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Monsoon Pattern Breaking Down In India's Western Ghat Region - 23% Of Area Vegetation Remains

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hatrack Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Dec-13-09 12:47 PM
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Monsoon Pattern Breaking Down In India's Western Ghat Region - 23% Of Area Vegetation Remains

Not very far away in the hills of Uttara Kannda, Suresh Nayak is a worried man. Every year, by this time the rains are over. I wonder why it is still pouring. It is a curse on us poor farmers. Our standing crop of paddy is soaking in the rain, he says. Errant monsoon patterns are a new reality in the Western Ghats. Earlier we had names for each rain. We even calculated our agriculture activity based on the monsoons. They were so accurate, shares Suresh, adding that for example, the bittane (sowing) season this was based on the rohini male people in villages believed that when the chagate gida (chagate plant) surfaces, there will be continuous rain and so we can start sowing seeds. But today, all this does not hold good. Monsoons have become very undependable. We dont know what else is in store.

This sense of ambiguity and uncertainty transcends region, community and background. Sankeshwar from Heggodu in Sagar taluk is anxious as he cautions imagine Malnad which is the source of so many rivers, is today facing a shortage of water. With this shortage at source, the day is not far when this region will even face drought. The terrain being treacherous, shortage of water is an absolute curse. We have to fetch water from as far as two kilometres in the summer months, complains Gowrakka, from the Mundwala hamlet. My father-in-law built this house. The forest around was dense, we had channelled the water right up to our door. Today, this water goes dry by March, she adds.

The Ghats have seen unimaginable change in the last 20 years. Thanks to rapid development thrust upon by the state and central governments (dams, mines, roads etc), the region has witnessed some impatient and untenable planning. The icing on the cake came around 1990-92, when the bagar hokum regularisation legislation came into effect. The intent for introducing the legislation is highly debatable and some say politically aligned, to win votes. The legislation said that any occupation on forested lands prior to 1985 would be legalised and regularised under the law. Starting in 1992, till 2002 we saw large-scale destruction of forests like never before. I have seen people clearing forests overnight and submitting application for regularization of the encroachment, shares Maheshwar from Heggodu, adding these were the darkest days for the Ghats. I lodged many official complaints to stop this in my village. But everything fell on deaf ears.


Speak to any villager in the hills and their grievances about the climate, rainfall, lack of fuel wood, soaring temperatures resonate, valley after valley. Interestingly, research and science confirms every bit of apprehension and fear that these people ally.
Conservation International estimates that no more than 23 percent of original vegetation remains; the Western Ghats have the highest population density for a biodiversity hotspot 260 people/km2. With an ecological history of over three millennia of forest utilisation in terms of systematised logging, agriculture, harvesting of non-timber forest produce, spice trade, crop plantations, development projects, the Western Ghats have backboned local economy, water, electricity and other needs for 50 million people stakeholders in the region.

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bhikkhu Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Dec-13-09 02:39 PM
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1. "The Ghats have seen unimaginable change in the last 20 years"
Haven't we all. I grew up in the San Joaquin Valley, and spent much of my youth cycling out through the fields and foothills, largely empty and peaceful. That whole area, for miles and miles, is now a tangle of roads, suburbs and strip malls.

Good article. As in Australia, India has had an upsurge in suicide rates among farmers. Climate change and out of control growth results in a world that no longer makes sense, particularly where the culture has evolved in close connection with the land itself.
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NickB79 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Dec-13-09 11:13 PM
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2. Rainfall patterns breaking down in a country of 1 billion? What could possibly go wrong?
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OKIsItJustMe Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Dec-15-09 01:44 PM
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3. Irrigation decreases, urbanization increases monsoon rains
December 15, 2009

Irrigation decreases, urbanization increases monsoon rains

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - A Purdue University scientist has shown man-made changes to the landscape have affected Indian monsoon rains, suggesting that land-use decisions play an important role in climate change.

