Extreme variability: local climate change right now

p2412 Climate change Suzi Lyon 660

Above: Melting sea ice, a still from 24hrs, digital video by Suzi Lyon from her exhibition ‘Into Blue’, expressing her sorrow at what is being lost to the world as a result of global warming. The exhibition, at Araluen, closes this Sunday 2pm, with contributed performances responding to its themes. 

 

The evidence for major climate change in central Australia is strong, say two scientists who have worked in the field recently. While melting ice caps have become its universally recognised symbol, we ignore the impacts closer to home at our peril. KIERAN FINNANE reports.

 

 

In describing the central Australian climate Ashley Sparrow says it makes sense now to talk about multi-year seasons: dry periods, wet periods and fire periods. Formerly of Alice Springs, Dr Sparrow is a CSIRO Land and Water scientist, now based in Perth.

 

The inter-annual pattern, marked by increased variability in rainfall combined with increased average temperatures, has become more marked since the 1970s, as long-term rainfall records reveal quite clearly. The changes intensify features of a climate considered one of the most variable and unpredictable in the world.

 

The majority of people now living in Alice Springs have not been here long enough to have personally experienced this change. This obviously does not go for local Aboriginal people and a small number of long-established non-Aboriginal families. Nonetheless the population in town in 1971, at 11,179, was less than half of what it is now, even if It grew growing rapidly over the next decade to 18,395 (as historian of Alice Springs Peter Donovan tells us). Local demographics are also marked by high turnover. Northern Institute research suggests a total turnover figure of two thirds in the years 2006-11 as “conservative”. As Dr Sparrow says, “Of all the people that I know in Alice, only a tiny minority lived there in 1973.”

 

Weather records have been kept long enough in the region for scientists to discern trends, allowing them to talk about climate rather than weather. The missionaries at Hermannsburg (Ntaria), 130 kilometres west of Alice, began to record rainfall there from 1889, laying the foundation for a continuous record of almost 130 years (broken only in 1999, 2001 and 2003).

 

p2412 Climate change Ntaria rain 1

 

It shows that there were relatively modest variations in rainfall in the years up to the middle of last century (above, 1889-1950, chart produced by Dr Sparrow). Sure, there were wet years and dry years but there weren’t the extremes of difference we experience now.

 

In the early 1960s there was a seven year drought, followed by a marked increase in both very wet and very dry years (below, 1951-2013). The highest rainfall on record in Ntaria fell in 2000, with well over 1000 mm, while there have been four years since 1970 with falls of less than 100 mm. These big variations have persisted for more than four decades now.

 

p2412 Climate change Ntaria rain 2

 

Alice Springs rainfall records date back to 1943. They show the same shift: more big rains, although not quite as high as Ntaria’s record, and more very dry years since the 1970s.

 

To the east, at Ltyentye Apurte (Santa Teresa) and on nearby Allambi Station records have been kept only since the 1960s. That period is considered too short to discern a trend, even though the records also show big rains in the mid-1970s, at Easter 1988, in 2000-1, and again in 2010.

 

The mean in the Alice Springs region may have increased by only 10% across the years since 1970, says Dr Sparrow, but the variance has increased almost four-fold.

 

In Alice Springs temperature records were also kept from 1943. Again, the shift is clear, with the warming occurring at both ends of the scale. There are now more years with many very hot days (over 40 degrees C). In the 1940s and ‘50s, there were only two years with more than 20 very hot days; in the 1960s to ‘80s, there were nine, and in the 1990s to 2000s, ten years had more than 20 very hot days. There is also a trend of more days below freezing (0 degrees C), usually in the years immediately after big rains, says Dr Sparrow.

 

p2412 Climate change bookletThese data were gathered together in a recent report produced by the CSIRO as a Climate Adaptation Flagship project, together with Ninti One and the Central Land Council (see footnote for full credits). The project’s purpose was to help Indigenous communities understand from a local perspective the challenges of climate change and how they can deal with them.

 

So, what are the impacts, the things that should or ultimately will drive adaptive change?

