BANGLADESH: The Deep Delta Blues

Guest essay by Kip Hansen

 

Life-on-the-delta_450The Claim:

”KUTUBDIA, Bangladesh — Anyone who doubts climate change should come to this lovely low-lying island, lapped by gentle waves and home to about 100,000 people.

But come quickly, while it’s still here.”

“Climate change is destroying children’s futures,” noted Justin Forsyth, the deputy executive director of UNICEF. “In Bangladesh, tens of millions of children and families are at risk of losing their homes, their land and their livelihoods from rising sea levels, flooding and increased cyclone intensity.”

—  Swallowed by the Sea — NY Times Opinion Section – Nicholas Kristof

Simple Facts: (with lots of images)

Has the Bay of Bengal experienced “increased cyclone intensity”?

Cyclones_BoB_decadal

No, there has not been an “increase” in cyclones, neither in intensity nor in number. While I show only the combined monsoon totals, both Pre- and Post-monsoon cyclonic activity peaked mid-20th century, 1920-1970, and have decreased steadily since — the number of depressions, cyclonic storms and severe cyclonic storms have all been downtrending since the mid-20th century (or earlier).  Cyclonic storms are currently at similar levels to those recorded for 1890-1900. [Note: “Depressions” may not have been recorded or counted properly — there may have been more than were recorded before the 1910-1920 period when weather services in the region modernized.]

Rising Sea Levels:  Is the sea surface height rising in the Bay of Bengal?

Yes, of course it is …  sea levels are and have been rising worldwide (but not evenly) since at least the end of the Little Ice Age and,  in geological-time,  since the end of the last great glaciation (with a lots of variation over the period). How much has the sea surface height been rising in the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal?

1.29 mm/yr

That’s the figure from Unnikrishnan and Shankar (2007). And yes, that is less than the generally accepted long-term global average of ~1.8 mm/yr.  Unnikrishnan and others re-visited sea level rise in the Bay of Bengal for the National Institute of Oceanography, Goa in 2010 and determined:  “Mean sea-level-rise trends along the Indian coasts are about on an average 1.30 mm/year.”

Some of the original text reads as follows:

Long-term, global, tide-gauge records show that changes in sea-level occurred throughout the 20th century (Smith,  2012). Analysis of data for stations in the north of the Indian Ocean with >40 years of records up to 2004 showed rates of  rise of 1.06–1.75 mm/year, with a regional average of 1.29 mm/year (Unnikrishnan and Shankar, 2007). The latter authors  attributed the considerable inter-annual variation found at all stations to variations in the force of onshore winds in the  monsoon season, inflow of fresh water from major rivers and water salinity. Fig. 7 shows the inter-annual variations and  overall trends at Diamond Harbour (Calcutta), Hiron Point, Khepupara and Cox’s Bazar. They attributed the differences between  their adjusted rate of 5.74 mm/year at Diamond Harbour (Calcutta) and the average rate of 1.29 mm/year in the Indian  Ocean to land subsidence.

RSLR_and_Subsidence_BoB[top caption and source attribution by the author — kh]

In 2007, Unnikrishnan and Shankar considered the period since collection of satellite altimetric data commenced in 1993  to be too short for estimating long-term trends. However, based on satellite data, Allison et al. (2009) gave a global estimate of  3.4 mm/year, and Smith (2012) stated that global sea-level rise had increased from its 130-year average rate of 1.7 mm/year  to about 3 mm/year over the past 20 years. …. However, the analyses [of local and regional data] show no evidence that the rate of global sea-level rise has doubled in the past 20 years. This finding raises questions about the reliability of satellite data interpretations based on the limited number of years since their introduction.

Sea surface height rise?

1.29 – 1.3 mm/yr, far less than the global average

Note that I have asked so far only  “How much has the sea surface height been rising?”  and not what the local  Relative Sea Level Rise numbers are.  This is quite intentional, and the difference is very important, particularly for the Bay of Bengal and Bangladesh.  If you have been reading my series here at WUWT on Sea Level: Rise and Fall, you know:

Local Relative Sea Level is the only Sea Level data of concern for local governments and populations.

 

Has there been FLOODING?  In Bangladesh?

Yes there has been — catastrophic flooding — literally hundreds of thousands of people drowned. The venerable Wiki reports: “In the 19th century, six major floods were recorded: 1842, 1858, 1871, 1875, 1885 and 1892. Eighteen major floods occurred in the 20th century. Those of 1987, 1988 and 1951 were of catastrophic consequence..” “…The catastrophic floods of 1987 occurred throughout July and August[4] and affected 57,300 km2 of land, (about 40% of the total area of the country)… The flood of 1988, which was also of catastrophic consequence, occurred throughout August and September. The waters inundated about 82,000 km2 of land, (about 60% of the area)… In 1998, over 75% of the total area of the country was flooded”

… and 1999, 2004, 2005, 2010,  2015 and 2017.

And those are just the rivers flooding … when cyclones (hurricanes) hit, things get much, much worse.

“The Meghna estuary is an unstable area for settlement, and it is badly exposed to cyclones and storm surges; the megacyclone in November 1970 killed an estimated 300,000–500,000 people.”  — Brammer (2014)

Take a moment to pause here — what could possibly account for the uncertainty in that figure — 400,000 +/- 100,000 people?   — those were men, women, and children – human beings … nevertheless, conditions on the ground following the 1970 cyclone were so bad, only a vague estimate could be made.

1876 — 200,000 deaths, not including the subsequent epidemics and famine.

1897 — 32,000 killed

1960 — 13,000 in two storms

1962 — 11,500

1963 — 11,520

1965 — 19,300

1970 — “The official death toll was 500,000 but the number is likely to be higher.”

2007 — 3,500

2017 —  Due to “A multitude of tropical cyclone warnings and watches”, “500,000 people managed to move out of coastal areas before the storm made landfall on May 31”.

How can one country flood so extensively and so often?  What is going on down there?

Simple answer:  Geography.

Three_Rivers

Three mighty Asian rivers flow into Bangladesh:  The Ganges, the Brahamaputra, and the Meghna.  The three river basins are outlined in the map above — they drain most of Northern India, Nepal, and Bhutan — starting high in the Himalayans.  The Tsangpo River in what was Tibet which flows east for a thousand kilometers, then turns south, then west into the upper Brahmaputra as well.   The total basin area, flowing into the Ganges-Brahamaputra-Meghna (GBM) delta (Bangladesh) is over 1,720,000 sq km.

