Asian Floods, drought sign of climate shift
Reuters News Service, Oct. 12, 2000
SINGAPORE - Heavy rains and flooding in southern parts of Asia this year coupled with drought across swathes of Central Asia may be a sign of more profound climate change, according to a top U.N. weather expert.
"The fact that you have floods to the south of Asia and drought to the north suggests some sort of systemic climate shift," Michael Coughlan from the United Nations World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in Geneva told Reuters in a telephone interview.
He stopped short of tying the phenomenon directly to global warming, but said it would "not be inconsistent" to link heavier rainfall in some areas and drought in others to rising world temperatures.
Hundreds have been killed, millions left homeless and crops destroyed by flooding in Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Bangladesh and eastern India this year, while drought has wrought havoc in Iran and the southern republics of the former Soviet Union.
People in two states, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, face potential starvation.
"Our records only go back 100 years," said Coughlan, "But the rainfall and drought are in the extremes of what we have recorded over that time."
Weather experts say the Indian Ocean monsoon is as much a driving feature of world climate as the dry and wet weather system known as El Nino and La Nina in the Pacific Ocean.
"It was a significant intensification of the monsoon system this year that led to the flooding and drought," said Coughlan, who is director, co-ordinator, climate activities programmes at the WMO.
GLOBAL WARMING CONFERENCE
Volatile world weather and the links to global warming will be on the agenda at a major inter-governmental climate change conference in the Netherlands next month.
Conservationists say without firm commitments to cut emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, predictions of melting ice caps, soaring temperatures and rising sea levels will become a reality.
"It's a huge firewheel we have going here," said Coughlan, referring to global warming. "It's not something you are going to turn round quickly. What's happening now has been built into the system over the last 30 to 50 years."
Melting glaciers and thinning ice caps are clear evidence of rising temperatures, weather experts say.
"We've certainly seen a reduction in the extent of Arctic ice - 20 percent in the past 30 years or so," said Geoff Jenkins, head of climate prediction at the UK Met Office.
LA NINA QUIESCENT
Weather experts say the La Nina weather phenomenon that brings heavy rains to Southeast Asia has run its course and there are no signs yet of a return of El Nino which brings drought to the region.
"It's in a neutral phase at the moment," said Jenkins from the UK Met Office. The U.N.'s Coughlan said if past weather patterns run true to form, another El Nino could be expected within the next two years.
El Nino is marked by a warming of the ocean in the eastern Pacific, bringing storms to the west coast of the Americas and drought to Southeast Asia. It occurred in 1982/83, 1986/87, 1992/93/94 and 1997/98.
Story by James Poole REUTERS NEWS SERVICE