MUMBAI - As the monsoon grips Mumbai, and
July days are filled with grey skies, the
pattering melody of rain, spicy snacks and hot
tea, weather scientists say China's and India's
monsoons have been interlinked in various ways
since ancient times.
monsoon connection across thousands of kilometers,
which is called a teleconnection in climate
science, influences the most critical annual event
in China and India. Agriculture production,
drinking water, the economy and political fortunes
depend on "normal" rains each year.
Understanding and predicting monsoon
behavior is a huge matter of life or death in
China and India, more so with the two countries
being home for over one-third of humanity.
Researchers in the United States and China
analyzing the Indian
and Chinese summer monsoon
found shared climatic equations that influence
rainfall strength. For example, both countries are
similarly affected by any Sea Surface Temperature
anomaly (SSTa) - changes in the average
temperature at the top millimeter of ocean
surface. A cold SSTa over Indonesia would produce
more rainfall in India and South China.
"The joint rainfall pattern [under certain
climatic conditions, such as tropical temperatures
and wind speed over the Indian Ocean] is roughly
uniform over India," says the study by a research
team from the Columbia University in New York and
the Tsinghua University in Beijing, China .
"Over China, on the other hand, the rainfall
pattern [under the same climatic conditions] is
uniform along east-west direction but varies from
the North to the South of China."
monsoon phase in India causes heavier rainfall in
some parts of China, particularly the Yangtze
River. At the same time, northern China gets less
Overall, the summer monsoon
months of June to September account for 65% to 80%
of total annual rainfall in India, and 60% to 85%
of annual rainfall in China - the months of life
that provide water.
India and China share
an ancient, interlinked monsoon dependency. The
Science Journal issue of July 1, 2011 reported
stalagmites from caves in China containing an
incredible record of changes in rainfall across
thousands of years. For instance, any cooling in
the northern hemispheric strengthens the Chinese
monsoon and weakens the Indian monsoon.
With the new findings of rainfall
patterns, the Chinese stalagmites - or icicles
stretching up from the floor of the cave to the
ceiling - turn into history chapters of the Indian
monsoon in past millennia.
are created from rainwater slowly dripping through
caves. Scientists measure rainfall in a particular
year by studying the isotopes, or variants of
atoms, of oxygen deposited in a stalagmite.
Stalagmites studies in China revealed
monsoons causing the rise and fall of empires. An
old Chinese belief held that emperors needed a
"mandate of heaven" to rule with wisdom and
justice. If the emperors turned corrupt tyrants,
the heavenly license to rule was withdrawn. And
indicator of such celestial displeasure, people
figured, was a missing monsoon.
In 2008, a
Chinese and American team of researchers from the
University of Minnesota and Lanzhou University in
China analyzed a 4.65 inch (11.8 centimeter) chunk
of a stalagmite found in the Wangxiang Cave, near
the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau in Gansu province. The
stalagmite was 1,810 years old. The varying
chemical composition of oxygen isotopes in its
layers revealed the relative strength of monsoon
rains for over 1,000 years.
researchers were stunned to find that a very weak
monsoon coincided with the downfall of the
dynasties of Tang (618-907), Yuan (1271-1368), and
Ming (1368 to 1644).
The study found that
China suffered three acute failures of the
monsoon, sometime between 860 to 930, 1340 to
1380, and 1580 to 1640. The rainfall shortages
caused severe crop shortages and famine. A
desperate people revolted as peasant armies that
stormed the capital.
The 17th century
monsoon failure, circa 1640, finished the Ming
dynasty in bloodied tragedy. A peasant rebellion
headed by Li Zicheng (1606-1645) raided Beijing.
Emperor Chongzhen, the last of the Mings, forced
his empress to commit suicide and stabbed his
elder daughter. His second daughter, the beautiful
Princess Changping (1629–1646) refused to die, and
her enraged father chopped off her left arm .
