Has La Niña Unleashed a Global Wave of Monster Floods? CIA Keeps a Wary Eye on Clmate Change

509652main_lanina_stronger_1This past summer, as torrential rains flooded Pakistan creating the worst natural disaster in Pakistan’s history, an anonymous veteran intelligence analyst,who heads the CIA’s year old Center on Climate Change and National Security, viewed the catastrophe as a warning to the major powers.

Climate experts have zeroed in on La Nina as a major factor in widespread floodinf around the world. The La Niña is evident in the image left by the large pool cooler than normal (blue and purple) water stretching from the eastern to the central Pacific Ocean, reflecting lower than normal sea surface heights.

"This La Niña has strengthened for the past seven months, and is one of the most intense events of the past half century," said Climatologist Bill Patzert of NASA JPL.

The  Ocean Surface Topography Mission (OSTM)/Jason-2 satellite image of the Pacific Ocean s based on the average of 10 days of data centered on Dec. 26, 2010. The new image depicts places where the Pacific sea surface height is higher (warmer) than normal as yellow and red, with places where the sea surface height is lower (cooler) than normal as blue and purple. Green indicates near-normal conditions. Sea surface height is an indicator of how much of the sun's heat is stored in the upper ocean.

"The solid record of La Niña strength only goes back about 50 years and this latest event appears to be one of the strongest ones over this time period," said Climatologist Bill Patzert of JPL. "It is already impacting weather and climate all around the planet."

"Although exacerbated by precipitation from a tropical cyclone, rainfalls of historic proportion in eastern Queensland, Australia have led to levels of flooding usually only seen once in a century," said David Adamec, Oceanographer at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. "The copious rainfall is a direct result of La Niña’s effect on the Pacific trade winds and has made tropical Australia particularly rainy this year."

The new image depicts places where the Pacific sea surface height is near-normal, higher (warmer) than normal and lower (cooler) than normal. The cooler-than normal pool of water that stretches from the eastern to the central Pacific Ocean is a hallmark of a La Niña event.

Earth's ocean is the greatest influence on global climate. Only from space can we observe our vast ocean on a global scale and monitor critical changes in ocean currents and heat storage. Continuous data from satellites like OSTM/Jason-2 help us understand and foresee the effects of ocean changes on our climate and on climate events such as La Niña and El Niño.

The latest report from NOAA's Climate Prediction Center (CPC) noted that "A moderate-to-strong La Niña continued during December 2010 as reflected by well below-average sea surface temperatures (SSTs) across the equatorial Pacific Ocean." The CPC report said that La Niña is expected to continue well into the Northern Hemisphere spring 2011.

While Queensland Australia tries to recover from the worst floods to affect the state in decades, recent rains have been causing havoc elsewhere. Seasonal flooding across eastern Australia has been widespread and devastating this spring – their wettest on record. Cyclone Tasha came along two weeks ago, and dumped even more water on Queensland. Hundreds of thousands of people in an area the size of France and Germany combined are now affected, and at least nine people have been killed so far.

Non-stop rain in Brazil since the New Year left many areas in the region cut off by floods and landslides this week. At the last count, the BBC reported over 500 fatalities. The BBC's Rafael Spuldar in Teresopolis, Brazil, writes: "There is mud everywhere – some of it more than 3 metres high. Cars are destroyed and turned upside down, from small sports cars to big trucks."

And in the Philippines heavy rains over two weeks in late December and January caused floods and landslides through about a third of the country's 80 provinces, reported Reuters. There are 42 confirmed dead, most of whom either drowned or were buried by mudslides.

Rains are also affecting the east coast of Sri Lanka. Time writes: "Over one million people are currently cut off and isolated by the flooding, and 21 have been confirmed dead. "

The British Met Office told The Guardian that the floods in Australia and the Philippines are linked to La Niña – but those in Brazil and Sri Lanka are probably unconnected. A spokesperson for the Met Office said the same slow moving weather system has been sitting over Sri Lanka for a while now, suggesting floods there are probably just increased shower activity.

But Financial Times Science Editor Clive Cookson was quick to make a link between all the floods globally, candidly answering the question: "Is there any link between the terrible floods in Australia and Brazil?" with "Yes – La Niña."

The CIA is expecting to see more climate-change devents around the world in nthe future according to Medill’s National Security Reporting Project. Thev CIA wants to know: What are the conditions that lead to a situation like the Pakistan flooding? What are the important things for water flows, food security … radicalization, disease” and displaced people? As intelligence officials assess key components of state stability, they are realizing that the norms they had been operating with – such as predictable river flows and crop yields – are shifting.

Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, a 23-year veteran of the CIA who led the Department of Energy’s intelligence unit from 2005 to 2008, said the intelligence community simply wasn’t set up to deal with a problem such as climate change. Climate projections lack crucial detail and information about how people react to changes is lacking. Military officials reported that  they don’t yet have the intelligence they need in order to prepare for what might come.

Water, water, everywhere as passengers wait for trains in a flooded station in São Paulo, Brazil. Heavy rain in Brazil triggered floods and devastating mudslides which have already claimed the lives of over 500 people.  On the same day flood waters in Brisbane reached a 4.46-metre peak as the Australian state of Queensland struggles with the effects of La Niña.


Image credit : KeystoneUSA-ZUMA/Rex Features via newscientist.com

The Daily Galaxy


Medill News Service/MCT

Image Credit: NASA JPL/Bill Patzert



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