Atmospheric River

Canada’s West Coast- British Columbia – was battered with heavy rainfall resulting in catastrophic flooding and landslides in November 2021. It is believed to have been caused by more than one Atmospheric Rivers (AR.)

The term AR was coined in 1998 by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers Yong Zhu and Richard Newell, though ARs did play havoc earlier too. Until then AR was mostly referred to as tropical plume, tropical connection, moisture plume, water vapor surge, cloud burst and cloud band.

An AR is no river in the sky as the name suggests, but is a weather phenomenon.  It is a narrow corridor of highly saturated moisture in the atmosphere that stretches to 1600 km long and about 600 km wide.  Water an AR carries can be roughly compared to about 25 times carried by any major river like the Ganges or the Mississippi.

AR is born in the tropical ocean regions near the equator, and as it travels away from the equator, the warm air mass gets saturated with water vapour.  As the AR makes its landfall, water vapour condenses into precipitation, resulting in heavy rain or snow.

ARs originate form eight oceanic regions around the world, some closer to continental coasts than others. One of those regions is just off North America’s western coast and can produce between one to two dozen ARs per year. ARs from the Indian Ocean caused havoc in Australia and in India, especially Kerala, Uttarakhand, Bengal in the recent years.

Has climate change caused the ARs to be lethal?

Scientists and climatologists believe that the frequency of ARs may reduce by 10% in the years to come, but they may increase in size by about 25%. This would result in ARs dumping more water on the land as years pass by.  Global warming will cause the air in the AR  to become warmer and warmer the air, more water vapour it carries. When the AR makes landfall, it will release more rain or snow than the previous one. 

What caused flooding and land-slides in British Columbia?

The summer season in 2021 in British Columbia saw more than 1,600 fires charring nearly 8,700 square km of forest land.  These forest fires bake the soil, making them more hydrophobic or making them to repel water.  The coniferous trees in Canadian forests, when they burn, release a waxy compound that bind the forest soil, making it more hydrophobic. The water-repelling layer is typically found at or a few cm below the ground surface and is commonly covered by a layer of burned soil or ash. 

When the ARs dumped heavy volume of water in areas burned during the 2021 wildfires, the runoff from these burned grounds was greater and more rapid because of the hydrophobicity of the soil.  Burning down of the trees and vegetation binding the soil on the mountain slopes resulted in the soil becoming loose, causing many land-slides.

Let us now look at the mythological aspects.

The Abrahamic religions narrate the flood story of Noah’s Ark where the God became angry with the sins of mankind. He told his faithful servant, Noah, to build an ark large enough for his family and two of every creature on earth. God delivered the promised deluge, lasting 40 days, that killed everyone and everything on earth except the population of the ark.  After the flood, the ark came to rest on a mountain top, indicating that the depth of the water was higher than the mountains.

As per Greek mythology, Zeus, the king of the Gods, was displeased with the humans. Zeus told Deucalion to construct an ark for himself and his wife. After nine days of flooding, the world was destroyed, and the ark rested on top of Mount Parnassus.

Hindu mythology too refers to such a flood. Lord Vishnu in the form of a fish appeared to Manu and told Manu that the world would be destroyed in a great flood. Manu built a boat and tied it to the fish. The fish guided Manu’s boat through the floods to the top of a mountain.

The Chinese too have many stories and myths about floods, Gods, dragons, and spirits. Like other flood stories, there are only a handful of survivors.

Could these floods have been caused by an AR? Some say it might have been caused by tsunamis or by comets or asteroids hitting  the earth.

Flood stories are universal and is part of all religions and mythology where the God sent flood to destroy the sinners as punishment..  Hungarian psychoanalyst Geza Roheim hypothesised that dreams of the flood came when humans were asleep with full bladders!!

Are the Gods unhappy with the humanity that the next flood is near? Are we to pay for our sins of not caring for Mother Nature?

The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.’ Bible : Genesis 6:5

Matha Pitha Guru Deva (Mother Father Teacher God)

mataPitaGuruDeva

माता पिता गुरु देवा * மாதா பிதா குரு தெய்வம் * മാതാ പിതാ ഗുരു ദൈവം

‘Matha Pitha Guru Deva’ translates into most Indian languages as ‘Mother Father Teacher God’. It owes its origin to the Vedic times and is said to be the greatest truth. It is the order of reverence as laid down by the Hindu philosophy.

First comes the mother (Matha), obviously as she is the one who carried us in her womb for ten months, developed as into a human being from a mere cell, who gave her essence to create us and brought us into this world.

