The Anthropocene

Written By: - Date published: 8:35 am, December 7th, 2015 - 21 comments
Categories: climate change, disaster, global warming - Tags: , , ,

We’ve had a lot of flooding in NZ recently. We are not alone. Over the last week Chennai (Madras) has suffered badly:

Thousands flee Chennai floods amid fears more rain could add to death toll

Overflowing rivers and lakes pose added threats to India’s fourth largest city as the number of troops deployed in rescue effort is doubled to 4,000

Thousands of people were trying to escape flooding in the Indian city of Chennai on Friday amid fears that further heavy rain will cause more destruction.

After a lull from the heaviest rains in a century that have killed at least 280 people this week…

And over the last few days in Scotland and the North of England:

Severe flooding prompts evacuations as Storm Desmond sweeps across UK

Amid Met Office red alerts, Storm Desmond’s trail of destruction leaves homes flooded and motorists left stranded across Scotland and northern England

Homes and roads were flooded across northern England and Scotland on Saturday and people were forced to evacuate their homes as Storm Desmond triggered widespread chaos.

Cumbria fire and rescue service said the flooding was “unprecedented” as the Red Cross was called in to support residents. The charity set up a control centre to help coordinate its support to the flooding response.

The Anthropocene is the term that has been suggested to describe this new geological age of human-driven climate change:

The Chennai Floods Are a Devastating Preview of Unnatural Disasters to Come

Right now, Chennai—India’s fourth-largest city with a metro area the size of Chicago—is paralyzed. Flooding from record rainfall—the heaviest in more than a hundred years—has cut off more than 3 million people from basic services for days. At least 270 people have died, and what’s happening should provide a cautionary tale to the world: Chennai is a new type of “natural” disaster, a preview of the Anthropocene, the idea that humans have become a geological-scale force of nature.

COP21 in Paris is far too little and far too late. So we’d better get used to it.


Shame on NZ’s role at COP21 – see Rod Oram’s Sunday column On climate, Key has turned us from leaders to dissemblers.

21 comments on “The Anthropocene”

  1. Ad 1

    Nice Ouch! from Rod Oram in his column.

  2. esoteric pineapples 2

    The flooding in Chennai has played with NZME as its production is outsourced to there. An example of global warming effects in another part of the world already impacting on New Zealand

  3. One Two 3

    Sometimes are simply weather events that happened, and are not unexpected

    Lying on the Bay of Bengal coast, Chennai is prone to violent storms and thundershowers during the North-East monsoon (September – November). In October 1943, there were continuous rains lasting over six days

    • One Anonymous Bloke 3.1

      The answer to the oft-asked question of whether an event is caused by climate change is that it is the wrong question. All weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be.

      Kevin Trenberth, Climatic Change, 2012

    • Grindlebottom 3.2

      Yeah but if you read the linked article human-driven climate change”, you’ll note

      November was Chennai’s rainiest calendar month in history: An unimaginable 47 inches fell. Then, this week, things got worse. Wednesday’s rains brought an additional 11 inches—34 times the normal amount. More rain is expected in the coming days, linked to an enhanced northeast monsoon boosted by a record-strong El Niño in the Pacific Ocean and the record-warm Indian Ocean.

      Flooding is nothing new in Chennai—major floods have occurred there in 1903, 1943, 1978, 1985, 2002, and 2005—but it’s very likely that enhanced evaporation linked to climate change has contributed to this week’s tragedy, making heavy rains more likely. The country’s lead meteorologist as well as its prime minister, Narendra Modi, have both endorsed this linkage.

      • Poission 3.2.1

        but it’s very likely that enhanced evaporation linked to climate change has contributed to this week’s tragedy,

        The literature suggest otherwise.

        http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10584-013-0957-3

        There are a number of reasons,that are well documented,your homework problem is to describe 2.

        • Macro 3.2.1.1

          Actually the article to which you link has no bearing on the monsoon rains as it refers to the evaporation rates of sites in India. The monsoon rains come from water evaporated from oceans and countries miles from India.
          India has just had 15 years of Drought – hence the declining evaporation rates recorded in the 2013 article to which you refer.
          My son-in-laws parents live in Chennai. Chennai has been in dire straits for a number of years and has a severe water shortage, as the monsoon has failed for the past 15 years. The City was reliant on the Monsoon rains and every house has a water tank installed to collect the rain however and all catchment areas have dried up. There is a resultant huge demand for water, and farmers outside the city with a water right have mostly stopped producing food and in turn pump and ship all the water they can to the city. The resulting depletion of the aquifer is another cause for concern and water suppliers have had to resort to oil extraction techniques in order to maintain the supply.
          This flooding is all too much and much of the water will of course be wasted.