 

The Ltyentye Apurte weather chart reports big fire events following the high rainfall years. While this is not noted on the Alice chart, our memories (and our news archive) tell us that fires raged in the region in 1975, 2000-1 and again in 2011-12, following big rains and the resultant high fuel loads, exacerbated by the spread of the weed, buffel grass.No doubt we need to prepare for wildfires again soon, following this very wet summer and exceptional plant growth.

 

The Ltyentye Apurte Rangers, who worked with Dr Sparrow and other scientists on the adaptation project, have focussed efforts particularly on combatting erosion on their country. Some of the causes of the erosion are historic – coming from the introduction of cattle and horses, which reduced vegetation cover in dry years and whose hard hoofs break the soil crust – but the big weather variations since the ‘70s have had a major impact. The increasingly dry years further reduce the growth of grasses, exposing the soil to greater risk when the big rains come and the fires follow.

 

p2412 Climate change erosion FW 1 (3) 450The rangers’ efforts over a decade to repair past damage will help protect their country against worsening ravages brought on by climate change: they have been constructing ‘whoa-boys’ to divert water off roads, and mounding soil to form ponding banks that slow and disperse the flow of water across the landscape. They have also fenced off large paddocks, one to keep out feral horses, cattle and camels, the other to keep in the locals’ own horses.

 

Left: Charles Lechleitner, CLC Lytentye Apurte ranger, in the highly eroded Yam Creek  near Santa Teresa. Photo by Fiona Walsh/CSIRO  (with permissions).

 

Such immediate repair and protective action can almost be envied from the perspective of urban Alice Springs.

 

Through its take-up of solar energy, the town has made a concerted effort, both public and private, to become more self-sufficient and to act as a good global citizen by reducing its carbon footprint. This effort has been undermined by the recent purchase (despite considerable local protest) of gas-fuelled generators for the Owen Springs Power Station.

 

The big threats of increased wildfire risk due to the explosion of fuel loads, particularly weedy grasses, and of a major flood are beyond the efforts of individuals and small groups. While the town waits for government action on even beginning to know what to do about flood mitigation and while buffel grass takes an ever increasing hold of the landscape, what is the scope for meaningful adaptive change?

 

There’s no clear take-home message, says Dr Sparrow, and that’s true for urban populations around the world. Adaptation in Darwinian evolutionary terms happens in response to a selective force, so species don’t adapt in advance. Asking people to make adaptations based on a prediction of the future is inherently risky: people could make adaptations that turn out to be to their disadvantage.

 

In this sense, adaptation may be the wrong term to use, even though it is entrenched in CSIRO science, says Fiona Walsh. Formerly with CSIRO, she also worked on the climate adaptation project. Trained in evolutionary biology, she says adaptation can only really be seen in retrospect.

 

Some people believe that desert eco-systems are pre-adapted to the changing climate, that they are more resilient, says Dr Walsh, but “from what I’ve seen, I don’t think there’s evidence of that”.

 

p2412 Climate change erosion FW 3 (1) 450She points to the major issues already canvassed, particularly wildfire, and in the landscape she sees erosion gullies, like the ones at Ltyentye Apurte, as the desert equivalent of melting icebergs: the sentinels of a challenging future.

 

Right: Fiona Walsh in Yam Creek. 

 

Dr Walsh also questions the presumed resilience to climate change of Aboriginal people, especially in remote communities, as they are already having to deal with so many other contemporary challenges.

 

“If people have the income they can buffer themselves against higher temperatures, by staying indoors more with air-conditioning, swimming pools, air-conditioned cars.”

 

All these things are less accessible to people on low incomes and who may not necessarily own their houses. But there are some relatively inexpensive strategies for buffering against heat, says Dr Walsh, and there should be much better information available (for instance, through local government) on the simple things that can be achieved.

 

At a townscape level, better urban design to shade buildings and streets is “the big one”. Orientation of buildings to the north, white roofs, wide eaves and verandahs, the right kind of tree-planting – the sustainability features are well known.

 

Individual householders may be able to do some of this themselves. In her own home, for example, she tossed up whether to invest in a shade structure for her exposed western wall or to go the natural route. She chose the latter, harvesting rainwater off the roof and driveway and choosing the right tree species, planting both on the verge and in her garden, resulting in a very well shaded western aspect within five years.