Then there is this:

Floods_and_PeopleImages from NatGeo.

Blue areas are flood plains –the darker blue, the more prone to flooding.

Red areas are Population Density — darker red, more people.

Flood-prone-areas-in-Bangla

Almost all the land in Bangladesh is prone to river flooding, flash flooding, tidal flooding or tidal surges.  Cyclones only make this situation worse. In the following image, the relationship of tides and surge are noted as measured at Polder 32 in Southwest Bangladesh:

Below_the_water

In essence, much of Bangladesh consists of river flood plains and tidal mud flats.  To combat the repeated flooding by tides, embankments have been built creating polders [definition: An area of low-lying land… that has been reclaimed from a body of water and is protected by dikes. ]  In the image above, we see a cross-section of Polder 32 at the lower left.

The situation at Polder 32 is the common state of polderized lands all over Bangladesh:  Lands protected from inundation are deprived of soil replenishment (aggradation), and as water is pumped out to keep the lands dry enough to farm, soil levels sink through both  enhanced compaction and subsidence due to water extraction. The tides, now restricted to channels between embankments, are higher, having increased by 0.8 meters since 1960.  Thus, villages and farms now exist below Mean High Water (the normal high tide mark):

Fig-4-Subsidence_800

In May of 2009, Cyclone Aila stuck Bangladesh and caused 3.6 meters (12 feet) of storm surge.  When storms and accompanying rains raise water levels so high, embankments fail, and the polders become lakes — if the population has not been warned to flee to higher ground, they are trapped.  Crops are destroyed and lost livestock drowned.

We saw in the flood map a bit above, almost the entire country is subject to either river flooding or tidal flooding.  Fully half of the country is less than five meters above sea level, and many polderized areas are actually below tidal mean high water.  Cyclone Sidr, November 2007, produced storm surges as high as 5 meters (16 feet).

And Relative Sea level Rise?

Subsidence_Bangladesh

Deltas subside, and, unless replenished by sediment coming downriver, disappear into the sea.  Dyking, poldering, and building embankments has proven counter-productive in many areas, leading to further subsidence and threat, while sediments, much needed, flow out to sea.  Of the areas surveyed, many in the GBM delta are subsiding at rates of 5-10,  and even >20, mm/yr.

There is no quick fix for this situation.  Polders and embankments are raised and reinforced with concrete and stone — but the land continues to sink and the sea rises, ever so slightly, inexorably.

There are plans to intentionally breach embankments and let the floods replenish soil levels in polders to allow soil levels to recover, but it is uncertain that this will ever protect the land and citizens from tidal surges caused by severe storms — for those situations, only advanced warning will save lives.

And our farmer in Kutubdia?  Has his farm been covered by the rising sea? 

No, not covered by the rising sea — though as far as he is concerned, the difference is academic. His farm and home have simply been washed away by the outflow of the three great rivers and the shifting tides that shape and reshape these sandbar/mudflat islands all over the world.  As we saw at the start of this essay, sea level in the Bay of Bengal has been rising at only ~1.3 mm/yr – or a total of 2.6 inches over the last 50 years.

But [and there is always a “but”…]:

Land_gain_and_lost

Had our farmer lived elsewhere in Bangladesh, he might have gained new fields to farm, as we see from this image of land gain and loss.  Little Kutubdia Island is just off the map on the right, south of Chittagong, and was not part of the survey done.   It is a coastal island whose unfortunate geography leaves it in the path of the outflow of the entire GBM delta and the seasonal storms that blow up into the Bay of Bengal.  And while the sea surface is not rising much here, about 1.3-1.4 mm/yr [see the tide gauge graphs far above — Cox’s Bazaar is very near Kutubdia], repeated storms and associated tidal surges erode the beaches of this little island, as they do everywhere in the world.  If the farmer’s land faced the Bay, then it has been washed away.

Overall, however, for Bangladesh:

“Rapid geomorphological changes are taking place in the Meghna estuary … The Google Earth image in Fig. 2 shows the 1943 land boundaries superimposed on the 2013 land boundaries.  Comparison of Landsat images taken in 1984 and 2007 showed a net land gain of 451 km2 in the Meghna estuary within that period, representing an average annual growth rate of 19.6 km2 (Fig. 3) Brammer, in press. Earlier, Allison (1998) had calculated annual net gains of 14.8 km2 between 1792 and 1840 and of 4.4 km2 between 1840 and 1984. This historical evidence of large-scale net annual land gains in the Meghna estuary suggests that land gain might exceed land loss resulting from the slow rates of sea-level rise projected for the 21st century.”  Brammer(2013)

The important point, for our poor Kutubdia Island farmer, and every other individual, is not whether the sea surface is rising or the land sinking — it is the relationship between the height (elevation) of his home and land and the height of the river or sea adjacent — the Relative Sea Level — and not just the Mean Relative Sea Level but, far more importantly, the extreme heights to which it can rise — Spring Tides, Storm Surges and the every-threatened great river floods.

And child brides? Is climate change is destroying children’s futures?

Short answer:  No.

The cultural practice of marrying off young daughters (children, we would call them) is not caused by Climate Change — it has been part of the culture in this area of the world for all of recorded history.  Its cause is poverty.  Poverty is always exacerbated by bad weather, flooding rivers, and cyclonic damage — all which bring with them destroyed crops, lost livestock, damaged and wrecked homes, spoiled cropland and, with the unavailability of clean of potable water, disease and epidemic.  Any societal stressor worsens poverty in Bangladesh — and parents faced with the inability to feed their children follow, as they always have, the cultural solutions available to them.  The suggestion that climate change is forcing poor farmers to marry off their young girls is based on a single “women’s studies” research paper that, although it found no evidence of a relationship between climate change and the practices of early marriage for Bangladeshi girls, insists that it might be happening.

Those of you who are outraged by this practice can and should volunteer to serve with charitable NGOs in Bangladesh to help them solve the grinding poverty that is the norm there.  [Hint: Just turning down your thermostat, biking to work, and monitoring your carbon footprint will not help.]