        • One Anonymous Bloke 3.2.1.2

          That article discusses the evaporation trend, not the trend in atmospheric moisture content.

          In Uncovering consistencies in Indian rainfall trends observed over the last half century, published in Climatic Change in 2013, Guillaume Lacombe & Matthew McCartney found that:

          General trend patterns were found to align well with the geography of anthropogenic atmospheric disturbances and their effect on rainfall, confirming the paramount role of global warming in recent rainfall changes.

      • b waghorn 3.2.2

        “”An unimaginable 47 inches fell. “”
        That’s 1190 mm s for us younger people .that’s close to the King Country annual average and twice what central otagos annual average is. .

      • Poission 3.2.3

        Wednesday’s rains brought an additional 11 inches

        Which was 16 mm less then fell at milford sound on the 16th October.

        • lprent 3.2.3.1

          Yep, but you notice how many people actually live in Milford Sound? The reason why it was so easy to make that part of Fiordland a national park? The human populations have never been resident because of the damn rain. They have colonized steeper places.

          Mind you even that is largely weather related. There are a number of reasons why the place is damn near vertical back to the rock faces even after looking at the fault geology. But erosion from runoff is a major one.

          The point is that you can find places around the world that routinely have that kind of rain level. You’ll also find that they have very low population densities and an industry largely based on extraction industries.

          To get those kinds of rain levels in areas where there are large human populations indicates that you are unlikely to retain those human populations.

        • RedLogix 3.2.3.2

          I spent a fair chunk of my youth in Fiordland. Yes it rains; sometimes like nothing else you’ll experience outside of the heaviest tropical monsoons.

          But the reason why Fiordland exists is that the geology is entirely different to the rest of the Alps immediately to the north. The rock is a much tougher, more solid granidiorite, or heavily modified sedimentaries that are extremely resistant to erosion. That’s why the glacial valleys retain their extremely steep sides and classical U-shapes.

          With such steep catchments the rainfall literally cascades out of the mountains, directly into the river valleys and sea. The rivers can rise very fast and dramatically, but because they too drain very fast into the sea, flooding is constrained to the levees between the main channel and the valley walls.

          Also the most intense falls does tend to occur in relatively narrow bands where the steep mountains are lifting the cool moist westerlies very rapidly. Once over the main ranges, the intensity drops off a lot.

          When the same intensity of rainfall occurs over a much wider area of lowland (such as we see in India and the UK) the resulting flooding is far more pervasive and destructive.

          • lprent 3.2.3.2.1

            That is definitely the upper geology of fiordland. However not quite the whole story. It isn’t just weathering that determines plains deposition. Transport plays a major part as well.

            What you should look at is the sedimentary plumes offshore from fiordland which are extensive, recent and being pushed by earthquakes into the basins. But if you look in the drowned valleys, you’ll find little sediment and some strong currents with differing salinity levels. The high volumes of water being flushed out the fiords is strong enough to push sediment down them and out.

            The metamorphic rock in Milford in north Fiordland are resistant to erosion and weathering, but a lot less so than in the intrusions further south. But the geomorphology is pretty similar. The metamorphic rocks aren’t that dissimilar to the rocks through much of lower Westland, and those mountains filled their drowned valleys and built coastal plains. They just had less transport, ie less water.

            But falling on plains, there is also less gravity and whole lot more energy sapping ground and existing water. It tends to hang around on

    • adam 3.3

      Here, One Two.

      Bill Nighy the science guy.

  4. Rosie 4

    Thanks Anthony for the word of the day. I hope Anthropocene does become an official term – it would be a word we couldn’t escape from as we are the bringers of the anthropocene. We have to wear that.

    The link, “Humanity is a geologic force – as earth changing as a meteorite strike” was excellent. There can be no denying we how powerful our actions have been upon the planet we rely upon for our existence.

    Yet, there are still deniers, well after the fact that the “debate” is over.

    • Macro 4.1

      “Anthropocene” was coined in 2000, It is now in current use in geological circles and it is proposed that it be adopted as the term to describe the current era from 2016.
      http://quaternary.stratigraphy.org/workinggroups/anthropocene/

      • Rosie 4.1.1

        Yes, there was a link, within the link, mentioned above about the term being suggested around 2000 – Would be good to see it expand outwards from the “geological circles” and colonise the vocabulary of everyday muggles such as myself.

        I’s also like to use “the great acceleration”

        “Another term that’s gaining favor is “the Great Acceleration” —though unlike “the Anthropocene,” it’s focused on the unprecedented burst of human development post-World War II.”

  5. Manuka AOR 5

    This map gives an idea of the scale of these UK floods – a very large area. After the map loads, wait until all the “Severe” warning signs appear: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-26189096

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