It’s a Drought! Not Climate Change

Sushil K Sharma BA MA MEng PhD is an Associate Professor of Meteorology at the Fiji National University and a WMO Class 1 professional meteorologist. He was the adviser to
26 Jul 2015 11:21
It’s a Drought! Not Climate Change

Sushil K Sharma BA MA MEng PhD is an Associate Professor of Meteorology at the Fiji National University and a WMO Class 1 professional meteorologist. He was the adviser to the late Permanent Secretary of the National Disaster Management Office (NDMO)  Manasa Vaniqi during the 2009-2010 two seasons of back to back severe drought in Fiji and was the Manager of the Climate Special Services and Research Division of the Fiji Meteorological Service at that time. The views expressed are his own opinion and neither of his employers nor this newspaper.


I have been asked by reliable knowledgeable people whether the present drought was due the Global Warming. My simple answer was “No, and neither Climate Change”, as some “Climate Change” self- appointed pundits would like to call it.

“There is a mechanism called natural variability within the weather and climate system!” I would normally retort.

The global weather and climate system is a dynamic and not a static system and there are mechanisms called feedback mechanisms.

These allow for the dissipation of surplus energy from some parts of the globe to other parts, like warm air moving from the hot tropical regions to the cold ice and snow capped polar regions.

This stops the poles from freezing over and the equatorial regions from heating up beyond human habitation.

The weather and climate and especially rains and drought, are often associated with much larger scale system occurring over the globe than that the normal person is aware of.

Atmospheric waves in the upper atmosphere transport energy and ensure all systems are in equilibrium. Drought or excessive rains over large regional areas is often associated with other systems nowadays fashionably called by some non-scientists and even scientists as “climate drivers”.


ENSO and drought

Phenomenon like ENSO (El-Nino-Southern Oscillation) has huge impacts on the natural variability of the weather and climate on a global scale. The impact of the ENSO leading to large scale atmospheric and oceanic circulation changes on regional and global scale is the main reason and also the driver for the irregular cyclical changes, in fortune of many nations—in so far as rains and droughts are concerned.

These occur every 3-5 years and are a catalyst for famine or plenty, when large areas of rain and drought reversals occur—on a regional and hemispherical scale.

Fiji is undergoing such a reversed phase change at the moment, when the Walker circulation of easterly wind over our tropical regions is reversed with westerly wind at the surface and westerly to an easterly wind flow aloft in the upper atmosphere.

These reversals lead to subsidence and a suppressed phase of cloud development and rains over northern Australian region and the opposite over the far eastern tropical Pacific region.

A rainfall reversal from excess to dryness and vice versa is normally the case.

Each region and nation may have slightly differing impacts depending on the location and other features but with time each regional National Meteorological Centre (NMC) has a very clear understanding of the linkages.

This ENSO cycle drives this natural variability of the weather and climate system that a region may oscillate within, given certain thresholds of excessive rains to extreme droughts.


Forecasting drought

It is quite easy to forecast these drought conditions –and the degree of severity and regional or national variation of the water stress, once a nation is under the impact of ENSO as the links are quite clear.

Knowing the onset of ENSO or the trigger mechanism is often the only problem and the intensity and duration —which may also link to the type and severity of the drought a nation may have, if there are significant relationships established in the past from historical data.

Fiji is presently in drought — an extreme form that is called a hydrological type of drought which impacts on the ability of supply of water within the atmosphere and earth system, within a particular location, country or region.

Droughts come and then come the rains and the cycle continues in an irregular fashion depending on many other feedback mechanisms of the climate drivers in our universe.

Far from the normal notion that during droughts, especially hydrological droughts, the landscape will look brown, parched and fully “burnt out”—may not always be the scenario.

Far from the truth, some people with non-rural life-styles and not used to the hardship of the farms, wells, use of rivers, streams, may often not even notice the drought unless the water in their kitchen tap goes off. You do not have to have images of parched Africa, hungry thin looking malnutritioned population nor regions of vast desert like scenes.


