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The Monsoons of India, the Fires of Greece

The Monsoons of India, the Fires of Greece

Around this time last year, we reported heavy monsoon weather in Pakistan, with rainfall occurring at a rate ten times heavier than the yearly average. Again, the monsoon weather has descended with renewed fury, although this time, the trouble lies more easterly in the Northern District of India. 

The Indian monsoons.

Monsoons are a regular occurrence in hot Middle-Eastern countries, where excessive heat produces more extreme weather events and longer, heavier periods of rainfall. The monsoon season typically lasts between June to September. 

During this period, large tracts of India will typically receive more precipitation than all the other months of the year. This figure is around 90% in Western and Central India, while Southern and Northwestern India, where the difficulty is currently, receives about 50-65%. Monthly rainfall averages are around 200-300mm over the entire country. This rainfall reduces much of the landscape to soft, claylike mud, which can lead to objects or people sinking in the streets, although typically, this isn’t significant unless the monsoon is of a particularly aggressive variety.

A monsoon isn’t a monsoon without wind. The seasonal direction change in the summer monsoon, as the wind blows from cold to warm regions, shifts the climate and brings forth huge winds from the Indian Ocean that flow across the continent. 

All in all, the monsoon is beneficial because it brings in much-needed rains, which replenish farms and water crops. As many areas in the country don’t have large irrigation systems, such as lakes, rivers or snow flows (all of which are abundant in New Zealand), these rains produce enough water to feed crops, cattle and power whole regions which rely on hydroelectricity. 

The dark side of monsoons.

With any climatic event, the monsoon can become a force of devastation. Each year a monsoon will portion out some destruction, but the most extreme ones will see a rise in water levels that flood cities, burst banks and destroy agricultural systems. This is the type of behaviour we commonly see every few decades with monsoons. However, thanks to global warming, these extreme monsoons are becoming more regular, the last occurring only four years ago. 

What’s different this time?

The presence of other cyclones has led to a change in the typical monsoon pattern of Cyclone Biparjoy, with the monsoon being delayed by a fortnight. When it arrived, it struck Mumbai and Deli simultaneously, an unusual occurrence in the typical monsoon life cycle. 

The rainfall has also been unusual, with some areas featuring far heavier downpours while others are running at a deficit compared to the yearly average. The Northern Western Ghatts, and Northwest India in particular, are receiving the brunt of this, which is why many areas along the coast and middle of India are receiving less than normal downpours.

Interestingly, experts believe this unusual pattern, linked to climate change, may also be bought on two other major climate disruptors; warmer seas and wildfires.

The Arabian Sea is directly West of India, boarding on Mumbai down to Bengaluru. Since January, the temperature of the sea has risen by around 1.5 degrees Celsius. The rise in surface temperatures leads to increased atmospheric moisture, with more moisture in the air. The differences between land and sea temperatures then drive ideal monsoon weather. 

Conversely, wildfires release carbon dioxide into the air, warming the weather and creating the perfect pattern for cyclones and monsoons. Because of the uneven distribution of hot and cold weather patterns, we get sporadic, unpredictable weather events, such as in India.

This leads us to Greece.

The fires of Greece.

Wildfires are natural events that allow new life to progress, with many ecosystems evolving around the fires as a pivotal point in their normal lifecycle. The plains of Africa, for example, experience regular ‘cleansing’ from wildfires, allowing new life to grow in time for the wet, rainy season. However, this is a delicate balance with two extremes relying on each other. Excess heat can lead to increased wildfire activity and widespread devastation, which is harder to control. 

As a hot Mediterranean country, wildfires are uncommon in Greece. However, hotter, drier, winder summers have led to increased fire activity, not just in Greece but across the globe. 

As of the 17th of July, the Greek island of Rhodes has been on fire, spreading rapidly due to high winds and dry conditions, forcing 30,000 people to evacuate. Over 2,000 of those were lined up on the beach, waiting for relief boats as flames encroached on the hotels and tourist areas around the coast behind them. 

As of the time of writing, a concentrated effort is being put into play to keep the flames under control, with help arriving from Slovakia. It’s unknown how long the blaze will last, but if the high winds continue, the fire will keep fanning out as it has over the last week. 

Meanwhile, in Greece, the hottest July weekend in fifty years has been recorded at 45℃.

Interconnected world.

None of these events described is completely the work of climate change. The planet is a hothouse with different temporal zones, a fact which may be harder to grasp for those in the milder climate of New Zealand, where this author is writing from. However, many ecosystems rely on spells of concentrated rain, which lead to some devastation and wildfires that clear away areas for regrowth.

Unpredictable or particularly heavy seasons are not out of the ordinary either, but they’re usually smaller spikes that occur infrequently. What’s worrying is that these weather patterns are becoming more sporadic and extreme year after year. And the knock-on effect is global. Wildfires release carbon dioxide, which affects the atmosphere in India, while the concentrated cyclone activity leads to drier spells elsewhere in the world.

The planet is getting warmer, a fact that is undeniable. This is due to climate change. How much it affects any one single event is still a matter of speculation, and it’s not so easy to point the finger of blame. However, what should be apparent is that our planet, while large and abundant in one sense, in another, is quite small. We live in a world where one nation's actions will, under a shared atmosphere, negatively encroach on another’s ecosystem. This is inescapable. 

Climate change is a worldwide issue. Which means we need to plan its solution together.

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