Climate Change Drives Half a Billion People to Suffer Hunger, Water Shortages as Droughts and Heatwaves Wreck Crops Across the Globe

At least 12 Indian states are believed to be facing famine and experts have warned that the water crisis could worsen if urgent action is not taken. — Greenpeace statement taken yesterday by The International Business Times.

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A human-forced warming of the globe is a trigger for increasingly severe droughts, water shortages, food shortages, and heatwaves intense enough to cause mass casualties. As global temperatures during 2015 and 2016 have risen to more than 1 degree Celsius above preindustrial readings, we’ve seen more and more reports coming in of these kinds of climate-change driven disruptions.

A new study out this week from the European Commission has found that 240 million people across the world are now suffering from food stress. With Greenpeace now warning that 330 million people in India alone are faced with water shortages and threat of famine, and with millions more coming under both food and water stress in Vietnam as a record Southeast Asian heatwave ramps up to never-before-seen extreme temperatures — it appears now that more than half a billion people around the world are dealing with a climate change driven food and water crisis.

It’s a growing global crisis that has now come to affect more than 45 nations. One that has put at least 80 million of those now suffering from hunger at a food stress level just one step below famine. One whose primary trigger appears to be widespread and expanding drought and extreme weather due to global temperatures hitting new all-time record highs.

Food stress map

(Despite what is probably the best global system ever devised to prevent and reduce hunger, the European Commission now finds that 240 million people are at risk of food stress. A number that is likely incomplete as a newly emerging heatwave in Southeast Asia is drying up food and water supplies for millions. Image source: The European Commission.)

It’s a situation that international agencies appear to be scrambling to keep track of. For with each passing week there appears to be new information about another country falling under food and water stress or of one already affected seeing conditions among strained populaces worsen.

Hunger Expanding Across The Globe

In the Equatorial and near-Equatorial regions of the world, nations are particularly vulnerable to the stress of rising temperatures. There, soil moisture is already tenuous in many regions. As temperatures rise, rates of evaporation increase and marginal areas can rapidly fall into drought. In addition, many regions reliant on glacier and snow melt to provide water during summer are seeing mountain snows vanish and high elevation glaciers dwindle away as consistently above freezing temperatures invade further and further into the higher elevations.

Across Africa, Southern and Eastern Asia, The Middle East, and Central America this story has been writ large as new climate change driven heat and dryness appears to have hit a tipping point this year. Severe heatwaves, droughts, and dwindling rivers are setting off intense hunger crises in North Korea, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Yemen, Sudan, Ethiopia, Egypt, Central Africa, and Nigeria — countries that now each host more than 10 million people under acute food stress. These are grim figures. But the numbers, in many cases, fail to tell the whole story of how dire the situation has actually become.

In North Korea, for example, officials there are warning of another Arduous March — a period of famine during the late 1990s and coinciding with droughts and rising global temperatures that killed more than 3.5 million in that country. Aid to North Korea during the 2000s alleviated some of the endemic hunger. But by the then record warm year of 2010 the droughts had re-emerged, and reports of hunger, stunted growth among children, and famine had again cropped up. In 2015, amidst global temperatures that had risen still higher, North Korea experienced its worst drought in at least 100 years. By as early as March, drought and heat had once-more settled in over a broad swath of Asia. And late last month, the state-run news agency Rodong Sinmun issued the following statement alluding to a rising risk of famine conditions in the country:

We may have to go on an arduous march, during which we will have to chew the roots of plants once again.

India Drought Baked and Bleached Riverbeds

(A hothouse created by ongoing fossil fuel burning and related carbon emissions has set off droughts and heatwaves around the world leaving riverbeds and farmlands baked and bleached. Image source: India Water Portal.)

More than a score of other nations now see between 1-10 million people in their countries facing hunger. Places like Cambodia, Madagascar, Iraq, Pakistan, Venezuela, Libya, Haiti, New Guinea, Chad, Mali, Somalia, and Zamibia. Earlier this week, the situation became very acute for Somalia as a group of 23 NGOs warned that the country was at high risk of falling into famine. There, water shortages, food shortages and livestock deaths have grown more and more widespread. Ever-deepening drought has pushed crops to fail and food prices to sky-rocket. An ongoing growing season disruption that has now pushed hundreds of thousands of people into hunger.

In Cambodia, a country suffering from a severe southeast Asian drought and heatwave that has left much of the region reeling, the EC identifies up to 5 million people threatened by hunger. Heat and drought there are now so severe that farmers cannot grow traditional crops. A local farmer describes the increasingly dire situation:

“Before it was not difficult, but now due to frequent drought even bananas don’t grow and other vegetables that we normally grow here are not doing well, not enough to eat. We cannot grow all the vegetables we need so sometimes I collect food from neighbours.”

