Ocean Month: Remembering Haiyan

I usually get anxious when the plane doesn’t land on announced time. But this time I welcomed it.  There was a bit of traffic on the ground so the plane circled the City’s airspace for about half an hour, giving me plenty of time to get a visual of the City’s location, a limited view though, and reimagine the path of the storm surge brought on by Haiyan.

I came to the conclusion that the event was bound to happen. It was just a question of when.  How so?  The risk factors had been in place for some time and given that not much was done on the ground to mitigate these (which is also a risk factor), what was needed was a certain wind, the right catalyst, to set things off.

First, location.  Tacloban City and the Samar group of islands (Eastern Visayas region) are on the eastern side of the Philippines.

via taclobanhotels

Sea level rise is highest near the Philippines.  These areas are indicated on the map below in red and pink which run along the country’s eastern side where Tacloban City and Eastern Visayas are situated.

via climate institute

That same area is susceptible to tsunami and storm surge as well as storm winds within the four and five levels (210-250+kmh) in the S-S scale.  Also, the composite risk map below shows that Tacloban City and Eastern Visayas are susceptible to the highest levels of earthquake intensity (within the 8-12 degree) in the MM Scale. (It has been speculated that tectonic movement emanating from Mariana Trench (on that same eastern side) prior or at the time of the typhoon contributed to the storm surge, which the whole country especially in the Cebu-Bohol area have been experiencing as of late.)  

issued 1 March 2011 via OCHA RO for Asia Pacific
issued 1 March 2011 via OCHA RO for Asia Pacific

The path of Haiyan, shown on the map below, ran from East to West. The typhoon’s emanation from the East appears to be consistent with that of the location of the largest change in sea level rise which is as earlier mentioned along the country’s eastern side.  As we know, sea level rise is caused by, among others, thermal expansion (heating up of the ocean water) and thermal expansion also gives rise to stronger (and more frequent) storms which appears consistent with the composite risk map above.

via dutchwatersector

Back to Tacloban City’s location, reports in the international community (such as this) said that the narrow end of San Pedro Bay served like a funnel, sucking in the water and wind and dumping them all inland. Given that there are no barriers to protect the City (as well as the other badly hit areas) from the water, all the more that the full force of the surge was accelerated toward land. Deltares provided a simulation of this.

May is ocean month in this country and before the month goes it’s good to be reminded as to how oceans in a changing climate are affecting individual countries. What happened in Tacloban (and Central and Eastern Visayas) with Haiyan will be the norm, if the global community and individual nation-states continue to half-deliver on what they’ve signed up to with the UNFCCC.  For the Philippine government, it still has much work to do to bring national objectives and goals in DRR, CCA, and CCM into fruition.

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