Summer forecast: scorching heat and heightened bushfire risk


Catherine Ganter, Australian Bureau of Meteorology

Large parts of Australia are facing a hotter and drier summer than average, according to the Bureau of Meteorology’s summer outlook.

Drier than average conditions are likely for much of northern Australia. Most of the country has at least an 80% chance of experiencing warmer than average day and night-time temperatures.

The threat of bushfire will remain high, with few signs of the sustained rain needed to reduce fire risk or make a significant dent in the ongoing drought.

Expect extreme heat

Large parts of Western Australia, most of Queensland and the Top End of the Northern Territory are expected to be drier than usual. Further south, the rest of the country shows no strong push towards a wetter or drier than average summer, which is a change for parts of the southeast compared to recent months.


Bureau of Meteorology

Queensland has already seen some extraordinary record-breaking heat in recent days, with summer yet to truly begin. With the summer outlook predicting warmer days and nights, combined with recent dry conditions and our long-term trend of increasing temperatures, some extreme highs are likely this summer.


Bureau of Meteorology

All of this means above-normal bushfire potential in eastern Australia, across New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland. The bushfire outlook, also released today, notes that rain in areas of eastern Australia during spring, while welcome, was not enough to recover from the long-term dry conditions. The current wet conditions across parts of coastal New South Wales will help, but it will not take long once hot and dry conditions return for vegetation to dry out.




Read more:
Sydney storms could be making the Queensland fires worse


What about El Niño?

The Bureau is currently at El Niño ALERT, which means a roughly 70% chance of El Niño developing this season.




Read more:
Australia moves to El Niño alert and the drought is likely to continue


However, not all the ducks are lined up. While ocean temperatures have already warmed to El Niño levels, to declare a proper “event” there must also be a corresponding response in the atmosphere to reinforce the ocean – this hasn’t happened yet.

That said, climate models expect this event to arrive in the coming months. The outlook has factored in that chance, and the conditions predicted are largely consistent with what we would expect during El Niño. In summer, this includes drier weather in parts of northern Australia, and warmer summer days.

Once an El Niño is in place, weather systems across southern Australia tend to be more mobile. This can mean shorter but more intense heatwaves in Victoria and southern South Australia. However, in New South Wales and Queensland, El Niño is associated with both longer and more intense heat waves.

The exact reason why the states are affected differently is complicated, but relates to the fast-moving cold fronts and troughs that sweep through Victoria and South Australia in the summertime, creating cool changes. These weather systems don’t influence areas further north so when hot air arrives, it takes longer to clear.




Read more:
Drought, wind and heat: when fire seasons start earlier and last longer


The heavy rains seen in parts of eastern Australia in October and November have provided some welcome short-term relief to drought-stricken farmers, but longer-term rainfall relief has not arrived yet. If El Niño arrives, this widespread relief may only be on the cards in autumn.The Conversation

Catherine Ganter, Senior Climatologist, Australian Bureau of Meteorology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Will the arrival of El Niño mean fewer mosquitoes this summer?



File 20181105 74787 xceqwb.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
A hot summer will mean wetlands dry out faster than ever, so how will pest mosquitoes respond?
Cameron Webb (NSW Health Pathology), Author provided

Cameron Webb, University of Sydney

Once the warm weather arrives, you know mosquitoes won’t be far behind. Spring heatwaves associated with the impending arrival of El Niño to the east coast of Australia may mean we’ll get an early taste of summer, but what about mosquitoes? Does a long, hot summer mean fewer annoying buzzing and biting beasts bothering us whenever we spend time outdoors?

Where do mosquitoes come from?

Mosquitoes are complex animals. Like all insects, they thrive in warm weather, but they need more than just heat, they need water.

Mosquitoes lay their eggs on or around water. Without it, they cannot complete their life cycle. Mosquito “wrigglers” hatch out from eggs and spend a week or so swimming about before emerging and flying off in search of blood. Depending on where the water is, whether it is wetlands, puddles or water-filled containers, different kinds of mosquitoes will be present.