 

Dr Walsh also notes the efforts of small groups across the town (some private individuals, some with registered Landcare groups) who labour hard to combat weedy grasses, restoring public areas to better condition, allowing the return of native species and people. Examples are to be found in Ankerre Ankerre (the Coolibah Swamp) and at Spencer Hill.

 

“The actions of these individuals and groups are really generous and important while we wait for governments to rise to the occasion,” says Dr Walsh.

 

 

Footnote:

 

Authors of the report were: Meg Mooney, Fiona Walsh, Ro Hill, Jocelyn Davies, Ashley Sparrow and Central Land Council Lytentye Apurte Rangers (Richard Furber, Norbert Mulladad, Gibson John, Paul Oliver, Charles Hayes, Malcom Hayes, Charles Lechleitner, Bronwen Cavanagh and Petria Cavanagh, and ranger co-ordinator Shannon Lander).

 

Eastern Arrernte elders also contributed to the project – MK Turner, Veronica Dobson, Bessie Oliver, Maryanne Ryder, Elaine Gorey and Stanislaus Mulladad – as did longterm Ltyentye Apurte residents Laurie Butcher, Bill Ryan and Miriam Donoghue.

 

RELATED READING: 

 

Heat is on as NT in limbo on global warming policies by JIMMY COCKING (January, 2013)

 

 

 

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27 Comments (starting with the most recent)

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  1. Evelyne Roullet
    Posted March 8, 2017 at 11:41 am

    @ John Bell: The following is out of context, but after re-reading some of the comments I realised that one of mine could easily be misinterpreted.
    You told me you were on the same list that Denis Waterman. I reacted too fast.
    But I had written I hope not because I enjoyed our discussion. So accept my apology.

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  2. Erwin Chlanda
    Posted March 7, 2017 at 12:37 pm

    We welcome a vigorous debate of the issues raised in this article, noting that they are focussed on the local picture of climate change.
    We ask commenters in this thread to take advantage of this focus and contribute locally-relevant views.
    We will not be publishing any further comment on the global warming debate in general.
    Erwin Chlanda, Editor.

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  3. Fiona Walsh
    Posted March 7, 2017 at 7:03 am

    Thank you for your comments. It is important for scientists, and all of us, to recognise the variety of opinions and interpretations on this topic. Many issues emerge from the prior comments, but here we can respond only to those about data selection, data durations, local trends vs trends elsewhere in inland Australia, and publication.

    In relation to ‘cherry-picking’ (aka selective use of data, @ de Vries and @Richards): Our project was a collaboration with a group of CLC rangers at Santa Teresa. Thus we analysed data that were collected by long-term weather stations as close as possible to Santa Teresa – including Alice Springs. Trends in climate across the entirety of inland Australia were not within our project remit.

    We collated data on nine variables for three locations. Only Alice Springs had data for all nine variables. Hermannsburg had the longest near-continuous data for total annual rainfall over 124 years. The trend for increasing rainfall events described in the article appears to be consistent for Alice Springs and Santa Teresa, but the duration of records are shorter. Additional to rainfall, there were upward trends in the Alice Springs data for maximum winter temperatures and maximum summer temperatures, but no obvious trend for minimum summer and winter temperatures. However, the number of frost days also trends upward. 

    To our knowledge, these are more finely grained collations than done by BOM or other agencies (@ de Vries). Our data do warrant publication (@ de Vries), but unfortunately this is unlikely in the short term. Two of the four CSIRO scientists involved have been made redundant as a result of the cuts to CSIRO environmental research and arid zone research. The remaining two scientists are required on other projects. We could supply the graphed data on request for others who would like with work with them. We encourage you to look at the community report downloadable here: http://www.clc.org.au/publications/content/climate-change-learning-about-what-is-happening-with-the-weather-in-central/” rel=”nofollow”>

    In relation to the question of whether the Santa Teresa-Alice Springs-Hermannsburg findings are applicable to other areas of inland Australia, we did a brief analysis of rainfall, but not temperature, for five additional arid zone locations further west and east of Alice Springs. As @ de Vries suggests, Boulia (620 km ENE of Alice) shows no discernible trend. However, Leonora (1,400 km SW of Alice) shows average annual rainfall has risen by 44% over the period 1898-2013 (statistically significant). Leonora experienced increased inter-annual variability during 1940-1980, when increasing rainfall becomes apparent, but rainfall variability has since reduced. Wiluna (1,410 km W of Alice) also shows a 37% increase in annual rainfall average 1899-2016.