The Bottom Line:

 

0. Bangladesh comprises the delta of 3 great rivers, draining between them a total of 1.7 million square kilometers.  When the monsoons come, immense amounts of water flow down these rivers, flooding Bangladesh and rearranging the land of the delta.

1.  Nearly the entire land surface of Bangladesh is subject to flooding of various types, and does so with great regularity. Some of these floods have been catastrophic with unimaginable loss of life.  Fully half of the land is less than 5 meters above normal sea level.  Cyclonic storm surge has been as much as 6 meters in recent times.

2.  Subsidence (land sinking) in the GBM delta ranges from 5-7 mm/yr to >20 mm/yr:  “…after five decades of polderisation, the difference in height between natural and artificial landscapes equated to approximately a metre [ 1 meter ] , or an average 2 cm/yr. This is an order of magnitude greater than global sea-level rise over this period.” (Brown 2015)

3. As a result of the building of embankments to create “polders” (reclaimed land surrounded by dikes) much of the enclosed land is already below Mean High Water.

4.  Sea level in the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal is rising — but at the low rate of 1.3 mm/yr — far less than the global average.

5.  Cyclonic activity in the Bay of Bengal peaked in the mid-20th century and has declined since then to 1890-1900 levels.  These cyclones pushing up into the Bay of Bengal necessarily reshape the coastline of the delta and coastal islands.

6.  There will be no end to the suffering in Bangladesh which has been brought about by its poverty and geography — with or without any climate change.

# # # # #

 

Author’s Comment Policy:

I make an effort respond to all comments addressed to me (by leading them with “Kip…”).  Your questions help me to fill in information that I may have left out inadvertently and to clarify where I have failed to be clear.

The poverty of Bangladeshis — and their suffering resulting from flooding and severe weather — is heartbreaking.  If you are so moved, there are good charitable NGOs that focus on Bangladesh.

If you have personal experience there — or expertise on the area, let us hear from you.

Thank you.

# # # # #

 

 

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127 thoughts on “BANGLADESH: The Deep Delta Blues

  1. I was taught in geography that river deltas were built up by silt deposited by river floodings. The more the sea level rises, the more the silt is deposited to maintain the delta height above mean sea level. To claim otherwise and blame “climate change” is grossly disingenuous. But what else would one expect from the corrupt UN (UNSSR)?

    • Yep. It’s not climate change its geography. The world’s largest tidal delta is not really a good place to set up a country. Especially if one is concerned about flooding. One the plus side it should make for fertile if mobile farmland and should also be a good place to look for alluvial deposits of gem stones.

      • Alluvial materials are sorted by the water flow on the basis of the size and density (or specific gravity) of the particles.. Gem stones generally have a higher than average density and hardness. In rivers they tend to accumulate in coarse deposits rather than fine deposits. In Bangladesh most of the sedimentation is fine sand, silt and mud. Not a great combination as a host for gem stones.

    • It’s amazing to me that these places need to flood….in order for sedimentation to replace the land
      ….yet that same massive amount of erosion…all over the planet and every shore line..deposited into the ocean
      has nothing to do with sea level rise

      • I think you went over most peoples head with that one. I will make it a little clearer. Is it possible that sediment washed into oceans contribute to sea level rise? Like pouring sand into a glass of water

    • I was taught the same, back in the 60s. In addition the removal of mangroves causes erosion and this plant has a reputation for land building, or something like that.

  2. The problem Bangladeshis face are far far more complex than climate impacts. Corruption, Poverty, abuse of religion, lack of adaption to meet natural disasters, institutionalised racism and sexism, exploitation of the population, the list is endless. If they were fortunate enough to have good governance, it would really be hard to know where to start.

    • But it is much easier to blame climate change, since it doesn’t require any change in the endless list you mentioned.

    • Gareth ==> Right you are — like much of the “developing world” poverty is institutionalized in Bangladesh — embedded in the society and culture. Good government is a rare commodity. The population density map (blinking image) gives an idea of how people are packed in to a small, inappropriate geographical space. There are currently 165.6 million people in Bangladesh – an area just slightly larger than the US state of Pennsylvania (population 12.7 million).

    • Bangladesh, a classic shithole chock full of ignorant people fueled by stupidity. After decades of third world travel, I’ve zero tolerance for the actions of these folk. I do like them individually but collectively they make me embarrassed to be human.

  3. My first instinct is to compare the situation with that of Holland. I have no idea of how appropriate that comparison is but the outcome sure is different.

    • Substantial areas of the UK are also below sea level. It takes constant work on dykes and massive pumps such as that at Denver to keep the fenlands from being inundated. This is not a new process, it has been happening since late mediaeval times.

    • Not even close , with vast growing population and coming top of the ‘most corrupt country league, every year and culture practice that make thing far worse , there is no comparison between the Netherlands and Bangladesh.
      The problem is simply, it is not an area where you can ever have a large population without problems due to flooding due to reasons related of geography, which have f-all to do with climate change. AGW just offers an easy get-out , a chance for a cash grab a an opportunity for the government to do nothing at all but blame it all ‘on the west ‘ All bad news for the actual people of Bangladesh if ‘good news ‘ for those whose goals are rather watermelon than caring.

    • We don’t do child brides. Yet.
      The low laying areas of Holland form the delta of the rivers Rhine and Meuse and Schelt in the south. These drain a large area of north west Europe. Sea and river defences, are the responsibility of Rijkswaterstaat, a nationwide autonomous body mostly run by engineers and, unlike its British counterpart, relatively free of climate nutters. That may change and should that happen the first the Dutch will experience, like their peers in Somerset, England, would be their wet feet.

      • The east anglian waterways are run by engineers still. No major floods in the lowest part of the UK for years.

      • Don’t do child brides?
        Not officially.
        But Holland does have a problem with the ‘Lover Boys’. Mostly of the same relgion as in Bangladesh.

    • Commie ==> “Polder” (thus polderization) is a Dutch word. While the comparison is natural for Westerners to make, Holland has a area of about 16,000 mi² — Bangladesh? 55,600 mi² and a far more complex hydrological geography.

  4. That was a most informative and interesting article. Thanks for taking the time and trouble to put it together Kip. I am certainly much better informed as to the situation in Bangladesh than I was.

