their future.

Wading through floodwaters
Wading through floodwaters Health, food, and agriculture are concerns.

As of today, more than 2,000 are dead, and more than 30 million have lost homes or/and livelihoods. That is 10% of the US population.

There have been costlier floods. The Yellow River in China flooded in 1931, killing hundreds of thousands or millions. During the 20th century, many millions of Chinese died from floods.

Floods have killed for years. In the Netherlands in 1228, 100,000 died after dykes broke.

Bangladesh, which will see increasing problems over the next few decades, suffered major floods in 1970 (200 – 500,000 dead) and 1991 (more than 100,000 dead).

In North Korea between 1995 and 1998, millions died from famine and floods. In the recent floods in North Korea, good agricultural land was affected, and crops will be lost. It isn’t just those who die immediately from the floods, but crops that are destroyed.

From IPCC, 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change:

Since 1950, the number of heat waves has increased and widespread increases have occurred in the numbers of warm nights. The extent of regions affected by droughts has also increased as precipitation over land has marginally decreased while evaporation has increased due to warmer conditions. Generally, numbers of heavy daily precipitation events that lead to flooding have increased, but not everywhere. Tropical storm and hurricane frequencies vary considerably from year to year, but evidence suggests substantial increases in intensity and duration since the 1970s. In the extratropics, variations in tracks and intensity of storms reflect variations in major features of the atmospheric circulation, such as the North Atlantic Oscillation.

Will it get worse?

[T]he type, frequency and intensity of extreme events are expected to change as Earth’s climate changes, and these changes could occur even with relatively small mean climate changes…Along with the risk of drying, there is an increased chance of intense precipitation and flooding due to the greater water-holding capacity of a warmer atmosphere. This has already been observed and is projected to continue because in a warmer world, precipitation tends to be concentrated into more intense events, with longer periods of little precipitation in between. Therefore, intense and heavy downpours would be interspersed with longer relatively dry periods…

In particular, over [Northern Hemisphere] land, an increase in the likelihood of very wet winters is projected over much of central and northern Europe due to the increase in intense precipitation during storm events, suggesting an increased chance of flooding over Europe and other mid-latitude regions due to more intense rainfall and snowfall events producing more runoff. Similar results
apply for summer precipitation, with implications for more flooding in the Asian monsoon region and other tropical areas. The increased risk of floods in a number of major river basins in a future warmer climate has been related to an increase in river discharge with an increased risk of future intense storm-related precipitation events and flooding. Some of these changes would be extensions of trends already underway.

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