There are hundreds of different mosquitoes in Australia. Some like salty water, some like fresh. Some need pristine conditions while some will tolerate filthy water trapped at the bottom of a septic tank.

Because mosquitoes rely on water, rainfall plays a critical role in determining how many mosquitoes will be buzzing about this summer.




Read more:
Health Check: why mosquitoes seem to bite some people more


A hot, dry summer must mean fewer mosquitoes?

The likelihood that an El Niño will bring drier and warmer conditions to eastern Australia this summer is increasing. The latest predictions from the Bureau of Meteorology are that there is a 70% chance an El Nino will occur this year, about three times more than usual.

At first, this may seem like good news for those averse to mosquito bites, but don’t pack away the repellent just yet.

While floods bring mosquitoes, and often outbreaks of mosquito-borne disease, drought will knock out almost all mosquitoes. It is true that the ongoing dry conditions across inland areas of Australia will ensure mosquito populations remain low, but that doesn’t mean mosquitoes will disappear completely.




Read more:
The worst year for mosquitoes ever? Here’s how we find out


Water doesn’t just come from rain

While a lack of rain will keep many wetlands dry, that isn’t the case for our coastal wetlands. Some of the worst pest mosquitoes in Australia are found in our mangroves, saltmarshes and sedgelands.

Mosquitoes, like the saltmarsh mosquito, Aedes vigilax, love wetlands regularly flooded by high tides. The eggs of this mosquito, laid in moist wetland mud, survive long periods of dry conditions. Once covered by tides, these hatch, complete development within a week, and emerge in extraordinary numbers to fly kilometres away into nearby communities to bite and spread disease-causing pathogens such as Ross River virus.

Not only have these mosquitoes found a way to survive without rain, they thrive in hot and dry conditions. Without substantial rainfall, the pools and ponds in the wetlands dry completely, killing off any fish or other aquatic predators, ensuring perfect conditions once the next series of tides comes flooding in. The arrival of El Niño may be bad news for lots of wetland wildlife, but it isn’t all bad news for mosquitoes.

The saltmarsh mosquito, Aedes vigilax, is one of the most important pest mosquitoes in coastal regions of Australia and has adapted to thrive in hot and dry conditions.
Stephen Doggett (NSW Health Pathology)

Bringing mosquitoes home

Much has been made of the impact of heatwaves on human health. It may also inadvertently increase health risks in metropolitan regions of Australia. A shortage of water increases the need to conserve and store water around the backyard. Unfortunately, that also means creating a home for mosquitoes.

One of the most widespread mosquitoes in the country, a mosquito that has probably bitten almost every Australian, is the backyard mosquito Aedes notoscriptus. This mosquito is found in water-filled containers around the backyard, from drains and roof gutters to rainwater tanks and bird baths. While you’d think hot and dry conditions will impact this mosquito, think about the extra effort we’re taking to store water around the home. If your rainwater tank isn’t properly screened or you’re keeping uncovered bins and buckets around the backyard filled with water, you’ll be providing a home for mosquitoes.

The debate about the impact of a changing climate on mosquitoes and mosquito-borne disease often focuses on the spread of tropical diseases into warming temperate regions. The truth is it may be the way humans respond to a changing climate through water-saving measures around the home that could increase mosquito impacts in urban areas. This also may bring a risk of exotic mosquitoes to our suburbs, which could transmit more serious mosquito-borne pathogens such as dengue, chikungunya and Zika viruses.

While some parts of Australia will have fewer annoying mozzies this summer, don’t be complacent about taking steps to avoid mosquito bites. Choose and use the right insect repellents and reduce opportunities for mosquitoes to move into your backyard by covering up water-holding containers.The Conversation

Cameron Webb, Clinical Lecturer and Principal Hospital Scientist, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

It’s a savage summer in the Northern Hemisphere – and climate change is slashing the odds of more heatwaves


Andrew King, University of Melbourne and Ben Henley, University of Melbourne

In Australia we know about sweltering summer heat. We all remember the images of burned koala paws, collapsing tennis players and, far more seriously, the tragic events of Black Saturday.

