Indian Ocean study reveals Australia’s future climate risks


Researchers have found Indian Ocean surface temperatures that helped drive hot and dry conditions in eastern Australia last year were more clearly influenced by climate change than previously thought and are likely to worsen in future.

Scientists studying a phenomenon known as the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) say their observations suggest Australia could experience future conditions even more extreme than those that elevated the bushfire risk during the 2019-20 fire season.

The centuries-old evidence of ocean temperatures stored in coral skeletons is helping the researchers better understand the future risks of climate change.

A study published in Nature today has found a particular kind of Indian Ocean weather event, which leads to less rainfall in Australia, has become more frequent and intense.

A positive IOD, which is similar to El Nino events in the Pacific Ocean, occurs when oceans to Australia’s northwest cool more than usual, leading to less cloud and rain across the nation’s centre and southeast.

Ten such events have occurred since 1240 but four of them within the past 60 years.

Lead researcher Professor Nerilie Abram from the Australian National University said a positive IDO last year led to the hot, dry summer that saw the nation swelter and burn.

“These events are becoming more common so we do expect them to play an increasing role in Australia’s climate variability in the future,” Professor Abram told AAP Newsagency.

“All of the evidence points to a role of human-caused climate change in making these events more frequent and making them stronger.

“The more we can do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and get climate warming under control and stabilise the climate, the better off we’ll be in terms of also stabilising just how extreme these events get in the future.”

“We’ve seen these events becoming more frequent and our climate models suggest that’s a response to human-caused climate change,” she said.

The strongest event on the instrumental record occurred in 1997, but using the coral records the researchers were able to find another more extreme case in 1675.

Professor Abram said this was one of the most concerning aspects of their findings.

“We expect these events to continue becoming more frequent in future,” she said.

Researchers analysed coral skeletons to determine how frequently positive IODs have occurred.

The Indian Ocean Dipole is currently neutral and scientists will not know until mid-year whether it will lead to more or less rain for Australia.

The leading environmental think tank, the Climate Council, said the study strengthened the link between climate change and extreme dry.

The research comes as the federal government finalises a technology road map to manoeuvre business investments in a bid to lower emissions.

AAP reports Christiana Figueres, who led the UN climate change convention for the Paris Agreement, said every nation was signed up to net zero emissions by 2050 as part of the pact.

She said no country could spell out exactly how it will get to net zero by 2050, as plans will include technology not yet developed.

Ms Figueres said Australia had to pull its weight as part of a global effort.

“As we have seen from the bushfires, Australia is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change.

“It can’t solve climate change on its own,” she said.

“It needs the solidarity of most, if not all of the other countries and if Australia does not contribute to the solution there’s no way it can ask other countries to.”

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About Zohe

Environmentalist, Futurist, Lightworker, Wannabe naturalist. The way we are treating our world and environment is not going to end well! We need to change course NOW.

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