    BOM data for these and any other weather stations can be obtained from http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/data/, and examined and analysed by any interested reader. BOM maps of climate trend across Australia can be viewed at http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/change/?ref=ftr#tabs=Tracker&tracker=trend-maps.

    The map of trend in average annual rainfall for the period 1940-present indicates how increasing rainfall has been occurring from Alice westwards, whilst inland Queensland has experienced no trend at all. The geographical pattern in positive trend is mainly in summer and autumn rainfalls. It partially results from tropical cyclones carrying heavy rainfalls further inland and more frequently than in the past.

    All this said, our interest was to bring attention to trends within Central Australia. More importantly, our concern is with the capacities and opportunities for people within Central Australia to cope with changing climate conditions.

    Dr Fiona Walsh and Dr Ashley Sparrow

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  4. Hal Duell
    Posted March 6, 2017 at 10:48 am

    @ Harold, posted March 6, 2017 at 8:05 am:
    I dispute that my comment “Locally, summers are hot and winters are cold. It has always been so.” is an alarmist argument.
    Quite the contrary. I suggest it is anything but alarmist.

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  5. Janet Brown
    Posted March 6, 2017 at 8:35 am

    Did they take into account the close proximity to the sun for the planet earth. Also our axis turn that has put us closer to the humidity. Here in Alice.
    This change in position in the universe has a real effect on our weather. Don’t believe me check it out for yourself.
    And guess what. It has absolutely nothing to do with human beings. It is time that all information is complied and accessed on facts from all science based groups.
    It sort of like a scientist for left hands. Warns us that the hand is of no use it cannot clap only clench itself.

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  6. Harold
    Posted March 6, 2017 at 8:05 am

    “The ice’s disappearance – triggered by global warming caused by rising carbon emissions from cars and factories –…”: This was in reference to Arctic sea ice, whereas Antarctic sea ice is at record levels.
    This is typical of global warming alarmists who only like to reference evidence that suits their agenda.
    Another comment made by Hal basically sums up the alarmist’s side of this argument: “Locally, summers are hot and winters are cold. It has always been so.”
    Fact is that it has not always been so. In recorded human history this is correct, but there was significant warming and cooling going on well prior to humans putting paint to rock or pen to paper.
    Global warming is a natural process, even the scientific consensus is that humans are the cause of the majority of the increase in temperatures being experienced.
    So at worst, we’re accelerating a pre-existing condition of Mother Earth.

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  7. David de Vries
    Posted March 5, 2017 at 11:46 am

    Hi Kieran I only have access to the data on BOM. A casual glance at these brings home a clear message – life threatening floods – life threatening droughts – rely on it. However using only 140 years recordings from only one location to make conclusions about the region and the future is fraught with difficulties. Using 10,000 fold more information and supercomputers BOM make some conclusions. 2016 BOM report concludes temp here have risen ~1 C in last 117 years. Number of days per year greater than 35C increasing by one each decade. No clear change in rainfall across the centre. These changes are serious. What remains most challenging for animals and plants is the pattern in place for the last few thousand years.
    http://www.bom.gov.au/state-of-the-climate/State-of-the-Climate-2016.pdf

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  8. Posted March 5, 2017 at 10:16 am

    @ Kieran: Speaking for myself alone, I would say they don’t suggest anything of the sort. They suggest that one would want to see data over much longer time scales and from many more locations before deducing any long term trends. I don’t have such data and I doubt if anyone else does. Do you?