A number of nations suffering from climate change related extreme weather events now triggering additional food and water stress are not currently listed in the recent EC report. Countries like India and Vietnam, which are both now confronting record drought, heat related mass casualties, heatwaves, water shortages, farmer suicides and crop losses. The severe drought and food shortage situation in Vietnam has come on with particular speed and intensity as local officials identified more than two million people at risk of hunger there just this week:

Vietnam is in urgent need of international aid worth US$48.5 million as a crippling drought threatens to create a shortage of food and water for two million people. Officials from the country’s agriculture ministry and the United Nations estimated at a meeting Tuesday that at least two million people in southern and central Vietnam lack clean water, with 1.1 million also in need of food support.

Record Asian Heatwave

(One of the most severe heatwaves on record settled in over Southeast Asia during April. The event has already killed 150 people due to heat alone in India — there sparking off such a severe water shortage that relief trains now move from town to town — providing people with emergency supplies as local wells and rivers dry up. In Vietnam and Cambodia, the severe heat has already lead to crop failures so widespread that millions are at risk of hunger. Image source: NASA and Voice of America.)

But perhaps hardest hit of all is India. There, so many towns have lost access to river or well water that a train filled with millions of gallons of the life-giving liquid now winds its way across India — providing people there with a water ration of between 4 and 10 liters per day meant to meet all daily drinking and bathing needs. Greenpeace has identified more than 330 million people who are now facing water shortages across the highly populated country. And according to that NGO 12 Indian states will face famine unless swift government action to alleviate the crisis takes place.

Indian officials have pinned hopes for refreshed water supplies on the Asian Monsoon which is scheduled to arrive by mid-to-late June. However, the human-driven warming of the globe has a tendency to reduce the amount of rainfall the annual Indian Monsoon provides. A fact hinted at in a recent statement to International Business Times by Greenpeace’s Ishteyaque Ahmad:

“Those who say that one or a few consecutive good monsoons will change the situation are either ignorant or are trying to hide the truth, which is very frightening. In fact, we are dehydrating our earth’s system by choice and not out of ignorance.”

Record High Global Temperatures as a Trigger

It is difficult to overstate the severity of droughts and heatwaves affecting many of these regions. For record-shattering high temperatures and moisture loss has been impacting these sections of the globe all throughout the 2015-2016 period. During this time, global temperatures have risen to never-before-seen levels. It’s a record spike of global heat that has been driven on by human-forced climate change. By levels of the heat trapping gas — carbon dioxide — rising to marks well above 405 parts per million this year. At the same time, El Nino has caused that heat to build up over the Equatorial and near-Equatorial regions of the world. Serving as a kind of human-forced warming amplifier for drought, heat, and water stress in these regions.

For the Summer of 2016, following one of the strongest El Ninos on record and entering a period when the world has never experienced such amazingly high global temperatures, the level of disruption is likely to be extraordinarily severe. Record heat will pull more moisture from soils and rivers than ever before, will take down the mountain snows that still exist faster than ever before, will dwindle the remaining glaciers to the lowest levels yet seen. In addition, consistent warm air invasions into the Arctic will tend to create high amplitude waves in the Jet Stream — setting up zones where droughts and heatwaves are further enhanced. So the crisis period for the Summer of 2016 has just begun.

In this context the expected onset of La Nina later in the year is far off. And though it may provide relief for some areas, this relief will be somewhat withdrawn by the climate change driven warming that is already in place and continues to steadily worsen. In addition, regions that tend to see dryness due to La Nina may see drought conditions further enhanced by the ongoing global heat build-up — places like California that should probably not let its guard down following a notably weak moisture flow off the record strong El Nino this past Winter.

Links:

Famine Early Warning System

The European Commission Report on Global Hunger

India Drought — Greenpeace Issues SOS, Famine Warnings

NASA GISS

Extreme Weather, Armed Conflict Affects Millions

NGOs Issue Famine Warning for Somalia

Vietnam Drought Threatens Millions

Punishing Heatwave Sets off Temperature Records Across Asia

India Water Portal

North Korean’s Arduous March

North Korea Experiences Worst Drought in at Least 100 Years

Chef Arrives in Cambodia to Draw Attention to Climate Change

The Keeling Curve

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Hat Tip to Wili

Hat Tip to DT Lange

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The Human Hothouse Turns Bolivia’s Second Largest Lake into a Withered Wasteland

Lake Poopo in Bolivia has dried up. And Climate Change has been named as the top cause of the disaster.

