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30 September 2017

Maria's Devastation of Dominica

Tag(s): Environment, Sustainability
 When I was Chief Executive of NXT plc in the years 2000-05 one of my most impressive colleagues was Geoff Boyd. Geoff was born in Dominica and now lives in California. He is one of those rare individuals who can both invent – he has countless patents to his name- and market his inventions. I am pleased to say that we have kept in touch over the years but I was shocked to receive this email from him just the other day.
‘Update on Maria’s devastation of Dominica.                                 24th September, 2017
Hello David,
All communications are still out and we have no direct word from Alix Boyd-Knights, my sister in Dominica but by all accounts she is fine and is reported to have many helpers assisting her in cooking for many. Like my late mother was, Alix is famed for her cooking as well as a parliamentarian and her international fight for women's rights. I am proud of her.[i]
I posted this on LinkedIn yesterday:
Dominica, Island of my birth, and the Nature Isle was devastated by Maria - i.e. climate change. Deeply proud and moved by Dominica's Prime Minister Addressing today UN General Debate, 72nd Session on the devastating effect of climate change.
I hope you get the time to view this and compare it with that of the US President a few days earlier at the same venue.
Paul Miles writing in the March 13 2008 edition of the famed London Financial Times observes: “Dominica is almost literally Eden: the man who translated the book of Genesis into English for the King James Bible visited the island in 1593. Historians and biblical scholars think he let his experiences colour his translation. His Dominica journal entries are remarkably similar to some of the Old Testament’s description of the Garden.” ‘
I have watched Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit’s address to the UN General Assembly and it is indeed powerful and moving. I commend it to you at the link in Geoff’s email.
Scientists are generally unhappy to link a single event such as a hurricane to climate change, but in this case and indeed the cases of several hurricanes over a brief period of time there can be little doubt. Increasingly destructive hurricanes are putting a growing number of people and structures at risk. For coastal and island communities, the social, economic and physical scars left behind by major hurricanes can be devastating.
While hurricanes are a natural part of the climate system, recent research suggests that their destructive power, or intensity, has been growing since the 1970s, particularly in the North Atlantic region. The oceans have taken in nearly all of the excess energy created by global warming, absorbing 93% of the increase in the planet’s energy inventory from 1971 to 2010. In some ocean basins, hurricane intensification has been linked to rising ocean temperature. Since 1970, tropical ocean sea surface temperatures worldwide have warmed by about an average of 0.5°C. Warming in the North Atlantic basin has been more rapid – about 0.7°C since the 1980s.
Sea levels are also rising in response as the oceans warm and water expands. This expansion, combined with the melting of land-based ice, has caused average sea level to rise by roughly 20 cm since 1880 – a trend that is expected to accelerate over coming decades.
Higher sea levels give coastal storm surges a higher starting point when major storms approach and pile water up along the shore. The resulting storm surge reaches higher and penetrates further inland in low-lying areas. The risk is even greater if storms make landfall during high tides.
The number and strength of storms is variable from year to year, which makes it challenging to detect trends in the frequency of hurricanes over time. Storm counts and strength measurements were also less consistent over the historical period to project future trends and understand their major contributing factors.
  Major Hurricane
Category Five (157 mph+)
Category Four (130-156 mph)
Category Three (111-129 mph)
    ( 74-110mph)
Category Two (96-110 mph)
Category One (74–95 mph)
   Tropical Storm
Tropical Depression
     (0-38 mph)
Recent research in this area suggests that hurricanes in the North Atlantic region have been intensifying over the past 40 years. Since the mid-1970s, the number of hurricanes that reach Categories Four and Five in strength – that is the two stroingest classifications – has roughly doubled.
Measures of the potential destructiveness of hurricanes (a measure of the power of a hurricane over its entire lifetime) also show a doubling during this time period. Indices for hurricane activity based on storm surge data using tidal gauges further indicate an increase in intensity.
Hurricanes in the western North Pacific and the northern Indian Ocean – known as typhoons and cyclones respectively – are also intensifying, though the signal is not as strong as for the North Atlantic. Whether hurricanes are intensifying in other regions is less clear, though other recent evidence suggests that the trend toward more intense hurricanes may indeed extend globally.

To further address the challenges of detecting long term trends, scientists also study the core factors that intensify or weaken hurricanes, including the interplay between human-driven climate change and natural factors.

Warm ocean temperatures are one of the key factors that strengthen hurricane development when overall conditions are conducive for their formation and growth. Hurricanes require high humidity, relatively constant winds at different altitudes, and can occur when surface temperatures exceed about 26°C. The rising of warm, moist air from the ocean helps to lower the storm.

In order to build up and intensify, hurricanes require warm ocean temperatures, moist air, and low vertical wind shear (i.e. no strong change in wind speed or direction between two different altitudes.)
Because of this link between warm oceans and hurricane behaviour, warming of the surface ocean can increase the intensity of hurricanes, with the stronger ones getting the biggest boost.

Two other factors may also be contributing to the rising intensities of hurricanes. First, warm air holds more water vapour than cold air – and the rising air temperatures since the 1970s have caused the atmospheric water vapour content to rise as well. This increased moisture provides additional fuel for hurricanes. Indeed, hurricanes indicate a trend towards producing more torrential downpours, both in the historical record and in climate models that project future conditions.

Second, as ocean temperatures rise, there is also less cold, subsurface ocean water to serve as a breaking mechanism for hurricanes. When strong winds churn up cold subsurface water, the cooler waters can serve to weaken the storm. But if deeper waters become too warm, this natural braking mechanism weakens. Hurricane Katrina, for example, intensified significantly when it hit deep pools of warm water in the Gulf of Mexico.

To me the link between human behaviour and climate change was clear and its effect would initially be gradual but would reach a tipping point and then its effect would be more dramatic and destructive. We would see more violent climactic events as well as increases in devastating floods. This would be compounded by over population and continued deforestation, and there would be a more catastrophic effect on poorer nations less able to cope. I believe that position has now been reached.

Nations like ours have a responsibility to do more than our numerically fair share in helping to both prevent and ameliorate these disasters. After all we were the first to develop the Industrial Revolution. In the space of not much more than 200 hundred years we burnt most of the coal beneath our land, the equivalent in energy to all the oil in Saudi Arabia.

The Paris Agreement represented a small modest step in seeking to mitigate these risks. It was no doubt a major diplomatic achievement as it is almost impossible to get agreement among global politicians about such thorny issues. The decision of President Trump to withdraw from the Agreement is most regrettable if not a surprise from this most irresponsible of politicians. It is to be hoped that his wishes will be ignored by the States, Cities and Corporations which can all make their own efforts to reduce their environmental impact.
But it is all too little, too late.
Source: Union of Concerned Scientists: Science for a healthy planet and a safer world
[1] Mrs Alix Boyd-Knights has served the Commonwealth of Dominica in various fields in the private and public sectors over 50 years. He has served as Attorney-at-Law since 1990 and has become known as a leading advocate for the rights of women and children and in so doing championed the passage of laws dealing with the family, domestic violence, sexual offences and children’s rights.
She was first elected Speaker of the Parliamentary Assembly in April 2000 and in February 2015 was elected for a fourth term, and is thus the longest serving Speaker in Dominica’s history.
She is the President of the Dominica branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, and Chairperson of the International Body of Commonwealth Parliamentarians.


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