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Radial wreckage: Cyclone Bulbul made landfall in Odisha earlier this week and caused extensive damage on India’s east coast and in Bangladesh before weakening | Photo: Skymet Weather

24 people killed as Cyclone Bulbul batters Odisha, West Bengal and Bangladesh

Twelve people lost their lives in Odisha and West Bengal after Cyclone Bulbul made landfall in India last weekend. The extreme weather event has rendered lakhs homeless. The event is not out of the ordinary because cyclone season in the Bay of Bengal usually begins in April and ends in December.

The cyclone moved on into Bangladesh, where twelve more people were killed before it eventually weakened into a depression. Bulbul is not the worst cyclone to hit the region. In 1999, a super-cyclone battered Odisha for more than a day and killed 10,000 people.

South Asia to get increasingly dry as the world gets warmer, says study

A new study projected a significant increase in the area and population in South Asia that will be affected by dryness in worlds that are warmer by 1.5°C, 2°C and 2.5°C. It stated that ‘a rise in global mean temperature of 1.5 °C from the pre-industrial level will result in an increased dryness over half of South Asia affecting more than 790 million people’. The study stated increased dryness would affect 890 million and 1,960 million people under 2.0° and 2.5° warming worlds, respectively.

The numbers, even though alarming, may not be far off the mark if current climate conditions in the region are analysed. A study by Climate Impact Lab in collaboration with the Tata Centre for Development at UChicago claimed that if greenhouse gases continue being emitted in India, around 1.5 million citizens could be killed every year because of climate change after the year 2100 (60 deaths by 1,00,000 people). Not just that, according to the study, the average number of extremely hot days over 35°C in the country are likely to increase by more than eight times per year from 5.1 (in 2010) to 42.8 per year in 2100.   

Early snow, rain delay harvest in US

Farmers in the US grain belt’s northern tier are in a tight spot after an October snowstorm and excessive rain stalled harvest. Corn and soybean harvests in North Dakota and Minnesota were especially delayed.

If that isn’t enough, farmers will also have to pay extra for diesel fuel and propane to dry stored grain, which will not dry adequately in the field. Add that to the stress of tight profit margins and the US-China trade war, pushing farmers further out of business.

Wildfire blazes through Brazil’s Pantanal wetlands

A 50-km-long wildfire was reported across Brazil’s Pantanal wetlands at the beginning of this month. A popular tourist destination, Pantanal is also considered to be one of the most biodiverse regions in the world. The governor issued a 30-day moratorium on using fire for land clearance following the event.

Brazil’s indigenous population, however, are fighting for their lives and livelihood. In the Amazon, which caught the world’s attention with news of massive wildfires earlier this year, a young indigenous Guajajara leader, Paulo Paulino Guajajara, was murdered reportedly by loggers. He was a member of “Guardians of the Forest,” a group of 120 indigenous Guajajara that risk their lives fighting illegal logging in the Araribóia reserve, one of the country’s most threatened indigenous territories.

To make matters worse, the country recently cancelled a 10-year-old ban on sugarcane cultivation in the Amazon rainforest and central wetlands, irking environmentalists who called the move another assault on Brazil’s ecosystems.

NASA observes “unprecedented” bushfires on Australian east coast

The Australian east coast has been enveloped by a haze this past week as an unprecedented number of bushfires were reported from across the states of New South Wales and Queensland. NASA’s Terra Satellite observed more than 100 blazes in what they describe as “uncharted territory” in terms of size and numbers. The bushfires have been aggravated by long droughts in the region and fanned by dry, windy conditions on the coast. Fires have also been reported from Sydney in what is quickly becoming one of Australia’s worst fire seasons on record.

11,000 scientists unite to declare ‘climate emergency’

In a first, more than 11,000 scientists, including 69 from India, co-signed a letter in the journal Bioscience, declaring a climate emergency and urging governments to take immediate climate action. The declaration is based on scientific analysis of more than 40 years of publicly available data covering a broad range of measures, including energy use, surface temperature, population growth, land clearing, deforestation, polar ice mass, fertility rates, gross domestic product and carbon emissions. The letter pointed to six areas in which humanity needs to take urgent steps – energy, short-lived pollutants, nature, food, economy and population. 

Melting Arctic sea ice linked to the spread of deadly virus

A 15-year study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, links declining Arctic sea ice to the spread of a deadly virus from the north Atlantic Ocean waters to the waters of northern Pacific Ocean. The phocine distemper virus (PDV), a deadly virus that affects marine mammals and responsible for killing thousands of European harbor seals in the North Atlantic in 2002, was identified in northern sea otters in Alaska in 2004 raising concerns of how the virus had reached there. Researchers sampled marine mammals for phocine distemper virus exposure and infection from 2001-2016, and correlated incidence peaks with sea ice extent. The findings of the study indicate that reductions in arctic sea ice were opening up new paths between the north Atlantic Ocean and the north Pacific Ocean that allowed mammals to carry the virus to the new territory.