    • I agree with Keitho. I know a whole lot more about Bangladesh and its situation than I did before reading this article.
      Alarmists attributing Bangladesh’s problems to CAGW are counting on others not being familiar with the facts on the ground, so articles like this help to shine a little light on the issues involved.

      • It’s not so much reclamation , which is manmade, as the natural process of deposition. One of the problems that Bangladesh faces is that it’s grinding poverty leaves few options for the second or third son of a farmer to make a living. This forces them to the edges, the newest land, in order to build a farm. The cutting down of trees for firewood, trees that would otherwise have stabilised the shoreline and helped trap more sediment, means that this existence is always going to be precarious at best. Only the exclusion of people from the most exposed regions will protect against flooding from the sea, and only the building up of land levels further inland, either by planned flooding or more mechanized means, will protect the agricultural areas. It should be noted that the provision of ‘islands’ of higher ground would reduce the risk to people and livestock and would therefore greatly reduce the financial and health impact of flooding.

    • The muddy water should be allowed in the polders in quantities large enough to bring substantial accretion of soil there. I guess that would be necessary in the long run. But. There are many reasons why that is not wanted. It forces people to flee for some weeks. It also may salinate the soil, unless some water washes through. Some malaria epidemic may hit.
      To me, it is a mystery why the most fertile places in the Earth tend to be that poor, but I imagine the internal political problems entwined with religion, fatalism, classism, land ownership, corruption and a very extreme inequality of price of work – some people working hard a day with less than a dollar, some living easily with no worries, are part of the problem.

  5. To sum it up. That place is a low lying location and perfectly fits the description the president used recently to characterize such places. I seem to recall stories about people freezing to death there last winter or the winter before.

    • Rah ==> A certain lack of compassion shown in your comment. 166 million people desperately trying to do the same as you or I — stay alive, raise a happy healthy family, achieve something in life….no one chooses their place or circumstance of birth.

      • No lack of compassion any more than that from the POTUS. It is what it is and there is no indication it will change for the better.
        BTW I was Special Forces medic. MOS 18D if you don’t know what that means. I have spent some time in SH places. In 1983 I was in Monrovia, Liberia. Though it wasn’t part of the mission, We two medics scoured the DoD system for medical equipment and medications and filled up a small CONEX with them and with some help got them shipped.
        Once there, with the assistance of the US Army PA from the embassy we set up a 10 bed clinic. We worked at the clinic all the hours we could stand when not training Liberian Army NCO candidates, and treated who ever showed up. Lots of Malaria. Lots of trauma and infections. Delivered some babies. Mother’s bringing their babies to us Covered in dry mud because that’s what the local shaman had told them to do when they spiked a fever. One case of Hemorrhagic fever that scared the hell out of us.
        Nope, telling it like it is is honesty, not a lack of compassion!

        • Rah ==> Well done, sir — great to see others putting themselves and their own resources to work for the greater good.

      • BTW, during that MATT to Liberia we also busted through 20 miles of bad ass bush to recover the body of a Christian missionary that had crashed his plane. We wrapped his putrid body in ponchos and slung it on a pole using parachute cord and puking frequently, carried it out of there so his family could have closure.

      • In the interest of full disclosure now that I’m home and not typing this stuff out on a cell phone. Yes, it was about helping the people but there was a selfish motivation also. We had been trained to do so many things but in the civilized world we were not allowed to do them at all or did them with a physician, lab tech, dentist, etc standing over us holding our hand. That first MTT gave us both our first chance to put to the test a whole lot of skills and knowledge we had gained in our training but had never had a chance to put to use. It was the first field lab we ever set up and used. It was the first clinic we had ever set up and operated. The first diagnosis unchecked by others, etc. We were the physicians, dentists, lab techs, diagnosticians, preventive medicine experts, food inspectors, the head nurses, and veterinarians, also. That is what SF medics are trained to do when none of those are available.

  6. So like the glowing reports on the USSR and Stalin in the 1930’s, the NYT yet again chooses narrative over truth.

    • The land is increasing in area and expanding into the sea.
      So the precious off-shore marine habitat is threatened by encroaching land!!!
      Isn’t it about time that we started a campaign to “Save the threatened coastal waters, from the expansion of Bangladesh”?

      • indefatigablefrog ==> That’s what a delta is — the soil that wasa once mountains and plains is now deposited at the river mouth creating new land — millennium after millennium.
        Much of deltic Bangladesh used to be mangrove forests — which have been cleared for agriculture and harvested for cooking fuel.

    • Readers may already be aware that the Rohinga refugees, a large % of them, have been located on a new uninhabited island that emerged from the shallows.

      • My pleasure Kip. It’s a shame that my uploaded image didn’t display on the thread. I will have to investigate alternative hosts in future.
        However, please take every possible opportunity to remind your readers of the existence of aquamonitor, in future. The data is our strength when it comes to this issue.
        The alarmists rely entirely on anecdotal garbage.
        Here’s the aquamonitor interactive webpage:
        http://aqua-monitor.appspot.com/

  7. It will get worse. China is building a series of huge hydroelectric plants on the upper Brahmaputra which means that much of the sediment will settle in the dams rather than in the delta.
    However building dams to protect low-lying areas in a delta is always a losing proposition in the long run. Not only does the soil compact and oxidize once drained, there is also no new sediment added and the basement will keep sinking for several thousand years under the weight of the sediment even after the flow of new sediment is cut off. Too bad the US didn’t take the opportunity to relocate New Orleans after Katrina. It will have to be done sometime not too far in the future you know.
    The only “sustainable” way to farm a delta is still the ancient egyptian method. Move uphill when the inundation comes and let it fertilize the fields, then go back and farm them afterwards.

    • There is no “uphill” in Bangladesh, and the “ancient Egyptian method” requires trustworthy people in charge of restoring proper limits of fields. I don’t know who they were in ancient Egypt (scribe? priests? Pharaoh’s servant?), but I very much doubt that corruption-plagued Bangladesh currently have them.

    • Scribes. And as a matter of fact the necessity for frequent re-surveying of field boundaries has been invoked as an explanation for the early emergence of centralized authority, geometry and writing in Egypt.

      • Absolutely right Tty and the Egyptian priests were extremely good at it which enabled them to sustain an organised system of agriculture for some 3,000 years. The real difficulties began when the Nile went through occasional periods of low floods and it is generally held that the major periods of decline and change in the history of ancient Egypt are a direct consequence of these periods of low Nile floods. So nothing new about climate change.