Aussies may scoff at Britain’s idea of a heatwave, but this time it’s the real deal and it’s no laughing matter.

Extreme heat has hit locations throughout the Northern Hemisphere, in places as far apart as Montreal, Glasgow, Tokyo and Lapland. In the past few weeks heat records have tumbled in a wide range of places, most notably:




Read more:
Why hot weather records continue to tumble worldwide


Heat has not been the only problem. Much of northern Europe is experiencing a very persistent drought, with little to no measurable rainfall in months. This has caused the normally lush green fields of England and other European countries to turn brown and even reveal previously hidden archaeological monuments.

There have also been major wildfires in northern England, Sweden and, most recently and devastatingly, Greece. The Greek wildfires came off the back of a very dry winter and spring.

What’s behind the widespread extreme heat?

The jet stream, a high-altitude band of air that pushes weather systems around at lower altitudes, has been weaker than normal. It has also been positioned unusually far to the north, particularly over Europe. This has kept the low-pressure systems that often drive wind and rain over northern Europe at bay.

The jet stream has remained locked in roughly the same position over the Atlantic Ocean and northern Europe for the past couple of months. This has meant that the same weather types have remained over the same locations most of the time.

Weather is typically more transient than it has been recently. Even when we do have blocking high-pressure systems associated with high temperatures in northern Europe, they don’t normally linger as long as this.

Is it driven by climate change?

Although climatologists have made great strides in recent years in the field of event attribution – identifying the human climate fingerprint on particular extreme weather events – it is hard to quantify the role of climate change in an event that is still unfolding.

Until the final numbers are in we won’t be able to tell just how much climate change has altered the likelihood or intensity of these particular heat extremes.

Having said that, we can use past analyses of extreme heat events, together with future climate change projections, to infer whether climate change is playing a role in these events.

We also know that increasing numbers of hot temperature records are being set, and that the increased probability of hot temperature records can indeed be attributed to the human influence on the climate.

In Europe especially, there is already a large body of literature that has looked at the role of human-caused climate change in heat extremes. In fact, the very first event attribution study, led by Peter Stott from the UK Met Office, found that human-caused climate change had at least doubled the likelihood of the infamous European heatwave of 2003.

For all manner of heat extremes in Europe and elsewhere, including in Japan, a clear and discernible link with climate change has been made.

Research has also shown that heat extremes similar to those witnessed over the past month or two are expected to become more common as global temperatures continue to climb. The world has so far had around 1℃ of global warming above pre-industrial levels, but at the global warming limits proposed in the Paris climate agreement, hot summers like that of 2003 in central Europe would be a common occurrence.

At 2℃ of global warming, the higher of the two Paris targets, 2003-like hot summers would very likely happen in most years.

Similarly, we know that heat exposure and heat-induced deaths in Europe will increase with global warming, even if we can limit this warming to the levels agreed in Paris.




Read more:
Yes, the Arctic’s freakishly warm winter is due to humans’ climate influence


But summers have always been hot, haven’t they?

For most parts of the world summers have got warmer, and the hottest summer on record is relatively recent – such as 2003 in parts of central Europe and 2010 in much of eastern Europe. One exception is central England, where the hottest summer remains 1976, although it may be challenged this year.

While extreme hot summers and heatwaves did happen in the past, they were less common. One big difference as far as England is concerned is that its extreme 1976 heatwave was a global outlier, whereas this year’s isn’t.

In 1976 northwestern Europe had higher temperature anomalies than almost anywhere else on the globe. In June 2018 the same region was unusually warm, but so was most of the rest of the Northern Hemisphere.

The ConversationSo while the persistent weather patterns are driving much of the extreme heat we’re seeing across the Northern Hemisphere, we know that human-caused climate change is nudging the temperatures up and increasing the odds of new heat extremes.

