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Rising sea salinates India’s Ganges

By Joe Romm  

"Rising sea salinates India’s Ganges"

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We are facing catastrophic sea level rise this century on our current greenhouse gas emissions path (see “Startling new sea level rise research: “Most likely” 0.8 to 2.0 meters by 2100“).

The direct impact of such sea level rise is so enormous — and so easy to show visually — that other serious ramifications hardly get mentioned at all. So kudos to Reuters for reporting:

KOLKATA, India: Rising sea levels are causing salt water to flow into India’s biggest river, threatening its ecosystem and turning vast farmlands barren in the country’s east, a climate change expert warned Monday.

Much of the world’s cropland — especially in the developing world — is close to sea level and near the shore. I haven’t seen a global quantification of the impact of salt water infiltration. I did find a 2008 discussion of “Global Warming and Salt Water Intrusion: Bangladesh Perspective,” which concludes:

Global Warming has already started to hit the Bangladesh coastal areas. The salty sea water intrusion and its disastrous effects in landscape, ecology and human health already created widescale agony amongst the inhabitants of Bangladesh coastal belts….

A 3-foot rise by century’s end … would wreak havoc in Bangladesh on an apocalyptic, Atlantis-like scale, according to scientific projections and models.

A quarter of the country would be submerged…. As many as 30 million people would become refugees in their own land, many of them subsistence farmers with nothing to subsist on any longer.

And again, we’re facing 5 feet of sea level rise by 2100.

The impact on India of just the salt water infiltration will be devastating, as the Reuters piece details:

A study by an east Indian university in the city of Kolkata revealed surprising growth of mangroves on the Ganges river [photo above], said Pranabes Sanyal, the eastern India representative of the National Coastal Zone Management Authority (NCZMA).

“This phenomenon is called extension of salt wedge and it will salinate the groundwater of Kolkata and turn agricultural lands barren in adjoining rural belts,” said Sanyal, an expert in global warming.

Sea levels in some parts of the Bay of Bengal were rising at 3.14 mm annually against a global average of 2 mm, threatening the low-lying areas of eastern India.

Actually the global average is over 3 mm a year. If we don’t act soon, by century’s end it will be roughly 10 times faster! And now compound that by the loss of the inland glaciers that feed the rivers for hundreds of millions of Indians (see “World’s Glaciers Shrink for 18th Year“). And compound that by the extended droughts and desertification that will hit hundreds of millions of Indians (see Climate change “largely irreversible for 1000 years,” with permanent Dust Bowls around the globe). Who can imagine what life would be like in such circumstances?

Climate experts warned last year that as temperatures rise, the Indian subcontinent — home to about one-sixth of humanity — will be badly hit with more frequent and more severe natural disasters such as floods and storms and more disease and hunger.

Sanyal and the department of Oceanography at the Kolkata-based Jadavpur University spotted the mangrove plants, a rare phenomenon along the Ganges river belt, where east India’s biggest city of Kolkata with 12 million people lies.

“We were surprised over the natural regeneration of mangroves along the river bank in Kolkata and it is worrisome,” said Sanyal, who teaches in the university.

Mangroves are more typically found 100 km (60 miles) away in the swampy Sundarban archipelago spread over a 26,000 sq km (10,000 sq mile) area on the world’s largest delta region.

I hope this study gets good coverage in India — a country that will suffer more than most from climate change and that will need to embrace serious climate action in the not too distant future.

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14 Responses to Rising sea salinates India’s Ganges

  1. It’s amazing, isn’t it.

    The problem in North America is that global warming is seen by conservatives as a socialist plot to distribute money from wealthy nations to our poor cousins in the developing world.

    And the problem with India seems to be that global warming is seen by the government as a Western plot to keep them from fully embracing capitalism and increasing their wealth and, by extension, gaining their rightful status as an emerging economic powerhouse.

    The problems are complex.

  2. max says:

    The proponents of scientific understanding of humanity’s impact on the climate have their work cut out for them when know nothing editorials such as this:
    http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/feb/04/warming-up-the-laughs/
    appear in our nation’s newspapers.

