If you have followed the international weather news in June, you are probably still trying to process the astounding reports of record-breaking heat wave in some of the coldest places on the planet.
From Canada to Russia, temperatures have been soaring with the attendant threat to flora and fauna sparking concern among experts and the public alike. And, now, there is news that Antartica, too, has registered a new high. If you’re wondering what is happening, read on.
When was the high for Antarctica recorded?
The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), a United Nations body, announced on 1 July that the new record for the maximum temperature for the southernmost continent is now 18.3 degrees Celsius, eclipsing the previous high of 17.5 degrees Celsius in March 2015.
The reading that revealed the latest high was taken in February 2020 at the same ice station, called Esperanza and run by Argentina, where the previous high was recorded.
Interestingly, or perhaps alarmingly you might say, there was an even higher reading for Antarctica — of 20.75 degrees Celsius recorded by a Brazilian station, again, in February 2020 — that was actually shot down by a WMO review team because of issues with the measurement device.
It has to be kept in mind that the new record is only for the continent of Antarctica. The highest the mercury has ever gone for the larger Antarctic region, which comprises Antarctica and all ice or land south of 60 degrees latitude, is 19.8 degrees Celsius, recorded in January 1982.
Why it is a cause for worry
The year 2020 was the hottest on record globally after 2016, with the decade of the 2010s now classified as being the hottest decade ever since scientists started measuring the weather. Experts say it is undoubtedly human-induced climate change at work behind such rise in temperatures.
The Antarctica region has been termed one of the “Earth’s final frontiers” and, along with the Arctic, is seen as playing “an important role in driving climate and ocean patterns and in sea level rise”.
Experts said that the Antarctic Peninsula, which is the northernmost tip of the continent, lying closest to South America, “is among the fastest warming regions of the planet, almost three degrees Celsius over the last 50 years”.
“This new temperature record is, therefore, consistent with the climate change we are observing,” said WMO Secretary-General Professor Petteri Taalas.
The WMO said that the continent of Antarctica is roughly twice the size of Australia and stretches across a total of 14 million square kilometres.
Characterised by a cold, windy and dry climate, Antarctic sees average annual temperatures that range between -10 degrees Celsius at the coast to -60 degrees Celsius in the most elevated parts in the continent’s interior.
WMO adds that its “immense ice sheet is up to 4.8km thick and contains 90 per cent of the world’s fresh water, enough to raise sea level by around 60 metres were it all to melt”.
What caused the record reading?
The specific factor that drove up the temperature in Antarctica was, the WMO said, a large high-pressure system that created “downslope winds producing significant surface warming”, conditions that it added were “conducive for producing record temperature scenarios”.
However, for the underlying cause, one may not need to look further than climate change. “This new record shows once again that climate change requires urgent measures. It is essential to continue strengthening the observing, forecasting and early warning systems to respond to the extreme events that take place more and more often due to global warming,” said Argentine expert and First Vice President of WMO, Professor Celeste Saulo.
Referring to the heat wave in the northern hemisphere that has seen records been broken across Russia, Eastern Europe, the US and Canada, WMO said that “the heat is more typical of summer temperatures in West Asia” than areas that are home to glaciers, which means “there is a consequent risk of high glacier melt”.
Climate change poses risks to “health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security, and economic growth”, which can be exacerbated with global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels. Limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, rather than 2 degrees Celsius, “could result in 420 million fewer people being exposed to severe heat waves”, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said.
Myanmar: Catholic priest, catechist abducted by armed group
An armed resistance group opposed to Myanmar’s military junta in the western state of Chin has seized a Catholic priest and a catechist travelling with him.
Members of the Chinland Defence Force (CDF) seized Father Noel Hrang Tin Thang along with a catechist while they were travelling from Surkhua town to Chin state capital, Hakha on July 26, UCA News reported. Both belong to Our Lady of the Rosary Parish in Surkhua in Hakha Diocese.
Local Bishop Lucius Hre Kung of Hakha has called for their release, expressing concern for their safety and well-being nearly a week after their abduction.
“I call on the concerned leaders of the CDF to immediately release the pair,” Bishop Hre Kung said in a letter released on August 1. Local Catholics have also expressed concern and said prayers for the immediate release of the cleric and the catechist.
Father Tin Thang has been helping numerous of displaced people including the elderly, women and children who took refuge in the parish following clashes in early June, according to sources.
Following the letter of Bishop Hre Kung, the CDF said the priest and catechist were in good health.
The group accused the priest of giving information to the military junta, getting medical support from the junta and urging locals to receive the junta’s support. The group said it had warned the clergy not to contact the military’s security force, and they had to arrest Father Tin Thang as he failed to comply. “We will release them only after our demands of transferring the priest from Surkhua to Hakha and signing letters of recommendation from two church leaders are fulfilled,” the group said.
