Pakistan: A Climate Disaster Case Study

By: Dr. Ricky Rood , 6:18 AM GMT on August 17, 2010

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Pakistan: A case study

What is happening in Pakistan cannot be described in a single word – like disaster or catastrophe. We are watching a combination of climate, weather, population, societal capacity, and geopolitics whose scope and ramifications are far beyond a “historic flood.”

I do not have any special insight, but I do have a special interest. My youngest sister Elizabeth is in Peshawar on the front line of the flood. She is the “friend” that Jeff Masters' referred to in his blog on August 10, 2010. (As picked up in the NYTimes.) And with this personal interest, I find myself digging around sources of local Pakistani news. What we are watching has all of the elements of climate disaster of the type that is predicted to be more common in the future. Let’s deconstruct this.


Figure 1. Image of the Pakistan flood catastrophe of 2010, courtesy of the Pakistan Meteorology Department.

Climate and climate change: The weather that has brought all of the rain to Pakistan (and India and China) is associated with the South Asian Monsoon (old big (> 10 MB) Rood presentation). This is the flow of air from the Indian Ocean into South Asia with large amounts of rain released when the air flows up the high topography that defines Central Asia. In Pakistan it is often what is called the northwest extension of the monsoon, which happens later in the season than the monsoonal flow that brings rain to South India. What is happening, and it is still going on, is an extreme event of an important and well described element of the Earth’s climate. From the point of view of meteorological measurements, this year’s rains and floods might be “historic” in the sense of being largest. I will let those who are more familiar with records argue that point; it does not really matter. (I am preempting any consideration of any relevance of the statement “but there was a big event like this in 18xx as described by, say, Charles Napier.”)

The prediction of “more extreme weather” is part of the portfolio of events associated with the predictions of global warming. Warmer ocean, warmer air, more water in the air – it still gets cold as it flows up the mountain and it rains. So the getting-to-be-old scientific hedge of “this is consistent with the predictions of global warming” is true.

Can we attribute this particular event to global warming? Probably not, but let’s think about it. One of the papers in my collection of important papers is one by P . Frich. This paper talks about indices that measure climate extremes and sets out the arguments about seeing not one isolated extreme, but a whole set of extremes. This taken in concert with changes in the average (a trend) and more and more extremes as time goes by, leads to a situation where it is extremely unlikely that all of the extreme events can just be normal chance. Look at the extreme events – first the drought and fires in Russia, perhaps the heat in the eastern U.S., add in the cool warm season in Southern California (to be replaced by extreme heat), we are seeing coherent behavior that is, again, consistent with the predictions of global warming. (See Peter Stott.)

Attribution of the 2010 monsoon and flood to “global warming” will be left to far more sophisticated arguments and time. We see here an extreme climate event, hard to ascribe this to “weather,” in a place with highly vulnerable people, in a country with low “resilience” to such an event. (What country could respond to 20% of its surface being flooded and 20,000,000 people displaced?) This type of event will occur again, whether or not this particular event is attributed to global warming. With global warming, they will occur more frequently, perhaps be more extreme. Pakistan will need to rebuild, to redevelop, to develop, and the smart redevelopment will realize that these events will happen again, and build in extra because it will happen more often.

Pakistan: I am not an expert on Pakistan. Last year my niece Claire Snell-Rood recommended a book “Empires of the Indus,” which was written by Alice Albinia. Albinia traveled up the Indus, through the area that has been flooded, and areas that will soon be flooded. Pakistan came to be in 1947 when India was partitioned, a strategy of colonial powers that never seems to work out so well. Somewhere in the background was the idea that Pakistan was Muslim and India was Hindu and there were Sikhs in the region. (“Pakistan was born in the name of religion, and baptized in the blood of those who died trying to get there.” Albinia, p4) It is a country which was immediately in war with India, with both laying claim to some land, especially Kashmir. It is a country pieced together, it a region of ancient rivalries, and religious and political conflict. My point – as a nation Pakistan has been a “nation” for little more than 60 years; it has been a place of troubled politics; there has been building and development over the past 60 years, much of which has been washed away in the last 2 weeks or will be washed away in the next few weeks. (Destroyed Infrastructure) 60 years – that’s the amount of time that we think about investing, in our retirement, in our roads, in our power plants. It’s a number that reaches out and hits some one who thinks about how to respond to climate change, how to deal with “investments” of the scale of a lifetime, how to plan for “100 year events” happening every 20 years, every 5 years? 60 years is an amount of time that we think about.