Not climate change

The present drought is not related to global warming nor is it climate change. If it was, the climate change lobby group and speculators would have to look for the departure signals from the normal plus the natural variability signals of our weather and climate system to establish that.

No scientist alive has managed to do that differentiation, so talk of people relating everything to global warming and climate change is often utter nonsense. Any fruits of work on climate change mitigation will not even be evident within the next 30-years, if we all tried to even do that.

Also all speculative scenarios of what may happen or not based on climate change modelled results often provide scenarios of what may happen in 2030, 2050 and 2090.

The entire fourteen IPCC selected climate global General Circulation Models (GCMs) are presently not able to adequately show the areal and temporal distribution and the size and intensity of the main climate drivers in our region, viz., the SPCZ (South Pacific Convergence Zone) and the ITCZ (Intertropical Convergence Zone)  correctly.

If they cannot do that in this day and age, then looking at scenarios based on those same model results is a ludicrous suggestion, as far as I am concerned as a learned professional meteorologist and a scientist.

It is a pity however, how people with no expertise in the climate and weather sciences have taken to these results without regard to the many great uncertainties and errors in these modelled results, which are still experimental and cannot be relied upon for any planning.

In fact of the score or more of the IPCC model results, there are great disparity in their own individual results, at times almost 100% in the opposite phase and direction.

It has been a common practice by some of these novice speculators, who profess to be their own self-made gurus in “climate change” type of speculative work, to use these results without thought, comment or regard to the output that they are using and the great uncertainties in the results that they are trying to paddle to the population and the planners and decision makers in the process.

One erroneous practice has been for all the 14-IPCC modelled results to be “averaged” together for use.

This even further adulterates any meaningful output, as each individual model has its own raft of different parameterization used, with many others excluded also—leading to a process of comparing apples from pears, for example.

To use the results one has to understand the inner working and theory and the full knowledge of the parameters modelled and the errors that is often multiplied many times over in the process due to many assumptions made also.


Ethics and science

These are questions of ethics, where there are now lobby groups who will sell science, as long as they can get some research dollars or excite or even frighten the public.

They try to associate almost everything to global warming or climate change, and many of them are not even pure scientists or meteorologists but armchair “speculators” calling shots from their office, with excessive amount funding under the guise of being a “climate change scientist”, when in fact they are not.

Climate change discussions and speculative study is often not in the realm of proper science, not necessarily fully scientifically based on proper premises for a quest of knowledge, but remain to this day mere speculation. Commentators talking the most often do not understand the science to begin with, first and foremost.

This needs to be fixed before they start their speculative theories.

This is why there is a global outcry and a huge backlash against these kinds of “activists” and even the huge volumes of IPCC reports which used to try to sell the “doom and gloom” stories,  have now been ordered to comply to a “peer review process”.

One friend of mine, a prominent Director of a National Meteorological Service said to me:

“If there is a cyclone and my Minister asked me if that was due to climate change, then I would say to this non-scientist—yes—if that was to give me an extra million dollars in funds”.


Duty of care

I detest this as a scientist. We are objective people and have a duty of care to our governments, our society, and our nation who have invested so much in all of us.

There cannot be any question of breach of that faith, and we have to always walk that ethical line where science is treated with respect and objectively, leaving the decision making to others on facts, not on speculation which may be 100 per cent of the mark also—in some situations.

This is where the climate change lobby group has miserably failed to deliver to our people, except gloom, doom, lies and theories intertwined with a high degree of speculation, not facts.

This has the danger to derail their cause, as with time, their voices will no longer be heard or trusted unless based on solid factual basis, “devoid of a media backed speculative frenzy approach”.

My advice is that as scientists we have to be open and frank, but have to walk the ethical line in which we objectively say what can happen and what cannot, and also if not sure—exactly that we do not know.

Many people find that hard to do.


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