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India: Climate change impacts are highlighted by frequent heat waves in India

India: Climate change impacts are highlighted by frequent heat waves in India

Parts of northern India were subject to more than a dozen heatwaves in March. The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), however, forecasts unusually hot weather into April.

India has become a country that experiences severe heat waves each year. These heat waves were once rare in the past.

In 2022, heat waves have started earlier. The IMD declared India’s first heat wave on March 11 and, since then, several heat waves have been declared “severe.”

The IMD declares a heatwave when the maximum temperature exceeds 40 degrees Celsius (104 F) in a region at low elevation. A heat wave is also defined as temperatures that are at least 4.5 degrees higher than the normal average temperature.

According to the IMD, a “severe heat wave” is defined as a temperature extreme above 6.4 degrees.

India’s northwestern Gujarat state was the most affected. Parts of the state experienced heat waves for 11 days in March. Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Jammu and Kashmir  considered to be cooler areas of India  experienced heat waves as well.

R Krishnan from the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology is a senior climate scientist who told DW that although such heat-waves have been seen in the past they now seem to be becoming more severe and lasting for longer periods of time.

“A heat wave is a sudden increase in temperature that lasts for a few hours before returning to normal. Krishnan stated that heat waves have become more severe and frequent in recent years.

Other unusual weather conditions have also been experienced in India in 2022. Mumbai, a coastal city, has been subject to unusual heat waves. In January and February, dust storms from Afghanistan and Pakistan blew across the Arabian Sea towards Mumbai.

Two subtropical depressions were also formed in March in the ocean around India, which is unusual so early in a year.

Climate change makes South Asia vulnerable

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in its 2021- and 2022 reports, warned that heat waves as well as humidity-related heat stress will increase in South Asia.

According to the report, India is in for frequent and intense heat waves, unusual or extreme rainfall events, and other weather-related calamities over the next decade. The IPCC report warns that droughts are more likely in areas already dry.

The IPCC predicts that South Asia will be the most affected by heat stress by the end of the century. “Deadly” heat waves could threaten human survival.

Scientists from the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology have also studied sea surface temperature in a portion of the western Indian Ocean, Bay of Bengal, between 1982 and 2018. They discovered that more than 150 heat waves were recorded in the area.

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During this time, the Indian Ocean’s heat waves increased by four-fold and the Bay of Bengal by three-fold.

Heat waves are of tremendous significance in India due to its largely agrarian society, which depends on stable weather patterns. Heat waves on the ground disrupt agricultural yields, which are vital sources of income for farmers in central and northern India.

Coral reef bleaching and disruption of marine ecosystems can cause coral reef bleaching, which can affect coastal communities that rely on fishing.

Krishnan suggested that humans-induced increases of surface temperatures due to greenhouse gases could be a cause for these extreme weather conditions.

“Greenhouse gases like C0-2 can live a long time. He said that even if we reduce emissions substantially, we may still see their effects in the next decades.”

Edited by Wesley Rahn 

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