NASA footage showing Typhoon Bopha.
Killer storm Bopha has left at least 322 people dead in the Philippines. The victims of the category 5 typhoon were hit with winds of 160 mph. High seas, flash floods and landslides all contributed to the carnage. Another 401 people are reporting injuries and 378 are unaccounted for.
The hardest hit island was Mindinao which bore the brunt of the storm. Many of the shelters were simply blown away. A government relief shelter counted soldiers among the dead when a flash flood wiped out their camp.
On Mindinao, water reservoirs dug to catch rainwater failed in the storm’s fury adding more mud and debris to the swollen rivers.
The island nations of Micronesia were also slammed by Bopha.While damage to property was extensive, no fatalities have been reported from those islands.
The superstorm has now set its sights on Vietnam or Southern China.
Data coming from NASA has let the world know that the sea ice cover in the Arctic is now at its lowest extent since records have been kept, starting in 1979. Thinning of the ice cover has also occurred and the ice has declined by 40%. The sea ice is now only about 30% of what it was in the 1980s. It is expected that this summer’s decline will continue through September.
The summer melting of the Northern Ice Cap sets up a positive feedback situation in which the melting will accelerate, eventually leaving the Arctic Ocean ice free for part of the year. As the white ice melts to expose the darker ocean, more heat is absorbed. The open ocean also allows waves from storms to break up the thinner ice cover exposing more dark ocean, and so on.
The warmer Arctic Ocean waters are starting to melt the ocean bed permafrost which in turn releases large amounts of methane gas trapped below the surface. Methane gas is a powerful greenhouse gas which is at least 20 times more efficient at trapping Sol’s heat, adding to the positive feedback engine.
What do these changes mean to us?
As the sea ice retreats, people move onto the water. Shipping is venturing farther north each year. Oil and gas exploration are poised to move into the Arctic Ocean where a treasure trove of petroleum is believed to be. The boundaries and control of the sea bed are not agreed to in some areas with overlapping claims of jurisdiction. Added to this, the Chinese government has been making noises that they should be allowed to exploit this resource as well. This opens a now pristine area up to pollution by accidents and leaks which even in the best run companies, happen from time to time.
The warming ocean may help the acceleration of the melting of the Greenland ice sheet which is in the process of melting. If the whole of the miles thick ice sheet should be lost, ocean levels will rise inundating many river deltas and farming areas as well as coastal ports.
Wildlife that depends on ‘hauling out’ on the ice to give birth or to hunt is increasingly under pressure. Polar bears will likely go extinct in this century from loss of their unique habitat. Other marine mammals like walruses and seals also need to have stable ice for their nurseries.
As the air over the Arctic warms, the Jet Stream will likely change. In Canada, the Jet Stream rules the weather, bringing in storms or holding them at bay as it circumnavigates the globe. As more cold, fresh water enters the oceans, the salinity of the ocean will change which may lead to the slowing of the Gulf Stream, that river of warm water that circulated up from the Caribbean to modify weather along the east coast of N. America. The warm Gulf Stream is responsible for modifying the weather is S. England before looping south along the coast of France.
So while many of us have not visited the high Arctic and are not likely to do so, events there will have a direct impact on our lives. The debate about climate change has moved to a new phase. The evidence is in and we are in trouble as a species.