What climate change means for the Northern Rivers

AS THE Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its fifth assessment report, The Northern Star asked Professor of Geography at Southern Cross University's School of Environmental Science William Boyd to shed some light on how the findings will affect our region.

Rising temperatures

The report, compiled from 259 authors across 39 countries, indicated the planet could warm by up to four degrees by 2100.

As temperatures rise, Northern Rivers residents will see more storms and cyclones.

Professor Boyd said the impacts of global warming would see an increase in bushfires across the NSW Far North Coast.

While the hotter weather we have been experiencing over the past few months may not be directly attributed to climate change, the report showed we could expect longer hot, dry periods in coming years.

"In the future, higher temperatures are likely to continue," Mr Boyd said.


Global warming may see native frog species on the Northern Rivers wiped out.

"Frogs are a good indicator of changing environments as they are very delicate," Mr Boyd said.

The climate specialist also said estuaries at Belongil and local wetlands that are home to fish and birds will soon be under pressure due to rising sea levels, causing more storm activity and saltwater intrusion into rivers.

"With the propensity toward greater storminess, estuaries on the Northern Rivers will change in character and will impact costal swamps and mangroves," Mr Boyd said.


The report indicated we were "very likely" to see increases in rainfall in subtropical regions such as the Northern Rivers.

In fact it predicted up to a 20% increase in rainfall by 2100.

This would see increased flooding in the Wilsons River catchment and promote vegetation growth, which would provide bushfire fuel in long hot periods. 

Rise in sea levels

If sea levels rise by as little as 1m, towns like Ballina could be "wiped out".

If the report is right and sea levels rise significantly, other towns will also be affected.

"If the sea rises by 1m, Ballina simply wouldn't be there or at least large parts of it would be uninhabitable," Mr Boyd said.

"A metre's rise is something we couldn't engineer against in the long term."

However, in the short term, there will be coastline erosion in places such as Wategos Beach and Lennox Head.

"Erosion is a continuing process but with rising sea levels and extreme weather events, the foreshore won't have a chance to recover."

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