15 March 2008

Australian stories

A few items of planet doom?-type interest from Down Under. Noted here are the extraordinary heat plaguing the southeast, new measurements documenting a slowdown in growth of the Great Barrier Reef and a follow-up on an ethically questionable appropriation in weather modification research.


Late summer and early autumn have brought scorching heat to SE Australia. Adelaide has been particularly hard hit, with (as of Friday) 12 days in a row with maximum temperatures above 35 C. The trend is forecast to continue through Tuesday, four days hence. If this verifies, that would make 16 days. The previous record for Adelaide, set in 1934, is 8 days. Tasmania recorded its hottest march day in 68 years. Northwest VIC also recorded an extended run of hot weather during this period as well. Tasmania also beat or tied record highs for March, with 37+ C seen in Hobart. Interestingly, February 2008 was one of Tassie's coolest on record.

As noted previously, several other occurrences of extended heat have been observed this summer. Perth and WA have sweltered. Tennant Creek had an extended heatwave, with 19 consecutive days with a maximum temperature above 40 C.


That coral reefs are in danger from climate change has been noted previously. According to IPCC, a “significant loss of biodiversity” is projected to occur by 2020 on the Great Barrier Reef. Unfortunately, the degradation of the reef is becoming quantifiable; warming of the Coral Sea has slowed reef growth over the past 16 years.

Worrying signs that warmer seawater combined with a possible change in the ocean’s acid balance may be curtailing the growth of an important reef-building coral species have been documented by a research team from the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) in Townsville.

The paper, published in the journal Global Change Biology, points to a 21 per cent decline in the rate at which Porites corals in two regions of the northern Great Barrier Reef (GBR) have added to their calcium carbonate skeletons over the past 16 years.

The relative contributions of ocean acidification and global warming to the observed decline cannot be fully determined at this time. Not enough is known about the chemistry of the reef and more needs to be done to understand all the implications of the increase in carbon dioxide entering the oceans and to put these preliminary coral growth data into context.


In an earlier post, I discussed the “bamboozle-ment” of the Australian people through a dodgy ionisation rain enhancement scheme orchestrated by Malcolm Turnbill. The project seems (to me) to be more of a payoff to campaign donors than a serious scientific program and I hoped for further investigation by the new government. Such an investigation has occurred. The timing is still a bit questionable and the amount is five times larger than recommended by his department. But it's okay because “...those conducting the trial, the University of Queensland, wanted $50 million.” Mr. Turnbill says,

"The National Water Commission was more sceptical and they didn't want to have a trial at all - some tests of the scientific theory which would have cost about $2 million,"

"I decided that what we should do is have a thorough trial in one location in south-east Queensland at $10 million, which was one-fifth of what the University of Queensland was recommending."

I think he should have listened to the National Water Commission...I suppose nothing will really come of this in the end. Business as usual...


And so it goes. We're beginning to experience our future climates now – earlier springs, extended summers, lengthy runs of hot weather. Such events will only grow more frequent in the future; the Whirligig spins faster and faster. The final decline of the Reef is beginning. Go see it while there is still time. Governments play economic shell games while the environmental crises looms larger. The crises we face are largely the result of market failure – a failure of the dominant economic system to value environmental concerns. You want to have hope, but despair can easily come. Lovelock's 'enjoy life while you can'...for tomorrow you die attitude is a tempting lure. Doing nothing is easy; instead we must say 'Zero, Now' and take account of ourselves and our actions. It is the only way forward.

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