Climate Variability in Kashmir: A Global Teleconnection
Examining the large scale disruption in Kashmir climate during the late 19th century through 20th century
DR. BASHIR AHMAD BILAL
One of the most prominent aspects of Kashmir's weather and climate is its variability. This variability ranges over many time and space scales, from small-scale phenomena such as wind gusts and localized thunderstorms, to larger-scale features like fronts and storms, to even more prolonged features such as droughts and floods. These climatic oscillations were not only responsible for economic turmoil, but have been enough to push the societies to the brink of civil unrest and mass migration, as revealed from historical climatology - which focuses on a specific time series data base. At times when attention on climate issues is strongly focused on the assessment of potential impacts of future climate change due to the intensification of the planetary greenhouse effects, it is perhaps pertinent to look back and explore the past climate variability. In this article we examine a large disruption in Kashmir climate that occurred during the late 19th century through 20th century when human influence was negligible.
El Niño, La Niña and Kashmir Climate
It is still not known what drives the climate of Kashmir and what are the controlling factors that drive its mechanism. Many authors are of the opinion that most of the Kashmir climate is influenced by the western disturbances without assigning the exact source area and sans empirical testimony. The mechanism explaining this disturbance are not well established, but there is considerable evidence that the major El Niño episodes that start by the end of December in the eastern pacific contributed significantly to Kashmir Climate. These El Niño refer to large scale warming of surface waters of the Pacific Ocean (near Ecuador and Peru) every 3-6 years, which usually lasts for 9-12 months but may continue up to 18 months, and dramatically affects the weather world over. These warm surface waters bring changes in atmospheric pressure and circulation known as Southern Oscillation (SO) happen around the world every few years. Since 1975 scientists have been researching El Niño and Southern Oscillation together known as ENSO. El Niño is a warm phase of ENSO and cold phase of this event is called La Niña. During major El Niño events, when the whole tropical belt is engulfed by atmospheric and oceanic anomalies, the areas influenced by the Southern Oscillation are so vast that one can clearly identify two hemispheres
A western hemisphere that comprises the Pacific basin, western South America, Central America, and the western half of North America, where abnormally low air pressures, warm coastal waters, and unusually heavy rains occur; and an eastern hemisphere (Southeast Asia, Australia, India, Africa, the Atlantic basin, and northeast Brazil) centered on Indonesia, where air pressures are high, ocean waters are cooler than normal, and severe droughts are visited upon certain regions. Readers should now understand when atmospheric pressure rises at Darwin it falls in Tahiti and vice versa. The question arises as to how climate in Kashmir (a mid latitude geographical entity) unswervingly or in a roundabout way is influenced by these atmospheric and oceanic anomalies occurring in the distant equatorial Pacific Ocean. As a thumb rule Kashmir should face the analogous climatic brunt as is witnessed in the eastern hemisphere. But the situation is not only contrary to our expectations, paradoxical as well.
What We Know:
Looking beyond the instrumental climatic era, one finds sporadic climate anomalies which provide us decadal-to-centennial scale window into the Kashmir climate’s repeated tendency for extended dry and wet extremes with distinct spatial flavors of response – for example, to the El Nino Southern Oscillation. In fact, records of late 19th century reported that of snow having fallen at Lahore and Jalandhar during the winter of 1873-74 which is perfectly unprecedented in the plains of Punjab. Dutt reported of dust rain having fallen in Jammu region in 1885. Lawerence in 1895 quoted that people of the times attributed it to climate change in Kashmir when human sway was trifling and glaciers in Kashmir were pushed forward to their most advanced positions. These mixed climatic signals can serve to highlight shifts in underlying climate regimes. Climate mortality data from the early 19th century (1815-35) reveals death tool of 6,00,000 people in Kashmir (Wingate 1888). Incessant rains, and extreme flooding occurred in 1831; 1838; 1841; 1856; 1869; 1871; 1875; 1877-79 and 1885 intermitted with megadroughts; during 1859-60; 1875; 1883 and 1891 have repeatedly affected the agrarian population of Kashmir. Footprints and severity of the Late Victorian Great Drought (1876 to 1878) over the climate of Kashmir unfolds yet another mystery. This drought (Fig. 2) (1876 to 1878) occurred during the Global El Nino of the late nineteenth century characterised by monsoon failure and drought over India (where 5.5 million people died) and Southeast Asia. Simultaneously, parts of West North America experienced similar anomalously dry conditions, where as Mexico and northwest were abnormally wet.
This global drought resulted in environmentally induced migration and featured non canonical wet conditions (incessant rains) over Kashmir; contrary to eastern hemisphere which was constrained by extreme dry conditions. Some authorities suggest diminution by three fifth of the population of entire valley (Lawrence) due to famine. In 1889-91 dry years again brought famine to India, Korea, Brazil and Russia, although the worst suffering was in Ethiopia and Sudan. This time canonical conditions during 1991 and 92 were observed in Kashmir where severe drought reduced vineyards by 80% meant for the Gupkar distillery. In 1896-1902, the monsoon again repeatedly failed across the tropics, northern China and India, where as unparallel inundation occurred in Kashmir from 1893-1902 surpassed the previous records.
Instrumental climatic era, statistically reflects a cooling trend (1900-1975) with average mean max temperature 19.20C which is 0.20C below normal, erratically marred with major inundations in 1893; 1900; 1902; 1903; 1909; 1912; 1928; 1957;1959; 1965; 1966; 1969; 1973; in the Valley. However, replaced by a warming trend (1975-2000) which is still in operation with average mean max temperature 19.80C which is 0.40C above normal; punctured by major floods in 1975; 1976; 1985; 1986; 1987; 1988; 1992; 1993 1995; 1996; and 1997. Since the 1980s, four warm phases of ENSO (1982–83, 1986–87, 1991–92, and 1997–98), plus one prolonged warmth in the Pacific during 1990–1994, have been observed. In contrary, we have witnessed extreme cold weather during 82-83 and 86-87 resulted in freezing of all the stagnant water bodies. While as 91-92 and 97-98 was replaced by major floods. The above comparison reflects not only inverse temperature relation but discordance with eastern hemisphere!! Pairing the years of Quinn chronology (considered as yardstick) with the climatic anomalies of Kashmir reveals an interesting concurrence against which the effects of past El Niños on the entire Pacific basin as well as on distant continents can be gauged.
Within the established order of nature, the outburst of energy and humidity that characterizes an El Niño event in many regions around the Pacific Ocean is coupled with rain shortages in other parts of the world. Climatic variations previously considered as disconnected freak occurrences began to make more sense when placed within the context of major climatic fluctuations. From our vintage point, and assisted by plenty of historical references and indirect clues, we can now make sense of the connectedness of these calamities and explain them as a result of periodical anomalies of the Southern Oscillation.
The author has worked at Imperial College London and served as Guest Faulty at Utah State University, USA, presently working as lecturer in Education Department. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Lastupdate on : Tue, 16 Oct 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Tue, 16 Oct 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Wed, 17 Oct 2012 00:00:00 IST
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