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  9. Sergei Jansons
    Posted March 5, 2017 at 9:52 am

    I used to believe in global warming until I decided to look up some basic data about CO2. The first thing I looked up was what is the percentage of CO2 in the atmosphere. Since that time, I have asked many people what the % of CO2 is and not one person has known. Most people just accept the generalization that CO2 is extremely high and that the increase is affecting our weather.
    Here is the table:
    The gases in Earth’s atmosphere include:
    • Nitrogen – 78 percent
    • Oxygen – 21 percent
    • Argon – 0.93 percent
    • Carbon dioxide – 0.038 percent
    • Other – 0.032%
    Total 100%

    Notice how small a percentage this is.
    The common theory is that CO2 has increased from 280 ppm to 380 ppm, i.e. an increase of 100 ppm. Instead of working in parts per million, let’s reduce it so that our brains can try and visualise this increase. 100 ppm is equivalent of an increase of 1 molecule of CO2 in every 10,000 molecules of the atmosphere.

    If we round the 280 and 380 ppm to 300 and 400 respectively, we can say that the number of CO2 molecules in the atmosphere increased from 3 to 4 in every 10,000. So the scientists are saying that because CO2 increased by 1 molecule in every 10,000, that this increase of only 1 molecule is going to increase the temperature of our atmosphere by re-radiating and trapping heat to the rest of the 9,996 molecules.

    To me this is not logical.

    The next thing to consider is how the media has been pushing that CO2 is a pollutant. Well, it certainly is not a pollutant but it is a necessary part of our world and plants require at least 150 ppm of CO2 to survive. If CO2 drops below that level, plants will die, insects will die and humanity will be cactus. There is also a breathing method called Buteyko that works on learning to hold your breath so that you increase the level of CO2 in your blood stream to improve you health.

    What the IPCC models ignore is the variability of the sun and there are many scientists who have been predicting that we are actually moving into an ice age because of sunspot activity or lack of sunspot activity. Please research this a bit more. [Google global cooling for] a different point of view.

    [I have also come across articles about record snowfalls and land ice and Russian icebreakers getting stuck in severe ice conditions in the Arctic]

    Doesn’t it seem strange that you have this severe cold causing Icebreakers to get stuck but that the Artic is warming? Where does the cold start from now?

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  10. Hal Duell
    Posted March 5, 2017 at 7:17 am

    There is an article in today’s Guardian on-line edition that speaks about the shrinking sea ice in the Arctic. It contains the following sentence which, perhaps, goes to the heart of the debate about global warming.
    “The ice’s disappearance – triggered by global warming caused by rising carbon emissions from cars and factories –…”.
    It’s hard to argue with the stated fact that the sea ice is shrinking. Satellite imagery proves that point. The question is why. The further question is what, if anything, we can do about it?
    Locally, summers are hot and winters are cold. It has always been so.
    I don’t know if our summers are hotter and our winters are colder, but that globally the weather is more volatile today than it was yesterday also seems to be beyond dispute.
    Again, what, if anything, can we do about it? Probably not much.

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  11. Kieran Finnane
    Posted March 4, 2017 at 8:43 am

    @ David de Vries (posted March 1, 2017 at 3:31 pm) and @ Dave Richards (posted March 3, 2017 at 4:52 pm).

    Your claims of cherry-picked data suggest that you are aware of information that changes the picture of extreme variability as characteristic of what is happening with the climate in this region.

    I invite you both to share the detail of this with our readers.

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  12. Dave Richards
    Posted March 3, 2017 at 4:52 pm

    Being prepared for any extreme phenomena over which we have little or no control makes sense, so it was refreshing to see yet another article based on yet another report about climate change that emphasised practical responses to the possibility of floods, heatwaves and even more frosts (!) rather than the need to reduce emissions, which may have little or no effect on rising temperatures.
    But David De Vries is right about the cherry picked statistics; add that to the fact that almost all of us are woefully subjective in our memories and experience of weather, and you have a warning against alarmism and the unnecessary anxiety it creates in many soft souls.
    It is a bit presumptious to suggest that people got into solar because they were responsible citizens. Without being cynical, I would suggest saving money on subsidised power was a stronger and more reasonable motive.
    The protests of an apparent minority against gas powered energy was hardly a reason not to proceed with it; economic considerations are also important, especially given that gas creates a lot less carbon emissions than other fossil fuels. (In fact the decrease in emissions in Obama’s America has been pinned on the increased use of gas).
    I suggest Stuart Traynor’s new book, Alice Springs, as a reality check for climate worriers; people of all cultures have survived and thrived in climatic extremes without any of the mechanical aids we have today. Meanwhile it is somewhat misleading to unduly attribute the spread of buffel grass, increases in erosion and greater bushfires to climate change when they may be simply down to changes in land use in combination with a few wet years.

