[CrashList] Guardian: rain in Japan
M A Jones
jones118 at lineone.net
Wed Sep 13 02:49:41 MDT 2000
Seven dead as record rainfall devastates central Japan
Special report: the weather
Jonathan Watts in Tokyo
Wednesday September 13, 2000
Seven people were killed and 360,000 advised to evacuate yesterday as
central Japan was lashed with the heaviest downpour the country has seen in
more than 100 years.
At its peak, the storm, which came in the vanguard of typhoon Saomai, dumped
97mm (3.8in) of rain on Nagoya, Japan's fourth biggest city, in the space of
A third of the city's average annual rainfall fell in just 24 hours.
The meteorological agency said it was the most torrential downpour since
records began in Japan.
Streets were turned into rivers, houses were buried by landslides and
factories and stations were forced to close.
The prime minister, Yoshiro Mori, set up an emergency headquarters in his
official residence and ordered thousands of troops to help the 12,000
families whose homes were flooded.
"We must do everything in our power to help those affected," he told
News broadcasts showed stranded residents escaping from the floodwaters in
"This is unbelievable. I never dreamed I would ever be leaving my home in a
dinghy," a woman said on television.
To some the help came too late. An elderly couple were killed in Komaki,
just outside of Nagoya, when a mudslide engulfed their house.
A young girl died after falling into an open drain, and a firefighter trying
to help rescue her was swept to his death by flood water. Dozens were
injured and at least one person is missing.
Japan's famously punctual transport systems were severely disrupted. About
50,000 commuters spent an uncomfortable night shut into railway carriages
when power was cut on the bullet train line from Tokyo to Osaka, stopping
the service for a record 18 hours. More than 100 flights were cancelled,
inconveniencing 85,000 passengers.
The economic cost is still to be counted, but is likely to run into many
millions of pounds, since the area around Nagoya is one of Japan's
Toyota, which has its headquarters in the region, had to shut down 11
factories, delaying the production of 10,000 vehicles. Mitsubishi Motors
also closed one of its plants.
The centre of typhoon Saomai battered Okinawa, the southernmost main island
in the Japanese archipelago, yesterday with winds of 55mph.
It is forecast to dump more rain on large swaths of the country today.
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That sinking feeling The North Pole is under water. Could it be East
The heat is on
When a group of American tourists turned up at the North Pole on board an
icebreaker earlier this month, they found no ice to break. It had all
melted. Is this yet another example of the global warming that has caused
flooding in Bangladesh and the deserts to expand in Africa? James Meek
Special report: the weather
Wednesday August 23, 2000
Had there been anyone there to watch, they would have thought that some
gigantic, terrible sea creature was trying to break through the ice. There,
at the North Pole, on March 17, 1959, a wind-scoured expanse of flat snow
and hummocks was being broken into from below. With an eerie lack of sound,
a huge black shape burst through the ice and settled, long, featureless and
menacing, in the wasteland.
That was the day that Commander James Calvert and his men, the crew of the
US nuclear submarine Skate, made history by being the first to test the
thickness of the ice at the top of the world in the most dramatic way
possible, with the hull of the boat they relied on to get them back home.
Since then, scores of submarines, including many from Britain, have visited
the pole this way. A long, sometimes anxious, often boring, cruise under the
ice; the search for a way up: a crack in the ice, known as a lead, an area
of open water - a polynya - or a stretch where the frozen layer between
water and sky is thin enough to break; the call to action stations; and the
careful easing of the vessel up to the surface, sometimes with
heart-stopping sounds of cracking and straining as the ice yields. And then,
for the Royal Navy at least, a spot of football at the pole. Or, as has been
known, the best cricket playable in three layers of clothing and Arctic
These cruises were for the sake of apocalyptic wars to come. The measuring
of the thickness of the ice by sonar as the submarines hummed through the
dark waters was just a by-product. But as scientists began to analyse the
results of these measurements, they noticed a curious thing: year after
year, the ice was becoming thinner. Amid fears of global warming, with the
cold war gone, it starts to look as if the main legacy of those under-ice
voyages will be the warning of a completely different apocalypse, equally
man-made and equally destructive - the floods and famines of a world grilled
under a blanket of greenhouse gases.