Andrew King, ARC DECRA fellow, University of Melbourne and Ben Henley, Research Fellow in Climate and Water Resources, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Five reasons not to spray the bugs in your garden this summer



File 20171103 26444 1qfv62d.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1

play4smee/Flickr, CC BY-NC

Lizzy Lowe, Macquarie University; Cameron Webb, University of Sydney, and Kate Umbers, Western Sydney University

The weather is getting warmer, and gardens are coming alive with bees, flies, butterflies, dragonflies, praying mantises, beetles, millipedes, centipedes, and spiders.

For some of us it is exciting to see these strange and wonderful creatures return. For others, it’s a sign to contact the local pest control company or go to the supermarket to stock up on sprays.

But while some bugs do us very few favours – like mozzies, snails and cockroaches – killing all insects and bugs isn’t always necessary or effective. It can also damage ecosystems and our own health.


Read more: The hidden secrets of insect poop


There are times when insecticides are needed (especially when pest populations are surging or the risk of disease is high) but you don’t have to reach for the spray every time. Here are five good reasons to avoid pesticides wherever possible, and live and let live.

1. Encourage the bees and butterflies, enjoy more fruits and flowers

Hover fly.
dakluza/flickr

Flowers and fruits are the focal points of even the smallest gardens, and many of our favourites rely on visits from insect pollinators. We all know about the benefits of European honey bees (Apis mellifera), but how about our “home grown” pollinators – our native bees, hover flies, beetles, moths and butterflies. All these species contribute to the pollination of our native plants and fruits and veggies.


Read more: The common herb that could bring bees buzzing to your garden


You can encourage these helpful pollinators by growing plants that flower at different times of the year (especially natives) and looking into sugar-water feeders or insect hotels.

2. Delight your decomposers, they’re like mini bulldozers

Slaters improve your soil quality.
Alan Kwok

To break down leaf litter and other organic waste you need decomposers. Worms, beetles and slaters will munch through decaying vegetation, releasing nutrients into the soil that can be used by plants.

The problem is that urban soils are frequently disturbed and can contain high levels of heavy metals that affects decomposer communities. If there are fewer “bugs” in the soil, decomposition is slower – so we need to conserve our underground allies.

You can help them out with compost heaps and worm farms that can be dug into the ground. It’s also good to keep some areas of your lawn un-mowed, and to create areas of leaf litter. Keeping your garden well-watered will also help your underground ecosystems, but be mindful of water restrictions and encouraging mosquitoes.

3. An army of beneficial bugs can eat your pests

Mantises and dragonflies are just some of the hundreds of fascinating and beautiful bugs we are lucky to see around our homes. Many of these wonderful creatures are predators of mozzies, house flies and cockroaches, yet people are using broad-spectrum insecticides which kill these beneficial bugs alongside the pests.

It may sound counterproductive to stop using pesticides in order to control pests around the home, but that’s exactly what organic farmers do. By reducing pesticides you allow populations of natural enemies to thrive.


Read more: Even ‘environmentally protective’ levels of pesticide devastate insect biodiversity


Many farmers grow specific plants to encourage beneficial insects, which has been shown to reduce the damage to their crops.

This form of pest control in growing in popularity because spraying can result in insecticide resistance. Fortunately, it’s easy to encourage these bugs: they go where their prey is. If you have a good range of insects in your yard, these helpful predators are probably also present.

Jumping spiders are great at eating flies and other pests.
Craig Franke

4. Your garden will support more wildlife, both big and small

Spraying with broad-spectrum pesticides will kill off more than just insects and spiders – you’re also going after the animals that eat them. The more insects are around, the more birds, mammals, reptiles and frogs will thrive in your backyard.


Read more: Four unusual Australian animals to spot in your garden before summer is out


Baiting for snails, for example, will deter the blue-tongue lizards that eat them, so cage your vegetables to protect them instead. Keeping your garden well-watered, and including waterbaths, will also encourage a balanced ecosystem (but change the waterbaths regularly).

5. You and your family be happier and healthier

Engaging with nature increases well-being and stimulates learning in children. Insects are a fantastic way to engage with nature, and where better to do this than in your own back yard! Observing and experimenting on insects is a wonderful teaching tool for everything from life cycles to the scientific method. It will also teach your kids to value nature and live sustainably.

