Impact or Impacts

28/09/2008 11:45

Several weeks ago, I had a conversation with Pat. She argued that "impact" is an uncountable noun, and that people have been abusing the verb form "impacts" even in textbooks and scientific literature. I argued that words are invented and re-invented even as we speak but I must admit that to say "climatic impacts" is grammatically incorrect.


Back to the impact. As an academic, we are usually measured by our research productivity and publication output. Another aspect that we often take for granted is the impact our work has on society. The main reason for publication is to disseminate findings and more fundamentally to educate. When I was interviewed on tv sometime in May this year, some colleagues gave me the usual shrug of the shoulder, perhaps as indifference has seeped in after my repeated tv exposure. Perhaps, some were thinking of the irrelevance of a tv interview to academic work in general.

Several months down the road, I am still receiving comments from students who have viewed the show and found that it has educational impact on their geographical understanding. The interview was posted on facebook and my students whom I have "invited" to be my friends have full access to the clip. I am glad that such endeavours have not been futile and that some educational good has arisen.

The following is a transcript of the comments made (and my reply to them). Pseudonyms are used to protect the identity of my students.

Dr Chang

I have a question. The usual path for cyclones from Indian oceans is that they move towards Bangladesh. 'Experts' say for it to travel to and raze Myanmar, it only happens once in every 40years.

May I know why is it a '40 yr phenomenon'? Are there any direct local causes that have caused Nargis to blaze the route of Myanmar this time round?

Also, is climate change to be blamed for unpredictability of cyclonic paths?

Awaiting for enlightenment,

Chew-Hung Chang wrote
at 3:26pm on May 12th, 2008
Dear Don,

40 yr is a statistical figure. When they say 1 in 40 yr storm, it means, statistically, it occurs once every 40 years.

Normally, the cyclones will drift NWards as it is driven largely by tropical easterlies. However in the case of Nargis (and in some cases too), a high pressure area was present immediately north of the stationary Nargis system from 30 Apr to 1 May. On 2 May as the cyclone moves off, it veered to the east as there was a barrier to the north. That's from what I have read. I have yet to collect barometric and satellite data on this.

Word of caution on climate change. Don't blame it for everything. It may be an indirect cause for Nargis (only if we can confirm it with data at a much later date) but the main reason for the change in path is usually the same reasons for the cyclone's genesis and decay, eg. topography, atmospheric pressure changes, availability of moisture, etc.

Chew Hung

Don wrote
at 3:59pm on May 12th, 2008
Thank you for the quick reply.

I would love to see satellite pics if possible!

Also, XXX from NUS said 80% of the mangroves which were cleared for development at Irrawaddy contributed largely to the harsh impact of Nargis. If mangroves were still intact at Irrawaddy Delta, would you think it would have cushioned the impact of Nargis and not caused so much damage? Are mangroves really such great cyclonic absorbers, given it's a cat 4 cyclone?

Chew-Hung Chang wrote
at 5:04pm on May 12th, 2008

It's anybody's guess. The storm surge sent waves up to 3.5 m high. It could rival the Tsunami waves in some areas in 2004. However, mangroves can cushion some of the storm surge and reduce its impact inland. Moreover, the damage from cyclones is not just from storm surges. There's the sustained high wind speeds and the torrential rains as well. Plus the lack of proper evacuation procedures - a main human factor in the fatality if you ask me.

Don wrote
at 6:03pm on May 12th, 2008
btw, you looked so solemn in the video...your grasp of geographical language in mandarin is simply amazing.

great info btw, all that were being discussed - so LORMS lor! i was like wah all the discussion is so ultimate level 3 LORMS. hahaha.

a suggestion: ask your NIE IT support to include eng subtitles? Should be archived as educational videos lah!

On a sidenote, I love QiQi! She's my favourite zao an ni hao gal. Heheh.

Chew-Hung Chang wrote
at 8:36pm on May 12th, 2008
she's really nice.... all my past experiences were good and I am indeed blessed to have her each time as the host.

I'll try doing the sub titles myself la....

Elvin wrote
at 10:15pm on May 12th, 2008
Cher I got question not at all relevant to the video!

There was a Straits Times article showing a diagrammatic illustration of a cyclone. I understand that the cyclone was spinning in an anti-clockwise manner (N Hemisphere and deflection to the right, right?) but how come at the top of the cyclone there were arrows showing a clockwise rotation? I was kinda confused.

I understand you might not understand what I'm trying to say/describe here. But... it'll be great if you do! Heh.

Oh and btw.. I realise that recently there have been loads of natural hazards occurring! From Nargis to the earthquake at Japan last week, to one 7.8 earthquake that just happened in China today!

Is the world going to end?!

Or is tis the season for the earth to be going mantle. Oops. I meant 'mental'.

Ok... I blame this spastic comment on my need to type stuff for the sake of typing. I need my distractions.

Chew-Hung Chang wrote
at 11:30pm on May 12th, 2008
The air aloft in a tropical cyclone in the Northern Hemisphere does spin clockwise. As air is expelled from the system aloft, the air gets deflected to the right as well, thus causing it to turn clockwise. Look at the diagram again and you should understand what I mean.

As for more natural hazards occurring... perhaps blame it on better reporting. I received no less than 4 emails from UGUS about the sichuan earthquake today... 3 aftershocks, all above 5.5 Ritcher....

Nothing to worry about... just more awareness....

Don wrote
at 7:04am on May 13th, 2008
yes and better awareness...i think there were like lots of natural disasters in the past but i didn't care. only until when i became a geog teacher these events mattered to me.

you wldn't believe this - i have a colleague (guess which dept, heh) who didn't even know that myanmar was hit by cyclone. -_-"'

Elaine wrote
at 10:17am

Dr Chang! I was always very blur and unclear about tropical cyclones, but just listening to your short 10 minutes or so interview enlightened me so much!


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