After decades of drought and depressed rainfall related to a human-forced warming of the globe, the once-massive lake is now gone. Once measuring 90 by 32 kilometers and covering an area of over 1,000 square kilometers this second largest lake in all of Bolivia has turned into a dried out disaster zone. Cracked, baked earth, overturned and abandoned boats, and the desiccated remains of lake life are all that are left as sign to the fact that a giant lake once existed. The flamingos, fish and other wildlife that relied on the lake are now dead or long gone. Yet more lonely casualties of a climate changed radically by an incessant burning of fossil fuels.

(Human-forced climate change is implicated in Bolivia’s loss of Lake Poopo. Video source: TeleSUR English.)

Rainy Season Undone

About a decade ago, the rainy season in this region of the Altiplano Mountains began to dry up. Rainfall became less regular and the great Lake Poopo — important to locals for its supply of fish and wildlife — began to fade away. By 2015, record global temperatures and El Nino conditions had again pushed the rainy season back. By January of 2016, one month into the typical rainy season, no rains had yet fallen and the great lake had dried up completely.

According to NASA, ongoing drying impacts related to warming have been impeding the flow of water into Lake Poopo for decades. The first time the lake dried out was back in 1994. The lake subsequently took more than three years to re-fill. But it has never fully recovered.

Rates of Evaporation Increase by a Factor of 3

Rising global temperatures are increasing the rates of evaporation and precipitation worldwide. But Lake Poopo sits in an evaporation and water loss hot spot. Scientists researching this drying event indicate that impacts to the hydrological cycle as a result of a human-forced warming of the globe have increased rates of evaporation for the Lake Poopo area by 3 times that of the 20th Century average.  And this greatly intensified baking of the lands there has resulted in a profound loss of reliable water supply for the lake.

Lake Poopo BeforeLake Popoo Dried Up

(Lake Poopo before and after. A merciless and ongoing decadal drought has caused lake Poopo to turn into a dried up desert. Image source: Earth Observatory.)

Long-term Outlook Looks Pretty Amazingly Bad

Since Bolivia occupies a region very vulnerable to the human-forced warming of our world, the current drying of Lake Poopo may last longer than the 1994 event or, perhaps, indefinitely. Bolivian officials seem determined to restore water to the lake — estimating that such a project would require the diversion of other sources along with a 150 million dollar investment.

But the situation is now far more challenging than during the time following the initial drying event of 1994. Global temperatures are in the range of 0.5 C hotter. Meanwhile, trends toward drying are settling in all over this region of South America. Bolivia’s first largest lake — Titicaca — is also under threat, require a half a billion dollars to preserve its own falling water levels. Sao Paulo, to the east, is still undergoing its own severe water crisis. And to the north, the loss of moisture due to a deforestation and warming of the Amazon Rainforest is further exacerbating extreme drying events throughout South America.

Given this changing local and global environment, any lake restoration efforts will meet with extremely severe challenges. Over the next two decades, global temperatures may spike above 1.5 C above 1880s averages and the Amazon may be well on its way to collapse. It’s difficult to imagine that many lakes and rivers would survive such brutal conditions, much less the very vulnerable Lake Poopo.

Links:

Earth Observatory

TeleSUR English

Lake Poopo

Bolivia’s Second Largest Lake Lost to Climate Change

Bolivia and Peru Sign 500 Million Dollar Deal to Preserve Lake Titicaca

Hat Tip to Andy in San Diego

NASA: World Just Saw its Hottest June, July and August on Record

The world is now well on its way to seeing back-to-back hottest years on record. Unprecedented and amoral burning of fossil fuels is now forcing the global temperature average to rise into the range of 1 degree Celsius above 1880s averages — or halfway to a catastrophic 2 C warming. A level at which scientists believe many climate change tipping points will be irrevocably crossed.

June, July, August Were Hottest On Record

According to NASA GISS, global temperatures for the June, July and August period of 2015 were 0.78 degrees Celsius (C) above the 20th Century benchmark or about 0.98 C above 1880s averages — when global record keeping began. The previous hottest three month period occurred during 1998 at +0.72 C. Notably, June, July and August were the hottest three months for 1998. But for 2015, December, January and February came in at +0.83 C and March, April and May came in at +0.81 C. These extreme temperature departures, when combined with the June, July and August readings, now put 2015 at +0.80 C above average for its first 9 months — or well above any previous record-breaking year. A significant single year margin above the previous hottest year — 2014 — of +0.05 C (a single year rate of warming about 150 times the average rate of warming at the end of the last ice age).