It’s also a hard truth that domestic pesticides present a significant risk of poisoning, especially for small children.

In reality, the risk of exposing your children to the pesticides far outweighs the nuisance of having a few bugs around. Instead, integrated pest management, which combines non-chemical techniques like cleaning of food residues, removal of potential nutrients, and sealing cracks and crevices, is safer for your family and your garden ecosystems.

Think globally, act locally

Your backyard has a surprising impact on the broader health of your neighbourhood, and gardens can make significant contributions to local biodiversity. Insects are an important part of ecosystem conservation, and encouraging them will improve the health of your local environment (and probably your health and well-being too).


Read more: Conservation efforts must include small animals. After all, they run the world


The ConversationIn the end, insects and spiders are not out to get you. For the sake of our kids and our environment, you should give them a chance.

Lizzy Lowe, Postdoctoral researcher, Macquarie University; Cameron Webb, Clinical Lecturer and Principal Hospital Scientist, University of Sydney, and Kate Umbers, Lecturer in Zoology, Western Sydney University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Climate change’s signature was writ large on Australia’s crazy summer of 2017


Andrew King, University of Melbourne; David Karoly, University of Melbourne; Geert Jan van Oldenborgh, Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute ; Matthew Hale, UNSW, and Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick, UNSW

Australia’s summer is officially over, and it’s certainly been a weird one. The centre and east of the continent have had severe heat with many temperature records falling, particularly in New South Wales and Queensland. The Conversation

For much of the country, the heat peaked on the weekend of February 11-12, when many places hit the high 40s. That heatwave, which mainly affected NSW, was quickly attributed to climate change. But can we say whether the whole summer bore the fingerprint of human-induced climate change?

Overall, Australia experienced its 12th-hottest summer on record. NSW had its hottest recorded summer.

The NSW record average summer temperatures can indeed be linked directly to climate change. We have reached this conclusion using two separate methods of analysis.

First, using coupled model simulations from a paper led by climatologist Sophie Lewis, we see that the extreme heat over the season is at least 50 times more likely in the current climate compared to a modelled world without human influences.

We also carried out an analysis based on current and past observations (similar to previous analyses used for record heat in the Arctic in 2016 and central England in 2014), comparing the likelihood of this record in today’s climate with the likelihood of it happening in the climate of 1910 (the beginning of reliable weather observations).

Again, we found at least a 50-fold increase in the likelihood of this hot summer due to the influence of human factors on the climate.

It is clear that human-induced climate change is greatly increasing the likelihood of record hot summers in NSW and Australia as a whole.

When we look at record summer heat, as represented by average maximum temperatures, we again find a clear human fingerprint on the NSW record.

The Sydney and Canberra heat

So what about when we dig down to the local scale and look at those severe heatwaves? Can we still see the hand of climate change in those events?

As climate varies more on local scales than it does across an entire state like NSW, it can be harder to pick out the effect of climate change from the noise of the weather. On the other hand, it is the local temperature that people feel and is perhaps most meaningful.

In Canberra, we saw extreme heat with temperatures hitting 36℃ on February 9 and then topping 40℃ for the following two days. For that heatwave, we looked at the role of climate change, again by using the Weather@home model and by comparing past and present weather observations.

Both of these methods show that climate change has increased the likelihood of this kind of bout of extreme heat. The Weather@home results point to at least a 50% increase in the likelihood of this kind of heatwave.

For Sydney, which also had extreme temperatures, especially in the western suburbs, the effect of climate change on this heatwave is less clear. The observations show that it is likely that climate change increased the probability of such a heatwave occurring. The model shows the same, but the high year-to-year variability makes identifying the human influence more difficult at this location.

A sign of things to come?

We are seeing more frequent and intense heatwaves across Australia as the climate warms. While the characteristics of these weather events vary a great deal from year to year, the recent heat over eastern Australia has been exceptional. These trends are projected to continue in the coming decades, meaning that the climate change signal in these events will strengthen as conditions diverge further from historical averages.

