Banyan

Wet winds of change

Climate change is remaking South Asias monsoon





Jun 19th 2021 | words 792

 

 

 

 

SINCE ARRIVING two days late at its usual landing point at Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala near Indias southern tip, South Asias annual summer monsoon has made up for lost time. Tearing north, the south-westerly, rain-bearing winds covered four-fifths of the country in the first two weeks of June, reaching even Indias north-easternmost states. The monsoons western arm has yet to reach the states of Gujarat, Haryana and Rajasthan. But Yogesh Patil, head of Skymet, a private weather-forecasting service, predicts that the monsoon will cover the whole country by July 8th, pretty much bang onadv. to be exact; to be correct; to be proper its average date.

 

Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and Pakistan are also recipients of the South Asian monsoon. It touches over 1.8bn people, or nearly a quarter of the worlds population. Though its circulation is complex, at its heart the summer monsoon is a sea breeze that operates on a season-long, continental scale. A rapidly heating Indian subcontinent causes hot air over it to rise. That draws in wetter maritime air from the Indian Ocean. As this air in turn rises, it cools and falls as rain. The northern wall of the Himalayas amplifies the effect.

  

The monsoons arrival is cause for rejoicing. Over 70% of the years rain falls in just four months. It cools the fierce summer heat and slakes a thirsty earth. The Ganges and other rivers fill and spread rich silt over flood plains. Sown crops put on growth at last. Agriculture supplies nearly half of all Indias jobs and accounts for nearly 20% of GDP (most farmers rely on rain-fed crops rather than irrigation). A bad monsoon can cut economic growth by a third, drive farmers into penury and create knock-on effects for government revenues when they are needed most. The remark by a British imperial administrator that the Indian budget is a gamble in rain remains true today.

 

Yet the monsoon is no uniform wave. It is overwritten by vagaries: bursts of intense rainfall in some parts and dryness in others. Scientists have yet to get to the bottom of these vagaries. But they can have profound effects. A farmer can see his crop washed away in a thunderstorm, or seedlings wither in a drought. In his part of Andhra Pradesh in south-eastern India, S. Ananth, a writer on the monsoon, says that this year the monsoon has delivered just one proper downpour and a few mild showers. A cyclone churned through the Bay of Bengal in May, which was unusually early. Mr Ananths great-grandfather used to say that after a cyclone in May, the monsoon would fail. Folk myth, perhaps, but local farmers are worried.

 

Since vagaries can make or break farmers, Mr Patil says, Skymet is using satellite imagery and data from over 7,000 weather stations to make 72-hour forecasts with village-level detail, including storm and drought alerts, which farmers can access on their phones. Millions of rural people use the service which, Mr Patil says, has done much to improve the accuracy of short-term forecasts.

 

Yet a long-term threat also looms: the effects on the monsoon of climate change. Recent analysis in the journal Earth System Dynamics led by Anja Katzenberger of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research suggests that the monsoon is both getting wetterby 5% for every one degree Celsius of global warmingand more erratic. In other words, the frequency of extreme downpours is growing. It might be thought that the aerosol soup of dust, exhaust emissions and particulates from stubble-burning that hangs over the vast north Indian plain might absorb solar energy and so counteract somewhat the effects on the monsoon of a warming planet. Yet a paper in Earth-Science Reviews led by Qinjian Jin of the University of Kansas argues that Asian dust more generally reinforces an aerial heat pump that also helps render the monsoon hotter and wetter. While the monsoon has long made mankind in South Asia, man is now remaking the monsoon.

 

Nor is it clear how much can be done about it, short of a global will to reduce carbon emissions. Building resilience helps. Work is being done in India to improve crop selection and management. Improving water storage and lessening the risks from flooding would help, too. Here, however, aquifers are being mined faster than rain can replenish them, while urban development swallows up age-old reservoirs, water tanks and flood plains. Meanwhile, India remains dependent on coal for electricity and on belching lorries and trains for transport. The monsoon will continue to bring relief but also, increasingly, grief.

 


VOCABULARY


monsoon

monsoon / mnsun; NAmE mn- / 

noun 

1. a period of heavy rain in summer in S Asia; the rain that falls during this period

(),

2. a wind in S Asia that blows from the south-west in summer, bringing rain, and the north-east in winter

,(,,,) 

 

maritime

maritime / mritaim / 

adj. 

1. connected with the sea or ships

: 

a maritime museum   

 

2. (formal) near the sea

: 

maritime Antarctica   

 

slake

slake / sleik /

verb [VN] (literary

1. ~ your thirst to drink so that you no longer feel thirsty

()()

SYN quench 

2. to satisfy a desire () 

 

silt

silt / silt /

verb PHR V

 silt sth'up  | silt 'up to block sth with silt ; to become blocked with silt 

(): 

Sand has silted up the river delta.  

