Australian floods help ease the 'Big Dry'

Apr 04, 2010 by Madeleine Coorey
Flood waters innundate a property in southwest Queensland in early March. For Australian farmers who have struggled to make a living in southern Queensland as their crops died and their dams ran empty during years of drought, recent floods have helped ease the "Big Dry".

For Australian farmers who have struggled to make a living in southern Queensland as their crops died and their dams ran empty during years of drought, recent floods have helped ease the "Big Dry".

But while the deluge has brought hope to some farmers, giving them guaranteed water and quality pasture for the next 12 to 18 months, the water is unlikely to make it down to southern areas still in the grip of drought.

"We've had the worst drought in a generation and now we're back to some of the best conditions in a generation," said cattleman John Cotter.

"It doesn't rain money but it rains potential to make money. And psychologically, it's got enormous positives," Cotter, who heads the lobby group AgForce, said of the deluge which has flooded parts of Queensland.

"There's a real spring in people's step as to how they feel about it."

Neighbouring New South Wales has also benefited from the downpour which began earlier this year, with just 40 percent of the state now in drought, compared to 81 percent in January.

Across the country, the federal government estimates that the amount of in drought has fallen from 32 percent to 29 percent.

"We certainly can't all relax and say, 'There's been all this rain, it's over'," Ian Prosser, acting director of water research at the government's science research body CSIRO, told AFP.

"It's certainly not over. The southern Murray Darling Basin and Victoria are still very much in drought," he said, adding that the southern cities of Melbourne and Canberra, along with Perth in the west, also had limited water.

"And there's every probability that that situation will continue into next summer because even if there was average rainfall this winter, there would still be below average irrigation allocations next year."

Beginning in late February, heavy rains fell over much of central and northeastern . By early March parts of Queensland were flooded, with some areas receiving their average annual rainfall in one day.

The floods mean that hundreds of gigalitres of water held in Queensland catchments will be sent downstream into the parched southern states.

But Prosser said the floods would be of little help to the country's key farming zone, the Murray Darling Basin.

This region -- which generates 39 percent of the national income derived from agricultural production -- remains among the country's worst drought-affected areas.

And because it has been in drought for so long, it will take sustained to bring it back to condition.

Prosser said the unprecedented drought produced the risk of some irreversible changes, including the acidification of lakes and habitat losses further downstream in areas of South Australia.

"We're probably at the cusp of some pretty big ones (changes)," he said.

"If things start to get wet again from here on in we'll start to rescue a lot. But if we get another five years of this (drought) there's just going to be an increasing number of things falling over."

Prosser also warned that the deluge in some areas could not mask longer-term concerns.

"Queensland is out of a , but it doesn't mean it is out of climate change," he said.

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User comments : 9

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rgw
3 / 5 (4) Apr 04, 2010
Isn't the climate always changing?
ormondotvos
3 / 5 (2) Apr 04, 2010
Yes. And now it's warming, on a loooong time scale. Got kids?
perchecreek
4.2 / 5 (5) Apr 05, 2010
Actually, it's warming with stunning rapidity on a very short time scale. Maybe the Eocene warm period happened this fast -- that warming appears to have been due to a burp of methane -- but we don't know for sure how exactly that burp came to be. We do know it was methane and not CO2 (CO2 is the usual culprit in warming episodes). The injection of CO2 by Homo sapiens sapiens is happening in about as brief a period as any other source in the past. It's quite an experiment. Of course, it's a little hard for many species to adapt to so rapid of a change. Hence, the mass extinction that appears to be ramping up, just now, also. Oops.
Shootist
2 / 5 (4) Apr 05, 2010
"Queensland is out of a drought, but it doesn't mean it is out of climate change," he said.

The climate changes, always.
Shootist
2.1 / 5 (7) Apr 05, 2010
Actually, it's warming with stunning rapidity on a very short time scale. Maybe the Eocene warm period happened this fast -- . . . Hence, the mass extinction that appears to be ramping up, just now, also. Oops.


Well, the Younger Dryas happened in less than a couple of dozen years. The Southern coast of England went from deciduous forest to tundra in less than century.

There were operating dairy farms in Greenland 1000 years ago.

During the Christmas of 1776 it was so cold the Hudson River froze solid enough that General Washington ordered cannon be dragged across at Haarlem Heights.

Be is shown through the Historical Record that it is Normal for Earth to be both Colder and Warmer than it is now.

I suspect that the extinction numbers we see are only unusual because of the accuracy we achieve by not having to rely on the fossil record for species count.
Shootist
1.7 / 5 (6) Apr 05, 2010
Actually, it's warming with stunning rapidity on a very short time scale.


". . . as near as we can tell the average temperature of the earth has only varied by about plus or minus three percent in the last half-billion years. Over the last ten thousand years, the temperature has only varied by plus or minus one percent. Over the last 150 years, the average temperature has only varied by plus or minus 0.3%. For a system as complex and ever-changing as the climate, this is nothing short of astounding". - Willis Eschenbach
perchecreek
4 / 5 (5) Apr 05, 2010
Shootist said:

"I suspect that the extinction numbers we see are only unusual because of the accuracy we achieve by not having to rely on the fossil record for species count."

This is completely wrong. We have a pretty good idea of extinction rates over the past few billion years, and the current rate matches that of some of the worst global extinctions. One need not have a day by day record of each species to recognize that when whole phyla suddenly disappear something probably happened.

Regarding the rapidity of climate shifts, I wasn't referring to a local event; rather, I was referring to a global state change accompanied by a global temperature change. Humans are causing this one, and it is comparatively fast. Other species have caused such changes, and sometimes geologic events have changed the residence time of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. Global climate has varied radically, usually in concert with changes in greenhouse gases.
deatopmg
1 / 5 (4) Apr 05, 2010
@perchecreek: taking the EAU, Giss, and NOAA homogenized temp. data sets your hypothesis appears correct, HOWEVER, now that we know how that data was homogenized (in part "to hide the decline") we have to throw it out and use the raw data. That shows a little warming over the past 150 yrs, as a continuing recovery from the little ice age.
Believing it doesn't make it the truth.
Caliban
not rated yet Apr 11, 2010
@deatopmq,

We don't know any such thing- it is the denier camp that baselessly claims to have somehow refuted the IRC and IPCC. Neither of which have happened.

Shouting "Climategate!" and "Glaciergate!" amounts to no more than fly farts in a typhoon. There is additional data/research to support A/GW made available on a more or less daily basis.

All this A/GW refuting/contradicting/debunking, peer-reviewed, published science which you imply exists has yet to surface. Because there is none.