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On the Road (1): Delhi

By: Dr. Ricky Rood, 2:51 AM GMT on August 30, 2009

On the Road (1): Delhi

I am in Delhi, India on my way to Goa to talk about climate change in India. It’s a conference on how public health will be impacted by climate change, and I expect to have something to say from the conference in my next posts. It’s my first trip to India, and I am under the able care of my niece Claire Snell-Rood, who lives in Delhi, speaks Hindi, and protects me from crossing streets and dubious food. The chaos in the streets here is stunning, with trucks, buses, cars, auto rickshaws, motorcycles, scooters, every mode of pedaled vehicle and pedestrians in a life-size variety of tetris, filling in every gap in the road, literally within inches of each other.

There is a lot of talk in India this summer about the lack of rain associated with the monsoon. My next entry will have a link that will provide more information on the monsoon from a meteorological perspective. This entry will discuss the general importance of the monsoon based on this year’s monsoon.

First, monsoonal flows are forced by the contrast of temperature, hence pressure, between land and sea. They are like an enormous sea breeze, say one big enough that typhoons might be embedded in them. South Asia is famously dominated by a monsoonal circulation which brings a wet season (approximately summer) and a dry season (approximately winter). The agriculture, people, and culture have evolved with this over the millennia. There are good monsoon years and there are bad monsoon years, with the bad years often defined by lack of rain and drought.

At some level the bad monsoon years are associated with the late onset of the rains. But, of course, it is more complicated than that. For example, the monsoonal flow is not like a blanket of rain that uniformly covers India, it is a dynamical system that propagates across the subcontinent. The rains start early in southwest, and it gets to northwest later. The northwest portion is far dryer than the southwest, and the northwest is a region of intense agriculture. This year’s rain has been “spotty,” with some areas having been listed as having “scanty” rain. The scanty rain means less that 40% of the long-term average. Across the nation as a whole the deficit is less. (see this article from India Today.)

The results of this spotty monsoon include less planting in some regions and some failed crops. The reliance on lentils and rice here is enormous; they are the backbone of the diet. The evolving crop deficit, sometimes failure, is already impacting the price of food. (see this article in Outlook India.) Claire works with people who are on the poorer side of things, and these increases in food prices affect them disproportionately. (This is the same as we have been hearing for people in the U.S. during the recession.) There are also interesting links to policy, because for example, there is a different policy for rice than for lentils. The good news is that the previous two monsoon summers have been excellent, and there are stockpiles that help with the evolving shortages in the current market. However, India as a whole is looking to have to increase food imports. (I put a link to a whole bunch of news articles at the end.)

OK, climate change and India and the monsoon - What strikes me is the enormous dependence of agriculture on the monsoonal flow. This flow regime is very robust, but its behavioral is fickle. The date of onset is highly correlated with El Nino, which in general, leads to dry conditions in much of Asia. The start of the monsoon is also linked to organized convection in the Indian Ocean, which is simulated poorly in climate simulations. Therefore, our knowledge of the details of how climate change will impact the onset of the monsoon is not so strong. The projections of climate change currently suggest that there will be more summer precipitation, but that the timing and spatial distribution of the rain will be different. There will likely be drying in that important, northwestern agricultural region. More on the regional climate changes in the next couple of blogs.


Figure: Here is Claire negotiating the price for an auto rickshaw ride into downtown Dehli. They run off of compressed natural gas, and they provide you close contact with traffic. And here are links to a bunch of articles Claire gave me. Thanks Claire.

Some Articles
Monsoon business impacts:

Shadowed by the rain
Season of discontent, market intervention possible
Hunger worry
Sowing 20 percent lower
Deficiency will not be made up this year
Drought worse that you think
India’s crop crisis

Connection of monsoon and politics:

Connection between agribusiness, development and weather:

The politics of declaring drought

Environmental health and street children

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.