Traditionally, Sydney’s central business district has had about three days a year above 35℃, averaged over the period 1981-2010. Over the decades from 2021 to 2040 we expect that number to average four a year instead.

To put this summer into context, we have seen a record 11 days hitting the 35℃ mark in Sydney.

It is a similar story for Canberra, where days above 35℃ tend to be more common (seven per year on average for 1981-2010) and are projected to increase to 12 per year for 2021-40. This summer, Canberra had 18 days above 35℃.

All of these results point to problems in the future as climate change causes heatwaves like this summer’s to become more common. This has many implications, not least for our health as many of us struggle to cope with the effects of excessive heat.

Some of our more unusual records

While the east battled record-breaking heat, the west battled extreme weather of a very different sort. Widespread heavy rains on February 9-11 caused flooding in parts of Western Australia. And on February 9 Perth experienced its coldest February day on record, peaking at just 17.4℃.

Back east, and just over a week after the extreme heat in Canberra, the capital’s airport experienced its coldest February morning on record (albeit after a weather station move in 2008). Temperatures dipped below 3℃ on the morning of February 21.

The past few months have given us more than our fair share of newsworthy weather. But the standout event has been the persistent and extreme heat in parts of eastern Australia – and that’s something we’re set to see plenty more of in the years to come.


Data were provided by the Bureau of Meteorology through its collaboration with the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science. This article was co-authored by Heidi Cullen, chief scientist with Climate Central.

Andrew King, Climate Extremes Research Fellow, University of Melbourne; David Karoly, Professor of Atmospheric Science, University of Melbourne; Geert Jan van Oldenborgh, Climate researcher, Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute ; Matthew Hale, Research Assistant, UNSW, and Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick, Research Fellow, UNSW

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Was Tasmania’s summer of fires and floods a glimpse of its climate future?


Alistair Hobday, CSIRO; Eric Oliver, University of Tasmania; Jan McDonald, University of Tasmania, and Michael Grose, CSIRO

Drought, fires, floods, marine heatwaves – Tasmania has had a tough time this summer. These events damaged its natural environment, including world heritage forests and alpine areas, and affected homes, businesses and energy security.

In past decades, climate-related warming of Tasmania’s land and ocean environments has seen dozens of marine species moving south, contributed to dieback in several tree species, and encouraged businesses and people from mainland Australia to relocate. These slow changes don’t generate a lot of attention, but this summer’s events have made people sit up and take notice.

If climate change will produce conditions that we have never seen before, did Tasmania just get a glimpse of this future?

Hot summer

After the coldest winter in half a century, Tasmania experienced a warm and very dry spring in 2015, including a record dry October. During this time there was a strong El Niño event in the Pacific Ocean and a positive Indian Ocean Dipole event, both of which influence Tasmania’s climate.

The dry spring was followed by Tasmania’s warmest summer since records began in 1910, with temperatures 1.78℃ above the long-term average. Many regions, especially the west coast, stayed dry during the summer – a pattern consistent with climate projections. The dry spring and summer led to a reduction in available water, including a reduction of inflows into reservoirs.

Left: September-November 2015 rainfall, relative to the long-term average. Right: December 2015-February 2016 temperatures, relative to the long-term average.
Bureau of Meteorology, Author provided

Is warmer better? Not with fires and floods

Tourists and locals alike enjoyed the clear, warm days – but these conditions came at a cost, priming Tasmania for damaging bushfires. Three big lightning storms struck, including one on January 13 that delivered almost 2,000 lightning strikes and sparked many fires, particularly in the state’s northwest.

By the end of February, more than 300 fires had burned more than 120,000 hectares, including more than 1% of Tasmania’s World Heritage Area – alpine areas that had not burnt since the end of the last ice age some 8,000 years ago. Their fire-sensitive cushion plants and endemic pine forests are unlikely to recover, due to the loss of peat and soils.

Meanwhile, the state’s emergency resources were further stretched by heavy rain at the end of January. This caused flash flooding in several east coast towns, some of which received their highest rainfall ever. Launceston experienced its second-wettest day on record, while Gray recorded 221 mm in one day, and 489 mm over four days.