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  13. Posted March 3, 2017 at 2:58 pm

    Well done, Evelynne Roullet (Posted March 1, 2017 at 11:59 am) for a most informative comment; and in the chronology you provided I was most taken by the entry for 1938 about British engineer Guy Callendar who showed from data obtained from numerous weather stations around the world that temperatures had increased compared to the previous century, a finding widely dismissed by meteorologists.
    I compare this to the treatment meted out to German meteorologist Alfred Wegener who early last century compiled observations on geological and palaeontological evidence indicating the continents were once linked together. This information was well known but scientists generally accepted the explanation that there had been land-bridges between continents that had subsequently sunk below the oceans. In 1915 Wegener published a book proposing instead that the continents had once been all joined together and subsequently drifted apart.
    This theory prompted huge controversy from scientists (especially in Britain, perhaps unsurprisingly) and basically the concept of continental drift was rejected on the basis of insufficient evidence and no explanation of any known force sufficient to move continents. Wegener was regarded as a crackpot, notwithstanding his reputation for research into polar climatalogy; and he perished for his work in Greenland in 1930.
    It wasn’t until the mid 1960s when global mapping of the Earth’s ocean floors commenced that evidence came to light supporting the theory of continental drift. Mid-ocean ridges and alternate magnetic banding of seabed rock strata began the revelation of abundant evidence that the world’s land masses are indeed drifting on tectonic plates (incidentally, Australia is the fastest-moving continent on Earth). Today continental drift is completely accepted as a verified fact.
    Wegener’s sad experience ought to be a salutory lesson to us all; and for myself it provides an extremely valuable analogy to the populist debate that swirls around the validity of evidence for climate change.
    We discount or reject that evidence at our absolute peril.

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  14. Evelyne Roullet
    Posted March 3, 2017 at 10:28 am

    Dear John, (nothing to do with leaving you for somebody else).
    Are you on the list of men like Dennis Waterman having “problem with strong, intelligent women”? I sincerely hope not.
    Yes, I have a master in the philosophy of laughter following in the foot steps of Democritus, known in antiquity as the “laughing philosopher”.
    Hence I have stop taking myself seriously. I am, now, amused by the illusory nature of the self, and can regard myself as a big joke and human existence as absurd.

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  15. John Bell
    Posted March 2, 2017 at 6:58 pm

    Dear Evelyne
    Yes! I’m on the list alright! You must have missed the page listing.
    Just turn to the listing – under “Laugh Gene Real Life”. Up there in lights next to Dennis Waterman. What about you? You sound like an Expert of some sort. You gotta be on a list, surely?

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  16. David de Vries
    Posted March 1, 2017 at 3:31 pm

    Outing myself as being alarmed about climate change up front, I have been combing the BOM data for years thinking I would find ‘Evidence’. Thus I was excited to see this report. However, I still can’t see it. The data had been cherry picked and would never be published in a scientific journal. Other ways of looking at Alice data don’t show these trends. These trends in rainfall and summer temps don’t appear in other centralian locales that have 100+ years of records like Boulia and Leonora.
    Thus, we don’t know what climate change will look like here. However, while the globe cooks at temperatures that rise almost imperceptibly slowly there are real short term risks. Geopolitics will be further destabilised by climate change and it will be these ramifications that turn our ‘Lifestyle’ on its head.

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  17. Alex Kelly
    Posted March 1, 2017 at 12:53 pm

    Great to see this coverage in the Alice Springs News. Perhaps an ongoing series on climate impacts could be good?

