Introduction 

Source of pictures: unsplash.com

The future is increasingly a disaster zone, a new report warns.

Catastrophe has become more commonplace, according to data from a new United Nations report. Not only that, but humans are largely responsible for the increasing number of disasters, which are only going to become even more frequent, the report warns.

Looking back, from 1970 to 2000, the world averaged between 90 and 100 disasters reported per year, according to the report published today by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR). That grew tremendously from 2001 to 2020, to between 350 to 500 disasters a year.

That includes disasters caused by hazards like earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, extreme weather, crop plagues, epidemics, and more (the UN counted biological, geophysical, and weather disasters). The UN excluded what it considers “small-scale” disasters that only affect local communities without requiring national or international aid.

“At no other point in modern history has humankind faced such an array of familiar and unfamiliar risks and hazards, interacting in a hyper-connected and rapidly changing world,” the report says.

Human activity has raised the stakes of these disasters, the report points out. A hazard like an earthquake or a flood only becomes disastrous when people or a community are harmed. Unfortunately, populations are growing in many places that are in harm’s way — say on vanishing coastlines more vulnerable to storms. Human-driven climate change has also made nature’s wrath more powerful. Hotter global temperatures have made heatwaves and wildfire seasons more intense, for instance. Disasters have led to more deaths in the past five years than in the previous five, as a result.

Without changes on the part of humanity, 2030 could be even bleaker. Disasters related to extreme temperatures, for example, could triple in frequency compared to 2001. The UN report projects the number of disasters to rise to around 560 annually, or about 1.5 disasters a day.

Just a tiny fraction of official disaster financing actually goes towards efforts that focus on reducing risk ahead of time, the report notes. Financing to prevent and prepare for disaster came out to $5.5 billion between 2010 and 2019, while recovery efforts received $7.7 billion. Those are pretty measly numbers compared to money funneled into temporary emergency response, which got close to $120 billion in the same timeframe.

“The world needs to do more to incorporate disaster risk in how we live, build and invest, which is setting humanity on a spiral of self-destruction,” Amina J. Mohammed, deputy secretary-general of the United Nations, said in a press release.

Predictions for the 21st Century 

Every year brings new hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and other natural disasters to the world. Although some areas are impacted more often by these natural disasters than others, most people fear extreme weather. Scientists that study these natural disasters have been predicting major storms and occurrences for centuries. Within the 21st century, many have made predictions of major natural disasters occurring in the near and distant future. Here are 10 catastrophic natural disasters that, according to scientific evidence, may occur at any minute. 

Wildfires US, 2015–2050  

Environmental scientists from the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) predict that by 2050, wildfire seasons in the US will be three weeks longer, twice as smoky, and will burn a larger portion of the West every year. Concurrently, the US Geological Survey and the Forest Service have recorded that since 1999, the acreage burned by wildfires in the US has tripled from 2.2 million to 6.4 million annually, meaning that much more of the US will be up in flames in the near future.What’s led to this dramatic increase in the US wildfire risk? The answer, according to SEAS, is gradual climate change, which has raised the Earth’s temperature, creating conditions that spawn bigger and fiercer wildfires. Dr. Loretta J. Mickley, a senior research fellow in atmospheric chemistry at SEAS, stated that temperature will be the biggest determiner of future fires. The hotter it is, the more likely it is that a fire will start. Ironically, the problem has been exacerbated by the “Smokey the Bear” and Park and Forest Services campaigns to stop all forest fires, halting the natural fire cycle that clears the underbrush out of the forests. With 30,000 to 50,000 wildfires predicted to occur annually, the US might soon be experiencing its own version of Hell on Earth.

Baroarbunga Volcanic Explosion Iceland, 2014

This prediction came true within a few weeks of it being made.In August 2014, the Icelandic Meteorological Office increased the risk level for a possible eruption of Baroarbunga, a volcano located in Iceland. The increase was due to hundreds of earthquakes occurring around the site over several days, a good sign of a possible volcanic eruption. Scientists began to predict just what would occur if Baroarbunga erupted. Some said the ice around the volcano would melt, causing flooding. Others said that the eruption would cause additional eruptions throughout 100-meter-long (328 ft.) fissures in southwest Iceland, triggering the volcano Torfajokull, which would destroy several major rivers that serve as Iceland’s hydroelectric power source.