  

The harbour has now silted up.  

 

 

flood plain

'flood plain 

noun 

an area of flat land beside a river that regularly becomes flooded when there is too much water in the river

 

 

penury

penury / penjri / 

noun [U]

(formal) the state of being very poor

SYN poverty 

 

knock-on

knock-'on 

adj. (especially BrE) causing other events to happen six after another in a series

: 

The increase in the price of oil had a knock-on effect on the cost of many other goods.  

 

vagaries

vagaries / veigriz / 

noun [pl.]

(formal) changes in sb / sth that are difficult to predict or control

 

 

wither

wither / wi(r) /

verb 

1. if a plant withers or sth withers it, it dries up and dies

(),

The grass had withered in the warm sun.   

2. [V] ~ (away) to become less or weaker, especially before disappearing completely

(),: 

All our hopes just withered away.   

 

cyclone

cyclone / saiklun; NAmE -kloun /

noun a violent tropical storm in which strong winds move in a circle

-- compare hurricane , typhoon 

cyclonic / saiklnik; NAmE -kln- / adj. 

 

erratic

erratic / irtik / 

adj. (often disapproving) not happening at regular times; not following any plan or regular pattern; that you cannot rely on

SYN unpredictable 

:

 The electricity supply here is quite erratic.  

  

She had learnt to live with his sudden changes of mood and erratic behaviour.

   

Mary is a gifted but erratic player (= she does not always play well).  

,

erratically / -kli / adv.: 

He was obviously upset and was driving erratically.   

,

 

aquifer

aquifer / kwif(r) / 

noun (geology ) a layer of rock or soil that can absorb and hold water

(), 

 

belch

belch / belt / 

verb 

1. [V] to let air come up noisily from your stomach and out through your mouth

: 

He wiped his hand across his mouth, then belched loudly.  

 ,

SYN burp 

2. [V , VN] ~ (out / forth) (sth) to send out large amounts of smoke, flames, etc.; to come out of sth in large amounts

(),

SYN spew out 

belch noun: 

He sat back and gave a loud belch.   

,

 





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Economist | Wet winds of change


Banyan

Wet winds of change

Climate change is remaking South Asias monsoon





Jun 19th 2021 | words 792

 

 

 

 

SINCE ARRIVING two days late at its usual landing point at Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala near Indias southern tip, South Asias annual summer monsoon has made up for lost time. Tearing north, the south-westerly, rain-bearing winds covered four-fifths of the country in the first two weeks of June, reaching even Indias north-easternmost states. The monsoons western arm has yet to reach the states of Gujarat, Haryana and Rajasthan. But Yogesh Patil, head of Skymet, a private weather-forecasting service, predicts that the monsoon will cover the whole country by July 8th, pretty much bang onadv. to be exact; to be correct; to be proper its average date.

 

Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and Pakistan are also recipients of the South Asian monsoon. It touches over 1.8bn people, or nearly a quarter of the worlds population. Though its circulation is complex, at its heart the summer monsoon is a sea breeze that operates on a season-long, continental scale. A rapidly heating Indian subcontinent causes hot air over it to rise. That draws in wetter maritime air from the Indian Ocean. As this air in turn rises, it cools and falls as rain. The northern wall of the Himalayas amplifies the effect.

  

The monsoons arrival is cause for rejoicing. Over 70% of the years rain falls in just four months. It cools the fierce summer heat and slakes a thirsty earth. The Ganges and other rivers fill and spread rich silt over flood plains. Sown crops put on growth at last. Agriculture supplies nearly half of all Indias jobs and accounts for nearly 20% of GDP (most farmers rely on rain-fed crops rather than irrigation). A bad monsoon can cut economic growth by a third, drive farmers into penury and create knock-on effects for government revenues when they are needed most. The remark by a British imperial administrator that the Indian budget is a gamble in rain remains true today.

 

Yet the monsoon is no uniform wave. It is overwritten by vagaries: bursts of intense rainfall in some parts and dryness in others. Scientists have yet to get to the bottom of these vagaries. But they can have profound effects. A farmer can see his crop washed away in a thunderstorm, or seedlings wither in a drought. In his part of Andhra Pradesh in south-eastern India, S. Ananth, a writer on the monsoon, says that this year the monsoon has delivered just one proper downpour and a few mild showers. A cyclone churned through the Bay of Bengal in May, which was unusually early. Mr Ananths great-grandfather used to say that after a cyclone in May, the monsoon would fail. Folk myth, perhaps, but local farmers are worried.