Flooding and road closures isolated parts of the state for several days, and many businesses (particularly tourism) suffered weeks of disruption. The extreme rainfall was caused by an intense low-pressure system – the Climate Futures for Tasmania project has predicted that this kind of event will become more frequent in the state’s northeast under a warming climate.

Warm seas

This summer, an extended marine heatwave also developed off eastern Tasmania. Temperatures were 4.4℃ above average, partly due to the warm East Australian Current extending southwards. The heatwave began on December 3, 2015, and was ongoing as of April 17 – the longest such event recorded in Tasmania since satellite records began in 1982. It began just days after the end of the second-longest marine heatwave on record, from August 31 to November 28, 2015, although that event was less intense.

Anatomy of a marine heatwave. Top left: summer sea surface temperatures relative to seasonal average. Top right: ocean temperature over time; red shaded region shows the ongoing heatwave. Bottom panels: duration (left) and intensity (right) of all recorded heatwaves; the ongoing event is shown in red.
Eric Oliver

As well as months of near-constant heat stress, oyster farms along the east coast were devastated by a new disease, Pacific Oyster Mortality Syndrome, which killed 100% of juvenile oysters at some farms. The disease, which has previously affected New South Wales oyster farms, is thought to be linked to unusually warm water temperatures, although this is not yet proven.

Compounding the damage

Tasmania is often seen as having a mild climate that is less vulnerable to damage from climate change. It has even been portrayed as a “climate refuge”. But if this summer was a taste of things to come, Tasmania may be less resilient than many have believed.

The spring and summer weather also hit Tasmania’s hydroelectric dams, which were already run down during the short-lived carbon price as Tasmania sold clean renewable power to the mainland. Dam levels are at an all-time low and continue to fall.

The situation has escalated into a looming energy crisis, because the state’s connection to the national electricity grid – the Basslink cable – has not been operational since late December. The state faces the prospect of meeting winter energy demand by running 200 leased diesel generators, at a cost of A$43 million and making major carbon emissions that can only exacerbate the climate-related problems that are already stretching the state’s emergency response capability.

Is this summer’s experience a window on the future? Further study into the causes of climate events, known as “detection and attribution”, can help us untangle the human influence from natural factors.

If we do see the fingerprint of human influence on this summer, Tasmania and every other state and territory should take in the view and plan accordingly. The likely concurrence of multiple events in the future – such as Tasmania’s simultaneous fires and floods at either end of the island and a heatwave offshore – demands that governments and communities devise new strategies and mobilise extra resources.

This will require unprecedented coordination and cooperation between governments at all levels, and between governments, citizens, and community and business groups. Done well, the island state could show other parts of Australia how to prepare for a future with no precedent.

The Conversation

Alistair Hobday, Senior Principal Research Scientist – Oceans and Atmosphere, CSIRO; Eric Oliver, Postdoctoral Fellow (Physical Oceanography and Climate), University of Tasmania; Jan McDonald, Professor of Environmental Law, University of Tasmania, and Michael Grose, Climate Projections Scientist, CSIRO

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

This summer’s sea temperatures were the hottest on record for Australia: here’s why


Elaine Miles, Australian Bureau of Meteorology; Claire Spillman, Australian Bureau of Meteorology; David Jones, Australian Bureau of Meteorology, and David Walland, Australian Bureau of Meteorology

The summer of 2015-2016 was one of the hottest on record in Australia. But it has also been hot in the waters surrounding the nation: the hottest summer on record, in fact.

Difference in summer sea surface temperatures for the Australian region relative to the average period 1961-1990.
Australian Bureau of Meteorology

While summer on land has been dominated by significant warm spells, bushfires, and dryness, there is a bigger problem looming in the oceans around Australia.

This summer has outstripped long-term sea surface temperature records that extend back to the 1950s. We have seen warm surface temperatures all around Australia and across most of the Pacific and Indian oceans, with particularly warm temperatures in the southeast and northern Australian regions.