On August 23, 2014, the volcano began erupting underneath the Dyngjujokull glacier. Over the course of the next week, thousands of earthquakes occurred near Baroarbunga and the area surrounding it, and on August 31, its Holuhraun fissure erupted. The Holuhraun fissure erupted for six months, officially ending on February 28, 2015. The fissure emitted, on average, enough lava to fill an American football stadium every five minutes. In the end, the volcano produced 1.5 cubic kilometers (0.4 mi3) of lava and created an 86-square-kilometer (33 mi2) lava field, making the Baroarbunga eruption of 2014 the largest Icelandic eruption since the eruption of Baroarbunga’s Laki fissure in 1783. 

Megathrust Earthquake Chile, 2015–2065 

The Chilean earthquake of April 2014 opened fissures that could lead to a magnitude 8.5 or larger earthquake in Chile. On April 1, 2014, a magnitude 8.2 earthquake occurred 97 kilometers (60 mi.) off the northwest coast of Chile near the city of Iquique, causing landslides and a tsunami to hit the coast. This earthquake created the possibility for an even larger earthquake for Chile in the near future due to the location of the earthquake.The Iquique earthquake originated from a subduction zone where one tectonic plate, the Nazca Plate, is plunging underneath another, the South American Plate. This subduction zone lies within the “Ring of Fire,” an arc in the Pacific containing 75 percent of the world’s active volcanoes, which causes much of the world’s seismic activity. When a tectonic plate moves under another, the faults can come under severe amounts of stress, and any release of tension causes seismic activity, namely earthquakes. The April 2014 earthquake was a “megathrust” earthquake, or a major earthquake caused by the release of tension from a subduction zone. It only relieved 33 percent of the tension on the fault, leaving the rest to be relieved in the near future.

Twin Earthquake Japan, 2017 

Dr. Masaaki Kimura, a seismologist and emeritus professor of submarine geology at the University of the Ryukyus, is currently predicting that another 9.0 magnitude earthquake, very similar to the 2011 Tohoku earthquake, will occur in Japan in 2017. Occurring on March 11, 2011, the magnitude 9.0 Tohoku earthquake struck 372 kilometers (231 mi.) off the coast northeast of Tokyo and created a tsunami with 9-meter (30 ft.) waves that hit Japan. Dr. Kimura has stated that he predicted the Tohoku earthquake four years before it happened, but his prediction and evidence were ignored by the Pacific Science Congress.His hypotheses have been based upon his concept of “earthquake eyes,” regions that have many small earthquakes that are commonly ignored. Dr. Kimura believes that these earthquake eyes are the best predictors of where and when a major earthquake will occur. Earthquake eyes are a portion of his four-step, short-term earthquake prediction method dubbed the “Kimura method.” It is currently the only early earthquake prediction method in use, yet it has not been well tested by his scientific peers. Current earthquake prediction is limited to a few seconds of warning.Kimura believes that the new earthquake will begin in the Izu Islands and will be a magnitude 9.0. It will cause a tsunami to hit Japan in a very similar fashion to the Tohoku earthquake.

Mt. Fuji Eruption Japan, 2015–2053 

Image by Adrian Malec from Pixabay 

When the Tohoku earthquake shifted the landmass of Japan, 20 of the 110 active volcanoes in Japan showed increased seismic activity, leading experts to believe one may erupt any day. The Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) monitors seismic activity and active volcanoes in Japan. Out of Japan’s 110 volcanoes, 47 are considered “active,” meaning they have erupted in the last 10,000 years or spew gases. Calculations show that Japan should have a major volcanic eruption every 38 years. Currently, 15 “volcanic events” happen annually.On the list of 47 active Japanese volcanoes is Mt. Fuji, Japan’s tallest volcano, standing at 3,773 meters (12,380 ft.). In July 2014, a French and Japanese scientific team released a report claiming that Mt. Fuji is among the volcanoes most likely to erupt, causing concern for many Japanese citizens. Mt. Fuji is located only 100 kilometers (62 mi.) from Tokyo. If Mt. Fuji erupted, the team predicts that it would necessitate the emergency evacuation of 750,000 people from Tokyo. The city would most likely be covered in ash.

Earthquake-Tsunami Split Oregon, 2015-2065 

Through the joint efforts of more than 150 volunteer experts, the Oregon Seismic Safety Policy Advisory Commission predicts that an 8.0 to 9.0 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami will occur off the coast of Oregon within the next 50 years. The big questions are: When will it exactly occur, and will Oregon be prepared?The possible source of this catastrophic earthquake-tsunami split is the Cascadia subduction zone, a 1,287-kilometer (800 mi.) crack in the Earth’s crust 97 kilometers (60 mi.) offshore from Oregon. The Juan de Fuca and North American continental tectonic plates create this subduction zone, which is considered the “quietest subduction zone in the world” but is currently thought to be hiding one of the biggest seismic events of the century. This occurrence has been predicted since 2010; the Commission now states that it will inevitably occur. This predicted earthquake and tsunami will kill over 10,000 people, possibly splitting apart portions of the West Coast and costing the US $32 billion in damage.

