Thank you for your comments. It is important for scientists, …

Comment on Extreme variability: local climate change right now by Fiona Walsh.

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

Recent Comments by Fiona Walsh

West MacDonnells blaze: sorrow and questions
To the rangers, other parks staff, Aboriginal rangers, Bushfires staff, volunteers and others – thank you again for your work in the recent Tjoritja (West Macs) fires.
The valiant efforts to protect at least Angkerle Atwatye (Standley Chasm) and Ormiston building complexes were obvious. I also acknowledge the worry of your families.
Conditions were in the 40s, winds strong, terrain often inaccessible even on foot and equipment probably limited.
I expect there was confusion, conflicting priorities, misunderstandings, even mistakes. These are to learn from.
A cooperative, well-coordinated, sustained approach is needed. I expect you’ll look to experts like those named in earlier articles and others.
Fire management is largely about people.
To the wider public, we’re all responsible even indirectly as our choices, our actions – our inaction – influences our climate and these regional landscapes.


Fire management inadequate to non-existent: ALEC
Firstly, thank you to the 80 or so people who tried to contain fires in Tyerrtye (West Macs National Park).
This devastating fire is a tragedy: Three major burns in 20 years is a repeated tragedy.
I still miss the old corkwood groves east of Hugh River who burnt c. 2001.
Now I think of the places on the Larapinta Trail where we’ve seen and heard moist mulga groves, frog pools, old pythons, ancient Callitris trees, rare plants, persistent possums – have these gone? Are they safe?
The Macs is a biodiversity hot spot with more species than any desert bioregion in Australia. And more cultural sites and songlines too. These fires are comparable with the 2018 Queensland rainforest burns and the current Tasmanian burns.
As a desert ecologist and social scientist, I ask why did this happen in the Macs?
What can we learn and improve upon? Burns will happen again.
To the why – there is climate change and buffel grass fuels.
There is also government priorities, funding and practical on-ground actions.
Parks and Wildlife has been defunded by successive governments to the detriment of landcare and management.
Whereas government funding to short-term tourism ventures like Uluru field of light and Parrtjima have increased. Has funding for Red Centre Nats and Finke desert race also grown?
Each are badged as contributing to a “turbo-charged” economy and do contribute to global warming. The costs to the natural systems that sustain humankind and wildlife are high.
West Macs fires could have been smaller had there been better funding, then sustained strategic prescribed burning by people competent and confident to do so.
25 years ago a cohort of park managers and fire experts burnt regularly with matches and drip torches in mild conditions.
People like Latz, Matthews, the Allans then mentored Schubert, Catt and others. Many of them learnt from and worked with experienced Aboriginal people; some still do. They did protective and preventative burning.
Has this Aboriginal – whitefella culture of burning patches and breaks shifted to one of caution or fear thus inaction?
We know mitigation is easier, safer and cheaper than defence when fires burn.
Action is more important than plans, strategies, workshops or even these words.
Annual investments of several hundred thousand dollars in skilled people who learn and do the practical work of burning in our national parks is vital.


Alice has hottest day on record
What do you do to help yourself, family and others cope with risks from extreme heat?
What strategies are available to people with less money, poorer health, less robust housing, failing air conditioners or scant infrastructure to help them cope?
How do we reduce risks of wildfire and environmental catastrophes?
Our own strategies should be shared and summaries of strategies used elsewhere need to be modified for central Australians.
Climate refugees from Central Australia is a possibility. Some people might have options to migrate to cooler regions. Others don’t.
It is important that the Alice News documents weather stories.  
Weather is the day to day events whose patterns are described as climate. Your readers’ comments (below) about where and when temperatures are recorded are relevant at small scale but understanding the trends is necessary and better actions are vital.
It is the trends that reveal climate change. It is the actions that may help us survive it.
Maximum temperatures are rising and the numbers of hot days in a year are increasing.  
This is evident in many national reports, the regional report with link provided below (publicly available on the CLC site) and the temperature graph included below.
Climate analyses done in 2013 need to be updated with analyses of data from the last five years (since the closure of CSIRO in Alice Springs, this has to be done by others). 
Cumulatively, weather and climate have powerful effects upon the natural and human environments of Central Australia. People and wildlife are and will be greatly stressed by the continuous high temperatures. Let’s expand public discussion about both reductions of emissions and coping strategies.
Mooney, M., F. Walsh, R. Hill, J. Davies, A. Sparrow and Central Land Council Lytentye Apurte Rangers (2014) Climate change: Learning about what is happening with the weather in Central Australia, A3 35 pp report by CSIRO with Central Land Council, Alice Springs Australia.
https://www.clc.org.au/files/pdf/CSIRO_A3ClimateBook_online.pdf
Thank you.

 

[ED – The graph below starts in 1943 and ends in 2013.]

 


Backtrack Boys: lessons in hope and perseverance
This film screens Araleun 7pm tonight. I recommend it for those who feel concern for young people, dogs and better lives. If your work relates to local people or intergenerational connections or ‘youth policy’ then see it. Deservedly, the documentary has won national awards. In some ways it emanates from Central Australia, The title holds a deep meaning that is wisdom learnt from Warumungu men. I hope their families hear the credit given – let them know. The Backtrack program reveals alternatives to costly punishment, detention and jail-dominated approaches.


Aboriginal flag on Anzac Hill: it’s not over yet
Of course the Aboriginal flag must fly on ANZAC hill (aka Atnelkentyarliweke). In my view, it should so as to:
– show respect to the modern Aboriginal population that those who are Other Australians live amongst
– remind us that the lands of Alice Springs were occupied and cared for by thousands of generations of Aboriginal people before European colonisation
– recognise we all live on or nearby legally-determined native title lands
– acknowledge the Aboriginal people who have died on the slopes and surrounds of Anzac hill
– honour the Aboriginal servicemen and women who died in defence of Australia and their country

These are sufficient reasons for the Aboriginal flag to continuously fly on top of a hill that is a sacred site, a memorial site and a major focus for locals and visitors. Both symbolic and practical actions are needed in Alice Springs.
The link to a petition is here – https://www.change.org/p/alice-springs-town-council-fly-the-aboriginal-flag-on-anzac-hill-alice-springs


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