Last summer’s sea surface temperature rankings for Australia.
Australian Bureau of Meteorology

In recent months, this warming has been boosted – just like land temperatures – by natural and human-caused climate factors.

Why so warm?

These record-breaking ocean temperatures around Australia are somewhat surprising. El Niño events, such as the one we’re currently experiencing, typically result in cooler than normal Australian waters during the second half of the year. So what is the cause?

The most likely culprit is a combination of local ocean and weather events, with a substantial contributor being human-caused climate change.

In the north, the recent weak monsoon season played a role in warming surface waters. Reduced cloud cover means more sunshine is able to pass through the atmosphere and heat the surface of the ocean. Trade winds that normally stir up the water and disperse the heat deeper into the ocean have also remained weak, leaving the warm water sitting at the surface.

In the south, the East Australian Current has extended further south over the summer. This warm current flows north to south down Australia’s east coast. Normally it takes a left turn and heads towards New Zealand, but this year it extended down to Tasmania, bringing warm waters to the south east.

This current is also getting stronger, transporting larger volumes of water southward over time. This is due to the southward movement of high pressure systems towards the pole.

High pressure systems are often associated with clear weather in Australia, and when they move south they prevent rain. This southward movement over time has also been linked to climate changes in our region, meaning that changes in both rainfall and ocean temperatures are responses to the same global factors.

We’ve also seen high ocean temperatures in the Indian Ocean. Around 2010, temperatures in the region suddenly jumped, likely because of the La Niña event in the Pacific Ocean. The strong events during this period transferred massive amounts of warmth from the Pacific Ocean into the Indian Ocean through the Indonesian region.

The warmer waters in the Indian Ocean have persisted since and have influenced land temperatures. The five years since the 2010 La Niña are the five hottest on record in southwest Western Australia (ranked 2011, 2015, 2014, 2013 and 2012).

What are the impacts?

The world’s oceans play a major role in global climate by absorbing surplus heat and energy. Oceans have absorbed 93% of the extra heat trapped by the Earth since 1970 as the greenhouse effect has increased. This has lowered the rate at which the atmosphere is warming – which is a good thing.

However, it also means the oceans are heating up, raising sea levels as well as leading to more indirect impacts, such as shifting rainfall patterns.

As a nation that likes to live by the coast as well as enjoy recreation activities and harvest produce from the sea, warmer-than-usual oceans can have significant impacts.

Australia derives a lot of its income from its oceans and while such impacts aren’t often seen immediately, they become apparent over time.

Warm sea temperatures this summer and in the past have seen declines in coral reef health, and strains on commercial fisheries and aquaculture. The Great Barrier Reef is currently experiencing coral bleaching amid very warm water temperatures.

Our neighbouring Pacific islands have also seen the impacts of these very high sea surface temperatures, with recent mass fish kills and coral bleaching episodes in Fiji.

The impacts of warmer ocean temperatures are also felt on land, as ocean temperatures drive climate and weather. Abnormally high sea surface temperatures may have contributed to the intensity of Cyclone Winston as cyclone potential intensity increases with ocean temperature.

What is the outlook?

The seasonal outlook from the Bureau of Meteorology shows El Niño weakening over the next few months. This typically means cooler weather and can mean more rain on land.

However, closer inspection shows surface temperatures over the entire Indian Ocean and coastal Australian waters will very likely continue to remain well above average for the next few months. There are currently signs that surface currents are moving warm El Niño waters from the eastern Pacific over to the western Pacific, towards Australia.

There is potential for the East Australian Current to continue to transport this warmth to southern waters as far as Tasmania. Warm water could also be transported through Indonesia and travel south along the Western Australian coast via the warm Leeuwin Current, potentially causing further warming of already record warm waters.

So for the near future, the waters are going to continue to be warm. That’s good news if you’re heading to the beach, but not so good for the environment.

The Conversation

Elaine Miles, Ocean Climatologist , Australian Bureau of Meteorology; Claire Spillman, Research Scientist, Australian Bureau of Meteorology; David Jones, Scientist, Australian Bureau of Meteorology, and David Walland, , Australian Bureau of Meteorology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.