Australian wildfires add to growing confusion over climate

 
Australian map with new colours Australian meteorologists have added dark purple and magenta to their colour coded weather maps - to represent temperatures from 51 to 54C

I don't know about you, but the recent row about Met Office climate predictions and a slowdown in global warming has left me shrugging my shoulders.

Yes, obviously the science is important and the issue is critical to our survival as species etc etc, but arguments about experimental models and degrees of difference seem really far removed from the concerns and interests of many people.

Except perhaps in Australia right now, where temperatures are quite literally heading off the chart.

The ongoing heat wave that has sparked highly destructive wildfires, has forced weather forecasters to add new colours to their weather maps to indicate when the mercury rises above 50C.

It's something that might happen early next week.

To date, four of Australia's hottest days on record have been in 2013.

So hot has it been, that the owners of one petrol station had to stop selling fuel as it was vaporising before their eyes.

According to researchers, one of the immediate causes of the problems down under is, ironically, rain.

Perfect fire storm

An extended La Nina season appears to have given southern and south eastern Australia a real watering over the past two years. Trees and plants have grown rapidly and extensively. But when temperatures rise, these quickly become fuel for the fires.

Unfortunately, the second half of 2012 was extremely dry, with the daily temperature 0.11 degrees above the daily average. This has created the perfect conditions for raging fires.

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Despite the supposition in the UK that global warming may actually be stuck on pause over the past two decades, new figures from the US suggest that 2012 was the warmest year ever recorded”

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In these circumstances, when human intervention seems as ineffective, politicians are often quick to point the finger at a vague notion of global warming.

"Whilst you would not put any one event down to climate change," said Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, "We do know over time that as a result of climate change we are going to see more extreme weather events and conditions."

Scientists, though, have been remarkably silent on the connection.

It makes an interesting contrast with the last time major fires threatened Australian homes and lives in 2009, when researchers and others were ready to make a more direct link with climate change.

This time, some Australian politicians have been scornful, suggesting that more carbon would be released by the current fires consuming trees than there will be from coal-fired power stations for decades to come.

The connection between climate change and wildfires has become a bit more certain. In a paper published last year, leading Australian experts predicted an increased risk of fire in some of the areas now suffering the worst affects, including Tasmania and South Australia.

But the report couldn't clearly identify the source of that change.

"Although these trends are consistent with projected impacts of climate change, " it said, "this study cannot separate the influence of climate change, if any, with that of natural variability."

Meanwhile, despite the supposition in the UK that global warming may actually be stuck on pause over the past two decades, new figures from the US suggest that 2012 was the warmest year ever recorded. And scientists say that some of that rise is undoubtedly being driven by human activities.

According to Prof Roger Pielke Jnr, from the University of Colorado, there are big dangers in claiming that one event, be it US weather records or wildfires in Australia, are clear evidence of human-induced climate change.

"Such claims simply invite the reaction we see from the sceptical side about the slowdown in global temperatures over an extended period," he told me.

"The climate system is complex enough to provide cherries for picking by either side."

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Matt McGrath Article written by Matt McGrath Matt McGrath Environment correspondent

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  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 204.

    Paul @ 186 writes some indisputable facts and scores a -4. Bryn @ 189 who clearly can't even read scores a +2.

    Hey, all-powerful man is changing the climate ....so please don't mark me down.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 203.

    200.Ptolemy Vanduaria
    8 Minutes ago
    @161.David H
    ...The Met Office now trying to put a +ve "re-spin" on Ooops we got it wrong

    The previous value was 0.54 +/- 0.18 the new is 0.43 +/- 0.16,
    The new value is comfortably within the uncertainty range.
    ~~~
    But 21% lower is not a small change
    In a 1000 years, with a good set of data, not 30 years worth
    let's revisit this on HYS

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 202.

    6000 yrs ago the Sahara was fertile savannah. A 1ยบ change in the earth's axis took the annual rains elsewhere, and it is estimated it turned to desert in

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 201.