Pakistan - a country which in the best of weather is at the center of U.S. national security interests. A country with nuclear weapons. A country that cannot maintain its security interests and respond to the flood. International instability associated with an extreme climate event that has direct consequences on U.S. security. This is the situation that my students always conclude will finally get the U.S. to pay attention to climate change and environmental security. (old blog 1, old blog 2)

We have, here, harsh, brutish reality - a fragile, geopolitically important country where lives, crops, and infrastructure have been washed away. A public health nightmare will follow. (link)

We have here a case study of a climate disaster.

This is an event which will raise all of the arguments – the issues of population, and development. The fact that if we had reduced CO2 emissions 5 years ago that it probably would not have mattered. The argument from the scientific study of the Earth’s climate is that we will have more of these events; warming is already built into the system. If we reduce our emissions, then maybe we will responsibly reduce these events for our grandchildren – reduce the cost. It is imperative that we start to build adaptive capacity. In our efforts to develop and maintain and sustain our infrastructure, consider what extreme climate events will mean.

It is too early to tie up the loose ends here. We are in the middle of these events, and we are just beginning to realize the consequences. Parroting the words of Molly Kinder providing aid to Pakistan it is a moral imperative, a humanitarian imperative, and a security imperative.

Here once again are some places that Elizabeth has recommended for the humanitarian crisis in Pakistan.

Doctors Without Borders

The International Red Cross

MERLIN medical relief charity

The mobile giving service mGive allows one to text the word "SWAT" to 50555. The text will result in a $10 donation to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) Pakistan Flood Relief Effort.

U.S. State Department Recommended Charities

Elizabeth says that it is better to send money to the organizations doing the relief work than to try to organize shipments of goods. It's hard to get stuff there , even if you do know how.

And here is

Faceted Search of Blogs at climateknowledge.org


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135. MaryMeteorologist
1:11 AM GMT on September 22, 2010
Dr. Rood wrote...

"Can we attribute this particular event to global warming? ... One of the papers in my collection of important papers is one by P . Frich. This paper talks about indices that measure climate extremes and sets out the arguments about seeing not one isolated extreme, but a whole set of extremes. "

Of course you can't attribute this to global warming any more than the record snows of last winter in the Eastern USA.

The "important paper" by Frich says nothing substantial about global extremes and is full of flaws and very suspect conclusions. Partial quick list...

...no mention of Urban heat island which would contribute or explain many of the "conclusions"
...the article conveniently ignores cold as an extreme...LOL
...the data was carefully selected by humans for use in the study, not objectively screened
...study found no change in heat wave duration despite the warmer global temps
...study found less frost and longer growing seasons. That's scary.
...the study found slightly more rainy days and fewer droughts.

If this paper is "important", it doesn't say much except that the earth is a bit warmer and a bit wetter than it used to be...but we already knew that. A bit warmer and a bit wetter are not "extremes".
Member Since: September 22, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1
133. sirmaelstrom
3:09 AM GMT on August 24, 2010
№ 129

Hello, Gotlieb. I consider myself to be an AGW skeptic. I'm less than optimistic that your questions will lead to much of a genuine discussion; but nevertheless, I will start by responding to them myself.

I think it is reasonable to conclude that warming has occurred over the last hundred years. I agree that the historical temperature record is problematic, although I think it is possible to identify general warming and cooling trends over the last century. I also believe that man-made emissions have significantly contributed to CO₂ increases over the past century. I am skeptical that the increases in CO₂ have been the primary driver behind the warming of the last century, as well that future CO₂ increases will result in temperatures expected by AGW proponents. The latter depends on climate feedbacks that are highly uncertain.