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  18. John Bell
    Posted March 1, 2017 at 12:17 pm

    Dear Matto
    The point being, is that while we should all look of course to improving our immediate environment with innovative bio-diversity initiatives discussed in Kieran’s article, the misleadingly named “climate change” global debate has gone way off track, hijacked by the alarmist Prophets of Impending Doom, way beyond any rational or scientific discussion of a balance between the the control of human pollution factors versus the control of unstoppable factors of Mother Earth natural forces and the the Universe. For example, one of the myriad of Unstoppable factors is the sudden eruption of a volcano…say…in the Pacific…on a major fault line…no one seems willing to look honestly at this balanced exercise of due diligence.. …I reckon a heck of a lot of reasonably-thinking ordinary people are hanging out for such a global debate…but it will not happen…you and I both know that….. because it is lost in an emotive haze of Believers versus Non-Believers…Us versus Them

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  19. Evelyne Roullet
    Posted March 1, 2017 at 11:59 am

    John Bell, it is always with great interest that I listen to the professionals; but I cannot see your name on the list of the great ones.
    1824 – French physicist Joseph Fourier describes the Earth’s natural “greenhouse effect”. He writes: “The temperature [of the Earth] can be augmented by the interposition of the atmosphere, because heat in the state of light finds less resistance in penetrating the air, than in re-passing into the air when converted into non-luminous heat.”
    1861 – Irish physicist John Tyndall shows that water vapour and certain other gases create the greenhouse effect.
    1896 – Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius concludes that industrial-age coal burning will enhance the natural greenhouse effect. He suggests this might be beneficial for future generations. His conclusions on the likely size of the “man-made greenhouse” are in the same ballpark – a few degrees Celsius for a doubling of CO2 – as modern-day climate models.

    1927 – Carbon emissions from fossil fuel burning and industry reach one billion tonnes per year.
    1930 – Human population reaches two billion.
    1938 – Using records from 147 weather stations around the world, British engineer Guy Callendar shows that temperatures had risen over the previous century. He also shows that CO2 concentrations had increased over the same period, and suggests this caused the warming. The “Callendar effect” is widely dismissed by meteorologists.
    1955 – Using a new generation of equipment including early computers, US researcher Gilbert Plass analyses in detail the infrared absorption of various gases. He concludes that doubling CO2 concentrations would increase temperatures by 3-4C.
    1957 – US oceanographer Roger Revelle and chemist Hans Suess show that seawater will not absorb all the additional CO2 entering the atmosphere, as many had assumed. Revelle writes: “Human beings are now carrying out a large scale geophysical experiment…”
    1975 – US scientist Wallace Broecker puts the term “global warming” into the public domain in the title of a scientific paper.

    1930 – Human population reaches two billion.
    1960 – Human population reaches three billion.
    1975 – Human population reaches four billion.
    1987 – Human population reaches five billion
    1999 – Human population reaches six billion.
    2011 – Human population reaches seven billion.

    1989 – Carbon emissions from fossil fuel burning and industry reach six billion tonnes per year.
    2006 – Carbon emissions from fossil fuel burning and industry reach eight billion tonnes per year.
    2011 – Data shows concentrations of greenhouse gases are rising faster than in previous years.

    My source is the BBC’s brief history of climate change, here.

    Yes John STOP THE WORLD – I WANT TO GET OFF is a thought-provoking tale about the fleeting nature of worldly success. This tale tell us to stop our need for luxury and non necessary goods or, the planet will get read of “our world” and will continue to turn without fleas on her back

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  20. Posted March 1, 2017 at 11:34 am

    This is a most important and timely story.
    I’m one of those very few non-indigenous individuals who has lived here all my life. I was born in 1963 in the middle of one of the worst droughts on record. Since that time nearly every weather record in Central Australia has been broken, many of them more than once. Ironically, one record still standing since before my arrival is the hottest maximum temperature in the NT, set at Finke a couple of years earlier, but we’ve gotten close on occasion and it’s only a matter of time before that one falls.
    One of the major impacts of the 1960s drought that reverberates to this day is the rise to dominance of buffel grass in Central Australia. The drought was a major impetus into extensive research to mitigate the enormous dust storms that frequently smothered Alice Springs, and buffel grass proved to be the ideal panacaea.
    When I worked for the Rangeland Management Section at AZRI over a quarter century ago, one of the management problems for pastoral properties was how to deal with the problem of increasing “woody weeds”, especially mulga, witchetty bush and ironwood trees, which suppressed natural pastures and were largely resistant to control by fire, the only economically viable control method.
    The increasing dominance of buffel grass across the region has, in my opinion, tipped the balance in favour of a major wildfire risk which, combined with the increasing severity of weather events, now poses an extreme hazard for us all in Central Australia. There have already been several serious wildfires in the vicinity of Alice Springs following above-average rainfall periods since the turn of the century, which I think are indicative of much worse to come.

