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Aussie Droughts “Far From Exceptional” – Ice Core Study Finds

December 29, 2014

By Paul Homewood  




This story from the Australian Antarctic Division seems to have slipped below the radar.



Antarctic ice cores tell 1000-year Australian drought story



Ice core drill and glaciologists


Ice core drill and glaciologists from the Australian Antarctic Division and Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems CRC, Law Dome, East Antarctica. (Photo: Joel Pedro)


16th December 2014

Scientists have used a 1000 year Antarctic ice core record to shed light on eastern Australia’s long-term drought patterns, with important benefits for water infrastructure planning.

Dr Tessa Vance from the Antarctic Climate & Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre said the study, just published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, could help improve catchment management strategies in drought-affected areas of Queensland and New South Wales.

Up until now we had no clear way of knowing whether the prolonged drought Australia experienced recently was a historical anomaly,” said Dr. Vance.

The study shows that the Millennium Drought was far from an exceptional event for eastern Australia during the past thousand years.”

“Droughts lasting longer than five years are in fact a normal part of long-term climate variability, and should therefore be factored into catchment management.”

“We now have a much clearer picture of the multi-decade cycles in Australian rainfall patterns, and therefore a more reliable means of predicting future trends.”

The ice core used for this study was drilled by the Australian Antarctic Division at a remote site on Law Dome, 100 km southeast of Australia’s Casey station.

Explaining the findings, Dr Vance said the ice core analysis had significantly enhanced our understanding of a relatively poorly understood phenomenon known as the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation (IPO).

The IPO describes a roughly 25-year cycle in the sea surface temperature, wind and other factors in the Pacific Ocean.

The IPO’s positive phase is closely linked with longer and more severe droughts in the United States and Australia. The risk of droughts occurring in Australia is higher during the IPO’s positive phase.

Dr Vance said that until now, there was no reliable means of measuring long term trends in the IPO index prior to the start of instrumental measurement about a century ago.

“We know that rainfall in eastern Australia is extremely variable, but the relatively short instrumental climate records have made it difficult to judge whether long droughts are unusual or result of a long-term cycle.”

“We can now look back and see a very clear pattern of rise and fall in Australia’s rainfall going back a thousand years.”

“We hope this work will provide policy makers and planners with better estimates of the likelihood of long droughts, as well as their duration, in order to better manage water resources.”

“This is particularly important given that projected future warming is likely to result in reductions in river flows, potentially exacerbating the impact of future mega-droughts.”

Since the late 1960s there has been a 15-20% decline in winter rainfall in south-west Western Australia, and a 10% increase in snowfall at Law Dome.

This work was supported by the Australian Government’s Cooperative Research Centres Programme through the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre (ACE CRC). The Australian Antarctic Division provided funding and logistical support.





I don’t suppose we can expect Al Gore or the BBC to report on this any time soon.

  1. December 29, 2014 7:03 pm

    “We can now look back and see a very clear pattern of rise and fall in Australia’s rainfall going back a thousand years.”

    Henry says

    I am definitely interested to see this pattern. Where is it?

    Wellington rainfall data surprised me – but it did confirm
    1) the pendulum theory as far as rainfall is concerned
    2) reaching minimum rainfall now, as opposed to maximum now in England and South Africa

    It is of course part of the natural rainfall pattern as it happened to be in place on earth for thousands of years…..

  2. Liz permalink
    December 29, 2014 7:08 pm

    Nor will the ABC (Australia) report on this. They run on a similar agenda to the BBC. Lying by omission of any facts that don’t follow or will contradict their climate change propaganda.

  3. Mervyn permalink
    December 31, 2014 8:00 am

    In that iconic poem about Australia – My Country – Dorothea McKellar (1885-1968) stated:

    I love a sunburnt country,
    A land of sweeping plains,
    Of ragged mountain ranges,
    Of droughts and flooding rains.
    I love her far horizons,
    I love her jewel-sea,
    Her beauty and her terror –
    The wide brown land for me!

    Clearly, Australians have known about the pattern and regularity of droughts and floods in Australia, and that it has been the norm… a virtual certainty!

  4. Scott M permalink
    December 31, 2014 6:14 pm

    And it seems to me that a good source of evidence for past drought in Australia is the existence of many species that have adapted to drought conditions. I recall seeing a video many years ago about a frog that lived in suspended animation under the ground until rains came along and allowed it to emerge and procreate. I recall the video saying the frog can survive periods of drought of many years, indicating that it evolved in similar conditions for many upon many years.

  5. andy permalink
    January 1, 2015 6:52 am

    Notice the last three paragraphs. They just couldn’t help themselves.

  6. January 1, 2015 10:35 am

    …But of course, in order to protect future tranches of funding, the article has to state “This is particularly important given that projected future warming is likely to result in reductions in river flows, potentially exacerbating the impact of future mega-droughts.”

    This is virtually universal these days in any Government-funded research. If the findings of a study do not support the running hysterical doomsday polemic, then they still have to toe the party line somewhere.

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