Friday, October 15, 2010

Caribbean: Flooding Events Increase With Speed Up of Global Water Cycle : A Blog Action Day Post

 I am pleased to be joining today in the Blog Action Day initiative where over 4,000 blogs from 130 countries, reaching over 30 million readers, will be writing about the issue of water.
Flooding in Havendale, Kingston Jamaica Sept 2010
We have been inundated with the topic of water this year. In Jamaica and the Caribbean, who could forget that the region was experiencing the worst drought ever for the first 5 months of this year? Fast forward 5 months and it would easy to forget the drought. Jamaica was inundated a few weeks ago from devastating flooding from the effects of Tropical Storm Nicole: a perfect example of the extremes in weather fluctuations that have been predicted all along by climate scientists. In the words of one resident of the parish of St. Elizabeth which was particularly hard hit: "Every (rainy) season we get flooding but I never see it like this," he said.   Another concerned citizen, Michael Burke, writing in the Jamaica Observer, laments the lack of preparation for flooding:
In Jamaica, discipline is still a goal to be reached. So we do not prepare for floods during drought and we do not prepare for floods during the rainy season. And while illegal sand miners remove sand and stones from gullies and leave only soft earth, we say nothing until heavy rain washes away houses with people in them.

In the Gleaner last Sunday, there was the story of an 84-year-old woman who was concerned that her house in Tavern, St Andrew, would be washed away. She said that people told her that it was her fault for building her house in the riverbed, but when she built her house 50 years ago, she was 50 feet from the river. What has happened is that the illegal sand mining has eroded the land. Will Papine Square itself be affected in another few years? ~ Michael Burke (See full article here.)

The global water cycle is speeding up and countries in the tropics are taking the brunt of it. Jamaica and the Caribbean should expect more of the flooding and drought extremes and prepare for this new reality. National Geographic’s Freshwater Fellow Sandra Postel summarizes new findings published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences which explains the disturbing reasons why we are seeing so much more flooding now:
Flooding in Havendale, Kingston Jamaica Sept 2010
There is nearly 20 percent more freshwater flowing into the world's oceans than there was 10 years ago--a sign of climate change and a harbinger of more flooding.

A new indicator has joined the century-long rise in temperature to signal that the planet's climate is changing: the global water cycle is speeding up. Using satellite observations, NASA and university researchers have found that rivers and melting ice sheets delivered 18 percent more water to the oceans in 2006 than in 1994.

The findings, which appear in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggest that the volume of water running off the land toward the sea is expanding by the equivalent of roughly one Mississippi River each year. 

On the face of it that might sound like a good thing--more water in rivers means more water to tap for agriculture, industry, and growing cities. But most of the increase is occurring in places where extra water isn't needed, like the wet tropics or the remote Arctic, or is being delivered through torrential storms that overwhelm human infrastructure and coping capacities. Though no single weather episode can be pinned to climate change, the massive rains that recently flooded a fifth of Pakistan is the kind of event scientists expect to see more of--and that nations should prepare for.

Why is the water cycle speeding up? As the atmosphere warms from the addition of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, it can hold more moisture. As a result, more water evaporates from the oceans, leading to thicker clouds that then dump more rainfall over the land. That heavier-than-normal rain can then produce massive flooding as it runs back toward the sea, where the cycle begins all over again. 

Scientists have expected global warming to speed up the water cycle in this way, but the use of satellite data allowed the trend to be observed and measured for the first time. The research team, led by Jay Famiglietti of the University of California at Irvine, used satellite records of sea level rise, precipitation, and evaporation to compile a unique 13-year record, the first of its kind.

As the scientific evidence mounts that more severe floods and droughts are on the horizon, getting on with ways of adapting to climatic change becomes just as urgent as slowing the pace of that change. ~ Sandra Postel directs the independent Global Water Policy Project and lectures, writes, and consults on international water issues. She is also Freshwater Fellow of the National Geographic Society, and serves as lead water expert for the Society's freshwater initiative.


  1. It's so cool to be apart of this world wide blog activism today. Surely Jamaica does not have the infrastructure to support rains that Nicole brought to the island....just hope that we will prepare better in the future.

  2. Thanks for checking out the post Corve. The infrastructure thing is a big problem. I hope the Government will take some very serious actions to improve it.

  3. Your participation in Blog Action Day is appreciated!

    +|O:| - WATER IS LIFE! Please check out my contribution to the Blog Day 2010 initiative:

  4. Where is that money to come taxes are paid here to fill the gap

  5. Yes, good question about the money. They're spending a pile of money to work on Palisadoes though and some think the work they are doing there is excessive and not good for environment.