      • True. The “Old Empire” in Egypt collapsed c. 2200 BC into two centuries of chaos and civil war and contemporary sources specifically mention insufficient inundations as a reason. This was part of the cold and dry “4.2 KA event” when Sahara first became extreme desert and civilizations collapsed all the way from Egypt to China. Even the dodos on Mauritius starved!

    • tty, you are right on about New Orleans. I remember being downtown in New Orleans, attending a convention, when a ship “sailed” by going up the Mississippi, and the waterline of the ship was a good 20 feet higher than my feet. Trying to geo-engineer an active delta, either in the geology or geography sense, is a nearly impossible task. Throw in a million uneducated subsistence farmers and you have the formula for disaster.

    • tty ==> The Eqyptians had the advantage of relatively low populations who already lived on the higher lands — and suffered only one flood each year.
      Bangladesh gets an average of 2000 mm/yr of rain (that’s 78 inches) and has two full-blown monsoon seasons.
      In Bangladesh, there is very little “higher ground”.

      • “In Bangladesh, there is very little “higher ground”.”
        Neither is there in the Nile Delta, a. k. a. “Lower Egypt”, one of the two states that were unified to form pharaonic Egypt 5,000 years ago.

    • Leo ==> A certain lack of compassion shown in your comment. 166 million people desperately trying to do the same as you or I — stay alive, raise a happy healthy family, achieve something in life….no one chooses their place or circumstance of birth.
      Bangladeshis have the same rights as all citizens of the Commonwealth, just as Puerto Ricans are all US citizens.

      • Kip- Pres trump said sh countries, not people. We all know he was right and that is why they may prefer a cold wet but free and just land like Britain. Admitting the truth is the 1st step needed in getting out of the hole….. You and I both know there are solutions using the natural increment underwater and community action for instance. Just needs cleansing that sh. India seems to be turning the corner, that’s a start, maybe an example for them to follow. Brett

        • Brett ==> These places could be Little Edens — but for such factors as poor governments, to many people, too few resources — and lack of elevation.
          As it stands now, I’m not sure there is anything that can be considered a long-term solution – lacking infinite resources.

  8. ”PORT FOURCHON, Louisiana — Anyone who doubts climate change should come to this lovely low-lying island, lapped by gentle waves and home to about 15,000 people.
    But come quickly, while it’s still here.”
    My thoughts on my first vist to Port Fourchon in 1991. It started to rain and I looked for higher ground… there wasn’t any. 1991 elevation: 0′ ASL. 2018 elevation: 0′ ASL. It’s still there.
    Port Fourchon, Louisiana services sbout 90% of the deepwater drilling and production in the Gulf of Mexico.

      • I worked a little at Port Fourchon and the now gone Bay Marchand in areas now in the Gulf. Problem was closing Bayou Lafourche at Donaldsonville (as the eagle flies closer to Baton Rogue than New Orleans) on the Mississippi River. Similarly, the whole river receives less sediment in recent years which does not help all the diversion operations. Louisiana State University has had an almost century old geology department studying the problem.
        This is what you get with hydrocarbons. Not everybody is happy with it but I read somewhere a suggestion that the modelers go in the field with the data collectors. Their definition of land is loose.
        http://coastal.la.gov/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/2017-Coastal-Master-Plan_Web-Book_CFinal-with-Effective-Date-06092017.pdf

    • Thanks, David.
      We should all look at what actual anthropogenic effects can result by messing with Mother Nature, and the delta of Big Muddy is a classic case to study. Effects of channeling the river and even diverting part of the flow thru the “Old River” structure has been evident to all of us over 70 or 80 years of age. I am one.
      I don’t blame global warming from any cause, I blame folks trying to interfere with natural processes like delta nourishment from periodic floods/overflows. And then in south Louisiana we had thousands of miles of canals developed since the 1940’s due to the petroleum bidness there.
      Subsidence and lack of “natural” nourishment flooding has taken a huge toll. We lose a football stadium of land every hour or so!!! I grew up in NOLA, and I saw my uncle’s house “get higher” and earth below his slab became exposed. Actually, hydrostatic pressure was decreasing , so his deep perimeter footers were still able to support the slab, but would soon give way, figure another 10 or 15 years. The river became tidal when I was a teen, and my Dad said it was due to the diversion into the Atchafalaya River. See:
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_River_Control_Structure
      The good news in Louisiana is despite our politics ( “Half the state is underwater and the other half is under indictment”, heh heh),, we continue to correct our prior mistakes concerning the river, marshes and delta maintenance. There are now several “cuts” in the river levees to allow at least a bit of good muddy soil to flow out on the marshes. We also closed the infamous “MRGO” channel that made Katrina and other storm floods worse than back in the 40’s and 50’s.
      ++++++++
      Despite possible admonishment from Kip and others, I have seen some sad places due to my military service. No offense to the folks there, regardless of color or religion. No racism. The expression used by us was the same as the President used, and had nothing to do with the everyday folks there. Most likely, the sorry condition was a result of a government unlike most of us endure. As with all the efforts to halt sea level rise and preserve a mythical global climate state, most well-intentioned $$$ got to the “warlords”, or crooked politicians, or even some elected pols as we have in the U.S. political_statement/
      Gums sends…

      • Gums ==> There are many areas of the world I would not choose to raise a family in — they are, quite bluntly, terrible places to find oneself trying to make a living and a life — but through no fault of the common man living there. I have served Humanitarian missions in several of them — along with my wife and one of my kids (now grown).

  9. Where I lived in France they allowed the River Vilaine to flood the farm land in winter by opening the sluices. In spring they moved the animals back and were cutting silage by early May. The entrance has a barrage. Really well managed. The difference between this and Bangladesh is primarily good engineering and a slightly greater fall to the River. 20 kilometres upstream you were 12 feet above high spring tide. The Bangladesh solution would need concrete refuges built on driven pilings and maintenance of tracks to the refuges. The money for this would simply go into the Swiss bank accounts of the source and receptor bureaucrats. The Bangladeshis are f**ck*d.

    • It’s curious the river has more water in winter. I would have thought it’s in early spring, with snow melts and more rain. Must be related to hydroelectric dams upstream.

