Environmental Changes And Their Role In Natural Disasters

by | Jun 26, 2024 | Conservation, Environmental Impact Assessment

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Environmental changes, like climate change, deforestation, and urbanisation, considerably impact natural catastrophe frequency and intensity. As global temperatures rise and ecosystems are altered, hurricanes, floods, and wildfires become more powerful and unpredictable. Understanding the relationship between environmental changes and natural disasters is critical for establishing effective ways to reduce their impact and increase resilience.

Environmental Changes And Their Role In Natural Disasters

We are living in a world where environmental changes are quite evident, especially in 2024, where ecological natural disasters are surging every day. Climate change, deforestation, global warming, rising sea levels, and agricultural impacts are the primary environmental changes leading to natural disasters. Let’s focus on each of these in detail:

Impact of Deforestation on Floods and Landslides

Deforestation has a severe environmental impact, including increased frequency and severity of floods and landslides. Here’s a complete description of how deforestation causes these natural disasters:

environmental changes

  1. Reduced Water Absorption: Trees and vegetation operate as natural sponges, absorbing and storing substantial amounts of rain. When forests are gone, less vegetation absorbs precipitation, resulting in more surface runoff. Forest soils are often permeable and able to absorb more water. Without tree roots to maintain soil structure, water absorption is reduced, and more rainwater rushes directly into rivers and streams, contributing to rising water levels.
  2. Increased Surface Runoff: With no trees to catch rainfall, more water hits the ground quickly, resulting in more significant surface runoff. This quick runoff can overwhelm rivers and drainage systems, resulting in flash flooding.
  3. Loss of Soil Structure: Tree roots help bind soil particles together, ensuring structural integrity. Deforestation reduces soil structure, increasing its susceptibility to erosion. Eroded soil can collect in rivers and streams, limiting their ability to transport water and raising the risk of floods.
  4. Altered Water Cycle: Forests play an essential role in the water cycle by transpiring and evaporating. Deforestation inhibits these processes, causing changes in regional and local precipitation patterns, ultimately leading to increased and inconsistent precipitation.
  5. Altered Hydrology: Deforestation can change an area’s natural hydrology, increasing water infiltration into sloping soil layers. Excessive water infiltration can cause soil saturation, reducing shear strength and increasing the risk of landslides.
  6. Microclimatic Changes: Forests provide microclimates that help manage temperature and moisture levels. Deforestation can disrupt these microclimates, causing more intense temperature variations and soil moisture changes that can destabilise soil and rock structures.

Consequences of Global Warming Led Rising Sea Level 

Global warming is the main cause of melting glaciers and ice sheets, which ultimately causes more water to flow into the sea and ocean. Rising sea levels have significant consequences:

  1. Coastal Erosion: Rising sea levels accelerate coastal erosion, resulting in land loss, including agricultural regions and seaside settlements. It is anticipated that by 2050, India will lose around 1,500 square kilometres of land owing to erosion induced by increasing seas.
  2. Displacement and Migration: Rising sea levels threaten coastal populations, causing displacement and migration. People living in vulnerable coastal areas, such as fishing communities and marginalised groups, risk losing their homes and livelihoods, which can lead to further social, economic, and humanitarian issues.
  3. Saline Intrusion: As sea levels rise, saline water can seep into freshwater sources such as rivers and groundwater aquifers. This infiltration jeopardises the quality and availability of freshwater sources and can impact agriculture, drinking water supplies, and ecosystems.
  4. Threat to Infrastructure: Rising sea levels threaten major infrastructure such as ports, airports, power plants, and highways along India’s coastlines. Infrastructure damage or disruption can cause economic losses, stymie development, and harm coastal businesses like tourism and shipping.

Environmental Changes Causing Heatwaves and Wildfires

Rising global temperatures, exacerbated by environmental changes, are increasingly causing extreme heatwaves and wildfires. As the earth heats, the frequency and intensity of heat waves increase, resulting in protracted periods of high heat that stress ecosystems and human infrastructure. These heatwaves offer apparent health hazards, such as heatstroke and dehydration, and make conditions ideal for wildfires. Higher temperatures dry out the flora, transforming woods and meadows into tinderboxes. Combined with protracted droughts, another effect of climate change, this provides a perfect storm for wildfires to start and spread quickly. The outcome is a deadly cycle in which heatwaves fuel wildfires, emitting massive amounts of carbon dioxide and exacerbating global warming. This growing pattern emphasises the critical need for comprehensive climate action to curb rising temperatures and their disastrous effects on environmental and human systems.

Agricultural Practices and Their Impact on Droughts

Unsustainable crop production practices contribute majorly to environmental changes. Here are some impacts of agriculture contributing to drought conditions

  1. Intensive agricultural operations frequently rely significantly on groundwater for irrigation. Overpumping can deplete aquifers faster than they naturally recharge, resulting in long-term water scarcity.
  2. Large-scale irrigation projects drain water from rivers and lakes, diminishing natural flow and jeopardising downstream water supplies and ecological health.
  3. Monocropping, excessive tilling, and poor crop rotation erode soil structure and limit water retention capacity. This might cause higher runoff and less infiltration during rains, aggravating dry conditions.
  4. Clearing trees for farms affects the landscape’s ability to hold moisture, resulting in faster soil drying and lower groundwater recharge.
  5. Growing water-intensive crops in areas prone to water scarcity can burden local water supplies. For example, growing rice or cotton in arid places can dramatically deplete the limited water supply.
  6. Planting crops during periods of low water availability might raise the risk of drought stress for crops and local water resources.

In conclusion, environmental changes increase the frequency and severity of natural catastrophes, posing growing dangers to communities and ecosystems worldwide. Climate change, deforestation, and pollution contribute to extreme weather events, sea-level rise, and habitat destruction, exacerbating vulnerabilities. To protect the environment and human life, mitigation methods must focus on sustainability, resilience, and proactive adaptation measures.

Also Read: Wind and Water-Related Natural Disaster: Floods

 

Author

  • Dr. Emily Greenfield

    Dr. Emily Greenfield is a highly accomplished environmentalist with over 30 years of experience in writing, reviewing, and publishing content on various environmental topics. Hailing from the United States, she has dedicated her career to raising awareness about environmental issues and promoting sustainable practices.

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