East Coast Submersion US, 2050–2100 

October 2012’s Hurricane Sandy put a lot of cities underwater, and due to its power, it is considered a freak storm that would only occur once every 700 years, according to NASA. However, current sea level trends along the East Coast may leave major cities underwater by 2050.A 2012 study by emeritus professor John Boon of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science claimed that significant changes in sea level along the East Coast from Key West, Florida, to Newfoundland, Canada, started around 1987. His study shows that the sea level is increasing 0.3 millimeters per year. This study dovetails with a US Geological Survey study done by scientists in Florida that states that the sea level of the East Coast is rising three or four times faster than anywhere else in the world.Coastal areas in the northeastern US are currently considered to be more at-risk due to the major property values and built-up coastlines in places like New York City, which may be flooded by 2050. New York City’s sea level is expected to increase 79 centimeters (31 in.) by 2050, leaving 25 percent of the city in danger of turning into a floodplain. Around 800,000 people live in the target flooding zone, and by 2050, 97 percent of New York City’s power plants will be there as well. This is why ex-New York mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed a $20 billion flood system in 2013 for New York City before he left office, but this plan was not put into action.

Largest Tsunami Ever - Caribbean, Unknown Mega tsunami 

Dr. Simon Day of University College London and Dr. Steven Ward from the University of California Santa Cruz predict that the Cumbre Vieja volcano on the Canary Islands will erupt and create the largest tsunami in recorded history. In their jointly written and released paper on the topic in 2001, Dr. Day and Dr. Ward hypothesize that a rupture in the volcano’s structure occurred during its last eruption, causing the left side to have become particularly unstable.If Cumbre Vieja were ever to erupt again, its left side would turn into a landslide that would cause the biggest tsunami in the history of man. They have deduced that the monstrous wave will travel at 800 kilometers per hour (500 mph), be 100 meters (330 ft.) tall upon first impact with land, and will reach Florida within nine hours of being created. Dr. Day and Dr. Ward predict that tsunamis will hit faraway places such as England, Florida, and the Caribbean.Note that this is a worst-case scenario. If an eruption-caused landslide on Cumbre Vieja were to happen, it’s more likely that the entire landmass wouldn’t all fall into the sea in one event. A more piecemeal landslide would not cause a record-breaking tsunami. Nevertheless, if you are looking at beachside property in the South, you may wish to reconsider.

The “Big One” - California, 2015-2045 Devastation 

The US Geological Survey has increased the probability of the likelihood of a magnitude 8.0 or larger earthquake hitting California within the next few decades. The “Big One” refers to the earthquake that many Californians have been waiting for with bated breath for years. The USGS’s Third Uniform California Rupture Forecast (UCERF3) predicts earthquake eruptions and states that a magnitude 8.0 earthquake or larger quake has a 7 percent chance of occurring in the next 30 years, at present. The odds of a magnitude 6.5 to 7.0 earthquake hitting went up 30 percent.If it were to hit, it would most likely come from the breaking of the San Andreas Fault, spanning the distance in southern California inland from Los Angeles, but there is some speculation as to which fault will be the origin point. Some reports specify that the Big One will originate from the Hayward Fault near the Bay Area and San Francisco.No matter where the earthquake comes from, it is predicted to devastate all of California and other parts of the West Coast. A “realistic crisis scenario” to be used for emergency planning was created by 300 scientists and details the earthquake’s occurrence and damage through historical data-based computer projections. The computer predicts that the earthquake will produce shock waves that travel 11,600 kilometers per hour (7,200 mph), causing severe damage to major freeways and buildings. Overall, the biggest concern for any major earthquake is fires, due to the amount of dry brush that could turn any small blaze into a raging inferno. The White House granted $5 million to a team from Caltech, UC Berkeley, and the University of Washington, that is developing the Earthquake Early Warning system to alert people one minute in advance of an earthquake hitting. The system is currently only able to release an alert 10 seconds prior to the beginning of an earthquake.