    @198.David H.
    .http://www.globalresearch.ca/global-warming-or-the-new-ice-age-fear-of-the-big-freeze/30336

    Thats a poor article but as I said back in 129, we are heading into a new ice age but on a timescale that means the man made warming will get us first. there also been some confusion with maunder minimum "mini-ice age" predictions which is not a real ice age but results in cold winters

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 200.

    @161.David H
    ...The Met Office now trying to put a +ve "re-spin" on Ooops we got it wrong

    The previous value was 0.54 +/- 0.18 the new is 0.43 +/- 0.16,
    The new value is comfortably within the uncertainty range of the earlier value & the earlier value is within the uncertainty range of the new value too. so there not saying they were wrong

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 199.

    There is quite simply no basis in fact for this meme. Cyclones will be less powerful and there will be less of them, ditto tornados. Extreme weather events are powered by temperature differentials. As the world warms unevenly with the poles warming faster, the amount of energy that needs to be re-distibuted is smaller, which leads to a reduction in extreme wheather and not an increase.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 198.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 197.

    Think of changing probabilities of extreme weather as like fixing a dice.

    Drill a hole in the 1 spot on a dice and add a small lead shot,

    The dice now rolls a six 25 times per hundred throws instead of 17.

    The dice has clearly changed, but you cannot say which sixes would have occured anyway, and which are there because you fixed the dice.

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 196.

    193. florere
    167.
    SeeDubya Interesting, according to the chart it was not as warm in the Arctic in 2000 as it was in the 1930's

    Shh! It didn't stop me getting voted down though. Let's see how many negs I get if I ask why Antarctic ice cores show that CO2 level rises in that region lag temperature rises by several hundred years! I always thought effect followed cause.

  • rate this
    -7

    Comment number 195.

    We need to start a competition, in the 70s we had global cooling, then global warming, then AGW, then CAGW, then weird weather, now we have chaotic climate. What's next?

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 194.

    Apparently, EVERYTHING is a sign of global climate change.
    Especially when it's taxable.

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 193.

    167.
    SeeDubya Interesting, according to the chart it was not as warm in the Arctic in 2000 as it was in the 1930's

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 192.

    184.wotto
    Unfortunately, warming doesnt mean we enjoy slightly warmer weather!! It could well cause a major, unpredicable & chaotic shift in global weather patterns. The potential consequences are unknown. Lets not have a 'wait & see' attitude'
    ***
    Whatever you believe on the C02 hypothesis / opinion you will have to wait & see, as the world will continue going about their business as usual

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 191.

    182 Baldy: I tried your link, gave up after a few minutes, nothing but scaremongering.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 190.

    Climate change is such a difficult process to quantify, it seems we are attempting to solve an equation without having all the factors, or, not knowing the true value of those factors...rather like closing one's eyes and throwing a handfull of darts. Should one of them hit the target, I doubt we'd know it was the target, anyway.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 189.

    #186 But who, precisely, is saying that the climate hasn't been changing naturally for millions of years? Name some names. Sheesh, can we get over this carbon tax fixation? I agree that letting the rich polute while the rest clean up is bad. So - revenue-neutral progressive carbon taxes - there, that wasn't so hard was it?

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 188.

    #184 Conversly being a skeptic doesn't mean that you don't care about the environment or that you don't think it's a good idea to take precautions. I'm skeptical about the science, but I think that some of the plans being put forward are good ones to take as precautions. I won't give something a free ride just because it claims to be green though.

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 187.

    Weather is local and short-term. Climate is globally regional and far longer term.
    Even if climate change could be proved (50 years is far too short), its effects are exaccerbated by
    - house construction on flood planes, hillsides, barren land and seismically active areas
    - extensive use of water in western societies
    which means that any natural weather variations cause a lot of damage.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 186.

    I can't stand the term Climate Change. It's as if the climate has been the same for millions of years and only in the last 10 years has been changing which is rubbish. It has provided though a nice opportunity to raise some nice green taxes by unnecessarily scaring people and playing on their ignorance. If you are rich enough you can pollute all you like.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 185.

    #182 Great website! 20% sense 80% nonsense (some of it really hardcore). Yes we should reduce deforestation. No we are not going to run out of oxygen. Al Gore is not satan and the little green men are not ... Oh why bother.

 

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