However, according to the Italian news agency, AGI, the priest and the catechist were arrested in Hakha while buying medicines for the people of Surkhua. The local community denies Father Tin Thang had any involvement with the security force.
Father Paul Thla Kio, a priest of Hakha Diocese told the Vatican’s Fides news agency that the CDF has seen Father Tin Thang having contacts with a general of the army. Father Thla Kio explained that the general, who is a Catholic and attends Masses, often went to the priests’ residence. In fact, Father Tin Thang asked the general to avoid violence.
Civil resistance groups
The ousting of Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her elected government by the military on February 1, has thrown the nation into chaos with nationwide protests, strikes and a civil disobedience movement, demanding the restoration of the government and the release of their leader. There have been no signs of a letup in the bloody crackdown by Myanmar’s military on its opponents in a bid to consolidate its hold on power. The offensive has re-ignited the military’s old conflicts with some of the armed ethnic organizations as well as numerous independent civil resistance groups.
The CDF is one of these civil resistance groups fighting the military. Using homemade weapons, the CDF has inflicted heavy casualties among junta forces in a conflict that erupted in Chin state in May. Clashes are still raging and more than 18,000 people have been displaced in Chin state and neighboring Magway and Sagaing divisions, according to a United Nations report on July 30. During the conflict, priests have been targeted, with the military arresting eight priests from Chin and Kachin states and Mandalay division in May and June.
Christians are a minority in the predominantly Buddhist country, accounting for 6.2 percent of its 54 million population. Myanmar Catholics represent about 1.5 percent of the population.
Areas occupied by the Kachin, Chin, Karen and Kayah ethnic groups, who have been facing oppression and persecution at the hands of the military for decades, are largely Christian.
Thousands of innocent civilians in have been displaced by the conflict. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Myanmar, over 220,000 people have been displaced by conflicts and insecurity since the coup.
Myanmar’s complex crises
The serious political, socio-economic, human rights and humanitarian crises generated by the coup, have been exacerbated by a raging third wave of Covid-19 infections, with an acute shortage of oxygen and near absence of the most basic healthcare.
Myanmar’s military ruler Min Aung Hlaing marked 6 months since the coup on Sunday by taking on a new title as prime minister of a newly formed caretaker government. The military-backed State Administration Council (SAC) that was formed after the Feb. 1 coup, has now been reformed as a caretaker government. The junta leader promised fresh multi-party elections in 2 years, saying he will cooperate with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on finding a political solution to the country.
Israeli Archaeologists Find 3,100-Year-Old Alphabetic Inscription
The ancient inscription was found inside a storage pit at Khirbat er-Ra‘I, an archaeological site some 3 km northwest of Tel Lachish in Israel.
It was written in ink on a jug, a small personal pottery vessel that holds approximately one liter, and may well have contained oil, perfume, or medicine.
It contains the letters yod (broken at the top), resh, bet, ayin, and lamed, and remnants of other letters.
“The name ‘Jerubbaal’ is familiar from Biblical tradition in the Book of Judges as an alternative name for the judge Gideon ben Yoash,” said Professor Yossef Garfinkel from the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University and Dr. Saar Ganor from the Israel Antiquities Authority.
“In Biblical tradition, he is then remembered as triumphing over the Midianites, who used to cross over the Jordan to plunder agricultural crops.”
“According to the Bible, Gideon organized a small army of 300 soldiers and attacked the Midianites by night near Ma‘ayan Harod.”
“In view of the geographical distance between the Shephelah and the Jezreel Valley, this inscription may refer to another Jerubbaal and not the Gideon of Biblical tradition, although the possibility cannot be ruled out that the jug belonged to the judge Gideon.”
“In any case, the name Jerubbaal was evidently in common usage at the time of the Biblical Judges.”
Inscriptions from the period of the Judges are extremely rare and almost unparalleled in Israeli archaeology.
“As we know, there is considerable debate as to whether Biblical tradition reflects reality and whether it is faithful to historical memories from the days of the Judges and the days of David,” the archaeologists said.
“The name ‘Jerubbaal’ only appears in the Bible in the period of the Judges, yet now it was also discovered in an archaeological context, in a stratum dating from this period.”
“In a similar manner, the name ‘Ishbaal,’ which is only mentioned in the Bible during the monarchy of King David, was found in strata dated to that period at the site of Khirbat Qeiyafa.”
“The fact that identical names are mentioned in the Bible and also found in inscriptions recovered from archaeological excavations shows that memories were preserved and passed down through the generations.”
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