August Temperature departures

(NASA GISS spatial anomalies map for August of 2015. Image Source: NASA)

August of 2015 Comes in As Second Hottest Amidst Global Warming And El Nino Signature Temperature Anomalies

August itself came in at +0.81 C above NASA’s 20th Century benchmark average. This departure marked the second hottest August reading in the 135 year temperature record, falling just 0.01 C behind the previous hottest August reading hit just last year (2014).

Geographic distribution of temperature anomalies continue to show the signatures of both a strong El Nino and a growing climate change related signal. The August El Nino signature was particularly strong in the Eastern and Central Equatorial Pacific with 1-4 degree Celsius hotter than normal temperature departures dominating the region. This heat extended throughout the anomalous ‘Hot Blob’ or ‘Ridiculously Resilient Ridge’ zone that has continued to be dominated by extreme sea surface temperature departures with 1-4 degree Celsius above normal temperatures pervading. Such extreme heat was linked to equally extreme drought and wildfire conditions dominating broad sections of the North American west throughout the month. Conditions that, for many areas, have been endemic for many months running.

Anomalous heat also dominated the land masses of South America, Europe, South Africa, and the Lake Baikal region of Russia. These areas experienced some or all of the following: extreme drought, wildfires, water resource stresses, extreme heat-related weather, and heatwaves. A cool pool in the Northern Atlantic between England and Newfoundland remained a prominent feature. This cool region is associated with climate change related conditions that are now in the process of weakening both the Gulf Stream and North Atlantic bottom water formation. It’s a set of conditions that weakens equator to mid-latitude heat transport and intensifies the North Atlantic storm track. An upshot of human-forced warming that has been predicted for decades by even the most rudimentary of global climate models but that now appears to be cropping up a bit earlier than previously expected (see World Ocean Heartbeat Fading?). Persistent troughs over Eastern North America and Western Russia also generated their own cool pools. Meanwhile, surface temperatures over Central Antarctica dipped into cooler values — likely associated with intensification of storm systems in the Southern Ocean.

Zonal Anomalies

(NASA zonal temperature anomalies show a signature consisted with strong El Nino and related equatorial warming. Image source: NASA GISS.)

NASA’s zonal anomalies map also displayed a strong El Nino signature with the global equatorial zone showing the highest above average temperature departures (in the range of +1.3 degrees Celsius). This extreme heat maintained throughout the Northern Hemisphere mid-latitudes all the way to 60 North before falling off to between +0.2 to +0.4 C near the pole. Progressing southward, anomalies steadily declined, even dipping into a range of 0 to -0.9 C anomalies in the region of 75 to 90 South.

Conditions in Context — Record High Temperatures and Related Extreme Weather in the Pipe

Consistent high temperature departures near the Equator, as we see now, tend to aid both in storm track intensification and a general flattening of the Jet Stream. Though these conditions have not yet dominated in the Northeastern Pacific, a continuation of the August temperature departure pattern and related strong El Nino will likely both intensify the Northeastern Pacific and North Atlantic storm tracks as Fall progresses. Such a shift, however, would have to be very extreme to bust the 3 year running California Drought.

Overall temperature departures for both August and for the June, July, August period are well outside the range of anything that could be considered normal and are swiftly rising to more and more unsafe and climate destabilizing levels. The emergence of the North Atlantic cool pool is a feature specifically related to storm intensification and regional and global weather destabilization. A feature predicted by global climate models due to human forced warming, related melting of Greenland ice, and the upshot slowing down of critical ocean currents. The recent unprecedented Hot Blob in the Northeastern Pacific was likewise predicted in the scientific research as a result of human forced warming — a feature that, it was warned, could result in much warmer and drier conditions for the North American West Coast. Climate change related heat signatures such as these clearly show in the NASA monitor even as the global measure keeps rising to new and more dangerous extremes.

Links:

NASA GISS Global Temperature Analysis

World Ocean Heartbeat Fading

(Please support public, non special interest based, science like the fantastic work done by NASA’s GISS division and without which this report and related analysis would not have been possible.)

 

 

 

Climate Change Ratcheting Up: El Nino Strengthens in Equatorial Pacific Increasing Likelihood for Record Warm 2015

A powerful Kelvin Wave continued to ripple through the near-surface waters of the Equatorial Pacific this week — heightening sea surface temperatures, strengthening an ongoing El Nino, and pushing a wave of oceanic heat back into a human-warmed atmosphere that is hotter now than at any time in modern human reckoning.

