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Queensland floods, La Niña and impacts of Global Warming

January 12, 2011
During cold La Niña episodes the normal patter...

Image via Wikipedia

Like so many of my countrymen and women, throughout the last two days I have sat transfixed by the horrific scenes of the flood-induced tragedy occurring in Queensland, our second-largest state.

Known as ‘The Sunshine State’, Queensland covers a huge area, three-quarters of which has been officially declared a ‘Natural Disaster Area’, an area almost double the size of Texas at well over 1,000,000 square kilometers.

The scale of this disaster is difficult to conceive, with latest reports detailing potential inundation of over 20,000 homes in Brisbane alone, entire towns such as Grantham wiped from the map, horrifying images of the ‘inland tsunami’ which devastated Toowoomba, and practically the entire agricultural industry of the area, considered ‘the food-bowl of Australia‘, washed out to sea. Early estimates place the likely damage bill at approximately 1% of our entire yearly GDP.

As of right now the official death toll stands at 12, although this number is sure to rise as many of the 60+ people who’ve been missing since yesterday will inevitably and unfortunately be found to have perished.

Watching the television coverage, the sheer volume of water which was dumped in such a short time brings into stark focus the future which faces Australia as global climate change tightens its grip. Although scientists are cautious about drawing a definitive link between global warming and the La Niña event which led to these massive downpours, many scientists are pointing out the record ocean temperatures around the Northern coasts of Australia – warm oceans which feed the storms, driving their power, severity and rain-dumping capacity.

Whilst the impact of global warming upon the El Niño/La Niña-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) itself is not known, as data-sets and modelling of this complex climate system is not sufficient, we do have strongly supported data-sets of average global ocean temperatures covering thousands of years, providing strong evidence that mankind is the primary cause of the current, rapid ocean warming. It is therefore quite likely that anthropogenic global warming is indeed a key player in the severity of this event.

I have no doubt that as the ENSO becomes better understood, with more refined climate modelling upon more precise data from various sources, scientists will have less reservations about drawing a link between global warming and the more intense El Niño/La Niña-Southern Oscillations we are likely to see. For now they are understandably cautious, their natural scientific skepticism requiring evidence before making such a claim in a world where they are so easily criticised by media and lobby groups either unaware of scientific methods, or pushing a business-oriented agenda.

For now, we must concentrate on helping our Queensland and Northern New South Welshmen and women through this crisis. But soon, high-profile discussions about how we will deal with an increasing number of similarly-scaled events must take place.

Some articles which discuss this further:

Scientists see climate change link to Australian floods | Reuters

Climate Change Could Be Worsening Effects of El Niño, La Niña | IPS

Global warming will cause further extreme weather patterns, climate change chief says | The Australian

Opinion: Extreme weather – get used to it | perthnow.com.au

Queensland floods: why will nobody talk about climate change? | solidarity.net.au

La Nina lives up to predictions | ABC Science

La Nina blamed for Australia floods, but climate link unclear | AFP

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