    • ivor ==> Unfortunate this: “6. There will be no end to the suffering in Bangladesh which has been brought about by its poverty and geography — with or without any climate change.”

    • A most informative article. I wonder whether we might invite Justin Forsyth to comment on what the article implies, which is that his article in the NY Times was effectively a fake article. We would like to read his response, and whether he is going to publish a correction for the inaccurate information in his NY Times story. .

      • Gareth, These days journalists write their views in opinion pieces. There is no requirement to be factual, as it is messaging, posing, or political involvement rather than spreading news.
        This might be still news to some people, but news are history. They have been replaced with a bunch of truthbenders that think much too high on themselves.

        • Hugs ==> And they write their opinions in what should be straight news stories — the death of journalism has already happened — at least at the NY Times.

      • George ==> The piece in the times was Nicholas Kristof — so, there will be no corrections — not even a hint of apology. The story is intended as propaganda, and has probably been quite effective.

  10. This is primarily a population problem. People should not be living in such marginal and dangerous areas. Such areas should at the very least be set aside as nature preserves.

  11. The NYT should be ashamed, using the very real plight of a poor population, which basically is that they’re poor, to push their false, anti-democratic, humanity-hating ideology. Shame, shame shame on them. I suppose they know their mindless readership though, eager to believe, and eager to blame us for their plight. Because guilt plays such a big part in their quasi-religion.

  12. I always thought that the flooding in Bangladesh was due to rainwater from the Himalayas and storm surges. Where does a 1.29 mm/yr rising sea level come into the equation?

    • Tim ==> There are multiple types of floods in Bangladesh — see one of the graphics above on this point. Seasonal river flooding, flash flooding, tidal flooding (Spring tides) and cyclonic storm surge flooding.
      Minimal SLR plays almost no part in any of this.

  13. Yes, come quickly and leave your Geol. 101 class knowledge of delta regions and subsidence at home. That’s not asking too much of NYT readers.

  14. Kip — Bangladesh is just the most prominent of several river delta areas that are in trouble. In North America, Southern Louisiana (including New Orleans) has similar problems. So does the Nile since the low dam at Aswan cut off sediment flow in the early 20th Century. Fortunately, not all rivers have significant deltas, and not all deltas are heavily populated.
    And you’re clearly correct, the principle problem is soil compaction and cut off of new sediment by upstream flood control, irrigation, and navigation efforts, not sea level rise although SLR isn’t helping.
    The question, is what to do about it. Not only is there no easy answer, there may not be any answer at all that anyone is willing to actually implement.

    • Don K ==> yes, no clear cut answers to this problem — too many people — wrong places — no resources.

  15. Nice post, Kip. Very informative. Permamarked. One additional piece of trivia. The Bangaladesh surface waters are contaminated. As a sanitation measure, over 1 million hand pumpd tube wells have been drilled. And as the water table inevitably receded, many became aresnic contaminated. (The aresinic in wet sediment isn’t water soluble, but as the water table recedes the aresinic oxidizes at thenwater table surface.) over a million Bangaladeshis now have moderate to severe arsenic poisoning.

      • Kip,
        Good post, incl. comments. Thanks.
        I’ll mention vitamin A deficiency in Bangladesh as another issue.

        • John ==> Vit A is a problem with nee borns all over the developing world. There is a program that basically squeezes a single Voit A liquid cap into each babies mouth within hours of that has great success — just that one shot makes a huge difference.
          We distributed children’s poverty vitamins (a special blend made up by Vitamin Angels) along with anti-parasitics along thew DR/Haitian border to all the school kids — pretty successful.

  16. If you go on Google Timelapse and search Kutubdia Island, you can see that the only section that has disappeared in the last 35 years is the southern mud flats. There is even growth on the north end of the island. Nowhere else is the island shrinking.

      • Kip – aha, these islands move, yes, like the tropical coral sand islands measured by Auckland University researchers. Though claimed as lost by warmista, people just move with them.

      • “aha, these islands move, yes, like the tropical coral sand islands …”
        Presents something of a problem when combined with conventional notions of land ownership which assume land boundaries are permanent and forever.

  17. Of course the people of Bangladesh will be miserable if the climate changes. They will be miserable if the climate does not change. They are miserable now, but their problems are cultural and political. Destroying industrial civilization in an undoubtedly vain attempt to protect them hurts and does nothing to attack their real problems.

    • I had to research it. Bangladesh has a population of ~164 million living on ~56,000 mi^2 of land. Almost 3,000 people/mi^2. The next two most densely populated large countries (excluding city states like Singapore) are South Korea and Taiwan at ~1,700 and ~1,300. Both of which have 1st world quality industrial economies. Bangladesh is poor with a GDP of ~$4,200/cap (Taiwan ~$48,000; South Korea $38,000)
      I am not a Malthusian, but, it is impossible for me to imagine how Bangladesh gets out of its plight without truly draconian steps to reduce its population to a manageable level, such as a Chinese style one-child policy.

      • South Korea and Taiwan were not originally first world quality industrial economies. Both became that way by exploiting what Bangladesh has in abundance — cheap labor — combined with vastly better governance than Bangladesh enjoys. Draconian population control measures, by themselves, will not propel Bangladesh into the first world. However, becoming a first world country, by itself, reduces birthrates substantially — since children become students instead of workers, they become a drain on family finances rather than an asset, and birthrate naturally falls out of self-interest. Indeed, industrialized nations decline to a birth rate that is too low for the needs of industrialized economies and social programs.
        What Bangladesh needs more than anything is good governance, and lacking that there are no permanent solutions possible to its plight.

  18. Great article, Kip. There are also some really informative responses above, all pointing to the complexity of the Bangladesh situation.
    Climate change is also a complex situation. This complexity is a great advantage for the warmists, as they try to tell the rest of the world to go to hell in such a way that it looks forward to the trip. They are counting on the ignorance of the masses to get their way, and they have been somewhat successful. Simple statements like ‘Increasing CO2 will cause warming.’ and ‘Sea level rise will create million of climate refugees.’ are easily absorbed by the masses and transformed into dogma. The fact that there is a grain of truth in each statement makes it that much harder to overcome the exaggerated implications implied by these statements
    You and WUWT are doing a great service to the world, by educating readers to the complexity of the truth and the destructiveness of policies based on simplistic understandings.
    Thank you for your service!

