Mar 16, 2012

Hotter, more erratic weather and higher sea levels: CSIRO

Australia's getting hotter -- particularly at night, rainfall is erratic, carbon emissions are up and our sea levels are increasing at two to three times the global average. That's the

Amber Jamieson — Freelance journalist in New York

Amber Jamieson

Freelance journalist in New York

Australia's getting hotter -- particularly at night, rainfall is erratic, carbon emissions are up and our sea levels are increasing at two to three times the global average. That's the latest data to emerge from the State of the Climate 2012 report, which observes Australia's climate and analyses the factors that influence it. Scientists from the Bureau of Meteorology and the CSIRO worked together to produce the report, the second since the first State of the Climate report in 2010. The data on global warming shows that annual-average daily maximum temperatures in Australia have increased by 0.75 degrees since 1910, with the majority of the increase occurring since 1970. Average Australian temperatures are expected to keep increasing, with a rise of 0.6 degrees (taking it to a total of 1.5 degrees since the 1980-1999 period) projected by 2030. Nights are getting even warmer, with annual-average nightly minimum temperatures increasing by 1.1 degrees since 1910. Of that 1.1 degrees warming, 0.8 of it has occured since 1960. Each decade since the 1950s has been warmer than the last. The frequency of record hot days has been more than double the frequency of record cold days in the last decade. But there are obviously ebbs and flows in this heat increase. The years 2010 and 2011 were the coolest on record in Australia since 2001 due to La Niña. La Niña is the phenomenon of cooler ocean temperatures in the eastern equatorial Pacific -- and warmer ocean temperatures near Australia -- and often brings a strong increase in rain. Wet years are expected to become less frequent, with droughts expected to become more frequent in southern Australia (although heavy rainfall is also likely). Despite the cooler last two years, a longer trend of warming is still present across the decade, and "warming trends observed around Australia are consistent with global-scale warming that has been measured during recent decades", says the report. "The warming trend has occurred against a backdrop of natural, year-to-year climate variability,” it says. “Most notably, El Niño and La Niña events during the past century have continued to produce the hot droughts and cooler wet periods for which Australia is well known." Last year was the world's 11th warmest year on record. The earth's average surface temperature has increased by 0.8 degrees in the past century, while Australia warmed by 0.9 degrees. The rate of warming differs across the land. This graph from BoM shows the increase in annual-average daily temperatures from 1960-2011:

Australia's rainfall remains highly variable, with "many rainfall records" broken during the last two years of La Niña, says the report. Yet south-west Western Australia experienced its lowest level of rainfall on record in 2010 and only average rainfall in 2011. The report highlighted "a general trend towards increased spring and summer monsoonal rainfall across Australia’s north during recent decades, and decreased late autumn and winter rainfall across southern Australia”. This map of Australian autumn and winter (April to September) rainfall deciles from 1997 to 2011 shows whether the rainfall is above average, average or below average for the most recent 15-year period, compared to the entire rainfall record from 1900.

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