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Climate change upsets the monsoon season in India

Climate change could mean big trouble for farmers in India, as it threatens to upset the monsoon season. Changing weather patterns might even lead to famine, due to dangerous impacts on agriculture.

The wet summer monsoon season is vital for India and other South-Asian countries, because it brings most of the annual rainfall that is critical for agriculture. Large areas of western and central India receive more than 90 percent of their total annual rainfall during the summer monsoon season.

Indian farmers rely on the timing and predictability of the monsoon season to grow crops. For thousands of years, farming has been carefully timed to coincide planting with the onset of monsoon rains in order to maximize crop production.

Increasing temperature will lead to trouble

Rising temperature, due to global warming, will affect the amount of rainfall and the timing that monsoon seasons hit India.

Because India’s economy is heavily based on agriculture, the importance of accurately predicting the timing and severity of monsoons is extremely important.

For example, if monsoon rains do not arrive on time, farmers will be forced to wait and run the risk of planting their crops late. This will result in fewer crops and potentially famine. If monsoon rains are too severe, seedlings that were planted could be washed away, resulting in massive food shortages.

Accurate timing can avoid agricultural losses

A number of recent scientific studies have acknowledged this risk and have examined the factors which create and influence monsoons in an attempt to better predict future monsoon seasons.

One such study identifies the factors that influence monsoon intensity and timing; temperature, rainfall, and the depth at which sea water drastically changes temperature and density (the barrier layer). This study, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, has modeled these factors and has been able to use the barrier layer to predict monsoon onset two months before it happens.

This study shows that the prediction of monsoon onset is feasible. However, WWF warns that changes in the earth’s climate are upon us. We must understand the causes and the impacts in order to push for the right solutions.

Source: Masson et al. 2005. Impact of barrier layer on winter-spring variability of the southeastern Arabian Sea. GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH LETTERS, VOL. 32, L07703, doi:10.1029/ 2004GL021980.

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