    • jclarke341 ==> Thank you — the authors here for the most part are all strangers to one another — though I met Anthony Watts once on a cross-country trip.
      All work towards the same goal — a better informed general public on the subjects covered here — though most of us would not agree on the details.

  19. I hate to say it but Bangladesh is a sh*thole. Some places on earth were not intended for human habitation. God bless the poor soles

  20. …2017 — Due to “A multitude of tropical cyclone warnings and watches”, “500,000 people managed to move out of coastal areas before the storm made landfall on May 31”…
    Dang. Moving 500,000 people out of coastal areas in the US to safety is a hell of a task despite our infrastructure, vehicles, technology, etc.

    • Michael ==> remarkably, they walked out to safety, most of them, on the tops of the embankments. Cattle and other livestock, and homes, left behind.

  21. The NYT had it mostly right over 25 years ago… http://www.nytimes.com/1991/05/11/world/in-bangladesh-s-storms-poverty-more-than-weather-is-the-killer.html
    “In Bangladesh’s Storms, Poverty More Than Weather Is the Killer”
    …The cyclone’s toll — put at 125,000 by the official, but not overly reliable, count — has captured international attention and spurred an outpouring of aid. But each year, without attracting much notice, about 870,000 Bangladeshi children under the age of 5 die routinely, a third of them from diarrhea caused by impure water. The cyclone has merely added a large increment of anguish to a grief that is chronic…
    Future sea level rise gets some mention at the end, of course.

  22. What concerns me most of all is that all of this information is freely and openly disseminated. If her alarmist statement was the work of an 11 year old in a geography lesson in the 1970s it would have received a D- ! What concerns me are 1. What lack of “qualifications” do you need to reach the height of Deputy Director of UNICEF? Either she is an over promoted fool living in a bubble or she is accepting being fed information which has its origin in activist speak certainly not science 2. She knows full well what is going on and this is a willful abuse of an influential position by a “believer” who is deliberately lying by omission of facts.

  23. Also notice the oft repeated slight of hand when “Climate Change” is promoted as the culprit. The omission of the word “Anthropogenic” is deliberate to make it implicit in the statement

  24. What amazes me, even though I am a born cynic and skeptic, is how the CAGW crowd ignore reality. For much of a decade, before Katrina, I sat on a committee where we were briefed once a year by the US Corps of Army Engineers about the pending catastrophe coming to the Mississippi Delta and New Orleans if a major hurricane hit. They did talk about sea level rise but stated clearly it had been rising since the LIA and the last glaciation. Most of all they talked about the lost of sediments due to the ditching of the River and because the Delta was river sediments they talk a lot about subsidence. Of course the ultimate “joke” about Katrina and the flooding in New Orleans was the lack of storm surge gates on Lake Pontchartrain. Remember the flooding came late. Gates had been planned, designed and even funded by Congress but stopped by law suits from the environmentalist and a liberal court judge. The gates should have been in place at the time of Katrina and Rita. Too bad the environmental organizations that stopped the gates couldn’t be sued for damages. Few people appreciate just how deep the pockets are for most environmental organizations.

    • “……stopped by law suits from the environmentalists……”
      If digging deep enough,one can find that has stopped a lot of common sense measures that would have precluded many problems. But the linkage never seems to come out.

      • We will suffer from these disasters until the last lawyer is strangled with the entrails of the last environmentalist.

    • I may have sat on a similar committee even before CAGW was exploding, as they had to deal with “Keep Lake Pontchartrain Blue.” Maybe a few millennia ago. The ancient town of Frenier on the SW shore experienced the problem long before Katrina. Delta perfectly positioned to catch hurricane water. After Camille everybody knew it was coming, question was when.

  25. Your account of the consequences of polderization reminds me of my geologist wife’s description of the effects of control of the Mississippi. The normal pattern is that as the delta gets longer its slope gets lower and eventually the river shifts its mouth and starts building a new delta. If that happened in modern times it would leave New Orleans high and dry and put Morgan City under water.
    To prevent that, the Army Corps of Engineers has had an extensive project to prevent the river from shifting. The result is that the delta is now so long that the sediment is being dropped off the edge of the continental shelf into deep water instead of washing back to balance the subsidence due to the weight of accumulated Mississippi sediment from the past–and the Louisiana coastline is gradually shifting in.

    • David: “…read John McPhee’s “Atchafalaya.” https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1987/02/23/atchafalaya It was published in February, 1987, and it’s about the Herculean effort of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to control the flow of the Mississippi River, the fourth-longest river in the world. “Atchafalaya” is the name of the “distributary waterscape” that threatens to capture and redirect the flow of the Mississippi. If that happens, the cities and industrial centers of Southern Louisiana could find themselves sitting, uselessly, next to a “tidal creek,” and economic ruin would be the inevitable result. To prevent that, the Corps of Engineers embarks on a vast project to artificially freeze the naturally shifting landscape. McPhee meets the engineers and explores the structures they’ve built to “preserve 1950 … in perpetuity.”
      https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/letter-from-the-archive-john-mcphee-on-the-control-of-nature
      “In 1989, McPhee incorporated “Atchafalaya” into a book called “The Control of Nature.” (He’d been passing by the engineering building at the University of Wyoming, and had been struck by its inscription: “STRIVE ON—THE CONTROL OF NATURE IS WON, NOT GIVEN.”) Like the Mississippi, “Atchafalaya” is long—around twenty-seven thousand words. But it’s all available online, and it gives you a real sense of what it’s like not just to live and work beside one of the world’s great rivers but actually to struggle with it.”
      https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/letter-from-the-archive-john-mcphee-on-the-control-of-nature

      • At one point the COE was debating whether to allow some water down the Atchafalaya in order to try and maintain the Delta which has been eroding since they ditched the Mississippi. When you hear data from the environmental community about loss of wetlands in the USA the Delta is a majority of what they are talking about. There are solutions to the problem but all are very, very expensive.

    • I was there in 1973. They almost lost the river to the Atchafalaya. Whatever you think of the COE they are amazing engineers.

      • HDH ==> They have often been given impossible tasks — like “Tame the Mississippi!”….they keep trying.

      • I was told some group bought “land” at the mouth of the Atchafalaya because of this. Even if it had gone, didn’t sound feasible or smart. The 1973 flood was something. We had students pulling shrimp trawls through soybean fields catching crawfish.