High temperature anomalies in the Kelvin Wave plug have spread out across the ocean surface. Readings in the range of +1 to +2 C above average stretch along surface waters all the way from the Date Line through 120 West Longitude. East of the 120 line, surface waters have now hit readings of 2 to 4 degrees Celsius above average. And lurking just below the surface along thousands of miles of ocean is a dense zone of 5-6 degree above average water. A zone of extreme heat at the heart of the current intense Kelvin Wave:

NOAA Kelvin Wave April 23

(A strong Kelvin Wave shuts down atmospheric heat transfer into the Equatorial Pacific setting up conditions for an extended El Nino and possible new record heat for 2015. Image Source: NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.)

Heat that could well make 2015 yet another worsening of the human warming and extreme weather twilight zone we now find ourselves in.

Pushing into Moderate El Nino Range

According to NOAA’s weekly El Nino report, sea surface temperatures in the critical Nino 3.4 region hit a range of 1 degree C above average last week. A jump from the previous week’s measure of +0.7 C and a new push toward moderately strong El Nino levels off the back of the current warm Kelvin Wave. Atmospheric teleconnections that are signatures of a moderate El Nino also began to emerge over past weeks — with a strengthening of the subtropical Jet and related storm track setting off powerful tornadoes, thunderstorms and heavy rain events in states bordering the Gulf of Mexico over the past ten days.

Heat content from the current Kelvin Wave is enough to continue to keep Equatorial Pacific sea surface temperatures in present ranges or to push for further warming over at least the next 1-2 months. A set of factors that will almost certainly lock near moderate El Nino conditions in through Summer and general El Nino conditions through early Autumn. The result is that the extra heat bleed off the Pacific Ocean will combine with the impressive human forcing to generate a high risk that 2015 atmospheric temperatures will beat out all-time record highs set in 2014.

Model Runs Still Showing Potential for Super El Nino

Nino 3.4 Monthly Anomalies

(Unweighted model ensemble runs show the current El Nino peaking out at extreme intensity. Long range model runs can be quite uncertain, but these are very high values. Image source: NOAA Seasonal and Monthly SST Anomalies.)

NOAA model runs also show a potential for El Nino strengthening through the end of 2015. Probability weighted CFS model ensembles (PDF) point toward a seasonal anomaly for Nino 3.4 in the range of 1998 Super El Nino values at 2.1 degrees Celsius above average by the end of 2015. Mean model runs (non-weighted) push the long range forecast heat values even higher at 2.6 C above seasonal averages or 2.75 C above monthly averages.

These unweighted long range forecasts are well outside the strength of even the monster event of nearly two decades ago. A new super El Nino that would have very serious consequences for global temperatures and result in far-reaching climate impacts should it emerge. Atmospheric temperatures that are now in the range of +0.7 C above 20th Century averages and +0.9 C above 1880s values could well push into a new range at +0.8 C and +1 C, or higher, respectively.

Super El Nino Late 2015

(Long range models show Equatorial Pacific has potential to hit near Super El Nino status by late 2015. At this time, such model runs are low certainty. Image source: NOAA Seasonal and Monthly SST Anomalies.)

Cranking up the Human Hothouse

Entering the range of 1-2 C above 1880s values is a zone of heat anomaly that will amplify already apparent ice sheet melt, sea level rise, droughts, wildfires, water stress, and ocean health impacts. At temperatures around +1.5 C we begin to enter a period of strong glacial outflows, weather instability, geophysical changes, and record related storm events in a ‘Storms of My Grandchildren‘ type scenario. At +2 C these very dangerous impacts will likely be in full swing.

It is worth noting that it took 10,000 years to warm the world 4 degrees Celsius at the end of the last ice age. Under current human fossil fuel burning scenarios, it is likely that we reach half that threshold in just 150 to 170 years — from 1880 to 2030-2050. A rapid reduction in fossil fuel emissions along a progression to a net carbon negative human society over the next few decades is absolutely necessary to prevent these outcomes. And while model forecasts indicating the potential for a Super El Nino type event for late 2015 may be somewhat uncertain, there is a much higher certainty that very dangerous climate impacts starting at the current level of human warming will ramp up here on out — with the 1.5 C threshold looking very bad and the 2.0 C threshold looking terrible.

As such, we should do all we can to prevent hitting those marks.

Links:

NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center

NOAA’s Weekly El Nino Report

NOAA Seasonal and Monthly SST Anomalies

The Storms of My Grandchildren

Far Worse than Being Beaten With a Hockey Stick

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