Too Hot: Australia’s big heat breaking records


Australia is gripped by a massive heatwave, records are tumbling and fires are burning across the continent. I’m not going to attempt a comprehensive post on the subject — events are moving too fast — but I would like to note a few things. The Bureau of Meteorology forecast chart above (courtesy of Watching The Deniers) for next Monday has forced BOM to add new colours to the hot end of the range, to allow for forecast temperatures over 52ºC — well above the previous national record high of 50.7ºC. Meanwhile the current heatwave has already set a new record for the number of consecutive days where the national average temperature has exceeded 39ºC — now running at seven days, with the heat forecast to continue. That’s the average temperature for the whole of the continent, which is no small place. The previous record was four consecutive days, set in 1973.

The Sydney Morning Herald has a good summary of the records being broken here. See also: Jeff Masters, Climate Progress, New Scientist and the Guardian.

NASA’s Earth Observatory provides this overview of the fires in Tasmania over the weekend that caused chaos and destruction in the normally cool state — Hobart hit an all time high temperature of 41.8ºC, a full degree above its previous record.

Tasmania EO 2013007

Fire danger in parts of New South Wales has been classified as catastrophic, and this NASA Worldview image for Jan 8th appears to show smoke from fires in southern NSW streaming out to the east and over the sea towards New Zealand.

Ben Cubby at the SMH pulls together reactions from the scientific community under the headline “Get used to record breaking heat”, and one quote struck me rather forcefully:

“Those of us who spend our days trawling – and contributing to – the scientific literature on climate change are becoming increasingly gloomy about the future of human civilisation,’’ said Liz Hanna, convener of the human health division at the Australian National University’s Climate Change Adaptation Network.

As George Monbiot notes in the Guardian today, in a column excoriating Australian opposition leader Tony Abbott for his climate denial:

Australia’s new weather demands a new politics; a politics capable of responding to an existential threat.

My comment? That’s what the whole bloody world needs.

[The Specials]

Song of the Australian scientists

Australian scientists have begun a push back against climate denial. Over at the excellent The Conversation site (a hugely interesting experiment in bringing academic expertise to the news cycle), Stephan Lewandowsky and a long list of prominent Australian academics have kicked off a series of articles “from the nation’s top minds on the science behind climate change and the efforts of “sceptics” to cloud the debate” titled Clearing up the Climate Debate.

Beginning today, The Conversation will bring much-needed and long-overdue accountability to the climate “sceptics.”

For the next two weeks, our series of daily analyses will show how they can side-step the scientific literature and how they subvert normal peer review. They invariably ignore clear refutations of their arguments and continue to promote demonstrably false critiques.

We will show that “sceptics” often show little regard for truth and the critical procedures of the ethical conduct of science on which real skepticism is based.

The individuals who deny the balance of scientific evidence on climate change will impose a heavy future burden on Australians if their unsupported opinions are given undue credence.

Not to mention imposing a heavy future burden on everyone else on the planet…

Lewandowsky’s introduction was followed in short order by The greenhouse effect is real: here’s why, by Karl Braganza of the Bureau of Meteorology — an admirably succinct statement of the facts of the matter.

The climate of Earth is now a closely monitored thing; from instruments in space, in the deep ocean, in the atmosphere and across the surface of both land and sea.

It’s now practically certain that increasing greenhouse gases have already warmed the climate system.

That continued rapid increases in greenhouse gases will cause rapid future warming is irrefutable.

This is an important series of articles: one worth following in detail. Congrats to Steve and everyone involved.

[Rambling Sid Rumpo]

New Aussie state of the climate snapshot: NZ needs one too

Australia’s CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology have released a State of the Climate report [PDF], a succinct six page effort designed to provide the Aussie public with an overview of how their climate has been changing, and how it is expected to change in the future. Headlines (from the media release):

  • Highly variable rainfall across the country, with substantial increases in rainfall in northern and central parts of Australia, as well as significant decreases across much of southern and eastern Australia.
  • Rapidly rising sea levels from 1993 to 2009, with levels around Australia rising, between 1.5cm and 3cm per decade in Australia’s south and east and between 7cm and 9cm in the country’s north
  • About half of the observed reduction in winter rainfall in south-west Western Australia can be explained by higher greenhouse gas levels.

The news about temperature isn’t good either. All of the continent has warmed over the last 50 years, but some regions have warmed at up to 0.4ºC per decade during that time (see the dark red blobs on the map above) and have seen warming of 1.5 — 2ºC. By 2030 the average temperature is expected to have increased by a further 0.6 — 1.5ºC, and decreases in rainfall will continue in the south, south-east and southwest. The graphics are particularly good — and very telling.

I’m not aware of any similar recent overview for New Zealand, and with the usual suspects doing their level best to promote uncertainty and inaction at the moment, it would be helpful if the local climate science community could cooperate on producing such a clear statement of current evidence and future change. NIWA’s last set of projections for NZ were released in 2008, and are summarised on this informative but rather dense web page. I had a go at bringing the details to a wider public, via articles in NZ Geographic (not my knees, by the way) and Good magazine, but apart from press coverage when the projections were launched, there’s not been much since. I doubt many people will seek out Climate Change Effects and Impacts Assessment: A Guidance Manual for Local Government in New Zealand, 2nd Edition (Ministry for the Environment 2008) for an easy introduction to the subject…