Major Solar Storm: 2015-2025 Aurora     

The biggest natural disaster that could affect Earth in the near future doesn’t even originate from our planet; it comes from the Sun.The Sun has an “activity cycle,” which means that it has either decreased or increased activity, such as solar flares and sunspots, depending on its time in a particular cycle. The most recent major burst of solar activity occurred in July 2012, when a coronal mass ejection (CME) passed through Earth’s orbit and hit the STEREO-A space station. A CME is the solar ejection of a billion-ton cloud of magnetized plasma that harbors the unfortunate side effect of acting as an electromagnetic pulse on Earth’s electronics, taking them out of working order. A solar storm usually contains a solar flare, high levels of UV radiation, energetic particles that destroy the crucial electronic components of satellites, and many CMEs. The 2012 solar flare hit the space station but was only a week’s time away from hitting Earth instead. This lucky miss for Earth may not repeat itself in the near future according to Pete Riley, a scientist at Predictive Science, Inc. After analyzing solar storm records from the past 50 years, his calculations concluded that there is a 12 percent chance of a major solar storm hitting Earth in the next 10 years. If this were to happen, it would potentially interfere with radio, GPS, and satellite communications, affecting the use of millions of electronics around the world. Power grids would also be affected due to power surges caused by the energetic particles, possibly causing major worldwide blackouts similar to the one that occurred in Quebec in 1989. The economic costs are estimated to be $1 to 2 trillion in the first year of impact, with a full recovery taking 4 to 10 years according to the National Research Council. However, a catastrophic solar storm may not occur in the near future. Even if one did occur, it may not be as impactful as some are predicting according to Robert Rutledge and the forecast office at the NOAA/Space Weather Prediction Center. The predictions being made are the “worst-case scenario” viewpoint and are merely a warning against catastrophe. That said, major power companies and worldwide first response services are aware of the effects of solar activity and are investing heavily to defend against them.

Predictions for the Indian Peninsula 

Observed Changes in Global Climate 

The global average temperature has risen by around 1°C since pre-industrial times. This magnitude and rate of warming cannot be explained by natural variations alone and must necessarily take into account changes due to human activities. Emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs), aerosols and changes in land use and land cover (LULC) during the industrial period have substantially altered the atmospheric composition, and consequently the planetary energy balance, and are thus primarily responsible for the present-day climate change. Warming since the 1950s has already contributed to a significant increase in weather and climate extremes globally (e.g., heat waves, droughts, heavy precipitation, and severe cyclones), changes in precipitation and wind patterns (including shifts in the global monsoon systems), warming and acidification of the global oceans, melting of sea ice and glaciers, rising sea levels, and changes in marine and terrestrial ecosystems.

Projected Changes in Global Climate

Global climate models project a continuation of human-induced climate change during the twenty-first century and beyond. If the current GHG emission rates are sustained, the global average temperature is likely to rise by nearly 5°C, and possibly more, by the end of the twenty-first century. Even if all the commitments (called the “Nationally Determined Contributions”) made under the 2015 Paris agreement are met, it is projected that global warming will exceed 3°C by the end of the century. However, temperature rise will not be uniform across the planet; some parts of the world will experience greater warming than the global average. Such large changes in temperature will greatly accelerate other changes that are already underway in the climate system, such as the changing patterns of rainfall and increasing temperature extremes.

Temperature Rise Over India

India’s average temperature has risen by around 0.7°C during 1901–2018. This rise in temperature is largely on account of GHG-induced warming, partially offset by forcing due to anthropogenic aerosols and changes in LULC. By the end of the twenty-first century, average temperature over India is projected to rise by approximately 4.4°C relative to the recent past (1976–2005 average), under the RCP8.5 scenario.

In the recent 30-year period (1986–2015), temperatures of the warmest day and the coldest night of the year have risen by about 0.63°C and 0.4°C, respectively.

By the end of the twenty-first century, these temperatures are projected to rise by approximately 4.7°C and 5.5°C, respectively, relative to the corresponding temperatures in the recent past (1976–2005 average), under the RCP8.5 scenario.

By the end of the twenty-first century, the frequencies of occurrence of warm days and warm nights are projected to increase by 55% and 70%, respectively, relative to the reference period 1976-2005, under the RCP8.5 scenario.

The frequency of summer (April–June) heat waves over India is projected to be 3 to 4 times higher by the end of the twenty-first century under the RCP8.5 scenario, as compared to the 1976–2005 baseline period. The average duration of heat wave events is also projected to approximately double, but with a substantial spread among models.

In response to the combined rise in surface temperature and humidity, amplification of heat stress is expected across India, particularly over the Indo-Gangetic and Indus river basins.