    • David: Actually, we have meet in what is laughingly called the real world. In a previous millennium, when you were a graduate student, I was an undergraduate. We both hung out at a coffee shop located in Ida Noyes Hall which, if I am not too far gone was called the Bandersnatch. We (you, me, and lots of others) had some very long discussions about politics in that time and place, and believe it or not, I learned a lot from you. In the years that have passed I have come around to be closer to your views than I am to the ones I held at that time.
      “You live and learn, then you die and forget everything.”
      “If you are 20 and you are not a socialist you have no heart, but if you are 40 and you are not a conservative, you have no head.”
      — various https://quoteinvestigator.com/2014/02/24/heart-head/

  26. Hofer and Messerli (“Floods in Bangladesh: History, Dynamics and Rethinking the Role of the Himalayas”, United Nations University Press. 2006) state: “Massive floods have occurred regularly before man’s impact on the large river basins began. There is no statistical evidence that the frequency of flooding in Bangladesh has increased during the 20th century.” See: http://appinsys.com/globalwarming/Bangladesh.htm

  27. Hi Kip and others, informative post and triggered my interest enough to check to see if my memory still serves me. As I remember Bangladesh was formed in the separation of the religious groups in India and was originally East Pakistan. OK enough of that. I’m no geologist but Kip’s first map identifies the three regions as Basins. This point alone would make the reporter, or at least I could hope, do a background check of some sort before jumping to … because climate change/sea level rise. Google, in a lucid moment. informs me “Bangladesh has in recent years reduced population growth and improved health and education”. Hopefully Bangladesh and its people will continue in this vein. Andy

    • Andy Willis ==> Huge amounts of international aid have flowed in to Bangladesh since the hurricane disasters of recent decades. There have been some improvements — but they are incremental — from horribly bad to just awfully bad.

  28. Kip,
    Thank you for the informative article.
    Two other potential major recent causes of subsidence and erosion in and around the river delta occurred to me in reading your article. You dont address them specifically, and they are probably impossible to quantify, but I would be interested to hear your thoughts.
    The first is the likely massive increase of the volume of river sediment by one or two orders of magnitude over recent decades as hundreds of thousands of square miles of land in the river basins have been clear cut, plowed, and irrigated / drained regularly for agricultural purposes. All of those cubic miles of sediment must go somewhere, and due to channeling of the rivers, it likely ends up being deposited in a much denser configuration somewhere in the Bay of Bengal where it would not have been naturally. This additional weight on the Earth’s crust, and the isostatic effects, could be comparable to that of an ice sheet, but on a obviously much shorter time scale. How much of the observed subsidence might be attributed to this effect? And are you aware of any scientific attempt to quantify the potential volume?
    The second cause is that of heavy shipping and regular small boat traffic both of which have obviously increased exponentially in recent decades. The constant wave action and resulting vibration would be a major disruption of natural erosion / sedimentation and compaction patterns. How far up the respective river channels do heavy cargo ships travel?

      • Kip, thank you. I will take a look.
        A third and possibly even larger factor that re-occurred to me 🙂 after I posted is that of course the entire Indian sub-continent is slowly but inexorably being pushed under the rest of the Asian continent. How much vertical tectonic plate movement is possible this far from the subduction zone, and what direction?

      • Fascinating. I see not one, but three subduction zones near the northern and eastern borders of Bangladesh.
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_tectonic_plate_interactions
        Also this from wikipedia about the effects of the 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake:

        “There was 10 m (33 ft) movement laterally and 4–5 m (13–16 ft) vertically along the fault line. Early speculation was that some of the smaller islands south-west of Sumatra, which is on the Burma Plate (the southern regions are on the Sunda Plate), might have moved south-west by up to 36 m (120 ft), but more accurate data released more than a month after the earthquake found the movement to be about 20 cm (8 in).[38] Since movement was vertical as well as lateral, some coastal areas may have been moved to below sea level. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands appear to have shifted south-west by around 1.25 m (4 ft 1 in) and to have sunk by 1 m (3 ft 3 in).[39]”

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2004_Indian_Ocean_earthquake_and_tsunami

  29. Epilogue:
    Thanks for all the good comments and many good links to other sources of data.
    There are many places I am glad not to have been born in, arriving in a poor subsistence farmer family. Bangladesh is one of them. Life in Bangladesh is hard and the regular flooding can wipe out years of hard gained economic advance.
    Bangladesh’s problems are not down to climate change or sea level rise — the exisiting climate makes Bangladesh a difficult and uncertain place to live — especially for the profoundly poor. The usual problems exacerbate poverty: lack of education, too many babies too soon, lack of proper health care and general poor goverance.
    Exploiting the plight of the poor Bangladeshi farmer to advance “The Cause” of climate change is deplorable. Three minutes of Googling or Lexus/Nexus searching reveals the falsity of Nicholas Kristof’s NY Times OpEd propo piece. I can only assume that he has been intentional in this — it is far too easy to find the facts — none of which support his opinions.
    Those interested in another field where propaganda rules and facts suffer — read the paper: “Are climate challenges reinforcing child and forced marriage and
    dowry as adaptation strategies in the context of Bangladesh?” in the journal Women’s Studies International Forum.
    Thanks for reading.

  30. Reblogged this on WeatherAction News and commented:
    An excellent essay from Kip Hansen that puts the flooding in Bangladesh into perspective, reminding the reader of the historic difficulties they face and how “improvements” can exacerbate the situation.

  31. Some years ago we hosted electric utility leaders from developing countries around the world through US Aid. My Bangladeshi counterpart described the cultural challenges of electrifying his country one evening. He had multiple construction projects ongoing and scheduled field visits to inspect with the REB (Rural Electrification Board) engineers. When they got to a particular village, they could find no evidence of activity even though they had received reports the project was 50% complete. Upon investigation, they found that the locally appointed board member had “sold” the project to a nearby village for a handsome sum. Made my problems look small…

    • Oatley => Ah, yes. My wife and I were national directors for a humanitarian charity in the Dominican Republic for a number of years — and the odd societal standards often caught us by surprise. One groups of nuns accepted cases emergency hygiene kits intended for disaster relief in their area and then sold the contents — they calmly explained “We needed food more than hygiene kits”.

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