This blog provides commentary on interesting geological events occurring around the world in the context of my own work. This work is, broadly, geological fluid dynamics. The events that I highlight here are those that resonate with my professional life and ideas, and my goal is to interpret them in the context of ideas I've developed in my research. The blog does not represent any particular research agenda. It is written on a personal basis and does not seek to represent the University of Illinois, where I am a professor of geology and physics. Enjoy Geology in Motion! I would be glad to be alerted to geologic events of interest to post here! I hope that this blog can provide current event materials that will make geology come alive.

Banner image is by Ludie Cochrane..

Susan Kieffer can be contacted at s1kieffer at gmail.com

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The "seven billionth baby" and Bangkok flooding

Bangkok flooding about 1900
LL/Roger Viollet as published in the Wall Street Journal
The impact of natural disasters is changing as more and more people are crowding onto the planet. Fittingly, yesterday was the day that the United Nations has projected that the seven billionth baby will be born somewhere on the planet. Four babies are born about every second.  The soaring population means that more and more people are crowding into livable spaces, and particularly into big cities as they seek work. Bangkok is no exception.

It has a long history of flooding. In 1785 there was a flood of nearly 15' height, and one of 10' height in 1819. In 1917 all roads were underwater for a month and in 1942 a 5' high flood stayed for two months. The current flood is the biggest since the 1942 flood, although there have been significant floods in 1975, 1980, 1982, 1983, 1995, and 1996. Over the centuries, the city had developed a large system of canals to drain the water to the ocean, but as industrialization and modernization many of these canals, including the one in the picture, were paved over to make streets and living and factory space.

Bangkok is sinking at a rate that may bring it to sea level within decades, possibly as early as 2030. However, there is one major difference between Bangkok and cities like Venice or Amsterdam that are at or below sea level. These last two cities average about 32" of rain per year, Bangkok receives nearly double that rain, 57". This year there has already been 86". These rains are from the rainy season monsoon. The economic impacts of the floods this year are serious. One third of the country is flooded, 10% of the rice crop is gone, damage already exceeds $4 billion, and economic growth for next year will be reduced by 1-2%.  There are political implications as well--the Prime Minister,  Yingluck Shinawatra is new and inexperienced, having only taken office in July.  Although the normally politically polarized Thai's have unified remarkably under the stress of the floods, the opposition, which has close ties to the military, is calling for a state of emergency to be declared and for the military to take control. The Thai military is "not inexperienced" at launching coups d'etat. We are watching an intricate unfolding of natural hazards, economic and political interplays.

No comments: