Research shows Australian weather could get worse

Jun 20, 2007

Research by University of Queensland climatologists into Australia's past climate has shown just how extreme our weather can be.

Dr Hamish McGowan, a senior lecturer in climatology with UQ's School of Geography, Planning & Architecture, has been using peat samples from North Stradbroke Island to reconstruct a picture of what Australia's climate has been like over the past 40,000 years.

The record has a resolution comparable to those of Antarctic ice cores offering a unique insight to the past climates of South-East Queensland.

“People talk about Australia being in the worst drought in 100 years,” Dr McGowan said.

“But what the evidence is showing us is that in the last 5000 years South-East Queensland has been much drier than at present.

“We see periods of increased aridity that were marked by more frequent west to south-westerly winds and cooler temperatures.”

He said the research also showed Australia was not immune to climate changes in the rest of the world.

“We have found evidence of all the major climate events from both the northern and southern hemispheres,” he said.

“We have to be aware that we are not disconnected from what is happening elsewhere.”

Dr McGowan said the research showed direct evidence of the affect of Heinrich events when huge volumes of cold freshwater entered the North Atlantic Ocean during the glacial disrupting ocean circulation and in-turn global climate.

“It is likely that should similar events occur due to global warming and melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, then our weather in Queensland would be affected,” he said.

Dr McGowan said the most surprising result from the study was how quickly the climatic condition could change.

“It has been assumed that some changes have taken place over centuries,” he said.

“But we have seen very rapid changes in the environment of southeast Queensland in 30 to 60 years in response to global climate events.”

The study used the peat samples to isolate layers of dust, which are then matched to where they have come from in Australia.

“The dust from all over the country goes up into the atmosphere and is blown by winds to eventually land in another place such as North Stradbroke Island,” he said.

“We have spent the past four years matching where the dust has come from to an accuracy of 200km. This has allowed us to reconstruct weather patterns associated with dust transport and how they have changed.

“This work fills a significant gap in our understanding of this country's ancient climate.”

Source: University of Queensland

Explore further: Five anthropogenic factors that will radically alter northern forests in 50 years

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Sydney switches off for Earth Hour

Mar 29, 2014

Sydney's Opera House and Harbour Bridge plunged into darkness Saturday for the Earth Hour environmental campaign, among the first landmarks around the world to dim their lights for the event.

Australia endures sweltering 'angry summer'

Mar 10, 2014

Australia has endured another "angry summer" with more than 150 temperature records smashed, a new report said Monday, with a warning that heatwaves and sweltering conditions will only get worse.

Time running out for Great Barrier Reef: scientists

Mar 06, 2014

Time is running out for Australia's iconic Great Barrier Reef, with climate change set to wreck irreversible damage by 2030 unless immediate action is taken, marine scientists said Thursday.

Recommended for you

More, bigger wildfires burning western US, study shows

9 hours ago

Wildfires across the western United States have been getting bigger and more frequent over the last 30 years – a trend that could continue as climate change causes temperatures to rise and drought to become ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

There's something ancient in the icebox

Glaciers are commonly thought to work like a belt sander. As they move over the land they scrape off everything—vegetation, soil, and even the top layer of bedrock. So scientists were greatly surprised ...

Clean air: Fewer sources for self-cleaning

Up to now, HONO, also known as nitrous acid, was considered one of the most important sources of hydroxyl radicals (OH), which are regarded as the detergent of the atmosphere, allowing the air to clean itself. ...

China says massive area of its soil polluted

A huge area of China's soil covering more than twice the size of Spain is estimated to be polluted, the government said Thursday, announcing findings of a survey previously kept secret.

Hackathon team's GoogolPlex gives Siri extra powers

(Phys.org) —Four freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania have taken Apple's personal assistant Siri to behave as a graduate-level executive assistant which, when asked, is capable of adjusting the temperature ...

Better thermal-imaging lens from waste sulfur

Sulfur left over from refining fossil fuels can be transformed into cheap, lightweight, plastic lenses for infrared devices, including night-vision goggles, a University of Arizona-led international team ...