The last question--Is global warming a bad thing?--is very interesting as well. The point of view of some AGW-proponents is that since we can't be sure of what specifically a warmer world will mean to all locations, that it isn't worth the risk to find out. While I think in general that a warmer world is always better for mankind than a cooler one--I would generally agree with this point of view. However, I am not convinced that a significant amount of the past century's warming cannot be explained by natural means. I also doubt that there are any reasonable measures that can be taken to reduce CO₂ levels currently, although I think a transition away from fossil fuels will occur gradually anyway which will in turn eventually limit CO₂ levels.
Member Since: February 19, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 580
131. sirmaelstrom
2:01 AM GMT on August 24, 2010
№ 128,130

SSIGG is correct about one cubic mile of ice weighing just over four billion tons. However, 3% of the 600,000 cubic mile figure for the Greenland Ice sheet volume is 18,000 cubic miles, not 1800, so the end result is not far off (LOL, in this case two wrongs DO make a right).

Of course the second point is the assumption that the melt rate will remain constant--or in SSIGG's case, that it will increase exponentially. I believe that any predictions of the melt rate extending out 100 years is highly speculative.

Member Since: February 19, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 580
129. gotlieb
10:53 PM GMT on August 23, 2010
Worldwide glacial melt is the most convincing evidence of significant climate change in my book. It's hard to deny the climate is changing when a 10,000 year old glacier starts disappearing at such a dramatic rate as seen from the air(or space). Other evidence presented on this blog is far less convincing. Worldwide temperature data is skewed by heat island effects, questionable in it's accuracy, and limited in it's availability. You may call me a denier (is that a word really?) but I prefer to think of myself as a sceptic. Using daily surface air temperature measurements to draw any climatic conclusions is stretching statistics to the absolute limit. The extrapolation needed is statistically immense to say the least. In truth, we have neither the equipment nor the lifespan to directly measure long term variations in the world's climate.

Having said this, I believe the evidence exists that shows a significant climate warming across the planet. Glacial melt, glacial cores, and tree ring comparisons all point towards an increase in CO2 and and increase in temperature. This is good science at its heart being twisted by politicians with an agenda. The heart of their agenda is not to prevent the warming from happening but rather to profit from it.

Here are real scientific questions that need to be addressed BEFORE we start denigrating coal-fired power plants in climate blogs.

Is there a proven direct relationship between CO2 levels at altitude and surface temperatures? The "Greenhouse Effect Theory" is difficult to prove on a global scale. Space weather effects need to be quantified before the effects of greenhouse gases can be isolated. Variations in the sun's output will need to be accounted for in any proof of this theory. Additionally, since there are multiple gases, what is the net effect of each one? I've seen statements made that methane has 10X the greenhouse effect that CO2 does. Where is the scientific proof behind this statement?

The next important question everyone seems to miss is "Is global warming truly a bad thing?" It seems a foregone conclusion that melting glaciers is a cataclysmic thing. Melting glaciers provide more freshwater don't they? How is this a bad thing? Why is it only the negatives of a warmer planet get any press? Longer growing seasons, more airborne moisture for irrigation and power, more arable land for farming. These are just some of the possible upsides to global warming. But again, where is the science that says a warmer planet is not beneficial to humans?


There are several other questions I will throw out if someone can at least debate these few.



"A sceptic questions the pillars of reality. A heretic cuts them open to see if they bleed."
Member Since: May 25, 2003 Posts: 0 Comments: 12
128. martinitony
10:04 PM GMT on August 23, 2010
Cyclone, i went to the link about Greenland ice sheet. It said that Greenland was losing 267 billion tons of ice per year. So, I did some calculations.

First of all Greenland has about 600,000 cubic miles of ice.
A cubic mile of ice is 45.97 billion tons of water
The ice sheet, according to the article is losing 267 billion tons a year.
I divided and found that Greenland is losing about 5.8 cubic miles of ice per year. So to lose ,say 3%, of the ice sheet, about 1,800 cubic miles, will take about 310 years.
Seems like we've talked about this before.

