The Paris skyline is obscured by severe fog in March. — File photo
THIS adage applies to our planet in terms of human transmitted diseases and our atmospheric and oceanic circulations. The land surfaces of the continents modify patterns of water movement and air circulation to a greater or lesser extent. The very fact that our weather patterns are becoming extremely eccentric, with extremes more likely, cannot be refuted.
Watching for weeks on end torrential, almost tropical, rainstorms pouring down on my Somerset home in the United Kingdom during the autumn and winter months last year and early this year, with huge pools of water engulfing roads with road bridges awash through rising river levels and vast swathes of my county inundated with flood water, I seriously questioned climate change sceptics!
With unseasonal drought in Peninsular Malaysia, California, and South Pakistan with consequent water shortages, severe snow storms in North East Canada and on the United States Atlantic seaboard, the worst flooding in parts of Brazil for 40 years with other areas there bone dry, it seemed as though people worldwide shouted in unison: “We have never experienced such extreme weather as this!”
Severe smog in Kuala Lumpur, Paris, Shanghai and more recently London, with the Chinese government declaring its edict to drastically reduce the air pollutant index there by 2020 firmly points the finger of our changing climate in mankind’s direction.
Atlases worldwide are totally out of date in their portrayals of world climatic belts and associated diagrams of monthly rainfalls and average temperatures in various locations. Such maps and information were produced in the mid-19th and early 20th centuries by climatologists such as Koeppen, Thornthwaite, and Kellogg.
Returning to Somerset, the extensive flooding of two rivers on the flat lands of the Somerset Levels saw 6,000 displaced people and farmers’ pasture land under three metres of water for nearly two months. Interestingly the name Somerset has two possible derivations both leading to the same conclusion. The Viking invaders in the eighth and ninth centuries called this area ‘the land of the summer sites’ and the later Anglo-Saxons referred to it as ‘the land of the settlers by sea-lakes’. History in 2014 has certainly repeated itself with a vengeance on these rivers’ flood plains.
Snowstorms cause havoc in the eastern United States in February. — File photo
On Feb 12, 2014, I took notes on the weather observed over a 12-hour period in my garden. Snow, bright sunshine, heavy rain, a hail storm, further rain, followed by a period of absolutely blue cloudless skies and a night frost came in rapid succession. Temperatures ranged from 6 degrees Celsius to minus 2 degrees Celsius with winds gusting to 97 km per hour rattling my roof tiles.
There, in South West England, a series of temperate cyclones swept across the land, severely battering and eroding the coastline. The following day saw hurricane force gusts of over 100 km per hour and 70 millimetres of rainfall. That night in the Western Approaches to the English Channel, the highest ever waves were recorded offshore from my birth place in Cornwall at 21.4 metres in height, destroying a section of Penzance’s Promenade and a beautiful seawater swimming pool.
With the mildest winter temperatures and the wettest autumn and winter on record over 250 years of meteorological recordings in the United Kingdom, why was the weather so extreme? Florida experienced frosts and snow while the northern most US state of Alaska recorded its highest ever winter temperatures with the subsequent melting of permafrost and flooding. Indonesia and Borneo experienced a prolonged period of unseasonal torrential rainfall in roasting temperatures. What, we ask ourselves is the norm for our climates?
Meteorologists authoritatively inform us that the vagaries in world weather patterns are due the ever more frequent oscillations of the sub tropical and polar Jet Streams. These sinuous, rising and dipping tubes of high velocity winds at 7 to 16km above us steer cyclones, hurricanes and typhoons at lower levels in our atmosphere exerting upward and downward forces. We cannot detach our atmosphere and stratosphere from the movements of ocean currents which again redistribute our planet’s heat. Heat and cold are transferred from below to above and vice versa as part of the Earth’s natural system in the redistribution of thermal energy.
The progressive warming of our planet was the outright conclusion of the meeting of the Intergovernmental Climate Change Panel at its Yokahama Convention last March. Strong terms such as, severe, intensive and irreversible are used in its report. The facts are before us through satellite evidence and fieldwork. The Arctic Ocean’s ice is breaking up and the loss of sea ice has increased the area of open water. Sea ice has an Albedo number of 0.8 (it reflects 80 per cent of solar radiation back into the atmosphere): sea water has an Albedo number of 0.2 (80 per cent of radiation is absorbed) leading to further ice melt.
The permafrost (tundra) area of the Arctic Circle was once known as ‘the land of the little sticks’ with its harsh climate negating plant growth. Oxford University botanists have witnessed alder and willow shrubs grow into two-metre high trees in the last 30 years. Our oceans are becoming more acidic as melting ice and snow releases absorbed carbon dioxide into the sea thus destroying coral reefs, algae and changing the migration routes of fish.
What can we do personally to eliminate our carbon footprints on our planet in our attempts to reduce the severity and frequency of catastrophic storms and the gradual depletion of wildlife through the gradual warming of our atmosphere? There is no one simple answer for political decisions of all nations are needed to sign the Kyoto Protocol of 1988.
At a purely personal level, I recently exchanged my 2,000cc estate car for a more fuel efficient car of 1,500cc. To my surprise my annual government road tax fell from RM900 to RM100. My carbon emissions have fallen and I am also RM800 financially richer each year and my conscience is even richer!
For more read thesundaypost: March 23, 2014 MNS column ‘Earth Hour’ by Mary Margaret or go to the Malaysia Meteorological Department website at www.met.gov.my.
Meanwhile, a Guided Geology Walk at Santubong will be held on Saturday from 8.45am to 11am starting from the official entrance to Santubong National Park. For details go to http://mnskuching.blogspot.com.
A surfer walks on a boardwalk being lashed by waves during a severe storm in Melbourne last month. — File photo