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  21. Pip McManus
    Posted March 1, 2017 at 9:51 am

    Excellent article Kieran. As someone who has lived here for more than three decades the altered landscape, both literally (oceans of buffel grass, plagues of grasshoppers),and evidentially (rainfall and temperature records) is beyond arguing about. Hell may freeze over in the long run, Mr Bell, but much sooner and more likely, the frogs who insist on staying in the pot of simmering water will be unable to jump out or turn the gas off.

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  22. Hal Duell
    Posted March 1, 2017 at 9:39 am

    I am looking forward to the public debate advertised for next Monday between 5pm and 7pm at the Alice Springs Convention Centre.
    One question that I hope someone will address is the suggested leaking of methane gas into the atmosphere during and after the fracking process.
    Another question that has been rolling around in the back of my mind for some time now, and which is probably beyond the scope of this coming debate, concerns subsiding.
    Sink holes are in the news more and more these days. While it admittedly sounds a bit like something out of science fiction, are we destabilising the earth’s crust (which we live on) by taking more and more out of the crust in the form of water and hydrocarbons?
    This probably goes to the larger question of can we continue to assume the wholesomeness of this planet despite the unprecedented number of humans living here poking and prodding and generally treating it as an inexhaustible milch cow?

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  23. Ute Eickelkamp
    Posted March 1, 2017 at 8:35 am

    We might not be able to ‘control’ the climate but we are pushing the earth out of the habitable zone – or is the Anthropocene as geological era just a fluke (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/aug/29/declare-anthropocene-epoch-experts-urge-geological-congress-human-impact-earth)?
    Yes, humanity might well not exist in eons to come and the sun is sure to absorb our planet in about 6 billion years. In the meantime, we are here and into the foreseeable future, which entails responsibilities – across scales, life-worlds and knowledge systems.

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  24. Jimmy
    Posted February 28, 2017 at 11:52 pm

    Thanks Alice Springs News for your comprehensive and informative article about the realities of climate change for Alice Springs. It is journalism like this that the world needs more of.
    Thanks John Bell for providing your anecdotal analysis of the current situation. A better straw man could not be imagined. You actually strengthen our case for urgent action on climate change both locally and globally.
    We all have a responsibility to ensure the world we hand over to the next generation is in better condition than we found it. To do so, we must transition rapidly to renewable sources of energy and develop community level responses to dealing with the impacts of the changing climate.
    Thanks Alice Springs News for your commitment to the truth on this issue and as people who live in the heart of this country – demonstrating true leadership through your interrogation of the important issues and exposure of the truth.

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  25. Matt Colloff
    Posted February 28, 2017 at 10:34 pm

    Dear John, You are entitled to state your opinion, but without presenting evidence, it remains just that – your opinion. Show us your workings!
    Cheers, Matt.

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  26. Han Hahu
    Posted February 28, 2017 at 9:47 pm

    Great article drawing on science, history, and local knowledge to help us think about life in Alice Springs in a changing climate – thanks.

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  27. John Bell
    Posted February 28, 2017 at 3:50 pm

    I am a professional climate change expert of long experience. Having lived through 70 years of the climate changing, my professional opinion is that there is no possible way we mere humans can change the climate to make it do what we want it to do. The Earth will continue to turn on its axis and revolve around the sun or whatever it has done in the solar system for countless eons. There will continue to be threats from rogue asteroids, cataclysmic forces and alien bodies from other planets, including Collingwood types, until Hell freezes over. My professional advice to the Disciples of the Church of Climate Change who predict Climate Doomsday is best summed up in the immortal words of Lesley Birchuse and Anthony Newley: STOP THE WORLD, I WANT TO GET OFF!

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