Massive flooding continues to batter Pakistan, and is thus far blamed for the death of an estimated 1,600 people, while millions have been left homeless and an estimated 15 million are affected. Pakistani and international aid efforts have been mobilizing, but the tragedy continues to unfold, on the heels of floodwaters driven by monsoon rains.
Many are looking for ties to some of the major challenges effecting our environment. Here's a look at some key facts:
1. The Pakistan flood may be linked to the fires in Russia.
Although the unfolding disasters seem far apart, they are actually being driven by the same meta weather system, according to a report via National Geographic. Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist at the Boulder, Colorado-based National Center for Atmospheric Research, told the organization, "That's because the monsoon a seasonal wind system that brings rain and floods to Pakistan and much of the rest of Asia in summer also drives the circulation of air as far away as Europe."
Air displaced by the monsoon seems to have settled over Russia, where it's creating high-pressure conditions that have squelched local precipitation and fueled a heat wave factors that have worsened the fires.
2. The Pakistan flood may be linked to global warming.
More difficult to prove is a possible connection between the disaster and global warming, which is being bandied about in the media. As climate scientists are often quick to point out, there is danger in ascribing any particular weather event to longer term trends, such as a rise in the Earth's temperatures. Still, there is some cause for concern.
Climate scientist Gavin Schmidt, who works for NASA and Columbia University, told The Daily Green that the Pakistan disaster, "Demonstrates that people are very vulnerable to weather-based changes. It's something that I don't think has been stressed enough." Schmidt added, "We're talking about more people affected than the entire population of New York City."
Schmidt acknowledged that it's very hard to make a connection to a single event when it comes to global warming, but he said we often see a statistical correlation between rising greenhouse gases and increasing frequency and severity of these types of disasters. He pointed to analysis published in the journal Nature that showed there was a much higher likelihood of the devastating European heat wave of 2003 as a result of our post-industrial atmosphere. "Things that used to be one-in-100 year events maybe now are one-in-25-year events," he explained. "It's important to remember that these kinds of anomalies increase in likelihood much faster than you might expect just looking at the few degrees of warming."
According to National Geographic, the northern Indian Ocean has warmed two degrees Fahrenheit since the 1970s. Warmer water releases more moisture into the air, which can lead to bigger monsoon rains. It's also true that the ongoing El Nino cycle is probably a factor, as the periodic warming of ocean waters can also intensify storms. "The key message is that it's not just natural variability and not just global warming," but a combination of both, Trenberth said.
See how the El Nino cycle is affecting the 2010 hurricane season.
3. The flood has compelled much of the Islamic world to condemn global warming.
The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) has blamed the flooding in Pakistan on "global warming," in an outspoken move that surprises some observers and has angered some denialists.
How much do you know about global warming? See these global warming facts and myths.
4. The flood may foreshadow international security problems.
Analysts have long warned that global warming's effects will likely be destabilizing to nation states, particularly in already contentious regions like Pakistan. Former CIA director James Woolsey has been one voice of many calling for a switch away from carbon dioxide-emitting fossil fuels to renewable energy.
The United Nations has warned that we may see millions of "climate refugees" over coming decades, and even the Pentagon has been running scenarios of the destabilizing effects of climate change.
More immediately, the U.S. war in Afghanistan is increasingly focused not just there, but in Pakistan as well. If the Taliban or other extremist groups mobilize with flood relief, or proselytize to refugees displaced from their homes, it could have a significant effect on the war and future anti-terrorism efforts.
5. Experts have predicted the Pakistan flood could be worse than the previous three major world disasters...combined.
Maurizio Giuliano, a spokesperson for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, has warned that the number of people affected by the Pakistan flood could be more than Haiti's January earthquake, the 2004 tsunami and the 2005 Pakistan earthquake combined.
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