Earlier this month, a group of American tourists were startled, when they
reached the North Pole on board a Russian icebreaker, to find that there was
no ice to break. The pole, in our imaginations a flat white sheet scoured by
twisting lines of wind-blown snow, was open water. Gulls flew overhead. The
nearest stretch of ice capable of bearing the weight of the tour party was
six miles away.
"There was a sense of alarm," said Dr James McCarthy, an oceanographer and
one of the tourists. "Global warming was real, and we were seeing its
effects for the first time that far north."
Arctic specialists read fearful media accounts of the icebreaker tour with
mixed feelings. On one hand, they knew that open water at the North Pole is
not, in fact, unusual - as the repeated submarine surfacings there show.
Even in winter, the winds which keep the ice constantly moving across the
sea of the Arctic basin cause cracks, ridges and large polynyas to appear.
The Skate surfaced in 1959 through a lead of open water which had recently
Yet they knew, too, that the tourists had witnessed something new - the
thinness of the ice across the whole Arctic region, where historically it
has been up to 3m thick. The evidence is mounting. The US Navy has provided
its data, the Royal Navy has just released its last classified figures for
analysis, and the Russians are rumoured to be preparing to put their
information on the market. From 1300km up, satellites are able to measure
ice thickness with incredible accuracy - to within 10cm. All the signs are
that the sea ice over the Arctic is melting, and in 50 years' time, in
summer, there could be no ice there at all.
"The average ice thickness in summer has decreased by 40% between the 1970s
and now," said Peter Wadhams of the Cambridge-based Scott Polar Research
Institute, who is a veteran of Arctic submarine voyages. "That's a pretty
major decrease. And we're looking at satellite images showing the area of
ice to be shrinking too - that's been going down by 5% a decade. At that
rate, it will have vanished in 50 years."
An ice-free Arctic. Should we care? If all the sea ice melts, it won't
affect sea levels: an ice cube melting in a drink does not make the drink
overflow. Merchant ships would be able to cut almost 5,000 miles off the
Europe-Japan sea route by zipping across the North Pole. Oil prospectors and
trawlers would move in. Siberians and Canadians would cash in. But it would
spell disaster for creatures such as the polar bear; it would mean the end
of one of the world's last true wildernesses. And for humankind, it could be
the beginning of a great climatic catastrophe.
The North Pole has always inspired passion in scientists. The passion to get
there first, and the passion to be right about what is happening in the
remotest and most mysterious of places. The man long accepted as the first
to have reached the pole, Robert Peary, turned out to have wanted the honour
so passionately that he lied - it now seems likely that he never got closer
than 100 miles from the pole. The first to make it was probably a Soviet
airman, Ivan Papanin, and he didn't make it until 1937.
The current debate about the causes of Arctic ice-thinning is,
appropriately, one of the fiercest and most keenly watched in the whole
field of climate change. Computer models of the world's climate predict that
if changes take place, they will take place in the Arctic earlier and faster
than anywhere else on the planet. The question under dispute is simple: is
global warming to blame for the watery pole, or is it part of a separate
weather cycle, whereby the ice shrinks and thickens in a regular way over
Johnny Johannessen, of the Nansen Environmental and Remote Sensing Centre in
Bergen, Norway - where scientists have predicted the demise of the Arctic
summer sea ice in 50 years - said: "It's a challenge to be able to pin down
how much ice thickness is changing as a result of global warming and how
much is due to atmospheric conditions which, we know, undergo huge changes
in the Arctic from decade to decade."
Dr Wadhams said he was convinced that global warming was the cause. In
particular, the ice was being undermined from below by warmer seas. The idea
that a change in the winds which shift the sea ice would simply "flip" the
cycle back to a rethickening of the ice was, he said, unconvincing. "The
balance of probability is that this is a real global-warming effect. It's
not going to go back."
If global warming really is found to be responsible for the melting of the
Arctic, it has two sets of consequences - one direct, the other
demonstrative. If scientists can point to a shrinking skein of ice floes
where valiant explorers once walked with huskies, it will help them to wake
up the world to the powerful changes that man-made climate change is capable
of making to all our lives.
