Climate Change Effects - Flooding
While there are many impacts climate change has on the environment and therefore also human society, one of the most concerning ones is the increased risk of flooding. This is an issue involving both water and atmosphere as flooding may occur because of increased amounts of precipitation in some regions, spring runoff, and may also along the coast as sea levels rise. During "storm surges", changes in the wind and atmospheric pressure due to storms already cases damage which will only be increased with a rise in sea level. Floods are a threat to human health and security, economy, and natural ecosystems.
One of the implications of atmospheric change is higher potential for rainfall in some regions. Around the world many communities have been built around bodies of water, putting people living near rivers and on floodplains at risk during times of heavy rainfall. The UK Environmental Agency has already provided an online map available to citizens to locate areas that are at a higher risk of flooding, specifically near rivers and the coast. After the Somerset Levels Flood, it took three months for the land to dry and it may be two years before the soil returns to levels where viable crops can be grown. Land animals are also vulnerable to floods, as reported during flooding in Britain in February 2014. Many animals such as ground-dwelling hedgehogs and badgers also drown in floodwaters, and surviving animals may suffer from a lack of food resources. Floodwaters may also carry pollutants such as lead, waste, toxic chemicals from industrial areas, and pesticides, which can affect both wild animals in flooded areas and livestock that may ingest contaminants while grazing. Populations of bumblebees that were hibernating as well as earthworms would also greatly decrease for many drown during floods or their hibernating cycle is disrupted.bumblebees play the vital role of pollination, and the affects on creatures such as earthworms will likely make its way up the food chain.
In other places such as the Sacramento San-Joaquim River Delta, flooding may threaten water source quality and supply for people due to runoff. The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) states "[on] average, U.S. flooding kills more than 100 people a year --more than any other single weather hazard, including tornadoes and hurricanes" and that the toll due to flooding has actually increased in recent decades. During times of unexpected flash floods the strength of the water is sometimes underestimated, and about half of related deaths are due to driving into flooded areas to cross streams or drive on the highway.
In other communities, however, driving is not the greatest threat to human safety but rather complete displacement of communities and illness; from 1970 to 2008 over 95% of disaster-related deaths occurred in developing nations. In August 2010 over 20 million people in Pakistan lost their homes and over 1,500 people lost their lives in the most devastating flood in the country's history. Even after the initial damage was done water-related illness continued to inflict people and World Health Organization said "waterborne, airborne and vector-borne diseases, including acute watery diarrhea, measles, malaria and acute respiratory infections, are threats due to overcrowding, lack of hygiene and breakage in waterlines". In crowds of people that found themselves homeless there was fear of political unrest, "flood riots", and people fought over limited amounts necessities such as food. According to the federal flood commission, 557,000 hectares of agricultural land was flooded in Pakistan, over 10,000 cows died, and overall the damage was estimated to cost about $7.1 billion.
During the following year a number of countries in the Global Climate Risk (GCR) Index --including Brazil, El Savadore, Laos, and Thailand-- had record-breaking natural disasters. The GCR reported that floods and landslides caused over 1,000 deaths in Brazil, and 45 deaths and $43 billion of flood damage when Thailand was hit by tropical storm Nock-ten also in 2011. These are only a few examples of floods that cause damage to land, including communities and ecosystems, threaten human health and safety, and have negative economic effects. For coastal countries like Cuba that largely depend on tourism, a rise in sea level could also put a major industry in jeopardy, as well as the natural ecosystems that attract so many visitors.
Aquatic ecosystems are already vulnerable to a number of environmental threats, and spring runoff could also affect the water quality of coastal areas, such as Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Mexico where "dead zones" are already being created due to agricultural fertilizer runoff, threatening the lives of animals in aquatic ecosystems as well as biodiversity. In saltwater and freshwater ecosystems flooding of rivers and creeks also causes erosion of soil that can prevent vegetation from being able to grow --also making it even more vulnerable to erosion by later rainfall-- and damaging habitats of animals such as turtles. Although some species can still survive, many are forced to move to higher ground and floodwaters can also spread species of fish and other aquatic wildlife into neighboring ecosystems as foreign and potentially invasive species if they are able to survive. Chemicals such as fertilizers can be transferred and pollute ecosystems during floods, as well as various other contaminants including sediments, nutrients, and even fresh water that can change the water quality that local species require to survive.
Especially under the influence of other environmental and social concerns, including rising sea levels, increased tropical storm activity, and changes in rainfall which can also affect inland areas, flooding poses severe threats to human lives, societies, and natural ecosystems. While flooding is a natural phenomenon, it is important that needs to be prepared for as the effects of climate change become ever more apparent and complex.
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