Indian Ocean Warming

Sea surface temperature (SST) of the tropical Indian Ocean has risen by 1°C on average during 1951–2015, markedly higher than the global average SST warming of 0.7°C, over the same period. Ocean heat content in the upper 700 m (OHC700) of the tropical Indian Ocean has also exhibited an increasing trend over the past six decades (1955–2015), with the past two decades (1998–2015) having witnessed a notably abrupt rise.

During the twenty-first century, SST and ocean heat content in the tropical Indian Ocean are projected to continue to rise.

Changes in Rainfall 

The summer monsoon precipitation (June to September) over India has declined by around 6% from 1951 to 2015, with notable decreases over the Indo-Gangetic Plains and the Western Ghats. There is an emerging consensus, based on multiple datasets and climate model simulations, that the radiative effects of anthropogenic aerosol forcing over the Northern Hemisphere have considerably offset the expected precipitation increase from GHG warming and contributed to the observed decline in summer monsoon precipitation.

There has been a shift in the recent period toward more frequent dry spells (27% higher during 1981–2011 relative to 1951–1980) and more intense wet spells during the summer monsoon season. The frequency of localised heavy precipitation occurrences has increased worldwide in response to increased atmospheric moisture content. Over central India, the frequency of daily precipitation extremes with rainfall intensities exceeding 150 mm per day increased by about 75% during 1950–2015.

With continued global warming and anticipated reductions in anthropogenic aerosol emissions in the future, CMIP5 models project an increase in the mean and variability of monsoon precipitation by the end of the twenty-first century, together with substantial increases in daily precipitation extremes.

Droughts 

The overall decrease of seasonal summer monsoon rainfall during the last 6–7 decades has led to an increased propensity for droughts over India. Both the frequency and spatial extent of droughts have increased significantly during 1951–2016. In particular, areas over central India, southwest coast, southern peninsula and north-eastern India have experienced more than 2 droughts per decade, on average, during this period. The area affected by drought has also increased by 1.3% per decade over the same period.

Climate model projections indicate a high likelihood of increase in the frequency (>2 events per decade), intensity and area under drought conditions in India by the end of the twenty-first century under the RCP8.5 scenario, resulting from the increased variability of monsoon precipitation and increased water vapour demand in a warmer atmosphere.

Sea Level Rise 

Sea levels have risen globally because of the continental ice melt and thermal expansion of ocean water in response to global warming. Sea-level rise in the North Indian Ocean (NIO) occurred at a rate of 1.06–1.75 mm per year during 1874–2004 and has accelerated to 3.3 mm per year in the last two and a half decades (1993–2017), which is comparable to the current rate of global mean sea-level rise.

At the end of the twenty-first century, steric sea level in the NIO is projected to rise by approximately 300 mm relative to the average over 1986–2005 under the RCP4.5 scenario, with the corresponding projection for the global mean rise being approximately 180 mm.

Tropical Cyclones 

There has been a significant reduction in the annual frequency of tropical cyclones over the NIO basin since the middle of the twentieth century (1951–2018). In contrast, the frequency of very severe cyclonic storms (VSCSs) during the post-monsoon season has increased significantly (+1 event per decade) during the last two decades (2000–2018). However, a clear signal of anthropogenic warming on these trends has not yet emerged.

Climate models project a rise in the intensity of tropical cyclones in the NIO basin during the twenty-first century.

Changes in the Himalayas

The Hindu Kush Himalayas (HKH) experienced a temperature rise of about 1.3°C during 1951–2014. Several areas of HKH have experienced a declining trend in snowfall and also retreat of glaciers in recent decades. In contrast, the high-elevation Karakoram Himalayas have experienced higher winter snowfall that has shielded the region from glacier shrinkage.

By the end of the twenty-first century, the annual mean surface temperature over HKH is projected to increase by about 5.2°C under the RCP8.5 scenario. The CMIP5 projections under the RCP8.5 scenario indicate an increase in annual precipitation, but decrease in snowfall over the HKH region by the end of the twenty-first century, with large spread across models.

Conclusion 

Since the middle of the twentieth century, India has witnessed a rise in average temperature; a decrease in monsoon precipitation; a rise in extreme temperature and rainfall events, droughts, and sea levels; and an increase in the intensity of severe cyclones, alongside other changes in the monsoon system. There is compelling scientific evidence that human activities have influenced these changes in regional climate.

Human-induced climate change is expected to continue apace during the twenty-first century. To improve the accuracy of future climate projections, particularly in the context of regional forecasts, it is essential to develop strategic approaches for improving the knowledge of Earth system processes, and to continue enhancing observation systems and climate models.

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