Climate trends in Australia.
Climate trends in Australia. Bureau of Meteorology

How will climate change affect the Northern Rivers?

AUSTRALIA'S warmest year on record, 2013 - which saw temperatures exceed 49C - will be considered cool after 2050.

That's according to State of the Climate 2016 - one in a series of reports produced by CSIRO and the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, with projections under medium and high emission scenarios.

Higher seasonal temperatures, harsher fire-weather climate, decreases in rainfall, higher sea level and temperatures, more hot days and longer heatwaves, fewer cold days and more intense extreme rainfall events - these are all outcomes with a high to very high confidence of occurring in the short and long term along Australia's east coast.

Released by CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology in early 2015, Climate Change in Australia (CCIA) used up to 40 global climate models driven by four greenhouse gas and aerosol emission scenarios to project an analysis of Australia's future climate in Natural Resource Management regions.

First, what have recent patterns revealed? BoM Climatologist David Martin said the Northern Rivers had received above average temperatures in most of the district for the last financial year.

"It wasn't quite record-breaking like other parts of NSW but it was still warmer than average, and below average rainfall,” Mr Martin said.

He said there was no strong climate driver behind the weather.

"The dryness inland has been affecting the heating of the continent and making the days warmer.

"Off the coast of the Northern Rivers the sea's surface temperatures were highest on record for July to June financial year and very much warmer than average for eastern Australia.”

Looking three months ahead, he said there was a high probability of warmer days and nights along the eastern seaboard and the Northern Rivers area, with a below average chance of above average rainfall.

He said temperatures are warming consistently across NSW and Australia, with about a 1C warming across the century.

These are some of the key projected outcomes from CCIA for the east coast, including the Northern Rivers:

RAINFALL

CCIA data said observed trends in rainfall are not as significant as is the case for temperature but decreases in winter and spring rainfall are projected with medium confidence.

Past year-to-year data show no significant long-term rainfall trends, and natural climate variability was projected to remain the major driver of rainfall changes in the next few decades.

Although, CCIA predicts a high confidence of increased intensity of extreme rainfall events and a medium confidence of increased time spent in drought over the century.

Climate trends in Australia.
Climate trends in Australia. Bureau of Meteorology

According to NOAA (National Centers for Environmental Information) for Australia as a whole, drier-than-average conditions plagued much of the country in May this year, giving way to the driest May since 2008 and the third driest since 1900, when records began.

TEMPERATURE

CCIA predict average temperatures will continue to increase in all seasons with very high confidence, as they have increased over the past century with the rate of warming higher since 1960.

Climate trends in Australia.
Climate trends in Australia. Bureau of Meteorology

Past temperature trends revealed mean temperature increased between 1910 and 2013 by around 1.0 °C.

Climate trends in Australia.
Climate trends in Australia. Bureau of Meteorology

CCIA said: "For the near future (2030), the annually averaged warming across all emission scenarios is projected to be around 0.4 to 1.3C above the climate of 1986-2005.

"By late in the century (2090), for a high emission scenario... the projected range of warming is 2.7 to 4.7C.

"Under an intermediate scenario... the projected warming is 1.3 to 2.5 °C.”

Climate trends in Australia.
Climate trends in Australia. Bureau of Meteorology

CCIA said some parts the east coast could experience around two to three times the average number of days above 35C under intermediate emission scenarios by late in the century.

MARINE & COAST

CCIA said there is a very high confidence that mean sea level will continue to rise and height of extreme sea-level events will also increase.

"For 1966 to 2009, the average rate of relative sea-level rise for Australia, from observations along the coast, was 1.4 mm/year,” CCIA said.

"By 2030 the projected range of sea-level rise for the cluster coastline is 0.08 to 0.19m above the 1986-2005 level.”

Late in the century, CCIA predict by 2090, the intermediate emissions case is associated with a rise of 0.30 to 0.65 m and the high emissions case a rise of 0.44 to 0.88 m.

An interactive map released by Coastal Risk Australia allows people to visualise how sea level rise driven by climate change will impact their areas. The map has highlighted that if waters around Australia rise by 0.74 metres by the end of this century, one of the most vulnerable sites around Australia will include Byron Bay.

Coastal Risk Australia maps expected sea level rise across Australia, including Byron Bay shown here with expected inundation by 2100.
Coastal Risk Australia maps expected sea level rise across Australia, including Byron Bay shown here with expected inundation by 2100. Coastal Risk Australia

This will be but one problem of many the East Coast coastal waters will face, with warming sea temperatures posing a a significant threat to the marine environment "through biological changes in marine species, including local abundance, community structure, and enhanced coral bleaching risk”.

By 2090 sea surface temperature is projected to increase between 2.1 to 5.7C under a high scenario, and the sea will become more acidic with acidification proportional to emissions growth.



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