India, this year, witnessed its hottest February since formal record-keeping began in 1901, with average maximum temperatures reaching 29.5°C across the country. The unusually early onset of high temperatures has sparked fears of dangerous heatwaves during Summer. Experts believe the unusually high temperatures over parts of India are because of weak western disturbances that haven’t brought adequate winter rain.
In December, there was a countrywide winter rainfall deficit of 14%. The dryness continued into 2023, with 27 out of the 36 states and Union territories receiving deficient, large deficient or no rainfall from January 1-February 15. India, as a whole, recorded a rainfall deficit of 30% in this period. If the trend does not change anytime soon, it could have a significant economic impact as winter crops may need to be harvested sooner than normal, and the warm, dry conditions could leave irrigation reservoirs depleted. The Centre set up a panel to deal with the problem in case of a heatwave. State-employed farm scientists from institutions such as the Indian Institute of Wheat and Barley Research, and Krishi Vigyan Kendras (crop advisory centres) have been deployed to fields in five states to apprise farmers of crop protection measures.
In addition, rising temperatures could also lead to an increased risk of forest fires and rapid glacier melt. The high probability of the El Nino climate pattern this year might lead to a potentially warmer summer, although assessing its impact on the annual monsoon rains is premature. There is an almost 50% probability of El Nino conditions prevailing during the summer months of June, July and August, and a 58% probability in July, August and September, according to the latest probabilistic estimates of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Antarctic sea ice hits record low, El Niño might cause irreversible damage: Study
The impact of the climate crisis is evident with the area of sea ice around Antarctica hitting a record low. According to scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center, the Antarctic sea ice extent fell to 1.91m sqkm on February 13, in comparison to the previous record set on February 25, 2022. The ice extent is expected to shrink even further before this year’s summer melting season ends. There has been a rapid decline in sea ice over the past six years and this development is worrying as the ice cover hardly changed at all in the 35 years before. The melting could be due to “unusually high air temperatures to the west and east of the Antarctic Peninsula, which were about 1.5°C above the long-term average”. Furthermore, there have been strong westerly winds, affecting the increase in sea ice retreat.
A new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change by CSIRO researchers also found that stronger El Niño events may accelerate the irreversible melting of the Antarctic ice sheet and ice shelves and the rise in sea levels. Researchers believe stronger El Niños could have a “double whammy” effect as it would lead to worsening extreme weather—heat, drought and bushfire risk in eastern Australia and floods in California, Peru and Chile—and accelerate sea level rise, causing more extreme coastal inundation.
A separate study by the National Centre for Polar and Oceanic Research (NCPOR) found that the Antarctic sea ice extent (SIE) is showing a sustained loss since 2016, and this could be a start of sea ice loss reported in the Arctic over the satellite period. In Antarctica, sea ice forms and grows freely in cold waters without land barriers. Thus, sea ice becomes thinner and weaker, which can be easily drifted by the strong winds, especially in the regions of the Amundsen Sea. If the Antarctic sea ice loss continues to decline at this rate over the next few years, then it will equate to the rate of sea ice loss over 30 years in the Arctic, resulting in various global warming events.
9 Indian states among world’s top 50 vulnerable regions due to climate change
Nine out of 50 regions in the world facing high climate risk due to unstable and fragile physical infrastructure fall under India, according to a recent ranking released by the Cross Dependency Initiative (XDI), a global organisation specialising in climate risk analysis for regions, banks and companies. The report, titled Gross Domestic Climate Risk, indicates that Mumbai is at high risk, while Bihar (22nd spot), Uttar Pradesh (25th), Assam (28th), Rajasthan (32nd), Tamil Nadu (36th), Maharashtra (38th), Gujarat (48th), Punjab (50th) and Kerala (52nd) are the most vulnerable. It also states that “provinces will witness an average of 110% increase in damage risk by 2050. Currently, with a 0.8° rise in temperature, India’s 27 states and more than three-quarters of its districts are extreme event hotspots, accounting for a 5% loss in GDP”. If global warming is not limited to 2°C, states like Assam, Bihar, and Tamil Nadu, among others, will lose more than 10% of their gross state domestic product (GSDP).
Ocean disturbances could be a major threat to global internet connectivity
New research published in the journal Earth-Science Reviews by scientists from the United Kingdom’s National Oceanography Centre and the University of Central Florida found that fibre-optic cables—that aid the flow of global internet connectivity—lining the sea floor could be compromised by climate change. The ocean and nearshore disturbances caused by extreme weather events have exposed hot spots along the transglobal cable network, increasing the risk of internet outages. The damages caused by such outages could be far-reaching and enormous for governments, and banks whose operations rely on the safe and secure flow of digital information. For instance, the researchers found that intensifying tropical cyclones in the northern Pacific Ocean are stressing submarine cables off the coast of Taiwan. “Ocean conditions are highly likely to change on a global basis as a result of climate change, but the feedbacks and links between climate change, natural processes and human activities are often complicated, resulting in a high degree of geographic variability.”