 

Since vagaries can make or break farmers, Mr Patil says, Skymet is using satellite imagery and data from over 7,000 weather stations to make 72-hour forecasts with village-level detail, including storm and drought alerts, which farmers can access on their phones. Millions of rural people use the service which, Mr Patil says, has done much to improve the accuracy of short-term forecasts.

 

Yet a long-term threat also looms: the effects on the monsoon of climate change. Recent analysis in the journal Earth System Dynamics led by Anja Katzenberger of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research suggests that the monsoon is both getting wetterby 5% for every one degree Celsius of global warmingand more erratic. In other words, the frequency of extreme downpours is growing. It might be thought that the aerosol soup of dust, exhaust emissions and particulates from stubble-burning that hangs over the vast north Indian plain might absorb solar energy and so counteract somewhat the effects on the monsoon of a warming planet. Yet a paper in Earth-Science Reviews led by Qinjian Jin of the University of Kansas argues that Asian dust more generally reinforces an aerial heat pump that also helps render the monsoon hotter and wetter. While the monsoon has long made mankind in South Asia, man is now remaking the monsoon.

 

Nor is it clear how much can be done about it, short of a global will to reduce carbon emissions. Building resilience helps. Work is being done in India to improve crop selection and management. Improving water storage and lessening the risks from flooding would help, too. Here, however, aquifers are being mined faster than rain can replenish them, while urban development swallows up age-old reservoirs, water tanks and flood plains. Meanwhile, India remains dependent on coal for electricity and on belching lorries and trains for transport. The monsoon will continue to bring relief but also, increasingly, grief.

 


VOCABULARY


monsoon

monsoon / mnsun; NAmE mn- / 

noun 

1. a period of heavy rain in summer in S Asia; the rain that falls during this period

(),

2. a wind in S Asia that blows from the south-west in summer, bringing rain, and the north-east in winter

,(,,,) 

 

maritime

maritime / mritaim / 

adj. 

1. connected with the sea or ships

: 

a maritime museum   

 

2. (formal) near the sea

: 

maritime Antarctica   

 

slake

slake / sleik /

verb [VN] (literary

1. ~ your thirst to drink so that you no longer feel thirsty

()()

SYN quench 

2. to satisfy a desire () 

 

silt

silt / silt /

verb PHR V

 silt sth'up  | silt 'up to block sth with silt ; to become blocked with silt 

(): 

Sand has silted up the river delta.  

  

The harbour has now silted up.  

 

 

flood plain

'flood plain 

noun 

an area of flat land beside a river that regularly becomes flooded when there is too much water in the river

 

 

penury

penury / penjri / 

noun [U]

(formal) the state of being very poor

SYN poverty 

 

knock-on

knock-'on 

adj. (especially BrE) causing other events to happen six after another in a series

: 

The increase in the price of oil had a knock-on effect on the cost of many other goods.  

 

vagaries

vagaries / veigriz / 

noun [pl.]

(formal) changes in sb / sth that are difficult to predict or control

 

 

wither

wither / wi(r) /

verb 

1. if a plant withers or sth withers it, it dries up and dies

(),

The grass had withered in the warm sun.   

2. [V] ~ (away) to become less or weaker, especially before disappearing completely

(),: 

All our hopes just withered away.   

 

cyclone

cyclone / saiklun; NAmE -kloun /

noun a violent tropical storm in which strong winds move in a circle

-- compare hurricane , typhoon 

cyclonic / saiklnik; NAmE -kln- / adj. 

 

erratic

erratic / irtik / 

adj. (often disapproving) not happening at regular times; not following any plan or regular pattern; that you cannot rely on

SYN unpredictable 

:

 The electricity supply here is quite erratic.  

  

She had learnt to live with his sudden changes of mood and erratic behaviour.

   

Mary is a gifted but erratic player (= she does not always play well).  

,

erratically / -kli / adv.: 

He was obviously upset and was driving erratically.   

,

 

aquifer

aquifer / kwif(r) / 

noun (geology ) a layer of rock or soil that can absorb and hold water

(), 

 

belch

belch / belt / 

verb 

1. [V] to let air come up noisily from your stomach and out through your mouth

: 

He wiped his hand across his mouth, then belched loudly.  

 ,

SYN burp 

2. [V , VN] ~ (out / forth) (sth) to send out large amounts of smoke, flames, etc.; to come out of sth in large amounts

(),

SYN spew out 

belch noun: 

He sat back and gave a loud belch.   

,

 





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