Directly, the disappearance of the shiny white ice at the pole means the
loss, for the planet, of a huge reflector, beaming the sun's heat back at
it. Open water is darker and absorbs heat better. In other words, the loss
of the ice would add to the rise in global temperatures.
Another direct consequence is a particularly ugly one for Britain. Global
warming is predicted to mean steadily rising temperatures for our islands,
bringing Mediterranean balm to the south. But within 100 years, this could
change. With the melting of the Arctic ice, some models say, the existing
circulation of cold and hot, fresh and salt water in the Atlantic would be
dramatically violated. The gulf stream, the current of warm water which
keeps our temperatures higher than they should be so far north, would falter
and be turned back south of Ireland. Temperatures would sink till they were
lower than they are now.
As a first, early sign of how global warming can bring real, swift and
disturbing change to the world we grew up in, the thinning of the Arctic ice
appears as an early warning light, closer to home and bigger than the
inundation of little island nations, more clear-cut than the doubtful
premise that global warming means more storms.
The melting Arctic will not bring flooding directly. But it looks like a
sign that melting glaciers in the ancient, kilometres-thick ice caps of
Greenland and AntArctica will. Sea levels are predicted to rise by 70cm in
the coming century, putting the people of low-lying countries like
Bangladesh at ever greater risk of disaster. Rising temperatures will render
swathes of semi-arid African land desert, and lead to increased rainfall
elsewhere, meaning greater floods.
Sceptics of global warming point to the lack of reliable weather records
going back more than a century, arguing that it is impossible to distinguish
between natural cycles in the weather and man-made changes. Yet examination
of ice and sediment samples going back hundreds of thousands of years
suggests that, in fact, the recent rises in temperatures are an aberration.
Accepted theories about the wobbles in the Earth's orbit, which are thought
to cause ice ages, suggest that we can expect our next ice age in 25,000
years time, and that we are approaching the peak of natural warmth in the
ice-age cycle. The difference in average global temperature between getting
vineyards in Yorkshire and getting glaciers in Scottish glens is very
small - only four degrees celsius. In other words, by adding a few degrees
to the planet's natural temperature at the time when it is peaking anyway,
we are moving into wholly unpredictable territory.
Politically and - some scientists fear - practically, there may be little we
can do but try to help protect developing countries, which are likely to
suffer the hardest, from the consequences of global warming. For the next
few generations at least, western Europe and North America are set to
experience climate change that is dramatic enough to notice but not
dangerous enough to be beyond management, making it still possible to ignore
the plight of nations and ecosystems which are more at risk.
Not that the changes won't be brought home to our shores in painful ways.
"The 1953 floods on the east coast of England were caused by storm surges,"
said Wadhams. "If there are higher sea levels to begin with, it will be
worse. The chances are there are going to be some disastrous floods on the
east coast in the next few years. If I were living near the coast in Suffolk
or Essex, I'd really be a bit worried."
Global warning:What will happen if the world keeps getting hotter
* Increased risk of flooding in Bangladesh: already ravaged by periodic
floods, loss of life and property gets worse as the sea level rises. Nile
delta also at risk.
* Famine in Africa: semi-arid regions in sub-Saharan Africa turn to desert,
making the food situation for some of the world's poorest countries worse.
* Disease moves north: mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria, yellow
fever, dengue fever and encephalitis spread into new territories.
* Trouble in New York: ferocious storms become a regular occurrence. Parts
of Manhattan experience frequent floods.
* The map changes: the Florida everglades are inundated, changing the shape
of the US.
* Danger in England: rising sea levels combine with storm surges to overcome
the sea defences on the east coast.
* Birds die: an estimated 24m geese, sandpipers, dunlins and stints have to
find new breeding grounds or perish, due to forestation of the Arctic
* Polar bears starve: as global warming melts the Arctic ice, the bears have
less chance to fatten up on the seals they catch through the ice - their
weight plummets and cubs starve. Additional research by Alison George.
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2000
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