Will your village go underwater by 2050?

By Ashwin Tombat
17 November 2019 18:33 IST

This week, the Arabian Sea saw the formation of Cyclone Maha even as Cyclone Kyarr – which uprooted trees all over Goa last week – continued past the coast of Oman towards Africa. According to the India Meteorological Department (IMD), this is the first recorded case in 54 years that two cyclones are going on simultaneously in the Arabian Sea.

The frequency of severe cyclones in the northern Indian Ocean (the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea) has increased three times during the past two decades. Earlier, one severe cyclone was expected to form each year during the months of May, October or November. It has now gone up to about three per year.

The Arabian Sea was much less prone to cyclones than the Bay of Bengal, because it had a colder sea temperature. But in the last few years, the Arabian Sea is getting high intensity tropical cyclones in a much smaller time interval.  

In 15 years, from 1998 to 2013, five extremely severe cyclones originated in the Arabian Sea. In October 2014 came a Category 4 cyclonic storm, ‘Nilofar’, with wind speeds approaching 200kmph. In 2015, within a week, the Arabian Sea experienced Cyclone ‘Chapal’ followed by Cyclone ‘Megh’. Severe storms typically happen in the spring. These three cyclones all hit in October and November.

Is climate change and global warming changing cyclone behaviour?

Studies suggest that the northern Indian Ocean is warming. In particular, the Arabian Sea is warming at the fastest rate. Previously, cyclones in the Arabian Sea mostly affected Gujarat. In the past decade, Kerala, Karnataka and Goa have become much more vulnerable to them.  

Hiroyuki Murakami, an atmospheric scientist at Princeton University, has developed a sophisticated climate model to compare conditions in 2015 with conditions in 1860. His findings suggest that 64 per cent of the cyclone risk in the Arabian Sea is due to climate change from global warming.  

He warns that the coastal areas surrounding the Arabian Sea are at greater risk since their geography offers cyclones nowhere to go but onto the land. Cyclones bring heavy rains, high tides and intense winds that cause destruction and flooding in coastal areas, and can result in a massive loss of lives, livelihood and coastal ecology.

Simultaneously, Scott A Kulp and Benjamin Strauss, scientists at Climate Central, a scientific research organisation based in New Jersey, USA, used Artificial Intelligence to forecast how rising sea levels caused by global warming would affect humans in coming decades.

The results of their research are shocking. It shows that by 2050, the houses and fields of around 2 crore people in Southern Vietnam – around a quarter of the country’s population – will be inundated. This includes Ho Chi Minh City, the country’s financial capital.

Around 10 per cent of Thailand’s population lives on land that will be below sea level by 2050. So will large parts of Shanghai, which is China’s financial capital.

What about India? Much of South Mumbai, as well as riverside Kolkata areas, could be underwater by then.

And what about Goa?

The historic Ponte de Linhares causeway connecting Panaji to Ribandar, as well as the Four Pillars road to Santa Cruz will probably go underwater.

Large portions of Merces, Santa Cruz, Salvador do Mundo, St Estevam, Goa Velha, Shiroda, Panchwadi, Rachol, Macazana and Quelossim, as well as parts of most villages with khazan lands along Goa’s main rivers, will be inundated. Most of Vanxim and Divar islands could be submerged by 2100, while Chorao will flood twice a day, at high tide.

Climate Central’s report – titled ‘Flooded Future: Global Vulnerability to Sea Level Rise Far Worse Than Previously Understood’ – says that a 2-degree celsius increase in global water temperature could trigger up to a 15ft (3.7m) rise in sea levels, while a 4-degree celsius temperature increase may cause up to a 29ft (8.9m) rise in sea levels. This will have its worst effect in coastal Asia. Rise in sea level is mainly due to warming caused by anthropogenic or human-induced factors. It projects that sea level rise by 2050 could flood land that is currently home to 3.6 crore people in India alone.

This will happen “not just in the distant future, but also within the lifetimes of most people alive today”. Please take warning. Global warming is no myth. It can and will destroy the homes and lives of ordinary people in Goa and elsewhere.

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

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Ashwin Tombat

Ashwin Tombat has been the Editor of Gomantak Times and Herald. Worked as an Associate Editor of national magazine Gentleman in Mumbai, before shifting to Goa. Loves sailing, also participates in Marathons. Has worked as an activist in students's union and trade unions in Maharashtra. Also an artist of Street Theatre during student days.

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