Monsoon rainfall has decreased over the last 50 years in rural areas where irrigation has been used to increase agriculture in northern India, said Dev Niyogi, an associate professor of agronomy and earth and atmospheric sciences. At the same time, heavily urban areas are seeing an increase in heavy rainfall.

"In the rural areas, we're seeing premonsoon greening occurring two weeks earlier than what it did 20 years back as the demand for agricultural intensification to feed India's people increases," Niyogi said. "The landscape has also moved in some places from what was once a traditionally rural setting to large urban sprawls. Both of these phenomena have affected monsoon rains."

Niyogi used more than 50 years of rainfall data - spanning back to 1951 - collected by 1,803 recording stations monitored by the India Meteorological Department to determine different regions' average yearly monsoon rain totals. While the mean monsoon rainfall for the entire country remained stable, Niyogi found that rainfall averages in India's northwest region decreased by 35 percent to 40 percent from the historical mean during the past 50 years.

Analysis of soil moisture showed that before monsoon rains came, the northwest region had become as much as 300 percent wetter in recent years relative to the past 30 years, which has been attributed to irrigation from groundwater to sustain intensified agricultural production. This wetter surface causes cooling that weakens the strength of low pressure necessary for monsoons to progress into northern India.

Satellite data showed that northern India is greening sooner than it had in the past. That greening is creating a barrier for monsoons, which provide much-needed rain to replenish groundwater reserves being used for irrigation.

"In this case, you need a warm, dry surface to advance the monsoon," said Niyogi, whose findings were published in the journal Water Resources Research. "Because of increased irrigation, you now have a wet, green area, which does not allow the monsoon to reach far enough north."

Since that rain isn't reaching the region, more irrigation is needed to sustain agriculture there.

"Unless this is checked and controlled, the problem is going to become more and more severe," Niyogi said. "With more irrigation, we will have less monsoon rain. With less monsoon rain, you will need more irrigation, and the cycle will continue."

Urban areas, on the other hand, are being pounded with rain when it comes. Niyogi said there have been storms in some urban areas that drop as much as 37 inches of rainfall in a single day.

Analysis of the areas that have received increases in heavy seasonal rainfall, based on Indian Meteorological Department and NASA satellite data, showed that those areas were experiencing fast urban growth. Areas where seasonal rainfall decreased were determined to have slow or no urban growth.

"You only see these types of heavy rainfall events in those areas with heavy urbanization," said Niyogi, whose research on the urban effect was published in the International Journal of Climatology. "The more urbanization spreads in those areas, the more of these heavy rain issues we'll see and the more flooding will become a problem."

Niyogi said there are two theories on why that's happening. The first says that urban landscapes create heat, which extends into the atmosphere and energizes storms. The second theory is that pollution created in urban settings interacts with passing clouds and increases rainfall.

Niyogi said the results of his study could have land-use implications elsewhere.

"If urbanization is affecting the Indian monsoon season, it has the ability to affect patterns here in the United States," he said. "This likely isn't localized in India."

He added that India is hotter than the United States, and that may be exacerbating the issues. As global temperatures rise, other parts of the world could see similar climate changes - if they aren't already - based on how land is used and developed.

Chandra Kishtawal, of the Space Applications Center of the Indian Space Research Organization and a co-author on the papers, said he hopes the findings trigger discussions on the role of large-scale land-use planning in regulating climate change in India.

"These kinds of things are not sustainable," Kishtawal said. "They cannot continue in the long run."

The next step in this research is to examine landscapes in the United States to see if development has affected weather patterns historically.
The National Science Foundation CAREER program and NASA's terrestrial hydrology program funded Niyogi's study.

Writer: Brian Wallheimer, 765-496-2050, [email protected]

Source: Dev Niyogi, 765-494-6574, [email protected]

Ag Communications: (765) 494-8415;
Steve Leer, [email protected]
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