Emperor Chongzhen, murderer of his own family,
fled Beijing and hanged himself in a tree in the
Meishan Mountain, presently called the Jingshan
In India too, the morality of
rulers was linked to the rains. During drought and
famine, kings did more charitable deeds and
pleaded with saints to visit and stay in their
kingdom. The monsoon anxiety continues in republic
India, with any delay or disruption of monsoon
hitting headlines and giving political leaders
The southwest monsoon this year
has given no cause for alarm across India. In
Mumbai, the monsoon is the hallmark season, like
autumn in New York. In the glory days of monsoons,
tourists from Arabian lands of oil and desert
sands visited Mumbai to gawk at rain pouring so
continuously the sun went unseen for weeks on end.
In those earlier, more intense monsoon
years of the 1990s, days and nights were filled
with either storms or lingering drizzle. For about
three months, the umbrella became essential part
of daily life; and paradise was a steaming cup of
tea on a Sunday morning, watching the rain spray
through green trees. At night, watery roads turned
to shimmering gold, reflecting headlamps of cars
and the city lights.
But Mumbai monsoons
of the 21st century seem infected with the modern
disease of decreasing attention spans: dark clouds
pour forth the nectar of life for awhile, and then
disappear periodically probably to update their
Google+ and Facebook pages.
receives an average annual rainfall of 223
centimeters, among the highest in the world. Yet
the city water resources of three billion liters a
day are still so inadequate that millions of
Mumbai households get running tap water for barely
two hours a day.
The seven islands of
Mumbai and its over 13 million population
desperately need the rains, but not the attendant
flooding of roads, halting of trains, planes and
disruption of daily life. It happened last Friday,
July 8, when some of the heaviest rains this
monsoon hit Mumbai and stranded hundreds of
thousands of commuters without transport.
In China, Shanghai receives about 100
centimeters of rainfall annually. While some
Mumbai politicians speak of turning Mumbai into
Shanghai, Shanghai does not yet turn into Venice
on days the monsoon arrives in full array.
But drier days in Shanghai could mean
wetter days in Mumbai. Joining Chinese and
American research, the Indian Institute of
Tropical Meteorology in the western Indian city of
Pune examined relationship between the break and
active phases of the Indian and Chinese monsoon.
 They found opposite patterns. The active phase
of the Indian monsoon corresponded with a break in
the Chinese monsoon, and vice versa.
study clearly shows that there exists a definite
link between break/active phases of the Indian
summer monsoon and rainfall over China," say N V
Panchawagh and S S Vaidya, the research duo.
Notes 1. Paper titled
"Insights from a joint analysis of Indian and
Chinese monsoon rainfall data". Co-authors M Zhou,
F Tian, H Hu, Department of Hydraulic Engineering,
State Key Laboratory of Hydroscience and
Engineering, Tsinghua University, Beijing 100084,
China and U Lall, Department of Earth and
Environmental Engineering, Columbia University MC
4711 New York, NY 10027, USA. Published 31 March
2011 by Copernicus Publications on behalf of the
European Geosciences Union. 2. Stalactites are
ice formations from the ceiling of the caves. The
Enid Blyton formula, mentioned in one of her
Famous Five adventures, to remember the
difference: stalactites "tightly" cling on to the
cave roof in fear of falling down, and stalagmites
"might" reach up from the cave floor to the
ceiling some day. 3. The surviving Princess
Changping, or Zhu Meichuo, expressed her wish to
become a nun. But the Shunzi Emperor of Qing
Dynasty had her forcibly married to a Zhou Xian.
She died a year later in 1645, but lived on for
centuries as a popular figure in Chinese folklore.
4. Paper titled "Link between break/active
phases of summer monsoon over India and China"
co-authored by N V Panchawagh and S S Vaidya,
Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Dr Homi
Bhabha Road, Pune 411 008, India, and published in
Current Science, 10 June, 2011.
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