Then is the father (Pitha), as he has contributed 23 chromosomes. Nearly half your traits are inherited from the father. The mother and father then take us to the teacher (Guru), and it is the guru(s), through their teachings, develop our minds and channelize our thinking. All the three have a very important role in identifying our Gods (Deva) and bringing us closer to the God.

As per Hindu mythology, Lord Shiva and his consort Parvati received a ripe mango. Their children Ganesha and Karthikeya, both wanted it. To break the impasse, Lord Shiva asked them to go around the world and the one who returns first would win the mango. Karthikeya immediately set off to encircle the world on his mount, the peacock. Ganesha realising that his mount, the rat is no match for the peacock, went around his parents once and claimed the prize saying that the parents are the whole world to him and by going around them once, he had in effect gone around the world. The happy parents gifted the fruit to Ganesha. When Karthikeya returned after going round the world, he saw Ganesha with the fruit in his hand. His non-understanding of this simple truth upset him so much that he is believed to have gone away to live alone and meditate in the hills of Palani in Southern India.

Based on my earlier articles about our teachers at Sainik School and the National Defence Academy (NDA), Brigadier (Retired) Azad Sameer expressed his views. He said that many of our teachers are unsung heroes who have mentored a generation of students and taught them values and ideals which are everlasting. He is reminded of many of teachers in school, specially those associated with English, maths, physics, boxing, football and so on. Besides the subject proper, many of them taught lessons that one carries for life.

Brigadier Sameer is of the opinion that essentially this reverence for teachers is born out of a typical Indian value. A special bond between the teacher and pupil. 5000 years of Indian history will bear testimony to this special bond and special value system. Elsewhere in the world, he wonders whether one get to see this emotional connect between the teacher and the taught.

In my opinion, in case such an umbilical cord between the teacher and the students did not exist in the entire world, we would never have had the novel and then the movie like ‘To Sir With Love’.  The reverence for teachers exist in all the societies across the world.

Jesus Christ in the bible is referred to as Lord, Savior, Master, and Redeemer. In the four Gospels, out of 90 times Jesus was addressed directly, 60 times he was called Teacher. As per St John (13:13), Jesus is supposed to have said that “You call me Teacher and Lord, and rightly so, for that is what I am”.

The reverence for their teachers what students demonstrate here in Canada is very much the same as what the students do in India. Most of the Indian guru-shishya (teacher-student) relationship of today is mostly hypocritical and that was what many of my classmates on leaving our school realised. We always addressed our teachers as Mister Raman or Miss Murphy; we never added the typical ‘sir’ as what most Indian teachers expect the students to. When our class mates reached their universities, they addressed their teachers in the same way and they faced castigation not only from the teachers, but also from their class mates. Many took offense to addressing the professor as ‘Mister’. The teachers here in Canada, expect the students to address them as ‘Mister/Miss’ and some even insist on being addressed with only their first names. The teachers in Canada are much more straightforward in their relationship with the students. Here the teachers earn the students’ respect rather than forcing themselves on the students.

I feel that the teachers in Canada give more freedom to the students for developing their ideas and thoughts.  The teachers are much more approachable and appear to be multi-talented and many have both formal and informal qualifications and experiences in varied fields other than the subjects they teach. The students discuss anything and everything with their teachers. We were lucky during our school days that we had similar teachers as in Canada.

The importance of high school teachers for the students are much more here as they need at least two teachers’ recommendations for the university admission.  For any job as a teenager or even later, two high school teachers’ recommendation is mandatory; even if it is for an assistant’s job at a coffee or burger shop.  Our son Nikhil needed it while applying for the job of swimming instructor and life guard at the city’s swimming pool and also when he applied for a volunteer position at the city hospital.

About 70% of a high school student’s assessment is done by the teacher throughout the semester. The assessment is based on various assignments, presentations, written submissions, tests, quizzes, etc. The attitude and aptitude of the student and his organisational ability is also reported upon. The final semester examinations generally carries only 30% of the marks.   This demands real effort from the students to maintain a healthy relationship with their teachers.

The teacher-student relationship is celebrated here during the valedictory address by the student valedictorian of Grade 12 and also at Grade 8 during the graduation ceremony.  You must have watched many valedictory addresses posted on the YouTube or social-media.

Teachers play an important role in nation building by developing young students into responsible citizens. Teachers through their perseverance, love and sacrifices has shown us the right path in which great men have built the nations. Any strong and powerful nation is endowed with committed and dedicated teachers, without whom these nations would never have achieved glory.

In the modern world of information overload, we may even define it as ‘Matha, Pitha, Google, Deva.’