What gets me about the article is that you'd think this guy had never seen a river that comes from melting glaciers. I'm pretty sure that some of the rivers that flow out of the Himalayas carry much much more water than the river he described. I saw a show on PBS about guys trying to kayak down one of those really big wild ones. You'd think all the water in the world ran down that river in a couple of minutes, but you'd be wrong about that.

I think this guy is wrong about how dire things are in Greenland. I suspect that the glaciers go up and go down all the time.

Also, you shouldn't be posting stuff some reporter is saying because it might upset Florida who only thinks we should talk pure science like my calculation above.
Member Since: July 29, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 970
117. martinitony
4:28 PM GMT on August 23, 2010
Quoting MichaelSTL:


He is full of sh** - especially the nonsense about the 1930s being warmer.



Only a schizoid would claim that the 1930s may have been warmer than today (for the origin of this insane nonsense, see here - even for the U.S. only that is a bunch of baloney, although 1934 was the warmest year, but only for the U.S.)!

Also, look at this:



(this also includes 1998 since August, and as you can see, 2010 will likely obliterate this previous record, at least in RSS; UAH is too manipulated (see the July temperatures) to be of any use, never mind that a denialist runs it - I wouldn't be surprised if that is the ONLY temperature record not to have 2010 as the warmest year on record - and of course deniers will hype it up)


No Michael, I am not the one full of it. Go to this site for a moment./ Link
You will quickly note that more heat records were broken during the 30s than any other decade. Your graphs are the ones based on BS and you and Dr. Rood and even Florida know it. It's pretty hard to argue with the record heat events of the 30s. There are no reliable global statistics for that period. And yes I know the figures are just from the USA, but hard to believe for a decade the USA had so much heat and the rest of the world was just so so.
The distortions that you and others post here are pathetic.
Member Since: July 29, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 970
108. martinitony
12:58 PM GMT on August 23, 2010
Quoting StSimonsIslandGAGuy:
Disaster at the Top of the World


What a crock of BS. Your article states 2010 is on track to become the warmest on record. No. It might end up 2nd, but most likely 3rd in the last 30 years and probably further back if we had accurate records of the 30s. On the Arctic ice, the low point will be no where near the 2007 low and probably be higher than 2 of the last 3 years.
Does the writer have an agenda? Do you?

From Wikipedia, the author:
Thomas Homer-Dixon (born 1956 in Victoria, British Columbia) holds the Centre for International Governance Innovation Chair of Global Systems at the Balsillie School of International Affairs in Waterloo, Ontario, and is a Professor in the Centre for Environment and Business in the Faculty of Environment, University of Waterloo. He previously held the George Ignatieff Chair of Peace and Conflict Studies at the Trudeau Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Toronto, and was a Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto.
There you have it, an essay by a political scientist on the science of global climate change. Pathetic.
Member Since: July 29, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 970
94. martinitony
2:39 PM GMT on August 21, 2010
Quoting cyclonebuster:
Rapidly approaching third place. Notice how close first and second place are?





Cyclone you may find this site interesting if you haven't been there.
link

From above site:

