Early Monsoon Rains That Trapped Thai Soccer Team Tied to Climate Change
Now that 12 young soccer players and their coach have been rescued from the Tham Luang Cave in northern Thailand after being trapped there for three weeks, researchers are looking to climate change, and its impacts on South Asia’s seasonal monsoons, as a cause of a crisis that captivated the world.
“By now, it’s well known that their predicament was caused by rising floodwaters in the cave,” the New York Times reports. “What is less known is that the pattern of precipitation that ensnared them is in keeping with broader changes to the region’s seasonal monsoon that researchers have attributed to climate change.”
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While “no one is suggesting that climate change itself was responsible for trapping the boys in the cave,” the Times adds, researchers are tracking more periods of rain in the region, and the rains are getting more severe.
“Over the South Asian landmass, we’ve seen that extreme rainfall events have become more frequent,” said University of Massachusetts Dartmouth ocean systems researcher Amit Tandon. While “brief downpours have always been common during Thailand’s wet season, which runs from late May to early October,” with heavier rainfall over a week or two broken by drier periods, “what has changed in recent years is that those wet periods have been wetter,” the Times states.
“It’s likely climate change, in the sense that there’s more moisture in the air,” said Columbia University earth and environmental sciences professor Arnold Gordon. When warmer air “has more moisture in it, you would get wetter wet bands and drier dry bands.”
While a sign at the mouth of the cave warned of flash floods, the intensity of the rainy season usually begins in July, “so the boys and their coach may have been caught off guard when they ventured inside the relatively dry cave on June 23,” writes Times reporter Kendra Pierre-Louis. According to AccuWeather senior meteorologist Eric Leister, 12.7 of the 24.4 centimetres of rainfall the area received last month fell between June 21 and 28—and that was enough to trap the soccer team and make the rescue much more complicated.
“With any individual event, it’s hard to pinpoint the blame to climate change,” Tandon told the Times. “But it’s certainly in keeping with the trends, in the sense of, ‘Do we see, statistically, more events like this?’ And the answer is, ‘Yes.’”