  3. Jim Eager says:

    “The problem in North America is that global warming is seen by conservatives as a socialist plot to distribute money from wealthy nations to our poor cousins in the developing world.”

    Yet those same conservatives don’t hesitate for a moment to argue that instead of wasting money on combating climate change we should instead spend it on alleviating poverty in the developing word.

    As if they ever would.

  4. crf says:

    The deltas grow by sediment deposition and are reduced by the sea’s erosion.
    What effect will reduced river flows have on the amount of sediment deposited in the deltas?

  5. Stuart says:

    Max, that was painful to read, but coming from the Moonie Times I’m not surprised.

    It just shows that scientific illiteracy is a problem for the left as well as the right.

  6. paulm says:

    “…We are facing catastrophic sea level rise this century on our current greenhouse gas emissions path…”

    Correction …

    “We are facing catastrophic sea level rise this century AT the current greenhouse gas emissions levels…”

  7. Barry says:

    It is not just “over there” folks.

    A recent detailed study by NWF shows dramatic losses coming to our Pacific NW too. The problem few appreciate is that humans already occupy the shoreline of most major estuaries and bio-productive waterfronts. They are unlikely to give them up. As sea levels rise there isn’t anywhere for shallow water ecosystems to migrate to.

    Specifically they found that a sea level rise of only 0.7m by 2100 will lead to:

    * 65% loss of Estuarine beaches
    * 44% loss of tidal flats
    * 61% loss of tidal swamps
    * 52% loss of brackish marsh
    * 34% loss of rocky intertidal
    * 25% loss of tidal fresh marsh
    * 13% loss of inland fresh marsh
    * 11% loss of inland freshwater swamps
    * 6% loss of ocean beaches

    At 1.5m rise the numbers get much worse. For example:

    * 87% loss of Estuarine beaches
    * 98% loss of ocean beaches
    * 70% loss of rocky intertidal

    We are heading for “all-slime-all-the-time” in place of our fish, shellfish, shorebirds and rich bio-diversity.

    Or, we could actually get serious about eliminating fossil fuels from our lives. That means all of us…starting now.

  8. Sasparilla says:

    Just a little something else to add for this part of the world. Pakistan is very dependent on irrigation for most its farming (its a very arid country). It gets most of its irrigation water from rivers sourced in India, with amounts divided (between it and India) according to a bilateral treat it has with India, based on flow rates of source rivers.

    Pakistan’s river’s in the treaty are Mountain / Glacier fed, while India’s (in the treaty) are fed by tropical rains. Pakistan would not have to go too far into India to gain control over areas of these rain fed rivers that are cut off from them. What will happen when those Glaciers dissapear and Pakistani’s water supply dries up?

    Oh, yes, they both have nuclear weapons.

    Regarding this Bangladesh, makes you wonder why Bangledesh doesn’t threaten something radically scary (putting lots of bad stuff in the atmosphere to block out enough sunlight) so they can keep their country above sea level.

  9. Michele M. says:

    Has there been any modeling or research of the impact of rising sea levels on fresh water systems in Florida?

  10. Dear Michele,

    instead of modeling, we should start doing (reducing CO2), IMO….

  11. Mark Shapiro says:

    I have been getting this horrifying feeling that 1-2 billion poor Asians are going to be the buffer between us and the consequences of our fossil fuel follies; that they will suffer the most and the soonest.

    We burn the coal, oil, and gas; they lose their fresh water and get pushed out by sea water.

    I used to fear a “50-50-50-50″ scenario: a 50-50 chance we’ll kill 50 million Bangladeshis by 2050. The odds keep getting worse.

  12. Ron says:

    apocalyptic, Atlantis-like scale, ??

    Do we know for sure what caused the disappearance of Atlantis?

  13. llewelly says:

    Do we know for sure what caused the disappearance of Atlantis?

    Atlantis is a myth Plato invented for pedagogical purposes. It wasn’t taken seriously until several centuries later. It disappeared in order to establish the moral superiority of the conquering Athenians.

  14. Linda Elam says:

    All very interesting, but without strong government prepared to make tough choices and tell people what they must do and are going to be made to do progress can only be very limited. Thousands of ordinary people wish to be part of the drive to protect the planet but there is a lack of leadership.