The current difference between 2010 and the other years is as follows:
• 2006: -430K (37,697)
• 2007: +668K (57,041)
• 2008: -74K (70,333)
• 2009: -252K (48,654)
The average daily melt for the month of August is between brackets. 2010's average daily melt for August is currently 63,320 square km per day.
If 2010 loses as much sea ice extent as...
• 2006 did after this date it will bottom out at 5.35 million square km.
• 2007 did after this date it will bottom out at 4.96 million square km.
• 2008 did after this date it will bottom out at 4.67 million square km.
2009 did after this date it will bottom out at 5.02 million square km.
Member Since: July 29, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 970
88. martinitony
1:10 PM GMT on August 21, 2010
WE HAVE BEEN CONNED
An Independent review of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
by John McLean | August 16, 2010
SUMMARY FOR POLICY MAKERS
The IPCC is a disgrace to science. In its desire to fit the square peg of science into the round hole of politics it has abandoned the "scientific method" and replaced it with a desperate search for data and other material that might support a specific hypothesis.
Its reports are not an honest assessment of climate because they omit, dismiss or distort research findings that do not conform to a certain belief, and if those reports are supposed to focus only on any possible human influence on climate then why are they even mentioning other forces and where is the corresponding organization that will report on those forces?
The IPCC was established on the basis of alarmist claims that were given a political dimension by organizations that, if they had any integrity, would have demanded better evidence than the output of primitive climate models (Chapter 1).
The IPCC's key product, the various Assessment Reports, are the personal opinions from a cadre of selected authors and contrary to marketing spin, each passage of text is the consensus of a mere handful of people many of whom quote their own papers or selectively omit information that does not support their bias. In one instance supporting material was not available so IPCC authors, accompanied by a few others, wrote a paper that the IPCC report could cite even though the paper had merely been submitted to a journal rather than published (Chapter 2).
The peer-review system used by the IPCC is a travesty because it is nothing like the review prior to publishing scientific papers but only a means of soliciting further supporting information. Of course any suggestions that wider material be included are rejected, even if it means citing an IPCC's author's unpublished paper to do so (Chapter 3).
The IPCC omits and distorts information to suit its agenda. We are not told, for example, that it seems likely that the Earth is currently cool compared to mean temperature of the last 10,000 years and that the 650-year cold spell ending around 1850, which is when the IPCC's temperature data commences, was likely the longest sustained cold spell in 10 millennia. The IPCC hides, in a throwaway line, buried deep in a long paragraph, the critical fact that amount of warming caused by increasing levels of carbon dioxide is logarithmic (i.e. will decrease as per unit of carbon dioxide increase). In the IPCC's latest report the discussion of the European heatwave of 2003 is a joke because chapter 3 provides a clear meteorological explanation but chapter 9 claims, on the basis of modelling by one of its authors, that human activity made the heatwave worse, and later the IPCC cites this modelling as if it was both accurate and credible when it is neither (Chapter 4).
3
The temperature data cited by the IPCC is derived from thermometer readings just above the Earth's surface or just below the surface of the oceans. The data is so flawed and inconsistent, because the circumstances in which it is gathered are so dynamic, that it should be rejected. One wonders if the IPCC audited this data prior to citing it, but given that the agencies supplying it are supporters of the IPCC claims perhaps it felt no need to do so (Chapter 5).
The IPCC's greatest scam is in its use and citing of climate models. The Assessment Reports show very clearly that knowledge of many climate factors is poor, which means that accurate models can't be created, but later chapters of the report ignore those deficiencies and cite the predictions of models as if they were unchallengeable. Worse yet, these same models are used attribute blame for variation in climate under the risible notion that if observations agree with models that include a certain factor but disagree with the models if that factor is omitted, then it is evidence that the factor was the cause of climate variation. This line of reason, with the incomplete climate models, is not merely a rejection of commonsense but blatant dishonesty. What's more, the rationale behind this attribution means that blame can only be attributed to climate forces that are accurately modelled, and the IPCC mentions just one force that it considers to be in that category - manmade emissions of carbon dioxide (Chapter 6).
The IPCC's so-called evidence for man-made warming was never strong to begin with but now it's completely undermined by the compromised integrity of the IPCC, the dubious temperature data and the climate models that are known to be inaccurate (Chapter 7).
The IPCC has no integrity and therefore no credibility. It is recommended that it be disbanded, along with its cohort the UNFCCC, and all responsibility for climate matters be handed over to the World Meteorological Organization. While the WMO is somewhat tainted by co-sponsoring the IPCC it has expertise in meteorological matters and has shown a willingness to consider a wider range of climate forces than the IPCC (Chapter 8).
It is understandable that among an impartial audience only the ignorant, gullible and ill-informed would accept the biased word of the IPCC. Unfortunately the IPCC has given rise to a host of people with vested interests of various forms and I hope that this review encourages them to reconsider their position.


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About RickyRood

I'm a professor at U Michigan and lead a course on climate change problem solving. These articles often come from and contribute to the course.